I am in Mönchengladbach!
Not for the first time, of course – I cycled from Venlo to the railway station in MG a couple of years ago on a cycle tour but you don’t get much of an impression of a town when running late for a train and pedalling as fast as you can!!
Anyway, last night I headed off at 8:30pm to Harwich to the ferry. I’m getting very used to travelling with Stena to the Hoek of Holland although usually just with the bicycle – this time I had the car (with the trike inside).
It always seems a horrible early start when they wake you up with a PA address; although it’s 6:30am Dutch time that’s 5:30am for us Brits and it did feel rather early! I think they hope you will have breakfast in one of their restaurants but I am a cheapskate and decided to get something on the road. 5:30am is too early for breakfast anyway.
This very bad photograph (with a reflection of me and my phone) is the lights on the other side of the Maas as we approached the Hoek van Holland.
As we headed out of the giant ferry I was slightly surprised to discover it was dark. And snowing.
The darkness reminded me that I had meant to bostik on the old headlamp beam reflectors onto the car. I wasn’t expecting to drive it in the dark and so thought just sticking the old ones on would fulfil the law and not cost me extra (as mentioned earlier, I am a cheapskate about some things). However I had forgotten to do this and the sleet falling quite heavily meant that undoubtedly the things wouldn’t stick anyway, even if I stopped to put them on, so I decided to carry on.
They are still digging up the roads around the Hoek van Holland so there were a few diversions. I had Norma the Garmin car Satnav with me and she coped reasonably well. And so did I, driving on the wrong side of the road; I’ve done it a lot these last few years but this time it was instantly natural to drive on the right and I had no difficulties at all in the journey remembering how I should be driving. Practice clearly improves things like this!
Anyway, I pootled my way across the Netherlands, watching the sleet turn to slow and the temperature indicator in the car hover around 0.0 degrees, sometimes getting up to 2 degrees but generally showing 0.5 degrees. I had a slight issue last night when leaving the house in that my car’s tailgate had frosted shut so I couldn’t open it until I got to Harwich when things had thawed out a bit on the 20 minute journey. The plan is to keep Alfie in the car (there’s no bike parking in the apartment I have rented) but it occurred to me that if it’s really cold whilst I’m here I may not be able to get him out of the boot without going for a drive. Mind you, it was minus 2 when I left home yesterday so hopefully it won’t be an issue during the daytime (temperatures forecasted 3-5 degrees over the next few days in MG).
I had about an hour’s driving before daylight (or what passed as daylight under thick snow clouds) finally appeared. No-one flashed me about my headlights so I assume they wwere OK, plus I had peered at various other English cars in the queue for passport control at the Hoek van Holland and none of them had the headlamp beam deflectors either!
I have probably mentioned before on this blog that Norma the Satnav is a bit long in the tooth. We bought her in early 2007 and haven’t updated her maps since. I have once or twice taken a minor wrong turn on journeys because of a change in road priorities but this wasn’t too much of an issue. However, today I did quite a significant diversion where I followed Norma’s directions but a new road has subsequently been built and the roads have been rearranged. I realised immediately (I was driving on a flyover over a road with the signage to where I wanted to go) but of course had to do a bit of creative navigation to get back onto the right track. I managed it eventually – Norma added 10 minutes onto my journey time so it wasn’t a disaster but was annoying.
Annoying because the journey was very slow. MG isn’t that far from the Hoek van Holland really – Google on my iPad reckons 2 hours 20 minutes. That was a bit over-keen as it’s actually 140 miles. However, the reality of a journey in falling snow with grey skies was that I rarely went above 60mph and the “Time of arrival” field on the Satnav stretched further and further into the distance. I had originally told the Apartment owner I expected to arrive at 11:00 but when I hadn’t even reached Venlo at 11 (having left the ferry at 8:15) I decided to stop and ring the apartment owner to let him know I would be there at midday instead. I needed a break and some food too!
Then it was time for the loo and I discovered I had to pay 50 cents for this. There was a note in Dutch which looked like you could get it free if you’d had a coffee and biscuit (which I had indeed had) so I went back to the cashier and asked about this. “That is not possible,” she said. The man at the cashier paying for his fuel rolled his eyes and said to me “welcome to the Netherlands where we make you pay for the toilet.”
So I paid my 50 cents and it turned out I then received a voucher for 50 cents off my tea and cookie. So I did it in the wrong order. Anyway, if I happen to stop at a Shell on the way back I can get the 50 cents discount.
I felt nicely refreshed after this and headed off again in the snow, knowing I only had about 45 minutes to go. Which in fact was slightly less as there was another completely new road that Norma didn’t know about – the signage was very clear that it was the motorway to Mönchengladbach and Koblenz so I took the route although Norma showed me driving across fields as she kept panicking and shouting “recalculating!” It joined up with the motorway she knew about after a couple of miles and as I approached MG the snow had eased a little, which was a relief.
It was very easy to follow Norma’s directions into MG and to find the little area where I am staying. I had looked on Google Earth beforehand and seen what looked like a car park for the church but this turned out to be parking for the flats, free of charge. Bonus! So I parked my car and went to find my accommodation. After a quick call to the Landlord his father appeared with the key, showed me round, took my 150€ for five days (bargain!) and disappeared again.
After a quick walk to the local supermarket (REWE) to buy some lunch and, more importantly, milk for my tea, I unpacked and then had lunch. The snow had turned to drizzle and after I had finished my lunch I thought it looked worthwhile going out for a cycle ride. So I extracted Alfie from the car and got ready to go.
This was the route of my trip today.
My first job was to top up my German mobile phone SIM so that I could use the data. I rode to the Vodafone shop which is in the main shopping street, Hindenburgstraße. Lo and behold there was a Christmas market there although I didn’t stop to look around, just got a new phone SIM (a different Tariff this time) and headed back southwards.
My vague plan was to do one of the routes on my Garmin, the 16 mile circle around MG. I set off on this but wondered if it might not be the best idea as time was marching on and I’d end up riding some of it in the dark. I’d already cycled down to Rheydt as I was thinking about this and then saw a sign to Rheindahlen so thought it would be fun to go and visit the home of the British Army in the Rhineland.
The first part of the route to Rheindahlen was on cycle paths on pavements beside the road. These are OK generally although there were some patches which suffered from tree roots pushing up the tarmac or bricks. There also seemed to be a fair number of traffic lights in MG. Still, it wasn’t long before I had left the town behind and was cycling along past open fields in a very light drizzle.
I had spotted, on my way in, a café and I decided that my nine mile ride deserved a tea break. Unfortunately I hadn’t yet put any teabags in my cycling kit so I had to buy some German tea which was rather underwhelming. However, in compensation they served me up a Windbeutel!!!
I had an enjoyable half hour break and then set off back to MG, following the route my Garmin plotted. I had cycled out on the road that goes through Günhoven but the route back was along the K57 which is a slightly more major road (and which had a rather better cycle path beside it). I passed the Ayrshire Barracks which had lots of security fencing and stern warnings not to take any photographs.
The route took me to Holt and then down a little country lane which eventually spat me out just half a mile from the flat – much more scenic than I would have expected. I had only done 14.5 miles by now so decided to ride on a bit further south to Rheydt again to try to find the Karstadt department store (they had a kettle in stock that I wanted to buy).
I found the kettle, on special offer (10 Euros off) but when I got to the checkout they rang up the original price and didn’t believe me that there was a discount. So I said I wouldn’t have the kettle, went back to the electrics department and got a lady there to check the price and then come with me and tell the cashiers the correct price, which she did and I got my kettle at a bargain price.
I went back outside to where I had tied Alfie to a lamppost and it was definitely becoming dark. I managed to just about squeeze the kettle in its box into my trike sidepod bag but I couldn’t do it up properly; no problem, it wouldn’t fall out with the clip done up.
I was quickly back at the apartment. Here are a couple of pics of it so you can see me at work. Oh, and the other traditional bike ride decoration – various cycle jerseys drying around the place! I have enough clothes with me that I don’t have to wash things whilst I am here but I didn’t want to put them away in the suitcase wet and sweaty after the rain and the ride as they’d be rather smelly by Friday!
I walked round the corner to the pizzeria for my evening take-away. I’m feeling pretty tired now after a three and a half hour drive in the snow as well as an early start!
Tomorrow I am going to meet a lady, Babs, who I’ve contacted through an internet forum for English-speakers who live in Germany. She’s German but an anglophile and lives near MG and we’re meeting for cake in a farm shop thingie she has recommended. Should be nice! Shame the weather forecast for tomorrow is cold and rainy but I have my waterproofs with me so no problem!
Distance travelled: 16.31 miles
Ride time: 1 hour 53 minutes
Average speed: 8.7mph
Maximum speed: 24.6mph
Calories burned: (to be included when I have downloaded the track from my Garmin when I am back home)