sloths go west

Monday, 29 May 2017

aweigh we go

Arriving in Hirtshals on Saturday morning gives us a little time for a raid on Lidl, Netto, and the other supermarkets in the town.  We are not alone.  The town is full of passengers for the ferry to Norway and ours to the Faroe Islands and Iceland.  Everyone is stocking up.  Down at the docks it's barren and windy but the sun is out and everyone is in a holiday mood.  We get to queue with the motorbikers and other cyclists, apart from the cars and camper vans that clog the lanes at the departure gate. 

befriending some German bikers

Five German bikers draw up and get off their BMWs.  They look at our loaded bikes, nod in acknowledgement and talk amongst themselves, laughing.  I say to the one nearest to me "You know in England we say 'Real men ride bicycles'"  He doesn't know if I'm serious or not but he's game.  He wants to know how we can travel for three years with only what is on our bike.  What about money? Insurance? Pension? He's not really fulfilling my stereotypical biker image by now.  Gayle is sorting through her panniers for the ferry journey and suddenly unleashes a pile of newspaper clippings into the wind.  Papers billow about our heads and fly off across the carpark.  The bikers gamely hurry to gather up as many clippings as they can, whilst Gayle apologises and explains that they are only her sudoku puzzles.

We meet three cyclists and chat with Nadine from Germany and Sun from Hong Kong.  They are loaded and heading for Iceland.  We chat a while and then are joined by another cyclist who is from Munster.  He's got only a backpack and two bursting carrier bags full of beer.  Well, he explains, I have three days on a boat before I reach Iceland.
with Nadine and Sun
It turns out the journey is a booze cruise for some.  We are in cabins below the car deck - a strange hot place that might just be under the surface of the water.  I foolishly mention this to Gayle who visibly blanches.  We are in separate sex cabins, sharing with five others.  So we spend most of our journey up in the bar where there are comfy seats and a socket to charge our pc.  We also have to do our laundry and surreptitiously hang it around the place to dry out.  Nadine and Sun stop by to chat.  Nadine has three weeks in Iceland and has researched her trip well.  Sun is coming to the end of a long ride that began in South Korea.  He looks mellow and ready to end the ride - he's met someone from Taiwan and will be heading there soon.

We have a couple of nights on the ferry and a long day in between when there is nothing to do but run my smalls through the hand-dryer like some perverted weirdo or peruse the chocolate selection in the duty-free shop like some perverted weirdo.  The ferry is from the Faroe Islands and in the lounge they show a promotional video to the mostly retired people who make up the passengers.  Later on there's Bingo.  The place fills up and the tension is palpable as the MC turns on the automated Bingo caller.  He's a model of professional cheer and charm when someone gets a 'House' otherwise he looks bored rigid.  This is his livelihood, after all.
we pass Mucklefugger - the UK's most northerly point

In the evening we are lulled to our sleep by the soft guitar melodies and crooning of a 'cabaret' performer.  Neil Young.  Neil Diamond.  The Beatles.  He knows his audience.  We fall asleep humming Crackling Rose.  I'm feeling slightly nauseous in my airless bunk bed......  

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Jutland challenge

We ride northwards through Germany and take a ferry over the Elbe in order to avoid Hamburg.  It's all very pleasant and easy going.  We beetle up through the west side of Schleswig-Holstein, not quite on the coast and arrive in Denmark on a quiet Sunday morning.   Now we thought the cycle paths in Germany were good but Denmark ups the ante with top quality tarmac as well.   And one gloriously sunny day, just as we are flagging, I suggest we stop for lunch.  "What we need", says Gayle, softened by the luxuries that Europe has to offer cycle tourers, "is a picnic table.  And lo! around the bend, beside a stream, there comes a picnic table.
it has to be said we saw an alarming number of flagpoles in Denmark, perhaps so not to be confused with Sweden....

We pass through the picturesque old city of Ribe before beginning to cross Jutland towards Aarhus. And then something weird happens.  After three weeks of fairly flat riding we find ourselves riding up and down some hills.  In Denmark.  Who'd have thought.  There's even a hairpin bend on one climb.
the lovely churches are always a good source of water and shade
Our navigator has plotted a route that cuts across all the main roads and instead takes us along back country lanes.  It becomes clear to us that we are on some kind of Old Way across the country.  We arrive in Jelling (pronounced Yelling) where the country's Viking and Christian roots meet. There are the burial mounds of Old Gorm and his wife which are separated by a church marking the spot where Denmark's kingdom was first united.  In the shape of a Viking long boat are standing stones surrounding the site.  Now I don't know that much about the Vikings but I know a little and even I was amazed to discover that they were using wireless technology back in the 900s.  Harald Bluetooth, Gorm's son, converted to Christianity, built a church and then went on an evangelical rampage.  We sit on a bench in the sunshine, soak up the sun and watch the remote robot lawnmowers clipping the vast lawns.  I bet Harald never imagined that.

Jonas and Linda introduce us to Denmark's favourite snack

the old town centre
In Aarhus we stay with Linda and Jonas who had got in touch to invite us to stay.  They take us out to their local bohemian cafe for a lovely meal and a local beer.  They help us get a better understanding of the country - one we are not familiar with - and offer to show us around their city.  Jonas takes us to meet a local record producer down in the dock area.  He's a warm, chatty guy who shows a lot of interest in our journey.  "What's the wildest thing that's ever happened to you?" he asks and I immediately think about the tick bite I discovered on my penis the morning before. (I discovered the tick nonchalantly ambling away from the scene of the crime and caught him red-bellied.) But instead we make some bland response about how wonderful people of the world are and how cycle-touring isn't as crazy an adventure as some would believe.  Now, when I think about it, he might have liked the tick story. 

Later, Linda interviews us in the hope of getting an article about us published.  I'm slightly amused because I hadn't really considered what we did particularly exciting or adventurous - which, if you're reading this at your desk in an office, might surprise you.  I guess it's because after so many years this all feels quite normal.  However, we do get excited about seeing and learning about new places.   
with Jonas and Linda setting us on our way
We have a wonderful time with Jonas and Linda - but the clock is ticking.  Our ferry to the Faroe Islands departs on Saturday.  We have to move on.  We take the easiest route but not the most direct - trying to avoid the main roads north.  We also miss any big towns, going up the east coast and catching ferries across some of the bigger rivers.  There are some circuitous bike routes that lead us around the country roads but that's okay - it means the roads are more quieter and more enjoyable.
hardly the same, are they?

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

catching our breath

asparagus season
Imagine the setting: a sun-filled garden, summer flowers blooming, shade under the trees, garden chairs around a table filled with lovely fresh food,  real coffee in the pot.  Sigh with content and relax.  We are sitting with our friend Gertrude whom we last saw in Iran in 2013.   We really had to stop and see Gertrude before she goes off on a short holiday and we are extremely happy to make it to her home.

We spend a few days here in Dorverden and out and about in the region.  This is Lower Saxony and the landscape is large farms and woodland, fabulous old farms and barns some of which date back 500 years.  Gertrude has always lived in this area and we visit her family home (now her brother's farm), the lovely old town of Celle and the city of Lubeck.  She treats us at every opportunity and she thinks about everything.  At first we are swept away in Gertrude's delight in being able to show us these places. The weather is perfect - sunshine every day - and it's lovely that we can relax at her home while she generously feeds us wonderful meals.  But the cycling finally catches up with us and we have to pause for breath.  But this is okay as Gertrude has some things to prepare for her trip.  We get a much-needed rest here and have a great time with our friend before setting out once again.

the traditional houses of Celle