How far is far away?

The other day I hopped in the car with my kids to pay a visit to grandpa and grandma in Holland's southernmost province of Limburg. The trip took us two hours on a smooth, well-lit highway. During the drive, my thoughts wandered off to my ancestors, as they regularly do. I wondered how they would have experienced this trip?

My ancestors from the 1700s probably never made such a trip. They lived, married, and died in Amsterdam, possibly without ever setting a foot outside the city. Traveling to the south of Limburg at that time would have been a huge undertaking, especially if you lacked the money to get yourself a carriage, a horse, or a ticket on a "trekschuit" (horse-drawn barge). If you had to walk the 215 km (135 miles) from Amsterdam to Heerlen, it would take you at least a week. On horseback or by barge you could do it in two or three days.

Moreover, it would have been an expensive trip. You needed to pay for a carriage, a horse, or a barge. And even if you just walked, you would have to pay several nights lodging and food. Going by barge would have been the most comfortable, although you would have to change barges several times. Going by road was a dusty or muddy business, depending on the season. On top of that, it could be dangerous with bandits lurking in the woods to rob you of your money. Last but not least, you would not be earning any money for the duration of your trip.

I tried to image what trip today would cost me at least a week, a lot of money and could be potentially dangerous. Going cross-country on a mountain bike from my home to Bavaria (700 km, 430 miles). Or maybe a one week hike through the Blue Mountains or Yosemite National Park. And that would not even get seriously dangerous.

So if going to the south of my country felt like a cross-country trip of a week, then what must my sailing ancestors have felt when they set sail for months to the Dutch East Indies, facing storms and pirates? I guess it would be like going to the moon knowing that there were evil aliens along the way that could attack your spaceship. That thought gave me a glimpse of how brave my ancestors captains Rutger and Henri Grivel must have been. And that made me extremely proud of them!