Sunday, May 28, 2006

Sunday 28th May - Overtyred

We ended up spending two nights in Waren, for several reasons. (a) to get a bit of coding done. (b) to get a bit of bike maintenance done (c) to avoid any Saturday-related problems in getting a room (d) the place we were staying was reasonably cheap and opposite an Eiscafe.

I picked up a shiny new pair of Schwalbe Marathons from the local bikeshop and fitted them. One day I'll learn to get all my tyre measurements right. Well, I got two out of three right this time, they're a little taller than the old ones, so the rear one only just fits inside the mudguard. However, they are very nice and so far have done everything one would expect a tyre to do. What with dgym still carrying around two of his old trike tyres and me now carrying two more, we spent this morning with nine tyres between us, until we found a skip in which to dispose of them.

While in England, quite a few people asked us how the weather had been on our travels so far. We were able to report that it hadn't been too bad, and that we'd only had one or two days of proper rain. Many of those people remarked on how fortunate we had been. I would just like to point out to all those people that our luck is over, it has rained every day this week (although there have been some sunny intervals) and this afternoon we got absolutely drenched by proper hardcore torrential rain, accompanied by strong gusty winds, which seemed intent on knocking me over sideways. Fortunately by then, we were just coming into Neubrandenburg, our destination for the day, so we stopped at a hotel/restaurant combo. Germany has been good to us in many ways, but the weather is not one of them.

Still, during one of the sunny spells we spotted three gorgeous blondes in a field.

Tomorrow, we're hoping to get fairly close to the Polish border and spend our last night in Germany.

Friday 26th May - Yet more holidays

So apparently yesterday was some kind of holiday. We deduced this from the amount of rain, and also the abundance of people around. There was lots of partying activity by the lake at Schwerin - food tents, music, Germans pushing around wheelbarrows of beer. We also noticed a lot of cyclists around, most of which were sporting sprigs of lilac on their front baskets / handlebars / anywhere they could fit it.

We reached Goldberg around 4 o'clock and encountered lots of beered up young men (presumably they had emptied their wheelbarrows). We followed signs to the tourist office which looked rather closed, and were approached by a cycling couple who asked if they could help us. In our shaky German we managed to establish that today was indeed a Feiertag (holiday), and communicate that we were looking for a room. They indicated to us to follow them, and very kindly led us down the road to a reasonably-priced hotel.

Today was pretty slow as dgym was having lots of trouble with his chain rubbing, I think lots of muck has got into his chain tubes. We've got back into picnics again, a habit which we enjoyed in France but somewhere along the line, pub lunches took over. But when LIDL calls, who are we to ignore it? So we have been picking up lots of tasty bread, ham, pickled herrings, potted salads, chocolate mousse and other goodies and stopping off for pleasant roadside munchies.

Tourist offices aren't always the most useful resource. I visited the one in Waren to find a suitable room. The cheapest they could find me was a pension for 55euro. I decided to go and talk it over with dgym. While we were hanging around in the street umming and ahhing over it, and deciding whether to just go to the nearby campsite, dgym looked over my shoulder and saw a "Zimmer Frei" sign in a cafe window. I went in and asked about it, they didn't seem so keen about a single-night stay but agreed to put us up for 45euro.

Amusing things we saw today:

1. railroad bicycles. I wish I'd got a picture of this. Little railroad trolleys with a cycle attachment on either side, so two people pedal to propel the trolley along the railway, and you can fit a couple more people as passengers. We saw quite a few of these on a stretch of railway, which I am assuming was otherwise disused :)

2. Scavenger ducks at an Eiscafe. I've seen plenty of scavenger cats at cafes, but it was nice to see ducks having a go.

Thursday 25th May - Ein Maus in Schwerin

Well it's been a while since my last report, but here I am in Germany having a great time. Unfortunately it's been raining quite a lot, especially today - and I have a bit of an aversion to getting wet due to all those times Hel insisted on taking me into the bath with her (Eventually she realised that soft toys don't take so well to water, so stopped doing it. Nowadays she takes dgym into the bath, he doesn't really take to it either but at least he doesn't go soggy). Anyway, I've been living it up in an Ortlieb pannier full of tasty goodies, so I've been nice and dry and well fed. But today I decided to brave the rain to come out and have a peek at Schwerin castle, which is rather spectacular. Here I am, on not such a bright and sunny day.

Wednesday 24th May - Touch Wood

I was remarking (some might call it bragging) to Dgym, as he changed his remaining front tyre this morning, that I'd been about 3000 miles on my Schwalbe Marathons without a puncture. I shouldn't have said that. I really, really shouldn't have said that. About 10km down the road, in Ratzeburg, both of us laden with goodies from Aldi and looking for a park in which to picnic, I started to feel a strange bumping sensation from my rear wheel. Looking down, I saw that the tyre was looking unnaturally squishy. Not quite believing it, I jumped off and gave it a quick squidge just to make sure. Deflated indeed... Examination revealed a sharp stone having penetrated the tyre and pierced the tube - and several more which had pierced the tyre and become embedded, but not made it all the way through. The front had similarly embedded stones - I do pick these out from time to time but had got a bit lax about it. I'm considering getting a new pair, given the amount of damage.

The weather's still pretty unpredictable. The terrain has become gently rolling, it's nice to have some gradient again and my bottom definitely appreciates not being stuck in the same position on the saddle all day (a problem I have found with flatness). The landscape is lush and leafy and green and bright yellow, and I saw a hairy little caterpillar crawling across the path today.

Despite the slow start today, we made it to Schwerin, unfortunately the tourist office had just closed when we arrived at 7pm so we found ourselves a hotel. It's a pretty lakeside town, quite big but unbelievably quiet. Wandering to dinner at about 8-9pm, the streets were practically deserted.

Tuesday 23rd May - Back again

So we're back in Germany. Spring has arrived, and it's a good deal greener and leafier than when we left, although the weather is still quite tempramental. Yesterday was rainy when our plane landed, but had its brighter moments later on. Today was one of those days when there's a little rainshower every five minutes so you can't really take your waterproofs off, but also too warm for waterproofs to be comfortable attire. Ah well, at least it's not hailing.

It was lovely to see the bikes again, they had been OK although a little lonely on their own in a storage locker and, like us, they were itching to get going again.

From Stellingen (suburb of Hamburg where we had our storage) we headed into Hamburg for lunch and ice cream, having spent the past three weeks thoroughly missing decent ice cream. (On one occasion I got desperate and ordered lemon icecream at an Italian in Guildford and it was so... English. Too much cream, not enough flavour, and it most definitely didn't zing) We ate our icecream by the lake, which was quite lovely, and then headed out of town, resuming our travels in an eastward kind of direction.

Glinde looked like our kind of place, small towns seem to serve us pretty well. Only when we got there, there was no tourist office and the only hotel with available rooms cost 100euro. Ouch. Fortunately there was an internet cafe around, so we found and booked a room in nearby Bergedorf. Still 80 euros, and still ouch, but it was getting late and we were exhausted from having got up at 4.30am to catch our plane.

The hotel room was OK, pretty small, no bath, hardly 80 euros worth. But at least it was close to restaurants and stuff, including a sushi place. We got a massive two-person tray of sushi to take away, it was really nice, and actually enough to fill us up (it's hard to do that with sushi). Breakfast was nice too, big buffet with lots of different meats, cheeses, salads, breads, etc.

Today we started out pretty late. We both caught various colds, sore throats, coughs etc in England and are still fighting them off, as a result we're not at our best and it was really hard getting up this morning. Dgym even went back to sleep after breakfast. After leaving the hotel, we wandered off to find a bike shop with waterproofs, as Dgym had washed his and lost all its waterproof stuff. We ended up at a huge shop on the edge of town but he didn't find anything he liked except a can of spray-on stuff to re-waterproof your raincoat. It was quite well tested today, and seems to be holding up.

We ate lunch at a bakery/cake shop in Schwarzenbek. Just as we were crossing over to get to the shop, Dgym got a flat from catching a front tyre in a drain which was concealed by a puddle. It was tipping down with rain at this point. The correct course of action in such a situation is to dive into the nearest cake shop and eat cake. Which we did, after eating lunch, in which I had a ham sandwich, and Dgym had two nasty-looking wiener things. Dgym also had a cake which was cherries and quark (soft cheese) on sponge, and was very nice. We then had two Quark Fruchties, which are basically fruit pizza - a sweet base, with quark as the cheese and berries for the topping.

When the rain had cleared up we ventured back outside to fix the flat. Dgym, knowing the trike's original tyres to be a bit weak, had brought back two Armadillo puncture-protected tyres from the UK and so took this as an opportunity to install one of them. It was about to rain again by the time he finished, so he didn't bother with the other, and so currently has three different types of tyre on his trike!

We ended up at Molln for the night. We arrived in town about 6 and raced to the tourist office, suspecting it might be about to close. It turned out to be open until 9pm and they managed to find us a room for 30euro, the cheapest we have had yet (No breakfast, but it's over a bakery so we can't complain). In comparison to last night's hotel, the room is amazing. We've got a private kitchen, shower/toilet and two twin rooms, one of which leads onto a little balcony. Private accommodation here really is excellent value compared to hotels. The only advantage the hotels have is that they're much easier to find. You need a tourist office to find private rooms, unless you're either willing to scour the residential areas of a town for "Zimmer frei" signs, or get on the internet, hope the town website has a listing of such accommodation, and phone around. But the tourist offices, when they're (a) present and (b) open, are usually really helpful.

Monday 22nd May - Back to Hamburg

(by Dgym)

Being back in Hamburg with enough time to sort out the bikes and get a bit of cycling in seemed like a good idea three weeks ago. When waking up at 4:30 a.m. to set off for the airport the problems with this idea really sunk in. Thanks dad for putting us up for our last night in England for quite some time, and for giving us a lift to the airport, sorry about the timing.

We took off into dark rain clouds and landed in dark rain clouds, but in between there was a clear spell during which I saw that we were approaching a coastline and I figured it would probably be the Netherlands and we had probably cycled it. The amazing number of wind turbines confirmed it was the Netherlands indeed, long rows and deep grids of them twinkling in the sun, far more than we had appreciated from the ground. And then I saw the dijke, a thin 20 mile line cutting across the sea, and we had cycled all of it. From there it was possible to make out the first town we came to on the other side (past the steeply angled cycle path through fields of sheep) and the next few big towns we had visited and even stayed at. It was really interesting to see it all again from this very different perspective, days worth of cycling covered in a few minutes, but alas no mexican food this time.

The bikes were safe and sound and still sleeping when we got to them, and we all set off again very soon. Dad had said that there was a nice restaurant area just south of the lake, but that was 35 years ago. We had a look around the area and there were still plenty of restaurants, and we had a very nice (and cheap) lunch there, so thanks for remembering that. The afternoon was spent being simultaniously glad to be back cycling and in a sleep deprivation induced bad mood.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

England: crazy place

We were only away for a little over three weeks but it seems like much longer. Now we're back for a bit, England seems like a crazy place. Everybody's in a rush. There's an insane amount of traffic (we were wondering what the occasion was, then remembered every day's like that), the supermarkets are packed out, there's hardly any bicycles around, and everybody drives on the wrong side of the road.

Maps of our travels so far are now on Flickr. Each has a corresponding link to gmap-pedometer, where you can see the route in more detail (although it's a bit vague in a few places, especially in the Netherlands where we were mostly on rural cycle paths and didn't take much note of town names) - I was pleased to see that Google's European mapping has suddenly become very detailed in the past couple of weeks.

And in further fits of geekiness, I've transferred our daily distance/speed stats to an online spreadsheet, where you can view or even mess around with them, and discover such fascinating figures as our total distance of 1149 miles, or average daily distance of 44 miles.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

A break

So we reached that point where we had to start thinking about getting ourselves back to the UK for a couple of weeks, as we have weddings to attend, people to see and cute little nieces to babysit. We had originally hoped to be renting a place in Poland by that point, so we could just leave the bikes there and fly back. However, that turned out to be a little optimistic.

Our second crazy idea was to take an unexpected trip to Denmark and sail back from Esbjerg to Harwich with the bikes. However, we were still probably about a week away from Esbjerg, it was a bit more expensive than we wanted, and we decided we didn't really want the detour. I'm sure Denmark's nice, but maybe another time. There used to be a ferry from Cuxhaven to Harwich, which would have been really useful as we were probably less than 100km from Cuxhaven, unfortunately the ferry no longer runs.

We also happened to be close to Hamburg. So we got ourselves onto the internet on Monday evening and looked up self-storage in Hamburg and cheap flights from Hamburg to London. We found what we were looking for, so headed over to the storage place on Tuesday, rented a 1x2m box for 4 weeks and put away the bikes and most of our panniers. We got a taxi to the airport and went over to the germanwings counter to buy our tickets. Turned out to be about 40euro more than we'd seen online so we got onto the airport wifi (at a cost of 5euro), bought them online and at checkin showed them the booking confirmation on my laptop screen. Nicely done!

So we flew back to the UK (which is pleasantly warm at the moment), and the travels will resume in about three weeks. I think our legs will appreciate the break, although we've both been having a fantastic time and as far as I'm concerned, my legs can complain all they want but they've got a lot more pedalling ahead of them, whether they like it or not!

PS: The mittens picture, as promised. (To be fair, I look equally silly in my waterproof kit.)