We took a slight inland detour to a free campsite when we left Antwerp, and I’m glad that we did. It brought us to some dense and lush forest. However, the rain that was threatening during our last hour in Antwerp finally started to pour – and I wasn’t going to go outside to take photos.
It was still raining the next morning, though the hammering on our roof didn’t keep us awake last night. The straight roads were beautifully lined with trees. It felt like driving down a green tunnel. There wasn’t anywhere safe to stop for photos, so it will have to remain as a memory for me.
We were now in The Netherlands, country number 13. We were also in Holland, which I learned is a region in The Netherlands, not an alternate name for the country.
Risa read about a great place to see windmills, which I guess are a bit of a symbol of Netherlands. This particular site is UNESCO listed, featuring a dozen-or-so original windmills. I later learned that they were built to pump water from low-lying areas, rather than crush wheat or other manual tasks.
There was free parking on the opposite side of town. There wasn’t much else to see in town, so we walked on by the small shops and restaurants to the main attraction, which was visible from quite some distance, thanks to the flat and treeless landscape. It wasn’t great weather, but the rain was holding for the time being.
The site was free to enter, but if you wished to visit the museums, or step inside the windmills, you required a ticket. It was a little expensive, so we were more than happy from observing from the outside. There was a long walk down one of the canals, slowly taking us past the windmills. It was surprisingly (for me) how busy it was, with a constant flow of tours and heading up and down the walkway.
Most of the windmills had had their sails removed, but some were operating, and turning surprisingly fast in this moderate wind. There was something beautiful about their strange shape, and for the first time, I started to understand what Don Quixote saw in these giants. They started to feel alive, like sentient robots, patiently waiting. Maybe I’m channelling Dr. Who vibes.
As beautiful as the area was, and it was very beautiful, it was surrounded by industrial complexes, which brought any imagination about 18th Century life crashing back into reality.
The dark clouds we’d left behind in Belgium had caught us, as had the rain. Thankfully we were close to our van by the time it hit. We also got to experience a Dutch traffic jam, waiting patiently on the motorway for the bridge to lower. At first, it felt like a scene from Inception. It soon got boring, however.
Our guidebook said that this part of The Netherlands, between Rotterdam and Amsterdam, Randstad, is one of the most densely populated places in the world (or maybe Europe). However, it was hard to see that, with plenty of fields and open space, and only moderately dense cities. There were however enormous multi-lane (and free) roads, so there must be quite a lot of people moving around this area in peak hour.
We made a stop here in Leiden as it was described as a beautiful historic town, and seemed like a good deviation on the way to Amsterdam. We wandered around the canals, and the wide high streets, and weren’t immediately wowed with what we saw. Not like we were in Belgium in Brussels, Bruges and Ghent. Little by little, it grew on us, as we continued to attempt to get lost in the smaller alleys in the old town, but we never fell in love with Leiden.
There was an interesting art feel to the town, with Mondrian designs on buildings, and a large De Stijl gallery outside the old church.
I think the walks along the canals were the highlight for me in our quick visit. They were wide, and lined with a variety of different styles of pretty houses. We walked past a kebab restaurant, and couldn’t resist the temptation of eating a kebab, and staring out along the canals.