Monday, August 30, 2010

Map of Cuxhaven, DE to Hirtshals, Denmark and Bergen, Norway to Oystese, NO (Aug 31st-Sept 14th)

From Cuxhaven we took yet another ferry across the Elbe to Brunsbuttel, Germany, which is where the Nord-Ostsee Canal starts. The Ost See, or East Sea, is also known as the Baltic Sea. The Germans have built a canal the goes from the Elbe River across the northern part of Germany all the way to Kiel, on the Baltic. We took that awesome canal until just past Rendsburg, where we turned north and made it to a campsite at the Gross Wittensee where we stayed on August 31st (really nice lake). The next morning we rode to Eckernforde and then north along the Ostsee route, up the east coast of Schleswig-Holstein, the northern-most state of Germany. On Sept 1st we made it to Waabs, where we ended up staying for a Baltic Sea vacation for 3 nights! Of course, as we were ready to leave again, it got windy, and not in the direction we wanted it to go. On Sept 4th we rode up to Steinbergholz and camped for one night, then on the 5th we made it to Denmark, camping just across the border at Kollund.

Then the wind started really beating us up. We rode north in Denmark as far as Vojens, then battled north again as far as Egtved, where we had a dreamy stay with new friends at their campsite after a really dreary and difficult day against wind and on gravely roads.

We got out again on the road on the 8th and started feeling the effects of blustery days again. Although we made it quite far in the morning, we realized that the we might just go crazy if we spent another 5 days to a week in that weather. Plus the forecast was for rain, and for the wind to turn south - just the opposite of what we needed at that point. So we made the decision to hop on a train in Jelling, and spare ourselves the wind crazies and any misery that we might possibly encounter.

From Jelling we actually had to go south on the train, to Vejle, and switch to another train that went straight north to Hjorring, where we promptly caught another train up to Hirtshals, our destination for the final ferry to Bergen, Norway. Of course, we didn't know the schedule for that ferry, and it turned out that the next time it went was two and a half days later! Crap! So we hung out in Hirtshals until the 12th, took the overnight ferry to Bergen, contemplated and planned for a ride over the mountains to Oystese, and then a nice cyclist told us that the biggest rains in a long while were scheduled for the following days.

We were more ready to arrive in the warm home of our friends than to spend a couple of days climbing huge mountains in the rain. So we took a bus! We arrived in Norheimsund, on Hardangerfjord, and surprised Anders at his work around 3pm. He stopped work immediately, grabbed his bike, and rode with us up to the house above Oystese. So on the morning of the 14th, Joshua's and my birthday, we woke up in the cozy house with a view of the fjord. Posts to come soon!

View Larger Map

View Larger Map

Sunday, August 29, 2010

More Ferries!?

That's right. The northern coast of Germany is where many of those small rivers we followed earlier in the summer meet the North Sea. They are too wide for bridges at that point. After crossing the Ems, we thought we'd take 2 days to cross the land between the Ems and the Jadebusen, a kind a huge inlet. Then we had another day of riding across a kind of non-peninsula to the massive mouth of the Weser River, the combination of the Fulda and Werra Rivers which we followed after leaving Kassel and heading north. We arrived in Bremerhaven and went due north along the North Sea, towards Cuxhaven, where we took another ferry to get across to Brunsbuttel. Ferry happy. Check out the map, it's hard to describe that northern Germany coast.

So, from Emden at the Ems River to Jadebusen, we had a pretty straight shot along the Ems-Jade Canal. Thank goodness we finally got some sun again! We started out on the Friesischer Heerweg, the axe and bicycle wheel path, which reminded us fondly of our work with the Bicycle Kitchen in LA, getting people on bikes and carving out a space for bicycle culture. Spare parts and battle-axes.

Beautiful weather! Yes, it makes a difference...

The Ems-Jade Canal is lovely and we find ourselves smiley and taking deep breaths.

Finally, we were looking at the fronts of windmills again, the wind blowing us towards Wilhelmshaven. We took a stop in the afternoon and thought we might even stay to camp, but it turned out to be late Saturday afternoon.

On Sunday, nothing is open in small towns. If you're lucky a small bakery will be open in the morning, or even the grocery store, but by noon most every place is closed. And in many places, everything closes starting on Saturday afternoon. We were in a very small village. And we didn't have the supplies to stay there overnight without somewhere to eat. So we pushed on. We thought we would go to a campsite off the path, taking us out of our way quite a distance. But things were rolling so smoothly, and we still had the light and a good wind, that we ended up flying all the way to Wilhelmshaven in one day. It felt great, and we had decided to take advantage of as much good weather as we could, seeing as bad weather slowed us down so much.

But once in Wilhelmshaven, after 7pm on a Saturday night at the end of August, we realized we were in for another kind of problem. We first found the ferry terminal, and figured out that the ferry left at 9am the next morning. Lucky us. Then we looked around for a hotel. At the first hotel we stopped into, they were all sold out except for the 200€ per night suite. The guy was nice, they had a restaurant, and when I grimaced at the price he said I should check the other hotels along the row. Turned out, they were all full. Not a single room. We then went back into the center of town, hoping that it was just the hotels out on the strand that were booked. Of course, it would be nice to have a hotel within a few minutes of the ferry, but we'd just have to get up 15 minutes earlier and be sure to get to the ferry on time. Alas, no rooms. Anywhere. A woman on the street told us about another hotel that sounded like it was quite far away. We had no idea if there would be a room. It was starting to get dark and cold and we were getting hungry. What do you do?

Stay happy. We treated ourselves to a very, very expensive hotel room and delicious dinner to match. Sometimes, you just have to suck it up and call it, even if it hurts. They had a place downstairs, indoors for our bikes. Breakfast was included. We both took bubble baths and tried to appreciate our apartment-like hotel room as much as we could in the 24 hours we occupied it. But it still hurt a little, even if it was quiet good. And we did make the ferry in the morning.

It turned out to be a ferry just for bike riders taking the International North Sea Bike Route

Oh good weather, we love you

All that day the wind was pretty good. It was big, and mostly behind us, although sometimes at our side. At least it wasn't raining. 

Joshua's map view

Joshua's road view

Rolling into Blexen, for the ferry across to Bremerhaven, we saw a sign we recognized - 
we were back on the Weser Radweg!

Ferry across the Weser

Not too shabby, but kinda crowded with pedestrians heading to the Bremerhaven Sail

In Bremerhaven we had a quick sandwich lunch in a park and then headed north. We had checked the ferry schedule from Cuxhaven to Brunsbuttel, and we knew that it only ran a couple of days per week. Our blast across the Ems-Jade Canal have given us a bit of an advantage, but we decided we'd best head north from Bremerhaven as far as we felt like going, to make sure we had plenty of time in Cuxhaven to check the schedule again and make sure what we saw online was real. Sometimes the information online is not as accurate as going up to a ticket booth (or calling in advance) - very important to know. With no phone we have learned to be flexible and early. 

Just as we rolled out of Bremerhaven, an ominous cloud was moving towards the city. We have learned that the best thing to do when it's raining is either find a cafe and hide out for a while or just keep going - riding in the rain isn't all that bad when you have good gear, as long as the wind isn't against you, too. This thing coming towards us was a storm.

So we got prepped for a downpour

Both wearing the new booties from Rinia Fietsen

Somedays look more like this than you want them to. Bleak weather, downpour with a side wind, and huge industrial concrete desert. At least the gigantic warehouses protected us from the wind when we were beside them. We went by some of the biggest windmills yet, and closer than ever. They make an enormous sound, like a blender whipping butter in really slow motion, deep and swaying. 

And then the weather let up. We found ourselves on the inland side of another dyke, this time hanging with cows. Cow shit is much bigger than sheep shit.

As we close in on a gate, the crap gets to be more and the cows are waiting for someone to feed them or take them home, perhaps. Joshua guided us through, clapping and yelling like a good farmer. The cows mostly moved out of the way. He did that at least three times, as we went through many gates. Below you see the awesome crap we had to ride through. Just what our bikes needed, a poop bath.

Since we had the time, and the energy, to go only as far north as we felt like going, we could explore a little. We checked out a road that went up onto the dyke, and then down along the North Sea.

That's not snow between the rocks, but some kind of human invention - 
it looked like hardened toothpaste

It's not windy

I'm not singing little mermaid songs at the top of my lungs

The path promptly ended, into a sheep field.

Up the hill we hiked, after another couple on bikes who did the same as we had

No joke, pushing your bike up a dyke when the grass is wet

Oh, right, and we were back with the great German maps we had used before, and there were a lot of campsites along the North Sea Bike Route, so we had our pick of campsites. 

Let's not camp here!

This place looks even worse!

We found a quiet site on the protected side of the dyke (I'm sure it's nice to stay on the North Sea side in the middle of summer, but isn't there a reason they build those dykes?). We arrived early enough to go to a restaurant that was warm and dry while it rained off and on out the window. We read our books and wrote postcards until an early evening dry spell when we went back to set up the tent and get ourselves into bed early. 

The following day wasn't very long, and we arrived in Cuxhaven with plenty of time to check the ferry times. The next ferry was going to Brunsbuttel the following day at 11am. That was late enough for us to go back out of town to a campsite we had seen on the way in, where there was a big fancy bakery close enough to get fresh rolls for breakfast the next morning. We even did some laundry, and had a sunny enough afternoon for it to dry. 

And the ferry to Brunsbuttel?

Lots of bikes - big boat - 2+ hours

we'll be okay

Friday, August 27, 2010

A Series of Ferries; Wind and Rain

The end of August looked like the end of summer in the north eastern Netherlands and north western Germany. The ferries are fun. The wind and rain were hard.

One morning we woke up surrounded by a swamp. The grassy area where we'd set up the tent (thankfully we'd decided on the high spot) was almost all one big puddle. Joshua went barefoot to roll the bikes out of the water and I packed up a very soggy tent.

We learned a lot about keeping our spirits up when things are not so fun. Lots of singing and thanking our great gear. For a few days I took almost no photos. Mostly, we were riding with rain. The wind changed direction - and for half a day we were beating through rain and a wind coming from the north, at our side. We plowed across the Netherlands, singing songs to each other and to the wind.

Riding in the rain, almost to Groningen, the bike path ended into a terribly muddy pit - and signs saying to go no further. Trucks working in the mud had already tracked a lot of gunk onto the path, and our bikes were pretty muddy anyway, but after turning around and trying to go another way, we ended up on a squishy road where we got just caked with muck. Yuck! With a pretty bad case of the grumpies we rolled past the campsite at Groningen and into town. When we found a cafe, we just stopped and enjoyed being out of the rain for a few hours. Sometimes, the best thing to do is take a break. We debated going back to the campsite on the outside of town, or finding a hotel, or going another 10km to a campsite further east. In the end, we powered to the next campsite which was practically empty. The holiday months in Europe really are July and August. We arrived when it was no longer raining, so Joshua set up a shelter so we'd have a place to eat breakfast if it rained during the night. It did rain, and the soggy ground just swelled further, making the earth even under the shelter wet.

By the third day I thought we'd had it with the rain, but we managed to ride through the worst side-wind, rain combo yet, along a direct road (bike routes meandered too much for that kind of not fun weather) and made it to the German border at Nieuwenshans. Again we stopped at a cafe for a couple of hours, to collect our wits, let the gear dry (yup, the sun came out while we were stopped), and gather strength to ride back into Germany once again. Joshua got some good advice from the cafe owner, and we thought we had a 10km ride to a ferry ahead of us. The sun was still out, and we had plenty of time to make it to the ferry.

10km turned out to be 20km, and the wind was still coming from the north, the direction we were now headed. Joshua gallantly pulled us north alongside a high dyke, and we sang out 'Bohemian Rhapsody' at the top of our lungs to compete with the wind and our tired brains and bodies.

Our first in-field cycling experience, the sheep were experienced

View of the town of Ditzum from up on the dyke 

Although we made it to the ferry terminal much later than expected we were relieved to find we hadn't missed the last ferry. The ride even turned out to be free; we do not know why. We crossed the Ems River once again, the same tiny stream we'd seen outside of Rheda-Wiedenbruck turned into a massive river, and after another 6km we found a nice hotel in Emden. It was a good night to sleep in a bed.

Ems River near the mouth

Wind tired, but surviving and cozy

Let's get to Emden! We're gonna make it!

Fully loaded, thank you for pulling us through

Thursday, August 26, 2010

With the Wind and into the Car-therlands

Our first day off the boat the wind was with us, the sky was mostly clear, and we made good time, moving inland and also lower than sea level. When we stopped, the wind roared. When we rolled, everything seemed quiet and calm - we were flying with a tail wind.

Notice that the water level is actually higher than where the photographer is standing

Windmills, ferries, and horses were abundant. Also cows and sheep. We knew that ferries were coming up, as they were marked on the map, and at first we were concerned about schedules and other normal ferry stuff. But this is a land of water, and some, no, most of the ferries we took were just for bicycles and pedestrians. In a land of water, the bike paths cross canals often.

That little house is where the ferry driver sits and reads until cyclists come along

There he goes! Picking up people on the other side who showed up after he helped us locate ourselves on our map!

This was a relatively large ferry. Usually it's waiting across the way. If you want to call it, ring the BEL.

fietspad = bike path

Oh! And sail boats, lots of sail boats!

A high point, and some nice clouds

In Fryslan, the part of the Netherlands we were crossing into, they have a local dialect. So each town has two names and as you leave the signs say goodbye twice. One of my favorite names for a town was Smalle Ee Smelle Le (say it fast, small e, smelly). They are also quite proud of the distinguishing traits of their land.

In that last one, you even see a car. This is indeed where we saw most of the cars in the Netherlands. There were still cyclists around, but it felt like more people were in cars and I suddenly trusted the drivers a little less. As we rode around, looking for a grocery store, we noticed that there seemed to be a kind of lower level of economy. In other words, people seemed poorer than in other parts of the Netherlands. 

In Drachten (even the name is scary) there were buildings that were halfway built that just stood untouched and piles of rubble left un-cleared. We also saw a lot of graffiti, some fantastic, some mediocre, but all of it left up on un-used and fenced off buildings. A little depressed, this town, this neighborhood. And at the bar where we stopped for the pommes frites, coffee, and beer at 5pm, we were greeted by some grumpy, already drunk regulars. They turned out to be friendly, but the first impression they made was of bitterness at their lot in life. 

Although it's pretty silly to make a judgement about the entire region based on a couple of interactions, my predisposition to seeing bicycle culture in a good light and car culture as poisonous to society made me notice a correlation. Here, where people are just slightly poorer, unhappy, and unfriendly, more people have cars. It made me think again of how much money we saved by not owning a car in Los Angeles, and how grumpy I would get if I rode the bus to work too often, or when I was injured and couldn't get my daily frustrations out with a little physical work on a bike. Owning a car can make a huge difference, economically, when compared with riding a bike. Not to mention the health benefits, both physical and mental.  

I won't bother with the specifics, unless someone wants me to enumerate the expenses of owning a car. You probably know already. But seeing the difference between parts of the Netherlands where people ride their bikes, and the parts where there are many more people in cars, made me wonder if owning and driving a car is the difference.