Volendam, Netherlands

Dutch Masters & their ships

Well, we were always going to have days like these…

Vollenhoven Clog & Cheese – Thank You 🙂

We are sitting in the Simonhoeve Cheese & Clog restaurant at lunchtime. Niki has an interview with an international school, and talk about bad timing! She was up last night with nausea and cramps and headache, and has woken this morning even worse. Yesterday, doing some research in preparation, she had a number of websites open in the background over a 4 hour period. Thinking we were fine with data – (we still had 4 gigs left the day before), Niki did a quick check and … found we had used 9.6 gigs out of 10 gigs.. Quick run to the restaurant and the very helpful folks have given us use of WiFi – let’s see how that holds up. So poor Niks – feeling grim, interview pressure, noisy restaurant …

Windmill, 1660

We are just outside the lovely town of Volendam. Took a walk in yesterday past a beautiful old windmill (origin 1680) and Niki had lunch overlooking the harbour, with very stylistic yachts coming past – hmmm, very Old Dutch Masters kind of scene.


Coincidentally, we are just around the corner from the town of Hoorn, which may have a family connection. My friend Lloyd, who knows everything about everything, and is never wrong (seriously), has gotten into genealogy. He points out that the South African Swart family originated from this area, with Johannes Swart arriving in the Cape in 1685, working as a ‘sieketrooster’, a doctor of sorts, before buying a farm in Stellenbosch. He was followed in 1692 by his wife and 3 children, and generations later, here we are. This ties in very well with an oral record I heard from my oupa as a young child. How things come around.

The Netherlands has a huge camper community, witnessed by the 1000’s of vans and caravans on the road during the holidays. Consequently, we have been very surprised at the lack of campervan facilities through the country, possibly as a result of the emphasis on campgrounds. Our current overnight stop is a rather rare occurrence – free parking at a fromagerie. Dumping stations have been seldom to absent – yesterday we paid a fee to use a campsite dump facility, but that looks also to be an exception. With the weather closing in again this might just be the incentive needed to continue heading south (well, west really) and into France.

Why I don’t have a dog …

On the road today we met an Australian couple from Perth, on their last day in Europe before returning to the UK (not Europe) to sell their van and return home after 3 ½ years on the road. Lined up at a dumping station is not the best opportunity for sharing detailed experiences (of traveling, not dumping), and they just raved about the time they have had. Special glowing memories of Morocco … hmmm!

Niki’s photo, taken from coffee stop in Volendam – WOW!

Rijks Museum, Amsterdam

So yesterday morning started off pretty much the same as the previous day had finished … Not so well. We parked our van in a quiet road behind a farm – nice level section, next to a forest, security lighting and easy access to the Metro into town. Then the police came knocking.

9:00pm and we are fed, showered and settled down watching a TV series (taped, thank you Torrent!) when we hear a van pull up, with lights on our door. Knock, knock, who is there? Our friendly local police informing us that, yes, we may park there for 24 hours, but that does not permit sleeping. We were encouraged to relocate to a campsite 5 minutes drive away, which we did – to find everything closed. With some trepidation, and after witnessing another police car patrol the parking area, we pulled into a parking spot next to the campground, put up our blinds and went to sleep … troubled every time a car drove past or stopped. Having given the police our passport details we were a little edgy!

Rijks Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands’ most popular museum

6:00am (Really, people get up at this time to go to work?) and we were up, moving the van to a 24hour parking area next to the Metro, as we were planning on spending the day in the Rijks Museum, and staying overnight with friends made in China (I think this is a trademark). This all went smoothly, apart from arriving waaay too early at our friends (Sorry Kelli!!)

Hallway, Rijks Museum

So that’s how to do a Museum!!! My pitiful photographic portrayal of the Rijks Museum is really credit to the unbelievably good experience, which made me simply forget to record anything – not being a Millennial, you know? Self self click click (sorry kids). Firstly, the exhibitions are simply jaw dropping. To stand a foot from works like this – well! I think I get the Medieval reaction to the bones of martyrs and saints. We were our usual pathetic selves: The helpful folks at info indicate 90 minutes for the highlight tour (with brilliant audio/visual accompaniment for €5 – best money spent so far) – so 3 ½ hours later we were done with that, and had skipped 99% of the museum, and were still overwhelmed. Just enough time when the hour ‘we are closing’ notice came through to dash through the ship model and weapons section. Really should have brought sleeping bags and had A Night At The Museum.

I know there’s other art, but really, like this?

Rounded off a great day with good food and drinks (missed you, Lanny) and unlimited showers when staying over with friends. Late morning start brought on by the unfortunate chemical reactions caused by red + white wine, but made better with coffee and hot croissants – really enjoying this Europe thing.

Sort of proof we were there, not just Google!

Currently out east of Amsterdam after weathering more brutally poor advice from our GPS. I’m sure the A1 around Amsterdam existed in 2015 (apparently the date of our GPS software!) so why we are warned of roundabouts, speed limits and traffic lights only the imps of hell, who were clearly responsible for the data card, would know. Anyway – parked at a delightful Cheese & Clog shop / manufactory / exhibition centre. Free parking somewhat compensated for €50 of cheese, liquorice and a cheese cutter that apparently also washes dishes, according to Niki. I’m so glad we have a zero souvenir policy!

This dolls house cost the same as a full scale house. Complete with Delft plates and artefacts from China, amongst others.


The day started with our easy access route from our parking place at Naarden’s golf course being closed for roadworks, and deteriorated from there! Nothing like trying to find your way to a big city on a 6 lane highway when the GPS insists you are on some rural road with a maximum speed of 30km/h, roundabouts that need attention and rights & lefts that simply don’t exist. Niki, trying her best to make sense of the map, tries to get her phone and tablet going to get some alternative facts … 🙂 … to find that nothing is connecting, while exits come and go and a couple of major decisions to be made. In the end we simply bailed off the freeway, found a side road with parking space and just breathed! Once we were under control we headed for our parking spot for the day, a public parking area next to a hotel. Turned in, full carpark, wiggled a bit to get out, and headed off. Took a right (why?) and found a parking area next to a woods and a farm which, I think, does tours in summer. So here we are for tonight, and tomorrow night we’ll spend with friends made in Nanjing, China. That does mean leaving the van unattended for 2 days …


Amsterdam: Crowded – seriously mate, it’s Autumn!! We spent the day taking in the sights, including the floating flower market:

Floating Flower Market
Really floating flower market


Overall it’s an interesting city experience, but after spending time outside cities we are finding them to be a bit claustrophobic, dirty, and we will be cutting our three days down to two – with tomorrow mostly reserved for the Rijks Museum and some proper Art – Niki continues to fail in getting me to appreciate anything this side of 1860.

What’s it like in summer?

Naarden, Netherlands

We are currently acting the surreptitious-camper version of our travels as we overnight (again) at the golf course in Naarden, about 20km east of Amsterdam. The trip down took us past realllly flat farmlands, the type Norwegians dream of! It is also easy the see the Dutch love affair with big wind-driven machinery!

About 5km from the old town itself, an easy and well-marked cycle route took us into town. The photos taken don’t do justice to the complexity (and beauty) of the fortifications, so excuse me getting the google aerial version to help picture the town.


Also of interest is the way in which the fortification walls’ interior has been used to house offices, restaurants and the like, providing a surprisingly warm and intimate atmosphere, lit by means of skylights. The concentric moats, thick defensive walls and massed cannons didn’t always seem to be successful, falling to the Spanish, the French, and then back to the Dutch, accompanied by the requisite massacres. The French, fired by revolutionary fervour, carved ‘Liberté Egalité Fraternaté into the tombs making up the floor of the church – in response to the fact that only the rich could afford those. Hmmm, the 1% argument seems pretty old.

Concentric moats & walls
Utrecht Gate

The town itself is small, housed as it is within the confines of city walls. The town – actually a ‘city’ and granted such rights in the 14thC – can be crossed by foot in 10 minutes. The streets are picturesque, with the town dominated by the church of St Vitus . The church is unique – very high barrel ceiling built of wood and painted in the 16thC pre-Reformation. The roof remained intact after the Reformation as it depicts biblical scenes rather than saints etc. One of the things I’ve enjoyed in our church visits as we travel through countries is the regional aspect given by art to works of belief – Look at this panel of Jonah swallowed by a whale after falling off a Dutch cargo boat.

Jonah falling off a Dutch cargo ship
Niki using the mirrors in St Vitus

The church has also been a bit creative, providing circular mirrors that allow you to avoid serious physiotherapy fees as you contort your neck to look vertically! Instead, use the mirrors, which also seem to enlarge the image – clever, these Dutch.

Niki has a thing for doors

So, two nights in Naarden and then we’ll head off to Amsterdam in the morning, and see if our planned parking, in a hotel parking lot, will be successful …



Netherlands: Giethoorn

Complete Dutch experience (woops! no clogs!!)

We know we are in the Netherlands because we are surrounded by cows, canals and bicycles!






We crossed into the Netherlands from Germany after a very winding route – GPS is great, mostly. Crossing the border we soon had to navigate the Hondsrug (Dog’s Back) mountains. They must be mountains because they have a name, no? This was an early indication of the coming terrain.

Hondsrug mountain range in N Netherlands .. I know, I know!

Currently we are parked a very scenic marina / waterway / canal place – great services, flocks of migrating geese etc etc. We are a 5 minute walk from Giethoorn, and absolutely delightful residential area. From Niki: The area was inhabited in the 10thC by a community with large goat herds. A sudden flood resulted in these herds being wiped out. Years later, when founding a new settlement, masses of goats horns were dug up – hence giet=goat hoorn=horn.


I can only imagine what a bun fight this place must be in summer, given the number of visitors on a cool Sunday afternoon in October. Every second canal seems to have a boat rental service in operation, there are long barges belonging to operators and restaurants, and the foot traffic forces halts at the numerous bridges. Even so, this was a delightful stop. The high, arched bridges were built to allow barges of hay to be transported along the waterways. I had never really considered farm + barn + canal before!

Giethoorn traffic jam
Can you imagine summer?

One of the shops we visited had a huge selection of semi-precious stones and artworks, as well as a large number of fossils. Our family will understand that we spent a long time admiring the works, as well as the range of polished and unpolished materials, and at very good prices too (I think?)

It’s another slow morning as we have a breakfast in the sun. Temperatures are up, sun is out, no wind at all – what’s not to like? With some luck we’ll get a load of washing done before heading off to our next stop at Naarden, apparently the best preserved star fort town in Europe …

Retirement home for Chris & John – we continue our search!