Anonymous yet personal, this Blog chronicles
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“Deconstructing Jim” is simply here to
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Saturday, August 16, 2008

Biking Across the Border

Yesterday we had a traditional Dutch breakfast with our friends. They live a small municipality called Didam in Eastern Holland ( The breakfast consisted of assorted breads garnished with butter and Chocoladehagel - or chocolate sprinkles. It is similar to what we know in Boston as "Jimmies."

It was decided that after breakfast we would all take a morning bike ride together, since the weather was so nice. Bikes were readied, and our two families drove off - seven people in all.

It was very scenic in the little town of Didam. The streets are brick, and the houses and shops small and quaint. For a Friday morning, there was little traffic on the street. Within just a few minutes we got into the countryside amongst the small farms with grass-thatched roofs adorned with farm animals grazing in the sun (sheep, goats, and cows).

A little farther out from town there were houses with horses of all types, shapes and colors. Some of the horses were really beautiful - tall and black. Others were miniatures, virtually the size of large dogs. I saw a family training one of their large black horses. It was on a rope and would prance around them in a circle with the father, mother, and little child standing in the center of it all.

Farther along we spied windmills amongst the canals and corn fields. We stopped for a rest and to drink some water and juice we had brought along.

Before long we were on a bike trail leading through the woods. It looked like a nature conservation area - very cool in the shade and surrounded by thickly wooded forest - although there were some gradually inclined hills which are very uncharacteristic of the Dutch landscape. Our host and certified tour guide Wouter told us a story about a wild boar he had encountered in these woods. You need to be careful to avoid the nettle on the sides of the bike path.

In the next leg of the trip we came into a little town with a bustling street market. I noticed that the signs were no longer in Dutch. Apparently, we had crossed the border into neighboring Germany.

From there we climbed a larger hill along a street of houses with thatched roofs. Some men were busy at work replacing the grass roof of one such house (rauchen verboten - smoking forbidden).

At the top of the hill was 't Pannekoekhuys, a restaurant run by a Netherlands ex-patriot. For the Dutch tourists he offers Pannen Koek and Poffertjes - or very small pancakes smothered in butter and powdered sugar. We all went for the Poffertjes. It was just what we needed after climbing the hill.

We noticed on the menu that it specified a portion of Poffertjes is exactly 19 pancakes (not more and not less). This seemed odd to us. Why not round it up to 20? After investigating this matter at home, we discovered that the standard Poffertjes pan has exactly 19 indentations...

The pancake restaurant - run by Dave Seegers and his family - is decorated with elves, gnomes, fantasy characters of all types, and stuffed animals.

In the summer months, bugs must be a problem for the outdoors patrons.
A humongous "Texas Fly-swatter" is available to anyone who needs it.

After our snack, we walked to a lookout point. A bridge could be seen in the distance. This bridge, which connects Emmerich on the north of the Rhine with Kleve on the south, was opened in 1965. It has a length of 1228 meters and a span of 500 meters making it the longest suspension bridge in Germany. Approximately 500 ships pass underneath it every day.

This whole area was a major battle ground during WWII. The town is called Elten. I later learned that Elten has alternately belonged to the Netherlands and Germany since the end of WWII. However, the area we had climbed is called Hoch-Elten.

At the pinnacle of Hoch-Elten is a church that was originally built in the 11th century, although it was bombed to the ground during the war. It has since been refurbished and carefully restored - a process that we observed never ends. St. Vitus Hoch-Elten has a beautiful sounding bell that rang 12 times for us at noon. We viewed the Sanctuary and interior space.

After regaining our strength, we got on our bikes and began the trip back to Didam in Holland. We went a different way this time, through different woods and farm lands which seemed even more spectacular than what we had seen before. There were some long hills to ascend, but the speedy coast down hill on the other side made the climb worthwhile. Not having biked much and being out of shape, I began to tire a little and lag behind the group. But since there was only one way to get home, I had to keep pedaling and stay up with the group. We finally made it back, and in the end our little mourning bike jaunt covered 32 kilometers! It was a simple and brief "morning bike ride" for our hosts. For me, it was the longest bike ride I've ever taken, but by far the most enjoyable. Although I am sore all over, and I pushed myself to the limit of what I can do physically, I really enjoyed the trip. Here is a short video clip of the group entering into Elten, Germany...