There are times when one knows that the laws of the universe, God, or one of the Saints is smiling down on our endeavours. Or at the very least the stars are aligned for the plan we have embraced and the initial steps we take. It is always possible to stray and lose our way further along the chosen path.
We lit a candle and said a prayer in the Basilica of Saint Nicholas in Amsterdam, then quietly took a seat to say even more prayers as the choir practiced one last time for Sunday Mass. My eyes welled up with tears as I prayed for my daughters, their partners and children, knowing the challenges they may face in the coming months and years as we walk slowly south and west across Europe. Who knows what trials they may endure in the time it takes us to complete our pilgrimage?
I know a man who walked across Europe as an orphan boy, from the Black Sea to Holland, the Second World War raging all around him; he emerged true to his name, Victor, and with a character as sweet as honey. God, may you bless my children with such fortitude and grace.
I pushed the exit door and made way for a woman coming in off the street. Never before had we met in this place, but there she was: an old friend recognised, a delighted cry, she grabbed me by the shoulders and kissed my cheeks. Her daughter, wheelchair-bound since birth, ‘just this morning had spoken of you’. The door to the wheelchair access lift opened and in she came too, with her father. As her eyes adjusted to the dim light her faced went from puzzlement to joy as Renata and I beamed back at her. Quickly, a quiet exchange of news, a promise to see each other again soon, and then we really were out the door. God was definitely smiling now.
Floris V was a famous ruler in Holland in the mid-13th century. History is written by the the victors and so, as these things go, Floris became a national hero – at least in the parts of the country called ‘Holland’ – in spite of his rather uneven personal qualities and political accomplishments. Finding a murderous end himself at the hands of his antagonists helped with the mythology, as did a 60’s TV drama series starring a young Rutger Hauer. The route we are following through the Netherlands is the Floris V-Pad, and will take us from Amsterdam to the southwest town of Bergen Op Zoom, where is connects with the Grande Randonnée (GR12) to Paris and points south.
Today’s stages took us through Amsterdam and vicinity, 20 km in total, and were for us a wander down memory lane, covering thirty-five years of our own history and ending at our current front door. Below a few photos and commentary. Next time we’ll take up the baton at the bridge over the Amsterdam-Rhine Canal at Driemond and head up to Muiden, where Floris V was imprisoned. I’ll keep you posted.