It was kinda hard getting back on the bikes after 3 happy days beaching and boozing with the family. But we slowly dragged our sorry arses out of our Frankfurt ‘home-from-home’ (thanks wonderful family Klier!) and back onto the ‘Romantic’ section of the Rhine cycle trail.
Always full of surprises, it seems the Germans do ‘Romantic’ remarkably well. The steep, vineyard covered valleys, dramatically precarious castles and timber framed towns proved a welcome distraction from our ‘daily grind’.
Sadly, being a pretty big ole river, the Rhine does a fair bit of wiggling around. So, as we sat out yet another thunderstorn in Koln we realised we weren’t going to be following the Rhine to Rotterdam and reaching Blighty in time for our goal…’The Surrey Hills Music Festival’. Decision time!
It wasn’t easy to leave the navigational safety blanket of the Rhine but we manned up and decided to head to the suburbs and across to Belgium for the Oostende ferry. We needn’t have worried about the navigation. These ‘Euros’ really have something to show off with their cycling infrastructure. It felt like bikes not cars got precedence on the streets as we cycled out of Koln.
It didn’t take long to reach Belgium across all this flatness but we quickly wished we’d chosen another route. I was really hoping I could avoid dredging up cultural stereotypes on this one but I can’t. I’m sorry but Belgium is just really really boring! Endless miles of flatness, headwinds, dreary boxy architecture and disinterested people. Bizarrely it seemed hard to find an open shop, toilet or pub. But if you wanted chips from the numerous ‘friturs’ or bread from a vending machine at midnight, this is the place to go! No wonder this is the first country we noticed an obesity problem. In their defence, the canal town of Ghent is a gorgeous mini Venice, and they have some storming livestock gracing their fields so there was the odd pleasant distraction.
As usual, things were taking a little longer than expected so we found ourselves with a 170km hoof to reach the ferry in time for our deadline. We weren’t best pleased to find a sign reading ‘NO FOOT PASSENGERS’ when we arrived at the ferry terminal at midnight. We camped in a dingy slag heap and turned up early for the ferry hoping to beg a ride from a van driver. It turns out this isn’t much of a passenger ferry so there were only 2 vans to choose from at the check in area.
Our first choice, a high sided, long wheelbase transit refused to help as he was full. Looking at his wheel arches we didn’t think he was lying either. Our next choice, a Lithuanian with 10 scrap engines in the back took a little while to convince. We had to pull out our best British accents to convince him we wouldn’t create any hassle with the immigration guys. Oops! But he agreed and much relieved we settled our bikes in the back of the van to board the ferry.
Waiting our turn to mount the ferry ramp some blue lights scream past, then a police van pulls in front of us to block our boarding path. We look around and realise we’re the only vehicle left waiting to board. Gulp! These fellas are here for us. A British voice appears at the window to ask some confused questions ‘are we together’, ‘do we know the white van’? No and no, but it might take a little convincing on that front as we’d been seen chatting to all involved. We unloaded the bikes, let them poke about the van and were finally allowed on our way. It transpired that the white van we first asked for a ride housed a container with 3 illegal Chinese immigrants inside. The UK Border Agency had 5 of their finest waiting for us at Ramsgate for a full search of the van. Fortunately they found nothing and finally we could go our separate ways from the Lithuanian. I don’t think he’ll be helping stray cyclists again in a hurry!
And so, finally, back on familiar soil, and with a familiar smile (thanks Golders!) to meet us off the ferry. England tried hard to test my commitment to her green and pleasant land over the next few days. She sent hours of lashing rain, some decent headwinds, busy highways and a pothole or two. And a broken rear derailleur hanger to my cycling buddy Sam one fortunately pleasant evening. Good to know that Poppet can handle all my gear and an 80kg bloke balancing on the back through the North Downs lanes! But still, nearly a week off the ferry and I’m delighted to be home.
Somehow none of this matters when there’s good friends, food, beds and even a bath at the end of the day. Oh, and the best pubs that the world has to offer to break up the cycling too!
Check out our amazing online charity auction at www.r2rcharityauction.org Bid for the chance to win an ipad, icebreaker gear, luxury cabin stay, whitewater rafting trip, ziplining, yoga classes ….and Pete’s cycle shorts. Auction ends on June 24th at 1pm. All proceeds go to http://www.roomtoread.org/
km cycled so far: 10953
km to go….not that many now!!
no of British choc bars eaten by Pete – 7.8/day and he’s still skinny
no. 0f cycle tourists ashamed by the Vancouver hockey riots – 2