I can't believe I am at a computer right now. What a crazy day. One week in I guess, and just a few Obstakels.
I woke up late, considering how tired I was, and ended up leaving around noon. I started running towards this town called Numansdorp about half way between Rotterdam and Roosendaal.
The run was awesome. Everywhere in the Netherlands that I've been has some sort of crazy water flowing through or around it. To get out of Rotterdam towards Numansdorp, I went through two crazy long underwater pedestrian tunnels, the second of which (the Heinenoordtunnel) was over 600 meters long, and had an awesome breeze flowing through it.
I've been doing my runs at mostly whatever pace feels comfortable...but because I'm so used to running at a certain pace, I think that is what I do. I'm probably going a bit slower than my standard Central Park pace though, considering the pack. The German couple I met in Leiden introduced themselves by commenting on how smooth I looked as they went by me on their bicycles (crazy, considering I was 35 km in). I'd say I'm a hair over 7 minute miles.
Today though, was crazy...probably only 38 kilometers of that was actual running. I did a lot of walking. I stopped 25 km in to grab a Snickers bar, some Aquarius (a sports drink here), and a piece of something that ended up being ginger bread. I walked for maybe 2 km to let my food settle, and was in the town of Numansdorp with my GPS reading 33.5 kilometers. A good solid twenty miles should have been all I had to do.
Turns out it wasn't. The town of Numansdorp sounds exactly like the Dutch word for "Nobody's Village"...and it is just that. I sat down at lunch next to some young people who I thought might be willing to help out and asked as an introductory question "Is there anything interesting to do here?" They shook their heads, "no." They ended up merely pointing me in the direction of the one hotel in the town that I had already passed by. I tried to go to the small library to try to get onto the internet to look for a place...but it shut at noon. I went to the bike shop and asked (cyclists and runners are similar right?) but he just called up the hotel and informed me that it was 65 euros a night, and that there weren't any other options except to try a different town. I went to the hotel and asked if I could exchange work for a floor...of course not. I went by a house that had a huge barn and shop where an old man was working (perfect! I'll help him work, and in exchange he'll help me sleep on the floor of the barn!). He didn't speak any English, so I spoke to him in the best Dutch I could do (a random combination of English and German words which sound Dutch to me), telling him my story as he stood on top of a ladder with some paint. After about 10 minutes of back and forth, he revealed that it actually wasn't his house...he was just working there and the owner was gone!
So, I went to the next place--a tourism/travel planner--where I again told my story to an enthusiastic man who loved it and had run a few marathons in his life. "I'm getting warm I think." He ends up recommending that I run 15 more kilometers to the next town, Willemstad, where I'm more likely to find a place. "They have boats" he says "someone on a boat is more likely to let you stay with them." I'm [not] on a boat. After asking a few more people, I bite the bullet and start running to Willemstad. It is getting late. I think it was pushing 7 when I left.
I run across this very long bridge without a proper place for pedestrians to get to the side of Willemstad, constantly looking for places to stay (under the bridge, along the water, in a field...). I got a little lost, and stopped on a few occasions to walk/ask for places to stay (to no avail), but got into town with light still in the sky.
I've been excited about staying in churches for a long time. What a romantic notion, going to a church with nothing, and having a nice nun take you in from the rain and give you pity and shelter seemed like a pretty awesome way to travel Europe. There are 3 churches in Willemstad as signs indicate, so I'm sure I'm in for a treat. However, as it turns out, they were all closed with no occupants...as pretty much every church I've seen here is only open on Sundays.
I walk around town (a very small town, but on a little port island surrounded by a star shaped moat...crazy in plan) and go to the only hotel. "How much is a room for the night?" I ask, to start conversation (I had already seen the price on the door). "65 euros, but we are full tonight." I'm thinking to myself "wonderful, only one hotel, and it is full...now they will definitely let me work here in exchange for a floor to sleep on. Who wouldn't have pity on me...he doesn't know I wasn't going to pay anyways..." No dice though.
I walk out of the hotel...it is probably pushing nine now but somehow it is still a little light. I start walking down a trail and find it: my solution. On the outskirts of the village, I find a cluster of abandoned WWII bunkers: underground, discreet, concrete, and covered. This is my comfortable last resort.
Along the path, I meet a woman walking her dog...we get into conversation, and she (interested and nice) does her best to help me out. She doesn't live in the town, but goes around asking some people she knows with me waiting eagerly in the background. No dice again.
I make my way back toward the bunkers. I'm going to find which one is best for the night while it is still light, and then find something to eat before "bed." As I'm peering into a bunker near the street with a locked door, a nearby man sees me and askes me something about my interest in the bunker. The conversation develops, and soon I am inside a warm home of an awesome carpenter and his family, eating a home cooked meal and having great conversations. This trip has been good to me so far. Roosendaal in the morning...and the next day, Belgium.
29 May 2009