The Netherlands 2009
The Netherlands are really close to us. It's not even an hour to the border and another maybe 2 ½ hours to our destination at the North Sea coast, Nieuwvliet Bad, which is in the southernmost province of the Netherlands, Zeeland. Which means Sealand. The border to Belgium is not far, in fact, we drove a good amount of the distance through Belgium.
The house we rented through the internet was okay. Not really pretty, but not bad either. We unpacked and went for a walk at the beach. There's a street and the dike, then we saw the North Sea. We passed an area called the verdronken swarte polder, a preserved area for birds. The beach is so wide! It was wonderful to take the shoes off and walk through the surf. We had a break in a beach restaurant, then went for a walk again. It was really windy but it felt good. Back in the house, we had some leftovers we took with us and sat outside with a bottle of wine, looking through brochures of the area we found in the drawer. It's not too difficult to read Dutch, but very difficult to understand when you just hear it.
Unfortunately, even though the weather was almost perfect, when we left, it changed when we arrived. The first week was quite rainy and cool, no beach weather at all. We tried to make the best of it and drove around a lot to explore the area and the little towns. Some of the towns, like Sluis, are really, really pretty, with canals, narrow streets and small houses. I really enjoyed browsing through all the little shops. I'm partial to decoration items :. During the week, we went to Breskens, Cadzand, Sluis, Vlissingen, Bruges in Belgium, Oostburg, Ijzendijke and Hulst.
In Vlissingen we visited a reptile exhibition. The house looked so small from the outside, but we had to climb a lot of steps and to go through many narrow paths, so the space was very well used. Of course I had to check out the local garden centers : There's one in Oostburg called Life & Garden, where we went. It didn't differ much from the garden centers in my home area. There is a rose nursery near Ijzendijke, and it happened that they had rose days one weekend. So, even though it rained, we went and I bought two more roses. One is the Café, a standard rose, one is the Amber Queen. On that day we also visited a windmill which is still in use. The owner showed us around and even though he didn't speak much German, he was understandable. We even bought a package of flour milled in the windmill.
I liked Bruges best. It's a really nice city with lots of old buildings and a unique atmosphere. We did a boat ride, which was very interesting. We saw a street musician with a very unusual instrument, which sound like a steel drum. Later I found out that this instrument is called a hang drum (Link to Wikipedia). We stayed a while and listened, he combined the hang with a didgeridoo. Very unusual, but really good! Meanwhile, I found that you even can buy hang music on iTunes.
For lunch we had Belgian fries. Dutch fries are good, and Belgian are supposed to be even better - though I didn't think there was a difference. Frites speciaal is fries with a mixture of ketchup, mayonnaise and raw, chopped onions. Really good once in a while, but after having these a couple of times, it was enough. I actually prefer normal potatoes :)
The second week the weather was somewhat better, so we had a chance to go to the beach on Monday! We had a very relaxing day, read a lot and walked a lot. The other day we wanted to go was so windy that the sand flew straight across the beach and that really hurts! So we didn't stay that long. We went back that evening to the beach restaurant to view the sunset. It was spectacular! And you know me, one sunset per vacation is mandatory! That restaurant had white sangria - yummy! These beach restaurants are simple, but the two we went to, St Pierre in Nieuwvliet Bad and De Piraat in Cadzand Bad served good food. The fish was delicious! Due to the dike and the dunes there aren't many restaurants at the beach. All others don't have the view to the sea. As I love a scenic view, we went to these two several times.
That week we also went to Middelburg, which also is a really nice town. We also did a canal boat trip there. on our way back we saw a garden center called Groenrijk, where we of course had to stop! There also was a hardware store and a DVD store, so we separated for half an hour.
There is a nature preserve at the border to Belgium, Het Zwin. But we only saw the (small) visitor center, we were late for the guided tour. So we just walked around a bit. We drove on to Belgium to see some of the Belgian coast, but we didn't go to far. We drove through Knokke Heist, which is a really glamorous city, with lots of huge houses behind huge hedges. We only saw a tiny part of the beach, then the harbor began, where the ferries go to England and Scotland. I wonder how long the ferry to Edinburgh takes? Well, I looked it up, it takes 20 hours.
The next worning we woke up to thunder, lightning and rain. We had planned to rent bikes, but instead we quickly decided to pack our stuff and go home one day early. It didn't make sense to stay there and sit inside all day long and go home the next day. So, we quickly packed and left. We had a stopover in Roermond, a town close to the German border, easily accessible from home, it takes not even an hour. There is an outlet center which we hadn't seen before, so we took the chance. It's nice there, I bought tons of fruity shower gel by The Body Shop, half the price from the normal store price! We stayed quite long until we had seen most of the stores, but as we knew that it wasn't far from home…
So, this year's travel report is really short. I also don't know when and where we will be going next time. We do have plans for 2011, but nothing's carved in stone yet. You can find pictures here.