Monthly Archives: July 2011

Journal notes: Amiens to London to Wiesen

Here’s the final part of my journal notes for my EuroBikeTour!  Enjoy.

6/11 – Amiens

We set off for the train station in the morning. Instead of trying to navigate our way through Paris or biking back out of town via the canal path, we decided to take the train out to near Charles de Gaulle airport and to bike north from there. Putting our bikes on the suburban train was no problem at all, and we biked out to Amiens from there.

When we arrived in Amiens, we asked a bus driver who was on standby where the campground was, but he spoke no English and we spoke nearly no French. After a while, he did understand us, but we couldn’t understand his directions, so he drove his bus ahead of us and then stopped to point where we should go. We were grateful, and from there we managed to follow the signs to get to the campground. When we arrived at the campground, the campground manager and clerk were sitting outside drinking wine and smoking cigarettes. They were so friendly to us that at first I thought they were being sarcastic. They said they would keep the restaurant open a while longer while we went and settled in, so we went to set up camp and came back for our dinner. We had coq au vin with frites, which tasted great at the end of our long day.

As we were eating, a Dutch bike tourist came in.  He had been staying at hotels but there were no rooms in Amiens (apparently there was a big judo tournament in town) – this was his last hope.  The clerk – again, very apologetically – told him that there were no chalets left.  The clerk and the Dutch tourist frantically tried to brainstorm any possibilities, but at that late hour, it seemed hopeless.  Chris and I offered the Dutch tourist use of my bivouac sack and I would stay with Chris in his two-man tent.  The clerk had a sleeping bag, so we were able to help this bike tourist out.

6/12 – Dover

The Dutch bike tourist left before us in the morning, thanking us again and again. I woke up with a bit of a sore throat. We made our way out of Amiens and got to Calais, a dirty little port town. As we walked up to the ticket office for the ferry, another bike tourist pulled up as well. The bike tourist named Roger and was a Brit, although he had lived in France for six years and therefore spoke excellent French. He was on his way home, two hard days’ bike ride from Dover, a little west of London, and he had planned on catching the next morning’s ferry, but instead, he came along with us on the evening ferry and we would camp together if the weather permitted, or get a hotel room together.

We arrived in Dover to very English weather. The rain came down in sheets at about a 45 degree angle, and it was cold. We hopped over to the first hotel we saw, but they would only allow 2 persons to a room and it was 78 pounds per night per room. It was very late, and Roger and I were almost resigned to staying there, but Chris convinced us to push on to check out the other hotels.

The next hotel was the County Hotel – slightly run down but at its prime must have been a fairly nice place. Their kitchen was still open (as was their bar), they could accommodate our bicycles in their meeting room which was only accessible to staff, and they had a room with a queen bed and a set of bunkbeds for 62 pounds a night. We jumped on the opportunity and settled in for the night and dined and drank to new friendship.

6/13 – Canterbury

Roger had never been to eastern Kent, nor to Canterbury, so he decided to join us. We climbed the white cliffs of Dover, then made our way to Sandwich where we each had a sandwich, then we biked to Canterbury and looked at the cathedral there. I also had a bent spoke which I got replaced, and we rigged up a fix for Chris’s front rack, whose fastening mechanism had broken. Roger had intended to take the train to past London to bike home, but he stayed with us to camp near Canterbury. At the campsite, we met a young Frenchman named Cyril who was on his way to WWOOF in the U.K. but had injured his knee going too fast – he made over 100km in about 3.5 hours, which, in touring terms, is a breakneck speed. After dinner at a nearby town, we brought him some ice to put on his knee. He had planned on biking to London the next day – we hoped he would be able to.

6/14 – London

Cyril wasn’t able to join us – he would stay in Canterbury another day, hoping that his knee healed up. We wished him well and shoved off. I was really feeling that sore throat now – it was a full on cold. Luckily, it didn’t seem to impede my riding much. It wasn’t long before Chris had another mechanical issue with his front rack – a different fastening clasp had broken. Luckily, we had made a spare when we made a replacement back in Canterbury, but it was still time consuming and frustrating. We decided to abandon the National Cycle Network (NCN) routing, which was taking us through rough dirty and gravel paths. Instead, we followed Roger’s pathfinding through England’s tangled highways.

Under Roger’s wise guidance, we made it to Greenwich, where we went up to the Royal Observatory and stood on both sides of the meridian. We followed the Thames somewhat, but, again, abandoned that route as well, as the signage was impossible to follow. Being the “A” riders we were, we fought through heavy traffic to go a more direct route – everyone was happier to ride that way, and we got to London much more quickly.

Once we got to London, Chris and I signed in at the hostel. We had a drink with Roger before he bid farewell – he would go to a train station to catch a train home. He made it home late that night, safe and sound.

Our hostel in London had a fantastic location – right by St. Paul’s Cathedral – but, again, there was no bicycle parking. Luckily, there was a little dead-end nook in front of our room, and the hostel manager reluctantly allowed us to park our bikes there. Not ideal, but it was good enough.

We tried to find some food around, but apparently we were in the business district where everything closed early. We found a mediocre high-end Italian place – it was okay, but we were certainly hoping for larger portions and lower prices.

6/15 – London

In the morning, we headed over to Look Mum No Hands, a nearby bicycle store and coffee shop (similar to One on One in Minneapolis, but much larger) and presented the mechanics there with Chris’s problem. They hemmed and hawed and finally came up with a solution which ended up holding just fine for the rest of our tour.

We started the touristy stuff that day with a visit to the London Transport Museum, which showcased transportation throughout the centuries in London, mostly focusing on trains and subways. We walked over to a huge map shop in Covent Garden, where I became even more determined to travel to Southeast Asia.

We then headed out to Buckingham Palace, then to Westminster Abbey and Big Ben and the Parliament building. We went into a public session of the House of Commons where they were debating a bill to reform the unemployment benefits system. Interesting stuff!

We headed over to Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park, but – alas – there was no one there to preach to us about the end of days or the evils of illegal immigrations or the plight of the common man in times of high petrol prices. We made our way back to the hostel and had a couple of pints at the Rising Sun, a nearby pub frequented by the business types who work nearby, before we hit the hay.

6/16 – London

Chris had met a cyclist at the hostel the night before, and he went out for a bike ride with her in the morning. I went over to the British Museum instead.

I went back to the hostel to meet up with Chris, but he was a no show ( his cycling buddy had gotten a flat, so they had been delayed). I headed over to the Tate Modern, which we had planned to visit together. I took one of the guided tours and I wished I had been there all day to take the other guided tours. It was an amazing collection in an amazing building. I ran into Chris eventually, and we headed back tostle of last London pints at the Rising Sun before calling it an early night.

6/17 – Chelmsford

The way out of London was horrendously difficult to manage. It rained on us most of the afternoon, too. Even the GPS led us astray – it had taken us in a spiraling circle. By the time we got to Chelmsford, neither of us spoke of trying to go to a campground – we went straight for a hotel room. The Atlantic, a Best Western hotel, had a room for 73 pounds. We hemmed and hawed and the clerk called around to other hotels, and finally said he would be able to do 65 pounds. We capitulated. It was nice to have warm, dry beds after a frustrating afternoon. We had come about 60 km’s distance from central London, but it had taken us well over 100 km to get there. We got some bad Chinese food (it turns out that bad Chinese food in Britain is about the same as bad Chinese food in the U.S.), some overpriced beer at the hotel bar, and called it a night.

6/18 – Harwich (overnight ferry)

The next day, we started fairly early to Harwich, even though we were supposedly under 100 km from Harwich – after yesterday’s disasterous pathfinding, we wanted to make sure we got to our destination during daylight. We did again get lost a few times, but it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as the day before. It was telling that when we asked Brits for direction, even they couldn’t make much sense of the map. I thought it was a fun adventure but there was no end to the cursing from Chris’s mouth. I suppose it didn’t help our mood that it was raining again.

We finally made it to Harwich. The town itself was a regular town, but as we went over to the ferry, there was a little mini-town there. We had fish & chips at a tiny fish & chips shop there, and then went up the street to a rather divy bar for our last English pints. The bar played Eminem the whole time we were there.

At the ferry terminal, we met two Dutch bicycle tourists. Both were women, one was 49 and the other 52, and they were on classic Dutch bikes. Neither wore a helmet – one of them said she would quit biking if she had to wear a helmet. They used a bike touring map of England made by a Dutchman who had done it. All the directions were by landmark – e.g. turn right at the Red Cherry Pub. It made a lot more sense than trying to use street names.

The ferry was a 12 deck behemoth. As it was to be an almost eight hour overnight journey, we were required to get a sleeping berth. It was quite large and roomy – much bigger than the sleeping car on Amtrak. On Deck 9, there was a restaurant, bar, shopping, information, currency exchange, arcade, and even a gambling area. I played a game called “Natural 21”. I asked the dealer if it was blackjack – she said it was like blackjack, but she explained the big differences, and asked if I agreed. The rules were horrendous – bank wins on tie, no insurance, no surrender, blackjack pays 1:1. I played for a while, and some other players joined in. I left with even money – it was too scary to play longer with those odds.

We had a few more drinks and then checked the weather before we went to bed. It would be raining from Hoek van Holland all the way down the Rhine river until we got back to Wiesen. We had planned on taking the train back in a couple days anyway – Chris had business to take care of in Wiesen. Plus, Chris had gotten a chest cold, and I was still nursing my cold a little bit. We decided to take the train back in the morning, skipping Holland entirely. The train schedule indicated we could be back in Wiesen in about 6 to 8 hours, depending on connections.

6/19 – Wiesen

Chris needed some time to get ready in the morning, so I went and tried to stuff as much food into my mouth as possible from the overpriced breakfast buffet. We took the train to Rotterdam, where we spoke to the ticketing agent. It would be no problem for us to travel to Wiesen by ourselves, but making the reservations for the bike spots was more difficult. The ticketing agent finally managed to route us through, but we wouldn’t get to Heigenbruken until 11:38pm.

The routing had us take six trains, with long breaks in two towns – Venlo and Woppertul. It was a pleasant enough way to travel, if a bit boring. Venlo was a small clean Dutch town where absolutely everyone was riding bicycles. It was wonderful to see. At the train station was a bicycle storage place with an attendant. The place doubled as a small bike shop as well. Woppertul was a medium sized town in an industrial part of Germany. It had the kind of heavy and industrial and dirty look that I hadn’t seen elsewhere on our trip. I ordered a random beer at a bar, and got a beer full of strawberries – it was rather strange. For dinner, we got some bratwursts from a street vendor.

We finally arrived in Heigenbrucken at about 11:45pm. The dark country highways were lonely and cold. We climbed a few hills to get back to Wiesen, about 15 km away frmo the Heigenbrucken bahnhof. I didn’t get up till about noon the next morning.

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Posted by on July 21, 2011 in Uncategorized


Journal notes: Paris

Part 2 of my EuroBikeTrip journal notes: Paris.  I’ll post Amiens to London sometime soonish.

6/8 – Paris

In the morning, we had breakfast with the rest of the folks staying at the B&B – the couple from Idaho and the eight British motorcycle tourists. We talked to Bill and Meredith, too, and after thanking them heartily and promising to pay their kindness forward, we set off into a cold and cloudy day. We stopped at a small grocery store and had lunch sitting on the sidewalk in front the store – I had a rabbit sandwich and a bottle of water. We took the country highways until we managed to get to the Orque Canal. From there, it was more or less smooth biking into the heart of Paris although we went through some of the very poor outer suburbs of Paris. We passed by a rickety trailer/squatter camp. A man was hunched over a bucket full of water – although it didn’t seem like the filthy water in the bucket was getting the laundry cleaner – in a field of debris underneath a highway bridge.

Once we were off the Canal path, the city traffic was hectic and fast. Scooters buzzed in and out of car traffic. Bike lanes were taken up by parked cars. The bike lanes that were still open for use were being bike salmoned, or even scooter salmoned.

When we arrived at the Hosteling International hostel, they said they had no record of our reservation, although Chris had talked to them just a week ago and was assured that our reservation was made. They did find room for us (as it turned out, there was plenty of room), but we would have to switch rooms the last day. The facilities were rather lacking – the luggage lockers cost money and were prone to breakdown, there was no bicycle parking (we locked our two bikes to each other with four locks, under the main stairway), and the showers were moldy. A throng of preteens crashed through the lobby after we checked in – not a good sign. After settling in, we got some dinner nearby at a nice little streetside restaurant. Back at the hostel, I had sweet, glorious internet access for the first time in a week.

6/9 – Paris

After free breakfast at the hostel, we headed over to the catacombs, where we waited in line for about a half hour, as they only allowed two hundred people in at a time. Originally built as quarries deep under the city, the catacombs were consecrated and repurposed to house the remains of thousands of Parisians as a plague swept through the area. Bones dug up from cemetaries all over Paris were stacked in neat, tight walls.

Next, we headed to Notre Dame for a free tour through DiscoverWalks. The building was enormous – one could imagine how a medieval Frenchman would’ve felt looking at the awesome structure. The magnificent facade, the frightening gargoyles on the side, the majestic flying buttresses on the back, the enchanting stained glass windows – it was amazing to think that this had been built hundreds of years ago. In the front courtyard was the “center of the world”, a marking on the ground which marked the center of Paris.

After the tour, we walked along the Siens river [??] to the Eiffel Tower. Along our walk were vendors of kitschy memorabilia but also old books and posters and artwork. I would’ve given into the temptation to buy, but I didn’t have much room to spare in my panniers. The walk also featured magnificent old buildings, but they were so numerous that we couldn’t keep track of what they were, even. Any one of them could’ve been the centerpiece of a major city, I thought.

We finally arrived at the Eiffel Tower. It wasn’t as tall as I imagined and not very beautiful at first glance. After about an hour and a half wait, we took the elevator all the way to the top and looked around in all directions. The sweeping views of the city were amazing! We took the elevator partway down and then walked the rest of the way down, which gave more emphasis in our minds as to how tall the structure was. The police were all around, some with big, imposing looking guns. As we walked down to the metro station, we were greeted by the “unofficial” vendors who had been scattered from the immediate vicinity of the Eiffel Tower by the police presence.

We got some drinks before we headed to bed, tired from all the touristing around.

6/10 – Paris

In our last day in Paris, I got up early and tried to wake up Chris but he was sound asleep (I had told him the night before that if I couldn’t wake him, I’d be leaving early without him). I took the train out to Versailles. I know I’m reusing the same adjectives, but it truly was a majestic palace. The royalty that lived there lived such public lives (they often dined in front of an audience of noblemen), but they probably didn’t imagine their palace turning into a spectacle for the masses. After seeing the king’s and queen’s rooms, the dauphin’s and dauphine’s rooms seemed mild and subdued in comparison.

After Versailles, I took the train back to Paris to the Arc de Triomphe. From there, I walked down the Champs Elyssee and saw much by way of haute couture, but also mass market shops like Gap and H&M. I then arrived at the Louvre. After four hours mostly spent mostly looking at major French paintings, I gave up trying to soak everything in and went back to the hostel to pack. I had gotten quite greedy in my touristing and my right knee was pained – I hoped it would be better by the next day. Chris and I had some drinks at the hostel bar, and I chatted up a man from Montreal – a fellow Canadian! – and learned that the Bloc Quebecois’s hold on Quebec was broken! The NDP (or the NPD, as he called it) was now the ruling party. Amazing stuff!

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Posted by on July 9, 2011 in Uncategorized