Travel StoriesThe Netherlands 2016
By Ren Withnell
The plan today is to catch the ferry at 1415 which will see us back in Harwich at 1945. As the ferry docks late in the evening and we don't know what state we'll be in or the weather we've booked a Travelodge room at Capel St Mary some 25 miles from the port. I feel like I've chickened out yet right now as I lay on this small hard mattress the idea of a big soft comfy bed and a clean private toilet but a few paces away seems more than a little appealing.
Who am I trying to kid? I'm not really a dedicated camper. I'm not really the Bear Grylls type who could survive and thrive in the jungles of Borneo. I'm not Ray Mears type who relishes the idea of life under a rattan shelter while eating grubs and leaves. I camp because I'm too lazy too be rich. I camp because 1 night in a hotel costs the same as 3 nights under canvas. I do weirdly enjoy the challenge at times and I enjoy the sense of achievement. I may even enjoy it more BECAUSE I don't like it in that I feel as though I've manned up to it, overcome it and had a good time despite it. What a peculiar thing the human condition is.
With nothing to do this morning and the ferry port only a mile or so away it seems churlish to awaken sleeping beauty. For one who likes make up, hair straighteners, nice dresses and fresh clean bedsheets Sharon amazes me. She sleeps soundly in a tent. She will sit happily on a hard floor or wooden box for hours. She will eat food from a pan. She actually likes being in the tent far more than I do. I wonder if she feels the same sense of achievement that I have having survived the last fortnight?
I'm going to walk down to the ferry port while she remains in the land of nod. It takes me an hour to walk there and back on this quiet Friday morning. It is good to walk rather than ride all the time as you see so much more. The houses here are fairly modern and rather mundane in their appearance. In keeping with the Dutch theme they're all quite clean and smart inside and out, other than that they're remarkably just as I'd expect to find back home. I can sense a slight but tangible difference in style compared to the UK yet overall I guess the Dutch lifestyle is much like the English except they're much neater and cleaner.
It's not all clogs, windmills and steep roofs. It is smart, clean and tidy though.
Sharon is awake! It is a modern miracle and I feel as though I should alert the press. As we decamp and pack up a stout bearded gentleman wearing his dressing gown and wet hair stops and says "You are English yesh?"
"Yesh - I mean yes."
"Have you seen the newsh?"
"Erm, nope." Oh my goodness, has England had a disaster, is the ferry cancelled, who has died?
"Brekshit, you have voted leave Europe, You are going, you are leaving ush!"
Oh my lord! Good Heavens! Wow! Firshtly - I mean firstly we'd totally forgotten. We had both voted by postal vote before we left so we'd had our say. We'd discussed it on the trip too. And yet on the day of the result it is by far the last thing on our minds. I am in the remain group, Sharon is a leaver and yet we are both utterly taken aback by the news that by a margin of 52 to 48 percent the vote is to leave. We are for once both genuinely stunned.
It's time for our adventure beasts to hit the road and then the open seas.
Down at the port I'm half expecting to see Dutch armed guards with serious faces growling at our passports telling us to go home and don't come back! Nope, business as usual and it's as though nothing at all has happened.
We meet a couple in a good sized camper van with English plates. Get this - they retired some time ago and in the following 7 or 8 years they've toured Australia a couple of times in a 4 by 4 camper, buying one when they got there, travelling in it then selling it at the end of the trip. They've toured America in the same manner. This time they've been touring Europe for a few years with occasional visits back to their daughter's place in the UK to check all is well.That's where they're heading now and they'll stay "until they feel it's time to get on the road again." What an amazing retirement.
What a lovely couple too. They have some delightful tales to tell still they're keen to hear ours. I could sit and listen to them for hours, tap their minds for their wisdom and let their positivity and joy of life wash over me. They make me a cup of tea but as soon as I get it the queue starts to move and I have to ditch it to return their cup. I do so wish we could have met them on a peaceful campsite one evening.
Now that's what I call a retirement home.
I stand on the deck of the ferry watching the trailer shunters tango across the floor, marvelling at the tight parking and the well rehearsed routine of each member of staff. I wave goodbye to the decidedly industrial workings of the massive port and head inside to kill time for the next few hours. We have a nap in the cabin. We treat ourselves to a simple meal. We talk. Sharon has another nap. I have a shower. I watch boats pass by. England starts to come into view and we're back in Blighty
The port is not what you might call "picturesque"
Travelodges tend to be uniformly functional in a good way. So far we've never needed for anything and the rooms are clean and comfortable. That said the actual buildings are as dull as the service stations, industrial estates and retail parks they find themselves on. Here at Capel St Mary everything is much the same, we look out onto a petrol station and dual carriageway. If you desire grand architecture that overlooks tranquil countryside then look elsewhere and pay a lot more. If you want a clean warm dry room with a good bed at a fair price then Travelodge it is.
Our only problem is there's no restaurant and no obvious eateries nearby. The lady behind the counter, knowledgeable as ever, suggests a walk into the village to this pub or that takeaway but we're tired so we opt for a plastic wrapped sausage roll and some crisps from the petrol station. It would be rude to crank up the stove in the hotel room and set the fire alarms off wouldn't it?
Prologue - The Netherlands 2016
Why are we going Dutch? What's that peculiar box on Ren's bike? Why are we taking our 125cc motorcycles? Is there even a plan? Find out more...
The first day of our trip is not the start we would hope for. Yet with some luck and the desire to improve his mindset Ren manages to keep a calm and positive outlook.
Crashing Out To The Netherlands
This is Sharon's take on the first day of The Netherland's trip. Oh the best laid plans of mice and women.
No News Is Good News
It's an ordinary day of ordinary travelling for our dynamic duo. Sometimes a lack of excitement can be a good thing doncha know.
Sharon covers the second day of the trip to The Netherlands. She moves from discomfort and bruises through nervous and fear to luxury and comfort. All in one day!
Hades - I Mean Amsterdam
Ah The Netherlands, fields of flowers, windmills, tranquil canals and leisurely cyclists. Or is this what the tourist office would have you believe?
Crying In The Rain And Laughing Gonkeys
Sharon's first time motorcycling on foreign tarmac is a baptism of fire. What on earth is a laughing gonkey anyhow?
We Are Tourist
So what is Ren's take on the popular city of Amsterdam? Will he survive the bicycles? Is he a wild traveller or just a tourist?
The Lost Experience
Once again Ren's expectations get the better of him. Once again Ren gets completely lost. Once again the rain is coming down. Is there any hope at all? Actually it's not all bad.
Smiles In The Rain
The friendly Dutch folk mean that a rain filled day can still be a worthwhile day.
Bicycling De Hoge Veluwe
Will today be a tortuous day stuck in the tent waiting for the rain to stop? For the sake of Ren's mental health let's hope there's some good weather.
Urk? Is That The Sun?
A break in the weather brings a positive feel to the day along with pleasant places, friendly faces and new acquaintances.
A Big Dyke With Edam
What is the Afsluitdijk for? Why would you name a town after a cheese? All these questions will not be answered by reading this.
Edam, Marken, Tourists and Symmetry
Ren and Sharon visit a town named after a cheese. Why would you name a town after a cheese? Weird folks these Dutch.
Sunshine, philosophy and an alternative kind of campsite.
Drowning In Zierikzee
Philosophy, friendly people, terrible rain and salvation all in one day! Not bad really for pair of wastrels on 125s.
We're chilling out and exploring Zeeland 2-up on a 125. Is this the Dutch Riviera?
A Short Hop To Oostkapelle
How do you get lost in 15 miles on a route you already know? How do you upset a German camper? How do you do all this and remain content in yourself? It's called getting old.
Dodgy Dutch Drivers
Their last full day in The Netherlands sums up the whole Dutch experience. "The nicest bad drivers you'll ever meet".
It's time to leave The Netherlands and return to good 'ole Blighty. There's some shocking news that might change things for the future though.
So, What About The Netherlands?
After 2 weeks of riding around The Netherlands on 125s what does Ren think of the country now?
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Travel StoriesThe Netherlands 2016