Pieterpad part 2 - Zutphen to Aachen

Once again, the walk that almost wasn't. I bought the ticket for this trip about two months ago, well before the planet burped up Hurricane Harvey. When it was threatening, Kelia asked me to consider staying in Houston if there were lots of damage. I agreed, of course.

As the extent of the storm and its immediate effect on friends became clearer, I just put this walk on hold, figuring it would work out somehow. I am so proud to remember here how many of my family in the Lord pitched in joyfully to tear up floors, cut drywall, lug furniture, and so much more, all in the service of others.

As things played out, we got all the pressing needs met, and what was left wasn't anything I could help with, so I went forward with plans, a bit helter-skelter because of the short time. In fact, as I write this on the first day, I have no idea where I will be spending my last three nights. I got a ticket to Amsterdam at a considerably better rate than we have seen in the last couple of years. It is a bit unusual for me to make two walks in the same year, but the price prompted me to commit to this flat walk which will allow me to connect two earlier walks and draw a track line from Groningen all* the way through BeNeLux to Luxembourg City, accomplished in three walks (see part 1 and part 3).

* The green line on this map is the first part; this time I walked the blue line. Okay, I rode the train from Zutphen to Arnhem (the gap between the green and blue), so I didn't walk quite all the way. I make no excuses.


Tuesday 12 Sep


The flight over was unenventful. I planned the dates for my convenience, and the fact of my flying on 9/11 didn't trouble me, even though I was flying on a US-flag airline. My seat companions were a woman and daughter flying back home to the Netherlands from Guatemala after visiting a new grandbaby. I enjoyed visiting with them when we weren't making (usually futile) attempts to sleep. Flying economy class is the only choice for me, but I grant it is not the most comfortable way to get across the Atlantic Ocean.

Amsterdam Schiphol airport is easy to fly to and get out of. After retrieving my backpack, I withdrew some euros at a cash machine and bought a train ticket to Zutphen, where I had ended the first half of the Pieterpad four years ago, almost to the day. The train station is in the airport, so I didn't even have to go outside.

On the train I sat opposite a woman headed for a leadership course that involved camping for three days on one of the Frisian islands. She has a deaf-mute daughter, so we ended up talking about sign language, a conversation reminiscent of one I had with Ron Pierce recently.

All morning the weather was changing rapidly and suddenly between bright sun and rain, but when I got to Zutphen, it settled on rain, fairly hard rain, with gusts of wind. Rather than setting out right away on the 2.5 km walk to my B&B, I walked about the city center, hopping shop to shop between bouts of heavier rain. When it eased up a bit, I made it comfortably to my hosts in Zutphen, Steef and Adry. He is a retired policeman - actually, an instructor in the school for investigators - and an avid bicyclist. I sat and chatted with them for a couple of hours, then Steef put me on a loaner bike and we biked back into town, where he took me on a walking tour of this old Hanseatic city. They had already shown themselves to be gracious hosts, but this was above and beyond. Not to mention that it kept me moving in the late afternoon, when I might otherwise have dropped from jet lag.

We got back home around 6pm, and not wanting to expend much effort for supper, I walked down the local Lidl for a prepared salad that I ate in the breakfast room at my hosts. I started on this journal, but was really beginning to sag, and decided 7:30pm was late enough to stay up this first day. I slept until midnight, then on and off until 7am.

There were several watercolors in the house, including one of flowers in my bedroom, but it wasn't until it came up in conversation that I learned Adry was the artist. She has reinspired me to focus a bit more on my drawing and painting skills development.




Wednesday 13 Sep


I started the day - my 68th birthday, actually - with a hearty north European breakfast: coffee, juice, an egg, bread, cheese, meat, yogurt, and cereal - some of which I had to pass on.

I asked to take a photo of Steef and Adry, and was surprised to find out I was the first person to do so in their 5 1/2 years of hosting. I have often taken photos of hosts - they are, after all, an integral part of my travel experiences, and I'm puzzled why other folks don't take them.

I really enjoyed my stay with this gracious and interesting couple - a great start and promising outset for this walk.

They both had things to do after breakfast, so they left me to lock up when I left, which I did shortly afterwards. On the way back to the city center, just a few steps past their house, was a memorial garden. During World War 2, their neighborhood was a V1 rocket ("buzz bomb") launching site. One rocket exploded right off the end of the ramp and killed several people in the vicinity.

It was raining on and off all the way back to town. After visiting the city museum - quite interesting - I walked around a bit, then had a caffè latte, thinking of Joel and the Camino de Cappuccino.

The train to Arnhem was fast and easy, and I got to my B&B there well before 3pm. I was greeted by the charming Lenie and shown to my "not up to their regular standard" room, the only one available for my three-night stay. The deficiencies: a television and a clothes drying rack. In other words, eminently acceptable.

I dropped my pack off and walked to the city center, particularly to the Airborne Memorial and the John Frost bridge - the "bridge too far". This weekend being the actual anniversary weekend of Operation Market Garden, the streets and lampposts were festooned with the divisional flag of the British 1st Airborne Division. I planned my walk to deviate from the Pieterpad through Arnhem and Nijmegen because of Operation Market Garden, but hadn't realized that it happened starting on 17 September 1944. There is a whole calendar of planned events, and I hope to take advantage of some of them while I am here.

I got back to my room around 6pm and was almost immediately invited to dinner with Dick and Lenie and their daughter and son-in-law. After dinner we sat and talked for a couple of hours.

These first two host couples have been so friendly and so welcoming that I am trying to avoid letting them set my expectations so high for nights farther down the path.

I was still pretty jetlagged, and spent an uneasy (and queasy) night. I am really glad I moved off my original plan, which was to walk the 23km to Nijmegen today.




Thursday 14 Sep


I was awake and asleep all night, and finally got up at 7am, not feeling tip-top. I went to breakfast at 8:30 with the other guests, an older couple who unfortunately for me spoke only Dutch. It made for a quiet meal. After breakfast I still wasn't feeling great so I went back to bed and slept until noon, feeling much better when I woke up.

I was really wanting to walk more, in practice for these next days with a pack, so I decided to ride the bus to Oosterbeek, visit the Airborne Museum there, and walk the 13km back. It was raining all the way there, and I got pretty wet just walking the few hundred meters from the bus stop.

The museum is located in a stately house that was German General Model's headquarters until the British took it for their HQ until they had to evacuate as the plan came apart. I had read up on Market Garden before I left Houston, so the main story I had clear in my head, particularly the part at Arnhem with the British. There was a lot more than the broad story at the museum - lots of details about individuals, like the British mascot chicken that got shot after surviving the jump, and the German officer killed just hours after receiving his Iron Cross. The museum was pretty crowded - undoubtedly due to the timing. I didn't see many people old enough to be veterans, and in fact most of the visitors appeared to be in their 30s to 50s.

When I was done, it was still raining pretty hard. I walked back through the center of Oosterbeek before deciding that an unnecessary 10km walk in the rain was - well, not necessary - so I caught the next bus back to Arnhem. Of course, by the weather frog's rules, it had almost stopped raining by the time I got back to the bus station. Not having gotten the walk I needed, I spent a couple of hours walking around the Velperpoort area. I had a dürum döner for dinner, and if what I had was typical of the Dutch style, I much prefer the eastern German. This one had lettuce and tomato and no cabbage and no Kraütersauce - pretty bland by comparison.

The rain continued all through the evening, which I spent in my room drying clothes and catching up this journal. For reasons I don't understand, I couldn't get to sleep until after midnight: my mind was running nonstop. Once I dropped off, though, I slept well.


Friday 15 Sep


Yet another wet morning. I'm so glad it worked out for me not to be walking. Breakfast was with a couple of Italians, fans from Rome of a soccer team that had come to play Arnhem's team last night. I then walked the couple of blocks to mail some postcards and found the cold, humid atmosphere totally discouraging, and on returning to my room, just crawled back into bed to sleep for a couple of hours.

Around noon the skies were clearing, and it came to me that I had time to walk a good part of the way to Nijmegen and transit back still in time for the march over the John Frost bridge, so I left my pack in the room and set out with just my rainsuit and camera. The first couple of kilometers were, of course, the walk I have made each day. This time, I continued south over the bridge, and seeing how wide the Nederrijn is here, understand the importance of capturing that bridge.

The city (now, at least) extends a ways south of the river before thinning out into well-kept suburbs of individual house, and eventually into farmland. The topography is table-top flat and made for easy walking, especially when I landed on the RijnWaalPad, a bicycle-and-pedestrian paved road connecting the two rivers. I passed fields of corn, an apple orchard, and what appeared to be rapeseed. A lot of the land, though, was just grass, although I saw very few grazing animals.

My plan was to walk as far as I could before 5pm, then ride the bus back. By the time I got to Elst, some dozen kilometers from Arnhem, I worked out that the buses didn't serve this area, so I backtracked a little to the train station in Elst for the ride back. I got to the bridge and a comfortable viewing post just after 5:30, plenty early for the 6pm parade. By 6, there were people lining both sides of the bridge. By 6:30, there were lots of people all over the roadway.

The pipers finally came about 6:45. I was expecting a military unit, but this appeared to be an assemblage of piping clubs. The skirl of the bagpipes was just as thrilling, though. They were followed by flags of what looked like military units - I couldn't tell for sure, other than one with a Polish flag. They marched from the bridge onto the Airborneplein, which is actually below the level of the surrounding streets. In the plein, where the monument is, was a Scout band, schoolchildren, soldiers, veterans, and as many dignitaries as could fit. Looking down on the monument from street level, we were packed 4 or 5 deep all the away around.

The mayor gave a speech, they laid about 20 wreaths from every organization you could imagine, we sang "Abide with Me" (the song sung by the British just after they were captured), and the memorial service was over. I walked back to my room in the deepening twilight and quietly to bed.

   

15km/9.5mi (15km/9.5mi total)




Saturday 16 Sep


Today was to be a demonstration airborne jump at Ede near Oosterbeek, and Dick had invited me to go with him and dad, so I was packed up and ready to check out before breakfast.

In the event, it was too cloudy for the jump, but the real pleasure for me turned out to be watching Dick's dad interact with everyone we encountered - people walking by, security folks, Polish and German soldiers - all with hearty cheer and joie de vivre. He was a teenager in Arnhem in 1944, and was both voluble and entertaining.

Dick had a noontime appointment, so they just dropped me off at the Central Station, from where I trained back to Elst. The weather was still cloudy, but a bit more clement than it had been, and I found it easier to just pick up the Rijn-Waal bike path, which required no navigation or focus. The way lay a little closer to the highway than it might have, I suppose, but it was pleasant enough. The scenery was mostly rural spotted here and there with farmhouses and barns, and a little quicksand(!). Once I got closer to the Waal, there was more built-up area - the expansion of Nijmegen north of the river. One village in particular - Ressen - was particularly attractive, with larger houses spaced widely on large manicured plots, with streams here and there.

Closer yet was Lent, a town apparently built in the last ten years - very stark, boxy buildings, to my mind pretty sterile. Maybe to spiff the place up, they built a quirky observation tower called the Lentmark (get it?). In the base was a kiosk with a coffee shop, and I had a cortada while chatting with the woman running it.

The way (for bikes, anyway) into Nijmegen lay on the railway bridge, since both conveyances want low slopes. It seemed like a half kilometer on the ramp before I got to the river itself. On the south side was a stair dropping right into the city center, where I walked around for a while, having arrived earlier than I expected and earlier than I was expected by my Couchsurfing host.

Wouter and his son Kees greeted me warmly, and it was clear within five minutes that this was a good fit. Surprisingly, Wouter was, like the CS host I had in Groningen four year ago, an American Civil War history buff. We three sat talking for a long while, then went out for supper at a Greek restaurant. They then took me on a walking tour of the riverfront, pointing out the location of The Crossing by the 82nd Airborne Division and the road bridge that was their objective. It was getting dark, so we wandered back home, where we sat and talked and ate Camembert cheese on toast until 10:30. Wouter's "couch" was in fact a bedroom with a very comfortable bed, and I slept well.

   

12km/7.5mi (27km/17mi)





Sunday 17 Sep


I slept until 8:30, then wandered down to the kitchen. Wouter cooked us up a breakfast of ham and eggs, quite similar to what I might have prepared, and we had a leisurely breakfast with conversation until after 10.

I got underway at 10:30, later than I might have planned, but with no regrets given the company. My walk lay on the most direct route towards the official Pieterpad, which was along a busy highway. It was quite safe to walk the bike path, but very noisy, and I was eager to rejoin the Pieterpad, which runs mostly through villages and fields and forests and bypasses big towns and cities.

Around noon I passed a road with a sign for the Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery and Memorial, so I opted for the detour, which added kilometers but got me off the busy highway. Just short of the cemetery I had a short and pleasant conversation with a couple out for the day, which brings me to this: I have observed before, as has Kelia, that one of the main joys of traveling is the interchanges with people. Granted, not all are long enough or significant enough to be memorable long-term, but they all add to the experience, and so I have determined on this walk to take photos, even if I never learn their names or expect to ever see them again.

Measured by the images of other cemeteries I have seen, this one is relatively small (the photo captures less than half of the field), but the row after row, section after section of identical headstones drives home the personal aspect of war: each one represents someone's husband or son or brother. One of the saddest to me was a French Canadian (I think from New Brunswick) who died near the end of April 1945, just a couple of weeks before VE Day.

The road back to Groesbeek was actually pretty hilly, and trafficked heavily not by cars, but by cross-country bikes, hundreds of them, all part of some big race, big enough to stop traffic at a crossing point.

When I got into Groesbeek I found the white-over-red PP marker, and followed the way until I lost it at a roundabout. I didn't have a planned route for this day anyway, so I just worked my way with my printed map and the excellent Open Street Maps (OSM) served up (offline!) by the Galileo app on my phone. About 4pm, I was flagging, so I stopped at a bench and rested for 30 minutes. Apparently the bench is in Germany, being on the east side of the road - the whole of the Pieterpad, in fact, runs very close to the border. The white cross by my bench made me sad until I realized that the name wasn't Dutch.

Soon I was able to get onto some quiet back roads that eventually led into Gennep, and I was believing myself almost to Heijin, my destination, just on the other side of a little forest. The way through the forest was very quiet and very pleasant, or would have been were I not so tired. My map showed a shortcut to Heijin, which upon closer examination was not. I made that closer examination only upon hitting a dead end and realizing at the same time that I had dropped my maps somewhere in the woods. So, backtracking, I found my maps, found the conventional path, and eventually dragged myself up the slope to Huis Petri, the home of Peter and Ria. Their guestroom was a very stylish and attractive space on the ground floor of their house, opening onto their patio. I basically crashed when I got into my room. I took a shower, washed my clothes in the bath, and crawled into bed. I was tired, but nothing was hurting, and no blisters. These new REI socks are great.

       

29km/18mi (56km/35mi)






Monday 18 Sep


Yesterday was somewhat longer than I had planned, and I was still a bit creaky this morning, but managed to Tim Conway my way up to breakfast - and what a breakfast: a two-meter buffet. Really. Just for me.

I visited with Peter and Ria for a bit, getting off about 9:45 and expecting a somewhat shorter day than yesterday. Most of the way lay in forests, frequently broken by farm fields and open grassy spaces, most, thankfully, on dirt trails, much easier on the feet than pavement. The trail crossed the Maas on a four-car ferry, cost for pedestrians €0.90. I rode across with a couple from Alkmaar on a biking holiday. The reason there is a ferry and not a bridge is that the river is navigable, and indeed I saw several barges and bulk carriers on the rivers.

I had made the mistake of not printing all my map pages at the same scale, which made it difficult to gauge progress, and I was still tired. It was noon before I got to Vierlingsbeek. I bought a bottle of juice there and sat and drank it while debating just taking the train from there to Tienray. Since the path ran close enough to the train line that I had a couple of other places to take the train, I opted to walk on as far as I could. That decided, I set out at a good pace, making good time across the next map page. The next map page revealed how much farther I had yet to go, but I was still walking reasonably comfortably, and committed to finishing on foot.

Sometime in here, it rained a bit, and I caught a beautiful complete rainbow.

From Oostrum to Meerlo was a very long very straight dirt road, and I spent the time on this road praying for every family in my church in approximately alphabetical order. The stretch from Meerlo to Tienray I do not remember. I do remember thinking that as long as I kept walking without thinking about the fact that I was still walking, that I was doing okay. Still, it was great to see the city limit sign for Tienray and my lodging at the "Grand Cafe Eten & Zo". The rest of the evening was a repeat of yesterday - shower, launder, crash.

       

31km/19mi (87km/54mi)



Tuesday 19 Sep


The cafe/hotel was comfortable, but I was the only guest, so it was pretty impersonal. I was pleased to discover what the innkeeper confirmed, that the Pieterpad had been rerouted from what my maps showed, and now passed directly in front of the hotel: a signpost on the corner had the white-over-red marker.

The path today was even more rural than yesterday. The weather was completely overcast and about 16-17°C (mid 60s F), perfect for walking. Mid-morning I met my first fellow-walker. He was going north, so we talked for just a few minutes before passing each other. Along the path I saw something that was repeated periodically - vegetables for sale on the honor system.

At 2pm I stopped for a rest with quite a ways yet to go. I have been getting a bit discouraged at how slow my progress in the mornings is, but am becoming reconciled to walking until 7 every evening. That said, when I crossed back over the Maas (another ferry, €0.30 this time), I thought I might get in earlier tonight. Alas, I was a victim of map scale again, and I still had 3 hours to go, most of it through the city of Venlo.

I arrived at my B&B somewhat after 7pm to be welcomed by Karl and Ine. Karl is a 'retired' architect (like I am a 'retired' consultant) about my age. As you can see from the photo, he is also a serious model builder. He built this house to his own design, quite attractive. I sat to visit with them for a few minutes before their other guests showed up, two brothers from Haarlem, Jodert and Peter, walking the Pieterpad. The five of us sat and talked until after 9pm.

     

24km/15mi (111km/69mi)




Wednesday 20 Sep


The brothers wanted breakfast only at 8:30, so I opted to wait until then for mine, too. When we all sat down, they bowed their heads, which opened up another topic of conversation. I must admit to being slightly surprised every time I find believers in Europe. They left soon after breakfast, while I stayed for a while more catching up this journal, not getting underway until 10:30. The stage today was supposed to be 23km, so I was feeling comfortable with such a late start.

Once I got out of the city, the path plunged into the forest and stayed there almost all day, skirting cultivated fields here and there. I kept wondering about a line on the map that almost overlay my path, but didn't represent anything I could see. I finally realized it was the Germany/Netherlands border, which on the ground had no marks, no fences, no signs to indicate how close the Pieterpad runs to Germany here. I was making good enough time that I stopped for a latte macchiato (apparently the Camino de Cappuccino has a branch through Limbourg). Up to today, I never felt comfortable stopping.

Along the way, another trail ran concurrent with the Pieterpad, one with a most confusing trail mark - a white X on a brown background. Whenever I saw that mark adjacent to the white-over-red, I had to stop to realize that it didn't mean I was on the wrong trail. Really, who thought that an X, with its cultural connotations of 'stop, wrong' was a good choice for a trail sign, and especially on a tree bark colored background?

When I got near Swalmen - stage end - my phone battery ran out, and I didn't have any way to find my pension exactly. There was a restaurant there, so I found an outlet to charge my phone and ordered a bowl of champignonsroomsoep (that sounds so much more exotic than 'cream of mushroom soup', doesn't it!). Once my phone was partially charged, I found why I needed it. My pension had a street address, but when my phone GPS said I had arrived, I was standing on a wide dirt trail with a small cluster of farm buildings in a clearing on one side. There was no movement, but undaunted (mostly), I wandered around until I found a door with a bell push. Thirty seconds after I pushed it, the host, Paul, appeared from somewhere, confirmed that I was indeed at the right place, and showed me to my room.

I was tired enough to just bathe and crawl into bed, but having done so, could not go to sleep. I lay awake until well after 1am, not hurting, not worried, not stressed - just awake.

22km/14mi (133km/83mi)




Thursday 21 Sep


I woke up at 7 with an alarm, not feeling so good and not feeling confident about the day's walk, which called for walking past Roermond and on to Montfort, then catching a bus back to Roermond to sleep, since I wasn't able to find lodging in Montfort.

When I dragged myself downstairs for breakfast, Paul's wife José seated me at the corner of the 8-place table, where I was close to some of the seven men already there who could speak English. As it turns out, they were all German and all one party, so we got along fine, even mostly in German. I found it interesting to hear José speak to them, though - she spoke German with a decidedly Dutch accent.

This party is the current year's composition of a group of family and friends and schoolmates who have been taking a week-long walking trip every year for the last forty. Apparently a couple of the younger ones here are following in the footsteps of their grandfathers. They weren't walking the Pieterpad - just touring the area, and because a couple of them were in their 80s, taking it easy. In fact, they were going to Roermond by taxi (four at a time), and by the way, that meant an empty seat, and by the way, they would be happy to let me ride in that empty seat, and would I be interested in a free ride that would take a few kilometers off my walk?

When we got dropped off by the taxi in Roermond, we made a group photo, I said my thank-yous, and we set off in opposite directions. I was still tired, but in much better spirits than three hours before. I was, however, on the far side of the city from where I needed to be, so I bought back a couple of kilometers walking through traffic to get back onto the path. Today the walk was through mostly open fields, and although it was sunny, the temperature was perfect for walking. I met two men on a day hike with the overly-coincidental names of Peter and Pieter.

Later, it was a bit warmer, and I stopped to rest in a café in St. Odiliënburg (for a latte, of course!), which involved my backtracking a bit, having turned the wrong way entering the town. There was a family there, and they let me take this image of their cute kids.

In the afternoon, it was back into forests, and the problem with walking without a guide book (available in Dutch only) presented itself. On the whole, the trail markings are adequate, but they seem to disappear just at the places where they are most needed, like junctions with ambiguous alternatives.

I got to Montfort in good time, and had to wait only a few minutes for the bus back to Roermond, where I had to walk another kilometer or so to my accommodation.

   

21km/13mi (154km/96mi)





Friday 22 Sep


I had a quiet evening last night and a good long sleep, and woke up fresh. My host, Dick, had gone to choir practice then, so I hadn't had a chance to visit with him, but this morning at breakfast we had a good visit talking about church music and such.

I was able to catch a bus just a few blocks from Dick's house, then transfer to get to Montfort to start walking again. Today the path was almost completely through cultivated fields, and I even saw (from a distance) something being harvested. Not the corn, though. The ears were popping out of their husks, and looked fine to me, but I was told that the weather had been adverse, and the quality was not up to commercial standards.

I met a couple walking their dogs, and we chatted for a couple of minutes. Later, though, I walked by two guys sitting at a table and clearly enjoying themselves. They hailed me as I walked by, offered me a beer (I declined), offered me a soft drink (also declined), and offered to sing me a song. They were from Poland, working in the vicinity and enjoying a day in the country. Enjoying it a lot. I ended up spending a good part of an hour visiting with them.

I came into Sittard not realizing how far to the edge of city my hosts were, and the last of the day was a repeated (in my head) "Okay, after this next traffic circle...". I did get there in good time, though, and was greeted by a smiling Jeanine. As she was showing me to my room, I asked her for directions to a restaurant or store when I could get some vegetables, my diet for the week having consisted mainly of hearty Dutch bread-meat-and-cheese breakfasts and protein bars for the rest of the days. Her response was to call husband René, who was shopping, to tell him to buy more green vegetables. She then invited me to eat supper with them. René is the cook in their family, so I sat in their kitchen with them and talked while he broiled steaks, cooked snow peas and potatoes, and prepared a beautiful green salad. The meal was excellent, and the conversation equally so.

I kept feeling just a bit uneasy about their cooking dinner for me, just as I had felt in Arnhem. After all, I was a 'paying customer', and I didn't want to cross boundaries, even though they had made the offer. They eased my concerns by saying that they had often done the same, and that cooking for three was little more trouble than for two. In addition, they were not an 'official' B&B, but just offered lodging on a cost-recovery basis, and only to Pieterpad walkers and members of the bicyclists' association Vrienden op den Fiets. This allowed them to meet people from around the world, and make some pin money without having to meet all the regulatory requirements of a normal business.

I went to bed at 9pm and to sleep soon after.

     

24km/15mi (178km/111mi)





Saturday 23 Sep


I had a quick breakfast between attempts to get my mouth around those devilishly difficult Limbourgse diphthongs, particularly 'uu' and 'eu'. Vespa scooters also came up as a topic of conversation - they own a couple of vintage models and belong to a club.

I (and they) were all out of the house just after 9, and I followed their good advice to get back on the path in the shortest distance.

The weather was iffy this morning: completely overcast, pretty cool, and a bit windy, threatening but not actually raining. Some of the way was through forest on dirt tracks, but also more cultivated land - that's a pile of sugar beets. By the time I got to the village Windraak, my arthritic knee was starting to ache, and I was a bit discouraged. Nothing for it, though, but to keep walking. I was, however, thinking seriously of catching a bus at Schinnen, and might have done so had there been one. I think I have done a bit better on this walk in regards to not letting pains and doubts and mood distract me from just continuing to walk, step after step, almost disconnected from what is going on in my head.

I varied from the path to stop at Schimmert for coffee, but mainly to get off my knee for while. Then it was just a matter of disconnecting my mind to get to my hotel outside Valkenburg. I had to walk a couple of kilometers on a busy road, and as much as I thought the official Pieterpad was longer than necessary, with lots of zigs and zags, I do appreciate that it avoids busy roads very well.

I stayed in a hotel some ways out of Valkenburg because I couldn't find private lodging. The innkeeper informed me that there were two big conventions in the area. Apparently the town is popular for commercial conventions.

24km/15mi (202km/126mi)




Sunday 24 Sep


Last day. I was at the end of the Pieterpad that I wanted to walk. It went on for one more day to Maastricht, but I turned east instead towards Aachen, to connect with my earlier walk. I had only a large-scale map (that is, less detail), and no waymarked trail. I expected it to be a difficult day, and so it was. The walk back to, through, and out the other side of Valkenburg seemed itself to take quite a long time. There were a lot of people walking around in the town center, and even more bicyclists. There were individuals and couples out on the typical Dutch everyday bikes, but way more people on road bikes, mostly in racing togs, ranging from single riders to groups of 8 or 10 with matching jerseys.

I got on the wrong road (not for the last time) straight out of town, and for a while was sure only that I was traveling southwest, as desired. I got to Eys much later than I had hoped, and was a bit dismayed at the amount of map I still had to cover. Part of the reason was a very long continuous downhill descending into town from Eyserheide. Also, my knee was hurting again, so I stopped at a very busy terras for lunch - uitsmijter and coffee, then proceeded on.

It was only on reaching the city limit of Simpleveld that I realized I was on the wrong road again - I wasn't supposed to be going there! So, a couple (or more) extra kilometers. Sigh.

The rest of this day's walk is largely a blur. Most of it was through a mix of light industrial, residential, and small fields, never exactly in town, but never quite out in the country, either.

I didn't get to the Germany border until after 5pm, with quite a ways yet to go. I was soon at the outer reaches of Aachen, and then it was walking in the city. By the time I got to the Altstadt, it was dark, and I still had a couple of kilometers to my hotel. I was dismayed at the city center map, which resembled a labyrinth, and i decided that I had arrived, declared success, and paid a taxi for the 10-minute drive to my accommodation on the other side of the city center.

My room was actually a four-bed room in a hostel, but I was the only occupant that first night.

     

29km/18mi (231km/144mi)




Takeaways


My big takeaways from this walk have to do with the people. The scenery was certainly attractive enough, but it's the people I remember. Hardly anyone passed me, on foot or on bike, without saying 'Hij!' or 'Hello!' or 'Goedemorgen!' It was noticeably different from Germany - startlingly so.

I found lodging by calling places on the accommodations list from pieterpad.nl, reverting to commercial websites when necessary. If I had asked someone very knowledgeable to select for me the best of each stage, I doubt I could have done better than I did. My hosts were without exception accommodating and friendly, and a delight to get to know.

The architecture along this walk was really interesting, but I decided early on that stopping to photograph any house that caught my eye would lengthen my days overmuch, so I settled on just enjoying them in passing.

For some of my earlier walks, I used official topographical maps from the country's surveying organization, but I didn't have (or didn't want to spend for) maps this time. My 'roll-your-own' tweaks to the Pieterpad would have worked better if I had had official maps, or at least been a bit more precise with my maps pulled from the internet - the variation in scale was a real nuisance, and I need to remember that for future walks.