Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Out of the ferry and into the Amsterdam

It was raining a little when we disembarked in IJmuiden, but the sun was
starting to break through. And thankfully there was a stiff tail wind to blow us the 20 km (yeah kilometers) to Amsterdam. IJmuiden is a large port and revealed an industrial side of the Netherlands that we had not seen before. There were dozens of smoke stacks belching smoke and steam. There were also many of those chimneys with flames coming out of them - burning the extra gases produced by oil refining I think. The steel gray sky, the mist, the horizon of smoke stacks, and the typical fishy smell of a port mingled with whatever the pollution the innumerable factories were emitting combined left me slack jawed. Newark, NJ and Gary, IN came to mind. When we were in Scotland, someone told me of a saying from the industrial revolution regarding factory towns, "where there is smoke, there is money.". This view of the Netherlands was one that we knew necessarily existed, but one that we had missed on our previous rides.

After our passports were stamped, we simply followed the signs to Amsterdam. Along the roads of the Netherlands, there's usually a smaller road, separated by grass or a curb. So we didn't bother to do more than look at a map while we were still in Newcastle. Follow the road along the canal? And true to form, there were smooth, clearly marked bike paths all the way to the city center - in marked contrast to our experiences in the UK. Amsterdam, I am yours.

Ramona and I did have a mini-meltdown in communication that started with an unheard comment about an unexpected left turn and ended with some swearing and bad feelings. We did, however, arrive at Marieke and Paul's flat in Zeeburg by crossing the entire Centrum of the city without too much fuss and with only two glances at our map. Anyone who has been to Amsterdam can recognize this as a minor miracle.

One thing that I forgot about riding in Amsterdam is that the horribly disturbing ominous grinding, clanking, and/or rattling noise is not coming from your bicycle. It is coming from the bicycle(s) that is approaching you rapidly from behind. This happened to me a couple of times on our way into the city. The first time, my heart dropped through the bottom of my stomach, because the sound was really bad - like someone had just shoved a polo mallet into my back wheel and my panniers were about to fall off because my rack had melted and was dragging on the ground. But no, a moment later, a handsome man passed me and said, "impressive", in Dutch which we of course could not understand, so he repeated it in English which was refreshingly clear (after the UK). The noise was probably a combination of the crate he had on the back of his bike moving and clunking around as we went over a bump and the normal every day squeaks his bike was making.

- rolling post

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

DSDF Newcastle to Amsterdam

We both got surprise hair cuts from Budge's cousin ... And then it was out the door after triple checking every corner of the flat for our stuff. There is a feeling of finality when closing a door and dropping the keys into the mail slot - everything behind that door is now irrevocably the past and you are forced to immediately deal with the consequences of a simple action. I don't think we forgot anything. If we did, we haven't missed it yet, so it probably is not important. We did purposefully leave behind some unused batteries and an unused front light (that I had been dragging about for over a year).

The sun was out, but it was cool. We opted to take a city road over the 72 bike path for the first few miles of the ride. Then we found the bike path and made a wrong turn and ended up at an industrial park dead end. We were now experts at this kind of bike path deception and quickly found our way to the port. At the ferry terminal, we showed our tickets and got into the queue with about 100 motorcycles. Judging by the languages spoken we were surrounded by Dutch, French, Italian, Flemish, Scottish, German, and English motorcycle touring enthusiasts. There were many BMW R1200 (HUGE bikes) fitted with stainless steel panniers. We drank tea and gawked at the bikes and the riders in their high tech leather gear.

Thirty minutes in the queue, we started boarding - a process that took over 2.5 hours. This was, by far, the largest ferry we have been on. Our passports checked, we were waved through to a pre-boarding staging area for bicycles where we met a German cyclist returning home, a British couple setting out for three week tour down the Rhine, and a British cyclist on a 1962 bicycle on his way to meet friends in Utrecht. We chatted as we boarded and tied down our bicycles, agreed that we would probably meet each other again at some point, and parted ways to find our respective rooms. We did not see them again until we disembarked. The ferry was that big. Our berth was nice, way nicer than our Funky Ferry (Hirtshals to Bergen) berth.

Bye bye Newcastle.

I think maybe that is the new castle.

Here are some tips for this ferry.

* don't bother purchasing a meal. bring your own food, buy from the cafe, or, if you are starving, purchase the buffet on board (this will be very expensive, but it is possible)

* you can spend euros or pounds on board

* there are two cinemas on board showing current movies in English with subtitles

* try the Hot Snaks, but do not eat too many (this should be obvious once you see what Hot Snaks are)

* this ferry presents an excellent opportunity to play, "what nationality" because every western nationality seemed to be present (even Canadians!) - observing eating habits and alcoholic drink choice are fantastic clues.

After dinner, we watched the sun set from on deck.

(sun tan photo)

Then it was off to bed for fairly good night's sleep. Amsterdam tomorrow!!!

- rolling post

Sunday, June 26, 2011


We are cyclists with some experience. We enjoy riding fast and riding slow. We have navigated the streets of Los Angeles as well as the streets of Amsterdam, and we have gotten lost on dirt roads in Germany and Denmark. There have been days when we have taken our fully loaded touring bicycles down steep, freshly graveled roads. There have been days where the bike path was a flooded, muddy walking track.

There is nothing like following someone who knows where they are going. Riding in Newcastle, a reasonably sized city with neighborhoods and parks, was a pleasure. All we had to do to see the city? Follow Budge, knowledgeable cyclist who spends weekends sometimes with a road century race, sometimes with 7 hours straight of mountain bike racing. He took us on a cyclocross tour of his favorite park. Yes, we rode dirt paths and carried our bikes up stairs. It was beautiful.

In the middle of Newcastle!? Above you see the Shoe Tree. A huge tree with many shoes dangling from it. Budge doesn't think anyone knows why - but now it is a local site.

Then we went through downtown, were taunted by some hoodlums, and saw the old city wall, backed by an alley and the rear exits of Chinese food restaurants in Chinatown.

Dinner was delicious thai food, and then back to the local bars. If you're ever in Newcastle, go to The Free Trade.

We met up with Millie, Budge's cousin, and she agreed to come to the apartment the next morning and give us both haircuts. A stylist who makes house calls is dear to us both, and the last haircuts we had (besides the one I gave Joshua) were in LA, over a year ago.

Newcastle was a little rough around the edges, but we had a really great time with Budge.

- rolling post

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Surprise, dressage

bike path through sheep field
horse and rider approaching
wow. surprise dressage

- rolling post

If Alnwick is pronounced an' ick, how do you say Alnmouth?

Our tentative plan was to meet in front of Arie's hotel at 8:45am. If either party didn't show, the first party should leave alone with the expectation that (born from our experience over the last four days) we would meet again down the road.

Ramona and I made it out of our hotel in good time after a breakfast of poached eggs with kippered herrings and scrambled eggs with smoked salmon. We were late for our rendez-vous because we need to do a shop at the Co-op (yeah!) and the local bakery (double yeah for proper donuts). Ramona did some inspired navigating that put us directly back on the North Sea Route.

Arie warned us that the first few miles would not be... smooth. Some gravel, some mud, and along cliffs, no less. Well, at least it is beautiful and there's no rain.

We saw lots of sheep, and some horses. And at one point we stopped and Ramona went up and over the hill on the ocean side to find...

the beach.

We chatted for a while with the farmer whose sheep we were riding with and whose land the path passed through. He managed to tell some off-colored jokes as well as demonstrate his worldliness - all-in-all a nice break and chat.

Hi sheep.

This is hairy vetch.

This is hemlock (I think) with one of the only bees (and is that a proper bee?) that I saw in over two months in the UK. Cell phones? Fungus? GMO pollen? It is eerie to not see bees...

For a break we stopped near the Bamburgh Castle. Coming in on the road it looks like this:

Wow. We had a coffee and snack in town, and then rallied on. It turned into another very big day, although the morning went incredibly slowly. Recovery from the previous day was needed.

But despite exhaustion and a very slow start, we made it to Alnmouth, where we thought Arie might be staying. All afternoon we'd had glimpses of a cyclist up ahead, too far off to catch, wearing a red jacket. He/She was our Arie, as we hoped to catch up. However a kilometer out of Alnmouth we did catch up with a woman in a red top. Just ahead of her was her husband, with their toddler on the bike. Same person all afternoon?

We asked whether Alnmouth had places to stay. They let us know there was an art festival going on, but they seemed to think that we'd get a place anyway. But each time we asked, we were turned away.

After the fourth or fifth hotel/b&b, we arrived just outside of Beaches. Before I (Ramona) went inside Joshua headed down the street to another hotel. As I stood there, the owner, Donald came out to stand on the street. He chatted with a woman who passed by, and I overheard that they had been on vacation for a couple of weeks. After his conversation was concluded, I asked if he had space and indeed he did. He hadn't been in to take the calls for reservations, he'd been on vacation in Northern CA and southern OR. Hi Donald! Thanks! We loved our purple themed room, the rubber duckies and other bath toys on the edge of the tub, and the fantastic breakfast of fresh berries and yogurt. And poached eggs and toast and yum.

They were full for dinner that night, so we went down the street to have a beer and nachos (who can resist?). After a couple of rounds Joshua went ahead and had a half pint.

First Sunburns of 2011 - Alnmouth to Budge

In the morning we had more steam, and after a 50 mile day we were within 50 miles of Newcastle. If we went all the way it would mean two nights in Newcastle, and a full day to recover, do laundry, etc.

The day went smoothly and quickly. More castles.

The sea and the sky and finally Tynemouth.

When we thought we were very close we stopped for a bite (fish & chips) and a couple of beers. We called Budge and missed him. Then after beers we tried again and it turned out we were still a good 7 miles away. As time ran out he gave us the name of a bar, and said to call if we hit the center of town with all the fancy bridges. Which is what we did. He came to meet us, took us to his place, and then we went out for some dinner. Riding without gear!

In a neighborhood called Byker!

One favorite bar where we left the bikes locked up.

Hey look! Budge!

- rolling post

Friday, June 24, 2011


Again, Arie was a bit quicker to get out the door in the morning, but we were closer behind him this time. (That's Toby the dog in the foreground, always around looking for a snack.)

Our first views of the River Tweed were as we crossed over it, just after a near-miss of a route sign.

The east coast is less rainy than the west coast. Another gorgeous day.

Et voila! Arie.

We wanted to make good time, and the most obvious way to do that is to cover many miles in one day. From Innerleithen to Berwick-upon-Tweed was over 60 miles by the map (Arie has the maps). We decided to aim for Berwick, and see how we did. Again the path meandered up and down hills and back and forth across the river. Not a level river route at all. We tend to ride a little faster than Arie, but he has been touring for longer than us and his constant speed seemed to get him places before our fast riding and long breaks.

There's the river, down at the bottom of the hill.

Arie opts for more frequent, short breaks. As opposed to our 2 hour long lunches that include a beer. But all together we rode with just a few snack breaks, and we made excellent time.

A little lunch. And Arie uses his tri-pod. We have one now, but haven't actually used it yet. New gadget. If we carry it, we'd better start using it.

We love his set-up. Handmade by a friend leather canister holds his tools. Suspended brooks. Brooks rear bag and a couple of Ortliebs. Very nice.

We rode up some pretty bigs hills. And then rolled down again. Beautiful day. Riding with three for a change was nice. I (Joshua) felt strong all day and spent a lot of time in the front pulling and keeping the pace up. At one point Arie told us that we were averaging 16 km/h versus his usual 12 km/h.

Good town names and castles. And with legs fit to collapse we made it to Berwick, a sort of city-state that is part of the United Kingdom, between England and Scotland, but part of neither. Apparently a treaty overlooked them and they are still officially at war with Russia.

We quickly found a room, the last in the Mansergh House, and Arie went on to the hotel. We showered, gathered ourselves, and walked down into town a bit, only to run into Arie in a doorway when it started to rain a bit. We enjoyed another dinner accompanied by great conversation, and then all headed off to bed, exhausted. We probably would have stopped before Berwick if we hadn't been with Arie, and he seemed to think he would not have made it without us pushing on. Well done team.

- rolling post