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!




Day 7: Winschoten (Nederlands) to Papenberg (Deutschland)

19·6 miles today: Cumulative cycling: 133·4 miles

What Elly said, with the addition that I slept for two hours when we got to the hotel. We then staggered to Kim and Kim for dinner. (You can see into it through glass doors in our hotel corridor but need to go out of the hotel to get there: Rauchenpause!) It’s cooler now, but still too hot to go under the duvet.

My legs are doing far better than I feared, but not as well as I’d hoped. However my arse is the main casualty stopping me doing the 35 to 40 miles per day we’d have needed to average. (Then factor in places to stay!) So tomorrow, we **hope** we can cycle to Leer, then get a train to Hamburg. It seems that there are plenty of trains but no bike spaces until late in the day. Ach wie schade!

We can faintly hear a Rammstein tribute band from the room. Here’s info on the gig: I think I need to join CAMRA: campaign for real Rammstein!

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Day 6: Groningen to Winschoten

24·6 miles:, cumulative cycling 113·9 miles

Today was a good day, with stops at Hoogezand and Muntemdam. I’ve been quite dozy all day, so mile after mile of smooth path and little thinking were welcome. Having said that, the first stretch was very dozy: Hoogezand’s coffee got me going. By contrast, it was the last stretch that gave Elly foot-pain.

We crashed out for a while at our hotel, then wondered around Winschoten for food (Subway), then sat in the town park eating and plotting where to go next. On the walk back to our hotel, we encountered this: Unspeakable thoughts.

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Days 4 and 5: Lelystad to Assen, Assen to Groningen

There are two ways of looking at this, so I’m doing all three. We could say that the first cycling day was too much for our unpreparedness. We could say we’re on holiday, so we can do what we like. Or we could just say ‘wibble’ – I often do. Anyway, despite wearing padded pants over my padded shorts and chamois cream (I’d left off the padded leggings to let my legs cool), my bum was bruised. My right calf had responded favourably to deep heat cream at a stop – but not for very long. Elly may – or may not – write about her own tribulations. But I think the killer was the combination of a light but unending headwind and no opportunities for coffee. My leading us towards Dronten (our original destination for day 3) instead of towards Waterwijk (the only obvious break on the way to Dronten) didn’t help. So we stayed night 3 in Lelystad and, after rethinking routes and where to stay, we took a train to Assen.

We both think Assen is lovely. (So is Groningen and the area between.) As Dutch as you like (waterways funky buildings, oh-so-lovely tarmac cycle paths) but with more history in the architecture than Flevoland. (This is not a surprise given how young Flevoland is.)

So we spent yesterday afternoon in Assen’s Drents Museum, learning a little about Armenia, the Nebra sky disk, bog-bodies, and generally being on holiday. Yay! We also bought a phone-holder because the glue on my lifeproof holder had died. (The new one holds phones by their corners rather than a sticky pad on the back of the phone, so it will work with many devices.) 

I think we (and Drenthe and Groningen) got today right: about 10km to Vries, drinks at Onter den Linden, another 13 km to Haren, bean salad and cheese toasties and cake (there was a CHOICE of vegan cakes) at Verbeek and then a few km on to Groningen. The only issues were the my water rucksack’ hose detached itself from the bladder, causing moistness in interesting places, and the sun being so bright that at times I couldn’t see my phone to navigate. A little shopping was the first stop: I bought a new bladder for my water-rucksack, and Elly bought other essentials. (Ask her!) This afternoon’s trip to Gronigen’s library-cum-everything was a wee highlight. Currently we’re in Handy Wash because our cellphones were minging.

OK, I wrote that hours ago, and left it and photos to upload while we went for dinner. That didn’t work (I’d saved the text elsewhere, thank goodness) so here’s hoping it will this time. Dinner was at the Groningen De Baren. Burger and chips have pulled me out of the hypo I took on the way. Yay! We both really want to revisit this area to explore and enjoy more. Next year?

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Day 3: Almere to Lelystad

25.2 miles (cumulative 74.6)

Day 3 is often a challenge. Today pitted rather tired bodies and minds against a headwind and going off course, more aches than was nice and more distance between sensible breaks than is optimal. We were loving the countryside and funky architecture, though.

So the train to Assen will be our way forward. Stops today were to buy an inner tube (Elly had given her spare to a bloke struggling with a puncture between Newcastle and North Shields), a picnic spot, an Albert Hein. Looking forward to being just a tourist tomorrow afternoon.

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Day 2: middle of the sea to Almere

38.1 miles of cycling (cumulative 49.4). Cyclemeter map:

I woke about 2 am (I’m not sure whether this was UK or Central European Time) and read and tried to blog over maritime Wi-Fi. Lesson – don’t try to blog photos over maritime Wi-Fi! I got back to sleep about 5am and so hardly stirred when Elly went to breakfast.

Getting off the boat necessitated traversing the lorry-deck, all the while afraid the lorries would start moving. But we survived and meandered on our merry way, from IJMuiden to Sloterdijk station. Oh smooth tarmac and my legs working (almost)! At one point Elly had to take advantage of the wonderful facilities and put the hammer down. I can’t accelerate very much just now so it took a while to catch up. It appears Starbucks coffee in the Netherlands is better than the UK equivalent. There were a few interesting aromas in hte crowd outside the station – I’d not realised until I looked at the map just now that Sloterdijk is in fact an Amsterdam suburb, and we’d come further than I thought.

We had another stop in Muiden, about 12 miles further on. I think this is where I had the first of today’s mango sorbets. However, apart from the tarmac and the sheer joy of being able to cycle comfortably, not feeling unsafe, knowing where we are going (even if I can’t see how I’m getting there – just following the little blue line on Google Maps) is wonderful. And we are in Almere after a day of cycling when we thought it would take 2 days.

That said, after Muiden I was flagging. Not so that I couldn’t keep going, just so I couldn’t push at all. Dinner this evening was a delight: De Beren restaurant – vegan burger with vegan cheese and huge amount of chips. Oh man – I have a very happy tummy!

We’re now back in the hotel room, clicking keyboards at each other. A wee walk may be called for once soon. Tomorrow should be a shorter day – we’re aiming for Dronten.

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Day 1: Edinburgh to the middle of the sea

11.3 miles of cycling

And we’re off again. Two 50-somethings get on their bikes again, 3 years older and unfitter than their last jaunt. However train facilities for bikes haven’t got better either. I am not strong enough to life my bike anyway. Wonderful Elly struggled the bikes in despite the doors being locked shut. Apart from that, so far travelling has been smooth: cycle to Waverley, train to Newcastle, cycle to North Shields, ferry to (just now) east of Lincoln, north of Ostend.

The inevitable Cyclemeter maps: home to Waverley, Newcastle to North Shields.

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