Monday, 8 June 2015

An Expat Guide to the Dutch Avond4daagse

Last week my family walked the avond4daagse for the first time. For those of you who have never had the pleasure, but are bursting to know what exactly an avond4daagse entails, here's the low down.

Here are all the answers to the burning questions you could possibly ever have about this annual quintessential Dutch event.

Q. What is the avond4daagse?
A. It's basically a community walk that takes place over four evenings. Thousands of children and some of their teachers and parents walk either 5, 10 or 15 kilometers per evening. The majority opt to shuffle along behind each other for 5 kilometers so that children actually get to bed before midnight. It is worth noting that because of the sheer volume of bodies moving in the same direction at one time it feels like you walk at least twice the 5km distance.

Note that many children are accompanied by one parent whilst the sane one enjoys the peace and quiet at home.

Q. Who takes part in the avond4daagse?
A. Schools, families, sports clubs, walking groups, random people and their dogs.

Q.  What's the point of the avond4daagse?
A. The idea is to be the first one from your school to reach the finish point, dodging and weaving your way through the crowds; anything goes to get ahead so long as you don't run or injure more than 3 other people along the route.

Of course that is not in the slightest bit true but at times felt like it was indeed the case. The real purpose is 'gezelligheid". What else would it be living in the land of the Dutch? A lovely walk after dinner with a few thousand strangers is gezellig right? That, and promote exercise.

Q. How much does it cost?
A. Now let's get down to the nitty gritty. If you have been in any way Dutchified since living in the Netherlands you'll want to know about the financial side of it. It's NOT gratis. We paid five euro each but I have no idea if that is a standard charge.

Q. So, I hear you cry, what do I get for my money, apart from gezelligheid of course?
A. You get a drink and something to eat at the half way point provided by the school you signed up with. You get a bag with a few snacks, vouchers, a cap, badge and stickers on your first day and on the last day you get a medal. Plus an amount goes to a local charity. Well, that's how it worked for us. It's possible that each school and council arrange it differently.

Q. How did this avond4daagse lark start?
It's an offspring of the Nijmegen 4 day international marches. In 1940, the Nijmegen march didn't take place because of the mobilization of Dutch troops. As a result there were lots of restless walkers milling about in het Gooi. Some bright sparks therefore decided to throw together an evening walk spread over four days in het Gooi and before anyone could say, "This reminds me of that Forrest Gump movie," the idea had spread far and wide. In the Netherlands at least.

Q. Is it fun?
A. Is the Pope Catholic? Are the Dutch gezellig? Of course it's fun. Why the hell would thousands of people in one town alone do it if it wan't fun? Moving along...

Q. I'm not a fast walker. Can I still take part in an avond4daagse?
A. We watched snails overtake us. There were numerous near misses as tortoises hurtled by the walking masses. So yes, slow walkers can join in.

Q. Do I have to scream in every tunnel or subway I walk under?
A. It's only obligatory if you are under ten years of age. Ear plugs are handy for accompanying parents and teachers.

Q. If I suffer from hayfever will I be able to walk the avond4dagse?
A. I won't lie. In places the hayfever was dehabilitating. The sneezes came hard and fast one after another as we walked alongside high grasses next to sloot after sloot as the spring evening descended. The sneezing coupled with the fact I've birthed three children and every evening spontaneously needed the toilet almost as soon as we were given the 'go' to start walking, made the avondvierdagse a bit of an extreme sport for me personally. Fortunately, I'm sure non- hayfever sufferers had a very different experience. 

Q. Can I walk the avondvierdagse with a pram?
A. Yes. As long as you are trained to the black belt equivalent in pram manoeuvrings. You'll need to be ruthless whilst refraining from resorting to out and out attacks on those who step over your pram WITH YOUR CHILD IN IT in order to get ahead or catch up with schoolmates/family/strays/their dog on a long lead. 

Q. Are the roads/ cycle paths closed off to traffic during the avond4dagse?
A. In some towns they are. In Zoetermeer they weren't. Again, I'll be honest. There's a risk element to walking the avond4dagse: will I/won't I get hit by a car/angry cyclist/motorbike/oblivious brommer demon? Depending on your outlook on life this can be attractive.

Q. Aren't the kids a little tired as the week goes on?
A. They are knackered. Late to bed, school all day and then a 5km walk. Four days long. Tired isn't the word. I'd use words like: Grumpy, short-fused, chagrijnig, unreasonable, uncooperative and reluctant to get out of bed each morning. But the avond4daagse is gezellig right?

Q. Do crowds line the finish point on the last night adorned with flowers and sweets for the children who have completed their four evenings of walks?
A. Why yes they do. Some children had more bouquets of sweets given to them as a reward for walking 20 km in four evenings than my children have seen in their short lives so far. Nothing says well done for getting all that exercise this week like a couple of kilos of snoepjes.

Q. Would you do it again next year?
A. Absolutely. In a heartbeat.

So there you have it - the avond4daagse. Having completed my first one, and having received a medal for my efforts I am feeling truly smug - and now truly ingeburgerd.

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