The Netherlands RISHAD SAAM MEHTA explores country roads and motorways, and checks out medieval windmills

It was a driving holiday of the best kind — completely spontaneous. I found myself in Paris in the possession of an incredibly good looking Citroën C6 dressed in deep blue. Now, just pottering around Paris would be unfair to the car and deeply unsatisfying to me, so I called my friends, Peter and Elisabet who live in Nijmegen in The Netherlands.

“Come on over” they said without a moment's hesitation, and then added, “the Lente Bok and Herfst Bok are in the refrigerator”. I have been friends with Peter and Elisabet for over a decade now. They know me well enough to tempt with these two beers that Grolsh, a Dutch brewery, makes. Lente means spring and the Lente Bok is a light and sweet summer beer, while Herfst, meaning autumn, is a heavier but still sweet beer for colder days. Both are astoundingly tasty beers.

The very clever Satellite Navigation system on the Citroën plotted a route for me using motorways through three countries — France, Belgium and The Netherlands. The drive from Paris to Nijmegen took me the better part of six hours, because I got stuck in a horrible jam just outside Antwerp. It would have taken longer, but the car's SatNav, communicating with the traffic update feed on the radio, could warn me about traffic queues or road works coming up and suggest alternative routes. So, I had a nice mix of motorways and country roads before I made it to Nijmegen.

There, Elisabet had a nice hot pork goulash waiting for me. All three of us find common ground in the joy of travel and photography. And since the next day had only scattered clouds and no hint of rain, we headed to Kinderdijk, 101 km to the west of Nijmegen.

This little Dutch village is now a UNESCO World Heritage site, thanks to its cultural wealth of 19 medieval windmills. Some parts of this country lie below sea level, and people needed a well-developed water control system in order to keep large areas from being flooded. The legend of Hans Brinker, the little boy who prevented a calamity by sticking his finger in a hole in the dyke, is from this part of The Netherlands.

Sighting the windmills

The windmills were one of the solutions to the problem. The wind turned the panes, which consequently turned large paddles that scooped water out and directed it towards a sluice, which channeled the water to a reservoir. Now, electric pumps do the job, but Kinderdijk continues to attract tourists because the setting of the mills is so pretty. Today, with the clouds hanging low, it was more dramatic than usual.

From the car park, there is a Y-shaped path that we walked along. This is open to cyclists and walkers, and is free. The second windmill from the car park is open to visitors, and an adult ticket costs Euros 3.5. You can also take a 30-minute canal cruise for Euros 3 per adult. We, however, walked because breakfast was a vast, indulgent affair.

The next stop was Delft, 41 km further West through the port city of Rotterdam. Market day was in full swing and we walked through, admiring the brilliant colours of tomatoes the size of pumpkins, and nibbling on cubes of cheese offered as samples.

Besides the market, the city centre itself is a charming place. Fortunately, the malls and the shopping centres don't interfere with the market square that retains many old and historical buildings. Many streets have canals in the centre, inhabited by fish and plants, making this beautiful small city a popular tourist destination.

Delft is also famous for its blue-and-white pottery, so characteristic that it is called Delftware. It was inspired by porcelain from the Orient that came to the country aboard the ships of the Dutch East India Company during the Dutch Golden Age. Delftware, inspired by Chinese originals, persisted from about 1630 to the mid-18{+t}{+h} Century, alongside European patterns.

But, all this history I found out later; that day in Delft, the three of us sat in the crowded area that I can only call the café square. Three sides of the square were lined with cafes, and they all had tables set in the centre under a shade where gas heaters kept the autumn chill at bay.

I would have loved to see the pottery, but I was so happy sitting there enjoying my steak and the company of my friends that I decided to put it off for my next visit.

Because I know I am definitely driving to Nijmegen again — preferably once again in the Citroën C6. For more on Kinderdijk, Delft and Nijmegen, visit www.kinderdijk.com, www.delfttoerisme.nl and www.nijmegenonline.nl

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