It all started deep in the Dutch Mountains. While most of you may imagine the Netherlands as a flat country with windmills and large, fat cows, that is only partially true. Far south in the province of Limburg, the land changes into rolling hills dotted with more cows, an occasional horse and bountiful fruit orchards. The vertically deprived Hollanders jokingly call this undulating terrain the Dutch Mountains.
I was fortunate to visit my old friend Andre here. He had just purchased a 200 year-old farm house in the tiny village of Schey after having fled the busy metropolis of Amsterdam. Well, actually Schey is not a village at all, but rather a gathering of about ten houses. Wikipedia describes it as a hilltop hamlet and that is being generous. Andre suggested that we take a hike to the nearby town of Gulpen about 6 miles away. It was time to walk Limburg.
There were four of us–Andre, his girlfriend, Dorie, Hettie and I. The trail meandered through an amazing landscape of farm and woods. We passed by potato fields and pear orchards, horse stables and hay stacks. There were deep woods that shadowed gurgling streams. Wheat fields were peppered with scarlet poppies and vivid blue wildflowers. Some stretches of the route ran along paved roads where a weekend bike race was going on. Other parts went by campgrounds full of tents, caravans and vacationing campers. We passed on old cottage that was for rent by the week for those who visit this hobbit land deep in the Dutch Mountains. We eventually entered the village of Gulpen, walking past the Gulpener Brewery in operation since 1825. We indulged in vlaai, the traditional pie of Limburg. I chose an apricot one slathered with whipped cream and chased it with a cappuccino. It was time for the local bus back to Schey.
That evening as we witnessed the prolonged approach to darkness at 50° North latitude, we drank wine outside Andre’s house an listened to the Byrds sing The Bells Of Rhymney out of his high-octane stereo. Birds flew to the roost. Bats began their time in the dusk. Cows the size of Volkswagens contentedly chewed grass in the field across the way. This idyllic pastoral setting was a fine start to the trip . Within twenty-four hours, Worldkid would be arriving southern Africa nearly the length of two continents away. The Grand Journey was about to escalate.