Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Ambling to Amsterdam

Hi all you blog watchers!

First whole day in Amsterdam, the global village, today. What a wonderful place for cycling the Netherlands is, it even beats Belgium, which is saying something. Although battling 25mph wind most of yesterday, cycling these wonderful cycleways still seemed like gliding along on a bike travelator compared to some of the roads I have been on, especially UK with all our potholes. Yesterday was als remarkable because as I approached Schipol airport I heard the first aircraft in days, presumably as the flight ban was starting to lift. Before that mostly I had been listening to the amazing variety of birdlife there is here given the mass of waterways all of which provide a wonderful habitat for geese, many varieties of duck, moorhens, swans nesting on eggs, kingfishers and herons.

Talking of waterways, I note that nobody has contaced me about the deliberate mistake in my last blog - I crossed the Seine at Vernon, not the Rhone. But I think I have crossed the Rhine - it's not dalled that as it gets to the sea, with its waterways turning into Rivers such as the Maas, which I crossed a couple of days ago. That brings me to the main experience of the last few days - visiting Breda and the area to the north of the city.

My dad always said he had visited Breda, but he never told me about the events. In the pictures attached you'll see the Polish cemetery which I found as I cycled in. There around 100 of dad's comrades are buried along with another 50 paratroopers involved in the Arnhem operation. I was surprised when I looked at the monument to find that there were lots of fresh flowers, then I discovered the small paingin amongst them saying "Katyn 1940 - 2010". The Poles have been through a lot as a nation.

I camped in Breda and when I got back to the tent and elderly couple (75 and 83) invited me into their caravan for a late evening coffee (I think they took pity on me). It truned out that they were from Emmen, which I'll be visiting next week. It also was freed by the Dad's regiment, and being aged 10 and 18 at the time they remembered it well, having endured "the winter of hunger" in 1944-45 and having to wait until almost the end of the war to be freed from Nazi rule. It was very touching as they told me how many Dutch towns and villages have memories of and revere the Poles and the armies of other nations for what they did.

Other events? Well, not having learnt my lesson last time, on the very day I completed the last blog, I left Gent at lunchtime in a real hurry determined to cycle 90km to Antwerp along the River Schelde. First I managed to ride 5km along the Leis, then having negotiated miles of ting road I cycled 15km along the Schelde in the wrong direction. By the time I had aborted that idea and found my way through the badly sin\gned suburbs of Gent it was 4.30 and I had 65 km to do to Antwerp. But I made it by 8.00 and the hostel by 8.30pm. But it was bread and cheese for me that night as all the restaurants were too far away - I am learning graduallt\y abut cycle navigation and wish I had brought a compass!

As for places visited (see pictures):-

  • Antwerp was civilised - I passed through a huge Jewish quarter and massive port area

  • The border into Holland merited a picture for its insignificance

  • Bergen op Zoom was a very pleasant rest place with a lovely Grot Market square

  • Breda is a very hip place now, with waterfront bars and a wonderful cathedral tower

  • Gouda isn't just about cheese, it's very charming in a Cambridgey sort of way and it too has a lovely cathedral with water surrounding

  • Until you've been in Holland you don't really understand how much water there is here and what the Dutch (a lovely bunch of folk from those I have met) have done to create their country. Windmills new and old, lovely residential areas all with their own waterways surrounding ultra neat houses and gardens, and polders with high rivers on one side of dams and low fields on the other. Beautiful

Finally, cycling along one muses. Everywhere I have been apart from the ride in England I have seen wind farms. I know that they are not the most efficient and that their energy is not always delivered at the right time, but why do we bury our heads where the French (even the French), Belgians and Dutch know that continually to use up the Earth's capital in the form of fossil fuel without using it to create means to harness the energy of the sun, wind , sea etc. is foolhardy. Why isn't there a wind farm on Portland!!??

Here endeth the lesson for today! Now signing off. Next posting probably from Lubeck on the Baltic close to the old East-West German border.


PS - very glad to be away from the election personality politics stuff. Ken, who joins me in Germany tells me that it's getting to be neck and neck between all three parties. Michael Foot and Maggie may have had their separate drawbacks, but at least they had some political philosophy on which one could vote.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Gently cycling to gent

Two weeks gone now and 600 moiles not counting the extras around town etc.. The wind persists from the NE as Ihead that way, but its not raining. Apologies for punctuation, I have trouble coping with a non UK keyboard.

Now I am on the flat bit the days are easier and ,ake me realise how tough some days have been. Rest days as in Vernon are a good thing in some ways, but last Thursday as I set off from Vernon out of the Rhone Valley going North with a 25 mph wind against me I really felt like a snail towing its shell. Lyon La Foret is a lovely village well worth going to and all along the way, as here I am looko,g for church towers to tell me where settlements are. The day ended with 60 miles covered by 7.30pm which is when the front pannier frame fell off. Luckily I had a great place to stay and was only 2 miles away, the distance Patrick drove to pick me up.

Have just added the pictures, sorry that they are in no order, but the house is where I stayed that night. Following that I crossed the lower Somme not far from where Dad did in September 1944. After that I passes through Hesdin where he hjad been and then hqd my first camping session. A very cold start, but I soon warmed up ctcling up hill for about 17 miles going past the straw horse en route.
Then I got onto the high plateaux passing Crecy well known for where Ed III thrashed the French. After that it was donhill towards Flanders and a night in an F1 at St Omer. Going east from there took me to the First World War battlefields, crossing the Messine Ridge; You cane see why that area became a main front as the armies fought for the only high land in a very flat landscape, especially as you go further east towards Kortrijk the flax centre.
Yesterday I cycled from there to Gent, see night scene, expecting to do 35 miles. I did 55 having not noticed the canal to Roulers while listening intently to the I pod. But Dad went through Roulers and I said I would follow his route, so I think he played a hand in Yesterdays blunder.
So today its a (( miler along the Scheldt River to Antwerp. As you ride you get to muse on the things that have gone well and not so well. After two weeks the wells are
  • Mark cycling back down a 2 mile steep hill to get the pizzas when I was too knackered on the first day
  • Patricks lift
  • The chemist who printed a google map for me to get to a Hostel
  • Finding a contact lense after it blew onto a field
  • The tail wind to Trun aznd the Mpnt Ormel Museum
  • Hilde in a bar in Gent who introduced me to Orvel beer.

So thats it for now, next write up probably from Amsterdam

Love to all


Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Mixing with Monet

Away a week now. Covered 300 miles in five and a half days with one flat tyre and a rattley pannier rack, so cannot complain. Best part is the weather which has now warmed wonderfully. Leaving UK was pretty wetas Mark and I met in Portsmouth in the middle of a huge storm at 7.00pm after each having a demanding ride of about 60 miles (although his took only a third the time mine took, but mine was demanding because of the problems in finding the Solent way along a very muddy and wet shoreline and having to negotiate through the architectural bliss of Gosport.

Once here we had a splendid day together with early morning market in Caen, then ride to the Polish cemetery near Falaise, followes by a wonderful tail wind thqat took us to Trun and then south to the Museum that tells the story of the Battle of the "Fally Gap" that my father's regiment fought starting on his birthday, 17 August 1944, ending on 20 August when the gap was closed and thousands of Germans were locked in. The scenes depicted were truly horrific and qa blight on such a beautiful landscape, which forms the escarpment at the edge of the Isle de France plateau.

The following two days were spent cycling across the wonderful orchards and then arable lands towards Paris with wonderful quiet roads and a lot of father and son chatter as we wended our way. Mark likes to average 30kph plus while I manage 20kph only. So he helped me and I did my best. We had great accommodation, but managed to enter no bars in th three days - what does that say?

Today has been a day off. I am at the youth hostel in Vernon, which is fine, although lqte lqst night when I thought I had the room to myself a guy of about 65 arrived. He can best be likened to Estragon frm waiiting for Godot. He told me he lived in Paris in a cave since 1964, which seemed in character until I realised the true meaning of cave. Apparently he was booted out of his cellar in 2009 and has been living in youth hostels ever since, poor chap as I am sure he has a bad heart complaint.

So today the sun shone and I spent the day in checking the bike over and then riding it to Monet's garden and the impressionist museum at Giverny. Tomorrow it's north towards the coast to seek out the fabled Cafe Eu.

Love to all.