OUR PICCIES FROM THE FIRST LEG OF OUR EUROPEAN ADVENTURE WERE LOST ALONG WITH THOSE FROM OUR UK LEG. FINGERS CROSSED WE CAN RECOVER THE DATA AND UPDATE THEM SOON!!
Wednesday 2nd July – Harwich – Rockanje!
After a late night last night trying to get our last minute bits and pieces sorted our 6am alarm clock was a bit of a shock to the system but one that was quickly overwhelmed by excitement for our adventure ahead. We ate a super quick breakie while the boys were still sleeping and then transferred them, in their slumber, to their car seats so we could head to the ferry terminal. We were all buzzing to see the MASSIVE Stena line ferry that, to Mylo’s delight, would be our “pirate ship” for our journey to Holland. Jeremy had had the sense to book a cabin and it felt like sheer luxury to have our own space and ensuite bathroom with SHOWER to luxuriate in while at sea. I did just that, partaking in a bygone routine of hair washing, skin cleansing, exfoliating and shaving to the point of having wrinkly water toes but it was amazing. We took turns having naps as unfortunately the boys rhythms didn’t co-incide but I lucked out with the timing taking Felix to lunch accompanied by a large glass of Sauvignon to be enjoyed before my nap. Mylo loved the ferry, especially the kiddies area which was well stocked with bits and bobs to keep him pre-occupied for long enough that he didn’t want to leave.
We arrived at the hook of Holland at around 4pm and J took to the wheel. To our dismay our sat nav wasn’t giving us European maps but J managed to plug in our destination using GPS co-ordinates and there we were, actually driving (on the wrong side of the road) on the continent toward our first European destination!
The area that we arrived into was a really interesting blend of contrasts; stark industrial with warm, homely residences, with rural settings (ponies being groomed in paddocks right between the houses and the motorway). One thing that was immediately apparent was the cleanliness and the care – peoples pride for their homes was so evident, mostly demonstrated by their PERFECT gardens. Some areas felt like they were straight from a story book with perfect boarders, manicured lawns and colourful but understated shows of colour. It felt like people here were accustomed to making the absolute most out of any space made available to them.
We arrived at our site at around 6.30 by which point the gates were locked and a contact number was pinned to the door for late arrival visitors . Alas, the number did not work. Both boys were shattered from all the excitement and we were not much better so were hugely relieved when a fellow guest who I hunted down came over (with his phone) to suss things out. In the interim J had somehow manged to find a number that did work so the gates were opened and we were given directions to our pitch. 45 minutes later we managed to find it as we had been told the wrong place but this gave us a chance to get a feel for the site and chat to some of the other campers. The set up accommodated mobile caravans, static caravans for seasonal holidaymakers, little villas/apartments and campervans. Mylo was stoked to see a brilliant playground with a fantastic object that is best described as a cross between a trampoline and a bouncy castle! It was so much fun that we had to give it a name, HAROLD!! After all the excitement of the day we were all utterly shattered but felt SO excited (and rather amazed!) to be here.
Thursday 3rd July - Rockanje
Our first full day in Europe!! We made a decision last night that today would be RELAXED, without agenda. It felt pretty amazing waking up and realizing that we were actually here, that our first leg has indeed begun. Last night Mylo was very upset not to have been able to go to the pool so after an awesome cooked breakie from J we headed straight there after a jump on Harold (!) Mylo was right in the water, slowing down only to hug the giant turtle that decorated the water slide.
Since stopping Mylo’s swimming lessons when I went back to work his confidence in the water hasn’t been great so we were SO relieved to see him splashing about with utter abandon. Felix had his first proper swim! I forgot to pack swim nappies so was a tad embarrassed when he peed all over me and the pool edge through his togs while we were talking to another mummy but she was so lovely she politely ignored the puddle He LOVED putting his feet in and splashing about but mostly I think he was entranced by Mylo running around, squealing with delight and being generally bonkers! It is so amazing to think of all the firsts that Felix (and Mylo) will have on this trip. I feel so privileged that we can share them as a family.
Both J and I managed some lengths in the big pool after having both Felix and Mylo join us in the water. It was so much fun having a squishy, squirmy, slippery little one hold on SO TIGHT while swimming in a big pool and made me feel even more the protector. I remember clinging to my Dad in swimming pools when I was little and always feeling so safe so it is nice to we're giving our kids that same feeling too :-)
After our swim I sorted out a quick lunch and then both Felix and I had a nap which I really needed and did make me feel as though I was on holiday. Even though it was almost 5 the weather was gorgeous so we saddled both boys up on the bikes and headed down to the beach. As it was the first time Felix had been on the bike it took us quite some time to make sure he was comfortable and safe, and even though the prep was probably about 45 mins for a 5 minute bike ride, it was totally worth it!!
I rode with Felix and J with Mylo and it felt really wonderful to all be out and about without being reliant on our van or our buggy. The beach was just lovely, HUGE with stretches of sand and nice calm water. We didn’t go in but put our feet in the water and had an ice cream to commemorate the journey and headed back to the van.
Ice cream + no nap = Mylo melt down so we hurried to get both boys down after dinner and were somewhat relived when the curtains were finally pulled. Our neighbour must have sensed our stress so offered us a dark German beer which more than hit the spot. All we had to offer them was Gin (but no tonic!) and as it so happened this was a bit of an icebreaker as it lead us to sitting down and formally introducing ourselves to Mike and Claudia, whose favorite drink just happened to be Gin and water!! It was lovely to be able to have some social time and we were able to spend some time planning our upcoming German leg of our journey as they so kindly gave us a map and some brilliant recommendations. They also gave us some mozzie repellent spirals which am sure will be an absolute necessity in months to come.
Friday 4th July
Mylo was delighted to see Mike and Claudia and spent most of the morning playing with them and their egg timer as we prepared for our trip into Rotterdam. They very sweetly gave Mylo the egg timer as another parting gift as they were leaving that day. We were sad to say goodbye as we could have not hoped for lovelier neighbors but felt so lucky that we had been paired together
Mike and Claudia
As exercise has been few and far between since we left our place in London we both decided to swim some lengths before we went which was brilliant and very much needed and reminded me that we must, one day, have our own pool
It was a very easy ride into the centre of Rotterdam and we immediately found the tourist info desk and got a map and a suggested itinerary for the day.
We followed it to the street; through the shopping district, past the amazing architecture of the tilted cubed houses just by Blaak station, down the canal toward the water taxi, but then we found Vessel 11, a STUNNING old boat that had been converted into a bar/cafe/restaurant and who’s deck called us to come aboard and abort our schedule. When we walked by Mylo said “please can we go on that boat?” and we could think of many reasons why that was a marvelous idea. It was SO COOL, it felt interesting and quirky and unpretentious and that we had found a wee treasure. To top it all off, after we had both ordered a stein of beer the waitress told us there were swings, yes SWINGS up stairs on the deck!!! I was up there in a flash and Mylo had to wait while I tested them out first, for safety of course There were two single hammocks suspended from massive hooks on the boat and it quickly became one of my favorite things EVER (and that is saying a lot ....) It is agreed that our main form of seating in our forever home will indeed be of the hammock variety
After several hours of swinging and sipping we swayed along the harbour and over the bridge “Erasmusbrug” and took in the awesome scale of this impressive port city. There is clearly so much going on here but it felt completely void of the frantic rush of London. Perhaps it is because of the number of people on bicycles – not the head down, shoulders hunched, thighs pumping type I have become used to in London but the sit up, carry your kid, or adult friend on the handle bars or back (or indeed both!) style that moves this city. Since being in Holland the amount of cyclists has been pretty hard to ignore and I absolutely LOVE the fact that so many people, very young and very old and all ages in between are outside, using their own energy to propel their momentum and getting fresh air while they are at it. From what we have seen so far cycling is as much a part of the Dutch transport system as driving or buses or trains, as a pedestrian tourist however it does take some getting used to, certainly when needing to look the opposite way when crossing the street!
We went for dinner along the stretch overlooking Rijnhaven which would have been a lovely evening were it not for an overtired toddler. Argh it does get tough, on him and on us, not having a formal routine and there are some nights that we have to pay for that and this was one of them. Enough said. Both boys fell asleep in the van on the way “home” to our campsite which was rather a relief. A large glass of wine rewarded us upon arrival.
Saturday 5 July – Rockanje – Bilthoven (Utrecht area) via Brielle
We had gone to bed with heavy rain and it was still pouring when we woke up which, to be honest was a bit of a relief as the past few days had been hot and sticky which, with three sweaty boys and no washing machine, necessitates a break Due to the rain we ate inside for the first time in ages which takes even more strategy than normal; mini wheats vs wheat-bix to avoid mess, Felix before Mylo to pre-occupy Felix’s hands, water after eating to avoid smashing of water bottle into full bowl of cereal blah blah and after not too much of a mess drama and packing up we got on the road.
We decided to visit Brielle on the way to our destination for no particular reason other than we had seen signs and I managed my first parallel park only to be told that a more preferable spot was over the road. My initial effort shattered me so I gave J the pleasure of delivering a 3 point turn to get into the new space. It actually turned out to be quite a good thing that we relocated as we ended up by a gorgeous canal which we walked along before heading up the main street. There was bunting everywhere and a fabulous feel to the place.
I am sure there would have been a huge amount more to see than we did but it was nice not having any agenda or guidebook and just wandering about. The heavens decided t open while we were walking so we nipped into what looked to be a traditional restaurant for lunch which was, um, pretty traditional I guess? Jeremy’s sausage (?!) was certainly more European than English accompanied by a massive pat (J’s description) of mash and sauerkraut. Mmm. While eating our lunch an incredible Opera singer broke into song from a balcony overlooking the square in which we were eating. Her voice was incredible, it was such a privilege to be there to hear her performance.
On the walk back to the car we visited an AMAZING deli which was a cheese lover’s heaven The man who served me was a darling but perhaps slightly taken aback by my enthusiasm for his cheese!! Honestly, my vocal signs of approval were entirely justified, it was damn good cheese.
I bought both types that I tried, one mild and one strong + some pesto and cold cuts as well as a bottle of red that he said would match the cheeses well and we left feeling very excited about our alfresco date to come! Because I’d just purchased more cheese than would be fair for any dairy intolerant fiancée I agreed to forgo a detour to Gouda. Probably a good thing too as my wedding dress is not going to like all of this European indulgence ....
It was only an hour and a half drive further to our campsite in Bitricht and upon arrival we realised that there were some campers here in an ENTIRELY different league. We LOVE all things camping but we are mere novices compared to the insane preparation, organisation and execution of these Dutch camping Samurais. To my delight, bunting was draped everywhere and sofas with coffee tables, flower filled vases, and literally the kitchen sink filled the front room of the awning add-ons. Impressive stuff indeed.
Mylo was DELIGHTED at the presence of not one but two playgrounds AND another Harold. Fun times ahead :-)
Sunday the 6th of July
Woke up feeling sick so spent most of the day in bed. Jeremy did an amazing job looking after boys, sorting out dishes, preparing lunch and dinner so I caught up on some sleep and woke just in time for some fizz (to ease the tummy of course) with dinner. The heavens opened and we had a LOT of rain but it was actually lovely, it felt all cosy inside. Managed to squeeze in a load of washing and a breaking bad!!
Monday the 7th of July
Woke to a gorgeous day after a more than decent sleep in (8.30am!!) and feeling restored after my much needed r&r yesterday. Jeremy made his famous pancakes which I’m pretty sure are my favourite food so our day certainly couldn’t have started any better. Once again Mylo had befriended our neighbours, taking a shine to the lady who he called a “granny” which was both correct as her children and grandchildren had been visiting the day before, and adorable as we knew that he had been missing both of his grannies. As I had not been particularly sociable yesterday I had not had the chance to speak with them but went over for a chat and realised why Mylo had warmed to them so much. I had been concerned that he had been a wee bit too sociable as, like his mamma, he can talk rather a lot, but when we asked if they needed some quiet time they assured us that he was fine to stick about. They had a dog called Daisy, a lovely golden retriever who Mylo introduced me to, it was lovely to see how comfortable he was with her given that not too long ago he was terrified of dogs.
We had heard that Utrecht was well worth a visit so we decided to head in after some much needed exercise and a shower. The station was either a 20 minute or a 40 minute walk away depending on who we asked so dear Fred, our lovely neighbour, offered to give us a lift down in his car. We graciously accepted and managed to JUST catch a train to take us to Utrecht Centrum.
Train into Utrecht
Soon after leaving the station we found a little kiosk selling tickets for a canal boat tour which we thought would be the perfect way to see the city so booked ourselves on the next boat. It had an open roof which gave us a panoramic view of the streets above and huge windows to each side to allow us to see the canal and all of the restaurants, cafes and bars right beside the waters edge.
We immediately loved the city, it felt quite similar to Amsterdam but not as busy with tourists but with the same charms like the bicycles stacked up on every corner, the colourful flower hanging baskets, pungent coffee shops, and people who seemed warm hearted, chilled out and happy to have you in their presence. The number of people who greeted us with “hallo” or a lovely smile was so touching, people really were so friendly and I don’t think I saw one grumpy or sad face!
After the canal boat tour, upon our guides’ recommendation we found “Walden” restaurant which was located right under the Domkerk church in the square.
The Walden restaurant
The Dom is a tall, gothic, impressive building which we approached via a gorgeous archway flanked with cafes and restaurants. While the restaurant wasn’t particularly well equipped for kiddies as far as high chairs and menus went, we were SO well looked after with our waiters offering us pillows to bolster Mylo up in his seat, a kiddie sized selection of food instead of a big main and some Dutch souvenirs; a footie shirt and an orange pointie finger to ensure we support the Dutch team with a “hup Holland” at every game
After dinner we walked along the canals and soaked up the atmosphere. We both agreed that this is somewhere we could definitely live. By the time we got on the train it was 9.50 which we both felt was far too late to call Fred to ask for a lift as he insisted we should. We were really happy to walk home but when we got off the train we saw Fred, waiting for us at the platform. I nearly burst into tears I was so touched. He didn’t wave or make a big deal or anything, he just said “I thought you must be tired” and assured us that he was not and that he had just got there (we will never know how long he had been waiting). In the car I told him I was completely overwhelmed and he said “it is good to be overwhelmed, and always better to be overwhelmed by kindness than bad things”. And of course it is. He brought us home – literally to our door – and then re-parked by his tent door a few meters away. Thankfully we had found him a bottle of NZ wine at the local supermarket so was able to give him that but I don’t think any gift would have expressed how grateful we were, it was just such a kind, lovely, fatherly thing to do.
Despite it being 10.30 by the time we got in the van the boys were absolute angels. Felix actually broke into fits of hysterical laughter which could have been exhaustion but concerningly could have also been from wafts of Hollands finest?! Whatever it was he thankfully went down really well as did Mylo who I snuggled with in his bed before he finally dropped off beside me.
A really beautiful, perfect day that has left me feeling very humbled and blessed for all that we have and for all of the gorgeous people like Fred and Marianne in this world.
Fred and Mylo :-)
Cuddles with Fred
Tuesday the 8th Bilthoven – Winterswijk
We needed to get an adaptor for our “Safefill” Gas canister and J had found a dealer on the way to the German border so we headed in that direction. We hit some crap traffic on the way which meant that we would not make it to the dealer before closing so we agreed to book a site close by which would enable us to visit the dealer the next day. We pulled up to “De Twee Brugen” and we immediately decided htat we needed to stay for more than one night. The campsite was HUGE, with an indoor pool, outdoor pool, waterslide, bowling alley, a MASSIVE Harold in a big playground, a restaurant and an animal farm complete with Deer and a peacock! We lucked out with our camping spot which looked right over the animals farm and we had our own sanded play area that we let the kids use too ;-)
Our awesome possie
Breakie with a view
Our deer neighbours
Our own private playground :-)
Before bed we all had a boogie to Al Green and both Mylo AND Felix demonstrated their inheritance of their parents love for music and real groovy moves ;-)
Rainy night = cosy dinner
Grooving to Al Green before bedtime
Wednesday 9th Winterswijk
It had been raining seriously hard overnight and showed no sign of letting up so after some chilled out time in the van we headed for the swimming pool.
It was so much fun, both boys had a brilliant time and Mylo’s confidence in the water seemed to improve even more. Later that evening the rain let up so we all went for bike ride and realised the full scope of the campsite and had an even greater appreciation of the gorgeous surroundings that we had lucked upon.
Could I be any cuter?!
Making the most of the dutch countryside
After dinner at the restaurant Mylo had a turn on the giant Harold. It was still very wet from the rain and Mylo kept on slipping down the side at which point J decided the best option was to throw him on like a sack of potatoes! Poor Mylo landed with a giant bounce on his tummy the slipped all the way down again which, i have to admit, was pretty hilarious to watch. It In the end J had to clamber up with him and after much slipping and sliding and hysterical laughter (mainly from me!) they stood, triumphant, having conquered the mountain of Harold.
Fun fun fun!!