Zooming to the Netherlands

Trip Start Jun 22, 2011
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Trip End Ongoing


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Chez Websters

Flag of Netherlands  , Zuid-Holland,
Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Lynne.....



 22nd June – 27th June 2011

 We are off for five days in the Netherlands to visit my parents.  Dad got a contract in Holland over a year ago and moved out to Berger op Zoom, Mum followed a few months later.  This is the first time since we have been back that we have had time to visit them.  We only picked our new car up yesterday so this was going to be a proper test run for it.
We had an early start, ferry booked for 8am so up at 4.30am and on the road by 5.15am.  We knew it was going to be a good day when we got free passage over the Dartford Bridge as we went over it before 6am....that’s 1.50 saved so far.  We sailed through the check in at Dover ferry port and used our spare time in the queuing lanes to try and make sense of the instructions for our headlight beam defectors......we ended up just guessing where they should go.

We had a lovely smooth crossing, but as it was cold outside the only seat available inside where near the kids area, not a problem as we were able to watch Toy Story 3 on the TV.  The only disaster we had was when I dragged a massive glass door over my foot on the way back from the toilets.....boy did it bleed!  Our first aid kit was in the car so Gary when off to find the first aid officer on board. 
The journey took two hours before docking in Dunkirk/Dunkerque.  Once on dry land we entered Brugge into the Sat Nav as a lunchtime stopover.  We are still using our Australian Sat Nav that we brought back with us, after tackling the very confusing Garmin website, I added the European maps to a micro SD card and installed it into the satnav....works a treat.

Brugge is an ancient walled city with an extensive canal system.  The architecture is stunning and the narrow cobbled streets are so picturesque.  We had trouble parking, mainly because we had no change for the meter and all the shops where shut because it was lunchtime.   Gary went into investigate when we finally found a space next to a mini supermarket but it turned out to be residential parking only, he did however manage to get change by buying a snickers.  We drove on and found a perfect parking space down a quaint little street.  We walked around the market square and stopped at a street cafe for a lunch of mussels and chips....very Belgian.  We had another stroll round the beautiful cobbled streets after our delicious lunch stopping for a tasty Belgian waffle before heading back to the car and on to Holland.

Dad met us just outside Bergen Op Zoom and we followed him through the unusually narrow streets of Holland.  There are some odd road laws over here, one of the strangest is giving way to bikes on ALL roads and roundabouts.  It is not surprising really when the majority of the population all ride bikes to work, school or the shops.  Even the cycle tracks here are bigger than the roads... cars are the minority. We parked in their underground carpark and went up to see their apartment we had heard so much about but only seen on Skype.  It was very impressive and the view of the lake from the balcony was lovely.   We dumped our bags in our room and headed for the fridge for a taste of the local brew.....which turns out to be Belgian Beers.  After dinner Gary and Dad when over the road to the supermarket to stock up on beer and cider, Gary came back with cherry beer.
The next morning Gary, Mum and I went for a walk into the town of Bergen op Zoom stopping at the Thursday market on the way.  It has always impressed us how well the Dutch we have met on our travels speak English but wandering round this little town in Holland we were amazed to find nearly everyone we spoke to were happy to switch languages. We bought some cherries, fried fish bits and tasted some cheeses just a few things on offer at the market.  A short walk up the road brought us into the town centre and through the main square. It was all very pretty and would have looked lovely if the skies hadn’t opened and forced us to dive into the nearest shop. It rained on and off for the rest of the afternoon but it didn’t spoil the day and it dried up long enough to get us home.  Dad came home from work shortly after we got back and we all spent the evening having a few drinks on the balcony whilst watching the cyclist, and inline skaters cruise round the lakes bike track.
After our previous busy day shopping we spent Friday just chilling in the flat, until Dad came home and took us out for a drive round the area and a trip to Ikea.....another one to add to my list.  After Ikea we headed back into Bergen Op Zoom for dinner in the square, it would have been nice to sit outside but it was a bit chilly so we found a nice warm seat inside the restaurant.  Gary and I ordered ribs and it came up as three massive pieces....very tasty though.
Saturday Dad drove us to Antwerp for the day, it was grey and cloudy as we left but the weather forecast had promised dry and sunny.  The skies opened as we arrived and the wind threatened to turn our umbrellas inside out, it was not good sightseeing weather.   We walked into the main square and stopped at the first restaurant we came to.  We had a drink, hot chocolate for the girls and beer for the boys and discussed what to do, should we carry on the day even though the weather was crap or do we abandon it and find a nice shopping centre that is undercover.  We agreed to stay and ride out the weather hoping it wouldn’t get any worse than it was. 
The rain eased to a light mizzle and the wind had dropped now we were off the water’s edge.  The main shopping centre in Antwerp was very impressive and had all the big names as well as some lovely boutique shops too.  We walked the whole length of it up to the main train station, which was an amazing building. Big grand entrance with stain glass ceilings and sweeping staircases, but the most remarkable sight was the three-tier platforms.  
We walked back to the car via a shopping arcade that use to be a theatre, it still had all the gold braiding round the walls and fantastic chandeliers hanging in what is now a shop.  The rain held off late afternoon but it seems it had brought out all the local nutter’s as a procession of colourfully dressed people playing instruments or walking on stilts paraded past us.  Back at the flat Mum cooked dinner and we all chilled out on the balcony with a few drinks.

Dad had a whole day of sightseeing planned, he wanted to show us some of the little villages he had discovered while over here and also get some pictures of windmills.....well we are in Holland!!!  I was very disappointed that the weather wasn’t better, it had been forecast to be in the 30’s but there was a thick mist hanging around that made all my pictures of lovely windmills look grey.  We started in Halsteren where we got our first photo of a windmill the Sint Antonius Molen no blue skies but still a good photo opportunity.   It was then on to the village of Steenbergen which is famous for housing the graves of Guy Gibson and Jim Warwick, the Royal Air Force's 617 Squadron leaders, better known as the "Dam Busters" after the raid in 1943, resulting in the destruction of two large dams in the Ruhr area. They died a year later in Steenbergen when their plane developed a problem and crashed killing them both.
Down some narrow country lanes to De Heen and a set of lock gates that had an automatic footbridge for the cyclists. It was very pretty and peaceful I do love watching sailboats.  It was time for some lunch and the next destination was the small city of Zierikzee, another picturesque town set round a canal and brimming with quaintness.  We walked round the canal and then had lunch outside in the street next to the water’s edge. Gary and I were very impressed with how much Dutch Dad could translate and how much knowledge he had of the area....it had made the whole day very interesting.   Zeirikzee also had a windmill, so time for some more photo shoots before heading back to Bergen op Zoom. 
We stopped for coffee on the way home just as the sun came out and the sky turned blue....typical.  Holland is obviously famous for its historic windmills but there are a large number of modern wind turbines here too and our last stop was to photograph a line of these that are positioned on the causeway.  It has been a fantastic day, Holland is a very beautiful country, and I can understand why Mum and Dad are enjoying their time here.  Our last night on the balcony, watching the sun set over the lake......what a life, even Bernie enjoyed himself having purchased a pair of yellow clogs...he really thinks he’s the bell of the ball.
 
 We packed our bags, having been over the road to the supermarket to stock up on cheeses and beer.  Mum waved us off as we left Bergen Op Zoom, taking care not to run any cyclists over on the way out.  We did a detour on the way back to Dunkirk via Oostende, the weather was roasting 34 degrees, it was a good job the cars climate control worked. 

 By luck more than judgement we parked the car in an underground car park when we arrived in Oostende, which meant it stayed lovely and cool while we slowly cooked as we walked round the city.  The town was heaving with people, most of them looking very red and sweaty, we tried to get lunch in two restaurants but they were both so busy we ended up walking out.  No choice but to have McDonalds, Air Con and cheap food....what more do you need.  We walked back to the car via the seafront, which like the town was full of holidaymakers soaking up the heat of the hottest day of the year so far. 
 
 Back at the car, we soaked up the cool of the underground carpark before headed off to the ferry port.  DFDS kindly let us on the next ferry even though we were two hours early for our scheduled transport.  We found seats and settled down for the two hour crossing, playing backgammon and Angry Birds on our phones to kill time.
Back in sunny Southend after a very enjoyable five days.....thanks guys.
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websters on

Great blog, and the photos are excellent.

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