Grand Tour July 2010

In celebration of Jane’s 50th birthday we embarked on a grand cycle tour of Europe (selected bits of Europe that we particularly like and where we know the cycling is good).

1 July

We took the ferry from Newcastle to Ijmuiden. We like this ferry and have developed a good system for feeding and watering ourselves on board (large picnic tea and a bottle of Leffe Brun, usually).

2 July

Drive from Ijmuiden near Amsterdam to the bâtiment Deux Acren. On paper not a problem, about 300 km, so a fat three hours or so. But we started by meandering through the bulbfields, reliving our Spring cycle exploits and curious to see what those magnificent fields of hyacinths look like when the bulbs have been harvested. Still flowers to be seen. But by the time we got to the Rotterdam ring the Friday afternoon traffic had built up some nasty tailbacks which had to be avoided (one or two curious detours here on account of some misunderstandings between Jane and Harrison the GPS) and the Antwerp ring was even worse. The 2010 Tour de France was starting the following day with the Prologue in Rotterdam so the world and her bicycle was on the Dutch roads. We arrived in the late afternoon, in good time for cocktails on the terrace and a meal with W + G. Good to see Reynolds and Lewiston (Mini) again – one year old but still kittenish.

3 July

Cycling down the Dender to Ninove and beyond.

4 July

Blink and you'll miss it!Waiting for the Tour de France at Meise, near Brussels, home town of Eddie Merckx, 10 km from the finish of the first stage. Spent a very happy four hours or so on a traffic island in the middle of the road for a bunch of cyclists to pass in about 20 seconds or so. Great day. Watching the progress of the tour on the big screen. Seeing all the team buses pass. Applause for the cyclists ‘taking their bike to the tour’. Feeling the atmosphere heighten as the race neared. Bands playing, music from the DJ in the pub opposite, glasses of Kriek, first experience of a tour ‘caravane’, beginners’ luck as we bagged a Carrefour cap.

6 July

Off to France. Two nights in St Avold, lovely to see Eléonore again for the first time in what must be more than 25 years. A day’s cycling along the canals and lakes around the Etangs de Lorraine, an area we are familiar with and always drawn back to. Dee’s French is coming along a treat, although the coursebooks have equipped her with the language to converse more about school systems and French national holidays than demented mothers and old people’s homes.

8 July

Alsace – Marc et Janine – evening cycle ride and Flammekueche (sans lardons pour nous).

9 July

Le grand départ. Marc and Janine cycle out of Strasbourg with us, point us in the direction of the border and we say our goodbyes. There’s a bit of a sense of crossing the Styx as we approach the new bridge over the Rhine and enter Germany. Cycle up river (which feels like down because we are going south) along the digue, which is lovely in parts but quite hard cycling on dusty gravel. Found some fantastic fruit to buy at the Kaiserstuhl. Arrive in Breisach, very hot and very dusty. Germany is ‘enjoying’ a heatwave.

10 July

Breisach to Freiburg im Breisgau. Train to Donaueschingen and the Donauquelle. Cycle from Donaueschingen to Fridingen – we’re on our way. The upper Danube valley is wide and very lovely in the late afternoon sunshine. We seem to be cycling up river instead of down towards a ring of hills at the head of a valley, then a narrow gorge appears as the river turns southwards. Fridingen is not a happy hotel or dining experience.

11 July

The white cliffs of the DanubeFridingen to Riedlingen, through the narrowest bit of the Donautal. Creamy-yellow cliffs, every outcrop topped by a castle or cross or shrine of some sort. Weirdly kind of superstitious. Stop in Sigmaringen to admire the castle and acquire the wondrously effective Gesässcreme from the lovely Apothekerin who is mercifully open on a Sunday in the main square. It’s still incredibly hot. Landgasthaus Donautal – again not a totally happy dining experience, Käsespätzle are a bit of an effort after the first couple of mouthfuls, even for hungry cyclists.

12 July

Blautopf detour, lovely cycle away from the main route, our best day yet. More pictures here. Arrival in Ulm marred by witnessing a quite serious cycling accident between young lad whizzing down the underpass and mature lady not looking before moving out. Dee got covered in blood and I was unsuccessful in trying to get the shocked, bleeding and concussed casualty to stay still and wait for help. But we liked Ulm a lot!

13 July

Train to Friedrichshafen, cycle along Lake Constance to Uhldingen near Meersburg. Bought some fabulous cherries from a table outside a house. Best hotel experience yet in a converted monastery – the young man who checked us in sent up some chilled water and a huge bowl of strawberries (what hospitality for thirsty travellers) and the waitress had an intuitive understanding for our unusual menu choices (a huge plate of salad each and a soused herring plate to share).

14 July

Boat from Meersburg to Konstanz, cycle to Reichenau. We are celebrating Bastille Day at the Strandhotel Löchnerhaus, where I spent a not entirely happy summer as chambermaid (“Ich bin das neue Kammerfräulein” as I notably said on arriving there in June 1979, in testimony to the occasionally unfortunate repercussions of a traditional Scottish university education). Not much had changed apart from the atmosphere (less animated), the clientele (less middle class) and the food (less!). But at least we got given a room upgrade and were able to watch the thunderstorm which broke the heatwave from our large flower-festooned first-floor balcony. Yet more pictures here.

15 July

Boat from Reichenau across the short stretch of water to Switzerland. Cycle along the Rhine to the falls at Schaffhausen and took a boat trip to the rock in the middle of the falls (Dee a bit wound up climbing the narrow steps up the rock in her cycling shoes). Spent the night in an odd little hotel in Lottstetten, back in Germany.

16 July

A day spent crossing and recrossing the Rhine, through fields of sunflowers, oats, barley, wheat, rye (an excellent crop recognition test). We had intended cycling as far as Bad Säckingen but decided to keep going when we got there around 2pm and it was too hot to stop. By the early evening we’d cycled almost 100km and were already in the outskirts of Basel. Another odd little hotel (our first experience of turning up on spec, all our other overnights have been meticulously pre-planned and booked) but we were glad of the shelter to watch the hailstorm which heralded yet another break in the steamy weather.

17 July

Five countries in one day. Breakfast in Germany, coffee in Switzerland (well it’s the thought that counts, we had such difficulty finding the train in Basel we’d no time for refreshments), lunch in Strasbourg. We were intending to stay the night but on account of our exploits the previous day we arrived earlier than anticipated, M+J were away at a wedding and not coming back till later, so we made our escape. Fuelled the car in Luxembourg and had dinner with Gélise at the bâtiment. It felt a lot like coming home.

18 July

Cycling up the Dender to Maffle, just beyond Ath. Géants! We’re quite moved by the earnest participation of little kids playing drums and flutes, and the skill and professionalism of the village bands. Bought some rubbish at the village brocante, but that’s what they are for.

20 July

Going home. It took a whole lot less time to get to Ijmuiden on a Tuesday morning than it took us to go from there to Deux Acren on a Friday afternoon. Lunch at an idyllic serendipitous spot by a canal somewhere in Holland. Grand shopping in Albert Hein Hillegom before a long wait in the queue to board the ferry. At one stage we wondered if we were going to get on at all, they were clearly on the over-full side of fully booked. The good part was being one of the first vehicles to get off the following morning.

21 July

Home again. Collected Bob and Aggie from the cattery. They may not have had a particularly pleasant time there but they were both fine, healthy and functioning as normal. In total over the last three weeks we have cycled 650km, we feel lithe and fit and are very brown from our knuckles to our elbows!

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