MARY MEETS THE UNIMOG

Even though the big trip to Rome didn’t work out, bicycles are still an integral part of our European Vacation.  Today we did a fifty-miler to the Unimog Museum in Gaggenau.  It was a beautiful fall day.  The Rheintal-Weg, the bike path we followed, was scenic and, thanks to the Rhine River, FLAT!  

Unimog, if you don’t know, is a very special four-wheel-drive vehicle built by Mercedes Benz.  The first time I ever saw an Unimog I was a little kid in Germany.  It was out in a muddy farmer’s field chugging along with the bed piled high with sugar beets.  So strange and stubby with it’s out-sized wheels and a cab perched atop the front wheels.  4WD vehicles were rare back in the 1950s and Unimog was top-of-the-line 4WD.  It still is – they’re not cheap.  The first ones were sold in 1947 and were intended to be used as a farm tractor that could be driven on pavement at highway speed.  In fact, the museum showcased Unimogs with plows and harrows attached.  I think they really found their niche though as military and exploration vehicles.

On a special course outside the museum building, for six Euros apiece, we could have taken a short ride over rough terrain that included one 60% grade.  Mary was game but I was too cheap.  We settled for a photo of some other people going up a lesser slope:


As I said, the ride down to Gaggenau was a scenic one.  We passed though one especially charming town called Ettlingen.  If you want visit a very “German” town, visit Ettlingen.  It puts Leavenworth to shame:


ETTLINGEN BRIDGE

I found a German conversation group that meets on Tuesdays and Thursday evenings.  Because my regular language class meets from 8:45 to 1:00 there is a 5-hour gap between the two.  On Tuesday I rode back to our apartment between classes but that resulted in two 42-kilometer rides (51 miles) in one day – a bit much!  Thursday, I went to the American Library and worked ahead in my German text for the five hours – also a bit much.  I’m looking for a less exhausting alternative.

Mary found a health club (they’re called fitness studios here) just up the road.  She will start Monday with a Zoomba class – some type of aerobic exercise.

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HAUPTSTRASSE, WILFERDINGEN

No thrilling adventures to tell you about this week so I’ll tell you about life in Wilferdingen.  

We have a second-story apartment on the right-hand side of the road in the above photo.  I’m told the street is normally relatively quiet but a lot of traffic has been detoured onto the street of late because of construction.  No problem.  Our apartment windows do an amazing job of blocking the traffic noise – which brings up an interesting point.   Doors and windows, rain gutters and roofing tiles – everything that goes into a building here is built solid and expensive.  The door to our apartment building could double as a bank vault door.  The windows must weigh 100 lbs each.  Down the road they’re building some commercial building with a parking garage beneath it and the amount of steel rebar in the concrete is unbelievable – 5/8 diameter every two inches.  These buildings are built to last – but at what price?

All of which brings up another of my discerning observations: why is there no parking space in German towns?  Even the Hauptstrasse above (which translates as Main Street) has very little parking.  All the other streets of town have barely enough width for two cars to pass and that space is reduced to one along much of their length because cars are parked half in the street and half on the sidewalk.  Answer: German towns long pre-date the automobile and in the old days a street only had to be wide enough for horse-drawn carts.

Karlsruhe, the city where I go to school, is about the size of Spokane but it has minimal traffic.  The reason?  Bicycle ridership.  I estimate many thousands of people get around Karsruhe each day on by bicycle.  Bike paths parallel many streets and some streets are reserved for bicycles.  Parking is less of a problem too because hundreds of bicycles can be parked where a handful of cars would park.  

Germany has issues, however.  Mary says the Germans could learn a thing or two from Americans about toilets.  She calls German toilets “shit catchers.”  “Streaking” seems to be unavoidable.  I would also suggest that they sell milk in cartons bigger than one-liter.  A family of four would have to buy twenty of those piddling things to get through the week.  Their willingness to irradiate the milk makes a lot of sense however.  They don’t need to refrigerate it and the expiration date is several months in the future.

Moving right along…..   The distribution of shopping facilities here takes some getting used to.  “Mom and Pops” abound.  And they’re tucked into the most obscure corners.  Wilferdingen has a hardware store of sorts.  It’s called “Dodi’s” (pronounced “dirtys”).  The entire showroom could fit in the average American living room and it’s located down a little side street.


DODI’S

Sundays are a time for “spazieren gehen” (strolling) here.  Paved footpaths lace the hills around town and a lot of people use them on Sundays.  Benches are placed at convenient intervals along the paths for those who tire or simply want to contemplate.  Intersections are signed for those who are uncertain of their route.  Mary knows more about the paths than I do.  She’s been taking a six-mile walk everyday when I’m at school.


MARY TAKES A BREAK

My bicycle ride to Karlsruhe follows the Pfinztal river and is quite flat but all around us are hills.  The views from the hilltops can be serene:


WILFERDINGEN FROM ON HIGH

We rode to the American Library in Karlsruhe today.  We thought it odd that Karlsruhe would have an American Library.  The story is that until twenty years ago there was an American Army base there.  When they closed the base some people lobbied to keep the library building and its contents which they have for twenty years with a lot of volunteer help.  The librarian told me that 3/4 of their patrons are Germans who for one reason or another want reading material in English.  I put a notice on their bulletin board seeking a conversation partner and I checked out two books: biographies of Eisenhower and the actress Helen Mirren.

I never fail to see interesting sights on my ride to school.  Here are some people at a heritage festival in downtown Karlsruhe:


Our kitchen came equipped with little more than a microwave and a toaster but Mary has managed to put together some delicious meals from rice, noodles, bacon, and eggs.  We bought a little frying pan and I heat it with my camping stove.  Add a few slices of German bread “und das schmeckt gut!”


THE BICYCLE PATH TO KARLSRUHE

The trials and tribulations of Freiburg behind us, we have settled into something of a routine here in Wilferdingen. Our 2nd-floor apartment is comfortable and modern with a nice view of the town’s main street.
My preoccupation is the German class I attend in Karlsruhe, a good-sized city about twelve miles away. Frequent trains pass through Wilferdingen on the way to Karlsruhe but I much prefer to ride my bicycle. It took me several days to figure out the route but I’ve got it down now and it’s a great ride – twenty-four miles roundtrip. Wonderful exercise. Unlike the smoke and heat that plague Chelan now and the hurricanes that are lashing the east coast, the weather here is a pleasant seventy degrees with just a trace of rain now and then.
Most of my daily commute is over paved bicycle paths. Occasionally I share a short stretch of road with cars when I pass through one of the several villages along the way, but the traffic is light. At about mile nine, when I reach Karlsruhe, the traffic is heavy but I have found a parallel side street for bicycles that bypasses the congestion. It’s a very pleasant ride.
My class at the Sprachakademie consists of about 15 students. They come from all over the world. I’m the only American and at 67, by far the oldest. I expect to attend for two months, until October 29. I completed my first week on Friday.


I’m in the A2 (advanced beginner) class which is a good fit for me. The course heavily emphasizes grammar, which is not my preference, but no conversation-oriented classes are available. I have learned that in Germany every skill down to driving a forklift requires a certificate of training and languages are no exception. Most of the students are young foreigners seeking a certificate of proficiency in German for employment purposes, hence the emphasis on grammar. The school literally teaches to the test and we have spent two of the last five days learning what to expect on the “final exam.” Of course, I am not seeking a certificate but the coursework can’t help but be useful.
Our teacher, Katrina, is a slight young woman who conducts her class like a drill sergeant. She brooks no inattention or carelessness of speech from her students – a tall order since many of the students have atrocious accents – especially those from China and the Middle East. You thinks deciphering German is hard – try deciphering German spoken by a Syrian!
One of the students, Marie, brought a box of chocolates to share with the class on Friday (I have no idea why). She passed them around and my desk mate, Mohammed, and I promptly bit into ours. The filling was vodka or some such vile liquid. I swallowed mine but Mohammed spit his out as did Mamoud who sits across from us. Mohammed explained to me that muslims are not supposed to consume alcohol. I doubt Marie knew this. 


Mary is certainly relieved to be off the street and to have a place to call home but she has yet to find a time-filling activity on par with my schooling. We researched the local adult-education offerings in the hope that a baking class might be available but to no avail. There is, of course, shopping – an avocation which Mary performs with great precision but it is hardly a full-time activity.  
Mary loves to bake. I have suggested that we approach several of the numerous local bakeries and that she offer her help (at no charge) in exchange for the hands-on experience of how German bread and pastries are made. She is mulling my suggestion over.


Rome is out. Wilferdingen is in. Here’s how it came to be:
I woke up in the night at Conde Northen (France) and realized Mary’s heart wasn’t into the Rome trip anymore. Too much weight. Too many hills. There wasn’t any point in fighting over it. She had been lobbying for a quick exit to Freiburg for some time and the city of Metz was only a short ride away. From its railway station, we could hop a train to Freiburg.
We had come to think of Freiburg as the perfect place for hiking, biking, and sightseeing. With its university population I expected to easily immerse myself in a language program. The climate is touted as the sunniest in Germany. In short, it was our Shang-ri-la.
We arrived at the station in Metz shortly before noon and while Mary guarded our bikes and gear on the sidewalk, I walked into the huge station building to buy some tickets. Our train would leave in two hours which I figured was plenty of time to disassemble the bikes and pack them in their travel cases. The line at the ticket counter was about ten people but only one of the six windows was manned. Each of the people in front of me took a maddeningly long time to get their tickets and probably forty-five minutes of my two hours was pissed away standing in that line. My blood pressure was probably 400/200 as the precious minutes ticked away.
When I finally got the tickets, I ran out to Mary and told her to start packing the duffel bags while I disassembled the bikes. We only had a little over an hour before our train left. The last (and first) time I had performed this task it had taken me several hours. I was working like a crazed person and muttering every few minutes “We’ll never make it on time…………we’re going to miss the train.” The task seemed hopeless but the thought of forfeiting the seventy Euros I had pain for the tickets was too much to consider.  

Mary did a superb job of transferring our gear to the duffels and to our utter amazement I was able to pack the bikes into their cases in time. With a bulging pannier atop our 50-lb duffle bags atop our bicycle cases atop their tiny casters we rolled into the station.  

An escalator separated us from the train platform. Right away the trouble began. Mary went first. Her stacked baggage pitched forward when the escalator caught it. When she reached the top, the baggage tumbled into a pile, blocking all that was behind it, including Mary. The escalator’s unremitting progress pitched Mary forward over her heap of baggage. Right behind her, unable to avoid her, I and my pile of baggage was added to her pile. Of course, the people behind us had nowhere to go but into the log jam too.

Our savior was a young man who pulled Mary and her baggage out of the way, freeing up the human flotsam that the escalator continued to disgorge onto the station platform.  
Our next challenge was where to put our oversize baggage on the train. Too big to fit in the luggage racks, there was nowhere to put it but in the little foyer where passengers enter and exit the train. I pushed it to one side but that didn’t work because it trapped occupants in the toilet that abutted the foyer. At each stop, passengers carrying their own luggage had to wedge themselves around our bags. We were causing a traffic jam but what could we do? It was extremely embarrassing, especially for Mary, who shudders to even think of causing someone a problem.

Arriving at Freiburg utterly exhausted, we collapsed in our hotel room.

That night and into the next day we searched the internet for an apartment. We planned to spend the next two months in Freiburg. But what we found was that Freiburg is booked up in September and October. Not only did the rentals go for $100/day and up, none were available for long term rental. Staying in a hotel for $150/day was out of the question – $9000?! I stumbled onto a temporary solution when I checked out a car rental. We would have to have a vehicle to check out the apartments since anything remotely affordable was far out of town. Surprisingly, Enterprise offered a large van for about $40/day. Not only would it provide us with the needed mobility but it would serve as shelter until we found a more permanent habitation.

“Mmmmmmmmm…..  Coffee good”.   MARY IN THE VAN WITH OUR GEAR
We found a campground with WiFi near town and continued our search from inside our roomy Enterprise van. I won’t bore you with the details but we spent three days on the internet, on the telephone, looking in newspapers, rental agencies, knocking on doors, asking everyone we met – all to no avail. Nothing was available for two months at any price. The final straw was an ad we saw in a newspaper asking for a “young couple with no children.” Well, we filled half the bill (no accompanying children.). We thought maybe I could talk my way around the “young couple” stipulation with our robust, athletic appearance.  
An answering service had directed us to be at the apartment at 2:00. We waited in our van for an hour on the street. At 2:00 I rang the doorbell. When I told the old man that answered the door that we were there to rent the apartment, he brusquely told us “I want a young couple! You are not young!” He indicated the door and told us to get out. 

Well! He didn’t have to be so rude.

Having had enough of “Fabulous Freiburg,” we found a reasonably priced apartment in the village of Wilferdingen near Karlsruhe, some 95 miles from Freiburg. Sight unseen, I told the guy “We’ll take it. We’ll be there in two hours with the cash.”
To our delight, the apartment is nice, Wilferdingen is a pleasant village, an it is a 10-minute train ride to Karlsruhe or a pleasant 1-hour bicycle ride. Karlsruhe has several language schools which I plan to check out on Monday.  
It feels good to have a home again.


BREAKFAST ROOM AT THE GRANGE DE CONDE

Sun-baked, thirsty, hot and sweaty, we sat in a tiny patch of shade in the village of Altroff.   Mary was having her usual afternoon meltdown, saying “How could I be so f—ing stupid as to come on this ride?”  I had to admit, at that moment, the going was tough.  The hill we had just climbed was the steepest and longest of the day, the temperature was well into the 80s and the humidity was near tropical.

“Another twelve miles and we’ll be at a hotel” I reminded her.  I needed to get her to look past the discomfort of the moment. There being no campgrounds in this part of western France, we had agreed to indulge ourselves at a hotel.

“Besides, it’s all downhill from here.”

That didn’t quite turn out to be the case.  A straight line from Altroff to the hotel may have been a downhill grade but there were several considerable climbs along the way.

When at last we rolled into Conde-Northen, the supposed location of the much anticipated hotel, it did not look promising.  Other than a scattering of typical rural French houses, nothing even vaguely resembled a hotel.  Two boys were riding wheelies on their bicycles in the street.  I asked one of them “Hotel?”  He shrugged his shoulders.  We rode on.  Over one more small hill and around a corner we saw some large white tents.  Then a large building.  At the front, facing the road was the imposing entrace to La Grange de Conde.

The boys rode by on their bicycles.  I pointed to the hotel and shouted at them “Hotel!” (Just in case they would ever have the question put to them by other beleaguered American tourists.)

The hotel was considerably grander than we expected but with marching orders from Mary that I should take a room no matter the cost (she would not pedal a kilometer further), I presented myself in sweat-stained bike attire at the registration desk.  We are impressed with our room but it is our bicycles that got the royal treatment.  They will spend the night in a huge dining hall that, apparently, will not be used tonight.

We entered France this morning.  The Grange de Conde notwithstanding, it is our impression that France is noticeably shabbier than Holland, Germany, Belgium, and Luxembourg.  Many of the buildings are in disrepair, litter is not uncommon, and few people apparently clean up their dogs’ messes.


THE CHURCH IN GOSTINGEN, LUXEMBOURG

Towns are amazingly close together here, especially in France – often separated by no more than a mile.  Nevertheless, each little village has an imposing church.  A village of twenty houses will have a church larger than any to be found in a typical American city.   The Gostingen church is noteworthy not for its size but for the fact that the main street ends abruptly at its front door.  (Surprisingly, I saw no evidence that any car had crashed into it.)


RADIO LUXEMBOURG

Here we see the transmittig towers of Radio Luxembourg.  When I was a boy in the 1960s living in Germany, the clearest station on the radio dial was Radio Luxembourg.  I once read that the Beatles, growing up in Liverpool, England, got their exposure to rock n’ roll music from faraway Radio Luxembourg.  At one time, it broadcasted with a power of 1,300,000 watts – 26 times as powerful as any American radio station and far more powerful than the monopolistic BBC in England.

On a similar note, I remember listening to “pirate” English radio when we vacationed in Holland.  These stations broadcasted from floating platforms anchored offshore – again as a way of circumventing the British Broadcasting Corporation’s ban on advertising.


THE TRAIL NEAR ECHTERNACH, LUXEMBOURG

Slowly, we make our way south.   Mary is definitly getting stronger.  Yesterday we did nearly sixty miles.

Cultural observations:  Very few grocery stores since leaving Holland.  The French must eat their meals in restaurants because those abound but grocery stores are almost nonexistent.  The Germans have clean bathrooms but you have to bring your own toilet paper!   (An unpleasant experience until you learn to come provisioned with your own roll!!).  Farm tractors in Europe travel the back roads at highway speed.


RIDING THE VENNBAHN

Since we are using a guidebook written in Dutch, nearly all of the text is incomprehensible to us, so when we came across the term “Vennbahn” it was just one more incomprehensible word.  I asked some Dutch campers a few days back and they said the word isn’t a Dutch word.  After talking this strange word over amonst themselves and the next campsite over, they announced that the word must be German and that it probably referred to an old railroad bed that has been converted for bicycle use, what we in America call “rails to trails.”

Up to that point we had been riding through perfectly flat Holland so a converted railroad with its gentle grades had little appeal to us.  Besides, we had bigger problems – like finding our way through the maze of bicycle paths that run everywhere through Holland.

Then came Belgium and its hills.  What had been of little interest a day before was suddenly very interesting.  So preoccupied were we with climbing hills, however, that we had completely forgotten the Vennbahn.  All that changed when we took a room at a the small hotel, Zum Onkel Jonathan, hosted by the charming Dieter Creutz (more about him later).  Herr Creutz asked if we were riding the Vennbahn and mentioned that it was just up the road from the hotel.  “It’s nearly flat and it will take you almost to Luxemburg” he said.  So all the hill climbing we had done that day was unnecessary, a “scenic” route for bicycle riders not pulling trailers and looking for a challenging ride!

We rode the Vennbahn the next day and doubled our milage over the previous day.  It was everything Herr Creutz had promised.

As for hotel Zum Onkel Jonathan – what a cool hotel.  On the main street of Raeren, it appeared to be closed when we rode up.  We managed to find an open door and a friendly older gentleman showed us a very nice room.  We took it.  Because we had been unable to purchase any food during the day, we took the highly unusual step (for us) of eating in the hotel restaurant.  We were the only guests in the hotel and restaurant but the restaurant had elegant table settings and a real bar:


MARY AT BREAKFAST

Herr Creutz went through a very French menu and Mary had something with slices of ham on melons.  I told him to skip the fancy French stuff and give me a heaping plate of fries – which he did.  They were Belgian Fries he explained – much better than French or German fries – and they were.  “Beef tallow” he informed me, is the secret to good fries.

As we were his only guest, Herr Creutz entertained us throughout our dinner with various tales about his hotel and former guests, as well as the aforementioned “secret” of the Vennbahn.  I mention our conversation because it was all in German!  I was very pleased with myself for this, which I consider a great accomplishment and a fitting reward for all my hours of German studying.

Last night we camped in the little Belgian town of St. Vith, which our camping neighbor informed me had been completely obliterated by the allies during WWII.  So completely, he said, that the entire town was bulldozed into a heap and rebuilt from scratch (hence, no historic buildings in St. Vith.). So much for history.  What we will remember most are the slugs of St. Vith.  After the rain (we had a thunderstorm in the night) the slugs came out in force and were everywhere in the grass. In the middle of the night Mary got up to pee and a slug was in her shoe!


CASTLE IN VIANDEN, LUXEMBOURG

The Vennbahn sadly ended this morning and we promptly got lost.  We met two guys at a crossing and it came up in the conversation that we were (unknowingly) off course and going backwards.  

We are camping in Vianden Luxembourg tonight.  Our neighbors are Luxembourgers who are attending a gathering for Luxembourgers who own antique MG cars.  They loaned us their lawn chairs, a seemingly insignificant offer but one which has enabled me to type this blog post in relative comfort.  

Tomorrow sometime we should reach the Mosel River which promises to have numerous castles, vinyards, and most importantly, flat bicycle paths along its banks.


MARY CONFRONTS YET ANOTHER BELGIAN HILL

We have left Holland and are now in western Belgium near the German border.  Our progress is modest, about 30 – 40 miles per day, because of our heavy load of baggage and now the hilly terrain.   Holland was flat as a pancake but all that changed once we entered Belgium.  The hills are modest in height but they are numerous and steep.

I find the route endlessly fascinating: stone houses, winding streets, manicured fields, carefully stacked firewood, everything in its place, strange farm machinery, different construction techniques, etc., etc.  Mary is inclined to focus on the difficult exertion that comes with the territory.  She is, how should I say, discouraged. That should lessen considerably once we reach Freiburg – at least a week away at our present rate.  She will be in better shape, we will jettison the trailers, and the terrain will flatten out.  I am hoping we get that far.  Her latest scheme is to rent a car as soon as possible, drive to Freiburg and stay put.  “Forget about Rome” she says.

Leaving Wageningen several days ago we crossed the Rhine and several other rivers whose names I have forgotten.  Volunteers run special ferries for pedestrians and bicyclists to cross these bodies of water.  In Holland bicycles rule.  Cycle paths go everywhere and cycle paths always parallel highways.  If a path crosses a street, the cars stop for the bicycles.  If a car and bicycle are in a collision, the car’s driver is always at fault by law, no matter what.


BICYCLE FERRY ACROSS THE RHINE

Thatch roofs are still quite common in Holland although they are being replaced by shiney blue, red, and black tile.  I think the thatch looks like a luxurious coat of fur:


We have camped for the last three nights but tonight we are luxuriating in a little hotel in Raeren.  I can’t begin to roll my r’s the way the locals do.  When we asked for directions to “Raren” it took people a while to figure out what we were asking.  And choosing a language here is complicated by the proximity to France, Holland, and Germany.  My crude German has sufficed on several occasions to get us out of a pinch.

Michiel set us up with cell service and a cycling app that was a great help in Holland but we are on our own in Belgium.  Our maps are helpful but far from foolproof and we logged more than a few wasted kilometers today.

The campgrounds in Holland were very nice – clean, grassy sites and spotless bathrooms.  The heavy dew is just as we remembered it from Germany and we often pack a wet tent.  We greatly regret not bringing our camp chairs.  These Europeans don’t seem to know what a picnic table is – standard fare in American campgrounds.   You don’t appreciate tables and chairs until you don’t have them.

The weather has been great.  No rain, partial sun, not too hot.  Today was actually cool.


BELGIAN STONE HOUSE


MARY WITH THE MAILWALDS

When last we left you, we were lost in Amsterdam.  We decided to chuck the whole knooppunt thing and just head south to the city of Utrecht, about 20 miles.  This actually worked quite well, thanks to the Dutch’s wonderful network of bicycle paths.  Just about every road in Holland has bicycle paths along it so we never had to ride on the highway.

The ride to Utrecht was quite pleasant, especially after we figured out that Mary was riding with her brake applied.  I was coasting along while Mary was pumping furiously ahead and we were only going about 8 mph.  I know I’m a stronger rider than she is but even so, her struggle seemed a bit odd.  I held my tongue for a mile or two (Mary doesn’t take kindly to me urging her to speed up) but I finally asked her to stop and sure enough, the little spring had popped off and one brake pad was rubbing against her wheel rim.  I fixed that and away we zoomed.


ALONG THE PATH TO UTRECHT

All went well until Utrecht but we managed to get lost on the city streets (sound familiar?).  After pestering several Dutchmen for help we were able to get through the city.  We soon found ourselves scratching our heads, however, at a collection of road signs, looking for one that said “Wageningen” or “LF4″ (the bike route to Wageningen) and feeling the same sinking sensation of the day before.  

Babes in the wood once again, like Hansel and Gretel looking for the bread crumbs that the birds had eaten, we had no idea if we were on the correct road or not.  The locals were of no help.  They didn’t seem to know what LF4 meant nor the way to Wageningen even though it is only 40 miles away.  
But then, a most peculiar but welcome thing happened: a familiar voice was shouting my name!  I turned to see Michiel Maiwald trotting down the road toward us!!  Talk about a coincidence.  Turns out,  the Maiwalds had come to Utrecht for a funeral and just happened to see us standing by the roadside.  Whew!   We all took a minute to get over this extraordinary coincidence and then Michiel wrote down a list of the towns we needed to pass through to get to Wageningen.  Now at least, we had some waypoints to refer. To should we again become lost.The Mailwalds promised to hurry home in their BMW, get their bicycles, and ride back to meet us and personally guide us through the last twenty miles to their house.

But in one last stroke of (bad?) luck we had another near miss.  A harvest festival (oogfeest) was being held along the way and all traffic (including us) was diverted around the town.  It just so happened that this was the point were the Maiwalds” return path and ours crossed but they didn’t know whether or not we had traversed the festival or taken the detour.  They started through the festival but Michiel looked back one last time and saw us pedaling merrily down the road toward Wageningen.  They turned around and caught up to us and practically held our hands all the way to their front door – so extraordinary a talent for getting lost had we demonstrated by that point.

Over supper at a local pub we had a jolly good time reminiscing over the summer we had shared two years earlier riding the Great Divide Mountain Bike Ride.  

The next day we all jumped into the BMW and went to a rather unique museum that houses the art collection of a wealthy 19th-century Dutch art patron.  The museum lies within a nature preserve and visitors ride museum-owned bicycles several miles to the actual facility.   The collector had been one of the earliest to recognize Van Gogh’s talent and he had a lot of Vincent’s paintings.   Mary was even able to see some of the paintings she recognized from her long-ago art history class at Wenatchee Valley College.


Tomorrow we are off to points south with the support of a Michiel-supplied SIM card for our phone which should enable us to find our way to Maastricht a few days from now.


THE MUSEUM BICYCLES AND MAKE-OUT MARY WITH HER LOVER BOY


My photo doesn’t exactly illustrate the theme of today’s post but it’s the only one I took so it will have to do.  We saw this setup which looks like a carnival ride early this morning before we got lost.  I didn’t take any more photos because we spent the rest of the day trying to find our way.  More about that later.

It was explained to us that this company makes rescue boats for oil platforms in the North Sea.  These boats are hanging from the sides of the platforms like this.  When the oil workers, due to a catastrophe, have to make a quick getaway and abandon the oil rig, they get in this boat, strap themselves in, and launch themselves into the sea like a torpedo.  Cool, eh?

Well, back to our main story.  When we visited Mr Benjaminse, our mapmaker, yesterday, he explained to us that Holland is replete with bicycle paths and there is a system where one can plans one’s route by simply looking at a map and writing down in order the “knooppunten” (waypoints) of the route one wishes to follow.  He kindly gave us a list of the knooppunten from our hotel to Wageningen, the town where our friends, the Maiwalds, live.  

List of knooppunten in hand, we blissfully set off this morning.  All went well for the first ten miles as we checked off knooppunten one after the other.  But when we got to knooppunt 60 and started looking for knooppunt 50, knooppunt 50 was nowhere to be found.  We rode down one bike path after another – no knooppunt 50.  We asked several passersby for help.  They didn’t didn’t know what we were talking about.  We even asked two friendly police on horseback.  They couldn’t help us.  

It was now 2:30 and we realized there was no way we were going to make it to Wageningen by nightfall.  We had 75 kilometers to go.  We had covered 30 kilometers since morning and some of those were circular so we were barely any closer to our destination than when we started.

We’re still in the city and pitching a tent isn’t an option so we’re “camping” at the Holiday Inn Express where we have WiFi so we can get our bearings and make another stab at it tomorrow.


MARY’S NEW SHOES

Chelan Traveler is in Holland as of yesterday.  Although the humidity is high (rain, actually), the temperature is a pleasant 75 degrees which is a nice change from the high 90s and smoke we were experiencing for the last few weeks in Chelan.  We’re staying a couple of days in a nice hotel room in the Amsterdam suburb of Hoofdorp which is near the airport.  We booked an extra night because we neeed to visit the mapmaker whose route we are following to Rome.  We mistakenly got the Dutch text to our maps and we exchanged it for the English version.

The first thing I had to do when we got to the hotel yesterday was check the altimeter on my wristwatch.  Sure enough, Hoofdorp is twenty feet below sea level.  My altimeter read “-20”!  – a real nerdthrill.  Of course, our room is on the third floor and twenty feet above sea level so even if the dike breaks in the night, we won’t drown.

We took the commuter train into downtown Amsterdam today to get the map updates.  Rather pricey, these Dutch trains: approximately $30 for the two of us for a twenty minute ride.  I remember the subway in Munich which was on the honor system – no turnstiles, no gatekeepers.  Not so, the Dutch.  In fact, we had a lot of trouble even paying.  The ticket machine wouldn’t take our credit card and their is no human manning the ticket station.  We had to go to a convenience store and buy a chocolate bar to get the change in coins to make the ticket machine work.

Even though it was raining, downtown Amsterdam always makes for a fascinating stroll.  Canals and quaint buildings everywhere as well as tons of tourists.  No traffic jams on the streets but the sidewalks were a different story.  You had better be ready to gawk when walking in Amsterdam.  Because the sidewalks are jam-packed, all it takes is a few gawking tourists ahead to slow the entire procession to a crawl.  Lord help the person who is in a hurry.  And of course, the air is redolent of marijuana smoke.  This is Amsterdam, after all.

Our bikes have been reassembled and our panniers packed.  We are ready to start riding in the morning.  We hope to make it to the home of our Dutch friends, the Maiwalds, in Wageningen which is about fifty miles from Amsterdam.  Thank God Holland is flat because we each have about 100 lbs of gear.  We plan to leave our trailers in Freiburg before we start climbing into the Alps.  That should lighten our loads considerably.

A NARROW STREET IN AMSTERDAM