Monday, September 25, 2017

Cycling Europe 2017: Cycling From England to Germany

You are at - Jotaro's Blog / AhPek Biker / Cycling Europe / Cycling Europe 2017
                                     AhPek Biker - Riding Adventures                                   
Cycling Europe 2017: From England to Germany
United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Netherlands & Germany : 28th August - 19th Semptember 2017
Small Group Cycling Tour of Western Europe:
(for more detailed routes see the daily ride blogs).

     After months of planning and a long, eager wait, we are finally off on our Europe Cycling Adventure. I have had cycled in Europe before (... see blog), but those were on guided tours run by local cycling companies. This time I will be bringing Goofy (my copper-plated P6R Brompton) along.
    In our group will be Bill (our group leader and route planner), Hong, Ying & Siah. We shared responsiblities in booking accomodations, but Ying managed to book for many of the places. When it came to purchasing for pre-packed food, Bill's advice came in very handy in getting cheaper food.
From Malaysia, we flew into London to start our tour which would cover five countries: United Kingdom, FranceBelgiumHolland and Germany. It will be the first time that I will be cycling in Belgium and Germany, adding two more flags to the countries I have cycled in making them the eighteenth and nineteenth.
This blog comes in three parts, the first is on our daily rides, the second are related blogs such as food and travel sites, and the final section are tips on cycle touring there.
Our route took us onto a short stretch along the Bristol-Bath Railway Path which cuts through the scenic Avon River Valley. And then it was from London to Dover with a ferry crossing of the English Channel to Dunkirk from where we headed to Middelburg in Netherlands (Holland), passing through Belgium within the day (but we would be back to Brussels in later days). In Holland, it was onwards tRotterdamAmsterdamArnhem from where we crossed over to Düsseldorf in Germany. Then it was back to Maastritch in Holland,before we ended in BrusselsBelgium; where we spent a few days before taking a Eurostar train back to London.

RIDE BLOGS
Below are the blogs of our cycling tour, click on the respective photos to read. It was an eye-opening tour for me so come see our rides:














(Next... Taiwan?)
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FOOD





PLACES



ART




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RELATED BLOGS:






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CYCLING & TRAVEL TIPS FOR EUROPE

Here's, some general tips on cycling in Europe, more detailed tips will be included in the day to day blogs:

1. Traffic Directions!
    The United Kingdom is included in part of the cycling tour, vehicles are right-hand drive so cycle on the left. On the European Contintent traffic is left-hand drive, so cycle on the right. Bear this in mind when crossing from the British Isles to the Contintent or vice-versa. Play it safe and keep on reminding each other and oneself.
    Same thing applies when crossing the road, take note of the direction in which traffic is approaching from! Fortunately in the United Kingdom, road markings at zebra crossings reminds pedestrian/cyclists to look left OR right when crossing. Sounds confusing, it actually isn't, just take while to get use to it.

2. Route & Traffic Conditions  
    Europe has very well developed cycling lanes that run in the cities, town, villages, even through forests and woods. The cycling network is known as the EuroVelo that covers most of the countries of Europe. The routes are made of both existing national bike routes — such as the Dutch LF-Routes, the German D-Routes, and the British National Cycle Network — and existing general purpose roads, together with new stretches of cycle routes to connect them. When using these lanes do stick to them and not cross-over to adjoining pedestrian lanes (especially a the road crossings).
    For route planning the following sites are helpul:
    - CyclingUK.org has a feature to plan a route (journey) in the UK, click here to plan a journey route.
    - for planning cycling routes in Europe, Cycle Travel which has a very user-friendly cycle travel route planner, routes using this planner can be saved and also converted to GPX format for use in GPS devices.
    Our route took us onto a short stretch along the Bristol-Bath Railway Path which cuts through the scenic Avon River Valley. And then it was from London to Doverr with a ferry crossing of the English Channel to Dunkirk from where we headed to Middelburg in Netherlands (Holland), passing through Belgium within the day (but we would be back to Brussels in later days). In Holland, it was onwards tRotterdamAmsterdamArnhem from where we crossed over to Düsseldorf in Germany. Then it was back to Maastritch in Holland,before we ended in BrusselsBelgium; where we spent a few days before taking a Eurostar train back to London.
    The pleasant route took us through cities, towns and villages with beautiful sceneries; cutting through dykes, forest and woods. We even rode in an undersea cycling tunnel and on the longest cycling bridge.

3. Weather
     It was early autumn and weather for amicably cool, ranging from 15°C to 20°C on the average for the days. At night it ranged from 11°C to 13°C on the average. However it did get colder than these during our last five days, apparently the cold weather came in ealier this year. There was some light rain, but more worrying were strong headwinds and crosswinds which hit 25kmh with gusts up to 35kmh (especially nearer DüsseldorfMaastritch and Brussels) which made cycling difficult.

4. Bringing Bikes Onto European Trains
    Folding bicycles are allowed onto the London's Tube Railway without bagging, but the bikes have to be folded up. For a map of this rail service and to plan a rail journey, click here. For details train services and time when folded and other bicycles are allowed onto the British public transport (including buses), click here; and to view/download a relevant pdf map, click here.
    The European local trains allow any bicycles on board, but there may be a fare to be paid for the bicycles. To avoid this, we folded and bagged our bicycles before bringing them into the stations. Details on bringing bikes onto European trains can be obtained from the uk.voyages-sncf.com site. 
    For the Eurostar and Thalys trains tickets can be booked 180 days and 3 months before the return travel date. Tickets are generally cheaper when they are booked earlier. For how far in advance booking can be done for the different rail services in Europe refer to this site: https://help.loco2.com/article/316-how-far-in-advance-can-i-book.
    For the respective train route fares, refer to the respective daily blogs.

5. Bringing Bikes Onto Ferries
    Most ferries allow any bicycles to be brought on board for a charge. For the respective ferry fares, refer to the respective daily blogs.

6. Bringing Bikes Onto Trams and Buses
    We found that our folded bikes could be brought onto the local buses or trams even without bagging them. But do discipline one-selves so as not to inconvenience other passengers. For long distance buses, our bikes were folded, bagged and put into the cargo holds at the bottom of the buses. For the respective bus fares, refer to the respective daily blogs.

7. Bringing Bikes Onto Planes
    We flew MAS (Malaysian Airlines System) which allowed 30kg of luggage inclusive of our bicycles without additional charges. We had packed our bikes into Dimpa bags and brought along a spare Dimpa too (this spare Dimpa came in handy to pack our shopping and clothing on the return flight). On checking in, we had to take our bagged bikes to the over-sized baggage section for both Kuala Lumpur International Airport and London Heathrow Airport.
    A tip, simple but important. Ensure that you DO NOT carry your tool kits or any long/sharp metal objects in your hand luggage. Put your tool kit into your checked-in bike bags. I often seen friends forgetting about this, only to have their tools confiscated at the security checkpoints.

8. Communicating with Each Other
    When travelling in a group it's important to be able to communicate with each other, especially if one got lost.
    We got pre-paid SIM cards from UK mobile provider Three under the All-in-One #15 deal for only £15/= from one of their outlets in Bristol. This plan lasts for 30 days and allows for 5GB Data, 3,000 minutes of call time & 3,000 text messages within the system. More importantly it has their "Feel At Home" which allow the phone's data, call and messaging allowance to be used in sixty countires (mostly European and also Singapore) without any extra charges!

9. Communicating with Locals
    Communicating with locals in England was not a problem, although some may have difficulty understanding our Asian accent when speaking English.
    In France, although some locals may speak English, it would be good to learn some basic French as the locals warm up more to people who speak their language.
    In Belgium, the locals speak Flemish, Dutch and French. Many can speak English fleuntlyly, so communicating with them is not a problem.
    In the Netherlands, almost all the locals can speak English.
    When communicating with locals is a problem, this could be partly overcome by using translation apps like Google Translate. Do install this app into your phone and before you leave on your tour do some basic translation as it will be saved onto a list of recent translations.
    Look out for the tourist information booths at airports, railway stations or bus stations, the guides manning the booths speak very good English and do give good tips on where to visit, directions, train and bus schedule.

10. Accommodations
    Although accommodations can be expensive in Europe; reasonably priced accomodations can be found in privately run hostels, hostels run by youth orgnisations, motels, homestays etc. For hotels/motels, search the web with accommodations searching sites like Agoda.comBooking.com or Hotels.comHotelsCombined. com provides comparative rates from all these sites. Most of these sites allow bookings to be cancelled three days before the staying dates; but do not that some accommodations themselves do not allow this feature. For youth hostels, search for suitable accomodations using http://www.hostelworld.com/. Do read the comments left by previous users to gauge the quality of the accommodations.
   There were five of us on this tour, three guys and two girls. Where possible we booked two rooms; one for the guys and one for the girls. But there were times (for reasons of cost) when we had to share one single dorm for five. Some of the accommodations had attached toilets and bathrooms whilst those in hostels usually have common shared bathing and toilet facilities. Our accommodation was between MYR120 to MYR160 per pax, at Arnhem we paid about MYR200 per pax, but then that place turned out to be the best we stayed in. For details of our accommodations, refer to the day to day blogs. 
    As it was unclear whether these accomodations allow foldies into the premises, we folded and bagged our bikes before taking them in.

11. Food
    Surprisingly, we had difficulty finding breakfast/lunch in the smaller towns and villages during the weekends as most of the shops were closed. Even on weekdays, many eateries at these places only opened during the later hours of the morning. We did go eat a McDonald's breakfast once. Bill's experience in overcoming this came in handy; often we had to purchase sandwiches and pastries at supermarkets along the way or on the night before. At supermarkets, do look out for REDUCED price items, i.e. items sold at a reduced price usually an hour before closing time.
    Each of us also purchased a couple of cans of pre-cooked food as emergency rations just in case we could not find any food along the way. The girls also brought along a large packet of dried dates which came in handy as energy boosters and also to filled our tummies a bit.
    Some food that should not to be missed:

12. Navigation
    Unless he or she is very familiar with the locals routes, the tour leader should carry a GPS units. It will also be good if another member of the team carry another GPS unit should the leader's one go faulty. We had pre-loaded the United Kingdom and Western Europe Maps together with GPS coordinates of our destinations. We were using the Garmin GPS units and Bill had pre-plotted our daily routes into respective GPX maps usable in these units. Do ZOOM out to look for turning points further ahead; and ZOOM in at complicated junctions, otherwise one may make a wrong turn (it did happen to us sometimes).
    Alternatively, download the MAPS.ME app together with the relevant country maps. This app can be used offline.
    At the towns and cities, we used Google Maps to navigate to various places of interests that were not shown on our GPS units.

13. Service Your Bicycles & Carry Tools and Spares
    Before leaving on your tour, it will be good to service your bike and bring along some spares like tubes, puncture patches, brake pads and the relevant tools.

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