75. Groningen – the ‘happy bubble’.

My son John works at Groningen University, in northern Holland, and we take the Sick Bay across to see him from time to time. He says that he worries about the youngsters in that city because they live in a bubble of happiness rather like a Dutch Brigadoon. How will they cope if ever they leave and have to face the harsh realities of the real world? He has his tongue firmly in his cheek but I can see what he means. Groningen is a beautiful medieval city, crisscrossed by canals with peaceful parks, great bars and restaurants and, it seems, 99.9% of all journeys are made by bike. Unsurprisingly the people are very friendly, courteous and so laid back as to be nearly horizontal. I would fear for them if ever they found themselves in one of our dour northern towns with their suspicious, xenophobic inhabitants. (Editor’s note – this does not include Manchester where they would feel very much at home!)

We arrived just in time for the ‘King’s Day’ celebrations, last Thursday, when they celebrate the king’s birthday with a bank holiday and the whole city is engulfed in a 24 hour party. As you’d expect, this is the king’s actual birthday, not some official date decreed by the government, and when he is succeeded it will be a different date. Everybody wears orange and has their face painted in the Dutch colours. It is particularly popular with the young and the occasion has not been hijacked by the right wing and in fact does not appear to be unduly patriotic or nationalistic, just fun.

Portraits of the king and queen who are universally popular. Normally a staunch republican, I was happy to enter into the spirit of the day.

This was the first time we have taken Leo on the Hull – Rotterdam ferry and he seemed to cope pretty well. When you arrive at check in they tell you to put on your hazard lights so that the parking crew recognise you and park you on the deck near the kennels. There is a little dog walking area which you can use at any time before the ship sets sail at 8-20pm every day. After that you can see him at 10pm and then he is on his own until you disembark at about 8am the next morning. A long time to go without a pee so you see everyone with a dog at the first patch of grass after driving off the ship. Leo must have been busting and set a world record with an effort that lasted at least five minutes.

On board dog walking area
12 hours in a cage – what would you wanna do soon as you got out?







Groningen is ultra cycle friendly but the downside to that is that there is nowhere to park a car for longer than two hours, unless you have a specific permit. So I can’t just park the Sick Bay overnight anywhere near John’s flat. However as it was King’s Day, John’s landlord had closed his florist shop below and so gave his permitted space to me.

John’s landlord is a friendly and obliging chap and let me keep the Sick Bay just below the flat, outside his florist shop
The best fish and chips in the world are available every day in Groningen market.
It’s King’s Day and everyone wears something orange. Some are more enthusiastic than others
Every corner had a band – mostly playing old 60’s covers. Brilliant.









The rules about taking your dog to Europe have eased recently but you still need to ensure they have a passport, are vaccinated against rabies and during a window of not less than 120 hours but more than 24 from departure, you need to take him to a vet who will check his general health. When we first started taking Leo abroad this was about 60 or 70 euros but this has now reduced to about 20 euros.

Friendly, laid back folks. We were only with our vet for 5 minutes but he told us that his husband has a regular DIY show on TV. The assistant has a son learning English in Lincoln.
You can’t take a picture anywhere in this beautiful city without a canal in the background or a cyclist in the way

After King’s Day the florist was open again and I had to move the Sick Bay to a campsite about half an hour’s walk from the city centre. Set in attractive parkland, the Stadspark, this came to about 24€ with EHU and dog. The guy who ran it (yes, you’ve guessed it) was friendly and obliging and he never referred to Groningen – it was always ‘our City’, which pretty much reflected how they all seem to feel about the place. There were a few wild campers just outside the site and they were free to stay there as long as they didn’t put out chairs or awnings etc.

This van, called the Holy Cow, was one of the more exotic wild campers just outside the campsite.  I loved the grass bumpers.

John went to Groningen initially purely for career advancement and this has worked out very well for him. However his wife Carolina continues to work and live in their family home in Manchester, so they have both made sacrifices. Nonetheless they see each other quite a lot as he gets lots of holiday and she also has an international career. He has settled well into local life, he plays football, cycles a lot and even talks about taking out Dutch citizenship. Like everyone he wonders how Brexit will end up and whether that will interfere with his plans. In the meantime he is enjoying all that the city has to offer – and Joy and I are taking every opportunity to visit a European jewel that we would never otherwise have considered as a holiday destination.

The lady on John’s right is a university colleague, Ceren, who we met in the ‘Bike Cafe’ for a coffee (and a beer). The bike just behind John  is the actual bike depicted in the photo above his head.

If you go to the loo at the Bike cafe you need to know the difference . . .






This lady looked at me a bit quizzically until I explained that you rarely see three on a bike in the UK. She said that for her it was a ‘second car’.
Groningen University – as you’d expect, a lovely building and loads of bikes.
Half an hour’s walk from the city centre, the campsite at Stadspark
This is the scene you wake up to. Can’t complain.
The gulls fill their boots as the fish market closes

A cycling friend of mine told me had ridden across a 3 mile causeway in northern Holland while riding to Scandinavia. The sat nav does not take you that way normally but we decided to go have a look on the way back so set it for Alkmaar. To be honest the detour was not really worth it as the causeway is a bit tedious and the surrounding countryside is dull, even with the fields of tulips in full bloom. There is a viewing area halfway across but the only pic I took was of the amazing old American car parked near us with its very proud owner. We are planning to visit Cuba fairly soon and I am looking forward to seeing lots of these fascinating relics –

In a service station cafe this is a bin for used cups etc. I mistakenly thought it was just for recycling old shoes. Still, made Joy laugh!

Taking the dog back through the Eurotunnel at Calais is dead easy because there are massive signs telling you exactly where to go and what to do. At the Rotterdam port, however, it is all a closely guarded secret but eventually we sussed that you have to go to the P & O office and check him in there, not at the check-in area. So after getting told rather curtly that the Sick Bay was not a car and that in future we have to pay motorhome rates we found another stroppy lady who checked in Leo. She then slapped two dog biscuits onto the counter without a word. Leo did enjoy them later though.

This is where you have to be if you want to check in a dog at Rotterdam. You have to be psychic though as there is not a single sign to tell you this
They park you conveniently in front of the kennels on the car deck, (the open door in the corner)
Included in the £364 fare you get a cabin – compact and bijou. For about £56 you can eat at an excellent buffet and get breakfast as well. There is also  an  a la carte restaurant – about the same price with wine. (But book early if the ship is full!)
At last! After a night in a cage Leo gets the first patch of grass. The minis are all on their way to a convention in Liverpool. They had to push the red one out the way so we could get out. Kindred spirits!
From the balcony of his flat, John took a pic of the Sick Bay getting an admiring glance from a passing cyclist







About Basil John Mandy

A sixty odd year old born in Ladysmith, South Africa. Manchester United supporter and a great fan of the city in general. I worked for Kelloggs since 1982, apart from a year's sabbatical that I took to ride a bicycle to South Africa. I retired at the end of 2015 and have 2 grandsons, Lenny and Ellis. And now I've got a granddaughter as well - Dottie Joy!!


  1. You’ll have to take bikes next time you visit with a little basket on the front for Leo, then the half hour walk from the campsite becomes a 10 min ride.

  2. Good thinking Bob – I should have thought of that! Hope your spotlights are working well after your efforts at TE

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