Thursday, May 24, 2012

EuroCycle 2012: Denmark

15 - 23 May 2012
  • Flensburg (GER) to Faaborg: 85km 
  • Faaborg to Slagelse: 107km 
  • Slagelse to Roskilde: 90km 
  • Roskilde to Copenhagen: 53km 
  • 3 rest days in Copenhagen 
  • Copenhagen to Helsingor: 46km 
After crossing from Germany to Denmark by cycling over a simply bridge,
I soon found that both prices and the level of English spoken increased. But even though it can be expensive, Denmark is great for cycling. While the beauty of the coastal routes that I took was dulled by poor weather for the first few days, I enjoyed some pleasant cycling that linked interesting historical sites, including the decisive battle site in the 1864 Second Schleswig War, Roskilde's cathedral and "Hamlet's Castle" in Helsingor.
After a bit of island-hopping, I made it to sunny Copenhagen on time to be part of the support crew for my marathon-runing friends. On a very hot day, Sinéad, Gavin and Deborah successfully completed the 42.2km run and received their well-earned medals.
It was my first time at a marathon and I really enjoyed the whole experience. And after running across the city centre a few times to catch a glimpse of the runners at several points along the course, I felt that I too deserved the celebratory drinks.
The amazing atmosphere in the city on the day of the marathon was just one of the factors that made me really like Copenhagen. It is a great city, and probably the best city in the world for cyclists.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

EuroCycle 2012: Germany (part 1)

11 - 15 May 2012
  • Nijmegen (NL) to Bocholt: 77km
  • Bocholt to Münster: 100km
  • Rest day in Münster, then train to Neumünster
  • Neumünster to Nortorf: 16km 
Instead of large cities and speeding autobahns, as a cyclist my time in Germany was spent in cobblestoned towns and on scenic cycle paths.
And with an improvement in the weather, it was time to use my tent for the first time. My tent is super lightweight, i.e. very small. While some people describe such one-man tents as being like a coffin, I found it perfect for my needs.
To ensure that I reached Copenhagen on time to support friends running the marathon, after three days in Germany I decided to take a train north to near the Danish border. This gave me more time in Denmark and less in Germany. As I plan to cycle through Germany on the way home from Poland, I was happy with this decision.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

EuroCycle 2012: Holland

8 - 11 May
  • Port of Rotterdam to Rotterdam: 35km (train from Rotterdam to Breda)
  • Breda to 's-Hertogenbosch: 55km
  • 's-Hertogenbosch to Nijmegen: 49km
My route through south Holland was dictated by where my Dutch friends live. So I spent nights in three small cities: Breda, 's-Hertogenbosch (or just Den Bosch to us in the know), and Nijmegen. All were nicely old and very European. The more I've seen of the rest of the world, the more I've learnt to appreciate Europe. It was good to be back.

And it was very good too to catch up with Milou, Eward, Inge, Roel and Chantal, to try their favourite Dutch foods, and to get my first experience of being a cyclist in a very cycling-friendly country. Not only does Holland have bike lanes everywhere and motorists who are often cyclists themselves, but it has amazing facilities too, like 24-hour guarded garages where you can lock your bike.

Such facilities are especially important because together with the high number of bikes in Holland comes a high rate of bicycle theft. A young guy cycled alongside me for 20 minutes one day. We chatted about the usual topics that you talk about when you meet someone from Holland: football (he watched the 2010 World Cup Final in prison); drugs (although he was cycling to his friend's house to smoke a joint, he opposed the recent change in the law that stops non-Dutch residents from smoking in coffee shops because now instead he and his friends sell drugs to foreigners on the streets); and cycling (he casually told me that he had just stolen the bike he was cycling). Even though I stated my disapproval of the theft, we remained on friendly terms. Indeed, he cycled for five minutes past this destination to help me find the bike path. Nice to know that even drug-dealing bicycle thieves have a good side.

Of course, a major attraction to cycling in Holland is that it is flat. I certainly appreciated not having to slowly slog up steep hills. However, without uphill climbs you can't have downhill free-wheeling, but maybe that is getting a bit too philosophically deep for this simple travel blog.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

EuroCycle 2012: England

2 - 7 May 2012
  • Chester to Stockport: 74km
  • Stockport to Barnsley: 50km (train from Barnsley to Leeds)
  • Leeds to Knaresborough: 30km
  • Knaresborough to York: 24km
  • York to Hull: 82km
My primary objective in England was to get to North Yorkshire in time to attend the wedding of my friend Anthony from Cork and his English bride Angela. I quite liked the idea of cycling to a wedding, especially as I had friends (Keith and Ben in Stockport, James in Leeds) with whom I could stay along the way. It was nice to catch up with them and to see more of the country. My previous visits to England had all been weekend breaks in its larger cities, so I was happy to cycle along part of the Trans Pennine Trail and to visit the cool cities of Chester and York (I was a lot less enamoured with Stockport and Barnsley!).

I got to the wedding venue, the beautiful and very fancy Allerton Castle, with an hour to spare. But the snooty butler was less than impressed with my appearance - I think it was the first time someone had turned up there for a wedding wearing shorts and flip-flops. Before I got kicked out I found Anthony's brother Karl who had brought my suit and shoes over in his car from Dublin and after a quick change in the bathroom I was more in keeping with the location and the occasion. It was an enjoyable day and I'm very glad that I was able to be there - congratulations Angela and Anthony!
The next day, in quite a contrast to the newlyweds who left for their flight to Mauritius, I got back on my bike aiming for Hull to catch my ferry. To each his own...

Thursday, May 3, 2012

EuroCycle 2012: Wales

1 -2 May 2012 
  • Drumcondra to Bangor: 52km (ferry from Dublin Port to Holyhead) 
  • Bangor to Prestatyn: 78km (train from Prestatyn to Chester)
The start of my summer cycling adventure wasn't how I imagined it would be.

Firstly, it was raining; I had only pictured sunny cycling with daily ice-cream stops.

Secondly, my first destination was Holyhead in Wales. That hadn't been the plan. My intended route had been to start by getting the Dublin - Liverpool ferry. Starting in Liverpool rather than Holyhead would have meant that I could reach Angela and Anthony's wedding in North Yorkshire on time just by cycling. However I discovered that foot passengers are no longer accepted on that ferry route. Is this because of previous unruly behaviour by scangers and scousers?

Whatever the reason, it meant that I would have to rely on some forms of transport other than just my bike in order to reach the wedding on time. Once I had accepted that, the pressure was off. Cycling whenever possible and being happy to use public transport when necessary became my modus operandi. I think that was a good plan, at least for the start when I had a few targets to meet, considering the fact that I had never done a big cycle trip like this before. Sure I only bought the bicycle a few days before I heading off, and I needed the helpful guys at Victoria Cross Cycles (where I got my first bike at the age of 7) to teach me the basics of bike maintenance (i.e. how to change a tyre).

After a disheartening cold and rainy day in North Wales to begin with, day two brought good weather, a nice cycle path
and some scenic stops, like the quaint town of Colwyn Bay (which I liked even if it is aimed at tourists twice my age).

So I was on my way. I had a lot to get used to, like remembering before stopping that my shoes are clicked in to my pedals and being comfortable with leaving all my stuff in easy-to-open panniers on my bike when I needed to leave it unattended. While Poland seemed a long way off, I was happy to have started this last big trip of my career break.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

A Hectic Homecoming

Dublin, Cork, Tipperary, IRELAND: 19 April - 1 May 2012

My trip back to Ireland was brief and busy. My 12 days, which I spent between Dublin, Cork and Tipperary, flew by too fast. But sure come August I´ll be back with plenty of time to catch up properly with everyone.

Apart from seeing my family, including my nephews Tom and Christopher who both have started walking and talking since last I saw them, my main reason for this visit was to be groomsman at the wedding of my friends Ciaran and Martina. I spent three very enjoyable days in Tipperary where I stayed in the Dundrum House Hotel, which was a huge step up in comparison with other places where I´ve stayed in 2012! It was a great weekend where I caught up with a big gang of friends and got to experience some classic rural Tipp moments.
The wedding day itself was perfect, with the bride and groom, and indeed the Glen of Aherlow, all looking very well. Congratulations Martina and Ciaran!