Tuesday 15th March we started off the European trip with a ferry from Newcastle to Amsterdam, arriving Wednesday morning we parked at a campsite just across the water from the city and took the tram in so we could explore. A ‘free’ walking tour around the historic centre was a little long in parts but interesting. Did you know that the houses in Amsterdam are so narrow because they used to be taxed on the width of the property? Also all homes have hooks at the top to winch up furniture as the stairs inside are so steep and that the buildings lean forward at the top so that said furniture does not smash windows on its ascent? We passed a small letterpress studio on the tour so I went back afterwards for a nosy and bought a postcard, the posters were lovely but no room in the van!
On the tour we sampled a local beer in a 360 degree view cafe and discovered that it is made just along the road in a windmill, of course we had to check it out. The windmill micro brewery was good but packed so we ended up in the neighbouring bar for dinner which turned out to be even nicer.
Returning to Amsterdam on Friday to sample the Dutch apple cake and a coffee we stocked up on supplies before heading south to Kinderdjik, a UNESCO heritage site for Windmills. A lovely place with the option to go inside the windmills and find out about the history, I had no idea they played such an important role in water-land management here. Following the visit we camped at a free parking spot for campers at a sports complex, where we visited the bar (mostly to use the facilities) and got some free beers for being guests!
Friday was a fun day with a visit to the theme park Efteling, a 60 year old park based on goblins, fairies and fairytales, it is a lovely place and well worth a visit even if you don’t have kids. We rode all the big roller coasters, even a horrific one with a sheer vertical drop which sends you plummeting face first into a hole in the ground and a wooden race-coaster where red and blue race each other in a knight-type battle. The food was surprisingly reasonable in price and quality so we sampled some croquettes and frites along with our lunch and even had some Dutch pancakes to end the day.
Antwerp was the destination for Saturday where we stayed at a campsite across the water again but this time there was a 0.5Km tunnel to walk across to the city where we explored the old and new parts, had Belgian waffles, tried a number of beers in a bar and bought more beers than we should have (and could sensibly carry) to take to the van.
Having done some research into mountain biking before we left I knew I would be very limited until the Alps but had found the ‘Filthy Trails’ of Belgium, which sounded too good to miss. The trails are short but great fun, they have been built on a small hillside in a very flat country so kudos to the trail builders for making something so fun in this place! It cost 9 Euros to ride here and it was money well spent, I started on some greens and worked up to blues, I left the blacks because, frankly, 6m gap jumps are not my thing! The trails I rode were mostly on the ground, with berms and roots keeping things interesting and small wooden features to make up for the lack of gradient. Being used to slippy wooden features in Scotland it was nice to ride some dry North Shore and even managed a small gap jump by the end of the day. The whole place is very progressive and you could easily work your way up to the bigger features with more time. If you are passing by I recommend a visit, the easier routes tend to be at the edges with the steeper middle section for the faster black runs.
Another free spot for motorhomes found us waking by a maze of water and land masses bridging Belgium, Germany and Netherlands, we went for a cycle which took in all 3 countries and found a large number of floats under motorways and behind houses, perhaps for Easter next week?
There has been a terrible bombing in Brussels today but we are so remote we heard this first from family in Scotland, though we were pulled over on Monday when we entered the country, along with other white vans, to have our papers etc checked so perhaps that was a sign they were on alert. So we are fine, our thoughts are with those involved in the incidents whilst we are grateful to have avoided it completely.
We are in the south of Belgium, close to Luxembourg, our next country, in a peaceful valley far from the world, we can hear lots of motorbikes so we think we are close to a race track, tomorrow we will head on after a rest today to do some clothes washing and other boring stuff that needs to be done, even on the road! Tomorrow I will be riding Houffalize before we crack onwards to Luxembourg.