After less than a 50 mile dose of Germany Andrew and I slipped back into Holland for our return to Liege, as we missed the extreme ease of its cycling and all the pleasant people, most of whom could speak English, unlike Germany. Andrew summed up Holland as "the world's premier non-threatening tourist destination.'' We haven't felt particularly threatened elsewhere, though we know being in unknown places one can feel ill at ease. In Holland, we were fully at ease.
We weren't even in Germany long enough to shop at an Aldis, home of the discount grocery store that is taking over the world. They are common in Australia as well as the US and France, Holland and Belgium. We also cut short our time in Germany before Andrew could take a photo of one of the many German cars bedecked with flags. There was a great profusion of flags everywhere, in sharp contrast to France, Belgium and Holland, as soon as we crossed into Germany.
With the European Football Cup going on, the Germans were asserting their ultra-nationalism. When I was in Germany two years ago during the World Cup, nearly every other car had a flag or two or four on a rod wedged into their windows. Some also had glove-like flags stretched over the mirrors outside the driver and passenger doors. The latest flag decorations are magnetic flags they can slap anywhere on their cars and also a stretch version of those on their mirrors that fit over the gas cap. The Germans are easily the most nationalistic of people.
Though it got rather tiresome seeing all the flags, that wasn't one of the reasons that forced our premature departure from Germany. It was a combination of factors. At first it was the poorer quality of its cycle paths. Like Holland they parallel all the roads and are meant to be ridden by cyclists rather than the roads. Unlike Holland there was dog poo to dodge.
A third strike against Germany came when Andrew tried to use the Wifi outside a McDonald's as he had been doing throughout our travels. For the first time it wasn't free to any interloper. One had to go inside and make a purchase to be given access. He's not adverse to Quarterpounders. He'd had a couple our first two days in Holland, the first when we needed to take refuge from the rain and the second while I spent an hour on the Internet in Nijmwegen. But he took offense to the German McDonald's stinginess with their Wifi and refused to let them have any of his money.
Instead we searched out the local library. That was not easy at all, as we had to ask quite a few people before we found someone who spoke enough English to understand us. The word "bibliotek'" didn't even work and we didn't know that the word for library in German is "stadtbucherei."At least when we finally found the library we were allowed to use the Internet, though it didn't allow access to yahoo email.
When we reached the town of Staelen around seven pm and saw a sign to Venlo, Holland, saying it was just ten kilometers away, we decided on impulse to head back to a land of English-speakers. Even people who can't speak English are willing to try and know enough words to give us directions to where we need to go. The supermarkets in Holland are very modest sized and not as obvious as elsewhere. We've had to ask several times where the local supermarket was, sometimes from one of the many elderly folk out on bicycles who didn't learn much English in school. Dutch don't cringe or flee when we approach, but give us a smile and are pleased to be of help.
We have one more day of Dutch sidewalk, sleep-walk cycling before we return to Liege and the start of our grand escapade of following The Tour. Our legs will be fresh after four days of soft-pedaling. We pushed the pace a little bit last night and before long the balls of my feet were stinging from the exertion. That usually only happens at the start of a tour. I was surprised to have lost that conditioning. I hope I have not lost any more.