Sunday, July 31, 2011

Amsterdam, where bicycles rule!

We got to Amsterdam yesterday, after a really enjoyable stay in Alkmaar and a great ride almost 100% on bike paths along the country side and little towns into Amsterdam, Centraal Station.
Alkmaar, the cheese city, is about 33 miles north from Amsterdam. We missed the Friday cheese market but you can see one of the cheese vendors in the market in one of the pictures. By now we are experts on finding our way in The Netherlands via the biking scavenger hunt. Even coming into Amsterdam we were in the countryside up until the last kilometer. Once we crossed the canal into Centraal Station with a free ferry, a sense of bicycle chaos and tourist invasion came upon us. We did not have a hotel reservation but we got one at the tourist information office across the street from Centraal Station. Getting to the hotel was a little challenging, the GPS did not recognize the street name so we had to do with a paper map. Between the narrow streets, canal crossings, cars, scooters, hundreds of bicycles, pedestrians, and let's not forget the trolley tracks, it was a miracle we made it without falling or crashing into something (I was really close). Our hotel was thankfully a few blocks away from the centrum, it is near the museums on a quiet street. We changed clothes and went for a walk, in the old centrum, red light district, market place, all very new to us and intense. Both Steve and I agree we prefer the small cities out of the tourist's path, but Amsterdam is a city to visit at least once. Today we went to the Rembrandt and Van Gogh museums and traveled the city by bike, having coffee and lunch along the way in different outdoor cafes. It is really fun for me to feel entitled to ring my bell and make people move out of the way, and cars wait patiently behind me while riding on a narrow street. Tomorrow we will have an interesting celebration for Steve's birthday, yes it is August 1st and he will be 53... a year older than me. We will travel by train to Copenhagen, it is not a direct train... we will be in 6 different trains and have to do 5 transfers with the bikes, and in a couple we have 11 minutes to make it. Next post will be on the 2nd when we and my family all meet in Copenhagen for a fun family week and wedding celebration.

Friday, July 29, 2011

On to Holland

After a 70 mile day we're less than a day's ride north of Amsterdam. It was mostly cloudy with a few showers on the ride today with a strong breeze out of the NNW. Fortunately it was mostly a cross or quartering tail wind. One of the highlights was an 18 mile dike separating a huge man made lake from the ocean. Since a good portion of the country is at or below mean sea level the Dutch have to be clever in managing the flow of water out. When the tide is low they let water flow out, when the tide is high they close the gates.

Tonight is in Alkmaar. Once again we seem to have found a local festival and the party is underway. A good thing about spending many hours on the bike is that sleeping is usually not a problem, even when it's noisy. We took advantage of the extensive Dutch bike route system again today, as well as the Garmin 800. Both have proved to be very valuable.

Tomorrow after breakfast we head south to Amsterdam for a 2 night stay and I'm sure a few new adventures.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Into the heart of Fryslan

This was a full and interesting day: started with breakfast at Niko and Esther's house and stopping at the train station in Groningen to find tickets to come back to Denmark on the 1st. The station is a beautiful old building and has the biggest bicycle parking we have seen so far as documented in the picture. The computers were down and had to wait a long time, and we did not get the direct overnight reservation because there was no room for the bikes... instead we got a reservation where we go in 6 different trains and have 5 transfers... I am sure it will be a relaxing time to read (while on the train) mixed with being frantic during transfer times. By the time we got our tickets it was noon, and started on this interesting system of bike paths through fields, dikes, forests and canals they have in Fryslan, it was like a game...a scavenger hunt to find the next number. Niko had prepared a route for us that would be fun and interesting. We started getting soaked with a short but moderately intense rain shower. The bike path system is really amazing, we only had to back track 3 times, Lots of bicycles along the way, people going to work, families with kids, many older couples (60s,70s) going for a ride or having a picnic along the way, one tandem, as Steve said before, this is bicycle wonderland!
The goal was to get to Sneek (pronounced snake), or for the Fryslanders: Snits. In order to get there we had to cross an area full of canals and lakes with few roads so we had to catch 3 short ferries and since we started late it was the end of the hours they functioned, got a rush making it to all 3 and saved 10 extra miles around the park. We got to Sneek around 7 PM with the sun slowly setting. The hotel we found is in the main street on top of a restaurant and pub. The street was closed with barriers and the entire town was on the side walk waiting for something to happen ... when we came down to eat after showering we discovered that is was the local sport: couples go around in little carriages dressed like the old times, the man manages the horse while the woman tries to get a ring from a post with a big wooden stick!
We have many more stories for today.. we are saving them for the slide show. Next to north Holland to see the beach, tulips and cheese.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Sightseeing around Groningen

We're staying two nights with friends Esther and Nico, so today was spent touring the countryside around Groningen and a short trip in to the center of the city. The weather just keeps getting better every day. It was sunny and calm in the morning with a temp in the 60's. Partly cloudy later in the day but only a few drops of rain all day.

Riding through the countryside was like being in some kind of bicycle dream. Bike paths literally going everywhere, and people of all ages using them by the hundreds. Families, older people (even older than us), touring cyclists, and just people out for a nice ride. Lots of sheep, dairy cattle, horses, and shetland ponies to be seen everywhere. Canals are pretty much everywhere as well. With the land at or below sea level all of the water has to be drained in a complex system of ditches and canals. Amazingly it all works (at least until sea level rises too much)

Dinner back in the city center. In the morning we'll be fully loaded and off again headed towards Sneek. Amsterdam in another two to three days.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

We found the flat lands: the Netherlands!

Another excellent day of riding with a little over 72 miles to Groningen, a nice University City out of the usual touristic route where our friends Esther and Niko live. If it was not for the overpasses and the dikes it would have been a perfectly flat route. Coming out of Germany, there were bike paths all the way, we stopped in a few places for pictures, like Papenburg, a small town with canals and replicas of old ships. Rheden, a border town where we had lunch and had a hard time getting a low fat meal...even the salad is covered by creamy dressing, cheese and some bright orange yolk, I was scared to eat (I will have to postpone working on lowering my cholesterol until I come back home). The garmin GPS, was amazing in bringing us right to the door our our friends country home through streets and roads that had bicycle designated paths. Amazing scenery with fields of wheat, corn, cows, sheep, horses and ponies feeding on the grass and canals with children fishing or people on boats and canoes.
After cleaning up and starting laundry we went off to town with Niko to dinner to a nice restaurant in the old part of town while Esther was at work. We finished the evening with a delicious chamomile tea and great conversation.
We are staying one more day in Groningen exploring the surrounding areas, I want to go to the "tea" museum and some older towns closer to the coast.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Bremen to Bad Zwischenahn

Back on the bikes today with much better weather. Pretty much cool and cloudy all day and not too much wind. What a nice change :-) We're in northwestern Germany and tomorrow will cross the border in to The Netherlands and hopefully on to see our friend Esther in Groningen. Mostly separated bike paths today running parallel to the secondary highways. All in all very pleasant riding.

After breakfast we toured some of the historical sights in Bremen, including the church originally built in 789 AD. Gee, only 1,000 years before San Xavier! The lunch stop was in Oldenburg which included a nice chat with a German lady who really wanted to tell us a good place to go. We were trapped with her :-) Two German guys tried to translate to no avail and eventually we had to make our escape. The stop for the night is in Bad Zwischenahn by a very scenic lake. Before dinner we did the 6 mile path around the lake then it was dinner at a nice Greek restaurant. The big excitement there was a lady at the next table passing out and having to be rescued by the paramedics and an ambulance. Looking forward to another impossible to understand language tomorrow!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Another nasty weather day, let's hop on the train!

There was wind and rain all night into the morning in Bredstedt. With no hope for the weather to change we decided to take the train south to Hamburg and find a connection to Bremen. We started the day with a great breakfast at the Hotel/cafe "Frida" and we ended up the day in a great west african restaurant in Bremen with a delicious meal and a good dose of beer for Steve, wine for Patricia and a bonus amazing liquor called "Amarula" made in Africa (yum!). You can appreciate the food in the pictures.
The German trains are wonderful, they are fast and on time, in the one from Bredstedt to Hamburg, the bikes traveled for free and we only paid 8 euros for the one from Hamburg to Bremen. The bike car fits several bikes and we were able to find a seat in the same car, we met several touring hopeful people who decided to use the train instead of suffering in the rain and wind. It was a little dicey to find our way in Hamburg without much German and for me no map (I feel lost without a good map...Steve says also with a good map...). We arrived in Bremen in the early afternoon and went around for a total of 4.5 miles on the bike until we found a nice hotel in downtown. We then went for a 5-6 mile run by the river and then off to find some good food around the corner. Tomorrow WE WILL RIDE! Enough of waiting for the rain and wind to stop... OK we will see how it is in the morning, the goal is to get to Groningen to visit our friend Esther in two days.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Sometimes it rains...

Coming from Tucson we have a notion of rain being a 15 minute episode every few days during our semi rainy monsoon season. The thought that it would go from drizzle to light rain and back all day for two days wouldn't seem possible. That would be incorrect :-) Today we saw about a hundred bicycles - on car bike racks. We felt bad for all of the families headed up to the ferry to the outer islands who wouldn't be doing any bike riding this weekend.

Since leaving Ribe, Denmark, yesterday it has been pretty constant, accompanied by a stiff wind right off of the North Sea. Fortunately we have had mostly a quartering tail wind. When it's been a straight cross wind it's almost funny how we were getting buffeted around. We have seen several cyclists, but today it was just us and the sheep... and they weren't happy either. We found a cute hotel in Bredstedt around noon and the call of a hot shower, warm lunch and dry inside was just too great :-) A .5l glass of good German beer didn't hurt either.

Nice nap listening to the rain and wind. It stopped raining so were grabbing our shoes to head out and explore... when it started raining again. It's supposed to be more of the same tomorrow, so maybe we'll look in to options on the train to keep us moving towards The Netherlands at a little faster pace. Better weather is coming early next week.

All of our equipment is performing well. The Ortlieb panniers and handlebar bags are indeed waterproof. The Surlys are shifting and riding well in the wet weather. And the jeans and fleece feel great!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Riding into Germany

My first visit to Germany, and our first rainy day of the trip. We left Ribe, which is an amazing little historic town in Denmark after doing a short self guided walking tour. The weather was colder than what it has been and windy and by the time we were all packed up, it started drizzling. There were strong winds from the North/West and the rain got worse as we went south into Germany. The route was part of the North Sea cycling route, and in a sunny summer day would have been spectacular... We were lucky we had the wind in our back or side the entire way (the cyclists coming from the other side looked very unhappy). The border crossing into Germany was anticlimactic, no one was there to ask for any documentation. As the rain and wind got worse we were anxious to find a hotel and we did in a town called Dagebull, where tourists have access to some nice islands off the coast of Germany via ferry. I had a few requirements today for the hotel: warm, dry, hot water, good food, wi fi and laundry and I got them all, although with some challenges and delay in the wi-fi and the laundry. Tomorrow we don't know what are we doing, will depend on the weather. More to come.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Horsens to Ribe

For being a flat place we seem to be able to find a reasonable number of hills along the way. Today was 67 miles and about 2,200 feet of climbing. Actually comparable to last summer's route along the Pacific Coast. No big hills, just a number of ups and downs. More beautiful scenery and definitely getting spoiled using the GPS for directions. We just plug in the name of the next town we are going to and let the unit pick out a nice route on lightly traveled roads. Often times we're out in the country completely by ourselves along side rolling fields of wheat, barley, and occasionally corn. A few manure blasts that reminded me of the best of RAGBRAI across Iowa :-)

Ribe is the oldest city in Denmark and has some great old buildings. We're staying in a hotel built in 1600 (and it looks like it). We have to stoop to enter our room and nothing is quite square. But of course it does have WiFi. More good weather, some breezes out of the NW to keep the windmills turning (the modern kind). Mostly cloudy today and 60's, but still no rain along the route. We did see our first old style windmill (pictured). Heading for northern Germany tomorrow, but may stay in southern Denmark one more day. It's hard to beat a day of bicycle touring.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Denmark = Bike heaven

Today it was a short ride from Arhus to Horsens, only 31.2 miles. We went to bed late, and had a late start after having a nice breakfast at the hotel and a walk in the city, visiting some old churches. We did not know where we were going to end up Horsens of Vegle... We don't have a good paper bike map but the Garmin 800 works great. It took us on bike paths and country roads all the way. The Danish had done an outstanding job making it possible to ride your bike everywhere, whether you are going to work, shopping or touring. We saw a father son and a family of four touring and many others just riding everywhere. The GPS also helps to find hotels and restaurants, we found the hotel in the picture, Jergensen's Hotel (run by Best Western) at a reasonable price on the main walking street.
We are now off to find dinner and go to bed early to be able to do 70 miles tomorrow going to the oldest city in Denmark called Ribe.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Copenhagen to Arhus

Good first day on the road. We slept in a little bit after the jet lag recovery day yesterday, but were up and on the road headed out of Copenhagen about 9:30 AM. Nice day and about 60 deg F to start. It was easy going with the separated bike path taking us all of the way out of the city and in to the countryside. Some very gentle rolling hills, lakes, and farmland were waiting for us along the way. We made it all of the way across the island in time to catch the 6 PM ferry to Arhus. About a 1 hour ferry ride and then a few minutes searching out hotels around the center of town. Denmark is not for the budget minded traveler :-) Everything is pricey, but the food is good, the scenery beautiful, people nice, and so far the hotels very nice.

We had a nice dinner of pizza and salad with a few cold beers. Nice end to the day. It's finally getting dark here at 11 PM. 73 miles for the day and about 1800 feet of climbing. Ready for more road adventure tomorrow in Denmark then heading south towards Germany.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Copenhagen here we come!

With a sense of accomplish - ment we are winding down this evening, it is 9:40 PM in Copenhagen and the sun is slowly setting.
The goals of the day were simple but essential to the rest of our trip.
1. Get out of Tucson and make both our connections to be on the way to Denmark via Newark...Check!
2. Have all our luggage and bikes arrive in Copenhagen with us this morning... Check!
3. Find a big enough taxi to fit both bike boxes, luggage and ourselves...Check!
4. Stay awake until now to reset our circadian rhythm.... Check! This was really hard, we did not sleep much and arrived to Copenhagen at midnight Tucson time, we were lucky that it was a sunny day and got on the bikes with Ignacio, my nephew and Lindsay his fiance and did a tour of the old city. From the time we left the airport we were amazed to see bikes every where, women, men of all ages and sizes, bikes with baskets, panniers, child seats, front and back trailers, There are hundreds of bikes parked on the street everywhere, and sometimes it is hard to find a parking space in the bike racks, and you have to take the light post. Most streets have designated bike lanes in both sides of the streets and there are fewer cars than I expected in a big European city. Even being a little brain dead from the jet lag, almost falling asleep at times while driving I appreciated what a wonderful city Copenhagen is with it's history, architecture, food, bike culture, unique areas as Christiana.
Tomorrow we are taking off to the northwest of the island but we will be back to explore areas we visited while fully awake and more we did not see today.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Off to Copenhagen tomorrow

Our 2011 bike adventure begins with a 5:10 AM flight tomorrow morning that hopefully ends in Copenhagen on Monday morning with the safe arrival of our Surly Long Haul Truckers. The plan is 2 weeks from Copenhagen to Amsterdam (and maybe Belgium) by way of Germany. Then it's back to Copenhagen for Patricia's nephew's wedding followed by a week of touring up the coast of Sweden. The language challenges will be many :-) Looking forward to the cooler temps already. We'll post again when we've arrived and are ready to hit the road. Good times!