2017 summer holidays in the Netherlands

Image: Helen's car had a broken lightbulb. So we had to change that before departing. Image: We got ourselves a suite this time. The comfort is considerably better. Image: View of Bergen from the suite. Image: We're on our way. The ship is approaching the Askøy bridge. The Sotra bridge can be seen in the background. Image: After driving through Denmark, we did a stop at a historical site in Germany. We are standing on the old rampart at Haithabu, as the Germans call it. This used to be a major trading port for the vikings, ruled by the Danish king Harold Bluetooth (the same). In Scandinavia it is known as Hedeby, and the Saxons used to call it Schleswig. Schleswig is now the name of the city across the fjord. Image: Information at the site. Image: Some of the houses at the centre of the old town have been reconstructed. Image: A viking-style boat for two rowers. In Norway, the contemporary "færing" type boat is quite similar. Image: A larger ship for ten rowers. A similar type of boat is still being used for rowing competitions in Norway and on the Faroe Islands. Image: A water cow? There was several flocks of these hairy beasts grazing in the area. Image: Decoration on a wall: a triquetra, which is a common symbol in Celtic, Germanic and Norse cultures. Image: Onwards to Bremen. This is a windmill in the park (originally part of the city fortifications) surrounding the old city center of Bremen. Image: The Unser Lieben Frauen church, next to the Bremen City Hall. Image: And the St. Petri Dom, on the other side of the City Hall. Image: The Bremen Roland, a statue from 1404, symbolising freedom and market rights. Image: A newer statue of the Bremen Street Musicians next to the Parliament building. Image: And, finally, the Bremen City Hall itself. Image: Bremen's Central Station. Image: It was a bit early to move on to Groningen, so we took a stroll along the river promenade. Image: A familiar sight to us. We saw its successor, the Alexander von Humboldt II in Aalborg in 2015, at the end of the Tall Ships' Races. The original is now a floating hotel. Image: Resting at a bench next to the Hotellschiff Perle, the slogan at the other side of the river caught my attention. Image: And, finally, somehow having missed it the first time, the original statue of the Bremen Street Mucicians. It's easy to see where the statue has been touched. Image: Haus Schütting, the old guild house, now the Chamber of Commerce. Image: We've been visiting our friend Richard in Groningen all day. Didn't really get around to take any pictures, but we did rent bikes. This is Helen as we've put the bikes back in their slots. Image: The view from our hotel. They had a 1-year anniversary so we got upgraded to the top floor. Image: Day two in Groningen. Richard took us on a guided tour of the city. This is a public garden. Image: This statue is outside the Martinikerk church. We couldn't figure out quite... why! Image: We went up the big tower at the center of the city. The Martini Tower. I'm 1.83m tall, which is a tiny bit below average for Dutch guys, and I bumped my head several times. Image: View from the tower towards our hotel. The Student Hotel. Image: View further to the left. The market place and the City Hall on the left. Image: When looking for a museum, which we didn't find, we got into the eula of the University of Groningen. This statue is on top of the main flight of stairs. Image: We spent some time in a Games Workshop, where Helen got painting instructions and a free go at painting a Warhammer 40k Space Marine. This is the result. Image: Day three, Bourtange. An old border star fort a cannon's shot from the German border. Richard had been here as a kid and he tagged along when we visited. These are some houses in front of the main drawbridge. The fortress is still inhabited. Image: The main gate to the fortress. The fort was built in 1593 during the Dutch revolt against the Spanish under the orders of William the Silent. Image: The main drawbridge seen from the rampart by the main gate. Image: There's an additional drawbridge before the main one, with a sentry box in front of it. Image: Strategically placed privy. There's another one just like it at the opposite end of the fort. Image: There's also a privy on the bridge to the main ravelin. Image: Some old cannons on display by the old cannon embrasures. Image: The other privy. Image: The fort has its own windmill. The caretaker is currently working on unfurling the sails. Image: With the sails fully unfurled, the windmill got up to a surprising turn of speed. The fort also has a horse-driven mill on site, presumably for when there was no wind. Image: This is the old gun powder storage. At a later stage they added a second exit to make it less dangerous in case of fire, essentially creating a tunnel through the rampart. Image: The history of the fort and an itemization of the different parts. Image: We took a closer look at the first privy. There was a strong smell of ammonia (urine), so it's obviously still in use. Whether by locals or tourists I don't know. Image: One of the cozy houses inside the fort. Image: We found a candle shop. They had events for kids inside (make your own candle), and Helen ended up buying some for her mom. Image: The windmill and the gun powder storage from the outside of the fort. Image: The Student Hotel had lots of stuff aimed at students, although it's open for anyone. They do have a long-term stay arrangement for students though. I first thought that this is a statue of Harambe, but Jan Jaap suggested it's probably Bokito. Image: Driving south from Groningen to Antwerp. This is at the Flevopolder-side of the Ketelbrug bridge in Flevoland. Image: It took some doing, but we finally got to Antwerp. There was some confusion at the Park + Ride location we chose, and we had some trouble with out GPS when trying to find our way round Antwerp. This picture is taken by the river, after we'd checked in to the hotel and took a quick tour of the Plantin-Moretus Museum. Image: Het Steen, which is the old guardhouse of and all that remains of the the Fortress of Antwerp. The rest was demolished to get masonry for the quays. Image: Inside the gateyard of Het Steen. Image: The Plateau Royal café further down the quay from Het Steen.. Image: We found a Japanese restaurant on our way back towards the old city centre. We had some good (non-sushi) food, and got to sit in at a low table (but with a hole under for the feet) which was interesting. Image: After dinner, we ended up at the market square. The Cathedral of Our Lady dominates the city. Image: Some street art in front of the cathedral. The sculpture was donated by China as a trading partner. Image: We ended up at one of the multitudes of pubs with outdoor service. Helen got some orange juice, and I enjoyed a kriek. Image: Some building decorations in a quiet street. Image: Back in the Netherlands again. We're heading for Arnhem, and crossed the river Waal on this bridge on the A2 near Zaltbommel. Image: Arnhem, by the John Frost Bridge. John Frost was an American officer who fought to retake the city during WW2. Image: On the John Frost Bridge, after having visited the Airborne Memorial site. Image: The memorial plaque at the bridge. Image: Stairs down from the bridge behind the plaque. I fancied the stonework. Image: At the outskirts of Arnhem is the Netherlands Open Air Museum, which houses a collection of old buildings, boats, tools and other memorabilia. This is next to a wind-powered sawmill, across the pond from a replica of an old boatwright's. Image: The wind-powered sawmill. The whole foundation turns to keep the mill up against the wind. Image: The insides of another windmill. This one runs an archimedes screw to pump out excessive water. Image: This is the farmhouse on a rather wealthy farm. As with most Dutch farms, there is space for both humans and livestock in the same building. However, unlike most, it even has tiling in the cowshed. Image: The Dutch are no strangers to waterwheels either. This one runs a papermill. Image: The paper mill makes cotton paper from old clothes. These contraptions beat the strips of cloth into pulp. Image: This machine further liquefies the cotton pulp until it's ready to be turned into paper. Image: Decorations on the shutters on the house of a rather well-off farm. Image: Farmhouse and a small windmill. In the background is an old dairy. Image: A curiosity in a collection of Dutch buildings, this is a Norwegian pre-fab house, one of 326 which were sent as aid to the Netherlands after the great flood of 1953 when a storm tide overwhelmed the dikes and caused massive destruction in the country. Going inside was like visiting my grandma. Image: The insides of the big tower mill at the museum. This is where the flour dropped down after the grain was ground, and as far up as we were allowed to go. Image: Schematics of the tower mill. The picture is taken at the same level as the balcony. Image: View from the tower mill balcony. Image: The tower mill from the outside. Its name, year of construction and year of refurbishment can be seen near the top. Image: Beautiful forest area at the outskirts of the museum. Image: Later in the afternoon we arrived at our friends Jan Jaap and Janet who live in Enschede. They are fond of boardgames, so we played this one called Union Pacific. They also brought us to their gaming club where we played a variety of games on the following night, which was great fun. Image: On Wednesday, we went to Dragonheart, which is a shop peddling medieval and Viking age merchandise. They also have an owl collection and they let the owls out to fly, where the audience may - with some assistance - receive the birds. This one is a Spanish barn owl. Image: This one is a eurasian eagle-owl. We didn't have a good position for photographing, but they had a lot more owls. All of them named after Lord of the Rings characters or locations. Image: On thursday it was time to move on. On our way to Utrecht we stopped at Paleis Het Loo near Appeldorn. This has been the retreat and seat of the Dutch royals for centuries. Here is one of the libraries. Image: The palace was originally built for Stadtholder-King William III. It has changed much over the years, but some of it has been kept as it was and some has been restored to its original state. This is the bedroom of William III's wife Mary II. Image: The king's travelling trunks. On the wall is an old map of the estate. Image: William III's bedchamber. The bedchamber was, at the time, the room where the owner would entertain guests, and not necessarily a room for actually sleeping in. Image: One of the common rooms. Image: Bedroom and office of a later king. The palace has various rooms decorated according to different fashions, so walking through the palace gives a perspective of changing trends through the centuries. Image: The common room of a king who was very fond of hunting. Image: Note the elephant-trunk-turned-lamp. The sofa is of Norwegian design, which was the height of fashion at that time. Image: More of the trophy-filled room. Image: A queen's common room. This one liked playing the piano. Image: The shell cave, at one of the exits to the palace gardens. The room has two seashell-decorated fountains, in addition to the walls being filled with them. Image: Panorama of the palace gardens taken from the steps of the palace. William III was a contemporary of Louis XIV of France (the one who turned Versailles into an opulent palace), and they were competing on who could build the nicest gardens. Image: The gardens at Het Loo are smaller than the ones at Versailles, but they are very nicely laid out and decorated. This is the statue of Venus in the centre of the lower gardens. Image: A globe representing the zodiac, and the major constellations. Image: The palace itself as seen from the far end (north-east) of the lower gardens. Image: This is one of the two sphinxes flanking the entrance to the upper gardens. Image: A small canal with carps in it. They came swiftly in a row when they noticed people were nearby. In case we had some snacks for them. Image: This big tree dominated the upper gardens. Image: Greek statue near the big tree in the upper gardens. Image: We found some shade - and an ice cream and drinks stall - under the colonnades at the far end of the upper garden. Image: View of the gardens and the palace from the top of the colonnades. Image: Beyond the gardens is parklands with several trails and canals. This pond is just inside the parklands. Image: Canals in the parklands. Image: Another pond in the parklands. Image: Back to the lower gardens. View of the palace from the western edge. Image: A fountain in the lower gardens with the major trading ports and cities for the Dutch. Image: After Het Loo we went to Utrecht. We stayed at a hotel at the outskirts of the city which we used as a base for the next few days' excursions. After checking in, we discovered that there's a Park + Ride across the road from the hotel, meaning the tram to the city centre passes right by. So we took that into the city and started looking around for something to eat. As you can see, there are plenty of options, on two levels. Image: The Dom Tower of Utrecht. I tried using the panorama function on the camera to take a picture of it, but I wasn't entirely successful. Nevertheless, it turned out to be the best picture I got of it. Image: More canals in Utrecht. The party in the boat were, well, having a party. Image: We had a picture of Utrecht covering the wall of our hotel room. It turns out that the restaurant in the upper right of the picture is where we had dinner. Image: On Friday we went to Rotterdam. We spent most of the day at the Maritime Museum, which has a large collection of boats floating outside, as well as various equipment on the quay, including old cranes. The museum also has exhibits inside, including a big offshore section where you get a lot of information on the installations and ships operating in the North Sea. Image: The Lower Lighthouse. When approaching Rotterdam there used to be two lighthouses. A small one and a tall one. When both were lined up you were on a safe approach. Image: A locomotor, not to be confused with a locomotive, for moving railway cars around and stacking them up at the harbour. A locomotor doesn't require a special licence to drive, unlike a locomotive. Image: Stadsgraanzuiger 19, a huge grain elevator (operating by vacuum suction) to unload grain and other suitable goods from ships and move them to barges or cars for transport to their final destination. Their introduction caused riots among the harbour workers, as significantly fewer man-hours were now needed to unload the ships. This is the last one in working order. Image: A floating lighthouse turned into a restaurant. Image: The Rotterdam Markthal. There are lots of various food retailers in the big hall inside. Unfortunately the light from outside was too bright for me to get any decent pictures inside, but the building is pretty impressive from the outside as well. Image: On the way back from Rotterdam we took a quick stop in Gouda. Just because. Image: Netherlands in the morning. There's lots and lots of fields along the highways, many of them with cows or sheep. Image: Today we're at Castlefest, which is the reason why the vacation was at this time and not earlier in the summer. Castlefest is the biggest cosplay event in the Netherlands. These are our friends Jan Jaap and Janet who are dressed as Ash and the  Ash puppet for the occasion. We were dressed in our usual Viking garb. Image: The castle at Castlefest. Image: Dark elves of some kind. I'm not 100% sure what setting they're from. They had a processing through the area. Image: We saw a lot of various costumes at Castlefest. From Umbrella Corporation soldiers to goblins. From steampunkers to celtic warriors. And everything in between, and far off to the sides as well. We even found Waldo (x2)! Image: The final day in the Netherlands. We're planning to drive across the Afsluitdijk and see the planetarium in Franeker. But first, we found this curious hotel along the road on our way towards Amsterdam. Image: In North Holland now, getting onto the smaller roads. Leeuwarden and Groningen are across the dike. Image: We had to stop at the monument at the dike, of course. This is on the IJsselmeer-side (no, that's not a typo - IJ is a digraph in Dutch) of the dike. The handiwork is impressive. Image: Helen taking pictures. I borrowed her DSLR camera for the following bit, which is why it's not (necessarily) doing the everything-in-focus thing which the phone tries to do. Image: A close-up of the inside barrier. The stones are octagonal (more or less) basalt and are laid by hand. Image: An illustration of the dike and what it does. The lake is accessed through one of two big sluices, and there are pumps going continuously to keep the lake's level steady. Image: A monument to the workers who made the dike. Here they are shown laying down the basalt. Image: View from the tower towards Breezanddijk, a tiny village on an artificial island created when the dike was built. There's also a gas station and telecom antennae. Image: Boats sailing on the IJsselmeer. Image: On our way back to the car we found this old beauty. I couldn't resist taking a picture of it. Image: Getting close to the Frisian mainland. Kiting seems to be very popular here. Image: A farmstead in Friesland. The low walls and tall roofs are a typical Dutch feature. Image: The Town Hall in Franeker. Right across the street/canal from the planetarium. Image: The planetarion in Franeker. It was built in the livingroom ceiling by Eise Eisinga to demonstrate how the solar system works, after a local priest published a doomsday prediction which was recited in the local paper, as Mercury, Mars, Venus and the moon came into alignment. Image: Eisinga's bed in the livingroom. The Dutch used to sleep sitting up. Lying down was for dead people. Image: A part of the clockwork running the planetarium. Image: We got pancakes with bacon at the planetarium restaurant. Image: Another typical Dutch farmstead. This one in Groningen province. Image: Back in Bremen. This time we got a hotel opposite the Central Station. Helen found a spot in the window where she watched the crowds while reading her book. Image: Hamburg, City of Cranes. I took this picture as we were driving across the autobahn bridge. Image: Nearing Neumünster, Germany, we caught up with what seemed to be a veteran car club on a trip Image: Crossing the Kiel Canal. Image: We spent some time in Denmark on Tuesday, as the ferry didn't depart until 20:00. This is a farm in northern Denmark, where we took a rest.