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: http://www.halifaxcourier.co.uk/news/local/james_is_cycling_600_miles_to_university_in_germany_1_3613049

Also, keep up the donating, getting very near my target, thanks everyone! http://www.charitygiving.co.uk/jameshutton

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.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

New Plan; 2 days to go.

I decided to postpone the trip by a month so as to be less rushed between the end of term and setting off. My new date of departure is Thursday 21st July - in days time!!

So I'll be setting off from Prince's Gate, Halifax, at 9:00 am, with 120km to do before reaching my ferry in Hull.

Since I have more time than originally planned, I've decided to change my route, and will now be following the Rhine almost all of the way from Rotterdam to Heidelberg (though the last few km are actually on the Neckar, not the Rhine). There's a nice looking EU-funded bike route all of the way along it, so this way should be safer and more enjoyable than my original plan. Also, it's a good 150km further!!

My plan is to get to an internet cafe most days of the journey and update this blog with my progress. I've got a new camera so there should be some pretty pictures to accompany my travelog.

Feeling a little nervous with so little time to go before setting off but I'm always game for a challenge! Just hoping for that the Easterly wind forecast for Thursday isn't too strong. Just a few more preparations to do and maybe a bit of carb-loading and then I'm on my way. Will aim to put up a picture of my bike when I'm fully loaded (I'm aiming to take <7kg of stuff).

Wish me luck!

ps. keep donating, it's not too late. http://www.charitygiving.co.uk/jameshutton
also if you share the link to this blog then you are guaranteed a postcard :¬]