Walk #1: 4.37 kilometers in 1:03
A midday walk begins at my friend KW’s house in Brunssum, NL. KW is the spouse of an Air Force officer and is the mother of two boys. She and I met through the Catholic women’s group on base where she struck me immediately as a warm and lovely woman, possessing a quick wit, a big heart, and great sense of humor. KW suggests that we walk in the Schutterspark which is a 185-acre wooded area right around the corner from her home. Even though we have lived near here for three and a half years, I’ve never explored this area. What a discovery! Interesting paths, big hills, little creeks, a boardwalk that elevates the walking path above a boggy area, big hills, a lake, and big hills. Did I mention the hills? They are big. I really have to work for it today, and inexplicably, I love every minute of it. What a feeling to get to the top of a long, steep incline. As I stop to catch my breath, I’m sure I have a stupid grin plastered across my face.
When the path turns and reveals the lake in the center of the park I can’t contain my joy. What unexpected beauty! I can’t believe that this had been here all along and I never knew about it. It’s like that feeling when you discover a 20 spot in the pocket of a coat you haven’t worn for a while. As we begin the trek around the lake, we see a runner booking it toward us on the path. He isn’t jogging, he is flat.out.running. Whoosh! I have to admire his strength. He isn’t even breathing hard. He laps us around the lake two more times before it’s all said and done. In our defense, a nice Dutch couple in a miniature-horse-drawn buggy slows us up a bit. The horse was named “Snoop,” which means candy. Dutch children ask for “een snoopje,” which means a little candy treat. Seeing our interest, the man climbs out of the buggy to feed Snoop a few apple slices. He gamely lets me snap a few pictures, which were mandatory when I realized that he was sporting traditional clogs. Bright blue clogs, to be exact. I feed Snoop an apple and get a little horse slobber on my palm in return. Ah, well, what’s a little horse saliva between friends.
We wave goodbye to Snoop and his owners, and continue our walk. It’s worth mentioning here that every Dutch person has at least one dog. I think it must be a law or something. I lose count of the number of dogs we pass today. Maybe 25?
KW (who speaks both Dutch and German) and I find it interesting how every Dutch person says hello differently. Yesterday alone I got “Hello, Hallo, Morgen, Goede Morgen (pronounced Hoo-ya Mor-hen), Hoi, Oiy Oiy, Dag, Goede Dag (Hoo-ya dock)…the list goes on. I suppose it’s the equivalent to Hello, Hi, howzitgoin?, howareya, Mornin’, etc… I have learned that Europeans in general find it very irritating when Americans ask “How are you” as a greeting, not as a question. Their point is well taken, though. Why ask if you don’t want to know the answer or say it merely to be polite? When I first began learning Dutch, I was careful to learn “How are you today?” in order to be able to be friendly to people in shops. Unfortunately, when I used it, I got one startled expression after another. I took this up with my Dutch teacher, and she explained that a simple “Goede Morgen” is sufficient for a greeting to strangers. Apparently “How are you today” is a personal question reserved for those who are familiar with one another.
It’s another cold, windy day, but the sun is shining and it is glorious. During the course of our walk it warms up considerably, and it’s not just my workout talking. Puddles that were icy on the way in have completely melted by the time we pass them on the way out of the park.
After our lovely walk and a thorough de-horse-saliva hand washing, KW feeds me lunch. We have sweet fresh carrots from the local farmer’s market as well as a few other fruits and veggies. Then KW makes a simple sandwich with pepper-encrusted salami, young Gouda cheese (BTW…Gouda is pronounced “How-duh” here in the NL), and the most amazing garlic mustard that she picked up in Monschau. Monschau is about an hour drive from here and is a wonderfully picturesque German town. But back to the mustard…THE MUSTARD! It was so good that I slice a few pieces of Gouda and slather them with mustard. Yumm! Sometimes I just really love living in Europe. Usually when I’m eating.
Thanks to KW for being such an awesome battle buddy/tour guide/personal chef today. You must be one of Jesus’s favorites…you reflect Him so humbly and sweetly to those around you!
Walk #2: 3.14 kilometers in 1:12
My second walk of the day takes place during a tutoring session with HP, who is a native French speaker trying to improve her English. Vivacious and energetic, when HP learns that I am in training for the Camino, she volunteers to take her lesson on the go. To be honest, after the hills of the Schutterspark, I am a little tired and a tad stiff this afternoon and am thinking of wimping out and remaining in the classroom instead. But I push those feelings aside and keep to the plan. We meet at the AFNORTH International school and walk back into the Brunssumerheide (Brun-summer-high-duh).
The Heide (high-duh) has a variety of hiking and biking trails. My husband the cross-country (XC) runner, prefers running in the Heide more than anywhere else, and often takes his XC team into the Heide to train. The most interesting thing about the Heide is that, smack dab in the middle lies a large sandy area. Imagine a beach in the middle of the woods. The Dutch come here when the sun shines to lay out, walk their dogs, throw frisbees, etc…
HP has never been in the Heide, so it is my turn to play tour guide which introduces vocabulary that was useful in the lesson. She’s a dedicated ESL student and 90 minutes of intensive English conversation per week is improving her skills quickly. I find it challenging to get some words across to her during the walk without being able to write on a piece of paper.
We walk into the center of the Heide until we arrive at the “beach.” We slog across the sand and down another hill until we reach a long shallow puddle. It’s really just a large collection of rainwater, but I see teenagers splashing and playing in the knee-deep water. I suppose I made do with less when I was a kid. We had a shallow creek running through our farm in Virginia and my brother and I had the time of our lives in 3-foot-deep section that we pretended was a swimming hole.
As we make our way back to the school, HP and I talk about how hard it is to learn a foreign language as an adult. Things just don’t come as easily as they used to. Vocabulary slips through the middle-aged brain like water through a sieve. One has to hear things many times before they stick. That’s one of the reasons that I admire ESL learners – the sheer willpower that it takes to keep at it. It’s easy to get discouraged and lost when native speakers speed past you in conversation. I know this firsthand from my experience learning Dutch. When the conversation eclipses my skill with the language, I sometimes cheat and simply follow the speaker’s body language. It’s the “smile and wave, boys” method of communicating. But pretending will never get the job done. Only effort and persistence will. Hmm…I wonder if I know any other parts of my life where that logic would apply?
By the end of this second walk today, I am pretty beat. Thanks to HP for being such a grand “copain de bataille.” Total mileage (kilometerage?) on the day is 7.77 kilometers.
I kinda like those numbers.