Northern France: Day Seven – Rotterdam to Amsterdam

We had the luxury of an 08.45 start today as we only had 41 miles to cover & we left Rotterdam with ease, not least of all as there was no one about. I know it’s Saturday, but such a ghost town. Once again cycle track all the way but again much of it cobbles, which don’t go too well with road tyres & stiff frames. What should have been a doddle of a day became a bit of a chore, not least as we decided to get to Amsterdam before we ate, which as usual took longer than expected, so we had some very hungry riders by the time we’d found our way round the city which was cordoned off for the Giro D’Italia. However, en route via the canals with boats all decked up to see the professionals & lots of amateur pelotons flying past made for some exciting moments as did the small hamlet which had painted its streets pink & who had pink cycles in the trees (see photos). It seems that much of our route was the same that the official riders would cover although the speed & style would doubtless be a little different!

The hotel in Amsterdam brought us back to bigger city mentalities – it took us an age to check in, was a big chore to get the bikes stored & the room Tony & I had was not only up two seriously steep sets of stairs with no lift, it was also one of the smallest rooms I’ve ever paid money for. What the hell, we’re here, we’ve done it & covered a total of 523 miles in the process, so time to discover Amsterdam, enjoy the Giro & get a cracking good meal.

A big thanks to Richard for all his planning & to Mike Etienne who proved a most able & supportive driver on this trip.

Brian Frith


May 2010

Northern France: Day Six – Ghent – Rotterdam (country number four)

Bloody workers started outside our bedroom window at 5.30 & by 6.00 they had the largest, noisiest bit of kit strutting its stuff right down below. Further misery as we lug our bikes & luggage over mounds of dirt & grit & some amusement as one guy drives away with a bag of cement deposited (broken) on his bonnet (don’t put your windscreen washers on mate).

We started at 07.45 to get a good start on what we knew would be a long day, but within 2 miles Richard had 2 punctures, which was not a great start. Good news was the almost constant bike lanes on today’s ride although when those bike lanes comprised cobbles or blocks then the stress & strain of the jarring on wrists, shoulders & other parts quickly became quiet torture.

We found a cafe about 20 miles out & a most friendly proprietor who served great coffee & a welcome break before we made the crossing into Holland & a ferry crossing into country number four. Lunch was equally pleasant at a restaurant complete with working old style windmill, horses being chased by geese & mother hen with her brood. We were recommended & all took the onion soup option which was the best ever & we were sent on our way with chocolate beans by the lovely, encouraging staff.

The next stage of the ride, by the coast & bleak headlands, became steadily worse as we battled big winds which made it hard to sustain even 10mph & with half the 100 mile plus ride still to do it was mentally & physically quite debilitating. There was little surprise that Richard packed in & some time later, with a very swollen knee, so did Tony. Later in the afternoon we were to get some nicer scenery & shelter from the wind & we also had some great wild life, but it was constant peddling & after about 7 hours, that begins to get really tedious. About 30 miles out it was getting cold & also began to rain heavily but the van suddenly appeared in support with welcome food & drink & even more importantly, a change of clothes. That last 30 miles was generally tough as it was so cold & wet & when we finally did make Rotterdam we were well & truly lost & had to do a couple of circuits, break a few traffic rules & even go down an elevator & through a tunnel, only to be told ‘you’re not close’.

Finally at about 20.15 & 103 miles later, came to a roundabout & a welcome from Richard & Mike who took our bikes off us, gave us our room keys & generally helped to take the pain away. For me it was a big, deep bath which Tony had kindly run plus a portion of porridge & honey left over from breakfast & loads of peanuts – what joy. Then down to the lobby restaurant which was truly excellent but no one was in the mood to go any further in what I’m sure is a lively and interesting city. Will have to ‘do’ Rotterdam another day!

Northern France: Day Five – Bethune to Ghent (Belgium – country no 3)

Bloody cockerels at 5.00 put paid to any idea of a peaceful lie in. Three of them doing battle at that ungodly hour made for a few red eyes at breakfast. However, still dry, flat roads ahead & the joy of visiting Belgium – happy days!

However, flat it may be but the ever present wind meant almost 70 miles of incessant pedalling so it was no picnic although lots of very welcome cycle paths as we entered the lands of the two wheelers. Surprisingly there was no billboard or sign that told us we were in Belgium which most of us thought was strange but Gus thought was evidence of the removal of European boundaries. Still surprised there was no overt pride, but maybe the uninteresting terrain & bleak architecture was partly to blame. We saw ‘English’ style factories (with zig zag roofs), Coronation Street terraces & welsh miners cottages – very strange. All in all not particularly uplifting scenery or a memorable day.

We found a lunch spot where we could sit outside a rather charmless restaurant at a busy crossroads but great omelettes & chips on the menu made it a hit.

We hit Ghent at a very busy time with huge traffic jams & a major tram track laying project centered at our hotel door. It took us a while to find a way in & poor Mike an age but we did get washed & brushed up in time for a stroll to the not unattractive square (chock full of bikes) & a good meal at a rather strange, minimalist restaurant. Attempts to find Belgium chocolate failed miserably & as we were to leave at 08.15 we would not fulfil this urge the following day, either.

Northern France: Day Four – Bray to Bethune

Woke to sun & no wind & off at 08.15 in really good spirits, despite going up the wrong hill within about 10 minutes of leaving. We found the wind as soon as we came to the top of the first big climb out of Bethune but the sun was most welcome & it stayed dry all day. I had to stop to make a few adjustments & missed a golden photo opportunity as 3 cyclists went around a long uphill loop, one behind the other in the early morning mist, but did manage to get the last one & you can see his photo on the site. It was cold however & winter gloves & overshoes were not overkill, even when added to some serious climbs on this day. We found some good roads today in what seemed a ‘big’ country with endless views & quiet , pretty countryside. We also saw lots of huge windmills which looked quite surrealistic in such countryside with some, mysteriously, not turning, despite the wind.

A great lunch of crab or cheese & ham baguettes which Mike had bought made for an excellent lunch. Richard decided to quit at this point as he was not feeling good & sensibly not willing to make himself ill for the sake of a spell in the van. This also proved a blessing when Tony’s gears went on the blink as he could then use Richard’s bike.

This was a long day & we had some big climbs (I’ve put a couple of photos on the site) so we were quite shattered when we reached our hotel (which took a lot of finding & was, predictably, up a big climb at the other side of town). However, it was again excellent quality (Best Western), had a great restaurant in the complex & we had a good meal which put everyone in good spirits & heh it’s flat & Belgium tomorrow! 83 hard miles today

Northern France: Day Three – Lisieux to Neufchatel en Bray

The first hour & a half of this day three were a bit of a nightmare. It was very cold (4 degrees), heavy rain with big winds. By the time we stopped for a hot drink we were looking with some foreboding at the balance of the day as we were all soaked & very tired with over 60 miles to go. However the rain did tail off as we moved through the day although it stayed very cold.

We found the most amazing quintessential French restaurant for lunch – wonderful old world interior opposite a beautiful Cathedral where we were offered a ‘hot dinner’ i.e. no menu & you get what you’re given as madam set to in the kitchen to make her own ‘mash’ which appeared with veal. All remarkably good. The patron was not quite as hospitable as his wife & his face never managed a smile whilst we were there probably as a result of not buying anything from his secondary wares – a collection of porn which was strewn all around the restaurant & bar. I’ll put some photos on Photobucket (see Photos link) from this delightful place (no, not the porn) & their unique toilet facilities.

We also got some respite from a short trip across the Seine on the ferry. Not the most salubrious of ports & heavily industrial, but a welcome break, a chance for an extra coffee & flapjack & we were almost energetic, out of the town & up the considerable climb, at the other side. We also enjoyed some good downhill runs on this day & I recorded a 37.2mph descent which was very welcome.

Richard had by now managed to break 2 spokes on his back wheel ,which is the point at which the wheel would buckle, so there was some concern, not least of all as Jersey didn’t have replacements (even though a local shop supplied them). However a shop in Bray not only had the spokes, they replaced them with a fair amount of effort & also gave Richard additional spares, all at a very modest cost. Happy Richard!

We arrived at 6.00 at Bray after just over 83 miles. A very acceptable hotel, a good dinner in-house & a mere 82 miler the following day. What could go wrong?