An Abundance of Tulips- Our First European Road Trip

I want to take you back to a slightly different, BC (before caravan) adventure. It’s May 2017 and we had been saving long and hard for our caravan so the wanderlust was setting in badly. We were counting down the months until we’d have our very own adventure-mobile but we needed something to quench our thirst in the meantime. It’s no secret that my favourite flower is a tulip so where better to go than The Netherlands?!

We started our journey by heading to Dover, where we took the opportunity to explore the beautiful and underrated coastline before going to our Premier Inn for an early night ready for the long day ahead.

We’re not usually morning people but the next day we were up bright and early in excitement for our biggest adventure yet. It was our first time leaving England together and we did not want to miss our ferry!

As we boarded the very helpful crew directed us to our parking spot, right by the lifts and with a 3 metre space behind to allow room for me to get out of the car.

Since it was an early crossing there weren’t many people at all, so we enjoyed a lovely breakfast, relaxing in the empty lounge and a little mooch around the shops- but the icing on the cake was that the ferry was totally paid for by an accumulation of Tesco clubcard points! Perfect when you’re on a tight budget.

Before we knew it we had arrived in Calais and we got our first taste of driving on the right (wrong) side of the road. It was a lot less daunting than we expected as we were directed straight from the ferry onto the motorway where we couldn’t do anything drastically wrong even if we tried. Stopping at a service station in Belgium we picked up some supplies and surprisingly found the coffee machine more difficult to use than the whole driving in a foreign country thing!

Back on the road again and the (not so) trusty sat nav detected a lot of traffic ahead and asked us if we wanted to save 90 minutes and take an alternative route. To our naive minds this seemed like a no-brainer and we swiftly selected “yes”. Little did we know that Stephens first experience driving on the other side of the road outside of motorway conditions would be through the city centre of Antwerp, during what seemed like rush hour! Even in our home country we avoid driving through big cities so needless to say there was a lot of huffing and puffing coming from the drivers seat while I tried desperately not to giggle. After all, it was all part of the adventure!

Eventually the views around us changed, the land grew flatter and there was a scattering of windmills- we had made it to The Netherlands!

Still doing our best to save the pennies we had booked a small AirBnB in an idyllic little rural village called Westbroek. Although it wasn’t particularly close to anywhere we wanted to visit it was a great price and we didn’t mind a little drive. Plus we’d much rather be in the countryside than a city centre anyway!

The property itself was an accessible annexe in a lovely couples garden, complete with a basic kitchenette, a wet room and a double bedroom. Our hosts were even nicer than we had hoped and gave us a very friendly welcome despite us arriving a few hours after we said we would, due to our little diversion. Throughout our short stay they provided valuable tourist information, taught us some Dutch language and even brought us fresh breakfast each morning- complete with homemade jam!

Since we were only here for a small amount of time we had a lot to cram in, and after a good nights sleep we were ready for more adventures.

Our first objective was to see a tulip or two and we had heard that we might just come across some at a place called Keukenhof- one of the largest flower gardens in the world.

On our way there we took a small detour through the countryside to see the vast amount of tulip fields on display. Unfortunately it was coming to the end of the season so the fields weren’t quite as colourful as they would have been a few weeks earlier, but it was still a lovely drive- and a much better detour than the day before!

Arriving at Keukenhof we were pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t as busy as we’d heard it could be, and the wheelchair access was great.

As we entered we were blown away by the magnificent displays covering 32 hectares, there was a rainbow of colour as far as the eye could see. We spent hours just wandering around, marvelling at the tulips the size of coffee cups in the indoor and outdoor displays, getting up close to a windmill and tasting a Dutch delicacy- Friets (chips with mayo).

By the end of the day we were all tulipped out but we had one last thing to do, pick up a souvenir!

We found a lovely bouquet of hand crafted wooden tulips which now resides on our living room window sill as a reminder of our first European road trip together.

The next day was our last full day here so we wanted to make the most of it and visit the country’s capital city- Amsterdam!

Not keen to drive through another European city centre we parked up at the stadium on the outskirts and caught the tram in. The Netherlands as a whole had been great for wheelchairs, the accessible public transport, the smooth dropped curbs, and the cycle paths made great tracks to roll along- and Amsterdam was no different.

Wanting to see the city in style we made our way to the famous canals, where The Blue Boat Company start their tours.

We hadn’t pre booked so were very lucky that the next boat was leaving soon and we didn’t need to queue!

Again, the wheelchair accessibility was very impressive as there was an electric lift straight down into the boat, although it did feel a little precarious- not helped by the man assisting me being hellbent on making me go right to the edge of the platform. I quote “further forward, a little more, keep coming…”.

Comfortably (and safely) in the canal boat the guided tour started. We weaved our way through the canals, getting great views of beautiful bridges, passing boats and streets lined with bicycles, whilst learning about the history of Amsterdam through the provided headset.

Back on dry land we spent the rest of the afternoon drinking coffee and soaking up the city’s atmosphere, before leaving the hustle and bustle and heading back to the car. We’d had a great day exploring but weren’t quite ready to go back to the B&B yet so decided to spend the evening unwinding at the beach.

We found ourselves at Noordwijk Aan Zee and although it wasn’t particularly warm, after a busy day in the city it was just what we needed! It was beautifully peaceful and although we’d had a lovely day in Amsterdam we were swiftly reminded that we are both beach people at heart- it was a little piece of perfection. And yet again I was impressed with the accessibility of it, the strategically placed concrete slabs meant I could get all the way down the sand!

Feeling our tummies starting to rumble we headed to a restaurant on the beach called De Zeemeeuw.

It had a nautical theme inside and was beautifully decorated with candles, driftwood, seashells- and gave great views out to the calm sea.

Stephen polished off his fish and I thoroughly enjoyed the best tomato soup I’ve ever tasted! But the sun was setting and we had a long drive ahead of us the next day so we headed back to the B&B for our last night in The Netherlands.

Waking up the next day we were sad to be leaving as we waved goodbye to our lovely hosts and we hit the road again with a 400+ mile drive ahead of us.

Wanting to break up the journey into more manageable chunks we stopped off in a lovely little seaside town in Belgium called Nieuwpoort, for lunch. We had already travelled for almost 3 hours so it was great to get out for some fresh air and to stretch our legs/wheels. Plus it was a gorgeous little town to take a stroll.

Eventually we managed to drag ourselves back to the car to continue the long journey home. Our next stop? France.

Most people travel abroad and bring back cases of wine or cheap cigarettes, but not us. On our way home we filled our suitcase with different flavours of French syrup (squash) and Belgian chocolates. We really know how to party!

As dusk approached we made it back to the ferry port- and the place this European adventure started. We’d had an amazing couple of days and didn’t want to leave. But we were both exhausted and looking forward to having a good rest on the ferry before driving the remaining 170 miles from Dover back to our home in Dorset.

Although it went far too quickly, we travelled over 1000 miles in 5 days and made so many memories along the way. We learned new things, met lovely people, saw beautiful views and gained some valuable European driving experience before we take the plunge with the caravan.

And we can’t wait to do it all again some day!

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