Simultaneous Deutschgasm

Longtime readers will recall that a regular feature of our small family’s travel exploits is forgetting to eat. Or eat least leaving the eating for far too long. Today was no exception.

We started off so well: with a tour of the Kröller-Müller Museum planned as the central element of the day, I lobbied for an early lunch so as to take in the van Gogh et al on a full stomach. The family rallied around this idea, and so we enjoyed a heaty lunch of “maaltijdsaladesat” – it’s a meal, in a salad! – at Monsieur Jacques, the museum’s busy café. We were fed and heavy into the Vincent by 12:30 noon.

Three hours later, with our minds full and our hearts satisified, I hopped on one of the free white bicycles and dashed back over to the nearby park visitors centre to pick up our van, returned to pick up Catherine, Oliver and Ethan, and we were off, leaving our two days Nationale Park De Hoge Veluwe behind us with happy memories.

Georges Seurat, The Harbour and the Quays at Port-en-Bessin

We’ve been navigating around the Netherlands using a combination of my phone’s Google-powered navigation app (when I have a SIM that’s data-enabled), notes scribbled into the sides of brochures from a morning fill of wifi (when I don’t have mobile data) and by the seats of our pants (when all else fails). Today was a little bit of each: I eked out a little wifi on the way out of the park, scrawled down a few notes, and we knew the general direction of our trip to the watery region of Maasbommel (choosen as today’s destination because we both fondly recall a documentary watched years ago on its amphibious houses).

Unfortunately, this ad hoc approach to navigation failed us today, and we ended up on more than one “oh, that was the wrong turn – and there’s not another exit on this highway for 35 km” misadventures.

And so a promised 59 minute trip quickly stretched into a couple of hours.

But every unwanted diversion has a payoff, and so we found ourselves sailing across the river Maas on a tiny ferry built for a half-dozen cars:

The Maasbommel Ferry

While the high of unexpected water-journey was enough to keep us out of catatonia temporarily, soon the skies opened up with rain, and the struggle to find a campground took over, and that early lunch started to look foolhardy as it receded in the past.

We pushed on, however, and resolved, once our campsite was secured, to find a grocery store and restock the van’s pantry.

This too was easier said than done: we found a sign for “Supermarkt,” followed it, but none manifested. We reversed and still found nothing. Finally we spotted a man walking along the road; we slowed, Catherine rolled down her window.

“English?”, she asked, tentatively.

“Deutsch!”, he proclaimed.

“Supermarket?”, I asked, thinking this a universal enough term.

The man then proceeded to recite directions to the village supermarket in German.

At the conclusion of which we thanked him heartily, rolled up the window, looked at each other in surprise and the simulataneous realization that we’re understood absolutely every word he’s said. Despite knowing only 10 words of German between the two of us.

Wordlessly we followed his directions to a T, and five minutes later I was in the grocery store buying yogurt, bread and pasta.

Our campsite, available for a single night only, alas, is right on the side of the same body of water we’d crossed earlier in the day by ferry, looking out at a collection of ducks and geese and with the sounds of water lapping at the shore to lull us to sleep.

Maasbommel Campsite

Tomorrow we’re on to Utrecht.

Annals of Travellers Cheques

I am the last generation to have used “travellers cheques” as a regular part of international travel: kids today, with their fancy ATM cards have no idea.

Travellers cheques, for those of you younger than me, are perhaps best described as “money that you can get back if it’s stolen.”

One went to the bank and handed over cash: in return one received a numbered series of registered “cheques” that could be turned back into cash during travels. There’s an American Express televsion ad from the 1950s that explains it well. The system was based on a system of dual-signatures: you signed each cheque on receipt, and then again on cashing. If your signatures matched, presumably you were the owner of the cheques. Should the cheques be lost or stolen during travel, they could be replaced.

And, in fact, this actually happened to me once: I was in Seoul, South Korea visiting my brother Steve in 1998. We’d checked into a tiny hotel on the night of my arrival and somehow, between checking out of the hotel in the morning and arriving at the train station several hours later to book travel south, my Thomas Cook travellers cheques went missing. We went back to the hotel and scoured the room and the garbage, but to no avail. So I figured out how to call Thomas Cook from a pay phone and was given instructions as to where to go for replacement. We made our way to the 10th floor of a shiny office block, found the office, and within 30 minutes I walked out with new cheques.

By the time we visited Thailand in 2002 (after a 4 year break from travel during which we moved house and Oliver was born) the shift to debit cards had begun: in theory I could put my Metro Credit Union debit card into any ATM in the world and withdraw cash. And, generally, that worked in practice: there were always a few ATMs on a trip that would spit out the card for some reason – wrong network, etc. – but more often than not it just worked.

And twelve years later, here in Europe, we generally don’t give how-to-get-cash issues a second thought: ATMs are everywhere, they work 99% of the time, they dispense whatever the local currency happens to be, and the surcharge for currency conversion is generally reasonable (for example, I withdrew 150 EUR from my account on Wednesday; this cost me $224.75 CAD; the Bank of Canada exchange rate for EUR to CAD for that date reports $218.91).

What’s gone missing in all of this is: what happens if you lose your debit card?

It’s never happened to me, but I imagine it most have happened to many thousands of others.

I wonder if most banks and credit unions have a system for quickly replacing debit cards that matches the old travellers cheques replacement system in speed an convenience.

I’m not in a hurry to find out, of course.

This is our family, and this is how we roll...

How to visit a national park that’s bicycle friendly – bicycle obsessed, in fact – with a service dog and a kid who’s averse to the tippiness of regular bikes? In the Netherlands this isn’t a problem: a cargo bike for Ethan the dog, a tricycle with lounge seating out front for Oliver.

Our Family On Our Bikes

The dedication to cycling accessibility in this part is truly something behold. We had a great day out on the trail, rambling about in the reconstructed wilderness of De Hoge Veluwe National Park.

Careful readers will see that I’ve entered the On Golden Pond phase of my life.

In the Field

Every summer when we were kids my father would go “in the field.” We assumed, I think, that every father did this, so it didn’t seem unusual: for him it meant going to a different spot on one of the Great Lakes every summer to do field work for his job as a near shore sedimentologist. Often we got to go along for at least part of the summer; indeed we watched the Moon landing on a tiny black and white television set in a VW microbus on the shore of some lake or another.

As I type I am sitting aside my own VW microbus. My “own” in the sense that we’ve rented it for 2 weeks for a tour of the Netherlands

De Hoge Veluwe National Park

I too am in the field, but in this case simply because I actually am sitting in a field, in campsite “Natuurcamping De Hoge Veluwe” that’s part of the De Hoge Veluwe National Park in the middle of the country. The view from my chair looks like this:

De Hoge Veluwe National Park

That the “sanitary station” you see in the distance, an ecologically-designed place to shower and wash dishes and ablute. It has a green roof. And a free lending library. Oh, and there’s wifi, provided as part of the site rental along with electricity.

We arrived here late this afternoon after spending a pleasant day slightly to the north in the town of Meppel. Last night we camped between a highway and a canal; we cooked breakfast and then headed into town for a lunch with Bill Whelan and Michelle Coutreau, Islanders who, as it happens, are also touring the Netherlands by VW microbus this June (this required, as you might imagine, a rendezvous: how could we not!).

We spent the afternoon at the Drukkerijmuseum Meppel, the nicest little printing museum you ever did see. Where Oliver was taken under the wing of a kindly Dutch printer who guided him through the process of making paper, setting type, and printing:

Kindly Dutch Printer with Oliver

We even got a demonstration of an Intertype machine (cousin of the Linotype), the most marvelous of marvelous machines:

Seeing the Intertype

Oliver has a slug of “Oliver Rukavina” burning a hole in his pocket, which is sure to attract the eye of airport security, or at least public health, as we make our way home.

Hoge Veluwe seems like a truly magical place: the campground is more wildernessy that others we’ve stayed at (something that Catherine, who has seen real wilderness, would dispute if she was reading over my shoulder, and that the presence of wifi would seem to contradict). There is a fleet of freely-borrowable white bicycles at the entrance and visitors are encouraged to leave their cars at the gate and bicycle about. Our plan for tomorrow is to borrow a tandem bike for Catherine and Oliver, and a cargo bike for Ethan and I, and do our own tour about.

Oh, and did I mention that in addition to all the wilderness, there’s also a museum on the grounds filled with works by Seurat, Picasso, Leger, Mondrian and others? So maybe it’s not wilderness at all.

We’ll likely stay another night so as to be able to take advantage of the twilight “Wandelen of fietsen naar een wildobservatieplaats” after supper.

And then it’s on to… not sure yet. One of the great things about being in the field – at least this one – is that there are no plans.