Tour of Europe Planning Blog

Sunday, 25 December 2011

London(England)-Newport(Wales) - August 5-7, 2011

I took off to London by train on Friday, August 5th, 2011. Arriving in Fenchurch Street, I left at 9am.

The route west through London was more successful than my previous attempt of cycling out of London (the cycle to Paris), partially as the early part ran alongside the river Thames. I got within a stone's throw of Richmond and had a breakfast in a local pub. From there I went on and passed through a park, which I think was Old Deer Park.
The stretch from there began to get confusing, as typically the cycle signs were infrequent or confusing. The route along the waterfront in Staines was one of the highlights of the trip, but from then on till Reading it was difficult to keep on track, the cycle tracks kept getting me lost. In retrospect, I should have taken to one of the mainroads at this stage. I wasted hours cycling around in circles, especially when I got to Windsor, which was miles out of my way.  Despite cycling till 8pm, I didn't make much progress - what can I say, it was a tough day. I stayed at a Travel Lodge in Ascot. (I couldn't really go camping in the private grounds of the Royal family).

The next day, Saturday I finally made it to Reading, home of Ricky Gervais! It was a nice town, but with no time to delay, I carried on towards Newbury. Having had enough of the cycle paths that got me lost so often on Friday, I stuck to the A4. I stopped on the way in an open part next to the road for some dinner, which was much enjoyed.

Weather was a mixture of dry spells and showers. It began to rain heavily as I passed into Newbury, so I took a break with a coffee at McDonald's. Arriving in Chippenham late that day, I went looking for accomodation. It was like the "no room in the Inn" story, but I found a really cheap B & B near the centre of the town. It was run by an Indian man. I saw his photos from when he was younger and it was sad to see him looking a shadow of his former self. He re-counted how he used to be very fit in his younger days, but had suffered with years of back pain and operations that only made him worse. It made me think how lucky I was to have the opportunity to experience a tour on the bike. Then, I went out and ate a burger and chips! (I was starving and the smell of the chips while looking for a place to stay made me eager to come back for grub). I saw a wallet fall out of a man's pocket, while i was there and told him. He was very grateful. Next morning, as I had breakfast, a man there said my mobile had fallen out of my pocket, I am sure had he not said, I would left the B & B without knowing where it got lost.

Sunday morning, my objective after breakfast was to reach the Severn bridge by late morning and then get across as much of Wales as possible that day, with the aim of reaching the Fishguard ferry next morning. It would be tight, but doable if all went well. The morning was very wet, but at least I was heading in the right direction. I eventually got to Chipping Sodbury and just as I was about to pass out of the town, two things happened simultaneously, it rained very heavily (cloud burst) and my back tyre went flat. It was at the worst possible moment! It took me ages to change the tube, all the while getting ever more wet. I hadn't replaced a tube since I was a teenager. I lost a lot of time and I became demotivated with thoughts of packing it in and taking a train tantalising in my mind. Eventually, I put the tyre back on, pumped it up and to be honest, contrary to my expectations, it worked. I got going for the Severn Bridge, but at Alveston, I missed the left turn for it, then cycled down what was a 10 degree incline into Thornbury, only to discover my mistake. What made going miles off course worse was that I would need to back up an incredibly steep hill, which was going to be slow and hard. It was midday or so at this stage, I decided to take a break from this string of bad luck and found got some pub grub. I got back on track and eventually found the Severn Bridge. It was an incredibly exhilarating cycle across, it lashed rain and a gale blew in my face, but it was great.

Reaching Chepstow, my trainers and socks were soaked through, which is not a pleasant feeling when cycling. I cycled some of the cycle path available, but it was slow going, so I decided to get back to using the main road. I reached Newport at about 5pm. I decided to be realistic about whether I could reach my 11am ferry the next day. It was still a long cycle ahead, the rain kept falling, and I was cold and wet. No, time to pack it in and get a train to Fishguard, I thought. I went to the train station and bought my ticket. The train wasn't leaving till 9.46pm, so I had plenty of time for a bit of R and R. A big problem now was that all of the places I considered to eat in were not suitable for leaving a bike and gear safely outside. Luckily, I found a wonderful Indian restaurant that was doing an "All You Can Eat" buffet. (Really places like this should exclude cyclists with monster appetites!) The men at the door were friendly and I asked them sheepishly whether I could leave my bike in the hall. They were happy to look after it. I then took a bag to the toilet and changed into more appropriate clothes and dry socks(!) in dry shoes(!). I don't think I have enjoyed a meal as much as that - and guilt free too! I had burned a lot of calories that day. It is amazing that when cycling you can easily manage 2 big meals in the same day! 

I had a few hours to wait at train station afterwards. A toilet cubicle provided me with an opportunity to dry my socks and trainers thoroughly. I brought my bike, and all, inside it. The fresh pair of socks had got soaked by the wet trainers from earlier. The lesson is either bring a spare pair of shoes or waterproofs for your shoes. I would love to know how those traveling in a downfall in Asia manage it. Later, I met a woman on the train who was going to Pembrokeshire to do a solo walk around the coast. She was a Christian too and was doing it for a charity. We had a great chat and it passed the time sharing stories. I learned a lot from her, as she worked in a Millets store and knew all the tricks for travelling light. Arriving 1.30am, I found loads of benches ideal for sleeping out on till the morning ferry. I rolled out my sleeping bag and I noticed some people were boarding the ferry. I asked a guy who was passing, whether I might be able to get on with my ticket (which was for a later time). He said that there was no problem and he was the guy working in the office, so within minutes I was onboard and had a bit of a sleep. I arrived in Rosslare and cycled the 16km to Wexford, where I was met at a delightful hotel by a friend. It was a great trip, but I wished I had booked the ferry booking for Tuesday morning, so that I might been able to make the whole way by bike.

The lesson I have learned from this is not to be too ambitious with the time needed to reach ferry connections, it only takes a few mishaps to throw a spanner in the works. I hope you enjoyed my story.  

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Eurovelo 2

The Western part of Eurovelo 2 is known as the R1, which is confusing.  This website contains some helpful information and suggests that the route from St Petersburg to Calais is 3500km or 2100 miles.

I am going to quote from the site referred to above, regarding Russia:
A special feature of the R1 is that it passes through Russia twice. The Baltic States separate the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad from the rest of Russia and thus offer two opportunities to see very different aspects of the country.

Note that you will require a visa to visit Russia .
Indeed if you are intending to visit both parts of Russia, you will need a double visa.
Visas can be obtained for example from your Russian Embassy.You will an invitation, which you can through visa agencies.

I see on the Polish map, that it goes south close to Gdansk, so I wonder if it is following the same route as the Eurovelo, but I notice it doesn't go all the way to Poznan either: Fromborg, Elblag, Grudziadz, Bydgoszcz, Pila, Miedzyrzecz and Kostrzyn.

According to it, the main towns in Germany it passes through after Berlin would be: Potsdam, Belzig, Wittenberg, Dessau, Staßfurt, Goslar, Einbeck, Höxter,  Güters-Ioh, Münster and Vreden. It seems to go in a very indirect manner and I wonder if miles can be taken off by going a more direct route. (Wittenberg is the famous place where Martin Luther nailed his theses to the door of the Church and started the Reformation)

I would like to quote this from the site:
Most of the route is in the flatter parts of North Germany and only occasionally does it cross one or the other hill in the Harz mountain area.
In general the route network in Germany is of a very high standard and very cyclist-friendly. Because more of the R1 is on separate bicycle paths, or along remoter forest roads and paved field tracks, there is little contact with motor vehicles.
Prize-winning “Bicycle Towns” such as Münster offer a cyclist-oriented service and have a large range of Bed & Bike offers.
Parts of the route of the R1 coincide with other long-distance cycle routes and tours, for example the cycle route along the river Elbe, allowing the combination of various routes with the possibility for small detours.

This would suggest that there is scope for reducing the distance by finding more direct routes.

Once into the Netherlands, the main towns are Arnhem, Utrecht and Den Haag. 


Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Eurovelo route 7

The cycle signs through Sweden look like these:

The cycle signs in Finland are like this:

"Ginstleden Cykelspåret" Blue Signs are found along the Baltic Sea route, such as, from Helsingborg to Fjärås Bräcka, a route of 160km.  Part of the the North Sea Cycle route and the land is quite flat here.

"Haparanda - Sundsvall 
Next stage follows another signed route, "Cykelspåret" along the Baltic Sea (blue signs). The route
runs as close to the sea as possible, but it also has to avoid the busy road E4. So when the route makes
a detour into the country, we strongly recommend you to stick to that  instead of taking a short cut
along the E4. A little longer, maybe, but more to see, less stress and greater security!"

"Further down south the landscape rolls on, past lakes and rivers, into forests and out again, sometimes with views of the sea, islands etc.  Now and then quiet little villages with wooden houses appear, and bigger towns like Luleå and Piteå (both founded in 1621), and  Skellefteå, where you cross the river on Sweden´s oldest and longest wooden bridge."

"Next in turn is the university town of Umeå, with excellent facilities for cyclists and the interesting
museum area of  "Gammlia", where in the ski museum you find the world´s oldest ski (5 000 years).
Örnsköldsvik is beautifully set right on a gulf of the Baltic, Härnösand lies  astride over a passage
between the mainland and an island. Sundsvall is your last town on the "Cykelspåret" "

The route between Torsång  and Sundsvall is inland, so has green signs (as it is not near the Baltic Coast).

"From Falköping we have the possibility to cycle free of cars on a disused railway south to Ulricehamn and then further west to Borås. Most of the way the surface is good asphalt. "

"Fjärås Bräcka - Helsingborg
Having crossed Sweden we continue south along the westcoast south of Göteborg - Sweden´s second
biggest town, with good cycling facilities - along the west coast of the country. Follow the signed Ginstleden/Cykelspåret(blue signs) passing Kungsbacka and going down to Varberg. A charming coastal town. Visit the historic (14th - 16th centuries) fortress here! Then continue through Falkenberg and Halmstad to Båstad. There will be acces to good beaches here and also futher on. Now the route change name to Cykelspåret (only) and follow the beach to Ängelholm and then straight to Helsingborg".

You can take a ferry from there to Helsingør in Denmark.