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Thursday, 29 May 2014

Valkenburg

DAY 1

This morning, I am picking up a school Hockey team and taking them to Valkenburg. Apart from the stupidly early start, it should be an easy day.

I was in position at the school at 5:30am to load and leave at 6. I have 16 girls on with 3 female teachers so it will be nice to do an all girl tour for a change. Everyone arrived in good time, although zombiefied, and we were ready to leave, 15 mins early. I introduced myself and told the girls about the competition I would be running each day where whoever has the most mess around their seat at the end of the day wins the prize of cleaning the whole coach! They were horrified! The only thing they liked about it was that the teachers were also entered into this competition!

So by 5:45am we were away. We were booked on a ferry from Dover to Calais at 11:10 but I was hoping we could make the earlier one. The motorway was quiet this morning being Sunday of bank holiday weekend and we sailed down to clacketts lane services for a quick 20min stop where 2 of our coaches turned up behind me. We have 7 coaches going out to Euro Disney today so I expected to see some of them. 

We carried on for port. The girls started to wake up a bit when they could see the sea and when the port came into view they got really excited. The girls are aged between 11 and 14 and for most, it's their first time away from home without their parents. We checked in at port at 9:40am where we were given a space on the 10:15am ferry. So by the time we had driven around to our lane we only had to wait a few minutes before we were loaded onto the ferry. I had finished my breakfast before we set sail and I spent the rest of the crossing asleep on the table!

So far so good. 

My group couldn't find their way back to the coach and we were pretty much last off the ferry, but we were an hour ahead of schedule so now I could relax a little. The rest of the journey was just as easy. The roadworks around the Gent interchange which had been causing so many tailbacks was now finished and in just under 2hrs we had made it to services just before the Brussels ring road. We had a good break of 45mins. There was a big grass area with a few swings and monkey bars where the girls loosed some energy in the sun. The weather was quite different now to when we left the school in the pouring rain this morning. The sun was shining and it was about 23 C.

We set off on the final leg of the journey and arrived at the hotel at 1730 local time. One hour early. We are staying at the Hotel Schaepkens van St Fijt (don't ask me to pronounce that) in Valkenburg. The hotel is very close to the station and an easy walk to the town centre. I have a nice room with a good view on the top floor, quiet and away from the girls!


We had a very nice buffet dinner with a lot of choice. It wasn't easy though to get a glass of wine! They have a very strange system in place for buying drinks which I've not come across before. You have to buy tokens from reception and exchange tokens for a drink. If you don't have tokens you can't have a drink. You can't even book a drink to your room! We managed to confuse the young waiter whilst confusing ourselves and I ended up getting my tokens and a glass of wine, but no one has taken my tokens so I assume that was a freebie! 

After we'd finished eating another waitress appeared and was asking about where we've come from and the purpose of our trip. She was interested to hear about our hockey match against a local team and she bet me a drink that the Dutch would win. I've not seen these girls play but I've got to support the English team! So we shook on it and the pressure is on! 

After dinner I moved into the bar to see that the summer special was Kriek! My favourite! So I ordered a glass. I was served by the same waitress and she gave me this drink for free with a bowl of cheesey nibbles. She made the teachers pay and didn't give them any snacks. I think she fancies me!

The girls had been given an hour free time before meeting up again. The teachers had prepared a quiz for them and they were being presented with their new team hockey shirts. They were also doing a Britain's Got Talent type thing to come up with a team chant to be used on the pitch. I was one of the judges along with the teachers and had been introduced as Ninja Nina. That has now stuck. So pleased! The chant which has been chosen was the only one which was actually a chant and could be used on the pitch. However, I personally think it is unsuitable considering we are in Holland. The chant goes like this:

2, 4, 6, 8, who do we appreciate?
Not the King, not the Queen, but the TG Hockey Team!

Holland is a very patriotic country with high respect for their monarchy. They have King's day and Queen's day. To say in a chant that we don't appreciate the king and queen could potentially cause offence. I hope it doesn't, after all it's come from the girls who don't seem to have any awareness of the culture of the Dutch. I'd have expected the teachers to know though and maybe explain to the girls how this could be inappropriate. At least I can run away if it's not received well, but I'm sure it will be fine!

Once all the shirts had been given out I went off to bed. I was feeling sleepy now and in need of some rest.

DAY 2

There was plenty of choice again this morning at breakfast and lots of strong hot coffee. The girls found some boxes of different flavoured sprinkles which you put onto bread and put it through the toaster. DIY chocolate spread. It looked revolting!

This morning, the girls are having a 2hr hockey training session with a Dutch coach, just down the road in Maastricht. The rep, Yos, turned up just before 9am and said "you follow me in my car to the facility"! That was the only words he spoke to me! 

He took us the long way round but we got there eventually! I couldn't park where I had dropped the girls. I'd have liked to have a look at the centre of Maastricht but I couldn't park close enough to that either and I only had a short amount of time, so I didn't get to see it.

The girls had had a successful training session and the teachers and the coach were very impressed with them. I picked them up and we went straight to the supermarket to stock up on water as the hotel will not even serve us jugs of tap water with meals! We then went back to the hotel for a quick shower and change before having the afternoon free in Valkenburg.


Valkenburg aan de Geul is a small municipality that has been a major tourist attraction for a long time. People come to visit the mines and caverns with drawings dating back to Roman times, and the castle of Valkenburg from which you can enjoy the wonderful landscape.


There is much to see and do in and around Valkenburg. There are two theme parks, Familypark Valkenier and het Sprookjesbos (enchanted forest), a cable car and toboggan run, underground marlstone caverns and museums, the highest castle ruins in the Netherlands, spa and wellness facilities, a casino, cycling tours aboveground and underground (in the mines), restaurants, nightlife, castles, green parks and extensive nature reserves.


Valkenburg Castle is the only hilltop castle in the Netherlands, situated on a little hill in the town. The first castle was build there in the 12th century and like most castles it was destroyed and reconstructed several times. Today it's ruined, but there's enough left so that it's interesting to visit! I found interesting that there once was a hexadecagonal tower, which was later replaced by a decagonal tower, rather unusual constructions. You'll only see a few remainders of them. There are several plates with explanations in Dutch and English, really well done.


At 5:30pm we were leaving the hotel to travel the short journey to Meersen for our hockey match. We arrived and met the coach of the opposition and were pointed in the direction of our team changing rooms. I stayed outside and watched some of the training sessions which were going on. We were playing at a very large, quite newly built sports complex. There were 4 tennis courts, 2 full size football pitches, 2 full size rugby pitches, 2 full size hockey pitches and an 18 hole golf course and everyone cycled to get there with their equipment on their backs! It was a very impressive place and it was apparent that the Dutch took their sport seriously.

While the girls were having their team talk, the heavens opened and there was a thunder and lightening storm. The start of the match was postponed until the thunder and lightening had passed. Eventually, half an hour late, both teams went out onto the pitch to warm up. The teachers didn't hold out much hope of their girls winning and I think the girls picked up on that before they started. It was a shame because there were some good players who really stood out from the crowd and there didn't appear to be a weak player on the team. But none of them really went out with that fighting spirit that they were going to win the match.


The girls were all rotated on and off the pitch throughout the match to give each girl an equal amount of time on the pitch and there was no favouritism towards the better players so all the girls had the opportunity of a good match experience.


The girls improved as they got more into the match but by half time when they were 10-0 down they we're starting to get quite disheartened. A good team talk at half time lifted their spirits and they played better in the second half with more scoring opportunities and more possession of the ball. Unfortunately, they didn't score and the final score was 13-0. They were all exhausted.

We left soon after the end of the match for our hotel. We were half an hour late for dinner. It was another very nice meal and the girls were obviously hungry because there wasn't the fussiness about food that we'd had the night before.

The girls had a bit of free time before lights out and the teachers joined me in the bar. I tried to buy the waitress a drink because I had lost our bet. She took my tokens but kept my glass full all night! More free drinks! It was about 11:30 when I finally went to bed.

Day 3

Plenty for breakfast again this morning and we would be needing it to keep our energy levels up for the day ahead, myself included.

We set off before 9am and drove across the boarder to Bruhl in Germany. It was pouring with rain. On the motorway, I was taken off by the German Police with their "customs, follow me" sign in the back window. I knew that my vehicle and paperwork were all in order and so there was nothing to worry about. The Police checked my passport and all my legal vehicle documents and sent us on our way. At 10am we arrived at Phantasialand Theme Park.
                                
I'd not been to this theme park before and I was quite looking forward to it. The park was very quiet and there was no more than a 5 minute wait for any ride. The only downside was that it didn't stop raining all day. Once we were inside the park it was decided that we would all go on the Colorado Adventure as a group.


That was just about my limit! It was good to see the reactions of the girls after going on the rides though. The big ride here is the Black Mamba.


All the girls went on this several times and towards the end of the day they managed to drag on one of the teachers who was not very keen. A bit of peer pressure and she was on her way without the option of backing out! When she got off the ride she was definitely a funny colour, her voice had gone from screaming so hard, she had the shakes and jelly knees. Everyone found it hilarious!

This theme park claims to have the worlds longest log flume and has a 52 degree drop.


There are also river rapids which are slightly different to what I've seen before. You get in your raft as it's on the turntable, it moves out onto the water and then onto rollers to take you up a short way before putting you in a lift. When you come out, you're quite high up and there is a big whirlpool. The raft goes round in a spiral and down log flume type drops as well as white water rapids and you get drenched!

                          

Getting on towards the end of the day we were all soaked through from the rain so this was when we chose to go on these water rides. They were both great. We had all brought a change of clothes so once we were warm and dry again we got on the coach for the journey back to Valkenburg. They all slept on the way back. They'd enjoyed a really good day.

After another tasty meal and more free wine there was an awards evening for the girls. Each girl was awarded with a certificate for anything from most accident prone to player of the tour. The girls were sent upstairs and I had another evening of free wine in the bar with the teachers.

Day 4

I had a lie in this morning. I was out at the coach at 8:45am for the girls to load their luggage before they went back into Valkenburg for a couple of hours for shopping. I had breakfast after I'd put the luggage on and had a lazy morning.

We left the hotel at 11am and the teachers mentioned to me that some of the girls had received worried texts from their parents because there are riots in Calais. Basically, since the National Front party were voted in in the European elections, they had been into the migrant camps in Calais and given them notice to leave before the camps were to be bulldozed. Only 30% of the migrants moved on. The National Front had moved in this morning to clear the camps which had sparked riots. I advised the teachers to post on the twitter account that we would not be stopping within 100km of Calais and that we were driving straight into port and not to worry.

We had a brief stop at motorway services and our second stop was at P&J's Chocolate Factory just outside of Oostende, Belgium.


The girls and the teachers alike loved it here. There were boxes of chocolates opened for us to have free samples and I should think they did very well out of the girls!

Everyone got back on the coach and I took the teacher with me to do the usual checks for clandestines before starting our final leg for Calais. I was talking to the teacher about procedures at passport control and I said I was expecting the Boarder Control Agency to be extra thorough today with all of the events unfolding. That's when the girls started to ask questions. It was becoming aparent that they too were worried about what we may be driving into. So after a little explanationary chat, which had been left to me, we were on our way with the girls knowing there was nothing to be worried about and they weren't going to get killed!

I've been doing this job for 7 years and I regularly cross the water to Europe and I have never seen anyone at the French passport control office. They were there today. It just meant that passports had to be scanned by the French and the British before getting back on the coach and checking in. We got onto our booked ferry which sailed at 1715. We had a short break at motorway services and were due to arrive at school at 10pm. 

We were doing really well until we were an hour from home and the motorway gantry signs started flashing up that the motorway was closed. There were cows on the road! Luckily, I'd had a phone call from my traffic office to warn me of the problem and advised finding an alternative route. Which I did. I was surprised to not hit traffic behind every one else trying to skip around the problem but it was clear, so we arrived at school just 10 mins late. Not bad considering we'd driven through 4 countries today!

The girls thanked me with a card and a bottle of wine. The card is quite amusing with comments like 'thank you for not crashing and killing us all!'


I've really enjoyed this trip and I hope they request for me to drive them again next year.