Saturday, July 21, 2012

EuroCycle 2012: Ireland

19 - 20 July 2012
  • Rosslare - Tramore: 74km
  • Tramore - Cork: 130km

As I cycled home to Cork from Rosslare, spending a night at a campsite in Tramore en route, I saw that while Ireland is far from perfect (I passed several "ghost estates") for me it is still a great place. Helped by it being a sunny day, I thought that cycling along Waterford's "Copper Coast" was as beautiful a route as any I had seen during my trip.

When I reached my sister's house I met my nine-day old nephew Seán. He was due to be born the day after I was due back, but he beat me to it by arriving ten days early. It was great to meet him and to see that Aileen, John and big sister Nicole were all coping well with the new arrival.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

EuroCycle 2012: France

6 - 18 July 2012
  • Buzancy - Guignicourt: 83km
  • Guignicourt - Pierrefonds: 104km
  • Pierrefonds - Hénonville: 100km
  • Hénonville - Les Andelys: 61km
  • Les Andelys - St-Georges-du-Vievre: 77km
  • St-Georges-du-Vievre - Villers-sur-Mer: 54km
  • Villers-sur-Mer - Arromanches: 68km
  • Arromanches - Grandcamp-Maisy: 58km
  • Grandcamp-Maisy - Quinéville: 54km
  • Quinéville - Barfleur: 25km
  • Rest day in Barfleur
  • Barfleur - Cherbourg: 30km
For an area with such a bloody past, I often found north-eastern France to be eerily quiet. As I cycled near to sites of World War One battles, I went through dozens of quiet villages with shuttered windows and shops closed for most of the day. I progressed from the war cemeteries in the north-east
through the wheat fields north of Paris
to the coast. There I found many more war memorials as well as pretty seaside towns.
As I made my way west along the coast, visiting the D-Day beaches, I realised that I was ahead of schedule to make my ferry to Rosslare so I could afford to slow down and relax. And there is no better place to do just that. The last days of my cycling holiday around Europe were spent reading (I was very pleased with my newly-purchased Kindle which was perfect for this trip), eating delicious food, and contemplating the sun setting on my three-year adventure.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

EuroCycle 2012: Belgium

6 July 2012
My experience of being a cyclist in Belgium, though brief (less than two hours) and unexpected (I realised only the day before that I would pass through its south-eastern corner on my way from Luxembourg to France), was a positive one. Unlike in the other countries, several passing motorists showed their support, admiration and encouragement for me by beeping their car horns and waving their hands at me. This welcome trait would certainly make me want to do more cycling here.

At least, I think their beeps and waves were meant to encourage...

Friday, July 6, 2012

EuroCycle 2012: Luxembourg

4 -6 July 2012
  • Bernkastel-Kues (GER) to Luxembourg City: 123km
  • Rest day in Luxembourg City
  • Luxembourg City to Buzancy (FRA): 105km
Of the ten countries I would see on this cycle trip, Luxembourg was the only one that I had not previously visited. But being able to add it to my "Places I've Been" list wasn't the reason I came here. I came to meet my friend Tom, his fiancé Eilish and their newborn baby who was due on 26 June. But instead of a baby, when I arrived on 4 July I found that Eilish was still very much pregnant. So waiting and watching Wimbledon was the order of the day. Thankfully I seemed to be a welcome distraction, and I enjoyed the home comforts which included, thanks to their satellite dish, being able to watch the tennis on BBC and the RTE Nine O'Clock News, so it all worked out well.

I was impressed with Luxembourg City, and I left it recharged and with a pannier full of clean clothes. And for even happier and more important news, the day I left Eilish and Tom became the proud parents of Kate Ann - congratulations!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

EuroCycle 2012: Germany (part 2)

21 June - 4 July 2012
  • Cottbus - Bad Liebenwerda: 107km
  • Bad Liebenwerda - Leipzig: 106km
  • Rest day in Leipzig
  • Liepzig - Naumberg: 65km
  • Naumberg - Erfurt: 77km
  • Erfurt - Eiseanach: 75km
  • Eiseanach - Bad Hersfeld: 95km
  • Bad Hersfeld - Grunberg: 86km
  • Grunberg - Runkel: 105km
  • Runkel - Limberg: 11km
  • Limberg - Burgen: 107km
  • Burgen - Bernkastel-Kues: 106km
An abundance of cycling routes, bakeries, and historic towns made for a surprisingly good two weeks cycling from east to west across Germany. I say "surprisingly good" because, well, I was surprised at how good Germany is to visit. Highlights for me included a night out in Leipzig (a cool city), the Cherry Festival in Naumberg (where I didn't see any cherries but instead enjoyed a variety of live music, beer and food), and cycling alongside the Mosel River (where a path sandwiched between the river and vineyards connected a string of pretty towns).

Indeed I found Germany to be full of attractive and historic towns and cities. I was continually arriving into impressive town squares, passing medieval-looking buildings on cobblestone streets and looking up at castles.
At various times in Germany I followed cycle route signs labelled with numbers, letters or a range of symbols, including once what I think was a cartoon of a cycling radish. Taking cycle routes certainly has advantages in terms of safety and scenery. For instance, by taking the "Iron Curtain Trail" I cycled along quiet country roads that brought me to historic sites.

But scenic routes tend to be longer than the main, more direct roads. So I was often faced with a choice: take the shorter but busier and less interesting road or the longer but safer and more scenic route. I generally chose the latter, especially at the start of the day, but when I felt the need to clock up some kilometres I would switch to the former.

Speaking of clocking up kilometers, I cycled over 100 kilometres on five days in Germany. I hadn't been sure if I wanted or was able to get all the way from Poland to the ferry in France just by cycling. After crossing Germany I happily realised that I would be able to reach Cherbourg in time just by pedal power.

Friday, June 22, 2012

EuroCycle 2012: Poland (part 2)

19 - 21 June 2012
  • Poznan - Wolsztyn: 92km
  • Wolsztyn - Zielona Gora: 65km
  • Zielona Gora - Cottbus (GER): 112km
The morning after Ireland's final match in Euro 2012, I took down my tent, loaded up my bike and started my journey home. As fun as the preceding twelve days had been, I was sort of glad that the party was over. It had been hectic and unhealthy, so I was happy to get back on my bike and to head off on my own into the Polish countryside.

The previous day I had bought a map of Germany. Its eastern and western margins contained Poznan and Luxembourg respectively, so I drew a line between the two and my plan was to stay as close to that line as possible.

After meeting many young Poles in the big cities of Poznan and Gdansk who were helpful, friendly and good English speakers, it was interesting for me to be back in rural Poland. On quiet country roads and in villages I often came across older people who looked at me with surprise but kept their distance. People were helpful if I asked directions but, unlike in other countries, they generally wouldn't approach me even when I was stopped at a junction studying my map. I can only guess that their communist past taught people not to ask questions or get involved with strangers.

I enjoyed my peaceful last couple of days in Poland, especially relaxing by the lake in Wolsztyn watching the sunset. Three weeks after cycling off the ferry from Sweden, I left Poland by cycling into Germany. It had been a great, and very varied, three weeks.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Euro2012: Poland

Poznan, Gdansk, Poznan; POLAND: 7 - 19 June 2012
"What? You've cycled here to Poland for Euro 2012? Wow, you must be a big football fan?"

"Well, no not really."

"Oh, so then you are big into cycling?

"Well, no. I've never done a big cycle trip before and I only bought this bike a few days before starting out."

"Okay ... Are you mad?!"

Apart from repeatedly having the above conversation, my time in Poland during Euro 2012 was mainly spent socialising and singing; and not just Irish football songs ("Stand Up for the Boys in Green", "We all dream of a team of Gary Breens", etc etc etc.) but Polish songs too. That Irish fans used to sing "Polska Biało-Czerwoni / Poland, the White and Red" was just one of the reasons why most of the locals seemed so enamored with us. Irish-Polish relations were also helped by the fact that the Irish really are great fans. The centers of Poznan and Gdansk/Sopot were constantly packed with good-natured revellers in the days building up to Ireland's matches. It was incredible.
I arrived in Poland without match tickets or booked accommodation, but it all worked out. I found space at campsites, which were good craic, although I felt sorry for the small number of non-Irish campers due to the late night sessions and because every morning Irish fans were to be found all over the place in varying degrees of health.
It seemed that not many Irish fans came to Poland with spare tickets, so unfortunately I had to turn to touts. Whilst I wasn't prepared to pay the €200 - €250 asking price for the Ireland v. Spain match (which I watched on the big screen in the packed Fanzone), I paid €100 and €75 for a ticket to the games against Croatia and Italy respectively (face value for both was €70). Given the amazing atmosphere in the lead-up, especially for the opening game against Croatia, I was delighted to get a ticket.
In the stadium comedian Karl Spain was part of the pre-match build-up, which included a surprisingly impressive "mini opening ceremony" before each game.
Unfortunately, while all else was perfect, Ireland's performances and results were poor. Indeed, apart from the fact that Ireland lost all three of its matches, everything about being in Poland during Euro 2012 was great; from the friendly Polish people and their rocking cities to being proudly part of that amazing spectacle that is Irish fans abroad. And I even got to see up-close Ireland's President Michael D. Higgins.
So even though I'm not a big soccer fan, being at Euro 2012 was a great experience and I'm delighted that I had the opportunity to be there.