Amsterdam to Hamburg
I ended up spending eleven days in that fair city of Amsterdam and so after many nights of fun seeing friends, I sped off as fast as my bicycle (and wind) would carry me. If I didn’t leave when I did, I probably would never have left. I think I should just give a huge thanks to Esther and Leon for having me around for five days and also to lovely Livia for putting up with me for even longer and Thomas, if you’re reading, you are the man! Thanks Liesbeth for the lift too. Perhaps our paths will cross in the future. Simone, it was just too short don’t you think? And Gemma, what can I say? A reunion somewhere else in the world?
Back on the road - cycle touring The Netherlands
Anyway, back to this cycling stuff. I needed to cycle to Copenhagen and to get there as quickly as possible as I was now behind schedule. I thought eight days should be sufficient but I was hoping to get it done in record time. I know The Netherlands and I have been to Germany quite a bit thus I just wanted to get to new country.
I headed out of Amsterdam and travelled north east to Almere where I got a little lost due to the absence of any maps for this part, but with a little guidance from the locals, was able to find my way without too much trouble.
The weather was surprisingly warm as it had been in Amsterdam and so, with some music and the wind completely behind me, I was enjoying an easy day cycling north east along cycle paths cutting my way through huge swathes of forest and nature reserves; something you don’t usually encounter here.
I became completely disoriented however a little later when the various signs pointed in several directions towards towns that were not shown on my printouts. Help was at hand however when my friend phoned at just the right time thus directing me in the right direction towards Zwolle, all from the comfort of his living room.
I cycled as fast as I could through quaint little villages towards Zwolle for the rest of the day, at one point crossing over a bridge where a group of builders all looked in my direction but cheered me on too. That was an unusual thing to see. Usually people simple stare and so I stare back. It’s a game I like to play.
By evening, and as the sun was setting, I was perhaps ten km’s from Zwolle but with nowhere to camp, I decided I’d knock on a few doors along a small country road to see if I could get permission to camp on the land at the back. I had no idea who owned it but someone must know who did. The first two houses didn’t answer but at the third house, an elderly man appeared and upon hearing my question (in Nederlands) replied “It is not allowed in Holland”. I said "I know this and it is for this reason why I’m asking for your permission". He then retorted the exact same sentence and so, realising I was talking to a brick wall, said farewell and left him in peace. He did tell me there was a campground 2 km’s down the road though.
I found a place not far away in the woods which was pretty much perfect and it cost me nothing.
I originally thought It might take me five days to reach Hamburg but, if the wind would continue to push me from behind and Germany was as flat as The Netherlands, it was certainly feasible that I could do it in three. This became my goal. It’s good to have a goal.
It was a wet and overcast morning and after a hour or so I was finally in Zwolle. It was still only half eight and as I joined the throngs of schoolkids cycling their way through the city, I felt a little pang of sadness that this would be my last Dutch city. After this, I would be entering new places where things could go wrong and almost certainly will and things wouldn’t be quite this easy again.
I cycled as fast as my legs would take me through the countryside of for the rest of the morning. The skies stayed cloudy with the rain threatening to pour down at any moment and it didn’t improve for the rest of the day. This sucked. I needed just a few minutes of sunshine in order to dry my tent but I just couldn’t see it happening.
Apart from stopping briefly to make coffee and lunch, I just cycled and cycled whilst the skies dribbled rain over over me all day. The wind was still behind me though which was a plus.
I crossed into Germany in the early afternoon and just as the sun began to shine, my MP3 played decided to freeze. I needed music as it kept me kind of sane whilst I cycled for hours. I pulled over and tried to fix the problem by plugging it into my laptop. This didn’t help and so I reluctantly carried on with the cycling, grinding out the km’s.
Once again, in the small city of Meppen I became hopelessly lost. Every sign directed me towards the motorway. I cycled down canal path’s, down roads that led me in completely the wrong direction and, at one point, even ended up in a school playground.
I eventually ended up at the junction to the motorway and even though there were paths running along either side, who’s to say they don’t simply end after a few km’s? With no one speaking English, I headed across the junction in the direction of a residential area which happily took me due north and through quiet country roads and woods. My hard work had paid off!
For the rest of the day I must have been cycling at least 20 k/ph. It was just so easy and I was flying, passing small village after small village with continued ease. The sun even raised its head and with it, a brilliant rainbow carved its way across the sky. It was a lovely sight.
I didn’t realise that this part of Germany was so wooded and knew that camping would be super easy when it was time.
By eight, with dinner cooked, I headed back out in search of somewhere to lay my head but I first needed water for my morning coffee and porridge. I knocked on a door of a house that lay along the road but the man inside (I could see him through the window) was evidently comatosed in his armchair. The fireplace roared a bright orange and I couldn’t help but feel envy.
As I cycled on, I toyed with the idea of simply creeping into one of the many farm yards that lay along the road as they all usually had an outside tap, but then again, they also usually had a dog. These aren't my favourite animals to meet in the dead of night.
Eventually, I did find a small country pub where I was able to fill up. With that done I found a quiet spot in the woods a little further up the road and crashed out almost immediately.
The following day was one I’d like to forget. It involved a lot of getting lost and following roads that led me towards the city of Bremen, but in such a roundabout fashion. Instead of cycling 50 km’s, I probably ended up doing 90km’s. It was very frustrating and all because I decided not to get a map for this part of the trip. I can only blame myself. Oh well.
I had my first dog chase of the trip thus far. I was cycling quite happily along, singing out loud when a huge white mutt ran out from the side barking like crazy thus prompting me to veer off over the grass and onto the other side of the road. Don’t you just love the cute little things?
Now how to navigate through Bremen? Take a tram across the city of course!
By mid-afternoon, and with some difficulty, I arrived in the centre of Bremen. Hamburg was still some way off, and having learned from previous experience, thought it might be wise to take the train to the outskirts of the city thus saving myself a few hours of needless mental torture trying to fight my way through a busy city.
The central train station was just mad though. It wasn’t just a Saturday but a Saturday with a home football match on. There must have been thousands of people in the station itself and around the plaza outside and it was a complete madhouse. Trying to steer my bicycle through this crowd was a complete nightmare and a real headache in itself.
I procured a ticket to the edge of the city and then went over to the information booth to ask from where the train departed. Platform four was the response and it was due in twenty minutes. The only problem was, I couldn’t even see a platform four. It went platform one, two, three and five. With no platform 4 in sight, I went over to some police officers to ask them, all the while being crushed on both sides by shouting and screaming Bremen fans. Chaotic was the word that sprang to mind.
The officers said it was actually a tram I needed to catch and directed me outside to the plaza where the trams ran from. Upon exiting the station and looking at the tram stops, my heart weakened and the butterflies in my stomach grew. I mean you couldn’t even move on foot, let alone with a bicycle and the nine bags I was carrying. How the hell was I supposed to get this thing on board a packed out tram? I was beginning to think I should have just got lost in the suburbs. Anything would have been easier than this.
I found the platform I needed and with all eyes on me it seemed, jostled for position amongst everyone else. Usually, with a bike I might wait for everyone else to get aboard first but this was not one of those easy times. When the tram arrived I had to hoist it up onto the tram whilst being squashed from the sides and behind by everyone else trying to get on. It was terrible. Just to make sure I was on the correct tram, I asked the person next to me if this was indeed the correct one and upon showing him the print out the lady had given me, realised that although it was the correct line, it was going the wrong bloody way! Well of course it was I thought. I mean life is just not that easy is it?
When I got off at the next stop, I looked behind me to find the tram that I did need to catch pulling up.. Knowing that this would obviously be packed with people, with the central train station being the next stop, I quickly cycled back towards the Hautbahnhof, following the tram lines whilst at the same time keeping that tram behind me. I made it back just in the nick of time to climb aboard but this time pointing the correct way. Success. Phew.
The rest of the day was spent cycling through pleasant sunshine, warm temperatures and rolling farmland and it turned out to be a thoroughly enjoyable day. It’s very pretty south of Hamburg. For fifteen km’s I even had the road to myself as all the other traffic was being directed around one small stretch of road that was being re surfaced. Nothing beats gliding effortlessly along empty, smooth roads with good music and warm sunshine knowing that your goal is within sight.
I decided to camp a little early as I had found the most amazing and beautiful set of woods, perhaps thirty km’s from Hamburg. I didn’t know how far the city extended south and so didn’t want to continue just in case I got caught in the suburbs.
I woke early the next morning to the birds whistling away and beautiful sunshine beaming down. I was in a joyous mood knowing that Hamburg was perhaps only another twenty km’s away.
I arrived in a small village just before the city and decided to treat myself to some breakfast in a bakery. There was a long queue and when it came to my turn, I asked for a coffee, a pain au chocolat and a baguette in my very best German, which is to say not very good at all. They only accepted cash though which I thought was a little strange. In The Netherlands at least you could use your card to pay for almost anything. .
I stopped a little later when I eventually arrived within the city boundary and made some porridge. It really is amazing how even the plainest food can become delicious when you are starving hungry.
I really needed to use the internet and charge up my electronics at this point, but this being a Sunday morning, there wasn’t much open. I did spot another bakery though on the other side of the main road leading into the city and thought this was perfect.
Inside, I tried to pay but for some reason it just wasn’t happening. I tried three different cards but it was useless. Perhaps it was only German cards that were accepted I thought. They still let me use their electricity but I was without my cup of warm and delicious coffee.
Five minutes later however, the man who had been stood in the queue and who had helped translate between myself and the cashier walked over with a large cup of coffee and plonked it down on the table. Now isn’t that nice? Unbelievable I thought and I thanked him profusely. It was a good introduction to the city. From here on out though, it was all downhill.