“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.” Jawaharlal Nehru
Al writes: Our first destination after Amsterdam was the long drive of 19 miles to Haarlem, Netherlands. The day had finally arrived when we were about to have our first European camping experience, and a short drive to the start of the Flower Route seemed to be a good destination. We spent our first day in Haarlem shopping. We walked to the grocery store and loaded our packs with goodies and found the prices to be very reasonable and the food very fresh. We also bought several needed items for the RV such as maps, safety vest, first-aid kit and a replacement saucepan for the one stolen during the shipment. I also discovered that my voltage converter, water bottles, measuring spoons, and a tote bag were gone. Some dork felt he could go on a little shopping spree in my RV. However, the items are replaceable so I guess we are lucky.
Haarlem is a town of about 150,000 and is the unofficial capital of the flower-growing region. It was nice to escape the chaos of Amsterdam and explore a cozy, less hectic town. The town square, Grote Market, which is one of the most photographed spots in the Netherlands because of the immense St Bavo Kerk Church, was filled with a Queen's Day festival. So we did not quite escape the crowds, but it was fun.
Our second day in Haarlem was devoted to a visit to the Frans Hals Museum. Hals is one of Carol's favorites because of his paintings of cheerful, rosy-cheeked, smiling people. He painted in the 1600's in the Dutch Golden Years with several other contemporary masters such as Rembrandt, Rubens, and Titian. The museum was excellent and had a special exhibit with paintings of other contemporaries for comparison of styles.
Leaving Haarlem, we made a short drive to the coast along the North Sea. There were plenty of campgrounds and we ended up staying at the largest campground I have ever experienced. It had 3000 sites and was nestled among tall, vegetation-covered sand dunes about 1 kilometer from the beach. This campground was situated in one of the few Netherlands national parks, Zuid Kennermerland. Carol and I took a walk through the barrier of dunes and were amazed at the grand, wide vista of the beach area. It stretched for miles in both directions and was very clean, flat, and wide. Lots of people, dogs, and wind surfers were out enjoying the rare sunny day. After a walk on the beach so that Carol could touch the North Sea, we headed up to an outdoor terrace overlooking the beach for my customary afternoon beer.
We finally arrived at the flower fields, which had always been an early goal when we were planning what part of the year to arrive in Europe. It did not disappoint. Fields and fields of flowers for the multi-billion dollar a year bulb industry lay before our eyes.
From the flower fields it was a short drive to Keukenhof, which is a world class botanical garden open only two months of the year. It was Queen's Day so there were many visitors wearing orange, including the international collection of tourists. Carol had a bright orange t-shirt which continued to help us fit in. The gardens were impressive. I had the impression that each flower bed was designed and planted by an employee to display individual talents. Many of the beds had interesting combinations of flowers. It was like doing flower arrangement on a massive canvas.
Our next city was The Hague, the capital and third largest city in the Netherlands. It is also the home of many International groups dedicated to peace and the rule of law, the most famous being the International Court of Justice and Permanent Court of Arbitration. The city was very modern with some older majestic buildings such as the Peace Palace,
the Knight's Hall,
and government buildings with a modern skyline in the distance.
Our last stop in the Netherlands as we were approaching Belgium was Middelburg. A very nice couple at the Frans Hals Museum had recommended that we stop there. We have been getting lots of tips from folks who want to help us in our travels. Middelburg is a small, quaint town with an impressive abbey on the only high ground above sea level in the area. We had our first night of free camping in a town parking lot that had five official RV spots with a dump station, water, and electricity. Our new camping sites book (in Dutch) has already paid off. We took a nice walk through the town and discovered the town square had a market in full swing. Carol was in seventh heaven making purchases faster than I could pull out the Euros. So our pack filled up with fresh fish, nuts, fruits, and a couple of bottles of wine. I will not go hungry.
The Dutch are the world experts at holding back the sea. Our drive along the North Sea coast revealed the engineering feats of river/estuary gates and dikes interspersed with the many electricity generating wind farms.
Here are some observations on the European campgrounds:
Our RV stands out because of its un-European appearance, but not because of its size. European campers do not have slide-outs. What they have is an additional room made out of canvas with curtain-covered plastic windows that is zipped to the side of their camper, thereby greatly increasing the living area. These canvas rooms can be very elaborate with comfortable chairs, tables, vases of flowers, etc.
All the campgrounds have a camp kitchen which is used to wash dishes and vegetables. They can be indoors or outside and have nice sinks, hot water, and a dish drainage area. It seems to be a common custom that the men do the dishes, although (thankfully) I have seen exceptions.
I cannot say enough about how clean everything has been so far. In the showers, there is a broom-like squeegee to push the water toward the drain to keep the areas dry. Everyone seems to do their part in keeping the restrooms clean.
There is not always separation of the sexes. Some restrooms are basically coed, but you have your own booth.
In one of my campground shower stalls, I had a small window. Hmmmm, I watched families, kids, adults walking by as I showered and thought that it must be a one-way window that you cannot see through. Nope, wrong about that. My favorite camp bathroom has been one with a full-length glass door next to the urinal. Oh well.
There are a variety of styles of campgrounds to choose from. There are the deluxe vacation spots with a restaurant/bar; then there are the freebies in a city parking lot.
The tall people in the country are starting to annoy me. If the urinals were any higher, I would have to stand on my tip toes.
Here is a sampling of what our campgrounds have looked like:
Carol writes: All in all, the Netherlands has been a very good start to our European camping experience. I would have to say that the most interesting feature of our last campground was the vending machine that dispensed loaves of fresh bread every morning. My least favorite experience—my icy cold shower one evening due to my failure to see the coin machine where I was supposed to insert the 0.50 Euro coin I had just purchased for HOT water. Cold showers were free.
"Only seems to me that once in your life before you die you ought to see a country where they don’t talk in English and don’t even want to.” Thorton Wilder, "Our Town"