Archive for October, 2013|Monthly archive page

Tandem tour 2013: Zandvoort to Europoort

Route Monster zur EuropoortZandervoort aspires to be Nice (in France). The beach is occupied by rows of sunbeds and associated bars and cafés. We selected one of these cafés for breakfast. We were served a curious concoction. Surprisingly lacking in cereals, toast and jam. Breakfast, but not as we know it.

The wind again had presence. Following the LF1A we passed through Zandvoort’s southern neighbourhoods where the architecture at least was better. Less stark and modern. However, along the coastline, Zandervoort has many imitators. Katwijk aan Zee, for instance, the mouth of the original Rhine. The route between the two continues the dunes theme.stuffed apple

Sheveningen is the beach town of the country’s capital, Den Hag. Getting through also requires diligence as the cycle route meanders its way through residential and industrial streets. It is a working port. We had afternoon tea at a café in a 1960s shopping arcade in Kijkduin within earshot of a brass band playing for customers. I felt like I was in England.

And then finally to a campsite on the edge of a curiously named town, Monster. The campsite was great. Cheap, lots of room and a washing machine. We pitched the tent, showered and then went in search of food. Fortuitously, we headed to the beach first and found a restaurant on the beach. Unexpected. Monster is not the kind of place that suggests beach restaurants.

Although the menu was not veggie friendly, we were served with a dish that involved stuffing an apple (picture above right). It was surprisingly good. We were the last customers out of the door at closing time.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe then attempted to walk into Monster itself in the dark. We got so far before we gave up and went back to the campsite. The short distance that we did walk presented a well-preserved wind pump and some interesting street furniture like the specimen on the left.

And then on to our final day. Hoek van Holland and then round the channel crossing it at Rozenberg where we had a bizarre lunch experience in a bar. There was not much open in the town on a Monday. Not sure why. We anticipated tumbleweed blowing down the main street.

Europoort is then another ten kilometers of unmemorable dockland. And a queue to get on board the ferry. Fortunately it was not raining.

Tandem tour 2013: Gröte to IJmuiden and Zandvoort

Route Callansoog nach IJmuidenThe adjacent beaches to Gröte are superb (see post 17 October). Journeying south takes one through some delightful and quiet forested areas (below right). By this time cyclists travelling south are following one of the country’s long-distance cycle routes, in this case, LF1A. This makes navigation easier as the network of paths and small roads is extensive and potentially confusing.

Bergen marks a southerly marker for this park area. Onward takes one through small indistinguishable towns such as Egmond aan den Hoef and Castricum. Parallel, one could negotiate Alkmaar and Uitgeest (further West). We stayed with the LF1A long distance route through Wijk aan Zee primarily because of our desire to make camp at Zandvoort, a resort 20 km south from IJmuiden. DSCF0361

Arrival at IJmuiden on the LF1A demands a decision. There is a significant stretch of water to cross either by small bridges across locks (downstream – see map below) or a ferry (upstream). We opted for the ferry. The ride to the ferry seemed like a huge detour. We had to wait with the locals about 15 minutes for the ferry. Operated by Arriva – a company that seems to have all public transport contracts in the area: ferries, buses and trains – is at least free.

Ijmuiden ferry crossing

IJmuiden ferry crossing

Once across, the path goes through another national park, the Zuid Kennemerland National Park. It is gated, so being there late in the day is not a good idea. But it provides a pleasant and safe approach to Zandvoort.

Zandvoort is a reasonably large – but unattractive – resort. Summer weekends are busy. Very busy. Accommodation is not easy to find. We had planned to camp at Camping De Branding on the north side of the town. On inspection, we decided not to. It would have been very difficult to squeeze in and the loud party music had already started. Instead we rode back out of the town and checked in at the Kennemerduincampings (on the N200 just before it turns due south into the town). Essentially camping in theIJmuiden nach Zandvoort dunes. It is huge. Reception to day tent area was a 15 minute ride! And, ideally, one needs some extra long tent pegs as the dunes are soft. Pitching can be a challenge.

There was a restaurant, fortunately, as we were far to late to get into town.

Tandem tour 2013: Alfsluitdijk

Route Harlingen nach callansoogI’d seen it many times on maps and even looked at it on Google Streetview, but the reality was something else. Afsluitdijk itself dates from 1933 (it took a mere 6 years to build) and is the result of both political and engineering debates and challenges. These are commemorated at the Monument Refreshment Stop two-thirds of the way along the dyke from our northerly direction.

According to Wikipedia (17 October 2013), “work started at four points: on both sides of the mainland and on two specially made construction-islands (Kornwerderzand and Breezanddijk) along the line of the future dike.


Alfsluitdijk looking south from Monument

“From these points, the dike slowly grew by ships depositing till into the open sea in two parallel lines. Sand was then poured in between the two dikes and as it emerged above the surface was then covered by another layer of till. The nascent dike was then strengthened from land by basalt rocks and mats of willow switch at its base. The dike could then be finished off by raising it further with sand and finally clay for the surface of the dike, on which grass was planted.” Amazing.

It is a busy stretch of road, the cycle track particularly so. Swarms of speed cyclists use it for training as it has a very good surface and is, on the whole, straight and flat. Naturally it is windy. The sense of being in the middle of the ocean is incomparable, at least in Europe. It is quite a ride.

DSCF0360Once back on the mainland, it is back to cycle tracks and agriculture. But this section leads to some of the most unspoilt beaches – golden sand and dunes. A campsite at Groet provided a suitable place for quick access to the beach the following morning.

Tandem tour 2013: Hamburg to Groningen and Harlingen

Route Groningen nach HarlingenWe took a series of trains between Hamburg and Groningen in the Netherlands en route to Rotterdam, where we would take the ferry to England. On the whole, the trains were easy, particularly in the week when  competition for cycle space is much less. Our route was Hamburg to Bremen, Bremen to Leer and Leer to Groningen. All in all, it took about 5 hours.

Groningen (below right) is typical of many Dutch towns. Optimised for people and cyclists and full of people who speak languages other than their own. After eating a very relaxedDSCF0341 café-bar, we set out to find a campsite in a small place called Vierhuizen just on the edge of the Lauwersmeer national park on the north coast. Estimated to be about 25km, our unfortunate detours added about an hour to the journey despite the excellent signposting associated with Dutch cycle tracks (see post 14 September), it was very dark by the time we got there. But it was worth it.

The campsite had lots of room for tents. The owners run the restaurant, so arriving late was not a problem. They also sell a local beer which is really nice. We enjoyed breakfast there before experiencing the unexpected. 50 kms of sheep and sheep shit, cattle grids and wind punctuated by only one village with a café (Paesens) and a remarkable vendor of ice cream – a retired truck driver now with a rather lighter tuc-tuc with some stories to Hotel_Zeesichttell. The terrain is uncompromising and frankly boring. Fortunately, Harlingen was an oasis amidst this – and it was having a party when we got there (a big funfair and live music). We gave up on the idea of camping and found a hotel (Zeezicht, pictured left). The manager was so enamoured of the tandem that it was stored in the Board Room for the night. Our room was not bad either.

Harlingen is a busy working port. There are ferries to the offshore islands of West-Terschelling, Hollum and the Duinen van Texel national park. With hindsight, the hotel probably had the most veggie-friendly food in the town. We should have eaten there and then gone out to explore.

Stressed furniture

Here is a design trend that really needs dismissing before too many people are separated from too much of their money. I do not know if it has a name, but it seems comparable with ‘stressed jeans’ except for furniture. I have just replaced a pair of stressed jeans because they have worn out (afer 8 years). The knees have holes in them and I do not think that I can pull off the stressed look with any credibility.

DSCF0379Equally, I am not that keen on filling my living space with stressed furniture. The example on the left – complete with broken glass – is on sale in a mid-range homewares retailer in Köln. Unfortunately having seen this, subsequently, I found many examples of the look ranging from beds, tables, bookshelves, indeed any wooden furniture.


Tandem Tour 2013: Wittenberge to Hamburg

Route Wittenberge nach HamburgWe left the Tollhouse and cycled through the Altstadt to the river. The north bank was quiet with a reasonably good surface on a bank giving unusually good access to the river. At Lenzen we took the ferry towards Vietze en route to Hitzacker.

Adjacent to the small hamlet of Kaltenhof is DSCF0309an abandoned railway bridge  – die Dömitzer Eisenbahnbrücke (right). The bridge dates from 1873 and was destroyed by the allies in 1945. It was never reconstructed because it formed the border between East and West Germany. Seemingly what we see remaining is protected as a monument; but only the West German section remains as it was protected in law. In the East, it had greater scrap value.

DSCF0313We arrived in Hitzacker in late afternoon on a Sunday. The main square was hosting a fayre with food, beer and children’s entertainment. Perfect for us to have an inexpensive outdoor feast of authentic Thai noodles, Apple tart and beer. We abstained from the bouncy castle. We were hungry and we were going to need the energy for the final section. The town itself competes with many similar hamlets in terms of historic buildings, ‘Fachwerk’. A really pretty town (new Rathaus, left).

Hitzacker also suffered in the late spring floods. We ignored a barrier on the path assumingdownload_20131001_235213 – rightly in many cases – that it would be passable. However, we had not anticipated 10 fallen trees along a short stretch of river on the south side heading to Neu Darchau. On ten occasions we had to unload the tandem and lift it over, or thread it under, a tree (right).

Beyond the obstacles the road ascends towards Drethem. By this time the light was fading. We opted for the campsite at nearby Walmsburg. It certainly was not very busy. The elderly proprietor answered the bell and took our money. She even sold us beer. What she did not tell us, however, was that most of the appliances on the campsite were powered by DSCF0318Deutschmarks rather than Euros or even tokens. A rather sweet phenomenon, but a bit frustrating when a functioning washing machine lays idle for want of the right defunct currency.

I did the laundry by hand and in cold water. I discovered another endearing aspect of this campsite, the plumbing. The taps all dispensed water tinged with rust. The clothes, whilst undoubtedly fresher, looked like they had been tie dyed. Bearing in mind there are alternative campsites within 10km, best avoid.

Onward through Bleckede and across the river by ferry. The surface changes to very uneven cobbles through the historic and extraordinary old town of Lauenburg. With hindsight, it would have been nice to have spent some time there, but we were focused on getting to the environs of Hamburg in daylight.

The section from Lauenberg to Tesperhude was extremely challenging. The path takes riders through dense woodland on a slippery surface with lots of ups and downs and bends (and steep drops). The river pokes through the tree canopy to remind riders that this is still the Elberadweg.

Then onwards to Geesthacht – a working port. After stopping for some food in the town itself, we embarked on our now obligatory evening ride.

Hamburg from hotel

Hamburg from hotel

The plan was to camp at Fünfhausen with a view to using it as a base for our day out in Hamburg (there is an hourly bus service). It was not to be; the campsite is a private park with no day camping facilities. The town itself has no accommodation. Indeed, there is no accommodation on this section at all (we were, essentially, on the ‘wrong’ side of the river with no way of getting across). We eventually found a hotel in Hamburg at 2300, having discovered that the City was hosting some kind of festival leaving accommodation of any kind at a premium.