I had always wanted to visit the island since reading Gerard Durrell’s ‘My family and other Animals’ and other books that he had written.
He established the zoo on Jersey with his wife back in 1959 as a wildlife conservation area for endangered species.

It was an expensive ferry trip – over Euros200 for the 1 1/2hour trip on the smart Condor Ferry.

We had to have a special permit in advance to be able to drive on Jersey. Some large campervans are prohibited from even coming to the island as most of the streets and laneways are very narrow and there is a lot of backing up to allow cars and small vans to pass.
I thought Ireland had narrow lanes but these were narrow with stone walls on at least one side so all the vehicles were being very cautious. Although Jersey is a very small island and you can drive around it in and hour and a half however traffic holdups are frequent because of the nature of the roads.

Rozel Campsite came highly recommended and we were not disappointed. Unusually the only birds we heard were seagulls and doves unlike most of the other campsites at which we had stayed. In southern and middle France we heard many owls at night and some very close to the van and it was lovely to hear them calling to each other.

We left the van at the campsite and walked to the zoo about half an hour away. We were lucky to have a nice day after the previous day’s rain on the way over.
We enjoyed seeing the various animals at the zoo especially the gorillas and we listened to an interesting talk by the their keeper.
He explained that the gorillas of which there are four kinds are in danger because their habitat in the wild is being destroyed by mining metals used in mobile phones,tablets and computers. He asked that instead of keeping old devices people should recycle them
so that the metals needed for new products can be used from the old models.
We were also lucky to see the otters who had just been fed. They were so quick to dart underwater and retrieve the fish thrown for their lunch.
Along some of the roads there were signs and a thick blue rope strung high up to alert motorists to the path of the red squirrels who live on Jersey.
The buses were not large but they had to do a lot of manoevering around the roads and traffic. We were told that by nature the natives were stocky and short and this was reflected in the seats on one side of the bus which was like sitting in a sardine tin.

We saw many Jersey cows in the rural areas or parishes as they call them. Each parish or small village has a church and church hall and many of the houses were built using the pretty Jersey or Guernsey granite. All the villages were very neat and lush hydrangeas were planted along some of the roads and avenues. Jersey has a micro climate in places and we saw many tropical and sub-tropical plants such as banana trees and ferns growing in different areas. There was much rural land especially along the north and east coasts.
Jersey has started cross breeding the Jersey cow as they experienced some genetic problems a few years ago.

We caught the bus into the harbourside capital of St Helier which is a pleasant city with a wealth of eateries and shops.
Although the weather was not kind to us the following day we did the 4hour bus tour around the island and learnt a lot from the driver who was very knowledgeable about Jersey although not originally a local. Jerriais the local language is spoken by about 2000 people mainly in the north east and is taught at various levels in schools. It is classed as a kind of ‘Norman French language’. We did not hear it spoken while we were on the island.
It is an affluent island for many with 25% of businesses in the financial arena but there are also those in public housing who are not doing so well.

Jersey was occupied by Germany for five years during WWII and many bunkers and towers that were built to last are dotted around the whole island. The most popular tour was a tour of the war tunnels which we did not do.
There were many tourists in town, a large percentage were German. Many of the workers in the cafes and restaurants were eastern European.
As we drove around the island many of the bays were at low tide. Jersey has the third highest tide in the world around 40feet.

Although small, Jersey was a very interesting island with very friendly locals and with plenty to offer the visitor. The port was serviced with a newsagent and kiosk at least which was missing in St Malo. It does make a difference when you have to wait on the dock for a couple of hours if you arrive early.

I had luckily checked on our bookings and discovered that I had failed to book us off the island. We were going to travel Jersey to Poole a few days later but we had to make alterative plans as the ferry was full. More driving for Maurice unfortunately as we then had to travel from Jersey back to St Malo, drive up to Cherbourg and get the ferry for the 3hour trip to Portsmouth and then drive to an alternative campsite.
At least we could get off the island and resume our itinerary three days later although we had to be at the ferry port by 7.30am instead of a much later ferry. Part of the adventure!

I had not read a paper for many moons so bought the Times at the port which had some good articles but one on the front page was warning people in Cambridgeshire that they needed to carry 2 bags for their doggie do do’s or face an 80pound fine!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

It was nice to see Dieter and Hedy after two years in Pampelonne and Maurice and Dieter chatted about their time in the north west of Western Australia and then we put the world to rights.

Our controller for our air conditioner had stopped functioning so we left the next morning for a ‘Truma’ shop in Toulouse to see if we could get a replacement without any luck. It was still quite hot (in the 30’s) and humid so we could have done with it.
We had a lovely meal at ‘Les Marots’ near Toulouse with Cynthia and Mariam who we had met in India and we met Cynthia’s husband Jean Yves. After lunch we drove to Lavaur where Cynthia and Jean Yves live. They showed us around the quaint town and we had a nice evening with them and spent the night there.

After a rainy night and a cool morning when we left Lavaur and drove up to Montauban to try and get another sim card without success.
The bain of our lives all over the world is the lengthy procedures to get sim cards and we have come to the conclusion that most of the telecommunication companies are thieves and so many of the staff don’t know what their own companies are offering. The best service we had was in Morocco where we got off the ferry and were offered a free sim card which we used while we were there. We however found a very helpful postman who gave us instructions of how to get to the SFR office and we had a nice vegetarian meal in the main square.

The weather improved as we drove through the ‘Lot’ valley and then along the ‘Dorgogne’ river and had amazing views of both with more impressive clifftop castles and villages. We ended up in St Astier near Perigeux famous for their truffles. We stopped at an amazing market which had the most enormous artichokes we had ever seen. All the fruit and vegetables looked so fresh and the meat was displayed in a novel way.
I had always wanted to see a medieval chateau so we drove to ‘Chateau de Jumilhac’ where we had a tour of the Chateau and learnt of it’s history. The only thing remaining from the 1200’s was a staircase and the wife of the first owner was locked in a room for 30years with only painting, spinning and praying to keep her occupied. Her meals were even brought into the small room.
The present Marquis and Marquise live in an apartment in one of the later additions to the main Chateau.

We had virtually no traffic on our trip from there up to Nantes through a rural landscape again with old farmhouses which were very neat and tidy. Some were no longer inhabited and some were for sale. There were more quaint villages with their prominent ‘Mairie’ or town hall buildings. We passed through so many beautiful avenues of trees which are a feature of the whole region.

It had cooled overnight to 15degrees but we were warm in the campervan. Around Niort we experienced torrential rain for only 15minutes and then the sun came out again.

In France I always have a ‘cafe creme’ which is a strong coffee with a bit of milk because their cappuccinos are also usually served with cream.

Although we only had 424kilometres to travel to Nantes, taking the backroads meant continually changing speeds from 90-70-50 and to 30 sometimes which slowed us down considerably. We decided on a bit of the ‘autoroute’ after Niorte so that we could arrive while it was still light.
It rained heavily for 15minutes and then cleared with the following day being a lovely sunny day. We had a wonderful campsite at ‘Camping Nantes’right on the tramline and the very frequent service got us into the city centre in 15minutes. There were some beautiful apartment and other buildings similar to those of Paris but it was a much more relaxed atmosphere and little traffic in Nantes on the Loire river. The local Saturday market was in full swing and you could see what a multicultural city it was by the people at the market.

The impressive chateau of the Dukes of Bretagne was free to walk around unless you wanted to see inside the chateau and there were many pedestrian areas and large squares with cobblestones. We had been recommended to ‘La Cigale’ a restaurant from the 1800’s which
was beautifully decorated inside with amazing colourful tiles. We had a wonderful meal and then had dessert outside overlooking the square. The waiters were all professionals and looked the part.

I had seen the ‘Jardin des Fonderies’ on the map and I am always up to see nice gardens so we set off on the tram over to the ‘Ile de Nantes’ surrounded by the Loire and found our way to the garden and although it was a novel area with a few trees and shrubs surrounding some old foundry equipment, it wasn’t what I had envisaged.

We happened upon a huge festival on our way back on the tram so got off to see what was going on. It took place on and around the ‘Ile of Versailles’ on the L’Edre canal. We had a good walk around and listened to some music. The entrance was free but we lined up for security checks which we were happy about. There were thousands of people at the yearly event but it was a very
relaxed atmosphere and there was food from all over the world to sample although we couldn’t manage another thing.

We drove the following day to St Malo to get the evening Condor ferry to Jersey.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

It was not far from Luxembourg city to the French border where we had the secondary roads to ourselves through the vast areas of corn and grain crops, woods and newly ploughed fields. France looked different with the many poplar trees dotting the landscape.
It was a crystal clear day which continued as we drove into France. The temperature went from a coolish 21degrees in Luxembourg to a humid and warm 33degrees by the time we reached Dijon.
We made a stop on the way in Toul in the Lorraine-Meurthe et Moselle region. It had a magnificent Town hall and cathedral and interesting back streets. The main square had an attractive roundabout with fishing huts and which was beautifully planted with a myriad of colourful flowers and banana trees.
Most of the villages we passed going south had very pretty roundabout centres and lovely potted displays along the roads.
We passed through Langres in the Champagne-Ardenne region which stood on a hilltop with immense town walls surrounding it.
By the time we got the campsite outside Dijon it was a hot and humid 32degrees.

On the way down to Nebouzat in the mountains of the Auvergne area we stopped at ‘Payal la Monial’ a lovely town on a canal with the usual enormous churches and town hall. The countryside changed from a dryer one to lush woods and grassy areas where white limousin cows grazed. Even the secondary roads in France are well serviced with ‘aires’ or picnic areas as opposed to Belgium and Holland where we found only one or two.

We made a stop in Vichy where it was a humid 34degrees and home of the famous Vichy water. The original building housing the water still stood. There were a lot of competitors staggering around the town having taken part in the ‘Iron Man’ competition and most looked absolutely thrashed. The road to Nebouzat near Clermont Ferrand climbed up through the mountains and it was still hot when we arrived in the early evening.

The helpful campsite staff recommended we take the train up to the ‘Puy de Dome’ a high peak overlooking the other peaks in the Auvergne.
A steam train used to do the trip to the peak from 1905-1925 but the service was later abandoned until 2011 when new trains were installed on the route. It only took 10minutes to get to the top. We had a wonderful view of the surrounding Auvergne Volcanic mountains and watched as many people did single or tandem paragliding jumps from the mountain.

Rocamadour in the Lot region of southwest France was the next stop. The castle sat on the top of a cliff and the town below was accessed by two lifts. We walked a way down to the first lift which took us to the old but rather touristy part of town and then we returned via the same lift and a further one to the castle. It is a spectacular looking town and although there were many tourists it was a very relaxed Sunday atmosphere.

Only half an hour away we stayed at ‘Le Foursou’ a lovely B&B run by a friend of Maurice’s cousin Brigid. It was a beautiful spot and very tranquil. Sharon has 4dogs,5goats,4horses and a cat which keep her busy as well as running the four bedroom B&B.
We spent a lovely couple of nights relaxing there, making friends with all the animals and taking the dogs for a walk with her partner Gerard.

Sharon recommended a couple of places to visit on the way down to Pampelonne. We drove through the beautiful ‘Vallee de Cele’ to ‘Saint Cirq Lapopie’ another stunning village perched on a clifftop overlooking a river. It was another hot day as we made our way to Najac a very old village built along the side of a ridge with a castle at the end of it.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

There were several highways circling the city and we eventually found our way in the old town to drop Robert and Gay at their hotel.
We then got a little further lost on our way out to our campsite of ‘Bon Accueil’. It was conveniently located about 15minutes from the city and for 2 euros you could use any public transport for the following 2hours. Most of the buses were either hybrids or electic and the bus drivers were all very helpful as the stops were not shown on board most of the buses.

We decided on the hop on hop off bus to get our bearings which covered the old town and the very large newer banking area of the city.
The centre of the city was spectacular with the wide and deep Petrusse valley running through the centre. We walked along the high part of the city to the ‘Pfaffenthal’ where a glass lift took us down to the valley where we walked for a couple of kilometres and back up to the high centre of the city. The Ducal palace was very close to the edge of the valley. The views up and down the valley were beautiful and most of it was a green belt with many recreational facilities. There were some houses on the sides of the valley and down at it’s base. It was a tranquil and leafy area in which to wander and see the huge town walls and city from below.
I ventured down to the ‘Casemates du Bock’ which were a vast series of underground passages and tunnels. Apparently 17kms of tunnels still exist from the original 23kms and are accessible from two areas.
The narrow stone spiral staircases were a bit claustrophobic but the passages were not too bad. The ‘casemates’ date back centuries but were also used as shelters during the second world war.

The city was full of cafes, bars and restaurants many of which were Italian. Many Italian and Portuguese moved years ago to Luxembourg years ago and settled in the city and the many foreign workers have been an integral part of the prosperity of the country which numbers about half a million inhabitants.

Near the campsite was an enormous construction site of many tall buildings and a metro which was being constructed. The whole area looked like another city. We had great weather for the three days we were in Luxembourg and were reluctant to leave. The city had a great atmosphere and the people were very friendly and helpful especially those in the service industry.

Luxembourg is our favourite city so far this year.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

An old bridge across the river was blocked off as we tried to get to our camping site of Meersen and we eventually found our way after a large detour. The campsite owner was a dour fellow who didn’t like living in the village of Meersen because the people were very parochial and made life difficult if they could according to him. He told us that there used to be a bus outside the site but the council deemed it no longer necessary so we used his services for a fee to get into Wyck, just across the bridge from the centre of Maastricht which is a beautiful little city which was overrun with some of the 12,000 university students who were attending an orientation day in and around the city. The student associations were very vocal where they had set up on the banks of the river and one group running around town in a piaggio ape with a megaphone trying to cajole new students into joining their association. It was a friendly and sober atmosphere but it was early in the day!

Maastricht apart from being a university city attracting students from all over the world is known as a shopping city and there were many tourists doing exactly that. The cafes, bars and restaurants were very popular too. We met up with Tabea a friend we had made in India and she led us to a popular chocolate/cafe which had every conceivable chocolate spoon mixtures. I had a hot chocolate with vodka and lime which was very tasty. She took us to a restaurant which had cleverly built the restaurant below ground around some ancient Roman ruins. Very enterprising.

We had been given conflicting information as to where to get off the train the next day which found the four of us catching the train forwards and backwards to get to the main station over the river in Wyck which was a short walk down the road and over the bridge into Maastricht city.

We walked extensively through the lovely parks bordering the river and found our way to the Waldeck bastion, a fort built
originally in 1690 and to the statue of D’Artagnan. Charles Ogier de Batz de Castelmore, Comte d’Artagnan (c. 1611 – 25 June 1673) served Louis XIV as captain of the Musketeers of the Guard and died at the Siege of Maastricht in the Franco-Dutch War. We learn something new every day! In the Aldenhofpark there was a statue of a girl caressing a dead giraffe. This was surrounded by a dry moat with other statues of animals. Very strange and we could find no explanation for it all.

We caught the train back to Meersen and found a Greek restaurant at which to eat which was lucky as most restaurants out of the city were closed on Monday. A lot of the local shops were closed until 1pm on Monday and closed at 6pm.

We stopped on the way down to Luxembourg across the German border at Aachen or in French Aix-la-Chapelle. We parked in a very ordinary looking part of town but followed the signs to the old town which held a treasure trove of medieval buildings some which had been built for Charlemagne.

From there we headed back into Belgium and to Bastogne, a pretty town now with brightly coloured umbrellas hanging over the main street and a town which figured largely in Battle of the Bulge in WWII.
This was our last stop in Belgium before entering the country of Luxembourg and then the city of Luxembourg.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

On Wednesday 16th August we drove the quieter roads to our campsite in Grimbergen about an hour away from the centre of Brussels.
We left the van and caught a bus to a metro station half an hour away. Our tickets were valid for an hour and we tried to get down to the platform without success even getting stuck between two doors (luckily one opened). We then realised that our ticket was not valid on the metro so bought another one.
We (who had managed ticketing machines in various countries) could not see how to get a ticket and although we could change the language to English, nothing further was shown in English. There was no one around to ask for help so we went up the escalator into a small corner shop and the foreign shopkeeper was most helpful. He locked his shop and came down with us and showed us the strange method of turning a dial to the ticket that you needed. We missed a couple of trains in the meantime but made it into Metro Louize and down the Avenue Louise to meet our friends Robert and Gay who were staying in Brussels city.

We found a restaurant “Le Rouge Tomate” and sat in the garden for a long and delicious lunch and Robert and I managed a bottle of red.
From there we walked quite a long way to find the “Horta” museum which was Mr Horta’s house. He was an architect and the house was an amazing three storey work of art – beautiful woodwork, lighting, metal work and interesting stained glass. Every aspect of the house was beautiful.
We finished off the day at a small Brussels pub not far away and tried a few different beers – the cherry beer was the only one we thought was like fizzy cough medicine. Maurice and I were lucky to catch the metro back in time to catch the bus back to the campsite as there was only one bus an hour.
We had a lot of rain in the morning so we walked into Grimsbergen and around the quaint town.

Another rainy day in Brussels greeted us but we went into the city this time by bus and tram which took about an hour and we met Robert and Gay at the Grand Place, a beautiful square in the middle of the city. We met our guide together with many others who had braved the rain for our free walking tour. There are a lot of large squares in the old part of the city surrounded by interesting architecture. There were wide boulevards but a lot of the city had cobblestones which we were glad to get off later in the day.
We had a nice lunch at ‘Publico’ tasting another of the thousands of Belgian beers available in the city. One of the many museums had an exhibition of Matritte’s surrealist art. It was interesting to see but some of the surrealism was a bit too much for me.

On our way back to the metro we saw an acrobatic couple performing when the traffic stopped at a major intersection. The military were out in force all over the city and at that intersection but they didn’t seem to mind them there at all.

In the morning we picked up Robert and Gay and headed for Leuven and then on to Maastricht. It was market day in Leuven and it had a beautiful historical town centre with a very large church with interesting spires in the main square. We had a coffee (the Belgians make a strange cappuccino with a ton of cream on top). One cafe even refused to make it with milk and another one said that their barista was on holiday and was the only one who knew how to froth the milk. Very weird.
We bought some good fruit from a couple of Tunisian brothers and left for Maastricht.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

It was only about an hour and a half’s drive from Antwerp to Ghent. It was odd that we couldn’t find an open cafe or bakery on the way at 9am. We arrived at the campsite in Blaermoersen, an area by a canal with large sporting complexes nearby.
It was a well run, leafy campsite and we were there by 10am. We took the bus into the old historical centre – the ‘Korenmarkt’ and found a hairdresser to do the needful (as they say in India) for Maurice and me.

We had looked at the weather forecast and saw that the following day was going to be a rainy one so we spent the rest of the day
exploring the city (having been given a good map with a walking guide). In between we sampled one sort of famous Belgian waffles (a crisp affair with icing sugar – and apparently the tourist version with fresh fruit and cream). It was from the oldest establishment making waffles called “Max”and the price definately reflected this. It wasn’t our cup of tea so to speak but at least we had sampled them. The Liege waffles were denser and not crispy and they were more to our liking.
We wore good walking shoes as much of the city is made up of cobblestones, albeit rectangular ones but still not comfortable on which to walk.
It was a fine day and there were many tourists in the city and sitting along the waterways which gave it a festival like atmosphere.
To make the most of the day we walked our feet off and ended up at Citadel Park to the south of the city where I sampled another of the beers from one of the 1000 breweries in Belgium. We couldn’t visit the city’s tallest building the “book tower” which houses 46kms of books as it was being renovated. Before the renovation they had to move the books so excavated three floors underground to house them. The city pavillion in the centre was a contemporary structure with the bell tower on one side and St Nicholas’ church on the other. All throughout the city centre and along the canals were many medieval streetscapes.
We happened to meet up again with a lovely Romanian, Alin who we met on our walking tour of Antwerp. We caught the tram back to the city centre and made our way back exhausted to the campsite about 7pm while it was still light.

We were on the money as the following day it started to pour before we got up and continued for most of the day so it was a relaxing one with me doing the washing and Maurice washing all the van windows and sitting in the cafe which had some strange fare – dagsoep, spaghetti scampi curry and toast kaanibal garni. We had a snack of fries and I tried another blond beer.
We had a bit of a drama in the campsite one night. We were woken by a lot of noise around midnight. A large tree branch had partially fallen near our next door neighbours and they had called emergency services who set up their floodlights and used a long ladder and a chainsaw to cut down the offending
branch. We didn’t get a lot of sleep that night.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Travelling through many small towns in Belgium it struck us that by far the most popular restaurants along the way were Chinese and Italian ones whereas in Antwerp city there was an abundance of every kind of cuisine. We even saw a shop selling Australian icecream which I never thought of as being an Australian specialty.
Our campsite was only 15minutes from the city and we met an 81year old Englishman who had been coming to the campsite for 37years. It may have been new at that time but now it was a fairly tired looking place.
We got into the old part of the city early and walked from Rooseveldplaat down to Groeneplaat or main square where the closing festival for Antwerp Pride was being set up for later in the day. We found a wonderful bakery/cafe one street away from the main square. We could sit and watch the baker at work at the back of the cafe while enjoying a glass of prosecco with my breakfast. A pity this isn’t possible in Australia with it’s liquor laws! There was also an abundance of Belgium pubs and Belgium chocolate shops.
We joined a small group on a two hour free walking tour and our guide Bart was excellent in showing us the most historically important parts of the city as well as giving us much information of the history of Antwerp and it’s legends involving giants,demons and their deeds.
At the end of the tour Bart our guide gave us coupons for a free beer and I wanted to try a Belgian beer so we made our way to ‘Elfde Gebod’ beer restaurant which was covered inside with the most amazing collection of religious statues. Very unusual to say the least but the blonde beer I had was excellent. There was a lot of music in the main square from 1.30pm and in various locations which made for a festival atmosphere. There were thousands of people in the city but it was still comfortable walking along the main shopping street which was very wide.

We retraced our steps to spend more time exploring the Unesco museum of the publishing house of Plantin/Moretus which was fascinating and very opulent with leather embossed wall coverings and extensive wood panelling in the myriad of rooms and to Pedro Paolo Reubens beautiful house with many of his works. We bought some Belgium chocolate from ‘The Chocolate Line’ a very
expensive establishment which was previously a rich merchant’s house until Napoleon took it over and had it remodelled as the Royal Palace however he never lived there. There was also a cafe with a lovely outdoor area and the chocolate shop and a room where you could see the chocolate being made.

We found it interesting that Van Gogh had to learn how to paint and with mental illness had a sad life with little reward whereas Rembrandt was a naturally talented artist who taught many students and was very successful as was Ruebens who had to refuse many students because he was so sought after and whose students after the initial sketch worked extensively on the painting only to be retouched by Ruebens. Only the more important commissions were done exclusively by him. His house was enormous with a beautiful garden which had been carefully recreated.

Our guide told us that he thought the most beautiful train station in Europe was the one in Antwerp so after taking the metro in the wrong direction and then missing the stop (as it was not called ‘Central station’ on the platform but ‘Astrid”) we finally ended up in the station which was not only a magnificent building but it had platforms on three levels. One peculiar aspect on some of the metro lines was the use of trams. It did seem odd to see a tram on the underground.

Antwerp was definately a city worth visiting for it’s friendly people, the architecture and an interesting historical city centre.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We had been told about the cheese market held on a Friday in Alkmaar (about 40mins from Amsterdam) and after blocking a parking area with several cars behind us -argh! we found a parking spot for the day. The parking lot took debit cards but it wouldn’t take foreign ones and many shops only took maestro cards even though they had credit card terminals – very frustrating – back to the ATM again.

We were glad that we got to the market early enough to taste cheeses without thousands of hands delving into the samples and we duly bought a few different cow and goat cheeses for Maurice. We were able to get a seat on the grandstand to have a more or less uninterrupted view of the weighing and movement of the large cheeses (15kgs each one). We couldn’t believe how many tourists came to the Waagplein or weighing square to watch the proceedings which have been taking place since 1365 with over 2000 cheeses to be weighed and made ready for sale. The men working there belong to a guild. The rest of the proceedings were a bit too touristy for us so we left and fought our way through the crowds to walk around the old town which was charming.

We couldn’t get over how welcoming, helpful and friendly everyone was in Holland. Most people chatted to us as well as giving you the necessary information which was very refreshing in a city like Amsterdam or town like Alkmaar so crowded with tourists.
Our saga of our flydoor continued so we went to DV Stelling, a caravan and motorhome seller and where repairs could be done. Half an hour later Richard had made an improvement to the door and he also made us a coffee/hot chocolate first and let us use their kitchen.
He didn’t charge us for the job so we gave him something and told him to buy himself a beer. Such prompt and good service!

Maurice was paid a compliment by the guys at Vodafone. He had bought a new phone in Wilemshaven and needed some assistance with it. The sales guy asked him if he didn’t mind telling him his age because he said that Maurice knew knew so much and could tell him a few things! From someone who could just open a computer and type an email a few years ago!
He told us that strictly speaking only the area around Amsterdam and the western coast was referred to as Holland. Further east and south it was known as the Netherlands.

We passed Schipol airport on the way to Alkmaar and we had both never seen so many planes landing, taking off and in the air at the same time. It is one of the busiest airports in Europe and has one the most sophisticated radar computer controlled systems.

We left Amsterdam to travel to Nijmegen (the oldest town in Holland, over 2000years old as documented by the Romans). It was a bit of a non event as there was so much rain we could see very little so decided to go on to Waalwijk where my maternal great grandfather was born. He later emigrated to England. I have a pipe bowl with his name and the date 1823 Waalwijk. I went there 22years ago with my mother and found the archive department where we traced in a couple of hours back to 1650 with the assistance of two staff there. The town had become very affluent and was quite different from 22years ago.
We had a good walk around town and then left to drive to Antwerp. People in the town said we were lucky that we were going south as the day was known as Black Saturday because people were returning north from holidays and school was due to start on the Monday.
We too were glad as there was little traffic southbound. It was still raining so we took the highway. The highways were in excellent condition but the some of the smaller roads were made up of concrete sections which were not so comfortable to drive on.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

It didn’t take us long to drive down to Amsterdam and to ‘Gaasper camping” an enormous campsite with 350 pitches and whhich was extremely well run.
We were near an area of thousands of highish rise appartments where a proportion of the 350,00 Surinamese descended population lived.
Suriname was part of the Netherlands kingdom until 1975 when mass migration took place with Surinamese moving to the Netherlands looking for better living conditions. Apparently most of the people have Dutch passports and have integrated into Dutch society.

It was only a 7minute walk to the metro station and about 25minutes into the centre of Amsterdam. There was much construction of units and a lot of reconstruction underway in the city which was full of tourists. First we went to the ‘Bloemenmarkt’ which was for me a disappointment as apart from many tulip and other floral bulbs for sale they had only one very poor fresh flower stall. We did an hour’s boat trip around the canals and got our bearings and then did a three hour free walking tour which we find to be the best way of seeing any city. Tijs was an excellent guide for the 12 of us on the tour and we got our exercise as it was done at a good clip to get around much of the inner city. We had to constantly dodge bikes,cars and other tourists and we crossed over a few of the 1000 bridges in the city. He showed us the Desso 40metre carpet runner in the Schutter museum with each patch representing the 179 nationalities living in Amsterdam and of course the red light district with the girls in the windows as well as part of the University which was previously the headquarters for the Dutch East India Company. He told us that Dutch society was a very tolerant one however that it was more tolerant years ago and not so much today.

It was cool in the shade but warm in the sun and we had a mostly blue sky for the whole day.
There were hundreds of legal boats moored in the canals with electricity and water supplied but the water was a dirty brown colour everywhere. Not what I would like to wake up to in the morning.

Rain was forecast for the afternoon the next day so we went into the city and walked a good half hour and found “Bocca” coffee bar which had been recommended to us. There were several Aussies working there and the coffee was great. From there we walked to the vast ‘Vondelpark’ and had our picnic lunch before heading nearby to the ‘Van Gogh’ museum. We had luckily bought our tickets online as there were hundreds of people lined up waiting to buy them. The 3 floors covered a lot of what Van Gogh had sketched and painted and there was much information about the man,his life and his paintings. We learnt a lot that we didn’t know about him.
We spent a good three hours there before setting out in the rain to Mazzo restaurant to meet a friend Claudine, a dutch lady who we had met in India.
It was still raining when we left so we caught a tram back to the central station and the metro back to ‘Gaasperplas’ station near the camping ground. We could buy 24/48 or 72hour transport passes from the camping ground and although the metro lines were quite limited, the bus and tram system was excellent.

Wednesday was spring clean the van day in preparation for our friends who will join us in ten days time and the weather was kind to us.
Back to the city on Thursday to the Rijksmuseum to see Rembrandt van Rijn’s works and other Dutch masters – a wonderful building and museum. A lot of artifacts were from the Dutch East Indies and wonderfully intact wooden panelling and furniture from an Amsterdam house.
A whole room was dedicated to doll’s houses which were not for children but for wealthy ladies who wanted to show what was contained in their homes or what they wished for, for their homes. The craftmanship was amazing especially given the complexity of the minute items. We got there before 9am so managed to get around a couple of floors in about 3 hours before the masses arrived, again long queues for tickets. I don’t know why more people didn’t buy tickets online to avoid standing in a queue for hours

This slideshow requires JavaScript.