We arrived at Berkenhof Tropical Zoo at lunchtime so headed straight for the cafe where Bob had some traditional Dutch style kroquettes – meat ones. After lunch we pottered into the zoo, where the main open area had beautiful tropical birds flying around and heaps of huge colourful butterflies. Unfortunately I have no photos as they’re all on the big camera! Around the outside of this area there were a number of enclosures with other animals in – crocodiles, armadillos (one of which was trying to get jiggy, the lady kept running off!), capuchins, toucans.
The next area in the zoo had lots of fibreglass dinosaurs as well as tarantulas, geckos and lizards. So Baba sat on the floor and played with crunchy old leaves for about 20 minutes. Excellent.
The final area had an enormous children’s play area with sand and water – with fountains and sand and climbing things and pools to paddle in. And a lot of wet sandy kids running around. Baba will love that kind of thing when she’s a bit older! Sadly we have no photos on my phone, they’re all on the big camera so you’ll have to wait for them…
But yes, we were pretty impressed and had a lovely few hours of family time.
So we left the zoo at about 3 but still had some time before we were due at our BnB so we decided to head to the coast to see the sea – it’d been a while! So we went to a place called Westkapelle – the furthest West on the island you can get. We had a nice wander around the sea defences and across the beach, then back around to get an ice cream and have a sit with Baba on the grass.
The whole area reminded Bob of Canvey Island – where he grew up. The Dutch names, the sea defences, the views of the sea, and Westkapelle was a bit of a seaside resort type thing too.
Eventually we’d had enough of the wind so set off in search of our airbnb for the night. Unfortunately our Windows maps offline download for the Netherlands is out of date – we ended up driving around an oil refinery complex (we think it was that kind of thing – Bob was reminded of Canvey again) being told to take turnings that don’t exist. So after we got lost for a while we did a bit of manual map following and arrived at our night stop at about 6.30. On arrival we were greeted by Theo and his wife, and their cat (I’m allergic, so this wasn’t ideal!) – who immediately invited us to sit in the garden with them and have a beer. We had a chat about our trip and their bnb, and they told us of a couple of nice places we could go on the way to our ferry the following day (the sailing wasn’t until 10, so we had a day to kill and a 90 minute drive to kill). They suggested Veere and Zierikzee as nice places to go. Then they told us about a nice restaurant nearby, so we got our skates on (well actually, we got back in the van) and nipped off there – a five minute drive away – it was called Korenbeurs Culinair.
The restaurant was completely empty as we arrived, and we were concerned we were too late for dinner, but a guy who turned out to be the owner and chef quickly seated us and got a baby seat out for Baba, and after a little confusion about which language we spoke, he chatted to us in near perfect English. We chose a Thai chicken skewer and a jäegerschnitzel, and a couple of non-alcoholic beers, and off the chef went to prepare our meals. We weren’t disappointed. The Thai chicken was outstanding -particularly the sauce and the veg. The schnitzel was also very tasty, and they were beautifully presented with some very nice chips. As we ate, we tried to keep Baba entertained and chatted with the chef chap about everything and anything. He sources all his ingredients as locally as he can, and changes his menu every couple of months to new stuff he’s tried out and experimented with. He showed us his (raw, packaged!) beef that he serves, it looked fantastic, and talked to us about some of his cooking experience – apparently in a sushi place! Then he decided we needed a beer for the road and brought us a (fairly) local beer to share (on the house) which was excellent. Eventually we decided it was time to put the baby to bed, so we paid our bill (turns out the Netherlands doesn’t take Mastercard, so we had to go to a cash machine!) said out thank yous and goodbyes and headed back to the bnb after what was definitely one of the culinary highlights of our trip.
Back to the bnb we got Baba to sleep very quickly then did a bit of internetting before bed – we slept very well in comfy beds. The place was generally great with the minor let downs of having an (unadvertised) cat – although not in our room, as I didn’t suffer with an allergy much! – and not having an en suite (the bathroom was upstairs).
The next morning Bob and Baba had a bath in the enormous corner whirlpool bath upstairs then I had a shower and we had a lovely breakfast served by Theo downstairs. The bread and croissants were warm, and the jam was zingy and made by neighbours. Baba ate lots of muesli-and-fruit bread, and a bit of egg, then we packed up for our last day in Europe, said our goodbyes and thanks, and got on our way again.
On the way up to Veere we were a bit confused to drive through an underpass to see a mast of a boat smoothly sailing over the top of us – turns out it was an aqueduct – the Dampoorte Aqueduct – where the road goes under the canal. Weird.
Veere itself, we had been told by our hosts, was supposed to be very beautiful. And while it was a pretty little village, we didn’t really feel that it was worth waking the baby to have a look around. Cute houses, a nice harbour and sea views, but nothing totally spectacular, so we headed on over to Zierikzee, which is also supposed to be a nice town.
Zierikzee is on another island, so our route took us across some bridges, and apparently next to the most enormous tidal barrier you’ve ever seen – apparently considered one of the 7 wonders of the modern world by civil engineers! The plan is to defend a massive chunk of land from flooding by blocking the gap between islands with a barrier – and there are two of them. They really are big barriers.
Biiiig tidal barrier
We reached Zierikzee and did a lap in the car to see which bits might be good and where we could park. Just as we found the sort of area we might like to stop in, I had a look at my phone and saw a text message… from our hosts at the bnb the night before… asking if we had their keys. Which were in Bob’s pocket. So round we turned and set off back to where we started the day!
We got back about 35 minutes later, and on the way, we called by the restaurant we’d had dinner at the night before to see if they were open for lunch – sadly not.
We dropped the keys off then came back out of town, checking the restaurant again – still shut – so we went to drive off again… only to see the restaurant owner’s van in the rear view mirror! So we turned around again and went in for lunch!
Having seen the spectacular beef the night before, treating ourselves to a steak was the only option! Even though it felt a bit odd at lunchtime. After our explanation of why we’d come back for lunch, our chef (who’s name we never did catch!) made our drinks – an excellent coffee for Bob and a lovely hot chocolate for me – then headed into the kitchen to make our food. Baba had the restaurant to herself again and played on the floor with some toys and generally made mischief.
When our food came out, it turned out that we’d been served the chateaubriand cut – arguably the best you can get! – which the chef cut the string off in front of us – it needs to be tied together to cook as it’s so beautifully soft that it falls apart if it’s not… it was served with mushrooms cooked in a chilli, chocolate and coffee sauce which were stunning. Every mouthful was delicious, and on noticing we’d eaten all our mushrooms, he popped off to cook up a fresh batch to top us up! We remarked that it was odd eating such a fantastic dish in the daylight without wine, and he disappeared to return with two tiny glasses of beautiful red syrah for us – amazing.
During our meal, he even did a bit of looking after Baba, and comforting her when she fell off the unstable object she’d climbed, and explained to us that he had a load of first aid responder stuff. Crazy.
After we complimented the wine, we were promptly brought a bottle as a gift!
After Bob had another coffee we prepared to make a move – we were told of a place nearby with a Napoleonic fort we could see – thanking the chef again profusely, paying the bill and leaving a large tip!
Off we headed to the Napoleonic fort near Ritthem, passing the biggest pile of new cars I’ve ever seen on the way (seriously, all new Fords in Europe must pass through that car park!), and after failing to find it in the village we headed to the coast and parked up in a car park on the water front, assuming it couldn’t be far away.
Turned out it was a good walk around the headland and we could’ve parked somewhere far more sensible. Oh well, we’ll know for next time…..! Still it was an interesting wander next to a very busy shipping lane. We didn’t actually go into the fort itself, but we did find it, walked up to it, saw it was closed and came back again! Good to stretch the legs. Even better for Bob who had to run back when we realised Baba had launched her dummy out of the pushchair en route!
Then it was back in the car to find out ferry to take us back to the UK. The journey was interesting again – back over the flood defence bridges and then down towards Rotterdam and back out to the coast.
The smell of oil refinery was pretty overwhelming as we came towards the ferry port – and sure enough there was the ‘Shell’ sign! Our final journey in mainland Europe included the satnav insisting we should keep left, when it clearly meant right (fortunately we ignored it and followed the signs), seeing fields and fields of onions, and being told to take the 8th exit at a roundabout. Them crazy Netherlanders with their 8 exit roundabouts!
Following signs to Engeland at the ferry port we soon found ourselves in the town of the Hoek v Holland. Which is pretty nasty. Like most ferry ports, I guess. Lots of very small houses and run down looking shops. We attempted to find a shop to buy some bits but decided we’d be better off waiting until we were in England again! So back in the car we arrived at the ferry port to be told that we could board in only 15 mins – despite arriving hours before our scheduled departure.
As a final treat to ourselves for the end of our adventure, Bob talked me into getting a posh cabin (a Captain’s Cabin, no less) for the journey. We were expecting the photos to be as true-to-reality as they had been for the Portsmouth-Caen and Ancona-Split crossings… but they weren’t, the cabin was beautiful -with plenty if room for the cot for Baba and a lovely shiny new bathroom, and a free mini bar! We cracked open a bottle of prosecco (even though neither of us are big fans – it felt like the thing to do!!) and settled into our cabin and had a play with Baba before going for a quick explore of the boat and a few slices of pizza (and a pear for Baba) in the lovely and not-horrendously-priced restaurant.
We also managed to have a wander on the sun deck, where you could see the sun setting to the west from the back of the boat, before heading back to the cabin to attempt to get Baba to go to sleep. That didn’t work terribly well, but on the flip side she was awake to see us depart, the whole boat turning 180 degrees, so that our window – right at the front of the ship – pointed North West, as we set sail into the beautiful sun set and (slowly) chased the sun across the water. It was really quite beautiful. Certainly considering it was a car ferry! I conceded that the posh cabin had been worth the extra cash.
Bob and I played cards and drank wine before bed, after Baba finally gave up and went to sleep. It was lovely. Even though he beat me.
So after a pretty lousy nights sleep (Baba decided she would have a good cry for no particular reason at about 1am so ended up in bed with us) – and Bob getting us up at 4.30 instead of 5.30 because of the hour time difference with the UK (we were due to disembark at 6.30), we had a few bits of breakfast on board in the cafe and got onto the lovely British roads (Bob has thus far remembered to drive on the left) and straight into 7.30am weekday Essex traffic. Fabulous! Ahhhh Blighty, we’ve missed you. A bit.