Tilting at Windmills
Trip Start Apr 29, 2012
8Trip End Jul 12, 2012
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Let's face it, you can’t have a blog about Holland without mentioning windmills – or tulips.
So, we left Amsterdam to head for the Keukenhof Gardens where seven million bulbs are planted every year to provide a ten week blaze of colour, viewed by around 800,000 visitors, then the bulbs are dug up and thrown away – a fact that dismayed Nigel.
We've created our own miniature Keukenhof in the van with a pot of three tulip bulbs balanced precariously on the table and secured to the wall by little more than an elastic band. You can tell Nigel's missing his garden!. Interspersed between the flower displays are works by international artists, I particularly liked a piece called Sillhouette, but can't pretend to understand it and, unfortunately, the explanation is in Dutch. Ah well!
Lovely though the gardens were, I was more keen, since we are in Holland in the spring, to see the famous bulb fields, so we made a slight detour to take them in. Unfortunately our satnav seems to have problems with foreign roads and decided to direct us onto what appeared to be a cycle path – and our van is 2.33 metres wide. Nigel handled the situation brilliantly (and I handled it by closing my eyes) but turning round wasn't an option so, instead of going to Marken we ended up at Volendam - a fortuitous route change because it took us past some lovely windmills (and a couple of courting ducks).
It seems that windmills, at least the kind that artists painted and Ronnie Hilton (does anyone else remember him?) sang about, are becoming an endangered species. There used to be about 9,000 of them but when they fall into disrepair it's easier and cheaper to replace them with the modern monstrosities that remind me of HG Wells' War of the Worlds. Still, the ones that do remain tend to be restored, protected and very photogenic.
Having found ourselves in Volendam, we thought we’d visit the historic centre where, according to our brochure,’ local people demonstrate traditional crafts whilst wearing traditional costume’. Unfortunately our satnav has no sense of history or no sense of direction because we ended up beneath a large, grassy bank by a 'No entry’ sign. Nigel scrambled up the bank and called ‘Sandra, you have to look at this, the sea’s higher than we are’. Now, like everyone else, when I was at primary school long, long ago, I learnt about the Zuiderzee, and polders, and the sea being held at bay by huge dykes into which young, heroic boys were prone to stick their fingers. But knowing it and seeing it,( the dykes not the boys), are two different things, and it was slightly surreal, especially when we were back in the van having a cuppa and saw the mast of a small yacht pass by above the dyke.
The next day we had to leave Holland and head east but I still wanted to see the tapestry of huge bulb fields I’d read about. We’d seen a few but, because the weather had been unseasonably warm this year many of the flowers had been harvested and fields ploughed for the next harvest, so I planned the most likely route to see those that remained and, besides, it followed the coast so we should get lovely sea views as well. Yes, I’d forgotten about the dykes again but, ironically, the best views we got of the bulb fields were from the top of the dykes.
We stopped off in Den Helder to look at an over-restored Napoleonic Star Fort, which had an unbelievable amount of lead on it’s roof. Unbelievable because in England it would almost certainly have been stripped by metal thieves! Strikingly in the middle of a field, there was also an incredibly tall lighthouse, but of course, it had to be to be visible above the dyke.
Then, after filling up with the cheapest diesel we’ve bought in ages, 1.39euros a litre – less in euros here than it is in UK pounds, and headed into, and very quickly out of, Germany. Not that we wouldn’t have liked to linger but Denmark beckoned.
Our first stop in Denmark was it’s oldest town, Ribe which started life around 700AD. We stayed on a free ‘Aire’, a large, motorhome friendly car park only 500m from the centre which we reached by winding streets of picturesque buildings.
We stayed here for two nights and the highlight was the Vikingecenter. This is a living museum on the site of the original Viking settlement. Open all year it is probably interesting at any time with permanent, authentic buildings and costumed guides demonstrating work, arts and everyday life, including a small, Viking market. However, once a year, for a week, ‘Vikings’ come from all over Europe – and beyond, for a huge Viking Market. They work and trade as authentically as they can, living in tents, cooking over open fires, creating and selling traditional clothes, tools and crafts, and all under the watchful eyes of thousands of visitors. The children even play with authentic old toys and games, some of them pretty scary, and everyone eats and drinks using the period utensils - one Viking maiden looked very shamefaced when I caught her opening a screw-top wine bottle! looked
They also put on battle re-enactments, and riding displays on the very cute, but hardy, Icelandic horses. These have a clever, steady gait ‘the tolt’, which involves always keeping at least one limb (the horse’s, that is!), on the ground to enable long days of riding without fatiguing horse or rider, apparently carrying a pint of mead without spilling, but perhaps that was just for the demonstration. It was a wonderful day, I took loads of photos, Nigel tried his hand at archery and the sun even shone.
We were only allowed to stay on the Aire for 48 hours so next day we had, reluctantly, to move on, but a Dutch motorhome owner told us about Romo, with an extensive beach of compressed sand that you can drive onto, so we stopped off there for a bit of sunbathing before heading for The Danish Lake District’.
Although the lakes are much smaller and the mountains much lower (the highest, Himmelbjerget, is only 147mtrs), it’s a charming area, although I was quite surprised at their claim that they had the only river in Denmark – the Gudena, and we spent ages trying to get a good photo of this rare waterway. We’d seen many other stretches of water on our wanderings – surely they couldn’t all be canals! Later I ‘googled’ it and there are more, but not many!
Yesterday we had to catch the Ferry to Sweden, but we’ll be back. We really enjoyed Denmark, its straight, well maintained quiet roads through lush arable landscapes, with neat farms and houses, small, welcoming towns, friendly people who all seem to speak excellent English, and reasonable
I was delighted when we got on the ferry to discover that they had free wifi, and decided to finish and send the next instalment of this saga. I got right to the end and was just arranging the photos when the internet ate my blog – it just disappeared and I couldn’t retrieve it. I was spitting feathers! So today I had to start all over again. Take it from me, yesterdays version was a masterpiece – this is just a pale imitation, honest!