Family and the woods (Hilvarenbeek, The Netherlands)

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It’s still only the second day of 2016 so I am feeling motivated to exercise first thing in the morning. I wake at a fairly reasonable hour to darkness outside. Esbeek is the next village out of Hilvarenbeek so I decide to make it my destination. I start with a spot of geographic embarrassment as I follow the road signs to the highway instead of the more useful cycling signs that would take me directly out of the village. But that’s okay because I can do with the extra exercise after eating far too many olibollen on New Year’s Eve. It takes me about an hour to reach the Esbeek church and photograph it’s steeple before walking back “home”.

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I don’t need a map to show me which way to walk. The steeples of the various churches are relatively easy to spot from a distance and are quite unique. I manage to find the church steeple in Hilvarenbeek easily and then walk north another kilometer to our B&B (I can highly recommend Bij Jans B&B if you are in the area).

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We visit my grandmother for coffee and then are picked up by one of my cousins to go to lunch. We drive in a two-car convoy with my uncle and cousin’s brother following us. Our destination is the Trappist Monastery and Brewery in Tilburg. The monks started brewing beer here in 1884 and still follow traditional recipes.

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The buildings themselves are exactly what I think of when I think of Dutch Catholicism. It’s sturdy and somber and somehow almost oppressive but beautiful all at once. The Trappist monks live a strict life of contemplation and only speak when necessary, if at all. I definitely could not be a Trappist monk.

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Silence, however, is not something that is encouraged in the restaurant. And it’s not something we even come close to practicing. After all, it’s been a long time since I sat at a table with my uncle and cousins all together at once. And it turns out my uncle is something of an expert in wheelchair bikes (more on that topic in a later post). I thoroughly enjoy our lunch, both the food and the company. Especially the company.

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Over lunch we discuss my interest in outdoor recreation for people with disabilities. It turns out that while my uncle is an expert on wheelchair bikes, my cousin works in the local government’s tourism and recreation office. Would you know it, their local government has built an amazing high ropes course in the woods that is fully wheelchair accessible. It’s not just a small little bit of token access for people who use wheelchairs but it’s built with people who use wheelchairs in mind. Seriously, you can even strap your wheelchair into the flying fox section of the ropes course and fly through the air. It’s absolutely wonderful to see that this is available here.

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After taking in the sights we head back to my cousin’s house and borrow some bikes. Paul hasn’t been on a bike since childhood but I have been threatening to get him into cycling since we met 18 months ago. And would you know it, apparently I ride too slowly for him.

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And then it was dark. Before we knew it we were sitting in my grandmother’s kitchen eating pancakes for dinner and chatting the night away. Paul drifted off to sleep listening to my grandmother and I speaking Dutch. I did translate some of the conversation but I was fatigued from switching between languages and Paul didn’t seem to mind drifting off with his eyes closed.


2 thoughts on “Family and the woods (Hilvarenbeek, The Netherlands)

  1. Wow very full days full of impressions. Did you know that you were baptised at that very same Abdij in Tilburg? We had a Trappisten klooster at the end of our street: Abdijlaan, belonging to the same monks. It was also the place where tante Nel and her brother Wim had their first jobs. The Trappisten were famous for their brewery in Tilburg. Our neighbour was one of the managing directors.
    See what just a visit from you 36 years later reveals?

    • Nel mentioned that she worked at the Trappiste. Very cool. And I think Dad might have mentioned about me being baptised there. Much more impressive than being baptised at boring old St Matthews’ Church. Haha.

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