A Bridge too far…
Now that Stuart is back from his very brief trip back to Blighty, we’re ready to start the second half of our tour of the Netherlands. Next stop; Arnhem, to walk in the footsteps of the airborne soldiers who fought in the battle of Arnhem as part of operation Market Garden in September 1944. This offensive was bigger even than D-Day but staged by air (Operation Market) and ground (Operation Garden) and aimed to finish the war by Christmas. Unfortunately, this was not to be… Although it wasn’t a total defeat and many bridges along the route got captured by the Allies, Arnhem proved to be a step too far and the allies were defeated by the Germans here. ‘A Bridge too far’ is the star-studded film about this battle, so of course we watched this while visiting the area.
We stayed in a ‘Camper Plaats’ or Aire in Westervoort, just outside Arnhem. It is a free spot without any services, but it’s a quiet, safe place by the local football club with a Lidl nearby as well as some cafes, restaurants and shops. We used our bikes to visit the city centre, which was about a 15 minute ride on flat, safe cycle paths. There is an aire close to the city centre, but it only has 4 spaces and it was full when we were there. There isn’t really an option to park in any other space as the area is patrolled by the harbour masters service so full is full.
Even I (the dutch half of Flip-flops) hadn’t been to Arnhem before, so it was fun to explore together for the first time. We found the city centre to be lively and interesting with lots to do! The city was severely damaged during the war, so the architecture is a mix of old, in some cases still medieval buildings and very modern buildings.
Once we’d securely parked our bikes in an underground bike park, we went in search of the VVV, the Dutch Tourist Information office (located at the train station in Arnhem). Here we got information about several self-guided walks we could do. There was an ‘Exciting History’ walk, taking in the old buildings and general history of the city, as well as an ‘Airborne Stories’ walk. As we were particularly interested in the history of WWII, we choose ‘Airborne Stories’, a self-guided walk using an app.
We downloaded the accompanying app onto the phone. There are 3 walks (short, medium, long), and on top of that you can choose the stories from 3 different perspectives; military, civilian adults or civilian children. It will then play you the stories as you walk the route. We picked the medium walk, and after trying the military perspective, settled on the civilian one which was less technical. It was a very interesting way to discover the city and hear about the experiences of the people of Arnhem 75 years ago. And of course the walk included the famous Bridge where the battle was fought and lost.
There is a quite a lot to do in the city centre so you can easily spend a couple of days wandering around here. There are the historic 7 lanes which make up the old town centre, these days with the more boutique, independent shops. There is a main high street as well, and some lovely squares with terraces for a drink in the sun (if it shines, not so on our visit). On one square, you’ll find the old Waag, the weighing place for the trade of goods. You can also visit the old underground cellars of the city which have survived to this day. You can visit the Rozet Building, which houses the library, but also does exhibitions and it has a view point at the top, from where you can look down at the ‘Het Feest Varken’ or ‘The Party Pig’, a large piece of art in the centre of town.
Just outside of Arnhem, you can find one of the most famous nature reserves of the Netherlands; de Veluwe. This beautiful area is great for walking and cycling, and as a popular holiday destination it has plenty of campsites and holiday parks. Wedged between Arnhem and the Veluwe, you will find Burgers Zoo, one of the very best zoos of the Netherlands with amazing animal enclosures which is well worth a visit. Nearby you’ll also find the ‘Open Lucht Museum’ or the Open Air Museum, where you can step back in time and experience life in the Netherlands in times gone by, with authentic buildings and demonstrations showing what people did and how they lived.
Just along from Arnhem in Oosterbeek, there is the Airborne Museum housed in what was the British command HQ during operation Market Garden. Here you can learn more about the operation and what it was like for the soldiers involved. It’s quite an experience to walk through the rooms where the command must’ve been under immense pressure. There are so many personal stories here about experiences of this battle, it’s quite humbling the bravery these soldiers displayed. Near to the museum is a war cemetery where many British and Polish soldiers are buried. Every year, the city of Arnhem holds a big memorial, because even if the battle for Arnhem was lost during that September back in 1944, the people of Arnhem were incredibly grateful to the Allies for trying to liberate them, and it gave them hope that the Germans might be defeated.
We had a great few days in and around Arnhem and we will certainly visit again! What a wonderful area to be in. It would be easy to spend a week or more here and still not have enough time to see and do everything this city and area has to offer! Definitely don’t miss Arnhem if you’re planning a tour in the Netherlands.
We’re now on our way to the most southern area of the Netherlands, but we will have two more stops on the way there. Firstly a brief stop in Bemmel, just north of Nijmegen, a city famous for its 4-day walking marches. We stay at a free Camper Plaats in Bemmel and cycle into Nijmegen (20 minutes) along the banks of the river. It’s a lovely ride, and the city is very nice too. It used to be a fortified city which means that the old town centre is quite compact. It makes for a lovely walk along some of the ancient buildings that still remain and some of the ruins along the edges. It’s a nice place to explore. It doesn’t have its own Camper Plaats unfortunately, which is why the one in Bemmel is very handy as it’s easy to get to town from there by bike.
Lastly (for this blog post) we have a very quiet stop in a little hamlet on the banks of the river Maas, called Neer. There is a marina here with Camper parking (€12.50 pn incl EHU). It’s a lovely spot and we spend some time watching the barges go past on the river. There isn’t much in the town, but there is a bakery which sells vlaai (flan in many different flavours – try it, it’s delicious!), a few restaurants and bars. We went out for vlaai and coffee ourselves, but unfortunately, the bakery for closed for the autumn half-term holiday, so we ended up in one of the little bars having a little beer. A nice quiet stop. Time to head to our last stop in the Netherlands!