One thing that tickled us was the fact
that, as we approached Germany, all of the road signs and other
public information appeared in, as you would expect, French. This
included the menu and signage within the small restaurant/bar in
which we took a cup of tea - but everyone we encountered spoke
German! My wife is the linguist and can tackle most European
languages. Speaking in French, she asked a likely looking chap
for directions. He replied in German, asking if she spoke that
language. Even though I have a very meagre knowledge of foreign
tongues I realised what was happening, but Carol was obviously
tuned to French and looked at the person as if he was talking
Martian. Rarely can I make a useful contribution in these
matters, but every dog has his day!
Cycling is generally far safer and more comfortable than in the UK, with many separate cycle lanes and a law that puts the onus of proof on the motorist in the event of an accident. This, together with a high percentage of drivers also using, and hence understanding, the needs of bikes, ensures that motorists stay well clear of cyclists.
Cycles are not allowed on many major roads. Sign posting of cycle routes is poor, with only the major routes marked using smallish signs. You can buy maps, published by the German cycling organisation, that show the cycle routes in colour, with the conventional roads in grey. We found these more difficult to follow than UK OS maps, which are truly excellent, but they were helpful nevertheless.
Many German cities have superb public transport systems that include trams. Trams are relatively quiet and produce no exhaust emissions in the streets, but they are not good news for cyclists. Get stuck in a tram line and you will probably fall off. In the worst cases, e.g. parts of Essen, there is a tramway system and many roads do not have a cycle path. In addition, cars park on the relatively narrow cobbled streets creating a very narrow passageway for bikes between the tram track and parked vehicles.
If, like me, you enjoy eating, there is nothing to beat a German lunchtime meal of a healthy salad sandwich and an unhealthy piece of apple tart. I have never encountered such wonderful breads, and those deep filled apple tarts with sultanas and a hint of cinnamon are truly mouth wateringly good. Many towns have a stand up coffee bar that also sells delicious food, it's just as well that cycling burns off lots of energy.
Quite a few people speak some English, but you can't depend upon it, and it is as well to come prepared with a knowledge of how to ask the way and understand the key elements of the reply. Throughout the trip people were only too pleased to stop and give advice on directions, while on one occasion a club cyclist left his friends in order to guide us through the maze of cycle paths on the way to Heidelberg. We must have ridden about 10 miles with this guy, unfortunately we did not get his name. On another occasion we had just reached our hotel after having suffered an incident which involved mud and we were anxious to clean the bike as much as possible before wheeling it indoors. A man came from across the road and offered the use of cleaning materials for the bike and oil for the chain - another member of the international guild of cycle tourists.
There are more, better stocked, cycle shops than in the UK, with a much wider choice of bikes and accessories.
Accommodation can be had in minor hotels for about the same price as UK B&B, while some "Pensions" charge less. Hotels will accept plastic, and that is generally the cheapest way to pay. Larger restaurants will also take plastic, but we found that a largish bike shop would not - maybe the margins are too small.
One thing, the women all wear trousers,
skirts are out of fashion.
I guess a higher percentage of Dutch people cycle than Germans, and the traffic laws are similar, so cycling is a stress free and safe activity. In Holland they tackle the roundabout problem by providing a cycle track at, or separate from, the perimeter of the roundabout. Vehicles on the roundabout have priority over those joining and cars do give way if bikes have priority. The speed limit in built up areas is generally 30 km/hr, and traffic speeds are kept down by humps or chicanes with cycle friendly escape lanes. The worst hazard is probably that associated with the little motorbikes that are allowed to use some of the cycle paths, they are often driven by teenage males who have little common sense and go everywhere on full throttle.
Holland has both commuter and leisure cycle routes. The leisure routes wander a bit, but find the most picturesque villages, or take you through forests, or along canal banks. It was gratifying to see that the locals use both types of route, cycling to school, work, or the shops during the week, and cycling for pleasure at the weekend. If you want a nice easy cycling holiday, possibly with the kids, you could do much worse than explore one of their national touring routes. With large acreages reclaimed from the sea, much of the country is flat, but there are some fairly harmless hills. While the direct cycle routes are signposted using red lettering on a white background, the leisure routes employ green lettering.
The cycle shops are just wonderful, they have a huge range of interesting bikes and cycling accessories. The Dutch cycling market is clearly much more sophisticated than that in the UK, the ubiquitous stripped down mountain bike hardly features alongside the wealth of lavishly equipped city bikes and tourers that are demanded by the people of the Netherlands. You hardly see a bike without dynamo lighting, mudguards, bell, a stand, lock and a carrier. The latest town bikes are lightweight aluminium framed jobs, with a choice of either 7 speed hub gears or derailleur mechanisms, some featuring suspension.
Most major railway stations have large subterranean cycle parks, normally featuring a small cycle shop and repair facility - you pay a small fee and leave your bike in secure accommodation- the storage area is staffed during opening hours. We also saw secure bicycle cages at a smaller station.
All classes and ages of people cycle. You see men riding wearing business suits, possibly carrying an umbrella; a dog being taken for walk alongside a bike; youths using their bikes to go out for the night; a retired person taking a leisurely ride. A common sight is that of a young woman carrying one or two children on her bike, with the folding child buggy also being transported. This is truly the way cycles can and should be used.
I regret to say that the food in the coffee shops that we visited was not up to the best German standards, but the female trouser culture was thankfully less well developed. After the day is done there are plenty of interesting old bars/restaurants that will serve reasonably priced food and rather expensive beer in atmospheric surroundings. Every town has at least one Italian restaurant or take away.
We found that the hotels were marginally more expensive than
in Germany and it was more difficult to secure bookings in
advance, but they still represent very good value by UK
Having seen the river in stormy weather conditions it is easy to understand why it is a source of legend and provided inspiration for the music of Wagner. This is a majestic river, a natural barrier that divides the continent. In places the swiftly flowing murky waters swirl by in a series of dangerous eddies. It is not the place to paddle or swim! The Rhine is a commercial river, it carries a huge quantity of freight in large powerful barges and container vessels, while elegant passenger steamers also ply its waters. The character of the river changes as it flows, along some stretches there are flat plains on either bank, along others the river valley is narrow with high steep sides. Along most of its length there is relatively little industrial development, but there are stretches that host massive industrial complexes, such as the chemical works just after Mannheim, or the huge Ford factory near Dusseldorf (it boasts three, yes three, railway stations). Much of the way is through flatish farmland, but the central section has chiselled itself a path through tougher strata, and has vineyards along its banks, with those famous romantic castles on stony outcrops high above the river.
Overall I would say that the Rhine is awe inspiring rather than beautiful - we also cycled part of the way up the Ruhr valley and that was surprisingly green and pleasant, "nicer" than than the Rhine.
For much of its length the river is accompanied by roads and railway tracks on both banks, and there is a cycle path most of the way. If you are patient and prepared to wait you can take a photo of the ICE streamlined passenger train threading its way past one of several lovely old villages with road and river traffic also in the shot. Only in the narrowest part of the valley does the cycle track expire, and you are forced to use a footpath along the side of the busy narrow road. (OK it's not legal but when in Rome you take your lead from the locals). Even here there was work in progress to provide an elaborate cantilevered cycle path adjacent to the road - no expense is spared for the cyclist in these parts!
We were able to follow the path reasonably well, except where there were wide reclaimed flood plains and loads of un-signposted choices. We decided to strike out away from the river on two occasions, to visit Heidelberg and Essen, when navigation became much more problematic. The river dissipates into numerous small waterways in Holland, but you can still follow a canal whose name roughly translates as the Old Rhine and which passes through a town named Alphen a/d Rijn. As previously mentioned, the sign posting in Holland is generally very good with the exception of within the cities. We found Utrecht to be particularly bad and at one point found ourselves riding in a large circle, a Dutch guy on the ferry told us that the place was notorious for lost cyclists!
When planning the trip we deliberately
restricted the daily mileage in order to allow some scope for
unscheduled exploration, or just mooching around. Armed with a CD
version of an interactive world atlas, we fixed our overnight
stops at distances of around 40 miles per day, and booked
accommodation accordingly. But the best laid plans were swept
away when we realised that the computer calculated distances must
have related to the route as flown by the crow, and we averaged
something like 60 miles per day, including one day at 82 miles.
Some of these miles were due to navigational errors, the lack of
proper signs being a major problem. Our total mileage, measured
as we arrived home, was just less than 800 miles. The cycling was
for the most part easy, with few steep gradients, and then only
when we strayed from the river valley. It was too much really,
not allowing enough time for sight-seeing, but we managed, and we
did sleep very well!
As bought the stoker's handlebars were too low for comfort, so we asked Dave Yates of Steels Cycles to make us a fitting to raise them. The padded plastic saddles were replaced with Brooks leather jobs, the stoker's having springs to help absorb those inevitable jolts from unseen potholes. The only other modification has been the replacement of the original plated socket head screws with stainless steel equivalents, when the originals started to rust. Tandem owners beware, try to adjust the eccentric bottom bracket when the attaching bolts are rusted solid! A combination of stainless steel bolts and Copperslip paste is the answer.
The only real niggle about the bike is the fact that there is no screw adjustment on the rear cantilever brake cable.
It has proved to be a quite a reliable machine, letting us down on just two occasions during its life. Once the freewheel packed in, fortunately near to home, and more dramatically, we had a tyre explode.
It is fitted with Mavic Module 4 rims, and although they are strong, I think that they are a bit hard on the tyres. The original Continental Top Touring tyres were difficult to fit, and developed circumferential cracks near to the point of attachment to the rims. We did not know this until one of them exploded - it sounded like a gun going off! This could have led to a nasty accident, but we were going slowly at the time and were able to come to controlled stop. We replaced the Contis with kevlar belted Panaracer Paselas, which had the advantage of easier fitting to the rims, but after about 1500 miles they also developed circumferential cracks. This is particularly annoying because the tread was hardly worn. (The bike is always stored hanging from hooks - there is no load on the tyres). The Panaracer tyres will see out their time on the rear wheel of my tourer.
For the Rhine trip we decided to fit Schwalbe Marathon 700x35c tyres. They are a largish tyre for the size (tyre sizing seems to mean something different to every manufacturer!) and are a neat fit on the tandem. This means that they give a comfortable ride over the paved surfaces beloved by cycle track builders in Holland, but there is not much clearance in the mudguards - evident when passing through mud! Hopefully these massive tyres will prove to be more long lasting than their predecessors.
Over the life of the bike we have replaced one brake cable, one sprocket on the block, and one chain - oh, and we have had new handlebar tape and a new inflator.
We have toyed with the idea of buying a new bike, but cannot see what real advantage that would bring. The frame flexes a bit if you try really hard but under normal conditions this is not noticeable. It is coming to the stage in its life when a refit will be necessary. This will involve new rims, chains, chainwheels, block and cables - but a good deal cheaper than a new machine!
If you have not used a tandem here are some pros and cons
For hardware freaks, our luggage is a motley collection. The rear panniers are Carradice, the rear trunk is a nondescript Halfords item, the front bags are Thorn, while the bar bag is by Freedom Bikepacking. All of the bags were lined with bin liners, possibly unnecessary with the excellent Carradice panniers. We have used a Carradice saddle bag in the past, but due to the small frame size at the rear of the bike, it would get pushed up by the panniers and intrude into the stoker's space!
We got up to face a fine warm day, the
digital thermometer outside a chemist's shop was registering 27
degC. Our destination was the French National Railway museum at
Mulhouse, a pilgrimage that I had been intending to make for a
number of years. I won't bore you with the details, but it
contains some truly great steam locomotives - the French produced
the most efficient steam locomotives built anywhere in the world,
although they were also the most complex. The museum is not as
large as the UK equivalent, but is a must for all true steam
buffs. Carol had a quick look round then sat outside in the sun
as I drooled over the machinery.
We had been warned that Mulhouse was "like Middlesbrough in winter", and it is the home of the Peugeot car company, but we were pleasantly surprised by this fine old city, the central square is particularly attractive.
For lovers of the infernal combustion
engine, there is also a large motor museum in Mulhouse - which we
managed to avoid.
We set off hugging the river bank, but there was no cycle path and the traffic was quite heavy. After a little while we decided to follow a marked cycle route called the Route Des Fleures, that uses minor roads between the attractive flower bedecked villages, at some distance from the river. Eventually we were able to follow a good cycle track along the bank of the Canal of the Rhine.
We had tried to book accommodation in Strasbourg, but could not find anything reasonably priced within the city, so we ended up at the Pere Benoit in the small village of Entzheim.
The hotel was really nice with the characteristic floral decoration of the region, but nothing was open in the village, and then the heavens opened. We checked bus times into Strasbourg, but they were very infrequent and stopped early.
We were forced to buy our evening meal at the
which we enjoyed very much, although we hadn't bargained for that level
expenditure. I am no connoisseur, but the white wines of Alsace
amongst my favourites. Frugality would be the order of the next few
The day started grey and it was raining
as we entered Strasbourg. The centre of Strasbourg is a jewel,
with half timbered buildings covered with flowers and built on
the various waterways that run through the city. Even in the rain
the place was really attractive, well worth another visit some
other time. There were plenty of good quality cycle paths in and
around Strasbourg, but precious few signs.
We were now nearing the point where we would be entering Germany by crossing the river on a ferry. Entering a small bar/restaurant for a cuppa, we were amazed to hear all the patrons speaking in German, despite the fact that we were still in France and all of the written language French.
The ferry provides a free service, but was not very heavily used. It was notable that there were very few German registered cars in France or vice versa. Perhaps when the Euro becomes the coin in the pocket, the situation will change.
The cycle route continues alongside the canal of the Rhine, but you don't get to see the water because of the raised river bank on your left, while on your right is a raised levee to provide flood protection. Boring, if safe, cycling.
The high point of this stretch of the journey is the boat lift
at Iffezheim that can handle four or five huge barges. The river
is dammed here to preserve the level for navigation upstream in
the Canal of the Rhine, and there is a step down into the river
itself. There are two massive basins lying alongside one another,
I guess that they transfer the water between the two; as one
empties, the other fills. I got the impression that the entire
floors of the basins were moved. This is engineering on a huge
Karlesruhe could not be described as a beautiful city, but
they have banned motorised vehicles from the city centre allowing
only trams, people and bikes in. This means that you can sit at a
pavement bar or restaurant and enjoy your meal without being
gassed by exhaust fumes, or deafened by trucks and motorbikes.
Well done Karlesruhe!
We eventually arrived at a small railway station, which gave us a positional fix, and while examining our map a small group of club cyclists came over and asked if they could help. We explained that we were going to Heidelberg. They told us to follow them, and then one of the group broke away from the pack and became our personal guide, riding alongside for about 10 miles. We would never have found the route he used, which incorporated abandoned sections of roadway and numerous different cycle paths. He guided us to a point from which he reasoned it was straightforward and left. We never found his name, but we were very grateful for his help. He did tell us that cycle touring has a healthy following in Germany, and that his club normally hires a van to carry the luggage between stops. They had travelled to Berlin the previous week.
We found that the named major routes are sign posted, but our journey was not on any of those.
Passing through a village we heard the sounds of live music and followed them to find the local brass band giving a concert with catering being provided by volunteers. The home made food looked really good and was quite inexpensive, we couldn't resist huge pieces of cake for about 50p. The band was quite competent, playing jaunty airs, but I don't think that they would win if pitted against the outfit from my birthplace, Boldon Colliery. We set a high musical standard in what was a part of County Durham.
There were a few bicycles parked outside
Heidelberg railway station
While the old University town is well worth a look.
Mannheim is a prosperous modern city, if
a bit dull. That evening we discovered Movenpick as the place to
eat. A self service restaurant with food at reasonable prices and
lots of choice. After our meal we were able to walk around the
old water tower and admire the fountains behind it.
The Rhine to the North of Mannheim is heavily industrialised on
its western shore, with a series of chemical works including the
famous BASF works.
The cycle route that we were following crosses the river onto the east bank and then is faced with the problem of crossing a tributary of the river. The map makes no mention of the fact that the crossing is actually by a chain worked ferry, nor does it say that it only runs once per hour, or even that the first crossing is not until 10 am! At about 9:45 a person we took to be the landlord appeared from the local hotel to tell us that the ferry would be starting at 10. I said jokingly to Carol that he would double up as the ferryman, thinly disguised by a captain's hat. Sure enough, out he came with the appropriate headgear! We were the only travellers on that first ferry of the day. The last one is at 17:00 incidentally.
The ferryman/hotelier did advise us that the next crossing of
the Rhine marked upon our map was no longer available for
The next opportunity to cross the river occurred at Worms, where there is a most impressive gateway into what turned out to be an interesting town. Note the protected cycle path to the right of the roadway.
Leaving Worms there were two signs, one telling us that Mainz
was 53 km and another indicating 50 km. The 53 km route appeared
to follow the river so we took that thinking that it might be
more straightforward. Not so, the signs disappeared and the path
deteriorated - we probably took a wrong turning. Eventually we
headed away from the river on minor roads which allowed us to
make much faster progress. We rejoined a signed route at
Guntersblum which lead us through vineyards above the river to
our right. The path looks to be pretty good in the photo and so
it was - until we encountered a one metre wide trench right
across it. I assumed wrongly that the mud in the trench was dry
and hard but after falling off the bike and having become coated
with the stuff, concluded that I was mistaken! I can honestly say
that this was the only major defect that we encountered on these
paths, they are generally very good. It was fortunate that we
were climbing a slight hill at the time, had we been travelling
faster it could have been nasty.
We managed to find some cleanish water by walking down a ramp into a dock just beyond Oppenheim and removed the worst of the mud. The track was difficult to follow through Nackenheim but local assistance came to the rescue. After Nackenheim the path returned to its place on the river bank, but we found ourselves passing beneath a taped cordon that had been placed across it. The track was a bit muddy but quite passable, however there were quite a few branches and other debris from the the adjacent trees lying on the ground. I suspect that this was the reason for the cordon. Had the path been unusable at this point we would have been in real difficulty, as cycles are not allowed on the main road.
We were glad to arrive at the Hotel in Mainz Mombach but we
missed seeing anything of the centre of Mainz. The hotel did have
a restaurant but it was shut. A take away pizza washed down with
red wine soon cured all ills.
Our journey started on very minor roads through orchards but after Bingen there was a good quality paved cycle path adjacent to the river for much of the way. At one point the valley narrowed and the path climbed up the valley side to be right next to the main road. This cycle path was being widened as we passed, with a new section being built by cantilevering it out from the side of the road. At one point the cycle path disappeared but we observed that all other cyclists then took to the narrow footpath - there were no pedestrians and the road was narrow and busy. I guess that in the fullness of time there will a good path all of the way along this stretch.
At one stage we got involved in an imaginary race with a Rhine steamer, and found that we could beat it on the straights, but the path meanders and we had to concede defeat!
We entered Koblenz with the intention of finding a laundrette, it was now noticeably cooler and it started to rain. We just made it to the laundrette when the heavens opened, and we saw the rain bouncing high off the pavement outside. It was cosy to sit in the warmth of the washing and drying machines, watching the torrents of water come down outside.
The worst of the storm over, we set out to find our accommodation, Pension Wilde, high on the side of the valley above the town. This bed and breakfast establishment was in the charge of a delightful old lady, and we noticed a framed newspaper cutting on the wall indicating that she was over eighty year's old and still in business. It made a change to stay in the more homely surroundings of this pension, with great views across the city from our bedroom balcony. It was possible to watch the frequent trains far away on the other side of the valley, looking very much like those on a model railway.
Approaching Koln we found that our hotel was situated on the other side of the river and about five miles upstream. Had we checked earlier we could have crossed the river before Koln and saved a fair few miles. It's as well that we don't bicker! We therefore had to cross the river and could see the bridge, but not the way onto it.
We wasted a lot of time looking for the way, not helped by a suspicious character who claimed that he would show us, but then lead us in the wrong direction along a deserted path. I was giving serious consideration to the choice of a weapon, discarding the inflator and deciding that the bike hurled chain wheels first might be best! In retrospect I guess that there was probably a misunderstanding over the language as he did not seem to know much German considering that he lived there! It transpired that the way onto the bridge was by means of stairs, up which a channel had been laid in which to wheel the bike.
Our trusty tandem began to show her age during this long trip. A nasty clicking sound began to emanate from the front bottom bracket. I felt the cranks for slackness and concluded that the situation was not critical, but that it would be sensible to have the assembly dismantled and checked. The bike is fitted with caged ball bearings, they tend to give warning signals long before disaster strikes, not like these new fangled sealed cartridge bearings that are fine one day and collapse the next.
Our hotel was situated quite close to the airport, and after a longish ride we felt justified in dining out. We had a fine meal at a Yugoslavian Restaurant. The goulash was wonderful.
Later, in Dusseldorf, we visited another bike shop as my trusty Carnac touring shoes had come to the end of their long life, the sole of one of them about to part company with the upper. The years spent kicking broken glass off cycle tracks in the UK finally came home to roost. It appears that you can no longer buy these comfortable lightweight soft leather shoes, they have been superseded by the dreaded SPD click on system. I bought a clumsy pair of Shimano boots that can be used without the clip on bits. Meanwhile Carol dug in the bargains box and unearthed a pair of old style Carnac shoes in her size - they were the last pair in the shop and they only wanted £10 for them. I was green with envy! While in the shop we also bought a couple of quick release clamps for our Carradice luggage - it's ironic that you can buy this British manufacturer's stuff in Germany but not in our local bike shops! I could have spent a fortune in that shop, it was full of interesting bits and pieces.
We had to travel up the Ruhr valley to get to Essen and could have continued down the Rhine until we encountered the Ruhr coming in from the east, but we decided to cut across country, shortening the journey. Surprisingly enough we did not get lost on this stretch, where we encountered our first real hills, although nothing very severe.
The Ruhr valley is much smaller in scale than that of the Rhine, and it is pleasantly green. I had been taught at school that the Ruhr valley was the industrial heartland of Germany, but that is no longer the case. The old smokestack industries have closed and nature has largely regained control of the landscape. There is a series of industrial monuments and a trail between them. Some are really impressive, with the old pit head from Zollverein colliery, the last of Essen's mines to close, amongst the best.
The photograph does not do justice to the historic small town of Kettwig, which we saw on first encountering the Ruhr.
There was evidence of a move up-market
for this area, we saw warehouses being converted into luxury
apartments, while a damn across the river has created the
Baldeney lake, 8 km in length, allowing a sailing club to
flourish in beautiful surroundings.
I can sniff out steam locomotives wherever I go, and this trip was no exception. Here a preserved tank engine awaits its next turn of duty.
Essen was one of the least cycle friendly cities that we saw during our trip, it was almost like being back home, except that we don't have to put up with tram tracks in Sunderland (yet!). There were fewer dedicated cycle tracks in Essen than we had grown accustomed to, while we managed to find the steepest hill in town (Steel Road I think it was called).
We do have friends in Essen and were
very glad to make the comfort of their house after a long day's
ride. After a shower we indulged in the comfort of motorised
transport to take us to an excellent Chinese restaurant in the
Reaching our old friend the Rhine we
found a well sign posted and easy to follow route that used minor
roads through pleasant farmland.
"Vorsprung durch Technik" A German farmer
uses appropriate technology to urge his cows back to the
Xanten turned out to be the most appealing German town that we had stayed in, although our luck did not change with regard to the weather. It boasts Roman remains and, despite wartime devastation, has been rebuilt in the traditional style. Standing in the large and impressive church I felt that something was not quite as it should be. Walking up to one of the lofty pillars I noticed that the "stones" were actually formed by painting the mortar lines on the monolithic column. Presumably it too had been a victim of the war, and had been rebuilt using modern techniques, while trying to preserve the original appearance. We searched for documentation on the history of the building, but could find nothing.
We had booked all of our hotels over the net, or by fax, so had no real idea what they would be like. Amazingly enough this strategy was 100% successful, they had reserved our room in every case, while we did not stay in a bad hotel. In the case of Xanten, we found that the stylish Hotel Neumaier to be associated with the butcher's shop. Deciding to eat in the hotel's restaurant we ordered the "mystery dish" comprising of three different types of meat, along with the normal accompaniments. Now cycling does give you an appetite, but I had to concede defeat with this meal, there was just too much to eat!
We left the tandem round at the back of
the hotel, under cover but not in secure accommodation. There
were several other bikes parked there and I judged the situation
to be safe enough. The following morning I found that the hotel
staff had actually brought the bike into the building, despite
the fact that it had its rear wheel locked. Full marks to the
Once in Arnhem we found that the market was in full swing, and that part of it was devoted to the sale of fish, both wet and cooked. The smell of cooking fish was too much to resist, so we each bought a fried fish that was probably haddock, but had an unrecognisable Dutch name. Whatever the type, it was delicious, and we ate it with our fingers while sheltering from the rain beneath the fishmonger's canopy.
If you have seen the film "A Bridge too Far", you might recognise the white building shown to the left. It was the Hartenstein Hotel that became the headquarters of the embattled allied forces that were surrounded by heavily armoured German troops. It is now the Airborne Museum, devoted to that battle, and it contains a large collection of wartime relics. In addition, the museum uses a a very effective tape slide presentation, supported by a three dimensional model of the area on which coloured lights are used to show where the action took place. Even though I knew the story, I found that I had a lump in my throat as the presentation ended with the defeat of the allied soldiers.
One aspect of the story that I did not
know was that the Dutch railway workers had all gone on strike in
support of the invasion. This effectively restricted the movement
of troops and equipment by the Germans. Unfortunately their
action prompted the Nazis to cut off all food supplies into
northern Holland, with the result that many Dutch people died of
starvation during the winter of 1944/5.
The famous bridge has been replaced since the war, and the new one is named after the British officer who held on to his position there until the bitter end, John Frost.
Arnhem is not a beautiful town, it boasts a handsome cathedral and some attractive buildings, but a very ugly 60's railway station, thankfully the subject of a major rebuilding programme.
They run trolley buses in Arnhem, it
seems to me they are a better solution than trams - certainly as
far as cyclists are concerned!
One feature of the journey was the number of small paddocks, situated at the side of the road, that contained an attractive mixture of unusual farm animals. You see miniature horses, geese, deer, goats and various types of pigs and sheep. Intrigued by this we stopped to take a photograph when the entire contents of the paddock rushed towards us - ever seen a flock of geese running towards you, phew! Fortunately they were all safely contained within the paddock, the only real hazard was the goat who reached across and started to chew the panniers.
We made the illogical decision to go via Utrecht - we would have to cycle through that city on the way out the following day. We were a little disappointed by Utrecht, although the area around the cathedral, where there are canals, is interesting and attractive.
Leaving Utrecht behind we headed for the
Tulip Hotel at Amersfoort where we had managed to obtain a
discounted booking. Now we had made it our practice to let all of
the hotels know in advance that we required secure accommodation
for the tandem. At the Tulip Hotel the receptionist took all of
this in her stride, handing us the key of a room in which we
could store the bike. I opened the door of this place to find it
crammed full of bikes of all types and sizes - the hotel
allocates a room the size of a small dance hall to the storage of
bikes. Could you imagine that in the UK?
The hotel was situated at the top of a hill outside the town - yes they do have hills in the Netherlands, so we decided to ride into the town to have a look around and find something to eat.
Amersfoort is a very attractive small town with characteristic canals and traditional buildings. We managed to get a table at an Italian restaurant that was doing a roaring trade, later we saw people being turned away. Another excellent meal, but then the climb back up to the hotel!
On our way up the hill we noticed a
number of passenger- carrying hot air balloons floating overhead.
Near the hotel we came across the place that was being used as
the take off - area (apparently Amersfoort is the ballooning
centre of the Netherlands). Having led a sheltered existence,
neither of us had previously seen a hot air balloon being
launched. Their silent ascent is really quite spooky, something
you have to witness to fully appreciate.
We had to negotiate Utrecht again, and
had major problems finding our way out of the city since we lost
the signposts for Route 4 at an early stage. Eventually we found
ourselves on the slip road of a motorway and had to take avoiding
action. We picked up Route 4 again, purely by chance, and thought
we were on our way, until we came to the same junction as we'd
encountered an hour previously. After taking advice in pidgin
Anglo-Saxon from a helpful old lady, we finally hit the direct
route for the day. This ended up adjacent to a picturesque canal,
bordered by up-market villas with private boats and gardens
filled with hydrangeas in deep shades of red. By-passing Alphen
a/d Rijn, we entered Leiden through the commercial
Our hotel was some way out of the
picturesque city centre, but a good bus service allowed a brief
evening visit, where a "dish of the day" was eaten in a typical
old Dutch bar for £4.
We left the tandem at the hotel and set off by double decker train to The Hague. Train tickets could be purchased from a machine using credit cards - on the return journey we were told by a friendly ticket inspector that the transaction had not actually taken place - our "tickets" were in fact reject notices, and we could incur heavy fines. He took it on trust that we would pay the correct fare later, which we did.
The Hague is not particularly beautiful,
but Art Nouveau department stores survive between impressive
We took a tram to Delft, much more of a tourist attraction with its canals and churches. The sun came out as we sat in the main square, and we found a Halfords which bore no resemblance to the home-grown variety - it stocked a wide range of well equipped cycles, and spares which just could not be found in the UK.
As it was near to the end of our journey
we thought we might buy a small souvenir to remind us of our
trip. Right next to the bar in which we were sipping beers was a
shop stocked with Delft porcelain. Looking from a distance we
spotted an attractive small plate, not much larger than a saucer,
and decided that would be it. On closer inspection we discovered
the price to be about £120. We saved our money for a meal
on the ferry and the down payment on next year's
Along the way Carol spotted the same shelter in which we had taken refuge from the rain during our last visit to Holland!
The last leg took
us along the dunes once again, then along the main shopping
street of Ijmuiden to the port. There we were joined by Dutch and
German cyclists who were about to dice with death on British
roads, armed with nothing more than a road atlas.
As we waited to board the evening ferry,
the sun finally made more than just a token appearance, and
stayed with us next morning as we made a breathtaking approach to
the River Tyne, with the Cheviots easily visible more than forty
miles to the north.
The circle of our holiday was
when Bryan cycled alone to Middlesbrough to retrieve the car from
the Bikebus compound.
Swot up sufficient German to allow you to exchange pleasantries, ask directions, and understand the bones of the answer. In Holland most people we encountered could speak either English or German.
The most dramatic scenery occurs in the
stretch immediately after Bingen, if you have limited time
concentrate on that. On the other hand we particularly liked the
smaller Dutch towns and could have happily explored some of the
Dutch national cycling routes, while Strasbourg and the area
around that city was also attractive.
Carol and Bryan Attewell
(Photography. Pentax MZ50 with Kodak Gold 200 negative film, most
images re-scanned using an Epson 4990 7-10-2008)
If you would like to ask any questions about this article, feel free to get in touch with Bryan Attewell
For details of more cycle tours that I have documented, please look here