Sunday, 31 August 2014

The Return

It seems like a long time ago since we finished the cycling leg of our trip in Denmark. The return home seemed to take forever, and we were very glad to walk through the door of our house on Friday.

The grottiest campsite we stayed in on the entire trip is the one in Amsterdam. From the map it has potential, being on the edge of Amsterdamse Bos, the large forest area near the centre of Amsterdam. The ride to it from Amsterdam central station was lovely. You don't have to worry about being run over by a lorry, but you do have to watch out for cyclists, they are everywhere. However the campsite is very run down, dirty and flooded during the night. We were careful to keep clothes dry but yet again we got soaked. It always rains when we go to Amsterdam.

The next day we cycled south past lakes, alongside canals and across dykes. The landscape was typically Dutch with views for miles across the fields and wetlands. You are never far from water in the Netherlands. We camped in a farm campsite, and spent the afternoon talking to the pigs and sheep, and protecting our dinner from very inquisitive hens.

We had hoped to cycle all the way back to Hook of Holland, but it was slightly too far for the time we had available so the next day we cycled to Gouda and got the train the rest of the way. Gouda is very pretty, with a large central square with cafes on all sides, and the inevitable cheese museum. We went to a cafe to celebrate the end of the cycling.

Once back in Hook of Holland the sun came out and we had time to reflect on our trip. We had ridden just under 1000km, had stayed in 25 different campsites, had visited about 50 different playgrounds, had worried about the children getting sunstroke and hypothermia (though not on the same day), had been absolutely soaked to the skin 3 times, but had only 3 punctures.

Was it hard work? Yes. Did the kids become urchins? Yes. Did we question our sanity? Yes. Would we do it again? Yes!

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Denmark - hills, wind and ferries

I'm writing this a few days into our return journey lying in a tent in a campsite near Amsterdam. The rain is beating down on the tent and Emily is gently snoring next to me. The outward cycling journey is complete. We loved Denmark. It's very picturesque and the people are very friendly. It was sad to stop cycling but home and reality beckons. 

We were very relieved to leave Flensburg, and we were soon at the border with Denmark. The crossing we used was a pedestrian and cycle only bridge over a creek. There was a hut each side which sometime in the past you would have had to show your passport at. Now there is just a plaque commemorating the reunification of Denmark in 1920. We took some photos, got another strange look from a local who probably crosses the border every day and headed into Denmark. 

Denmark is known for its amazing cycle routes. However the first few kilometres of national cycle route 8 were very rough, rutted and hilly. To get the trailer up the steepest bit we had to get off and go on foot. It was a tough start. We soon found some Tarmac and continued to Sonderborg along the banks of the Flensburg fjord. 

Denmark is mostly flat but the coastal roads we were on were very undulating. Towing the trailer and carrying luggage really slowed me down and I noticed every single rise. However it was very beautiful scenery and very different from what we have been used to on this trip.

The next day was a shock. For the first time on the trip we had a deadline. We had to catch a ferry from the island of Als to Fyn. The ferry only went every 2 hours and we had about 15km to cycle to it. I thought we would have plenty of time to get the 10am crossing as the kids are usually up at the crack of dawn. However  they chose today to lie in until 7:15. It was therefore a rush to pack up and cycle to the ferry. You don't really want to be in a rush when towing a trailer and my legs were like jelly by the ferry. However we made it and watched the ferry glide into port. 

From the ferry we cycled to Faaborg and then to a campsite on the coast in a little village called Nab. It was an idyllic spot and a fantastic campsite. The sea views to nearby islands was beautiful and at night there was little light pollution so the Milky Way was clearly visible. The campsite facilities were spotless. It had a kitchen we were afraid to use in case we couldn't return it to its former state of cleanliness. It looked like a show kitchen in IKEA but without the tags telling you where to find things in the basement. It also had a little play area.

Seb relaxing after a long day!

The next day we cycled along the coast to the town of Svendborg, and then traversed the islands of Tasinge, Sio and Langeland. One of the crossings was a high bridge that felt like an ascent of Alpe d'Huez. 

The next day started with another ferry to the island of Lolland. We then started to head south. This change of direction led to what up to now had been a helpful tail wind to a fierce head wind. Progress became painfully slow and every km was hard won. The landscape had flattened out but this relentless wind made it a very hard day.

We finally reached the town of Rodby where we camped. The next day we would get the ferry back to Germany, and we would start the long journey home. We had cycled about 900km from Hook of Holland and we had survived.

The ferry back to Germany felt like a moving shopping precinct but had a play area. A swing on a boat is a great idea. 

Once in Germany we got the train to Lubeck. I thought travelling with two bikes and a trailer on the trains would be very stressful but in Germany it is easy. The Regional trains can carry dozens of bikes and we had no problem getting places. 

We spent the night in Lubeck and then got the train to Hamburg. Cycling from the campsite to the station I got a puncture, only the second of the trip. 

We then got the train from Hamburg to Amsterdam. We plan to cycle back to Hook of Holland over the next couple of days and then the ferry back to Harwich. 

Monday, 18 August 2014

Rain rain go away

Since the last post from Gluckstadt we have made it to Flensburg and will go into Denmark tomorrow. 

The original plan was to follow the North Sea coast and get the ferry back from Esbjerg but the ferry is fully booked until the first week in September. So after much thought as to how we could get home we have booked a train from Hamburg to Amsterdam so that we can get the ferry back from Hook of Holland. That leaves us time to do a loop around some Danish Islands and back to Hamburg to get our train. 

It was difficult getting back on the bikes after our luxurious stay in Gluckstadt but we were glad to be camping again. The kids sleep much better in the tents, so we are thinking of putting them up permanently in the garden when we get home. 

Our first night after Gluckstadt was spent in a campsite on the Nord-Ost See canal.  This canal is a shortcut so ships do not have to go round the Jutland peninsula and it was odd to see ocean going liners gliding past the tent

The next couple of days we made good progress as we were wind assisted most of the time. However it has got increasingly wet as well. On Sunday night we camped at a very basic site although it had a very useful covered seating area with toy tractors to play with. We spent the afternoon there. We had arrived at about 2pm and it was drizzling. By 4pm it was coming down in sheets at a ferocious intensity. I ran to check the tents but to my horror they were surrounded by water and there was a pond in the porch. In the middle of the pond was Seb's clothes bag. Every item was dripping wet. The only dry clothes he had were the ones he was wearing, and those were rapidly getting sodden as he was having a great time splashing in muddy puddles. 

By bedtime the rain had not eased. Seb had to borrow some of Emily's clothes, and he looked most odd in pink leggings and frilly top. So that he speaks to us in years to come, we won't publish the photo. 

It was still raining next morning so we cycled into Flensburg, booked into a massively overpriced hostel and found a laundrette to wash and dry clothes.

Cycling in the rain although unpleasant for the adults is fine for the kids. The trailer - a Burley d'lite - keeps them completely waterproof. When they are both in it which they have to be on wet days there can sometimes be friction as they are quite tightly packed in. Seb falls asleep in the morning and Emily has been known to poke him awake. However they are generally very good together and arguments are always stopped by a chocolate biscuit. Burley could have supplied the trailer with better tyres as it has suffered one puncture. Luckily I had two very eager volunteers to help me mend it which sped the process up no end. 

Next stop Denmark!

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Border Crossing

We've continued to make progress through the Netherlands and are now in the German town of Gluckstadt on the river Elbe. We are having a rest day here to visit Hamburg. There's no campsite so we had to find a hotel. The only one available with a family room was what can only be described as a museum. Our room is decorated with very expensive and very delicate furniture and we spend our time following in the wake of Sebby's inquisitive and destructive hands. 

Our last post was sent from a town called Grou. From there we cycled to Groningen, a big University town in northern Netherlands. It has a reputation for very high cycling levels - even for the Netherlands. We enjoyed a bit of cafe culture here and said hello to a parrot.

The following day we crossed into Germany. I find crossing borders very exciting, but this one was a bit if an anti-climax. It was nothing more than a bridge over a canal and a man gave us a very strange look as we stopped and took a photo

I'm always surprised how different things are immediately after you cross a border. The scenery was the same (flat and agricultural) but everything else was completely different. In the Netherlands most villages have a playground, whereas in Germany it is rare to find one. The campsites have a very different feel to them as well. In NL they are a place to spend a family holiday, but the German ones are very quiet and run down. We stayed in one that was closing down permanently at the end of September. It was like a ghost town and full of empty caravans. The few people who were still there were very kind and said we could use an abandoned caravan when it started raining. We had a look in but opted to stay in the tent. 

Our first night in Germany was spent in Leer, a pretty town on the river Ems. We had a day off to do laundry and had a good lunch of pickled fish, a local speciality. Over the next couple if days we headed towards the ferry over the river Weser near the town of Brake. Having never heard of the Weser it was a surprise to encounter such a large river.  

Cycling away from the ferry Seb was in the bike seat. He managed to remove a shoe and throw into a bush. Luckily Tania noticed we were one shoe down so we turned round and found it quite quickly. If we hadn't noticed it could have been a long cycle back with much cursing. Seb has over the course of this trip swapped crawling for walking as his preferred mode of getting about so his shoes are essential and from the photo below it's not a good idea to camp in a site with lots of mole hills. 

From the Weser we headed towards our next river crossing over the Elbe at Gluckstadt. This is very busy with both cyclists and cars, and the river is so wide at this point the crossing takes about 20 minutes.
On the ferry. Seb with food in each hand and some some in his mouth. 

The kids appetites have increased 10 fold on this trip and they are now eating virtually adult sized portions. 

The weather has changed in the last week. It has cooled down and we often get thunder storms in the evenings. 
Emily and Seb in their wet-weather gear.

Seb gets very nervous when we start to pack up in the morning. He worries that he will be forgotten so we have to put him in the sling to assure him he won't be left behind.

At Gluckstadt we will start to head north into Denmark so is quite a milestone in our trip. We are looking forward to our day off the bikes to look round Hamburg. After that it will all guns blazing to Denmark. 

My bike fully loaded

Story time in the tent. 

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Onwards through the Netherlands

Since our last post we have made it to the little town of Grou, near Leuwarden in the Freisian part of the Netherlands. Today we are having a day off from cycling as the past two days have been quite tough.

We had two choices of route going north from Alkmaar. We could either keep following the coast and get ferries between the islands of Texel and Vlieland, or cross a 30km long dyke through the Wadden Sea. In the end we chose the dyke as the islands get very busy with tourists and we could not be certain of getting a campsite each night. 

After our soaking south of Alkmaar we have had very good weather with continuous sunshine, which is nice but brings it's own problems as we are constantly applying sun cream to the kids (and forgetting about ourselves). We have established a daily routine which suits us. Seb usually wakes us up at about 6:15. He is very vocal until he has breakfast so we rush to do this before he wakes the whole campsite. We then pack up and are away by 9:00. Both kids are very helpful in taking the tents down and Emily is in charge of pegs. 

In the morning Seb goes in the trailer and Emily in the bike seat. Seb goes straight to sleep and we cycle until he wakes up. We try to get the majority of mileage done in this time whilst he is asleep. He can easily do 90 minutes. Emily loves the bike seat and is constantly asking questions about the passing scenery, most of which start with 'why'. 

When Seb wakes up we have a long break at a playground and lunch, and they swap berths for the much shorter afternoon cycle. We arrive at the campsite early which means we can put the tents up, make dinner, find yet more playgrounds, wash and go to sleep. They are usually both asleep by 7pm. 

The first stop north of Alkmaar was with our friends Wil & Jacques who rather conveniently live on a campsite. Unfortunately the campsite was full so we had to cycle on to the next one. However we joined them for a lovely BBQ.

The next day we cycled to a village called Den Oever which is at the southern end of the Afsluitdijk. We wanted to cross the dyke in the morning whilst Seb was asleep as there is little shade and not many places to stop. 

The dyke is a motorway and cycle path through the sea. We luckily had a tail wind so cycled it fast - 30km took 1hr and 20 mins. It is dead straight so you can see other cyclists coming from quite a distance and the only landmark is a service station half way across. There is nothing like it in the UK and is quite a unique experience. 

The next day the wind direction had changed making cycling a lot more difficult. It felt like we were going uphill all day even though it's flat. There is little protection from the sun making it relentless. You can tell the prevailing wind direction from the way the wind turbines are pointing so if they are pointing away it's going to be a hard day. 

Over the next few days we'll go to Groningen and then into Germany. 

Monday, 28 July 2014

Sun, sea and Biblical floods

All the best plans can go out of the window, especially when you going cycle touring with 2 children aged 3 and 15 months. This trip is no exception with this posting being written from a hotel room in Alkmaar after a fraught train journey to escape biblical flooding. 

It was good to get cycling from the campsite in Hook of Holland, after days of preparation, trial runs, packing and re-packing. It was actually quite a relief to discover that we could ride the bikes with  all the stuff we had brought with us.

The ride north up the coast from the Hook follows cycle paths through the sand dunes and immense greenhouses. Seb was soon asleep in the trailer and Emily was busily pointing out the sights from her bike seat. The weather was good and we were zooming along. We spent the night in a campsite in Katwijk having covered about 35km.

The kids are very excited about camping and love the various locations for bath time

We have brought a bike seat for the back of Tania's bike and a 2 berth trailer (Burley d'lite for those interested in such details) which Tom tows. We thought that it would be good to have options in swapping the kids around, and they tend to start unsuitable hitting competitions if they are both in the trailer. So far they both fight to go in the bike seat - the view is much better. 

The second day was similar cycling through the impressive sand dunes of the Dutch coast. They extend a fair distance inland and are quite hilly by Dutch standards, especially if you are towing a heavily laden trailer and carrying front and back panniers. You rarely see the sea but are always surrounded by sand. We camped the second night in a site just north of Zandvoort. 

Today we were woken by the sound of rain on the tent, which makes a change as we are usually woken by a squirming toddler. As we were packing up the rain got heavier, and by the time we were ready to go it was coming down in vertical sheets. We put both children in the trailer and cycled off. We were completely soaked within 5 minutes, and started to worry when we were cycling through a forest during a thunder and lightening storm. Amazingly both children fell asleep.

We reached the ferry over the North Sea Canal and decided enough was enough. We were wet, cold and the kids had woken up and were starting to register complaints. We headed to the centre of Beverwijk to look for a cafe or hotel, in fact anywhere we could get out of the wet. The only thing we could find was a cafe on the Main Street, but the owner was not interested in four wet cyclists as flood water was lapping at his door. To get to the station we had to cycle through flood water so deep that my front panniers were immersed. 

We didn't really care where a train took us as long as it took us away from where we were, so we picked Alkmaar. Getting two kids, bikes and heavily laden trailer onto a train is not easy, but a friendly guard was on hand, and the rain had eased by the time we got off. We couldn't face more cycling so we found a hotel, coffee and food and spent the rest of the day drying stuff.

Monday, 21 July 2014

The night before departure

This is it - the night before departure. All important decisions such as which and how many books to take, how many pairs of pants, and which type of sun cream have been made. Everything has been laid out on the sitting room floor, as we go through it time and again wondering whether we have forgotten anything.

The plan is to cycle from the Hook of Holland, through the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark to Esbjerg. Tom and Tania will be travelling with Emily (3 years old) and Sebastian (15 months). We have a one-way ferry ticket so the return can be booked when we have had enough - it could be 2 days, 2 weeks or 2 months. Hopefully we should complete the 800-ish km in 4 to 5 weeks.