Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Teardrops for Bedtime; TRAVEL

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Teardrops for Bedtime; TRAVEL

Article excerpt


Only in camping-crazy Holland would you sleep in a balloon strapped to a tree. And it's perfect for keeping the kids entertained, Nigel Tisdall reports

IT'S a brave dad who volunteers to take four 11-year-old girls camping in Holland. A casual remark that it might make a fun birthday treat for my daughter, Lilia, was seized upon with a preteen zeal normally reserved for the latest issue of Sugar or visits to The Gap. Standing on Liverpool Street station with a posse of junior backpackers, I wasn't that worried about the logistical challenge of getting to a remote campsite somewhere in Gelderland using a combination of four trains, one ferry and an awful lot of Maltesers.

A bigger problem was the bizarre questions I was supposed to have answers for. Who is your favourite character in Dawson's Creek? Do they speak double-Dutch? Will there be a mirror in the washblock?

In my backpacking days, sailing from Harwich to the Hook of Holland was a rite of passage in which half the passengers got seasick while the others got drinking-sick. Now you zoom across the North Sea on the world's largest fast ferry, a high-speed shoebox packed with fast-food outlets. Naturally, the girls headed straight for the bar, plonking their mini-rucksacks down between the giant video screen and the dance floor. After driving the DJ nuts with requests for SClub7, it was interesting how his microphone suddenly became "broken".

Waiting for the train to Rotterdam, we enchanted our fellow passengers with games of charades on the station platform (American Beauty, The Naked Chef).

When the daughters of Islington moved onto Ali G impersonations, I began to get disdainful looks from Dutch matriarchs.

"So, which designer labels do you like?" Ellie asked, as the delights of Utrecht flashed by.

"Personally, I like the freshness of the Nike tick, and the clear stripes of Adidas." The girls, it seemed, had simply no time for Umbro or Reebok.

"Excuse me," I butted in, "but is anybody here remotely interested in Holland?" The future of the nation looked briefly out of the window. Hmmm ...

The intensely farmed Dutch landscape was dismissed as "too flat", the pollarded trees pronounced "so weird". "I like it," said Katie, observing how the natives were all clean, healthy types who were forever riding bicycles or peeling fruit.

Alighting in the arable peace of Putterweg, the fields had a distinct fragrance of manure.

"Pooh!" cried Bella, "it's just like Suffolk." We had arranged to stay two nights at Camping de Hertshoorn, a five-star site with palatial facilities.

The Dutch clearly love to go camping, and everyone seemed to have a brand new tent or caravan that had been bought specially for the occasion. These were people who couldn't possibly go on holiday without pot plants and a zip-on sun lounge, not to mention the four mountain bikes on the roof-rack and a barbecue big enough to feed London's homeless for a year. …

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