Windmills, Cheese, Mustard Soup…and Peat?

Hilma & Gerrie’s house–although you can’t see it, a canal is right across the street from their property–one glance at it, and you know you’re in the Netherlands!

We had a quick visit with Gerrie and Hilma and it was so good to see them again. It’s been a couple of years since I had been there, and Pierre had last seen them in 2007 right before we got married. We managed to do a lot of sightseeing in a very short amount of time. We went to a place called, Veenpark, which is a park set up to look like a village from the past, so visitors can see and walk through the history of living in the Netherlands. There was a clog making shop, a sweets shop, a church, a windmill, lots of houses, a blacksmith shop, a radio shop, a bakery, etc. It was an interesting place.

No trip to the Netherlands is complete until I see a windmill!

There was a little train that ran around the perimeter of the park. I thought it would be a quick 10-15 minute ride, but it was more like 45 minutes. It took us across a canal, through some fields, and into the woods.

At one point during the ride, I looked my left as we were going through the woods and I saw very dark soil, and I said, “Look…that’s peat.”

I don’t know that I knew that it was peat, but I just did. That was the last I thought of it, until the train stopped. The driver got out and explained that he was going to take us on a short walking field trip to explain to us how peat was collected in the past.

I know nothing about peat other than the fact that it started off as a peat bog, and that it was used as fuel, but I have to admit that I was proud of myself for identifying it in the woods. I didn’t have long to pat myself on the back, however, because the driver, now tour guide, was already walking toward a field and we were supposed to be following him.

He explained to us that peat is made from the accumulation of partially decayed vegetation or organic matter. Most peat comes from bogs that formed thousands of years ago after the glaciers retreated at the end of the last ice age. Peat accumulates slowly at the rate of about a millimeter per year, so it’s not considered to be a renewable resource. In the past, the people of the Netherlands relied on peat as an important fuel source, as many people from certain parts of the world still do today.

Peat harvesting was back breaking labor performed by men, women, and children, but they all had distinctly different jobs. Using a heavy metal spade, men first cut the wet peat into bricks. As he explained the process, our tour guide demonstrated the process by showing us how to cut a brick from the exposed soil.

Before stacking, each brick is squeezed to extract as much water as possible. Again, he showed us how it was done, and it was messy work! Then the bricks were arranged in a log cabin style of pile, so air can easily circulate between the bricks. He had examples of dried bricks for us to look at and hold, and it was amazing how light they were after the water had completely evaporated.

After the peat bricks had completely dried out, they were much lighter, so women and children were brought out to the peat fields to carry the peat bricks to a wagon, while the men continued to cut and stack the wet peat. It might sound like a easy process, but harvesting lasted for weeks to ensure that enough fuel was cut and stored for winter. In the Netherlands, peat was burned and used for heating and cooking. Peat is still used as a heating source, and it can also be used as a soil additive for gardening.

Invention has always has intrigued me, but it’s hard to imagine how someone in the past looked at mud and thought to himself, “Hmmmm….I bet I can dry this mud out and turn it into a fuel source.”

The hands-on demonstration was really interesting. People in the past had to work so hard every day to find food, fuel, and water, in addition to making their own clothing and shelter. We’re a bit soft now…we get annoyed when the store runs out of something, and we lose our minds if we have to wait more than a few seconds for technology to work. We’re SPOILED!

We also visited a cheese shop in the nearby city of Hoogeveen. Hilma and Gerrie took us to a place called, Breider and they had the most amazing assortment of cheese, meats, jellies, etc. The woman behind the counter (who I believe was the owner of the shop) made the experience so much fun. She spoke to us in English and she encouraged us to try as many samples as we wanted.

Have you ever seen green cheese? Of course, it immediately reminded me of Dr. Seuss. She offered us a taste and told us that it was basil–delicious. We probably tried at least ten different types of cheese, and Pierre and I agreed on our favorite–walnut cheese. Oh my, it was so good!

Her tactic was good for business, not only did we have fun, but we bought a lot of cheese, sausage, and jelly, which we brought back to Germany with us to give as gifts for his mother, brother, and a friend of ours named Claudia.

Green Cheese? Yes!
We WILL be returning to this shop, or at least ordering some more of their walnut cheese online!
We had a really nice dinner together, and I tried mustard soup, which is a regional specialty. I didn’t sound too appealing when I first heard about it, but it was delicious!

Hilma and Gerrie–we had such a great visit with you! Thank you!

Off to the Netherlands–

Driving over the Afsluitdijk has been one of my bucket list items for awhile now, so we took a little detour on the way to Gerrie and Hilma’s house. It only added about an hour to the trip…and it was worth it!

The Netherlands has been fighting off the sea for centuries. About 1/3 of the country is actually below sea level. The land is kept dry through an elaborate system of dikes, sand dunes, and pumping stations along the coast. Part of this system is the Afsluitdijk, which is a 20-mile sea barrier that was designed to protect the inland against flooding.

The green arrow shows the location of the Afsluitdijk , which stretches from coast to coast, thus protecting the land behind it.
Looking across to our van…
The dedication to this statue was written in Dutch (of course), so we couldn’t understand it. We think this statue is in honor of all the workers who have toiled to keep their country from being reclaimed by the sea.
This picture was taken from the car as we were driving. It captures the essence of the Netherlands perfectly–flat land, canals, and now, wind turbines instead of windmills.

Talk to the Locals!

Day #2 on the Pieterpad/12.63 miles–

Once again I wasn’t able to fall asleep until almost 2:00 a.m. Ugh–I need to sleep! Liesbeth and Jesse greeted me this morning with a delicious breakfast and warm conversation. They are such gracious, giving people. We discovered that we had many shared interests, and it was hard to pull myself away and leave.

My Couch surfing hosts…
Chocolate sprinkles for breakfast? In the Netherlands—yes!

Today I walked 12.63 miles. I was supposed to walk 15 1/2 miles, but I’ll get to that little detail soon enough. I walked though the city of Gronigen along the canals, which were lovely. Then I entered the Drenthe province, which is very sandy soil, making walking so easy. During this phase, I mostly walked through woods and fields.

Isn’t this crazy? This is the bike parking area under the Gronigen train station…and it’s only one tiny section!
More bikes…
Walking along the canal…
I would love to spend time on this canal boat!
Will I tire of seeing windmills? I don’t think so!
The trail keeps changing….follow the red & white! Can you see it?

If you’ve hiked a long-distance trail before, you’ll probably relate to the special attachment one gets to the trail markers. You look for them, they guide you, and they become an integral part of the journey. The trail markers seem to ebb, flow, and change the same way the landscape does.

It started to rain when I had about three more miles to go, but Frank must have been in a good mood, for there, right before my eyes was a restaurant that had tables and umbrellas outside. As I waited for the storm to pass, I began talking to my waitress about my plans, which included finishing the last stretch and getting on a bus to Vries, the site of my second couchsurfing reservation.

Shelter….My table was protected by a gigantic umbrella!
Apple cake & coffee in the rain…

My waitress decided to play weatherman and kept coming back to my table to inform me on the status of the storm. Finally she came back and said, “We have another plan for you. There is going to be a tiny break in the weather and we are going to tell you how to go to a different bus station, which should give you just enough time before the rain starts again.” The ‘we’ she mentioned was another waitress and the owner, who she had brought in on my plight. She drew the directions on the back of a napkin and sent me on my way. Their plan worked! I arrived at the bus station moments before the rain began again, and a mere six minutes before my bus arrived! Moral of the story….Talk to the locals!

My ticket off the PP for the night…

My couchsurfing hosts tonight are an older couple named, Wietske and Jan Eppo. They live on a farm with horses, chickens, and a barn owl!

The barn…

Like my hosts last night, they made me a home cooked Indonesian meal, but this one was called Bami. It was a vegetarian version made with tofu, noodles and vegetables and served alongside an omelette made from their own fresh farm eggs. We had Vla for dessert, but this time it was caramel and vanilla. I will not be hiking tomorrow, because prior to my arrival Wietske had invited me to stay another day and bike with her in the countryside. Of course I couldn’t pass that up!

You’re Walking the Wrong Way!

Day #1 on the PP: 17.40 miles–

I’m really struggling with jet lag and I had another night of very little sleep. I couldn’t fall asleep last night and remember staring at the ceiling at 2:00 a.m. I was greeted with a wonderful breakfast which was a nice way to start the day. I hit the road at 8:30, which was later than I had planned, but you ‘gotta do what you gotta do’. Sleep was far more important.

A table for one…
Lots of choices for my morning meal…

I already knew that the Netherlands was a beautiful country, but today showed herself as breathtakingly beautiful–which as you might guess is an entire different level of beauty. It is flat–approximately 3/4 of the country is below sea level-but contained in all of that ‘flatness’ is a much more varied landscape than I had previously imaged.

Follow the signs…
Sometimes you have to look carefully…

If the vast fields dotted with livestock and cradled by canals as far as the eye can see are the canvas, than wildflowers, windmills, farms, gardens, and quaint villages are the medium in which an artist must crave.

Each mile was more beautiful than the last. It was overcast and gray this morning when I started off, but fortunately the rain held off and it was sunny by noon. On at least three separate occasions, peasants explosively took off from the fields beside where I was walking. They flap hard and fast on take off, creating a rather scary sound when you aren’t expecting it! I literally yelped out loud each time it happened!

Later in the day, the trail seemed to end at a fence. I stopped in my tracts, perplexed. Then I realized a small step was built into the fence leading me to believe that I was supposed to climb up and over it. I literally stood there for at least five minutes trying to decide if I should do it, or wondering if I had some how had made a mistake and this wasn’t the trail at all. I finally decided to climb into the field with the slight worry of being attacked by a crazy cow. It turned out that I made the right move and the only thing that I had to worry about were some docile sheep munching on grass.

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These sheep looked like little puff balls scattered across the fields…
Water and windmills are a common theme…
It was windy…

At one point, at around the 14 mile mark a mailman pulled over to the side of the road to deliver a package. Even through closed windows I could hear his music, “Money for nothing and the chicks for free…” He rolled down the window and yelled, “Moi (which means hello),” followed by a string of other words that I couldn’t understand.

I replied, “Moi, but I speak English.” My reply prompted him to motion for me to come closer.

We talked for a few minutes and than he told me that I was walking the Pieterpad the wrong way. I must have looked concerned because he continued and explained, “You’re walking in the right direction, but you need my music to keep you company! That’s the ‘right’ way to walk!” He really made me laugh!

I had a short visit with these horses..
Canals are everywhere…
Crossing the water by foot…

Tonight was my first night of couch surfing and I’m staying with a family of 5—a mom and dad and three lovely girls. (Jesse, Liesbeth, Lianne, Irene, and Judith). Everyone is so friendly, and its so enjoyable staying with a Dutch family. Jesse made a wonderful dinner called nasi, which is an Indonesian stir-fried pork and vegetable dish, and served with a side of rice. Indonesian food seems to be very popular here.

Vla is a Dutch dairy product that I would describe as pudding-like.

We had vla, which is a Dutch dairy product for dessert and Liesbeth just told me that we are having warm stroop waffles soon—yum! We are all sitting in the living room, and the kids are watching the new Cinderella movie with subtitles. This is so pleasant and comfortable.

The Adventure Begins!

And the adventure begins! Pierre and I left for the airport early to give us enough time to explore the Steven Udvar-Hazy Center. We’ve visited before but never went up to the observation tower because the lines were so long. It was like a ghost town today and it felt like he had the place to ourselves! Thanks, Pierre for giving me such a great send off! Pieterpad–here I come!

And I’m leaving tomorrow…

This song pops into my head every time that I hear an adventure calling out to me!

The song is cute and the cup routines are awesome, but what I really love about this video, ‘Cups-When I’m Gone’, is when she glances up from her work table and sees the travel postcards taped to the wall. If you were to stop the camera at the exact moment that it panned back to her, you would see me—impatiently finishing what I have to do here, so I can set off my next adventure. I have an intense, sometimes unexplainable urge to travel and explore. A hobby? Maybe, but I would probably call it more of a passion. Do I love coming home? Yes, that’s a big part of it, too. It’s the ebb and flow of challenging and pushing myself in new directions and then coming back to what I know and love. It’s about stepping out of the box that we, as humans, tend to create for ourselves.

It’s about loving where I come from, but also loving and appreciating other places. It’s about truly understanding that although each country and place has different cultures and traditions, that we are more alike than different. It’s also about pushing myself to try new things—food and drink are the obvious answers here, but I mean something deeper than that. I mean putting myself in a position where I have to rely on myself. It also means being clever enough to ask for help when I need it. It’s not about stepping on a tour bus and looking at the sites as they roll by, but rather, stepping into a culture.

I have to use my skills and talents to navigate 300+ miles on my own, deal with strangers, understand people who speak a different language, cope with varying weather conditions, deal with fatigue and injury…and the list goes on and on. How can I expect to grow as a person if I don’t continuously challenge myself?

This video, like any book or novel, will be interpreted differently by the person observing or reading it, but for me it says that there’s a great big world out there. Do whatever it takes to be a part of it and don’t get stuck in the day to day rut that we mistakenly call life. It’s not your job (no matter how important you think it is), how many digits that you have in your bank account, or the size of your house—living, truly living is discovering yourself.

I know that many of you are aware of my upcoming hike, but for those of you who don’t know what I’m doing…here’s the low-down. Tomorrow I’m leaving the country and I will be gone for the next six weeks. I will be in the Netherlands solo-hiking a long-distance trail call the Pieterpad. It starts in Pieterburen in the North, and runs 304 miles (489km) to the bottom of the country and ends in Maastricht. After the Netherlands, I’m heading to Iceland, where my friend Debbie will join me. We plan to eat, laugh, and relax!

When I hiked the Camino two years ago, I dedicated my trek to my son Tyler. This walk is dedicated to my younger son, Keegan. He will be graduating from WVU in December, and as he steps off into his life, I hope to pass on to him the very ideas and principles that will bring me success on my hike:

  • Ignore the naysayers—unless they are telling you not to jump into shark infested waters—then and only then, I want you to listen! For the most part, they are projecting their fears onto you. Fear will hold you back—always!
  • Have fun! Laugh!
  • Challenge yourself
  • Ask for help when you need it
  • Follow your passions—which of course means that you first need to know what you’re passionate about. Some people never find out! Don’t waste time on this one!
  • Lead—don’t follow (The view is always better from up front!)
  • It’s okay to fail—but just don’t let it dissuade you from trying again!
  • It’s never okay to fall into a rut and stay there—climb out, brush yourself off, and keep moving!
  • Be aware of your surroundings—always!
  • Take nothing for granted—a soft pillow, a kind word, a smile, a friendly gesture.

The list could go on and on, but in honor of brevity, I will end at ten. In closing, I have found that most people are good. Look for the good in them and sometimes you have to look long and hard, but it’s there—and allow them to shine. It only makes your life better! Keep on trekking!

For those of you who read this to the end—thank you! I plan to post updates of my hike when I can, but it will of course be contingent upon the availability of technology. I hope you enjoy following my adventure this summer, and I wish upon you many fun adventures of your own!

“And I’m leaving tomorrow. What d’ you say?”