Back to the future

‘Ein Volkswagen, mit dem Sie überall zu Hause sind’ – official VW Helsinki T2 sales brochure 1972

A dream for a long, long time. I always wanted to tour in one of these little oldtimer camper vans. A few months ago I heard of a small company in the South of the Netherlands ‘Classic Camper Rental (Classic Camper Verhuur)’ where they rent them out. Hell, I did not need much time to decide to go for a weekend with such a beauty!

My first kilometers are quite exciting and hilarious. Our camper is called Allida and is ‘born’ in 1978. It is a Volkswagen T2 Helsinki, still mostly in its traditional setup. Ok, a few modern safety items have been build in, but still. The typical VW sound is there, the gigantic steer gives me muscle ache and the gear lever is just a bit too far away. I need a full strech to go to 3rd and 4th gear. We can only drive 70-80, or at least that is how far I dare to go. It all feels a bit less secure in a way. Oh, and I do not want to destroy any part of this beauty.

We decide to go South, to Belgium. The only rule this weekend, we really want to avoid the highways. Well, we soon get lost, but in a nice way. Slowly driving, following signs until we reach the Hautes Fagnes in East Belgium (High Fens). A beautiful natural area with heather, large grassy spaces and beautiful forrest. We enjoy cruising this area and soon reach the reservoir of Robertville where we srumble upon the nice campsite Anderegg to park Allida for the night.A special moment, as we brought some 70s clothing to make the experience real. How surprised our fellow campers are seeing us in disco outfit!


The next morning, after a challenging night on a very hard bed and with a loud ticking clock in the background, we decide to go for a great cup of coffe in Malmédy. On the way we enjoy the views of the reservoir and hike the short hike to Reinhart’s Castle. Malmédy is a very lovely historic town, with a beautiful cathedral, colourful baskets with flowers everywhere and great cakes to go with the superb coffee. After a pause we proceed. Yes, Allida needs rest every 2 hours. Just to prevent overheating the engine, which is just air cooled. We drive to Germany. Just because we can. We visit the small, very touristic town of Monschau. Even though we manage to take down the average age by many years, it is a beautiful historic place, definitely worthwile the visit. The typical German half-timbeed houses with slate roofs create a fairytale atmosphere. We have an excellent late lunch and walk around the town. At the end of the day we decide to stay on a campsite in Hammer. Strange place, but our spot is next to the little river, so very magical. Enjoying a nice wine and some tapas we finish the day.


The last day we pass the small town of Eupen, where we have a nice coffee again. We go back North, back to the Netherlands. I really love the beautiful landscape of our province Limburg and enjoy driving ‘my’ camper around. We have the necessary break in Gulpen. Allida can rest, we hike for an hour and have a great beer stew for lunch. The end of a great weekend in a fantastic little camper van. It is old, it feels old, but I love it. With pain in my heart and arms from steering I part. Maybe ’til next time? Tschüß.

Heather and ‘hunebedden’ (dolmens)

Drenthe-00

“Kaokeln is gien kuunst, maor eierkeggen wal” – easier said than done (Drents proverb)

Nice weather is predicted, so I decide to go for another few days of cycling in The Netherlands. After some puzzling and surfing the internet I decide to go to the province of Drenthe. I think I created a nice tour.

Day 1: Coevorden – Dwingeloo

I park my car in Coevorden, put the bags on my bike and take off. First stop is Orvelte, a car-free, historic village with a nice green, originated in the Middle Ages. Typical Drenthe, with nice historical farms and a real horsetram (for the tourists). The atmosphere is nicely busy and I decide to take a break. Not for long, as I still want to cycle to Westerbork. My goal is a memorial center for the former transit camp from World War II. Not a nice stop, but a stop I think I should have seen. More than a 100.000 people have been transported to the various concentration camps between 1942 and 1945. A long row of posts along the road remind visitors of the dates of each transport and the number of people on it. The row seems endless and the numbers are varying from a few hundred to a few thousand per transport… A bit further on the road a few remains of barracks, a transportation wagon, a piece of the original train track and a very impressive monument with 107.000 stones can be found. One stone for each person in the transports. Unbelievable! At the entrance of the center I see a small suitcase with the text “what if you have to flee”. Now, in 2016, millions of people all over the world are still on the run. It looks like we have not learned from the past.

Deeply impressed by what I have seen and learned I continue my tour in the direction of Beilen and National Park Dwingelder Field. I cycle through meadows with cows, forrest and over plains with heather and herds of sheep. These areas are very wide and at what beautiful moment I have decided to come here. The heather is blooming turning the fields purple. After 80 kilometer I find a nice campsite just before the town of Dwingeloo. It is very quiet and lies in the National Park. I even hear some hooves around the tent at night. Is it deer or wild hogs, I have no clue.

Day 2: Dwingeloo – Rolde

I am lazy and get up late. I have all day, so I decide to take it easy. First of all I cycle over the beautiful Dwingelder Field to Dwingeloo, again a very nice village with a green and many cosy restaurants. Time for coffee! After, I continue in the direction of Diever. In the forrest I stop to visit a hideout called ‘Wigwam’. Made in 1943 by some resistance fighters from Diever to hide in. Again impressive and I am happy these kind of monuments are free for visitors to check out and learn about their history.

The tour follows the border between the provinces of Drenthe and Friesland and crosses the fantastic nature park Drents-Friese Wold. Great plains with heather and forrest are the decor, filled with some cyclists, hikers and sheep. I pass Appelscha, a village in Friesland, and arrive in one of the best preserved areas of peat moor in The Netherlands, the Fochteloër moor. It is again a beautiful area. Once people cut the peat for a living in these areas. Lucky for us we can enjoy this moor now, as the peat cutting times where about over when this area was up for production.

By the time I reach Assen, I am having cravings for pizza. I cycled for almost 75 kilometer and decide to stop at the first restaurant which serves a nice one. After a heavenly meal I continue my route through the nice evening glow to the campsite in Rolde. On my route I of course visit the statue of Bartje, a hero from Dutch children’s books and a tv-series around a century ago. He became world famous in The Netherlands for his quote ‘ik bid nie veur bruune boon’n‘’ (I do not pray for brown beans).

Day 3: Rolde – Coevorden

Already the last day. I get up early. It is misty, but this time a year that usuall means a nice sunny day lies ahead. I cycle over the Hondsrug, a sand ridge arisen in the second last ice age, over 130.000 years ago. Nowadays it is part of the first Geopark in The Netherlands. It is also the area of many prehistoric dolmens or ‘hunebedden’ as we say in Dutch. These barrows were build by people from the Funnel Beaker culture. Their age is estimated at about 3500 to 5000 years old. and they are still there. Close to Rolde I see my first one, next to a modern cemetery. Beautiful. Along the route I pass a few more, some small, others bigger. The biggest can be found in the town of Borger, where there is also a center (Hunebedcentrum) and information center for the Geopark. It is very busy and unfortunately the visitors do not respect the prehistoric monuments. I leave quickly before I start discussions with them.

The tour proceeds through nice forrests, over beautiful heaths and past many historical farms in the many villages. I pass the large town of Emmen and after again 75 kilometerI arrive back in Coevorden. This is also a historical town, which actually looks best from the air. It is a fortified town with a very impressive star shaped moat.

It was a nice cycle tour again, passing beautifull and impressive spots and again with many sweet people along the way. “Tot ‘n anermoal!” (See you again)

Cycle tour around Twente (NL)

Twente-14

Nie lull’n moar poets’n (Twente quote ~ make it happen)

Well, I did make it happen! A cycle tour in Twente, it was on my to-do-list for a while. Just 3 days of cycling, 180 km according to the information leaflet I found on the internet. In the end I cycled over 210. No clue if it was due to my navigation skills or the cosy little villages I passed. The extra 30 km were fun as well.

day 1: Delden – Lemele

In Delden I drive off. My bike is loaded, I really took everything. After many years I notice I have to get used to cycling with the packs again. I have more than enough gear, but what to take when the nights are still rather chilly and I do not want to eat in restaurants all the time. In the end I always take too much, as I did now. Anyway, I just loaded everything on the bike and take off in a very good mood. Goal of the day is Lemele, a small village some 65 km away. I follow the signs of the long distance cycle tour LF15(b) – farmers route (Boerenlandroute), and later the LF8(b). My first stop is already after a few kilometers, Twickel estate and castle. An impressive historic estate from the 14th century, situated in a beautiful park. A good start I would say!

Happily I move on, cycling through nice scenery. Sometimes mainly agricultural with a lot of meadows, farms, cows, sheep, lama’s and sometimes more woody. Over sandy tracks and gravel, through heathland, over streams and rivers, through forrest. All very beautiful and with so many birds singing lovely songs. I spot a bird of prey who wants to land on my path but is scared of at the last minute and a small stone marten. I cycle alone for large parts… where is everybody? Are there people living here? Am I really such a townie? But when I am enjoying some traditional Twente raisin bread (krentenwegge) at a picnic spot, a couple decides to stop here as well and we have a lovely chat. They speak the Twente dialect to which I just have to get used to a bit. After an hour we go our separate ways again.

All of a sudden I see a commemorative plate with a garlant around it. I stop and read it. It is a reminder of an aircraft crash during the 2nd World War. Part of a project called ‘Opdat niet wordt vergeten’ (Lest one should not forget) crash sites are marked. Gosh, this is quite a different viewpoint on this lovely day.

Impressed by a very nice day I arrive in the little village of Lemele. I am tired but have to find some dinner in the local supermarket and proceed to the small nature campsite ‘De Olde Lucashoeve’. A very hospitable location where I am happy to pitch my tent for the night.

day 2: Lemele – Beuningen

After a good night sleep in a very quiet area, I am awakened by many birds and loud bangs in the distance. Are there hunters in this area? I pack my stuff and jump on my bike again. This will be the longest cycling day of this weekend, so I better start early. And what a start. Just after I leave the campsite the road climbs. In the Netherlands? Yes. I am on the Sallandse Heuvelrug (ridge) en just next to the Lemeler ‘Mountain’. This is a moraine from the last ice age and is roughly 60 meters high. It does not sound very impressive, but with the extra 10+ kgs I do feel it. Nice start of the day. After an hour I reach Ommen… coffee! I find a pleasant terrace in the historic centre and enjoy a good cup of coffee and a nice conversation with a rock ‘n roll lover. I enjoy meeting people, even though I will probably never meet them again.

After the coffee I cycle part of the LF16(a) – Vecht valley route (Vechtdalroute), along the river Vecht. Beautiful nature again. It is not a very sunny day, but that does not matter. I pass a lot of meadows again, find some sand dunes in the forrest and all of a sudden I see a small farm/brewery ‘De Pauw’. A real surprise I would say. After a while I switch to the LF14(a) – Saxony route (Saksenroute). I pass a few nice towns and villages today. After Ommen I cycle through Vroomshoop, Tubbergen, Ootmarsum and a bit of Denekamp. Especially Ootmarsum is a lively little town. Many art shops and pleasant terraces. I would love to stay, but I can see it coming. A dark cloud is moving my way. As I still have to cover another 10 km to the destination of today, I decide to speed up a bit.

Just below Denekamp is the little town of Beuningen. It is small and has a nice nature campsite called ‘Olde Kottink’. This is a true discovery, where I am welcomed with a very good cup of coffee. In the mean time a lot of fun is going around in the yard. Kids are baking some bread-on-a-stick above a small fire, grown ups are sitting at large picnic tables with a glas of wine or a beer. Rapidly I pitch my tent and return for my own glass of wine. After dinner I decide to go for a small walk. I spot a deer with 2 calfs. Being a townie I do not see nature like this too often and after the long cycle trip of today (~ 76 km) I enjoy it a lot!

day 3: Beuningen – Delden

Last day already. I wake up from the small pitter-patter of rain on my tent. Not a very annoying sound, but the idea to cycle in the rain is not appealing. I decide to just relax some more, for I only have to cycle around 60 km today. I am in no hurry. When I finally get up and walk to the sanitary building I spot something nice. Fresh slices of the Twente raisin bread for the guests. I decide this will be my breakfast, hmmm…

The sun breaks through, I wait for the tent to dry, talk a bit with other cyclists and at around 11 am I hop on my bike. Today I cycle in the direction of the large city of Enschede. The route officially goes straight through town, but I like cycling in nature so I decide to take the LF4(a) Centre of Netherlands route (Midden-Nederland route), passing just above Enschede. Along the way I pass a ‘Klopkeshoes’. A very tiny house showing how single women in the past were living, serving the landlord and God. Gosh.

In the village De Lutte I drink a cup of coffee and spot a statue of a hellhound (hellehond), a mythological figure which mainly was ‘spotted’ here. In folk tales, the hellhound was bringer of imminent disaster. I don’t want to think, just cycle. I pass a colorful field of sunflowers, dark forrest, muddy paths, a few small chapels and again beautiful landscapes. Close to Enschede the environment is more urbane. The route runs through an area with a mental institution, crosses the campus of the University and passes the football stadium of FC Twente. It is Sunday and Summer holidays, so everywhere I go it is quiet, hardly any people on the streets and for the first time I think the route is a bit boring. Until I reach Boekelo. A small village, known for the salt industry in the past. Along the road many small huts can be found. End of the 19th century a salt layer was discovered and from within these small huts people started producing the salt. They are everywhere. I need to find the story behind this when I get home.

After more than 65 km I am back in Delden. I have missed the route a few times in the last part, mostly because some signs were missing. That explains the extra kilometers I would say. This was a very beautiful cycle tour through a wonderful part of The Netherlands. I enjoyed the landscape, the hospitality, the lovely people I met on the way and the delicious raisin bread. Should do this more often!

Scuba diving in The Netherlands


The sea, once it casts it’s spell, holds one in it’s net of wonder forever – Jacques Ives Cousteau

Diving in The Netherlands. I can hear you thinking. What? Where? Is there anything there? Yes, we have our lovely pea soup as we call it. Cold, dark, green waters, full of algae and thus life. There is a rather large diving community. Mostly Dutch and Belgian, sometimes even a few Germans. And me. How come?

Once upon a long long time ago. I was traveling in East Africa, Malawi to be precise, where somebody told me it was cheap to get my PADI certification. I am Dutch, so why not. I did my training in the large Lake Malawi and logged a few dives at Zanzibar some weeks later. And that was it. Years later, at the Poor Knight Islands in New Zealand, I went diving again. After being close to panic, I realized that without practice I would not enjoy diving. So I decided to go for my advanced certification close to home in a sand pit. Guess what, I got infected by the scuba virus. I was amazed by the many life forms I found under water, even with our mostly poor visibility. I kept on diving, became a Dive Master, attended some biology trainings and I started to check off as many creatures as possible, enjoying almost every dive I did. Almost, because diving in The Netherlands is not easy. Sometimes the waters were so murky that I lost my buddy, or weather was too bad to enter the waters safely. But, to be honest, I logged hundreds of dives in these waters. There surely are some really nice places for diving, each with their specific life forms.

Fresh water

The Netherlands has many lakes, all basically divable, but some have special facilities available. Think: toilets, parking, easy shore access, scaffolding and sometimes ladders, but most important food and beverages. I have been diving in some lakes like Oostvoorne, Vinkeveen & Spiegelplas. Especially in Spring, when the water is too cold for the algae to bloom, visibility is acceptable and you can see many animals waking up. Small Crayfish, Eals, Perch and small, but also very big Pike. Fresh water diving is not so much the flora and fauna as it is what we humans have dumped in the waters. Boats, tires, busses, construction waste. A lot of pollution, but also hiding places for fish. It is always a pleasure to explore. And difficult, for the compass cannot handle all the iron under water very well. Navigation skills are key in our country.

Grevelingen lake

The Grevelingen Lake is a large water area just south of Rotterdam. It used to be a sidearm of the North Sea, but due to the damming activities (Delta Works) for protecting our land, it was closed with two dams in 1965 and 1971. The largest salt water lake in Europe was born. Locks in both the Grevelingen dam and the Brouwers dam manage the salt level. Even though man intervened, the underwater flora and fauna found it’s way to flourish. It is an easy place to dive, even though navigation skills are still necessary and waters can be murky and dark. Maximum depths at dives are up to around 30 meters, but below 15-20 meters life is scarce. Some of the nice things to see are huge lobsters, crabs, all kinds of small fish, jelly fish, anemone, sponges, algae and some nudibranches. Very rarely there are sightings of porpoise and seals. In some locations artificial reefs have been placed to create hiding places for wildlife, and thus can be very interesting for divers. Even though divers have to climb with all their gear over the dikes which are protecting the land, the dives usually are very rewarding and facilities at the dive sites are great. Surely a good dive does not stand without some after dive drinks and food at one of the nice restaurants in the small, mostly pictureque towns around.

Oosterschelde

For me personally the nicest dive spots are in the Oosterschelde. Again a closed sea arm of the North Sea, closed by a storm surge barrier in 1986. It is not completely closed, the dam has sluice gate type doors which let water flow freely, until a storm and extreme high tides are predicted and the doors are closed. The flora and fauna can enter any time, making the diversity somewhat larger compared to the Grevelingen lake. Seals, dogfish even porpoise can been seen under water, but there is much more. In some areas large groups of sponges are making colourful scenes, more than 50 species of nudibranch can be found, large groups of sea bass and mullet are roaming the pillars of bridges and, my personal favourite, cuddlefish and squid are mating and reproducing in Spring. Every season has its active species ready to be found and admired. There are some hanging mussels which are accessible for divers. Amazing how good visibility is around these large numbers of ‘filters’.

Diving in these waters always depends on season, temperatures of the water, weather, tides, currents and number of divers. Anything can influence the conditions and visibility. But once I knew how it worked, I really loved diving here.

Diving: take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but bubbles.

The Dutch coast

image

You can shake the sand from your shoes, but it will never leave your soul.

The Dutch coast. Well over 500km of beaches in a not so very tropical country. We are kind of a delta, where some of the mayor rivers of Europe flow into the North Sea and not to be forgotten, 25% of our country lies below sea level. My house as well. Well, not really. I live on the 3rd floor, so I will be ok. Knowing this, it is easy to imagine how important the coast is for the Dutch. It keeps us safe from the waters.

There is something else though. Coast is unique nature, coast is beaches, coast is many people enjoying themselves in every season.
In Winter it is a great place for long, cold hikes. Ending with a hot coffee or choco in a bar in one of the sea side towns. Imagine the rare cases of snow on the beach or the storm seasons, with waves hitting the shorelines. In some places this changes the way the coast looks every time again.
In Spring the first people come out to enjoy the sun again. Behind the glass windows of the newly build beach tents. The birds are nesting in the dunes, the plants bloom and the dune grass is fresh green. Time to make long cycle trips along the coast, trying to see some wildlife, and again drinking a coffee or choco in a café with a view.
In Summer we go crazy. Around 30 milion (!) people visit our beaches every year. Over 300 beach pavilions make sure there is something to drink, eat or party throughout our Summer season. People enjoy the sometimes marvelous sunsets and various music or fire works festivals.

I love our beaches mainly when it is quiet. I do not like all the bodies packed close to the shoreline. This means I like it in stormy weather, when the sea shows its angry face and the waves crash the shores. I like it when it is very nice sunny, but still too cold to sun bathe, in early Spring or late Autumn. I also like it in the evenings when the sun is setting, the terraces are full, the atmosphere is nice. Having a drink or dinner with friends, enjoying a balmy evening. I most of all like the dunes, our corridor which protects us from the sea. The nature is lovely, nice hiking trails and cycle paths follow the coast line from one to another lovely seaside town. A lot of Dutch heritage sites can be found along the coast.

Some of our best and most quiet beaches can be found on one of our Wadden islands. We have 5 inhabited islands and 8 uninhabited sandbanks north of our country, surrounded by the very shallow Wadden sea and the northern North Sea. They are Texel, Vlieland, Terschelling, Ameland, Schiermonnikoog. Friendly places, with their own island culture. Lovely places to cycle and make long strolls along the endless beaches. If you like cycling, these are nice places to discover on two wheels. Apart from some headwind from time to time, it is easy going. Along the way there are many villages with a good cup of coffee or a nice island brewed beer. Nature on these islands is typical Dutch I would say. Sand, meadows, swamps, dunes, forrest, you can find it all. And the towns are picturesque, mostly historic, not too big and crowded and with typical Dutch ‘gezelligheid’, an atmosphere we cannot translate in any foreign language.

But there is a sad note to be mentioned. We, the Dutch, earn a lot of money with our coast, see the visitor numbers. Good for us, but not good for nature. Project developers want to build many huge hotels in this nature. Destroying the view, nature, environment. Something I regret a lot. With 17 million people we are already in one of the most crowded places in the world, and many people claim there is no place without artificial noise in our country. A sad development I would say. I really hope that I and the generations after me can keep on enjoying this beautiful piece of earth for a long, long time, and I will do my best to make it happen. Promise!