Thursday, December 14, 2017

Cycling Europe 2017 Day 5: Medway To Dunkirk & Hello France

                                     AhPek Biker - Riding Adventures                                   
Cycling Europe 2017 Day 5: Medway to Dunkirk & Hello France!
United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Netherlands & Germany : Days 5 - Friday, 1st September - Medway to Dunkrik
This is part of cycling tour of Western Europe, covering Medway (England) to Dunkirk (France):
Cycling Distance - 25.95km.     Level: Easy
Cycling Time : 10:00 am to 7:45pm.
Time Taken :  9hrs 45mins (inclusive of train and ferry waiting & ride time, stops for shopping, and many, many photo opps.

This is page 4 of a 13-page blog, Click Here To Go To Title Page.

Route Recommendations :
1. Traffic Directions!
    The United Kingdom vehicles are right-hand drive, so cycle on the left. 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.
    On the Continental Europe, vehicles are left-hand drive, so cycle on the right. And do remember the traffic directions at road crossing. Also note that often cycling lanes run next to pedestrian lanes at town and city areas, at crossings there are separate lanes for pedestrians and bicycles, so stick to the correct lane.

2. Route & Traffic Conditions  
    The United Kingdom has an elaborate called the British National Cycle Network which also includes Cycle Superhighways for cyclists to commute from the outskirts into London. The following for route planning the following sites are helpful:
    - 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 trip planner, routes using this planner can be saved and also converted to GPX format for use in GPS devices.
    To safe time, we did not do much cycling today; taking the train from Chatham to Dover, cycling to the port and hopping onto a ferry to cross over to Dover Ferry Port. From there we cycled to Dunkirk where we stayed the night.

3. Weather
    The weather for amicably cool, daytime average was 21°C at Medway; and18°C at DoverDunkirk. Night temperature at Dunkirk averaged 14°C. It was a bright sunny day, with day time wind speed up to 21 kph.
    It is always prudent to check the weather for the next day so as to know what to expect and be prepared for it. Useful weather forecast sites are BBC WeatherAccuWeather and Weather Spark.

4. Places of Interest
White cliffs of Dover (GPS: 51.13207, 1.33915).
- The DFDS ferry ride across the English Channel.
- The view at du Canal de Bourbourg (GPS: 51.00431, 2.26394).
- The port at Dunkirk town (GPS: 51.03783, 2.37186).

5. Food
Breakfast: Left over fried chicken with instant noodles.
Lunch: At the DFDS ferry restaurant.
Dinner: Set French food meals at L'estaminet flamand (GPS: 51.03231, 2.372) in Dunkirk town; cost was between €13-50 to € 25-00 per pax.

6. Accommodations
    We stayed at the Suites Appart Hôtel Dunkerque (GPS: 51.03835, 2.37033which we had pre-booked online two rooms for two pax and a single room at €165 for the three rooms. As it was unclear whether the hostel allowed foldies into the premises, we initially folded and bagged our bikes before taking them in.

7. Bringing Bikes Onto Trains
   We took the British National Rail train from Chatham Station to Dover Priory. Tickets were purchased at the station and the fare was £13-65 per pax. There was no charges for our bikes as they were bagged before entering the station.

8. Bringing Bikes Onto the DFDS Ferry
    We cycle straight into the DFDS ferry via the normal traffic ramps. There are cycling lanes approaching Dover Port, but no cycling waiting area at the boarding compound; also note that the waiting compound is not covered. Tickets were purchased at the Drivers' Reception Building within the port perimeter, the fare was £25-00 per pax and passports need to be submitted during purchase.

9. 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 (GPS: 51.45735, -2.59074). 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!

10. 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.
    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.

11. Navigation
    As Bill had pre-planned the route and had loaded the GPX route file onto his Garmin GPS unit. I was the assistant navigator and had loaded the route maps onto my unit too.

12. 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.


A day earlier we had rode from London to Medway. The route was not long and gave a chance to warm up to bike-packing in England, taking us through a short stretch along the Thames and then onto residential roads, parks and woods most of which were along the British National Cycle Route N1. Medway was an approprate stop-over point, as the name suggested it's about mid-way from  London to Dover Port.
Today we head for Dover to cross over to France via a ferry; but there will not be much cycling as we decided to hop onto a train to the port.


The route has not much actual cycling with some cycling from Medway to Chatham Station, where its by train to Dover Priory Station and then a  ride to Dover Port. A DFDS ferry ride takes one across to France via the British Channel landing at Dunkirk Port. From there it's a short ride to Dunkirk (Dunkerque) town.

At dawn, our stay at Medway, the YHA Hostell looked like a grand building. We did not get to see it the previous evening; now in daylight we got to appreciate it's beauty of red-bricked walls and a steep front towering tiled roof.
We quickly made breakfast of the left-over fried chicken with instant noodles (that we had brought over from home) and looked forward to today's transnational ride to Dover and form there crossing over to France.

But Bill, worried that we would not be able to make it to port town in time decided that we should take the train. Cycling down to  from Chatham Station, bought a British National Rail train ticket for Dover Priory. The ticket is an open one usable for the whole day and we soon happily boarded the 11:00am train. It's a bright and clean train; and to avoid charges for our bikes, we had them bagged and put to the luggage section of the coach.

12:15pm - We arrive at the Dover Priory; it's the last station and southern terminus of the South Eastern Main Line. It's not a very big building as it just serves this town and the surrounding area. The odd thing is that, the train does not stop at Dover Ferry Port which is about four kilometers away. I think the reason is that the cross-channel ferries does not cater for walk in pedestrians. Most cross over by cars, in fact the were hardly any motorcycles and we were the only cyclists using the ferry.

Well, no point complaining; just hop on to our bicycles and cycle over to the port. Along the way we passed by the famed White cliffs of Dover. But my photo here does not do justice to the stark but beautiful cliffs.

Here's a photo taken from one at the station which shows how majestic the cliffs look from the sea. I can understand the feelings of the soldiers during the evacuation of Dunkirk in World War 2. The cliffs stand tall and are easily recognisable from afar; to the soldiers coming in from a badly battered Dunkirk, it was a white, safe haven.

Tickets for the ferry can be booked online at a fare of £35-00 per pax one-way, depending on the date of travel. But I believe there could be complications for foreigners in purchasing online as even when we physically bought the tickets there we did encounter some difficulties. Tickets can be bought at the the Driver's reception building and photocopies of our passports were made for their files. One have to purchase personally for oneself, buying on behalf of others are not allowed. It took us almost half an hour to get our tickets. One would find the procedures odd even-though the United Kingdom is part of the European Union; but I guess that the measures are there more for security. Buying on-site instead of on-line did save us a fair bit as we got our tickets at £25-00 per pax 😊.

Each of us were given an A4 manila-board printed voucher, this states the time of the ferry and the lane which we should follow. Ours show that embarkation time as 2:00pm and that we should queue at Lane 51. This is to be followed strictly as vehicles board the ferries simultaneously through several lanes, and on top of that several ferries are docked at separate piers as there are many ferry trips per day. Also there are ferries running from Dover to Calais, so do get on the right lane or one could end up at the wrong place! There are separate lanes for large container trucks and cars respectively. Ours was one of the car lanes.
The ferries are operated by DFDS which stands for Det Forenede Dampskibs-Selskab (literally The United Steamship Company).

Here we are at Lane 51 of the waiting compound which is not covered; emphasizing that the ferries are more for vehicular traffic. To make matters worse, it started drizzling while we waited almost half an hour to board our ferry; with a cold sea wind coming in we were soon shivering.

The ferries are HUGE! Inside they were very wide with tall ceilings to cater for the many large containers that use the ferry. A strengthening central wall divides the hold into two sections. I am awed by the size of the ferries; their large multi-storey size dwarfs the Penang ferries of which I use regularly.

We were directed to a small corner with railings which came with ropes to secure our bikes; it's best to secure the bikes at two positions so that they won't swing around with the rolling sea (don't worry, there are enough ropes). Before the ferry leave the dock all passengers are instructed to leave the holding level and go up to the passenger level. This is to avoid any injuries should any of the vehicles become dislodged.

The passenger level is an enclosed section, with air-conditioning and comfortable seating. From this level one gets a panoramic view of the sea.

Here's a photo of another ferry which we passed by, showing how they look from the outside.

Once we set sail, the girls went to verendah of the passenger level, letting the cool sea breeze blow into their faces ... THIS IS LIFE!

While Bill walked around holding up his hand. I though this was a bit odd until I realized that he was filming the ferry with his 3D video camera!

It's a two hour sea journey, and soon we retired indoors and ordered lunch from the on-board cafeteria. They do serve pretty good food here; we had chicken curry rice, fish and chips and also some pudding. It was a meal with a spectacular view!

5:30pm - The ferry berthed at Dunkirk Port, and we were the last to be allowed out. Enjoying the change to a bright, sunny weather made, we did take too long a time to ride out. By the time we reach the gates of the fenced up secured area, they were already closed and a couple of us had to ride back to request the gates to be opened again 😝.
YAHOO! We are in France!

As we rode out passing by the lovely small town of Loon-Plage, we had to frequently remind ourselves that we were in France and to ride on the right-hand side. Here there were shared biking lanes to ride on.

But soon we hit the busy D601 highway; fortunately there were dedicated cycling lanes for us to use.

A quick stop for a memorable photo of Goofy below a "Dunkerque" road sign (now that we are in France, have to use the French spelling for the town. Goofy (my bike) seems to easily entrench itself into French life, haha!

Another stop at a bridge over the du Canal de Bourbourg, with wind turbines slowly waving their welcome to us in the background.

Midway we rolled into Auchan Dunkirk - Grande Synthe, to get some pastries for tomorrow's breakfast... French food at last, haha!

7:45pm - After a long day, we arrive at our stay for the night - Suites Appart Hôtel Dunkerque. It's located at a few rows of clean-cut, efficient designed buildings, and there was a bonus for us. We had booked for two rooms; one for two pax and one for three pax. They were out of three pax rooms and gave us two 2-pax room PLUS another single room. AND guess who got the single room all to himself.... ME - the loud snorer! (my buddies were most happy to let me have the room so that they could sleep peacefully 😜).

Refreshed, we headed back to town for dinner at L'estaminet flamand. It's a witch-themed restaurant with caricatures of witches on the counter, flying around the ceiling, etc. It looked like a scary place but was actually very lively...

To witch (which?) we added our lively cheers while wolfing down the good French food. We had their reasonably priced food (between €13-50 to € 25-00 per pax) which included an introductory aperitif, salad (cheese tart, pate), a main course, desserts, and coffee or tea. To add on to the gay mood we had some of their designer beers. Cheers!

While the downstairs section was full of gaiety, upstairs it was another story - it was closed , dark and moody. We had to go do our toilet duties upstairs - and right at the dark entrance was a life-sized witch, looking all ugly and crony. Luckily I have strong bladders otherwise I would have wet my pants from this sudden frightful sight!

Back downstairs, I downed a whole bottle of wine just to wash away that scary experience (😇..... it was an empty bottle... duh!)

At the harbor, the night lights with the medieval ship (the Duchesse Anne) serenely berthe there was a contrasting soothing view. We soon forgot about the witches and had a pleasant night sleep.

bonne nuit!
(That's good night in French)

(For more photos of the Day 5Click Here)
This is page 4 of a 13-page blog, Click Here To Go To Title Page.
Go to D4 London-Medway     |   Go to Other Days     |     Go to D6 Middelburg >

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