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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 –
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.