Thursday, July 31, 2008

Traffic Test

"Signs, signs, everywhere are signs. Don't do this, don't do that. Can't you read the signs?"

All of you older people should recognize those song lyrics. At any rate European countries are filled with traffic signs. And it isn't until you rent a car that you really notice how many there are and that you have no clue what some of them are.

We though we would help all you potential travelers out by having a traffic sign test, so number your paper from 1 to 26 and don't cheat! Some pictures have two signs in them so watch the numbers on the side. I started you with an easy one and yes some are blurry, it is hard taking pictures from a moving car.






14. another easy one
15. OK, this isn't a sign, but what do the shark teeth on the road mean?

The sign above comes before a place like this.


Garth and I sure wish we had asked about some of these signs before Rob and Anita dropped us off at the car rental. Below are a list of the answers:
1. This sign tells you where each lane will be going. Some of these can get quite complicated with 5 or 6 lanes. They also paint big arrows on the street.
2. No stopping on the right side of road. If there wasn't an arrow, it would mean both sides.
3. You are leaving Riel or any other city/village.
4. No parking on which ever side of the street the sign is on.
5. No bikes allowed.
6. Round-about ahead. There are tons of round-abouts and we decided we really liked them, the traffice keeps moving, no sitting at traffic lights.
7. Some cars will be turning left.
8. Do not enter
9. Bikes and vestpas can enter.
10. You are on the main road and there will be a road entering from the right but they have to yield to you.
11. There is parking to the right.
12. 50 km speed limit.
13. End of 30 km speed zone.
14. Bike path ends.
15. You are entering a main road that you have to yield to.
16. Bike path.
17. Beware of pedestrians.
18. You are on the main road and everyone yields to you.
19. No parking, you should have gotten this right, it is the second time I put it in. Garth and I were very complexed by this sign. We didn't know if it meant don't not enter or what.
20. The car on the right has the right of way. The road narrows to slow down traffic and only one car can get through at a time.
21. Bikes will be coming from both directions.
22. Dead end street.
23. Yield
24. One way street
25. Caution children at play.
26. Construction zone.
Add up your correct answers and see how you did.
0-8 correct you shouldn't drive in Europe
9-13 You would probably drive as well as Garth and I did here. No accidents but a couple of confusing times.
14-19 You must have driven in an European country before.
20-26 You are European or more likely you cheated!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Another day in Northern Holland

We took one last look Hindeloopen and headed north again though a few more small villages and then headed across the Afsluitdejk. It is a dike that was built so they could drain Ijsselmeer Lake but the enviormentalists had a fit so now there is just an expensive dike and road that connects one side of the Netherlands to the other. It is 30 km long and takes you right to Den Helder were you can catch the ferry to Texel, the largest of the northern islands.
Here is our little rental car that was perfect for us. We are in line to get on the ferry and were one of the last cars to make it on.
We crammed our car on with everyone else and then headed up stairs to use the restrooms before we got to Texel. The ferry ride isn't very long not even 20 minutes, just like every thing in Holland, nothing is too far away unless you get caught in traffic.
We headed right up the center of the island to De Cocksdrop. The sun was out but with the ocean breeze, the temperature was just right. We stopped at a little place for lunch and sat out front to eat but they had plastic along the side of their property and so there wasn't any air movement. Luckily the food was really good so it made up for the heat. We have really missed Anita and Jip explaining the menus to us and several times have been surprised with what we ended up getting. Like yesterday when I thought I was ordering a roastbeef sandwich and ended up with two pieces of bread with sliced roast beef on them and three fried eggs on top of that.

After lunch we made our way up to the lighthouse and went to have a look at the North Sea. Texel is famous for its white beaches and sand dunes and we were able to see them from here. Here is our first look at the North Sea. Everyone on this island was on bikes but just a few of us and the whole island catered to the bikers. It really would have been fun to ride around on, just like all of Holland. The country is made for bikes with all the bike paths and it is all flat - no hills! When we first got to the island, I wished we had rented bikes, but when I saw how far everything was and how hot the sun was, I was glad we had our air conditioned car. We stopped at another beach and had to climb all these stairs to the top of the sand dune to get to see the beach. I was anxious to take my shoes off and wade in the water but when we got to the top I changed my mind.
We assumed that we would see the beach just right there a few feet below us but, how wrong we were! We could bare even see the North Sea. We could see the trail the people were taking to get out to the beach but it was looked like was at least 2 miles away!
And what surprised me even more was that the people were hardly carrying anything with them. When we go to the beach we have the whole family loaded down with "stuff" and we only have to walk a few feet. These people were going on a trek and not taking anything! Our last shot from the top of the dike looking at all the bikes that had been left by the beach goers.
We didn't want to get back too late because Rob had to come pick us up so we decided to head home. The traffic was just crawling along as we got off the ferry. On the left side of the road was a maritime museum with a big ship and submarine out front. The guy a head of us was looking at it and at the same time stepped on the gas just when the guy in front of him slammed on his brakes. We had seen our first accident and it wasn't in Paris. Garth couldn't wait to tell Jip. The poor guy who hadn't been paying attention had demolished the front end of his car and the guy in front of him sure wasn't too happy, but he didn't have much damage.

I navigated us to the freeway, around Amsterdam and we were headed south to Eidhoven. We were quite proud of ourselves and our ability to get around, we did wish we had asked Rob and Anita the meaning of the traffic signs before we left though. I thought I had mapped out our route all on one freeway when I realized that what I thought said A35 was actually A25! Leave it to my bad eyes, we had gone out of our way about 60 km and were on the other side of the country, right back where we had been the day before! I have to hand it to Garth, he didn't even get mad at me or say a thing about the extra hour we had to spend in the car not to mention the expensive gas we had used. When we got back to Eindhoven, it was pouring and we had to return our car and move our luggage while trying not to get too wet. Not the best way to end a great trip.


Saturday night when we returned from France, we realized that Garth had only two days left and we didn't have any plans. Anita volunteered to have Preston stay with them and let Garth and I go off on our own. Anita and I spent the rest of the night looking into cheap flights to Sweden, Berlin, Rome, Hungary, and anywhere else we could, but with no luck on such short notice. Next we looked into trains but they were too expensive and took too much time. Next we looked into renting a car which also was difficult because everything is closed on Sundays. We finally did find a car, so the next morning Rob took us to Eindhoven and we picked up our Ford Fusion and headed to the northeast part of Holland or Friesland. Rob had only been there as a child and Anita had never been there so they weren't able to give us too much direction, just some names of towns to visit.

The lady at the airport gave us directions on which roads to take to get us to Friesland and we headed out. We figured that if Garth's Uncle Paul could rent a car and get around in Europe we could too. We decided not to rent the navigation system with the car because we didn't even know what address to put in it. I think Anita and Rob were a little worried if we would do alright and so were we. We got a little lost just heading out of Eindhoven but finally got headed in the right direction.

WARNING: if you don't want to look at lots of pictures of scenery, you may want to skip our next two blogs. I think Preston was really happy he didn't come on this trip; Garth and I loved it but I don't think it was a teenager's idea of fun.

While I was busily scanning the map for the names of the towns we had been given I lost track of where we were and I thought we were further than we were. For the next twenty minutes we tried to get back on the road we had been on before I freaked out.

Eventually, we made it to the first town Anita and Rob had suggested, Giethoorn, or Green Venice. The village is built around canals and it was so beautiful with all the houses and restaurants and bridges.
There were lots of Dutch tourists and people floating down the canals in their boats and it was really fun to watch and to be where there weren't any American tourist. It is so easy to get around in the Netherlands because almost everyone in the country speaks English.

From there we avoided the freeways and just stayed on the small roads and made our way towards the coast. All the land we drove over was the polders or reclaimed land and it is filled with canals and lakes. At only one lake did we see a couple of people water skiing though. Otherwise people were just quietly moving down the canals with some occasional barges, too.

Next we made our way to Stavoren which is on the coast of Ijsselmeer Lake (it used to be called the Zieder Zee before it was enclosed with a new dike), it is the large body of water that divides the Netherlands in the north and is all fresh water now.

From there we avoided the freeways and just stayed on the small roads and made our way towards the coast. All the land we drove over was the polders or reclaimed land and it is filled with canals and lakes. At only one lake did we see a couple of people water skiing though. Otherwise people were just quietly moving down the canals with some occasional barges, too.

Next we made our way to Stavoren which is on the coast of Ijsselmeer Lake (it used to be called the Zieder Zee before it was enclosed with a new dike), it is the large body of water that divides the Netherlands in the north and is all fresh water now.

The road went along the coast and I thought we would be able to look out on to the shore, silly me! There is a dike along the coast. Garth is standing at the top of the dike and if you look in the background you can see all the sheep that cover the dikes keeping the grass cut. We never realized that most of this small country is taken up with farms and animals. As far as our eyes could see was green with agriculture. We just thought it was funny to see the sheep all along the dikes with gates every once and a while to prevent them from wandering too far on the dike.
I had to go down and feel the water to see how cold it was because wouldn't you think it would be cold? Well it was actually pretty warm, at least much warmer than Havasupi and we swim in that.
On the road again...... just wanted you to see the difference in the dike on the left and the polder on the right. That is another small village off in the distance on the right.
We stopped at a little village called Balk and had lunch. The canal ran right through the middle of town so we just watched people float while we at. All the canals and lakes are connected so you can just go forever from one side of Friesland to the other.

We finally made it to our next destination - Hindeloopen and where we would spend the night. It is a very small village and but has a very large harbor with a lock to the canals that go through the it. As we walked around we saw a lock and the man in charge had just hung his wooden shoe out to be paid and then opened the lock for the boats. You can see the pole with the shoe tied to in on the cement.
A view looking down into the village.
We walked along the dike and the shops and got a recommendation for a bed and breakfast for the night. There were a lot of people here, most all on bikes, and I was wondering if we would be able to find a place to stay in a village so small, but it was no problem. Most people were camping or staying on their boats.
The bed and breakfast we stayed at was just behind the church and we got the "garden room" which of course didn't come with air conditioning or a toilet or shower in the room but it was great none the less. You had to "mind your head" when you walked up the steep stairs but we enjoyed it and there was a nice ocean breeze all night.

We walked every street in the village at least twice by the end of the night but we loved it. There were only about 6 restaurants in the town and one was a Mexican one called El Paso, we decided not too try it. We'll stick to Mexican food in Arizona or New Mexico - we're a little picky. We opted for just a huge bowl of ice cream and was so great.
Just more pictures from our walks.

We walked out on to a pier to get a different view of Hinderloopen and there some girls who were still jumping into the water off the pier and it was probably after 9:00. You definitely wouldn't have caught me doing that - way too cold!
We sat on the dike and watched a beautiful sunset. If finally went down after 10:00. I have a whole series of photos of the sun going down but I just gave you the first and the last.
Since the sun had set, we walked around the village again checking out how things looked in the dark. Don't we look good! There is nothing better than a vacation.
It didn't look as thought the water in the canals even moved, they were so still. Around every corner it was another idyllic site. So many place looked like the Van Gogh paintings of boats and harbors.
You can see that the bridges light up and reflect in the canals.
Finally, we decided it was time to return to our bed and breakfast since we were the only ones moving around in the village; quite a difference from a couple of hours ago. Most stores are closed on Sunday and all stores and restaurants close early every night. Stores close at 5 or 6 and most restaurants close their kitchens at 9:00. That caused some adjustment for us.