Category Archives: European Tour 2010

There’s bikes everywhere!!!!!!

Leaving Cambridge
So I since my last instalment I have done quite a lot. I left Cambridge on Thursday morning bound for Harwich. The weather was amazing but to be honest I was slightly preoccupied thinking about my exam results and also if I would get to the ferry in time! I ended up phoning up to get my results from the side of the road in Essex (such a glamorous location). I was really chuffed with my results and am now the proud owner for a 1st class master’s degree in chemical engineering!!!

Getting my exam results by the side of the road in Essex

Getting my exam results by the side of the road in Essex

The rest of the trip went surprisingly quickly (probably because I was in such a good mood!). To celebrate I had the joy of catching a ferry at 23:45 (what fun). I decided I would treat myself when I got to Harwich and have a nice pub dinner. As is always the way I got there to find it was like a ghost town with only a couple of pubs none of which did food (but to be honest I don’t know that I would have wanted to try it if they did!)

You hear lots of stereotypes about Essex and although I was only in the county for a few hours I have to say that many of them are quite true. I ended up getting a handmade pizza, as I watched it being cooked I talked to the Romanian guy who worked there. It was an interesting conversation. He asked if I was going to Romania, I said I was, to which he replied “Don’t go there, the drivers are mad, they don’t think bikes should be allowed on the road, you will definitely be killed!” It turns out he was probably over reacting but he did have some useful info and told me not to have much money on me when passing into and out of Bulgaria and Moldova (sounds like they could be interesting boarder crossings!) 

Harwich Port

Harwich Port

Catching the Ferry
Riding onto the ferry was a pretty cool experience. The ferry in question was a brand new Stena Line super ferry. It was amazing, like a massive floating hotel. The cabin (which I had to book as it was an over night crossing) was pretty posh and it only cost 24 quid, it had a TV, on suite and was basically like a mini hotel suite (I recommend it to anyone thinking of going to Holland).  (I had to write quid in the previous sentence as the keyboard doesn’t have a pound sign, luckily the keys are in the right place however this will change when I get to Germany where the crazy letters like z are moved to prime positions, very confusing!)

The only downside was that after using the amazing shower and having a couple of beers to celebrate my results I only got 4 hours sleep before the on board wake up call at 6:45 (I lost an hour due to the time difference). There were a few other cyclists on board, some were going to see the Tour De France, others were just off touring round The Netherlands, the worrying thing was that they all had a plan and when they asked me mine I was only able to say “well I’ll have a cup of coffee and get my map/travel guide out and decide then” I have done lots of planning but haven’t really touched the route. 

Greenhouses full of flowers

Greenhouses full of flowers

The Dutch are Cycling Mad!!
As it turns out The Netherlands is amazing and there are cycle paths everywhere with sign posts to most places. Before long I was belting through a very stereotypical (and flat) Dutch landscape covered in miles and miles of greenhouses. I was a bit worried about being on the wrong side of the road, as I’m not great at telling my left and right at the best of times! It turns out that it really wasn’t worth worrying about! The cycle lanes are amazing, there are signposts just for cyclists, special crossing lanes and bike traffic lights. The drivers are so used to having bikes around that you can pretty much do anything and go anywhere and no one cares. I say this but my sat nav did take me on a reasonably major road today and I did had a few people honking at me, what I think they were trying to say is “what are you doing on the road, are you mad! use a cycle lane” there are so many cycle lanes you don’t see so many bikes on the roads out of town.

Bike Traffic Light

Bike Traffic Light

Peaceful Bench

Peaceful Bench

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So many people ride bikes it’s amazing, especially extremely attractive tanned girls with long blond hair (which I’m liking very much!). There is always somewhere to lock you bike. At the stations and in the center of town the number of bikes locked up is just phenomenal (see pics for an idea). There are also so many different types, a common one is a cargo bike which is kind of a cross between a bike and a wheel barrow, mums seem to like them for ferrying their kids to school (I’m going to try and get some pics of some of the more crazy ones).

Typical Dutch bike rack

Typical Dutch bike rack

First Day in The Netherlands
Despite only having 4 hours sleep and feeling a bit like death warmed up, I did manage to ride north to Dan Haag. I spent a few hours looking around and got some local info from the tourist information office. There was also a great photo exhibition of European wildlife photos in the street, some of them were mind blowing! I also saw the queen’s palace and parliament buildings. In the afternoon I headed north to Leiden hoping I would find a campsite there. When I got to the visitors centre and asked about camping it turned out that as is often the case, there was somewhere but it was south of town so I had pretty much ridden straight past it. On the way I witnessed a scene which just about sums up the Dutch attitude to bikes. Two kids passed me walking on the pavement, one was pushing a bike. Two policemen (on bikes of course) passed in the opposite direction, soon they turned around onto the other side of the road and stopped the kids. I assumed as I’m sure you would too they thought the kids had stolen the bike and were questioning them. However a few seconds later one of the policemen took the bike and start fiddling with it. It turned out that they had a puncture or had broken down and the policemen had stopped to fix it for them how amazingly cool is that!!

Happy Couple

Happy Couple

By the time I got to the campsite it was getting late and the visitors centre was closed. I decided that the best thing to do was to put my tent up anyway and then pay in the morning if there was someone around (pretty standard in the UK, right?). After putting my tent up and getting my dinner on the go (pasta, as usual) I was bursting for a pee. It was at this point that I realised to use the toilets, showers and even drinking water you needed a special key and swipe card!! This was definitely not good, to make things worse I later found out that I had pitched my tent in someone else’s pitch and they duly turned up with two caravans and two cars. This was not the best first European camping experience. I did later manage to steal some water from the tap on the washing up sink and sneak into the toilet block after someone, but no luck on the shower front, really not what you want after cycling in the baking sun all day!

Riding under Amsterdam International Airport

Riding under Amsterdam International Airport

Ah there we go, first sighting of a Windmill

Ah there we go, first sighting of a Windmill

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today has been more of the same I have travelled north to Amsterdam. (I am going to move faster than this however it takes a while to get into the swing of travelling and 4 hours sleep on the ferry took it out of me). I’m getting much more confident on the maze of cycle lanes and cycle paths and can just about remember to look the right way when crossing a road now. I did give one guy on a scooter a scare, scooters are allowed on the cycle lanes, just to make things a bit more interesting. I had decided to over take one of the hundreds of couples out for a nice gentle Saturday bike ride in the sun, and slightly misjudged how fast he was coming towards me. 

My favourite sight of the day came courtesy of my sat nav which decided to take me on the shortest route through town. What I hadn’t bargained for was that it was a Saturday which meant there was a huge market on and so many people cycling wasn’t possible. The market lined one of the main canals and as I neared the end I could hear a live rock band playing. I looked around to try and figure out where it was coming from figuring that it would be on the other side of the canal. On further inspection I discovered it wasn’t coming form the other side but it was actually coming from the canal. There was a full rock band and sound system on a boat just motoring round in circles on the canal. Many of the restaurants and cafe’s have old boats moored up with chairs and tables on giving the band a guaranteed crowd that couldn’t leave even if they wanted to, pretty clever really. People also lined the bridges that cross the canal. After a couple of numbers they decided a change of venue was needed and whilst they continued to play they motored down another canal to find some more people to spread their music too. 

Dutch rock band playing on the canal

Dutch rock band playing on the canal

Key Facts
I forgot to introduce this in my earlier posts but from now on I’m going to put a few key facts on the bottom of my posts so you can judge how well my trip is going (I may add more as and when I think of them).

Distance covered – Approx 520 km (323 miles)
Countries visited – 2
Max speed – 60.4 km
Longest day – 147.5 km
Punctures – 0
Things broken / worn out (given my luck in the recent past this could increase rapidly) – 0
Different beers tried – 6
Languages spoken (well attempted) – 2
Proper mountains climbed – 0
Ferry Crossings – 1

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And so it begins…

So I have actually gone, it was pretty strange riding off over the common in the blazing sun thinking that the next time I will be back it will hopefully be November and probably snowing! It’s also pretty strange leaving knowing that I won’t see my family for 5 months! But they say the hardest part is leaving (which is very true) so now that’s out the way, let the fun begin!

Cycling off over the common

Cycling off over the common

I have done a fair bit of cycling in the first two days despite leaving late on Monday I have still managed to cover about 160 miles and find myself in Cambridge. I stopped off to visit a mate at uni here and thought I had better take a look around at the same time.

My dog Molly see's me off

My dog Molly see’s me off

For a cyclist Cambridge is amazing and is a pretty good taster for Holland, its flat and there are bikes and cycle lanes everywhere (there are even traffic lights for bikes). Literally every railing in town has a bike or 3 lashed to it so much so that I struggled to find somewhere to lock mine. Cambridge is a really cool place, especially when the weather is perfect like today!

Cambridge is home to loads of cool bikes

Cambridge is home to loads of bikes

Kings College Cambridge University

Kings College Cambridge University

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I had a great time watching people punting on the river and wandering round all the colleges (don’t think I should have been in some but no one seemed to mind, I obviously fitted in, only joking).

Kings College

Kings College

Kings College

Kings College

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was really great but come about 3 o’clock I was becoming a little parched. As luck would have it there happened to be a small game of football on TV with some team called England playing so I felt it would be rude not to watch it with a beer (I was lucky as its the first world cup game I have watched and it was just about worth watching).

Punts under a shady willow tree

Punts under a shady willow tree

Punting on the Cam

Punting on the Cam

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I ended the day with a true Cambridge University experience and got roped in to playing cricket for the Cambridge University Medics Cricket team, as you do! It was great fun to get back on a cricket pitch (must have been 5 years since I last did it). The weather was perfect and the ground was amazing. Each college at Cambridge has their own cricket pitch (yes it’s THAT posh!) we were playing on the Queens ground which was just out of town in the countryside, it looked perfect! As is always the way in cricket, I was there to make up the numbers however I always seemed to be fielding where the ball was played, I also played my part in a run out which I was pretty chuffed with. The opposition (zoology) made 121 off 20 over’s, but the medics batting line up was pretty strong and they knocked it off in fine fashion whilst only loosing one wicket.

Queens College cricket ground

Queens College cricket ground

Tomorrow is pretty special for a couple of reasons, I will hopefully be able to get my exam results in the afternoon and find out what degree (if any) I got. I have then booked the perfect way to celebrate, catching a ferry at 23:45 bound for the Hook of Holland, didn’t plan that very well! Anyway I have about 11 hours to get from here to Harwich it’s going to be a scorcher so hopefully I’ll make it!

Manic Packing

Finally Off!
I know I have been saying this for a while by I am actually finally off!!!!! For all those people that keep saying “your still here then”, I challenge you to arrange a 5 month cycling trip in a few weeks, its pretty bloody hard!  I had the best intentions of going as soon as possible but to be honest have been pretty knackered after finishing my degree and had so much stuff to arrange (I had pretty much done none until a few weeks ago!). I have also had some set backs in the last few days such as a broken sat nav, which was replaced pretty much instantly by Garmin without even asking where I got it or if I had a receipt (lucky considering it came off eBay!). It was really amazing I was mega impressed with their service. I posted it at 5:15 and they had a replacement in the post by 1 the next day, so a massive thanks to the dudes at Garmin.

Everything but the kitchen sink!  The kit I started out with for a 6 month tour of Europe

Everything but the kitchen sink! The kit I started out with for a 6 month tour of Europe

I have also had a change of route as the ferry to Denmark was going to cost 260 squid which I think is way too much for me and my trusty steed (not sure about this yet as I have only been on her for a day, but lets hope she is). Instead I will get a ferry to The Netherlands for 33 notes then ride the 700-800 km to where I was initially going to start from. This is pretty cool 1) because Holland is flat, 2) because it means I get to go through a few countries initially to get my tally up and most importantly 3) because I appear to have chosen a route right over the mountains in Norway so it will give me time to get my legs match fit before attempting it!

Packing
I have had an amazing final packing day in the shire with blue skies and sun hopefully this weather will be following me round Europe (if it does then you probably won’t recognise me when I return!).  Packing for a cycle touring trip is an interesting business. As I’m going for a long time I need to account for all eventualities (it could well be snowing when I get to Andorra) and also be reasonably comfortable when camping. I have done some cycle touring before in New Zealand and this made me realised a number of things. For instance although though they are light and easy to cook in a hurry, you can only live off super noodles for so long before you start to feel more than a little crap! I also learned that the main thing that will be on any cyclists (but specifically cycle tourers) mind is weight. They won’t buy anything without asking how heavy it is or is there a smaller one available. There is a good reason for this as on those long climbs (some of which can last for hours) at every pedal stroke you ask yourself, do I really need that six pack of beers, why do I want an inflatable pillow and why did I think it was a good idea to pack the kitchen sink. Because of this I have been trying to pick my gear carefully and keep the weight down. Unfortunately this often means shelling out huge amounts of wonga to very expensive outdoor shops to shed some grams and get stuff that’s compact. I’m not going to pretend I mind though as like all cyclists and outdoor enthusiasts I’m a bit of a gear head, and easily exited by shiny gadgets and gismos.

Packed - Phew it all fits!

Packed – Phew it all fits!

 

In the last few days I have also been observed systematically ripping pages out of my European atlas saying things like “that’s too far north”, “I don’t want to go there its full of French people” and “sod that have you seen the size of those mountains”. I have not reached the stage of cutting the handle of my toothbrush or drilling holes in things yet but who’s to say I won’t get there after I hit the first few hills.

I think I have managed to get my gear pretty much perfect, nice and compact and pretty light whilst still having some comforts like a shower (no I’m not joking its ace, although a bit chilly if the sun isn’t out to warm it up) and (like all Brits should have) a nice big frying pan so I can cook a proper full English breakfast every once in a while!

 

Perfect final day in Herefordshire

Perfect final day in Herefordshire

My bike passes the ‘can I pick it up test’, you would be amazed the number of people I have met before who carry so much they actually have to take their panniers off the bike to lift it over a curb! No doubt I have forgotten stuff and taken loads of things I don’t really need so I’ll have to re-evaluate after the first week and have a ruthless cull of gear (some backpackers might end up getting lucky and find themselves acquiring all sorts of interesting goodies)!

I’m setting off first thing tomorrow morning and heading towards Cambridge which will probably take me a couple of days. After that I will be heading to Harwich to get a ferry over to The Hook of Holland and from there who knows where I will end up so stay tuned to find out!