So the story begins
Not that I need an excuse to travel but I wanted to catch up with my friend Chia-Hua who I met the previous year walking the Camino (Way of Saint James) to Santiago de Compostela. She and her husband Ab kindly let me crash at their house for 8 days and they were gracious, generous hosts.
Their place is a 30 mins bus ride from Amsterdam and I was able to got a little taste of what is is like living in the Netherlands compared to the cliché Amsterdam city break with its dodgy coffeeshops and the red light district – Done that! Been there! – Instead I stayed in a real home, including crazy neighbours who like a chat (or beer) over the garden fence, rode a bike for the first time in two years, joint my friend at her yoga class (entirely in Dutch which was hilarious and painful) and walked the country side.
Getting there and and back – why I ditched the plane
I had read an article in the Independent about the closure of the Hoek van Holland train station which was first opened in 1893. The station catered for those arriving by ferry to the Netherlands and connecting them to the major cities. Reading the article, it felt like the end of a era and I wanted to see the station before it entirely disappeared.
And indeed it was a said sight. The old station platform is still there but the rest is heavily under construction. You can see traces of the old tracks leading away from the station. For the entire summer this little harbour has no train connection what so ever. The new Rotterdam metro link is scheduled to open at some point in September.
I walked on the empty platform and an eerie feeling creeped up my spine. Looking at the abandoned Japanese restaurant that must have catered to many commuters over time, somehow it felt like people just decided one day never to return and the got up and left everting as it where. The menu reads the specials of the day and clearly it wasn’t worth the effort to clear the last coffee cup from the table outside the restaurant. You wonder where everyone’s gone.
I decided to stay one night in this place. To be honest after getting up ridiculously early to travel from London to Harwich in order to catch the Stena Line ferry for the 9am departure, it is now past 5pm and I am tired. The thought of another 2/12 hrs on bus and train to get to Amsterdam and another 30 min to Purmerend wasn’t very appealing.
Honestly, as cheap as the travel by ferry is, it’s taken me all day. If you don’t want to to take the plane for financial or environmental reasons, you’d better have enough time to waste.
By the way the same counts for the return journey. ‘Wenn schon, denn schon’ as we say in Germany – let’s go the whole hog and take the coach back to London. Another jolly 8hrs on the bus but for £35 I won’t complain. I decided on Flexibus after reading the review ‘Rotterdam to London by ‘The Hostel Girl‘ and I can pretty much confirm her account.
My personal tip, be prepared with food and drink as there are no stops that would allow a quick pitstop. And maybe don’t sit too close to the loos. Not so much because of smells but surly every 5 minutes someone will uses it. It can get a bit annoying after some time; pretty much like it would on a plane. CONFINED SPACES PEOPLE. But it was my first time driving through the Eurotunnel. One more item ticked off the list. YAY. Back to the story…
I used the saved money from the ferry trip and stayed in a local B&B. To my delight both B&B and Hoek van Holland were actually nice places.
I have to admit I became mesmerised watching the big ferries and container ships driving in and out the canal.
In and around Amsterdam
I spent the rest of my trip exploring Amsterdam and its surroundings. I got myself a 3 day Amsterdam+Regional travel card for €33.50. It included pretty much any form of public transport in Amsterdam and the regions including some intercity trains as long as they cover the region. A map with info is provided with the card. Check out the I Amsterdam website for more details. There are various combi ticket options available if you are interested.
Fare warning, the Netherlands are not cheap. Unlike London, museums are not free. The tourist information centre will charge you for a simple map which isn’t all that great. I saw many tourist struggle with it.
However, if you browse a little there are leaflets for free which will have simple maps of the boroughs including the tram/bus lines. And there is always GPS on the phone (the gift of no more roaming charges).
I decided not to buy a map. Instead I steered straight for the canals to explore the backwaters. Every time I hit the main canal I took a turn to see what’s in the “back streets”. Half the time I had no idea where exactly I was. There are signpost to important tourist sites everywhere but I only used those for rough orientation. Still by following the canals I pretty much walked past the major tourist sites anyhow. It was nice just letting go of the map. Thanks to the travel pass I knew if all fails I could get a tram back to the main train station. I am proud to say I found my own way. Going forward I applied the same principle everywhere I went (with exception of the 34km cycling trip I used a map for that).
What I saw in pictures
Shops and other stuff