Days 14 to 16 (Oslo to Amsterdam), according to Elly

What Elly said:

I’ll add photos later: this is just to show my follower I’m still here. Or at least that someone can post to my WordPress and Twitter accounts. How can you be sure it’s me doing so? Tot ziens!


Days 17 to 22: if it’s Tuesday I must be in Bognor Regis?

What Elly said. Picture to be added later. I have been in so many hotel rooms and lifts in artificial twilight I hardly know where I am!

I know I’m on a DFDS boat that will take us to North Shields, arriving tomorrow morning. My issue is I have yet another cabin number to remember, another route to it to learn, and my brain cell refuses to hold onto any detail at this level of granularity. And why does it feel like twighlight at 16:21 in August? Mein Gehirnzelle is verrucht!

Day 17: arrival in Kiel, trains to Hamburg, Osnabrück and Amsterdam

Day 18: Amsterdam to Zaandam

Day 19: around Zaandam

We decided to cycle to Geversduin, to see the location of the hobbit house we’ll stay in some day. (One of Elly’s birthday presents years ago was a stay there. However, plans were scuppered by COVID.)

Day 20: around Zaandam

No cycling – we travelled by bus. We spent our last full day in the Netherlands visiting a windmill museum! That might sound tratsch but it’s actually pretty and informative.

Day 21: Zaandam to IJMuiden to the North Sea

Day 22: North Sea to home

Day 16: Goodbye Oslo

Our hostess left fairly early in the morning to go to her work. She’d shown us the route she recommended to get to the harbour, including the names of the important streets en route. So after a leisurely start, and locking up her house, we set off. I’d programmed a multiple-part journey into Google Maps using the street names we’d been told. Don’t try this at home, kids!

  1. At the end of each journey-part, GM stops showing the onward route and asks if you want to continue route-following. This is no help if you are halfway down a steep street, going quite fast and just want a direction to follow, and really do not need to try to push a button on the jPhone bouncing in your handle-bars. Of fucking course you want to go on, otherwise you wouldn’t have set further ‘destinations.,
  2. in subsequent stretches, GM keeps on changing the direction it is showing, as if it can’t decide whether you want to go on to the next ‘destination’, back to a previous one, or somewhere else entirely.
  3. GM’s sense of distance changes quite rapidly as you approach turns, if it deigns to show them at all, leading to missing turns and longer journeys.

Really, what moron designed GM? Perhaps it’s the same tosser who thought hanging bikes vertically in trains is a good idea. Anyway, we eventually arrived at the ferry terminal, where we both cycled onto the boat, including going up a steep slope to the mezzanine deck. This was helped by slipstreaming from a couple of touring Harley-Davidsons in front of us. After that, there was nothing to do but sleep, eat, blog, sit and get lost on the way back from the smoking deck.

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Day 15: around Oslo, being tourists

Our wonderful hostess took us into town and then to a triplet of museums on Bygdøy peninsula. Medical issues and the number of people wandering around in the dark, overheated atmosphere may have led to me finding the Fram museum somewhat oppressive, although going onto the boat without first knowing why it was famous first may have contributed. I’m sure the museum has done a thorough job of preservation and presentation of information in non-native languages, but what’s the point when you can’t see it to read it?

I also managed to cause concern by following Elly or her doppelgänger into the next hall via an underground passage (which is meant to be used by visitors), thinking it was the way to the next museum. It wasn’t, and Elly and our host are adamant that they never entered this passage, and that they had to search both toilets for me.

By contrast to Fram, the ship museum next door was light so we could see the exhibits, and get a feel for the harshness of life at sea on tiny, very well preserved boats. Most of them were used for fishing, but I don’t see where the catch would have been kept. There was hardly enough space for the sailors.

The top museum, by my reckoning, featured Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon-tiki and Ra rafts. This hit me emotionally, as well as enabling us to get to close to the rafts I could begin to imagine life on boards: how much space and privacy there wasn’t. Then again, Kon-tiki and Ra were actually bigger than I’d imagined. I’m sorry if that doesn’t make sense to you but it does to me!

Here’s hoping the photos do some justice:

Day 14: arrival in Oslo

We arrived in Oslo about 10am, and were met by an old friend who is doing post-doctoral work in Oslo. She had been adamant that we would stay with her rather than in a hotel: she’d deliberately rented a house with guest-space when she arrived in Oslo in 2019, but then wegen des Coronas no-one could visit her. It was lovely to have time with our friend and her guidance around town was top-hole.

Our friend took us through central Oslo, past the town-hall, to the national museum T-bane station (‘tunnel-train’ = ‘underground’, even though most of it is above ground), and then by train to her house in an uphill suburb in northwestern Oslo. After dumping our gear and catching up a bit – it’s been over 3 years since we last saw each other face-to-face – we went in search of the national ski museum, because we are in Norway and therefore north of the arctic circle. We found the municipal ski-jump – also used for the olympics, apparently – and people riding an aerial runway down it, but not the museum. I suspect its exhibits are so old that they and the building have crumbled to dust.

We took the T-bane to the final stop on this line (Frognerseteren). Apparently this area was the summer pasture for the Frogner area in central-ish Oslo. We couldn’t see any animals grazing but found a lovely and popular restaurant selling (among many other nice things) vegan cake. Even better, my blood sugar was in a state where cake was welcome.

After admiring the view and nattering for a while, we headed back to our friend’s house to cook jambalaya, eat, chat and crash out. (Our friend did most of the cooking, but I chopped vegetables and Elly was skivvy.)

Day 13: Kiel to Oslo

So, yes, there was success! We cycled to the Hauptbahnhof, where Elly waited outside the Reisezentrum while I spoke in fractured German about our ticket needs. There were bike spaces on the train we wanted from Osnabrück to Amsterdam. So on Tuesday we will arrive in Kiel about 10am. Then we’ll take a regional train to Hamburg (1 hour 12 minutes), then an intercity train to Osnabrück (2 hours 30 minutes), then another intercity to Amsterdam (3 hours 7 minutes). So that’s 6 hours 49 minutes on Euro-bahnen, without smoking! You’ll probably hear the screams in Edinburgh. We then took a brief look at the Hiroshimapark, before heading to the ferry terminal. That was a slightly confusing ride, including a narrow bridge across the Förde.

When we got into the terminal, we were told to go to the front of the car-queue and shelter from the elements under the concrete roof next to the check-in gates, because cycles and motorbikes would be boarded first. However, the check-in person then told us that the captain had decided to to board other vehicles first. So we stood and got very cold for an hour. Our reward was being able to cycle onto the ferry.

The ship itself is crazy. Imagine a vey posh version of the shops you are forced to go through between check-in and gate at an airport, but with lifts from a colour version of Metropolis, rooms that are the same size as a budget hotel but as posh as a 5-star, all piled onto a ship as big as a major oil tanker, with superstructure so high you could bungee-jump from the bridge.

As we set off, we watched progress from the forward observation-lounge. We were tempted on deck for cigarettes (well I was) and to watch as we passed under the Nyborg-Halsskov (‘Great Belt’) bridge. It’s truly magnificent, but I doubt my photos do it justice. By then, my blood-sugar was calling out for pizza. In addition to all the posh shops and restaurants, there was a pizza-bar selling (among other types) pizza with vegan cheese.

I think that after that we slobbed and blogged until our evening meal, a very plentiful buffet, and then crashed out. All that active travel is so tiring!

Day 10: Henstedt-Ulzburg to Neumünster

24·9 fun miles: (cumulative cycling 189·4 miles)

I seem to be getting into my stride just as we are getting towards the end of the cycling part of this holiday. My leg hardly hurts, although I still can’t do any uphill gradients over about 3% without dropping lots of gears. I feel I can do more saddle-time than I could before, and maybe could even get up the hill to Merchiston without screaming at myself for being crap.

The route today was mostly along tarmac cycle paths (again on the wrong side of the road) through multiple villages all called Kaltenkirchen, following a rail-line and listening to acorns crunching under tires, It’s still not entirely clear what surfaces can be cycled on in towns, and when the cycle-path suddenly re-appears on the other side of the road, getting to it isn’t obvious.

Lunch was at an Eis-salon in Bad Bramstedt. (We didn’t see the vampire’s bath, unfortunately.)

We got to our hotel quite early in the afternoon – so early it wasn’t yet ready – so we went to the nearby McDonald’s for cold drinks and to watch the real housewives of Neumünster-Sud smoke while their children played on a climbing frame/slide/plastic extrusion from the id of Doctor Zog. The umbrellas were also useful for sheltering from the rain for an hour or so.

Our insides thus hydrated and our outsides no longer in danger of externally applied hydration, we bumbled into the centre of Neumünster. It’s quite pretty, but alive and modern, with lots of people wondering about but none of the seediness I associate with bigger cities’ centres. Perhaps there should be a Gesetz: cities must be this size!

By the time we had wandered around the Teich in the centre of Neumünster, it was time to bimble back to the hotel, shower and change. (I’m still wearing the kilt.) Our 9-euro train tickets were valid on local buses, helping us head back into the town centre for dinner at Burgergallerie, watching people, Polizei and other fauna interacting. And yay, there were vegan burgers ad Fritz-Kola, so I may not sleep tonight.

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Day 9: Bremen to Hamburg to Hendstedt-Ulzburg

The station square in Bremen wasn’t as noisy as last night. Occasional breaking of glass (possibly bottles) but few crowds. Bremen Hauptbahnhof was busy, with lifts that only just take bikes – and still people trying to cram themselves in when the lifts are clearly full.

We aimed to take the 10:33 ‘Regional’ (RE) train to Hamburg but that was horribly delayed, so we took a 10:58 ‘Metronom’ (ME) train. The main difference between the two that I can see is that MEs are painted pus-yellow on the outside. In one or two carriages there are ground floors with about 14 bike spaces. I guess that’s normally enough but with two or three trains’ worth of passengers it was seriously crowded. There were no openable windows, so we sweltered! I think I half-emptied my camel in only 90 minutes.

Leaving Hamburg was challenging for a moment because my phone was too hot to function – or so it told me. Even when it cooled enough to work, there was enough glare to make the screen invisible half the time. So I’m not convinced we’ve arrived in Hendstedt-Ulzburg by the most efficient route.

Actually, knowing Google Maps, we didn’t. If there is a cycle-path parallel to a road, GM will insist on the road. In Germany this may not be a bad thing because the majority of German cycle-paths (in my experience, which is obviously not a statistically significant sample) are made of lumpy brick. When there is tarmac, it has gaps filled with sand, and it’s on the left side of the road with no guarantee that if the road forks there will be a cycle path on the fork you want.

Hence I should have learnt this, or printed it on a maillot: Wenn Sie Radwege aus arschschmerzhaftem Kopfsteinpflaster auf der falschen Straßenseite und ohne Beschilderung bauen, werde ich die Asphaltstraße benutzen – und Sie können sich die Hupe in den Arsch stecken!

And here’s another one for big cities everywhere: Das stimmt! Park deinen vierrädrigen Todeswagen auf dem Radweg, du Wichser.

Anyway, we made a reasonable (for this trip and these conditions) pace northeast through Hamburg’s suburbs and dormitory towns. Lunch was in Norderstedt, just into Schleswig-Holstein. So we are in our final Land for this part of the trip! And it feels I could have cycled more, but there’s no point in going mad in this heat.

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Day 8: Papenburg to Bremen

12·5 miles by bike to Leer:, then by train to Bremen. Cycling total so far 145·9 miles

We needed to get a day in hand to be sure of arriving in Kiel in time for our ferry. Currently we can do about 20 miles a day before arse-ache, foot-pain, calf-cramps or blood-sugar stops it being fun. To be honest, I am pissed off with my blood-sugar for going suddenly low, despite filling up with low-GI breakfasts, or staying high no matter how much headwind we battle, then crashing early evening. Thanks goodness for half a pannier of glucose tablets and Clif bars.

Apart from a canal-side bridge which required some push to mount, today’s cycling has been fine. Very little headwind, no navigation problems, mostly smooth (dare I say Dutch-like?) tarmac and a coffee-stop just when it was wanted in Großwolde (Café Kuchenliebe Ostfriesland). If you are in the market for beans, potatoes and/or strawberries go there. Otherwise go there, drink cold drinks and enjoy a junior engineer-of-tomorrow playing in the sandpit.) This contrasts with yesterday: cyclepaths made of often-uneven brick, or staying on the road to avoid gefahrliches Berm or allergenic crops. Owwww!

So that got us to Leer. Now, why call a town ‘Empty’ or is it a bit of Frysk I don’t understand? (There are many!) Our plan was to get a train to Bremen, then take another to Hamburg. The ticket office at Leer was closed, along with much else in this sabbath-observing area, so we just bought tickets from a machine to get us from there (Leer) to Bremen. According to Deutsche Bahn’s website, the next train with bike spaces from Bremen to Hamburg would have departed around 6pm, dumping us in a huge and mostly unfamiliar city late in the evening.

  • But according to the first ticket office attendant I asked; there were no trains with bike spaces at all today.
  • Quick consultation with Elly, then try second attendant: there are no bike spaces on Sundays on regional trains to Hamburg, apart from one leaving Bremen’s other station (some distance away) after 10pm.
  • OK, what about tomorrow?
  • Buy a 9 euro ticket each: that will take you anywhere in Germany until the end of August, and buy a bike ticket for tomorrow. Trains are every half hour – get on when there is space!

So, all being well, we get to Hamburg tomorrow lunchtime. Then we’ll cycle to Henstedt-Ulzburg (about 20 miles). On Tuesday we’ll cycle to Neumünster (about 25 miles), and on Wednesday get to Kiel (about 21 miles) for the holy German trinity of Hans im Glück, Drogerie-Markt and Eco-Express Waschsalon – and our ferry to Oslo!

Our hotel is on a big square outside the main station. There are lots of people: a few obvious backpackers and other travellers, but mostly lots of people just sitting in groups, some looking down and out. A lot of people walking and drinking beer, and more smokers than I’m used to. One fairly inebriated bloke was hauled off by the Schupo* as we necked cold drinks outside the Übersee Museum. Cheap holidays in other peoples’ misery?**

Back to the hotel to flop for a bit, and then time for the first Hans im Glück*** of the trip. Now we are flopped out. It’s nearly 10pm and yet I’m dripping!