European Travel Blog Part 1: Exploring Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg.
Day 1 Amsterdam Briefing
Our exploratory European Self Drive Adventure started at the lovely and quirky Volks Hotel, located in in Amsterdam’s ‘’living’’ suburbs that are short walk from the historic Amstel River that flows through old Amsterdam. With hot tubs on the roof, a 360 degree view of the city from the restaurant and great facilities like the "werk plaats’’ (work place) it was a fantastic base to start our adventure from.
Day 1 on most of our adventures offers an opportunity to meet the guide and the rest of group during a pre-trip briefing followed by dinner. On this 27-day adventure our guide was none other than Mark Janssen who is a Dutch local and is also a well-seasoned adventure guide. With his own company running many shorter routes for Europeans with their own 4x4’s. Mark specially designed the route that we would follow over the next few weeks for our group of Australians who, after coming far, wanted to stay longer and see more of Europe’s best kept secrets off the beaten track. With this being our first and exploratory adventure Linda and Mike would also be joining Mark to explore the route and fine tune it for our future European Adventures.
Mark taking us through this unique 27- day adventure route through Europe
The briefing took place from the roof top restaurant of the Volks Hotel with fantastic views of Amsterdam in the background over a lovely 3 course meal where we could get to know a bit more about Mark and the adventure. His wife Gepka was also able to join us. It is always wonderful to welcome back past guests and this group was made up of Sue, Bob & Liz, Keith, Trajco, Pat and Jack (Jack getting into all things European has re-branded himself as Jacques for this trip) who had traveled with Self Drive Adventures before and Wayne & Jill and Jeannine & Rob who where joining one of our adventures for the first time.
Day 2 & 3 Touring Amsterdam and hitting the road
Day 2 of our adventure saw us exploring the vibrant city of Amsterdam, we headed off on a cruise of the canals which has to be one of the best ways to see the city. The captain of our boat, Jim, greeted us with a broad Australian accent! It turned out that Jim has lived in Parramatta for 5 years when he was younger, and the accent stuck. It’s a small world.
Our fantastic boat Captain Jim of the Aussie Accent Bob and Liz enjoying lunch on the canals
Mark did an excellent job of organising our boat – it was the finest boat we saw on the water during our 2-hour tour and with a delicious lunch on board. It was an excellent way to take in some of the history on the canals that were built during the ‘’Dutch Golden Age’’ in the 17th century and span over 100 km.
After our cruise we took a walking tour of the old city where some tasty Gouda was purchased to stock our cooler boxes for picnic lunches and happy hours. Exploring the old streets of Amsterdam it is hard not to miss the distinctive ‘’coffee – shops’’ that are filled with a more organic scent than roasted coffee with many patrons indulging in Amsterdam’s marijuana as well as the infamous ‘’Red Light District’’.
Enjoint Amsterdam! Shopping for some tasty Gouda The infamous '' Red Light District''
The next morning, we got off to early start catching a shuttle to the town of Zeist to pick up the Land Rovers. All the Land Rovers apart from Marks had their own names Grizzly, White Fox, Napoleon, Black Panther and Silver Fox. Later on I was to find out that Mark did indeed have a name for his Landy "Major Tom".
Picking up the Land Rovers
We broke up the driving by hiring some e-bikes to explore the town of Limburg. The e-bikes with their assisted electrical power made going up any hills easy. For those that preferred to stick with 4 wheels there was also a tour of the area by car. Limburg is one of the most beautiful parts of the Netherlands with its green rolling hills, amazing produce (our visit coincided with asparagus season) and country setting. Our first stop after collecting the bikes was a very quaint café with excellent food and a ice cream shop … of course we had to taste the ice cream. Below is short clip of our cycle.
We got caught in small thunderstorm mid-ride and found an archway of a traditional Limburg Farm house to give us cover. The cycle tour was a fantastic way to experience the beautiful country side.
Our accommodation for the evening was an old castle that has been converted into a bed and breakfast located just outside the historic city of Valkenburg. While waiting for our rooms we enjoyed dinner in the very pretty town of Valkenburg that has been at the centre of many sieges through it history.
Our castle accommodation outside of Valkenburg
Day 4 South Limburg to Colmar
The food on this adventure has been amazing and after a lovely breakfast at our castle accommodation with some amazing croissants. (Pat confided in that me she had a croissants quota for the trip but did not want to say what the quota was at this stage), we headed off for Colmar in the west of France. Our journey today would take us through 5 different countries and by 10am we had already been in 3 countries, The Netherlands, Germany and Belgium.
You just cant beat a good croissant for breakfast
As we travelled through the forested region of the Ardennes we stopped at the famed town if Bastonge that was a central point in of one the last German offensives in World War 2, the Battle of the Bulge. Today not much remains of the old town but an old Sherman Tank sits in the main town square as a reminder of the fighting that took place.
Old Sherman Tank in the Bastonge Town Square
After our lunch in Bastonge we visited an incredible deli and stocked up on some local specialists, pate, terrines, salami and locally cured hand to go with our Gouda cheese with our picnic lunches the next few days.
As we were crossing from Belgium into Luxembourg Mark our guide pointed out the red line in the middle of the road that acts as the border. Keith (a.k.a. Perky) asked why there were so many fuel stations in a row in this small town. “Fuel is 40 cents cheaper in Luxembourg’’, was the answer.
How many Australians does it take to refuel a Land Rover
Finally, we arrived in the medieval town of Colomar with its distinct timbered houses. Colomar is located inside the Alsace wine region and we enjoyed some of the regions exception Pinot blanc at small local restaurant that Mark had booked for us.
An evening stroll through Colomar with its distinct timbered houses
Read more about our European Adventure in Part 2 in this link