The REMS visit to Holland

21 May 2012

This trip was the latest in an ad hoc series of visits.

Retired members at a train station

We had been to Geneva, Toulouse, Grenoble, Bath and Darmstadt and this time to the Dutch Resort of Noordwijk an Zee. Judging by the number of hotels and restaurants it is clearly a holiday resort. We were there the week after Easter so the Resort was quiet, windy, showery and decidedly out-of-season. 

Why should we have chosen this location and timing? Firstly it is close to ESTEC the European Space Agency’s technical facility which hosts their enormous environmental test facilities. So the first day we went to see the space museum, have an insider’s tour of the test facilities and lunch in their canteen. Scientific duty done we were then free to explore what else the area has to offer.

A short coach trip away is the famous Keukenhof gardens. Word had got out that we were coming and to our amazement found that they had given our name to a tulip. The site, which is only open from late March to May, is a show case for spring bulbs, predominantly tulips. 

The web site promises 4.5 million tulips of 100 varieties and 15 km of paths. After exploring the gardens and taking the obligatory boat trip we met our first challenge-how to find our own back to the hotel in Noordwijk by public transport. In the event there was a regular on site hotel shuttle coach back to Noordwijk.

The next day we took a long coach ride to cross the Netherlands to reach Venlo in Limburg on the border with Belgium, this year’s site for the 10 yearly horticultural spectacle “Floriade”. 

This event, besides being a “global spectacle” with a 100 countries participating, is used as an opportunity to develop what was an area of scrub woodland. A good impression of the scale of the 66 hectare site was had from the 1km long ride 35m above the show site in a cable car. The weather, away from the coast, was calm and sunny.

Saturday was the day of the big flower parade in Noordwijk and was the main decisive factor for the trip timing. The parade consists of decorated cars, trucks, buses and floats all elaborately covered in flowers, some with shivering nymphs, jazz bands etc. 

Several marching bands were dispersed between the floats. The whole parade moved at walking pace taking an hour to pass by our hotel on the way to Haarlem via the Keukenhof gardens. Decorated cars were then left parked along the boulevard till Sunday evening to provide the longest and most decorative traffic jam in Holland. Our planned trip to the Valkenburg am Meer narrow gauge railway was delayed by an hour.

After our trip on the steam driven narrow gauge railway we visited Zaanse Schans. The site provides at one location what you would expect to find in the Netherlands: working windmills, both water pumping and providing the power for grinding, in one case paint pigments, a cheese making shop and a clog making machine shop, several Dutch style old cottages surrounded by small canals and of course a sweet /savoury pancake café.

On our penultimate day we went to Amsterdam. Some went off to the Rijksmuseum or the Van Gogh museum, some went to the Opera (The Turk in Italy sung in Italian with Dutch subtitles!) some went to… The final challenge was to find our own way back to Noordwijk by public transport. 

Unfortunately the Dutch railway system was recovering from a train crash the previous day and there was an element of chaos at Amsterdam Railway Station. Fortunately trains were running to Leiden and then a service bus brought us back.

The next morning we left by plane, car or train with nobody lost and onlyminor hiccups. Where to next?