Sunday 30 September 2012

Staring at the ceiling again.

So yeah, Milan, in my super whirlwind tour. Milan seems to be shaped like a spider's web, with pretty much everything radiating out from the centre. There is little of the feeling of organic city growth outside of the immediate centre, unlike somewhere like London. It actually makes it more confusing, I think, as there are these long boulevards of sometimes monolithic greyish buildings radiating out in all directions. Milan apparently got smushed in the war, so there is a lot of post war drek, but also some really gorgeous stuff in the centre, like the Duomo, which is like a big incense and Jesus filled wedding cake. No dour Reformation church that! If I were going to describe what I saw of a Sunday in Milan in one word, it would be languid. Not torpor or the land of manana, but rather, gliding through the day with grace and in style, which I guess kinda makes sense. The morning was extremely quiet, but as the day wore on, the streets grew more and more crowded, until by evening the streets were jammed with people going, well, pretty much nowhere, at least not by car, though there was surprisingly little honking. Walking through the public gardens, I was struck by how, in everywhere I've been in northern Europe, people in parks, while they are certainly aware of your presence, make a pointed effort to look like they are interested in something else. Not here. Everyone sat on benches or was strolling, and they watched, not pointedly, but with at least passive interest. No siesta though, very much unlike Sicily. I do definitely feel more at home in northern Europe. I seem to somehow lack the inherent coolness to really fit in a place like this. Plus I look ridiculous in large sunglasses. ;-) Saw Fabrizio for a bit and had an ice cream. I do wish he still lived in London. We do get on so well together, I think... Sigh. One more reason to visit again... Dinner tonight was at a pizza place (of course). I did seem to be the only non Italian there, which was good but also made for a slightly awkward experience. I had the joy of sitting next to a children's birthday party, which got a bit out of hand and was tolerated, I think to a much larger degree than it would have been in the UK. I also made the mistake of ordering a focaccia starter, which turned out to be basically pizza crust, so, in essence, I ate two pizzas. Ugh. Oh well, live and learn. Right. Time to get my laundry out of the sink and hang in strategic places around the room, and then, tomorrow, hit the road!

Saturday 29 September 2012

Staring at the ceiling, Milan.

Well, I made it, just. Today was both tedious and high stress. Tedious bc it took me almost 12 hours to get to Milan and high stress bc I had to get my disassembled bike into the luggage rack on two trains, schlep it across Paris on the Metro, and have an argument in two mutually unintelligible languages with some idiot who thought it was a good idea to put a large heavy case on top of my bike. Idiot. So, I got the Eurostar to Paris, then queued for 15 minutes for euros, queued another 15 for a Metro ticket while some Spanish girl just stood there and looked at the machine like that would make it do something. Crammed my bags and my luggage onto a crowded Metro train with the always polite Parisians, then got to take the TGV 7 hours to Milan. Turns out the gran vitesse part of the name only really applies in France. In Italy, well, manana, you know... ;-) Getting to Milan, I spent  40 minutes on the platform putting my bike back together, then set off, in the dark, in heavy rain, through road construction, and with helpful Italian drivers, towards the hotel, which was actually in another direction. Yeah. So, finally, exhausted and soaked, I find the hotel. It's through the courtyard of this apartment building and all on the same floor, extending down from the reception. The floor is tiled too, and one can hear everything. Great. My room is sort of dorm size, with a single bed, a tv on s small desk, tiny closet, and an exposed shower and sink. Toilet is down the hall, accessible by key. It was cheap. Possibly too cheap. Not sure about the toilet down the hall. I would certainly never pee in the sink though, as that's low class. :-D Hmm. Oh yeah, no English TV either. I mean really, TV only in their own language? Shocking indeed! Anyway, I should try to get some sleep, hopefully. Tomorrow is my day to explore Milan, and see friends. Then off towards the mountains!

And we're off!

So, I have assumed my usual position, travelling backwards on the train. This time it's Milan via Paris, bc I am just such a jet setter I can't possibly stay at home for more than a week at a time! It was kind of an odd week, sandwiched, as it was, between two bike adventures. I suppose I might not have put my full concentration and effort into work (not like anyone noticed! ;-) ). Anyway, I just barely barely made the 0731 Eurostar this morning, arriving at St Pancras only 15 minutes before the train, thanks to a missed train from home! Big flurry of activity whisking me and bagged bike through security and passport control, which saved me having to cancel the whole thing and hang my head in shame! So, now I'm on the quiet car, next to some irritating Frenchman who can't put down his phone and some bespectacled fatass who sounds like he probably has Ebola. Yeah, it's an auspicious beginning to the trip!

Sunday 23 September 2012


Sigh. I am, admittedly, of somewhat mixed feelings today. As per usual, when I am tippety typing away on my phone, this time on a slightly geriatric German intercity train to Cologne, where I change to another train to Brussels, and yet another for London. I cycled the 4 miles to Berlin Hauptbahbhof in the clear, cool, autumnal light, crisscrossing the line of the wall several times on the way. Not much traffic out on a Sunday morning, pre 930. Getting on the train was slightly stressful. As it turns out, we each have an assigned cycle space. Everyone else had a separate ticket for their bicycle. I had to rip mine in half, as they were both on the same sheet of paper. Conductor didn't like that. Nothing like arguing with a conductor in two different languages. Fortunately, he relented and I found my seat in the slightly tired looking first class section. Hmm, they don't have at-seat food. No wonder it wasn't that expensive! Anyway, we're blowing westward along approximately the same route I cycled. It's a little disheartening to see several days worth of cycling gone in just a few hours! Anyway, last night Frank and I went for dinner at a "traditionally German" restaurant. I had schnitzel, which is, apparently, traditionally Austrian. Whatever, close enough, and it was yummy! ;-)  Frank went out with a friend then and I went to bed, as I knew today was going to be a little rough anyway. The last two days I spent poodling around Berlin on my bike, which I enjoyed immensely. It's such a better cycling city than London, and bikes really are pretty well woven into the fabric of normal life. Actually, that was true the whole way since I left England. I still fail to comprehend why the British, who live in a land of shitty roads and expensive fuel, are so wedded to their cars. Also did a brief whistlestop tour of the German history museum (Dem Deutsche History no Comprendo or something like that ;-) ) and saw my friend Rogger. I can't overemphasise though how much I enjoyed riding around Berlin, as that finally started to give me an actual feel for where things are in geographically real life, as opposed to the weird, slightly directionless underworld of the U-Bahn. So yeah, feeling a little blah today. A whole day of sitting on the train, plus the aggregation of having to disassemble my bike and put it in a bag in Cologne, for the next train. Desperately not looking forward to the week at work, but I am very very much looking forward to my next bike adventure in a week. I think I have become an addict. :-D  Actually, truthfully, Berlin feels like it was the practice run, even though it was longer, as I had no idea what I was doing and overdid it a bit (hence it feeling a bit like a blur in some places). Italy and Switzerland feel a bit more like the real thing. Less distance per day, more time spent in each place. Hopefully this will be the case!

Friday 21 September 2012

I'm here!

Wow. I can't actually quite believe I made it in one piece. I'm achey and tired and do actually physically need some time off my bike, but there is a very big part of me that wants to keep going. I guess thats why I scheduled another trip so soon! I've learned that I really (really) like long bike trips. I've also learned that about 70 miles per day is optimal. 100 is too much, and 2 days of 100 just ridiculous. No time to stop. It kind of all just becomes a blur. My approximate miles, per day, were 22, 95, 90, 68, 48, 75, 75, 101, 95. Today was really a labour of love, especially as it was getting dark before I got to Berlin. Berlin, like London, is ringed by endless suburbs, but unlike London, I have no idea how to navigate through them, so when my intricately planned route suddenly said no bikes, I was left to try to find my way through winding suburban streets and bike trails as the light was fading. Just a little stressful. The last 5 miles or so, through Berlin, I was trying to cycle like a bat out of hell to get here before the batteries in my GPS scrapped out. I gave up trying to be legal and follow the bike lanes. Too bumpy and too dark. Anyway, today was mostly flat, and increasingly brown, I suppose in part bc they are having a drought here. Miles of forest, pine and locust. A funny combo. Quite a number of cute towns, and also some real ramshackle places. I'd not seen that before. Also more of the dreaded cobbles. Honestly, how anyone thought that was a good idea... At the moment though, I'm so tired I'm going to start to drool, so I think it's time for bed. Berlin stuff tomorrow, and just biking around town. What, you thought I was going to take the Metro? Hardly. I'm still have tempted to do the last 55 miles to Poland on Saturday morning... Will see. Zzzzzz.

Wednesday 19 September 2012


I like borders that actually feel like borders. I suppose it appeals to the inner geography nerd in me, our obsession with imaginary lines. Anyway, this trip has not disappointed. Today I crossed the last border, into former East Germany, and I was not disappointed. There is still the line demarcated in the forest (or lack thereof), plus a helpful sign. The road also goes to crap. There is more debris on the ground, still more houses being fixed up, and, on the approach to Magdeburg, rows of shabby chic Soviet style apartment blocks. The other really dramatic thing that happens is the sudden dramatic increase in the number of wind turbines. I mean, there have been a lot the whole way across Germany, but omg, it's like they are trying to fly away with the ground! I have never seen so many wind turbines in my whole life! I suppose there are a lot fewer people. I noticed a sudden dropoff in the number of small towns, and the fields no longer seem to be connected to any particular house, but, rather, go on for miles. Anyway, today was 101 miles, from Hannover to Magdeburg, which ended up in the rain, in the dark, and on an unscheduled road, thanks to the dreaded cobbles. I can't actually believe that tomorrow is the end of this bike trip. It seems like months ago I started. I suppose it has started to blur together a bit into one, endless road. I can't imagine what it must be like to cycle around the world! Anyway, the previous two days were a bit more sensible in length. There was 68 miles from Dortmund to Bielefeld. This ride was predominantly flat and dominated by factories. I suppose the name Route Industrialekultur might have suggested that. Bielefeld reminds me of an old steel town, nestled in the hills. A bit rough, and just about nothing was open when I got there at 8pm. I had to resort to Subway from the train station (of course, tonight I had supermarket for dinner). Then it was 75 miles of hills to Hannover, or, rather, the southern suburbs of Hannover. I didn't actually get to see the city. I stayed with a family in a B and B. Very nice, even though it meant slightly awkward breakfast conversation this morning. I've really enjoyed all this cycling across the big open spaces of northern Germany, and I appreciate being in a place where cyclists are just accepted as a normal part of traffic, though I have to say the Germans get really pissy if you don't use the cycling provision, which can be a little hit and miss sometimes. I also wish I could play back all the road in my head like a tape, but I can't. There has just been too much. However, it has convinced me I love long cycle trips, and I actually do pretty well in my own company. I can never quite square that with always.feeling like I want someone around when I'm at home or being afraid to go out on my own sometimes. Hmm. Anyway, I must go to bed bc I'm totally exhausted and I still have a long way tomorrow!

Sunday 16 September 2012

Dougie does Dortmund...

So. Today didn't go 100 pct according to plan. I'm eating gummi bears while watching Netanyahu on Meet the Press. What a serious tool! Anyway, I got a very late start today. Stayed the night with Shubph and Hannes in Bonn, which was lovely. I had a very nice breakfast and then went to the gym, so I didn't actually get started until lunchtime. I was supposed to go 78 miles to Dortmund. But neglected the fact that I had to go through suburban Cologne, which was pretty much endless traffic lights. And, it being Germany, I had to actually wait for all of them. Sigh. I finally gave up on trying to get that far, and basically just headed north up the Rhine valley. I ended up in Dusseldorf at sundown. Took a regional train to Dortmund. Omg, the bike car at the end of the train. It is also the pram car, so it was jammed full of cyclists and jammed full of screaming babies. What a fun 53 minutes that was! Anyway, I will set off tomorrow morning from Croydon, which is a place that does seem like it met the full dose of the allied redecorating committee! Oh, I forgot, yesterday, which already seems like a million years ago, it was 70 miles from Aachen to Bonn. The first section was through forested hills that reminded me quite a lot of western Pennsylvania. It opened up then as I headed east towards the Rhine, with great sweeping vistas of fields of corn, lettuce, cabbage and onions, then an endless number of apple orchards. Wind turbines everywhere as well. Honestly, why do the British get fussed about wind turbines? They don't seem to worry about pylons, and those are way the help uglier and more ubiquitous than turbines! Lots of little farm towns. They aren't as hyper neat as they were in the Netherlands, but they also don't have endless has stations and car dealerships strung out for miles like Belgium. I had an amazing mandarin cake at a little cafe in some random microdink town. I am so enjoying just popping along through all these places! I actually thought I would end up feeling extremely lonely, and while I'm very glad to be seeing people along the way, I am actually really enjoying just sort of floating along, me and the road. I suppose it's kinda like when I used to drive back and forth across the US. I loved that, and that was generally just me... Of course when when things go wrong, which they can... Anyway, hopefully they won't! Right, time to take my clothes out of the sink and go to bed!

Friday 14 September 2012

Three countries in two days...

Well, it heps if the countries are small, and you just go through corners, but I did go all the way across Belgium... My overriding impression? One giant ribbon development... Seriously, just about the whole way across the country is an endless parade of 1 deep houses, gas stations, lawn mower shops and Audi dealers. Who knew there was such a demand for Audis? The countryside is quite pretty, but it is kind of marred by this beauty strip of suburban nowhereness. Very odd. So, I started at De Panne, on the North Sea coast. Very middle class retirement kind of town. All old people. Big wall of buildings facing the sea, which reminded me little of Florida, except for cold and grey. The countryside around there, and for the next 50 miles inland, is flat flat flat. And then it's not. Just like that, there is a gentle incline, and the rest of the way across the country is rolling. If the west of the country remind me a bit of the Central Valley, but greener, heading east felt a bit like the Upper Midwest. Nearly all the larger roads have separate cycle lanes. Really puts the UK to shame, though that isn't hard on that front. I learned a few things about Belgian roads. The first is that people really do pull out from the right without looking, unless the road is marked. Also, unlike England, where the savvy cyclist takes the small roads, in Belgium, as often as not, these roads end up being cobbled (badly) or end suddenly in dirt. And in England, when they close a major road for construction, they put up lots of helpful sighs saying where to go. In Belgium, they just seem to close it. And then you're stuffed... Finally, while having bike lanes is lovely, it's not so great when you are require to use them, even when they are only on the wrong side of the road. I got pulled over by a cop for cycling illegally on a road when there was a 2 direction bike lane I hadn't noticed along the other bumpy shoulder. Cue stupid American mode... Anyway, I got to Brussels late yesterday evening, got lost about a million times, as the GPS wanted to send me down yet another cobbled road and I refused, and nearly got run over by a tram, as, apparently, they do not stop for traffic already in the roundabout! Stayed with Alex last night. We went to an Italian place, where I ate a small mountain. Then today... Today I set off in Brussels morning traffic, which was very exciting. I was v v happy for my super padded and super expensive shorts as well. Must get more... Most of the day was spent getting across the rest of Belgium. Then across the river into Maastricht, and suddenly everything is very leafy, and very very organised... I basically just cut across Maastricht, getting lost again bc of construction, but wow I've never seen so much cycling infrastructure! Smooth, seamless cycle highways connecting everywhere and everything. Total bike paradise. Actually, eve. In Belgium, outside of Brussels, which kind of sucked for bikes, loads of people were cycling, even in pissant towns. Seriously, how.shit is the cycling infrastructure of the UK? Just shameful! So, I head out of maastrict into the hilly (!) southern bit of the Netherlands. It reminded me very much of England, except neater (whereas the endless nothing development of Belgium reminded me of the USA).... As the sun was setting, I crossed into Germany. I'm staying in a very Spartan private room at the Aachen youth hostel, which is fine, except it seems to be full of, well, youth, who are extremely noisy. The rooms doors are heavy metal doors and the walls have about zero soundproofing. Reminds me why I don't normally stay in youth hostels anymore... Right, well it's time to get my stuff out of the dryer, go to the floor bathroom, and hopefully get some sleep!

Wednesday 12 September 2012


So yeah, here I am again typing away on my phone. You would think that, given the general annoyingness of doing this, that I would actually blog when I'm at home and in front of a computer screen. No, much more important to do things like check the weather in Antarctica... Anyway, yeah, I'm in a super dinky little hotel room facing the market square in De Panne, Belgium. It's a small little town on the North Sea. Lots of money. Very boring on a Weds night. That's ok. I had a lovely dinner of a sandwich, lunchmeat and a banana bought from a corner store. Nothing but the finest! Been watching the Nat Geo channel in Dutch (program is in English w subtitles). Anyway, I was supposed to leave at the crap of dawn today and cycle about 105 miles, but as yesterday was David's bday, that didn't happen. So, I got ul this morning, dorkified my bike by putting a rack on the back, and took the train to Dover. Lots of farting around at the port, where the staff are rude and generally useless. The ferry was about an hour late, but I guess they really paddled, as we were only about 30 mins late to Dunkirk. My first, and accidental port of call on the ferry was the trucker's lounge. I have to say, European truckers make their American counterparts look, well, classy! Nothing says hi, I'm a dork like showing up in a super fluorescent bike jacket amidst a bunch of Romanian truckers! Yeah, so, the ferry actually docks about 10 miles from Dunkirk, in the middle of a flat and dead industrial wasteland. Nice. So, I waited for the mad scramble to get off the ferry finished, then set out, completely alone, across the bleak coastal plain. Not exactly what I had expected... Dunkirk itself was fairly unremarkable, some of it quite ugly, though I have to say this for Tue brief stretch of French road I traversed... Smooth! And then I hit Belgium, and and, there we go, bumpyass roads that would make England proud. Still though, it's kinda cool to cross an international border where the former border post is now a chocolate shop. Tomorrow it's 90 miles across Belgium, to Brussels, and a night on Alex's sofa...