Where: South Limburg, The Netherlands
While we lived in The Netherlands we would periodically get twitchy from staring out at the endless flat horizon. Whenever that happened we would head south to Limburg, a province which actually contains hills. Hurrah! The undulations would cure our twitches and keep us going for another few months.
Plate of food: Pannekoeken. Pancakes in The Netherlands are not even related to the small, fluffy only-for-breakfast version you might know. They are as large as a dinner plate, flat like a crepe, and can have sweet or savoury toppings that are baked into the batter. Traditionally you drizzle treacle syrup over the pancake, but I never liked the look of the nearly black substance that was plonked on the table in a large ceramic pot.
Across the country lane from our hotel was a small pannekoek restaurant with red plastic chairs and checkered table cloths. We sat in the garden overlooking green hills (hills!) dotted with dairy cows. After a day of mountain biking through the forests we unapologetically tucked into our pancakes.
Topped with bacon (Matt) and ham and pineapple (me) these pannekoeken were soft and warm, the edges golden and crispy. Simple, good food; a culinary hug as it were.
The Best: Being able to walk across the Belgian border.
Coming from Canada, the idea of many countries bordering each other in close proximity is so foreign and novel to me. Europe seemed like a neighbourhood where all of your friends live next door to you and, in fact, you all knock down your fences so that you can wander from yard to yard. Oh, look, Germany is grilling Bratwurst again – let’s go!
After an “incident” (see below), we ditched our bikes and walked on the final day of our trip. The paths through the forest were wide and quiet, only a few squirrels skittered past. There in the peace of the woods, with no fuss or warning, was a metal post. On the other side of that post was a WHOLE OTHER COUNTRY.
I loved that. I loved that the Dutch trees stretched their gnarled roots out across the border into Belgium. I loved that I could stand with a foot in each country. I loved that really there was no difference at all between one side of the post and the other.
You almost expect those lines on the map to exist in reality.
Story that needs to be told: Although we cycled every day in The Netherlands, it was on Mary Poppins-style bikes with only 3 gears of which we used 1 (maybe 2 if it was windy). So when we ventured to the hills of Limburg we excitedly hauled our mountain bikes with us. All of those gears! Front and rear suspension! Disc brakes! Tires with treads! Yes!
Not surprisingly my enthusiasm for mountain biking would wane fairly early on, generally after a steep climb or 15 consecutive minutes on that narrow saddle, whichever came first.
But on this trip I truly enjoyed our daily rides. The weather was perfect and the scenery was beautiful. I managed to let the gears do the work, so I was able to enjoy biking rather than cursing it. I was feeling a lot stronger, more confident, and capable. Time for a reality check.
On a downhill section Matt raced ahead, better able to just release the brakes and fly. I came down fast enough for me, particularly because the trail had deep ruts and large rocks in places.
Halfway down my front tire hit a big stone which spun the handlebars out of my grip. I planted my right foot to stop from flying over the front of my bike. My handlebars twisted completely around pinning my right thigh between the frame of my bike and the left side of my handlebar.
It seemed that each time I tried to extricate my leg it was pinched even more. I calmly alerted (yeah, right) Matt who was at the bottom of the track and he immediately started running back up to me. He was able to lift the bike and untwist the handlebars which released my leg.
We sat in the dirt and examined the damage: my outer thigh had a disturbing dent in it (about an inch deep) and some angry-looking burst blood vessels. We still had a long ride back to the hotel so, after some water and some general cursing of hills/stones/bikes/nature, we got back on our bikes and rode the rest of the way on shaky legs.
By the time we got back, my whole thigh was turning various shades of OUCH. I knew what had to be done: I put some ice on it and had a beer.
I rested on our deck and watched the cows amble past on their way to be milked. Some of them stopped to gaze at me with gentle eyes, but I also saw a few bovine looks that clearly said, “Have you seen my udder? Get over yourself.”
I had bruising for months and the dent in my leg was very pronounced for almost a year, which looked just awesome, thankyouverymuch. Even as I sit here now, I can still see and feel a slight dip on my outer thigh.
It all seems a bit extreme, really. I hardly need a constant reminder to stay off my mountain bike; I can avoid that just fine on my own.