If you like to walk, or even you don't, you could do worse than to come to Nijmegen in July. For a whole week the Netherlands becomes the center of the biggest walking event in the world, the Nijmegen International Four Day Marches (Nijmegen Marches for short). Half party, half endurance event, the marches bring out people from all over the world. Over 100 countries have been represented in the marches since they began in 1909, including military teams who literally march the whole way: 50km (31 miles) a day for four days, in full uniforms and packs.
Civilians have their choice of walking 30, 40, or 50 kilometers a day for four days, but whatever number you pick, you have to finish all four days to earn your badge of honor. Break out the Dr. Scholl's and the Band-Aids, because really awesome blisters await people who unwarily tackle the course without the proper shoes or any advance toughening up. But the sheer excitement carries you along anyway, especially when the routes through Nijmegen are lined with people handing out flowers to marchers who seem endowed with special grit. It is a great honor to be handed flowers, and a great insult to refuse them.
Walking through the pretty Dutch countryside with people from so many other countries is like a mini-Olympics without the stress. There is that great camaraderie of attempting something difficult, and the shared joy when you succeed. You get to see the sights up close and personal instead of from a speeding bus; you will know that ground by heart! One endearing custom of the Dutch children is to take someone's hand and walk along with them for awhile before running back and finding someone else. As with the flowers, you will offend if you refuse to fall into the spirit of the thing.
You will be walking over much of the same ground made famous in the book and movie "A Bridge Too Far," about a disastrous Allied attempt to capture bridges across the Rhine River here in Nijmegen and surrounding towns. The James Gavin Bridge is named for the commander of the U.S. 101st Airborne Division that dropped here in September 1944. There are many military cemeteries in the area where you can pay your respects to servicemen from many services who gave their lives to help free Europe, all immaculately kept and honored by the Dutch people.
So come, join in and take part in the Marches. And dust off your walking shoes, because there is no place quite like Nijmegen in July.