Small trip to Ostfriesland

Last week I went for a small trip of four days to Ostfriesland. A girl asked me if I could leave it all behind me and be really away for that time being. I answered yes I think I can, but the question still lingered on in the back of my head.

For this trip I had quite a set route and places I wanted to visit. Therefore I could easily have my mind set on the trip itself. I wanted to explore the region I wasn’t that familiar with, but not that unknown either. I have been in Aurich and Wilhelmshaven before but that’s been ages ago. I wanted to explore Ostfriesland more than that.
Furthermore, I knew when I would be back and the things I had to do the coming week. So I ‘just’ parked that in the back of my head and enjoyed the cycling through Ostfriesland with the sun on my back.
When you cycle you have all the time in the world to ponder on things. So, of course you think about things you have to do, you want to do and make new plans for different kind of things. And that isn’t bad, quite the opposite, apart from the fact that you cannot not think about anything (at least I can’t). It is very refreshing to be away on the bike and your primary concern is the route and in the afternoon a place to stay. That isn’t difficult in Germany where you have good cycle routes and plenty of fields to camp. In those four days you have all the time to philosphize about everything, since you don’t have to bother about other people or work or whatever. The same goes for a longer period of time when the one difference is is that you have more days to wander, wonder and ponder. Sure, to be away for a longer period of time is more adventurous. But if you want to clear your head or just reload yourself, a microadventure of a few days is more than enough. You don’t need to cycle to the Nordkapp just for that.

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My first campsite of the trip, between Riepe and Aurich (the photograph was taken in the early morning.

Now a few words about the trip itself. As I already mentioned, I had quite a clear goal where I wanted to go. The Upstalsboom at Aurich is where the old Frisians used to gather in a socalled ‘thing’ which we know from the Vikings. It was a kind of folk gathering from all the Frisian regions and where they kept court as well. So, an old place and it was seen as a sacred place which the oaks are proof of. The site is important for the Frisian history and it still is, since on the third day of Pentecost there is an assembly of the Frisians from the Netherlands, West-Germany (Ostfriesland) and the northern part of Germany with the border of Denmark (Nordfriesland).
The language that is spoken in that part of Germany isn’t Frisian anymore, but is Plattdüütsch (Lower German), which is still very much alive, since you hear it all around you and shops have signs in that language as well (I’m a lousy reporter since I haven’t made a picture of it). I knew Plattdüütsch is still common, but when you see and hear it anew you come to realize again how normal it is.
What I kinda have forgotten is the fact that they really see themselves as Frisians since I saw the sign of ‘Eala Frya Fresena’ (hail free Frisians) in a seamingly quiet town of Ogenbargen on a Landgasthof. Later on the same sign on a house. I should go back again and then really talk to the people to do a little survey. Would they feel more Frisian in the countryside, so in small towns as Ogenbargen or Hooksiel? More than in Wilhemshaven or Norden or Emden? And what about the islands?

After Jever (where I drank a Jever of course) and which is a nice town in itself I doubted if I would go diagonal to Hooksiel and visit more small towns on the way or go to Wilhemshaven and after that harbour city up to Hooksiel and take the western route alongside the coast. I chose to visit Wilhemshaven, but came to regret it actually. The town had a lot of tourists due to the beautiful weather and wasn’t that interesting. It was just a harbour, to be quite frank. But I stumbled upon a ‘Friesenbrunnen’. Again a sign of the strong Frisian history is still alive and kicking.

The cities of Norden and Emden I found much nicer. A friend of mine said that Emden could have been as nice as Harns if it hadn’t been bombed during WWII. But still it’s a nice little harbour city and apparently it is quite thriving since there was a fair going on in that weekend. I haven’t experienced it, since I was there in the early morning.
Landscapewise the East-Frisian region is quite the same as our Fryslân. Rural, Waddensea and islands. But there are also the characteristic socalled ‘sidewing landscapes’, relative small pieces of land with trees around them you see in a specific region of Fryslân, the region where I’m from. And you even have placenames that are the same.

In short I can highly recommend you to get on your bike on such a microadventure and visit Ostfriesland!

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The socalled dyke sheep you have in Fryslân as well with the island of Wangeroog in the background.

Three talks

The next best thing to cycling is talking about cycling. I have the honour to do that three times this month. Once even abroad.

I attend a Danish course and because of my last trip I missed out two lessons. To make up for that I had to give a little talk about my trip this evening.

On the Facebook site of Warm Showers was a call for talks for cyclists who would be crossing through Gent, Belgium, at the end of Februari. They would be offered a place to stay with people from the socalled ‘Fietskeuken‘ (Bicycle Kitchen). A place where you can fix your bike yourself, meet up with other bike enthusiasts and have a drink.
Well, why not try to go through Gent on my way up? But the event was postponed to the end of March. Since I was still welcome to give a talk (the subject is not only about my trips, but also in relation to my writing) I will be going by train, because it’s too fun not to go there and give a talk and meet the people of the Fietskeuken.

The last one is next week in the village where I was born and raised. In The Netherlands, and I think especially in Fryslân every village has a club of people who are dedicated to do work for the village. These clubs organise an annual fair and other festivities, information (signs), streetlights and everything to make the place a nicer community. In the village of Damwâld they always have somebody who gives a talk about whatever subject after the annual general meeting. This time they asked me. Well, my dad did sosince he is in the board.

Since I won’t make a bike trip the upcoming months I can talk about my previous travels. Every talk has it’s own point of focus, a different public and place, so it will be far from boring. And of course I hope to enthusiast other people to make trips like mine. Fun to mention, is that the three talks will be in three different languages. First Danish, second Dutch and the third Frisian.
Another reason I like to do it, is that I can mention Cycling out of Poverty and the great work they are doing.

So, if you think it could be interesting to ask me to give a talk, you can always contact me. The payment I ask for it, goes directly to CooP, so you’re also helping out a great charity organisation. Win-win situation!

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When you can smell the stable

Arriving in Luxembourg I could really tell it was only just March, because it was cold, wet and grey. Nevertheless I enjoyed wandering through the city. In the afternoon I got a very warm welcome by my host, Jula. Great conversation, as well with the other people living in the big white house. There was supposed to be a house ghost for which I was the sacrifice. My bike, tent and other stuff was already divided among the residents. Luckily I woke up safe and sound and could continue my journey after having breakfast and a cup of coffee.

Since Luxembourg isn’t that big compared to France, it didn’t take me so long to cross the border with Belgium, although I did make a little ‘detour’ through Müllertal. At this point I could sense I wasn’t that far away from home anymore and so a switch turned inside my head, from the position of ‘happily roaming around’ to ‘lets go home’. But it was still one switch, so I ignored it the best I could. After a difficult ride through the hilly eastern part of Belgium (St. Vith – Malmedy – Spa – Theux) I arrived in Liège. I had two hosts there in order to see the city and to experience my very first carnaval on Saturday. I spend the Friday evening with a very friendly family, where I could leave my bike in their hallway the next day to explore the city by foot. It was the only day of my whole trip that I didn’t ride a single kilometer! Since my second host never replied after he had said I could join him to the carnaval, the Claessens-family took me along with their lovely kids. Although there was a thunderstorm and quite some rain I enjoyed the parade and the burning of mister winter a lot.

The next day I another switch flicked in my head when I arrived in the city of Maastricht. This was one I couldn’t ignore. Now I was really at a point of going as fast as possible through the Netherlands up north. I could easily smell the stable as we say in Frisian, i.e. I had the feeling of being almost home and wanted to be home. I had two more hosts, since it would be too far of a stretch to cycle in one day. I didn’t sleep in the tent anymore after the northern part of Luxembourg. For several reasons. First, I never had a Warmshower-host in the Netherlands before and wanted to try that out. Second, meeting new people is always delightful. Third, I got a bit fed up with the cold mornings coming out of the tent with nightfrost. Fourth, wildcamping is not that easy in The Netherlands, etcetera etcetera.

I can’t praise the community of Warmshowers enough. It’s always a joy to meet people on the street and have a little chat, but when you have a host, you get the opportunity to have a little peek in their lives. You can have more conversation to get to know them better than the five minutes on the street. You can ask them questions about their travels, but also about the customs and culture of the country you’re in. Sometimes you meet one with a lot of experience, so you can learn quite some from the other. At other times you spend the night at a family, who only do some mountainbiking, but are really interested in your travelling and they bend your ears by asking a thousand questions. One takes you along in the city and you have a stop or two in a pub. With another host, you sit and talk with a cup of tea and you end the evening with a board game.
But in which way every host is the same, is that every single one is as friendly, kind, generous and welcoming as they can be. And with everyone you have that one thing in common, namely the pedaldriven two-wheeled machine called a bicycle.

I won’t say travelling by bike would be boring without Warmshowers, but it definitely makes a trip all the more interesting – and during winter a bit more comfortable.
In short, I had another great bike adventure and got safely back home in the city of Groningen. A nice detail is that I didn’t see the sun for days, but when I just got in the centre, she winked at me through the clouds and was gone again. I guess it was the way of the gods to welcome me home.

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Tour de France

The Mediterranean See is quite nice, but after more than a week I didn’t mind to go more inland. After Montpellier I headed straight-up north again.

But I was immediately a victim of my own bad planning. I have a tendency to plan things a bit too tight. In Narbonne I e-mailed a fellow-Frisian poet, who lives in Grenoble, that I could be there in four days and if he thought it to be a good idea to have a coffee, maybe even a place for my tent in his garden. I received an e-mail already the same day that he was delighted to hear of my coming. I could have dinner with them and could sleep in the house. It was a most pleasant stay to say the least. He and his wife have been on bicycle trips as well. We had a nice chat about literature, new projects and what not. He showed me around in Grenoble and as a history and geography teacher his knowledge was vast. And he knew a few good pubs as well…

To come back at the bad planning. Before I finally reached Grenoble I had to make quite some kilometers per day to get there in time. Although I enjoyed the scenery of south-east France, especially the last bit to Grenoble between the mountains, I constantly looked at my watch so to speak. On the other hand I didn’t mind, because in that way I got quite a bit inland, which I wanted.
The next day I had made another appointment… I had the honour of hosting a French couple in October last year. They live in Lyon, so they warmly invited me to stop by. I thought, Grenoble – Lyon isn’t that far, it can be done in one day.
And it could, easily. But by train. It was very pleasant to give my feet and myself some rest. And I enjoyed the trip by train. Just a different way of travelling for once. And in Lyon itself I could rest some more, but still got some exercise, since Gael showed me the old part of the city.

After having slept more than a week in my tent, it was sheer luxury to have a bed for two nights in a row. And even three meals with some company. Namely, the night before Grenoble I asked at a rowing club if I could camp in the little field beside it. That was alright. But then came a man from across the road, who explained that he owned the building company there and that the piece of grass belonged to him. I stammered that I asked the coach of the club if it was okay. Sure, sure, he was just checking if I needed anything. I could have a shower, coffee, water or whatever before closing time. At first I kindly refused, but than I thought, a splendid way to meet local people. Since my lost stay was a week ago, I missed the social interaction as well. When I got there for a shower, an employee asked if I didn’t want to eat with him, because he would stay for the night in the building. First he needed to go into town to do some shopping and running. We had a tasty French beer and a lovely chat over dinner. And he pointed me on the fact I was on the wrong side of the river Isère, on the other side would be a cycle path which was a lot better than the busy road I was on at the moment.

After Lyon I didn’t haste so much anymore, so I could even enjoy the scenery more. There is a lot of variety. Mountains, hills, green fields and after Mâcon I cycled through wineyards. The farmers were already busy with getting the orchards ready for spring. The route along the Saône was delightful and peaceful. And I got through areas, which reminded me of the Tour de France. My father always sees that and as a kid I saw of course some fragments when I looked up from playing with Lego. The little villages with here and there a chateau in the middle of that beautiful landscape. My last host in Ageville advised me about the best route to take to Metz and further to Luxembourg. He did a good job, since it was a very beautiful route through Lorraine over the (sometimes steep) hills. Especially when it blowed like hell and I had the wind in the back.

Apart from that I can notice that I’m getting more and more north since the nights are getting a wee bit colder and the trees have less leaves than in Spain and the south of France. After Beaune I had a few times nightfrost and than it’s a bit cold to get out of your tent in the morning and have breakfast and pack up your stuff. I knew I would ‘overtake’ the cold, but I hoped it would be a bit more north than already in France.

But that’s just how it is. I can say with ease that France has treated me very well. Let’s see how Luxembourg is tomorrow.

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Early in the morning I packed up my tent with hoarfrost on it. In the afternoon I pitched it without wearing a shirt…

Sudden southern hospitality

I began a bit unsatisfactory, but I left Spain with a much lighter heart. Before Barcelona I found an orchard or two where I could pitch my tent. After the capitol of Catalunya the olive and orange trees gave way for green fields. It was still really looking where I could camp (which wildcamping always is), but I managed.

Although camping is part of such an adventure, another part is to get in contact with local people. To get to know the country and its culture. Unfortunately I have to say that finding a Warmshower-host was really difficult in Spain. A usual honk or a waving hand was actually all the interaction I had with passersby.  I thought that people from Spain would be more extrovert, so to speak, but I found out that they keep quite to themselves.
But there was one Warmshower-host in Barcelona with a positive answer. A very friendly German guy offered me a bed, although he and his girlfriend were very busy. That didn’t matter, I was most grateful I could stay there and not having to leave Barcelona the same day. We could have a little chat while making and having dinner.
The next day I met Sam, a fellow-WWOOF’er from Denmark. Before we had lunch I could enjoy the sunshine and dry my clothes and tent on some benches. We had a nice chat and good food. He inquired where I would sleep that day. In my tent, but where I would put it, I didn’t know at the moment. If I didn’t want to eat and sleep at his parents place. Just sixty kilometers north from Barcelona, a small village called Santa Susanna. Well, with the beautiful weather I could easily make it before dark. So, of course I kindly accepted the offer. While calling his mother he askes me if I speak a bit Spanish. No more than ‘gracias’, ‘cerveza’ and ‘adios’. I concluded that his parents didn’t speak English all too well. That would be interesting.

And interesting it was! With hands and feet and Google Translate we came really far in communicating with each other. They were lovely people who did all the effort to make me comfortable, give me tons of food and all the southern hospitality you can imagine.
That chance meeting was a real pleasure. I could finally talk with local people and have a little insight in their lifes. I even experienced a little squabble when I asked if they felt more Catalan or Spanish. He wanted independency, but she thought Catalonia is just a part of Spain. He ended the argument by saying to me ‘it’s a problem, it’s a problem.’

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I left their home quite early and the weather turned from bad to worse. But when I ate the sandwhich from a big lunchpack they gave me for on the road, it made up for the hard rain.
And than my last day in Spain with the grand finale, called the Pyrenees! It was a hell of a fun ride! The climbing, the views, the fact that there was less traffic, going downhill and what not. Really great fun. Next time a bit higher up to Andorra. What helped was that the weather was much better. Quite some fog in the morning but it got better at the beginning of the afternoon. Having to camp with a bit of sunshine makes just all the difference.

So I hope I find the same friendly people while crossing France to get to know more of the inhabitants, culture, habits and so on and that I find the some nice weather and lovely roads to ride on.

And now I’m really off!

After spending a few very nice days with my sister and brother-in-law, my nerves were cooled down and I got some extra fat of all the good food. I left Tuesday morning. Although the coast from Alicante and up is called the Green Coast and is therefore quite beautiful, I chose to take the inland route up to Gandia and than to Valencia and so on. Just for the variety.
When I was one pedalstroke off the drive I was directly back in my element. Like I never did something else in my life, so quickly you’ve got the same routine back again. The difficulty of getting out of a city (Alcoi this time, Valencia was really easy!), the rythm of the pedalling, the adaption to the ways of the Spanish traffic, finding a nice spot for a break, checking the map while riding, enjoying the view, a chat with a local, filling the watersack to have water for dinner and washing and all the other little routines who come along with this easy way of living.

The first day the sun was out, the wind had died down a bit, although it was still there, but fortunately I had mostly tailwind. It was a fabulous ride (apart from navigating through Alcoi). The Spanish drivers give you so much space, that I sometimes fear they’ll go off the road on the other side.
And how I love to climb. Slow and steady you go up in that neverending rhythm of the pedals. You sweat like a pig, you pant like a sixty old whore and you feel like a million bucks when you’re up the mountain to enjoy the view. And than the sweet treat of going downhill. Can’t we get any mountains in Fryslân?
The scenery is magnificent and places I go through are not so touristy (yet), because it is still only Februari. And therefore it is not so hot, but just very nice to roll up the sleeves of my jacket.

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But that was only the first day. The cycling itself along the coast isn’t quite what I expected (so I was even more pleased with the choice of going inland first). I needed to go on some highways or along a cycle path beside it. I must say, the roads or good and in cities the cycle paths as well. Apart from that is the scenery still beautiful. Mountains on my right and the Mediterranean on my left. So why the ‘but’ at the beginning of this paragraph? One of the routines, a big routine I can say, is wildcamping. And that is not so easy along the Spanish coast. Or have I lost my touch? The first day I did find a spot. The second day I didn’t and ended up on a camping. The third day I found a really nice spot just behind a railway track, but it was with some difficulty. And while I am writing this blog entry I’m sitting in a hotelroom for crying out loud! I rode for miles and miles without succes. Contacted two Warmshower-hosts, as well with no succes. But a hotelroom is most definitely not part of the adventure. It’s nice to have a shower, to sleep indoors, but it is the selfsufficiency, a bit of hardship, the total freedom of sleeping whereever you want that make a cycle trip so great.

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Don’t mind the railway track behind the photographer…

If have the feeling I don’t have much options along the coast. It goes only one way north, so to speak. There are a lot of orchards, but I’m afraid if they spot me they throw me out. I can’t camp near the see for the same reason. There isn’t much space alongside the road and there I’m as well too easy to spot. Am I making excuses? Do I just have lost my touch? I’m I too chicken to try? I know one thing for sure, I need to go looking for a spot a bit earlier. It’s already getting dark at around seven o’clock. I’m used to cycling in summer time, so I have to remind myself that I have now shorter days. This hotel feels like a failure, to be frank. I really have to change either my route, my mindset or whatever it is that led me here…

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And I’m off!

And I’m off! Not quite, since I’ll be cycling on Tuesday. First of all I’ll spent a few days in Alicante with my sister  and my brother-in-law.

Actually, I need those few days to regain my nerves again. All went well with the packing of the bicycle. My usual bikeshop had a box and some bubble plastic to safely wrap the bike up. The band I used to play in still has a trailer and my mother-in-law (yes, I am going on a bike trip again, but not because my relationship has ended, as some people think) kinda took care of the ride to Eindhoven Airport.
So, no worries there, but when we got to my parents-in-law their place I saw that the box wasn’t that solid after all. The front tyre sunk through the cardboard a bit. We wrapped it up with tape as good as we could, but still it was in the back of my head. Off we went right on time. Nice weather, not much traffic. A hour too early we arrived at the airport. We had a coffee, but my anxiety about the box only grew. What if it would tear? What if they wouldn’t handle it with care?

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The time for the check-in came. If I had deflated the tyres? Uh, no I didn’t. It wasn’t on the website. Oh yes, it’s clearly on the website, the woman behind the counter said. No use for a squabble, I had to make a little hole in the proximity of the tyres to be able to get to the valves. We brought the tape along, so while I cut in the box, my girlfriend went back to the car for the tape. The package was now lighter because there was less air inside, but we overcompensated it with a lot of tape. Very environmentally friendly… Flying as well. What the hell was I thinking of venturing a trip like this?
No turning back now, no time for second thoughts or whining. We fixed it as good as we could and put it on the line for odd-sized luggage. I prayed to many deities when the shutter went down again and my precious bicycle was out of sight.
Than I had to wait to go on the plane. While flying you can only think of the bicycle down in the luggage compartment. Is the box still in tact? Or better yet, the bicycle?
Itwasn’t all horrible, I had a place at the window. And it was a clear day, when we took off it was twilight, so you could see the many lights down where people fled home from their work like ants. To worry about your bike isn’t so bad as to worry about your mortgage, your squealing kids and your headaching wife.

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And as always, everything turns out just fine. The box was there in one piece. My sister and brother-in-law were there and took me by car to their summer house. We had some wine and something to eat and of course a nice chat. We’ll probably have some more of that these coming days before I ride back north.