90. What do they do in Groningen when it rains?

They say Holland is the cycling capital of the world – and Groningen is the cycling capital of Holland. Every time we have been there to visit our son John we have seen nothing but blue skies and sunshine.  When we arrived on Friday it was pouring down and I wondered how that would affect the city where just about every journey seems to be taken on a bike. The answer was simple – they still ride everywhere and just use an umbrella!

In Groningen cycling is a way of life and they cycle in their ordinary clothes; you never see lycra, helmets or anything to suggest that it is a dangerous sport reserved only for the fit and young. It’s the way you travel in the city and if it rains you just put up your brolly.

Bikes in Groningen often have a special holder just for the brolly

We left Hull on Thursday to take the overnight ferry to Rotterdam with a plan. Spend a couple of days with my son John and his wife Carolina in Groningen (where he works at the university) and then on Monday I will take Joy to Amsterdam airport so that she can catch a flight back to Manchester. I will then continue south to Venosc in the French Alps where I will meet up with Nick from the Late Bay Forum for a few days skiing. Joy hates the very idea of sliding about in the snow and is even less drawn to the pleasures of camping in the Alps in January. Even with electrical hook up and hot water bottles.

Because she is coming back by air we weren’t able to bring Leo along on this trip. He has gone to stay with a lady who loves dogs and so has a little sideline dog sitting. For £18 a day he gets two walks daily and he sleeps in the lady’s bedroom. So hopefully he’ll be happier than he was when we put him in kennels for a week.

Taking Leo to his new home (until Monday). He is extremely attached to his own bed so naturally that went too. He looks a bit anxious but apparently he settled very quickly

John is going to Amsterdam later in the year in a career move and that makes it easier for him to get home and also gives us a whole new city to visit. But we will miss our trips to Groningen because it is one of the nicest cities I have ever been to. As a great place to live it’s almost on a level with Manchester. The first thing you notice about the people is that they are all very polite, very friendly and very tall. Most men are about seven feet and the women are not much less. There is a theory about this. Northern Holland is all reclaimed land and the grass is full of nutrients. Therefore the cows give especially good milk, the locals eat loads of dairy this has pushed up the average height. Apparently the tall men value taller partners and so the offspring get taller and taller. Joy reckons that short women must struggle to get married but to be honest there aren’t any, really.

John told his Japanese  mate who runs the cafe below his flat that he was going to move to Amsterdam. The guy said people there were not so ‘happy’ as they are in Groningen, and he has lived here for 30 years, so he knows. I wondered if people here are happy because they are all so polite to each other or if they are polite and that makes them happy. Or maybe it’s just because they’re all so tall?

On previous trips I have stayed in the Sick Bay at an attractive municipal site with electrical hook up called the Stadtspark. This time I tried a free campsite at a Park and Ride called Kardinger. No hookup but it’s secure and it’s free. I stay in the van ( to keep it secure) and Joy stays with John in his flat. The first night was wet so relatively warm. Last night it was dry and minus five degrees but with my hottie and my new U.N. Arctic sleeping bag I was fine. The local IPA with John and his uni mates also helped, no doubt.

Outside the pub where we met John’s friends. One of them was celebrating her birthday and things got a bit hazy
On the way home Carolina spotted a nice little table left at a rubbish collection point. We took it and it’s now the shoe rack outside John’s flat
The iconic Martini Tower – go up 370 steps and you can see the sea from the top. This is the third tower built in 1469 ; the first two fell down .
The steps inside the Martini Tower are steep and challenging . . .
. . . very similar to the ones leading up to John’s flat


So tomorrow it’s an early start to take Joy to the airport and then I’m on my own for the 600 miles through the Vosges and Jura mountains down to the Alps. Hope there’s snow when I get there but not too much en route. Got my snow socks ready all the same . . .

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. Hi Nick I’ve got my fingers crossed for you. Good news and bad news. The good is that there is loads of snow. The bad is that the lady who runs the campsite and cooks amazing dinners in the evening has had an accident and so can’t do the dinners. Gutted as she’s a great cook and really good fun. Her husband is running the site but he’s rather a miserable old git. Looking forward to seeing you!

      1. I’m going to be a bit busy in 2018 and next year and I don’t have a T5 either 🙂
        Check out the blog I recently set up which I have left a link to via my comment here for more if interested or waiting for the chef!

        1. Wow – you’ve got a blog. Sounds fascinating. I will go into it at my first opportunity. Will get back to you.

  2. Bon jour,

    Good to read your adventures and that you’re not stuck in a snow drift! Hopefully Nicktuft will rendezvous soon :). Not sure what the temp is there, but reading that you have the blue gas bottles. They don’t want to work if it gets too cold – we found this out stuck on a Col in Switzerland one time! We wrapped ours in towels etc to try and stop it getting too cold. :). Bon Voyage, have a fab time xx

    1. Thanks a lot for the tip about the gas – I didn’t know that and no doubt would have found out at the worst possible moment. Yes I’m looking forward to seeing Nick soon and I just hope he makes it with no problems. See you at Techenders!

      1. No problem. We found out the hard way! We were living in the van through winter and it was a bit cold so sometimes we couldn’t boil the kettle first thing when it was freezing outside!! The people we met who stayed in vans through winter used propane as it functions better in colder weather.

        Have a fab time, you could do a flask just in case 😉 x

        1. Thanks, must say I’ve picked up quite a few tips from you and your travels over the years. If you ever decide to write a blog let me know!

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