Quick – spell Equinox at Quito, Ecuador!

Following our trip to the Galapagos Islands we flew to Quito, Ecuador. At an altitude of almost 10,000′ this city is surrounded by green peaks of volcanoes. After the heat of the Galapagos it was nice to be in a much cooler, almost cold, place. img_4513
From our hotel we did a city tour of old Quito, a Unesco World Heritage site because of its old Spanish buildings, cathedrals and other buildings. The area is prone to both volcanic eruptions and earthquakes so much of the old city is low buildings.img_4523 Perhaps daily life has lulled people into some complacency because the outskirts of this city of 2.5 million people has highrises built right on the edges of cliffs – in my eyes a disaster waiting to happen. img_4551The old city squares felt very Spanish and we enjoyed strolling along, watching women in black felt hats and long skirts sell strawberries and other fruits and candies.

We’re a bit churched-out after our time in Spain, but visited a large cathedral as well as an amazing smaller church completely decorated in gold.

But the highlight was our visit to the Equator. Here the invisible line dividing the northern and southern hemispheres creates for some fun science experiments. Now, upon coming home and writing this blog, I decided to do some research so that I could explain what we saw on the equator: water flushed through a sink – either going straight down (on the equator), swirling down the drain clockwise or counter clockwise depending on which side of the line we were on… We were most impressed with what we saw. However… in checking Google, I read nothing but articles posted on science websites, in the Huffington Post and so on, that explain that all this is a hoax! I was baffled. I replayed the video I took. Then I went to the sink and poured water in the same manner. Indeed – I can make it go down clockwise or counterclockwise. It seems that the thing we enjoyed most in Quito was a simple hoax. I guess the young man who showed us around care nothing about the truth and fooling people. All that mattered was the income derived of unsuspecting tourists…

 

img_4541We tried our hands at balancing an egg on the Equator. Because it is pulled one way and the other, it took a lot of patience but Kees earned a certificate for a skill he never knew he had! Another equatorial hoax…

The museum here displayed some local native history: an enormous boa constrictor (stuffed!) and several shrunken heads. To our amazement we learned not only how to make a shrunken head but also that this practiced happened as late as the 1990’s. Tourism likely improved once they stopped this practice.

We ate at a restaurant that specialized in Ecuador cuisine: empanadas with shrimp, cheese and avocado.  And a fabulous soup eating together with a thick paste of peanuts and bananas.

We asked many questions about the education system (mostly free), about politics (elections this weekend and lots of unhappiness about corruption and broken promises), about religion (many young people turning away from the church and traditions) and also about why Ecuador is not called Equador is it is named after the important line running through the country. The answer: it is the Spanish spelling. Ta-da!

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Rocking Gibraltar

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Salt Spring Island, where we live, is a small rocky island in the Pacific Ocean. It measures 74 square miles and has a population of 10,000.

Today we spent the entire day on the rock of Gibraltar, a small rocky outcrop in the Atlantic Ocean. It measures 2.5 square miles and has a population of 30,000.

I can’t image how people spend their entire lives living on this tiny rock, so crowded with houses, narrow roads and steep edges.

img_2409We researched Gibraltar a little bit before coming here but the online information on sites like the official tourism website, Lonely Planet and Tripadvisor, was confusing. I tried the website for the cable car – but nowhere could we find out the exact answers to our simple questions: how much is a one-way ticket? – can we buy a one way ticket that includes the nature reserve? – how long is the way back to walk and is it marked? So we hope to give you that information here, to help you plan your trip to Gibraltar.

It is an interesting place with a unique history. This rocky toe that Spain hesitantly sticks into the Atlantic Ocean, at the point where the ocean turns into the Mediterranean Sea, really ought to belong to Spain. History, however, claimed it for the British. Reminiscent of Hong Kong, this strategic harbour was claimed by the British in 1713 already. To our surprise, the local Spaniards we talked to felt that it was a good thing. “Without the British here, Gibraltar would just be another rock in the ocean,” they told us, “Now it is an attraction, an oddity that brings us jobs and a good economy.”

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Walking across the runway

We found an AirBnB literally a stone’s throw from the border. Just a small bedroom in a crowded apartment building, but it offered a safe parking place inside a garage. We managed to get inside (both us and the car) – very complicated because they don’t seem to have street addresses and all the bloques of apartments looked the same – and walked across the border. It is possible to drive across the border but at rush hour you face long line-ups. Plus, worse, once you get into Gibraltar, there is no place to park. You might as well walked all the way. The first thing you walk across is the almost none-existing border patrol. A bored official waved us across without looking at a passport. Then you walk across…. the airport’s runway! If a plane comes in, you’ll have to wait. But without planes, you just cross the runway under the air traffic control tower. A weird experience.

Once across the border, people speak perfect English, cars have GBZ on the license plates and prices are in pounds rather than euros. However, you can pay with either. One button on the cash register converts the price for you.

img_2421Rather than taking an organized tour, we hopped on a city bus and, for 1 euro, rode it across the entire length of the island to Europa Point, the southern most point of the rock. From here you can see the mountains of Morocco. It’s nice to see a Roman Catholic church right next to a mosque. Further on the island we noticed a synagogue next to a Hindu temple. A local assured us that all people, of all races and religions, get along just fine on this rock.

We walked back for about 8 KM to town, along narrow roads with not many sidewalks. Most noticeable was the lack of signage. No signs towards ‘downtown’. We often had to ask which road to take. We ended up in town by the cable car station.

The signs there still did not answer our questions about options and costs and I overheard several others in line commenting on the confusing prices. In the end, we had no option to buy a one-way ticket and dished out about 60 dollars (or 45 pounds) for 2 tickets to the top. The way back was included even though we wanted to walk. The ticket also included caves, tunnels and a nature reserve. If you want just one of these, you had to buy a ticket that included them all. You can buy a simple cable-car-only ticket but then you can’t visit any of the sites at the top. I find this price a bit “over the top” (no pun intended) for a 6 minute cable car ride. The views, of course, can’t be beat as you look out over southern Spain, the ocean and towards Africa. img_2429

Jumping monkeys aiming for backpacks were included in the price. The nature reserve wasn’t terrible well defined but I hope that a portion of our money helps to protect plants or birds, somehow. There were absolutely no signs at the top telling us which way to go. We asked a few times before finding the right path down.

img_2459It was a good hike until we came across caves. We hadn’t read much about the caves before but since we had paid for it, we decided to go in. And we were pleasantly surprised. The caves were well worth the visit. Huge cavernous spaces filled with stalactites and stalagmites, created over thousands of years. Ever changing lights turned the caves into quite a light show.

From there, a very precarious rocky trail led downwards, with broken railings and no signs.

We made it back to town, were we had a well deserved coffee and apple pie at the Trafalgar Pub. It seems a bit out of place, in this southern part of the continent, to hear the Queen’s English and see British pubs with fish and chips. We strolled back through Main Street, past tax free shops and Irish pubs, red mailboxes and English telephone booths. Back across the runaway and into Spain. A fun, interesting day full of contradictions that, somehow, get along. Just like the people that call the Rock of Gibraltar home. img_2475

Three Days Portugal

…  is not nearly enough! But we wanted a little taste, hoping to get a small impression of what Portugal was like.

img_2211We entered Portugal from the city of Badajoz, Spain. We had a rental car and drove the A6 highway, a toll highway, to get from the eastern boundary almost to the west coast of Portugal quickly. The road was deserted despite the fact that this was a holiday. At regular intervals along these toll roads, are rest areas with a gas station, store, restaurant and sometimes even a picnic site. We were able to buy a good Michelin map as soon as we drove into Portugal. The toll roads in Portugal had a ticket booth and a place to pay at the point of exit. Some toll roads only had photo sites so we expect to get the bill when we drop off our rental car. But the total toll to drive from east to west in Portugal was 13.50 euros.

img_2231Once we reached the western side of Portugal we got off the main road quickly and found bumpy back roads full of potholes. We followed the coast south as much as possible but did not really get to see the shore since the roads run more inland. We did spot the occasional, iconic Portuguese windmill!

We loved the small villages with white stucco houses. Each had a red tiled roof, often a blue band around the base and windows. Signs on houses and street names were almost exclusively made of painted tiles. img_2221

The Portuguese language looks quite similar to Spanish in writing, with some words even easier to decipher. But as soon as people started speaking, it sounded completely, different. First we thought that the waitress must be Romanian because of the harsher, more guttural sounds
. Then we figured the other people in the restaurant must be her family and speak the same, eastern European language. Until we finally figured out that everybody spoke that way and it must be Portuguese!

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Because the roads did not hug the coast, and because we wanted to see the Atlantic shore of Portugal, we decided to drive to the western most point on the southern coast: Sines. We hoped for a glorious coastline. And the natural coast line was, indeed, rugged with rocks and low shrubs. But Sines was a large city with oil refineries, its port clogged with oil tankers. All we did is walk along the path by the shore, get back in the car and circumnavigate south again.

We had high hopes for Faro, on the south coast.

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Cork tree

The most fascinating thing we saw, besides the white washed villages and friendly people along the way, was the huge number of cork trees.

Next time you pop that cork from your favorite bottle, think about where it came from! Portugal produces about half of the world’s commercial cork. Cork is the most important Portuguese export product. Cork comes from the bark of the cork tree.

Wikipedia says:

“Cork is extracted only from early May to late August, when the cork can be separated from the tree without causing permanent damage. When the tree reaches 25–30 years of age and about 24in (60 cm) in circumference, the cork can be removed for the first time. However, this first harvest almost always produces poor quality cork. Bark from initial harvests can be used to make flooring, shoes, insulation and other industrial products. Subsequent extractions usually occur at intervals of 9 years, though it can take up to 13 for the cork to reach an acceptable size.”

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Cork

We noticed huge orchards of cork trees, many with shiny dark red trunks of which the cork had recently been removed and piled for shipment to some of the 500 cork factories in Portugal, employing over 20,000 people.

We continued to follow small winding roads south until we reached the southern coast at the city of Lagos. From there we continued east hugging the shore as much as possible, avoiding big cities and highrises – until we reached Faro. Any hopes of a quaint Portuguese fishing villages were dashed when we saw the towering highrises. However, we had booked the perfect place to spend a few nights on the coast: a small AirBnB apartment on Praia de Faro: a long strip of beach full of low beach bungalows and apartments, surf shops and hippy cafe’s. We had a view of the Atlantic ocean and enjoyed walking the length of the island. We also enjoyed a Portuguese dinner of langostinos smothered in garlic butter.

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Faro Beach AirBnB

After leaving the Faro area, we again took the smaller roads we could find, staying close to the coast. In this way we discovered Praia do Barril and the tiny town of Predras del Rei with a lovely white bungalow park – a place we might just return to some day. Here we walked the long path through a nature reserve – spotting an exciting hoopoe bird, a kind of woodpecker. After another long walk on an endless white sand beach, we drove the last few kilometres in Portugal to, once again, reach Spain. Next time, we would like to explore all the rest of Portugal – including Lisbon!

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Praia do Barril

Rotterdammed

IMG_0580As a child, I often visited family in Rotterdam. And of course I was familiar with the horrid stories of how Rotterdam had suffered in WWII. It’s heart had been bombed heavily – entire parts of the city had burned and been destroyed.

Having lived most of my life away from The Netherlands, I didn’t know the new city that had grown in its place. So during a recent visit to Holland, we decided to visit and explore Rotterdam. As with Amsterdam, ‘dam’ is the same word as in English. Each city’s name refers to the spot where the river was dammed and the city grew: Amsterdam on the river Amstel. Rotterdam on the Rotte river.

A ring of beautiful old houses remains along the Meuse and Rhine, an ornate hotel, an art-deco yachtclub. These old buildings lean comfortably against ultra-modern buildings. Rotterdam is Europe’s busiest port. Large ships daily bring cargo from all over the world, must as sail ships did a few hundred years ago.

IMG_0743A futuristic Market Hall towers above market stalls. You can now buy sushi and falafel here as well as eat Dutch poffertjes. Chruch bells ring among buildings of gleaming steel and glass.

 

 

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Swan Bridge and The Rotterdam Building

The Swan is a bridge spanning the river Meuse. Its official name is Erasmus Bridge, named after a Renaissance humanist, Catholic priest and social critic from 1400’s Rotterdam. The bridge is 800 meters long and has a 139 meter high pylon and is an eye catcher in the centre of the city.

Across the water is The Rotterdam, a building that resembles blocks placed upon each other by a toddler. They seem to wobble and balance as if they can tumble down at any moment. However, this largest building in Europe is solid and houses offices, homes, shops and much more. In this port city, it also resembled stacked shipping containers.

IMG_0717We visited the famous cube homes: houses that are titled on one point, and seem to have been juggled into place, landing on their sides. You can visit a show home, climb the narrow Dutch stairs as see how slanted walls and triangular windows form these cube homes into small condos. Not for anyone who feels claustrophobic.

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A state-of-the-art Central Station welcomes visitors that come by train. Its huge gleaming hall seems more like an airport than a train station and houses shops and restaurants. IMG_0780

One of our favorite discoveries is the ‘water bus’. This ferry picks up passengers much like a bus but the trip down the river is much more fun. For a few euros it will take you to nearby cities, including Dordrecht. It also stops in Kinderdijk – the world famous dike lined with 19 historic windmills. You can disembark here to do some sightseeing and take a later water bus back to the city. You can even bring your (rented) bike on the ferry.

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The view from our Rotterdam Air BnB

We opted to stay in an Air BnB here. There is much opposition to Air BnB accommodations in The Netherlands, especially by hotels. But I think it’s a bit like comparing apples and oranges. I stay in hotels when I travel for business, to attend a conference or for a short overnight. When I stay longer I’d rather have a place to myself, including a kitchen to make meals. We found an amazing condo on the river – small but very clean and comfortable for a reasonable price. We thoroughly enjoyed getting to know this multifaceted city and highly recommend a visit next time you are in The Netherlands.

Magical Malaysia: Fireflies and Temples

This trip dates back to 2007

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Our first flight left from San Francisco. There we had about 4 or 5 hours to wait for our flight to Hong Kong. It boarded on time but the pilot announced that strong headwinds would make it impossible to cross the Pacific Ocean straight for Hong Kong. Instead, we had to follow land: Canada, Alaska, Siberia and China. And that meant we had to refuel in Seoul, South Korea. The flight took much longer because of the land route. But Singapore Airlines was pleasant, the staff very nice and the food not too bad. The very best thing of all was that we had three seats to ourselves at an exit row. So no one in front of us and lots of leg room. 

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We landed in Seoul but it was very, very foggy. We couldn’t see a thing. Pretty soon the pilot stopped moving down the tarmac and announced that he couldn’t find the terminal without a truck to guide us in. We had to stay on board and then he announced that we would refueled but couldn’t take off again until there was a window in the fog to allow this… After a long wait, we were pushed back from the terminal but by then the fog had frozen and the plane needed to be de-iced. We were pushed back to the terminal. After the de-icing the fog had closed in again! We couldn’t even see the wing tips. There was 50′ visibility! Again we got pushed back but because of an electrical problem the engines flamed out. Finally, after about 4 hours of waiting, we managed to leave Seoul. It rained in Hong Kong but was a lot warmer. We stayed on the same plane which, after an hour, took us on to Singapore. By the time we disembarked, we’d been in the same seat for 27 hours! But the crew was wonderful. We were given packages with toiletries, extra meals, a deck of playing cards and a beautiful pen from Singapore Airlines. At the gate in Singapore, airline staff waited for us and immediately handed us boarding passes for our newly booked flight to Kuala Lumpur since we had missed the original connection plus a telephone card to phone the people who would pick us up there. Great service.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe finally made it to Kuala Lumpur where I was to conduct author presentations in a school. Our school condo is a one bedroom with a balcony overlooking a lush, tropical court yard and large pool. The school is a huge, 3 story building with palm trees everywhere. Open hallways and stairways, a large cafeteria, even a pool! The library is on the third floor, a large, beautiful library. 470 children from 44 countries are in this elementary school!

That night, we walked 5 minutes to a small shopping center and strolled across an evening market. Lanterns hung among the lush palm trees. We enjoyed margarita’s and wonderful food: pineapple rice, cashew chicken, crab omelets, packages of leaves with chicken in it and much more. I also treated myself to a full body massage. There are massage places here EVERYWHERE! This one was a three minute walk from the condo building. An incredible massage with fragrant oils and tea afterwards.

Downtown we visited a historic museum to learn more about Malaysia. We also enjoyed seeing the historic houses of parliament, a beautiful church, the national library, a huge Buddhist temple, the ornamental train station, a large islam information center and the national museum. Daytime temperatures are around the 30 degrees and the humidity is around 85% which makes you hot and sweaty whenever you are outside. KL is only 1 degree above the equator, so no wonder it is hot here.

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Kenny shows us Kuala Lumpur, where the city originated

The next day Kenny, a taxi driver, picked us up to take us downtown. First we stopped at the Petronas Towers. Very impressive – made of shining metal. We took photos of the towers and bridge and walked through the lobby. Then Kenny took us to “Kuala Lumpur” – the muddy confluence of two rivers where the city was originally founded because of tin found in the area. We strolled through the Central Market, bought postcards and gorgeous scarves. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThen outside to Chinatown but found it too crowded and tacky. Little India was more interesting, with little food stalls and fabric stores everywhere. We ate some interesting looking “donuts” and balls from garbonzo bean flour with vegetables. Walked by historic buildings, a mosque. Ended up at the old train station. By that time we were very hot and sweaty, sat in a cafeteria with ice cold fruit drinks and called Kenny who drove us to the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. First we went inside a huge Buddhist Temple on top of a hill with nice views of the city.

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Selangor tin

Next we toured a tin factory. Selangor tin is famous around the world. It is mined here and we saw the whole process of melting, molding, polishing etc. In the gift shop we ended up buying a wonderful set of book ends featuring Winnie the Pooh.

Next Kenny took us to an authentic Malaysian Chinese family restaurant, basically just a roof over some tables and chairs on a street corner. A kind of bbq on the street was used for grilling saté. Kenny ordered and when the food arrived we had rice, chicken sate, steamed Red Snapper in vegetable broth, prawns and crab. It was very nice and not spicy at all.

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Sign in the school library!

Typically here, it started to rain: it poured endlessly. The streets flooded. Then thunder and lightning started. We drove outside the city on our way to Kuala Selangor where the fireflies are. I had no hope at all of seeing them because of the rain. On the way, the rain got so bad that we barely saw the road. The rain became torrential. Lightning lit up the entire sky.
Optimistic Kenny insisted that everything was a good sign because “storms blow over and thus the rain will end soon.” 
We made it to the firefly park but it poured so wildly that nothing was happening. We sat and waited for at least an hour and then, suddenly, the rain stopped and the boats went out. We went in a small wooden punter with a man standing on the back and rowing us across a fairly wide, brown, fast flowing river. Suddenly the bushes lit up like a Christmas tree. Across the river, more bushes glowed, reflecting in the river. Because of the rain, the bushes glowed wet and reflected millions of “lights”. They all blinked synchronized, truly looking like blinking Christmas lights. We must have floated along the quiet river for an hour. It was quite magical.

Holland: Hiking, Biking and much more

  Tulips came originally from Turkey in the late1500’s to the Netherlands. So it seems only fitting that we, newly arrived from Turkey, immediately set off to visit Holland’s most famous garden: the Keukenhof. In fact, on our last day in Turkey we visited the palace of the very Sultan who gifted the first tulips ever to arrive in the Netherlands. What started with one bulb is now a major export industry. The Dutch brought tulips to countries around the world, including to Canada as a perpetual gift for hosting the Dutch Royal Family during the war. An enormous show garden, the Keukenhof has thousands of bulbs blooming at any given time in the spring. Beds are planted in such a way that there is a multitude of color, and fragrances, through the spring. We admired rows and rows of hyacinths, tulips, daffodils and other bulbs. 

There are even special buses running to this major attraction from Schiphol airport. We caught one and within a half hour we were dropped off at the entrance. Fast and easy. If you visit Holland in the spring, be sure to include a visit to this world famous garden. See: www.keukenhof.nl

Transportation in Holland is pretty impressive. If you ever plan to travel here, you might want to do the following: buy a OV chip card which you can use for all public transport.

You start by buying the card at the airport or at a train station, or at supermarkets or newspaper/book stores. Throughout the country are special posts where you can upload credit, swiping your creditcard and then your OV chip card to load credit onto it.

Each time you travel by tram, bus or train, you swipe your OV chip card when you board and when you disembark. Upon leaving the bus or train, the reader will show your cost and your remaining credit. Simply upload as needed.

This is a fantastic system since it makes public transportation seamless. Just don’t forget to check out. Trains have a large number 1 for first class on the outside, or a 2 for the regular, economy class. Trains also now have many ‘silence’ compartments, in which you cannot have loud conversations or be on your cell phone! A wonderful bonus. And while public transportation in the Netherlands is efficient, it is not cheap.

To plan any trip, across town or across the country, access this website: www.9292.nl  You can select any date, place and time here to see the most efficient way of getting somewhere. We bought a SIM card for our iPad so that we can access this great service anywhere in the country.

I like alliteration, which is why I used ‘hiking’ and ‘Holland’. But, technically, we are not in Holland right now. We are in the Netherlands. If you’d like to know the difference, besides the simple fact that Holland refers to the provinces of North and South Holland and that the Netherlands means the entire country – check out this funny video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eE_IUPInEuc&feature=youtu.be

Today we traveled by train and bus from Amsterdam to the province of Drenthe – a beautiful, rustic part of the country with sleepy villages, gorgeous old farm houses and heather fields with flock of sheep. Here we will spend some time hiking the Drenthe Pad, a beautiful long distance trail.

Poffertjes!

 

Right now, we are circumnavigating the province of Drenthe, which is in the north eastern part of the country. The Drenthe Pad is a hiking trail of some 325 KM. And it might well be one of the best kept secrets in the world of hiking.

The trail is well marked, in most places. A yellow/red symbol is nailed to posts or painted on trees almost everywhere. But the comprehensive trail guide and map issued by NIVON: (http://www.nivon.nl/wandelen/detailpad.aspWandelpadID=28&GroepsID=180&GidsenID=10)

is a valuable addition. As far as I know this guide is only in Dutch but with the map and the signs anyone should be able to follow the trail. The terrain is relatively flat which makes it easy. And it is very varied: from ancient, sleepy villages you enter a quiet forest, cross a sandy path and walk along the moors (fields of heather which will bloom in August), then along a farm field, back into the woods. On the next heather field you might encounter a large flock of sheep, with or without a real live shepherd and his dogs.

Today, just when I said “We haven’t seen any kind of wildlife!” a large deer slowly crossed the path. We heard woodpeckers and met a large flock of curious sheep with their newborn lambs.

In a country of 33,889 square kilometers of land (13,084 square miles) and a population of nearly 17 million, the Netherlands is among the most densely populated countries of the world. However, on this trail we hiked for the last two days without seeing a soul until hours after we started. Yesterday, we saw two people all days. It is rare in this country not to see a church spire, or power lines or hear traffic noise. On this trail, there is complete silence except for the singing of many different types of birds. It is probably one of the few areas in the country where you can still get completely lost and wander.

For 19 E p.p. this was our home for the night

Usually most hiking trails here have an abundance of benches, picnic tables or little restaurants with a patio. In Drenthe you can walk 20 KM and not see one. But the wild swans on the lakes make up for not being able to order a coffee.

We have walked from town to town and stayed in either B&B’s or local hotels. If you are planning a hiking or bicycling trip in the Netherlands, and there’s no better place to do either, you should join this organization: Vrienden Op De Fiets (Friends On Bikes): http://www.vriendenopdefiets.nl/nl/ (or .en for the English version).

This fabulous network across the country offers accommodations in private homes, much like B&B’s, but at a cost of E19 p.p.p.n. including breakfast. Accommodations are typical Dutch hospitality. No need to reserve long in advance, depending on the time of year, you can often phone the day before. Rooms can vary from a simple spare room to your own whole cottage. We’ve always had clean rooms, comfortable beds and a great breakfast. But – you can only arrive on foot or by bike. If you rent a car, you can’t use this organization. Annual membership fee is 8 euros and that includes the complete catalogue of 5,000 addresses and contact information.

After having walked some 60 KMs this week, from village to village, we have arrived in Appelscha, Friesland. This is just across the provincial border.

Lucky for us because not only does each region here have its own dialect and culture, it also has its own speciality foods.

Now we enjoy Frisian sugarbread (gooey bread with lumps of sugar baked into it) AND Drents raisin bread (weighs as much as a brick).

Not only do the Dutch brew Heineken and Grolsch, they also produce many local beers ranging from dark to blond to fruity.

For this weekend we found a place to stay 2 nights, basically for the same price as the Friends On Bikes network plus dinner. The hotel had a special super deal that includes an elaborate breakfast and dinner. Since the forecast was for rain, we decided to stay in one place for two nights.

Instead of walking tomorrow’s section of the Drenthe Pad, we rented bicycles. The Dutch have state of the art bicycles, including tires that will not pop anymore. Cost for a full day bike rental is 7 to 8 euros. We cycled through the village, across farm fields, national nature reserves, forests, a wild bird sanctuary and historic fields of peat moss. No less than 60 KM! Now, in addition to sore backs and feet, we also have sore butts and knees….Halfway it started to rain. We donned our rain capes – thank goodness we did not carry them for 2 months without ever needing them! I never felt more Dutch than pushing the peddles across a windswept bike trail through the fields.

Those bike trails are amazing. Our route for today looks like this: 60 – 65 – 72 – 73 – 79 – 91 – 84 – 65 – 60. Sounds like a secret code, doesn’t it?

But it’s all you need to find your way across the country. It’s a mind boggling system of (mostly) paved or concrete bicycle trails. At an intersection you will see a small sign with a number, either the number of the path you are already on, or pointing to the next number you need to follow. Simple. Just don’t miss one. At major crossroads there is a large regional map showing you all the routes so that you can easily change or adapt the route you are on. Ingenious.

And the best part is that most bicycle paths are away from roads or other traffic. Just you and nature. It’s a system of hiking and biking trails that the Netherlands can be proud of. And that more countries should adopt.

160 KM of hiking. Ten days. Fifteen kilo packs. Two blisters.

We did it.

And it was fun.

Mostly it was fun because we took it easy. We slept in, had a lazy breakfast and still headed out on the trail by about 9 AM each day. No rush, no race.

We stayed with the ‘Friends On Bikes’ accommodations which are just like B & B’s and allowed us to stay in different Dutch homes, meeting interesting people.

 We also stayed in a few small hotels and we enjoyed roaming the villages, visiting the bakery, sampling typical regional dishes.

Holland may be a small, densely populated country but in Drenthe it is still very green and very quiet. There were days when we barely met other people on the trail.

We visited the very cute village of Orvelte, which is more like an open-air-museum with its historic farms. There is a glassblower, an antique store, a cheese maker and much more. We toured a historic farms full of furniture and household items of at least a century ago. The tour included a very nice movie about the village and life as it has been here during the ages.

This village is high on our list of recommendations, but only during the shoulder seasons. In high season it’s supposed to be very, very crowded!

Several times while hiking across the moors and heather, we met large flock of sheep. No shepherd, just a very special local breed of sheep on skinny legs and with long tails. These sheep help keep down any invasive species and promote the growth and expansion of the heather.

We also found large Highlander steers and cows with enormous horns on our path. The drawback of hiking in April was the fact that farmers were spreading manure. The smell was often overwhelming. We only had 2 days of rain so can’t complain. It was a sunny, early spring in Holland.

Concentration Camp Westerbork

On one of our last days of hiking we entered the Westerbork concentration camp area: an area where Jews were interned and from there shipped to extermination camps by the Germans during the war. It is an impressive and, of course, very depressing area but important to be preserved as a reminder of the horrors of war. While we were there, hundreds of school children visited the Museum.  See: http://www.kampwesterbork.nl/museum/index.html#/index

One of our favorite events was being in a small village (Dwingeloo) while an age old tradition was going on: Palm Pasen or Palm Sunday, the week before Easter. The children of the town all showed up for a parade with wooden crosses, decorated with garlands of candy and flowers, crepe paper and topped with a rooster made of bread. When I was a child I made the same cross and joined a similar parade. It was fun to see this tradition continue. We completed about half of the Drenthe Trail and hope to hike the remainder soon. Next time I will carry much less weight and will make do with fewer clothes etc. The best piece of clothing I brought on this trip was a large scarf. It served as blanket in the plane, as shawl when it was cold and as head or shoulder cover in churches and mosques.

 Our last night in The Netherlands is spend in a very futuristic hotel at Schiphol Airport: http://www.citizenm.com

Decorated in black and red, the lobby feels as if you walk into the future. The staff and technology reminds me of a Mac Store, the compact rooms of IKEA. One remote controls the blinds, lights, temperature and TV. Our view from the kingsize bed is directly onto the runway! The hotel states that:

citizenM is a new breed of international hotel, welcoming the mobile citizens of the world- the suits, weekenders, explorers, affair-havers and fashion-grabbers.

Hhmm… wonder which catagory you would put yourself in?

For now, we are headed home after an amazing two months of exploring. We can’t wait to hug the grandbabies, play with them and show them what we brought back.

A real sign spotted in a Dutch forest!