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.
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.
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.
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 . . .