Three countries in one day

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August 6th 2009
Published: August 16th 2009
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Thursday 6th August
Three countries in one day
We have a long drive ahead of us today as we head north to Holland to stay with Cormac’s parents Wim and Diny for 3 nights.In doing so we shall leave France,pass through Belgium and traverse a good percentage of Holland before getting to Zwolle.The weather prospects look good for driving and the morning temperature is already in the mid 20’s!!One of the noticeable things about the weather in the couple of days we have been in Europe is the lack of wind which has been keeping the temperature very steady.
Google maps gave us two options of highways with tolls and highways without tolls.The BBA tour committe(of two)decided on the second option naturally enough!!The toll road option would have had us travelling on at least 7 separate toll roads within France and given that each of the toll roads we drove down to Le Harve cost €7.30 each, the cost of getting to the Belgian border would have been excessive!!
The actual distance to be travelled was going to be less on the non toll road to the tolled roads but the time estimated was going to be at least an hour longer.
We headed towards Abbeville on the N15 driving through the golden landscape of matured wheat ,barley etc that were now being harvested.As in the UK farmers here drive their vehicles slowly along the public roads and this is one of the disadvantages of not travelling on the toll roads where they are barred.However it is just a matter of patience and generally they are not going long distances.
After Abbeville the road took us towards Arras through many small villages seemingly devoid of locals.we looked for a roadside lunch time stop and found one that had parking well off the road,unusual for what we have seen so far.
As we finished our tailgate lunch of baguette,cheese and fruit we noticed a small whirlwind in the field adjacent to where we were stopped.This was quite weird because there was no real wind movement and yet this little whirlwind was suddenly in front of us.I didn’t have enough time to get the video camera out as the whirlwind picked up the cut hay and swirled it around like a miniature tornado.It was gone as quick as it started once it crossed the road 20 metres away from where we sat.
The landscape we have seen in France so far has pretty much been flat with the odd small hill but as we approached Lesquin we could see what looked like two large shaped pyramids ahead of us that as we got closer we could make out as slag heaps from some form of mining that had been part of the scene of this area in the past. We were clearly getting into the industrial part of France leaving behind the agricultural area we had been passing through for the last 4 or 5 hours.
The path ahead according to the book of AA maps we are using looked very confusing and in some way the holdup that we encountered outside Lille was an advantage and gave us time to study the map to try and figure out where the road we wanted actually went in the maze of lines on the page we were using.We had a little bit of excitement as we crawled along the road as a Boeing 737 flew low overhead heading for Lille airport!!
After about 15 minutes of crawling along the traffic suddenly picked up speed again as we passed a number of road workers standing in their fluro vests on the side of the highway.There had been no road works and we deduced that it was simply these guys in their fluro vests standing on the side of the road that caused the traffic to slow down to a crawl.!!
The short delay in our progress because of the traffic crawl obviously didn’t help as we found ourselves off the road we wanted to be on.The maze of main roads going in various directions had not helped.
However,Gent ,which was the city we wanted to pass close by was still appearing on the highway signs and so we continued on with that city in mind.Soon enough thereafter we were back on the A14 although we don’t really know how we got there.The traffic volume now had built back with the right hand lane full of trucks all making about 80 to 90kph.This made things a bit difficult for us as Gretchen prefers to drive in the slow lane but being mixed in with big trucks is not the best way to enjoy the drive.The trucks were from all over Europe and we guessed they were mostly heading for the port of Antwerp.
We crossed into Belgium with little fanfare.There was just an area on the highway where there had been buildings in years gone by where you would have had your passport checked.Now it was just an open border and beyond the wider section of road the only other way you would recognise that you had crossed into Belgium was that the road signs were in a different language than what we had been following.As we drove on a bit further the style of houses also changed reinforcing the fact that we were now in Belgium.
Then some more drama!!The traffic slowed again and in the distance we could see dark coloured smoke rising from the side of the road.The trucks that had all been in the right hand lane started to want to move out to the next lane.They were obviously getting information on their radios from drivers ahead of them.
Then we saw what the situation was with two young people looking distressed standing in the right hand lane with cellphones to the ears and 30 or so metres ahead of them was their late model car on fire with the flames coming from under the bonnet.We slowed to a crawl to get past the burning car and even from 10 or 15 metres away the heat inside RR for the seconds it took to pass was quite intense.Even with all the trucks on the road not one stopped to help by using their fire extinguishers that we are sure they would have been carrying.
The traffic fanned back out to the three lanes once we had got past the burning car and we were on our way again at full speed.We felt guilty in not being able to help the people with the burning car but we had nothing that we could have fought the fire with.
Near Antwerp the way ahead indicated that we would have to travel through a tunnel(not Gretchens favourite way of travel!!) just as the traffic flow slowed again.Suddenley a guy in a black Peugot appeared on our inside and was gesturing at us to go faster.It was of course impossible given the heavy traffic volume and we had vehicles ahead of us and no hope of overtaking them with traffic on our outside.Perhaps he had noticed our French number plate and didn’t like the French!!Gretchen gestulated back to try and show there was nothing she could do about going any faster.
We were through Belgium in no time at all and entering the Netherlands before we knew it and as with Belgium there was no obvious signs that we had crossed another border as even the houses and signage looked similar.
The road number did change however and we were now on the A1 heading for Breda with a need to change direction slightly onto the A27 and head for Amersfoort.
The land is so flat that it was impossible to work out how much progress we were making in relation to the horizon although we were able to tick off the kilometres from the distance markers on the side of the highway.The land looked very fertile and there was hardly anywhere with our eyesight that wasn’t being used either for growing crops or farming cows.
We give the Dutch 10 out of 10 for some ingenuity where a mechanical mannequin at the side of the road where a lane was closed for roadwork ,was waving ‘his’ hand to slow down the traffic.It reminded us of the mannequin that for years invited people into Philips Garage on Fraser Street in our home town of Tauranga to buy petrol.It certainly seemed to be the trick here!!!
The scenery didn’t change much as we continued further north on the A28 towards Zwolle.
We had Cormac’s instructions to findWim and Diny’s home and the first couple of parts of the instructions were easy to follow.However when we reached the ourskirts of the city on the ring road we knew we had travelled too far.Luckily there was a city map on the side of the road and we found the street we needed not that far back to travel to.As we pulled up in the opposite directions they expected us from Wim and Diny came out to greet us to their home.
We were pleased to be there after such a long drive of over 600 kilometres today and they made us feel at home with a very welcome cup of coffee.
With the temperature still hovering in the high 20’s we enjoyed dinner outside and then they took us on a bike ride around the town for a half hour or so.It had been years since either of us had been on bikes but after a little bit of wobbling as we got our balance we were away!!!
We had been looking forward to this stay on our adventure since we started to organise it when Wim and Diny were in NZ for the wedding of Leigh and Cormac and although it is only going to be for 3 nights we are sure we are going to have some fun while we renew our friendship with them and get to taste a bit of Dutch life.


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