18/06/2003 By the time Margaret had got home from work at 3.00pm I had the caravan on the road outside the house all hooked up and ready to go. Before, where we live got so crowded with cars, I could have got it down the side of our house but it is becoming increasingly difficult to achieve this, we now have to rely on neighbours being out at work!
By 4.00pm we were heading down the M1, traffic was heavy but not too bad, likewise the M25. The exception being the QE2 Bridge which for the first time had to queue right across. By 5.30pm we had started to hit all the rush hour traffic. We eventually got to Folkestone Racecourse (now closed as a campsite), for our overnight stay, just before 7.00pm. Considering the hour we had a very jolly reception from Mrs Warden, and I was surprised to be only charged £5.50 for the stay. Apparently they don't charge late arrivals the pitch fee which makes it an inexpensive stay. This is not a brilliant site but OK for an overnight stop.
19/06/2003 We were away by 7.00am this morning as our ferry left at 8.15am and there were a lot of vans waiting to join our ferry. We booked this crossing via the Caravan Club on-line booking service. The only confirmation you get is the form on the computer which you can print off and a confirmation e-mail. The advice with what you do with this print out is a little confusing. Having taken some soundings we decided that we would go straight to check-in. Until quite recently the check-in kiosks were near the entrance to the Port but they now seem well inside. As it happened all was well and we were issued with our tickets. Once on board we made our way to Langham's for our customary 'Silver Service' breakfast which would hopefully set us up for the day. After a lovely smooth crossing we arrived in Calais around 11.00am (CET).
The journey from Calais and into Belgium, past Bruges and onto Gent was both smooth and swift. The traffic had been getting heavier but as we approached Gent it came to a complete standstill, and here we spent over an hour at best only inching forward. Eventually we got to the motorway junction that would take us towards Antwerp and as we left the queue like a coiled spring and left our fellow motorists to await their turn to be released! For those unfamiliar with the Benelux countries traffic is very much heavier than France and similar to the UK at its worst. Belgium drivers are not the best to encounter. They drive very fast and to my eyes seem to take a lot of chances, so you have to have your wits about you. My last visit here was 10 years ago and I remember then that Antwerp was a challenge and it is still true now. Likewise so is Rotterdam. After nearly seven hours on the road, for a journey of only 230 miles, we arrived at Camping Delftse Hout. Everyone in reception was very friendly and all spoke perfect English. In fact the young lady, when I gave her my address said I have been to Milton Keynes, small world! We found our allocated pitch and proceeded to position the van. Tried to use the Move Control but battery completely flat, a problem somewhere. Re-hitched to get the van into its final position. Tried to connect to the electrics, all positions dead. Trundled off to Reception where I was trusted with the key to reset the electrics, very laid back these Dutch. Well deserved beer before putting up sun shade.
20/06/2003 Our first experience of Dutch public transport. As Gaynor alluded ( on www.clicreports.co.uk) to Delftse Hout is ideally suited to the use of public transport with buses leaving the campsite 4 times an hour, and they always seem to be on time. We purchased a stripe of tickets from Reception. Each stripe of tickets costs € 6.20, cheaper if you are over 64 years of age. Each journey uses 2 stripes per person, so a return trip into Delft for two people uses a total of 8 out of 15 stripes. Now you could walk into Delft from the campsite but using the bus gives you and your energy a head start. Delft is a delightful town to visit. You can wander down roads which flank canals for miles, just watch out for cyclists that seem to completely govern Holland! In the main Markt Square we watched a wedding outside the town hall. At the other end of the Markt is a massive church. Now if you are ever in the need of a quick snack my I suggest you make your way the Tourist Information Office as right alongside it is a stall selling both fresh and cooked fish. A little tray of fried fish pieces in batter for about € 1.50 really delicious. We also found a really lovely cheese shop, if you were a mouse you would be in heaven! There are lots of shops in Delft but we did not find a decent supermarket, but we did find a Spar which was useful and the teenager on the checkout spoke good English which was a help. Back to the bus stop to wait for our number 64 to take us back to the campsite.
21/06/2003 Although we were not up as early as we should have been this was a special day was we were to return to Amsterdam after a gap of 10 years. All this not before Margaret notice some muddy patches on the groundsheet of the Sun Canopy. When things like this happen I usually get the blame, but as I pointer out I do not possess webbed feet! I had noticed a Mallard around the pitch the day before, if I catch up with him he is in for a right roasting! Back on the number 64 to the station in Delft. Trying to be clever I tried the automatic ticket machine. Everything in English to make it simpler. Got as far as payment, which on this machine could only be made by certain types of cards, but not credit cards. It said it accepted Maestro Cards but it rejected my pin number so I had to abort the operation. I suspect it was rejected because the UK is not yet on 'Chip and Pin' which will over the next couple of years be introduced and no doubt make all sorts of card transactions safer for the user. Now if you don't like pin numbers I fear you will be frozen out of using cards once this is up and running. Anyway in short, because I could not understand the machine that took cash I chickened out and went to the ticket office. With our tickets purchased, € 17 each, we boarded the train for Amsterdam. This was the first time I have ever been on a double decker train, at least it allowed a good view out over the surrounding countryside.
The journey takes you through Leiden and Haarlem before you arrive at the very grand Amsterdam Centraal Station. Amsterdam is an amazingly busy city. Immediately outside the station you are carried along with the throng of people going down the Damrak to Dam Square, of course making sure that in the process you avoid cars, trams and cyclists! Margaret has always wanted to visit the Anne Frank House. When we got there we found quite a queue but it quickly moved forward. The museum explains the well known story and takes you through the house where they hid from the Germans for so long. The space shared by so many people was very small, almost like being in prison. It is quite moving and it beggars belief that any human beings should ever have to experience such a thing again. The really scary thing is that if the Allies had got to the concentration camp a week or two earlier Anne Frank may well have been alive today and living in anonymity! We had a coffee in the museum coffee shop overlooking the canal to sit and mull over our experiences. We gradually made our way back to the Damrak calling in to the large Department Store just by Dam Square then we made our way back to the station for the journey home. Back at the caravan we noted that the last pitch in our group had been filled.
22/06/2003 A day of rest with nothing particular planned. Well, that is if you don't include the local Ikea. This is within walking distance of Delftse Hout and according to the large sign outside is open on Sundays. Now many years ago we tried to visit an Ikea on a Bank Holiday in Austria. As we arrived there were similar tell, tell signs, like an empty car park! There were several Dutch cars circling the car park no doubt thinking the same as us. Thinking that a visit will have to await a different day or perhaps a different holiday we made our way back to the campsite but at least we did try and look to see how easy it would be to get out of the site and onto the motorway. It seems easier than I first thought. On the way back we passed a block of flats which must have had 8 to 10 stories high. What ever was the stair well or lift shaft was sort of added onto the end. As I looked up I saw what I thought was a pile of twigs and realised that it must have been a nest. Looking as carefully as I could from the distance I was away from it I could see a bird sitting on the twigs. It could only be a Stork. This was confirmed as a second bird, not very elegantly joined its mate on the nest. As Margaret and I stood with necks craned looking at the nest a Dutch lady on a bike came to a halt next to us. She told us she did not speak very good English but wandered what we were looking at, I pointed up to the Storks. She told us the name in Dutch and said that in the North of Holland, where she came from, they did not have them and went off wishing us to 'Have a Nice Day', perhaps too many American movies!
Talking of Americans we have an American motor home as a close neighbour. The couple are Americans from California who store the motor home in Europe and try and spend three months a year touring. I was surprised to be told that they considered European campsites to be far superior to those in America. Since we had been on site they had, had a whole series of workmen turning up to sort out a problem. The motor home's main electric current is 110volts which is stepped done from the European 230 volts. Everything is working except the bed!! An electric bed!!! Well, during the day it has a motor that raises it to the ceiling out of the way. At the moment it is trapped in the down position which makes the motor home undrivable. They are hopeful of getting more info from the States to help resolve the problem.
Over the weekend our little group of pitches has been full. There was us plus, a Dutch caravan, a Dutch trailer tent and a Dutch tent. The caravan and the trailer tent were only here for the weekend. As the caravanner left he told me that it always rains when he leaves a campsite. It was true there were a few spots of rain, the first since we got here. He was surprised as to how many English people there were on site and wandered why they wanted to come to Holland, why not go to the Med? I told him that Holland was a reasonably short distance from the ferries, even Dover. I also said that English people always seem at home in Holland as so many Dutch people speak English.
After our evening meal we decided to walk round the large lake that forms part of the Country Park that Delftse Hout is situated in. We have noticed that all through the weekend this park is really well used and appreciated by everyone. The nearest equivalent to this area I know of in the UK is the Nene Valley Park at Peterborough.
23/06/2003 The Boss in Reception, who Margaret thought was a bit of a hunk, along with most the other female campers on the site, was taken aback when I asked where there nearest supermarket was. Well he said if you are saying our little supermarket here is not good enough I will show you on the map. I told I knew he would say something like that because I think he likes to tease. Now there is, in my opinion, one thing that the Brits and the French do far better than the rest of Europe and that is supermarkets. But as I am unlikely to find a local Waitrose I have to put up with what we have. Maybe it's not the quality but the fact that I don't understand the language, even fresh orange juice seems to be a challenge. Anyway after a fashion we manage to buy most of what we need. After filling up with diesel at .714 Euros per litre (about .53p) we made our way back to the caravan for a coffee. We still wanted to visit Ikea so off we set fully intending to walk but just as we got to the campsite gate a bus pulled up and as we still had spare stripes we went by bus. This was not laziness as Margaret had hurt her foot on the previous evenings walk round the lake. After a quick trundle round without a purchase we walked back to the site.
Now I know that on the previous day I had made a little fun of our Americans electric bed but as anyone knows it is amazingly annoying and frustrating to be in the position where you can not get an immediate remedy to a problem, they had already been here 5 or 6 days. Whilst they were out I noticed the Boss of the reception looking for them, so when they returned I mentioned this to them. They went of in search of him. In the meantime Margaret and I continued our drink and I said, coincidentally as it happens, I wonder if it is something really simple like a reset button. Anyway they returned with the man from reception and went inside the motorhome. Five or ten minutes later Margaret looked over to the motorhome and said to me it looks as if the bed has moved. Almost immediately the American couple immerged triumphant, the fax had arrived from America asking them to check a certain control on the panel and hey presto everything burst into action. There was a measurable look of relief on both their faces.
Whilst all this excitement was going on we were thinking about getting ready to move on tomorrow. We had taken the plunge, after numerous recommendations, and purchased both Touring Cheques and Camping Cheques. Usable in the off season they save quite a bit of money per night on site fees. The only thing you have to pay is any tourist tax but at 50 Euro cents a night each this was not going to break the bank.
24/06/2003 Although not in a particular rush we were packed up and ready to by 10.00am. We had enjoyed our time at Delftse Hout very much. As we left we made one last check that the Storks were still on there nest before making our way onto the motorway towards Rotterdam. We had barely gone 1km before we were reduced to a crawl. There seemed no other reason that weight of traffic. Things improved as we got to the Rotterdam ring road buy traffic was still very heavy. There is a major rail building project going on between Rotterdam and Antwerp which causes delays because of road narrowing. Through Antwerp and again very heavy traffic but it did keep moving. As we approached the Kennedy Tunnel we noticed a rather large ship on the river above the tunnel which was a little disconcerting! Good progress was being made but as we approached Gent, another snarl-up. As we inched forward we wondered how long it would take this time. We were diverted through a service station and from here could see the reason for the hold up. At first I thought it was a car that had been flattened but I suddenly realised it was a truck cab, how can these things happen?
We eventually arrived at Camping Blaarmeersen on the outskirts of Gent at 2.00pm a journey of 125 miles had taken 4 hours! This seems a very nice campsite with good quality facilities and nice pitches. Rather like Delftse Hout it seems to be part of a greater recreational area. Judging by the number of people enjoying the area it is very popular.
25/06/2003 Today we visited the centre of Gent. Again using public transport from the campsite we got on yet another bus. Apparently you can go anywhere in Gent for 1 Euro each. If you make a second journey within the first hour this is counted as a continuation of your original journey and there is no need to purchase another ticket. However you would not be doing Gent any justice by only spending an hour there. We just wandered for several hours taking in the delights of this charming Flemish City. There are both old and grand buildings and smaller house making up the wonderful patchwork, divided by canals that is Gent. In fact the best thing to do is to just wander, if you stick to a predetermined plan you will miss a lot. Another big plus is that the centre is virtually traffic free save for buses, trams, trolley buses, taxis and bikes. I quite like buskers and am much more inclined to make a contribution to someone who is at least trying to make an effort to entertain me rather than someone who just begs. Anyway in the Square outside the Cathedral someone suddenly started singing, this was not the popular tunes of the day but grand opera. He really did have an amazing voice which was appreciated by the gathering throng. Unfortunately this entertainment was somewhat spoilt way workman on an adjacent roof taking the mickey out of him which I thought was very unfair.
By mid afternoon we were getting a bit weary so we decided to find the bus back to the campsite. The bus was quite full especially with youngsters who obviously make the way the Park after school. On our bus journey we spied a couple of supermarkets and tomorrow will try one or both. Although the campsite has a nice little shop they don't seem to sell fresh milk. They sell UHT and Sterilised neither of which we are very keen on. I do sometimes wonder why fresh milk is not so widely available in Europe, even in the large supermarkets in France it can sometimes be a problem.
26/06/2003 Nothing particularly planned for today except, that is, some shopping. Unlike France where you know that you will always find a supermarket somewhere on the outskirts of a town we have found this not to be the same in Holland and Belgium. It could be, of course, that we have not been looking hard enough! On the way home yesterday from Gent we noticed a Delhaize Supermarket in one of the suburbs on the bus route. So back on the bus and the supermarket. We are glad we made a visit, fresh milk and a really nice quality shop. They even had 'Quick Check' the same as used in Waitrose and Safeway back home where you scan your own goods. Perhaps a bit complicated for a once in a while visit!
Back at the van we lunched on fresh sardines and meaty plum tomatoes, washed down by an ice cold dry white. That was the afternoon finished with as we both had snooze. It has also been amazingly hot today so another reason for not doing too much. Tomorrow we move on to France so we did have to pack up the sunshade and get the car back into towing mode. We have been amazed by the visitors we have had to our pitch today. First there was the rather large Dragon Fly who attached himself to one of our guy ropes. Then we had two families of birds, the Sparrows and the Magpies. There were five Magpies obviously being taught to fend for themselves. As a carrion bird they spend a lot of their lives on the ground so rather than fly they hop about which is quite amusing to watch at close quarters. Our final visitor has been a wild rabbit who seems reasonably at home in the company of campers. He munched his way around the pitch within ten feet of us.
27/06/2003 After a delightful stay in Gent it was time to move onto Chateau de Gandspette near St Omer in readiness for our return to the UK. By 10.30am we had covered about 30 miles most of which was in the right direction! Leaving the site we (I) had missed the turning for the motorway and started to circumnavigate Gent! After about 5 miles I was able to turn round and get back to the real route. Although the motorway out of Gent was still busy with traffic it was a little less than our previous journey. In fact by the time we got to the turnoff for Ostende the traffic had all but disappeared. We were soon back in France and back to a language we more or less understood. By just before midday we had arrived at Gandspette. It was much fuller than our previous visits and by the end of the day there were even more campers. I reckon a late arrival would have trouble getting a pitch with electrics. For those that did not need a hook-up there would still be plenty of room.
In the afternoon we decided to visit the Cite de Europe in Calais after an absence of several years. Firstly we had to negotiate the entrance to the Peage. Once before we tried and retired unsuccessful, however this time I was prepared to risk my credit card. I should explain that when you normally join an Autoroute in France you take a ticket and pay at the other end at a manned toll booth. However at junction 2 on the A26 you have to pay at a machine by the barrier and the only method seems to be by credit card. How the Cite de Europe has changed, Hotels and multi storey car parks. Another thing we noticed that had also changed was the prices in both Tesco and Carrefour but that may be more to do with the value of Sterling rather than price increases. We thought going on the Friday would be quieter but this did not seem to be true as the Centre was very busy. We did buy some bargains and also more wine than we should have done but I am sure it will all fit in!
28/06/2003 Our last full day out of the UK, for tomorrow we return home. After breakfast we thought it best to return to a supermarket just in case we had forgotten anything. This time we went to the Champion about a mile from the campsite. Perhaps this is a record, I can't remember, but we left the shop with not one item of alcohol! After lunch we went for a walk to a small war cemetery which is close by, all but one of the solders died in the 1914-18 war. As with all war cemeteries we have visited it is immaculately looked after by the War Graves Commission. It seems odd to reflect that this small village in rural France, which now appears so ordinary has hosted so many horrors in the last 100m years. At least the last 58 years have been peaceful.
I can't remember how many times we have stayed at Gandspette but it is certainly one of our favourite campsites and perhaps ranks with Bo Peep Farm as a site we are always happy to return to. One thing we noticed this year is how busy it has become, mainly with English and Dutch campers. I was speaking to the owner of the site and he was telling me that it is like high season and they don't usually reach this level of occupancy until the main French holiday season which starts around the 20th July. We always try and have a meal in the site restaurant. Not perhaps the cheapest site restaurant but it does have an interesting menu and you always leave more than full. The last couple of years the restaurant has been run by a young waiter who really works for his living and to see him move around is like watching a ballet. Not only does he work exceptionally hard he is always pleasant.
During the 10 days we have been abroad we have enjoyed exceptionally good weather which for such Northern climes is a record for us.
29/06/2003 Up early just in case we could get an earlier ferry. We were soon on our way wishing our fellow travellers a good journey as we left. In the past we have returned to Calais via the D600 to Dunkerque and then the A16 to the docks. However as we had discovered the trick with the credit card at junction 2 of the A26 we went that way. It worked again and we were soon heading north. The car or caravan did not seem to complain about the extra weight!!! Our booked ferry was to depart at 9.30am, local time. When got to the check-in kiosk we were put on the 8.45am which was good. Straight up to the restaurant to order breakfast only to be told over our fresh melon that the departure would be delayed. I suppose we did manage to save 15 minutes.
The homeward journey was uneventful with reasonable traffic volumes on the M25 and we managed to get back to Milton Keynes by about 12.40pm. Just enough time to get the van in the back garden and settle down to watch the European Grand Prix. Good result for Jaguar, 3 points which would have been 4 if a certain person in a red suit did not operate by his own set of rules!