I crossed the border today into Belgium, the land of waffles, beer and fries...all the best things in a runner's diet. The run was short, but had the very eventful moment of my crossing the border into another country. It reminded me very much of the first time I ran from Manhattan across the river to New Jersey...it was my first two hour run, and I was pretty excited to have run to another state (not quite as easy in Olympia, Washington). This experience was very similar, except...well...I'm not in NEW JERSEY.
I ran into Kalmthout during a three day street fair/music festival that I didn't know about until I arrived. I think I heard some Green Day covers. I had a look about, and headed over to the home of my hosts here, Simonne and Joost. Joost is a French professor, so he has been helping me realize how terrible I am at speaking the language. Basically, I have nothing. Things will definitely get interesting as I get further away from the English speaking parts of Europe. Also, they use "AZERTY" keyboards here instead of "QWERTY"...
Anyways, had a great meal, and got a new Belgian SIM card, and helped with transferring some vinyl music to CD. Waking up early in the morning...so I'm going to bed now.
30 May 2009
I made it to Saint Peter's! Check out the Baldacchinno!
Not really, actually I'm months away from Rome and the Vatican. The photo is real though. I'm standing in a 1/3 scale copy of St. Peter's in a small town called Oudenbosch about 9 kilometers north of Roosendaal. This morning I looked over a map with my host in Willemstad. Matthijs informed me that a town that was about 6 kilometers off of my route to Roosendaal had a replica of St. Peters. I thought I might skip past it, but once I saw the dome in the horizon I was drawn towards it. I have to say, if you are a small Dutch town that I have never heard of, and you build a cheesy 1/3 scale replica of St. Peter's, I will run 6 km out of my way to see it any day...and I will take a deservingly awesome photo with an awkward grin and a thumbs-up too. I hung around the Basilica for a while, and payed 50 cents to go up to the cupola. It was surprisingly awesome. It is this kind of random discovery--like a giant ball of yarn in the desert--that makes this kind of journey interesting for me.
I arrived in Roosendaal in the late afternoon, with my forehead burning. It was hot today, and I'm sure that when my skin starts to peel in a few days I'll be asking for places to stay while looking a bit like a leper. I think I need to get some sunscreen in the morning.
I met up with my host Edwin, who I met via couchsurfing. We spent most of the night eating a great dinner and talking about techniques of travel and living. We went on a short trip out to a nearby town called Bergen op Zoom and had a drink. I had a great evening, spent talking about what was behind me and looking forward to what is coming. I still don't know. I know that I've had some awesome hosts this week, and that this trip is coming out to be a pretty sweet adventure. I also know that I'll be in Belgium in the morning (goodbye Netherlands).
29 May 2009
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.
28 May 2009
Rotterdam is the home to largest port in Europe, OMA, Rem Koolhaus, a building that looks like a big periscope, and for the next few minutes...me.
I ran through a town called Delft on the way here, and I guess I missed a cool library, but the weather was decent and I got into town a little after eleven.
I wandered around in the light rain until around 6, going to the NAI and a couple other architecture things. Rotterdam seems to be 50 percent architects, which works well for me. At 6 I met up with my awesome host Andrea (also an architect) and we had a drink with some of his coworkers. He brought me by the office he´s in now, and I saw some interesting projects. His place is among a bunch of other rooms, which each contain interesting and international artist-architect people, and many of us sat down together for a good bowl of pasta. We went to watch the championship soccer match between FC Barcelona and Man U, during which I nodded off on a barstool. I was wiped out.
Got an excellent night of sleep...it is around 11, and I´m about to head to Numansdorp, which I think is about 30 km from here...and where I have nowhere to stay. Hopefully it does´t keep raining.
27 May 2009
Yesterday evening I met up with my first couchsurfing host in Leiden, a young CS major (computer science/ couch surfing). I was wiped out, but somehow made it through helping to cook some dinner and going out for a beer at one of the local bars. Heading back from the bar around midnight, we were caught in a torrential downpour/lightning storm and ended up following the lead of many unprepared New Yorkers and running back with whatever flat materials we could find in the dumpster over our heads. Needless to say, I got pretty wet...and really hoped that it would be clear in the morning. I had been spoiled with sun thus far.
In the morning, it just seemed gray, but I took the precaution of wrapping all of my dry clothes in my space blanket inside of my backpack, and puting my phone into a ziplock. It definitely started raining...but a lighter rain. More like the kind we have in Washington. Felt like home.
I ran through a bunch of farms and saw some sheep, goats, llamas (or maybe alpacas...), and cows, all of whom were also very wet. When I got into the Haag, I took the above picture (a reflection of myself on a store window through a wet ziplock bag) which I think sets the overall mood of my run. 23 km, and I was in the Den Haag, the seat of government in the Netherlands
I ended up at the apartment of Kevin, a RE/MAX agent that had contacted me after my mom (also a realtor) sent a worried e-mail to the office in the Netherlands looking for some friendly people. Thanks Mama!
Kevin and his girlfriend Wendy were great hosts, and it wasn't long before I was in my dry clothes and wearing Kevin's old shoes which were about 3 sizes too big. Kevin drove me around the Haag and (being a bit of a handyman) explained to me many of the differences in construction techniques here relative to the United States. I think we both do some pretty goofy stuff.
We went by the beach at Scheveningen and sat in front of a nice fire while beach stormed around us, and went to dinner at a Mexican restaurant at another beach. Of all things, we ate barbeque ribs with fries and salad (Mexican?).
I've got a good couch to stay on here, and (I think) a place for tomorrow in Rotterdam. Nothing in Numansdorp or Roosendaal yet though...or anywhere until I get to Brussels in a week.
Thanks by the way to those of you who are reading this stuff and making comments. I really appreciate the support.
25 May 2009
That's a marathon for those who don't know. Definetly a bit of a shock to the system. I'm wiped out now. At least it isn't that far to Den Haag from here.
I woke up around 6 and left a little after 7. I ran about 20 kilometers and stopped for breakfast in a small town somewhere in between. I have a photo of what I ate on the photo map. Key features included a sausage broodje (the delicious Dutch equivalent of an English sausage Pastie) and two small "smoothie" type fruit drinks. The Dutch seem to have a tendency of putting cubes of fruit into their smoothies...maybe to make it feel like you are drinking real fruit...but really it makes you feel weird because you are drinking while also having to deal with juice-saturated cubes of some chewy material. Every sip I wonder: chew or swallow?
Anyways, I hung out for a while there and stretched, and then started walking in the direction of Leiden to let the food settle a bit. After about 5 k of walking, I did the rest of the running and got into Central Station feeling quite dreadful. Let me say: running with a backpack sucks, my hip is still acting up, and I'm starting to chafe...AND I just can't seem to get my bangs to look right.
After a very draining run I had an incredibly motivating day, which served to neutralize its effects. First I ran into an awesome German couple who had passed me earlier in the day on bikes, and we ended up getting into conversation and went to a cafe for a drink. They are biking/driving around the area and gave me some pretty good advice.
From there, I wandered around a bit more, going by the birthplace of Rembrandt and the oldest university in the Netherlands (and maybe in Europe). While trying to find an internet Cafe, I went into a Runner's World shop that I randomly passed by and ended up striking up a conversation with Peter, the head of the shop...who donated some Body Glide to help fight my chafing problem. He gave me a proposed route for my run to the Haag tomorrow, and said that he would pass the word on about my run.
Then...upon leaving the shop, I heard someone shouting my name (and thought, "that must be a mistake...keep walking")...but turned to find a man running towards me that turned out to be a friend of Ernst's who recognized me from my blog. Small world.
People here are awesome. I'm so excited for tomorrow.
I'm currently waiting to pick up my laundry, sitting in an internet cafe, commando in my running pants with an outer top on. Come to think of it...I've got to go pick that stuff up.
Apart from what I am wearing (t-shirt, socks, shorts, shoes, watch, phone/camera, watch), this is what I have with me: 2 pairs of socks, one running jacket, one thing longsleeve, one pair of lighweight running pants, running shorts, running shirt, phone charger, headphones, usb cable, bic pen, toothbrush, toothpaste, 2 Mach 3 razor heads, 1 emergency Cliff bar, 1 container of calcium/glucosamine, packed with toilet paper, one ultralight towel, debit/credit cards, and (not pictured) space blanket.
Heineken Brewery. I slept late and went for a half hour run around Amsterdam to see what I could see. I got my typical lunch at the Albert Heijn grocery store--a single serving bowl of microwaveable pasta that I eat cold (less than 3 euros for a decent meal).
I went to the Heineken Brewery...which was awesome. I had some half-brewed Heineken and raw barley and hops...two of the only four ingredients in Heineken. I had a glass on the tour, and my ticket came with two little pieces of plastic that you could exchange for drinks at the bar at the end of the tour. Well, when I got there feeling a bit awkward to be drinking alone, I introduce myself to a group of girls travelling from Michigan, who eventually left, and left me with each of their second pieces of plastic. I then introduced myself to another good group of students who were just finishing a program in Spain. We were all very impressed by the digital countertops in the bar, which fins where there are glasses and makes an image of a coaster underneath no matter how you move it (processing maybe?).
5 heinekens later I decide that I need to run back and grab my stuff (having been in the Brewery for almost 4 hours). Was a bit of a funny, not incredibly sober run, where at some point I stopped in one of the amazing Amsterdam urinals, which are just a spiral of sheet metal that you walk into in the middle of the street.
I decided that I would try to get a little bit closer to Leiden, so I ran 5 miles or so (past the 1928 Olympic Stadium) to the outskirts of Amsterdam to stay with Jelcke and Marjon, some friends of Ernst. Overall an amazing first city.
24 May 2009
Woke up around 9 am and decided to get things going. Did some laundry in the sink, which actually was a bit difficult because I was trying to guess between two soap boxes that each contained words that I thought might be the Dutch word for "white". I ended up finding a third box in the back that was clearly marked for color. Phew. Turns out the word is "wit" by the way...
I headed to the library, which is huge and awesome and near that Nemo building in my photos. I wandered around to ARCAM, the center for architecture in the Netherlands and had a look about. I bought a SIM card with a local number for 15 euro...
I'm currently staying at an apartment which belongs to a friend of Ernst who is staying in NY right now. Anyways, around 3 pm, I decide to head there, grab my laundry which I have hanging out, and run to the Heineken factory. I planned on heading out towards Leiden on Day 3. Instead, when I got there, I sat down on the couch...and woke up four hours later. "I guess I'm going to Leiden on Monday."
So, I went for an evening run around the city. No destination in particular. I ran to and around the Vondelpark, and got in maybe 13 miles or so. Running is definitely the best way to get to know a city.
Around 10, I met Ernst (my host) on the run back to the apartment and we went to a "snack shop" where I tried a Kroket (a "deep fried meat ragout covered in breadcrumbs"), a Dutch specialty.
After Dinner, Ernst headed home on his bike, and I wandered around for a while. I found myself in the Red Light district, in which there is actually a serious amount of red light...and girls in bikinis dancing behind glass panels in little booths under that red light. I guess it would seem pretty crazy had I never been to Pattaya.
I found a place to stay in Leiden through couch surfing...but I've yet to find a place in between. Looks like I might have to rough it and do a 27 miler tomorrow. I think if I cut it in half (early morning/afternoon) I'll be able to handle it. Hopefully I don't end up like Icarus.
23 May 2009
Amsterdam and its surrounding areas are designed for bicycles...which works well for me. Everyone here rides bikes. I got on a well marked bike path with signs pointed towards Amsterdam and started going. The country here is beautiful, and it wasn't long before I found a park with dirt trails on it to run on. I was so excited, because it ran parallel to the path (so I wouldn't get lost). Well, a couple minutes later I was lost (the trail made me miss some signs...), so I got back onto the bike path and asked a woman on a bicycle how to get to the center of town. She rode next to me for a good mile and then pointed me in the right direction. I got into town in well under an hour.
Two hours after I landed, I was standing in front of Rembrandt's Night Watch at the Rijksmuseum.
22 May 2009
But here I am. I've gotten a phone with GPS, 5 megapixel camera with flash, music, Wi-Fi, and everythingthatcouldeverbepossiblewithaphone. It is a Nokia n79. I've got to get a SIM card here pretty soon.
All the stress of school and socialization is behind me now. Hours ago I was freaking out in NYC traffic, seconds away from missing my flight...now I am sitting at a pay by minute computer terminal with a tiny backpack and one objective: get to my next destination.