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2) April 20th, Germany - A rant from the Rhine

It't a rainy day in Koblenz, and feels like it sounds.

Last night I fell for the old "it's only round the corner" trick when booking a guesthouse. The corner being about 5 km away, hidden in a large complicated suburb at the top of a bloody big hill. Anyway, here's a report on the last week or so. Future reports are not as likely to be so verbose, but then again I'm hoping that next time it won't be raining for a straight 48 hours, so I'll actually have the chance to do some sightseeing.

11 Apr, Mon:   START!! - Wallingford, near Reading. Unexotic. Not London, but close enough (and actually further from the ferry port). A late start after some final adjustments and the pure shock at just how bloody heavy the bike was. And a glorious sunny day! Made my way through the countryside via B-roads, lanes and private gardens towards St. Albans, the goal for today. This is actually my first cycling in the UK and I was quite knocked out at how beautiful it is - on a sunny day, of course. Lovely views, and quaint little villages going by names like "Prince's Whisperer" and the like. Some major hills as well (though considering this was my first time on the bike in three months, they were actually probably speed-bumps).
Arriving in St. Albans, I stopped in at the local tourist information office to ask where the cathedral was. "Don't bother, it's rubbish" said a man there, while the woman behind the counter was saying "I really wish you'd stop saying that Trevor, it is our number one attraction...".
Distance: 82km (not bad for a first day).

12 Apr, Tue:   Headed towards Braintree (now that is a strange name), Essex. Not quite up to yesterday's standard. I think that was due to the weather (cloudy) and the fact that I was passing through a lot more built up areas (closer to London) than yesterday. And.. it was Essex. Stayed a bit past Braintree, in Earls Colne.
Distance: 99km (not bad for a second day..).

13 Apr, Wed:   My second country already, the Netherlands! Admittedly it was close - the ferry arrived 11:55 PM. Starting out this morning it was pishing it down with rain and the bike was dangerously wavering all over the place (until I re-balanced the panniers)... not fun. The rain had stopped by the time I reached Colchester, took a cursory look at the castle (small, isn't it?), but in no mood to spend more time in city traffic. Found the back route to Harwich, and wow... what a difference! Green, rolling hills, glimpses of sea in the distance, and no traffic. Arrived in Harwich with 5 hours to kill before the ferry. But when I finally boarded it, it was worth it. This is the first ferry I've boared in the UK for over 15 years, and what I was expecting was a spartanly furnished workhorse with veneer floors and walls all the more easy to wash away the vomit from the passengers as they prayed for the agony to end.
Instead, I entered a nightclub - carpets, soft lights, comfy chairs, mirrored ceilings (I may also have spotted a glitterball), pop-videos interlaced with football clips, and a bar. A waiter even came round offering dips.
Stayed in a hotel in Hook of Holland.
Distance: 57km (any further and I would have had to swim).

14 Apr, Thu:   I'm in Schoonhaven tonight, a pleasant little town east of Rotterdam. This is the first cycling I've done in a non-English speaking country apart from Japan. At least with Japanese, I can understand what's going on, but here - of course - all the signs, directions, menus, shops, answers to my questions, etc were in Dutch. Which I don't understand at all! A new experience.
As you probably know, there is a massive network of bicycle lanes that cover the country, sometimes following the main road, sometimes veering off through fields of sheep and cows and dykes. This is nice, but can also be infuriating because I found I was getting lost a lot between towns. And in large towns they could be just a pain, as I was constantly starting/stopping and waiting behind slower bikes infront, avoiding pedestrians, etc, etc. Passed through one place which is famous for the five biggest windmills in the world (somehow, the name escapes me), but didn't have the energy left to negotiate another bike lane.

Desperate to get out of that city, hence the choice of tonight's accomodation. And quite a nice ride along the river embankment on the way here.
Distance: 73km (come on, I was, er, jetlagged).

15 Apr, Fri:   Nightmare of a day.

Good things about today
(1) Finally got a photo of a windmill
Bad things about today
(1) Strong head-wind, all day
(2) Flies (along the riverbank). Caught one in my mouth, chewed it, spat it out. Swallowed the next one.
(3) Getting lost. Saw signs for Ultrect, which was not on my planned route. Checked compass - it showed I was going in the right direction. Okay, head down, continued on. An hour later saw signs for Ultrect city centre. Confused, I checked the compass again - still showed I was heading in the right direction. Hmmm, carried on a bit more. Now there was a lot of traffic... problem solved - broken compass.
(4) Rain
(5) Headed to Tiel, which looked like a big town on my map. Big, certainly, but not very nice. Spent 1.5 hours looking for a cheap place to stay (including a pension recommended by several people - finally found it, closed down since the end of last year). Then spent another hour at the police station trying to find somewhere. Nearest place was a campsite 20km from Tiel. A race against darkness to get there.

Distance: 122km (100km in Tiel).

16 Apr, Sat:   Woke up in a pool of water. Turned over and went back to sleep, but careful to avoid possible drowning. Still raining when I packed up the tent and left, around midday. Originally planned to make it to Nijmegen, down the road to dry out. Instead, decided to push on to Kleve, Germany, so I can at least make it into my next country.
The road to Kleve was nice - it opend out, with a long line of trees on either side, and noticably more greenery, and hills in the distance. A nice introduction. Had my first puncture of the trip as soon as I got across the border. Well, at least it wasn't raining any longer. Ran over a broken bottle further down the road. Held my breath... phew, okay, no puncture.
Distance: 50km (total weight had doubled due to wet camping gear).

17 Apr, Sun:   Front tire was flat when I got up late this morning - 2nd punture in two days (piece of glass embedded in tire). Midday by the time I found my way out of Kleve and headed south towards Kalkar (quaint town), Xantan, Sonsbeck... mainly following the main road (less chance of getting lost) but also trying a few back-roads, which were nice, gently winding through forests. Ended up in Krefeld, northwest of Dusseldorf. A gritty, grey, old city - the provincial captital I think - with a long wide boulevard heading straight down to the central station, a huge imposing grim-looking building, with a derelick hotel off to the side. I liked it! Stayed in the cosy Hotel Oswald on the main road, ran by a lovely older lady. 35 euros B&B, and with BBC World!
Distance: 85km (not bad for a half-day?).

18 Apr, Mon:   Managed to get out of Krefeld okay using my new technique - don't look at the map, but just head in the general direction using a compass (after checking the compass works first, of course..). You come out on the right road eventually.
Stayed tonight in a youth hotel south of Bonn, top of a bloody hill. Nice location, on the edge of a forest, but a very large impersonal building, bare simple prison cells, and lots of drunken teenagers/students running around. Probably would have enjoyed this kind of thing 15 years ago, but naaaah, not now...

So, today: finally saw the Rhine! Still quite industrialised this far north but some pretty sections (even beaches), nevertheless. Passed through Cologne to see the very impressive "Dom" cathedral, and continued on the bike-path next to the river for a lot of the way - which seems to take twice the distance as the point-to-point main road - and encountered lots of small insects trying to get into my eyes. Later, when I stopped to go to the toilet, I was shocked by the reflection in the mirror of a red weatherbeaten face encrusted with dying insects. A good day.
Observation: It seems that most of the cyclists I've seen so far in Germany are slightly overweight middle-aged men in tight lycra and outrageous handlebar moustaches. Unnerving.
Distance: 114km.

19 Apr, Tue:   What a terrible, terrible day. Woke up to heavy rainfall outside, but didn't want to spend another night in the YH so headed off anyway. Initially I quite enjoyed the rain, as the path by the Rhine was completely deserted and I had it entirely to myself (usually, with bikes/people/dogs/etc it's just so damned tiring stopping and starting again with such a heavy bike). But the rain was relentless, and cold, and the bike lane was becoming rougher, muddier, and waterlogged. I was drenched. A thoroughly miserable time - I had to keep stopping to wring out my socks. I'm sure I passed through some quaint Rhine-side villages but I wouldn't have noticed.
Distance: 85km (including swimming).

Well that's it - my first report. The others won't be as long as this you'll be happy to hear!

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