Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Meeting friends in Ermelo

 Ermelo, Holland

Off again then, this time to Ermelo, where we had booked in as we were visiting our friends, Meerke and Nol who had been our neighbours back in Albir. They have a static van on a campsite in the forest so it was really easy to visit them, just book a pitch on the same site.

The drive to Ermelo was fairly peaceful, although the roads were a bit narrow. They seem to be a single lane with wide shoulders each side, so if anyone comes in the other direction, you have to move right over to drive on the rubbing strips which makes a very interesting noise in our van.

Quite a lot of these

and of course they can also be quite narrow in places.
Thankfully not too many of these

As I said we were visiting friends and although we didn't want them to think that they had to entertain us all the time they did take us out. Which was wonderful as we saw a lot of places and learned a lot of things that we just wouldn't have known otherwise.

Our first day out they took us to Dronten and for a visit to the Polder. In Dronten, we visited Hank and Jenny who had been our neighbours on the other side while we were in Albir. Although most Dutch people speak pretty good English, Hank's English is exceptionally good having worked as a police interpreter. Meerke hadn't told Hank and Jenny that we would be with them so it was quite a surprise for us all to turn up. They are also going back to Albir this winter but this time will be leaving their caravan behind in storage as the journey is getting a bit much for them.

Whilst in Dronten we visited the Air Gunner's room and the monument to the Air Gunners. The original Lancaster propeller monument is adopted by the local primary school year 6 children every year and the schools take their turn in looking after the monument, polishing it and keeping it clean. They really take pride in it – perhaps something we should adopt. At the Air Gunner's room we were given a book about personal recollections of the air gunners and their times during the war. I haven't read it yet, but will get around to it.

Leaving there we went to the Polder. I remember as kids being taught something about the Polder, but I have to admit that most of my schooling seemed to go over my head, I really don't remember much. God knows how I managed to get 8 O'levels at my first go.

Now if you don't know, the Polder is the “New Land”, where dykes were built across waterways and pumps were put in place which pumped all the water out of the sea and created new land for Holland. Of course what you don't think about is that these pumps are continually working, it wasn't just a one-off exercise. A bit simplistic I know, sorry. The first picture shows the view from the top of one of the dykes across to the sea, the second illustrates just how high the dykes are.

You get an idea from here how high the dykes are

Looking across from the top of the dyke

This picture shows just how much the land was pumped out. The lock gates are the largest I have seen, you can get an idea of the size with Nol, Meerke and Iain standing on the bridge. It would be disastrous now if the sea was to break through.

All over the Polder there are sights where WWII planes have been found and also wrecked ships. Sometimes the occupants were still in them. These places are marked on maps but there's nothing left to actually see.

Most of this land is now used for agriculture, but of course there was work to be had and new towns to be built. This work started during WWII and men who chose to work on the Polder were excused fighting for the Germans. This was seen then as the easy option.

If I've got my facts right, the town of Dronten was only established about 1970 and there would have been grants for people wanting to move to a new town. Nol said that the interviews were strict and if someone was considered “unsuitable” for the new town they they would be refused the move.

Nol and Meerke had moved here in the early '70's when they had got married. Nol worked as a pile driver amongst other things – a bit more of that to come.

Leaving Dronten we moved up to Urk which was a pretty fishing village. For our motorhoming readers, there is an aire at the harbour which looked ok and well situated for the shops and views etc. Here we stopped for lunch and of course got wet again. We then visited the memorial where there is a statue of a woman looking out to see and a memorial wall engraved with the names of all the Urk fishermen who lost their lives at sea.


We visited the island of Schokland which for hundreds of years was a small island with 3 settlements in the middle of the sea. For many years they fought off the sea by building sea defences all around which of course took a lot of maintaining. In the mid 19th Century the government of the time decided that they would not give any more funding for the island and ordered the evacuation. There were about 170 people living on the island at that time. Of course now the Polder has been drained this island stands in the middle of the land. It's quite an interesting place with a very interesting museum and church. In the museum it tells you about the life of the people who lived on Schokland and also the building of the Polder and the things that were found when the Polder was drained – including some impressive woolly mammoth bones. There are also some glacial boulders to see that were left in the Polder at the end of the Ice Age although these in the picture actually came from Norway.

The image below we call “Nol's Wall” because Nol worked on the reconstruction of the sea defence wall of the island.

Nol's wall (it's much higher the other side)

Well worth the 5 Euros entrance fee.

On the way back we visited Lelystat and saw the replica of the Batavia ship. This is pretty impressive, the original was shipwrecked on her maiden voyage in 1629 and this replica was built using traditional methods.

Also looking from the shore near the Batavia, you can see this statue. It is called Exposure and is 25 metres high (5 metres higher than the Angel of the North). It was made by Antony Gormly and was commissioned in 2005 and officially inaugurated in September 2010. Apparently you can get to it although it's quite difficult.

The following day Nol and Meerke took us to Gouda to see the cheese market. This market runs every Thursday from April to August and is well worth a visit. (I believe there is a similar one in Edam) The farmers bring their cheese to market on their horse and cart and display them in the town square. Then the price is haggled over and the deal is done.

Doing the tourist bit

Say Cheese! Well it just had to be done.

Of course a lot of this is done for the tourism these days but it's still interesting to watch. Gouda itself is a very pretty town and well worth the visit if you are ever going that way. It's like a little Amsterdam but just a shame that the canals are so green.

We visited the Stadhuis in Gouda (Town Hall) built in the 15th Century. 

Nowadays it is used for special ceremonies and weddings. 

 I'll bet it costs a fortune to get married there. It used to be the courtroom and the convicted offenders had to leave the building by the left stairs and the innocent by the right stairs. Apparently due to superstition all wedding parties leave by the right stairs.

Condemmed to the left - innocent to the right - which way would you leave on your wedding day?
After lunch we visited another little fishing port on the way home, but I'm afraid that I haven't got a clue where it was. We had been taken to so many places that the name for this one escapes me. I wish I could remember as it was a very pretty place at the end of a canal and there were some interesting original fishing boats moored up in the old harbour.

What is this man doing?
A lovely evening was had, having dinner with Meerke and Nol and their grandson Tyrone and then it was time for us to wave goodbye to our friends – hopefully we will see you again soon in Albir in December. Thank you Meerke and Nol for a very enjoyable stay with you. 

So we were off again.  This time to Dusseldorf on the Rhine, via Arnhem.  Well that was the plan but hey what are plans for if you don't change them.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Belgium in August

 Early morning awakenings

This morning (Sunday) I woke up in a foul mood. The dog had woken me at about 4.30am wanting to get on the bed with us. Now this is no longer allowed because as an old lady she had problems with her waterworks. This has been going on for a little while now, but it is getting worse and she needs some HRT which we will get sorted when we get to Spain. So having sent her back to her own bed I was now awake.

Well in the words of the Lighthouse Family - “You can't always be happy all the time”.

The reason for my bad mood, well, we're on the road again and that is always stressful for me. I just don't have the wanderlust that Iain has, I like to know where I am going, where I can get my groceries, how easy it is to get washing done, what the roads are going to be like. I can get really wound up when driving but I know I'd be worse if I was a passenger. The rain was beating down, I'd nearly run over a couple on a zebra crossing and I didn't like the campsite we'd just arrived (well nearly arrived) at. It was very close to the “It's all your fault” stage yesterday but the words didn't quite come out, but the “I want to go home” did. Woops – this is home, wherever you park it and at that time it was parked on the side of a road, somewhere I didn't want to be, with the rain beating down – again - while we frantically looked for another camp site.

In my defence the zebra crossing incident wasn't all my fault, but of course if you hit someone on a zebra crossing it is immediately your fault in law. Anyway it happened because I was approaching the crossing and looking at the couple on my right side, they were dithering near to the crossing and I was waiting to see if they were going to cross or not. They dithered enough that I decided they weren't getting onto the crossing and were going to wait for me to go past. However, because my attention was on them, I hadn't seen the couple on the left-hand side who had decided to cross and make me stop. Well by the time I saw them it was “anchors on”, hard on the brakes, Iain nearly shot into the windscreen and the noise of loads of stuff reverberating around in the lockers was like shaking pebbles in a tin. The guy looked just like the frozen rabbit in the headlights, but hey if you saw a great big truck coming towards the crossing, wouldn't you make sure it was going to stop before you stepped in front of it? No harm done, except it probably raised a few people's blood pressure through the roof.

This was one of those bad travelling days – not as bad as the San Sebastian one, but pretty bad and this is why I didn't want to be where we were.

Down there?  You cannot be serious!!!!!

The book said, lovely campsite suitable for large motorhomes. They're having a laugh!!!! This was the entrance. We stopped behind another motorhome who obviously had the same idea as us. Iain got out and walked down the lane, he came back with that look on his face of “mmm, don't think you are going to like this. At this point the other motorhome drove off as they'd obviously decided that they didn't like the look of it either. So I then got out (in the rain) and had a look. Yes it was DOWN the lane; DOWN to a level crossing with a tight bend, DOWN another single lane track and finally arriving at the campsite.

I considered it for a while. I thought that we would get the van down there, after all it does say suitable for larger motorhomes, but then maybe if it wasn't raining, I might have a go; maybe if I didn't have this innate fear of level crossings (I think it was all those silent movies that my dad had when we were kids, where the damsel in distress would always be tied to the railway tracks and be rescued, screaming just as the train came along), I might have a go; maybe if it wasn't so narrow that there was no passing place, I might have a go; maybe if once getting down there I didn't have to think about getting back up, I might have a go. Iain offered to drive down there and I said "You must be joking, you haven't driven in the last 5000 miles, do you really think it's a good time to practice?"

Then I calmed down and saw sense – I remembered the terraced site in Costa Blanca last winter where we got onto the pitch ok but then grounded trying to get off again and although I thought I could do it, I just wasn't prepared to spend 4 days worrying about getting out again!!!!!!

So there we were – and now we're somewhere else. But before I move on to where we have been, as I said I'm up early and I've just taken the dog out. It was about 6.30am when I took this picture.

The weather is feeling pretty autumnal even though we haven't got to the end of August yet.  However cold it is here, I've just heard on the news that it was -2C in Northern Ireland last night, so that's made me feel smug. The mist was rising above the river and forming in little tufty clouds as they floated their way up the gorge into the trees and beyond. It reminded me of my rowing days on the Thames at Twickenham when we would be on the river by 8am, Saturdays and Sundays, rain or shine, summer or winter. Those early mornings were wonderful. Still, crisp and you knew that soon you would hear the lovely splish of the blades as they entered the water and propelled you down the river. So now the world is all right with me and I know it's going to be a lovely day – who sang that? I just love the water and as long as I'm near water, I'm happy. It must be because I'm a pisces.


So getting back to our trip. In my last post we had just arrived in Ostende – which seems like ages ago. There's really not much to “write home about” Ostende. The campsite was ok, the internet was expensive and not very good – I had to go to the toilets to get a decent signal which seemed miles away. They were full up when we arrived and we had to stay on a bit of grass in the middle which was obviously saved for “drop in's” . The area had a nice beach – and allowed dogs on it early morning and evening. There were a few shops around so we could get groceries, but we didn't eat out at all. We didn't even go out for a beer!!!!!! Mainly because nowhere did free wifi. It did give us a chance to get our washing done so at least we left clean and with all clean clothing. The weather was a bit hit and miss as we got the tail end of hurricane Bertha but hey, you got worse in England. It was a bit of Margate across the sea though. So that's about all I've got to say about Ostende, I didn't find it very inspiring and don't think I got my camera out once – so I'll move on.


Leaving Ostende we travelled some 2 hours
to Breda in Holland. Here we were to stay for 5 nights. The main roads in Holland are fantastic, although there are a lot of lorries on them. The surface is great and the motorways have 3 lanes so for a change there were no problems with the driving. We understand that the people of Holland pay around 80 Euros a month in car tax so not much wonder the roads were good. The campsite was nice, off the beaten track and had a pool, although even though it was August it wasn't warm enough for me to swim.

The lanes around the campsite were pretty small so we had to go slowly. As we turned around one corner, some children were playing in the lane. One girl about 12 years old suddenly looked up and exclaimed “Oh My God!, mama, mama, come see”. They don't get many vans like ours around here then.

The first day we just chilled and took a wander around the area. This took us up the lane and past this really vicious dog. Now I'm pretty cool around dogs but this one scared me, even our dog didn't do her normal dancing around. I'm so glad that he was behind a metal fence, although you could see loads of places where he'd tried to gnaw his way out, which you might be able to see in the picture. I scooted past his place several times.

Along the end of the lane we found the smallest church I'd ever seen, it was really quaint, with only 4 pews, worth I picture I thought.

The weather forecast was ok for the following day so we decided to cycle the 5 miles or so into Breda. As you can imagine, cycling around Holland is a doddle. It's just so flat and there are cycle lanes everywhere, even though with the dog on the back it's like peddling uphill all the time for me.

Breda itself is a bit disappointing, it's pretty but a bit run-down with loads of closed shops. So here's a couple of token pictures of Breda.

We actually decided to have lunch so we stopped in a street cafe. Luckily we chose one with umbrellas as not long after we sat down the heavens opened. We couldn't go inside because of the dog so we just sat it out. It was so heavy that the dog was shaking because the sky was falling down and we even needed our waterproofs, under the umbrella.

It was just a shower - not

August in Breda

We didn't wait that long, unlike in France a couple of years ago when we got caught in the rain and ended up leaving 70 euros lighter. We weren't going to make that mistake again.

So the 5 mile cycle ride back home – in the rain. Luckily before leaving Ostende, we had visited the nearby supermarket and I had stocked up for about 5 days of food. Unfortunately Iain hadn't done the same with his really essential supplies - booze. So we just had to find a supermarket on the way back in case we were confined to barracks for a few days. This was when I thought that Dutch people don't eat. Can you find a supermarket? No! All the way in and all the way out – no supermarket to be seen. We cycled onto a huge retail park where we were convinced we might at least find the equivalent of an M&S food hall and there was nothing. A young couple gave us some general directions to a supermarket but they said it wasn't very near to where we were. So off we went – this time with Iain in front. As we cycled round a residential area, I could see a church over to our left and that's usually a pretty good indicator of a town centre, and civilisation but we had gone past and he was too far ahead for me to shout. Finally I got him to stop and made the decision to find the church. Yes, there was not only one, but two supermarkets. We chose one and did our shopping – then went to the “Cards only” lane, only to find that it didn't take our cards. Only Dutch ones. How stupid is that? So after some discussions we were able to pay in cash at another till. Luckily we had some. That is one tip for people travelling to Holland – it is nearly all Maestro cards, many places just don't accept Visa, cash machines are generally ok though. Also supermarkets don't sell spirits!!!

So essential supplies replenished we headed off back to the campsite. We were pretty wet when we got back but hey – we are English, we are used to it.

The following day, the weather forecast wasn't too good so we decided to have a day indoors. This would give me a chance to make a start on my re-upholstery of the settee. So we got the sofa-bed out to see how everything was attached. We established that this job didn't have to be done in one go and that we could still use the settee during the process – so I got out the snips and made a start. The weather was overcast but I could get outside so I unpicked one of the seat cushions, got my empty cow outside onto the ground and made a plan.

Measure twice, cut once
Beer cans make great weights to stop the leather blowing away

That was enough for the first day – sewing to start tomorrow. Then next day I did manage to complete one cushion but the before and after pictures to follow when I've finished.

After 5 nights in Breda it was off to Ermelo

Monday, 18 August 2014

Off again to the Continent

Off to the continent

We decided to travel on the Sunday as it was only £80 for the ferry, £100 cheaper than the Saturday. Another fine day and we had a very pleasant crossing – although I hate leaving the dog in the motorhome which is why we always do the short crossing.
It was just a short journey the other side and we were booked into the Municipal campsite in Ypres for 3 nights.

The first night we chilled and the next day we went into the town. We had been here before about 4 years ago but Iain wanted to go back on 4th August as this was the WW1 anniversary. The Menin gate is very humbling and it's so difficult to really appreciate the sacrifice made by so many all those years ago. There are 56,000 names inscribed on the gate, all fell at the Ypres salient and these are just the men whose bodies were never recovered.

56,000 names of people who have no known grave - it's very humbling

Quiet during the day but....

Crowds gathering at about 7.45pm for the last post ceremony

We returned in the evening to the service and to hear the Last Post. If you want to see the service then you have to get there early, but to my mind, it's not about seeing the service but all about just being there. There are signs up about etiquette, ie complete silence throughout the service and no clapping at any time. So at about 7.50 every evening, the roads are closed and at 8pm everyone falls silent. The last post has been sounded every night since 1928 and it conducted by the Fire Service.

The town itself was completely demolished during WW1 and has been rebuilt as it was originally. Some of the buildings are really impressive and were only completed in 1967 – mmm but that was nearly 50 years ago.

Gothic Vaulted ceiling of the Cloth Hall

The Cloth Hall rebuild completed 1967

Can't be in Belgium without a picture of a Belgian beer - you pick it up with the wooden handle.

Our near neighbours had an interesting outfit. They had a van with a pop-up top and then towed what looked like a very small caravan or a sleeping pod. This also doubled up as a storage trailer. Iain immediately said that they must have teenage boys who would sleep it in. He was absolutely right of course and they called it their “Snooze Box”. Another thing they had was a tandem with an incumbent bike on the front. Their older son was disabled and whilst able to pedal, he wasn't able to ride a bike alone and this made a great way to get around as a family. He looked really cool on the front wearing his bike helmet and cool dude sunglasses.

The snooze box

On our second evening, I was just looking out of the door of the van when a fairly old motorhome drove in to park just 3 pitches away from ours. As a laugh I said to Iain, “Look at this motorhome, this could be Steve and Clare coming in, wouldn't that be funny”. Then I said “Actually it looks like Steve driving”, I was still laughing about how unlikely that would be as Steve and Clare are getting married in Spain this month. Then I saw the driver's partner walking along and said “It is Steve and Clare, look, there she is”.
Well what a coincidence, it's such a small world. We had met Steve and Clare in Albir, back in March and although they didn't stay long we had included them in our group and had won the quiz with them (and Joy and Nick) the night before they left. In fact they were the only people we met in Spain who were younger than us. Steve and Clare had been in England for 3 weeks and had only left Leicester that day. They had pitched up in Ypres on their way to Spain where as I said they are getting married later in the month.
It was lovely to catch up with them and I must admit that Clare and myself spent the late evening putting the world to rights with the aid of a few bottles of fizz. I think it was nearly 1am before we retired.
We tried to stay on another night to spend some more time with Clare and Steve but the campsite was full so we parked up in the road and went into town with them for a walk. Iain of course gave a tour of Ypres and the Menin Gate, sharing the benefit of his knowledge with them.

Steve and Clare - on their way to Spain to get married

We had nearly two weeks to spare before being due in Ermelo in Holland and we had heard that the campsites in Holland are very expensive in August so we decided to go to the Belgium coast for a week and here we are at Ostende.

There really is nothing to say about Ostende, we were the only English speakers on the site. Of course it's so close to England that there's no reason for English people to go there.  It was a bit like Breen Sands only smaller.  The internet was rubbish, and it was expensive.  I must admit I don't mind paying but I do expect a good service for that.  So I had to take my laptop to the toilet block every day to pick up our emails (yes I still prefer the laptop to the tablet).  We do try to pick up at least daily as this is our main source of communication and the last time I didn't pick up for a few days there was a problem at the house and the maintenance guy didn't have authorisation to spend that sort of money without checking with us first.

We kicked our heels for a week and this gave us a chance to do some much-needed washing at least when dodging the effects of hurricane Bertha which of course you have all been experiencing at home.

Moving onto Breda next.............

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Memory Lane - Part 2 - Broadstairs and Margate

The following day we moved onto St. Peters where we visited the Church where my mother's ashes are interred. It is 20 years since mum died and I put a pretty purple plant near to her plaque in the Garden of Remembrance. If you are in the area, don't miss St Peters as it's a very pretty place and there are some impressive buildings to see, not least the flint cottage. Next to the Church is the Co-op – which is where Iain had sussed out as a good place to stay the night.
St Peters Church, note the White Ensign flying

Stunning flint building

Flint Cottage

Alms Houses

Village green at the front of the Co-op

We moved off to Broadstairs, about 1.5 miles away and parked up on the Western Esplanade where we had hoped we could wild camp for the night. If you should be taking a motorhome into Broadstairs this is where I would suggest that you park. The access is not too bad but the rest of the town can be very difficult to get around in a large vehicle. However there are big signs up that motorhome parking is not allowed between 6pm and 6am so we soon realised that we would need to find somewhere else. 

Walking from the Western Esplanade

Classic Broadstairs shots

York Street, don't bring your motorhome down here.  I remember going to this cinema once, I had forgotten my glasses and they waited for me to get them before they started the film!!! Where else would that happen.

My Dads house during the 80's - the white one on the right.

Another classic Broadstairs shot

We drove around a bit and back into Ramsgate but as I said earlier, Iain had his sights set on the Co-op car park in St. Peters so that's where we ended up.

So this was our second night's wild-camping in Thanet, was it successful? Well I've decided that I don't like overnighting in supermarket car parks. The last time was in Normandy and I had nightmares about being towed away and abducted, this time I dreamed that we were being broken into and couldn't do anything about it. I think I just don't sleep because it feels so remote and isolated. Iain was sitting on the step early in the morning when the police drove up. Iain waved at them and they nodded back and then drove off. So they seemed quite happy for us to be there but maybe it was part of their morning patrol and should we have been there the next morning it might have been a different story. Later that morning there was an organised village tour going on and whilst we declined to join in, we saw all the tour guides dressed up in Victorian costumes which was quite amusing. If you are in Thanet, St. Peters is well worth a visit.

Later that day we moved onto Margate. We had high hopes as we had heard that the Old Town of Margate had been renovated and this was becoming quite a trendy place to go. Firstly we pulled into the coach parking area which used to be part of Dreamland the fairground. Here's a picture of the old “Big Dipper” roller coaster which seemed terrifying as a child. I remember that you had a “brake man” and if you got a fearless one you got a much faster ride. 

Nothing like that would be left to human error these days and I do remember that there were a few cases of the cars going off the tracks. Nowadays this roller coaster is a listed structure which to my mind is pretty stupid. I'm all for preserving buildings and structures of historical interest but you can see from the picture that this is way past it's best and maybe it's time to call it a day on it's preservation as it does rather make an eye-sore.

Having considered parking here for the night, I spoke to a coach driver who said that he wouldn't park there so we moved on towards Westbrook where we found a triangle of grass where two main roads met and there was a side road joining them. We parked up here, stayed overnight and weren't bothered at all. Result!  I felt much happier here than in the coach park, especially as I hadn't slept well in the car park the night before.

Again the weather was fantastic and we walked back into Margate along the seafront which as a child seemed to be miles long. It was nice to see that Margate still has a “Water Catch” which means that the children can play in the water when the tide is out. The beach was busy but I would suspect that most Margate visitors are day-trippers rather than holiday makers.

View towards Margate harbour from Westbrook

All in all Margate was quite disappointing and still looked quite shabby.

So two nights left and we decided to go back to Ramsgate. Sean had said that he would come and see us on the Saturday and friends Harry and Kay had returned from their holiday and offered us their drive for the Saturday night.

We had another walk into town and also a couple of other motorhomes parked up overnight so we didn't feel alone.

On Saturday, Sean arrived and having another walk from Ramsgate to the view of Pegwell bay, we all went over to Monkton where Iain and Sean went to the pub in Minster while I visited a fabrics exhibition with Harry's wife Kay.

We had a lovely evening with Harry and Kay and swapped some motorhome stories as they had just returned from a month in Germany. Thanks for having us and for the showers. I know we have a shower in our van but we don't use it if we don't have to as it's our only “big” storage area and it's a bit like a 3d puzzle at times. Everything has to be taken out and then put back in after your shower.

So then it was time to leave for Dover and the ferry. We'd been in Thanet for 5 days and even though my father lives in Broadstairs we didn't see him. He had sent an email a few days before as it was the 20th anniversary of my mum's passing and I had sent a reply saying that we would be in the area but got no reply. Oh well that's his prerogative and there's nothing I can do about it.

Summary of Thanet

  • All the main pubs seemed to be owned by Thorley Taverns
  • Apart from Thorley Taverns, micro pubs seem to be springing up, we saw one in St Peters and one in Ramsgate. These are quite tiny, a shop or barn, offering real ale with no frills.
  • Wild-camping seems to be tolerated as long (but we were mindful not to over-stay our welcome).
  • It's worth the visit although I wouldn't have minded missing Margate out.
  • There's an LPG station at Minster Services which doesn't appear on any listings.