Staggeringly Good

Day 155: Newport to Portsmouth England, Thursday September 21th

Our island getaway was over. We said goodbye to Brenda and Mr. Cleese and took the rail trail (cycle route 22) north and east to the Fishbourne ferry. It was simple, as we had followed this exact path the day before, only this time we had all our gear.

A wind turbine factory on the Medina river

There were a few small hills before we found the dock, but nothing too difficult. We arrived with plenty of time to catch the noon ferry. As Deb went into the office to get us tickets I talked to the only other cycle tourist waiting to board. He was from Portsmouth, just out for a few days on the island. I liked that when he noted my rather unorthodox riding gear (kitty bins, sandals, etc) he didn’t react with amusement, or bemusement, instead he told us we made him feel like a fraud.

They let us riders board first, and we simply leaned our bikes against the closed ramp at the other end of the boat. Getting on first also meant we snagged a sweet table in the lounge with a great view.

The crossing was smooth and there were plenty of sailboats to look at, as well as the other (faster and more expensive ferries) going to and from Ryde. It took less than an hour to reach Portsmouth, where we disembarked first, but stopped to figure out where to go next.

We took a quick turn around the harbour to see the HMS Warrior (1860), Britain’s first iron-hulled, armoured battleship.

Trying to reach our Airbnb was a bit of a chore. Without a handlebar mount for the phone (did I mention that mine failed and ended up in the dustbin?) we had to stop repeatedly to check our location. It started to rain lightly, which didn’t help, but we did arrive before getting too wet.

Our hosts weren’t home, but we had instructions on how to get in. We were greeted by their proxy: a pug named Kenco. I have admired pugs for a long time, because their faces, and the noises they make, make me laugh. This was the first pug I have actually met and interacted with, and I was not disappointed. What a sweet, goofy, fun dog. It followed us around as we moved our bags, and it loved the attention we gave it.

Our hosts came home before we were even done dripping on their carpets. We met them very briefly, got quick instructions on the shower, and barely saw them again. We’ve had similar Airbnb hosts, but these guys were particularly puzzling. In my head I flipped the script: an English couple shows up to stay in my house on heavily loaded bicycles – I think I’m going to be curious about them. Their dog was, anyway.

They went out, leaving us with Kenco and their little pool table that was missing one ball. That pool table serves as a good metaphor for their whole house. It looked impressive at first glance, but when we looked closer there was something off. The bathroom was all modern designer, with a freaking TV in the wall over the tub, but the big shower head was caked in scale, the fan vent was completely clogged with fuzz, and the mirror over the sink was dirty. The couple were young, and our theory was that neither one had ever had to do anything for themselves before getting married and moving into their own house, so it was slowly degenerating. PlusI always wonder about people who have no printed reading material anywhere in their home. Like they’re pod-people or aliens pretending to be humans.

Discussing our Airbnb hosts and their homes was a favourite pastime for us on this trip.

When we went out Deb acted as map girl and tour guide, and took me on an interesting walk though the neighbourhoods and a really interesting old graveyard, and finally to an industrial area where we arrived at the real destination: the Staggeringly Good Brewery. Not just a great name, also excellent beer and all with dinosaur-themed names and labels, which instantly endeared them to me. StaggerSaurus, anyone? How about a ThaiRannoCitrus? They were playing good music too.

There also happened to be a gigantic grocery store in the neighbourhood, so that was where we went next. Back at the Airbnb we heated up our pies and played with the dog some more. Our hosts were in their backyard hot tub. It was weird.

Distance: 15 km (plus ferry)



Day 132: Worcester to Gloucester England, Tuesday August 29th

There was a light rain falling as we rode through Worcester looking for cycle route 45. Once we located it we made good progress along the canal to the pretty Diglis Marina and then out into the countryside.

We had noticed on the Sustrans site that the section of the 45 we were doing had two loops – places where we could take a left or right fork. The route description says absolutely nothing about this stretch of the route. In fact, I think it worth mentioning that the description of cycle route 45 is three paragraphs long (for 270 miles of cycle route). There is not one word about the route between these two cities. We love you Sustrans, but come on.

With nothing else to guide us, we decided to take the shorter of the two options at both loops. At the first loop, just south of Pirton, I missed the turn where the diverged paths met up again, and we continued back around the other side of the loop. We almost did a full circle before Deb realized what was happening and we turned back. Did I mention that it was raining and that my phone was broken?

The fork we took at the next loop took us into Tewksbury, which is a fairly big town. We figured that the other fork was longer, but avoided the busy streets. We needed to buy something for lunch, and Tewksbury seemed pretty enough, so we were still happy with our decision.

But after we left the high street, we couldn’t find any markers for route 45. Deb struggled with her phone and we had to turn back to find the little road we’d missed. Then that little road turned into a dirt path. This can’t be right, we thought. Deb checked again. The route was supposed to cross the river we were riding beside. But there was no way across. Back to where the little road starts we found a tiny note stuck on a pole, with a number for ferry information. Deb couldn’t get a signal, but we’d just been down the road and seen no sign of a ferry. A ferry? Where on the map does it indicate a ferry? Nowhere.

Even backtracking proved difficult, and when we got turned around again, Deb just about gave up. It was still raining.

But my warrior princess figured it out. And though it was a long detour, it was actually a pretty pleasant ride. And the rain stopped. Still, it was a pretty quiet lunch we ate in front of St. Peter Church in Bushley.

There were no more major problems (though there was a very muddy bridle path) until we got to Gloucester. We muddled our way though the city without too much difficulty, and even stopped at a canal-side brewpub near the docks.

The rest of the ride was along the canal, with no cars, just joggers, other cyclists, and dog walkers. We had to stop a couple of times to work our way through the suburban neighbourhood of our Airbnb, but we managed to get there before the sun went down.

We were greeted by Tony Latham, a retired filmmaker who now writes books, makes beer and wine, and has an incredible little garden where he grows more stuff than I would have believed possible. He also keeps a pretty great two room B&B. Our room had a view of the canal and an en suite shower and toilet.

Tony made us tea and we got to know each other. His movies were multi-language development films made in third world countries. He has been to many amazing places, including parts of Africa that are not easy for foreigners to see. His favourite places were Tuvalu and Bhutan. And he cans the fruit that he grows himself and fishes in the canal. I think Deb really felt at home.

Distance: 72 km




Day 121: Bellshill to Kilbarchen, Scotland, Friday August 18th

It rained a lot in the night, and it was windy, a combination that meant there were puddles inside our tent by morning. There was a brief break in the rain when we got up, and even some sun, but it was a trap. We had spread out some of our wet things to dry, only to see them get soaked again when the rain returned. It was not a great start, though I did manage to replace my flat tube, and do a quick clean and oil of our chains.

We found a much better route out of the site, and were quickly on cycle route 75 headed for Glasgow. This took us on many car-free paths through the suburbs, though we had to cross a lot of busy roads. Within a couple of hours we reached the Clyde River, which has great paths all the way into and through the city.

We rode right by the People’s Palace again, but this time stopped at WEST Brewing, which we actually visited many years ago on one of our hiking trips. Still in Glasgow, we hit a cycle shop to buy a new spare tire and a couple of tubes.

As usual, we had only a sketchy idea what our Airbnb would be like, though we got an indication when the hosts offered to make us a reservation at their local pub for dinner. Even so, we were not prepared for the luxury that Mark and Andrea provided.

Our room was huge. Mark helped us with all our crap, and then he brought us beer and chips. Even their adorable daughter helped welcome us. They were so warm and friendly we almost forgot the cold and the wet; their amazing shower took care of the rest.

The pub dinner was excellent, and after returning, we chatted with our hosts and their other guests (two young men from France on a car tour).

We passed out early, though we would’ve liked to have stayed up enjoying the company longer.

Distance: 45 km

$126 + spare tire and 2 tubes

Pipes and Pints

Day 113: Glasgow, Scotland, Thursday August 10th

It was a short walk from our Airbnb to the Glasgow Green. We stopped to admire the terra cotta celebration of colonialism that is the Doulton Fountain. I love that the “Canada” figures include a trapper holding a moose head with a beaver at his feet.

Behind the fountain is the equally ornate People’s Palace, with a museum of Glasgow inside. We spent some time in there, and then walked beside the Clyde and up into Kelvingrove Park. A big bagpipe festival and competition was almost set to begin, and pipes and drums could be heard practicing everywhere. In the park we stopped to watch a couple of troops rehearsing.

We went to the Kelvingrove gallery and museum, picking out a few exhibits we were most interested in seeing.

On our way back across the city, we stopped at the very nice Shilling Brewing Company where we sampled and enjoyed their pizza and a pint special. We capped our tour with a stop Drygate Brewery, just down the street from our room.

Distance: 0



Day 108: Pitlochry, Scotland, Saturday August 5th

We walked out and around the big dam in Pitlochry and spent some time in the visitor’s centre looking at the displays and watching a movie about Hydro power in the Highlands.

Later we walked up to the Moulin Inn, which happens to also be a brewery. It was very busy, so we had to take stools at an occupied table. At first we kept to ourselves, but when I got up to get another round, Deb got social. It was an English couple and their friend, all out for a long-weekend motorbike tour. The friend, “Stumpy”, was former military; he and I connected because he was a big Rush fan. We talked about bikes and Brexit, about our tour and where they thought we should go; we talked about differences between the English and the Scottish, and between the new world and old.


Distance: 0


Skara Brae, Skull Splitter, and Brodgar

Day 100: Stromness (tour of West Mainland), Friday July 28th

We enjoyed an unencumbered ride, heading north from Stromness to Skaill, visiting Skara Brae, the remains of a neolithic village that has been called the “Scottish Pompeii”.

Re-creation of a neolithic house

The real thing

Included in the price of admission to the neolithic exhibit and village was a self-guided tour of Skaill House, an impressive 17th century manor with an 1950’s interior.

Just a little farther north we found the Orkney Brewery, where we both purchased samples. They make some very good beer, including Skull Splitter.

Next we hit the Ring of Brodgar, with menacing clouds adding to the moody atmosphere.

Perhaps we lingered just a little too long at stones, because just as we were completing our circuit, riding back into Stromness, the rain hit. We got drenched.

In the evening, when we were dry again, we went back to the Ferry Inn for a pint. We wore rather bizarre footwear, as our shoes were still wet.

Distance: 38 km


Dutch Golden Age

Day 82-84: Amsterdam

Sunday the 9th

Our first day we decided to try walking in to the city. It was a fairly long hike, but it gave us a chance to see things we would’ve missed had we taken the tram. We decided against riding in mostly because we planned to sample some beer.

We toured around the old city, including Dam Square. We’ve both been to Amsterdam before, and there wasn’t anything in particular we ‘had’ to see. The throngs of tourists in that area get tiring quickly, and the dozens upon dozens of shops selling crap are just depressing. Much better to walk some canals and explore quieter neighbourhoods, which is how we spent most of the day.

We also went to Brouwerij Het IJ, which was packed. It’s right next to a windmill and the river IJ, and it serves some fine craft brews. Just don’t expect service with a smile. The bartenders are so busy they’re more like fast food workers. We couldn’t get into the free tour, and we couldn’t get a seat outside, but we did enjoy a couple of small glasses at a table by a window.

After we walked around some more we let the app Untappd guide us to another riverside establishment: the Delirium Café. Here we got a great outside table, a plate of fries, and yes, more beer.

It seems to me a lot of these posts make it sound like all we do is drink beer. This is not quite the case, but it’s easier to let the photos show the things we saw than to describe our meandering walking tours.


Monday the 10th

Our second day in Amsterdam we walked in again, but we took a different route. This time we found ourselves in the beautiful Flevopark. After getting nicely lost wandering the streets, we headed for a beer garden, where we had nachos and watched the students, etc. hanging out. After lunch we explored the Oosterpark and its environs before we took the tram back to IJburg where our host, Vlad, shared a bottle of Georgian (Russia) wine with us.


Tuesday the 11th

Our third day we finally decided to take transit into the city. Around the Rijksmuseum is a nice sculpture garden which is free to explore, and after spending some time there we wandered accidentally into the Vondelpark, which is huge, and very nice.

We finally found what we were looking for: the De Pijp neighbourhood and the Albert Cuyp Market. We loved wandering up and down these pedestrian-only streets.

Our transit tickets were good for the day, so we hopped another tram into the tourist madness, saw the inexplicably long lines for the Heineken Experience and the Amsterdam Dungeon, and walked through the flower market.

We took a free ferry to Amsterdam-Noord and back, then walked back into the warren of old streets, and found an excellent beer bar where we sat by an open window and watched all the fun.




De Stijl in Town

Day 77: July 4th, Amersfoort, The Netherlands

We were enjoying Amersfoort so much we decided to use up our ‘float day’ before the ferry to the UK and stay another day. But when we asked we were told the hotel was fully booked.

We packed up, and I had even taken the first load down to the bikes, when we were told that a bigger (pricier) room had become available. We debated. It had a private shower…

We stayed, and didn’t regret it. The weather was great, and there was lots we hadn’t seen. Amersfoort is a town where you can just pick a street at random and stroll.

We walked by Piet Mondrian’s house, which is now a museum. As with the Bauhaus, I felt I should see it and get a photo.

Another bonus was the local microbrewery which was closed on Monday was now open. We had a sunny beer at a brew cafe, and had several tasters at the brewery.

Deb still couldn’t find any postcards, but she did find a place to purchase stamps.

The hotel had good WIFI, so Deb was able to phone her Mom to wish her a happy birthday. We were also able to get a lot of planning and Airbnb booking done.

Distance: 0


Town Musicians

Day 68: June 25th, Bremen, Germany

We were at the bridge over the Weser River, almost in Bremen’s historic old town, when the rain hit. We hid under a tree, and while we waited the cafe behind us opened: a perfect excuse for coffee. It worked out well, as the rain tapered off (though it came back off and on later), and it was a nice place with excellent coffee.

I was stunned at how impressive Bremen’s old town is. We’ve seen a lot of nice town squares with old town halls and big cathedrals, but Bremen’s is truly exceptional.

Detail from the Town Hall. Merpeople are a popular motif in Bremen.

The most famous thing in the market square is a sculpture of the “Town Musicians of Bremen“, after the fairytale by the Brothers Grimm. It has become a tradition to touch the donkey’s hooves and make a wish. The animals from the story are depicted all over the city.

Just off the square is the Böttcherstraße, a narrow alley of shops in architecturally significant buildings. The “Lightbringer”, a bright bronze relief at the entrance to the street, was intended to honour Hitler, but apparently the Nazis thought the whole street was an example of “degenerate art”, so it’s okay to like it.

Also on the Böttcherstraße is the Glockenspiel House, with bells of Meissen porcelain. Deb and I made a note of when the bells would ring next before moving on.

We wandered the maze of medieval streets called the Schnoor, and Deb purchased a knit boiled egg warmer that looks like a donkey.

We returned to listen to the glockenspiel, then went into the brewhouse right next door.

Strangely, we never saw our Airbnb host, Bar, again.

$112 plus souvenirs

Really Fresh Eggs

Day 59: June 16th, Tjæreborg to Egebæk, Denmark

We didn’t realize how close we had come to the sea. We rode west for just a few minutes and suddenly found ourselves on a cycle path beside a giant dike: the North Sea Cycle Route again, far from the section we rode in Sweden.

The path along the coast was great and the dike protected us from a fairly strong breeze coming off the water.

We took time to head inland to see Ribe, which is Denmark’s oldest city. The pedestrian-only core streets were full of people. We found a very nice cafe and had (expensive) coffee.

Ribe has a microbrewery, but nobody was around to let us in, so we ended up hitting the cafe again and sampling their beer in bottles.

Deb’s bike, Momo, got a flat just as we reached Ribe, but it held air well enough that we pushed on toward our “Nature Camp” destination. We had to stop a few times to re-inflate, but Deb was determined to get settled before we messed around with a new tire. I ended up taking us on a longer route than necessary and she still didn’t kill me.

This time the instructions were on the door of house: deposit cash in the tin, use the bathroom and kitchen as you like, etc. The host, Brian, came home as we were changing the flat. He told us there was a forest trail we could walk, a small lake, and he introduced us to his dogs and cats (warning us that the cats would eat food that we left unguarded).

We bought eggs from him, watching him take them from the small chicken coop in his yard. Fresh!

The kitchen was fully equipped, so we rode our unloaded bikes (Momo with a new white-wall tire) back to town and picked up supplies (Tex-Mex couscous and fried potato patties!).

We slept in the shelter, putting up a makeshift windscreen over the open side.

Distance: 34 km