In just over a week’s time, we’ve visited five countries, driven in four of them, will have run a marathon in three of them, spent time with two friends from the States, and had one heck of a unique tour of Europe.
Just last Tuesday we left Prague, turning in our Czech Crowns for Euros, and headed to the Netherlands to meet up with our friend Joe, who we befriended at our language school in Guatemala. We also said goodbye to Rumblestrip; he rode out of Prague on a 17 hour bus ride to the Ukraine, where he’s now working on a farm, milking water buffalo by hand. As soon as we landed in Amsterdam, we rented a car and drove to Brugge, Belgium. Matt had to quickly remember how to drive a stick shift as we exited the airport, and he easily got the hang of it as we made our way on the three hour drive to another country.
Brugge was a great town for us in so many aspects. It was small enough that we walked most of it in a day, it had dirt running paths throughout the city, and though we weren’t as gluttonous as our time in Italy, we still tasted a little bit of each of the specialties in Belgium, including waffles, chocolate, and a fabulous vegetarian restaurant. During our day and a half in Brugge, there was a street festival right outside our door, complete with ferris wheel rides and carnival food. Freshly-made Belgian waffles the size of the palm of your hand, served warm with a dusting of powdered sugar, were the crowd favorite, as well as ours. Our best meal was had at a small, hard-to-find, vegetarian restaurant just past the touristy center of town, where our menu was the choice of Small, Medium, or Large. That’s right, we didn’t know what we were getting; we just knew the size of the plate and that it would all be vegetarian. We delighted in an assortment of salads, sautéed and breaded vegetables, potato and pasta salads, and couscous. After lunch, we each satisfied our sweet tooth with a piece of freshly made chocolate, a truffle, and a bit of marzipan.
After Belgium, it was on to Luxembourg, where the focus shifted from food to sight-seeing. Our first stop was at the American Cemetery and Memorial, situated just outside the city, on a fittingly quiet piece of land, surrounded by trees, blocking out the bustle of the nearby highway and city. Buried here are about 5,000 US soldiers from World War II, including General George S. Patton. It was a solemn and moving experience to be surrounded by graves of people that died fighting in a war that I’ve only read about and never had to attach a tangible aspect to, such as a cemetery. From the cemetery, we drove North in Luxembourg and visited the small town of Vianden, close to the border with Germany, and explored the huge castle of Vianden, seated on a high hill overlooking the town. Later on we drove back to Luxembourg and walked through the Grund, a part of the city that’s a gorge-like area below the city, with walking paths, a small waterway, and structures hundreds of years old. It was an exhausting day of walking and driving around Luxembourg, but well worth the unique view of the city and country.
The last stop before Ireland was the Netherlands, where we ran a marathon in Leiden, a town about a half hour south of Amsterdam. Our hotel was actually about ten minutes from Leiden, in a small beach town on the North Sea. It was a cute town with good restaurants, pedestrian and bike friendly paths, and a beach with cold water to ice our weary legs. The marathon was a great way to see different parts of Leiden, and we enjoyed walking around the town the day after. My marathon experience was similar to Matt’s, in that my legs just didn’t have the energy that they did in Madrid or Prague. But, I ran a considerably slower pace than Matt from the start, so I was able to keep a slow and steady pace throughout, and even finished as the sixth female. The race was a two lap course, and as I made my way on the second lap, I realized that there were very few marathon runners, and very few women. This was confirmed when I ran through a crowd and they yelled out with excitement, “A woman!”, and when I had less than three kilometers left and passed the first woman on the entire second lap. I can only rejoice so much about my sixth place finish as a female since there were a whopping 26 females running the marathon, compared to the 204 male runners.
Our marathon tour of Europe has now taken us to the West coast of Ireland, near the tiny town of Ballyvaughan, where the landscape is stark, the weather is Portland-like, and the accommodations are wonderful. We’re in an area called the Burren, where limestone covers much of the windswept landscape, and the partly cloudy skies look like they could rain at any time of the day. Though it sounds gloomy, I like the unique scenery, and find myself happy to be reminded of the feeling of the Pacific Northwest. We’re staying in a comfortable home just outside the town, with a view of the water and a three minute walk to the rocky beach. The upcoming marathon should prove both challenging and beautiful judging by our surroundings, though I’ll admit I’m a little fearful that it might hurt quite a bit more than the previous marathons. I’m also battling a sore ankle that has been lingering far too strongly since the Leiden marathon, so that is a little concerning as well.
For those who have been wondering what we’ve been doing with all our time outside the marathons, that is it. Lots of walking around towns, sampling of the local food, and driving through different countries. We’ve had a great time so far, and are looking forward to what other adventures we have over the next week here in Ireland, including one more marathon before heading back to the States.