Like most reasonable people who have recently committed to renting an apartment, and who have a multitude of tasks ahead of them (including but not limited to: installing new appliances, painting till their arms fall off, eviscerating dust bunnies, and constructing furniture from plastic nails and hopeless dreams), we decided to do literally none of that and go away for a couple of days last week instead. Because, you know. Priorities.
Here’s the thing: we went to Nijmegen, a city in the Dutch province of Gelderland, for the Vierdaagse (“Four Day-er”) — referred to in English as “the Walk of the World” or “the Four Days March.” The Vierdaagse is one of the biggest Dutch events of the year, and the largest walking event held anywhere on Earth. As such, we commoners don’t have a whole lot of control over when it’s held.
Too bad. Those holes in the wall were just gonna have to wait.
During the Vierdaagse, more than 42,000 participants walk either 30, 40, or 50 kilometres each day for — of course — four days. (You can say a lot of things about the Dutch people, but you can’t say they aren’t literal.) Everyone starts and ends each day in the same spot in the city; the goal isn’t so much to get anywhere as it is to complete your allotted distance and feel like a boss.
People walk for all kinds of reasons: for a cause, for loved ones who have died, because they feel like it. Many of the walkers are Dutch, but we also saw people from Canada, South Africa, Norway, Suriname, the US, and more.
Initially, the Vierdaagse was largely a military event, and many military personnel still take part (though most are civilians these days). In addition to dressing in full uniform, military participants must carry a pack weighing 10 kg (22 lbs) during their walk.
All along the day’s route, people camp out to cheer on the walkers as they pass. The crowds are especially large at the finish line, where spectators gather to meet and greet family, friends, or perfect strangers as they complete the day’s journey.
On the fourth and last day, things really get ridiculous. Stands are set up along the street for the grand finale finish (those wishing to use these seats must purchase tickets). Marching bands play, and the crowds clap and chant as the participants cross for the final time.
People get very into the spirit, dressing up in funny outfits, waving flags from their province or country, and shaking maracas, tambourines, or anything else noisy they can find. It’s also customary to bring gladiolen, flowers that symbolize strength and victory, to present to your loved one(s) as they finish walking.
Speaking of loved ones walking: Simon’s dad and his sister Anneke participate each year, and the primary reason for our visit was to cheer them on and meet them at the big finish.
Our secondary reason was to explore Nijmegen and check out all the festivities. The walkers aren’t the only ones who head to Nijmegen for the Vierdaagse; thousands of supporters (and party animals) come out as well, transforming the city into a big festival. You’ll find live music, rides, decorations, and heaps of food and drink kiosks all over, from the Grote Markt (the main square) to the Waalkade (the area on banks of the Waal river).
During our stay, we camped in what can only very generously be referred to as a “campground,” and what would more accurately be described as a “giant field” just outside of the city. With hot running water and an on-site restaurant, it easily qualifies as the fanciest camping trip I’ve ever done — not that I’m complaining. It may not have been the most rustic of accommodations, but the atmosphere was a lot of fun.
This year marked the 99th anniversary of the Vierdaagse, meaning next year should be an absolute blow-out. I’d book your tiny camping spot now.