We gave ourself 10 nights in the Netherlands as we wanted a relaxed pace for our first stop, and it sounded like there was loads to do.
The campsite on the outskirts of Delft was highly recommended on caravan groups and pretty well located for our explorations. As a bonus, when we arrived it turned out it was set in a big nature park area with a lovely lake and petting zoo right next door.
We spent our first day setting up camp properly, exploring the campsite playground and finding a supermarket. Luckily we’d brought our own nappies as it turns out they’re mega expensive here. Our four month supply may take up most of the boot as well as the rear footwells footwells, but at least we’ll never be caught short! On a side note, groceries in general seem pretty expensive, so it’s just as well we didn’t plan on staying here too long.
Simon was very excited about the cheese opportunities the Netherlands had to offer, so our first outing was to the weekly cheese market at Alkmaar, apparently the biggest cheese market in the world.
From what we managed to see it’s much more a theatre for tourists than actual cheese trading, but if it is, it’s a very inefficient way of doing it. I say managed to see as it was chucking it down and we didn’t really fancy hanging around to get two small children soaked.
From what we could tell, all the week’s cheese was piled up in the town square and then put on big wooden cheese gondolas, and then carried on straps by men in white outfits. They carried it with that odd run walk you do when you need a poo, to the scales in the town hall, and then again to a wooden cart where it was then transferred again from cart to refrigerated lorry around the corner. As a means of commerce it’s crying out to be six sigma’d.
In the sunshine I imagine there’s much more theatre to it, but all the cheese was hidden under tarps and everyone, including the cast and the tourists who had braved the weather, had an air of really not wanting to be there.
So we hid in the nearest cafe until the rain subsided and then wandered around what was actually a lovely town, sampling cheese in the market stalls and eating cheese toasties.
We had intended to also visit Edam and Haarlem that day, but after hiding from the weather, and all still feeling a bit damp, we abandoned Edam and headed to Haarlem (we had no idea what was even in Edam, we just wanted to say we’d made it, ha!)
Haarlem was… alright. It’s billed as the Netherlands in a town, having everything quintisentially Dutch. It did indeed have canals, a windmill and a mini red light district, and it was quite charming, but no more so than Delft, or Alkmaar I’d say. Still a nice way to spend the afternoon, even if Evelyn was sporting her brother’s rather tight 6-9 month dungarees as makeshift hareem pants while her leggings dried out
Saturday we headed into Delft to explore the food market. Delft is a lovely town, much prettier than Haarlem I’d say, and thriving on market day. We had a lovely day mooching around the food market, eating cheese and biscuit samples, and trying out the Dutch classic Kibberling (fried fish chunks). We dodged a lot of bikes, saw a few churches and Simon scaled a very wonky looking windmill. We even found a playground for Evelyn to let off some steam.
Delft is famous for its blue and white glazed pottery, and I would have liked to visit one of the factories, but pottery and a toddler felt like a very risky pursuit.
Sunday was Father’s Day and we spent it learning about windmills at Kinderdijk, a large open field with dykes and restored windmills, as well as a visitor centre. The whole thing was really interesting and a great family day out. We started with a 10 min video about windmills in the area, how they work and why they are used. I’d always assumed that windmills were just for milling grains, but in the Netherlands especially they’re used to pump water to regulate water levels in dykes and the surrounding land. Did you know that a third of land in the Netherlands is below sea level?! Next on to the interactive exhibitions were Evelyn (and us!) had great fun managing our own windmill, catching prevailing winds and making sure our fields were suitably watered. Very engrossing and would make a great Christmas drinking game!
Then on to the windmills themselves. There are two open to view inside of, plus maybe 10 more of different designs you can pass on the walk. It was really fascinating to see how families lived inside them, and hear how they worked as communities.
After a few days out in the car, we kept it local the next day and explored the local lake and petting zoo. Evelyn had a great time looking at rabbits and sheep, but was more interested in being ridden around the courtyard on a tandem! The other highlight of the day was realising we’d inadvertently wandered through the naturist section of the lake front, eyes straight ahead please!
Tuesday saw us off to Amsterdam for the day with the rain finally giving us a proper break and the sun shining. Evelyn was very excited to go on both a bus and a train to get there, simple pleasures.
We wandered around the Jordaan district, paid our respects outside Anne Frank’s house and wandered along the canals. While we didn’t go in any museums, Evelyn enjoyed the water feature in the gardens of the Rijksmuseum and we soaked up the atmosphere in museum square. Then on to Vondelpark for a bit of shade. Vondelpark is huge and I don’t think we saw much of it, but we had a nice chill out under the trees and wandered around the lake people watching.
We wandered back through the old town and hit the red light district. We’d managed to have a fairly peaceful day out so far, so the assault on the senses of the revellers gearing up for their night out clashed. Even though I’d been before and knew what to expect. Mindful of it taking us nearly two hours to get there, and not wanting to get back too late, we ended up in the no man’s land of it being too late for cafes, but not really late enough for dinner places. Add in the fact we’re on a budget, and that I get serious anxiety about choosing rubbish places to eat (more so if it’s once or twice a week treat), and it was quite hard to find somewhere. We found a nice cafe on trip advisor and found seats by the canal side, but after waiting 10 mins to be served, I went in to order only to be told the kitchen closed 5 mins ago, thanks. I was hot, tired (we’d walked eight miles by this point), and hungry so did well to keep a lid on the infamous Geary service rage. I managed to negotiate us a couple of frittatas and smoothies and from there we headed back.
We’d thought the rain had stopped the previous day, but the heavens opened that night and the following morning we sat cowering in our tin box as a lightening storm boomed directly above us. When the rain finally subsided we all had cabin fever (a caravan is a very small place with a baby and a toddler who is determined to molest him at every opportunity), so we donned waterproofs and went looking for puddles, Which was great until Evelyn jumped in one where the grate was missing and nearly disappeared up to her thigh. Luckily she had her reins on and I caught her dangling, but the waterproofs did get breeched so we had a pretty miserable walk back home.
After the wash out of the Alkmaar cheese market we wanted to head to Gouda for theirs on the Thursday, but the forecast was just as grim there too. Instead we got our waterproofs back on to potter around Delft again and thankfully it cleared up enough for us to waste a few hours before heading back to the campsite to pack up.
After nine nights in Delft we headed to Venlo just before the German border for our final night, just to break up the journey to our next stop. Just as well as apparently Stan still hated the car and Laura spent most of the journey in the middle seat trying to placate either him or Evelyn who would get upset/ angry about him crying. Oh joy.
The campsite in Venlo was just the sort we like- a couple of open fields, no marked off pitches and freedom for Evelyn to roam. They even gave us cherries straight off the tree for us to eat. We’d have happily spent a few days there just chilling out and exploring their nature trails.
We barely scratched the surface of the Netherlands and would love to go back, especially in tulip season, and also to explore the north.
Where we stayed:
Delft – Delftse Hout
Venlo- Camping Calafornie