Cycling this month
Here is a great photo that one of the chaps on the Fit Durch Den Winter ride at the end of January took of me.
Cycling statistics this month
This month I have had two trips to the UK over two weekends and the weather has been pretty chilly so I haven’t ridden as much as last month, managing just 610km.
And here is where I went.
I am still just fractionally ahead of where I need to be to manage 10,000km for the year again so no stress yet with my target!
I spotted this bike when out on a walk with Poppy – I think it could do with some TLC!
Metric Century A Month Challenge
As mentioned last month, this year I am going for the Metric Century A Month Challenge which means I need to do at least one ride of 100km. I thought that February would be the hardest month to achieve this because of the weather conditions and also as I would be having two weekends in England.
So, being an organised type of person, I booked in a long ride on a free Saturday and asked some of my cycling chums if they wanted to come along. In the end only Hartmut was able to make it but we had an excellent ride.
My cunning plan was to ride the route that Klaus and I will take when we return from Dronten next month after collecting his velomobile. I would ride 50km north along the route to check if it is suitable for velomobiles and then take a different route back (which Hartmut prepared).
Hartmut arrived at my house at 10am and we had a quick cuppa before setting off. The weather forecast was good for the morning, less good for the afternoon, but as we set off it was great (if a trifle windy).
As this was a Velomobile route it eschewed a lot of the lovely quiet roads for faster routes with fewer stops. This meant that when we got to Straelen we headed off on one of the major roads, riding in the run-off area (you are allowed to do this).
However Klaus (who had designed this route) had used nicer quieter roads when they looked decent and we were very quickly off the main road and onto quieter but fast side roads.
We cycled 30km before stopping and I found my feet were complaining a bit from having been up on the pedals the whole time so I put them onto the floor for a few minutes to let the blood flow back in. I made sure that whenever we subsequently stopped at a red traffic light I unclipped and put my feet on the floor again.
The route from Dronten to Viersen is largely flat but there is one whopper of a hill which Hartmut and I eventually tackled. We were riding northwards up a relatively gentle but rather long slope… And the hill is well named!
At the top we stopped for a breather.
Then came the downhill. This was MUCH steeper and I reached just under 50km/h pretty easily, then found that my brakes were somewhat sub-optimal. Stopping 47kg of Velomobile and **kg of Helen at high speed downhill is somewhat challenging. But I survived! It will be an interesting experience doing this hill in the other direction when returning from Dronten. I might need a tea break at the top!
We rode on heading a bit further than the original planned 50 miles one way as I wanted to see the Rhine and there was what looked like a nice town the other side. Sure enough we were soon crossing the Rhine Bridge on the way to Rees.
Rees is a lovely old town and we pootled into the centre, my infallible ability to discover cafés did not desert me and we found a nice bakery/café/Konditorei. Of course due to it being Lent I had no cake but instead soup and a baguette (although I guess both of these probably had sugar as ingredients but when eating out it’s tricky to avoid).
The weather was getting a bit greyer so as we set off again after a leisurely stop I made sure my buff and hat would keep my face warm. The rest of me would be warm enough in the Velomobile sheltered from the wind.
We set off back to the Rhine bridge to cross back again.
We passed this factory with a rather excellent spelling mistake in the English translation… Poor terrified paper!
The route back was one that Hartmut had planned and this took us eastwards towards Xanten on one of the new Bahnradwege, the Alleenradweg from Marienbaum to Xanten. Here is the view of the twin spires of the Dom and the orange-roofed Roman Museum as we approach.
From Xanten we followed a route that we had ridden with Jochen some time ago which started with an almighty hill which was very hard work on the Velomobile. After this hill, however, I had the wind on my side – it was a headwind which doesn’t affect the velomobile much but significantly slowed down Hartmut so I tended to be riding ahead for this section. I would periodically stop and wait for him and rest my feet. It was now raining so less pleasant conditions for him although it was fine for me in my nice dry, warm velomobile.
As we approached my home I realised I would have done 125km for the day but my legs still felt good so I told Hartmut I would ride back to his house with him and then continue on to get the 150. So we separated at St Tönis and I went on, making a last-minute decision to stop for some noodles at the Real Futurestore in Tönisvorst.
Interestingly I struggled to eat the whole plate and had only a couple of prawn crackers. I was suffering slightly from that thing that longer-distance cyclists know about, when your body doesn’t really want to have to deal with food so you lose your appetite. I managed to eat the food but would have been equally happy with just two mouthfuls. I took note of this and have decided to stop for food earlier when I do the long ride back from Dronten.
I detoured to Vorst and then back round Kempen, arriving home with just over 150km on the clock.
I felt that I would have been able to ride further, hopefully at least another 50km as that is what I will have to do for the Dronten trip. But hopefully we will have better weather and as we will start much earlier we should hopefully get home at a similar time.
Thanks to Hartmut for his company and pathfinding for the return route! Century #2 in the bag!
Back in 2009 (according to Hartmut) the ADFC in Mönchengladbach started up a winter grill day combined with a bike ride and last year Hartmut organised one for our local ADFC chapter (which I wasn’t able to go to). For this year’s I was free so decided to go along and enjoy a barbecue in the depths of winter up some awful hill somewhere which I would have to winch myself up in the Velomobile.
We were to leave Krefeld main station at 10am and as I don’t really like riding in Krefeld (too many tram tracks, too many similar-looking roads, too many unexpected hazards) I contacted Jochen who was also going to ask him if I could tag along to his ride to the station. He arranged to meet me at the Jet petrol station to the south of Kempen at 9am.
I arrived first and Jochen and Werner, another participant, a few minutes later. We set off together on a scenic route to Krefeld. Once we reached the outskirts of the city the regular traffic lights, direction changes and street furniture meant that riding the velomobile was much harder work and I dropped quite a bit behind. It is always so, when you ride with normal bikes and have to keep starting and stopping it takes a lot more effort to accelerate the weight of the velomobile.
Anyway, we arrived at the Hauptbahnhof in plenty of time and soon a group of us gathered.
Hartmut arrived and at about 10:15 we headed off towards Hülser Berg, following a previously-unknown-to-me route out of Krefeld past the rather beautiful Schlosspark.
The final bit of the ride was a climb up the Berg. It is pretty steep and quite a long climb so I very rapidly ran out of gears (the lowest gear on Penelope isn’t really that low) and had to slowly pedal my way up. At least I was warm!
When I got to the top Hartmut was waiting for me and led me to the Schaenke, a beergarden where we would be having our grill. Herbert was already there getting the coals going and food soon appeared.
As usual Hartmut found himself a beer…
But then produced from his panniers the makings of tea for me – a Camping Gaz stove, a mug, some hot water and milk. He knew I would have teabags with me (which I did). An excellent idea!! I enjoyed two cuppas whilst eating the good barbecue food.
A bunch of cyclists who had ridden up from Mönchengladbach arrived about 15 minutes after us so there were probably 25 or so cyclists altogether.
Despite having put on a coat once I got out of Penelope I began to feel a bit chilly so left after a couple of hours and made my way home.
It is very typically German to have a barbecue in the middle of winter up a mountain in the drizzle but great fun too! As usual there was food and drink aplenty and we just had to contribute 5 Euros for our share. Thanks again to Hartmut and Herbert and the others who organised the food and drink. I am less sure about thanking whoever decided to make me cycle up this whacking great hill!
Two trips to England
February was a busy month in terms of travel as I made two trips to England.
My niece Gwen got married on the first weekend in February. She is 19 years old and her husband Harley 18 so very young, but it was a very enjoyable event.
I had booked my ferry to include some extra time in the UK (for the dentist to replace a filling and to visit my parents) and a few weeks before mentioned this to friend Babs and asked if she wanted to come along – which she did!
The original booking was for two day ferries (much cheaper) but a week before I set off I was phoned by Stena to say the return day ferry on the Sunday was cancelled for maintenance but I could have a free cabin for the night crossing on Saturday or Sunday. We went for the Saturday crossing and got two free cabins so that was rather a bonus!
Babs drove to my house on Thursday morning and we headed off to Hoek van Holland for our 7 hour ferry crossing.
We were well prepared with food stocks…
This weekend was before the start of Lent so I was still able to eat sweet things – yum!
It was a very very windy day so the crossing would be quite rough. There were white horses on the North Sea
And very menacing clouds over the UK…
I was amused by this sign for the Cinema. In which time zone are all films being shown?
After we docked we drove straight to Manningtree to stop for a curry. It’s hard to get a decent curry in Germany and I miss that, so we went to the Mogul in Manningtree. We were both pretty tired but also very hungry so we managed a fair bit!
We then went to my house in the UK and fell into our beds absolutely pooped!
The next day, the Friday, was to be pretty busy. The original plan was for me to visit my parents and then go to the dentist for my filling but the schedule was somewhat rearranged after the news that my Dad was in hospital. We needed to collect a painting that my parents were looking after for me but needed to go to Germany so we went first to visit my Mum at home to have a cup of tea with her and collect the painting, then I dropped in to see my Dad in the hospital on the way back for an hour (whilst Babs waited in the car to avoid parking charges and unfortunately got rather cold), and then we stopped off in Dedham for a bit of shopping and some lunch. After that it was straight to Wivenhoe for the dentist; Babs wandered around but found Wivenhoe rather disappointing. After the dentist had finished with me we drove back to Chapel House via the large Tescos at High Woods where we bought no end of food and drink. Babs stocked up with Cider (after all, there were just two of us in my medium-sized car so we had some room) and I was delighted to discover my Tetley Drawstring teabags, now called Easy Squeeze, were available again.
I was also on the hunt for sauces that didn’t contain any sugar for my Lenten meals. I looked through the whole range of curry sauces and only found these three that didn’t have sugar as an ingredient.
In fact, it is shocking how all-pervasive sugar is. It is an ingredient in pretty much everything available to eat, it seems. Clearly my Lenten eating options would be limited unless I cooked things myself from raw ingredients.
We had a couple of hours to chill back at the house before heading to the Haywain in Little Bromley for our evening meal. I love the Haywain, the friendly staff and good English food. I had steak pie and chips.
Once again we were really pooped so very glad to get to our beds, knowing that the next day would also be very busy with the wedding and then the overnight ferry journey back.
The great news was that my Dad had been let out of hospital after a small procedure that afternoon so that he would make the wedding – he was meant to be walking Gwen down the aisle! The doctors had originally planned to do the procedure the following Monday but as they knew how important it was that he could participate in the wedding they squeezed him in at 7pm on a Friday night. How impressive the NHS can be!
The wedding day dawned windy and a bit grey. We had an hour’s drive to the church in Southend and gave ourselves loads of time to get there. The last time I had been at this church was for my sister’s wedding and we’d had a car accident on the way there and been fifteen minutes late; not this time – we were almost 45 minutes early. But it gave us time to relax before the service.
I was so pleased when Mum and Dad arrived ten minutes later. Here am I with Dad.
And with Babs.
The ceremony went very well with Gwen’s two younger sisters and a friend as bridesmaids.
Gwen’s sister Hari as a bridesmaid
And the youngest sister Ceri
A real highlight of a wedding in Southend is spotting the Essex Girls. Gwen’s co-workers at Morrisons came en masse and were displaying an excellent range of Essex Shoes. I managed to get this snap:
And Babs was able to get some close-ups of the best examples of the Essex Shoe:
There was a reception with speeches after the service in the church hall, where we had sandwiches and cakes.
Gwen works in the bakery at Morrisons and had made masses of these wonderful cupcakes herself for the wedding.
Of course there was a ‘proper’ wedding cake.
After the reception was over there was a family meal near Colchester which we drove to. This was held in The Barn in Great Tey which is a fantastic building.
Here is my sister the proud mother of the bride!
We had a meal which was tasty including this selection of desserts. Fortunately Lent had not yet started!
And in true British style, cups of tea.
We left at 6pm and Babs and I had a couple of hours back at my house to rest before heading off to the ferry for our overnight crossing back. We were both really really tired after such a busy few days but it was great fun! We had a good overnight crossing and were back in St Hubert at 10am the following morning.
A second trip to England
Last summer Klaus, Claudia and Lara came with me to England for five days for a holiday. I suggested in early January that they might like to pop over to the UK for a weekend with me and so we fixed on the weekend at the end of February.
Because they had to go to work/school the following Monday we would only have one full day in the UK. The plan was to travel on the overnight ferry on the Friday night and get the day ferry back on Sunday morning.
Klaus had done lots of driving for his job (which makes a change from him sitting behind a desk pretending to work) so my plan to take my car (as I am more used to driving on the correct side of the road) seemed like a good one. My car is a bit smaller but for such a short time we didn’t need much luggage and ended up with plenty of room.
So we set off from Viersen on Friday afternoon and had a reasonable journey to Hoek van Holland despite the Friday evening traffic. We arrived at the Torpedoloos restaurant at 6pm and so had some food.
Torpedoloos is a nice place with very friendly staff but the price is a bit scary. For example, they asked if we wanted some bread first and we said yes. This breadboard came with two very large rolls – and cost us 9€ on the final bill!
We had burgers (Klaus ate soup as he had had burger for lunch) and whiled away the time before heading the 200 metres or so to the ferry.
Once on board we met back in one of the lounges and I showed them around the ferry. It was then time to go to bed – I had the cheapest cabin of course (single, no window) and they had a family cabin with a window (pushing the boat out).
We disembarked at 6am the following morning and headed to my house where we showered and freshened up before heading to Dedham for breakfast at the Essex Rose Tea Room. A traditional Full English of course!
Lara, who will be 12 in a few months, has been learning English at school and has been hearing me speak it a lot to her. On this short holiday she agreed to order all our food for us (as they had done menus and food at school recently). She did a really good job of it too!
After breakfast we headed to Snape Maltings to have a look around the craft and collectibles shops (that’s very much Claudia and Lara’s idea of good entertainment) while Klaus whiled away the time in the café drinking coffee (he’s not into shopping). We also had a walk along the river.
Our original plan was to eat lunch at Snape but after our big breakfast we didn’t really need it yet so headed off to Aldeburgh which is on the coast for a look around. I hadn’t been to Aldeburgh before either and it was lovely to walk along the beach.
And proof that the wretched Drängelgitter gates aren’t only a German problem, here are some in an alleyway in Aldeburgh.
We stopped for lunch in a nice café with very friendly staff. The adults had soup but Lara had what I would have also loved to eat (if it weren’t for it being Lent): a bowl of doughnuts!
We then headed back, dropping in to see my parents on the way past.
In the evening we went to my favourite local pub, the Haywain in Little Bromley, for our evening meal. Klaus went for the rump steak and had a huge plateful!
I had taken the opportunity to play my grand piano again as I have missed it a lot – and Lara played it too!
I have started to hatch a plan to take it back to Germamy with me on one of my future visits to the UK as we measured it and think it will fit in my landlord’s VW bus and it will fit in my lounge. Hmmmmmmmm….
We had a relatively early night as we were all tired and the following morning left the house just after 8:15am to head to Harwich to the ferry.
I have only occasionally used the day ferry as it takes rather a long time (7 hours or so), but when you’re in a group it is more fun as you can chat and do other things.
For example, there is a basketball court with fencing all the way round and over the top so Lara, Klaus and I played some basketball (you can borrow a ball). This was most amusing as the wind was so strong we sometimes found it hard to breathe!
Here’s a picture of Klaus and his fringe gives an idea of the wind speed!
I noticed this rather amusing typing error in the information placards at the Guest Service Desk. Not sure I fancy hiring that cabin!
We arrived back in Hoek van Holland at 6pm and then I drove us back to Viersen on much quieter roads than Friday night. Although initially we were unable to get out of the Stena port area as there was no passport check (for the first time ever!) and the first drivers overshot the exit and went to the closed gates. We sat there for a minute or two until a member of staff started directing people to turn round and take the correct exit. Random!
Anyway, we enjoyed our trip and seeing the different landscape of Essex and Suffolk compared to Niederrhein. Little Lara did brilliantly with all her food ordering in English and she is clearly growing in confidence a lot. It would be nice to do another such trip in the future, although preferably with another day tacked on to make the journey more worthwhile.
Life in Germany
Yes, I finally got a job! I had been doing lots of job applications for local low-paid work such as warehouse picking and packing, as well as some more suitable and higher-paid jobs, but despite a couple of interviews (and one job offer which I decided not to take), I hadn’t had a lot of success. After a bit of a hiatus over Christmas and the New Year I decided to do some new applications and, after sending off an application as a Kitchen Helper at a local catering company, got a call back from the boss half an hour later asking me to come in for interview.
I went for the interview and it turned out that he had spotted my marketing/communications experience on my CV, plus had looked at my blog, and needed someone to work on their website and other general office work on a part time basis. The pay was only minimum wage but it gave me access to the German public health insurance which I wanted, plus was very very flexible, so I went ahead and took the job.
This involved getting up a bit earlier than I am used to in order to cycle to Stenden for 9am (or sometimes 8am, depending on what I am doing). However there are some huge benefits in being out early, such as this wonderful morning sunrise…
The first three days were computer work but then they needed help in the kitchen so I did five hours of washing up (rinsing, then stacking the dishwasher, unloading it and putting stuff away). That’s very tiring work when your pile of washing up never really diminishes as there are 4 cooks working the whole time on food preparation.
Then the delivery driver went off sick and as I was happy to drive the Transit Van I became a delivery driver too for three days, one day doing 10 hours of work (my usual weekly work amount was expected to be 15 hours in total!) I drove all around this bit of NRW, from Essen to Düsseldorf to Mönchengladbach to Duisburg… quite good fun in a nice van, sometimes on my own and sometimes with help.
They have lots of different food options on their website but I found this heading interesting:
“From England but tasty”
I have to say that the Transit looks a rather suitable vehicle for transport of Velomobiles….
I was delighted when I received my acceptance paperwork from the German public health insurer so I am now properly covered and don’t have to pay the first 500€ each year like I did with the private insurance that I had. It’s also been good to get to know my colleagues and to work with different people and drive around different places. There are cakes all around the place at work but due to fact I have given up sugar for Lent I haven’t tasted any of them…
As mentioned last month, I decided to give up sugar for Lent (the 40 days before Easter). This meant that I wouldn’t eat foods that had sugar added so that is basically all biscuits, cakes, chocolates, most sauces etc. I would still eat bread though and fruit but not drink fruit juice.
On Shrove Tuesday in the UK we celebrate Pancake Day. This seems to have passed Germany by but I decided to have a pancake so I invited little Lara with me (she had a day off school) to go to the Pancake House in Grefrath. So we went there… and it was closed. Shocking! So we headed off to Zur Fluchtburg also in Grefrath as I knew they often did pancakes and we were in luck! So we both had a pancake.
That was the last sweet thing I ate…
Bear in mind that in my new job, when I sit in the office there is a shelving rack behind me which is full of baking ingredients such as giant tubs of chocolate chips
Surprisingly, the biggest challenge so far has not been refusing cakes or biscuits or chocolates but finding what to eat for breakfast that I actually like.
As most Brits, I have all my life eaten cereal for breakfast. I have lots of different cereals depending on my mood and how hungry I am. As they all have added sugar (including Weetabix and Bran Flakes) I have been left with just the option of scrambled eggs or unsweetened porridge. I seem to be alternating the two at the moment with an occasional breakfast of natural yoghurt and fresh fruit for a change.
The problem with porridge is if you are cooking it in the microwave and not paying attention…
The Royals Café Quiz
Once again I attended the English-speaking Quiz with Christine and Andreas and we had another woman join our table. Once again we won, although it was a very close-run thing at the end. I don’t answer many of these questions at all but Christine and Andreas are amazing. So we have another voucher for a Full English Breakfast at the café to enjoy sometime.
Cakes this month
As Lent started at the beginning of February, during which I have given up sugar, it was a rather lean month cake-wise.
Here are two that I ate before Lent commenced.
Gudula had some friends round for waffles and made me some without any sugar in the mix and I added yoghurt and fruit to them. They were OK but waffles really do need sugar for the full effect!
And these are some of the things I have NOT eaten although they were available to me:
Gudula made this lovely creamy dessert on Ash Wednesday so the first day of Lent so I had to decline.
An upside-down apple cake.
A set menu in a restaurant in Wachtendonk included this white wine mousse dessert with cream. Klaus, who was with me, got to eat it.