Kiri and


Cheesy clogs

May 9th, 2014 (by Steve)

Windmills? Yup. Canals and dykes? Yup. Bicycles? Yup. Cheese? Kind of. Clogs? Nope. Well we needed to do something about that! You can’t go to the Netherlands and not sample the cheese and clogs! By total chance, our next overnight stop was outside a cheese and clog farm near Volendam. As we pulled up, we saw the clogs grazing in the pastures, ready for herding… no, wait, that was just a dream I had, not reality.

All we expected from the farm was a little shop in the same way you might have a farm shop in the UK. We certainly weren’t ready to be greeted by a lady in traditional Volendam costume who talked us through how they make gouda, edam and clogs by hand, before letting us sample lots of different types of gouda. We’d already tried gouda with cumin seeds from a supermarket, but there were some fantastic cheeses here; our favourites being an awesome mature gouda (sadly out of our price range) and a pretty good gouda with stinging nettles. Nettles are apparently good for your skin, as is cheese…? Maybe? Maybe the nettles offset the badness of the cheese? In any case, it was very tasty! We then watched a demonstration of clogs being made; out of poplar wood, not cheese… I certainly think there’s a gap in the market for cheese clogs though!


After staying for the night outside the farm, we wandered into Volendam for a sunday morning service at a much smaller church than the previous week; more akin to a little Welsh chapel. The service had a very different feel to the previous week’s in Middelburg and it was still a lot more traditional than we’re used to, but it’s great to be able to meet with God in different ways, through different traditions. Following the service, we joined the rest of the congregation for a cup of coffee and some lovely biscuit/cake thing (should probably find out which for VAT reasons!) and had a lovely chat with a family from Delft (who were also visitors). It’s great to find instant community that cuts through cultural differences.


From Volendam, we slowly migrated up the coast and across Afsluitdijk; a marvel of Dutch civil engineering. It’s basically a dam or dyke (I wonder what the technical difference is) cutting off a section of the north sea to protect the Netherlands. It’s the equivalent of putting a dam across the Bristol channel from Lynmouth to Porthcawl… no wonder the Dutch have a name for being some of the best civil engineers in the world. Not sure why you’d want to get from Lynmouth to Porthcawl though, aside from avoiding the toll! We stopped for lunch (of the nettle cheese, obviously!) just shy of half way along its 30km length before moving on to the land of pure-bred Friesian cows (they apparently have a lower milk yield than cross-breeds, but it’s better quality).


As we hit dry land again, we were met by hoards of kamikaze flies targetting Bertha. Incidentally, I might not know the airspeed velocity of an unladen mosquito, but I do know that African mosquitos don’t bite me, but European ones do! With our screenwash level dramatically lowered, we stopped overnight at a farm in the shadow of a wind turbine. It turns out these upgraded windmills are surprisingly noisy when you’re close to them, but I think it’s a small price to pay for the benefits of renewable energy.

From the farm, it was only a short drive to Leeuwarden (which I have consistently pronounced incorrectly… I would just like to take the opportunity to apologise wholeheartedly to Dutch people everywhere for destroying your beautiful language with my attempts to speak it). Once there, we pulled up at a prime canal-side spot and prepared Bertha for her first ever dinner guest. Alex (who I sing with in a barbershop group) works a few days a week in Leeuwarden so it was lovely to be able to entertain a “local” who could then show us around the town a little.


He invited us out for drinks the following evening, which we enthusiastically accepted, despite having previously planned to move on. However, changes of plan can have rather large consequences when motorhoming. We weren’t sure that our toilet would last another night and our overnight stop didn’t have disposal facilities. So started our quest, which led us further and further away from the city I can’t pronounce. By the time we were 20 miles away and still hadn’t found somewhere to empty, we realised that maybe we should return to plan A and just move on. With a heavy heart, we bailed on Alex and headed for the German border. I wonder if we might be the first people who have used the excuse of a full toilet for going to Germany?

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The city of water-retaining ‘amsters

May 6th, 2014 (by Steve)

Since starting this trip, we’ve viewed campsites as easy options for overnight stops; you pay a bit more for the convenience of it all. You certainly don’t expect to have to be towed by a tractor, or be hit by a flying duck in the middle of the night. We experienced both of these things at the Fawlty Towers of campsites outside Amsterdam… but strangely enough, we’d still recommend it as a good spot for seeing the city!

A short walk along a dyke followed by a couple of short bus journeys and we were in the heart of Amsterdam. We had heard many stories about this city and what it was like, but we wanted to make our own minds up about it. The best way to get the lowdown? A free walking tour. I’ve been on several of these walking tours before in Munich, Riga and Budapest and because the guide’s only payment is tips at the end, its in their best interests to make the tour engaging, informative and humorous. This one was with the same company that operates the Munich walking tour and our guide was a local Dutch guy (who’s also a drummer!); Robbert van Hulzen, who succeeded on all 3 counts.


The tour took us on a historical tour of Amsterdam, taking in places such as the location of the first multinational company in the world, the house of one of the oligarchs who ruled the city, the controversial red light district, the “coffee shops”, a gated community of single females, the house of Anne Frank, a cheese shop, finally ending up in the slightly Bohemian Jordaan district. All the while, Robbert was talking honestly and candidly about his city, his country, his people and their outlook on life and living with others. The main philosophy that we heard about many times spoke of tolerance, acceptance and support within a city full of diversity.


On the surface, this approach to life seems great and indeed it’s this way of living that has allowed Amsterdam to be a place of refuge for many people over the years. It also led to a general strike when the Jews were being rounded up in WW2; neighbours putting aside differences and uniting against the Nazis. However, Robbert was very sensitive in also revealing the darker side to this openess. Apparently without the openess and co-operation with the Nazis when they were an occupied city, far fewer Jews may have died. The “coffee shops” (establishments licensed to sell cannabis) sit in a very complex place in the legal system; what they are providing is a decriminalized product, yet the growing and the procurement of said product is still illegal. And then there’s the red light district. It’s a jarring place. My mind couldn’t process that the mannequins were in fact human. I can accept that it is a safer place for prostitution than where we saw it in Spain; on the sides of main roads. Yet I still can’t get my head around it.

I’m in no position to judge how someone lives their life… in fact I don’t think any human has that right. So I can see where the acceptance philosophy fits in, but how do you avoid the dark side (without being a Jedi?!)? I think the first step is love for others (in a brotherly sense of the word), but I don’t know what the next step is. Is it possible to express sadness at what you perceive may be a damaging way of living without that sounding like judgement? Is the mere action of perceiving something to be a damaging way of life an act of judgement? Most people have an idea of the concepts of right and wrong… how do you reconcile differences between those moral codes though? Too many questions. Not enough sufficient answers. Amsterdam (and Robbert) have got me pondering further on topics I’ve been grappling with for many years.

All that pondering aside, Amsterdam really is a cracking city. It’s a bit like a stack of stroopwafels; it’s got so many layers. It’s not just a party city. It’s not just a city built on international trade. It’s not just a cultural and artistic hub. It’s so much more than all of that and I don’t think that a short visit like ours got to the toffee centre, although we did see some beautiful details.


Just when we thought Amsterdam (and the campsite) had given all they were going to in our short time there, there was one more little nugget. Another Talbot Express motorhome. Not just in Amsterdam. Not just in our campsite. Parked right next to us! Sadly they were just coming and we were just going, so we didn’t get to talk to them, but still, it’s ANOTHER TALBOT EXPRESS!!! I’m going to try to calm down and have a cup of tea and a stroop wafel now.

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What’s the Dutch for “Sikaflex”?

May 4th, 2014 (by Steve)

Water is something that you become very aware of when you’re living full time in a motorhome. It’s a resource that you have to manage very carefully; being aware of how much fresh water you have left, ensuring that no water is wasted when you’re using it, then making sure that the grey waste tank (the stuff that goes down the sink, not the toilet tank) doesn’t get full. Water is everything. But sometimes you can have too much of it!

Having seen plenty of water in the form of canals at Kinder Dijk, our next destination was to be the Hoge Veluwe national park, near which we found a free aire to stay in overnight. The plan was to spend the following day cycling around the park, but we woke to ominous skies and over breakfast the heavens opened… not really the best day for cycling. We sat tight and prayed that the following day would be clear.

The mist wasn’t the best of signs as we munched our breakfast the next morning, but we nevertheless optimistically set out for the national park. After paying to enter, we set about selecting our trusty steeds for the day; two of the many white bikes which are free to be used whilst in the park. It took a little while to get used to the upright position of the bikes and braking by pedalling backwards, but actually, they were perfect for purpose. Well, our purpose of trundling around the park anyway. If your purpose was trick cycling backwards, these would not be your bikes.


The park is a combination of woodland, heathland and sandy (almost desert) terrain with over 40km of cycle paths. We chose not to explore all of them, but we probably covered 26 or 27km through the course of the day, stopping for lunch at the centre of the park, several times for photos (we especially loved an area of scorched earth through which green grass shoots were conquering) and for an icecream in the last 6km. As we wolfed down the last bit of waffle cone, the sky was darkening, so we hastened back to Bertha. It is with dented pride that I admit that I fell off right at the end of the cycle ride (I blame the stupid child seat that I caught my leg on whilst dismounting), but in my defence, the first drops of rain were falling and they were big. Once in Bertha… torrential rain; we’d (somehow) timed it perfectly!


We drove on to our overnight destination, parked up, then sat back to enjoy the thunder and lightning. There’s something lovely about being warm and dry inside when the rain is coming down in buckets outside. As Kiri found out though, there’s nothing lovely about a little trickle of water going down the back of your neck when you’re meant to be warm and dry inside. I believe her exact words were “ah” (or something to that effect), “that’s not meant to happen”. As the water plummeted to earth from the sky, so my heart plummeted also. We thought we’d fixed all of the leaks last summer. Obviously not.

After some minor investigation with a screwdriver (i.e. removing the pelmet, the curtains, the window blinds and some of the inside rear wall of Bertha), we discovered that all of the beams were dry in the wall. Good news. This one trickle of water was making its way between the aluminium and the wooden frame, then pooling atop the batten above the window, from whence it falleth onto the head of mine dear wife. That suggested a hole, rather than one of the seams leaking, so we headed outside and sure enough, a hole in the aluminium skin that I’d filled with Sikaflex previously was open to the elements; more specifically a compound of 2 hydrogen atoms bonded with 1 oxygen atom.


The rain ceased overnight, allowing us to seal the hole in the morning with copious amounts of Sikaflex (given the number of times we’ve mentioned this product on our blog, we are considering seeking sponsorship from them). Job done. And so to wend our merry way towards a dam built out of ‘amsters… now I know they can retain food in their cheeks, but who knew they could retain water!?

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Jousting and windmills

May 1st, 2014 (by Steve)

Maybe it was the throngs of motorhomes and caravans on the roads? Maybe it was the fact that we were the 8th motorhome at a stop that clearly said “max 5” (with a lovely silhouette of a motorhome)? Maybe it was just something in the air? As we crossed into the Netherlands, the realisation slowly dawned on us that we’re no longer motorhoming out of season. No longer will we be able to rock up at an aire at an hour of our choosing and be able to guarantee a space overnight. This is motorhoming on a different level.


If we’d been the 6th (or maybe even the 7th) motorhome at the first aire we stopped at in the Netherlands, we may have risked it, but as the 8th, we would have no excuse. Despite the general laid back atmosphere in this country, wild camping is prohibited, leaving a choice of one of many campsites, or one of the relatively rare free aires (ooh, that’s quite a lovely phrase to say out loud!)… which are (unsurprisingly) very popular. We therefore moved on to spend our first night in the Netherlands at a free car park in Middelburg, where there were loads of Dutch flags and orange ribbons. Either they’re a very patriotic people, or… ah yes, it was King’s Day, meaning country-wide celebrations involving lots of orange and… jousting!


I know we shouldn’t be nervous about going to a new church, but we’re both naturally introverted, so the trepidation is probably about conversations we might have. As it was, aside from Kiri having a brief chat to a lady in the toilet before the service, we had no conversations with anyone in the packed Dutch Reformed church in Middelburg. Despite the language barrier, we roughly followed the service; we had our own bibles with us, so we could read the relevant passages. However, one part of the service was a little baffling; just before the main talk, everyone reached into their bags, got out a peppermint and ate it. Even the preacher did. Cursory internet searches suggest that this is may be something to do with uniting in an act and having something to focus the mind. If anyone knows more, I’d love to know. It got me thinking though about whether there might be anything that we do in church that might seem odd to a visitor; again, if anyone has any suggestions, I’d love to know!

Following the service, we moved up the coast to our first campsite of the second loop. We’d planned to avoid campsites where possible on this loop, but we had very few options with regards to filling up with fresh water and our toilet was dangerously full (too much information?). So, we decided to treat ourselves to one night at a campsite in Zeeland, taking full advantage of the washing machines, but more importantly the showers! Washing in a bucket seems like work, whereas a shower is something to be enjoyed. Mmmm. Well worth the money!

Kinder Dijk, near Rotterdam, was suggested to us as a must-see in the Netherlands; a cluster of windmills along a canal. With the car park looking decidedly full (and expensive at 7.50 Euros for a motorhome), we realised we could park on the road in the town as Bertha is less than 6m long and 2.4m wide. It would be an understatement to say that it challenged my parallel parking skills immensely; the sun’s heat and Bertha’s lack of power steering making it even harder. But it was worth it; the windmills are a pretty stunning sight. We’d hoped to do a time lapse of them spinning, but sadly, despite there being enough wind, none of the sails were turning. After a pleasant hour or so, we moved on, being passed by a couple of coachloads of American tourists as we left.


It’s due to your input and suggestions that we ended up going to Kinder Dijk and it was well worth it, so thank you. Next up, another suggestion; Hoge Veluwe national park… but that’s another story!

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