Our sleep, as anticipated had been disturbed by returning revellers who seem to have lost the ability to use their quiet voices. The earplugs helped to muffle the sound and so assist in drifting back to sleep, however some hardcore revellers, returning just before 5am, and stopping for a conversation just outside, seemed inordinately loud; it transpired that one of my ears had become unplugged and could not be located despite my fumbling around. Fortunately they soon moved on and silence was restored.
We were entertained this morning by a couple of teenage girls who were part of a group camping adjacent to us. Last night they had arrived and smugly produced a pop-up tent, erected in a split second, whilst their fellow campers were still some way off having shelter assured. This morning however, was a different story. The contortions and exasperation of their attempts to get the thing to fold down and inserted into its bag were hilarious. They resorted to google in the end for instructions, and even then were thwarted on their first few attempts. However, their failed attempts were met with hilarity as tends to be the way with young girls. There were celebrations when the tent was eventually recaptured and zipped away.
As it was Sunday and Groningen was the largest conurbation in North Holland, we decided to take a rest day and explore the city on foot. I had booked us on a ‘free’ walking tour, we have done these in various cities we have visited and always found them to be most informative and an excellent way to see the most with limited time. They are ostensibly free, but there is an expectation of a tip for the guide (monetary tip not advice tip!), but the quality is such that this is excellent value.
We cycled to the rendezvous, Talula looking rather denuded without her baggage, and tried to find a space for her in the station bike park which appeared full to capacity and was a sight to behold for those of us not used to an extensive cycling culture. We eventually squeezed her into a space that we found between the racks and secured her to a pillar, more as to why it was so busy later. We met our guide and fellow tourists for the English speaking tour, and when the introductions were made our 6 other companions turned out to be German, we felt woefully inadequate on the language front, but as they pointed out and indeed we have observed, English is the common language.
As we proceeded on the tour it commenced with the beautiful station building and then to the extensive underground bike park, where we had stowed Talula. Our guide informed us that there are strict rules for the use of the facility and any bike not adhering would be removed and a fine imposed. We had transgressed by not parking Talula in a designated spot, so we hastily removed her and left her with the bike park wardens in their area for ‘special’ bikes. A close shave!
As mentioned, Groningen (the pronunciation I still have not mastered) is the largest city in the Northern Netherlands, this population is augmented by the 58,000 students who attend it’s university, the campus of which is accommodated throughout the city, the main building of which, is spectacular. The huge number of students explains why the rail station bike park was virtually full as many travel home at weekends. This large number of students makes for a city with a very vibrant night life which evidently is unique in the Netherlands for not having a closing time. We had wondered why our rowing revellers had got all togged up and departed, cycling on mass at about 10.30; evidently things don’t get going until after midnight. Being a student city the drinks are cheap; ideal party destination then!
The city was occupied by the Nazis in WWII, and there is evidence of the battles that took place to liberate it by way of the more modern buildings that have replaced those bombed and destroyed during the Canadian army advance across Holland. Also, there are some poignant memorials to the Jewish community that was decimated during the occupation. The Stolperstein are a particularly touching reminder. I wish I had noted the cigarette end in Bertha’s and removed it, but it was not as evident until I cropped the original picture.
Our guide was extremely knowledgeable about the city, having grown up there and indeed his (multiple great) grandfather had traded his grain at the magnificent exchange building (now a supermarket) and parked his car in the main square leaving it unlocked, as he was the only person in the area who could drive. He regaled us with anecdotes including one of a former inhabitant who had made his fortune in India and installed a real live rhino in his back garden!
Groningen is a gem of a city with much to see and do. I confess I had been ignorant of its existence before visiting. This weekend there happened to be a festival with a free concert in one of the main squares, and beach volleyball in another. We are camped in the main park, which is extensive and has some lovely areas to just relax and enjoy the scenery and peace.
It has felt luxurious to not have to break and set up camp today, but we are keen to get back on the road for a few more days and intend to zig-zag where the fancy takes us as we wend our way southwards. The weather continues to be kind and it seems the winds are forecast to ease off, and if not at our backs at least on our shoulder, as we once again take to our trusty ‘feit’.
Oh, and as hoped, the campsite has emptied and now is closer to the Mr V preferred level of peoplage.