Monday, 29 August 2011

In Berlin

I know, I know, I promised to get to work and write my stories and choose some pictures. But I have been a very busy young fella. Made some new friends in my last week in Heidelberg so had to engage with the rigorous cycle of party-sleep an insufficient amount-drag myself to class-afternoon snooze-rehydrate-party for a while, which left no time for blogging. But Spanish-Bulgarian-American-English tag team has now sadly disbanded.

I've just written a message to my parents, so I've extracted the descriptivy bits for y'all reading pleasure. I've been reading Goethe's Die Leiden des jungen Werthers, which is an epistolary novel, so consider this rich intertextuality, naat.

"I'm staying in charlottenburg tonight [...]. i'm couchsurfing (not sure i've told you about [couchsurfing], but you can guess the set-up) with a guy from bangladesh. he has a career in IT security and has a very nice flat, in one of the poshest areas of the city, 500m away from schloss charlottenburg, a prussian palace, the largest in berlin. he works full time and has given me a set of keys so it's kind of like having a 4 star hotel and for free. but also he's a very interesting and friendly guy with lots to say about berlin and life in germany, so far better than staying in a hotel! going to start house hunting tomorrow and possibly head to the Humboldt to see if there's anyone from the philosophy institute i can talk to. it's actually on pretty much the same road as I'm on now, but about 7 or 8km East - so should make for a pretty impressive bike ride, all the way through Tiergarten, under the Brandenburg Gate, then along unter den linden! I'm feeling very excited to be here - it's not much of an exaggeration to say I've been looking forwards to this for 3 years (set my sights on the humboldt certainly before I sent off my UCAS form in October 2008). had a great last night in heidelberg, have made many german speaking friends from all round the world [...] did a lot of swimming in heidelberg and did some cycling in hills (which are really really steep at times). a highlight was cycling the Philosophenweg (the Philosophers' Path, a beautiful track through the woods which was a favourite haunt of students during the era of Heidelberg Romanticism) in the middle of the night! was a bit cold in my cycling shorts to begin with, but the way up to it is about 15-20% gradient for the first kilometer so wasn't cold for long. it was really pitch black up on the hill away from the city in the thick forest so it was quite a thrill. unfortunately this meant I cycled straight past a monument to one of my favorite poems ("Heidelberg" by Hölderlin, which is more or less an ode to the statue of Minerva on the Old Bridge)I believe it is a column in a clearing next to path with a view over the old town and the castle, and the first stanza of the poem is inscribed on it, but as I say, I never saw it."

Maybe this week I'll do more blog, but if not I'll get on task next week when I get to London. Lucia has got a Proper Job in Camden, so maybe I can sit in a cafe while she's at work and play at being a writer.

ok bubye

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Ok I finally have all of the requisite components of a working laptop and have figured out Heidelberg University's immensely confusing internet provision. I promise to post pretty pictures and stories soon.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Laptop in the post

I've ordered a laptop, which should arrive on Friday or so. I'll do a day by day account of the trip, with photos, maps, bells and/or whistles etc. once it arrives. Hope you can wait!

Thursday, 4 August 2011


I've just walked past a man in the street, middle aged, slightly overweight, wearing shorts and a white t-shirt, who was playing Ode to Joy on his harmonica. Not busking or anything, just walking along enjoying the sunshine playing some Beethoven on his mouth organ. The image quite tickled me.

It is a particularly glorious day today in Heidelberg. It's about 30 degrees I think. The forecast was storms and showers so I am particularly chuffed. I even considered paying the 50c extra an hour for the posh, air conditioned internet cafe next door.

I arrived here on Saturday about 2pm. I cycled round for a bit to get a feel for the place, posed for a photo in front of the castle on the Old Bridge, and then rang up Michael, contact at Heidelberger Pädagogium, the language centre at which I'm taking my course.

"Mit dem Rad... [by bike]" he said, shaking his head and laughing to himself as he shook my hand.

The final 3 1/2 days of my ride were really fun. I was a bit more relaxed with the pace and I had a bit of a look round each place I stopped, and picked scenic routes rather than the ones that would get me South at top speed. From Köln onwards the landscape kept on changing, much more rapidly than further North. I should be getting a cheap-skate computer in the next few days and then I'll put up diary entries and photos. So I'll spare y'all the details until then.

My course runs from 8:50am to 12:15pm each day so I've got plenty of free time. I'm having quite a laid back time of it on the whole. Walking past the bear enclosure on my way to the swimming pool is about the closest I've come to stress thus far (I live next to the zoo). Spent this afternoon lying in the sun by the river, reading, and gently sizzling in the afternoon heat. There's quite a powerful beach vibe in the park next to the river - everyone sunbathing/playing frisby/volleyball.

I got an email from the lovely people at SCI yesterday, so I'll pass on their thanks to everyone who's sponsored me! My Charity Giving page is still active for anyone still wanting to sponsor me, now I've done the 950km.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Rest Day

Hello everyone.

Everything's going very well! I have deemed myself enough ahead of schedule (~350km to go, five days until I need to be in Heidelberg) that I am taking a rest day. So I have been wandering round Köln (Cologne) for most of the day. It is really nice.

I got here last night about 8:15pm after literally the longest ride of my life! 145km or something by the end of it, but it was really good weather and I kind of had my heart set on reaching Köln so I went for it. On the map, the whole area I cycled through yesterday just looks like a grey splodge of metropolis and industry, but it was so much better than I was expecting. Lot's of lorries and factories and that sort of thing in the major centres but no pollution and the countryside in between was really nice and unspoilt - I saw more rabbits yesterday than I had in the entirety of the previous year I think.

I stopped around 4:30pm in the Düsseldorf. I know nothing about Düsseldorf except for a smattering of Kraftwerk/Neu! mythology but it is such a beautiful city! I had a late lunch of Bismarkherring (delicious) and Düsseldorf Altbier ('Old Beer') which I could get used to.

Once I arrived in Köln I checked into the Youth Hostel. Ok, why are youth hostels now 30€ a night and populated by balding middle-aged people? My roomate systematically went through every television programme he could think of and complained about them, except for Thunderbirds and Nightrider, and John Cleese from Monty Python (pronounced the German way, 'Monty Pitton'), quite unprovoked. Anyway, once I got a word in edgeways I excused myself to go and look for some food. He was about 45 by the way.

By this time it was about 10pm, so the helpful lady at the desk suggested I head into the centre of town. So I headed for the U-Bahn (underground). I got off after 4 stops. Germany's relaxed attitude towards giving beer to kids created a pretty warm atmosphere even as I stepped off the train. Heading up the escalator, I emerged in the glass building of Cologne's main station; and looked through the windows to my left, and saw the cathedral.

Somewhere in the back of my mind there were vague, cobweb-encrusted traces of a reading exercise from Year 8 about the 'Dom' in Cologne, but it is absolutely amazing! I was really taken aback by it. Spotlit in the night time, and with the element of surprise, it is up there with Il Duomo in Florence. It took them the best part of 800 years to build and it is marvelously tall and when you stand next to it and look up it properly looks like it goes on forever. I liked it.

So I walked around the building, basking in an 'I biked here' pool of smugness for a while. Then I walked around looking for some food. Found the medieval marketplace which is lined with eateries and drinkeries of various sorts - there's an abundance of Irish pubs; Köln is twinned with Kilkenny.

I decided to go for a Döner Kebap. Yes, that is really the German version of the Doner Kebab, but the umlaut and the 'p' are far less significant differences than the fact that döner, as opposed to doner, (a) is delicious, (b) is filling, (c) tastes like meat not cardboard, (d) is meat not cardboard, and (e) doesn't trigger a viscious war of attrition between the various components of your digestive tract the following morning. I washed it down with a couple of bottles of Kölsch - the adjective derived from Köln, seemingly applied exclusively to the rich, nut-coloured beer they brew here: another thing I could get used to.

Dawdling along the Rhine promenade, I began to feel tired. I hopped back on the U-Bahn and headed home to bed.

I'll be doing a fairly liesurely 75km or so a day from now on I think, heading South through Bonn, Koblenz, Mainz, Worms and a few other places, hopefully reaching Heidelberg on Saturday evening.

They whacked an article about my trip in the Halifax Courier yesterday:

Also, keep up the donating, getting very near my target, thanks everyone!

Ok, bye!

Sunday, 24 July 2011

I'm in Germany

I am in Emmerich am Rhein, in a dodgy internet cafe/casino combi. It is day 4 of my ride and my legs are holding up ok, though I don't feel anything like as fresh as I did on earlier days. Internet cafes are thinner on the ground than anticipated so I'll update this properly at the end. Excuse any spelling mistakes, not used to German keyboards.

Here are some things I wrote down over the past few days:

Day 1 - Halifax to Hull
7 hours 47 minutes, 139km, average speed 17.8km/h

Long and hard day, with a bit of time wasted getting lost. Crossing Yorkshire was never going to be easy!

Day 2 - Europort, Rotterdam
6 hours 5 minutes, 116km, ave. speed 19.0 km/h

A highlight of today took place after what turned out to be a wrong turn. After walking through a tunnel made of bent over willow trees I came out onto a landing platform looking out over a river. There was a boat on the other side and a large brass bell to my right. I rang it and waved to the ferry man, who then set off slowly towards me. I got on board and asked him in German what the toll was. He said something in Dutch and pointed to the ticket: 75 cents. Pushing my bike up the dike on the other side past the the man's weary looking dog, I thought how this would probably be one of the few people I met on this trip with whom I don't share a common language.
In the campsite in Woudrichem the man in the tent next to mine tells me "I speak all of the languages of the world."
I'm very tired but it's been a wonderful day. The National Park of "De Biesbosch' was pretty astounding and not much like anything I've seen before - wide meadows full of reeds amd river birds and really empty.
And the Lekkerland around Kinderdijk was really gorgeous. It has 19 windmills from the 1730s arrangeed in a straight line either side of the water ways with a bike route down the middle.
Great day.

Damn, run out of time!

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

One more sleep...

I'm setting off in just over 15 hours. Just loaded the panniers onto the bike. Ready to go.

Tomorrow morning runs as follows:

0700 Breakfast time
0845 Meet with the press (local paper, the Halifax Evening Courier, big dog.)
0900 Game time

See you in Hull.