A new country for us to add to our travelling history and what a marvellous experience it has been so far! I wasn’t quite sure what to expect in Holland as far as motorhoming in concerned, but it has really surprised us and amazed us in equal measure for the sheer quality of the stop-overs and we are really converted. Despite our baptism of rain during the first couple of days, the services here are second to none and the people are so friendly and helpful and speaking perfect English, we are loving every minute of it.
But before we came to Holland, we also stopped in Belgium for a couple of days, for I very much wanted to visit Bruges, having heard so many wonderful things about it. So, after leaving Pont-de-l’Arche in Normandy on Thursday morning last week, we stopped for the day at Neufchâtel-Hardelot motorhome aire in Pas de Calais and went for a long walk to Hardelot-Plage and, although it was a very windy afternoon, we still enjoyed the lovely scenery and the very unusual and interesting architecture on the houses on the seafront.
This being just south of Boulogne-sur-Mer, we did a big shop at Auchan as we would normally do on our way back to Britain and then carried on north on the A16 past Dunkerque and into Belgium. Our first stop here was at the fantastic motorhome aire at Westende and, although it was a bit on the pricey side (20E for the day), it did have first class facilities, with a brilliant shower block and washing-up area and only about a 10-minute walk to the beach. Unfortunately, the access to the seafront and dunes was impaired by some major road works going on at the time, with the noise and dust that tend to accompany these type of enterprise, but the dunes were lovely nevertheless and I climbed on one of them to take photos.
It was a short distance from here to Bruges on Saturday morning and, once again, we arrived early enough to enjoy a walk into the old part of the city after parking at the M.H. aire by the canal with all the river cruises and coach park (25E a day).
It was very hectic, even by 10am, as there were numerous and large groups of people following their leader holding an umbrella from various parts of the world, so the going was tough, even on foot, as one had to do battle with other pedestrians just to get onto the pavement, cyclists, cars and the typical and beautiful Calèches (horses and carts). We found our way to the city centre eventually by taking side roads away from the worst of the crowds and I am pleased to say we were not disappointed, as the buildings in Markt Square such as the 14th-century City Hall and the 13th-century Belfry with its 47-bell carillon playing different tunes, the boat trips on the canal, the potted flowers everywhere and the sweet and tantalising scent of waffles and chocolate wafting though the aire made it all a wonder to behold.
By 11.30am we were feeling rather exhausted and thirsty and had to stop at one of the many enticing bars to restore our strength with a nice local beer: another must-do treat in this stunning city.
We went back to the van for lunch and returned to the old city in the afternoon, this time for a delicious ‘Spoon Chocolate’ and waffle with dark chocolate, as one cannot come to Belgium and not try one of the things they are most famous for. I was intrigued by the ‘spoon chocolate’ description on the menu, so I had to have one and this turned out to be a cup of hot milk with a large chocolate and hazelnut cut stuck on a wooden spoon, which eventually melts in the hot milk to create the most marvellous hot chocolate drink. Needless to say I didn’t leave a drop or a morsel behind!
We left Bruges on a wet Sunday morning headed for Holland, our first stop being at another wonderful aire at the National Park De Biesbosch on Drimmelen Marina, north of Breda. I hate to admit I didn’t venture out until the afternoon, when there was a break in the clouds and rain and we enjoyed another long and gentle stroll along the harbour and a beer in a local pub. We also had a shower in the superb shower block of the Marina after we worked out how to get in with the card given at the check-in kiosk. This was a bit tricky and long-winded too, having to enter your name, email address and vehicle registration number and it took a little time, but it was worth it thanks to the spotless and fabulous facilities on site, all for 16E a day.
After Drimmelen, we drove to Sassenheim, north of The Hague and Leiden, where we stopped for 2 days just to have a rest and because it was a very pleasant and convenient spot to wait for the rain to clear and the sun to emerge to visit the tulip gardens at Keukenhof, a short drive away. This aire was slightly cheaper than the others too, being only 15E a day.
We woke up this morning to very welcome blue skies and a warm, sunny day, just perfect for our visit to Keukenhof. All I can say about this place is that it is probably one of the most beautiful and stunning gardens I have ever seen in my entire life and it was most certainly worth the wait, but one must come and see it to believe it and appreciate its true beauty, for pictures could never do it justice. I will do a separate post to share the many photos I took of this most enchanting of gardens, as I believe it deserves a whole post all to itself. In the meantime, here are a couple of photos to whet your appetite!
More to come soon…