A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: bhambidge

The trip



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Click here for a zoomable version of this map of the approximate route

So I'm planning to cycle across Europe.

Why?

No idea. Seemed like I good idea when I first thought about it. Now I've told too many people I'm doing it not to at least try. I can't promise I'll make it all the way though! Northern Europe may not be the most obviously stunning countryside, but it still has it's charm, and it's PRETTY FLAT with some good cycle paths!

When?

Setting off on 28th July. If all goes according to plan, I aim to get to Warsaw by the end of August, then I'll get the train back home to Bristol.

Where?

I'm going to get the train to London, and start from Greenwich. The first couple of days will take me up to Harwich - chances are I'll go south of the river to start, as there's a path alongside the Thames, then get the ferry from Gravesend to Tilbury. This will take me through some of my old stomping ground from when I was in short trousers. From Tilbury I'll weave through country lanes to Colchester then turn right for Harwich. I'll have company from London to Colchester, then I'm on my own most of the way, unless anyone wants to join me!

A 6 hour ferry from Harwich takes me to Hoek van Holland, and then after a brief stop to visit a schoolfriend, its off across the flat landscape, through Utrecht and Arnhem and into Germany. There is a signed route (R1) that runs all the way from Boulogne, France to St Petersburg, Russia - I'll be vaguely following that for most of my journey. Assuming I make it of course. I'm not promising to get any further than Dartford; anything more is a bonus. Keep your eye on this blog to see how far I get!

Where will I stay?
Well I'm not going to be camping! It's too much extra weight to carry for one person, and after a hard day's cycling, I can't imagine being thrilled at the prospect of having to set up camp, and sit alone in a tent with a mug of mud and rainwater. The plan is to find Hostels, cheap B&Bs, and hopefully make some use of http://www.couchsurfing.org.

How far will I cycle?
The route is roughly 2000 kilometres, though it could be a bit less if I cut some corners, or a bit more if I get lost. The aim is to start off doing about 50-60 km/day (30-40 miles), but increase that up to about 80+km/day (50+ miles) when I get more used to it.

What am I taking with me?
Not much! A few changes of clothes (all pretty lightweight; some good stuff from Rohan*. Tools and some spare parts for the bike. A Garmin Edge 705 cycle computer, loaded on with maps. And a few other bits and pieces like a reading book, camera, phones. Oh and a small laptop (of course) to keep you all updated through this blog! :) The bike is a Trek 7.3 FX.

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(*) Happarently, as well as being very lightweight and packing up small, their clothes don't need washing for several days use. I'm not certain I want to test that out too thoroughly though!

Posted by bhambidge 05:37 Tagged bicycle Comments (0)

2 miles down. Where's the pub?

sunny 18 °C
View London to Warsaw by Bike on bhambidge's travel map.

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It's started! I'm off... well, I'm off to the starting point anyway. Currently on the train from Bristol Temple Meads to London Paddington. "We apologise for the late running of this train. This was due to signalling problems outside Chippenham". Looks like I won't get to Greenwich until about 3pm, and with 45 miles to cycle to the B&B booked tonight, well, so much for taking it easy to start with. I might - just might - have to skip a bit this afternoon on the train. Think of this bit as a warm-up.

After many suggestions, I've decided to raise money for WaterAid during this trip. I'll be getting through litres of water, and taking easy access to it for granted, but millions around the world don't have that luxury. Your donation will keep me motivated to keep the wheels turning.

My target is as ambitious as the trip itself ... £2000 - but that's just a pound for every kilometre I plan to cycle. So if you can each chuck in a tenner into the pot that would be brilliant. Visit http://www.justgiving.com/BenHambidge to donate and leave a message.

And while we're on messages, please feel free to comment on these blog posts. The more you write, the less I have to :)

OK,so check again... passport, money, credit cards... check. Kitchen sink... check. Feels like it anyway. Ferry ticket? Damn, forgot to print that off.

I felt so free cycling down to the station - couldn't believe I'm on the way. Frankly I can't think what has come over me to attempt this, but none of you stopped me. Bastards. I don't even have any keys to get back into my own house, so I may as well keep going now. But I'm starting to regret not setting off a couple of hours earlier this morning....

Posted by bhambidge 05:09 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged bicycle Comments (4)

Middle of Somewhere to Middle of Nowhere

semi-overcast 20 °C
View London to Warsaw by Bike on bhambidge's travel map.

The start point, Greenwich, was chosen firstly for the meridian - as natural a starting point as any - and secondly because last year I cycled from Bristol to Greenwich, so I'm really just picking up that journey. At the time, that trip (193 miles over 5 days) seemed an absurd thing for someone of my fitness level to do, but I set myself the challenge, and was as surprised as anyone to actually complete it. I had perfect weather on that trip, and enjoyed the freedom of cycling along canal towpaths and the undulating hills along quiet country lanes. I mused to myself that perhaps I shouldn't stop at London, but turn right for Dover and even, (ha ha) cycle all the way to Warsaw, where I used to live (and still have an apartment). Obviously something quite so stupid wasn't really going to happen... but the idea niggled away at me over the last year, and when I was last in Poland in May, it came back to me, and I joked with some friends in Poland about it. Naturally, they didn't take me seriously, and I think the conversation started off by me just trying to impress a girl... but I don't break promises lightly. The chances that I'll actually make it are really rather small - but if you're a Terry Pratchett fan, you'll know that one-in-a-million chances are dead certs - so here's hoping!

The train from Paddington inevitably delayed, the train ticket sold at Paddington to go to Greenwich bizarrely/inevitably (delete as appropriate) not valid on the underground (how else do you get there?!), then the Circle Line apparently following a nest of hedgehogs round the track (there being no other explanation for the speed of it), we eventually got to Greenwich after 3pm. What a stupid time to start a bike trip. Tonight's B&B is 45 miles away, and I've done no cycling for over two weeks,and have a fully laden bike that I can barely lift.

Fortunately, I had company, or I'd have given up before I started. Dave Southorn was keen and enthusiastic, raring to go, and sporting my special T-shirt that I had made up especially for the trip. I gather he even had some impressed shop assistant flirting with him before we even left central London - and he's only going to Colchester. Next time, I go into the shops!

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From Greenwich station, a quick detour via the river for a photo, then we're off. I'm trying to follow a pink line marked on my cycle computer showing me the route I worked out earlier, but with so many small roads (and user incompetence), we quickly lost it and found ourselves on the side of the main road that I was so determined to avoid. Eventually we found ourselves on the Thames Path. This doesn't always follow the Thames, nor in places can it be really described as a path, and if you look closely at our GPS track you'll spot a few places where we had to about-turn and find another route.

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We whizzed past the Thames Flood Barrier and through much industrial landscape, much of it a remnant from yesteryear, with abandoned Victorian buildings mingled with newer housing estates. Occasionally we had to get off to squeeze through narrow gaps designed to allow only bikes through; they may be fine for racing bikes, but carry panniers and it's quite a struggle.

At Erith, we pulled away from the river, and took the road to Dartford, eventually stopping for a well-earned drink at Pub Number One. Couldn't stop long though! We may be more than half-way to Gravesend, but we hadn't done a third of the distance for the day, and the clock was ticking.

Crossing the M25

Crossing the M25

We were going south of the river, but tonight's B&B was north, in Battlesbridge. From this point, there were two ways to cross the Thames - at the M25 Dartford Crossing, where cycles are carried across in a van, or on the Gravesend to Tilbury ferry. Finding information on this ferry on the internet proved fairly elusive, and we were relying on other traveller's tales that it did indeed still run, and took cycles. But how late into the evening it operated (if indeed at all) or how frequently, we really had no idea. If it didn't,our only option would be to get a train all the way back in to central London, then a train back out again to Essex. Fingers crossed!

Between Dartford and Gravesend used to be very familiar territory to me, having lived there until age 11, but the appearance of Bluewater shopping centre and Ebbsfleet Eurostar station has changed it almost beyond recognition. The small towns and villages seem a little more run down than they did before, with the money pouring into the developents instead; and it was a fairly unattractive industrial area to start with. But still an interesting trip down memory lane, past home and school.

Our house in Swanscombe

Our house in Swanscombe


Swanscombe Church

Swanscombe Church


Crossing the Eurostar

Crossing the Eurostar

Originally we hoped to be in Gravesend by 5; with the late start and a short stop that pushed back to 5.30. At 5.45 we were still a few miles away but thought there might be a 6pm ferry to pushed ourselves to make it there. Along the main road, up the hill, pulling my bags behind ... did I really need to bring everything I did? Then turn off to the quieter town roads and look along to the docks. We couldn't see anything that resembled a ferry, or even any signs to it. Pre-panic. Round some houses, and there was a somewhat old-looking sign: 'TILBURY FERRY', pointing down an unlikely dark alley. Round the corner, and there was the ticket office ... closed! Panic! It was a minute to six, so we'd made our revised time... but in vain? Where was the station? How long would it take to get a train round to the other side? We were feeling somewhat deflated when a bloke appeared from the side of the ticket office, and assured us that the boat was running and there was a 6.00 crossing. He pointed us down to it; we rushed down, only to be stopped by the crew. "Too late! We can't let you get on board! You'll have to catch the next one in the morning!" A bit of pleading fell on deaf ears... until the guy from the ticket office just ambled on board and we realised that these jokers were not crew at all, but pissed-up passengers hitchhiking around the country.

Gravesend to Tilbury Ferry

Gravesend to Tilbury Ferry

Just five minutes later and we're off the other side. No time for a rest yet; we've done 25 miles but there's still over 20 to go. Cycling inland, the countryside is immediately more pleasant: no more of the industrial landscape we've had along the Thames, but fields and farms and distant church spires. There's little traffic on these country roads, until we get to the edge of Basildon. My GPS (and the maps I consulted in advance) assure me that we should turn down the slip road onto the dual-carriageway by-pass, as there's a cycle path running alongside it. It seems unlikely, but we give it a go. At the bottom of the slip, sure enough, there is a separated path for bikes... which lasts for a grand total of 100 metres. We are not even given a gentle merge into the suicide lane; the path just stops abruptly and we have to manage our bikes down the kerb into the 80 mph traffic. THIS BIT IS NOT FUN. It looks like we're due to stay on this for about 3 miles. Time for some prayers, and maybe phone in a quick Will to a solicitor.

After about half a mile, we spot a narrow country lane running parallel,so we clamber over the embankment to safety, and find our own way for the next few miles. Very hungry by now, we stop at the first pub we see for a meal.

Sunset is at 8.50pm, so we can't hang around long at the pub, but we don't get away until 8.20 and there's at least an hour to go - longer as I'm now slowing down a lot. In trying to avoid one more section of big dual-carriageway, we seem to end up on another going in the WRONG DIRECTION! We can't cross it as there's a barrier in the middle. Fortunately there's a small pavement down the side for most of the way, but we have to edge ourselves down the slip road carefully as traffic speeds round the corner towards us. It's dusk, and I now find my emergency lights are not all they're cracked up to be - in fact, the back one doesn't work at all. Ahead, a police car spots us and slows down... fortunately to speed off again!

Eventually, drained of all energy, we see a sign to the hamlet of Battlesbridge, and check in to the B&B. 75 kilometres (45 miles) covered on the first day,and we barely have the energy to lift our pints at the nearby pub!

Pub in Battlesbridge

Pub in Battlesbridge

CLICK HERE TO SEE A MAP OF TODAY'S ROUTE

Posted by bhambidge 01:24 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged bicycle Comments (2)

Vacancy: Masseuse. Immediate Start.

semi-overcast 20 °C
View London to Warsaw by Bike on bhambidge's travel map.

Click here to see my full route for the dayand other facts and figures

We have no qualms about packing in the calories of a Full English before hitting the road in the morning. Battlesbridge is famous for its Antique centres, but they don't open until 10, so we dont hang around other than for a couple of photos of this pleasant little place.

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Boat in Battlesbridge

Boat in Battlesbridge

Following the Sat Nav is much easier now we're in the countryside, and we amble down pleasant little country lanes to Maldon. Having set off at a sensible time, we're not in such a rush today, and that's just as well - the bones and joints and muscles all ache. I've been reliably informed that nappy-rash cream is ideal for relieving more delicate sores, but I'm still going to pamper myself today with a padded seat cover.

The weather is British. Howling light breezes. Torrential tiny spots of rain for a full 30 seconds. The sunshine is rudely interrupted by white clouds. Temperatures soar to an unbearable 20C. Perfect cycling weather - absolutely perfect. Long may this continue.

Maldon

Maldon

In Maldon (famous for its sea salt, apparently), we head down to a pub (of course) at the quay, and Dave finds a key in his pocket - for the room at last night's B&B. Oops! It's too far now to go back, so we'll have to put it in the post.

A few short miles further on in Tolleston Major and it's time for a country pub lunch. Then another few miles after that we pull in for an ice cream at the Abberton reervoir nature reserve. That's then just a few miles short of Colchester, where we do a few chores. Breaking this trip into small chunks like that makes it all quite manageable, even if I'm still probably piling on more calories than I'm burning! I'm also going through quite a few litres of water... if you haven't already, please go to www.justgiving.com/BenHambidge to donate a couple of quid to WaterAid.

Dave stays with me as far as Manningtree, 10 miles morth of Colchester. He's tempted to catch the ferry with me to the Netherlands, but wants to stay married. Those last few miles take us along some gorgeous country lanes with no traffic at all, and then a fantastic downhill - I see the cycle computer just touch 60km/hour.

On my own from here!

On my own from here!

Manly goodbyes at the station, and I'm on my own. This is it! I couldn't have got through the first bit without David - at least not at that pace - but now I've achieved that, it all seems more manageable. I've got another 10 miles to my B&B, just outside Harwich, and I take this at a leisurely pace, enjoying the scenery. I'm watching the Sat Nav count down the kilometres until I'm just 2km away.... and it leads me down a VeRy BuMpY TrAcK...ending in a private residence. So it's back down the vErY bUmPy tRaCk and I have to find another way round... on my own! Oh no! Eventually I get to the other side, and it seems it was intending me to go straight across a field. Hmmm. Someone that has experience and qualifications in technology and transport should really sort this out. Now where can I find such an one?

Final suicide mission was to cross the busy A120 to the Farm Cottage B&B, arriving to a friendly welcome, piping hot shower and hearty meal. Thanks Andy! Anyone looking for somewhere to stay in the area, visit www.farmcottage.org.uk

Click here to see my full route for the dayand other facts and figures

Posted by bhambidge 09:44 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged bicycle Comments (1)

Across the water - so I must be half-way there

sunny 22 °C
View London to Warsaw by Bike on bhambidge's travel map.

An early start took me down to Harwich Port, about 4 miles away, by 7.30, where the handful of cyclists queued up with the cars waiting to board. No preferential treatment for us - we had to wait until all the cars and lorries were on board before we could follow them in. Having assumed I'd done my last hill for several hundred kilometres, I was confronted with a steep climb to the upper car deck. Then it was time to settle back for the 7 hour crossing. Comfortable and uneventful, I busied myself with catching up with the diary, watching a film in the on-board cinema and trying in vain to get their promised free wireless internet to work.

Waiting for the ferry

Waiting for the ferry


Arriving in Holland

Arriving in Holland


Hoek Port

Hoek Port

We arrived slightly late into Hoek van Holland, fast-tracked through passport control (by simply whizzing past the line of cars and queue-jumping), and then I was off! I felt so excited... I'd made it to the other side! It seemed like my journey was half-way done, though a glimpse at the map laid rest to that. Still, the sun was shining, the world was flat (contrary to popular modern belief) and the cycle paths were AMAZING. Any cyclists dream. Almost every road has a dedicated cycle path, properly wide enough and usually separated physically. I headed over to the coastal path, expecting it to be very windy, but it was perfectly sheltered behind an embankment, and was bordered by greenery (and occasional sand) on both sides.

First Dutch Cycle Lane

First Dutch Cycle Lane

There were all sorts out on their bikes. Most sporting the traditional Dutch style of bike often described as 'sit up and beg bikes' - the handlbars are high and turn inwards so they're close by and you sit up straight. The crossbar is bent low so it'seasy to step into, and the chain is protected. This style suits all sorts for general purpose and commuting rides - tall and short, fat and thin, old and young; heavily pregnant ladies think nothing of getting on their bikes - if they can walk, they can cycle. Then there are attachments for carrying all sorts of accessories. Those that aren't taking their dog for a walk along side them may have poouch sitting in a basket up front. Kids sit on a seat behind, or wrapped round the handlebars at the front - or even both. Or sometimes the whole front of the bike is re-engineered: it looks like an ordinary bike as far forward as the handlebars, but the front wheel is replaced by two smaller wheels holding a large box. This is handy for transporting shopping, but more usually a couple of kids are perched in there. This gives them a better view, and let's the parent keep an eye on them.

On that first ride to The Hague, I must have seen a thousand cyclists. I counted just 3 bike helmets. The only people wearing helmets were the 'extreme sport' types, dressed in all the lycra, and racing along as fast as they possibly could. Even for them, I suspect it was more a fashion accessory than a piece of safety equipment. If anyone else were to bother with a helmet, they'd likely get puzzled looks. I've not brought a helmet with me - my only protection is a sturdy baseball cap that I put on if its sunny. I'll write in another post sometime about the Bike Helmet Debate and why its not necessarily as beneficial as is usually claimed.

Coastal path

Coastal path

This is hilly

This is hilly

After the village of Monster, I turned inland to The Hague I was back alongside roads, as well as criss-crossing a few parks. Larger roads have a lane for everything; one for the trams, one or two for cars, then another for parking. Then a segregated cycle lane (and sometimes a separate cycle parking lane). Then closest to the shops is the pavement for pedestrians. Junctions have a myriad of lights for each type of road user. If in doubt, cars give way to bikes, so you can get through even town centres at quite a pace. One thing to get used to is low-powered scooters are also allowed to use most cycle paths, but they seem to share the space quite well and are rarely intimidating.

Start of the cross-Netherlands cycle route

Start of the cross-Netherlands cycle route

Junction - bikes have priority

Junction - bikes have priority

I stayed in The Hague (or a district just outside) for 2 nights, and spent much of the time catching up with an old schoolfriend, Jeff. Nineteen years has passed since we left (and last saw each other) but you wouldn't know it. I stayed in a small family-run hotel down the road. It was locked when I arrived, and had to decipher Krypton Factor-like puzzles to gain access. Strangely, when you're in all the room keys are left hanging in the hallway, and you're expected to leave it there when you go out. As this area is unmanned, it begs the question about why bother having locks on the room doors at all?!

Street either from Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings

Street either from Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings

Saturday was an easy day, hanging out and Jeff's and going for a wander round town (ended up cycling 30km on the day off!) including a visit to the excellent Escher Museum and a Panorama gallery by ome famous artist called Meerkat or something. I did also try to spot some famous international criminals, but no luck unfortunately.

Somewhere important - palace or parliament

Somewhere important - palace or parliament


Gateway to somewhere important

Gateway to somewhere important

In the Escher Museum

In the Escher Museum


Imitating Escher (its the rounded glass making me look fat, honest)

Imitating Escher (its the rounded glass making me look fat, honest)


A try-it-yourself room

A try-it-yourself room

While Amsterdam is the capital of the Netherlands, The Hague is the poitical capital, hosting parliament, the royal family and international embassies. So I can almost contrive to say that this is a capitals tour of the four countries I'm touring. Not that the Netherlands has a government at the moment - they've spent the last couple of months trying to thrash out a coalition deal after the election. None of the panic we had in the UK where we were without leadership for a whole 5 days! I gather the issue is that Geert Wilders' party (he who wasn't allowed into Britain under terrorism legislation) won 22 seats and is trying to wrestle their way into a governing coalition.

---> Don't forget you can follow detailed maps of all my journeys be clicking here or following the link at www.hambidge.com (Wait a few seconds for it to work out which are my routes, then click on the day from the list on the left. You'll then see all sorts of stats, plus a zoomable map. <---

Posted by bhambidge 13:14 Archived in Netherlands Tagged bicycle Comments (3)

Say Cheese

semi-overcast 18 °C
View London to Warsaw by Bike on bhambidge's travel map.

I set off early on Sunday morning. I was due in Gouda, 30 km hence, at 10am to meet a friend who was going to cycle with me for a while. I'd checked the map and seen a route that took me right along the motorway. I didn't feel keen on this for obvious reasons, but as I had to get my skates on, I went with it. I needn't have worried. With noise barriers offering some aural protection and a large grass verge on either side of the path, this was a very quick and pleasant path. I had intended to head in across a park to Zoetermeer to get away from the main road, but there didn't seem any point; this route was fine.

Even the motorways have cycle paths

Even the motorways have cycle paths

I got to Gouda ahead of time, and explored the pretty town before Dorota arrived from Brussels. It has a traditional European town square with a fairy-tale town hall in the centre, decked with traditional red and white shutters. The square is of course bordered with street cafes, where we lazed for brunch before setting off again. As in many other Dutch cities, wide streets are split by canals with little hump-backed bridges joining the two sides. However, what other towns lack are big replica (or real?) Gouda cheeses hanging across the streets like Christmas lights. Tasty if not tasteful.

Gouda market square

Gouda market square


Gouda

Gouda

We mapped out a route to Utrecht, heading directly east through some small villages. We then proceeded to go in completely the wrong direction, starting north alongside the Reeuwvijk lake. By the look of the map, this route was to take us alongside another main road, but we never saw it. While we started off on a segregated road-side path, we soon found ourselves following the bank of a wide canal. Many of the properties along here made a feature of the water, with part of the canal (or some other large water feature) making up a part of their garden. Many were small-holdings with a couple of sheep, chickens or goats. All were in pristine condition, both house and garden. The Dutch are very house-proud, and when you live in surroundings like these it's not hard to see why.

Along the canals with Dorota

Along the canals with Dorota


Dorota by the canal

Dorota by the canal


Typical Dutch house

Typical Dutch house


pet goats

pet goats

We stopped for a late lunch in Woerden. As soon as we parked up the bikes, the heavens opened. We sat outside (the tables were covered by one large umbrella, but had to shift the tables and chairs somewhat to avoid the rain splashing in. A hearty soup helped keep up the liquid intake, and we stayed a while to wait for the clouds to move on. Just as they seemed about to, the downpour intensified again, so there was nothing for us to do but sit back and order a plate of home-made apple cake and cream.

Eventually we could leave, and meandered our way out of the town to re-join the canal. This took us all the way in to Utrecht - an incredibly attractive and lively town with well-oreserved historic buildings, canals, as well as the hustle and bustle I like in a city. Between this, the cycle paths and the countryside I've seen, I'm starting to think this is somewhere I could live. Of all the places I've been, I don't often say that.

At last - a windmill

At last - a windmill


What's going on here

What's going on here


Cat guards secret party

Cat guards secret party


Made it to Utrecht

Made it to Utrecht


Canal in Utrecht

Canal in Utrecht

After seeing off Dorota at the train station, who was to head back to Gouda where her car was waiting, I went in search of my accommodation. This was my first experience of Couch Surfing, and I must admit to being a little apprehensive. Couchsurfing.org is a website putting travellers in touch with one another - people who have a sofa, matress or spare bed with those on the road looking for somewhere to stay. You upload a profile about yourself, get in touch and ask nicely, and hope for some positive replies. There are some checks to help keep you safe, but a lot of it is down to instinct as to whether you want to stay with or host a particular person. I'll write more about this in a separate post sometime soon.

Tonight my hosts were Marco and Judith, who lived a pebbles pelt from the town centre. I rang Marco when I was outside, so he could come down and let me in, then had to heave my bike up a flight of stairs. From the first moment, Marco treated me like an old friend, and we sat chatting about my journey, technology (he'd make a good iPad salesman!) and their gorgous cats (who they're teaching tricks to), and browsed his impressive photography portfolio - he's just set up in business (no job too far away! book him at ....). Judith rustled up some felafel and pizza before we headed off to the cinema with their friends Ton and Victor. I was somewhat surprised by the interval in the movie - that got dropped about 30 years ago in the UK, but is still common over here. Still, the film warranted another beer half way through. My first 'couch' to surf consisted of a comfortable mattress on the floor in the living room. One of the cats stayed in the bedroom, the other with me - they have to be separated. With the cathedral so close, and the hourly chimes happening throughout the night, I put in some earplugs and settled down to a good night's sleep. Before I did, I texted Dorota to tell her that I hadn't been murdered with an axe - she was poised and waiting to rescue me from the clutches of these dangerous strangers!

---> Don't forget you can follow detailed maps of all my journeys be clicking here or following the link at www.hambidge.com (Wait a few seconds for it to work out which are my routes, then click on the day from the list on the left. You'll then see all sorts of stats, plus a zoomable map.

Posted by bhambidge 02:17 Archived in Netherlands Tagged bicycle Comments (2)

From Dutch to Deutsch

semi-overcast 18 °C
View London to Warsaw by Bike on bhambidge's travel map.

It's Monday morning, and Marco & Judith are off to work early. They leave me to stay as long as I like, but I've got another 80km planned today, so I'm out of the door by 9.30. I meander out of the town - partly to see a little more of it, and partly because I'm not quite sure where I'm going; despite having a GPS cycle computer, it can be difficult to follow in towns with lots of roads, especially if you've detoured from the planned path.

Once I get out onto the open road, I find a local farmer selling fresh fruit froma hot-dog van, so I stop for a breakfast of freshly-picked raspberries and pears.

Each day, the first few miles are hard-going as my aching joints resist getting back on the bike and the sore backside protests with a pang of pain as it remembers what was endured the previous day, but I soon get back into the swing of it. I'm varying the comfort levels by way of a removeable gel seat cover, though I'm trying not to use it too much as it's not helpful in the long run. But generally I relish the fresh air and the road ahead, and only feel slightly daunted by the distance that lays ahead that day. I try not to think about the distance that still lays ahead on this trip, nor the mountain range that lurks half-way across Germany. No, I'll stick with the nether lands of The Netherlands. So far, touch wood (and Woerden downpour excepted) the weather has been ideal on this trip. Never windy, never more than the briefest refreshing spot of rain, frequent sunshine but never too bright, and a perfect temperature. Long may that continue!

Even the forests have separate cycle tracks

Even the forests have separate cycle tracks


Another windmill

Another windmill


Caption competition

Caption competition

With cycle paths on all classes of roads exceeding anything in the UK it doesn't really matter which route I take, but for the most part I keep to quiet country lanes where the only traffic tends to be the odd tractor ad occasional goat. I keep a fairly careful eye on both signposts and my GPS unit though. While I'm generally following the Dutch national route LF4a, occasionally the signs don't match my map, or they disappear, and I have to make the occasional decision. The route also usually goes out of its way to avoid even the smallest town, and from time to time it's nice to pop back to civilisation for a snack and a rest. One such place is Rhenen, mid-way between Utrecht and Arnhem where I stopped for lunch. Intending to order something reasonably healthy, I ended up with a 'Misty-burger and fries', the burger containing two slabs of meat, bacon, cheese and a fried egg, and the chips served with mayonnaise and curry sauce. Oh well, I'm burning off the calories I suppose, but I'm not going to lose any weight like that!

Just as I was about to leave Rhenen, the town lived up to its name as the heavens opened again - nice for it to be timed while I'm already sheltered. So I sat it out for an hour before it seemed safe to get on my way. I then followed the main roads most of the way to Arnhem, experiencing the first gentle undulation in Holland after a flat few days. One road even had an 8% gradient sign, which must have been specially commissioned.

This sign had to be  specially made

This sign had to be specially made

In Arnhem I surfed another couch, this time with Norma. She's recently moved into her own place and has a spare room. She cooked me a delicious dinner, sat out on her balcony a while chatting, then headed out for a stroll around the town, finishing with a couple of drinks in her favourite bar and a walk back along the river. Again, it would have seemed surprising to bystanders that we'd only met that evening, and I nearly took up her offer to stay another night, and give myself a day exploring Arnhem. But after a well-deserved lie-in, I checked the weather forecast: a day of sunshine, then a full day of rain was on the cards. I didn't fancy cycling in that rain so decided belately to get ahead of myself, packed up my things and headed off.

A museum for everything in Arnhem

A museum for everything in Arnhem

It was indeed a pleasant day to cycle, though the first several kiometres were fairly gruesome up a sizeable hill into a National Park. Down the other side was much more enjoyable of course - and would have been more so if I had a working back brake! Again I meandered along country lanes, through farms, and in forests. At one point I got a little confused as I had to cross a small river and couldn't see the bridge marked on the map. I saw some people on a small ferry, but it took a little time to twig. So this was my third ferry crossing of the trip - easily the shortest.

Third ferry of the trip to cross 20 metres

Third ferry of the trip to cross 20 metres


Canal lock at Borculo

Canal lock at Borculo

I was finding my stamina growing, taking longer distances between breaks and feeling less exhausted. After an apple-pie-stop in the picturesque town of Borculo, I reached the Dutch-German border at Zwillbrock at about 6.30. I had made it the entire way across a country! Now if only the next one could be so easy! I still had about 16km to go that evening as I was due in a Bed & Breakfast in Vreden. I texted the owner to give an ETA of an hour, and she replied with certainty that I'd be there in 20 minutes. I'm not sure how she rides a bike, but there's no way I was averaging 45 km/h on the flat!

Willkommen in Deutschland

Willkommen in Deutschland


Zwillbrock border village

Zwillbrock border village


From now on I'm roughly following these R1 signs

From now on I'm roughly following these R1 signs

As I approached Vreden, I could see on my bike computer that I was going to have done about 98km that day - a record. But because I like that kind of thing, I wanted it to tick over to the magic 100km, so I weaved around the town for a while before heading to the accommodation. I took my bike round to the back gate, wheeled it through, and found myself confronted with the gaping jaws of a 30-foot (10 metre) crocodile.

Posted by bhambidge 00:11 Archived in Netherlands Tagged bicycle Comments (3)

If you like this, you'll like...

One of my main inspirations for doing this trip was following the adventures of Alastair Humphreys who spent 5 years cycling round the world (and them some). I read about him in a newspaper when he was about a year into the trip and was entranced by his tale, following along as he posted occasional diaries. His ethos was that if you could ride a bike down the road, you could go round the world- it just took more time. You didn't need any special skills or talents, to start off with a particular level of fitness or have a superb bike; just set off!

So this short post is to say thanks to Al for the inspiration, and plug the books he subsequently wrote of his long adventure. They're very readable.

Book 1: Moods of Future Joys: Around the World by Bike - Part 1
Book 2: Thunder and Sunshine

Posted by bhambidge 12:40 Tagged books Comments (0)

No minster in Munster?


View London to Warsaw by Bike on bhambidge's travel map.

The back garden of the B&B in Vreden was scattered with life-size metal sculptures, and the first to greet you was a life-size crocodile, somewhat surprising in a sleepy German town. I had been warned that my room wasn't quite 'ready',but what the owner actually meant was 'not quite yet built'. She was having a loft conversion done, and while there was some semblance of walls and wiring, there wasn't what you'd ordinarily call a light-switch, and although there was a door to the room, it wasn't anywhere near the room itself, but leaning up against a wall on the other side of the house. The room consisted of a couple of camp beds, and despite everything else was clean and habitable, and after my 100km dash, I was about ready to sleep anywhere. I wandered into the centre to find a plate of carbohydates for dinner, then wandered a little further to find a convenient bench close to an open wireless network for a spot of wifi-jacking. (The B&B was supposed to have internet, but the owner had ripped out all the equipment earlier that day in a bout of paranoia). I was struck by how close to the border I was, and yet how quickly the lingua franca changed. Particularly now there is nothing more than a sign to mark the boundary between countries, much like there is within the United Kingdom, it left me wondering what effect political union will have in Europe in blurring languages at border towns over the next generation.

I had no idea where I was going to be staying the following night, or even where I'd be. It depended largely on the weather which seemed somewhat erratic. It was due to be sunny in the morning, then rain all afternoon. There not being much to hang around for in Vreden, I decided to head off and see how far I got. If I could make it all the way to Muenster, 75 km away, then that would be ideal.

I didn't set off in the end until 10am, but as the R1 route took a much-extended scenic route, there were lots of oppportunities for short-cuts without compromising quality of environment much. The few short stretches I was following a main road, there was always a separated cycle path, so high-speed traffic was never a problem. However, while I had three methods of following the route - on the GPS, paper maps and signposts - it was still possible to take a wrong turn, especially when these three options didn't agree with each other. At one point, I chose to follow the signposts and regretted it as I ended up on a track that got muddier and muddier - too difficult to stay on the bike in points, and not ideal for walking in sandals. I had to give that up as a bad job and retreated back to one of my other routes.

Stopped on a country road

Stopped on a country road

I could see the rainclouds gathering in the distance behind me, readying themselves to race me to the city, so apart from a couple of brief road-side pauses, I continued nearly 50km before a lunchtime break in pretty Billerbeck - and that was just to a bakery and a town bench.

I had expected the weather to have beaten me by now, but I braved onwards. It looked like I might reach Muenster that day. I had originally not expected to get there for another day and had arranged a couch to surf for Thursday night. I texted my host, Babsy, to see if I could come a day earlier.

Signpost near Munster

Signpost near Munster

Then, a kilometre outside Billerbeck, I felt the drops of rain. I found the shelter of a couple of trees on the road-side just in time before the dark cloud let rip, and I busied myself finding and attaching the waterproof covers to my luggage. I also pulled out my raincoat, ready to wear it for the first time on this trip, but no sooner than I had done so, the rain stopped. The cloud seemed to disappear into thin air, and I rode in sunshine all the way to Muenster.

When I reached the city, I tried texting and phoning Babsy again, but got no answer, so I took the last available bed at the local youth hostel. This was just 1km from the city centre on the edge of Lake Aa. Someone was desperate to be first in the list when they named that. While the bed in a shared dorm was not as cheap as I remember hostels to be at €27, an evening buffet meal for €5.50 was excellent. The rain had started again by now and I spent the evening catching up on my Dutch diary entries - more than one of you had wondered what had happened to my blog - but with much of the day taken up with cycling, and finding decent internet not easy, it was easy to slip behind on ths.

I didn't sleep particularly well in the dorm; no sooner had the last person come in to go to bed, it seemed that the first early riser was clattering around having a shower and packing to leave. I'd not helped myself by forgetting that I had to make the top-bunk bed, and once I'd remembered, the light was already off and I was keen not to make too much noise, so the ensuing mess that might otherwise be called bedclothes were lumpy and uncomfortable.

I tried to contact Babsy again in the morning, both by phone and email, but resigned myself to searching foralternative accommodation that night - it was time for a rest-day in Muenster in any case. By lunchtime I had an email back from her; she realised she'd mistyped the phone number she gave me so had no idea I'd been trying to reach her. All was good - I'd explore the town for a few hours before heading over to her place.

Muenster is famous for being as much a cycling-city as any Dutch town. Bikes tend to be parked not in ones and twos, but in dozens and hundreds, on every corner and anywhere there's a bit of free space. Rarely do people lock the bike to a fixed object - there just simply aren't enough of them to go round. They just prop it up on the stand, nestled among other bikes (what's the collective noun for bikes?), and turn the key on the build-in lock, which prevents the back wheel from turning. Of course, bikes do get stolen from time to time, but that's just the way it is. Cars get stolen from time to time, but we don't throw a ball and chain round a tree to keep it in place. The built-in stand is an absolute necessity... and back in my day (the early 1600s) all bikes came with a kickstand of some sort. It was part of the bike, just like the wheels and handlebars. But when I bought this bike and asked for a kickstand, they looked at me like I was mad. 'What do you want that for?'. Well, duh. It took them 6 weeks to get one from their distributor, but I'm glad I persevered - every time I stop on a country lane for a break, or in busy towns with nowhere obvious to lean the bike against, it gets used. The only argument they could give me for not having one was, they claimed, it would make the bike less aerodynamic and weigh it down. Clearly they hadn't actually seen one in a while.

So Muenster is Germany's cycling city, huh? So WHAT'S WITH ALL THE COBBLES?!!! At least it gave my bones a god shake in lieu of a much-needed massage. There was also some confusion (to me) about where in the Altstadt you could actually cycle. Some bits were pedestrian-only zones, some allowed bikes, some only between certain hours, most (but not all) one-way streets allowed bikes in both directions. To confuse it further, signs were often placed with a symbol of a bicycle and the word 'frei'. Talk about amibiguous... does this mean 'free of bikes', or 'bikes are free to go here'. It's the latter, but I still have to pause for thought whenever I see the sign.

Munster

Munster


One of the smaller bike parks

One of the smaller bike parks


Munster Promenade

Munster Promenade


Munster Chinese Art

Munster Chinese Art


Archways in Munster

Archways in Munster

After a couple of hours exploring this charming city (full of DOZENS upon DOZENS of churches, though none of themare actually called the Minster), I went back to the Youth Hostel to collect my bags, then pedalled round the leafy Promenade to Babsy's address. Most city Couchsurfers are in flats or small houses,but this was a large house not far from the centre. Babsy occupied the attic floor, but shared the house with several generations of her family - it used to be one big family home, but is now subdivided into floors. As a child, the attic was where they used to hang out the washing, but was big enough to convert into a two-bedroom apartment with lounge, small kitchen and bathroom. I spent the evening with Babsy and her brother, and some of her friends including Julian,a tall airline pilot, and his girlfriend Lily who I decided must be the tallest woman in the world. We sat in their parent's kitchen eating traditional Westfalian food and sampling the local brew. This was to be a pitstop before going out to a party (or clubbing, I'm not sure which), but we were still there at 1 a.m., and after a week on the bike, I was flagging, so eventually passed up on the early-morning 90s disco music experience.

In the morning, I let myself out, bypassing the offer to raid her parents fridge for anything I could find for breakfast (I didn't feel entirely comfortable doing that!), instead finding a bakery on the way out of town.

The cycling was feeling easier, if not easy, and I found myself less interested in stopping to see places, pausing long enough for a rest and then onwards once more. One of these rest stops was a cafe I spotted on the other side of the street. Like any good German, I waited at the pedestrian crossing. And waited, and waited. Eventually, we could get across. As I sat at an outside table with my sandwich and drink, I watched other people waiting and waiting at this crossing. Geekily, I timed the phasing. This was a junction of a not particularly major road, with a side road running off it. The main road was given a massive 7 minutes of green light before pedestrians could cross, and cars turn from the side road. What interested my here was the behaviour of the people waiting to cross. In the UK, there wouldn't have been anyone there after 7 minutes - even the most die-hard waiters would eventually have taken the opportunity to cross in the many gaps between traffic. But while I sat enjoying my lunch, I saw people tap their feet, look at their watches, jab the button repeatedly. Eventually one man broke ranks, and darted across, looking very shifty as he did so. Anywhere else, this bravery would be joined by others like sheep in a flock, but no-one else dared break the red-man rule!

Posted by bhambidge 12:24 Archived in Germany Tagged bicycle Comments (0)

Kit and caboodle

So you've probably seen a pic of my laden bike. Quite a few people en route have commented how lightly I'm travelling considering I'm away for a month, so if you're interested, here's what I've got with me.

The blue pannier bag contains all the clothes that I'm not wearing, separated into plastic bags, roughly divided by state of cleanliness - clean, acceptable, minging. If I'm wearing sandals, then the shoes are stuffed with as many small items as possible, and in a separate bag.

I've mentioned before that many of my clothes are from Rohan, which specialises in stuff that dpesn't need washing so often, dries quickly when it does, folds up tightly, and never needs ironing. I'm managing with:

4 t-shirts (2 'trip't-shirts with my trip logo on)
1 long-sleeve shirt to wear in the evening
3 pairs shorts
1 pair lightweight trousers
4 x underwear (2 of these are padded for cycling comfort!)
1 pr sandals
1 pr shoes
1 jumper
raincoat & waterproof trousers

In the red pannier bag (which also converts to a rucksack) I have:
small laptop (9" screen)
reading book, and map guide book
bag of cables and chargers
emergency nibbles
sun cream
travel towel
bag of toiletries & medicines (mostly with mini versions of things), incl pot of sudocrem - very useful.
leatherman penknife
bike oil
thin latex gloves and hand cleaner for the messy jobs

Under the seat is a small bag containing spare bike parts (inner tube, brake & gear cables) and tools (mulitool, cable ties, etc)

In the bar bag at the front is everyhing I need close at hand or to keep safest:
camera
passport
mobile phone (ok, 2 of them. I know.)
gloves/hat/sunglasses
snacks for the journey
a page of todays map on top
small donkey hanging from the side

The bike also has attached:
two water bottles
pump
GPS cycle computer
D-lock. Well it did until an hour ago when it just broke and fell off. Not sure what I'm going to do with that now
A cable combination lock wrapped around the stem

That's basically it. What would I have packed differently? Actually I think I got it pretty well spot on. I'm not struggling to close the bags. The only things I haven't used (yet!) are the small travel towel (as everyone's always provided them), and some of the bike tools & parts. I could have managed without one of the pairs of shorts. And the reading book. I brought a 950-pager to keep me going. Nearly 2 weeks into the journey and I haven't even opened it. There's no time, what with the pedalling, and keeping you all entertained!

Posted by bhambidge 14:38 Tagged packing Comments (1)

Up, up and away


View London to Warsaw by Bike on bhambidge's travel map.

The cycling is getting easier, and the aches and pains less noticeable, though Sudocrem seems to help with saddle sores (though parents: what's with Sudocrem? - it's horrible stuff to wash off your hands, especially if you're trying to be sparse with the soap).

There's a fair way to go yet

There's a fair way to go yet

The ride to Guetersloh was pleasant but uneventful, mostly cross-country, through farmland (with all the country smells that entails), then skirting round the outskirts of Harsewinkel, then stopping for an ice-cream before cruising into Guetersloh. Famous only for being the home of washing-machine manufacturer Miele, I didn't spend any time exploring this town, but went straight round to my host for the evening, Svenja. Once again, a very friendly host. Conversation flowed, we popped out for pizza, fixed her computer, out again for a pint at the pub, then a comfortable night's sleep and I was on the way again.

Sunday held some apprehension. I'd been on the levels for so long, but today I'd have to face a hill! How would I cope? Would I manage it? A little way out of town, I stopped at a roadside kiosk for some strawberries. They were being sold in the most enormous punnets, but I asked for just a few - she could see I couldn't carry more, and she dug out a smaller box and half-filled it for me. "Present!" she said. No charge. I then explained what I was doing, and she and the other waiting customer were so impressed, and waved me on my way. I enjoyed the strawberries as I rode along, trying to ensure I didn't drip juice on my clean white shirt. They were the tastiest strawberries I think I've ever had. All perfectly firm and the right colour; just delicious, and spurred me along.

Surely Unweltfreundlischewiederaufbereitunghof?

Surely Unweltfreundlischewiederaufbereitunghof?

Many of the towns and villages seemed to have Saturday markets; often the equivalent of our car boot sales with all sorts of junk being sold. They were very popular, and some of them even had an entry fee. That put me off browsing, so I pedalled on. I had to watch my route a bit here; I was keen to go over the hill the easiest way, but it took some finding to get across country to the right way. I needn't have worried too much about the gradient - it took some effort of course, but it was all manageable, and a pretty diversion through the Teutoburger forest led me down the other side into the town of Detmold. I hadn't ruled out stopping here, as I didn't know how onerous the hill would be, but instead I passed a couple of hours in a pub garden (finally opening my reading book for the first time) before heading over the next hill to Horn Bad Meinburg.

I don't know either

I don't know either

I had intended to stay at the Youth Hostel here, but they wouldn't let me for some obscure reason, so I rang ahead to a guest house. I arrived to be greeted by one of the two sisters who run the place. I told her about my trip, and she was so excited. After she had shown be to my room, she turned up again five minutes later to say that they had been talking about me, and wondered if I would mind if they contacted the local newspaper to tell them about my journey. I agreed, and thought no more of it. In the morning, I went down to breakfast, and as every other guest arrived, one sister or other would tell them about me. 'Well, you'll never believe who we have here. Our guest, Mr Hambidge, is cycling all the way from London to Warsaw, and raising money for WaterAid'. And I'd repeat the story to them again in broken German, wishing I'd bothered to memorise some of the key words. Sister number 2 apologised that they hadn't managed to get hold of a reporter, as it was the weekend, but that they'd write something up themselves, if I didn't mind. Then just as I was leaving the breakfast room, in rushed excited sister number one to say that a local reporter was coming after all to interview me, and could I stay until half past ten? Of course I could.

I've not spoken a huge amount of German since school, and my efforts were more akin to leprosy than rust, but neither the reporter nor the sisters speaking more than a few words of English, I managed to battle through his questions, and even embellished on some of the details. We went outside and loaded up my bike for a posed photo, then when the reporter had gone, the sisters took it in turns to have their own photo taken with their new-found celebrity.

They refused to charge me a penny for the night's stay, and sister number two produced a packed lunch that she'd prepared for me. Sister number one then dashed back inside, and returned to present me with a boiled egg that she'd cooked for me specially. Before they waved me off down the street, they asked my permission to display the newspaper article (assuming it was published, of course) in their display cabinet in the hallway. How could I refuse anything to two such lovely and friendly ladies?

The sisters at Bad Meinberg

The sisters at Bad Meinberg

Posted by bhambidge 13:10 Archived in Germany Tagged bicycle Comments (4)

Heart of Harz

I had a decision to make. I'd stayed somewhat off the route, and there was an easy shortcut that bypassed the peak of the hill. Or I could backtrack slightly, go up the hill and see the sight at the top. Lazy or virtuous?

The free night's accommodation pushed me to be virtuous, and as I started to climb the hill, the heavens opened. No cafe nearby to duck into, I donned my rain-gear for the first time and faced the elements. The Externsteine is often referred to as Germany's 'Little Stonehenge', though I'm not entirely sure if it's an in-place rock formation or carried there. Certainly there's something about the light shining through the right way at the solstice.

Externsteine

Externsteine

The path up through the wood was steeper than I'd had to deal with so far, but the trees offered me some shelter from the rain, and the surface was very good. Back out the other side, I had easy paths running alongside a small river, and I found I could race along at 30km/hour even on the flat. I had more power in my legs than a week ago, and the hills had helped strengthen them further. When the route turned uphil through the fields, I slowed but wasn't always finding myself switching down to the granny gear.

Which way?

Which way?

By lunchtime, the sun had come out properly. I'd faced rain and hills together in the morning, and survived.

Sunday roads are very quiet. No shops are open, and large lorries are not permitted to drive on Sundays. The towns and villages are almost ghostly, unless you pass through at the start or end of a church service. I found a pub with a few drinkers sitting at the bar and checked the kitchen was open. A full menu of 18 dishes was presented - all of them schnitzel. I settled for the 'devils' schnitzel (well, it was Sunday) served with a pepper sauce. The food soon arrived and the plate was overflowing. A huge slab of breaded meat with a pile of fries and a salad garnish. On a separate plate came a side salad - you could tell that even the salad had a salad garnish on the side. All this cycling was making me very hungry, but even I couldn't finish it.

Largely a gentle downhill for the rest of the day to Hoxter made for a pleasant, easy ride, and I sailed into the town about 4pm. I checked the map for the location of the youth hostel. I checked it again, turning it around. Surely some mistake. The direction of the youth hostel would appear to be incorrectly marked near the top of the most enormous hill. No-one had told me that. I checked again, and set off, a bit miffed, having thought I'd done my work for the day. I found myself very quickly in the lowest gear, determined to tackle this hill on the pedals rather than walking. I could see a large building in the distance - the hostel. At least I had a target to aim for. It felt like a 1 in 1 incline all the way up, and long before I reached the building I was puffing and panting, wishing I hadn't bothered with any luggage for the month. As I approached the building, I saw a sign for the youth hostel... pointing FURTHER UP THE HILL. This wasn't it at all, it was a school. So I kept going, crawling up in second place to a tortoise. I could see the top of the road not too much further ahead so fixed my eyes on that and counted the revolutions of the pedal. I got to the top! Only to find it wasn't the top at all... just a bend in the road, as the gradient got steeper. I was now basically riding vertically up a cliff-face, my wheels gripping to the road surface from a combination of sheer force of pedalling and some kind of magic curse. I tried to cycle from side to side, the way you can walk up a hill to make it easier, but soon found this doesn't work so well on a bike. Soon, finally, at last, the entrance to the actual Youth Hostel appeared - the real one, not a mirage, and a muttered under my breath some kind of self-congratulatory blaspheme, and a vow never to come here again.

Well of course, the hostel, only having two guests that night, wasn't doing evening meals. I'd have to go into town. And you know where that is, don't you? I considered trying to find some abseiling gear to hire, but set off again down the hill, this time on foot, for the mile-long trek down to the town centre, knowing I'd have to face it once more that evening.

The town was absolutely stunning; most of the buildings in the centre were up to 500 years old, and have been kept as close as possible to their original form, half-timber with colourful decoration and ornate writing along some of the beams. I would later see much more of this in other towns like Einbeck and Goslar, so is obviously characteristic of the region.

Typical Hoxter building

Typical Hoxter building

Down the hill again in the morning was a very careful affair - I could feel that my brakes weren't in top condition, and I daren't let the bike go more than walking pace. I found a bike shop to replace the brake pads before continuing on my way.

I had a few miles of flat alongside a river before heading back uphill again. Like a child dragging a sledge up a hill to be rewarded with a few seconds of blissful speed downhill, I spent quite a lot of this day alternating between stamina and speed. I decided that endless flat can be tedious, but cycling hills is uneven: timewise it feels like you're always going up, bevause the downs are over soquickly. And so often you have to waste hard-earned freewheeling on the brakes because of rough surface, tight bends or junctions or oncoming traffic. Worst is when there's a junction at the bottom of the hill, and you have to face the next uphill from a standing start again instead of using the momentum you'd built up.

Thought for the day: why do we consider heaven to be up, when all cyclists know it's downhill?

Harz mountains ahead

Harz mountains ahead

I was being very lucky with the weather overall - so far just the one monring of rain, and usually overcast or sunny (never too hot) with little wind. I made good progress to Bad Gandersheim where I stayed overnight. The next day was much the same, though the hills were becoming more numerous and pentiful - I was now skirting the edge of the Harz mountains. This still involved a lot of country lanes through cornfields, and butterflies danced around me as I sped along (or heaved myself uphill). The biggest clue that I'd reached the Harz mountains was the signs for the R1 cycle route had changed to include the symbol of a witch on her bicycle, broomstick safely stowed behind. I'd follow these signs for the next 2 days as I crossed the Harz region.

Following the witches

Following the witches

But as I got into the wooded areas, the going was much more rough. It was muddy under the trees where there hadn't been enough sunlight to dry the path, and the bike slid around with its narrow road tyres. I concentrated hard to navigate a course that was as smooth and dry as possible, but slipped a couple of times, and wished I hadn't worn sandals that day!

To make things harder still, my Sat Nav had given up on marking the R1 route for me a couple of days ago, and even the off road paths that used to be marked noo longer were, so I was reliant on the paper maps and signs - but they could be easily missed, or misunderstood. (Actually it turned out after 3-4 days that the sat nav had switched itself onto a 'road map'mode rather than the cycle map, so I was struggling unnecessarily. You'd think I'd know how to use the technology, but I can assure you that this GPS is renowned for being quirky and difficult).

Wind farms everywhere

Wind farms everywhere

A brief note about the route numbering. It is (pretty well) marked as the Euro-cycle route R1, but on any German publicity (e.g. Tourism offices) it is known as the D3. They also mention that it is part of the long distance Euro-route EuroVelo 2. The publicity makes no mention of R1 which is actually signed. Very confusing.

I was due in Goslar that evening, which wasn't too far away, but I'd allowed for the hills. Despite their number, I didn't find these as bad as I'd thought - I just got on with them and had a rest at the top. I made good time and got to Langelsheim in time for lunch. I stopped at a cafe- just in time! At 1 pm, the cafe was shutting for lunch! I think they're taking the mittagspause a bit too seriously. I was allowed to sit at the only table outside and instructed to leave the plates there when I was finished. The door was locked behind me as I took my sandwich and cake out.

In Germany, just as it used to in Britain decades ago, most shops shut for lunch; they also close for a half day on Saturday, and often one day midweek. And everything, bar petrol stations, transport hubs and tourist sites, is closed on a Sunday. There are no 24 hour supermarkets - you'll be lucky to find anything open past 6pm (or maybe 8pm for the bigger supermarkets).

Goslar street

Goslar street


Goslar market square

Goslar market square

Every time I think I'm at the top, another summit looms ahead. The couch I was surfing tonight was a little beyond beautiful Goslar, and looked like it was just round the side of another hill, but I seemed to manage to go over the top of it. A very pretty ride nonetheless, and I wasn't completely exhausted when I arrived at Quint's house. He was sitting in the back garden in his big beach chair. His house was nestled between the steep slopes of the hill I'djust tackled, and the one I'd face tomorrow. We sat and chated for a while before popping to the shops to buy things for an evening barbecue, which we enjoyed when his girlfriend Astrid got home. Then we had to discuss my destination for the next morning.... school!

Posted by bhambidge 13:04 Archived in Germany Tagged bicycle Comments (2)

The big bike helmet debate

To wear or not to wear, that is the question

Two thousand kilometres, and I've not even brought a helmet. Am I mad?

Cycle helmets are designed to give essential protection to the most important part of your body. It absorbs some of the impact on collision, and can make the difference between death and survival, brain damage and a lucky escape. An obvious safety precaution then, strongly recommended by the British powers-that-be, and law in some countries such as Australia and parts of the USA. Cycling publicity in the UK almost entirely depicts cyclists with helmets, and photos in newspapers that show people without generate angry letters denouncing the irresponsibility of suggesting that you shouldn't wear a helmet. If not by law, everyone should be strongly encouraged to wear a bike helmet.

Shouldn't they?

The counter-arguments - and there are a few - don't receive so much press. As some of you, my readers, have already expressed surprise that I've not got a helmet, I thought I should explain why.

Firstly, from a broader point of view of society, the expectation that you need special equipment (such as a helmet) to do such an activity deters people from doing it. As cycling is an extremely healthy activity, any reduction is detrimental to the nation's overall level of health. After the legislation came into effect in Australia, the number of people cycling dropped markedly, many presumably switching to cars for transport, or watching TV for leisure. This has three effects:

  • less healthy lifestyle overall leads to more heart disease etc etc

  • more car drivers - environmental damage

  • higher car/bike ratio means that remaining cyclists are LESS safe, as the car drivers are less likely to consider them

Secondly, studies by Ian Walker of Bath University have shown that car drivers will drive closer to cyclists wearing helmets than those without, therefore putting them more at risk.

Thirdly, the level of protection offered by a helmet is hotly debated. In general, impacts with other vehicles are likely to be too severe for the helmet to be of much use, and falling off your bike will rarely lead to a serious head injury anyway. Yes, of course there are cases where bike helmets have likely saved lives in both these cases, but they many researchers now think they are pretty rare.

Travelling across Europe, I find hardly anyone wears helmets. In the Netherlands, they would find it as absurd a thing to do as wearing a suit of armour when out walking. The only people that do wear them are the hard-core racing cyclists kitted out in all the lycra gear, and then it becomes just part of the uniform. They are also going at much higher speeds were falling off would result in a higher impact, so the helmet makes more sense. Absolutely no-one on a leisure, commute or touring ride wears a helmet. The same is pretty well true in Germany too, though I've seen a few children with helmets on, and possibly two adults during the last two weeks.

The risk of death and injury from cycling goes down the more cyclists there are, and in general the more that helmet wearing is enforced, the fewer cyclists there are. These graphs are from www.cyclehelmets.org where you'll find lots of other information about the helmet debate.

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On the day I set out I wondered whether I should bring my helmet after all. It would have been a hassle to carry an additional item, and as most of the time I've been on paths separated from traffic, I've felt perfectly safe without. But even when sharing the road, I don't overall think it makes sense to bother, and if one more person on the road dressed in normal clothes can encourage anyone else to think that cycling is for everyone, then that's a job well done.

What do you think? Comments below!

Posted by bhambidge 00:46 Tagged bicycle Comments (11)

When the going gets tough

overcast

Quint and Astrid were particularly interested in my trip because Astrid had been on a placement in Ethiopia last year, and experienced first-hand the importance of water and the scarcity of it. Quint was an English teacher, and wanted me to come to school the next morning and talk to two of his classes about both my trip and WaterAid. I was surprised that they were at school in the beginning of August, but apparently in Germany, the regions take it in turns for holidays, so the whole country is not off together.

The weather forecast for everywhere east of here was pretty good for the rest of the week, and the next stage was more down than up, as I was almost at my highest point of the journey. Particularly exciting was that I HAD REACHED HALF WAY! Goslar was roughly the half-way point, just shy of 1000km on the odometer, and the former border to East Germany a mere half-hour ride away. I'd done the hardest part - plain sailing from here. So it was with some dismay that I woke up to the pouring rain. Quint offered to drive me to school (we could put the bike in the back of his car), but I refused. That would be cheating... and with my uploading all the maps and stats of my rides, someone out there would pick me up on it fast enough! But mainly, I would be letting myself down - no transport shortcuts, except for essential ferries of course. Luggage, however, was another thing - I could let him carry that for me for 5 km of my journey!

First lesson was at 8am, so an early start to ensure I got there in time. Quint had gone ahead in the car, and I arrived at the school a little lost, and asked someone where Mr Gembus' office is. I thought I'd asked a member of staff or parent; she looked mature enough, but she shrugged back in Teenager-ese (its the same the world over) "I dunno, he's not my teacher". Evenutally I found someone with a full moustache andlots of wrinkles and decided he COULDN'T be a student, and wastaken through the magic door to the staff area - where it seems quite a few people knew I was coming. "Ah, you're the cyclist. From England. Incredible". (I'm not sure if it was that I had cycled from England that was incredible, or an English cyclist).

The two classes went off pretty well. Year 10 (16 year olds?) were first, and I started by telling them the basics about my trip, and how I met Quint (Mr Gembus to you), and then it was over to them to ask me questions in English. There was the typical boy-girl divide - the boys were too cool to ask anything, and sat there looking bored. The girls were more talkative, and asked some good questions. Next lesson would be to write up an article about me based on their 'interview'.

The second class were a year younger, and the difference in their English reflected that, but again they were motivated and interested, enough so that a couple of them came up to me afterwards to talk some more. Their next lesson was to make some posters; Im looking forward to seeing them!

At breaktime, it was time to head off. Next stop, Quedlinburg, home of the witches apparently (I gather several were rounded up here at one point). That was at the foot of the far side of the Harz mountains, so I headed back towards the woods to follow the witches' trail. Luckily, the rain had eased off to no more than an occasional spit.

First though I had a stretch of country road to follow, and just before I turned into the forest, I crossed the border to the 'DDR', what was East Germany. There was a sign acknowledging the former border, (and division of both Germany and Europe). In the forest, a short distance on, the trees suddenly stopped for a strip about 50m wide, and stretching into the distance over the hill. This was the 'green band' - rather than erect a border like the Berlin Wall across the entire landscape, here they did the opposite - made it impossible for people to avoid being seen if they attempted to cross, and of course they were shot on sight.

At the East German border

At the East German border


The Green Band

The Green Band

Although I was supposed to be going more downhill, there were plenty of ups, and the path was full of rocks and potholes. Had to concentrate hard to avoid dangers so even the downhills were a crawl, and very hard work on the hands, if not feet. Occasionally I'd notice a dip too late at bounce over a hole causing my luggage to jump. Frankly, I'm surprised I've suffered no punctures so far. This section would be far more suitable with a mountain bike with the wide tyres with good grip. At one point in the forest I was overtaken by a jogger - how embarrassing! But even on the downhills I could only manage to hold a speed of about 15km/h, when on a good surface, I'd be racing down at 40km/h plus.

Down into Wernigerode, I started noticing the difference with East German roads: many were in a very new condition, but those that weren't had been badly patched over the decades, and again racing down hills wasn't possible - in fact it was more precarious than on the forest paths as the potholes were deep with sharp edges.
I headed straight through the town, and could see from the map I'd soon be back in the forest. A pretty castle was perched on the top of a steep hill. I laughed that there was no way I'd be visiting that up there, but then it dawned on me that the R1 route was going to take a sharp backward-turn and up this incredibly steep hill. Somehow I stayed on the bike until it flattened out, by which time my face was beetroot read and hot enough to fry an egg. Fortunately I didn't have to go all the way up to the castle, but it was still hard work... only then to be back in the forest for more rough path torture.

Well before Blankenburg I was thoroughly sick of these picturesque but treacherous trails and was cursing at the top of my voice. When I finally found a route out, I took it, ignoring my planned route - I didn't care where it was taking me, I just wasn't going back into the wood again. Proper asphalt! What a luxury! I'd taken it for granted across the first half of my journey, but now I was being punished. But there was no escape - the road I was on led down to a rounabout where every exit led me back into the forest and onto the Europaradweg R1 - and this time the path didn't even pretend to be leisurely well-planned stretch for all-comers. It narrowed to a thin track, hopping over large tree roots and abruptly round handbrake-turn bends and up steep sections of track, like a gruelling BMX course.

After that, the descent into Blankenburg on the boneshaking cobbles was a godsend, and I was relieved to find somewhere to stop for a well-earned late lunch. Bulgarian cuisine seemed an unusual speciality for a pub at first, but just 20 years ago, Bulgaria was the Florida of commie holiday destinations.

I checked the map. Downhill or flat all the way to Quedlinburg. All roads - no more forest! But it seemed there was a mystical kilometre of sharp uphill that the map lied about. Then, finally, the reward. 4km of constant downhill, on a perfect asphalt road. OK, there was no cycle path and I had to share it with some traffic... but I didn't care. This was a few minutes of bliss. At the next village of Timmenrode, I looked for the signpost left to the following one, Warnstedt, 3 km further on. I was somewhat confused to see the signpost pointing the other way, with a distance of 9 km. Strange. I checked the map, and then saw the name of the street - Warnstedterstrasse - well surely that must go to Warnstedt. Indeed it did, but I soon found out why traffic was sent the very long way round. These weren't potholes. They were craters. This was the worst condition road I'd come across, and although it was perfectly flat, it must have taken me half an hour to cover the three kilometres. I stayed on the bike, but I'd have been no slower walking. By the end of it, my hands and shoulders were tingling from the constant vibration and jolting.

The final short section to Quedlinburg was smooth, flat and easy, if a little heavy on the traffic. As a student of Transport Planning I know that the key requirement often considered for a good cycle route is the traffic level, followed by the gradient. But from my first-hand experience today, we perhaps take for granted that the surface will be solid and smooth. That's now number one criteria on my list. As if to confirm that, Quedlinburg greeted me with the biggest, bumpiest cobbles possible, and my innards wobbled their way into the town centre and on to my B&B. Several detours were necessary to avoid major roadworks and random flights of steep steps at the end of paths - but eventually I found it! As there was no breakfast provided, I intended to head straight back out while the shops were still open to get some provisions and see a bit more of this UNESCO heritage town. Then I promptly lay on the bed and fell asleep.

Any pretensions I'd had at the beginning of the day that the hardest part of the journey had already been conquered was well and truly shattered. What was East Germany and Poland going to throw at me for the rest of the ride?

Quedlinburg

Quedlinburg

Reminder that water is precious in Quedlinburg

Reminder that water is precious in Quedlinburg

Posted by bhambidge 13:40 Archived in Germany Tagged bicycle Comments (0)

Water, water everywhere

rain

I set off from Quedlinburg with dark grey clouds looming. Unfortunately I didn't have time to explore the town; I'd arranged to stay tonight in Dessau, over 100 km away, even with shortcuts (the R1 route would take me over 150 km). I had decided this was doable, as there was a big of downhill and otherwise flat, and my fitness level now should surely allow me to cover that distance in a day? Of course, those thoughts had been before the experiences of the day before, and I dreaded to think what road quality lay ahead of me. Maps just don't provide that kind of information.

My bike was still in pretty good shape except for the brakes - the front one in particular was scraping against the wheel every revolution. I tried to remember what to do about it (I went on a one-day bike maintenance workshop a couple of months before setting off) but couldn't for the life of me think which screw to turn and which way. Having found the only bike shop in town closed for the day, I decided to disable the front brake altogether and stop at the next town. (That of course assumed that the back brake was still working, or I wouldn't be stopping anywhere!)

I'd planned my route as carefully as I could, shortcutting my way back to the R1, then following it where it made sense (on the assumption that it would avoid the worst of roads), and short-cutting when it was just being frankly silly. But a few kilometres outside Quedlinburg, my initial plans were thwarted, as a road was completely closed to roadworks, and I had to find a major detour round, adding nearly 10km to my journey. The black clouds had opened now; not heavily, but enough to cover up in full raingear, though it didn't look like it would last too long. Sure enough, after about half an hour it seemed dry enough to strip off again. I needn't have bothered: 5 minutes laters, the heavens opened again, and I stopped to get kitted out once more. And it rained. And rained. And rained. There were no clouds visible in the sky. It was a single shade of dark grey, as far as the eyes could see, in every direction. All day. Rain meant covering my luggage, including the handlebar bag that the map was on, so I could only see that by pulling it out occasionally to glance at.

Fotunately the surfaces weren't generally too bad, though about half an hour before Stassfurt took me along a track so overgrown that I was being whacked on all sides by plants, nettles, and low-hanging tree-branches. The alternative was the farm track running alongside, with all the rocks and potholes that entailed, so I preferred to ensure the arboreal bruising, even finding some of the ducking and dodging exhilirating, and keeping quite a pace.

This is an international cycle path!

This is an international cycle path!

In Stassfurt, I found a bike shop, where they attended to my brakes free of charge, and after a spot of lunch, I set off again - there was still 65 km to cover. Unfortunately, just a few short kilometres out of town, I could hear the brake scraping against the wheel again, and could certainly feel it slowing me down. With the rain still falling (ironically there was a brief respite just while I stopped for lunch), I wasn't in any mood to consider looking at it, so I just disabled the brake again and pedelled on. I can't say today's ride was particularly pleasureable; it was just a matter of getting through the distance. I'm not as bothered by rain now as I was - it helps to be prepared - but after several hours of constant wet, it becomes a chore. The waterproof clothes are doing a better job than it feels, but they still feel wet on the inside and the trousers cling to my skin. The waterproof shoes that served so well in the morning seem now to have allowed some water to run in, and I can feel it sloshing and squelching with every turn.

Another short-cut takes me along a main road, but it is an excellent surface, and I pedal hard and count down the kilometres. By Aken I'm flagging - less than 20 km from Dessau, but find an ice-cream cafe (the most popular kind of cafe in Germany), and fortify myself with a hot chocolate,

Earlier in the day, I'd given myself only 50:50 odds of reaching Dessau that night, but finally I plough on and into the city. 105 km later, my longest distance yet, I arrive wet to the bone, at Bernadett's house. She has the very dubious pleasure of hosting a soggy dirty couchsurfer, with his soggy dirty luggage.

A hot shower and dry clothes puts me quickly back in good spirits, and we set about putting clothes in the machine, and leaving shoes out to dry. I also discover that despite careful packing involving lots of plastic bags, some of the things inside my luggage has got wet, including my hardly-read book and my passport. Nothing irrecoverable though, but it reminds me how important it is to pack well - the bottom of one of the pannier bags seems to have acquired a puddle.

I've earned a day off. I've been on the move for 7 constant days since Muenster, so Bernadett has kindly agreed for me to stay two nights. We spend the first evening at the local 'Kartoffelhaus' with some interesting friends of hers. She's Hungarian, and we meet up with a Kosovan and a couple of German friends, and later joined by a Pole who is astounded to hear an Englishman speak Polish. We don't stay out late though; if I was exhausted the day before, I'm just as much so after the day's slog.

The next day, Friday, I get on my bike for no more than a few hundred yards to a bike shop, to have the brakes checked one more time. I think the bar-bag isn't helping as it's gently pressing on the brake cables, so I make sure that's attached while they attend to it. Hopefully, that will make the difference this time. For the rest of the day, I decide to head to Leipzig for a day-trip on the train. With rain forecast all day, I go prepared, but never need the coat. I've long wanted to visit Leipzig, and often meant to but never made it. It played a pivotal role in the fall of the DDR that kept us glued to TV sets in 1989 (especially during German lessons at school). It was bigger than I was expecting, with many beautiful buildings (and of course many building works, as seems to have been the case across Germany constantly for the last twenty years). I found time to visit the Stasi-museum, hosted in the former Stasi building (with some of the rooms left intact), and a museum documenting life in East Germany. Both of these were excellent and fascinating. I spent too long here to get to the Bach museum which I'd also hoped for, but I headed back to Dessau in the early evening. Bernadett was out working a night shift that evening, so I had the place to myself, and finally read a bit more of my book - now nearly twice the size after having expanded from getting wet!

I'd worn sandals that day as the shoes were stil wet, leaving the shoes by an open window to dry, but they were still soggy that night, and the next morning. So on Saturday I set off again, fully prepared for rain from the outset, wearing full raingear and sandals.

Destination: Belzig. Via the R1: 90km. Direct route on Google Maps: 52km. Well, I could compromise. I found a route that used some marked paths that would be a 65km ride; that was acceptable. My destination was a cheap hotel recommended by another cyclist. Brian raved about the comfy room, friendly staff, but mostly about the power shower and big fluffy towels! That sold me.

From Dessau I started off east following the river Elbe towards Worlitz. Not far out of town, the roadside cycle lanes turned into good countryside paths, with glimpses of the river through the greenery. Then a covered bridge, reminiscent of Madison County, if not as pretty, crossing a stream, and down into a dip. This was the Elbe floodplains, and things were certainly waterlogged now. The path turned into something of a ford and I cycled through a long puddle a couple of inches deep, the bottom of my feet just getting wet. A short distance on though, and I could see a much longer stretch of underwater path, and this time a little deeper. I checked the map, and decided to detour to a nearby road. But just a minute or so away, the road turned into something of a lake. A car approached from the other direction, and quickly turned back. It was too deep for the car, and way too deep for me. So back I went to check the path. I could head all the way back to Dessau, or I could brave this and continue. I didn't like retracing my steps, nor admitting defeat, so I set off, gently gently to minimise the splash, keen to keepmy luggage dry. I was glad I was wearing the sandals now, and I didn't care if my feet got wet.

I made it through to the other side unscathed, and the water hadn't quite touched the underside of one of the bags. A group of cyclists were soon behind me, and I stopped to watch them enjoy the experience. Another few hundred metres on though, we rounded a bend and were confronted by yet another water obstacle, this time clearly a little deeper and longer. The group rubbed their chins. I now had spectators, and couldn't admit defeat, This time though, I pushed my bike across, wading through the water, carrying the more precious (and less waterproof) of my pannier bags. Glad not to have turned back for a long detour, I then cycled on as adry path stretched ahead of me. The group had stopped rubbing their chins and decided they weren't as stupid as me. They clearly didn't have big fluffy towels waiting for them.

Elbe floodplains

Elbe floodplains


Cycling through the floods

Cycling through the floods

Inevitably, the next water-crossing came, and I tackled it much like the last, wading through water above my ankles. I wasn't going to turn back now! I did have to pause and think at the next one though. Not only was it deeper, there was a visible current running across! Still, I'd come this far. I didn't get where I am today by (mumble mumble mumble), Big Fluffy Towels. The last crossing had dipped the bottom of my bag into the water, so this time, I lifted one bag to rest on the handlebars, so that I could hoist the back wheel off the ground lifting the other bag to safety. I then wobbled my way across, knee-deep in riverwater, steering the front wheel while trying not to drop the balancing bag. Halfway along, the two sides of the floodplain joined forming a reasonable current, and shoals of small fish swum about my feet. But I got to the other side, rearranged the luggage and set on my way again. Who needs the Amazon rainforest when you've got Northern Europe?

Fortunately, that was the last of them through this nature reserve, confirmed a kilometre further along when I met people again! I warned them about the path that faced them ahead, and as they didn't have big fluffy towels waiting for them in Dessau, they decided not to bother. The next stretch to Worlitz took me along a raised path and felt something like cycling on top of a wall, but at least it was keeping me above the water-line. I detoured to cycle round Worlitz, worth a look apparently, but quickly came back out to press on. I wasn't following the R1 now, but was on another recognised route that would take me across the Elbe, and I'd hope that the roads northwards were well paved.

Five or six kilometres on, I reached the bridge over the Elbe. That was strange. There was no bridge. The road simply ran straight into the wide river. There was a stop sign, and nothing else. I checked the map more closely to find it was marked with a tiny ferry symbol, but becuse it followed a cycle route, it looked like a road. There was no obvious ferry to befound, and I asked in a nearby cafe, and was told that there wasn't a ferry. The next bridge back the way was the Autobahn, which I couldn't use, or all the way back in Dessau. The next one on was a 26km detour to Wittenberg. Either way, the only road back took me through Worlitz again. So finally I was defeated, as I retraced my steps, and found the road round to Wittenburg.

Defeat - can't cross the Elbe

Defeat - can't cross the Elbe

At least it had stayed dry above the surface. I was still kitted out prepared for rain, and the clouds threatened, but it was a new road all the way to Wittenberg, and I was determined to make up for some time, and pedalled as hard as I could. Being the weekend, the roads were pretty quiet, and it was flat all the way. I put these extra miles behind me with the reminder of the big fluffy towels awaiting me. What could have been 52km was now creeping up to a 90km day.

I stopped in Wittenberg for lunch (yet another schnitzel I'm afraid), and pulled out the details of the hotel - time to check out exactly where it was, and program the address into the GPS unit. Oh horror! It turns out that the hotel isn't actually in Belzig at all, but like any good Ryanair airport, TWENTY-NINE KILOMETRES AWAY. ON THE OTHER SIDE. I'd put 50km behind me (some of those underwater), but now found I still had 70 to go.

Or did I? I hadn't paid for this room. I didn't have to go all that way, especially as the next day I wasn't going much further to Postdam. I could just find somewhere else on the way to stop. (Big fluffy towels). But did I want to admit defeat a second time in a day? Big fluffy towels. Well I didn't have to decide straight away. But I did decide that as the rain hadn't yet come I'd risk being back in T-shirt and shorts.

Chess-like monks in Wittenberg

Chess-like monks in Wittenberg

Apart from one gentle hill, the area was flat. I had to decide between the R1 route, or some unknown roads that may or may not be paved; the distance was now about the same. I opted for the R1, but it was pretty variable... maybe the grass would have been greener, but I propelled myself on, thinking of the towels. The kilometres that had flown by coming in to Wittenberg were now taking longer and longer. While the surface through a forest wasn't full of potholes, it was soft and slighty shaly, and doubled the effort required. Eventually I got on to a nice tarmac path, and a sign for Belzig 22 km away. It should be easier from here, but I was tired, and the 30km/hour flats that I was managing earlier in the day were halved. I wasn't sure I'd make it past Belzig. (Big fluffy towels, big fluffy towels).

Eventually I reached the town, and searched around for a rest stop. I'd done 90 km now, and still had thirty to go if I was going to make it, but I was seriously flagging. Being a Saturday afternoon, hardly anything was open, but I finally found a bakery cafe, and ordered my magic potion of hot chocolate, and treated myself to a slice of Apfelkuchen to go with it.

That, and 30 minutes rest was just what the doctor ordered. Back on the bike, I had energy again, and was quickly back up to 25 or even 30 km/hour, and while I couldn't maintain that all the way, I could count down the final kilometres quickly enough, and the hotel got closer and closer. I arrived that evening at about 6.30, though it felt much later, greeted by the friendly staff who were expecting me. I struggled not to just collapse on the comfy bed again, but had a top-class dinner at the hotel (after 120km, I wasn't going another metre on the bike).

Oh, and the towels. Well, they were a bit of a let down! Certainly wouldn't describe them as fluffy, or particularly big. But compared to the ones you're given at most hostels, then I suppose they were ok. Not sure they were worth racing 120km for!

Big fluffy towel

Big fluffy towel

Cyclists welcome at the hotel near Beelitz

Cyclists welcome at the hotel near Beelitz

Posted by bhambidge 08:46 Archived in Germany Tagged bicycle Comments (6)

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