Northern Europe

May 20, 2022 to June 20, 2022

Friends are important. Much of the time I travel alone in this world. So I really enjoy catching up with old friends, retelling old war stories, and finding out what is new in their lives. The trip to Northern Europe was a chance to do just this. Let me take this chance to introduce my friends, many of whom have appeared in past blogs.

Amsterdam

Dirk was in the middle of an epic ride from the Northern Slopes of Alaska to the Southern tip of South America. In January of 2014 they were passing through San Francisco which was where I was living at that time.

Dirk was the featured cyclist. Wouter and Samantha were the support team for an effort called 99% Ride, an idea that Dirk and Wouter dreamed up to provide philanthropic support for under privileged people of Central and South America from the donations they collected while travelling in North America.

Dirk had lived in San Francisco some years prior and had many contacts there. Wouter and Samantha lived at my apartment for a month while they organized fund raising events. For instance, I remember them getting invited to a barbeque at the Dutch Embassy in San Francisco.

Living together in San Francisco they taught me much of the Dutch culture of my ancestors. It was great to have them. I missed them when they left. I have returned to Amsterdam a few times to visit them.

I am especially fond of their dog Fritz who I witnessed jumping into the fish pond at an elegant garden party in Holland. He is a Yellow Labrador from Turkey and not at all uncomfortable showing off his skills, regardless of the situation.

Wouter and Samantha are a couple living in Amsterdam. They now have a son Aden who is nearly one year old. It was great to see them again. They helped me find a missing piece of Dutch culture, the Grauwe Erwten, a gray pea which is central to a traditional meal in my family.

This was replaced by a new mystery, the words to ‘Klap eens in je handtjes’, a nursery rhyme my grandmother taught me. The song contains instructions to clap your hands, put them on your head, etc. I clearly remember performing this innocent routine with my brother and sister when we were children.

With today’s internet it was easy to find the Dutch lyrics and translate them line by line. Which we did, only to find that the song refers to the head as an angry ball. Curious choice of words there. I wonder if this was the song to be performed during time out.

Google Translate

Dirk and Juliette

I was invited to stay with Dirk and ‘Shul’ (Juliette) for a few days in another part of Amsterdam. I saw at their bird feeder, wild parrots which blew my mind. I don’t think of these birds as able to live in a cold climate like Amsterdam. Shul pointed out that Amsterdam winters are not really very cold anymore.

Dirk and I told war stories about multiple day bike races. He was curious about sleep deprivation symptoms that I was familiar with. As he was planning a non stop bike ride to Paris ~500km. He expected it to take <24 hours. I told him it was unlikely that he would get into any sleep deprivation hallucinations that early. I usually experience the first oncet in 35 hours or more.

Dirk’s improvised chain repair done in Southern Chile when he was 50km from the nearest civilization.

I was impressed with his ambitious goals. These days I go at an easier pace. 500km would take me about a week depending on the terrain.

Together we worked out a good scenic course through Holland toward Germany and I prepared my navigation app to follow it. We set out together in the early morning and rode together for the first 30km or so. The paths I followed where truly wonderful, frequently quite far from the nearest road.

Dirk suggested that next time I was in Holland, we should plan a tour of a few days together. I think this is a great opportunity and will certainly follow up.

Borken, Germany

Heike Klemm is a graphic artist living in Borken, Germany. I was introduced to her almost three years ago by her brother Henry Klemm, an engineer I worked with many years ago. In 2019 Heike led me on a two day bike ride from Borken to her friends home in Muenster and back. We had a good ride in spite of being caught in a downpour at one point.

I find Borken is a picturesque place in spite of Heike’s efforts to down play it. For instance, there is a well maintained castle with a moat and drawbridge.

While I visited this time, she accepted my offer to bake an apple pie. I used a springform pan I found in her kitchen. Surprisingly it worked quite well and did not leak when we released it.

Belgium

The course to Antwerp from Belgium crossed over the Rhine and through the Netherlands. Although the course was not carefully selected, there were many pleasant roads and dirt paths to follow. Roads and towns named Hengeland and Hengevelde captured my interest as they are like the names of some of the Dutch-American kids I grew up with in New Jersey.

Wouter and Hein from Antwerp

Wouter and Hein, a couple living in Antwerp, I met in California in 2019. They were riding down the Oregon and California coast and contacted me through WarmShowers, a website for touring cyclists.

We met up in at Samuel P Taylor State Park. From there, I led them to San Francisco and they stayed at my place for a few days before the three of us flew to Amsterdam.

This year our schedules did not align well. But I did share a meal and caught up a bit in Antwerp. It was good to see them again.

Charles-Henri and Delphine from Brussels

I met this couple through WarmShowers. They stayed at my place in San Francisco in April of 2019. This year was my first visit to their home. We haven’t seen each other in three years. They welcomed me with open arms.

When I first met Charles-Henri and Delphine they had just completed an extensive tour of Chile which they referred to as their fifty shades of blue adventure. I remember one story in particular.

They were riding their touring bikes around the rim of a volcano. They realized that the shortest distance back to civilization was to complete the circuit around the rim. They were uncertain about the path ahead, but convinced themselves from satellite images that they could make it through. This was important to them because the following day was Charles-Henri’s birthday and they wanted to go out to celebrate in a city

They continued over terrain which became quite steep and thickly forested. It came to a point where they could only manage to get off and push their bikes downhill through the thick brush. The progress was quite slow

By nightfall they had not made much progress and where still in the wilderness. They had to move the dirt in order to make a spot flat enough to pitch the tent. The next morning they continued on, as they had no choice. Going uphill through the brush was not an option

In the end it took three days to get back to civilization. This included getting across a river which was too deep to ford. They found a small boat, then found its owner who ferried them across. When they finally arrived back in civilization, people where confused about how they were able to come from a direction that had no trail.

Chile 2019

We toured Brussels which is the capital of Belgium and also the capital of the European Union. You can imagine that there are many important and impressive buildings there.

But more important this is apparently the beer capital of the world. We visited pubs with such a wide variety of beers on tap. I asked if they had a double IPA. To which they replied that they had five on tap.

Before leaving Brussels Charles-Henri and Delphine gave me some excellent advice on best routes to follow through Brussels and on to Brittany. I was very happy with the EV4 (Eurovelo 4) route along the Normandy Coast in France.

Normandy Coast

One of my persistent problems with touring Europe is time management. I travel here as a foreigner on a visa waiver. This allows me only ninety days which cannot be extended simply by leaving the EU and reentering.

So here I am once again trying to jam too much Europe into too little time. I have promised that I would meet Jim Kern in Barcelona on June 22 and I would like to ride the Normandy Coast all the way into Brittany to meet my friends Joel & Irene there. There’s not enough time.

The solution to this problem is to take a train or plane to make up for the lack of time. It turns out I would need to use both to make the schedule work.

My first move was to book a train trip from Brussels to Dunkirk involving three trains. The rules for taking a bicycle on the train change with the type of train and the country. In general, if you take short haul trains you can simply walk on to the train with your bike assembled, no special packing required.

I thought I had this one all figured out and found myself waiting trackside in Brussels for a train that never showed up. Turns out the train was redirected to another track at the last minute and I did not hear the announcement in time. Hmpf! Next opportunity for this trip would be the same time on the following day.

Feeling a bit frustrated, I got on my bike and headed for Dunkirk. It made no sense to wait a day in Brussels to take a train that would save me only a day and a half riding time. The bike ride was a welcomed opportunity to destress. And yes, I would have to take a different train later on to meet up with Joel and Irene in Brittany.

Joel and Irene were on a bike trip over much of the same countryside as mine. I had considered synching up with their ride, but rejected this because it would have been awkward to show up at my friends’ homes with riders that had another itinerary in mind. I did notice that they intended to take a train from Caen to Rennes near their home at some point on their trip. I figured this would be a good option for me as well.

This was a good choice for me. As it turns out Joel and Irene had planned to take that train on the same day. I spent the three hours relearning how to play Bush Rummy, a card game from Australia with some modifications.

Relearning has the benefit that I could reuse my beginner’s luck advantage. And of course when the passersby use my camera to take pictures of us having such fun, I get to see what cards they are holding.

Noyal sur la Villaines

Joel and Irene have built such a magical place including gardens, fruit trees, a frog pond, etc. The house itself has an interesting history. It was originally a stage coach station.

This area is known for the genesis of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. If you remember the fictious story and its settings, you have a good idea of how the place looks, many stone buildings set amongst farms and forests.

This is my third visit in three years. I am always greeted with open arms. They were disappointed to learn that I would only be staying a few days. This is the first time I did not bring one or more friends with me. We usually have a grand expedition together. It would have been cool to have Jim meet me here, instead of flying off to Barcelona to meet him. Maybe next time.

We did have some time to explore the surroundings. We visited the local farm coop which was holding a festival. Amongst many activities, there was a contest. A well fed cow was placed in a pen marked off in quadrants. The person who predicts in which quadrant the cow will dump its load wins. We didn’t win this time, maybe next.

Irene is an excellent chef, and she knows that I like Beef Bourguignon. She makes this for me even though it takes days to prepare properly.

This was a good opportunity to address some electrical problems. My lights had become intermittent and then failed altogether. I also needed to pack the bike for the flight to Barcelona. Joel lent me his tools and supplies. We also went to the hardware store and bike shop for bubble wrap and cardboard. It’s like a home away from home here.

In the next post, I will return to Barcelona and meet up with Jim as planned. Our plan is to travel to Morocco together. This will be the first time that either of us has been to Africa. What could possibly go wrong?

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