Tag Archives: Dedham

Six Wheels In Germany – Month 3

So it’s now the end of Month 3 in Germany. What have I noticed this month?

(You can read about Month 1 here and Month 2 here).

People I’ve met

Gundi in Köln/Cologne

I have a German friend called Gundi who lives in Colchester and who I met through a cycling group there. Gundi contacted me to say she’d be in Köln/Cologne for the weekend and to ask if I’d like to meet up. It sounded like a great idea so I said yes and we arranged to meet for Brunch at a restaurant called Maybach just off the Hansaring, a fifteen minute walk from Köln main station.

It turned out that the Rodday family were going to be away for the weekend so I would need to bring Poppy with me as the whole day would be too long to leave her alone.

So we headed off early on the Sunday morning to Kempen railway station. We went in the car and I’d checked earlier with Frank about parking – he said it was free. That seemed rather unlikely (I am used to paying lots for parking at railway stations in the UK) but he was right – no ticket machines whatsoever!

However, people still park stupidly. This car was on a bike lane. It was next to a car park with lots of spaces. Sigh.

Parking on bike lane

We got on the train (once per hour on a Sunday) and stayed on it through Krefeld (where there is the option to change), getting off at Meerbusch-Osterath where you can also change onto the same train that you would at Krefeld. There’s nothing at Meerbusch but it meant it was the same platform and I didn’t have to drag the dog around lots of people to change platform.

Poppy seemed to tolerate the train journey but not particularly enjoy it. She sat on my lap the whole time.

Dog on train

The journey to Köln Hauptbahnhof was just over an hour and we arrived at half past ten. The weather was very warm, 32 degrees for the day, and the forty minute walk to the Brunch place was pretty sweltering. It should have been twenty minutes but I got on the wrong road and didn’t realise for a bit. However I did pass this interesting gilded winged car on top of a building!

Winged car 1

Winged Car 2

Gundi and I enjoyed a very leisurely all-you-can-eat buffet lunch at Maybach. Drinks weren’t included and would have increased the cost significantly (it was already 16,95€ each) except I had brought a bottle of water for Poppy and we just refilled it with the taps in the loo. We bought a couple of teas/coffees but apart from that drank water.

Gundi was getting the train back to London so we walked back to the Hauptbahnhof together, passing this interesting tower.

Koeln tower

We got to the station quite early so Poppy and I posed for a photo in front of the side of the cathedral.

Poppy and Helen at Koeln cathedral

And then we stopped for another cup of tea. Poppy sat under the table – she was exhausted from such an exciting day, I think, plus the heat.

Hot tourist doggie

Klaus and his Wild One recumbent trike

I was really pleased, on the 1st June, to have my first bumping-into-someone-I-know experience when cycling 10km from home. I was riding on a field path and could see a flag coming towards me from a side path; the path curved and I saw a rider heading my way. He stopped beside me – and it was Klaus (occasional commenter on this blog) who I’d met at the Trike Treffen four days before. He was out riding with his family and we had a good chat and I tried his trike and he and his daughter tried Penelope.

Klaus and family

Klaus had some very unusual clipless pedals on his trike which I think he said he had made himself.

Klaus's magnetic pedals

They were basically magnets, and he had special cleats which worked with the magnets.

Klaus's magnetic shoe cleats

It meant that the smaller SPD cleats on my sandals were also able to stick to the pedals although the attachment wasn’t strong enough for me to feel particularly confident. It means that you can also use normal shoes on these pedals though.

It was interesting how much I appreciated bumping into someone I knew – I remember the same thing when I moved to Tonbridge when I got married. You arrive somewhere new and don’t know anyone, but the first time you bump into an acquaintance you start to realise you are feeling at home. The same happened here which was great.

I have ridden with Klaus a few more times this month as our speed (when I am on the trike) is very compatible and he’s trying to increase his riding distances – it helps to have company if you’re riding further as you have someone to chat to. He’s an extremely useful cycling contact as he knows the local routes and can often be persuaded to send me a GPX track of a recommended ride when I’m out on my own so I have somewhere new to visit and someone has already checked the route for recumbent-friendliness!

Riding a velomobile alongside a trike isn’t always ideal – with Penelope it’s less easy to ride together as the paths can feel narrow when you can’t see your front wheels to gauge the width.

Riding with Klaus

I also think I deserve some credit for tricking a German chap into riding a trike with the British flag during the world cup!

Klaus has a Steintrikes Wild One recumbent trike (from Bike Revolution in Austria) and one one of our rides I tried it for about 5km and it was great fun – the front suspension is good when you go over tree roots. The two trikes feel quite different, although Alfie’s seat definitely works better for my lady’s backside, which is rather too broad in the beam for the hard shell seat on the Wild One! When I returned to riding Alfie the steering felt quite twitchy as it’s so direct – I was used to it again within a minute but it was interesting to notice the difference between the two trikes. They may be the same general layout but they do feel different.

Here’s a photo nicked from Klaus’s blog of his trike:

Another difference is that this Wild One has 81 – count ’em, eighty one!!! – gears. Of course there are huge overlaps, but the main reason for this large gear number is that there is a SRAM Dual-Drive in the rear hub which gives three gears that you can change whilst stationary (alongside the normal 3 x 9 derailleur system). I guess things would be easier with one internal hub gear like an Alfine-11 or Rohloff but 81 gears sounds cool and was not quite as spendy!

The other notable thing about the Wild One was its different wheel sizes – it has a 26″ wheel at the back (that’s mountain bike size) and two 18 inch wheels at the front. Klaus has a slight issue with finding tyres to fit the front wheels as he is limited in choice because so few manufacturers make this size. It’s a nice trike though and he’s getting good usage out of it. You can read Klaus’s blog – in German – here). There is also a Google Translate option for each webpage (if you don’t speak German) but be aware that the translations are a bit weird.

Oliver and his Mango velomobile

Oliver (who I met last month for cake, and a couple of times at the Trike Treffen) had organised me some replacement wheel covers for Penelope as he was visiting the place that makes them. So we had to arrange to meet for him to hand them over to me – and for some cake to be consumed of course!

Oliver was looking after his son Max on the relevant day so we decided to meet a bit nearer to Oliver this time – it was a 20km ride for him and a 30km ride for me to Brüggen.

Oliver in his Mango with Max in the trailer were waiting when I arrived in Brüggen.

Weird bikes in Brueggen

Max had a quick look inside Penelope.

Max in Penelope 2

I think he liked her!

Max in Penelope

We enjoyed some cake and a chat and Oliver handed over the wheel-cover kit which, apparently, you need four hands to assemble so I shall wait until I have some useful help to do it.

Here are Max and I outside a church in Brüggen.

Max and Helen at Brueggen Church

Oliver’s usually a very speedy velomobile rider but with the trailer on the back his speed was cut by almost half. So more like my average speed then!

My parents

I celebrated my birthday this month and my parents came to visit for three days. We had a cultural day in Düsseldorf where we went up the tower for cake:

There’s a great view from the top!

We had Currywurst and Pommes for lunch.

And walked along the Rhine past the Altstadt.

I also took my parents to the chocolate factory!

Camilla and her dog

I met this nice lady in Viersen-Rahser. Her dog was very well behaved to sit in the basket without a lid.

Dog in basket in Rahser

He/she looks like he/she is having a fab time!

Dog in basket in Rahser 2

I saw Camilla and her doggie a second time when I was riding through Viersen-Rahser – quite a coincidence as this is 15 miles/25km away from where I live).

A week in England

In case you’re wondering what work I am doing here in Germany, I am actually one of that rare breed, a true teleworker. I remember 10 years ago we were all going to be working from home and not commuting vast distances to our offices but that doesn’t seemed to have panned out for many other people – but I am lucky and the company that I work for just require me to have a decent internet connection. So my move to Germany has made pretty much no difference to my work.

Four times a year we have a meeting which it is useful for me to attend so I booked a week’s holiday back in England to incorporate that day-and-a-half meeting in Eastbourne on the South Coast.

Poppy and I travelled back using the Dunkirk-Dover ferry (so it was less stressful for her) but seven hours of driving wasn’t too pleasant for me so she’ll have to put up with the Hook of Holland-Harwich ferry from now on. It was a good feeling to see the White Cliffs though.

Driving back to my corner of Essex was a very interesting experience, having spent two and a half months in Germany. Firstly, the roads seemed very narrow. Everything also looked a lot dryer – the weeds growing in the central reservation of the motorway were straw-coloured, so there’s clearly been less rain in the UK than in my bit of Niederrhein. I also initially found it a bit weird to be driving on the correct side of the road, although I was soon used to it.

The thing I noticed immediately as I arrived in the Colchester area is how hilly it is. This part of England is thought of as flat but it isn’t actually, it’s slightly undulating. I am now used to real flat which is Niederrhein. I took my old Trice Q out on a ride to Colchester and back – 16km – and did the same amount of climbing on that short ride that I would have done on my 50km Kempen-Viersen circular route.

Of course other English people would think that part of Essex is dead flat but I have more experience now and I know that’s not the case! I also begin to have doubts about the suitability of Penelope to this terrain – if I return, it may be wise not to bring her back with me.

The other thing I was reminded of was the incomprehensibility of British taps. Non-Brits had commented on this before – why don’t we have mixer taps? Why do we have a separate hot and cold tap which means you either freeze or burn your hands when washing them. I was sort-of used to it before but now I am returning to it, having used mixer taps for three months, it does seem bonkers.

(I have been given some explanations for this, such as not wasting water by running the mixer to cold, not scalding hands, being able to keep water at a better temperature against legionella, but as someone with a weak arm/hand individual taps are a right pain so I like the German system!)

We took a visit to the lovely village of Dedham to visit some friends along what I always thought were very quiet country roads (they seemed to be so when I rode along them over the last six years) but I now discover they are actually quite busy. My concept of a ‘normal’ amount of traffic is completely different. I also felt like the air seemed less clean somehow, perhaps a slight bit of pollution (it was quite humid when I was back in the UK) or perhaps it was just something psychosomatic.

The wide skies of Niederrhein aren’t so different to the farmland around the Tendring Plain as in Essex the farmers also grow potatoes, wheat, onions and sweetcorn, but the hedges along each road make the view from a bike quite different. It makes the roads seem narrower too, even if the asphalt is the same width. And of course the roads near where I live in Essex have all been surface dressed/chipsealed so the surface is rough, uneven and noisy. Not so good for cycling! And there were some massive potholes in Colchester which had developed since I last rode there – fortunately when I rode there James was with me and could call out a warning.

There are some great things about England though. One real convenience is that shops are open pretty much all the time – after cycling to church on Sunday I popped into M&S for a few things, then to Waitrose for some food for lunch. Each time James and I paid for something we did it with Contactless – we waved our credit card over the machine and the transaction was done in half a second, massively quicker than the slow, clunky German chip & pin machines.

The supermarkets in the UK weigh your fruit at the checkout rather than you having to do it as you sometimes do in Germany (I forgot to weigh my bananas when back in St Hubert and the checkout lady looked at me very sternly. I apologised and said I’d just got back from England and that clearly explained it all – things are weird in England).

English supermarkets have a much better selection of quality British food, of course (yes, there is such a thing! – more later).

One of the things that I have missed the most (which has come as a bit of a surprise) is the church that I attend in Colchester. I think it’s because the church, Lion Walk United Reformed Church, is very well known for its music. I suppose I had partly taken for granted the fact that every week there would be wonderful music played throughout the service by hugely accomplished musicians, and that the organ at the church and the grand piano are both excellent quality. It was wonderful to go back and sing with the people there again and in fact I found I had missed it so much that I delayed my return to England for a day so that I could attend the service the following Sunday too. Although I’ve found a church in St Hubert which is friendly and enjoyable it doesn’t quite scratch the itch that I now know I have!

I filled my car up with various things that people requested, or that I needed, and I have laid most of them out here (not the block of cheddar or the fresh bacon and sausages from the local butcher in Great Bromley)

Stereotypes – from the other side

I had a couple of conversations with German people which included comments by them about stereotypes of British people. All Brits know that Germans are organised, have no sense of humour and are punctual, for example. I wondered what the Germans and also the Dutch (as they are just around the corner from Niederrhein) think of the Brits.

So I asked a whole bunch of my German and Dutch friends to give me a few random ideas about how Brits/English people are considered in the media and elsewhere.

I initially also asked for Austrian opinions but apparently the Austrians don’t think much about the UK – we’re too far away and “British tourists seem to behave themselves usually” which is a surprise! Apparently most of the stereotyping is reserved for their neighbours, the Germans!

Thanks to the following for the answers: Alex, Gerhard, Gudrun, Jet, Klaus, Lara, Marieke, Olaf and Oliver.

One German friend started his response with one of the major issues:

First of all we must take into consideration that most Germans probably equal “British” with “English”.

He’s right, and because I am English, and because most people used ‘English’ in their answers, I will use that word from now on. But I suspect lots of the stereotypes also cover the Welsh, Scots and Irish too! The words seem to be used interchangeably by Germans and so, in this list, they are also used interchangeably (sorry to other British readers!) Also please note that these are not necessarily the personal views of those I talked to, they are what they report that the media suggests!

The Germans’ view of English people and England

  • the English are usually friendly
  • The food is terrible
  • All men have tattoos
  • Some Brits appear to believe that they are driving on the correct side of the road!
  • the beer is warm, and beans are eaten for breakfast
  • English people are always eating sandwiches. (The amusing thing about this comment was when I received the message I had just eaten a sandwich).
  • People are much better at queuing
  • The beer is warm
  • Pubs close at 23:00
  • England always loses at penalty shootouts
  • “During work English people are very correct; later in the evening after some beer they show a completely different side… best colleagues and friends. The next morning they are reserved again.”
  • They drink lots of tea, it doesn’t matter what time it is
  • The English don’t eat as healthily as the Germans – they might have a bag of crisps for lunch
  • they all watch loads of soaps like Eastenders or Emmerdale
  • British food is known to be the worst in the world (only true as far as porridge and pudding are concerned, I don’t know if the Haggis may be counted)
  • Brits are generally eccentric
  • Brits like to stand in line, e.g. while waiting for a bus (‘stand in line’ is American for queuing)
  • Brits, when it comes to holidays in the south, are the worst drunkards (apart from the Russians) and they have a horrible taste in clothing
  • British football fans are generally hooligans
  • Brits are enthusiastic about the royal family
  • Brits bet on everything
  • Brits love all kinds of racing (horses, dogs, cars) and they are football-mad
  • Brits have no idea how much they benefit from the EU
  • They have Shakepeare and Oxbridge but not much else in art and culture
  • British cars are absolutely rubbish in build quality, although some have great style
  • British gardens are great
  • British humor is weird

Gerhard (who supplied some of the above general stereotypes) also gave some of his personal views from his experiences of interacting with Brits and watching our TV.

  • They seem to be very much involved with the past – e.g. all Victorian or Edwardian stuff is always of great interest.
  • They seem to be very much into antiquities and auctions.
  • They are still traumatised with the war and dig into that history whenever possible
  • They hold the military in higher regard than seems to be fit
  • Many live in incredibly small/narrow and/or old houses
  • They tend to marry quite early
  • There are problems with education and social values by which many young people are concerned
  • They build their lives around a mortgage
  • There’s a health and safety craze going on
  • They seem to be incredibly backwards when it comes to energy and resource matters, e.g. house insulation, renewable energies. I’ve heard that some houses still have no meter for fresh water and I’ve never seen a coin box for electricity in Germany. Central heating appears to be not so common in Britain
  • Instead of trying to solve social problems the governments tend to criminalise every movement outside the norm and there are more people sent to jail than ever before
  • Britain’s got a real problem with illegal immigrants
  • British pop music is best
  • They haven’t overcome the class system completely yet
  • These days they are obsessed with food and statistics say that more than of the population half are obese

The Dutch view of Brits/English people and Britain/England

  • “The” British have a very dry sense of humour. That’s what “the” Dutch think, at least
  • The queueing bit is indeed true, something the Dutch cannot quite grasp.

I also had two longer responses from Dutch friends (marvel at their amazing command of English!)

This is what Marieke had to say:

What the Dutch think about the Brits:

All Brits drink tea during the day and go to the pub after work to drink beer (without foam, yuck). When they go home for the fish n chips or something else they call food, they watch the telly for a while before going to bed. That’s very understandable, because what the Brits lack in tasty food they make right in TV series and humour.

However, no matter how polite he or she is, every Brit turns into a hooligan when seeing a football. Even more than the Dutch, which says a lot! Even their posh accent seems to get affected and turns into something no-one can understand.

Apart from their amazing sense of humour they know their cakes. Brits can even create something amazing out of carrots, it’s close to magic!

It is worth mentioning here that Marieke has come to stay with me several times in the UK so perhaps this is where she has got her English view from!!!

Here’s the view from Alex:

I was brought up on a vision of an idealized, slightly eccentric, upper middle class england…

GB comedy: mostly about class; NL comedy: mostly about social embarrassment.

The Dabbler on Edith Sitwell’s death: “She died according to the code of her class, not wanting to make a fuss – her own splendid attitude to Death. Her last words were, ‘I’m afraid I’m being an awful nuisance.'” This, to me, epitomizes Britishness…

I suppose what I find interesting is a sense of desperate entitlement. So completely different from the Dutch, who always feel uneasy about their spoils, as if they can be taken away just like that. “The embarrassment of riches” Schama calls it, and he’s right.

Alex and I proceeded to have a wide-ranging discussion which was fascinating – he introduced me to lots of interesting Brits of yore, such as Richard Francis Burton, and his wife Isabel, with the comment “personages like those, we don’t have them in Dutch culture”. Although he later talked about Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje who was a pretty interesting chap!

He then further added:

I think figures like that [Richard Francis Burton] are the product of British Empire. Because he’s not a singular polyglot Victorian. Indeed that imperialism and its psychological influence is very British, in my opinion. NL had its own imperialism but came to it late, in the 1920s, and always thought that British colonialism was ‘weird’. And the first world war happened partly because Germany wanted to be an imperial power in its own right, ‘just like Britain’. Of course it’s my scholarly bias, but I think a lot of ‘Britishness’ has its roots in the Empire.

And just a footnote to this discussion – a British friend of mine, when seeing some of the comments, said:

“What…Germans, Dutch and Austrians said British food is horrible? Have these people ever eaten in their own countries?”

English/British food

As you can see from the above comments from my German and Dutch friends, there seems to be an idea that food in England/Britain is pretty appalling. I have had a quite a lot of ribbing on this subject from a German chum who feigned fear for my health if I had to eat British for a week. So I decided to document my week’s food – you, the blog reader, can decide if it looks good!

Saturday – home-made Chicken Pilau by James.

Monday – Curry at the Ganges Restaurant in Eastbourne (a work meal)

Tuesday morning’s full English breakfast (I had cereal to start and a fruit salad afterwards)

Tuesday lunchtime – light meals at the Beach Hut, Eastbourne (work again)

Tuesday evening – a Turkish restaurant in Tonbridge in Kent.

Wednesday evening – Steak & Ale Pie at the Haywain Pub, Little Bromley. Proper home-made shortcrust pastry pie, absolutely fab!

A caramel apple torte for dessert

In Britain I feel that we have a pretty good selection of food and it’s generally tasty although the more traditional English food is rather more suited for winter (hearty casseroles and pies, for example). However, despite the insults from the Germans, at least SOME of them might like British food as Aldi are just running British Food Week…

Screen shot 2014-06-30 at 11.32.29

Life in Germany

Life in Germany continues very good, and having returned from a week in England I feel very at home here again. Here are some more of my random thoughts about differences to life in the UK.

Cigarette ends

I think I commented on the large number of smokers in last month’s post. Anyway, as a corollary to that I have noticed that cigarette ends seem to be everywhere. Do people not consider them litter (they don’t tend to litter with anything else generally). Platforms of stations feel like they are several centimetres deep in cigarettes as people chuck them away as they get onto the train. It makes some areas look really messy. I saw one chap just chuck his cigarette butt onto the floor and wanted to remonstrate with him but it’s probably not the form!

Public footpaths

This is something that confused me a bit – where am I allowed to walk in Germany? When out walking Poppy I met a chap, Jürgen, walking a golden retriever, and we chatted for a while. He said the thing he didn’t like about England is that you’re not allowed to walk everywhere. He then said you can wander all over the place in Germany.

This sounded a bit unlikely but it was confirmed to me by Gerhard (regular commenter on this blog) who said that indeed you are allowed to walk pretty much anywhere unless it’s specifically forbidden (or someone’s garden or something). Obviously you shouldn’t walk over fields of crops but fallow fields and woods are all fine generally.

Although I now know this, it still feels a bit odd to walk in a random field. I quite like the Public Footpath system as you know that definitely no-one can stop you walking there. And I am always worried about breaking one of the many German rules!

Wildlife

Here in the Niederrhein I’m only 300km as the crow flies from my home in Essex. As such, much of the wildlife is fairly similar. However I have noticed there are very noisy frogs in a lot of the local ponds – their volume seems many times that of frogs in the UK.

I spotted this dead shrew on a walk – it was tiny!
Dead shrew

I think I also saw a stork in a field, or it was possibly a heron but seemed a bit big. I believer there are storks in the general area so it is possible.

Soldiers and heroes

As I type this I am wearing my ‘Help for Heroes’ rugby shirt. Gerhard, a commenter on this blog, said that he finds the concept of soldiers being ‘heroes’ as a strange one as they are just doing their job (as are firefighters etc). I think this is a significant cultural difference, possibly related to the general histories of the two countries, but the mood in the UK does tend to be that our armed forces are heroic as they are putting their lives at risk fighting in wars that most probably don’t think are just (but were required by the politicians). Whatever, the Help for Heroes charity has been really successful in raising awareness in the UK of the risks to British soldiers. Living near Colchester, which has an army base, brings it home too. In Germany I gather that soldiers aren’t given any particular respect or attention.

Cashback

Oh how I miss this!

For those who don’t live in Britain (or another country that has cashback), this is a system where when you pay with your debit card in the UK you can also ask the shop to give you some cash out of their till. If your bill was £2.50 you could also have £20 cash so your Card would debit £22.50 and the supermarket cashier would hand you £20 in notes. This is really convenient as it means you don’t have to go to the bank – I can’t think of the last time I actually got cash out at a bank in the UK.

This is not an option in Germany, as far as I am aware, so it means I have to go to Deutsche Bank in either Kempen or Süchteln (they are the two I have found so far that are on some of my regular cycling routes) to get cash out. Which can be a pain.

Interesting buildings

I have whole blog posts about all the churches I am visiting but on the way back from bagging a few churches I spotted this impressive thatching job going on in Kehl.

Hobbit house thatching

Motorists

I find the German motorists generally very courteous when I’m out walking or riding the bikes. The one notable difference is when I’m out walking on country lanes with the dog and cars pass, they don’t seem to slow down very much at all. I haven’t felt unsafe but I am surprised that they don’t slow more in case the dog suddenly does something unexpected (fortunately I’ve trained her to stick close to me when cars are passing, and she’s almost always on the lead at that point anyway).

The Choirs

The Willich Choir which practises monthly also does a few extra bits occasionally. I discovered they were doing two Bach Cantatas in a church service at the end of October so I signed up for that too – with just four practices (one of which I will miss as I’ll be in the UK) it’ll be a nice challenge!

Bach Chorale music

Birthdays

June was a busy month for birthdays in my Wohnung – both Poppy and I celebrated becoming a year older.

Poppy’s birthday was on 4 June and I gave her an Octopus, named Paul of course after the late Octopus in Duisburg zoo who predicted World Cup football results four years ago.

Poppy and Paul the Octopus

My birthday was on the 18th June and I was slightly older than Poppy.

The summer is here

Germany had a bit of a heatwave in June. Temperatures of 32 degrees from midday till after 6pm make it pretty hot to go out walking or cycling so I switched to using Alfie rather than Penelope when it was really hot. Poppy learned the coolest spots in the house.

Hot dog

My car is getting more assimilated

I finally got round to getting an Emissions sticker for my car so it can experience the joys of Krefeld, Düsseldorf, the Ruhrgebiet etc. I had to take along my V5 (vehicle document) and pay a small fee of 5,50€ and now my car has a shiny sticker.

Car green sticker

Weird other vehicles I’ve seen on my travels

There are all sorts of bicycles that I see riding around with various baskets and panniers hanging off them, but on a ride to Süchteln I spotted something rather different.

It had gull-wing doors:

The owner was in the garden and came to chat to me about it. It’s all electric and does about 90km on one charge, with a maximum speed of 90 km/h. It has regenerative braking as well. Road tax is 25€, insurance about 100€.

He let me sit inside – here’s the driver’s view:

And here am I inside.

There’s a seat behind the driver and the passenger’s legs go either side of the driver’s seat. Apparently it works OK although you have to move the driver’s seat forward to get into the back seat.

The chap seemed very happy to talk to me about it and said he doesn’t get asked about it that often. Considering how regularly people talk to me about the trike and the velomobile that surprises me!

Royal Mail, Deutsche Post and the Dutch Postal System

When I was in England I bought four postcards to send to friends. I posted them on Monday morning, three to Germany and one to the Netherlands.

The three German cards arrived on the Wednesday (i.e. they only took two days to arrive) and the one Dutch one didn’t arrive until Friday (although it was only about 40 miles from the German ones!) From this we can conclude that Deutsche Post appears to be more efficient than the Dutch post. We can also conclude that the British post is expensive – 97p for a postcard to Europe! Sending one to England from Germany is about 75 cents I think (about 60p).

Other random discoveries

  • In Germany if you’re happy you’re on Cloud 7, not Cloud 9!
  • In Germany a dodgy car with lots of faults might be referred to as a Monday Morning car – in the UK it would be a Friday Afternoon one.
  • An English friend works with a German who says that they have the phrase “englisches Einkaufen” (English shopping) for shoplifting, although a couple of my other German friends hadn’t heard for this (although they had similar things for Polish people).
  • The mobile phone signal out in the countryside with Vodafone in Germany is much better than the phone signal on O2 in the countryside in the UK – in Germany I almost always have 3G access but in big chunks of Essex there seems to be only GPRS (including where our house is).
  • Sometimes German hyphenation doesn’t work in English!
  • Using a Velomobile to collect Pizza isn’t the optimum option due to having to store the pizza on its side behind my seat…

Cakes this month

The traditional monthly cakes roundup follows.

Windbeutel in Suechteln

World Cup German Cake

Eerdbeerschnitte

This cake was eaten in England (it’s a Tesco cream sponge)

This cake was my consolation prize when I accidentally revisited two churches in Süchteln – I hadn’t removed their waypoints from my Garmin!

Chocolate cake thing in Suechteln

This Amerikaner was eaten whilst underway on Alfie the trike.

Amerikaner on bike

This cake was given to me to eat in the car on the way to choir by Anja. She said it was a spare slice of cake that they had at home. Who on earth has heard of spare cake?????? It was lovely thought!

Cake from Anja

My landlady made some Donauwelle when my parents visited – this plate was left on the stairs and Poppy nearly got very lucky but unfortunately for her I saw it first!

This football-themed cake was enjoyed in Anrath. But why only 1-0?

Football cake

It was one of the Da Capo (local) choir member’s birthdays so he brought in a whole lot of home-made Schnecken.

Choir Schnecken

Cycling statistics for this month

Here is a map of all the journeys I have done around Kreis Viersen this month.

Screen shot 2014-06-30 at 17.00.20

The month’s total statistics are as follows:

735.06km cycled
Average speed 18.4km/h
Maximum speed 62.4km/h (this was whilst I was in England – we have hills there!)
Total time spent cycling: 39 hours 22 minutes 57 seconds.

That brings my yearly total up to 4,140.21km. I am aiming for 10,000km for the year so am rather badly behind. I will need to do some more riding!!!

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The Joy Of Essex 2 Cycle Ride

I led a ride around my bit of north east Essex about six weeks ago and it was very well received, although lots of people who wanted to come weren’t able to. So I organised a similar ride for Sunday 11 August which more people were able to attend. It turned out to be a very enjoyable day – and one with three ICE Sprint trikes!

As usual the plan was to meet at Manningtree Station at 9am for breakfast, leaving for the ride at 10am.

When I arrived at 8:45am Delthebike was already there, having cycled all the way from Southend (50 miles). He left home at 5am!

I ordered my traditional Station Café Half Breakfast to set me up for the day.

MNG Station Breakfast

Del had already eaten his.

We sat around chatting as more people gradually arrived.

MNG Eating Breakfast

Then James arrived and sat next to Del – can you tell them apart?

MNG James and James

Delthebike took this pic of me before the start.

Auntie Helen and camera (photo courtesy of Delthebike)

By the time we were ready to go, a group of twelve of us, we had a good selection of bikes including three recumbent trikes, a Moulton, a fixed-gear bike, a Dawes tourer, two Thorns, a Mercian singlespeed, a Ridley carbon road bike and two audax-type bikes that are the same frame but different brands (a Hewitt Cheviot and a Byercycles Aravis).

MNG a row of trikes

Here we are ready to leave the station.

MNG Leaving The Station

And this was our route for the day:

Joy of Essex 2 Route

So we headed off through the centre of Manningtree, enjoying the faces of passers-by as this group of different vehicles (and three recumbents) passed through. There was another cycling group starting from Manningtree at 10am (apparently) and we saw several people in lycra who were probably heading for that ride. I think we may have eaten all their breakfasts!

We were a group of mixed abilities (as usual) but I thought it would be good to try to keep reasonably together so I stopped regularly for people to catch up.

A brief stop

Obviously on the hilly bits it was easier for each to go at their own pace – Graham on the ICE Sprint FX whizzed ahead on the uphills as his legs needed to get going, I trundled uphill at my usual pace.

Here’s Del’s picture of Mrs Wowbagger, Wowbagger, James and Mark underway

I had made a slight mistake with the route and so had to ensure Delthebike was with us when I went off route as he was following the route on his Garmin and stopping to take lots of photos – I didn’t want to lose him!

I liked this identical body language between Bob and JenM!

Body language

It’s an enjoyable ride from Manningtree up to Mistley, Bradfield Heath and then down into Wix. At Wix we headed towards Tendring, at one point stopping next to a field of onions which was being harvested. I like to pick up roadkill onions so may have to go back that way in the next few days to see if any have fallen off the tractor trailer!

We headed to Beaumont-cum-Moze and then headed inland again through some lovely quiet lanes until we arrived at Weeley. A quick spin up the hill out of Weeley over the railway line and we arrived at the Hilltop Garden Centre and its Floral Cafe.

The Garden Centre manager had said (when I visited earlier in the week) that we could take our bikes through the Staff Only bit to park them where we could see them whilst having our cake, so we wheeled our way up a little corridor and parked them on a grass patch near the cafe.

We went into the café and everyone lined up for their tea and cake.

Which cake to choose

It was a bit like school dinners!

School dinner queue

I had a piece of chocolate cake but unaccountably forgot to photograph it so here is a picture of the slice of cake I had on my recce trip to this tea room earlier in the week.

Hilltop cake

We were ready to leave at just past midday which was way ahead of my expected schedule. I phoned the Haywain, where we were going for lunch, to warn them we’d be about an hour. Andy the landlord was a bit concerned as they were due to be busy around 1pm (I’d originally expected us to get there at 2:30). He said we may have to wait a little while for food – I said we’d try to ride in a leisurely manner.

So we faffed around a bit more, Andrij using some insulating tape to stop a broken spoke from moving around too much. On we went, into a surprisingly fierce headwind as we rode towards Great Bentley.

The headwind made conversation a bit difficult but we pootled onward, enjoying the sunshine and the views, on this flatter section.

From Great Bentley we headed to Frating where James (my husband) took over the lead for a little bit, bringing us into Great Bromley and then up the back lane past the church to head to the Hawywain, which we reached at 1:20.

Sitting outside were TimC and his daughter who had ridden from Manningtree Station (Tim couldn’t make the beginning of the ride).

TimC, Wowbagger and Georgia (courtesy Delthebike)

We went into the pub and they had set aside a room for us which we all managed to squeeze in (there were 14 of us now and I had said 12 to the Haywain). We mostly ordered baguettes although Bob had a full roast dinner and a few people were still full of breakfast and cake and so just had beer.

Here is my roast chicken baguette – it was very nice!

Haywain lunch

After a leisurely lunch we pootled off, this time with TimC and Georgia along.

When we reached the end of Waterhouse Lane between Ardleigh and Great Bromley James and Mark turned off to go back to my house. James was having a bit of trouble with a painful knee so didn’t want to irritate it further by riding the extra 20+ miles.

Goodbye to James and Mark (photo courtesy of Delthebike)

We were down to 12 cyclists again.

We rode the back route through Ardleigh, passing the field of alpacas (we stopped and had a look at them), then heading to Lamb Corner where we took the road to Langham, crossing over the busy A12 on a bridge.

Delthebike had planned to ride home from somewhere round here but decided to keep going with us and headed down Gun Hill with us on the super-zoomy descent into Stratford St Mary.

From here we headed past Stratford St Mary Church and then rode downwind at a good pace into Dedham. The original plan was to stop at The Boathouse for an ice cream but we could see it was heaving so we carried on into Dedham Village, noticing the ice cream machine at the Essex Rose tearoom had no queue and there were seats outside. So we stopped, parked up all our bikes and queued for our 99 Vanilla Ice Cream.

Whilst we were queuing some other people arrived and took some seats but we were able to sit down and watch Bob fixing the puncture on his front wheel that he’d got just as we were arriving at Dedham.

Bob fixing his puncture with help and advice from 11 other cyclists… (photo courtesy of Delthebike)

Here are Mrs Wowbagger and Wowbagger with their ice creams.

Ice cream queue

It was then time to head off for the final five miles or so to Manningtree.

I’d chosen the route that avoids the A137 as much as possible; it’s a scenic route but pretty hilly so there was quite a lot of waiting at verges for people to catch up.

Waiting

Whilst waiting at the corner of Jupes Hill and Mill Hill (next to Stour House in Dedham Heath) JenM noticed that Georgia’s fantastically yellow-accented bike had one black valve cap and one yellow one. It just so happened that Jen had a yellow valve cap on one of her wheels too, so a trade was done and bicycle/clothing matching was restored!

The final run down Cox’s Hill was great fun – I reached 36mph which was 4mph less than last week when I had a tailwind for it (and was chasing a velomobile).

Cox’s Hill is fun going this way! (photo courtesy of Delthebike)

We stopped for a cuppa at the station and talked to a Dutch family of a mother and three children who had cycled to Cardiff and back. The children looked fairly young (young teens) so this was a very impressive feat!

We waved goodbye to our plucky group of cyclists and then I rode home.

A very enjoyable day with great weather and good food!

One of the other recumbenteers, Graham, was videoing much of the day and he has put together a pretty long but good video of our day.

Graham Williams’ video

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The Joy Of Essex Cycle Ride

I don’t only tour in Germany – I also cycle in England!

I’m a member of two cycling forums, CycleChat and YACF (Yet Another Cycling Forum), and have previously organised some cycle rides in my corner of Essex which people from those forums have attended.

Having not led a ride for a couple of years I thought it was about time so organised one for Saturday 22 June, entitled The Joy Of Essex.

This was my planned route (zoomable map)

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The plan was to meet at Manningtree Railway Station at 10 for the start of the ride, but I would be at the station an hour earlier for breakfast (they do an excellent cooked English breakfast).

Alfie waiting outside the Station Café

I headed in for breakfast; after all, I needed plenty of energy for a 34 mile ride…

Half Breakfast at the Café

I was soon joined by audaxer Lindsay who was having a rest day (just cycling 35 miles with me) as the following day she was doing a tandem trike time trial (she ended up with the Ladies Time Trial record!).

Before long we were also joined by Tim Hall, my husband James, friend Mark and a new face from CycleChat, Paul.

Paul, Lindsay, Tim, James and Mark

After a short session of trying on my spare CycleChat jersey, we headed off on the first leg of this epic ride, an eleven mile jaunt over to Boxted.

Tim Hall had his camera with him and always takes excellent pics – he’s given me permission to reproduce some of them in this blog post.

He took this one of my suntanned feet following my German cycle tour.

Auntie Helen’s feet – I need to give ’em a scrub!

We headed into Manningtree (the station is on the west side) to take the scenic route along the walls to look at the river Stour. We passed the Manningtree clock with its rather unusual number arrangement.

Manningtree Clock (photo Tim Hall)

We headed along the Stour briefly, turning south and up a bit of a hill once we reached Mistley Towers.

Mistley Towers (photo Tim Hall)

At the top of the hill we had to ride along the main A137 for a short while but the traffic wasn’t too bad. A group of six can spread out a fair bit but we kept a reasonable pace (although knowing Lindsay was on a rest day we didn’t want to do anything too strenuous).

We were soon back onto quiet country roads, taking Mill Hill towards Dedham and then heading along Long Road West to Lamb Corner before heading into Langham, where we briefly stopped at Boxted Airfield (which is in Langham), an old World War Two USAF base.

Bikes at the memorial

Boxted Airfield Plaque (photo Tim Hall)

From here it was just a couple of miles until we arrived at Fillpots Nursery, a garden centre with a very good café (although Mark seemed to have been overcharged for his scone).

I enjoyed a piece of sponge.

Oh look, a piece of cake!

It was nice and relaxing after the enormous energy expediture of the previous eleven miles!

Tea ‘n cake

We headed off for the next leg of our journey – another 11 miles. We aimed towards Dedham, pootling along the quiet country lanes that are my regular cycle routes.

Another random stop to look at something-or-other

We went down Gun Hill (which is always fun) and then turned off towards Dedham, riding through it and then back up the hill the other side.

Mark was finding it rather warmer than he had expected!

Mark seems to be overheating! (photo Tim Hall)

As we were cycling up the hill out of Dedham I saw my friend Kirstie’s parents. I reckon I see them about half of the times I visit Dedham. Kirstie’s mum said “I saw a group of cyclists and thought that it might be you!” and I pointed out that I was leading from the back (everyone except James was up ahead).

Tim took a great photo of James and I as we reached the brow of the hill!

Auntie Helen and James (photo Tim Hall)

After another 11 gruelling miles we arrived at The Haywain, one of my local pubs and probably my favourite.

Parking the bikes at the pub – and the sun has come out!

I decided to have a reasonably light lunch as breakfast and cake had not been that many miles ago so enjoyed a chicken and stuffing baguette.

Food!

After lunch Paul had to head back to Manningtree Station and Mark needed to get home so he and James headed back to our house (where Mark had parked his car), so now my little band of cyclists numbered just three as we forged ahead on our final 14 miles.

We headed south from the Haywain towards Little Bentley, again on roads I cycle several times a week. Tim liked the new use for the old BT phone box – a book swap and noticeboard.

Little Bentley phone box (photo Tim Hall)

We were riding into wind now along the NCN51, the route to Harwich that I took on the way to my Konstanz to Koblenz cycle tour a month ago. It was nice to be on quiet roads and able to chat.

At Wix we turned north, crossing under the A120 and following the undulating road to Bradfield Heath which then heads for Mistley Heath and we were soon whizzing down the hill towards Mistley Towers past the Edme Maltings.

We arrived back at Manningtree Station and had time for a cup of tea before Lindsay’s train to Bury St Edmunds and Tim’s train to London. After the cuppa we said goodbye and Lindsay headed to the other platform to await her train.

Waiting for the train

Tim’s train arrived and he put his bike in the Guard’s Van before heading towards the Big Smoke.

Tim heads to Lunnun

My ride to and from Manningtree increased the total ride distance for me to a heady 42.84 miles (which I covered in 3 hours 39 minutes, so an average of 11.7mph which is pretty good for a group ride). Sadly the relatively relaxed pace meant that I only burned 1,967 calories – I leave it up to you, having seen the photos of my breakfast, cake and lunch, whether I burned them off!

I’m going to re-run this ride (or a slightly longer version) in a month or so’s time as lots of people wanted to come on this one but were unable.

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