New Year is the one time that the normally law abiding and dutiful citizens of the Netherlands go absolutely wild and act just a little bit crazy.
It’s as if on that one night they let off all the pent up energy they have accrued but sublimated over the course of the previous year.
This energy is expended by setting off the most amazing, incredibly noisy, colourful and numerous fireworks that I have ever seen. In every part of the country – even the most sedate suburbs and the normally quietest of villages – massive explosions fill the air, making it sound like you’re in a war zone.
Fireworks are fired off continuously by seemingly almost every household – and this goes on for hours and hours. Young and old take to the streets to experience what appears to be to outsiders, as total mayhem.
At the start of 2020 we experienced this crazy chaos for the first time and were totally blown away by all the explosions that went on for hours!
This year the Dutch Government totally banned householders from letting off New Year’s fireworks and naturally because of Covid, public displays couldn’t be held either.
The normally well behaved and obedient citizens rebelled and although the fireworks weren’t quite as loud and didn’t go on for quite as long, there were enough deafening explosions and beautiful displays of colourful rockets lighting up the skies to feel that 2021 was well and truly welcomed in.
Our New Year celebrations were a lot more low key than the previous year but we had a great time anyway – playing games in the early part of the evening and then sitting outside for an hour before midnight and into the early hours. Even though the night was very frosty we were warmed by a cosy log fire and an overhead gas heater (and some red wine too!)
We were allowed two adult guests and it was great to share the evening with Hannah and Pieter’s friends Ryan and Jess who were obliged to leave Australia when the restaurant they worked in at Melbourne Casino “Dinner By Heston” went broke around the time of the Covid outbreak. Under 13s aren’t included in Covid restrictions at present in the Netherlands so happily Ryan’s son also joined us.
The days after New Year were quiet – we spent a lot of time at home, leaving the house only to go for walks – short ones on very rainy days and longer ones when the weather permitted.
Just before the 12th day of Christmas we took down the Christmas tree and the rest of the decorations. The poor tree was dropping needles profusely if you so much breathed in it so it was well and truly time.
Putting away all the Christmas ornaments always feels like the real start to the New Year and it was with this in mind that we decided we should try to venture a bit further afield in the campervan.
We had read that people who live permanently in their campervan had been travelling through France successfully so we decided that’s where we would head.
There are so many spots where you can wild camp in France and unlike in many other European countries, quite a number of official campsites stay open over winter.
So on 8 January 2021, we set off for our first destination, a remote farm deep in the French countryside situated midway between Calais and Boulogne – roughly 20km from each.
Considering how remote the farm was, we found it very easily even though it was dark by the time we arrived. There were no other customers there so we followed the neatly spaced line of cones thinking they indicated where vans could park.
Whoops! Moments later we realised that the cones were indicating where not to park! Yes we had that sinking feeling – our van was bogged!
After a few futile attempts to get out of the ever deepening mud ruts we decided to stay put and see if we could get help from the farmer the following day as it was already getting late.
The next thing we knew, another van had arrived and seeing us parked on the grass must have thought like us, that it was safe to park between two of the cones. Of course before we could warn them they became bogged too.
With our broken French and their equally broken English we ascertained that they had the additional problem of their water pump not turning off and all their water had drained away so they badly needed to fill up. They decided to call the farmer who very kindly came out straight away to pull them out of the mud and then gave us a tow too!
Once we were on a flat piece of gravelled land behind the farmer’s enormous shed we settled down to dinner and a great night’s sleep. The following day we woke up to a beautiful crisp and frosty morning and a lovely view!
After examining the muddy mayhem of the previous night we went on an excellent walk along the leafy country lanes to the tiny village of Tardinghem (population roughly 150).
It was a glorious day and despite everything being closed (including a lovely microbrewery and brasserie near to the farm) it was great to have a change of scene and have a really long walk in the beautiful French countryside.
From the village we took a footpath through the fields towards the beach.
From the beach we could see the nearby Cap Gris Nez ( Cape Grey Nose) one way and Cap Blanc Nez (Cape White Nose) the other.
More amazingly though, the day was so clear that the White Cliffs of Dover were clearly visible – more than 30 kilometres away over the Channel. Apparently the cliffs of Cap Gris Nez are the closest point of France to England from their English counterparts at Dover.