2020 was due to be our 10th consecutive trip to The Netherlands. Unfortunately, world events and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has put a stop to that. Rather than dwell on what might have been, I thought I’d take the opportunity to look back at our previous trips to The Netherlands.
This is part 2, looking at our 2012 trip. You can find part 1 here, looking at 1989-2011.
2012 was our first time driving over to The Netherlands with our bikes and our first time at Duinrell. We’d decided there was more of the country we wanted to see and thought staying at a holiday park would be the best option. Originally, we started by looking at Center Parcs, but ruled it out because of the cost (as many do). While looking for alternatives, we stumbled across Duinrell, which looked amazing and relatively cheap, so we decided to go there.
We timed our trip for the start of September, just after the school holidays. The kids hadn’t started school yet, so we had the luxury of being able to travel outside of the peak season. My partner isn’t great with boats, so we decided to take the tunnel over to France, then drive up to The Netherlands. We have family we can stay with in the south east, so it made sense to do this.
It’s around a 3-4 hour drive from Calais to Duinrell along relatively good roads. It’s certainly a much easier drive than the equivalent in the UK. It can get a little busy around Antwerp and confusing navigating the ring road. I remember scrabbling for Euros more than once after going the wrong way round!
We arrived at Duinrell and was pleasantly surprised by what we found. Now, I’ve already written quite a bit about Duinrell, particularly in this post, so I’ll avoid going over old ground too much. While being a large holiday park and theme park, Duinrell felt surprising relaxed and welcoming.
Our kids were pretty young at this point, the eldest was 3 and the youngest 9 months, so it was a bit limited what activities they could do in the theme park. There where a few rides and things our eldest could do, though it’s definitely geared towards older children.
We’d brought our bikes with us, though we didn’t bring anything for our youngest to ride in, thinking we’d hire something when we got there. We had hoped we could just hire a trailer, though the mounts wouldn’t fit our bike, so we ended up hiring a bike as well. As I was riding with our eldest attached to my bike with a Trail-Gator, it meant my partner had to ride the hire bike with the trailer.
The hire bike was one of a Batavus Personal Bikes that are standard at Duinrell. My partner found it a bit of struggle to ride, it was probably a little too high and with just a pedal brake, so it meant starting off was tricky, particularly with the trailer attached.
Pedal brakes are quite popular on Dutch bikes, due them leaving your hands free (usually to carry an umbrella, some shopping or maybe a child!) and being low maintenance, but they’re not that common in the UK and can be difficult to get used to. They do have a wider selection of bikes at Duinrell now, some with cable brakes too.
Wassenaar, where Duinrell it situated is a pretty good place to experience what cycling in The Netherlands is like. While there’s certainly places with better cycling infrastructure, you can go out of Duinrell, cycle in any direction and experience high quality cycle routes.
While this wasn’t our first time cycling in The Netherlands, it was the first time we’d done it by ourselves, with our own bikes. We were really impressed with how safe and pleasant cycling in the area was. It was also much quieter than where we’d cycled previously, in Amsterdam, which made it a little easier.
We used the bikes to take a day trip to the seaside at Scheveningen. We’d been here once before in 2011 and fancied going back there on the bikes. We didn’t know about the route through the dunes at this point or were really aware there was a much closer beach in Wassenaar, so we took the route through the back streets, going past many of the massive houses and embassies in the area.
Now, my partner is a little obsessed with Dick Bruna. This isn’t a recent thing, it goes back to her childhood. She still has many of his books from when she was young, which we read to our kids. This meant a trip to Utrecht to visit the Miffy Museum.
Now, this was our first time in Utrecht and to be honest, we didn’t know a lot about the place at this point. We didn’t know anything about the amazing work being done to provide better cycling infrastructure in the city, massively increase the amount of cycle parking, build a walking/cycling bridge on top of a school or reinstate the city moat after it was converted into a motorway. That was all to come.
I can’t really remember how we got to Utrecht, though I suspect we probably drove. I remember arriving there though and thinking there did seem to be a lot of building work going on. We headed for the Miffy Museum, where we spent most of the day. It was a while ago now, so I can’t really remember a lot, but we came away thinking there was less in the museum than we’d hoped.
After the museum, we went to explore the centre of Utrecht, taking in the Dom Tower, wandering along the canals and stopping for an ice cream. I don’t think we got beyond the medieval centre during this visit. That would come a few years later, when we stayed for a week in the city. Though the impression we got was of a very compact and walkable city and somewhere we’d like to return to.
While at Duinrell, we made our first visit to the miniature park/model village Madurodam. Like many of the places nearby, this is somewhere we’d end up returning quite a few times, bringing friends and family with us.
Madurodam is situated on the outskirts of The Hague in Scheveningen. Riding from Duinrell, it’s not too far away and you can follow routes to the beach and choose between road or traffic free routes.
It originally opened in 1952 and is made up of The Netherlands in miniature, with all the landmark buildings you’d expect to see, plus more. It’s quite interactive and there’s plenty to keep kids busy all day.
We had some rainy days during our stay in 2012. One of those days we spent in Leiden, again somewhere we’d end up returning to many times. On this day with the bad weather, it seemed a little drab and we certainly didn’t appreciate it as much as we should have.
This has been rectified since in the subsequent visits we’ve had. Leiden is now somewhere we look forward to going, particularly with the very pleasant ride there past Valkenburgse Meer.
Another of those rainy days we spent at the Louwman Museum. This has a fantastic collection of historic cars going back to the very early days of the internal combustion engine. There’s so much to see, from the very first Benz to a collection of Elvis’ cars.
While it might not be for everyone, we really enjoyed the Louwman Museum, though I do quite like looking at old cars. It’s perfect for a rainy day and it’s not too far from Duinrell.
Soon, it was the end of the week and the end of our first time at Duinrell. We’d had a fantastic time during our stay and felt like we’d managed to cram in a lot, even with the kids being very small at this point. We also got to experience our first taste of cycling around Duinrell and in the wider area, which we really enjoyed.
While we got more of a taste of The Netherlands on this trip, there was clearly more we wanted to see. We’d end up coming back in May the following year and then every subsequent year and still, there was more we wanted to experience.