It’s our third day in continental Europe and Iggy has a fort on his nose. Okay it’s not quite on his nose. But it’s not far off either at the rather fabulous free parking at the Fort de Sedan. (N49.7015, E4.951)
We arrived here just as the sun was thinking about rising this morning – more on that later! Sedan is our first stop in France. Country number three for day three of the winter tour. Country number one was the Netherlands.
Being based in Scotland we quite like getting the DFDS ferry from Newcastle to Amsterdam. It’s a long drive to Dover, and by the time you count in the cost of the diesel, it’s only a fraction more expensive to take the cruise type ferry from up North. The ships themselves are nice with lots of fancy facilities – bars, restaurants, casino, cinema, and of course the obligatory shop. We always like to take a wander round the duty free and exclaim loudly about how expensive it is. And it is! If you’ve got a bottomless wallet (or an expense account more like) I’m sure you could have a grand wee spending spree on board. At €2 for a can of coke or 500ml bottle of water our wallets stay safely sat on for this trip! Luckily travelling in a motorhome means we take our house with us on the ferry. They won’t let us stay in Iggy on this run, but at least we can bring a picnic straight from our kitchen into the cabin.
The weather was a bit rough for our crossing on Sunday night. Nothing too terrible, but enough to see us arrive an hour and a half late in a wet and grey Netherlands. No complaining from us though! The forecast was for high winds and lashings of rain. It seemed to have mostly passed on by in the earlier hours, and calmer weather had arrived by the time we drove the 20 minutes to near by Haarlem. Leaving Iggy admiring a windmill (as you do!) we set off into town. (N52.3904, E4.67234)
I’d heard good things about Haarlem and it didn’t disappoint. It was very quiet on a not-so-nice Monday morning in late November, but in a friendly, relaxed kind of way. It reminds me of a mini Amsterdam, but one that’s there for people to live in, not for the tourists. Amsterdam is a beautiful city, but it’s crowded and tourist tatty in the extreme in the main area. Haarlem’s what Amsterdam looks like in the photos. Without the crowds, and the overpriced junk, and ladies for sale in shop windows between the canals. We were tempted to stay longer, but we’d just stopped off for Jay to visit a shop there on our way through to Breda. I think we’ll be back though. For a full day or two next time.
Leaving Haarlem behind we jumped on the motorway to the southern Dutch city of Breda. We’re trying to hit a balance between getting south away from the cold, and seeing places along the way. Breda’s close to the border between the Netherlands and Belgium. It looked pretty on Google and had a very cheap motorhome stopover. That and being in a rough line from where we were to Sicily was all we needed to know. Wagons HO! to Breda!
As we had to turn our gas bottles off for the ferry we had travelled with an empty fridge. So scanning Google maps I found an Aldi just off the motorway on route. Excellent! Strange Dutch food coming up! Our quick stop soon became a little bit longer than expected though. First of all there was the food itself. Thank goodness we only went to Aldi where there isn’t so much choice! Wafels and koeken and worsts galore! Which to choose? Well being as how we have to make our not so big supply of money last a long, long time…that was an easy one. The cheapest! Apart from the Stroopwafels. A popular Dutch treat first made in Gouda. A friend had told me I had to try them, and they are best heated on top of your coffee before consumption. To melt the toffee center apparently. I don’t think we left ours long enough, but they were yummy anyway.
We finally made it to the till only to find the card machines don’t take credit cards. Fine says I! It’s not a credit card! The machine seemed confused by my Revolut card, so, as Jay had used the cash earlier in Haarlem he reluctantly got out plan desperation. Otherwise known as a normal UK debit card with exorbitant fees and rubbish exchange rates. The ever so helpful, beautifully friendly and perfect speaker of English cashier pointed out the Visa sign on the card. “No, no! It’s not credit it’s bank card!” we stutter in barely intelligible pigeon English. The cashier doesn’t miss a beat. Understanding every word he beams and waves a hand encouragingly at the machine. It doesn’t work. Why it thinks our debit cards are credit cards we don’t know. But it does. The helpful young Dutchman tells us no problem. Our shopping is whisked to one side, directions are given for the nearest ATM half a mile away and we’re off feeling very embarrassed and very provincial country cousins with our non functioning cards. A few amusing street signs later and we return with cash and head back for the motorway.
With all the delays it was a good bit later than planned when we finally arrived in Breda. Not quite 5pm but the winter darkness had already descended as we pulled into the motorhome stop 10 minutes walk from Breda’s historical centre. (N51.58800, E4.76356) I wasn’t expecting anything special, but the spaces lined a lovely canal and made for a great welcome back into motorhome country. There’s a sad lacking of provision for motorhomes in the UK, but here was a lovely spot for 4 Euro a day, 2.20 Euro per hour or free between 18:00 and 09:00. We happily coughed up our 2.20 Euro to see us up to 18:00 and fired up a quick dinner before heading out to explore Breda.
I wish I could say we did it full justice…Sadly we did not. But we did have a lovely time just ambling through the very pretty streets around the cathedral. Again it was a Monday night so the streets weren’t exactly jumping. More like empty. Or close to. But unlike Britain all the cafe tables & chairs were still out lining the streets. With fairy lights, heaters and blankets for chilly knees. No need to hide inside just because it’s zero degrees! Life goes on! Life is fun!
Next post I’ll take you the rest of the way from Breda to Sedan. Until then I’ll leave you with a few photos of lovely Breda.