... Rotterdam to Kinderdijk to Noordwelle 'Alice in Wonderland'
With some of the HGV lorries starting their engines at the crack of dawn, 6am of a crack, and having to keep them on til they make a move to warm it up (guessing why that's why the sit around for ages without moving on off!) then its really time for the up. As i take Ellie out for a quick walk, well down the grass verge of the service station, i see people already stopping in their cars for a coffee and a chin wag so its definitely time for the up. Now this is a castle that i'm going to, and at this time of a morning, i'm not sure exactly what i can see. Will this place be closed off until the ticket booth is open or is the land its on open for us to at least walk around and its only the interior of the castle you pay to see. I've been to so many that it could be anything, it could all be free, parts of it to pay for or all of it to pay for! Who knows...but i'll soon find out as it's only a 15 minutes drive from here.
As we get on closer TomTom is stating a right at a roundabout but the signs are saying straight on, and its times like these that i follow TomTom as those signs are taking you on the larger main road whereas TomTom can take you through villages that they are trying to stir you away from so there's not too much traffic going through them and onto the attraction. And once again what really cute villages with streams and canals running on through to drive along, and at this time of a quiet morning where the skies are clear...they are clear!!
So this place is near to the old city of Utrecht, called Kasteel De Haar which has the largest fortification in the country. This castle required so much land (situated on a 250 acre park) that the entire village of Haarzuilens had to be relocated to accommodate it. That bit i told you about yesterday. While the original castle site was established in the 14th century, with its fairytale looks, the newer structure dates from 1892. As i turn in I see that the castle entrance is to my left and to my right a barrier to a car park; with a dead end up ahead. First of all I decide to see, before entering into a barriered car park, if there is anywhere in which i can park for free as its early enough to have a walk around this place before heading on in to the castle walls and this entrance seemed to be the only way in. As i drove around it really was the only place in which to park but not before taking photos of the cows and sheep just chilling in the morning sun eating way at the never ending grass to munch on. The barrier goes up and in we park and at 8.15am we are the only ones in here and then i realise that there was no parking machine to pay the 4 euro charge but a barrier to exit. That means that i'm stuck, that if i wish to leave then the only way in doing so is to get a token from the ticket booth of the castle and who knows when that'll be open! Oh well, we'll just have to have a very slow walk until the booth is open...although if we can't get into the grounds now before it does where are we going to have a morning's walk...didn't quite think this one through! Can't hang around until 9.30-10am when it does...that's a long wait!
So we walk over the drawbridge of the entrance, as that was open to let cars in it seems, and walked left into one of the grounds of the castle where the horses were kept in the olden days. Now its a restaurant and cafe area. The gate in-front of the drawbridge was for cars only...and it can only be for those that work here that it can be opened for. In this walled circle i could see a man cleaning out the toilets, so that'll have to wait, but as he looks on over i just give him a hello and walk on purposely as if i know where and what i'm doing. Reason being is that i'm suddenly not exactly sure that i'm meant to be in here as yet, its all a bit too quiet with everything shut. That included the ticket paying area which looks to be in the gift shop also and without looking at it more (as if i do then i really know its somewhere i need to pay to get in) i turn to see a green, small, archway wooden door next to it...and its open!! I kinda feel like Alice in Wonderland as whilst i'm going through the door i'm not knowing if i really should or allowed, but its right there and wide open! Now you would have thought that if anyone saw a random stranger in the grounds that they may have thought they could be someone working here, or part of the renovations that they are doing, but a stranger with a dog, and i'm not ever sure if dogs are allowed in here, that someone would stop me. I'll wait til then and play the dumb tourist!
Through the door I put Ellie on the shortest lead which is attached over my chest so i keep her in check in case dogs really aren't allowed in here. The gardens with lush greens and colourful flowerbeds seems like the very places that dogs wouldn't be allowed...but again i saw no signs and again that little green door was open. I decide to walk away from the garden area as it was all out in the open and head into the woodlands to hide for a bit where there was a lake to walk around. Further on down we then saw some deers and a stag in the grounds fenced off. As we got closer they could sense Ellie so they ran round to the other side but as we went that way too i managed to get a picture of them all out in the open. Those guys with their long lenses yesterday should have come here for a closer shot of a deer! Mind you i'm not sure with one stag and much rutting will be going on!
We ventured closer to the castle now as that was the only thing left to see and the only people we saw was a farmer and a couple of construction workers who didn't batter an eyelid when they saw us. Maybe we can just be in the grounds for free and wander as later on, as we got to the roadway where the employees were parking on up, no one was stopping us there either...or someone thought someone else had let us in or it was open to buy tickets already. Who knows but at the moment i'm having a great walk around the grounds and taking some lovely pictures of the place, including getting right to the front door of the castle! I have to say it is great going around places like this when there aren't any tourists around, just you taking it all in. After our hour and 1/2s walk it's getting closer to 9.30-10am for opening time, of which i'm guessing only as normally it is for these type of attractions, so we head to the main gate to get on out...but first i need that token for the car park for the barrier to open. If we only had to pay at a car park machine we'd be home and dry and out of here but we need to get a golden token first.
As i looked to the green door, out of curiosity to see if we could have made our escape if we didn't need a token, it was indeed closed as i thought it should have been when we first arrived. I went inside to the building which said exit which took you through the gift shop, which i also remember was where the wording 'tickets' was printed on the glass window here as we entered the paddock. I shouted on out as i couldn't see anyone and there were a couple of ladies who looked a bit startled as they were coming out of the kitchen area and into the office to the right, opposite the gift shop. One had a couple of steaming coffee in her hands and i asked if i could possibly pay for a token in which to exit the car park. Think i had them a bit stumped there as why was i needing to exit the car park when i haven't even paid for a ticket to get in...and how did i come from the exit side anyway?!!
I followed the lady to the till as she was able to give me one, although she wasn't quite open as yet. I said that we had an early start of a walk and i loved the grounds in which we could do just that, that's when she mentioned that i needed to pay in order to see the grounds!! Erm....do you??! I told her that the green door was open and so i thought that the grounds were open to the public but that you needed tickets in order to enter the castle itself...no, no she said, you need to pay to see the grounds too! As it was only 9.45am she laughed and let me off as i handed over my 4 euros for the car park, and i think that as i was coming out when it was even open and only been in the car park for a couple of hours it was only fair...so 4 euros it is! I asked how to get on out again and she needed to open the door to the gift shop / ticket booth area in order for me to do so. Now i know why they were a little more startled when they saw me as i was coming in from the exit when they hadn't even opened the entrance part to the grounds! I can quite imagine the gossip of how i possibly entered, who left the door open and a breach of security needed to be looked into...or they put their heads down and pretended it never happened as they'd all get into trouble maybe! Either way i have my golden token, had a pleasant walk around, and it was all for free...well apart from the car park, that i'll give them!
Next on the list of destinations was Rotterdam and i was a little bit worried about this place as when you read the info and it states, 'it has become known as the capital of culture where the Netherlands is concerned' and talks about the nightlife then you are left wondering if there is anything to actually see there! We come into the city and i'm half deciding whether to get on out of the van at all but the sun is shining on through so why not have another little walk, even though from the van i'm not seeing much. I head towards the River to park on up which leads us into the old town where there wasn't much to see. Then there was the architecture which was a sight to behold and i'm not sure if Rotterdam is the architectures playing field of experiments with buildings of different styles. On one side of the road you had like a Rubics Cube, in yellow and grey on each side, but positioned on its side of which it cannot sit up on its own...so on the very corner, tilting forward....and people live in here!! Then there was a massive dome building, looking like a train station, but it had apartments on the outside and inside was an indoor market with colourful paintings on the walls. On another building was what could only be described as either a yellow waterside going around it or that the water pipes were needed to be 4 times as big as the standard ones and painted yellow so you can see exactly where they are! Wasn't sure if i was seeing cutting edge or just weird!
McDonalds for the toilet was next which took us into the commercial part of the city and once again nothing to write home about here either and what made it Rottern for the city name of Rotterdam was that i had to pay 50c to use their toilet...never have i been to a McDonalds and had to pay!! Oh well, was most definitely needed so needs must and time to head back to the van. As i do i see what i've seen quite a lot in this country and that is the colourful branded courier clothing of DHL, TNT, UPS and the likes of courier men and women on their pedal bikes. Loads of them! I know we have our posties on bikes but i don't think i've seen couriers on them.
A castle seen, a city seen, and so next on the list were windmills of which the Netherlands has more than 1000 old windmills that still exist and the largest concentration of these are found near a village called Kinderdijk (Children's Dyke). So that's where we are heading! It took its name from an incident during the St. Elizabeth's Day flood of 1421 after a child's cradle had been stranded on the dike. To drain the excess water from the polders, which are situated below sea-levels, 19 windmills (with impressive 92 foot sails) were built around 1740 and have now been granted UNESCO World Heritage Status. They have been preserved to the present day and a joy to walk amongst them. Historically they were a vital part of the water management system that prevented this flat country from flooding...which makes sense now as i keep seeing how very close the homes and farmland are to these waters and as there are so many you had to build in amongst them.
There were free parking spaces on the side of the road in the village near to here or you pay 5 euros to park just outside where the pathway begins...erm, i'll take the free one please! As we walked on through the paid car park there was a hut near to the pathway in which you could see you needed to take to see the windmills more closely and so i wasn't sure if you needed to pay to get onto the pathway. Before i could check it out one of the workers here came and asked if he could stroke Ellie and mentioned that he had 16 golden retrievers as his family had farmland in which they could just head on out and run! One's enough for me i say! I ask him if i need to pay and its only the museums on the pathway you need to do so for, the walkway is free so off we went. What a picture to be surrounded by these windmills, beautiful scenery. After walking for a good hour up and down this pathway the rain just started to fall so we timed it quite well with that one.
Next stop was over to Noordwelle where there was a campsite near to the beach within the Delta Project or Delta Works of which we'll see tomorrow, and best to be tomorrow as the rain is falling down so heavily now and doesn't seem to be letting on up anytime soon. As we were driving at one point i did feel that we were about to be lifted up in the air and onto the side of the road as when the HGV lorries went past us on these large open, rainy and windy roads by the coast (warning signs all up) they nearly blew us off! Further on down this road once again you can see why there are not many traffic jams in the Netherlands (that or i've been lucky, one yesterday was for an accident) as they are so wide that they just keep the traffic flowing. Also when you come off from one motorway there are slip roads everywhere connecting 4 different roads and going onto spaghetti junctions so that the traffic never stops its flow. At one set of traffic lights, for example, there were 2 roads going left, 2 roads for straight on, and 2 roads for right...and each side of the cross roads!
Next we were heading over the shipping yards and towns as you can see all of the industrial machines clogging away too with mountains of coal waiting to be shipped somewhere, plastic bubbles with tubes coming on out steaming something away and large steal chimneys with steam coming on out. The car park i saw here was the biggest i've ever seen, a multi story car park which could hold 1000s of cars! Finally, with the rain still beating on down, we got to the campsite and not only did it have a parking area for motorhomes but was a hotel with lodge cabins and the likes. Looked very new and as you entered the shower / toilet area the place was so warm that i just wanted to park myself here for the night! Everyone had their waterproofs on but we stayed in the car but when the sun started to set the rain stopped and so we walked over to the beach to see the sun hide away until tomorrow. Beautiful...last night was a service station car park seeing the lights on the motorway, tonight we see the sunset on a beach by the sea. There were other dogs here running around off their lead and Ellie was no exception, you should have seen the excitement as she knew that once we got over the steps to see whats beyond that there was a beach and the sea to play on. She was that excited that she got the other dogs to join in with her which puts a massive smile on your face seeing her loving life...especially when she's been in the van for the last few hours looking bored as its pouring outside!
Wish List - see the Windmills of the Netherlands: tick