So, I'm thinking of going cycle touring...

Coming to the end of my allotted time in the UK and facing forced unemployment, I started thinking about ways to eek out a little more from my remaining meagre funds. Having recently borrowed a bike from work and discovered the fun of cycling on flat land where a town or wateringhole was never too far away, I started to entertain the idea of cycle touring.  A wholly foreign concept to me six months ago, it now seems like the best way to see more of the world for less. It came down to a choice between a two week tour of somewhere or a two month adventure through Europe.  I chose the latter.

So here I am.  Nearly a week into it, and still alive.  Either the cycle shorts are miracle workers or I've stumbled on to the perfect seat for my behind - no bruises in strange places. Yet. And no punctures thus far, though I'm sure my time will come.  Though I've done a dummy run pulling off the back wheel and replacing the inner tube, so theoretically I know what I'm doing.  But doing that at the end of a long day when you're exhausted, well, it's not going to be fun.

So, a quick catch up...
I caught the train from Chelmsford to the overnight ferry at Harwich on Monday night.  Chatted to the other cycle tourers in the queue while we waited.  It was good to know I'm not alone. Took the train from Hoek van Holland to Apeldoorn and cycled south through the national park area.  Who knew the Netherlands had such a varied landscape! Then on to Arnhem, where I ran out of steam and caught the train to my first destination - Nijmegen.

I stayed the first night with Bertine, who was a fantastic host, and a talented craftswoman.  She teaches and researches book binding, and enthusiastically showed me some of her work.  She also showed me how to do the very simplest of bindings (basically sewing pages together).  We made one each out of some handmade paper of hers.  So Mum, when a strange parcel arrives, you'll now know what it is.  :)

I stayed a second night with Bertine, to give myself some time to do a few errands in town and see a little of Nijmegen, and then headed off on a 50km trip to a town called Veghel to the south.  There I camped at a miniature campsite behind a farmer's house. Once I found the place, that is.  The address I had said no. 11. So I (wrongly) assumed it was the unnumbered house next to no. 10, and opposite no.s 9 and 12.  When the owner came out to talk to me, I discovered one of the few Dutch people who don't have fluent English, and after a conversation involving much hand waving and pointing I headed off around the corner, to the real no. 11.
At the campsite one of the other guests, Jan, admired the speed at which my tent can be erected and we started talking.  Later that evening Jan and Esther, his wife, invited me into the room adjacent to the sauna that they had hired for the night to keep warm and watch Dutch television with them.  I was very thankful for this, as the temperature was dropping.  They also let me put my wet laundry in the room overnight to try and dry it, though sadly without success.

The following day I waited as long as I could for the tent to dry out, to no avail, and then headed on a short 20km trip to Eindhoven. There I sought out a phone shop to ask them if they could fix my phone which had inconveniently stopped working in Nijmegen.  The guy behind the counter was very helpful and said they could have a go and to come back at 6pm.  He also explained about the underground cycle parking under the main square, so I went forth to investigate.  Once below I asked someone who looked like they worked there what I needed to do, and a few words among colleagues later, I was being shown around the corner to store my fully laden bike in their office. How nice!
I then headed to the VVV (tourist information) to ask for accommodation.  Turns out there was a festival in town, so most places were fully booked.  They did find me a place in a campsite to the south of the city, but at a cost of 21 Euros!  Resigned, I went back to collect my phone, which was thankfully fixed.  I went back to a shopping mall with wifi and checked my emails, only to find a last minute acceptance of a couchsurfing request.  Hurrah!!

I stayed with Esmee and Jeroen's spare room that night, and we had a very pleasant evening talking about couchsurfing, travel, and cultures. Interrupted by the antics of their two gorgeous new kittens! In the morning they prepared a lavish and very Dutch breakfast of bread with a selection toppings, including chocolate hail and aniseed flavoured icing sugar, and a huge selection of teas.  The're giving the British a run for their money in the tea obsession stakes. At McDonald's they brought out a wooden box displaying a choice of about 10 teas for me to choose from.  At McDonalds!

Knowing I had a big ride ahead of me I had to get on and left Eindhoven via the Albert Hein (supermarket) headed to Hasselt in Belgium.  After passing through a few interesting little towns I ended up riding in a straight line for about 5 hours!  Efficient, I grant you, but boring as bollocks! However I didn't have time for any deviations, and as it was I was late to my next host, who didn't seem to mind, but I can't help feeling it was an inconvenience. When I was but one town away I came to an overbridge where the highway went over a road beneath, but the cycle lane was cordoned off.  There was an orange temporary sign next to it with an arrow which I assumed mean the diversion route, but after heading that way and finding no more signs and having a lovely conversation or the point and wave variety with a little old lady who saw me outside her house looking lost, I came back to my starting point and just decided to be a car.  I got honked at once, but made it to the other side and eventually to Hasselt.

In Hasselt I stayed with another lovely coushsurfing host who took me out with her family for her birthday dinner in town. Her parents were lovely and they shouted me dinner, which was a wonderful surprise. The annual fair in Hassle had opened that morning and was going strong into the night.  We took a stroll through the fair on the way back to the car, and it was very busy and very bright!  Like the 'Winter Show' of my childhood there was candyfloss and brightly lit rides, and sideshows where children could try their luck to win a big cuddly toy.

In the morning I headed off to Maastrich, only a 30km ride away. It was possible to ride along the side of the canal for most of the journey making it a more enjoyable ride than the day before.  I followed the national cycle network route numbers and only got lost once, where the signs failed me.  Sounds like I was not the only one, when I stopped to get my bearings and an old man came out of the workshop next to me and asked me if I was looking for the route 69.  The third person I've met who didn't speak English, we had another pointy-wavy conversation, where I could understand a little of what he was saying, and then I went on my way and failed completely to follow his directions.  By backtracking and taking the other option I found my way on to the route and on my way, only to find myself in the middle of the cycle leg of a triathlon shortly afterwards! After that it was a relatively short ride into Maastricht, where a helpful passer by stopped and used their internet connected phone to help me find the street I was looking for.  Turns out the search function in Google Maps is disabled when there's no internet connection.  Eventually I made it to the Air B&B house and let myself inside.  I'm writing this as I wait for the host to get home from work.

Right, that's all for now.

Me as I left Eindhoven.


Popular Posts