Sunday, April 30, 2006

Germany, so far

After the antics of Wednesday night and the ensuing tiredness, we decided not to go too far today, so we stopped in Westerstede and found a B&B.

So far, Germany has been a pleasant surprise. In the north-west corner at least, there are still lots of cycle paths (although some are not so well maintained) and cyclists, some lovely towns, cheap food and B&Bs and plenty of cafes selling Italian ice cream, of which we have eaten far too much already.

We spent Thursday night in Leer, which was lovely. I spent the afternoon wandering around the high street, upon which there was a tree in full blossom, with the wind blowing its petals over passing shoppers. I managed to find a nice waterproof for 30euro in the town bikeshop, which was stocked with all the best bits of German bike kit (Ortlieb panniers, B&M lights, and I'll bet they had a few SON dynamos hidden behind the counter) at about half the cost you pay for them in the UK. Every town we've passed through seems to have a decently-sized bikeshop.

On Friday we stopped for lunch at a pub, where we ordered stuffed pancakes at apparently 4euro each. When we ordered zwei Pfannkuchen, the waitress asked whether we wanted two each - we thought she'd misunderstood us so we said no, only one each. The pancakes came, we ate them, they were good. The bill came, and it said 1 x zwei pfannkuchen i.e. 4 euros for two stuffed pancakes. Wish we'd noticed a bit sooner and gone for two pudding pancakes too!

We've been noticing a lot of Greek restaurants on our travels in Germany so far, which is cool. In the UK, you'd have to look hard to find a Greek restaurant outside of London. Same for Mexican, of which we have seen a fair few in the last couple of days. In the Netherlands we ate Thai, Chinese, Indian and Mexican (twice), but unfortunately didn't get around to any herring.

We're finding it harder to communicate now. Our German is even shoddier than our French and, unlike the Dutch, not many people seem to speak English here. But we're getting better. I managed a whole conversation in German with the lady in the tourist office the other day - and we have spent three nights staying with people who speak no English... we're getting by OK!

Saturday evening we visited an Italian restaurant whose owner turned out to be English and very friendly. She taught us some very important things like how to ask for tap water in German (we had tried at lunchtime but ended up with a rather expensive jug of fizzy water) and the few Polish phrases she knew. The food was also fantastic, the carbonara went straight to the top of our best-ever-carbonara list, and I had a stupendously alcoholic zabaglione for dessert.

Yesterday, the weather turned nasty, we got to Hagen (sadly no Dazs) and it started hailing on us, Dgym turned into a freezy cold wet thing and I wasn't too happy either - so we stopped at the only hotel we could see, which was attached to a very tasty Greek restaurant. Mmm, Lammfleisch mit Spaghetti. Today was also quite rainy, Dgym has no waterproof gloves so we improvised and he now has some very fetching plastic bag mittens. Pictures coming soon...

Wednesday 26th April and Thursday - Germany a little ahead of schedule.

Yesterday (Wednesday) we cycled as planned from Leeuwarden to Groningen. We set off quite late and got there around 6:30, at which point we thoroughly failed to find any accommodation despite spending threee hours trying. No one was in at the B&B we found and all the hotels were fully booked as there is a big conference going on this week. This is why it is a good idea to book accommodation in advance, but because we never know how far we are going to get in a day we aren't in a position to do so.

So we were in the city centre checking the last few hotels when it became apparent that we would be bedless for the night, and so we switched to plan B. We had some dinner at a mexican restaurant where we were served outside dispite the cold because it meant we could stay with the bikes, and it also meant we got some mexican food. This time we had everything with us so I have finally managed to turn up to an appropriate restaurant with the extra super duper hot sauce I have been carrying around. Travelling light requires taking nothing but the essentials, hot sauce is essential. Since we weren't spending a fortune on a hotel we splashed out a bit and had starters and a post meal warm drink. This helped to keep us warm and chirpy and also dragged out the meal which was good because of the long night ahead of us.

After dinner we set out cycling again, with the aim of cycling all night and (hopefully) arriving somewhere with some hotels in the morning. We have done an all night ride before, there is an organised annual event from London to Dunwich, so we knew what to do - stay warm and keep moving at a slow steady pace. This all nighter was a far better experience than the last. They were both comfortable, I did the last one on my other recumbent, but this time I didn't suffer from a sweaty back thanks to the mesh seat rather than the non-breathable hard shell seat on the two wheeler. They also both hurt, despite the lack of hills this time there was still the fact that all the riding over the last few weeks has taken its toll. I think it is recommended to rest for several days before any big event. I was glad for the extra wheel, it is just that much less mental effort to cycle when you don't have to balance and that matters when you are getting tired fast. I was also once again glad that I was recommended the narrow version of the trike as we ended up on some quite small cycle paths with water to either side - they were only just wide enough for me.

The roads were lovely and quiet at night, and we were lucky that there wasn't too much brick surface to suffer at all. Most of the roads were fairly direct so the navigation wasn't much problem. At about 3:30 we crossed the border into Germany and carried on as far as we had maps for - which was into Leer. We got some breakfast from a bakery at about 8:00 and then went to the tourist information office when it opened at 9:00. They found as a room at a local B&B just out of town for 36 euro, and they were happy for us to check in so early. Since then I have had a snooze, washed, and am just about ready for an evening out - it has come to my attention that I am missing a meal. Hel wanted to go the bike shop and look at waterproofs so she left an hour ago which has given me some time to write this.

As far as plan Bs go, this isn't such a bad one, we have arrived where we wanted to get to 9 hours early and spent much less money doing so. I am hoping the pain in my knees subsides before tommorow, 106 miles takes some recovering from.

Monday 24th April - Making up for yesterday.

Yesterday was not so kind to us, we didn't sleep so well in Den Haag because of the obnoxious guests in the next room, breakfast and lunch were both quite poor, I got wet and cold, hel broke another spoke and we both got miserable. In the evening we hobbled in to Haarlem and got a room for 70 euro - breakfast included - which seems to be the going rate around here (actually I managed to get it knocked down from 80) and then things picked up. For a start the room had a bath, and we hadn't seen one of those since England. We were advised to walk round the corner and see the last bits of the annual flower show before it all got packed up so we headed out and saw some lovely floral displays, and just so happened to find an Indian restaurant along the way.

This morning we were both well rested, well fed (the hotel breakfast was very good), and the weather was looking grey but dry. Hel got her rear wheel completely replaced at a local bike shop and while she was doing that I was on the internet looking for accommodation for tonight and even got to make a phone call for a nice change. When we were all ready we had some options for where we could stay, and the sun had come out and it was a glorious day. It was also noon but nevermind.

There seemed to be a lot of large townlessness along our route and going by the hotel guides it was either going to be a 20 miles day or a 55 mile day. Since it was already so late and there was a fairly strong head wind we decided to play it safe and do the 55 miles. We knew it would be hard work and we did have to keep up a pretty energetic pace but it was one of the most rewarding rides I have had so far. The weather was really good, the ground was really flat, and for the most part we managed to avoid bad surfaces. They seem very keen on brick roads here, I am very very not keen on them, they are simply horrible on the trike and not much better on the tourer, thankfully today was mostly tarmac. It was good to really feel the benifit of all the fitness and strength we have built up, three weeks ago I would not have been able to stand up after a ride like today's, but I was smiling all the way and I feel fine.

The real highlight of today was lunch when we found somewhere about two minutes after agreeing that it would be nice to find somewhere for lunch. It was surprising because there weren't any shops nearby, just a parade of houses along a main road before it all opened up into farm land, but stuck on the end was a cafeteria, which over here is just like a cafe except you order at the till. This place just seemed like a good place for ice cream, there was something about the display of various toppings available that triggered my inate sense of mmmmm so I ordered a vanilla milkshake and hel decided to have a coffee one. After that I had another, but chocolate this time for a bit of variety. We also had some food but moving swiftly back to the very fine milkshakes all I want to do is think about them some more so sorry, no description, I am just going to quitely contemplate instead. Hel says that her pancake does deserve a mention even next to the milkshakes but what ever.

We are now right at the beginning of the 30 mile dijke, so that should make for a nice amount of straight forward cycling tommorow. I really hope we don't have any navigation trouble along a straight road with the sea on either side.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Sunday 23rd April - Pretty flowers

It's been a crazy couple of days.

Yesterday we left Zeeland for Zuid (South) Holland. The scenery wasn't particularly picturesque - lots of flat green stuff (although we did see some really tiny little baby horses, they were lovely) followed by a bunch of industrial stuff near Rotterdam. We crossed another a dam and took another ferry to get onto the Holland "mainland" and by the time we were in the region of Den Haag, we were exhausted and it was getting late. We headed for the coast and ended up in Scheveningen where we found ourselves cycling past lots of lovely-looking restaurants - Thai, Japanese, mmm... but with no hotels nearby.

Thanks to the help of a kind passer-by, Tony, who turned out to be Australian and a fellow traveller with whom we ended up having dinner, we were able to find accommodation - unfortunately all the hotels were full due to school holidays but we were able to get a room in a nearby hostel. The room was a dorm with 5 single beds, which we had to ourselves, but at 30euro each the place was a ripoff and in appalling condition, dodgy-looking electrical fittings, mouldy shower, leaky sink... which we could have ignored had we not been awoken at 2:30am by very loud talking from the next room. It didn't stop after a couple of minutes, so I leaned out of the window and yelled "Shut up!". The talking continued. I banged on the wall and in response learned that the Dutch are also quite capable of swearing in English. I ended up putting headphones on to block out the noise.

Needless to say, today we were pretty tired. The scenery improved, though. We went through wooded areas and national parks, and past tulip fields, which provided a lovely splash of colour to the day. The weather almost looked like it was going to be pleasant, but then it got cloudy, lunch was lousy, I stepped in dog poo, and then it started to rain. Then I snapped another spoke. Fortunately it didn't mess up the true of the wheel too much so we could carry on, but it's a sure sign the wheel's in a pretty bad way. We found a station cafe, stopped off for hot chocolate and managed to figure out we were just outside Haarlem. So we got ourselves into Haarlem, and found ourselves another overpriced hotel (as they all seem to be here, what few of them we can actually find - perhaps we're missing something?)

We managed to catch the end of the annual Haarlem flower festival, which took place today. Always fun to accidentally end up staying round the corner from giant flower-encrusted sculptures of elephants, giraffes, sphinxes, tulips and much, much more.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Friday 21st - Headwind

dgym

The last few days have been pretty good, since leaving France we have barely seen a hill, let alone had to go up one. I was really liking Belgium, it seemed to have good cycle routes, but then the mess around Zeebrugge put a real damper on things - disappearing routes, detours around the shops, and at one point a nice little loop. Thankfully we have maps and a compass and were able to go in the right direction for long enough to get the hell out of there.

The Netherlands aren't nearly as flat as people make out, its certainly not geometrically flat, at times there are bridges, speed bumps and dropped kerbs to get over - you also have to get up to the top of dijkes before you cycle along them. We must have changed our altitude by at least 10 meters yesterday. We haven't seen many windmills, but lots and lots of wind turbines instead and they are pretty too.

It is lovely to see so many cyclists here, even on a Friday afternoon there was real cycling traffic at stages. We also saw two recumbents in the space of 5 minutes, both two wheelers but one was a rowing recumbent which is very rare.


hel

Today was harder work than it should have been, due to (apparently) an 8mph headwind. 8mph ain't much, but hey - this is the Netherlands. It's flat, and cycling should be easy, and the wind's supposed to be on our backs. Nevertheless, it was a fun day. We crossed from Breskens to Vlissingen on the ferry, and cycled along the vast dam linking Noord Beveland and Schouwen-Duiveland.

We decided to stop trying to follow the LF1 route (which we had mostly followed through Belgium, and planned to follow most of the way through the Netherlands) and instead just rely on compass and map, as the signposting gets a bit sporadic in places, and there are cycle paths everywhere anyway. On the dam, there was a cycle path with a lane in each direction, fenced off from a road which also had a single lane in each direction. The cycle path was almost as wide as the road! Much better than the Pont de Normandie, and you can imagine that in the UK it would be all motorway, and cyclists would be asked to please swim across.

Tonight we are staying in a diving hotel in a small town called Scharendijke. Look at a map of the Netherlands - we're on one of those little islandy bits near the bottom.

Thursday 20th April - One day, three countries.

France

We had breakfast in France - on our way out of Bray-Dunes, we sat on the seafront and had a pain au chocolat and croissant each. Two miles later we were in Belgium, quite a minor business, announced only by a small sign.

Last impressions of France? Friendly drivers, some quite pleasant roads and pretty good cycle paths - a welcome change from England. Some really pretty areas (e.g. Cherbourg peninsula) and some not so nice (e.g. Le Havre and surrounding areas) We had some good meals there, although the food does tend to be quite fatty and I'm a little sick of frites right now. Good stuff - crepes au citron, pain au chocolat, smoked duck salad, camembert and lots of other nice cheeses.


Belgium

We had lunch in Belgium - we found a pub, I'm not really sure where, somewhere just south of Oostende I think, and struggled through our first few words in Dutch to get a table and ask for the menu. Dgym went for a macaroni cheese. I couldn't decide what I wanted, so went for the thing I could least understand, (which is always fun, as long as you know that "gesiers" is French for "gizzards" :) It turned out to be prawn croquettes with salad, and was very good.

I was wondering before today what sort of a place Belgium is - nobody really seems to go there on holiday or anything, so we weren't really sure what to expect. It was for the most part quite pleasant, the cycle paths were nice, taking us along mostly traffic-free routes in the countryside and guiding us alongside the roads in town. The food was tasty and a bit cheaper than France... they just need to get rid of Zeebrugge. We seeemed to spend most of the afternoon getting through the city what with the cycle paths either being very sporadically signposted, or sending us roundabout the houses/docks on a very indirect route, or having lorries planted in the middle of them. We then arrived at the mechanised bridge just in time to see the lights go red and the bridge lift in front of us. OK, we thought, we'll wait here while a couple of ships go through... so we waited for fifteen minutes while four or five large slow ships chugged their way in from the sea... and then the bridge did nothing. We waited, and waited, and nothing happened. I noticed that the front car that was waiting was also British so I went to ask if they knew anything about when the bridge would go down. They, like us, were just hoping it would go down soon. Dgym pointed out that it looked like some large ships were about to crawl out in the other direction too, so we gave up and tried another bridge. We managed to get over the bridge, at which point it was roadworky chaos and pretty much unnavigable for a cyclist. We somehow managed to duck between hurtling lorries and get ourselves out of it, thank goodness.

So - if you're thinking of cycling in Belgium - it's quite lovely, but stay away from the cities!


Netherlands

The Belgium/Netherlands border was quite unannounced - I'm not sure when we actually crossed over, but we did. We're only just past the border, and have stopped at the first hotel we saw. Which at 65euro is little more pricey than we'd normally go for but we were tired and hungry, and it's a very nice room for the money. First impressions of the Netherlands? It's flat, and there are lots of bicycles. Hooray, we're definitely in the right country. And, in response to our feeble attempts at speaking their language, the Dutch have been putting us to shame by responding fluently in our own.

We had dinner in the Netherlands - the only local restaurant was also expensive at almost 20euro a main meal, but very nice indeed and the dishes (a mixed grill and a steak) came with lots of tasty side dishes, and pancake soup. Pancake soup is something that had never occurred to me before, but it's a great idea. The waitress was very friendly and helped us with our Dutch pronunciation as we read out to her cheesy lines from the phrase book such as "The meal was delicious thank you" and "Can we have the bill please?"

Wednesday 19th April - No more hills

We conquered the hills, and now have hundreds of miles of flatness ahead of us. We left at 8:30 this morning in order to get some extra distance in, and the plan worked well.

Outside Boulogne, we encountered a group of brightly-coloured skinny lycra-clad cyclists on racing bikes, presumably on a club run - or rather, they encountered us, said bonjour as they passed us going up hill and sped off into the distance. We then passed them a few minutes down the road, having a break. They overtook us again while later. Again, we passed them having another break. Again, they overtook us. I began to suspect they were just showing off - look, we can overtake you with our muscles and our lycra and our feather-light bicycles... and we can do it again and again. But we didn't see them again after that.

The hills were quite unfriendly today, and there were quite a few of them. For every slope we crawled up, I felt a little glimmer of hope that maybe this was the last one before the flatlands, only to see more hills when we reached the top. Eventually, we saw a huge hill in front of us and stopped to check the contours on our map. The hill turned out to be Cap Blanc Nez, indeed the final hill. And it was a real tough one. Probably a 13-14% gradient over about half a mile, the biggest hill we've tackled so far on this trip. But it was encouraging to know it was the last, and really satisfying to reach the top and roll down towards Calais. It was all easy after that - the terrain was lovely and flat, and the wind was on our backs.


We were considering staying in Dunkerque but it turned out to be a bit of an odd place. We followed signs to the Centre Ville but never actually managed to find it. We did make it to the beach, which was quite lovely and had a cycle path along the sea front. That was nice - but we somehow managed not to find any hotels. We weren't too set on staying there, so kept going east. Two towns later we were in Bray-Dunes, the most northerly town in France, which is where we are staying the night (yes it does begin with B, but we'd got as far as we'd intended for the day) Belgium's just down the road, and we'll cross over early tomorrow.

My wheel has behaved itself today. It is round, and it has all its spokes. That's pretty much all you could ask of a wheel.

Tuesday 18th April - No more B's for us

Today was a bit hillier again - the flatlands of yesterday are divided from the flatlands of the Netherlands / Belgium / the very north of France by a hilly region. The hills are often quite steep, but usually accompanied by a segregated cycle path. It's easier to take your time on a climb when you don't have traffic queueing up behind you. We got some quite spectacular views as we approached Boulogne.

In Boulogne, we found a bike shop willing to fix my wheel, so we stopped for the night after only 30 miles. In French lessons in English schools they don't tend to teach you such handy phrases as "I have broken a spoke, can you please replace it?" so I ended up having my first wild gesturing session in order to communicate my mechanical problem. Which seemed to work - I left the bike with them and a couple of hours later picked it up with not one but two shiny new spokes. Apparently another one broke during the repair, not good news, I need to do something more permanent about my rear wheel, like rebuilding it with a complete new set of spokes. However, it should do for now.

Tomorrow, we're leaving super-early (dgym's idea, would you believe) to follow the coast around to Dunkerque or thereabouts (about 70 miles), and then spend our last night in France. Should be fine once we're over these last few hills. We've resolved not to go through any more places beginning with "B" till we're out of France as we keep ending up cutting our day short and staying in them. (this is our 9th night in France and 6th beginning with B)

514 miles so far.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Monday 17th April - Pop goes Hel's spoke

So yesterday was a day of wifi, yay! We checked into an Etap hotel with Orange wifi. What we didn't realise was that it was wifi for only particular rooms (we checked in by machine so there was nobody to explain this to us) so the signal was so weak in our room that dgym had to get onto the top bunk to pick up anything, and then it was intermittent. It was OK out in reception though. Orange wifi is a bit annoying in that you buy your connection, say 24hrs worth, and it connects you immediately. If you become disconnected, e.g. because the signal is pants, you need to re-enter your login and password. When they connect you, they give you the login but not the password. The password is emailed to you, and email takes time to go through. So if your connection is so bad that you don't stay on long enough to get to your email... and if it's Easter Sunday so there will be no tech support to help you... doh! Thanks Orange. I had to go and sit in reception with a good signal so I could buy another hours worth so we could get to dgym's email and get his password. Of course, that's probably what they wanted us to do.

Today I popped a spoke about five miles out of Treport, rear wheel drive side - if you happen to carry spare spokes, that's the worst place you could break a spoke as you have to remove the rear freewheel to replace it. If, like me, you don't carry spare spokes, it makes no difference because you can't replace it anyway. The immediate problem you have when a spoke goes is that the wheel goes out of true (i.e. becomes unevenly tensioned and loses its shape) and will rub against the brake pads once per turn. A quick retrue with a spoke key sorted that out, but the wheel's still not quite round and as a result gives a slightly bumpy ride. It's not advisable to ride on such a wheel for very long, as it puts greater strain on the other spokes (especially with the loads I'm carrying) - but it'll get you to the next bike shop. Damn machine-built wheels. I built my own front wheel and it's winning 0:2 on the broken spokes front.

The terrain today was mostly very flat, we cycled up from Treport along the Picarde coast, around the Somme bay and have ended up in Bercke. The sun came back out after spending a few days in hiding, so our moods were somewhat brightened. We rolled (one of us in a slightly bumpy manner) along miles and miles of flat, wide and pleasant cycle path, most of which appeared quite freshly laid. Most of it was about three times the width of your average English cycle path. Maybe it's just because it's a national holiday, but the paths seemed quite well-used. It's nice to see that, even with roads that are not too intimidating, the French are making a respectable effort to make cycling even more pleasant.

Berck was very noisy and busy when we rolled into town, but mostly with people on their way out from their bank holiday weekend, and it's quietened down now. We were able to get a hotel easily, it's even got a terrace although it's a bit chilly/windy to sit out there for long.

Once again we have run out of map - we've been relying on free maps from tourist offices since Dieppe and they're actually pretty good.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Saturday 15th April - Just say GGGggrrrr to National Holidays

hel

What a day.

It rained for most of the day. My legs were tired and the bike felt sluggish. Dgym was having problems with sticky brakes and gears not shifting quite right. We stopped for lunch at Fauville only ten miles on from Bolbec, and ate camembert and ham with bread, and lovely juicy tomatoes which I'd bought at the market that morning. Dgym got his gears a bit more sorted, while I managed to scrape off enormous chunks of black stuff from my rear derailleurs. I really should have cleaned my bike before we left - the stuff was so solid, I thought it was part of the mech.

The hills rolled gently across the countryside between Le Havre and Dieppe. We have spent the past day and a half inland, cutting off the "nose" of which Le Havre is the tip. It's hillier than it was a few days ago, but not horribly so. The worst part of the day was the rain - I was pretty damp by the time we reached Dieppe and there was a lot of standing around looking at maps or getting chips, or crawling along trying to find open hotels / tourist offices, I ended up a bit cold and shivery so dgym got me out of my damp stuff into warm thermals, fleece, etc.

As dgym will tell you, we had a horrible time trying to find hotels, and very soon stopped caring whether any of them had wifi - every hotel was full. We started to consider other options - camping in a parking space, trying to get an overnight ferry to Newhaven... and eventually decided to take our chances further down the coast. We'd hoped the city would offer us the best chances of finding open stuff over the weekend, but apparently not. So we rode out of town, figuring at least out in the country there'd be a bit of grass on which to pitch a tent, if nothing else. The first town we came to had a chambre d'hotes which was closed, and a campsite which was for caravans only, and wouldn't let us pitch - but they suggested we try the one two towns away. Which we very nearly did... we reached Berneval-le-Grand, stopped off at a shop and picked up some food to keep us going, before heading off in the direction of the campsite to pitch up before it got dark, only to stumble across one final hotel... which turned out to have a room - a pretty decent cheap room too, and an excellent restaurant.

So right now we're warm and stuffed full of good food, not shivering in a dark tent with a sliced loaf and a Camembert for company.

Not quite sure where we're headed tomorrow, as we've run out of map. But we're back on the coast again, so I guess we'll just keep following it up towards Calais.


dgym

Today we cycled from Bolbec to Dieppe, and it was ok apart from the rain. I felt pretty darn sodden on the outside, including hands and face, but the waterproofs kept the rest of me dry. Hel wasn't so lucky, her jacket is old and leaky and she was quite wet by the time we got to Dieppe. After an emergency change of clothes and emergency portion of chips we were all set to find out for ourselves that there were no rooms left in any of the obvious hotels. Many of the restaurant/hotel combos havn't opened the hotel bit yet as it isn't quite the season, and the tourist office was shut by the time we got there. For that I would like to blame a very annoying hotel clerk for refusing to tell me where the tourist office was even though that hotel had no rooms and it was just two streets away. He insisted that the hotel down the road would have rooms and that I really didn't need to go anywhere else so why give me the requested directions. We later tried that hotel to find it was also full. In order to find the tourist office we had to use a cybercafe, google told us it was just around the corner from where we were 10 minutes ago. We got there just in time to see the doors get locked.

So ggrrr to people unwilling to help a person in need, ggrrr to national holidays that ensure every open hotel in an entire city is fully booked, and ggrrr for this all happening on the wettest day we have had yet.

Friday 14th April - Pont de Normandie, not recommended

We crossed the Pont de Normandie today, an impressively huge structure spanning the Seine river at Le Havre, which we had to cross one way or another. We were swept off the main roads onto a cycle path which led up onto the bridge and then spat us out onto a narrow cycle lane running alongside the motorway over the bridge. When I say "lane", I mean there was a white line between us and the hurtling lorries. And when I say "narrow", dgym's trike only just fit. It was a brutal climb up to the apex of the bridge, from which it would have been a lovely view, had the landscape been less industrial, or the weather a little brighter. The wind from passing lorries, normally a nuisance, was actually helpful in pulling us up the slope a little. We didn't get close enough to the other bridge to really tell, but I'm fairly sure it's the better option!

Hills are deceptive things. You see the road rising ahead of you on a straight stretch, and perspective can make it seem far more daunting that it really is. Or you will be heading for what you think is the top, only to find it isn't. Perhaps you've just got round a bend only to find yet another stretch of upwardly-sloping road, when you thought there couldn't possibly be any more. Often, hills become less intimidating once you're close up to them, perhaps you're already half way up before you even realise it. And then there are those that, once you're up close to them, you realise you're about to pedal up a cliff face. We found one of those today, just as we'd got clear of Le Havre. We cycled parallel to the bottom of this cliff for a good couple of miles, knowing we'd have to get up it somehow, at some point. The anticipation was horrible - reminded me of the London to Brighton ride, in which I had the fear of Ditchling Beacon for most of the way - the South Downs loomed up in front of us and yes, it did turn out to be a rather nasty climb. However, this one was different - and actually quite pleasant. It wound very gently up the cliff face, it barely seemed to be even taking us upwards, and none of it was actually steep. It was really quite well done, and a great example of why it's best not to presume anything about a hill before you've tried it.

The search for internet goes on. Today the tourist office at Bolbec directed us to a hotel just out of town, up a long and grinding hill, which supposedly had internet. When I asked about this at the hotel reception, the receptionist looked me as if I was on drugs. The hotel was too pricey to be worth it otherwise, so we rolled back down, unimpressed, and went for the cheapest in town.

Tomorrow, we hope to reach Dieppe.

Thursday 13th April - Wanadon't

My bicycle has been eating my legs. It has teeth, and they bite me. Yesterday the outer chainring sliced up my right leg while I was trying to manoeuvre myself next to dgym in a parking space. Today I was leaning against it, slipped, and the bicycle and I toppled over, leaving five scrape-marks across my left shin. Add to that the bramble scratches I got while clambering into a ditch to attend to lavatory matters, and my legs are looking a bit beaten up. I have also been beaten quite severely around the head by the Freckle Monster. I haven't had proper freckles for years, and I'm pretty sure I never had this many.

We hit a monster hill today around Auberville, as the road forced us away from the coast - unfortunately there were no jolly little Frenchmen to jump out and cheer us on. Perhaps it only happens when the sun's out. It was a lovely long descent back down to the sea, but we didn't feel like going much further after that.

This morning we got to the post office, bought an internet card and had the world's most awkward internet session ever. It was an eMac with a very funny keyboard - some of the letters were swapped around or moved up or down a row. Being a touch typist, I was lost - dgym's a hunt-and-peck kind of guy, so he was OK and seemed to get used to it very quickly. And, it being a Mac, everything was a bit strange anyway.

This evening, we almost got our wifi - we got to Blonville sur Mer, just short of our target of Deauville, and decided we'd done enough for the day. Questioning at the tourist office for wifi hotels proved fruitful, and after much phoning around, we were directed to a hotel just a few doors down. The nice lady gave us the WEP key and allowed dgym to fiddle around with the wifi box (a Wanadoo, of course) until he was blue in the face, but with no luck. Still, it's a nice enough place, we have a sea view, and I'm hoping I can persuade dgym to come out for a paddle in a little while.

Distance so far is 319 miles - we've been on the road for a week.

Wednesday 12th April - Bayeux

So it's true - they really do leap out at you and start cheering you up hills. We were struggling up a slope... uh... I don't remember where now. Probably somewhere near Carantan... when this little French chap appeared out of his driveway and, miming a pedalling motion, started calling out "Go, go, go!" Or something like that.

So we have still have failed to find internet, whether it be wireless or in cafe form. We saw a hotel last night with free wifi in St Vaast-la-Hougue, unfortunately we had already got another hotel for the night. The closest we came was an internet cafe this evening in Bayeux. I ran excitedly down the street towards it (knowing it would have closed for the day, but there's always tomorrow morning and it was still exciting), only to find that it had closed permanently. Grr! And they seem to love their WEP here (wifi encryption) - in England, most wifi routers are Belkin and unsecured by default - it's easy to find one and hop on. Wanadoo are quite prevalent here, and their routers seem to have WEP switched on by default. However, we have been informed at the hotel that post offices generally provide internet access, so we will try that tomorrow.

We're spending the night in Bayeux, having ridden 67 miles today, that makes a nice average of 50 over yesterday and today. The terrain has been beautifully flat so far and I think our legs are in recovery now as we managed to average about 12mph today rather than our usual 10. Bayeux is really pretty, the high street has some lovely old half-timbered buildings. It's twinned with Dorchester, which is where we were just three days ago.

I'm a little worried about what we'll do over Easter - apparently it's a big deal here, and a lot of things close. We'll need to stay fairly close to big towns to maximise our chances of food, water and shelter.

Tuesday 11th April - Bonjour, nous sommes en France.


We were excited to get going this morning and get out onto the coastal road. We had been warned by many people about the big hill going out of Cherbourg - I guess this must have been on the main roads, as we managed to avoid it.

Cherbourg has lots of cycle paths, consisting of two lanes, each of which is at least the width of your average UK cycle path, and accommodates dgym's trike nicely. The only problem is that both cycle paths and roads are crossed by numerous railway tracks, some of which are at funny angles, so you have to be careful about crossing them.

Once we left Cherbourg, the cycle path stopped and we ended up following the Route Val de Saire through quiet, picturesque coastal roads and past tiny villages. Drivers were very patient, unhurried and considerate, and were few and far betweeen (With the exception of the guy who right-hooked me in St Vaast). We exchanged lots of waves and bonjours with fellow cyclists, walkers and random bystanders.

The weather was lovely and sunny all morning, but started to pick up a wind around lunchtime, which was quite brutal by mid-afternoon, so we stopped in Quettehou for the night, after 33 miles. There was a lovely moment going through the quiet little streets of Quettehou, dgym ahead of me, and as I passed a small shop I saw the elderly shopkeeper, cheek pressed up against the window, gaping in awe. It was like a scene from a car advert. "Ohhh - eet eez ze latest Peugeot!"

Finally - for all the panda-lovers and cow-lovers out there, we have also discovered a new species - the PandaCow. Moo!

Monday 10th April: Last day in England

Hel

Today we've come 36 miles from Dorchester to Poole, via Corfe Castle and Studland, which is a beautiful part of the country. We weren't sure whether we'd have time to do Studland, and considered taking the main road straight into Poole, but I'm really glad we ended up on the scenic route. It's fairly hilly, but not outstandingly so and there are some lovely views over Poole harbour. For beauty/hilliness ratio, it's highly recommended. When you reach the end of the road, you will also have the privilege of taking an insanely short ferry trip across the harbour entrance, to get you back into Poole. We didn't get around to finding chilli icecream, perhaps another time!


It's exciting to be leaving the country. We've been rushing around the past couple of days trying to get to people's houses and meet ferries and so on. From tomorrow onwards, nothing is booked or planned.

The hotel (Beausejour) we stayed in was basic, and the room was tiny, but it was nice and close to the ferry port and served its purpose. I was pleasantly surprised when we asked if there was anywhere we could leave the bikes - I wasn't expecting much as the hotel was terraced with other buildings in a narrow backstreet, but we were led down the street to a secure garage.

With the exception of Friday's showers, the weather's been beautiful so far, lots of sunshine although every so often a cloud passes across the sun and you shiver and remember it's still only April.

We have cycled 168 miles so far.


Grey Mouse

Well it's been a pretty dull few days for me - I've been shut away inside a dark pannier since Friday, while Hel and Dgym have been having all the fun. Oh well, at least they're doing all the pedalling - I'd have difficulty with that, since my legs are very short. And life in the pannier got a bit better once Hel threw in some cherry bakewells.

Anyway - things got a bit better for me today when they took me out and I got to see Corfe Castle, which has about as many bits missing as I do. Here I am, enjoying a bit of sunshine.

Sunday 9th April: Not quite fit to pedal

Dgym

I am not as fit as Hel (yet), and although we managed a long trek yesterday I was in a bad way today. Most of the 20 miles to Dorchester were quite miserable, far too hily for sore legs, but there is a really nice bit towards the end with a series of considerately diminishing hills. A bit of pedaling down one was enough to make me roll over the crest of the next.

Needless to say I was very grateful for the warm reception and a hot meal at Hel's grandparent's.


Hel

Thanks to my parents and grandparents, who between them managed to fill us up with much-needed roast dinners today. We were reluctant to get going today, still being pretty tired from Saturday's 80 miles. The road to Dorchester was a little hillier than it looked on the map, and we both really struggled in places - but fortunately it was only about 20 miles and made a pleasant enough afternoon ride. My bike was feeling a lot less sluggish after ditching the extra weight, and I'm just about coping without the Wensleydale.

Saturday 8th April: Ow

Dgym

We went through some lovely places today, especially Kimbridge which had some nice watery bits including two rivers. The roads were straighter, longer and all in all less tricky so we actually got somewhere today, all 80 miles to Sturminster. Salisbury was a little unpleasant, we had to go right into the the center to cross the river there. Coming out involved a large hill, a narrowish road and plenty of traffic, but once we got off that one things soon picked up again. I got the first puncture of the holiday, not a big problem as I carry spare inner tubes for road side fixes and a repair kit to use when more convenient. After that we went into Shaftsbury, which is on a famously (featured in a Hovis advert) big hill. Thankfully our route was a steady shallow climb and we were still in good shape at the top. Comming down was hard work on the brakes for the first bit, but then the road opens up and it is a lot of fun, weeeeeeeeee.

It was great to arrive in Stur, a hot bath and a good dinner soon sorted us out, and we were ready to fall asleep early again.


Hel

We left the B&B at about 8:30am and reached Sturminster at about 7:15pm, absolutely exhausted after 80 miles of pedalling.

I definitely underestimated how much the extra weight would slow me down, but have now managed to lose about 4lb in the new magic "lose loads of weight by ditching all the stuff you don't need out of your panniers" diet. Items removed included a pot of porridge oats, a lump of Wensleydale (we had to empty the fridge before we left, and I hate throwing stuff away), an inflatable pillow and Nicholas Crane's classic "Cycling around Europe". Which does contain lots of vital info like the best way to carry a baguette on a bicycle (well, there is none, just get them to cut it in half) - but ultimately not useful enough.

The tent turned out to be pretty light and compact, a little short for dgym but it'll do - and he was happy enough to add it to his headrest arrangement.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

L'Internet would be nice

We are alive and well in Bayeux, but we have yet to find a decent
internet connection since we arrived in France. The post office has a
terminal, but we could really do with a direct connection from our
laptops.

The keyboard here is very odd and so is the browser, making this the
hardest post to send yet.

Hopefully we will be able to post what we have written of our travels
sometime soon - maybe the Netherlands have the internet.

dgym + hel

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Friday - Not a great start, but good enough

Friday 7th April 2007
(yes, we're a couple of days behind on posting - we've been tired, and haven't had much internet access!)

dgym

Last night we finally found and gathered everything that we wanted to take. I normally leave packing to the last minute, but this time there was a slight problem of having to sort out the flat afterwards - something we didn't finish until this afternoon. When trying to do 115 miles in a day its probably best to get an early start, so instead we decided to break the journey into two days.

We have managed to pack quite reasonably, and with a little experience we should learn what else we can do without, but for now our bikes are something heavy. It's definitely not a moderate something, nor even a polite something, so just think of a very naughty verb and they are that something heavy. It is hard to compare the bike and trike, but it may just be that hel's bike is now the heavier one, which is very good for me, as for the first time ever I can keep up with her. Infact I might be just a little faster, which is a very nice change.

Today has been great. The trike has been fantastic - my leg muscles are sore but that is all - we have kept well fed and well watered, and have had a lovely ride despite the weather. We have also found a nice (if pricey) B&B for the night, and there is a good looking restaurant over the road. The slight downside is that we are only 30 miles away from where we started. And it took 6 hours. We only spent 3 hours actually cycling and I am very pleased with that - 10mph average on the first day with laden bikes is quite respectable. The other 3 hours were spent having lunch, snacks, locking and unlocking the bikes at a pub that wasn't serving food, rummaging through panniers finding waterproofs.... As we get more organised hopefully we will spend more time actually pedaling and actually get somewhere. We will see about that tommorow.


Hel

Well, we didn't set off early and we didn't quite make it the 100-and-something miles. In fact, we were still packing up and tidying the flat until late morning, and didn't get away until noon. What with that, and having to stop for lunch, and to pick up a box spanner for dgym's wheels, and various navigational stops to get us through the tiny lanes south of Farnham, we managed a puny total of 30 miles today before the rain and impending sunset/rush hour got the better of us, a B&B showed up and we stopped just south of Alton.

My bike weighs a ton. It's extremely difficult to handle while stopped, and I have to make sure I fully unclip my feet when I stop, otherwise the bike's in danger of keeling over and taking me with it! Of course dgym doesn't have that problem. It was a little weird riding it at first as I'm not used to front panniers, which affect the handling. But the bike's taken it really well, and it's always surprising how easy it is to ride with all that weight. My legs are taking to it pretty well, I just end up going a bit slower than usual. I do still have to somehow add a tent to my load - if you could see my panniers now, you'd be wondering "How on earth will she do that?" The answer lies in the First Law of Panniers, which is that they'll always take exactly as much as you try to put in them. Really.

It seems like we're still awfully close to where we started, and I was hoping we'd get a bit further, but never mind! The most important thing is that we've had a really fun ride today - we've had rainy spells and sunny spells, hills and flats and it's all been great. We could have ridden down the A31 in half the time it took us on the quiet route, but it wouldn't be the same. We've seen daffodils, bunnies, sheep, lambs, horses and llamas. It's lovely to finally be on our way, even if we haven't left the country yet.




Tomorrow morning we'll set off bright and early (and this time we really will, we've ordered 7:30 breakfast) - there's no flat to tidy or route to finish planning, just a nice (hopefully empty) road ahead, still plenty of munchy stuff to eat, dry socks and hopefully slightly better weather.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Nearly Ready

It's all happening around here at the moment - the list of tasks has seemed endless, but it finally feels like we're getting somewhere.

We have bought two Rab S12 sleeping bags, and two self-inflating mattresses. My dad has kindly offered to lend us a two-man tent, which we'll be picking up at the weekend. We have travel insurance, ferry tickets and a hotel booking for our first night away.

The packing has begun. Sleeping bags and tents are going to take up most of the pannier space so everything else must be kept to a minimum. All those little hotel shampoos and soaps are coming in handy!

The plan for the next few days is as follows:

Friday: In an ambitious start to the trip, tomorrow morning, we will set out nice and early towards my parents' house, which is about 110 miles away in Dorset. (Normally we'll be doing about 50 miles a day, but this will be a nice way for Dgym to get his trike legs). We expect to arrive sweaty, grimy and exhausted about ten hours later, and will be taking Saturday off (when I say "off" I mean practising putting up the tent, and repacking my panniers to accommodate it)

Saturday night: We will be testing out the camping kit, hopefully not freezing to death in the process.

Sunday: A nice easy 30-mile ride to Dorchester to see my grandparents, and stay the night there.

Monday: We will ride to Poole to catch the evening ferry over to Cherbourg. Since we've got most of the day to travel 30-ish miles, we'll take the scenic route via picturesque Purbeck and catch the Sandbanks ferry, hopefully trying out some chilli icecream along the way.

Tuesday: Since the ferry arrives at 9:30pm we decided to book a hotel nice and close to the ferry port. I am currently quite pleased with myself as I emailed the hotel in French to let them know of our late arrival, and they responded as if they actually understood! Just as well, as wild gesturing is a little difficult over email.

We're all stocked up on snacky cakes for tomorrow, and stuffed ourselves full of pasta tonight. I picked up a pack of metallic streamers from Sainsbury's, which Dgym is now cutting up and attaching to his little flag. It will beautiful, and photographs will be posted. After a bit more packing tonight, and a dose of porridge tomorrow morning, we'll be ready to leave.


Dessert special
On a mostly quite irrelevant aside, we went to Wagamama last night and tried some of their new desserts (after having main meals, of course!) - the mango/curry combo was OK but a little special, but the chilli pavlova was delicious. Chilli goes well with sweet things, which is why we're looking forward to trying the Purbeck ice cream.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

The trike has arrived

Many, many thanks to those wonderfull people at ICE for getting my trike to me ahead of schedule. It arrived yesterday afternoon in box full to the brim with well packed parts and an instruction manual. For those that are purely interested in the locomotive aspect of cycling, ICE trikes are available through several dealers who will sell you a fully assembled machine, costing a bit more but also getting you on the road many hours sooner. I didn't want to go that route because cycle maintenance is a necessity on a long tour, and what better way to get to know your cycle than to assemble it yourself? Besides which I like cycle maintenance, things tend to be simple enough that I can understand them after a bit of prodding and twisting, and it is really rewarding to ride the results.

For the impatient, I'll start by saying that this is a lovely machine. We got up early this morning (for us) and went up the local big hill, which conveniently has a good place for breakfast at the top. Going along the flats was very comfortable, the suspension does a great job where the road layers didn't, and junctions are much more pleasant when you don't have to de-clip and can just sit there relaxed but perfectly ready to go when the opportunity arises. The uphill was still hard work as ever, but again the trike advantage of stability at low (and zero) speeds really does help. All my effort went into getting me up the hill, rather than having to worry about keeping the bike upright, and although Hel got to the top first, I wasn't far behind at all.

Downhill. Up until then riding the trike had put a very very big grin on my face, but when we got to the bottom of the hill and Hel asked me how that was I just burst out laughing. It is only at high speeds you can really appreciate how supurb the handling is, the stability and responsiveness never faltered. Apparently the road surface was bad enough to blur Hel's vision at 30mph (on her unsuspended tourer) but I didn't notice anything and was comfortably going a bit faster. Going fast down a hill on a very comfortable, very stable machine which you have a lot of confidence in is actually mildly pleasant. I am tempted to stop writing now and do it again.

The assembly took a while longer than expected, but this was mainly due to poor location, poor lighting, and impending rain. For anyone opting to build their own Trice the supplied instructions are very good, and hopefully these photographs might give you an overview of what is involved.

The strangely small box.


With a lot of components stuffed in.


The starting point - a lovely frame.


The wheels are also pre-assembled.


Steps 1 and 2 complete, the handle bars just slot in and tighten up, and the same with the wheels, a nice easy start.


The brakes connected really easily, and the back is simple enough too. Nothing hard yet and it is starting to look like something.


The third wheel, it's a trike!


The seat took a little while with all its straps, but I seem happy enough.


The front post attaches simply enough, things are starting to look really good.


The rain has come. Relocate the trike, and add some pedals.


The front and back derailleurs are attached, a little alignment is needed for the front.



Tubes for chains. At first glance this was considerably harder than previous tasks, but with everything laid out as per instructions it soon made sense.


Tubes and chains fitted. It is greasy and quite fiddly working with the chain and getting it to the right length. All the basics are done, time for a test ride, but it is dark outside and none of the pictures came out.


The next morning, with mudguards, mirror, rack, side pods etc.



Post-ride update now that I have had a chance to fully appreciate the trike:

As well as thanking ICE for the early shipment, I also want to thank them for their pre-sale advice on which model would be right for me, and for designing such a great machine and building it to such a high standard.

I was a little anxious about ordering such an expensive piece of unusual kit without trying it (or anything like it) first. The trice has soundly exceeded my expectations - it's not expensive, it's valuable.