Archive for 2010

Bikelele is here!

5 June 2010

Amsterdam to Istanbul on 2 bikes with a ukulele – will we make it? Hope so!

We’re here! in The Netherlands, that is

4 July 2010

Flying to Europe takes a long time! A highlight along the way was a roti canai and teh tarik in KLIA. The downside was a very uncomfortable Ian who suffered from sitting too long and was feeling pretty sore. However, things were soon looking up after a joyful reunion with Wieteke and Kees. On the drive to Driebergen I was convinced I was really in Holland after seeing cows, canals, a windmill and hundreds of people riding cool black bikes everywhere. This is really astonishing to see just how normal and ubiquitous bicycle riding is in Holland.

We decided on a trip to Wijk bij Duurstede, a small town about 10km away, where Ian was to consult a physiotherapist in the hope of getting some relief from pain. Wieteke and I set off on bikes through the beautiful countryside. Everything is green and lush, big farmhouses, thatch rooves, castles here and there, cows, cow smells, white swans, herons, tractors, orchards, neat vegetable gardens, narrow roads. It was an unusually hot day – well over 30 degrees. Ian’s physio had bony fingers and sadly didn’t help much so we had lunch, saw a wedding party, watched the people riding by on bikes and saw lots of orange bunting and decorations that were marking the World Cup game between Holland and Brazil to be held that afternoon. Then we set off for home, riding along the dike  by a branch of the Rhine, called Lek. Holland won the game 2-0. Kees became a human vuvuzela – everyone in the country was very happy!

Wieteke & Kees's house in Driebergen

Tour de France prologue in Rotterdam

4 July 2010

A warm overcast day. We took the Sprinter from Driebergen to Utrecht, then another train to Rotterdam. This trip takes you through an area that is more than 7 metres below sea level. Everyone was going to Rotterdam. According to Kees, Rotterdam is where they make money and Amsterdam is where they spend it. We walked along the main street called Coolsingel and found quite a few cool things. One was a shop called Studio Hergebruik or Re-use Studio, in which all the merchandise was groovy stuff made from recycled materials.

The constant passing parade of people on bikes of all shapes and sizes was interesting too. As we came closer to the Erasmus Bridge we joined the massive crowd that had arrived to watch the Tour de France prologue. It began to rain and all TdF merchandise vans were immediately swamped by people buying yellow umbrellas and plastic ponchos. Thanks to Ian’s foresight we were equipped with raincoats. We found a reasonable vantage point where the riders passed in both directions. When Stuart O’Grady was on his way we appealed to the people in front to allow us to squeeze in so that Ian could yell and I could film. This done we walked around the course, across the Willem’s bridge where we could see the famous cube house. We also heard the results of the World Cup game – Germany 4, Argentina 0. The Dutch do not want to play against Germany in the finals! But maybe they will have to.

There are less than 6 hours of darkness here at the moment – from about 11pm to 4.30am – so it’s easy to stay up late without realising. We have heard that the Dutch Parliament is trying to form a coalition between 4 or so parties because the major parties are not major any more.

Tour de France Prologue

Culturele zondag Utrecht

5 July 2010

Ian has taken up cycling again, Dutch style. He can ride Kees’ Sparta, a one speed upright with chain guard. He glides around without a helmet looking like a Dutch man.

A beautiful sunny day. After an outdoor breakfast we set off on the bikes to go to Utrecht, the nearest city to Driebergen, about 15 km away. Kees predicted that it would be very quiet on a Sunday but Wieteke said it was such a beautiful city and we should go anyway. On the way we passed the very place where Graham’s wheel rims failed in 2000! We visited the Remonstrant Church and received a spontaneous guided tour. In the middle of town there are canals, cafes, shops, people and bicycles everywhere. The Dom of Utrecht is a famous landmark, many centuries old. We climbed to the top (465 steps) with a guided party – great views in all directions. Rather than being quiet, it was a cultural Sunday in Utrecht, with a series of outdoor performances along the main canal during the afternoon. We heard a fine orchestra playing in a boat on the canal, then a choir and youth ensemble. The afternoon culminated with a performance of Handel’s Water Music on a canal-side platform with hundreds of people on all sides, in boats and kayaks.

Cycle Route:

Driebergen to Utrecht and return

Slowly by the IJssel

6 July 2010

Kees and Wieteke drove us via Austerlitz to Deventer on the IJssel River (anabranch of the Rhine). We took two bikes with us. Rosalie and Wieteke hired two excellent utility bikes from the railway station – a standard service available at major stations across Holland.

The IJssel is a beautiful, brim-full river navigated by barges, tourist boats and pleasure craft through lush green pastures and patches of woodland.

Deventer and Zutphen are old trading cities that now hide the historic centres behind a ring of modern suburbs.

Our route took us from Deventer to Zutphen on the true right bank of the IJssel and back on the true left bank (including a detour on Huzarenlaan – all very Napoleonic!). We saw storks nesting on poles. Storks disappeared from Holland for several decades and have now begun to return. Their food sources diminished due to agricultural practices, but now apparently they can find enough frogs and rats to eat.

Rosalie’s skill at riding side-saddle on a bicycle carrier in the classic Dutch tradition is awesome. (By the way, Dutch stairs are very steep – take care!)

Cycle Route:
Deventer/Zutphen loop

(I forgot to press Start for a while but you’ll get the general idea.)

Orange spirits are high!

Dutch panniers

6 July 2010

Panniers were the theme of my photography in Utrecht.

Dutch bicycle panniers

Sea defences in Zeeland

8 July 2010

We drove (very fast) on a big freeway through Rotterdam and the industrial areas with endless refineries, fuel tanks, container ships, windmills and power stations. Traffic jams were holding up cars travelling in the opposite direction. We were going to Zeeland to see the sea defences (Oosterschelde). We have heard about the floods of 1953 in which the dikes broke because of a severe storm. Hundreds of people in villages in Zeeland drowned as these areas were inundated. The engineering works that were done subsequently took several decades and were finished in 1988. Barriers can now be lowered to completely block high tides that would otherwise cause flooding. OK, that’s the educational part.

We went to Neeltje Jans which is like a Defences Against the Sea theme park. We had a boat ride and watched an educational film about the engineering. I went to sleep during most of it but saw the bit where Queen Beatrix officially opened it. By the way, Kees met the queen about a year ago when she visited his office and this caused him to transform from a republican into a monarchist, much to Arne’s disgust.

Next we went to Middelburg, a beautiful town that was flattened by the Luftwaffe in 1940 and has subsequently been rebuilt. It has a magnificent church, a fine square and hundreds of bikes. Wieteke and I both bought a hat.

After some wandering around we had to speed home in time for the soccer match Holland v Uruguay. Holland won and Wieteke and I put on orange scarves and went hooning down to the centre of Driebergen on the bike, me side saddle on the back. There were about 20 people gathered outside the pub dressed in orange and a couple of vuvuzelas. We did a few hoots and cheers but lacked critical mass to get the place hopping so we went home again.

Hup Holland Hup! The orange flags and bunting stay up for a few more days!

Orange hopes remain high in Middleburg

Driebergen – Amerongen – Wijk bij Duurstede – Driebergen

8 July 2010

After a day in the car it was necessary to revert to the bikes. So a lovely ride through the local countryside was undertaken. Here’s an unusual thing we saw: several kilometres out of Driebergen we passed a vehicle that had 4 wheels, 2 adults pedalling, 3 children in the front seat and 3 or 4 in the back. The adults were child care workers from the Driebergen child care centre and they were taking the children on an outing. You can’t imagine that happening in Australia! Our ride included 2 ferry crossings of the Lek, a stop for ice tea at Amerongen and another visit to the lovely town of Wijk bij Duurstede.

Child care on the path

Ian and Kees then went to a bike shop to explore customisation of Ian’s bike to enable him to cycle in a more upright position. I went on a trip to Utrecht and while walking around the town saw several babies being transported on bikes in capsules attached to the rear carrier. It’s quite a surprise to see a pair of chubby baby legs waving in the air and a string of toys suspended above for it to play with while being conveyed on a bike!

As it grew dark, Wieteke and I had a session of gypsy music in the garden, she on the violin and me  on ukulele. Watch out gypsies! Not that there are any around here. The people of Driebergen were unmoved.

Cycle route:
Driebergen – Amerongen – Wijk bij Duurstede – Driebergen

Amsterdam

8 July 2010

Amsterdam!

Breakfast by a canal

Van Gogh Museum (if you go there get an audio tour – it saves a lot of reading)

Guided tour of untourist places by Amsterdam resident and upcoming writer and internet personality, Arne Mosselman! This included lunch of herring in a street market; visits to different sections of the city with sociological commentary; Theo van Gogh memorial; new polders to cater for expansion of the city; Durgerdam, a charming little village on the IJsselmere where we stopped for a cold drink and an unscheduled swim.

Arne showed us the place where he lives – a block of student apartments built by stacking up shipping containers. It looked pretty cool. Amsterdam is fantastic – beautiful buildings, hollyhocks, roses and lavender in flower everywhere, bikes by the thousand, canals, boats, bridges… Utility bikes are very common for carrying children and goods. We saw a bright orange utility bike with a large wooden container at the front in which a young girl sat blowing a bright orange vuvuzela. Her father was pedalling and mother was sitting side-saddle on the back! We also saw a man cycling with a double bass strapped to his back.

Cycle route: Arne’s Amsterdam Tour

Arne leads the way

Dutch bikes

8 July 2010

Here is my collection of photos of Dutch bikes

Driebergen to Helmond

9 July 2010

Wieteke and Kees capped off a wonderful week by riding with us as far as Echteld. We started early anticipating a hot day. It finally got to 37C – too damn hot!

After a happy/sad parting Rosalie & I headed off on the first autonomous leg of our European odyssey. We swam at a swimming beach on the Maas near Megen but then the day really started hotting up.

MapMyRides had routed us onto N329 which, south of Megen was forbidden to cyclists (with no alternatives immediately available). We rode N329 for a while oblivious of the meaning of the signs until a motorist stopped and explained. So, we abandoned our MapMyRides route and let the Garmin plot a course to Lavinia’s house in Helmond – a task it did flawlessly. It saves a lot of time and tedium navigating large towns like Oss. This town was in the news yesterday as a large company there has just retrenched over 2000 workers. We passed the factory on our way.

It was great to meet Vincent and Sonya and see Lavinia again after so many years. The toast at dinner was to reunions (and healthy backs).

Cycle route:

Driebergen to Helmond

Rosalie on the road

At Lavinia’s

12 July 2010

Dutch breakfast –  bread (several varieties), cheese (about 8 varieties), coffee made by Vincent. This is a good start to the day. Lavinia and Vincent showed us around Annatheater and we were impressed with the enormous amount of work  they have done and their success in this endeavour. It was also great to see Vincent’s atelier although he has now established a new one in Deurne where he will have fewer interruptions. He is doing oil paintings now. I hope he will return to printmaking sometime.

We visited Margaret’s friend Mien in Mierlo – she is 85 years old, well and happy with family and friends and her many interests.

Sonia, Lavinia and Vincent’s daughter, turned 14 so there was a big family gathering with lots of cake (3 varieties), a huge pot of spaghetti, lots of uncles, aunts, cousins and friends. It was great to meet Raoul, Constanza, Isis’ husband and children and all the others. We had singing, eating, drinking, dancing, a thunderstorm, a downpour and then we watched the soccer (Germany vs Uruguay).

Lavinia's house

Helmond to Hasselt

12 July 2010

We departed Helmond at about 8am with a cool start to the day after the rain… but it didn’t last long. We skirted Eindhoven and stopped for breakfast in Valkenswaard. First international frontier came soon afterwards: Belgium! In Achel vvv we found a nice map of the Limburg bike ways and followed a rail trail most of the way to Hasselt. It was hot riding but lots of forest and shady stretches along the way.

In Hasselt we phoned a WarmShowers contact and asked if we could have a bed for the night and received a ‘yes’! That was great. So we met Sara and her partner Joris, their enormous dog Babar and their friends Geert and Heidi. First activity was a drive to a disused gravel quarry that’s a little known swimming spot – a perfect cool down. Then a nice dinner with Belgian beer and special dishes (I’ll put the names in later!).

None of our companions were interested inn the World Cup, despite that fact that the final was on, so we went to bed without knowing the result. A disappointment to check BBC news in the morning to find that Holland had lost.

Sara is a beekeeper in her spare time and she works for an NGO teaching sustainability principles to primary school children. And she’s having a baby in December. She provided a tent at the back of the house – very comfortable! And a lovely experience to meet new people, much younger than us, and to feel that we had much in common and enjoyed each other’s company.

View from Sara's garden

Cycle route:Helmond to Hasselt

Namur on the Meuse

12 July 2010

It took all day to get here – 80km. That’s because we stopped in Sint Truiden for breakfast but the cook didn’t start work until 10 and then there was a thunderstorm with impressive  display of lightning and then we went to the tourist office and the bike shop and the railway station for wifi and then had a problem with Mastercard and only left there after midday. Then we had lots of stops and navigation errors (even Mr Garmin is finding it a challenge at times). Scenery highlights: fields of wheat, barley and some other grain (maybe buckwheat), silver beet, cabbages, potatoes, pears, cherries, red currants, poppies and wild flowers along the road, Roman roads, window boxes with geraniums and petunias everywhere, churches, steeples. narrow streets. In Belgian villages they have bread machines – same concept as Coke machines. You put your money in and get a loaf of bread out. I guess this is a symptom of the decline of local bakeries.

We crossed a linguistic border at lunchtime around Hannut and now everybody speaks French (including us and M. Garmin). I dredged out some schoolboy French (poorly studied 35 years ago) and succeeded in getting our bidons filled by a Walloon – she quickly exhausted my language skills.

At last we reached Namur, in a beautiful setting by the River Meuse. Have to get to Charleville Mezieres tomorrow to keep on schedule and may seek the assistance of le chemin de fer.

Cycle route
Hasselt – Namur

Namur to Charleville-Mezieres

13 July 2010

It’s nearly midnight so this will be short! The valley of the Meuse is beautiful. We intended to start early which we did, but things always take more time than we expect. It took us about half an hour to travel the first kilometre with Garmin telling us one thing and our good sense telling us another. The river had good bike paths for much of the way with occasional sections of Road to Roubaix style pave. At one point we found our way onto a single track walking path and followed that until a retreat was forced. It’s nice passing locks with boats and barges, grand houses, vegetable gardens, flowers in pots and window boxes everywhere.

The town of Dinant was impressive – it sits in front of a rocky cliff with a huge church, narrow streets, bridge festooned with flags. We found the birthplace of Adolphe Sax, inventor of the saxophone!

We entered France without a definite border and it really looks and feels like a different country. Lunched in Givet and took the autobus the rest of the way to Charleville Mezieres. It’s Bastille Day tomorrow and there are fireworks going off constantly, tricouleurs and other national flags on bridges and buildings.

The Tour de France coverage included a colour story about spectators who were spending their vacation following the tour. They used the music from M. Hulot’s Holiday – a nice cultural reference.

Charleville Mezieres is not really on any tourist trail but it is a beautiful city with a magnificent square, La Place Ducale, as well as many other splendid buildings and public places.

Cycle route:
Namur to Charleville-Mezieres
Around Charleville-Mezieres

Taking a walk on the wild side

Riding to Orainville

15 July 2010

Our destination was the house of Claire and Alex who surfed our couch in January in Adelaide. We found an open patisserie and a cafe in Charleville (these are often provided separately in France which makes it difficult to eat and drink something at the same time).

Then began our ride through beautiful countryside with fields of grain, forests, some proper hills (the first of our trip), villages, that sort of thing. Everything was quiet, hardly any cars on the road, shops closed, because of Bastille Day. Few French villages have much commerce any more, so you seldom find a boulangerie or cafe. We saw a bread van that travels around the countryside loaded up with baguettes to sell in each village. We decided to aim for Rethel, a reasonable sized town, in the hope of observing some 14 July festivities and arrived at the perfect time. There was a gathering of people, a town band, some VIPs, a local uniformed brigade and the gendarmerie on hand to direct the traffic. The band then lead the procession to the local memorial at which a short ceremony took place including some saluting, lowering of flags and the playing of the Marseillaise. Then band played with good spirit but without good intonation and that was just perfect!

Bastille Day in Rethel

The day was warming up a lot so we purchased our first French baguette and had a picnic under the trees. Then on the road again. One of the villages we passed was Poilcourt-Sydney where Australian soldiers fought in WW1. The Tour de France passed through here a week or so ago. Then to Orainville near Reims where Claire and Alex and their dog Charlie were waiting for us. It was great to see them again and hear about their travels after they left Adelaide. They are now hoping to find jobs in France, but it’s not easy.

A huge thunderstorm with wind and rain descended. We leapt into the car and drove to Laon, a medieval town on top of a hill with a 12th century cathedral. We passed several war cemeteries along the way. We asked Alex the name of a nearby village. He didn’t know it but pointed out that there are 36,000 villages in France so it’s not considered necessary to know them all.

Claire cooked a French meal for us – escargots, salade de chevres chaud, magert de canard and figues au miel followed by fondant au chocolat! Delicieux.

Now we’re getting in mode for Paris. Claire and Alex dislike Paris and say they would never live there, Parisiennes are never happy, they are so stressed, the cost of living is so high, the traffic is terrible. But I think we are going to enjoy it!

A few miscellaneous observations

15 July 2010

We have seen quite a few touring cyclists along the way, including a family group yesterday (incroyable!), parents and children all decked out with Ortliebs. At Notre Dame de Laon there were two heavily loaded bikes parked at the entrance with a child’s trailer. If you look closely you’ll see a wooden scoot-along bike for the child. We didn’t meet the owners.

Along the Meuse there were several holiday cruise boats equipped with lots of bikes. Dutch people take holidays on these boats and use the bikes for local transport at the various ports where they stop. Just in case you didn’t know this, the Meuse becomes the Maas when it gets to the Netherlands.

There is a competition here, a bit similar to our Tidy Towns, called Ville et Villages Fleuris. This explains the extraordinary displays of flowers everywhere in public places, on bridges, in almost every spot where a small garden bed can be created or planter placed.

There is little of the tasteless and ubiquitous advertising – billboards, signs, sandwich boards – that we are used to seeing everywhere in Australia. Even places like McDonalds here are only subtly signed. No big Ms looming over the countryside. This is good.

We have seen our first fields of sunflowers (tournesols) and our first vines just outside Orainville.

Where's Rosalie?

Reims & Paris

15 July 2010
Breakfast:

Fresh baguette obtained by Alex.

Activity:

Short ride to Bermericourt and Brimont.

Lunch:

Quiche and salad made by Claire.

Activity:

Visit to Reims Cathedral, of which the town is justly proud. It is immense and impressive in every way. It features the angel who smiles (l’ange qui sourit) just above the door; statues of many French kings; grotesque (in a nice way) gargoyles; amazing stained glass windows including the Marc Chagall windows. Maintaining this building is a huge task for the city of Reims and there is renovation work going on all the time. Not sure whether the rate of renovation is greater than the rate of degradation.

Dejeuner chez Claire & Alex

We decided to leave our bikes in Orainville and travel by train to Paris, use the Velib here to get around, then return to Reims and continue cycling from there. The train from Reims to Paris takes about 45 minutes and reaches over 300kph. It was comfortable, quiet and not expensive. We arrived, picked up a map of Paris, walked to the front of Paris Est and there was a Velib station… empty! We waited about 5 minutes and within that time several bikes were returned so we jumped on and frappeed les rues de Paris! The GPS guided us to the Hotel Les Argonautes (small, cool) in le quartier latin (now more le quartier multiculturel). An area more closely packed with restaurants, all tiny, you can scarcely imagine!

We have several Velib stations nearby. Good not to have our own bikes here as there is no safe place to leave them. Velib bikes are everywhere but Paris is not really especially bicycle friendly. However, we’re mixing it with the traffic successfully so far. We did a jaunt along the Seine and saw a few landmarks.

Ukulele a la Tour Eiffel

Demain nous allons faire le flanneur – we’ll look around some more tomorrow!

Route de TGV

Reims a Paris a TGV (check the speed)

Paris 1

16 July 2010

Our hotel is in a very touristic area near Notre Dame and Le Louvre, so we breakfasted along Boule St Mich near the Sorbonne where the concentration of tourists is a bit lower. In Jardin de Luxembourg a gendarme blew his whistle at Ian because he was cycling in the park (forbidden!). Luckily he didn’t hit him with his baton. There was a Chopin poster exhibition and there are some outdoor concerts over the next few days.

Chopin a Paris

We cruised around on the Velibs. They are sturdy, rather heavy to lift over a curb, have 3 hub gears, lights that go on when the bike is moving, a strong basket on the front, no rear racks and a lock. We found the Quartier Chinois, a good boulangerie, some street art, watched 4 messieurs eating steak tartare for lunch and ended up at the roller shop where I hired roller blades for Pari-Roller 10pm – 1am tonight. I am a bit nervous about this because of my limited training and the rather demanding course, but I plan to revert to a Velib if it gets too hard.

We are trying out our French as much as possible and are at a pretty elementary standard where we can work out what we want to say but cannot anticipate what a French person might reply.  Then we look blank and say ‘pardon’. But English is spoken in many places and we often end up having a conversation consisting of both languages.

OK – now it’s later and my thrilling but brief Pari-Roller experience is over. I am unharmed! I got togged up with roller blades, pads and helmet and cruised along to the Tour de Montparnasse where it all starts. After a bit of warming up the randonee began and there I was, on the road, gliding along with everyone else. I even managed going down a hill. Volunteer staff, support vehicles and roller police accompany the group. The main trouble for me was the fast pace and after a couple of km I was well and truly dropped by the pack and had to retire. I untogged and we Velibbed (new verb) over to the Eiffel Tower, all lit up, where there was a huge crowd listening to a busker who was playing La Bamba and hundreds of people queuing to go up. It is a beautiful mild night.

Paris 2

18 July 2010

The street beside our hotel (Hotel Les Argonautes) is called Rue du Chat qui Peche. Quaint!

We returned to Montparnasse (now my spiritual home of roller) for breakfast and to visit the market there. Lots of lovely fruit, vegetables, fish, meat, cheeses of all shapes and sizes and stages of mouldiness, bread and other nice things.

Breakfast in Montparnasse

Next destination: Bois de Boulogne where Ian did his exercises. We are still getting used to the traffic lights here. They are positioned only on the near side of the intersection and we are used to looking further ahead. This resulted in a misinterpretation and that resulted in a beep and short but stern lecture from a gendarme.

L’Arc de Triomphe and Champs Elysees are easier on a Velib than in a car. This area is getting rigged up for the final day of the Tour de France with lots of scaffolding and seating being installed.

I went to Jardin de Luxembourg to see an outdoor photographic exhibition – Esprit Nomade. Then we set off across the city to Montmartre. We are getting a bit more savvy about Velib and now check several things before selecting a bike: tyres hard, handle bar grips present, steering not wonky, gears working. We have chosen a dud bike a few times but it is easy to swap it for a better one so not a big problem.

There are huge crowds of people at all the major tourist attractions, to their detriment. Montmartre is quite a sight when it first comes into view because you can’t really see it as you approach. But it is overrun with hundreds of people and the inevitable souvenir sellers, tricksters and buskers. We watched this guy and a string quartet. We went inside the cathedral and enjoyed the view across the city. Then a quick look at the Moulin Rouge and Pigalle. Enough for one day!