Into Holland

Monday 14th May, 2018, Leek, near Groningen, Netherlands
Yesterday was a lovely day for us but so very hot that we felt physically sick by the time we finally reached our destination for the night. We left Husum around 9am after a short chat with a young Englishman with his bike and a ring through his nose. He is the only English person we have seen. As with so many of the young eccentric English we have encountered on our travels, this young man was set on achieving his personal ambition of cycling from Brighton to North Cape at the furthermost tip of Norway. He’d been cycling for two weeks so far. We hardly dared confess we’d been a good six weeks getting here from Devon and we were finding the driving exhausting! Wishing him luck we left and set out to drive along behind the dyke protecting the polders from the sea. Sheep are grazed on the landward side of the dyke. At the start of the day the air was fresh and the narrow roads through the polders were straight and flat. We saw almost nobody. Birds calling and the occasional isolated farmhouse were the only signs of any activity this early Sunday morning.

At St Peter Ording we discovered a craft market selling beautifully produced local items that really nobody would find much use for, though they were very charming in their way. The pretty village, sheltering behind the dyke soon proved to be a tourist honeypot with local people coming out from Husum and other little towns to enjoy Mother’s Day, as it is here, in the many smart or quaint restaurants and tea rooms that are the heart of St. Peter Ording.

House, Sankt Peter Ording Dorf, Schleswig-Holstein

Fishermen's statue, Sankt Peter Ording Dorf, Schleswig-Holstein

Church, Sankt Peter Ording Dorf, Schleswig-Holstein

By the time we left there were queues for the car parks and a slow crawl of cars through the main street, waiting for us to leave so they could fight over our parking space. We continued to the Eidersperrwerk where a massive hydrolic dam regulated the flow of water in and out of the Eider estuary at high and low tide to prevent flooding (and possibly to generate electricity.) Here we parked and climbed up onto the dam, a massive construction of steel and iron. Looking out at the flow of the incoming tide above the dam we watched several seals wallowing in the waves, bobbing around in the water and looking as if they were thoroughly enjoying their frolic.

Despite the extraordinary heat of the day there was a brisk wind on the top of the dyke which was crowded with cyclists who had zipped across the polders and up onto the dyke whilst the less athletic Germans were sitting getting hot and cross in their open top BMWs as the sun poured down on them queuing to find somewhere to park at the dam. Whereas flood defences in Britain are being constructed to protect towns from increased risk of flooding from rivers bringing water downstream from higher ground, in Friesland the effort is put into trying to hold back the ever rising tides and the risk of flooding from the sea.

On the dam there was a kiosk selling rolls with Matyas herring or Backfish, both containing salad and herb remoulard with onions. We have become addicted and bought a couple of backfish rolls for lunch which we ate on wooden benches behind the building, thus being partially sheltered from the strong wind on top of the dyke. We could watch the seals as we ate while we in turn were eyed with caution and calculation by some of the local seagulls. Incidentally, my curiosity as to where the gulls nested when there were no cliffs to provide ledges, was answered when we looked at the dam from up close. Some had even nested in the workings while others were sitting patiently brooding their eggs laid directly on to the steep ground built up at the sides of the dam. They ignored the humans around but squabbled ferociously with any fellow gull who approached too close to a neighbour’s nesting site.

Eidersperrwerk, Schleswig-Holstein

Bauernhaus, Meldorf, Schleswig-Holstein

From then on however our day was less successful. I have taken a strong aversion to German motorways where there are no upper speed limits and it is the only place drivers of luxury German cars can put their vehicles through their paces. I must be a pain to them but the faster I drive the faster they snarl along behind me, sometimes flashing me to hurry up or roaring past to cut in directly in front of me. I know it is because of the straight, flat roads but I still hate it, particularly getting on and off the motorway. Also horrid are drivers joining the road coming in really fast from the side, forcing me to slow down to let them in ahead of me as I cannot possibly match their really high speeds - which is what you do with an open top BMW on a bank holiday Sunday when heavy lorries are not allowed to use the motorway. Thus, in our attempt to avoid the motorway through Hamburg we cut across country to take the ferry across the Elbe. We arrived to discover a huge tailback of vehicles returning home to Oldburg and other towns on the far side of the estuary queuing in 34 degrees of heat. This we endured for a good two hours before the ferry eventually returned for yet another crossing and we were finally taken across the fast-flowing estuary and deposited on the far bank, hot, sticky, sleepy, bad-tempered and VERY thirsty! It was no comfort me knowing that many of the vehicles in the queue with us had air conditioning, tinted windows, automatic engine cut-out when stationary, and automatic gears. Modestine has five gears for me to fiddle through and jam, an engine that needs to be started each time I move forward and a security code that keeps timing out. Of course we don’t have air conditioning so sit getting hotter and hotter. I will definitely not be bringing Modestine to Germany again. I do console myself though wondering how Germans would cope with some of our Devon lanes and twisting, winding, undulating roads.

The crossing itself was very enjoyable. It took a good 40 minutes and at 12 euros for us and Modestine we thought it excellent value. We wove around mudflats clogging the estuary and followed the marker buoys along the edge of the Watten Meer, a vast area of mud that in the setting sunlight looked more like a smooth lake, at odds with the choppy water of the river where we were actually sailing.

Glückstadt-Wischhaven Ferry, Terminal, Glückstadt, Schleswig-Holstein

Glückstadt-Wischhaven Ferry, Container ship, Glückstadt, Schleswig-Holstein

Glückstadt-Wischhaven Ferry, Modestine, Glückstadt, Schleswig-Holstein

Glückstadt-Wischhaven Ferry, Modestine, Glückstadt, Schleswig-Holstein

We still had thirty miles to drive to reach the campsite Ian had decided we would use for the night. When we eventually arrived everywhere was shut up for the night despite it being only 8pm. There was an emergency phone number which we rang and eventually somebody drove up to let us in. We object to using our UK phone abroad but were too tired to do anything else. It was fortunate Ian speaks German, otherwise there would have been no point phoning anyway.

Today has been much better. It has been almost as hot, reaching 34 degrees, but we have been driving for much of the day which has created a breeze. I decided I’d had enough of driving in Germany and we’d seen everyone we’d planned on visiting, except Eva, so headed for Holland. It is time to start the long trek home anyway. Mid morning we were caught up in a traditional German motorway queue. Ian, who does not use a GPS system, looked at our map (a quaint old-fashioned thing that replicated with signs, symbols and squiggly lines called contours on a piece of paper and depicts what is going on with the physical geography outside the car window.) With this he eventually managed to get us out of the tailback and on our way across country.

We stopped for fuel and coffee at a pleasant little town near the Dutch border. Prices for fuel have gone up considerably in Germany. 1.25 euros a litre now from 1.18. Our friend Genevieve has emailed to say there has been a big increase in fuel prices in France as well following failed negotiations between America and Iran. We continued driving across-country slipping into Holland by a quiet back-road near a Lidl supermarket where most of the cars were Dutch. I suspect they pop over to buy up all the potato salad in yogurt, an absolute staple in Germany. We stopped a couple of times to seek shelter from the afternoon sun and to drink Apfelshorle in air-conditioned bakeries. Thus we have survived the day. We are tonight camped in a green glade in a Dutch forest where Ian has disappeared down to the campsite office to use the internet, leaving me with the sounds of the birds as they settle for the night. It is so peaceful here. So far our impression of Holland on this trip has been very positive. Tomorrow we hope to cross the zuiderzee.

Tuesday 15th May 2018, Alkmaar, Holland
Today fuel prices have risen further. Diesel is now around 1.38 litre.

This evening we are camped on a pleasant, green site, almost the only visitors. It is rather expensive but the nearest one to the town and I simply cannot walk around in this heat, dodging cyclists in order to walk into town centres. We will explore the town tomorrow and possibly spend a further night here.

Driving in Holland is definitely easier than in Germany. It feels much the same as back home except that it is all in mirror image. It is still far too hot and we have still seen no sign of rain throughout our six weeks so far spent in Europe. There has been rain as we have seen puddles around last night’s campsite, but it has evaded us. Again temperatures have been up at 32.5 which is way beyond my comfort zone. Poor Ian is also affected by the heat and makes silly mistakes in directing me or with his map reading. He then suffers from me moaning at him as I try to do a three point turn in a side road and then cannot get out into the stream of traffic on the arterial roads. However, we are here and around 6pm temperatures become manageable. It is though, far too extreme to take any pleasure in being here and our instinct is to head for home. We have also discovered that the discount we get from using ACSI sites does not cover certain periods in Holland. Of course it is the period that we are here. So we will probably drive through Holland into Belgium and give Holland a miss. It’s a shame as it seems a very pretty little country with canals and windmills with cattle and sheep grazing in the water meadows or along the dykes. Within the towns are old brick gateways and high rounded bridges over the canals. But when camping goes up ten euros a night it makes a big difference to our weekly budget, particularly with fuel increases as well.

This morning we stopped in Sneek, a charming old town with a remarkable gateway over the canal. On the inside the street was bordered with small red-brick houses with high roofs and pretty doorways. We spent some time waiting for the canal bridge to open to allow a couple of tall masted yachts into the town marina while around sixty cyclists, a few pedestrians and a queue of cars waited patiently. The bridge was a massive structurer worked by hydraulic hinges. As the second sailing vessel passed beneath, the bridge was already coming down and the barrier lifting for bikes to proceed. I’m glad I was not in the sailing ship. They needed to move on very promptly indeed.

Water Gate, Sneek, Netherlands

Water Gate, Sneek, Netherlands

Water Gate, Sneek, Netherlands

At noon the main church in Sneek began a carillon which Ian assured me was a live playing rather than a recording. It sounded very pleasant and musical and we were more than happy to sit on a tombstone beneath the shady trees and listen as its music cascaded out from the bell tower, its echo bouncing back from neighbouring buildings so that all over the little town people could here the free recital which continued for some thirty minutes.

Church, Sneek, Netherlands

   Church, Carillon, Sneek, Netherlands
It was market day in the centre and the streets were crowded with merchants selling all kinds of items from fruit and veg, meats, fish, bread and cakes, cheeses and dairy produce, teas and coffees and also ceramics, kitchenware, clothing, shoes and gifts. Ian even managed to buy a replacement sun hat for the one he lost yesterday. It lasted all of two hours before he lost it again! I did later find it for him somewhere in Modestine but years ago we gave up trying to remember how many he has lost over the years of our wanderings around Europe. It was though, too hot to browse the market.

Town hall, Sneek, Netherlands

Returning to Modestine we drove on towards Amsterdam before turning from one motorway to another and heading to the incredible thirty kilometre long dam across the Zuider Zee. This must have been one of the wonders of the modern world when it was first opened back in 1929 protecting homes along the coast from flooding and allowing polders to be reclaimed from the sea. For almost ninety years the dam has been protecting homes and land from the ravages of the North Sea. Now though, with rising sea levels, it is considered to no longer be fit for purpose and already work is beginning on modernising the dam to enable it to cope with rising sea levels.

The Dutch civil engineer and statesman Corneilis Lely (1854-1929) was the polititian and driving force behind the construction of the Afsluitdijk. There is a huge statue of him on the dyke which is possibly the largest monument ever accorded to a civil engineer! The work of Mari Andriessen it was erected in 1954 to mark the centenary of his birth.

Afsluitdijk, Lely monument, Ijsselmeer, Netherlands

We drove across the dam, stopping a couple of times at what were originally islands out in the sea and which now provide partial foundations upon which the dam rests as it stretches across the water as far as the eye can see and way beyond. There was even a tiny campsite on the island where we parked for lunch with just sufficient room for a few caravans with the sea stretching away to the horizon on all sides and nowhere to do anything except look at the sea all around. Birds were attracted to the land and ducks and greebes bobbed on the salt water around our picnic place.

Dutch cyclists, younger and fitter than us, were cycling along the top of the grassy dike from shore to shore. I can see how it is a challenge and would love to attempt it but Ian says it would be boring with nothing but sea around one and cars tearing along the motorway/dike. (This from a man who can spend his life rejuggling his index of thousands of dead printers!) Despite today’s heat there were plenty of cyclists willing to make the ride across on their big, tough, upright bicycles with their comfy saddles. Some even have child seats balanced to the handlebars and/or trailers behind for children, dogs or shopping!

Afsluitdijk, Bridge on motorway, Ijsselmeer, Netherlands

Afsluitdijk, Ijsselmeer, Netherlands

Afsluitdijk, Monument to basalt stone layers, Ijsselmeer, Netherlands

Afsluitdijk, Ijsselmeer, Netherlands

Afsluitdijk, Modestine, Ijsselmeer, Netherlands

We drove south from Den Helder, hoping the day might cool enough for us to visit Alkmaar this afternoon. However, by the time we found the campsite I was far too weary to walk into the city and promptly went to sleep in Modestine until the day cooled down enough to move. By then it was too late to walk the couple of kilometres into town, so we’ve simply relaxed with the wine in the shade of the trees beneath which we are camped.