Archive for June, 2008

Tal to Tal

Sunday, June 29th, 2008

Posted by Krista
Cycling along the middle Rhine, from Bingen to Koblenz

Krista cycles traffic free, from Bingen to Koblenz

Once a year the road along the middle Rhine is closed to motor traffic – and the day is called the Tal to Tal. What a great day for cyclists! We decided to join in the fun and pedal to the whole way, from Bingen to Koblenz. This particular stretch of the Rhine is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with restored castles dotting every hillside, and beautiful traditional German buildings in every town. At each town, to mark the passing hour and interval of the hour, the ancient church bells toll and echo round the steep Rhine valley, making me feel like I am part of an old storybook.

The beautiful Rhine valley

Our pace is fast as we’re riding with the flow of the river (which eventually finishes its journey in Rotterdam, Holland) and we’ve left our 40 kg luggage at our friends Madhubala’s and Nikolaus place. It’s a treat to be riding so light and on a road that is free of traffic. There are many other cyclists out for the day, with nifty racers, mountain bikes, tandems, recumbent bikes, and trailers of varying sizes and shapes. My favourite vehicle is a tandem in which the person in the front is in a recumbent position, whilst the person at the back is in the traditional upright position…

One day I will be a bicycle collector!

Rainforest Rescue video

Saturday, June 28th, 2008

As you probably already know, Dan and I are riding from London to Lhasa to raise money for Rainforest Rescue, a not for profit organisation based in Australia, who is committed to protecting rainforests for current and future generations.

To watch the latest video showing footage of some of the endangered rainforests and species that Rainforest Rescue are working to protect, click here

Photo page updated

Saturday, June 28th, 2008

We’ve added new photos on our website. Click here to view Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany pix!

Cherry Tree Trail

Tuesday, June 24th, 2008

Posted by Krista
Neiderheimbach, on the Rhein river, Germany

Picking cherries with Madhubala, in Niederheimbach, on the Rhine river, Germany

Madhubala greets us with smiles, hugs and a bowl of wild strawberries, raspberries and walnuts from the tree from above the favourite place where she sits. Our glasses are filled with water from a 900 year old well in the garden, her family home being on the grounds of a monastery, built around the 1100’s. The walls of the ancient monastery still remain, as does the chapel – in which Madhubala’s delightful 95 and 91 year-old aunts pray with devotion every day.

Madhubala is a friend from Australia who is visiting her family who have lived at this historic site on the river Rheine for many years. We’ve been pedalling quickly to meet her before she leaves for another trip to Portugal.

What a lovely reunion it is! The next day she takes us on a lovely walk up the mountain that backs onto her property, to sample the fruits of all the cherry trees that are growing in abundance here. Some are wild, some cultivated, and all are delicious! The rain catches us, and we shelter under some pine trees until the storm passes.

The day is restful and Dan and I hadn’t realised just how exhausted we were from the last few weeks of cycling. Holland was flat and easy, tho I was suffering from quite a bad cold. Belgium was flat until we took a detour into the Ardennes, and the land suddenly became quite steep! From Luxembourg, we took the Eifel route into Germany, which climbed and dipped all the way to the small village of Bruch where we camped next to a river in the field belonging to the community. The locals were having a barbeque there, in honour of the European Cup football – and a small tv was plugged in to watch Russia vs. Holland. They invited us for food and drinks and were shocked and bemused at our tale of cycling to Tibet. “How can you afford such a trip?” has been the main question that people have been asking us since we arrived in Germany. After a fun evening and a restful sleep we made our way to the Mosel river, which flows through a deep valley. The climb up on the other side was tough and we were rewarded by the offer of a camp spot in a local family’s back garden. The family suggested a nice route for us to take the next day, which follows a well-marked cycle path (or ‘Radweg’ in German!) along the Nahe river and eventually meets the Rhein river. Since hearing that Madhubala will be in Germany at the same time as us, and staying at the Rhein, has inspired us and given us a focus to get here.

In the evening, Madhubala’s brother, Nikolaus, takes us into the historic town of Bacharach. As well as admiring the traditional buildings, castles, churches and old city walls that abound, we also venture into the cellar of the old PostHof, to watch the semi-final of the 2008 European Cup between Germany and Turkey. It’s a nail-biting game, yet Germany clinch it and celebrations shower the surrounds.

People keep the wheels turning

Monday, June 23rd, 2008

Posted by Krista
on the road out of Buchenbeuren, Germany

Dan mending the bikes

The gear cables have stretched! After nearly 800 kms (500 miles) of pedalling with heavily loaded bikes, half of that distance in snakey curves and meandering detours over the mountains of the Ardennes (Belgium and Luxembourg) and the Eifel (Germany), we and the bikes are in need of some rest!

Dan’s tweaking the gears – his mechanic’s background coming in very handy! We seem to have chosen our specific roles – and enjoy them… I am often taking care of the logistics such as route, food, map reading, cooking and Dan is the general maintenance and handyman. At the end of a long day’s riding, it’s teamwork as we put up our tent and make camp. We’re slick at this now, with our special routines, and we’ve got it down from an arduous 2 hour process to just 40 minutes! We’re aiming for 25!

The days seem to have become longer now that we don’t need to discuss each intricate detail of how best to do something – whether it be how and where to erect the tent, or how and where we should find a camp that night. We’ve been lucky so far on that count, having become more confident to ask locals. Last night was the prime example: I saw a couple riding bikes through the small village of Sohren and immediately felt to ask if they knew of a ‘Kamping Platz’. They shook their heads and said there was nothing in the area – only a Youth Hostel 20km further on. Dan and I were knackered, having cycled in the scorching sun all day (a 60km stretch up and over the deep canyon of the Mosel river). But after further thought the couple asked whether we wanted to camp in their garden! How perfect! To be woken up at 7am for morning coffee.

This bike ride would be all the more difficult without all the kind and generous people we encounter along the way – from the farmer we ask for water, to our generous hosts, to the people we ask for directions and even just the people who give us a friendly smile and wave as we pass. This love and care makes the world and the bicycle wheels turn!

Gaining momentum

Monday, June 23rd, 2008

Krista is in a yoga pose, stretching out stiff limbs by the pool while I write only my second diary entry since leaving the UK and arriving in Holland. Two weeks have passed since we reached Den Haag, our first mainland European city and now finally Europe is beginning to open up its green doors.

To this point the going has been mixed. Through Holland we followed the North Sea Route south-west through sand dunes, with often a headwind from the sea. To cycle in this direction was a bit disconcerting as our general direct to Tibet is south-east! Brielle was our first camp, a perfect and well-hidden spot in a nature reserve on an islet of the Dutch coast.

The next day – 8 June – we sneaked our way from our secret wild camp and continued south-west. The next two nights we stopped at around 7pm-8pm at farm campsites in Serooskerke and Hoofdsplaat, each time buying fresh eggs and vegetables from the farmers for dinner. We were now a day away from Antwerp.

The 85km we had to cover to get to this interesting and vibrant Belgian city were the most tiring yet. The signposts that had been so good in Holland vanished almost immediately when we crossed into Belgium and we were funnelled onto a cycle path alongside a motorway!

We finally found the Sint Anna Pedestrian Tunnel that took us under the river and into the heart of Antwerp. This tunnel was long and strange, filled with cyclists coming and going from Antwerp through what felt like a secret passage, tiled and smooth, glowing with a strange light. We shot through and popped up the other side into a beautiful old square with bars, shops and historic buildings on three sides, with huge plane trees throughout and a basketball court in the centre.

Hoboken, the industrial suburb, was our destination here, as Jasper had hooked us up with friends of his, living there. They too are cyclists and travelled the world for three years on recumbent bicycles, interviewing people in Africa, South America, Asia, Europe and Australia about their views on the future. It was fascinating hearing their work on futurism, and we were lucky to have to opportunity to view the documentary they had made about it. It made us ponder on our own visions on the future…

We stayed for three nights and for the whole time were treated by Bram’s delectable dinners. We were also grateful for their infectious enthusiasm and encouragement. They helped us refine the last bits of kit, and Bram took us on a bicycle tour of the city. Bram held with a tradition that my brother, Lee, started on the day we left Daventry, and rode with us to the outskirts of the city, to see us off safely. We passed grid-locked roads and made our way to the Albert Canal and waved goodbye to our new friend Bram.

The 13 June was the first of two days along the canal, heading south-east (our general direction at last!), with a tailwind that pushed us 55km in just three hours of riding! The day had been easy and just what we required – easily gained momentum, no map reading, no traffic and we could ride side by side and talk over our experiences.

eating lunch along the albert canal, belgium

Our camp that night was a fortunate find, only just wide enough to fit the tent. We squeezed in between the trees and rushed to erect the tent before it rained, hardly noticing the pylon and overhead cables above us!!!

our lucky camp spot along the albert canal, and waking up to rain!

The second day on the canal taxed us. We woke to rain and crawled back out onto the towpath. The sky was grey, the drizzle persisted and with bursts of heavy rain, we remained in our waterproofs everyday in fear and frustration, as the cloudy sky and murky water in the heavily industrialised canal seemed to merge together. Sheltering under a road bridge, we studied the map for an alternative route.

the grey day along the albert canal

It was a fine decision to take a different path and as we picked our way across land from village to village, the sun seemed to return in an instant, as did our good spirits. The hospitality that greeted us 20km around the corner was completely unexpected. I nodded a hello at a cool looking man with mid-length hair, wearing a leather jacket and jeans, who in return, offered a validating nod and smile. A few minutes later, we were asking the same man for directions to Alken. He and his wife took it upon themselves to arrange for us a place to stay. Michel and Tina phoned around friends and family until they had secured us a floor to sleep on at their friends house!

In Alken, Michel, Tina and daughter Eva joined us at our new hosts house, who are teachers Ivo and Marina. We talked for many hours over a dinner that they all rushed to prepare for us, and we were entertained by the children’s music and singing. Marina was even kind enough to wash our clothes, while Michel and Ivo picked us an excellent route towards the Ardennes and kindly gave us maps.

our kind hosts in alken, belgium

On 15 June, the route picked for us, led beautifully through pretty towns and small, historical villages. We had clearly reached the French speaking half of Belgium and the atmosphere changed, perhaps due to the hills we were entering and the lush green surroundings.

For the majority of the 15th and 16th, we climbed steep hills, the first hills I have experienced with a bike fully loaded and the first hills on our route so far. After sweeping and speeding down hills alongside rivers and glowing valleys lit by the late afternoon sun, we found a campsite with a swimming pool. Krista negotiated a discount and for 10 euro, we stayed for two nights in Theux, relaxing and catching up with bike maintenance chores!

Posted by Dan

Back to the future

Sunday, June 15th, 2008

Krista rides through the Sint Anna tunnel, to Antwerp

the wheels keep turning

We’re now in Belgium, more stories to follow…

Holland hospitality

Sunday, June 8th, 2008

Beautiful bicycles of Holland, as seen on the RideHimalaya tour

We’ve started as we mean to continue, with a fantastic detour! We took the ferry from Harwich to the Hook of Holland and were greeted at the port by Jasper and his partner Birthe.

Jasper is an old and dear friend – who was cycling around Australia when I first met him. In 1994 he persuaded me to cycle from Alice Springs to Port Augusta with him, a journey of 1000 km on rough desert terrain. He also joined me on the Malaysia section of my world trip…

And so kindly, Jasper and Birthe escorted us in an exhilerating early morning ride along the sand dunes north to Den Haag (the Hague), for a delicious breakfast of homemade gluten free cheesecake!!!

What an auspicious way to commence our journey!

Keep an eye out for this post as we’ll add more stories…

Posted by Krista

Jasper rides again!

A Time of Gifts

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2008

Daniel Coward rides through Dodford on the road that is a river, through the village once former home of Patrick Leigh Fermor

Fairport Convention’s ‘Meet on the Ledge’ rings out across the air. It is the perfect accompaniment to the grey drizzle that is clouding London. The view from the top floor flat of Anna and Tom’s sky rise home is not quite so inspiring this morning. Nearby Finsbury Park and Highbury have vanished within the thick mist. The usually green tree tops and red roof tops that sweep down to the Thames have even absorbed the monochrome. The air is still, and the dripping trees beside the wet, grey slate and fading brickwork call us down to start the first morning of this journey:

Navigate London, onto Harwich for a night crossing to the Hook of Holland.

Yesterday we stalked St. Katherine’s Dock dreaming, hoping that the arriving London barges or luxury yachts would turn East again, offering us to sail with them to Harwich. No such luck!

Patrick Leigh Fermor, however, did manage to secure a ride on a beautiful barge from the Thames across the North Sea to the Hook of Holland, in 1933. After being given a copy of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s book ‘A Time of Gifts’, we have realised an abundance of coincidences… and so the start of our journey will follow the path he stepped.

When aged 18, he left London, bound for Constantinople (Istanbul), on foot. Over the next four years, Patrick Leigh Fermor walked, sailed and hitched his way across 1930’s Europe. As well as his route being similar to ours, both Krista and I have shared the towns, villages and countryside where he grew up. As a child, he lived and played in the Northamptonshire village of Dodford, just near Daventry where I grew up. Amused by ‘the street that was a river’, he played there as I did when I was a boy. He later lived and studied in Canterbury, where Krista lived for a large part of her childhood.

I expect his account of Europe, as he walked its breadth, will be different to ours, but as we start our journey, we are inspired by his adventure.

Posted by Dan

Loaded up

Sunday, June 1st, 2008

Krista and Dan weigh about 100 kilos each

(35 kilos of luggage + daily water ration + 15 kilos of bike + 60 kilos of person) x 2 = slowly,slowly

Posted by Krista