Netherlands: the First Pedal Strokes


I cycle past my old high school, the local Café Pierik and the bowling alley were I spent many childhood birthday parties. After 26 years my hometown Zwolle holds few secrets for me. The buildings are familiar, the street names are familiar and you always run into someone you know. My town, where each street corner has a story. But today all is different. For the last time I cycle past her old buildings and streets. Today I started a journey which will take me halfway around the world. All alone, and all the way to Bali, Indonesia. A two and a half year cycling journey that will take me through 33.000 kilometers (more than 20.000 miles), more than thirty countries and hundreds of unknown places.

One last big meal at my parents’ dining table with dark bread, cheese and  traditional Zwolle mustard soup and then the moment is there. Seen off by the people that I love, I know the beginning will be tough. I leave love, friendship, work and a sense of belonging behind in the Netherlands. Besides that, I am hardly trained, have not had time to test my new gear and feel like I am rashly riding away from a perfectly happy life.

Thus, with a grim face I pedal out of Zwolle, following a route through the Vecht River Valley, which will lead me to Germany in less than two days. I squeeze the handlebars of my bicycle, looking straight ahead and feeling miserable. Why am I doing this? Why am I leaving behind this good life? To make matters worse, I lose my way after several hours and end up on the banks of the wrong river. It is still early, but I decide to set up my first bivouac here to calmly test out my camping gear.

First the tent. I cannot make any sense out of the instructions, and end up putting it up crooked and inside out. Next up is my stove, a multifuel burner. I start turning some knobs, and indeed, gasoline actually starts spraying out of its little hose. But now what? Carefully I ignite it, not knowing that the fuel reservoir had overflown already, and that gasoline was seeping onto the bone-dry grass. A huge burst of flame shoots over the ground in all directions, with fuel still running. I quickly turn off the tap and stomp out the emerging wildfire just in time.  

On the Day of the Lord all shops here are closed, which means that I have to make do with the garlic, spaghetti and peanut butter that I snatched from my mother’s kitchen cupboard this morning. My first meal therefore consists of this dubious combination. I close my eyes and think back to that mouth-watering mustard soup this afternoon. A tasty start of a culinary world tour.

Zwolle Mustard Soup

For anyone with more in their cupboard than spaghetti and peanut butter, I present this traditional recipe from my hometown.

Ingredients for 4

3 tbs butter|2 heaping cups leek, thinly sliced|2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped|4-5 tbs course mustard|3.5 cups vegetable broth (preferably no powder)|1 cup whipped cream|2 cups matured cheese, grated|spring onion for garnish|black pepper|bacon cubes, fried (optional)|1 sour apple, grated (optional)|

  1. Melt the butter in a casserole pan and fry the leek and garlic for 20 minutes on medium heat until the leek becomes translucent.
  2. Lower the heat, add 3 tablespoons of mustard and fry these along for 3 minutes
  3. Add the broth and bring the soup to a boil.
  4. Lower the heat and cook the soup for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. Take the pan off the heat and puree it with a hand blender.
  6. Then add the whipped cream and bring to a boil again.
  7. Stir the cheese into the soup, taste it, add 1 or 2 tablespoons of mustard to taste and turn off the heat.
  8. Season the mustard soup with black pepper, garnish with spring onion and optionally with bacon or grated apple.
  9. Serve with dark brown bread, butter and matured cheese.