Tag Archives: Great Bromley

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.

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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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Trice Q goes to Colchester

Today I went for a cycle ride – from Great Bromley to Colchester on my Trice Q.

The Q is my original trike, now 6 years old, and it had done 25,000 miles before I bought Alfie (the newer trike) and retired the Q. (For some unfathomable reason the Q was never given its own name, unlike my more recent recumbents).

Anyway, the Q is vaguely up for sale (except I haven’t advertised it) and languishes in the back of the shed at home in Essex. But it does mean that I have a trike to ride when I return home from Germany.

Today, halfway through my visit home to the UK after three months in Germany, there was a concert at my church in Colchester which I wanted to attend. So out came the Trice Q as I didn’t want to suffer the hassles of driving to Colchester, finding somewhere to park and emptying my purse to pay for the parking.

I had brought some cycling shoes with me (with SPD cleats on them) as these are needed for the Q’s pedals. The day seemed reasonably warm so I put on my old cycling clothing that was still here in Essex and got ready to set off, borrowing James’s blue panniers for the journey. The panniers didn’t have any tools in (my set of trike tools are 300km away in Germany) so if I had any issues I would have to phone up for the broom wagon!

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Having barely used the Q in three years (and I’ve done a cumulative 22,000 miles on my other trike and velomobile since), it seemed very different. The boom/bottom bracket seems lower, the trike is a little wider so feels different, and it seems to need a bit more muscle power to steer for the corners. But it is still a very comfortable trike and feels a bit quicker to accelerate than Alfie (it has derailleur gears at the back, not a hub gear, so the rear wheel has less rotation resistance). On the other hand it is shod with three Marathon Plus tyres so these have more rolling resistance and lead to a slightly slower ride time overall.

Off I went along the country lanes of Great Bromley, heading towards Colchester.

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It was strange to be riding on the correct side of the road again!

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The roads feel a little bit more cramped than in Germany but I think this is almost entirely down to the hedges either side that give an illusion of narrowness – all the roads around where I live in Germany have nothing at the sides except wide open fields which makes you think everything has more space.

My new cycling shoes were performing well – here’s one getting into the photo again!

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I must have done this ride to Colchester hundreds of times in the past. In includes two rather nasty hills (well, nasty for a non-climber like me). The first hill, Crockleford Hill, is a dip down to Salary Brook which marks the town limit of Colchester. It was also a bit strange today as there were lots of police about – a few days ago there was a murder in the Greenstead area (near where I was cycling) and they haven’t yet found the person who did it.

As I rode along the Harwich Road I spotted this house that didn’t seem to have noticed that England were now out of the World Cup!

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As I arrived towards the centre of Colchester I passed some of the old houses near to the river Colne.

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This mill building (I think!) has been turned into a very posh block of flats.

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Then I was at the traffic lights with East Hill in front of me.

Now for most cyclists this probably doesn’t look very hilly but believe me, it is. Especially on a recumbent trike, and when you’ve been eating too many cakes and too much chocolate in Germany. I was glad of my nice low gear ratios on the Trice Q so I could winch my way slowly up this hill.

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This is a slight problem with Colchester – the Romans decided to built it on a hill which means you always have to go up a hill to get to it. How inconsiderate of them!

Anyway, I managed to ride to the top without expiring and then rode down the pedestrian streets to get the the church which is slap bang in the middle of the pedestrian precinct central section of Colchester, built above the shops River Island, Costa Coffee and the Body Shop.

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One thing that I noticed almost immediately as I was cycling slowly around the streets is that an awful lot of the people round and about me were fatter than me. In the Kempen area I am one of the lardiest people that I know (well, lardiest woman anyway); here in Colchester I was very much at home in terms of spare tyres and muffin tops.

A possible reason is just opposite Lion Walk – a very nice bakery! (Although, of course, there are lots of nice bakeries in Germany too, as regular readers of my blog may have noticed)

I was very good and just bought a filled baguette from here, no cakes or pastries!

There appeared to be a Giraffe in the church car park.

As I was quite early I decided to park the Trice Q at the church and have a short wander around Colchester to do a couple of boring errands (paying in a cheque at the bank, etc).

Here is the Trice Q arriving at church.

This church began in 1647 but has been rebuilt several times – this particular building is only 25 years old, but the tower was retained from the previous building (which had to be pulled down as it wasn’t very well built!)

The church parking area was surprisingly busy with pushchairs – the pre-school were obviously still there.

I left the Q there and went off on foot through the pedestrian area. I was reminded how many mobile phone shops there are in the UK, as well as pound shops like this one:

However there is also some culture in Colchester with the castle:

And the town hall:

Once again some people are still flying the flag for England, despite their exit from the World Cup first round!

I had to cross the main road at one point and I suddenly realised that I was standing at the traffic light (with a red man for the pedestrian) waiting for it to turn green – but everyone around me was crossing the road as there was no traffic. My three months in Germany have made me very law-abiding!

There’s a small street market around Culver Square and it was all reasonably busy. The vegetable seller was doing the fabulous market calling of his wares but I couldn’t get a good recording of the special way in which they speak – it would have been interesting for my non-Brit readers! Sorry.

Here I am arriving back at Lion Walk church – dangerously close to an Apple Store!

I went into the church and had my lunch (they offer light lunches before the concerts) which involved me spilling some asparagus soup down my front (very messy!). I was then talking to Paul the church caretaker (who I know quite well) and he told me he had a new bike – well I really had to see it! Paul lives above the church in a flat so we went up to the roof of the church (which is itself built over some shops) to admire his wonderful new Pashley bike.

Interestingly Paul didn’t provide me with a safety harness as the sign suggests!

This is the view across the rooftops of the Town Hall.

And here is the beautiful bike!

He’s going to take the lock off and put it somewhere else which is a good decision – it rather spoils the lines of the metal.

It has a nice Brooks saddle, a Sturmey Archer 5-speed hub gear, drum brakes front and rear.

Paul says it is great to ride, which I can believe (for those who can ride uprights)

Some more views across the rooves – on the left is St Peter’s Church at the top of North Hill, the Jumbo Tower and on the right the Town Hall.

And this is looking over to the church – the grey stuff behind the brick tower is the area for the organ pipes and then the top skylights of the octagonal church sanctuary are visible.

After a good look around and chat about the bike it was time for me to go down to the concert which was a wonderful cello and piano event. Beethoven’s Sonate in A Major (Opus 69) played by Oliver Ray on the cello accompanied by his father Ian.

After the concert (which was 45 minutes and included a lovely Vaughan Williams piece as an encore) I stopped off at Aldi to buy some curry sauces for Germany and then rode home, once again hauling myself up the two significant hills at a snail’s pace.

Still, it was good to get out on the bike and it’s worth me knowing that three months in Germany absolutely kills my hill-climbing ability. I’m going to have to tackle the Süchtelner Höhen at least once per week if I’m to have any chance of coping with Essex Hills next time I visit.

My top speed was quite good though! Unfortunately it appears that my ‘Moving Average Speed’ has turned into ‘Sunrise’ so I’m now sure how long it all took but I reckon it’s about an average of 10mph which is pretty slow!

Here’s the track of the ride:

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And here’s the elevation information:

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The Trice Q acquitted itself well seeing as it’s been mostly ignored for three years except for when I’ve lent it to people. I am more used to Alfie and definitely prefer his hub gear (I am rubbish with derailleurs) but the Q is still a very decent trike. And it’s up for sale at a bargainous £1,000/1.125,00€ if you’re interested!

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Filed under Cycling in England, Trikes & Velomobiles

Ko2Ko – Kempen to Hoek van Holland and Great Bromley

My last day of my tour!!!

There are five bakeries in St Hubert and during my week long stay here in March I visited four out of the five. Now was my opportunity to get the full set by having breakfast in Café Poels.

The plan was to have a bread roll (standard German breakfast) but I was almost swayed by the display of cakes:

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And chocolate:

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But common sense won out and I had a Kleines Frühstück which is a cheese and ham roll and a cup of tea, pretty decent value for 2,40€.

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The café also had wifi which isn’t so common in Germany.

The plan was now to head for the Griesson de Beukelaer factory outlet shop on the outskirts of Kempen to stock up on some more chocolate. During this tour I’ve been rather underconsuming chocolate and thought it important to restock. There was a small amount of space left in my Banana Bags, after all!

So I headed off on the nice, smooth cycle route which nips under the main road and takes you into Kempen just a mile from St Hubert. The route by car is considerably longer!

The factory shop had rearranged itself a bit and had a quite different selection of goodies but still plenty that looked yummy.

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I managed to remain sensible and just bought two bags of chocs, one that had little balls a bit like Ferrero Rocher (they had some for you to taste test) and another of very mini chocolate fingers.

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The factory shop has a lot of plates of chocolate for you to test and even a coffee machine to help you browse!

When I got to the checkout and paid, there was also a box of milk chocolate biscuits left on the packing area of the till I was at. I said to the lady that these weren’t mine but were presumably the previous lady’s and she said that as that lady had gone I could take them. Bonus!

I headed back towards Sankt Hubert and my second stop for food shopping – the Stinges bakery. Once again they had the fab Streusel trays which are enough for about six portions (and freeze very well). I had cleverly picked up a strong cardboard box with a decent lid at the chocolate factory and, lo and behold, it was exactly the right size for the Streusel trays! I bought two and they sat nicely on top of each other in the box.

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I also bought a pair of Nuss Striezel (which just fitted on top, slightly squashed) to take home and share with James and an Amerikaner for me for this evening if I fancied something sweet and unhealthy on the ferry.

Then it was back to the Ferienwohnung in some slight drizzle. There was a pretty strong westerly wind which will make my ride to Venlo harder work, and presumably will also mean my ride from Den Haag to Hoek van Holland is a bit blowy.

Here is Alfie parked outside Ferienwohnung Bienenstock – with empty panniers. Soon to be crammed full of luggage and edibles.

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Oh, I forgot to mention yesterday that when cycling into Sankt Hubert two young lads on bikes standing beside the road shouted at me “Are you part of the circus?” Not heard that one before!

Anyway, I took my time loading up my trike as eleven o’clock approached. I had the box of Streusel to fit in and wanted to try not to squash anything! Finally all was ready and I set off.

Here’s the map for the ride to Venlo:

Kempen to Venlo

This ride was done at a fairly leisurely pace. I didn’t think I was in much of a rush (apart from the issue of trains not carrying bikes after 3:30pm, and I would still be on the train at that point), so turned the pedals at only about 10mph for most of this ride.

I headed towards Wachtendonk, going through Voesch and then crossing under the motorway. The skies were quite fierce in the direction I was headed.

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The flat landscape was very familiar from my holiday here in March – I rode these cycle tracks several times but it was interesting to see it all with crops growing rather than snow on the ground.

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It was just outside Wachtendonk that I picked up the first sign to Venlo.

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From Wachtendonk I headed towards Wankum. I’ve done this route a few times but previously went on a narrower cycle track rather than along a road; that’s the thing with cycle path signage, it tends to give you lots of different options depending on your start point – which can also prove rather frustrating!

On the outskirts of Wankum I saw these straw people who looked very cheery.

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My route following the signs went a bit awry here and I (briefly) found myself cycling through a graveyard. I ended up on the main road and soon enough found more Venlo (NL) signs.

I had quite a delay trying to get round this chap – I had to wait for a crossing onto the road, cycle on the road round him and then it was a quarter of a mile before there was another crossing back to the cycle path. Still, good to see them cutting the verges of the cycle paths.

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At Herongen I had an issue with disappearing cycle path signs which means I did two sides of a triangle. This was frustrating, as was the fact that the bakery in Herongen had been shut (imagine that!) as I’d planned to get a filled roll from Germany for lunch. I then stopped at a weird mini food hall but they didn’t have any filled rolls, only huge cheeses, hams and giant packs of coffee. Within 100 metres I was in…

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I realised time was marching on a bit as I wanted to get the 13:50 train so pedalled a bit faster. I was slightly thwarted by some cycle path roadworks in Venlo and rather than taking the detour I just rode on the road (naughty naughty!)

I arrived at the station with 5 minutes until the train left – just enough time to buy my ticket and bicycle ticket and a tuna sandwich. Not time for the loo, unfortunately!

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The train pulled in and a lady with a bicycle started getting on my bicycle carriage. I asked her to wait for my trike as it needed to go in first, but I was talking German and she didn’t understand it. “Do you speak English?” she asked. I have to get used to speaking English again! Anyway, she moved her bike out the way so I could install Alfie and then her bike tucked in beside him.

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I settled myself down in the largely empty train carriage and was surprised to discover there is free wifi on the train

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I ate my sandwich and then still felt hungry so had to extract my Amerikaner from my bags to eat that as well! Sadly most of the icing had stuck to the bag.

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I arrived in Den Haag at 4:10pm which gave me an hour and twenty minutes before meeting Vince at the station (and we would then cycle to his recommended pancake restaurant in Scheveningen). After faffing reattaching my panniers and then putting my windproof jacket on (it was colder than I had expected) I set off ono the trike to the pedestrian area of Den Haag to find a café where I could have a cup of tea and chill out (and use a loo!)

Stadebrasserie De Ooievaer seemed to fit the bill so I stopped there for a tea and cake.

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The cake was very light and tasted fine but the bill came to 5,70€ as I was charged for the tea, something that tends to happen in the Netherlands and not in Germany. However I was able to sit there for an hour and use their wifi so I thought it fair enough to pay for the privilege!

As you can see it was quite grey outside so it was nice to be indoors in the warm – my ride to Hoek van Holland might end up a bit chilly!

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One thing I’ve meant to mention in one of these blog posts for days is to say that whenever I include a photo of someone I’ve talked to, I have always got their permission to post it on the blog. It’s polite and sensible to do so!

I cycled back to Den Haag Centraal station where I was to meet Vince.

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That short trip, just a quarter of a mile, proved that it had become quite chilly out and my legs (in shorts) were cold. I had some legwarmers at the bottom of my clothing bag (within two plastic bags to keep everything dry) but I decided it was worth the faff of getting them out as it would undoubtedly be cold on Friday morning riding back from Harwich.

Whilst I was putting the legwarmers on Vince arrived and we headed off to the pancake house on the seafront at Scheveningen.

Here’s the map of our ride.

Den Haag to Hoek van Holland

It’s much easier cycling on Dutch cycle paths in rush hour when you can follow someone who knows what they are doing!

The occasional blast of wind gave fair warning that the ride to the Hoek (Vince said he would accompany me) would be hard work!

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After a few miles we arrived at the seafront at Scheveningen and discovered a new meteorological situation for this cycle tour – a sandstorm. The sand was being whipped up by the strong wind and blowing right in my face. I was glad I had cycling glasses on and had to cover my mouth with my hand to cycle without getting a mouthful. We were shortly at the pancake house though so locked up the bikes and went into a tent-like structure at the front.

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We were given a menu but I saw no sign of Poffertjes (my favourite). Vince knew that they were available here though so asked and we discovered they were on the drinks menu (obvious, really!) I ordered poffertjes with strawberrries, cream and vanilla ice cream and Vince (proving he has gone native in Holland after 13 years there) ordered a pancake with cheese and ham.

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I really enjoyed my poffertjes and having a cup of tea, a sit down and a chat. Once we had finished we paid up and set off into the strong wind towards the Hoek van Holland.

I decided to extract one of my buffs from my bag of clothing which involved a lot of rooting about but was really worth it over the next 12 or so miles.

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We set off along the seafront, passing some really nice sculptures.

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It’s hard to describe the sand blasting but it was incredibly fierce, like little needles all over exposed skin, and the gusts took my breath away at times. People cycling the other way were flying past, we were working really, really hard just to hit 9mph on the flat. My heart rate was around 150bpm a lot of the time – to do 9mph. Crazy! There were loads of kite surfers out too – mad!

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A chap cycled past us with his surfboard horizontal across his body – and he was using it rather like a sail, not needing to pedal as the wind pushed him along. We also followed this chap cycling along with a second bicycle.

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When we got out onto the dunes the wind was even stronger and some of the mini hills seemed massive. Here’s a picture Vince took of me:

Auntie Helen in a sandstorm

The miles were counting down very slowly and it was hard to hold much of a conversation as the wind whipped your words away. People going past the other way were flying, we were grinding our way across this bit of the Netherlands.

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I realised that Vince was going to have the most marvellous ride back to Den Haag and kept reminding him of this fact – I was really rather envious. Whereas I was doing all this work into wind with no benefit!

Yes I look silly!

We arrived at Hoek van Holland at 8:30pm at which point we said our goodbyes and Vince headed off downwind for 15 miles – lucky chap!

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I realised I was rather hungry after all that effort and, as I had time, popped into the Hoek van Holland pizzeria and had a quick pizza to warm me through and replace some carbohydrate energy.

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I then headed straight to the ferry check in. I was distinctly surprised when the woman greeted me by name as I rolled up – I wondered if this meant I was the only cyclist (she didn’t say, but I did see some other bikes tied up on the ferry). Excellent service anyway!

The sun was setting as I looked behind – Vince ought to have a rather pleasant ride back with the sunset before him and the wind behind him.

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I took this picture of the Garmin trip computer whilst waiting for loading. By the time I had found my parking spot on the ferry it was on 40.00 miles exactly.

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Notice the elevation – 43ft above sea level. The photo of the Garmin trip computer at Meersburg shows it as 1,534 ft, so I have been on a nice downhill run overall (spread out of 781 miles/1,256 kilometres)

I found my cabin on the boat and then searched – in vain – for functional wifi. I think too many people were trying to use it!

I briefly went to the back of the ship for a photo of the sunset but it was so cold I only stayed outside for a minute.

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A close-up in the mirror of the cabin showed a light covering of sand all over my face and a gently sand-blasted appearance. As I said to Vince, people pay a fortune for this kind of dermabrasion and I’ve had it for free!!!

As the wifi wasn’t working I was unable able to write up and post this blog so I went to bed and slept through till the wake-up call at 5:30am.

When I returned to my bike on the Ferry (which was at the back) I saw that the ferry car deck was pretty full and it was absolutely heaving with old MGs, Rolls Royces and various Morris cards (minors, Travellers etc), all with Dutch number plates. There’s clearly some event going on in the UK and it was wonderful to see all the cars, some with old-fashioned leather suitcases strapped to the back.

We were out by 6:30 and I went through passport control and then it was time for the ride home, 15 miles or so.

I didn’t feel like taking the windy, fiddly and hilly NCN51 route (the National Cycle Route from Harwich) as it adds a bit of distance so decided to start off riding down the A120 dual carriageway. At 7am it’s not too busy with British cars although of course all the cars coming off the ferry, and the lorries, passed me. It was a great chance to see (and smell) all those classic cars going past.

I also discovered that, of the various nationalities, the Dutch pass far closer than any other cars, which I wouldn’t have expected. The Germans leave most room and the Brits are somewhere in the middle.

It wasn’t a particularly pleasant ride although was fairly fast and I was pleased when I got to Wix where I can come off the A120 although still be on a reasonably fast road. Unfortunately I’d forgotten that it had been recently surface dressed so the road was really bumpy with gravel chippings and not that comfortable to ride on.

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till, after twelve miles I saw a sign to Great Bromley, nearly home!

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And at 7:45 I rolled up to the front door (having stopped at the local pork butchers for some food for tonight) for the end of my journey.

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A rapturous welcome by the dog (and a reasonably rapturous welcome by James once he saw the Streusel and Nuss-Striezel I had brought him!), a cup of tea and a hot shower and it was time to settle down to work. Three weeks away meant that I had 385 emails in my inbox. Yikes!!!

Anyway, here is the total of all my rides on the Konstanz to Koblenz trip:

Ko2Ko Final Figures

I have also updated MyCyclingLog which lists my monthly goals and also two different yearly goals (One Mile Per Hour, i.e. 24 miles per day, and the slightly higher goal of 9000 miles in the year). Here they are side-by-side before and after I added the Ko2Ko trip.

Stats Before And After

And, finally, I take part in a little mini league amongst various cyclists on the YACF forum. I had slipped down the rankings somewhat during the tour (as I wasn’t posting the figures as I didn’t accurately have them till I got home) but you can see my ranking has rather dramatically improved now! Before is above, After is below.

Ticker

Thanks for reading and it’s been good to chat to lots of different people – please feel free to add a comment below or send me an email using the sidebar on the right hand side (which will be near the top of this page). I do appreciate hearing from readers!

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Filed under Cycle Tours, Cycling in Germany, Konstanz to Koblenz, Trikes & Velomobiles