•   
  •   
  •   
 

You Are Viewing Journal Entries

Six Days, Four Countries, Four Bikes and a Toddler

Posted May 11th, 2014

Caution: this post is being written to the soundtrack of the Teletubbies. As parents of a two-year old, free time is a precious commodity. Bribery is frequently required.

Since an episode of the Teletubbies only lasts 24 minutes, we’ll keep this short and sweet. It’s the story of our Easter tour: six days through Luxembourg, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands, including most of the Vennbahn rail trail.

We were cycling with two good friends, Shane and Stijn. As a group, we looked a bit like a bicycle circus with touring setups in all shapes and sizes.

P1060455

We started with the Vennbahn because it was easy to reach by train from our home and was supposed to be flat. We aren’t scared of mountains but flat terrain is unquestionably a great advantage when you’re adding a toddler, a bike seat, a trailer and various child-related goodies to the standard bike touring setup.

What’s that? Flat you said? Ha ha. Try again. As it turned out, the trip involved a fair amount of climbing. Our workout began in Luxembourg City — not technically part of the Vennbahn (the trail begins about 70km further north) but a popular kicking-off point for many people.

Climbing a steep hill in Luxembourg - not technically part of the Vennbahn, but a taste of what was to come.

For us, the steep climb between the campground and the train station signalled the start of a weekend which was great fun but also harder work than we expected. The Vennbahn is largely flat but it also threw a few curve balls our way: unexpected hills, detours where parts of the trail were closed (this led to more climbing) and strong headwinds.

We look cheery in this photo, taken on one of the Vennbahn’s easy and paved sections, but the truth is that we’ve never been so exhausted from cycling 40-50km a day.

profile shot cropped

Normally we’d manage this distance easily but now we were carrying the extra weight of a toddler and all the associated luggage (toys, clothes, diapers). At the end of the day we weren’t resting, we were chasing a toddler around the campsite. This photo is a rarity: it shows one the few moments when Andrew got to sit down.

20140420-_MG_3391

Luke could occasionally be bribed into relative quiet with a pastry. As on so many bike tours in the past, bakeries quickly became a mandatory, twice-daily stop.

P1060677

On most nights, we didn’t make it much past Luke’s bedtime.

P1060655

When we weren’t chasing Luke around, we were marvelling at our different touring setups. We each had a different strategy, to meet different needs. Here’s Shane, with his Brompton folding bike and Cyclone trailer from Radical Design — the perfect combination if you need to take trains and buses as part of your bike tour.

P1060501-edited

Stijn was riding a titanium tourer of his own design with fat tires and a minimum of luggage. He’s preparing for a trip to Iceland later this year and wants a bike that is lightweight and handles well on dirt roads. In 2011, we interviewed Stijn about lightweight bike touring in this podcast.

P1060508-edited

As for us, Friedel was on a classic steel touring bicycle, built in 2005 by Robin Mather. This is the bike she rode around the world. The bike is great but we had to accommodate Luke’s Yepp bike seat on the back, and this made it complicated to carry any other luggage. To be honest, we didn’t do a very good job of loading up this bike. We’re still working out the best way to pack and carry gear, while also having room for Luke on the back. More on that later.

P1060518-edited.

Andrew rode a Santos Travelmaster 2.6 Alu and piled it high with all the junk that Friedel couldn’t fit on her bike, including an 89L Ortlieb Rackpack. Yes, we said 89 litres. That’s not a typo. We should have put a front rack on this bike to better balance the load but ran out of time before we left. Behind the bike is a Chariot trailer — Luke’s place to nap and hide out from bad weather.

P1060531-edit.jpg

A picky person could probably find fault in our packing styles and choices but at the end of the day we all made it and we all had fun. Isn’t that what counts? The most important thing you can pack for a successful tour is enthusiasm and we had that in spades.

Over the next few days, we crossed borders.

20140418-_MG_3334

We experimented with wild cookery. We picked some stinging nettles and threw them into a pot with red peppers and onions. When cooked, they taste like spinach. What a great base for a pasta sauce or soup!

cooking with nettles

We encouraged Luke to walk up the steepest hills, when pedalling became impossible.

P1060614-cropped

And after 6 days and 250km we returned home. We learned a lot from this first cycle-toddling adventure, for example:

  • 40-50km a day is the maximum distance we should plan on cycling. If the terrain is hilly, we need to cut this distance further.
  • Bike touring with a toddler requires a different packing setup. We’re considering a trailer for our next tour.
  • A small bag with toys is a must-have. Luke has a little backpack which he’s allowed to fill with books, dinky cars and other favourite items.
  • Falling asleep in a tent can be difficult for little ones. Be patient and be prepared to extend bedtime.

Now it’s time to prepare for our next tour: Switzerland! Yes, that’s right, after complaining about hills on the Vennbahn we’re going to one of the hilliest countries in Europe. What’s life without a good challenge? We’ll fill you in on that trip when we return in June.

 

Our Easter Tour: On Folding Bikes In The Freezing Cold

Posted April 2nd, 2013

Over Easter we went on a short bike tour through the east of the Netherlands with several friends. There were six of us in total, riding four folding bikes and two ‘big wheel’ touring bikes.

Easter cycling Tour

It was unseasonably cold (barely above freezing during the day) but despite the chilly weather we had a super time riding from Arnhem to Roermond. Below you’ll find the short film (in an English and a Dutch version) to tell the story.

Thanks to our friends Stijn, Shane and Marieke & Anthony for the great company, and to the lovely owners of the Landgoed Geijsteren and Raayerhof campgrounds, where we stayed in trekkers huts so that we wouldn’t have to suffer through sub-zero temperatures at night.

Here’s the film in English:

And in Dutch:

One Month Bike Tour Of Cuba (Part V)

Posted March 27th, 2013

Our Bicycling Cuba book assures us that the ride from Sancti Spiritus to Trinidad is one of the most beautiful in Cuba, and it’s not wrong.

Before long, we’ve cleared the city limits of Sancti Spiritus and we’re cycling on blissfully quiet and wide-open roads. Only a few Cuban cyclists, and the occasional car, keep us company.

Local cyclist in Cuba

The mountains in the distance grow closer, and we’re almost tempted to follow one of them into the foothills. In another time and place (without a baby, and on full-sized touring bikes) we might have done just that. This time, however, we settle for a picture in front of the mountains.

Group shot!

After several shots, this is the closest we get to all of us looking at the camera at the same time. Luke has actually been distracted by a passing motorbike and turns his head at the critical moment. That’s okay. Group pictures are nice to have but this road is even better! Look at those blue skies. Gorgeous.

Cycling to Trinidad from Sancti Spiritus

About halfway down the road, we stop for something to eat in a roadside village. We order the vegetarian pizza, and when we spot this box near the restaurant we’re happy we avoided the meat!

"Meat For Tourists". Eeeewwwww.

Tinned Meat For Tourists? What in the world is that about? We’re not sure that we really want to know. What we are sure about is that we don’t want to try any ‘Fiambre de Cerdo Turista’ – imported from Poland to Cuba.

We finish our pizza instead, and top up with some cookies and a generous drink of water. Luke is now interested in the water bottle, so we spend quite some time teaching him how to drink from it.

Luke learns to drink from a water bottle

Around 4pm we roll into Trinidad, with its colourful houses. For the first time on this trip, the guesthouse of our choice is full, so Andrew has to wait by the curbside with Luke for a few minutes, while Friedel goes in search of accommodation. It’s not a problem. Within 15 minutes we’ve found a nice room, just around the corner.

Waiting....

We get cleaned up and go out for another pizza. It’s rapidly becoming our staple food. While we’re waiting, Luke practices his waving skills with the daughter of the pizza shop owner.

Waiting....

We’re comfortable here, and still taking things easy so we plan to spend a few days in Trinidad and the surrounding area before turning north towards Havana to complete our trip.

*This is the fifth in a series of journal entries about our one-month, 750km tour of Cuba. See the first entry, the secondthe third and the fourth. More coming soon!

One Month Bike Tour Of Cuba (Part IV)

Posted March 25th, 2013

After two weeks of very slow cycling (thanks to our wobbly start and the antibiotics that followed), we’re about halfway through our bike tour of Cuba and the towns of Santa Clara and Remedios are next on our agenda.

First up is Santa Clara, a city made famous by the fact that the last battle of the Cuban Revolution took place here in 1958. This momentous occasion is marked by a huge monument to Che Guevara.

Che monument in Santa Clara

Santa Clara is about 80km from Cienfuegos so we pack up early. We’re not sure if we can make the distance. There might be a headwind and we’re not always very quick with a baby on board. As we load up the bikes, the friendly B&B owner comes out to entertain Luke. Cubans simply love kids.

Leaving Cienfuegos

The road is fairly flat and – to be frank – a bit boring. We try (and fail) to figure out the many revolutionary slogans, and we gaze at the endless fields of sugar care alongside the road.

Cycling towards Santa Clara

There are no real tourist attractions but we make our own fun at roadside drinks stalls. Keys always put a smile on Luke’s face, and almost everyone is willing to lend him a set when we stop.

Andrew & Luke at a roadside cafe

To our amazement, we make Santa Clara by the end of the afternoon without feeling rushed. We strike a ridiculous pose in front of the famous monument (actually, it’s just Friedel looking ridiculous in this photo – why didn’t anyone tell her??) and head into town.

In front of the Che Monument, Santa Clara

Santa Clara, as we soon find out, is a bike photographer’s dream! Here’s just one of the cool bicycles we spotted. This one is a moveable market stall.

Vegetable seller

And the local people are displaying some bike skills that make us quite nostalgic for home in the Netherlands!

Cyclists in Santa Clara, Cuba

Another day, and a few more kilometers down the road, Friedel gets the chance to try a Cuban bike. The back-pedal brakes barely work and the chain is rusty but it puts a smile on her face!

Friedel on Jose's bike (in Remedios)

Luke, meanwhile, is more interested in the retro 1950s playgrounds and their squeaking swings.

Luke at a Cuban playground

Next up for us will be the city of Sancti Spiritus, and a ride that’s reputed to be the most beautiful in Cuba!

*This is the fourth in a series of journal entries about our one-month, 750km tour of Cuba. See the first entry, the second and the third. More coming soon!

A One Month Bike Tour Of Cuba (Part III)

Posted March 9th, 2013

After an all-day bus journey, we turn up in the central Cuban city of Cienfuegos around sunset.

We’re happy to be here at all because the bus was overbooked and about 10 people were left behind in Viñales. This is a side-effect of travelling in the high season in Cuba: very busy public transport.

Thankfully, it’s no problem to find a room for the night so we quickly park our luggage and go exploring. Within a few minutes we end up at the pier, where a group of men are fishing for their dinner.

Fishing off the pier in Cienfugos

We’re not here for the fishing opportunities, however. We’re here to go cycling in the surrounding area. There are numerous day trips outlined in the Bicycling Cuba book and the next morning we tackle one of them: out to a nearby penninsula and back by ferry.

The road out of the town has plenty of traffic, but it’s all relatively slow-moving. We don’t mind sharing our road-space with this kind of traffic!

Public Transport In Cuba

Before long, the sun is rising and we’re drinking heaps of water to cope with the heat. We’re so glad we brought our water filter. At the rate we go through water (several litres a day), it would cost a small fortune to buy it all, not to mention the environmental cost of continuously throwing out plastic bottles.

Hot and thirsty cycling near Cienfuegos

There are also hills. Okay, it’s not quite the Himalayas but with temperatures over 30°C it doesn’t take much to wear us out.

Hills in Cuba

Eventually we get to the beach, where we take a short break before hopping the ferry back into Cienfuegos. The locals pay 1 peso for the ride and bikes go free. We each pay $1 American dollar and another $1 U.S. for our bikes. There’s no way around the tourist charge: they know we don’t have any option, aside from backtracking 30km.

Bikes on the ferry

And then, just as we’ve paid up (all the while muttering under our breath about the inflated cost), this boat rolls up.

The real ferry boat

We ask the captain where it’s going. He mumbles something about Cienfuegos. We become confused. There’s more questioning (from us) and mumbling (from the captain) and then we realise…. we’ve just paid $2 U.S. each for a ride on the wrong boat. Damn!

Off one boat, on to the other, another $4 U.S. paid, 20 minutes below deck with 100 other sweating people and …. finally … Cienfuegos. That was an expensive and exhausting ferry ride!

On the ferry back to Cienfuegos

Back in Cienfuegos, we’re on the final days of Luke’s course of antibiotics so we do some general lounging. This includes a bit of bike-gazing …

Bikes In Cuba

… boat watching …. (this is a fishing boat, made out of styrofoam)

styrofoam boat

… and sunsets on the pier. Next stop, Santa Clara!

Cienfuegos Pier

*This is the third in a series of journal entries about our one-month, 750km tour of Cuba. Click here for the first entry and here for the second. More coming soon!