There are three things The Wig Wearer and I want from a holiday: boats, bikes and beer.
When you put these three things in Google, it gives you Holland*.
As a child, we would have our family holidays there. Every time I smell fresh water or eat mayonnaise with my chips or hear a mosquito, it takes me back to those happy times.
We’ve been before and we will go again but I wanted to share with you what we got up to because I’m convinced it’s somewhere everyone will love.
Our first week was in an Air BnB in Ossenzijl in the De Weerriben National Park- the Norfolk Broads of the Netherlands, if you will.
Where we stayed was in a great location. We hired bikes and cycled along the canal to Kalenberg. The boys delighted in cycling up and over the bridges along side the canal. As I pedalled along with Alex on the back, shouting and waving to the boats we passed, I was taken back to that same feeling of excitement on the back of my mum’s bike thirty years before.
We stopped in cafes and ate ice creams where my sister and I had decades previously. We charged about on boats and the boys bickered over who’s ‘captain’. I remember being tucked up in the bow of our family boat and the noisy engine chugging and ricocheting through the night as we motored home after supper somewhere up the canal. Now my boys munched Paprika crisps and spotted grass snakes and dangled their feet in the brown, peaty water.
Alex terrified the beejeez out of us by dangling over the edge and dragging his curls in the water. He certainly doesn’t get it from me.
One of my all time favourite views of this part of the trip was watching William pedal away furiously- his legs flying around as he and Andrew zipped along the cycle paths to Blokzijl. Alex on the back of my bike calling abuse at them as they over-took us: ‘You cheat, you smelly poos. Pedal faster, mummy! Turbo power!’
And I remembered the feeling well.
The greatest discovery this year was all the excellent lidos that the area has: we cycled to the ones in Paasloo and Blokzijl and you could easily spend all day there if you didn’t have one kid who’s always trying to kamikaze down the water slides or another who refuses to go in above knee-level.
We had six days in this area and then we packed up and moved on to Alkmaar- a quick trip across the impressive road which stretches across the sea- the only bit of road I know about where a sailing boat will pass over you thanks to a naviduct.
Despite the Sat Nav taking us the ‘scenic route’ through All the Farm Lands of Northern Holland, we did eventually make it to our next Air BnB in Heiloo. And everyone can stop looking now because we’ve found the most comfortable, well-located and aspirational Air BnB of them all. Just don’t try booking it next summer because we bagsy it.
Our hosts had generously lent us their bikes so we immediately hopped on and pedalled the 5k from Heiloo to Egmond aan Zee and the children cartwheeled on to the beach like sand-starved land lubbers.
And I truly hadn’t realised just how splendid the coastline is.
Heiloo is on the outskirts of Alkmaar- home of cheese and a thoroughly lovely, moochable town and we used a day to cycle in for a scout. We visited in the familiar driving rain which we were graced with for sentimental purposes.
To our slight relief, the weather improved to cloudy with bits of sun which is basically perfect beach weather so the rest of our trip was sand castles, body boarding, seagull chasing and picnicking. Our hosts had recommended Castricum’s visitor centre which was excellent and had a good cafe nearby and a stunning woodland walk. Castricum beach is clean, vast, safe and beautiful. We spent two days here- the windy one of which was vastly improved by the hiring of a windshelter seeing as I’d had to leave my new beloved one back in Blighty.
Six days on the canals and six days on the beach. Every day on a bike and beer three times a day. Frites with every meal and we were feeling like natives. What a joy to momentarily pretend you live in the most densely populated and yet practically designed, marvellously engineered, neat, logical, thoughtful and wholesome country in Europe. I even took a photo of this bit of road because it had right of way for bikes and a bridle way and no one huffed and even the taxi drivers respect cyclists.
And yet there are a few things that keep you feeling very British. You may be nipping about on bikes but you’ll forget to pedal backwards to brake and then dismount inelegantly because, even on its lowest setting, the bike is too big for you.
Or you’ll never quite get used to dangle your legs whilst you wee because you can’t touch the floor. Or you’ll feel shamed by the Dutch and their perfect English and feel flummoxed by words such as ‘slagroom’ (not a sex shop), or ‘Afsluitdijk’ (not a drunken insult), or ‘alstubleif’ (not a sneeze). Or you’ll never get used to how pasty your own children look next to the tall, blond, bronzed Dutch children. But it’ll feel really, really good to pretend for a while. And I bet you a stroopwaffle that you end up fantasising about living here- I know I still am.
*I know technically we went to the Netherlands but people always look blank when I say that and then they brighten and say ‘Oh, Holland! How lovely!’ so I’m sticking with that with apologies to my Geographer MIL.