Epic European Cycle

2015-07-09 : Cycle to Freshwater with Beth
I miss Dewey! We picked up rental bikes today. As is normal for rental bikes, they're pretty crappy. And, of course, no clip pedals. I am SO used to the clips on Dewey, I'm having a hard time riding a bike with normal pedals. Sheesh!
We cycled from Cowes to Freshwater today along the "Coastal Route" cycle route. It was really great, although the Isle of Wight could do a lot to improve their cycle signage. When we got to Freshwater, we had thought to ride out to Needles, but our hosts, Alexander and Christina, convinced us that it was better to walk because you're not allowed to cycle along the most scenic route. They were crazy hospitable. They are from Hungary, and lived in Toronto and Barrie for a few months where Alex completely fell in love with Canada (and, apparently, Canadians). Seriously, it was like we were long-lost relatives that they'd been saving up for ten years for a visit. They ended up taking us out to the Needles and walking part of the path with us, then they tried to make us a dinner reservation at the best place in town (The Red Lion), but that didn't work out, so then they took us past the Co-Op so we could buy some groceries instead. Really great folks - I hope they take us up on the offer to come visit in Canada someday.

2015-07-10 : Cycle to Shanklin with Beth
Today was our "long ride" day for the trip. 40km. Not hard if you're in the swing of touring, but a big deal for us today. We had a good warm-up day yesterday, and glorious weather, so we had the best of everything.

We started off by climbing an enormous hill out of Freshwater Bay, and cycled along the highway for quite a while with amazing views of the ocean and the white cliffs at Freshwater. Heading inland, we saw some great little villages and climbed a few smaller hills. Near Atherfield, we re-joined the highway and had lunch at the Whyte Mouse Inn before climbing the enormous hill up to Blackgang.

Per Alex and Kristina's advice, we wanted to stop in Niton to see St. Catherine's Lighthouse. In Niton, we left our bikes in town and walked down to see the lighthouse, and was I ever glad we did! The hill was really steep - I think part of it was at least 20% grade. It would have been impossible (for me) to cycle back up it.

After Niton, we spent some time on the highway again, which was fairly busy at this point as we headed to Ventnor. At Ventnor, we turned inland, and climbed a couple of hills before we reached Wroxall. At Wroxall, we easily found the rail trail direct to Shanklin, and at Shanklin, Brent's superior navigational skills found our way to our Inn.

This morning Beth said the Isle of Wight is diamond shaped, and we were staying at 9:00, and riding all the way to 4:00. Well, interestingly, we also started riding around 9:00 this morning and arrived in Shanklin around 4:00, so we rode from 9:00 to 4:00 to get from 9:00 to 4:00. A great day.

2015-07-11 : Cycle to Ryde with Beth
Today was a very short riding day. We had made it all the way to St. Helens before we decided to stop for our first break, and from there it was a fast ride to Ryde. We had thought to do a wine tour and cider tour, but where the places were located was inconvenient and would have meant adding 10km of riding, which we weren't willing to do on our "short day" of riding. So, instead we explored Ryde, had a beer at Ryde Castle, had a chocolate at the Chocolate Apothecary, and soon we'll be heading down to Three Buoys for seafood dinner.
Just about every night since Beth joined us, we've been having little evening jam sessions. Beth plays the flute, and is coming up on her 38th(?) anniversary of playing. She plays professionally and teaches. Brent plays the recorder, but he hates to practice - he just wants to magically be able to play. I've been playing the ukulele for a year, and I'm a hack who just wants to play and sing silly songs. My vocal range is really narrow, so I have to convert every song into the one key that I can sing in, which is A, but the key of A is hard to play on the ukulele, so I tune my uke so that I can play the chords of G (easiest), but have the sound come out in the key of A (two half-notes up). Let's just say that the contrast between Beth's abilities, and our abilities, is... uh... entertaining. We're having fun, though, and that's all that really matters. We particularly enjoy playing "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" (Monty Python), because we can all participate.

2015-07-12 : Cycle to East Cowes with Beth
It was rainy and windy today, so we opted to use the Coastal Route to go directly back to Cowes. Good thing. Brent was really tired of hauling our wretched trailer, and it worked out well for us to do a luggage transfer with Lorraine and Pip before they set out to watch a tennis match early this afternoon.

Once we had concluded our business in East Cowes (return rental bikes, check in to hotel, luggage transfer), we took the bus from Cowes to Arreton Barns with the thought that we would have dinner at the Dairyman's Daughter. We were done exploring rather early, and the whole area smelled quite enthusiastically of poop, so we took the bus back to Newport for dinner at the Wheatshank and then back to Cowes.

Brent identified a better ferry option for Beth in the morning. Yay! It was looking like she was going to have to get up at 4:30 to take the chain ferry over to East Cowes, to get the Red Funnel to Southampton on time to make her train. A quick search on Brent's part identified that the Red Jet - which is just outside our hotel - no chain ferry to East Cowes needed - has better departure/arrival times. Beth walked over and inquired about using her Red Funnel ticket on Red Jet and they stamped her straight through!

2015-07-13 : Ventnor and Folly on Isle of Wight
Yesterday Beth, Brent and I bought a "group ticket" on the transit system to go out to Arreton. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the ticket was actually for a full 24-hours - it had an expiry date and time. Since we didn't buy our ticket until 2PM, Brent and I were able to use the same ticket today. The weather was pretty yucky, but we took an excursion out to Ventnor to have a look around. It's a REALLY pretty town. When we got back, Lorraine and Pip took us out to their favorite pub, the Folly Inn in Whippingham, where we had dinner and drinks.
The weather was pretty crappy all day, and I had booked us in to camp at Waverly Park for the next three nights. We thought about abandoning that plan (and they money I'd pre-paid for us to stay there), but after a lot of fretting and gnashing of teeth (and waiting out the weather), we finally decided to stick with Plan A. I'm glad we did - it turned out to be quite nice and getting better.

2015-07-14 : Osborne House and Barber
Everyone on the Isle of Wight has told us we HAVE TO go to Osborne House, so today was the day. We spent a good part of the day there. It was really interesting, and lots to explore. Then, I "forced" Brent off to the Barber where we had the good fortune of getting Brent "transformed" by Eve, who was super-patient and awesome.

2015-07-15 : Isle of Wight with L&P
My new merino wool sweater that I bought in Killarney picked up the essence of Clones on it. When we were there, Clones suffered from the ungodly smell of farmers spreading slurry on their fields for fertilizer, and my poor sweater has smelled of it ever since. I'm reluctant to run the sweater through the wash unnecessarily - wool doesn't really like being washed. And the smell only comes out when the sweater gets a bit wet. So, I've been putting up with it. The last couple of nights, though, I've been using the sweater as part of my pillow for sleeping in the tent, and WOOF! I may have to run that sweater through the wash...
Today we got the grand tour of the Isle of Wight from Lorraine and Pip. They took us out to Alum Bay for another look at the Needles. We drove Military Road around over to Ventnor for lunch, and then back via Sandown. Pretty much covered the whole island. It was great to be able to spend the day with our friends - a luxury we probably wouldn't have had if it weren't for the Schengen issues. Thanks, Schengen!

2015-07-16 : To Heathrow Area
Silly, naïve me. I thought that I could go away for six months without bringing my heel care regimen with me. I have a serious problem with my heels cracking, and if I don't stay on top of it, using a solon-grade shaver thingy on a regular basis, my heels can get so cracked and painful that it's close to impossible for me to walk (or cycle). My heels started cracking while we were in Scotland (I made it about two months). I bought some overnight heel cream just a couple days ago, but since we were camping I haven't had a chance to try it out yet (I have no faith in it anyway). Today, Brent and I went to a "Poundland" store (you know... like a dollar store, but for pounds), and I found this really nifty heel ball thingy that is sort of like a cheese grater... only for heels. I can't wait to try it! Yay! But I really should have brought my proper shaver thingy along. Next time I try to go away for more than two months, I'll know.
Brent and I made it to Longford (Heathrow area) quite early today and enjoyed lunch at the White Horse Pub. Then, we checked into our hotel and did some errands and went for a bite to eat at the King's Arms, which was not nearly as charming, but which had a beer garden in the back with a view of the Heathrow Pod Parking track, so we got to watch the pods go back and forth. It was quite entertaining.
Pod Parking
Pod Event

2015-07-17 : To Frankfurt
I forgot to empty out the "boob safe" this morning before going through security. Set off the machine. Got searched. Had to empty the "boob safe" in public. After security, the "Snot Queen" returned with a vengeance, and Brent said it was a good thing I hadn't blown my nose before security or I would have also been busted for bringing through a liquid/gel.
We were SOOOO happy to see our own bikes today, after riding the vile rental bikes, and hauling the vile rental trailer (poor Brent). I am so happy to be riding Dewey, and to have my clip pedals, and to have my rear-view mirror again! What a difference!
We got really really accustomed to the temperatures in Ireland and the UK. Like, much colder than in Germany. When we got to Germany today we almost died! It will be nice to have a few days to acclimatize before we have to get on the bikes in a serious way. We rode about 5km today, collecting our bikes out of storage and riding them to our hotel. Maybe put on a few kms tomorrow as well - we'll see.
On the flight today, I wrote myself a "cheat sheet" of what to say to our border guard out of a few phrases that I found in Brent's phrase book. When we got to the guy, we were lucky and had a happy, friendly young fellow. He was fully fluent in English, and happy to speak it, but I asked him if I could state our business in German. I told him (yes, I realize there are errors in it... that's not the point), "Wir bin hier im Urlaup auf der Schengen fur sechs Wochen. Wir gehe Frankfurt nach Budapest auf Fahrrad." We are here on holidays in Schengen for six weeks. We are going from Frankfurt to Budapest on bicycle.

He asked me if I'd written it out myself or if someone had written it for me. I told him I wrote it out. And then he questioned me, twice, to confirm that I meant to say we were going from Frankfurt to Budapest on bicycle. It wasn't that he didn't understand my German... it was just that he thought I was making a mistake. Surely I didn't mean we were going from Frankfurt to Budapest on bicycle! It was awesome.

2015-07-18 : Errand Day in Frankfurt
Oddly, I haven't found coming to Germany to be "jarring" this time like it was last time. Coming from Britain is ok - everything seems pretty normal (except in German). Coming from Western France was a shock though, because the pace there is so slow, and the people so over-the-top warm and friendly.
I brought a skort along for warmer days, but I chose poorly. I brought one of the heavy Costco skorts. Uhhhh... yeah, apparently a "winter skort". It is way too heavy and warm to be of any good, so I decided I wanted to head down to the area where we bought our backpacks and look for a skort. That area happened to be the epicenter of the Frankfurt Gay Pride Parade today, and we ended up with front row standing to watch. My favorite was some guys painted in rainbow colors, sort of like the ones from the web page only better. Brent's favorite was a mobile drum circle. I received a flag and brochure from something to do with gay rights in Israel.
Technology can be really great... and it can also be a complete ass. A while back, I booked to stay in our Frankfurt hotel for tonight. Then, we decided to come a day early so I wanted to book us for a second night (last night). Booking.com wouldn't let me modify my existing booking and add the second night, but it had no problem with creating a second booking for the second night. You can see where this is going.

Yesterday when we checked in, I explained the situation and asked if we would be able to stay in the same room for both nights, or if we would have to check out in between the two nights. The fella I talked to said he would put a note on my reservation that we were keeping the same room. This morning when we went out, I stopped by the desk to confirm that they knew we were staying in the same room. They didn't know. Their "system" didn't know. But, they were nice about it and went "ticky ticky ticky" on their computer to set it up for us to stay in the room.

We went out for the day and came back in late afternoon. Everything was fine. We had a nap. At 7:30PM, someone from the hotel came to knock on the door to find out who was in here and how long we were staying. Their "system" didn't know we were renewed in here. They got it straightened out, but surely there must be a way to convert "two separate reservations for two separate nights" into "one reservation for two nights" without me having to talk to every single staff member only to still end up with a mix-up!? If everything weren't so dependent on technology, this surely would not have happened. A quick phone call when I wanted to book the second night would have sufficed.

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