I wasn’t sure what to expect when I got tickets for an impromptu trip to the Netherlands to stay with my college roommate and her family in the city of Delft for eight days in August. Sarah and I met 18 years ago, (wow, I feel old writing that) as freshmen at Oberlin College and after we graduated I ended up moving to Hawaii and she went to Europe. Neither of us had any idea our freshmen year that we would both end up living so far away from Ohio and the US mainland, but maybe it was our sense of adventure that drew us together even then.
I’ve been in Delft for a few days now, and every time I leave Sarah’s house I’m amazed that people live here and it isn’t simply a magical place to come vacation during the summer. Delft is a picturesque town, with cobblestone streets and beautiful old homes lining canals. Families with children as young as one bike everywhere, and there are very few cars on the roads. Everything you need – groceries, schools, a market with beautiful flowers and fresh fruit, historic churches, restaurants, and shopping, is literally right outside your front door.
The canal Sarah’s house is on.
Delft police stopping for ice cream cones!
They say it takes a village, and I can absolutely see the appeal to raising a family here as Sarah and her husband, Jeff, have done. I think having everything so close, essentially eliminating the need to drive, fosters a strong sense of community here that I haven’t quite experienced in the US. (Don’t get me wrong, I feel incredibly blessed to have met wonderful people living in Hawaii and Florida.) We all went out to dinner one night, to the cafe in the photo below, and the kids immediately spotted friends they knew from school who were also having dinner there. We sat down at an outside table while the kids ran off to play in the sandbox located in the middle of the cafe, complete with shovels and buckets in typical Delft style.
A colorful cafe in Delft
I am sad to say I have only run two times since arriving in the Netherlands, despite the perfect running weather.While the obvious reason, besides “I’m on vacation laziness,” would be I’ve been too busy sightseeing, I have a fear of getting lost in foreign countries given that I’m directionally challenged and I got lost running in Japan eight years ago. They don’t use street signs there! This may not be all that surprising given that my drivers education teacher wrote an R and an L on my hands in high school so that when he said turn left, I wouldn’t turn right which is my natural inclination.
Needless to say, because I got lost running in Hiroshima, I’ve had some anxiety about running long distance on my own in Delft. Because Sarah has two young daughters she wasn’t able to come run with me. We actually ran our first marathon together, Honolulu, way back in 2004. She did suggest she could bike with the girls and they could show me the way to get to Delftse Hout, the Delft Woods and recommended running area, from her house. We set off, Sarah and Zoey (3) on one bike, Sophie (5) on her adorable Hello Kitty bike, and me in my Brooks.
Sarah and Zoe in front of their house and ready to roll.
The cobblestone roads and bike dodging did make it a bit of a challenge to run but it was easy to keep up with them, and Sarah pointed out different landmarks as we traversed the city. We entered Delftse Hout about a mile from the house, a shady and serene area. The woods has biking trails, horse trails, paved trails, and dirt trails to choose from. We passed a gorgeous open space where people were playing soccer, sunbathing, and reading before coming to a lake where multiple activities were also occurring. Sarah shared that most of the cities in the Netherlands have a designated park space for kids to play safely and people to come together and I think this also has a large impact on the community feel I’ve noticed. Our excursion was 4 miles round trip which I was happy with for my first run in Europe. A couple of days later, Jeff put both girls on his bike, and we took a different route to the woods for a total of 6.5 miles. There are quite a lot of turns to actually get to the woods so I know if I run on my own I’ll have to spend some time scrutinizing a map before heading out.
And in case you were wondering about Japan. . .
The day before my big run in Hiroshima, my sister and I walked around what seemed to be a very simple circular route following the Motoyasu-gawa river close to her tiny apartment. While she and her roommates were sleeping in the next morning, I woke up early, donned my sweats, and set out to run about eight miles. I had to make one right turn to get to the route along the river and I remember making a mental note that there was a push merry go round on the corner; this would be my landmark to find my way back home. Because it was November, the weather was chilly compared to what it was in Honolulu, and I had a fabulous run. Up until I started nearing the corner where I had to turn to return to Maia’s apartment. It was then that I noticed there was, no joke, a push merry go round on every single corner! But no street signs, which really didn’t matter anyway because I didn’t have the foresight to write down Maia’s address or phone number to bring with me, in case I were to get lost. I frantically paced up and down by the river trying to jog my memory. I turned right a few times and walked a little up the side streets in search of her apartment but nothing looked familiar so I kept returning to the river. I came to terms with the fact that I was not going to find her road so I made myself as comfortable as I could on a bench, I was starting to get chilly now that I wasn’t running, and hoped she would realize I had been gone for too long and would come find me.
I thought about waving down a police officer but also knew I had absolutely no useful information to provide them; I didn’t even know the name of the school Maia was teaching at. I probably spent close to an hour, or so it seemed, alternately pacing and sitting on the bench. As I felt close to tears, a Japanese woman approached me and with limited English asked me if I was lost and needed help. I said yes but tried to explain that I had no idea how to even find my sister in the city. My savior escorted me to her house and allowed me to use her phone to call my mom long distance in the U.S. She explained that her daughter had gone to college in New York City and Americans had helped her many times when she had gotten lost there, so the woman saw this as her opportunity to help a lost American in return. My mother was worried when I called but fortunately she of course had my sister’s phone number and provided it to me. The woman called my sister and they conversed in Japanese and decided on a place for the drop off.
I was beyond ecstatic to see my sister at the coffee shop and extremely grateful to the kind woman who returned me safely to her. We all laughed when we realized I had literally been two streets away from my sister’s apartment the entire time. I asked Maia if she had thought about coming to find me but when she mentioned she was concerned to her roommates, they said I was probably fine and enjoying my run!