It wasn't even a question that I needed to think about… "Booked a week in Zeeland… Are you joining us, please?" Ah, YES! This is a place I've wanted to go in the Netherlands for years! The van Dam/van den Boomen family are my family away from home… gorgeous Rita (my mother's first cousin - and amazingly like her in many ways), her lovely husband Hendrik (also reminds me a lot of my father - especially their exasperation to many things their wives do! (all in love!)), Sophie (the gorgeous 12yo daughter) and Lara (the crazy, cute 11yo daughter) have taken me and my friends in (5 so far over the years) whenever I've come to the Netherlands. They are my European lifesavers and I love them all dearly! Rita and the family have been going to Zeeland for their camping trips for years and years, and I've heard 'Oh, it's so lovely and relaxing and beautiful' more times than I can remember… but finally I got the chance to go!
We packed the night before, like all good camping trips. We were on our way by 8.30am, and off into the rather warm heat of the Dutch summer in a car. The 3 hours was entertaining to say the least! I'd forgotten what it was like to travel with young kids on a long drive: constant singing, arguing over who the dog sits with and general annoying of parents! Rather amusing for me, and passed the time well.
Zeeland is an area with a number of islands, on the west coast of the Netherlands where it meets the Belgian border (near Antwerp and Gent). We were off to a caravan park near to a town called Terneuzen, the park only opened in April this year, so was still in it's set up phase. As we arrived before the 'check-in' time, we decided to go to a beach near a town called Cadzand for a nice seaside adventure. We had a quick cold drink at a café, before the girls all but dragged us to the beach wanting to look for Haaientanden - Shark Teeth. The area is apparently famous for them and sure enough, within about 2 minutes, Sophie came running up with one… tiny as it was. I was lucky enough to find 3… a nice claim to fame for such a new haaientanden searcher! They are tiny and you can only be sure you have one if it's shiny, really hard and black… many just look like shells, until you try and snap them. But we had a lovely afternoon and such fun looking for the teeth and tiny 'zeeëgel' - sea urchins.
Back at the caravan park, we had an hour wait in line for everyone who was checking in. They had a crazy set up there, where people can only check in on Mondays or Fridays … the whole caravan park was basically checking in (though, it turned out it was worse just an hour later, when a family friend lined up for 3 hours in the hot sun, just to check in). Once checked in we made our way to what we ended up calling 'the Smurf Village'… the caravans were blue with white trim and red hats. Very cute! The rest of the first day went by very lazily - unpacking, reading and swimming filled! The park was surrounded by a water inlet/river that had a number of pool areas roped off for guests to swim in. Lots of kids there playing on the water slides in the edge of the river.
I was up the next morning at 6.45, to go for a 7am swim in the river area. I had told the family I would be doing it… and my stubbornness required it. There was no-one around except one man going for a morning stroll to see the beautiful river at sunrise. I got in, all confident, me being that morning-swimmer every wants to be, but is too scared of the water. I myself had expected the water to be really cold, but it was the opposite. There was even steam rising off it in the cold morning air. From the steps in the middle, I swam to one end, just as the man, my sole audience member, was walking past the pool. I started a perfect fast freestyle - heedless to the fact I hadn't swam in years - and was awesome! I did about 15 strokes in perfect form and looked up to see the end near… only it wasn't the end - it was the side, and the man was about 3 metres away from me - giggling to himself about this stupid woman who'd just done a lovely quarter circle - well I'm sure he would have if I had stuck around… instead I stuck my head down and evened myself up to finish a straight… albeit, very slow rest of the lap. Can't say that was the most embarrassing moment of my life, but definitely something that I felt stupid about. The next ten laps were much better… and I found I had to go much slower than planned. Why do we do that to ourselves - think we can do something we haven't done in years (I hadn't even done proper exercise in about two months) and imagine we're going to be amazing?! I finished off the morning swim with a few photos in the pool - yes, I have a water proof camera, and of the river in the beautiful morning light and went back for breakfast. At least I could say I'd done it - once, and was proud of that.
The second and third days were spent at beaches around the area, as well as the river pools at the caravan park. Such a lovely and relaxing environment. And surprisingly quiet for a place packed to bursting with children. The lovely tall trees gave shade on the warm days and allowed us to cook and eat outside with a little from the sun. One of the amazing things I saw on the second day was a boat out in the huge canal that the beaches were on… only it wasn't a boat it was a crane… an enormous crane, floating. Of course, me being me and also not from the Netherlands, marvelled at the science of how that's possible… my family just laughed and said yeah that's something we see all the time.
The fourth day we spent in Sluis, a picturesque village on the Belgian border. There we sat around having a beautiful lunch, watched the tourists go in and out of the huge windmill in the centre of town and basically spent the day away being tourists. That night, the last night of our trip, Rita and I went to see the glorious sunset… the area was so beautiful and the sunset was perfect looking over the river, bull rushes and peaking through the clouds.
Our final day was spent in a water park in Terneuzen. Hendrik, along with the girls, their two friends and I went to the park, while Rita and Rian (the other mother) went through the town for lunch. We spent 3 hours there going up and down the water slide… until I really injured my foot by hitting the bottom and Sophie landed on my arm (yes, I had two lovely bruises the next day along with a limp, to add to my cut up toes and legs where I'd hit barnacles at the beach or river in the previous days - I felt very in the wars). But it was a fun day and even with us all being exhausted for the 3 hour drive home, it was a perfect holiday of nothing but relaxing, reading, swimming and sun bathing… How could a week of that be nothing but just what anyone needs?