More weird farmyard art
Monday, 28 July 2008
More weird farmyard art
Av. 17.5 kph. Max. 47.4 kph, Dist. 139.18 kms, Time 7.54.41
My frame arrived the day after me, so I headed out to find the nearest friendly bike mechanics and ended up at Madame Velo, a great, grubby little place run by punks and metallers. I was looked after by Daniel and Sebastien, who lent me the full use of their tools and helped me out on the many occasions I needed some expert knowledge, effectively filling in the gaps and teaching me how to strip down and rebuild the bike from scratch! At the end of the day they asked for nothing, they were so kind and really helped to get me back on the road.
So THAT's what a punk bike workshop looks like...
Daniel, the local god of bicycles
The ride to Karlsruhe when I finally and reluctantly left on Saturday was thoroughly boring, flat and featureless farmland. There was some interesting graffiti going on though, as the kids from Heidelberg and Karlsruhe seem to have some kind of street art battle going on, which the local authorities tacitly support by giving up legal wall space in many places. The Black Forest is the next stop for me now, and that certainly will not be dull, flat and featureless!
Av. 18.1 kph, Max. 34.7 kph, Dist. 112 kms, Time 6.11.52
Wednesday, 23 July 2008
The ride to Heidelberg, endless vineyards...
It turns out that Cristoph, as well as being a part-time randonneur, is also a full-time stoner and finds it impossible to get through a long ride sober. Fair enough, says I, and so he rolled a monster spliff from goods that he had been growing 'in the forest behind the house' and I cycled into Heidelberg happy and tired, with a big grin on my face and a severer than usual case of cycling related hunger.
Christoph - guru of lightweight cycle touring.
The city is an odd mix and leaves a initially sour impession on cycling in from the west. It is set in a little enclave on the banks of the Neckar river and the aldstadt (old city) is beautiful and bustling, but is dwarfed by a surrounding post-war industrial wasteland of fast food joints, concrete tower blocks and American car dealerships. I later discovered this was to cater to the enormous US military presence in the city, although once you reach the cobbled streets of the aldstadt and integrate into its easy pace this becomes less apparent and life is dominated by the student population there; the university of Heidelberg is the Oxford of Germany, founded in 1386 and credited as being the birthplace of, amongst other defining inventions, the humble bicycle in 1817.
Heidelberg aldstadt and the Neckar from the Schloss (castle)
Monday, 14 July 2008
One of the many maosiacs in the Dom.
Children's agricultural toys, or very serious Roman make-up removal?
As for the modern city, it's attractive has a real mix of student and regional identity. It seems to have a slightly effete image amongst other Germans; partly as it is the Brighton of Germany with a large and open gay community, but also because the local beer Kölsch is served in diminutive skinny 20 cl glasses, a far cry from hearty Bavarian tankards. The locals have a phrase for the more flamboyuant gay residents of town, 'warm', which became a bit of a running joke whilst we were there - spotting warmth in the most unexpected places, especially sculpture. Nadine was our host, a fantastic girl to go out with, and also a former guest of mine through HC (if you are interested in this Hospitality Club malarkey, check the link on the top right).
Our host Nadine, her boyfriend Stephan, Iain, Toby and me
A rather 'warm' knight in armour
At 10.30 today we left Maastricht for Köln, stopping off in town to pick up some directions via Aachen. Still slightly confused by the bad directions, I resorted to the one thing that invariably leads to disaster whenever I attempt it; multi-tasking. Whilst rolling along in the cycle lane and reading the map, my limited attention was unable to take in the van that would have been filling my field of vision, had I actually been looking ahead. It was a perfect collision; no injuries, no broken spokes, just a bump, before I went to the van driver to apologise... and realised that my front wheel wouldn't turn left to right. Here's why...
Bent, battered and bruised.
After a little chat (the van driver thought this was the funniest thing ever, and will no doubt be telling the story for weeks), we popped the late Barnaba in the back of his conveniently empty van and he agreed to drive me to the local car mechanic, as Tobes and I figured that was our bet bet for a spot of welding. Ed Boosten, the mechanic, stopped his day off to take a couple of hours to fix up the frame and indeed turned out to be, as his colleague said, the 'nicest man in all Maastricht'! He did a pretty good job of putting it all back together, welding the crack in the top tube and cutting out the crumpled section of downtube and replacing it with a bit from another old bike frame. It seems the legend of fixing up steel frames en route turns out to be true, as I am writing this 200 kms further down the road in Bingen-am-Rhein and have had no trouble whatsoever, so far.
The 'nicest man in Maastricht' at work
However, this is not a time for stubbornness. Four mechanics have since told me that this frame will absolutely, no way, never, ever make it to Greece, and so a major headache of the last few days has involved talking to frame-builders and bike shops and trying to get hold of a replacement steel frame (nigh on impossible in Germany it seems, where bikes are sold only complete). Instead, I have decided to keep it simple and get Brixton Cycles in London to send me out a new Cross-Check frame almost the same size; ultimate kudos to those guys for sorting me out! Hopefully it should meet me around Heidelberg where I'll be stopping off for a few days, so I'll have time to rebuild the bike. This is all of course totally in line with the yo-yoing fortunes of the trip so far and anyway, it would just be boring if I didn't have any problems right?
RIP Barnaba, long live Frankenbike!
When we arrived we were hosted by the wonderful Dienne, an HC member who I hosted with her brothers last year back in London. Well, it was returned ten-fold. Dienne was a great host, on the final night taking us to this fantastic warehouse squat full of artists and a ceaselessly creative inventor-activist, designing technology to empower the poor to democracy (www.demotech.org). On the roof was the most spectacular view of Maastricht, certainly one of my favourite European cities and I place I will certainly be visiting again. It was a great send off, for tomorrow we are due to leave Holland and make our way to Germany, my first visit ever.
Av. 19.7 kph, Max. 39,3 kph, Time 3.03.11, Dist. 60.04 kms
Saturday, 12 July 2008
Riding the dykes.
These are part of an enormous post-war project to deal with Holland's constantly erratic water table, with the dykes raised to delta sea level and creating a huge artificial barrier (along with dams, sluices and storm barriers creating a man-made coastline) against water overwhelming the land. Due to constant drainage and reclaiming of land, the peat soil has compressed itself to more than 2 metres below sea level in some places. The dykes form good inland protection from the three major rivers that carve the country up, the Rhine, Maas and Vaal.
We ended up pushing on past Rhenen where Fiona and Henning suggested camping, as it just felt good to do a long ride. However, by the time we got into Oss I think I was the hungriest I have ever been in my life. We went to some place in the town square and devoured half the menu between us. Then, thoroughly sated, we found a quiet field off the beaten track and spent a satisfied night sleeping for free.
So, who's going to move the dead rabbit in the field then?
Av. 20.2kph, Max. 34.9 kph, Time 6.01.49, Dist. 123.72 kms
After an hour or so we reached The Hague: royal capital, seat of the Dutch government, mecca for international law and diplomatic centre of the Netherlands. However, a far more important series of introductions were due to take place there; namely, my first encounter with the wonderful world of Dutch pastries, as well as a sharp reimmersion into the ubiquitous, generic and trashy Europop so indiscriminately played on the continent. The former I couldn't get enough of in my time in Holland. As for the latter, it is sadly going to continue invading my consciousness until I get home and is in fact pounding my ears idiotically as we speak. Lyrical 'highlights' of the trip so far include repetitions of 'in the fun-shine' for 3 and a half minutes, 'summer is magic, you just have to imagine' and 'Hey now, hey now, hey now (echoing)... the dancefloor is waaaaiiii-ting'. I can't wait to see what the pilled up teenage boys making music in their bedroom come up with next...
After seeing the centre of Amsterdam I can't say I was much in love with the place, but when Fiona and her brother Henning took us out for a couple of beers in a different part of town I really changed my perspective. Away from the flood of rusting bicycles, the rastafari paraphernalia and the soft porn displays, we saw a side of Amsterdam that was warm, welcoming and unpretentious. The Dutch have a magic word for this sort of thing, 'gezellig'. Like the Danish equivalent 'hygge' it is hard to translate due to the richness of its meaning, but it might well be described as a blend of feeling cozy, satisfied and warm. Against all initial expectations after my first view of the city, Fiona and Henning's hospitality made our departure from Amsterdam the next morning a 'zieleleed' one (full of sadness), yet tempered with deep 'gezellig'.
"Don't do it!", cried the other bikes.
Av. 19.2 kph, Max. 37.5 kph, Time 4.39.37, Dist. 89.42 kms
Friday, 11 July 2008
Come Friday morning, my bags are packed and Toby is on his way over. One thing is sitting on my mind as I sit on my hams in the kitchen and look over the suddenly obese Barnaba, hands covered in bike grease and nursing a steaming mug of tea, probably my last decent one for a long time. It’s the weight. No-one told me that this bicycle would be so goddamn heavy! I haven’t been able to weigh it, but with all of my gear attached it must be at least 40 kgs. Disrupting my revelry, Toby phones to tell me the inauspicious news, he’s just had his first puncture. Things are not looking good.
That bike has really let herself go...
It was about 12.30 by the time we got going and with it came the first burst of exhilaration from being out on the open road. Despite her girth Barnaba felt amazing; stable, comfortable and eager to please. There’s something bizarre about riding fully loaded, it’s like the effort to get the bicycle going is the most important surge, as once you are rolling the momentum just keeps it going, with your legs simply acting as fleshy, jointed metronomes. This is of course providing you are not climbing a 20% hill, when it suddenly switches in character from the joy of easy riding to something resembling a punishment dreamt up by the wardens of
Rolling into London, finally.
Once we got to the city we visited Brixton cycles, where Iain somehow managed to score a free Brooks titanium saddle, and took the obligatory photo at my symbolic starting point before heading off down towards Liverpool Street for the evening train to Harwich and the overnight ferry to the Hook of Holland. We were greeted on the ferry with good beer (just Heineken made in Holland, where people are apparently more discerning about the quantity of chemicals in their booze) and a pretty great cabin, hanging out for a while with a couple on their first little cycle tour to Holland. We slept like babies for the 5 1/2 hours before the ferry pulled in to dock, sated on beer, food and good old-fashioned exercise. This is the way to travel.
Av. 21.5 kph, Max. 61.2 kph, Time 3.26.53, Dist. 74.01 kms