A family celebration at an interesting farmhouse in the 'green heart of Holland' followed by a short visit to Amsterdam. © Peter Main – February 2016
Edinburgh to Leersum
This time, we travelled by car to Edinburgh, left it near our son’s flat and took the bus to the airport. With an early afternoon departure, this gave a really civilised time for leaving home, no more 4 am departures for us. The KLM flight was very good; we felt the staff treated us as adults rather than as people to be sold stuff. Schipol Airport is huge, we were later told it is one of the biggest in Europe, we seemed to land miles from the terminal and taxi for ages even taxiing over a motorway at one point before parking and getting the ‘torture by airport bus’ routine. The Dutch transport system is very efficient and after a smooth train ride and a friendly bus driver we were deposited in the village of Leersum which is not far from Utrecht. A short walk took us to our accommodation at Bed & Breakfast Klein Groenbergen. What a beautiful place this is, we had a small ‘apartment’ with everything you need, well thought out and immaculately clean. The owners, Ellie and Wim, had put in numerous personal touches which made it even more attractive. The setting was a former farmhouse which is now a small campsite and B&B business. It had been very hot on arrival in Holland, up to 32c, and we were very lucky to arrive before a spectacular thunderstorm cooled things off. We watched the thunder, lightning and heavy rain from the comfort of out B&B feeling pleased that we were not walking to our B&B. We slept well; I’ll never understand why sitting on planes, buses and trains make us so tired!
Next morning dawned warm and
sunny, the pattern for the next few days. Breakfast was brought to us by Ellie in a wheelbarrow next morning; she delivers a box full of all sorts of ‘goodies’. The table is set for us and we are left with warm rolls, hot coffee, hard boiled eggs and all sorts of ham, cheese and sweet things, a wonderful breakfast. After we had finished everything was piled into the box for collection later, what a brilliant system. The purpose of this trip (apart from visiting Holland for the first time) was to celebrate a family ‘big birthday’ and to meet Dutch friends and relatives. This was taking place at an old farm house about 3 miles from Leersum so we set off to walk there. After the previous days thunderstorm, it was much cooler and a lovely day, perfect for walking. My vision of Holland was, stereotypically, flat fields, canals and windmills but this was very different being heavily wooded, so we had a pleasant walk along a shady country road which is very popular with cyclists and as it was Saturday morning it was busy with all types, from serious racers to families on
traditional Dutch bikes. We arrived to a warm welcome, coffee, cake and lots of chat in the sunshine. What followed was a lovely day of meeting many new people, food drink cake and more food drink & cake.
In the afternoon we took our grandson for a walk using the backpack through the shady woods, at fifteen months he is now getting quite heavy to carry, he spotted three tractors, tractor being one of his first words so he wants to practise linking the word to the object. The evening meal was taken outside with everyone around a big table in the sun followed by some interesting entertainment. Later we were kindly given a lift back to our ‘digs’. Most folks were staying at this huge old house which had many rooms and a gigantic thatched roof but we had decided a small B&B would suit us better.
Our B&B had bikes for hire so we thought we would give it a try and save the effort of walking three miles to the farmhouse. The bike was a ‘traditional Dutch’ bike, upright with hub gears, uncomfortable saddle and weighing about as much as a tank. We had fun cycling along the pleasant road to meet, and also, say farewell to many of the other guests who had just stayed for the weekend. Plans to take our grandson out for a bike ride proved unsuccessful as he was too small for the child seat so after coffee & cake I set off to explore on the bike to explore the Dutch countryside. This was a successful, enjoyable, but very slow, bike ride. I particularly liked Wijk Bij Duurstede (it’s a place!) with its shady streets, cafes, canal and working windmill. Everywhere there were cyclists of all types, young and old, fast and slow, racers, tourists, families and older people. I had a go at keeping up with a group of racers but the behemoth I was riding simply wasn’t up to the job. Home via Amerongen and through the ‘green heart of Holland’ to the farm for more chat and naturally coffee & cake, with the few remaining guests (including son & grandson) and then, later, another lovely meal outside round the big table in the evening sunlight. Afterwards we had a nice ride to our B&B with the setting sun slanting through the trees.
We had said our farewells the night before so next morning, after breakfast and packing we had a last walk about Leersum which although a pleasant enough place does not really lend itself to tourist walks. The efficient Dutch buses and trains took us to Amsterdam and by 14.00, we had found our hotel and made ourselves at home. The Hotel Hegra is situated in the central area of Amsterdam alongside a canal and we had a room on the 4th floor overlooking the canal. The stairs were very narrow and we wondered how they got furniture up them, we were soon to find out. Tired after our exertions of the last few days we had a siesta to be woken by a knock on the door; it was the owner wanting to deliver the adjacent rooms’ luggage through the window. We found out later that most of the canal side buildings have a hoist, originally used by merchants to transfer goods from barges into storage. The hotel now uses their hoist for heavy luggage, so a suitcase was hauled up four floors outside the hotel and then dragged in through the window. A walk to explore Amsterdam was in order, in the end, we walked nearly seven miles and got sore feet. The abiding memories are of numerous interesting and intricate buildings and cyclists. In Amsterdam cyclists ‘rule’ and all other forms of transport are subservient, especially in the city centre. Cycle lanes are everywhere and for a pedestrian, it is potentially hazardous as a cyclist can come at you out of the blue from any direction. You certainly have to have your wits about you. The trams are also impressive, putting Edinburgh’s paltry single tram line to shame. We walked a fair way looking for somewhere to eat, not wanting the full restaurant experience and eventually we found a more relaxed bar although eating out in Amsterdam proved expensive. We slept well that night.
The following day was a day of two halves. Unfortunately, the sun had disappeared and it was a little windy and so felt cold. We had booked a guided tour of the city, this was very interesting and our guide, Paolo took us to many places we would not have visited such as the red light district and cannabis cafes. I must admit the ‘sex shop windows’ came as a bit of shock to me, I felt embarrassed to be there and wanted to get away as quickly as possible. The tour did take a little longer than was necessary as Paolo liked to talk and we got very cold, so we repaired to a good cafe for soup cake and coffee. Next was the boat trip, this was also interesting as we were able to view the canals, buildings, streets and bridges from a different perspective. By the time we were back at out hotel we had clocked up another six miles on foot and that evening we dined on fruit, cheese and crackers in our room before turning in for an early night with the prospect of more exhausting trains and planes tomorrow.
Next day we had time to kill before travelling home so we took to the streets again, this time on a warm pleasant morning. We were warming to Amsterdam as well, getting a feel for the place just as it was time to go home. We found ‘Screaming Beans’ which made the best coffee so far, up there with Artisan Roast in Edinburgh. I got myself some Rapha cycling shorts from their shop, a bargain at £30 cheaper than in the UK. We then visited the flower market with its impressive stall selling all manner of bulbs and plants including cannabis starter kits. In an amazing coincidence we met our son and his partner who were on a separate visit to Amsterdam, and with no child to look after for the day they appeared extremely relaxed.We ended up in a high-level cafe called Blue which was expensive but worth it for great views over Amsterdam skyline. It was time to travel and using the super efficient railway and Schipol Airport and we were back in Edinburgh before we knew it. We were greatly surprised to arrive on a lovely warm day, not what we were expecting. The day ended with a family meal on the terrace of Ocean Terminal overlooking the Forth on a beautiful evening. A fitting end to what was, after all, my 70th birthday.
Some thoughts on Holland
We can only comment on the bits we saw but what we saw we and liked. The impression is of a nation at ease with itself, fairly relaxed but well organised and tidy. Holland is also very cosmopolitan and immigrants seem to mix well with the native Dutch. Their level of linguistics is superb; nearly everyone spoke English which made getting about really easy. They have some good ideas which only seem to be in the early stages of development in GB. We still can’t work out when to use Dutch, Holland or Netherlands. The most abiding memory of Holland is of
Here are some points that also made an impression
- Superb cycling infrastructure
- Cyclists priority just about everywhere
- Lack of litter
- Lack of dog-shit
- Interesting buildings
- Most people speak English
- Generally a relaxed feel to the country
- Well organised, up to date transport system
- Many good ideas to make things work
- Tolerance of soft drugs and sex. We are unsure whether its right or wrong for Scotland but it’s certainly very different.
- Food and drink a bit expensive