Today we awoke to a definite chill in the air, despite the forecast predicting a sunny day. Even after my hot shower, it took me a full hour to dispense with the goosebumps I had woken up with. There was only one other set of campers on our site, on the far side of the grassy field, so we had the luxury of having the wash blocks essentially to ourselves.
I had been woken this morning by the sound of geese, and thought that perhaps some migrating geese had landed on the lush green grassy site. However, as we sat drinking our morning tea, the culprits of the noise revealed themselves. A group of six lovely white geese paraded across the path in front of us, and proceeded to walk into the orchard, and feast on windfall apples – they were in goosey heaven!
Packing up the van, everything was damp. There was condensation on the topper, and despite leaving it out to dry over the chairs, in the end, we had to pack it away still wet. There is something though about flat places, that does something special to the light. Just as in the wide flat expanses of Suffolk and Norfolk, the skies here in Zealand have a special quality – more luminant than further inland.
Zealand is made up of a series of islands, joined by bridges and tunnels. We decided to plot a route through this coastal part of the Netherlands, on our way to Amsterdam. For our morning coffee destination, we picked the medieval town of Middelburg. It’s cobbled alleyways harp back to the sea-trading days of the 16th century, with many of the street names reflecting it’s past -‘Beer Dock’, ‘Grain Dyke’ and ‘Timber Dock’. The town sits on a bend in the River Arne, close to the windswept coast. The main square is quite spectacular – huge, with the impressive town hall buildings, the Stadius, taking up one entire side. We found a charming little coffee shop, and sat in the sun and enjoyed the world passing us by, very pleasant indeed. Before leaving, we had a look at one of the three Abbey Churches, and stuck our head in a couple of shops, searching out a flag. The latter drew a blank, but we were surprised to learn that the Dutch flag is, in fact, red, white and blue, and not orange as we had expected. The orange colour, so much associated with the Netherlands, derives from William of Orange apparently.
Our next stop was the charming little town of Veere, a short distance away. This maritime town, that sits on the Veerse Meer, owes it fames to it’s association with Scotland. In 1444, the Lord of Veere, Wolfert IV van Borssele, married Mary, daughter of James 1st of Scotland. As part of the dowry, van Borssele was granted a monopoly on trade with Scottish wool merchants. So, after looking around the pretty harbour, we couldn’t resist taking a peek at the ‘Scotze-Huisen’ or Scottish House, two merchant’s buildings, dating from the 16th century. The small museum had a shop, and I went in to to ask if they could sell me a Netherlands flag. The answer was ‘No – only a Saltire’! It certainly was a fine town, although apparently it’s wealth diminished with the decline of the cloth industry.
Finally, it was time to leave Zealand, and make our way to Amsterdam. It is maybe somewhere we might return to another time – it seems like a cyclist’s heaven – no hills and tons of cycle lanes. In fact, the biggest danger in Zealand in avoiding the multitude of bicycles. I did feel moderately guilty for not at least getting out our bikes, but sadly we know have a schedule to stick to, since we have booked our ferry back to Scotland. Another trip, perhaps.
The drive into Amsterdam became increasingly tedious, as the traffic levels increased. To make matters worse, Boris went into ‘stupid mode’, and went into long periods of silence, when we needed him most. Certainly not matching up to his namesake!
Eventually we arrived in the city, and found our hotel, in the canal district. It was a tight squeeze parking Oscar, but he is tucked up fine in the courtyard of the hotel. We wasted no time in getting out to see this wonderful city. The overwhelming thing about Amsterdam is…..Yikes! So many bikes!!! Everywhere you turn they are coming at you, from all directions. Bicycles are clearly the main form of transport in this city – there are literally thousands and thousands of them. The whole city is cycle friendly, with cycle lanes on every road, and they appear to have more space on the walkways than pedestrians. Don’t get me wrong – I applaud this as a means of transport. It also must mean that Amsterdamers (is that right?) must be some of the most fittest city dwellers, with all this daily exercise. But the thing is, after spending the afternoon and evening walking around this amazing city, I appear to have developed an irrational fear of bicycles! They speed around the place with complete disregard for pedestrians, and I have no doubt, must be a major cause of admissions to A & E. Howard ended up having to hold my hand, whenever we tired to cross a road.
Cyclists apart, we had a lovely time exploring the city. The canal area is just charming, then as we you got nearer to the Central Station and the Old Town, the character started to change. The rather overwhelming pungent smell of cannabis started to pervade the air, and a number of ‘Coffee Shops’ snd shops clearly selling pots of the weed became evident. At the Central Station, the number of bikes chained up was quite extraordinary. How the commuters ever find their own bike at the end of the day is beyond me!
We took a free ferry along the river to the other side of he city, just because we could. By now, the sun was setting, and the city took on a very different feel. We walked back towards the canal area, and found a lovely cafe for our evening meal.
It felt quite sad, since this will be our last whole day in mainland Europe, before we catch the ferry back to the UK tomorrow evening. Consequently, there will be no blog tomorrow night, as we will be at sea. We plan to touch base back in Scotland, before deciding if we have the stamina for one final flush around the UK. We will see?!