A Holiday to Holland

Why Visit The Netherlands?

Holland (officially known as The Netherlands) is the foreign country we have holidayed in more frequently than any other in recent years.

Why, you might ask? The primary reason why we favour Holland for our holidays is it’s close proximity to our part of the U.K., in particular the ease in which we can travel to the ferry port in Harwich (45 minutes away), take a convenient overnight ferry crossing before waking up in our destination.

However, this reason of practicality is closely followed by the hospitality that the Dutch people have unfailingly shown us. Even though I endeavour to learn and practice a few simple phrases of the native language wherever I travel (and my eldest daughter has developed an interest in doing the same thing), as soon as the Dutch twig that we are British they instantly switch to flawless English. It may be a generalisation, but we have always found the Dutch people we have encountered to be a sociable bunch, often keen to start conversation and fuss over our young kids.

Historic Cities and Beautiful Countryside

Although the Netherlands is a densely populated country, with the roads fairly heavy with traffic most of the time as a result, the drivers are courteous and law abiding which removes much of the stress for British drivers, especially if a sat nav is also used to locate your destination. There are numerous historic towns and cities that account for housing the majority of the population, leaving great swathes of lush green countryside dotted with ubiquitous Dutch windmills and grazing cattle, intersected by canals and rivers in this country where much of the land has been cleverly reclaimed from the sea.

dutch street-2641196_1920 copy

Perfectly Presented Homes

Whenever we passed through residential areas, I was struck by how beautifully presented the dwellings were. Even balconies adjoined to modest apartments that overlooked main roads were personalised with vibrant flowers in window boxes and comfortable outdoor furniture. On terraced streets, benches were often positioned just in front of homes so that the owner could relax in the evening sun with a book. Windows facing the street are usually adorned with pairs of matching plants or lanterns for the appreciation of passers-by. The sense that homes are set up for the benefit of passers-by is heightened by the fact that many people leave their curtains drawn open long into the evening (if indeed they get closed at all), affording a clear view of the front room for anyone who cannot resist taking a look. Me? Guilty as charged!

Admirable Architecture 

I also adore traditional Dutch architecture, which is evident even in modern home designs- with large panes of glass (less frequently divided into smaller sections than windows here in England), cute gables and red roofs.

Everywhere was immaculate- the smooth roads (even in narrow village streets), the complete lack of litter and dedicated cycle lanes that were well used by people of all ages from commuters to work to young children cycling with their parents to school and toddlers in trailers on cargo bikes created an air of a highly civilised, well-functioning  society. I couldn’t help feeling a little envious of some of these things, that were undeniably streets ahead of my homeland.

amsterdam arch arch bridge architecture
Photo by Marko Zirdum on Pexels.com

 

De Efteling Theme Park

We visited (for the third time!) a theme park called de Efteling, which is practically an institution in Holland. The park is structured around a fairytale theme, with a fairytale wood complete with replica houses from many fairytales and the respective characters found within them, such as Little Red Riding Hood poised knocking the the door of her grandmother’s house, while the wolf disguised as grandmother is propped up in bed and visible through the window. There is also a large, realistic-looking oak tree that speaks. You have to see it to believe it! As well as the fairytale forest area there are a multitude of imaginatively designed rides for all ages, from incredible dreamlike fairy themed Dreamflight to the thrilling Baron 1889. De Efteling is a huge park and takes two or three full days to do justice to the many attractions on offer. We stayed overnight at the Efteling Hotel (excitingly constructed in the shape of a castle) to enable us to easily fit in two full days at the park.

Beekse Bergen Holiday and Safari Park

After that, we moved on to a holiday park called Beekse Bergen, in the North Brabant region of Holland close to the city of Tilburg. This park is centred around a large lake and has many wooded areas where the mobile homes are sited, which created a sense of tranquility as well as privacy. The trees also encouraged many types of birds: we had a pair of ducks that took up residence right outside our mobile home for the duration of our stay, to the delight of my children who enjoyed feeding them. We all felt ourselves start to relax as the calming influence of our surroundings took hold. Playgrounds are dotted all around the site, which pleased my kids as they rode their bikes around and frequently stumbled upon new ones to explore. There was a great indoor pool complex on site, with several slides and water features in the pool for under fives as well as a lazy river and larger slide.

Free Days Out With the Extra Card

If you stay three or more nights at Beekse Bergen you are given an Extra card which allows you free access to a number of attractions owned by the Libema group. This includes the safari park adjoining the holiday park (one of the largest safari parks in the Benelux region, it offers visitors the option to take a bus safari, car safari, boat safari or explore on foot to catch sight of as many animals as possible), as well as a couple of other zoo type places within an hour’s drive. See image below (borrowed from inyourpocket.com) Also included is Speelland (Playland), a small scale theme park aimed at children aged under twelve with bouncy castles, adventure play equipment as well as a few rides. Speelland is accessed by boat across the lake which adds to the sense of adventure for young children. Image below of Speelland borrowed from Tilburg.com.

We were very fortunate with the weather- a heatwave made it feel almost conceivable that were in the Mediterranean rather than the lowlands of northwestern Europe.

Have you visited the Netherlands before? Prior to having children, I had visited Amsterdam several times, but never ventured beyond the capital. Now I have caught the bug, I can’t wait to start planning our next Dutch getaway for next year.

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joys of spring

The Joys of Spring

Spring is finally here! It seems to have taken a super long time coming this year. We got a bit more snow than usual and prolonged sub-zero temperatures in late February, then another spell of snow in mid-March. So when the air finally warmed up a little and spring bulbs began bursting into vibrant colour they were most welcome.

I do the walk to our local primary school three times a day (school for my daughter and nursery school for my son, which is only a half day). I certainly enjoy it far more when there are pretty flowers in gardens along the route to admire. My children often point them out too, wanting to know the names of them. My seventeen-month-old tries hard to repeat back everything she hears at the moment and her attempts are often adorably inaccurate!

For some reason, the start of spring signals a fresh start, a blank slate, a time of optimism- far more than the official new year in January does for me. Perhaps you find the same? Even though I try, I often struggle to get motivated in the cold and dark winter time and find that motivation (or perhaps inspiration?) flows more naturally and effortlessly in the lighter, warmer months.

I remember planting out the mixed daffodil bulbs last autumn and having to keep chasing away a pesky squirrel that seemed intent on digging up as many as possible soon after I planted them. He (for some reason I assume it was a ‘he’!) was such a cheeky rascal and each time that I stomped outside to clap my hands to chase him away, he returned only seconds later for another attempt to thieve them! So I’m pleased that plenty remained untouched in the ground. I like to pick a few stems of daffodils to display in a vase on my kitchen table as they brighten it up no end. Daffodils are symbolic of spring in my mind.

vase of daffodils spring decoration

 

Every spring, we find a local wood to visit as most of them can be sure to have a carpet of bluebells covering the ground at this time of year. The vibrant colour lifts my spirits and makes a beautiful backdrop to take photos of the kids having fun running between the trees without a care in the world.

Visit a bluebell wood in spring

Even though I’m not a huge fan of the cold weather, I still count myself lucky to live somewhere with clearly defined seasons. Variety is the spice of life, so they say. Perhaps I wouldn’t appreciate the warmer months as much if there wasn’t a contrasting season to compare them to.

I know that some of my readers live in different countries and continents…what is the weather like for you right now? Has spring arrived where you are, or perhaps you are in the southern hemisphere and summer is drawing to a close? Or perhaps there aren’t very clearly defined seasons where you live? If so, perhaps the prospect of cooler weather is rather welcome?

I’d love to hear about it, reader comments always put a smile on my face 🙂

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Autumn days- inspiring beauty of the ‘fall’

I must admit to being rather a latecomer to the autumn fan club. From a young age, right up until a few years ago, my favourite season by far was summer. Spring was enjoyable, mostly because it signalled the fact that summer was on its way. But autumn (known as ‘Fall’ in many English-speaking countries I believe) was less welcome because it signalled the very opposite: that summer was over.

It is only in recent years that autumn has started to win me over. Funnily enough, this has coincided with a slight depreciation for the joys of summer. Ever since we started a family almost six years ago, I have developed a bit of a paranoia that my children might suffer from ill effects of being in the sun too much. Yes, I appreciate that in temperate England this is far less of an issue than in about 90% of other countries worldwide, yet as my offspring feature alabaster white skin I can’t help but fret a little about keeping them out of the sun as much as possible.

Hence, when nature issues subtle signals that the seasons are shifting, I feel a little relieved. It usually begins in early September when I notice the early morning dew on the grass and the pearlescent quality of light in the mornings is heavenly. Week by week it’s magical to observe the leaves on different types of trees gradually turn myriad shades of red, orange, yellow and brown and accumulate on the ground to become a crunchy carpet. The children find it enormous fun to stamp on the piles of leaves and be rewarded with a satisfying sound. Conkers with their shiny shells are gathered once free of their prickly cages. All of this against a backdrop of (hopefully!) clear blue skies with a chill creeping into the air as the weeks go by. What’s not to love?!

Now that we are well into October, Halloween and Bonfire night will soon be here. Look out for one of my next posts describing how we decorate our home (on a small-scale) for Halloween.

Is Autumn your favourite season? Perhaps you have additional reasons for enjoying it? I would love to hear them. 🙂

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