Mud, mud, glorious mud, nothing quite like it for….getting bogged!

Mud seems to be a bit of a recurring theme in our travels recently. After leaving Ferme L’Horloge, near the tiny village of Tardinghem, 20 kilometres from Calais (where we got bogged on our first night), we headed south towards Veules-les-Roses, in the Normandy region of France.

On the (icy) road to Veules-les-Roses

Although we didn’t leave the farm until midday, the ground was still covered in a beautiful thick frost which looked like someone had painted everything with a sparkling silver magic brush.

The grass was beautifully frosted in sparking silver
A brave little daisy in the frosty grass

As we left we saw a group of people in the field behind and wondered what they were up to. The previous day we had seen model airplanes being flown so thought that’s what was happening this time.

We wondered what these people were up to

Then we heard a engine leap into life and realised that one of the people was about to take off in a microlight aircraft!

And then an engine leapt into life

Up he went into the frosty air while his poor family were left shivering watching his progress. It must have been freezing up there!

It must have been freezing up there!

Leaving the enthusiasts to their devices we left for what turned out to be a three and a half hour drive (including a stop for some lunch). In places there were still patches of ice on the road so we took it very slowly and carefully.

We arrived at the “Aire” (car park that allows camper vans overnight) just outside Veules-les-Roses and found just one other van and a number of cars parked.

Hmm looks rather too muddy to me….

The surface was mainly grass and the remaining spots where we could potentially park looked extremely soft and skiddy. We were determined not to get bogged this time!

So we sat at the entrance for a few minutes waiting for some cars to leave before attempting to park. Quite soon two cars left so we started to move towards the place one of them vacated.

We back into a space successfully but our front wheels were spinning!

Suddenly our wheels started to slip and slide and Jonathan tried to ease the van out of the soggy mud. We were stuck again!

Damn! Stuck in the mud again!

Fortunately he had an idea! Find two pieces of wood and put them, crossed over each other, under the tyre that was really bogged. The top stick redistributed the weight of the van allowing us to roll off the the larger stick underneath, stopping it from sinking into nasty, muddy mess. Thank goodness Jonathan went to Boy Scouts when he was a boy!

But Jonathan’s ingenious Boy Scout idea got us out!

After another wait more cars departed and we were finally able to find a nice dry spot and relax.

Finally we could relax

The reason the car park was quite busy on a cool winter’s day was that there was a lovely walk from there to the beachfront at Veules-les-Roses.

There was a lovely walk to Veules-les-Roses.
The view in the other direction

We set off to explore and were surprised to see imposing white chalk cliffs on the shore – almost identical to the famous White Cliffs of Dover. A very grand sight.

The beachfront of Veules-les-Roses.
The chalk cliffs looked very like the White Cliffs of Dover

Having walked along the beach on the way we decided to circle through the village to get back to our camping spot. We saw some very beautiful cottages, some super elegant houses and an interesting 13th Century Church.

There were some lovely houses in the village
And a 13th Century Church

Our next destination was a lonely beach in the romantic sounding place St Martin-de-Varreville, not far from Omaha and Utah Beaches, where the D-Day landings took place.

The D-day landings took place very close to here

The beach was long and lonely, the weather was blustery and it started to rain as we walked along the sand so after a bit of a tramp we headed back to the comfort of the van.

The beach was long and lonely
The weather was blustery and it started to rain

That night our van shook and trembled as the wind howled around it. It was very cosy in our warm bed and we felt so grateful we weren’t in a boat, having to get up and check our anchor at frequent intervals!

The van shook and trembled all night

Although we had just installed a brand new (and expensive!) lithium house battery which means we can have the heater on whenever we want and not fear we will run out of power, we decided to go to a “proper site” for a day or two where we could plug in to mains electricity and boot up our laptops and other electrical equipment that need mains power.

We could also fill up with water and drain away the grey waste water there, as well as empty our chemical toilet. We found one not too far away that was still open in the winter months (and during Covid restrictions) in a village called Rothéneuf about five kilometres from St Malo.

Our route from St Martin-de-Varreville to Rothéneuf

For those of you who love to read, St Malo is the city in the wonderful book All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, where one of the main protagonists, Marie-Laure, and her father flee to during World War II. (Very highly recommend this book!)

Such a wonderful book

Rotheneuf is just over five kilometres from the centre of St Malo and is famous for being the birthplace of Jacques Cartier, the first European to map the Gulf of St Lawrence and the shores of the St Lawrence River which he named “the country of Canadas”.

Arriving at the campsite in Rothéneuf
This was where Jacques Cartier prayed before setting out on his expeditions
It’s no longer a chapel but at least the building is mostly intact

Sadly, because of Covid, we were unable to go round the museum or see the famous “rochers sculptés” (rock sculptures carved in the cliffs of Rothéneuf by a hermit in the late 19th century/early 20th century). In the course of 49 years the hermit carved over 300 grotesque and bizarre faces and figures into the rock.

The beach at Rothéneuf
The strange little building on the beach

The first evening there we were contented with a stroll round the town but the following day we decided to do a more significant walk to St Malo.

Wind blown cedar trees on the headland
More mud!

It was an interesting route that first took us along the road for a while but then we were soon on the massively long and wide beach leading to St Malo.

On our way to St Malo we passed the Church at Rothéneuf
And some lovely cottages
Then we were able to get on the beach

The tide was out which left hundreds of metres of firm sand to walk on. We had forgotten how massive the tidal races were in this part of the world – apparently St Malo experiences some of the biggest tides in Europe.

It was very long and very wide!

The tidal range can vary between low tide and the open sea by over 40 feet (about 12 metres). We didn’t witness it but the intensity of the incoming waves are apparently a wonder to behold, a sight much beloved by photographers and artists.

Stock photo of the waves when the tide is high

To cope with the onslaught of the waves, Saint-Malo equipped itself with breakwater defenses that have become emblems of the city. These are more than 3,000 wooden piles, roughly 10 feet high, installed originally at the end of the 17th century (and replaced over time) to absorb the impact of the waves and protect part of the citadel.

These breakwaters had a strange atmosphere
They were stark but rather beautiful
I loved the patterns that the wild ocean had carved into them
The wooden piles were first installed at the end of the seventeenth century

It was great to see that even on a cool winter’s day, the beach was being really well utilised with scores of people out walking their dogs, dozens of kite and wind surfers and even land yachts skimming over the golden sand. It still felt gloriously uncrowded!

Approaching St Malo, the beach looks empty but there were many people utilising it
The kite surfers were having a great time
A kite surfer on his way down to the surf
The walled city of St Malo

Of course there were no cafes open in St Malo so we came prepared! After a walk on the glorious 17th Century ramparts we found a seat and cracked open our thermos and made a nice strong cup of tea!

One of the gates into the old city
The city ramparts
We enjoyed walking on the ramparts
These stairs lead up to one of the bastions
Lovely views
Statue of Robert Surcouf, the privateer (pirate!)
Enjoying my cuppa within the city walls

On the walk back we kept mostly to the promenade which again was well patronised but we felt safe as everyone wore masks and were careful to keep their distance.

Hotel France et Chateaubriand – one of the many elegant hotels in St be Malo
The entrance to Hotel France et Chateaubriand
A square rigger in the port
Loved seeing these children playing in the rock pools with their fishing nets

Law-abiding Dutch go crazy and late night tow

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.

Happy New Year everyone!

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.

Two second video of fireworks

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.

Fireworks from down the street

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!

Fireworks were banned this New Year

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.

Despite Covid people were on the streets to watch the fireworks – socially distanced of course!

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.

Welcoming in 2021

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 toasty warm even though it was a frosty night

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.

Sparklers and champagne – perfect way to bring the New Year in

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.

Spring is on the way! Some lovely snowdrops flowering already
Some people take their horses for a walk as well as their dog!
Gorgeous winter light filtering through the bare trees
Pieter and Hannah and their nephew/godson
Look out, someone is going to wobble that bridge!
Another lovely winter scene

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.

The poor tree was dropping its needles at the slightest touch
Out it goes!

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.

Sweeping up all the pine needles

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.

The farm was equidistant between Calais and Boulogne

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!

Uh oh stuck in the mud! The farmer’s dog comes to help.

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!

Looking for the towing point
Getting ready to pull the van out of the mud
Pulling our neighbours out of the mud
We came out backwards

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!

A beautiful crisp and frosty morning
Lots of mud in our wheels
Evidence of the muddy mayhem
The farmhouse at La Ferme de l’Horloge

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).

Tardinghem Church
The “local” in Tardinghem

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.

Would have been great to look round the Craft Brewery
And even better to have a meal at the Brasserie
No guests allowed because of Covid
Loved the sign

From the village we took a footpath through the fields towards the beach.

Great views across water meadows to the English Channel

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.

In the distance is Cap Blanc Nez, France’s most northerly cliff
A closer view of Cap Blanc Nez
Again, in the distance, Cap Gris Nez, the closest point of France to England

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.

It was such a pristine day we could clearly see the White Cliffs of Dover
Not easily seen from this photo but the White Cliffs of Dover are there!

Another narrow escape – just in time for Christmas!

We really couldn’t have been luckier- just a couple of days before European countries closed their borders to travellers from Britain we made it back to the Netherlands in the nick of time for Christmas!

Christmas ready!

We had gone to England from the Netherlands because our Schengen visa-free period on our Australian/NZ passports was almost up. To avoid being penalised for overstaying we went over for a little more than two weeks in order to return to Europe using our UK passports.

We couldn’t have been luckier to make it back to the Netherlands

After our two-week quarantine was up we headed for the ferry terminal in Harwich. Fortunately, we were allowed to stay the night in the car park at the terminal so we couldn’t have been closer to the queue to get on the ferry.

We woke up in the dark before 7am and were shocked to see cars and trucks already lined up at Border Control – the ferry wasn’t due to depart until 9am – and the queue was moving already!

7 am and the cars were queuing for the ferry

We dressed hastily hoping that we hadn’t got the time wrong or the ferry wasn’t leaving earlier than advertised. We were in the queue within minutes and were through passport control by 7.30am.

The officials at border control were very thorough, inspecting underneath the van with powerful spotlights, checking through the interior and filming the whole search! Finally they were happy and we drove through into the queue for boarding which happily was at a standstill and gave us time to enjoy a cup of tea and eat breakfast!

The Stena Hollandica

We were on board before 8.30 but 9am came and went with no sign of departure. At 10 am a message came over the public address to say they were still loading trucks onto the ferry. Finally at 11 am – two whole hours late – the engines fired up and we slowly moved out of the harbour into the murky grey channel heading for the Hook of Holland.

Finally heading for the Hook of Holland

We wondered why on earth we were so delayed but once back in the Netherlands we realised that there must have been a rumour that European borders would be closing and some trucks had made a run for it out of Harwich.

The queues that started to build up just after we got away

The irritation of being delayed two hours faded completely when we realised how fortunate we were to have escaped getting trapped in a British port car park over Christmas along with the many thousands of truck drivers trying to get back to their families.

Dusk at sea

The day before we left England we had a quick visit to the pretty historic town of Bury St Edmunds – our first and only opportunity to buy some Christmas gifts.

The historic town of Bury St Edmunds

It felt quite strange and a little bit weird to be wandering around the shops after two weeks of being confined to barracks but good to experience some “real life” again.

It was fun to do some window (and actual) shopping
A British icon – a pillar box from the reign of King George (reigned from 1936 to 1947)
Posting Christmas cards

The following day we left our spot at the bottom of Simon’s garden in the depths of the Norfolk countryside and before heading for Harwich drove to Cambridge where we had a wonderful visit with my sister and her husband.

Simon and Ruth’s kittens bid us farewell

Unfortunately due to the new Covid restrictions, my other sister who lives in London was unable to join us as planned but it was great to also catch up with my nephew, his wife and their daughter.

Beautiful Christmas holly in Cambridge

As we were not allowed to meet inside we wrapped up warmly and had hot soup in the garden – luckily it was a very sunny and reasonably mild day.

Hot soup and a delicious chocolate Yule Log

Our two hour delay aboard the good ship Stena Hollandica meant that we arrived late for Jonathan‘s birthday celebrations.

We were talking so much that I completely forgot to take photos but we took away some precious memories instead.

Our daughter Hannah and her husband Pieter had organised some very special food to be delivered and Hannah made the birthday boy’s special favourite- apple pie!

Captains favourite – home made apple pie

The following day we had our first Christmas celebration with two friends of Hannah and Pieter’s which was a lot of fun.

Christmas celebrations!
More delicious food
Hannah and her friend Rosa

As all the shops except for supermarkets were shut there was no last minute shopping to be done so we wiled away the days before Christmas with wrapping presents, more entertaining, going for lovely walks and watching our favourite Christmas movies.

Parcels wrapped and ready for Christmas Day
Watching our favourite movie at this time of year – “Muppet Christmas Carol”
More entertaining

Christmas Day itself was a whirl of eating great food, present giving and games. We were so immensely grateful that we were able to spend the festive season with Hannah and Pieter. Our original plan was to spend this time with our son and daughter-in-law and other family and friends in Australia but getting back there was almost impossible.

Happy Ccristmas?!
Loved this candle holder (in the corner) that Hannah made
Big breakfast on Christmas Day
First Christmas as a married couple
A beautiful heron on one of our walks
Exploring a new path

We counted ourselves extremely fortunate that we not only had a welcoming family in the Netherlands but also narrowly escaped getting stuck and spending a lonely and miserable Christmas in a traffic queue of thousands of vehicles in England!

A walk on Christmas Day
A Christmas rainbow
Of course it rained
Back home in the dry with a glass of wine

A dash over the Channel to England and experiencing the Spirit of Christmas

After an unusual and rather sparse birthday lunch in Valkenberg in the southern province of Lindberg in the Netherlands, it was time to celebrate rather more grandly at our daughter and son-in-law’s home in Pijnacker near Delft.

Birthday presents

We knew there was going to be something special for dinner but it was the most wonderful surprise to find out we were going to have a gourmet meal prepared by the Chef from the very swish (and our favourite) Restaurant Calva.

A beautifully set table for the birthday dinner

With restaurants in the Netherlands having been closed most of this year due to Covid, the team at Calva hit upon the idea of preparing inspiring meals to a certain point and delivering them to their patrons’ homes with videoed instructions on how to finish off and “plate up” each course.

Dinner has arrived

A unique aspect to this different type of takeaway is that each weekend one of the “guests” receives a bonus – Tom, chef and co-owner of Calva makes a personal appearance in their kitchen and cooks an extra course – free of charge. On this particular occasion we were the lucky ones! As an extra bonus, Tom generously gifted us with a celebratory bottle of delicious red wine!

Tom working his magic
Pieter has been set to work as sous chef

The meal was superb and Pieter and Hannah did an amazing job of putting the finishing touches to the rest of the courses after Tom left. What a great celebration!

Pieter receives instructions for plating up the rest of the courses
Tom serves us our bonus course
What a fabulous birthday celebration!
Delicious food and wine
Great company too!

I was also lucky enough to receive some generous and fabulous gifts including a token for a massage treatment, a hair “makeover” and a very special Advent Calendar from the Body Shop.

And a very special birthday cake

For those who have never seen an Advent calendar, they have 25 “windows” and each day before Christmas, starting on 1 December, you get to open one. When we were children the calendar had a Christmas themed picture, often the Nativity scene, usually with lots of glitter over it, and behind each window was another picture of say, Santa’s sack, a reindeer, a Christmas tree or other symbol of the festive season.

My very special Advent Calendar

More recently some Advent calendars have had a Christmas themed chocolate behind each window but the one I received was on a whole different level! Behind the “windows” were a whole range of fabulous Body Shop products.

One of the gifts behind the 25 windows

Such an excellent gift for a late November birthday girl as every day during December I received a lovely gift – for example, a hand cream, shampoo, or a gorgeous shower gel, a moisturiser, body butter or a cleansing face mask! It was truly “the gift that keeps on giving”!

What an excellent gift

Our stay with our daughter and son-in-law was rather short this time as we realised that our Schengen visa-free 90 day period on our Australian/NZ passports was almost over. A dash across the channel to the UK was required so that we could reenter the EU on our British passports in time for Christmas. We feel very fortunate to have dual citizenship!

The day we left the Christmas tree was erected in the town square
It was made from crocheted pieces – even the decorations were crocheted

Early in December we drove to the Hook of Holland in our camper van and boarded the Stena Britannica for Harwich.

The Stena Britannica

The five and half hour journey felt quite relaxing – probably because we didn’t have to navigate or steer or do anything at all in fact! Quite a change from other ocean passages on our boats “Bali Hai” and “Sunday”!

The border patrol checks before boarding were thorough and there was a film crew too

We had fairly rough seas and heavy winds but you could hardly feel a thing on the massive nine-storey car ferry.

There were very few passengers on our way to the UK
Fortunately there was plenty of space to spread out and everyone wore masks

Arriving at Harwich in the pitch dark was fine until we came to a diversion which took us on a long traipse through wet, dark and narrow country lanes. No fun in a left hand drive camper van late at night!

Driving through the pitch dark country lanes and coming across another diversion

We ended up being diverted from our diversion because the road had flooded and ended up going through some extremely dodgy and tiny back lanes before finally arriving at Jonathan’s brother’s house in darkest Norfolk very late at night.

Because of Covid the UK was in tiered lockdown and we were obliged to quarantine for 14 days. Thankfully, Jonathan’s brother Simon and his partner Ruth generously allowed us to camp at the bottom of their back garden and share their cosy home during the day.

Our van parked at the bottom of the garden
The village green with our van in the distance
All cosy watching old time Christmas movies

The first morning we were there we had a beautiful surprise when we woke up – it had snowed!

Such a delight to wake up to!

There was only a little sprinkling of white but it looked so beautiful – there is something very special about waking up to snow and it made us feel very Christmassy!

A sparkling carpet of white

The following day there was a rare air frost – freezing mist all around that turned the bare tree limbs to shimmering silver. The little village looked like an old fashioned Christmas card!

The trees were shimmering but it was hard to capture the beauty in a photograph

It was really lovely to spend time with members of our family but particularly as there were some gorgeous Bengal kittens to play with!

Three of the kittens all snuggled together
Cute kitties

Sadly, while we were there, two of these cute little kitties went to new owners but on the bright side, their Mum, a young male cat from an earlier litter, and one of the babies stayed behind..

Each of the kittens had a distinct personality….
….this little one was so curious and playful
Brothers from different litters but still great friends

Two weeks of quarantine went quite quickly despite being confined to the very tiny village of Rushford – population of around 60 people, no shop, no pub but one very ancient (14th century) thatched church.

The Rushford sign
The tiny Rushford Church with thatched roof

We went for some nice walks around the village most days and also went for a couple of drives around the country lanes in Simon’s new electric car.

The former school in Rushford now converted into a beautiful home
Fields surround the little village of Rushford
The village green
View from the 13th century stone bridge in Rushford

Despite the short days and the often drab and grey weather, the English countryside has a stark beauty during the winter months.

A walk down a country lane
The old gate to the manor house
The manor house in the distance
A rural scene in Rushford

The day before we left to return to The Netherlands we were fortunate to attend a traditional Christmas service of Nine lessons and carols in the village church.

The thatched roof of the church lych gate

The Church was completely lit by the glow of hundreds of candles arranged on ledges around the walls and a gigantic Christmas tree (donated by the local Manor House) in one corner. It was so atmospheric!

Hundreds of candles around the walls lit up the Church

The service was meant to start at 5pm but by 5.20 there was no sign of the vicar. It started to feel a little like we were in an episode of the TV series the Vicar of Dibley!

The massive Christmas tree inside the Church

Just after 5.20 the rather eccentric female vicar fell through the door and puffed up the aisle saying “I’m so sorry I’m late but thanks for waiting. I was sure we were starting at 6 not 5!”

Beautiful candlelight

The rest of the service went without a hitch although none of us were allowed to sing – due to Covid of course. The nine carols were sung by the four person choir – three ladies and one very ancient gentlemen with a very loud but strong and reasonably melodic voice. They actually sang quite well but it was sad not to be able to join in although the vicar did (rather subversively we thought) encourage the congregation (about thirty or forty of us – with three to a pew almost a full house!) to hum along (behind our masks) to the last carol “Hark the Herald Angels sing”.

It wasn’t easy to hit the high notes with our mouths closed but we all appreciated the opportunity to join in and sort of sing communally for a change.

The traditional service of Nine lessons and carols

This traditional service was such a wonderful example of the English spirit. We especially loved the way the organisers broke with tradition and decided to read a poem or a piece of prose as well as their allocated “lesson”.

Our friend the ancient chorister read “The Owl and the Pussycat” by Edward Lear although, as he said, it didn’t have much to do with Christmas except it “mentions traditional seasonal fare – mince and quince – and was about love”!

The owl looked up to stars above and sang to a small guitar….

Another person read a section about Christmas from that great favourite of so many The Wind in the Willows and someone else read the poem called King John’s Christmas from A.A. Milne’s “Now We Are Six” that starts

“King John was not a good man

He had his little ways.

And sometimes no one spoke to him

For days and days and days.”

The traditions that began in the time of our forefathers, poems that reminded us of our childhoods, sentimental readings, the smell of candle wax, the scent of pine needles, the fairy lights on the enormous tree, the familiar carols, the ancient readings and the mince pies and mulled wine in the open air after the service, all combined to evoke the spirit of Christmas in us.

Mmm mince pies!

As we walked in the direction of home along the lane in the velvety darkness we felt delighted to have been part of such a quintessentially English start to Christmas.

Returning home, following the glow of the Christmas tree

Making mountains out of molehills and marvelling at Maastricht

We were in Maastricht, the city where that treaty was negotiated in 1992 – the one where EU members decided to introduce a common currency, the Euro – which was eventually fully adopted in 2002 – except by the British of course!

Our lovely camping spot in Maastricht

The city has a reputation for being a thriving cultural hub – second only in the Netherlands to Amsterdam for national heritage buildings – so it sounded promising.

Maastricht is second only to Amsterdam for the number of heritage buildings

We stayed at a lovely marina with very grand entrance gates and the ruins of a medieval castle rising high up behind the spot where we were parked.

The grand entrance gates to the marina
View from our van to the ruins of a medieval castle above

The marina was an easy and interesting bike ride away from the city centre and once on the outskirts we left the bikes and walked through the quaint pedestrian lanes and alleyways.

A fortification on our way into the city
Look carefully and you will see the remains of a medieval building incorporated into its modern incarnation
The town hall, one of the many heritage buildings in Maastricht

The Het Vrijthof is a beautiful square in the center of old town Maastricht, paved with old cobblestones and surrounded by trees. Sadly the many very nice restaurants and cafes that encircle the square were all closed so it looked rather drab and uninteresting.

Sadly the Het Vrijthof looked very drab with all the restaurants and cafes closed due to Covid

We walked from the square and came upon the St Servatius Basilica, a Romanesque cathedral with atmospheric crypts and many treasures which unfortunately we didn’t get to see.

An ancient gateway into the Basilica precincts
St Servatius Basilica, a Romanesque cathedral

As we walked through the beautiful arches to the west of the basilica we were surprised to see another church right next door.

We loved these stone arches on the laneway between the two churches

This was the medieval Church of St John which was originally built as a baptistery for the Basilica of St. Servatius. After the 17th century it became a church in its own right and is now a Protestant Church whereas the Basilica is Catholic.

The Church of St John alongside the Basilica of St. Servatius.

We were fascinated by the ox-blood red paint on the 15th Century tower of St John’s Church and wondered why the beautiful stone work had been covered.

The ox-blood red paint on the 15th Century tower of St John’s Church

We discovered that the tower (and much of the Church) had been built in the local yellow marlstone which is extremely soft and porous so the paint was applied to protect it from the elements.

A tiny roadside chapel we passed
An installation in the Church grounds

One of the highlights of Maastricht was coming across an enchanting water mill apparently owned by one Godfrey of Bouillon in the eleventh century AD and which after his death, passed into the hands of the Prince-Bishop of Liège.

A water mill has stood here since the eleventh century
The mill is still used to grind grain to make flour
The mill race

As we walked down the little alley from the water wheel we looked through a big window where we saw bakers busy baking bread and delicious looking pies- apparently from flour ground in the mill we had just seen.

Round the corner was a baker’s shop

We walked round the corner and found a wonderful bakers shop full of delicious treats and bought some lovely crusty rolls and a fantastic traditional Dutch apple tart.

The Bishop’s Mill
Delicious tarts in the shop window

The following day was my birthday and to celebrate the day we decided to ride our e-bikes to the picturesque and historic town of Valkenberg aan de Geul.

How now black cow

It was apparently only 11 kilometres away (roughly seven miles) which sounded perfect as it was a fairly nice day. Unfortunately it took us twice as long as we had expected due to our reliance on Google maps! Note to self: download a Dutch cycle path app. before our next bike adventure!

I thought this animal was a deer but Jonathan thought it was a goat – what about you?

The ride itself was very pleasant but I have to admit to feeling a tiny bit sad that because of Covid we couldn’t stop at one of the pretty inns and restaurants scattered along our route for a relaxed and cosy lunch.

I wished we could have stopped off for a cosy lunch

I don’t want to make mountains out of molehills but it was quite surprising to see some quite steep hills on our route! Most of the Netherlands is flat as a tack but not the province of Lindberg – it most definitely has hills!

A hill on the way to Valkenberg

Valkenberg is a really pretty town that depends heavily on tourism. Sadly the place was almost deserted when we were there and the many colourful restaurants and cafes were closed.

One of the impressive buildings in Valkenberg
The place was almost deserted due to Covid
Such a pretty town

My birthday lunch turned out to be takeaway frites with a huge dollop of frite sauce eaten on a bench outside. Not the usual long lunch but the frites were absolutely delicious!

Birthday lunch!
Our lunch time view – one of the recently restored city gates in Valkenberg
The gate from the other side

Valkenburg proudly boasts the remains of the only hilltop castle in the Netherlands – hardly surprising as it also has just about the only hill!

Looking up the hill to the remains of the hilltop castle
Steps up to the castle ruins

There are also underground caverns in the town created by the Romans when mining marlstone. These can be explored by foot or “slow train”. Other attractions include spas where normally visitors can bathe in natural hot springs but of course, were closed because of Covid.

Marlstone is so soft that graffiti has been carved into buildings for generations

We climbed up to the castle and enjoyed the hilltop views from the base of the ruins.

The base of the castle ruins
A model showing how the castle looked in medieval times
View from the top
A commanding view

It was interesting to find out about the work of the Dutch resistance during the four year and four months German occupation in Second World War and to see how parts of the city were rebuilt after their destruction in the war.

Another recently rebuilt city gate
On guard at the city gate

Our return trip also took rather longer than anticipated as our “quicker” route home included a massively long and winding hill which was a struggle even with the help of a our e-power.

Illustration of the destruction in the town during World War II
Same view, rebuilt after the war

After what seemed ages Jonathan noticed his battery had lost a lot of power and he was concerned that we wouldn’t have enough to get all the way back “home” again. So we toiled up the rest of the hill pushing our bikes and after a long haul to reach the top, wound our way through the suburbs to arrive back to the van in the pitch dark!

Sunset in our camping spot

Meet the Coddiewomplers

Coddiewomple: The dictionary definition is “To travel in a purposeful manner towards a vague destination” – I suppose that means we are definitely coddiewomplers!

The sun setting as we coddiewomple towards our campsite for the night

Unable to travel further afield due to COVID restrictions, we decided to “travel in a purposeful manner” to get to know the Netherlands more thoroughly.

From Overloon we made our way towards a “vague destination” – in other words, somewhere interesting to stay.

We were the only visitors to the campsite
in ‘t Zand

The first place we meandered our way to was the unlikely named ‘t Zand, a small hamlet in North Holland.

We had arrived in the dark and had to phone up the owner of the site to get the code to plug into the keypad at the gate. It was so dark we almost ran over a low fence but eventually we found a good spot and plugged into the power.

The following morning we woke up to a magnificent site – a beautiful windmill, just metres away from where we had spent the night.

A magnificent sight to wake up to
Originally built in 1631 the windmill was restored in 2011

The elderly owner of the land came to see if we had settled in OK and told us that the windmill, which was originally built in 1631 in the neighbourhood of Leiden, had been purchased in 1865 by his grandfather and moved to ‘t Zand where was used as a flour mill until the 1920s.

An old millstone and other parts of the now restored windmill
The wheat field next door gives a clue to what the mill was used for

It gradually fell into disrepair but in 2011 it was moved to its present position and restored by a team of volunteers.

We couldn’t go in but we could peer through the windows

Sadly because of Covid, we were unable to go inside this beautifully restored and historic building.

A redundant cog wheel from the pre-restored mill
A lovingly fabricated “dunny ” for chemical toilet emptying!

Our next destination was to Bergen which sounded lovely in the various on-line travel guides, as since about 1900, Bergen has been the home of many painters, writers and architects.

Heading into Bergen on this lovely tree-lined road
Bergen is a popular destination but obviously not for those in camper vans!

Unfortunately there seemed absolutely nowhere for a camper van to stop so we coddiewompled our way to Bergen aan Zee, which as the name suggests is a seaside village just down the road from Bergen.

The road to Bergen aan Zee was beautiful
The town wasn’t particularly appealing

I have to say, the long featureless beaches with the sea seemingly miles away in the distance wasn’t very appealing to us (we have been so spoilt by gorgeous beaches in other parts of the world) so we continued on.

I think we’ve been spoilt- we didn’t find the beach anything to write home about

That night we ended up in a campsite in the middle of nowhere on the grounds of what turned out to be a chicken farm.

A lovely evening in the grounds of a chicken farm

It ended up as a very peaceful night although while we were out for a walk our tranquility was momentarily disturbed when the farmer’s young teenage daughter drove past – high up on a massive tractor. Probably off to see her friends for the evening, she was going flat out down the service road grinning from ear to ear and looking so pleased with herself!

The service road to the main road

The next day as we filled our water tank on the far side of the huge shed next to the campsite, there was an overwhelming smell of chicken poo and we realised this was no storage shed!

The shed on the right turned out to be full of chickens

Longing for some crisp fresh air we decided to head for the sea once more and drove to the town of Middelharnis on the island of Goeree-Overflakkee in Southern Holland. How could it not be a great place with names like that?

To us the name Middelharnis was reminiscent of a location for the Lord of the Rings and Goeree-Overflakkee sounded like some sweet smelling pipe tobacco – so we were curious to see what the town was like.

Parked by the water in Middelharnis

Middelharnis was, as the name suggests, absolutely delightful. It became a bustling fishing village in the 15th Century. To this day you can still see the original warehouses and the wharf from 1675.

The cabin boy statute at the head of the Middelharnis harbour
There were some beautiful old buildings as well as plenty of yachts to look at

We were able to park right on the banks of the inlet that leads to the sea (a short bike ride away) and it was so lovely waking up to the sounds of ducks quacking each morning and a view of the boats moored just metres away.

It was lovely to wake up to the ducks quacking
A barge moored nearby to where we were parked
Stormy weather ahead
Boats and glorious buildings everywhere you look

We had some beautiful bike rides and walks through the town and enjoyed window shopping in the narrow laneway perched on top of an ancient dyke.

Reflections seen on one of our walks
Window shopping in this lovely laneway perched on top of an ancient dyke
Sunset in Middelharnis

At the end of the Middelharnis Voorstraat (“Front Street”), we found the stunning old town hall which was designed in 1639.

The impressive town hall
Designed in 1639, the town hall at the end of the Voorstraat (“Front Street”)

Before heading back onto “the mainland” we decided to have a quick drive around the island (which is actually connected to the mainland by road bridges).

The weather was cold and grey but when we reached the beach at Ouddoorp we decided to go for a walk to see what has been described as an “extended and beautiful” beach.

It’s a long way to walk before you can have a swim!

Well, extended the beach may be (18 kilometres long!) but as we know, big is not necessarily beautiful.

We met these guys near the beach!
What a wonderful sight

This featureless beach was fringed by massive sand dunes and stretched out as far as the eye could see. The dull grey North Sea was lapping the shores in the middle distance – going for a swim would involve a hike to the water!

The top of the massive sand dunes with a watchtower in the distance

Despite not being very impressed with the beach we did like the island and particularly enjoyed Middelharnis.

On the way back to the mainland we saw some of the famous and impressive “Delta works” – a massive construction project built to protect the large area of land around the Rhine-Meuse-Scheldt delta from the sea. The works consist of dams, sluices, locks, dykes, levees, and storm surge barriers (that was the bit we saw).

Storm surge barriers – part of the famous Delta Works

We were hoping to stop in Middelburg, capital of the province of Zeeland and once one of the great trading cities of the VOC (Dutch East India Company).

No room at the inn in Middelburg

The city has many beautiful historic buildings but sadly we were unable to explore as the campervan parking spots near the city centre were all taken.

So we changed our plans and decided to head for Roermond instead where once again, we stayed in a yacht marina – this time very close to the city and right on the wide basin of the Meuse river.

The marina on the Meuse (Maas) River

From there, it was easy to walk into the centre of the city which has many listed buildings and monuments and has been designated a conservation area.

Roermond has many listed buildings
So many different styles of architecture

It is also famous for being one of the largest and most successful designer outlets in Europe, making it a huge tourist attraction. Fortunately, because of Covid, there was only a tiny percentage of the usual thousands of visitors while we were there!

One of the largest designer outlets in Europe
These little models were 3-D printed using photos
They were amazingly lifelike but tiny!

When you walk round the city it is hard to reconcile the many beautifully preserved ancient buildings with the fact that 90 per cent of them were damaged or destroyed by the time it was liberated from the Germans in 1945.

90 per cent of the buildings were destroyed or damaged in World War two

Not only that, but in 1995 the city experienced the strongest seismic event in Western Europe since 1756 – a magnitude 5.4 earthquake – at which time further heavy damage was inflicted, especially to the older buildings.

Restored in 1771, the original stone bridge was built in 1348

In the past, Roermond was occupied by the Spanish and the French and became part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1814.

The Munsterkerk is a 13th-century church but its remarkable front towers were added in the 19th Century
A gentleman looking in awe at the Munsterkerk

In 1840 the city almost became part of Belgium and during World War 2 it was occupied by the Germans for five years – in fact the border with Germany is only minutes away by car.

A statue commemorating the Roermond witch trial which took place in 1613. It was the largest witch trial in The Netherlands resulting in the death of sixty four people by burning
Yummy food for sale

With all these external influences it wasn’t really surprising when we heard locals speaking in a language that sounded French in accent but with words that could have been a mix between German and Dutch. Apparently they were speaking “Limburgish” or a “in between” dialect which combines standard Dutch with the Limburgish accent and some of its grammar. Which ever it was, it sounded extremely odd!

Christmas is coming!
Another of the cool sculptures in Roermond

While we were in Roermond, we made a sneaky incursion over the German border on our e-bikes.

A sneaky trip into Germany!
It was very pretty
Such a beautiful bike path

We cycled through absolutely gorgeous national park and farm land before finding ourselves safely back in the Netherlands later that evening.

A gorgeous time of year to be on a bike ride
These were the cutest cows ever. A cross between a koala and a cow maybe?
The autumn leaves were gorgeous
Can you believe the bike paths in the Netherlands?!

City of four rivers and a walk in the woods

Due to rising numbers of Covid-19 cases, most of Europe has gone into a second lockdown which means that like everyone, our plans have had to be fluid.

On the road again – still misty

Our original plan had been to go back to Australia after our daughter’s wedding to Pieter to visit our son and daughter-in-law. Sadly, limited flights, passenger arrival quotas and the requirement to quarantine in a hotel for two weeks at our own expense has meant this was not feasible.

Exploring the Netherlands- this time, just outside Zwolle

Our plan B was to do some more exploring through European countries such as France, Germany, Denmark etc but that has also had to be shelved. However, very fortunately for us, while travel within the Netherlands isn’t advised, it also hasn’t been banned and campervan sites throughout the country are still open.

Zwolle is surrounded by four rivers and built on the only “incline” in the landscape

Avoiding anywhere too big or too busy, we have really enjoyed getting to know our daughter’s new home country better.

From the northern seaside village of Lauwersoog we drove to the delightful university city of Zwolle. En route we had a spot of trouble with the van’s electrics – the current kept cutting in and out causing the lights and radio to go on and off.

All Ford dealerships look the same

Fortunately being old hands at having our van breakdown we just looked up at our nearest Ford dealer and dropped in. The dealership in Hemrick really had their act together and very soon their mechanic had tested everything and come to the conclusion that the damp fog of the past couple of days had caused the fault.

We were soon on our way and by late afternoon we’d parked up at the small but handy campervan site in Zwolle just a short walk from the historic town centre.

The historic centre of Zwolle

The city is surrounded by four rivers and built on the only “incline” in the landscape – the one piece of land that remains dry when the rivers flood.

Such a pretty town

Zwolle has been inhabited since the Bronze Age but the modern city was founded around 800 AD. There are some lovely buildings including St Michael’s Church which was started in 1406 and renovated in the first half of the 15th Century. The Wijndragerstoren (wine bearer tower) was also interesting as it is one of the remaining towers of the defence walls.

Outside St Michael’s Church
The Wijndragerstoren (wine bearer tower) was is one of the remaining towers of the defence walls.

A highlight for us was the fabulous bookstore built in what had been a church attached to the Dominican monastery that was founded in 1465. The church was used for Protestant services until 1982 after which it was used to house cultural events before becoming a bookstore.

This must be in the top ten of wonderful bookstores

What a glorious building and what a fabulous book shop!

Is is the world’s tallest bookshelf?!
Many of the elements of the Church have been retained including these magnificent organ pipes

Zwolle was composed of delightful laneways with wonderful shops. There were some Christmas lights already in place and the fairy lights glistening in trees gave the town a lovely glittery festive atmosphere.

The city had delightful laneways
With some gorgeous shops
The fairy lights gave the town a lovely glittery and festive atmosphere
Such narrow streets

Away from the narrow lanes and brightly lit shops there were traditional Dutch barges and other craft to stare at on the waterways surrounding the city.

The waterways always look so lovely at night

During our second walk round the town in full daylight we noticed the amazing city walls which date back to the 14th Century.

A section of the 14th Century city wall
Another section of the city wall

Zwolle certainly was really picturesque and very interesting and we agreed that we hadn’t left enough time to fully explore the town and would definitely revisit it before too long.

Such a peaceful scene
The old barges and beautiful buildings combine to make the city very picturesque
Picture perfect!
The glass angel in the great market square
The statue represents the archangel Michael, the city’s guardian angel

After being in a city and a seaside town before that, we were looking for somewhere in the country with lots of trees so we could go on some long walks.

The road leading to our campsite

We found the perfect place – near a village called Overloon only a few kilometres from the German border. The campsite was right in the middle of the countryside in a paddock fringed with gorgeous trees.

Our campsite in Overloon
I just loved the colours of this beech hedge
The beautiful colours of autumn

We went for some glorious long walks in the woods nearby. The trees were in their best autumn colours and we really enjoyed exploring some of the many paths on offer.

I loved crunching through these leaves
Our neighbour at the campsite
Such majestic looking chickens
The goats were adorable too
There were so many different paths to take in these spectacular woods

We found out later that Overloon was almost completely destroyed in 1944 in a ten-day tank battle between a British tank division and the German army. The Germans were trying to keep the Allies from crossing the River Maas. Soon after the war a war museum was founded on the site of the Battle which later became the National War and Resistance Museum and then later, Liberty Park.

We will definitely return to Overloon
Winter wood stash

Due to Covid the museum wasn’t open but it would be very interesting to return for a look round and have another beautiful walk in the Overloon woods.

We will be back when we need a “tree change”

The curious tale of the black and white bunnies

The curious tale of the black and white bunnies
— Read on

The curious tale of the black and white bunnies

We were staying in a lovely marina at Warten in the Friesland area, north of The Netherlands, enjoying an evening stroll looking at the boats and exploring our new surroundings.

Blue dot is where Hannah and Pieter live, red pointer is where Warten is
The pretty marina at Warten
Some lovely boats at the marina including this old timer
Not a breath of wind
A lovely sailing boat leaves for an evening sail

On our first evening we were casually strolling along when I suddenly spied a movement out of the corner of my eye and turned to see a lovely, fluffy black and white domestic bunny nibbling the luscious looking green grass alongside a normal looking wild grey rabbit.

What a strange sight – a domestic rabbit alongside wild rabbits

Then we noticed another black and white one hopping about nearby. Assuming they had escaped from a nearby house we thought nothing of it until we saw a lot more domestic rabbits mixed up in a big group of wild ones.

Then we saw more black and white bunnies!

Where had they all come from? Were they escapees from a pet shop? Runaways from a petting zoo? Or two pets that had run away from home and had bred like er… rabbits?

Then these black ones – had the domestic rabbits mated with wild ones?
Very cute!

The strange thing was that we also noticed a few unusual looking wild rabbits – one almost black and several totally black. Had the domestic rabbits mated with the wild bunnies? Is this even possible? Either way, they all seemed to be living very happily side by side.

One of the handsome pure black rabbits
I loved this almost black rabbit.

With a full lockdown in the UK preventing us from travelling there we were taking the chance to get to know our daughter’s new home country better.

The canal at Warten

One of the things we love about the Netherlands is that we can do a lot of our sightseeing by bike.

We love sightseeing by bike even when it’s misty!

The cycling possibilities in The Netherlands are beyond amazing – there seem to be as many cycle paths as roads and many of them go along canals, and through pretty villages and beautiful countryside.

A barge waiting for the road bridge to be raised
The Warten road bridge which opens to let boats pass
Water is everywhere in the Netherlands

As I hadn’t cycled for 50 years until we bought our e-bikes, I’m not as confident as most people here but as cyclists have priority over cars in most circumstances and with the huge network of bike paths I really feel quite safe and am getting quite comfortable riding now.

You get to see so much on bikes
Warten Church
The “Big House” at Warten
There are many bike tracks alongside canals

Even though our bikes are battery powered we still have to put some effort into peddling so we don’t feel too guilty about buying a traditional Dutch apple tart or some fish and chips after a longish ride – as we did after our trip from Warten to Earnewâld.

Guilt-free Dutch apple tart
The bike path to Earnewâld went through fields and along the banks of the canal
Jonathan on his bike

We sat by the canal to eat our lunch, watching the many different craft as they floated by. Watching the graceful Dutch sailing barge skim past us was a particularly lovely experience.

Fish and chips after the bike ride
Such an excellent view

Soon we were joined by a non-too-subtle Labrador dog who was just wondering if we happened to have any spare food about us!

Surely you have some spare food?
It smells sooo good!
Another animal friend
A beautiful sunset
Such a glorious evening

After a very pleasant stay in Warten we drove to Lauwersoog – a seaside village about 40 minutes north of Warten.

Again, we had a water view from our camping spot and the place we stayed had a very pleasant recreation room (with a piano!) that we could use during our stay.

The following day wasn’t quite as lovely
The “rec room” at Lauwersoog
There was even a cat to pet

We decided to give the bikes a miss and do some walking for a change. Of course we ended up walking where all the yachts were berthed and were fascinated to see some of the old working boats, some beautifully restored.

A row of old timers – all in different stages of restoration
One of the restored barges
Models of ancient fishing nets on the water front
You could climb into them if you felt inclined
Buildings reminiscent of Norway

We were keen to explore one of the offshore islands so we booked ferry tickets to Schiermonnikoog which is just a short ferry ride from Lauwersoog.

On the appointed morning we woke up and looked out of the window to see a thick fog had settled and we could hardly see a thing! Nevertheless, having bought our tickets we decided we just had to go ahead with the trip.

We woke up to thick fog

We were able to take our bikes on the ferry and had a slow, steady trip over despite the lack of visibility.

We took the ferry anyway and were able to ride our bikes on
The fog still hadn’t completely lifted when we arrived at Schiermonnikoog Island

Schiermonnikoog island is only 16 kilometres (9.9 miles) long and 4 kilometres (2.5 miles) wide and is the site of the Netherlands’ first national park. There are numerous cycle paths that take you around and across the island which we enjoyed exploring despite the still-misty atmosphere.

On one of the bike paths at Schiermonnikoog Island
The sea was out there somewhere but too misty to see!
A shy pony we met
This one didn’t want to know

There is only one village on the island and it felt very empty and mysterious with all the restaurants and cafes closed because of Covid and the mist hanging over trees and buildings.

The empty streets and the mist made the village feel very mysterious
Agatha Christie could have written a great murder mystery based in this hotel

We thought it would be a perfect setting for a who-dunnit murder mystery!

A perfect setting for a “who dunnit”
A creepy art installation peeking through the mist
It was ‘im over there – honest!

Coronavirus halts plans but opens our eyes to other pleasures

After the extreme busy-ness of our daughter and son-in-law’s wonderful wedding it was great to be able to just relax and unwind for a few days while they enjoyed a “mini moon” in the beautiful Hotel des Indes in The Hague.

The beautiful Hotel des Indes

While they were away we looked after their cat and enjoyed daily walks around their neighborhood.

Cato wasn’t that impressed with us!

As in so many countries, a second spike in the Coronavirus infections had increased restrictions. In the Netherlands this meant a partial lockdown with all cafes, bars, and restaurants closed and households only allowed two visitors a day (although these rules didn’t apply to children under 13).

She has a subtle way of getting attention

We felt very fortunate to be able to stroll through the local streets and see fantastic sights that we might normally have missed if it hadn’t been for lockdown. Coronavirus might have halted our plans but our eyes have been opened to so much beauty!

A beautiful heron fishing in a nearby canal

For example, a beautiful heron poised to catch a fish in a nearby canal and the many colours of autumn in the trees both on the streets and in local gardens. Other beautiful sights such as some amazing bright purple berries and the still evening light reflecting trees in the water, have us great pleasure.

Stunning autumn colours
I’ve never seen purple berries like these before
Such a still evening – loving the reflections in the canal
A pretty bridge in Pijnacker

Sadly Hannah and Pieter’s romantic honeymoon on a beautiful island somewhere had to be postponed as overseas travel was just not possible under the circumstances.

Sadly the dream of a honeymoon on a deserted island like this had to postponed (taken in India’s Andaman Islands)

Despite all the restrictions, outdoor activities such as hiking, cycling etc have been encouraged and as Pieter and Hannah were still on leave they took the chance to show us some lovely forest areas within driving distance from where they live near Delft.

One such place was Den Treek Henschoten- a lovely old forest with winding paths and cycle tracks criss crossing many hundreds of acres of estate land in Leusden.

So many lovely trails in this estate
The autumn leaves were spectacular colours

Hannah had heard that the estate was famous for its wide variety of fungi. We had only just started on our walk when Pieter discovered the first of many wonderful toadstools (and perhaps the occasional mushroom but we weren’t game to try and identify these!)

Searching for fungi

There were beautiful red toadstools – the ones with white spots much beloved in fairy tales; there were toadstool towns; we spotted gorgeous ones that looked more like sea creatures than anything belonging to the land.

Fairy toadstools!
A toadstool town
These looked like sea creatures
These wouldn’t look out of place in the ocean too

There were purple ones, wet-look ones, lacy ones, flat ones, domed ones and many more besides.

What an amazing purple
Wet-look toadstools
Look at this lacy number!
There were flat ones….
…..and domed ones

We couldn’t believe how prolific they were, or the huge variety – it felt like a real revelation!

We couldn’t believe how prolific they were
Last toadstool photo – promise!

After so many years in Australia we have really relished experiencing a European autumn again.

The leaves have been so beautiful with many shades of yellow, orange, red and brown. As we waded through the crunchy, crisp leaves, enjoying the feel and sound of them, we started to relive our childhood – scooping up great armfuls and throwing them in the air and of course over each other! Such fun.

Playing in the leaves – such fun!
Newly married!
Long time married!

Another lovely outing was a walk in some woods quite near to where Pieter and Hannah live but somewhere we had not been to before.

So good to be exploring a new place
Just look at those colours!
Someone had built a tepee!
Peeping through the trees to the fields beyond
Who would believe we were only minutes from a busy town?
Another beautiful scene
An amazing avenue of trees with light at the end!

After a really lovely hike we stopped at a popular and pretty cafe right in the middle of fields on the outskirts of Delft. In normal circumstances it would be crowded with customers – any day of the week and in any season- but because of Coronavirus it was only serving takeaways.

Fortunately it was warm enough to sit outside and we found a table nearby where we could enjoy our coffee and apple pie.

Fabulous apple pie. You can see Jonathan is happy!

The Dutch arguably make the best apple pie in the world and we have been doing some serious research to establish whether this claim is true or not!

We also paid a visit to a wonderful farm shop situated close to the cafe and spent time patting cows before buying some lovely farm-fresh vegetables.

View from the farm shop
Loved these cows
And these ones!
Now these fungi you can eat
Great pumpkins too

The weather was really glorious – wonderful sunshine although a little cooler than we are used to! It was so lovely to be able to sit outside at Hannah and Pieter’s in November!

Wonderful being able to sit in the sun in November
Later we needed a fire though

After a relaxing time staying at Pieter and Hannah’s we decided it was time to hit the road again. We had planned a visit to see family and friends in England but the country went into full lockdown and travelling was banned unless it was for an essential purpose.

We decided to postpone our English trip and instead, travel in the Netherlands for a while. There is always something new to discover and although it’s a small country there are plenty of interesting places to visit.

Great to be in the road again

As usual with us, we headed towards water and a yacht marina (I know, we just can’t help ourselves!) to a place called Warten in the province of Friesland in the north of the country.

A fantastic evening sky

We were the only ones in a campervan staying in the marina and it was blissfully peaceful. Our grassy site was surrounded on three sides by water and there were lots of boats to look at.

We were surrounded by water
With lots of boats to look at
It was very peaceful
Wandering along the jetties

We were amazed at the bird life there – particularly the massive flocks of Canada geese flying overhead, filling the skies with the sounds of their belligerent honking.

We couldn’t believe the number of geese flying overhead

Coronavirus might have stopped us doing some of the things we had planned but the plus side is that we have seen some natural wonders and new places that perhaps we would have otherwise not encountered.

The geese filled the sky with their belligerent honking

Love in the time of Covid (getting married in lockdown)

Right up until just a few days before their wedding in The Netherlands on 19 October 2020, our daughter and her husband-to-be (Hannah and Pieter) were wondering if they would have to call the whole thing off.

No prewedding nerves here

Planning a wedding is nerve wracking enough in normal circumstances but during the time of Covid-19 with ever-increasing restrictions, anxiety has the potential to reach another level!

The beautiful engagement ring made with family gold and gemstones

One big decision had already been made a couple of months earlier – predictions of a second hike in the number of Covid infections and possible further and stricter lockdown restrictions meant that if the wedding was to go ahead, the plan to have a friends and family attend the ceremony, reception and party would have to be shelved.

Wedding dress fitting – one of the many jobs to be done

A “change of plan” card had been sent out and plan B was hatched – only their two sets of parents would attend the wedding (and be witnesses) and a celebratory meal for the six of us would take place at home. Plans for parties and other celebrations would have to be shelved for 2021 or whenever possible.

Sorry friends and family, Covid19 means a change of plans

The surprising thing was that despite downsizing the celebrations there was still lots to organise – the rings, the wedding dress and groom’s outfit to choose and fitted, flowers, photography, the wedding cake, lunch menu, wines, transport to and from the wedding, meetings with the celebrant, hair and makeup, catering etc etc.

Pieter and Hannah in a French winery choosing a suitable wine for the wedding!

Suddenly after the busyness of preparations the big day dawned. The sky was grey but after weeks of constant rain we were all delighted that it was a dry autumn day.

The big day has dawned and the bride-to-be starts to get ready

The young lady doing the makeup and hair arrived promptly at 9 am and at the same time four of Hannah’s best friends from Australia joined in on a simultaneous video call.

Four of Hannah’s best girlfriends joined in via a video call (photo credit: @eve.fotografie)

How lovely it was to have their company while Hannah was getting ready for this momentous day! Thank goodness for modern technology which allowed them to be in the room with us, making Hannah laugh and cry and sharing these special moments.

There was much laughter and a few tears

While Hannah was having her hair and makeup done her flowers arrived – a stunning bouquet of autumn flowers – along with matching “button hole” sprays for the rest of us as well as two different arrangements for her hair.

The flowers arrive at the house

The table decoration had been picked up the previous day and was already on the table. The autumn colours in all the arrangements were stunning and the talented florist had incorporated some lovely Australian wattle, eucalyptus and grevillias into the table arrangement and bouquet in a nod to Hannah’s birthplace and home of 21 years.

Gorgeous autumn flowers with a nod to Australia (photo credit @eve.fotografie)

All the chatting with her friends had slowed the makeup and hairdo process – we realised that time was running short when the photographer returned from Pieter’s parent’s house where she had been taking photos of him getting ready. The next job was to take photos of Hannah getting into her wedding dress!

Time to put the dress on! (photo credit @eve.fotografie)

Well it was quite a struggle – the dainty little (and numerous) buttons just refused to be captured by the delicate loops running up the back of the dress. I tried, the makeup person tried, Jonathan tried. All to no avail. Time was marching on, my hair and makeup was still to be done, the limo arrived! EEK!

Almost done!

What we needed was an old fashioned button hook! “Wait I need to get my tools” the Father-of-the bride said.

A moment of reflection

He returned brandishing a small Phillips screw driver (an indispensable piece of kit for every emergency!) and niftily buttoned up the dress. In the meantime the makeup artist did a super quick job of my hair and make up – thank goodness she had experience in doing fashion shows where working quickly under pressure is the norm!

Thank goodness for Dad’s screwdriver!! (photo credit @eve.fotografie)

By the time we went downstairs to get in the car the poor driver was having conniptions about being late! Google maps told us that it would take exactly 13 minutes to get to the wedding venue- the beautiful Renaissance City Hall (Stadhuis) in the Market Square in Delft – and we had exactly 13 minutes! Brilliant!

We were just a couple of minutes away when we came to a dead stop – as fate would have it, the landmark Koepoortbrug (Cow Port Bridge) over the Rhine-Schie Canal was about to open to let a boat through! Talk about stressful!

Koepoortbrug (Cow Port Bridge) open!

In the end we arrived only a couple of minutes after the appointed hour just as the bells of Oude Kirke (the ancient Protestant Church opposite the City Hall) rang out “Here comes the Bride”.

As we got out of the car we had a wonderful surprise – Pieter’s sister and three brothers, their partners and children were all there!

Arriving somewhat flustered at City Hall (photo credit @eve.fotografie)

We all had to wear masks in the car and as we entered the City Hall but once we were in chamber itself we were able to socially distance and were allowed to take them off.

Helping Hannah with her train (photo credit @eve.fotografie)

It felt very strange walking in with our wedding clothes accessorized by fetching surgical masks. I kicked myself for not thinking of finding ones that at least matched our outfits – including a white lace one for the bride!

Walking in with our masks on (photo credit @eve.fotografie)

The ceremony was just so precious – small of course (six of us and the celebrant) – but so intimate and romantic. It incorporated music with special meaning to the couple, a lovely speech from the celebrant and both of the bride and groom making heartfelt and beautiful vows to each other.

In the stunning wedding chamber at City Hall (photo credit @eve.fotografie)
The ceremony was romantic and very intimate
Husband and wife

Then it was time to don our masks again and step outside to the sound of the Church bells ringing and Pieter’s family blowing bubbles and making a wonderful racket on various percussion and other instruments!

The nieces and nephews were very excited
It was so lovely to have Pieter’s family there to congratulate them!

Soon we had the other kind of bubbles cracked open and distributed and we all drank a toast to the bride and groom and posed for “socially distanced” photos.

Balloons and bubbles
A socially distanced wedding photo (Covid restrictions don’t apply to children under 13) (photo credit @eve.fotografie)

While Hannah and Pieter went off to have a photo shoot around the picturesque alleys, canals and woods of beautiful Delft, the two sets of parents went back to Hannah and Pieter’s place.

After the ceremony. Hannah and Pieter went for a very Dutch photo shoot (photo credit @eve.fotografie)
Their photographer did an incredible job (photo credit @eve.fotografie)
There were many gorgeous shots (photo credit @eve.fotografie)

When we arrived we found some of their good friends busy decorating the house with sheets bearing messages such as “just married” and “Mr and Mrs”. They had also left stunning flowers, chocolates and all sorts of lovely treats.

When the two sets of parents went back to the house they were greeted with this
Their friends had been busy!

While waiting for the happy couple to return we enjoyed some delicious canapés prepared by Chef Ryan and served by his partner and professional front of house manager Jess.

Delicious canapés and bubbles of course

It was so mild that we were able to enjoy our pre-lunch drinks outside! Later we sat down to a long and incredibly special meal lovingly crafted by Ryan who until Covid hit was a chef at the Neil Perry’s signature restaurant at Melbourne Casino in Australia, where his partner Jess also worked as front-of-house manager.

Ryan and Jess preparing our magnificent meal
@eve.fotografie taking another cracking shot
Father and daughter moment
The neighbours call by to congratulate Pieter and Hannah – and the sun came out!
Jonathan and I with the happy couple (photo credit @eve.fotografie)

The food was sensational!

First course, quails eggs in a nest!

While we were enjoying our delicious meal we surprised Hannah and Pieter with videos recorded by friends and family across the world – from Australia, India, England, Japan and Vietnam. Hannah’s bridesmaid made a hilarious but sorrowful speech; there were beautiful songs, poetry, speeches and toasts proposed. It really felt like all those special people were with us and watching the videos brought much laughter and of course, a quite few tears. Then there were gorgeous cards and gifts to open.

Watching the video messages