Final thoughts from Holland

During our walking tour of Amsterdam, we learned a bit about Dutch provinces. Technically, this is final thoughts from Clophill but our trip had officially been based in South Holland with a brief visit to North Holland.

If Holland wasn’t so wet and windy, apparently it is wetter than the UK, we would want to live there. It is so geared up to life without cars, ours went in the car park on arrival and didn’t re-appear until we left for home.

Our journey home was interesting. DFDS asked us to allow 2 hours for check in rather than the usual 45 minutes. After our Dover ‘adventure’ we didn’t want to risk missing the ferry and were up at 6:30 for the 3.5 hour drive. Next time we will use Harwich to the Hook of Holland which has served us well in the past. The route to Dunkirk is fairly easy driving but its a long way. We arrived at Dunkirk to be greeted by clear empty lanes and a shiny new Duty Free building. Did they want us early just so we’d be lured into Duty Free.

Dunkirk was lovely and sunny but, before leaving port, our Captain warned us we ‘might notice some movement on board’ as we approached Dover. Experience says that professionals always tone down any bad news and we were in for a choppy sailing.

We were held outside the Port at Dover for over an hour, waiting for a little tug to assist us into port. It was very dramatic with harbour walls and berthed P&O ferries all within hitting distance. We admired the skill of the tug captain, a tiny little boat dwarfed by the ferry. It was all very dramatic in a calm, understated way. The only sign the crew were preparing for a potential accident was seeing them all calmly lined up watching what was happening outside, ready to take action if needed. It really brought home the impact of P&O’s decision to use agency staff.

We landed safely at Dover and it was a relief to see the miles of parked lorries had cleared, let’s hope those drivers wish to return to the UK in the future.

The less said about our journey home, the better. 3.5 hours through torrential rain with a detour through Sevenoaks and Dartford. At one point we thought Google was having a nervous breakdown!

Anyway, we safely home and counting down to our walking holiday later this month.

Keukenhof and the mythical Black Tulip

Despite changeable weather we chose to cycle to Keukenhof, the 79 acre site which opens for 8 weeks annually, to showcase the products of bulb growers and flower producers in the region.

The joy of Dutch cycle networks is they generally take you away from main roads. We cycled out of Leiden, along the river and past some fantastic houseboats and houses .

Then we were out in the Tulip fields although Narcissus and Hyacinths were putting on the best show and, despite relatively cool temperatures, hyacinth scent was strong in the air.

We made an unscheduled stop at De Tulperij, a grower of tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and dahlias. Although along a narrow road, it’s a local attraction. There was a spotless, barn divided into a clean orderly work area and a beautifully decorated cafe. You can walk around their growing fields and order bulbs for autumn delivery. It was a fantastic find and we felt obliged to stop for a cuppa and homemade apple cake.

On to Keukenhof, Ken had last been there 30 years ago and was amazed by its transformation. The rest of us has nothing to compare and simply thought the entrance looked new and smart.

Both gardens and flower displays were stunning. It was a few weeks early for tulips to be at their best and it looks like there will be azalea displays too. Layered bulb planting was meticulously planned and there was plenty of colour to keep us occupied. Flower pavilions around the site were equally engrossing. Our photos really don’t do it justice.

On our way back to Leiden, we took a detour into Lisse to visit the Museum of the Black Tulip. It was a lovely little museum, tracing the history of the Tulip from China to the Netherlands in the 16th century to the present day and the Novacap floralis scandal – now that’s something for you to Google.

We learned about bulb glasses and crocus bowls as well as how bulb growing and harvesting has developed over the centuries. Finally, in 1850 Alexander Dumas wrote ‘The Black Tulip’, a successful novel telling a story about the battle for a black tulip which was often believed to be true. We knew better from our Keukenhof visit.

Our ride back to Leiden was into a headwind with the odd smattering of rain. It was hard work and a relief to get back to the hotel.

We have an early start tomorrow and, fingers crossed, it will be a straightforward trip home.

I saw a mouse… where?

Heavy rain and strong winds had been predicted and the forecast was surprisingly accurate. This morning, we noticed even the hardy Dutch were struggling to cycle in the appalling weather. We were booked on a walking tour in Amsterdam and couldn’t quite believe we were daft enough to attempt it in such awful conditions.

John was seriously impressed by trains each one with specific areas for bikes, but his admiration was dented when we ground to a halt, stuck behind a train with a defective door. It was a short delay as we were sent back to Haarlem but enough to turn our lunch plans into a quick stop for coffee and a snack.

Tip of the day: If you are cold, wet and hungry head to a Dutch department store. They usually have a warm, clean, reasonably priced cafe and don’t mind you dripping on the floor. We have tested this theory twice so it must be true.

Our guided tour started at the national Remembrance monument opposite the Royal Palace. We were a mixed group with people from New Zealand to Brazil. As we walked, our guide, Sem, gave us an entertaining talk on Dutch political history. We learned about. Dutch architecture and how the style of the houses was influenced by wealth and taxes. Taxes were calculated on the width of your property and the number of windows and steps.

Many of the tall narrow canal front houses lean forwards. We always thought it was something to do with poor building practices, but we learned today, it’s a mix of practicality and tax avoidance. The houses have such narrow staircases, all the furniture has to be hoisted up the outside and the lean helps to avoid furniture crashing into the property. The design feature also helps keep water away from the building. We’re not sure it’s true but it made a good tale.

Our walk through one of the university buildings stopped at an original Banksy and the most frequently stolen traffic sign in Amsterdam. The sign came about following a long campaign by a local to stop students smoking weed outside his home. Now all he has to deal with is the sign regularly being stolen.

Next was the old Jewish Quarter. 80% of Amsterdam’s Jews didn’t survive WW2 and those that did, came back to find their homes had been looted and any combustible materials removed by locals to help provide warmth through one of the coldest winters seen in the city.

We are sorry to say we didn’t see any windmills in old Amsterdam or mice with clogs on, it was too wet and windy.

Fietsknoop to Delft

Just to be clear, Fietsknoop is not a bizarrely named Dutch town but an ‘App’ that enables route planning along the many miles of Dutch cycle ways. Jacky had mapped our route, 23.5km one way, with a plan to catch the train back to Leiden. There is only so much cycling Kim can be encouraged to do.

This morning, we discovered Leiden’s historic centre complete with obligatory windmill

Cycling in Holland is a joy. Well maintained, wide, signposted cycle routes feel very safe and the cyclist is king of the roads. It continues to amaze us that cars give way to cyclists and even treat pedestrians with respect. If it wasn’t so blooming cold, we’d want to live here. The App was fantastic, reminding us to pay attention to route markers, and taking us away from the main roads.

We took 1.5 hours to cycle to Delft, just in time for lunch! It would have been rude not to try the local speciality of krokotten. Delft, like many Dutch towns has a very pretty historic centre with a lot of canals and some stunning architecture.

We were surprised by the alarming angle of lean on the ‘Old Church’ tower which stands directly on the ‘Delf’, the old word for ‘canal’. When plans were made to add a tower to the church in 1325, there was nowhere to put it. It is likely the canal was diverted, filled in and the tower built on top of it. This turned out to be a bad idea when the tower started to subside during construction. They managed to stabilise the structure and continue building it straight and that is why the tower has a kink.

Our route to Delft had been so straightforward, we thought we’d cycle back to Leiden. Now we’re not sure if it was all uphill, but it was far more challenging and we battled with a bitterly cold headwind. It was a relief to get off the bikes at the hotel and collapse with a cold beer.

Tomorrow, we are taking the train to Amsterdam and have a walking tour booked. Thank goodness we hadn’t planned to cycle, a break from the saddle will be welcome. The only problem is the weather – heavy rain and high winds are forecast.

Are you paying attention?

Every day for the last two years during lockdown, Kim has spent time diligently improving her ability to speak French. So as the world begins to open up our first post-Covid adventure is to…. Holland.

Neither of us know any Dutch but our passports are dusted off, the car has it’s post Covid UK stickers. We are staying in Leiden, with Jacky and Ken, and cycling to see the tulip display at the Kuekenhof gardens. Trips to Delft and Amsterdam are also on the itinerary.

If you have been paying attention to the news over the last couple of days, you will know that the last place you want to be, in the UK, is Dover and that is where we headed for our ferry crossing.

This is where you really do need to pay attention… our original crossing to Dunkirk was scheduled for 8am, DFDS changed it to noon. Bad weather and crashed ships had upset their timetable and that’s without mentioning the P&O debacle. We complained about the noon sailing so DFDS helpfully re-arranged for 8:30 to Calais.

We left home at 4am for the 2 hour journey, made really good time until we were 2 miles from the port and it all started to go wrong.

Dover was at a standstill and we mean the whole of Dover.

You have to feel sympathy for the lorry drivers, hundreds parked up on the Dover approach roads, many of whom had been there without any facilities for over 24 hours, it’s easy to see why they are becoming increasingly relectant to deliver to the UK

Eventually we made it to check in at 11am, and booked on the noon Calais sailing. Yippee, we thought. Ken and Jacky were checked in an hour ahead of us and on the same ferry. Never mind the delays, we were now the correct side of the check in barrier

To cut the rambling short, we drove straight onto an empty ferry which promptly departed early at 11:30 and left Ken and Jacky, in Dover, wondering how on earth they weren’t in France ahead of us.

Amongst the first to disembark, after a 3 hour effortless drive on some lovely roads we reached our first planned stop at Willemstad. We’d stayed there on a previous cycling holiday and it was still beautiful. The sun was out but the wind was bitter so we didn’t stay long.

So we haven’t done much today, other than sit in queues and drive a long way. An early night beckoned and you have to love a hotel that hides cards like this in your bed