Saturday, 26 May 2012

Day 3 - And as I wind on down the road ...

The day dawned sunny and bright, but not so my spirits when I saw that I had my first puncture of the journey. I cheated by swapping in a new tube, took the opportunity to put a new chain on (as I have a rotating chain policy) and eventually set off by 9:15.

Eindhoven - Cologne
 The first part of the journey was a long day long, straight road, through a canopy of trees and I reached the small town of Asten by 10 o'clock, so I stopped for coffee. When I had set out on Saturday it had been about 10° C, but now it was about 25° and sunny. As I sat enjoying my coffee and cheese on toast the church bells chimed the hour with a short tune. It sounded familiar, and I realised that it was Led Zepplin's "Stairway to Heaven". Appropriate, I guess, for a church, but I wondered what Messrs Page, Plant and Bonham would have made of it when they were busy throwing TV sets out of hotel rooms to know that one day one of their songs would be rendered by church bells in a small Dutch town. I waited for the guitar licks, but they did not come.

The stairway to heaven ...
On again, and I eventually came to the River Maas, where I had to take a ferry. From there it was but a few miles until the German border. The first country crossed.

It was now a case of adapting to a different approach to bicycle lanes. There were some, but they were inconsistent and of not such good quality. It was also not clear when they needed to be used. The terrain was starting to swell a little, not hilly, just not the pancake flatness of the Netherlands. "Stairway to Heaven" continued to go round and round in my head.

The GPS was still proving to be very useful, and it guided me effortlessly through the city of Monchen-Gladbach and out along a series of narrow lanes that stretched in a straight line across ploughed fields in the direction of Cologne. Things were going really well until the lane I was on became a ploughed field itself and the GPS unit battery ran flat. Unfortunately the back roads I had taken left me with absolutely no idea where I was, so I had to retrace my steps, guess the right direction and cycle off until I found a landmark, a railway station at Rommerskirchen. I knew then that I had about an hour and a half to go to Cologne.

In Cologne I was going to be staying with Frida, a daughter of one of Helen's friends, and her partner, Niels. The GPS had details of where their apartment was, so I managed to plug in the emergency backup and this took me through the city streets right to their front door. By now it was about 7 o'clock, and there was a very pleasant, warm, summery feel to the streets of the city as I pedalled on through. It felt like a nice city to live in.

Frida and Niels made me feel very welcome. This was just as well, as I arrived looking a mess, the first symptoms of the summer's hayfever just hitting me as I arrived at their apartment. My eyes swelled up with an allergic reaction and I could barely see. Getting under a shower was a lifesaver.

To my surprise, even though I had cycled 83 miles I was still feeling energetic enough to agree to go out for a look around the city. We ate pizzas and then they showed me the magnificent cathedral, the bridges and the ceiling of the opera house. This was of interest because the opera house is underground, and after completion it was discovered that if people walk across the roof, which is in a public space, their footsteps can be heard in the auditorium. So when there is a performance a small group of people stand on guard on the ceiling, stopping people walking across the open space.

They were keen to take me to a brauhaus, and introduce me to the traditional Cologne way of drinking beer. Waiters walk around with trays of 0.2 l glasses of beer and slap them down in front of you. When you finish one glass, with impressive dexterity they replace your empty glass with a full one in a one handed sweep. If you do not put a beer mat over the glass, it never ends. Anyway, after three or four of these rather delicious, fresh-tasting glasses of beer we tottered out into the warm evening air and walked home.

I slept well. 251 miles down, pretty well a quarter of the way there. But I was not really prepared for what was to come in the next few days.

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