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Published: July 16th 2009
Hello, and welcome to my second blog of my trek through Europe.
First a bit of housekeeping. Once again, apologies for the delay in posting this entry. Internet facilities are few and far between. I am now in Diekirch, Luxembourg so I hope that the two week delay since finishing Holland won´t change my views or descriptions of the time I had too much.
A special thanks to all of you who have texted or emailed me asking about the state of my feet. I am happy to announce that they are both doing much better, thank you, and are out of intensive care. I´m still keeping an eye on them but they´re over the worst. The blisters have stopped (touch wood) and instead I have 'snake skin' feet, a lot of dried skin that is slowly peeling off. But I can live with that.
Finally, a few of you have said that my blog entries are too long. So for those of you with attention deficit disorders (can I get away with saying that?), here is my summary of the second leg of the Pieterpad:
Holland - Done!!!
For the rest of you, here is
my fuller description...
I left Vorden, the half way point of the Pieterpad, and headed to Doetinchem along quiet country lanes, passing the odd Pieterpad walker on my way. Doetinchem was a much bigger city than I was expecting with a pleasant square around the main church with plenty of outdoor cafes and restaurants. However, it proved difficult to find somewhere to stay. Having nearly exhausted my list of numbers, I was able to stay the night with a former pirate DJ and his wife. This guy was a passionate music nut with over half a million songs which he spent quite a lot of the evening showing me (which has only limited entertainment value), while his wife spent her time rolling her own cigerattes. He now has his own internet radio station that operates 24/7 and he even got me a mention on air (doutless his 50 or so regular listeners would have been impressed by my request - I think it was something original like Oasis). Anyway, I´m now use to having to pay a passing interest in people´s lives in order to get a good bed and a decent breakfast. So I spent most of the
evening watching this chain smoking, beer drinking, toothless music mogul strut his stuff. I didn´t mind too much. I even promised to publicise his station but I´ve lost his business card - I think it was something like Blue Air (Ed - www.radio-blueair.com). You´ve got to check it out!
From Doetinchem, I headed south past a huge business park and then a lake / park for the locals going towards a place called Elten on the Dutch / German border. It was quite a pleasant walk, mostly through woods, with the odd climb along the way. Eventually, I arrived in High Elten (anything above sea level is considered high in Holland) having got lost in Germany having taken a wrong turning after a farm. I´ve now visited Germany probably three or four times, on each occassion because I´ve lost my way! I realised I was in Germany, when people suddendly started to refuse to speak English and kept saying "rechts" and "links" in quite an aggitated manner and there were a lot more national flags hanging from the houses. Being near the German border had some compensations though - I could get a "big beer" for the first time
in weeks and got fed enough food for a week in the local tavern.
The next day was a pretty grim experience, as I had to walk along the Rhine past the lorries, quarries and industry before crossing the river by ferry at a place called Milligan. From there I caught the bus to Nijmagen, a picturesque town with a good combination of old buildings, modern shopping facilities and a lively cafe / bar life. I ended up staying in an interesting B&B with a real "Rigsby" character - the old women (spinster?) had timers on all the light switches, post it notes around the house warning not to use too much of anything and provided a "scant" breakfast. Still, I didn't care too much - I was out wandering the city and enjoying a few beers.
Heading back to Milligan, I had a boring first half of the day, crossing the valley along country roads. The second half of the day held out the prospect of being perhaps the best day´s walking in Holland, or at least it would have done if I hadn´t got seriously lost for the first time. The irony of missing out on
the section called the "7 hills" in Holland wasn't lost on me. Having spent over an hour in the sweltering heat trying to find the right path, I gave up and ended up doing a massive detour along a major highway into the town of Groesbeek. I ended up staying with a recently widowed women who was still visibly upset by her husband´s death. I didn´t (and still don´t) know how to comfort a Dutch person - was a British tap on the shoulder with a reassuring comment like "it´ll be ok" suffice or did it need a big hug? Anyway, I did neither and just listened. After a while she seemed ok and even did my washing for me. So it all worked out ok in the end.
From Groesbeek, I headed the short distance to Genep. On the way I passed a large group of walkers in training for the 4x40km walking festival, which was a sight to see having spent so much time walking slowly and on my own. Arriving in Genep, I was greated by a local festival with a stage in the main square for various acts. I listened to what I guess was
the Dutch equivalent of a barber shop quartet (although there was 8 of them). After that I decided to rest up in a pub dedicated to all things darts (no, honestly) whilst watching Wimbledon. In the evening I ended up staying with another (slightly younger) widow but this one seemed to be on some pretty strong medication / drugs. She would leave sentences unfinished and spent quite a lot of time just starring at me, which was a bit unnerving, especially when she started to feel my legs and say how strong they were (presumably in the context of our discussion about walking long distances). Anyway, she must have been delusional as well as heavily medicated. I spent most of the evening out in town, watching the locals dress up in traditional costumes and get drunk, wondering if it would be safe to go back.
The next couple of days were long ones as I walked towards the town of Venlo. At this point, I had the strange experience of loosing my appetite for probably only the second time in my life! (The other being an enforced period in hospital as a child). I attribute this to the massive
heatwave sweeping Europe, which made the walking really tough going. Things got so bad that I couldn´t even finish a curry, when I came across my first (and only) curry house in Holland. All I could do was shake my head and apologise to the waiter. The heatwave also resulted in my wonderful "cyclists" tan - pretty bronzed legs and forearms whilst the rest of me remains "Englishman abroad white". Lovely, I´m sure you´ll agree.
I ended up spending a rest day in Venlo, staying at a lovely B&B where it turned out that one of the fellow guests was also walking the Pieterpad and had been tracking me along the way, staying in the same places and hearing tales of an "Engelsman" who was also doing the trek. Unfortunately, the Dutchman was up and gone before I got a chance to speak to him - he was doing the walk a lot more quickly than me and wanted to get an early start for the next stage. I wanted a lie in and a leisurely breakfast. He had also raised a lot more money than me for his charity (so the challenge goes out to you!). Venlo itself
was a nice, town with cobbled streets and a very large concentration of bars.
The next day I had my longest stage to date of 31km to the city of Roermond. It was a nice days walking, mostly in woodlands with loads of butterflys, but by the end I was limping into the town. The killer was the new multi-lane ringroad which wasn´t built when my guidebook was printed but which meant quite a large detour. In fact I was so late that the gentleman I was staying with cycled out to meet me! How he knew that I was the Englishman who had phoned earlier asking to stay the night I don´t know. Maybe I just look like no other walker in the whole of Holland!
The next day, I had some company on the walk for the first time. Julia is a friend of a friend of a friend, who I had met once before at the start of my trek and who lives in Amsterdam and works in a coffee shop. It was really nice to be able to exchange stories and have a laugh about life in Holland, my trek, and things back home.
We were walking along country lanes passed tiny villages, fields and woods with no shade so by the end of the day we were both knackered. We ended up gatecrashing a private party as I badly needed to sit down and have a beer. I think they took pity and allowed us to stay "for one". As Julia caught the train back to Amsterdam, I was able to find a place in a hotel where it turned out I was the only guest and had to lock up after myself in the morning.
From Peij, I headed to the really pretty city of Sittard. One the way I was befriended by a 68 year old man walking his dog and proceeded to have a 20 minute conversation in Dutch. Having discussed the weather, we moved on to talking about walking and the man delighted in telling me what to look for and giving me elaborate directions - this seems to be a real Dutch characteristic. Anyway, having eventually understood the Dutch for "tree lined boulevard", I bid him farewell and headed into town where I hid in a bar just off the main square and spent the whole afternoon
watching the semis at Wimbledon over several beers. One of the old guys ended up winning big on the jackpot machine and as he was pissed wanted to share his delight at winning. It didn´t matter that I was the only other customer in the bar and I don´t speak Dutch, he proceeded to tell me how pleased he was. Still I got a free beer out of it and only had to nod now and again in between points and say "sehr gut". I ended up staying in a B&B which was owned by a women in her 30s who was I think of Turkish origin. She was a real character - engineer by profession, artist by vocation, she had a pinball machine in her living room, smoked a cigar at breakfast and had a photo of her belly dancing above the tv. It certainly made for an interesting chat over breakfast.
My final stop was Maastricht, passing along some rolling hills, wheat fields and the odd orchard, as well as getting bitten a lot for my troubles. I was rewarded when I made a detour to a small village for a coffee and a rest by the
Exams are over!!!
A Dutch tradition to throw out the school bag and books when finishing high school
sight of the village coming to a halt for a wedding. The couple arrived by tractor escorted by three ambulances with sirens blazing (what would have happened had there been an emergency call out I don´t know). Following a steep ascent out of the valley, I arrived in Maastricht on the wrong day, a Saturday. Everything was taken and I had to stay in a 4* hotel. I must admit I looked a little out of place in the hotel foyer compared to the "normal" guests.
In the end I had to stay two more nights in Maastricht waiting for the shop which sells walking books to reopen after the weekend. I had moved by this point to the Shamrock Hostel, which as you may have worked out was above an Irish Bar. So as well as sightseeing a bit, I spent a fair amount of time in the bar talking to the staff and the punters. I even got invited to a graduation party, which I foolishly turned down on the basis that I thought I was leaving the next day but didn´t. During my time in Maastricht, the heatwave ended and we had some terrific thunderstorms, a
taste of the rain I was to experience in Belgium.
So, I had finsihed my walk through Holland, and was all set to go into French speaking Belgium with my Dutch guidebooks, hoping someone might speak English.
Finally, for all those of you who have sponsored me, thank you. The rest of you, don´t worry, it´s not too late! You can do so at www.justgiving.com/matthewmellor
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