Coasts and Castles

Day 88: Alnwick to Eyemouth, July 15th

We couldn’t get our bikes out of the Inn’s cellar until someone came in to open the place, so we did a little sightseeing in the morning. We’d heard that Alnwick had a famous used book shop, so we sought it out. “Barter Books” did not disappoint. It is, easily, the best bookstore I have ever been in. It’s in a former train station, and it had coal fires burning (in July, yes, but it was a misty and cool day), a model train running over the bookcases, and a beautiful cafe in the old waiting room. If I lived in Alnwick I would go there every day. Deb bought a paperback, but I resisted; my eReader has no charm, but it is very light.

The mist was now rain, so we lingered, then we shopped for groceries. By the time we started riding it was 11:30. This turned out to be a mistake.

We started the ride with a long climb in the rain on a busy road. Conditions quickly improved, but the meandering cycle route seemed determined to take us east and west more than north. We had a room booked in a small hotel, but we were worried that there would be noone there to check us in.

That nasty bolt came loose and started rubbing Deb’s rear tire again. We stopped and I did a better job securing it than before.

At one point the route devolved into a grassy track. It was like nothing we’d ridden on before and we had to pause to make certain we hadn’t taken a wrong turn. Later, when it was far too late to be of use, we saw a sign that warned us that we had been riding through a former military training area, and that touching any metal objects we found could kill us. But yes, this was still National Cycle Route 1, also known as the “Coasts and Castles North Route”, and is still part of the North Sea Cycle Route.

There were plenty of castles though. Most impressive was Bamburgh Castle.

Approaching Berwick-upon-Tweed the trail became a cliffside dirt track. Deb tried very hard to appreciate the spectacular views of the sea, but it was a little more treacherous than she liked, and it did not help that we felt we were racing against the clock. Shortly after this excitment we crossed into Scotland. We also left Cycle Route 1 and picked up Route 76, sticking to the coast as we headed for Edinburgh.

To top it off, Deb got a flat. Fortunately this one was a slow leak and we managed to go the last 12 km only refilling it twice.

 

When we finally climbed the last hill and arrived at our hotel, we found a phone number on the door. The man knew right away who was calling. “I’d just about given up on you,” he said. Actually, he was very friendly and helpful, and he said he didn’t mind the late check in at all. Our bikes got a nice dry stairwell for the night and we got long, hot showers and a sweet, sweet bed.

Distance: 90 km

$111

Danish Delights

Day 61: June 18th, Tønder to Husum, Germany

Our campsite was very close to the border, and we had Danish cash that there was no reason to carry home. The only town between us and Germany had exactly one store: and it was boarded up. We backtracked a few kilometres to Tønder. It turned out to be a good move; the town’s old centre is really beautiful, and though it was Sunday, and the stores were closed, many cafes were open, and had tables set outside.

We explored a bit and chose a bakery/cafe, taking a table in the pedestrian-only street. We spent about $40 Canadian on coffee, macaroons, sliced bread, chocolate milk, cheese, raisin brioche, and buns. We had coffee and macaroons there, and packed away all the goodies for later. We had just a tiny amount of change left over.

After riding across the border into Germany we saw why the store in Sæd had failed: there were giant supermarkets in the first town, with parking lots full of cars. Food, and particularly alcohol, is much cheaper in Germany. In Sweden they all go to Denmark to buy their alcohol, and so on as you go farther north.

We were riding mostly along a busy road, but on a separated cycle path. In one town we stumbled into the middle of a festival. We walked our bikes, and stopped to listen to a rockabilly band (with a mandolin!) that was quite good.

We ended our ride in Husum at an Airbnb. Jan and his wife made us feel right at home. We cleaned up and walked to the touristy port, where we had patio beers.

Back at ‘home’, Jan invited us to join them in the backyard. We stayed up late enough to see stars, which was very late for us. Jan, a tattooed triathlete, turned out to be a pastor who teaches at a boarding school. His wife speaks five languages, and spoiled us with food,

Distance: 70 km

$128

A Fast Bus to Oslo

Day 46: June 3rd, Gothenburg, Sweden to Oslo Norway

The decision was made: we were not riding to Oslo, but we were going to see a little of Norway. We would’ve loved to have taken a train to Oslo, but the bus was not only significantly cheaper, it was faster too.

Our hosts in Göteborg were happy to let us leave most of our stuff behind, as we were coming back after one night in Norway. Unfortunately, they booked our room for the one night we didn’t need it, so we lugged our stuff from the third to the ground floor and piled it up in a corner.

The bus ride featured some good views. The area around the Swedish/Norwegian border there is spectacular.

We reached Oslo around lunchtime, and, as our Airbnb was a short walk from the station, we went to drop off our overnight bags. But at the store where we were supposed to pick up our keys there was only an envelope for “Frederick”. Were the previous tenants confused by Deb’s Airbnb profile name “Dak Pig”, or did they simply forget to drop the keys off as instructed? We went back and forth with our very apologetic host. She contacted a friend with a spare set who walked over and handed them off. It was a bit of a wait, but the place was nice.

By pure chance, we’d arrived during Musikkfest. At almost every turn there was live music: rap on bar’s outdoor stage, reggae in one park, rock in another, techno, pop, etc. Hundreds of artists and almost forty stages. All free. We stopped and listened at a few.

We toured the big sites then stopped for craft beer at the Crow Bar. For 40cl (less than a big can) we paid about $13 Canadian. Pretty much the same as I pay at a Raptors game.

Distance: 0 (bus)

$172

What Are the Odds?

Day 10, April 28th: Dresden to Děčín, Czech Republic

The cycle route from Dresden, across the border and on to Děčín, is spectacular, but Deb’s favourite part by far was when she spotted a hedgehog by the side of the path.

There isn’t much of a border anymore, but they kindly left some markers for tourists’ photos. They say Czechoslovakia  on them, a country which was dissolved in 1993.

Sadly, the price of scenic mountainous terrain was a long climb to our hotel at the end of the day. Plus, we were used to German cities and their wonderful bicycle infrastructure. In the Czech Republic cycling is popular – as a weekend recreational activity, not as a mode of transportation. While navigating the rather hazardous roads of Decin, I noted one other bicycle – ridden by a small child accompanied by a parent on a side street. I didn’t even see one parked anywhere. And we were only 65km from Dresden, which, despite a lot of cobbled streets, is full of bicycles.

When we finally reached the top of the “mountain”, we still couldn’t find the hotel, even with Google Maps. We knew we were close, but we had to ask a local who pointed out a dirt path through a woodsy green. The hotel U Kapel was  once a monastery and it is directly across from the neo-gothic, Thun’s Chapel (1872).

After checking in and cleaning up we headed out. Just outside the hotel we saw a couple pushing their bikes up that same dirt path. They looked familiar. It was the couple we had dubbed the “Bonns” – the cycle tourists we’d met at breakfast in Dömitz! It was the last night of their trip, and they said they had wondered if they might run into us on the trail again, but doubted it. They went to check in (ending up in the room next to ours) and we all agreed to meet up later.

Deb and I tried to go to a highly rated brew pub, but it was the Friday of a holiday weekend and we had no reservations. We ended up climbing back up and eating in the hotel restaurant, which turned out great because our friends from Bonn showed up just as we were finishing. More beer was ordered, we finally exchanged names, and we spent the evening talking in the dining room. Mathias and Kirsten hadn’t realized that the kitchen closed at 8. Lucky for them we had hit a grocery store in town. We set them up with bread, cheese and apples. They invited us to stay at their place in Bonn, if we decided to head that way. I warned them not to make the offer lightly – we might just take them up on it.

Distance: 65km

$93

 

Hamburg

And so, after fifteen days of overeating we finally arrived in Germany.

There were a few port stops on the way: the Azores, Le Havre, Zeebrugge, and Rotterdam, but those had nothing to do with the tour, really, so I’m leaving them out of this blog.

Disembarking was very simple compared to boarding. We loaded up, only had to wait a minute for an empty elevator to show up, and walked the bikes right off the ship. There was no wait for a customs agent, and he asked us precisely zero questions before stamping our passports.

We also confirmed that this was our first of the allowed ninety days in the Schengen Zone. This is a bonus, because technically they could’ve started counting when we visited Ponta Delgada (the Azores are part of Portugal). This gives us more time in Europe, if we want it, before we ferry to the UK.

We rode Hobbit-style (slow) and found our way to the St. Pauli-Elbtunnel: the amazing tunnel built in 1911 that connects the docks to Hamburg-proper.

It was a pleasant forty-five minute ride to our Air B&B in the Stellingen neighbourhood. Hamburg has good bike lanes, usually in the form of a red paving stone path next to the sidewalk. There are bike signals at a lot of the lights, and we found drivers to be very respectful and courteous.

It was cool, but mostly sunny. The rain, and hail, came later.

After checking in we got out and walked for hours. Hamburg is beautiful, with many amazing neighbourhoods. The city is wrapped around the Inner- and Outer-Alster lakes. Instead of central park they have water with tour and sailboats.

It was Easter Monday, so pretty much everything was closed, but that was fine because it’s not like we’re going to be doing a lot of shopping. We had lunch at a cafe, which also had buns, so we had something to take back for dinner.

If we had walked just a tiny bit faster we would’ve missed the hailstorm on our way back.

Distance: 13 km (port to Airbnb)

$56 / $123

April Fools

On March 31st we finally began the real journey. The bikes were already in the back of my parents’ car, but we had to fit our gear, plus three people around them to cross the border. It was a tight squeeze for me.

The border guard didn’t seem at all surprised by our strange arrangement. We were at the Buffalo Airport car rental desk in no time (thanks, Mom). It was cold and drizzling as we transferred everything, except my mother, into the Dodge Charger. It fit pretty well.

Our stuff in the rental car.

We were on the road by 11:15 AM. It rained all the way to Virginia, but we didn’t run into much construction or any other problems.

Where would we stop for the night? It’s about 21 hours of driving time to Ft. Lauderdale, and we had a hotel booked for April 1st. After dinner (Cracker Barrel), the rain finally let up. We kept going. And going. Eventually it seemed to make more sense to keep driving, with frequent stops, than to get a short, and expensive nights’ sleep. We did nap briefly in a restaurant parking lot in Florida as the sun came up.

April 1st was hot and sunny. We reached our hotel almost exactly twenty-four hours after we rented the car. We had to wait for our room, but shady loungers by the pool were a big step up from car seats.

Tomorrow we return the car, reassemble the bikes, get to the port, and (hopefully) get them into our cabin. A couple of big hurdles remain, but about ten hours of sleep comes first.