Terii’s Cycling Babble


Hit Between The Eyes
September 28, 2013, 8:26 am
Filed under: Misc

Written Friday – September 20th

The past two days were a bit hectic. One in a bad way that had me doubting the whole wisdom of this trip. The other in a much better way.

Wednesday morning, we woke somewhat early giving us a chance to clean up for the day and pack. About 7:30 am we left the room with our luggage. Our plan was to have everything loaded up so we could pay the bill, start breakfast right at 8 am and be on our way.

Little did I  know what awaited me at a later rest-stop

Little did I know what awaited me at a later rest-stop

Clearly the staff isn’t used to early risers at this place. The day before I’d asked about the earliest check-out time. The woman had given me a confused look. “Breakfast is at 8 am,” she answered.

“So, we can’t check-out earlier?” I clarified.

“Someone will be here to start preparing for breakfast at 7 am. You can leave then.” She seemed truly baffled that someone might leave before breakfast. No, definitely not accustomed to early risers departing before 8 am. At least it helped explain the confusion of the woman on the morning shift when we came quietly down to take the first load to the car. We took a short stroll to kill more time until 8 am ticked round and we returned to the hotel for our last breakfast there.

After a roll with strawberry jam for me and ham, cheese, a roll and coffee for Jens, we paid and left.

Since Bruges was just starting to wake up, it was fairly easy to escape and we were headed to Reims in short order.

The morning weather foreboded the coming day

The morning weather foreboded the coming day

To set up part of how the day went sour, other than the weather, I need to mention that for some reason Fanta Orange soda, which in Sweden I’m fine with, apparently tears my stomach up in the rest of Europe. Jens thinks it’s probably a difference in the coloring they use since it’s not as vivid an orange shade as back home. Since I’d always had it with meals and the (ahem) episodes had been mild and brief, it was hard to connect it to Fanta directly.

I won’t quibble, the weather was miserable and remained so as we passed into France. The plan was for Jens to drop me off in Reims where I would cycle by the sites out of the city and on to Epernay where he’d be exploring champagne cellars. The chill pour of rain dampened (haha) those plans from the beginning.

Somewhere during that first stretch to Reims, I had a Fanta and the truth of what had been upsetting my belly came clear. Suddenly, I was in desperate need of a bathroom. We pulled into a rest-stop and… culture shock.

Hard to imagine that something like a rest-stop can slam the force of cultural differences between one’s eyes and leave them reeling. That’s what happened though. Just the sight of urinals in open air made me hesitate. They were somewhat sheltered on 3 sides and roofed over, but no doors and in open view of passing traffic if not for the distance.

Only two doors were in the cinderblock building. One was for handicapped which I try to leave available in case someone needs it. So, I pulled open the other one and jumped out of my skin with a yelp at a violent flush of water.

The room was unoccupied. The flushing had been triggered by the door opening. That unexpected sound had added to the shock of what I was faced with. A tiled floor in a brick-walled room. At the back, a pipe ran down to near floor level from which the water had gushed. There, the floor turned into a funnel shape. That was it. It was not clean and no place for toilet paper to be mounted. Not that it had been torn away by some destructive person, but had never been a paper holder.

Horrified, I pushed the door shut and almost ran back to the car. Only desperation made me peek timidly into the handicapped room. Thankfully there was a toilet, without a seat. I managed.

I was surprised at how shaken I was. Revolted. If I use the bathroom in that way, it’s going to be in the woods where I’m not putting my shoes in other people’s mess. Give me a hole in a wooden board over a smelly pit before that any day!

I recognized the culture shock for what it was when I went back to Jens. “If ever I needed culture shock, I just got it,” I muttered as I settled back into my seat.

“One of those kinds of bathrooms?” he asked.

A little warning might have been nice.

I think that’s the first culture shock I’ve ever suffered. There have been times when the little differences have caught me by surprise, but I shrugged them off and adapted. I guess it’s because those other things never hit on something so basic or primal or what I was raised to regard as ‘ultimately foul’.

Porte Mars in Reims, France

Porte Mars in Reims, France

Garden near the Porte Mars

Garden near the Porte Mars

Already shaken and off-balance, Reims only hit me all the harder. No how. No way. I was not going to unload the trike and pedal through it. The city, at least the way we came in, and the area around the Porte Mars (Gate of Mars) was a nightmare. I’d looked on maps and Google Streetview, but it really gave me no clue of how rundown and the amount of traffic choking that area or how BIG the city was. I’m sure there must be pretty areas, but that first unappealing impression sent Jens and I running. We did to stop long enough to photo the gate which is all that remains of a 3rd century roman wall around the city of Durocortorum.

The rain and that part of town I was not going to ride in. I rushed around the old gate (beautiful and impressive btw) and we were gone from Reims and heading toward Epernay.

Something tells me this is champagne country

Something tells me this is champagne country

Grapes & Vines

Grapes & Vines

It was just as well as the bad starting point and rain put the end to the idea of a ride. I doubt I’d have made the 25 mile journey in the 6 hours or so we had before sundown.

Around home, if I’m loafing, it might take 3 hours to do 25 miles. If I have no wind and a good number of flats, just over 2. The elevation graph on MapMyRide didn’t look so bad. Climbs, yes, but looked manageable. I’d thought we’d arrive around 11 am, not 1 pm and allotted myself 5 hours accounting for hills and photo-stops.

The climbs were much steeper than I’d guessed from the elevation graph. I most likely could have done them, but it would have taken me forever to push up those grades and some were over half a mile or even a mile long before tilting the other way. Those would have been exciting though!

It made for pretty scenery while I tried to shake off doubts and upset. Jens had relaxed and enjoyed Bruges, but on the drive, he began to stress again. He was worried about arriving too late for any of the cellar tours. I guess he felt the pressure to enjoy the region since I’d planned it just for him.

Beautiful Church, but can't find a name for it!

Beautiful Church, but can’t find a name for it!

The rains were still with us as we arrived in Epernay. Jens was shocked it was so big. Less than half the size of Reims, but he was apparently expecting a large village at best. Not a full blown city of narrow, confusing streets.

It was such a relief for me to find it pretty and charming even if busy. It was clean. The buildings well kept and tidy. There were plots of flowers tucked in many of the spaces not occupied by street, building or sidewalks. Even big old trees in the area around our hotel. It makes sense to keep the place attractive. Epernay being the ‘Champagne Capital of the World’, they wouldn’t want visitors to have their first impression of it to be eyesores of rail-yards, dilapidated buildings with peeling paint and graffiti, homeless people. Not something you want people to associate with champagne which is supposed to be the “ultimate symbol” of pleasure, luxury and celebration.

By the time we’d managed to find parking, I had hit a new low. The entire trip seemed like a profound and huge mistake. I should have just gone along with Jens’ plan fly to a villa in Italy for 2 weeks. It would have given me plenty of time to work on my novels or the like. That Jens felt lost what with the language barrier here in France only added to those feelings. I remember barely more than a handful of words in French and few of them useful.

At least we did manage to get into a cellar tour at Möet and Chandon. We wandered around the cellars behind a guide as she described the steps in making the champagne. There were something like 15 miles of tunnels in their cellars. We passed by what I thought were shallow little alcoves filled with a head-high wall of champagne bottles laid flat on their sides. Then the woman, stood on her tip-toes to shine her flashlight back. Suddenly you could see that the space behind those front bottles went back for yards and it was full of bottles. I think there were over 8,000 in that one alcove.

Beautiful piece of old building

Beautiful piece of old building

Then she pointed to the slate and explained that this set of numbers meant something about when it was set to ferment, what village the grapes came from, what year and such. The bottom number was how many bottles in that alcove. I kept an eye on those as we continued on. The smallest amount for an alcove I saw was 4,000. The largest was over 60,000. It wouldn’t surprise me if we passed more than a million bottles of fermenting champagne just on that short tour. Likely not even a half mile of the 15 in cellar. Leaves the mind reeling to imagine.

Sorry. None of the photos of the cellar came out.

We didn’t go out for dinner, but instead stayed in with comfort food. Then it was a bad night on a bed even worse than the ferry bunk. The shower was a breadbox a supermodel wouldn’t have had room to get clean in. Disappointing hotel all around.

We headed out sharply at 7am, not even staying for breakfast.

As we walked by the beautiful gothic church to the parking lot, I chanted to myself,  “Today in France will be better. Today in France will be better.”

Epernay wasn’t quite waking up as we moved out. We did find the older and less well-kept areas on the way south, but they gave me the impression of old rather than whatever it was that sent me running from Reims.

High On Its Hill

High On Its Hill

I relaxed into the car seat with a sigh as vineyards, high rolling hills and trees surrounded us. Not far out of the town, we stopped for the first serious photo session of the day when what I think was a church caught my attention. With the day so gray and it being still so early, Jens encouraged me to use the tripod. I think he wanted to see it in action since I’d made such a deal about getting it.

He was impressed I think when the size of it expanded so quickly to a comfortably useable height and I was snapping pictures of the building high on its hill in about 2 minutes. Part of that was changing to the long lens.

The top of a chateau

The top of a chateau

Ppft. Who needs guard dogs? This field had a guard pony!

Ppft. Who needs guard dogs? This field had a guard pony!

About 20 minutes later, we stopped again for me to photograph a distant misty view of a chateau on a hill. A curious pony watched as I stepped out of the car. Jens even got out to go take a closer look at the little guy. When Jens turned back to the car, the pony followed along the fence line.

After getting the image of the chateau, I went to greet the pony who turned out to be a feisty little thing. A little funny looking too. He had a horse-sized head on a body barely taller than a Shetland pony. I said farewell and on we went, pausing in the village to take a closer shot of the chateau with Jens’ camera. It looked much more impressive from a distance.

See! Much more impressive from distance

See! Much more impressive from distance

Strangest feeling there's a village nearby

Strangest feeling there’s a village nearby

The landscape went unpredictably from hilly to somewhat flat and back hilly several times. It gave amazingly shifting views of landmarks. Looking at just the upper parts of churches or chateaus and a few minutes later looking up at them on their little hills in towns/villages.

Closer up and unhindered view of a chateau

Closer up and unhindered view of a chateau

The weather somewhat improved though it seemed unsure of what it wanted to do. The flat lead-gray sheet of rain clouds would break up with hints of blue and peeks of sun. A few minutes later, it would close back over and the windshield wipers would come on again. Gradually, the time between the return of the drizzle extended and we had a little more sun for longer.

A Hint of Mountains!

A Hint of Mountains!

I had to grin when the rolling shadow of mountains appeared on the horizon. Low smoothed shapes to the east and higher, steeper to the south-west in the direction of Salers on the edge of an old volcanic landscape. By then the clouds had really begun to roll back and things dried out.

View beyond the tops of ever-present corn

View beyond the tops of ever-present corn

I spotted a lovely view which just happened to have road-side parking spot close to hand. I shook out the tripod for a few panoramic shots only hindered partially by the ever-present fields of corn.

More Scenery

More Scenery

All of Europe seems covered in the stuff. Our guess is it’s all for the production of ethanol. The only place which seemed to have some other kind of crop was the Champagne region with all the grapes, but even there corn lurked in surprising amounts. Except for the rolling landscape, gorgeous medieval churches and castles/manors, I could be in Iowa. There’s hardly a view here that doesn’t have corn.

Impressive!

Impressive!

We came closer to the peaks at the edge of the volcanic area and I became almost giddy at the sight of a castle high on a saddle. I couldn’t tell if it was ruined or not, but still an amazing sight with the tower and crenelated walls. I had to take a photo of it through a wire fence.

Beautiful and to the left is an obvious caldera

Beautiful and to the left is an obvious caldera

Not much further on we stopped again to get a photo of a view that clearly displayed the nature of the weathered mountains around us where one peak had a distinct caldera.

This landscape makes me giddy!

This landscape makes me giddy!

Poor Jens, he’d just hit his driving stride when I was saying, “Oooh! Try to find a place to stop, quick! Picture!” Never a word of complaint. I think he minded the photo-stops much less than, “Quick! Look for a McDonalds!” every time my tummy let me know it was STILL unhappy with me for drinking the Fanta. The McDonalds were the only places I felt comfortable running into at the drop of a hat.

So focused on the cliff, I never noticed the little chateau!

So focused on the cliff, I never noticed the little chateau!

And the sun vanishes!

And the sun vanishes!

In spite of the long drive, Jens seemed to be enjoying himself. Certainly more relaxed than the day before. We arrived in Salers around 6:30. It is an amazing, old French mountain village. Buildings of dark and weathered stone with slate roofs along narrow twisting streets often going up or down.

We found our hotel and were surprised on entering. It was bright with a combination of art deco (I think) and modern touches in decor. Clearly Salers thrives on tourism, but most of it French and very few internationals. I think Jens and I were perhaps one of only 2 couples there who didn’t speak French. Only one of the staff knew any English and probably not more than 100 words. The place was quite busy, but in spite of the rush and lack of common language, the staff was polite if hurried.

Lovely Room View

Lovely Room View

The restaurant was excellent too. Our hotel room comfortable and, oddly, the best internet of the trip so far was at this tiny, remote (if tourist laden) village. In spite of the language problems, Jens and I both were thrilled with where we’d landed our feet.

So, between the visually impressive drive and in such a great hotel, my second day in France was much better!



Bruges, Damme & Countryside
September 27, 2013, 7:12 pm
Filed under: Day Rides, Misc

Written Tuesday – September 17

One of my fav buildings by early morning sunlight

Window View by Morning Sunlight

Yesterday, I expected to wake to gray skies with on-again-off-again showers and drizzles. That was what was predicted. Gritty-eyed from so little sleep thanks to the duck, I stumbled up the two little steps to our room’s dormer window to pull up the blind. Blue sky, clear as crystal made a gorgeous backdrop to the wood-faced building across the canal. That brightened my mood and made me feel a bit less homicidal toward the feathered, sadistic fiend.

With only 15 miles riding planned, I didn’t feel in a particular hurry. So, I relaxed until Jens finally stirred and I dressed for breakfast which was served at 9 am.

Breakfast was simple. A bit of flakey pastry with a some chocolate inside and a roll. There was fruit, cereal and yoghurt buffet style to choose from. But I simply ate the bread and had juice to call it breakfast.

Then we had the parking issue to deal with. We went to the car and again tried to chase down the parking the hotel staff kept mentioning. The signs for it were more like a tease than anything else. Jens kept offering to just find a clear spot big enough for him to temporarily park and me set up the trike to start out. I told him I wouldn’t be able to relax and enjoy the ride knowing he was stressed and running around with parking issues. We’d get it settled first so we both could enjoy the day.

Can you tell I love this view?

Can you tell I love this view?

Street View During Parking Search

Street View During Parking Search

Jens parked a moment to jump out of the car to hurry on foot down a one-way road to see if perhaps the lot lurked down that way. While I waited for him to return, I noticed a button on the touch screen of the GPS. A bright blue and white ‘P’. I hit it.

Immediately, it pulled up parking options and top of the list was the one for which we searched. I hit it and had an route displayed leading us there. I called Jens to tell him.

In minutes we were there. Given so much of the parking is along the edge of narrow, medieval cobble streets, it surprised me the lot was as empty as it is. It’s only 8 Euro for a full day. Underground, clean, well lit and no need to run back and forth to add more time to a meter every 2 hours during daylight hours.

Getting ready for the ride was a whole new headache. First I forgot my cycle shoes. Jens, bless him, ran back to the hotel for them. Then I discovered that my GPS wasn’t in the camera bag. I had some odd memory of taking it from the bag to put it in the top drawer of the dresser at the hotel. Why? I haven’t a clue. Again, Jens was a gem of a husband and ran back. He returned with an expression of amusement touched with exasperation and told me if I forgot anything else, he was going to jump into the canal and swim for the sea.

Trike at the hotel

Trike at the hotel

Trike assembled, I headed toward the out-ramp. I miscalculated the gears and they had a fit. Finally, Jens had push me while the chain lurched, twitched and jumped wildly. For a few moments, I thought the ride was done with before it even started. Still, I was determined to give it a go rather than turning back then. I had about a mile to go through the city in a zig-zag fashion where I’d not be more than half a mile from the car. Easy enough for a rescue. At worse, I’d have to wait for Jens to finish a cup of coffee and do a short walk either to me or the car.

It was about 10:30 am by this point and Bruges had come awake with tourists and people driving crazy through the narrow cobble-stone streets. It’s a wonder there’s not several crashes an hour. I wanted a photo of the trike in front of our hotel and just getting there felt a little hair-raising once or twice.

View Across Market Square

View Across Market Square

Belfry of Bruges

Belfry of Bruges

Nightmarish best describes my struggles to navigate through the tangled medieval maze. I had the worst time finding roads on the GPS to match my printed maps. Of course it didn’t help that my Garmin map’s view was so cluttered with names I couldn’t see half of said streets. Also, being able to compare the canals on the screen would have been a huge help, but not a single blue line showed up except for the one ringing the old city’s island.

I added more than an extra mile of meandering around trying to roughly stay on the route so I’d pass the things I’d mapped my way along. My route through the medieval streets wasn’t random, but carefully planned for beauty and landmarks.

View Across Main Square

View Across Main Square

What a lovely if tiny little yard at the canal side!

What a lovely if tiny little yard at the canal side!

Some were missed, but after about an hour I was just glad to be free of the insanity. Bruges is gorgeous, but to explore it best one needs do so without the wheels. By bike, it’s all rattling cobble-stones shaking your teeth loose while trying not to get flattened by cars. By car, it’s all about trying not to hit or get hit by every other moving object in the place. Pedestrians don’t have the shaking from the cobblestones and can dodge better than cars or bikes. Speed is not one’s friend in a place like this.

The gears were wildly inconsistent. They’d shift smooth and fine one moment and then hiccup the next. The most aggravating moments were when it would leap an extra cog, or shift fine only to jump violently 2 minutes later when I hadn’t even touched it.

Loving the canals!

Loving the canals!

Between the gears, concerns about getting hit, cobble-stones and arguing with maps/GPS, it took about an hour and a half to do 2 miles through the medieval sections of Bruges. Yep. Slower than I walk. Amazing that.

And more canal!

And more canal!

Still, I tried to make the best of it. This area of Belgium is the definition of ‘pancake flat’. There was no wind, so once I made it out of the city, I could pick a decent gear the trike would hold and toodle on my way to and from Damme.

Cobble-free and all MINE!

Cobble-free and all MINE!

Getting off the island at the point I’d mapped turned into a headache as well. The first way across which would have taken me directly to the first road into the countryside was closed for work. I had to search for another way off and then pedal down the cycle-lane painted on the extremely busy 4 lane road to get to my original turn. My heart was beating faster by the time I made it.

After that it was peaceful. A lovely cycle path separated from a quiet road by post-studded strip of grass and modern apartment buildings on the other side. The path came to an end by simply merging with the narrowed road a little further on. I was a bit confused at first. The road was supposed to be along a canal. It turned out it was, but the plant growth of both banks of what looked more like a big ditch created an optical illusion of unbroken ground at trike level.

Just after the cheering P.E. class

Just after the cheering P.E. class

A group of school age kids went jogging by with a man calling at them, most likely things like, “Keep up! Move it!” A number of them cheered at me as we passed in opposite directions and gave me thumbs up.

I smiled upon seeing the sign announcing the city limit of Bruges (modern and ancient). The paved surface became a tiny lane wide enough for one car and, if both were careful, a cyclist. Just a few yards away the bank of the canal dropped steeply to dark, barely moving water. Tall, old trees lined all sides of canal and road. The gears of my trike, magically behaved perfectly. In the silence which lacked even the merest hint of the busyness of Bruges, relaxation flooded me and I smiled.

The day was cool, almost to the point of needing the windbreaker in my extra cycle-bag, but I resisted the urge. Certainly, a thin wool top would have been welcome under the sage green shirt I wore while cycling through Copenhagen.

Yep, instead of my crazy cycle get-up, I opted for ‘normal human’ clothing of the sage green top with long slacks that have a slight stretch to them. Easier to cycle in than jeans, but still look decently nice. Quite a bit of the cycling was going to be in Bruges after all and I planned to lunch in Damme.

No clue what the ropes across the canal are for.

No clue what the ropes across the canal are for.

Gray mottled Blue Belgian calf with common dairy calves

Gray mottled Blue Belgian calf with common dairy calves

Granted, I had to push the right leg cuff up to keep it from getting greasy by rubbing the chainring which somewhat ruins the effect of ‘casual nice’ clothes. Even ignoring that, I’m sure I still looked silly with the Da Brim-ed helmet, plump and on a weird ‘bike’.

Also, once out of the shadows of Bruges’ medievally narrow streets and surrounded by peaceful countryside, I took the time to slather sunscreen on all exposed skin. A repeat of the Copenhagen sunburn was not something I wanted.

Another quarter mile and I found a field full of horses. Quite a mix. A few drafts, mostly thoroughbred/jumper types and one pudgy little black pony. The high number of jumpers was easy to expect as the field had huge log barriers, earthen ramps with smaller log barriers with sharp drops. Just the sort of things one might use to train horses for competitive cross-country jumping.

Cross-Country Training Field?

Cross-Country Training Field?

Pony & Friend

Pony & Friend

The horses were calm about my appearance. A few were quite curious, watching me pass. Most didn’t even look up. The pony and one white mare were very close to the fence edge, just 8 or 9 feet away. They only stared after me. One got a little excited as I coasted along, but in a good way. He trotted a parallel course to mine, about 30 feet from the fence line. Gorgeous with ears perked and tail raised as he moved with a spring in his step.

Church in Damme

Church in Damme

Sometime after leaving the horses behind, the weather changed impressively. The cool day with only a few clouds and very little wind, became a little more cloudy and a LOT more windy. It roared from the west, whipping the reeds along the canal and making my flag snap. Leaves fluttered, some pulling loose from their twigs. Others taking the twig and a few friends with them. I seriously began to worry about larger branches coming down on me as I was shoved along like I had sails on the Sprint. I hardly needed to pedal. Not entirely a good thing as Bruges became further and further to the west. I’d need to fight that ugly gale to get back to the parking garage.

Damme Town Hall

Damme Town Hall

In just a few miles, I left the shady little lane for a larger road which led me into Damme proper. Breaks in the trees had been giving me glimpses of the church’s tower for the previous mile. I crossed the bridge spanning the canal and rolled onto my newest arch nemesis… cobblestones. I slowed to a crawl as I bounced along until coming to what I guess is the town hall.

A beautiful building along a pretty street with some old charming structures. It was roughly noon so I was looking forward to lunch.

Main Street of Damme

Main Street of Damme

That proved more difficult than anticipated. None of the cafes seemed open as I locked the trike to look around. I took my helmet and handlebar bag with me as I explored down a short side street.

I found a sort of cafe. It offered pastries more than anything. And Belgian Waffles of course. Too hungry to quibble though I craved something more lunch like than dessert, I ordered one. It was quite good, but I ate it quickly rather than savouring it. I was nervous about my trike being out of sight around a corner.

I know the chances are small you'll read this, but thank you whoever you are! :)

I know the chances are small you’ll read this, but thank you whoever you are! 🙂

The cafe was also a sort of souvenir shop which I perused while waiting for my waffle. Tins of Belgian chocolates, a few kinds of some alcoholic drink, cute ‘clay’ drinking cups with ‘Damme’ on them and little hand-crafts. The drinking cups caught my eye because they were made with hand grips pressed in when the form was still wet which of course, made for an asymmetrical shape I found appealing. It also made me think of Jens so I bought him one.

Though I’m always this way when the trike is out of my sight, this time I felt almost guilty for being jumpy and admittedly a touch suspicious. Some random, unknown person had done me a small kindness. It seems when I walked off with my cycle helmet, the cap I wear with it‚ fell. Someone had found it before it blew away and tucked it under one of the pod-bag straps across my seat where the wind couldn’t take it. Another of those moments that gives me a warm, fuzzy hope in humanity.

Windmill In Damme

Windmill In Damme

Tummy quieted and souvenir packed, I headed first toward the windmill. My first close-up, old fashioned windmill of the trip. It was lovely and, to my surprise, spinning! Two of the blades had red-fabric and the whole set of them spun at a fair clip. Nearby were a couple of picnic tables and the mill sat in a field with a pair of horses.

I felt so very sorry for one of them. Granted, he looked glossy and otherwise healthy as he grazed, stomping his feet to dissuade flies, his little stump of a docked tail uselessly wriggling and twitching.

Yes, docked tail. That poor horse had maybe a 10 inch stump where his long, thick tail should have been. Not even a short little broom of hair usually seen in photos of docked horse-tails. It looked like some creepy worm. I hope that whoever had that done did it because it was necessary. Like the tail got accidentally caught in a closing stall door and couldn’t be saved or the like. I hate to think he was butchered all in the name of someone’s idea of aesthetics and now he can’t even keep flies away. I still shudder just thinking about it.

I nearly panicked when I tried taking a picture of the windmill. Yep, TRIED. The camera suddenly refused to snap a photo. I’d do the half-push of the button for focusing and nothing happened. Nor when I pushed it down all the way. The ride wouldn’t have been nearly as interesting being unable to take pictures so I really didn’t want camera failure to cut things short.

Cycle path surface is not as nice as it looks.

Cycle path surface is not as nice as it looks.

After a few seconds of fiddling, I tried turning off the autofocus on the lens. It worked just fine on manual. Turned it back on… nothing. While I was trying to puzzle it out, I turned something on the lens and it gave a soft ‘pop’ like something was stuck. After that, the problem was gone. It’s been working perfectly since!

I returned to the road and crossed the bridge over a larger canal. To one side was a very narrow cycle path, barely enough for both my front wheels. On the left was corn and the other a hedge just tall enough to block my view of anything to the right except where it opened to accommodate driveways. The surface was annoyingly cracked and badly patched concrete. Every 10 feet or so the wheels bumped violently over the defects. I almost swerved out to ride on the road, but just as I’d decided to do that, two cars went flashing by way over the speed limit. Suddenly, bouncing over mountain high patches didn’t seem so bad.

Lovely country building road-side

Lovely country building road-side

Annoyance levels reached a new high over the next couple miles. The wild winds, maybe even the strongest I’ve ridden in, kept yanking on my Da Brim. My helmet kept trying to fly away, strangling me with the chin strap. Finally, I stopped to adjust the strap. I figured if I was going to be choking on it, I might as well tighten it down so the helmet was still sitting properly on my head. I found a position where I could still breathe and kept taking it in until I saw spots. After loosening it a quarter inch from there so I wouldn’t pass out from restricted blood to the brain, I put it back on and pedalled. It wasn’t comfortable, but at least if an accident happened my helmet wasn’t sitting uselessly on the back of my head nor did I have to hold the cursed thing in place by hand.

Into the hard winds, but smoother than the cycle path!

Into the hard winds, but smoother than the cycle path!

The dreaded westward turn came. Another tree-lined single lane road. The asphalt surface was littered with fresh twigs and even a few small branches. I kept a wary ear for the faint creaks that might warn me of a larger bough potentially giving way.

It was hard work, though at least only for a two miles or so before I took a southward turn. The wind off to my right was easier to fight than dead on.

I passed more Belgian Blue cattle, some sheep and horses. Before I knew it, buildings appeared and I crossed back into modern Bruges. The cycle lanes on the road were adequate and the buildings offered protection somewhat from the wind. Any little bit was a relief.

Entry back into Bruges’ old center was anticlimactic. A busy intersection and a tiny drawbridge over the main canal. Coming in from the northern most point on the island, I started the loop by heading down the west side in search of the first gate.

Ezelpoort (Donkey's Gate)

Ezelpoort (Donkey’s Gate)

Though anti-climatic, it was annoying. It seemed as if I crossed some invisible line into Bruges’ old center that told my gears to misbehave. What had been working okay in the country side suddenly began to slip and jump more frequently.

There’s a nearly continuous cycle and foot path following the inside edge of the encircling main canal. Though unpaved, it’s hard packed so even rain doesn’t turn it into goo. Surrounded by lawns of thick grass and old trees with undergrowth, it had an almost garden feel to it. At times, I could hardly see the least little glimpse of brick, glass, or concrete structures on any side of the canal. Peaceful and mostly sheltered from the wind.

Swans, geese & the unmentionable water-fowl

Swans, geese & the unmentionable water-fowl

Could almost forget a city of modern and ancient surrounded me

Could almost forget a city of modern and ancient surrounded me

For a time, I cycled on the outside of the island’s canal and then between two canals. A long stretch of the main canal seemed devoted to swans, geese and ducks. A bit of short fencing to keep the more aggressive birds from harassing pedestrians with fountains splashing the canal water and feed stations. The first and only place I saw Canadian geese. About 50 swans as well. I won’t mention the ducks. I’m not on speaking terms with those particular water-fowl at this time.

There was a break in the green prettiness at a busy 4 lane. To rejoin the path on the other side, I had to pedal down to a crossing about 150 meters to the left, then double back up on the other side. Given how annoyed I’d been at my Da Brim and the gears, it probably bothered me more than it normally would have.

Smedenpoort - 'Smith Gate'

Smedenpoort – ‘Smith Gate’

Finally I came to another of the old city gates that are all that remain of the walls which once defended Bruges as a hub for trade and commerce. Smedenpoort or ‘Smith Gate’. Fairly close to the Swedish ‘Smedjeport’.

It’s a pretty gate. Two short towers to either side and the arch in the center painted yellow and white over plaster. Each of the towers have openings as well. The central gate is only wide enough for a single car at a time. It supports two-way traffic by letting one direction go for a time, then the lights change so the other can pass. People on bikes go through the towers on their right side. Pedestrians? Steel and wood bridges around the outside.

Done with photographing the outside of the gate, I scurried across and started through. It was a TIGHT fit. The interior completely enchanted me. Hints of old stairs curving up to another level over my head and what was clearly a fireplace. I actually was rolling through a little room!

Out the other side, it happened. I got stuck. Loke’s running bar, which I’d not taken the time to remove, hung up on the edge of the exit. Not a good place for it to happen! Lots of traffic. Three people piled up behind me as I lunged out of the trike and struggled it through. Rather than hold everyone up even longer to plop back down and settle, I pulled the trike to the side and beckoned them through.

View Across 'Lake of Love'

View Across ‘Lake of Love’

Beautiful house beside 'Lake of Love'

Beautiful house beside ‘Lake of Love’

I would have loved to photo the inside of the towers, but the press of bikes was too much and the space too narrow.

After that, I stayed on the inside of the canal and things became quieter for a short time except when I had to navigate under a busy round about pouring traffic into the island.

After the hectic departure toward Damme, the quiet green of circumference path was most welcome. I stored up on the ‘peaceful’ feelings because another dash through the insane cobbled-heart was coming. This time though, I had a good start on knowing where I was and hopefully could follow the maps.

Old tower on one of the pedestrian/cycle bridges

Old tower on one of the pedestrian/cycle bridges

I found what I think is an old defensive tower at the beginning of a bridge over an inlet to a tiny lake. Tower ‘collected’, I rolled onto the bridge and stopped to get a few very scenic shots of some very stunning houses on the lake banks. An older couple were taking separate shots of each other there. They looked a little startled when I offered to photograph them together, though quickly smiled and thanked me.

The Memory Water Park lay on the other side. Not much to see from the path. More tall old trees cutting the wind and shrubs making the path seem a little secretive. I stopped a moment as a young woman, who seemed to be traveling solo, had set up her camera on a bench to do a timed shot. She looked positively bubbly as she all but skipped across the path, stood on the edge with a huge smile and arms thrown wide. The camera clicked and she gave me another of her big infectious smiles and a thumbs up to thank me for waiting. I gave smiles and thumbs up in answer.

Somewhere along the southern stretch, the edges of the island had a few very small, but noticeable climbs. I guess they built up the canal bank at sometime in the past to help against flooding.

It was on the beginnings of the northward curve up the eastern side of the island and Gentpoort city gate, I saw one of ‘the characters’ of Bruges. I heard a soft popping sound like a tiny, very quiet single stroke motor. A bike came into view and I had to grin. I couldn’t tell if the person riding it was a man or woman, their face obscured by a very round type of helmet. They also wore some odd kind of home-made padded vest.

The bike only added to the strangeness. It had a huge pair of bright pinwheels cheerfully spinning from the front basket which was just draped with artificial flowers. More flowers wrapped around the entire frame, hardly any bit of painted metal or chrome to be seen. It also looked like a wire shape of a child’s seat had been formed onto the back and it too was covered in pink/red fake blooms. He (and I found out later it is a man) waved as he ‘put-put’ed by.

Gentpoort - The Gate of Ghent

Gentpoort – The Gate of Ghent

Gentpoort photographed, I pedalled on though it was a bit more work. Just beyond the most recent gate, the landscaping opened up more. The trees smaller, the path closer to the canal and less shrubbery. The wind lashed at me with a hint of a chill, though it was mostly coming from a rear quarter. It was still annoying.

Kruispoort

Kruispoort

One of several windmills in Bruges

One of several windmills in Bruges

A mile further north was the last city gate I’d pass on the ride. Kruispoort was the one we’d driven through upon our arrival into old Bruges. By then the last slight curve to the west started. Within sight of Kruispoort was the first windmill I’d spotted in Bruges. Past the 2nd one, just a quarter mile or so up, I finally took the plunge back into Bruge’s center.

Fortunately, it seemed I’d managed to find a section of town less heavily trafficked by crazy drivers.

On that first street, I had a moment of utter cuteness. A young woman was out walking with a French bulldog puppy. He was SOOOO adorable and tiny. I guessed he couldn’t be much more than 8 weeks old. I rattled a bit ahead and stopped to photograph a building. As they came up, very slowly because of his little legs and tendency to pounce every thing on the sidewalk, I asked how old he was. 8 weeks. She’d just brought him home the day before. She laughed, saying all he seemed to do right now was get into trouble, poop and fart.

I said hi to him too of course. He was all all cute wiggles and licks. Just about gave me sugar shock from all the sweetness. I wished his new doggie mom all the best and much happiness with him before pushing on.

Yet more canal!

Yet more canal!

The rest of the way through the city passed in a bit of a blur. Jens called several times, wondering where I was as he’d thought I’d be back by now. The confusion of the streets and the cobble stones did nothing for my speed except hindering. Oh, I also had the desperate need to answer a call of nature.

So desperate, that instead of meeting Jens at the car, I met him at the hotel so I could dash inside.

Jens and I went together to the car park. On the cobbles, I didn’t want to go much faster than a walking pace and Jens likes to stretch his legs. He admitted he was pushing himself a little harder than a comfortable walk for him.

Once I rolled down the ramp into the modern starkness of the garage, Jens suggested I do a few loops in the quiet to check the gears. No cobbles to jostle things which might give me a better idea of how bad it was.

A good idea! On the smooth, nearly flawless concrete, the trike flew. No obstacles or jolting rocks, it let me focus on the feel and sound of the shifting. It wasn’t as bad as it had been on the inner town roads, but it wasn’t good either.

When I rolled to a stop, Jens asked if I wanted to adjust the gears now or on the morrow. It took only a moment’s thought before I answered, ‘Tomorrow’. I was just too tired from so little sleep, fighting the wind and cobblestones. Being in an elevated state of aggravation for much of the way was no help to my energy levels either. Gears and aggravation go hand in hand with me to start with. Entering into such a task when I’d already felt like screaming and throwing things around seemed a bad idea.

Now THAT just makes a beautiful city lovelier!

Now THAT just makes a beautiful city lovelier!

The day wasn’t over. Not even 3 pm, Jens and I set out to explore things on foot. Most of it went in a blur. I took a lot of photos though I can’t remember exactly of what except for the rainbows.

Then last night, it was more quacking. Even through a closed window, it woke me. It might have been a different duck. This one at times was vocalizing with such force, I had images of it turning itself inside out… followed by blissful silence of course. Just a pipe-dream.

After breakfast this morning, Jens and I stepped out for our last day in Bruges. We saw new areas, but once we discovered how to get to them, alas, we had no time to visit them on foot.

We found one area first by boat as we came right out of our hotel and bought tickets to a canal boat tour. At first, most of what we saw I’d seen when I’d been going in random circles trying to follow my route maps the day before. Then we came to what I hoped. Smaller canals flanked on both sides by buildings sitting against the water’s edge. No way to reach them by foot or car. Worth the ride to me.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get many photos. It was one of the times a point-n-click was better than my Canon. Most PNC cameras have a shorter focal length meaning they need less space to get things in frame. They’re often quicker to focus. The speed of the boat made it additionally difficult.

We passed under Bruges’ smallest bridge, hardly big enough for 2 people to pass at the same time. The guide also pointed out Bruges’ smallest Gothic window. It was so tiny, it took me a moment to spot it. Two miniature little windows side by side, but fully formed in Gothic arch with decorative touches. I don’t think a hand would have fit through. Yes, THAT small. A little hard to spot some 30 feet up in a stone wall when you’re looking for something at least 3 times larger.

Then we went and had lunch. The food was very expensive and not nearly as good as the little restaurant sharing the small square with our hotel. The lamb was over-cooked and I think the chef only showed the salt to the meat rather than use it. Certainly no other seasonings I could taste.

Then, we went back to the main square and I waffled about whether or not to take a carriage ride. Part of me felt bad for the horses, plodding in circles around the city all day. They looked healthy and in good care though. No skinny, broken down nags.

Finally, one of the gorgeous horses that I thought were either Friesian or Percheron arrived and I decided to go for it. Our driver was a very nice woman and was quite happy to point out things as we passed. Some of them were the same as we’d had described to us from the boat. The difference this time was I was able to see how to get to those places I wanted to photograph. Jens had expected the loop to stay on the bigger most tourist-laded streets. Nope. She expertly guided that big horse and carriage through small gate arches that looked as if they should end in private courtyards and down narrow little medieval alleys with barely a yard’s clearance to either side.

My unease about the horses in the city lifted somewhat when we came to the half-point of the ride and stopped. “5 minutes to give the horses a rest, a little feed and water. Feel free to look around!” she said as she hopped down to tend the horse.

I said hi to him as well. The animal had obvious interest in people, even sniffing at me when he had his feed bucket in front of him. He clearly had affection for the woman too.

It turned out he was a Friesian. The woman told me, he was a rescue horse with a very bad start in life. The people who owned him first started working him too young and didn’t care for him properly, probably abusive along with the neglect. She had seen him when the carriage company first took him in. He’d barely been able to stand and was just nothing but skin and bone. They’d given him proper care and feeding for almost a year before beginning to train him for carriage work. The horses only work for 2 days of the week and, of course, had the stops in the middle of each 35 minute outing for rest, food and water.

Then another carriage passed and the woman scowled a little. “The company with the yellow carriages, they go too fast. Always in a hurry.” I had the impression it was more to do with pushing the horses than cutting time short to get more customers in a day. At least, I like to think that. The obvious pride and affection she had for the big boy in her traces made me believe so.

The five minutes were up, but the horse had quit munching a minute or two before the bucket was lifted away. Clearly not going hungry then. He stepped out smartly when she clucked at him. A rescued horse, obviously showered in affection with 5 days a week to enjoy pastures and equine companionship. Not too bad.

Oh and he doesn’t like sugar cubes. A horse without a sweet-tooth. Imagine that!

As badly as I wanted to explore that narrower, more secretive seeming part of the city, we didn’t really have time thanks to the desperate need to do other necessary tasks.

First, was trying to adjust the brakes. It didn’t turn out nearly as bad I’d worried. A standard rear-wheel bike support won’t work on the Sprint. Not one I’ve found anyway. They get in the way of the derailleur’s movement. I wasn’t about to bring my cycle trainer which just seems huge, awkwardly shaped and quite heavy. So, Jens had to stand over the back wheel, holding it up while shining a flashlight down on the rear cassette. I hand-pedalled and shifted while he called out what it was doing.

In about 15 minutes, we seemed to have it shifting well enough. Just one little hitch in the sequence which completely undid what I’d manage to accomplish every time I attempted to fix it. Finally I decided to just live with it. After a test zip around the garage to be sure, I was satisfied the rest of the planned rides weren’t ruined by fouled gearing.

The ride between Reims and Epernay may be called off due to rain and lack of interest. I only plotted the 25 miles for the distance rather than “Oooh! Must see the miles and miles of grapes!” So, if it’s gray and miserable, it’s just not worth the discomfort to go through an area that most likely would bore me. I can do that at home.

After that, it was laundry. Yes, that most mundane of tasks while in the middle of one of the most beautiful medievally historical places in the world. My selection of clothing that doesn’t involve T-shirts is small and Jens and I will be moving on almost daily for the next week. When you have less than 24 hours to poke around an area, taking almost 2 hours of it to wash clothes isn’t optimal. So, off we went in search of a laundry-mat… in the rain.

By then, it was 6 pm and we still had little souvenirs to shop for family. Still in the rain. Then it was time for dinner. I decided we were going to eat at the first restaurant again. I wanted more of that fabulous, perfectly cooked lamb if it hadn’t simply been a fluke.

Nope. No fluke. It was just as fabulous the second time.

As Jens relaxed to finish his beer, we stared out through the drizzle-drenched square. He commented at least it had held off until after the main part of the day with the boat and carriage rides. He was right of course.

Our day done, we hurried across the little square to our hotel where I started writing this post. Then, much to our surprise, we heard thunder and then the sound of the rain turned odd. A car alarm went off. We went to the window to find a fall of hail pinging off the outside window sill and vigorously splashing the canal surface. It was only about the size of small peas, but still surprising!

It’s still raining as I’m about to tuck in for sleep. A very nice benefit to the rain? It seems to be keeping the duck/s quiet! I might actually snooze peacefully tonight!



Mad Dash To Bruges
September 26, 2013, 6:37 am
Filed under: Misc

About September 15th’s drive.

I’m going to start this post by saying that I slept better tonight in our hotel in Bruges than I did on the ferry. Except for a duck, it would have been a great night’s sleep. Annoying bundle of feathers set off with this incredibly loud quacking at around 1 am. Always a series of five vocalizations with a very slight descent in volume. The narrowness of the canals with the hard brick and stone faces of the buildings act as a sort of megaphone I think, amplifying it. For over half an hour the first time and closing the window didn’t seem to help much. He just went off again at 5 am, though thankfully just for a few quacks.

Yesterday was another bundle of stress for Jens again. Toward the end of the day, I was near in tears. Don’t worry. It got better.

I hoped to see something of Rostock, Germany as we left the ferry port. Alas, not to be. Firstly, it was about 1 hour and 15 minutes before sunrise. Secondly, thick heavy clouds made the pre-dawn darker than normal. Lastly, I should have predicted that the way out of the ferry terminal, which is attached to a significant dockyard, would have a way onward into the rest of Germany/Europe without going through the city proper.

We felt a bit rushed with another long drive through 3 countries ahead of us so we didn’t go in search of Rostock’s old town.

The density and texture of the clouds was impressive. One would have expected a torrential downpour rather than the sprinkling it truly was. Still a rather miserable day if we had needed to be out in it.

Driving in Germany made the hair on the back of my neck bristle. We were zooming along at about 120 kph (Jens driving thankfully). Some of the other cars passed us like we were going backwards, the pressure wave of their passing making our car sway.

Traveling on big highways rather disconnects one from the countryside. It’s not only the speed, but the fact that the lanes tend to be cut down into hills so all you see are embankments. In other places road-side thickets veil the scenery or the sound barrier walls put up to keep traffic noises from making residents crazy.

The glimpses I had were pretty though. The area around Rostock was softly rolling hills where fields stretched long and wide, fresh plowed, broken by clusters and lines of trees. The tall, modern windmills were nearly as numerous as the trees. We also passed about half a dozen solar panel fields. Most were rather modest, a handful of acres or less. One just seemed to roll on up and down several of hills. Quite impressive. The ecoducts made me smile.

What are ecoducts? Wonderful things as far as I’m concerned. I saw the first one in the far southern part of Sweden. It looked like an overpass crossing the highway, but above the concrete sides were small trees and shrubs. It’s a miniature green corridor so animals have a way to cross from one side of the insanely busy highways to the other without it being suicide. Given how high traffic highways grid most countries, cutting off the exchange of animals from one area to another, it helps balance the genetic diversity and hopefully produces less road-kill.

The clouds broke up from time to time as the first stretch of the drive continued. Those bearing rain seemed to come in waves. The troughs being moments of potential sunshine if it had been a little later in the day and the peaks being another spate of wet.

As we were coming into Lübeck around 7:30 am, I suggested to Jens that maybe we could find a little bakery open for breakfast. He willingly agreed so the GPS was reprogrammed for the town, us hoping that it would take us into the city center which often happens to be the old part of town in places that have been around for centuries.

It was a bit of a surprise when the directions indicated we leave the main highway almost 20 km away from the city. In spite of the time ‘lost’ toward making Bruges, I loved it. The connection to the countryside missing from highway came to me. Only cycling or walking would have deepened it. Shady lanes and lovely views.

Evangelical Lutherin Church

Evangelical Lutheran Church

About 3 km (2 miles) out from the Lübeck destination, we found a church and stopped so I could photograph it. It’s beautiful.

A Beautiful Luthier's Shop

A Beautiful Luthier’s Shop

How I knew it was a luthier's shop!

How I knew it was a luthier’s shop!

Once getting a decent shot, I walked down a little to look at a cute building perched on the corner of the raised terrace of the church yard. Old brick with white plaster and dark beams. It didn’t seem to be someone’s home, but a shop of some kind. Then I saw the unjoined neck of a violin in one of the windows. Next to it was the piece of wood that makes the back of a violin’s body. I’d found a luthier’s shop! That delighted me to no end.

Jens seemed charmed by the city as we rolled in. Just like Bruges, the old city of Lübeck lies on a small island surrounded by water with the more modern having grown-up on the other side of the canal/moat.

Early morning across a canal in Lübeck

Early morning across a canal in Lübeck

Crossing one of the canals, he parked and insisted I take pictures of it. It was lovely. After that, he wanted to walk around in the early Sunday morning quiet in an attempt to track down at least 1 or 2 of the ‘Seven Towers of Lübeck’. I loved his obvious interest.

Following the Tower

Following the Tower

The Church Steeple

The Church Steeple

He did get a bit nervous as we followed glimpses of one tower. “I think we’re in a seedy part of town,” he said.

I looked around and except for a tattoo/piercing parlor which looked oddly out of place to me, it seemed tidy with the narrow cobble street flanked by rows of doorways in the faces of older buildings. “What makes you say that?”

“Just passed a couple of bars that were still open.”

That was surprising, I admit. I went on without any real pangs of worry though I did readjust my awareness of the surroundings.

Couldn't get the whole church in a shot, but I liked this part most

Couldn’t get the whole church in a shot, but I liked this part most

We found the tower which had sent me hunting after it on a chance glimpse down a narrow street. It was the steeple of a fairly large church. Tall and slightly gothic looking with huge, narrow windows and strong buttresses. Just as we approached, bells clanged out for early Sunday service. The ones on that church weren’t alone. More called from all across the city into a cacophony of thunderous bronze voices likely from the rest of the towers.

I walked up to the church to admire the little details and just over the clangour of bells, I could hear the strains of a pipe organ. In spite of the indication that the church was likely unlocked, I didn’t enter. It would have felt beyond rude to intrude on Sunday services with a camera.

Towers found, we began searching for an open bakery or even cafe. At first our efforts seemed doomed. Most seemed to open at 11 am or even noon on Sundays. Just as we’d given up and walked back toward the car, we found two shops side by side. We ducked into the first to buy a croissant for each of us and coffee for Jens.

Lovely Buildings with Roses

Lovely Buildings with Roses

Old Town Center of Lübeck

Old Town Center of Lübeck

We nibbled our breakfast while following the GPS out of the city. The road ran along the canal bank opposite the old city. I’d barely taken two bites of my chocolate croissant when I told Jens to stop. He did and admitted I’d found a stunning view. I scurried down the steep bank to a gravel path at waterside to snap old Lübeck in the glory of the morning sun where it had found a gap in the clouds.

As I settled the camera back into it’s place and juggled breakfast and seatbelts, he asked if there was anything else I wanted to see. I answered the old gate house intrigued me, but I didn’t know where it was and it was fine if we just went on. He insisted.

Lübeck Old Town Gate

Lübeck Old Town Gate

So, I looked at a map of old Lübeck. There were only two places for the gate to be. We’d come through one entrance into the old city so all that remained was west side and north. It just happened the GPS was going to take us by both. Convenient.

West was nothing, but as we followed the north curve around the earlier parts of Lübeck, I spotted the tops of a pair short spires and recognized them from on-line photos. They served as a beacon allowing me to guide Jens through the turns. We drove passed it and then found parking a block or so away.

The gate house is lovely! Already people were gathering around, so it’s clearly a popular site in the city. I took quite a few photos from different angles and overlapping for stitching. Then we were on our way again.

Lübeck Street View

Lübeck Street View

I can’t remember exactly where it began, but I think it was on the other side of Lübeck. We had rejoined the highway and were speeding along and passed a large field of corn. Not far on, another. Then another. Suddenly all of Germany seemed to be a giant cornfield!

Admittedly, the corn didn’t look healthy. It was pale when it wasn’t yellow, very stunted and not an ear to be spotted on it. Often it looked barely taller than my shoulders. Made me wonder why on earth they bothered to grow it or if it had just been a particularly bad growing season.

The endless march of modern windmills and corn continued except in the heavily indutrialized area of Hamburg. We had lunch around 2 pm. Just McDonald’s cheeseburgers. Dense enough to take away the hunger, but not so heavy that it would ruin the dinner we hoped to have in Bruges.

Driving through Holland made me smile. Cycle paths!! They were everywhere! So was corn though it looked a bit healthier than much of it in Germany. Some of it looked vigorous and actual ears could be seen. Upon entering Holland, oddly, the number of modern windmills dropped. We didn’t see many old ones either. Just half a dozen of those which Holland is famous for.

It was pretty country side, full of horses and sheep… and cows. Many, many cows. Most of them were typical black and white dairy cows. I think it was there in Holland I saw my first Belgian Blue cattle. If you’ve never heard of them, they are odd looking cows and downright freakish looking bulls. They are often called ‘double muscled’. In their genetics, they have a higher number of muscle fibers or thicker fibers than other breeds of cattle. Throw in there’s something in their make-up as well that makes it very difficult for them to gain fat. This gives them the bulgy, clearly defined muscularity of a Mr. Universe contestant. Think Arnold Schwarzenegger at the peak of his competitive career.

There’s a bit of controversy about meat quality and the fact that the cows often need C-sections to birth their calves, but that’s for others to debate. They’re here and they are strange to behold when one is accustomed to cattle without the gene strain that bulks their muscle while reducing their ability to gain fat. They are a ‘natural bred’ type. No genetic tinkering except for selective breeding. Seeing placidly grazing cows that out-muscle any other prime bull I’ve ever seen still made me stare.

As we crossed into Holland, Jens asked if there was anything along the route I’d like to see as long as it wasn’t too far out of our way. I found a castle mark on the atlas map. I googled it and found photos of a lovely castle by the name of Twickel.

It turned into a fiasco. We made the first turns fine, but then lost track of signs guiding us and the GPS seemed a bit confused as well. Finally we figured it out. We made the last few intersections and drove into a crowded nightmare. Cars trying to push through in both directions on what was essentially a single lane road lined with a cycle path on each side packed with pedestrians and cyclists…. And someone shut up that DUCK!!

Ahem. Okay. It’s out of my system for at least another 100 quack episodes.

It turned out that there was some sort of event going on at the grounds of Twickel though not to do with the actual castle itself. It was for Sunday only and it had had a major turnout. Parking attendants were squeezing vehicles into every available space and there seemed to be none left really. We did try, but without even getting out of the car the press of people started to get to me. Finally Jens asked, “I hate to do this, but is it alright if we skip this? Just go on?”

Absolutely no argument from me. We pushed on in search of a place to turn around. One of the attendants approached our car for the fee and Jens asked if there was a way through. Yes, the young man responded. On we crept.

Twickle Castle

Twickle Castle

We actually passed by the castle. Jens pulled over as much as he could while I jumped out to click a picture of the castle’s front. So, I got that much at least. Very pretty.

It turned out the guy was wrong, but at least there was a convenient place to do a loop rather than a multi-point turn. It was such a relief when we won free of that craziness and made it back to the highway.

We only made one other brief attempt to find another castle seen distantly. Very stunning from the far off glimpse, but it turned into something more complicated so we let it go. Soon we were in Belgium.

What little we saw of Antwerp was heavily industrialized. I hope for the residents of the city, there is a lovely center hiding well away from the highway because what we saw was depressing and ugly.

Belgium is flat. It might even be one of the flattest places I’ve ever ridden when I’m done with today’s ride. There was rain and wind though. The last half of Germany and all of Holland had been dry with a bit of sun in a largely cloudy sky.

We had a bit of hiccup on the way to Bruges. Instead of following the road, I pointed out the GPS had us taking a turn onto a narrow little lane. Instead of listening to our better instincts, we went off the main thoroughfare with it’s bumpy, bad and cracked. Sadly, the tiny single lane road actually had a better surface than the big one.

It took us through the last few miles to Bruges through some nice countryside. I got an even closer look at some Belgian Blue cows… still weird. It was fine until we came into what I’m sure is the outskirts of Bruges. Pretty buildings and lined with trees and the nightmare of a traffic jam and zig-zagging turns caused by a street fair.

What is it with street fairs this year! First in Stege on Mon in Denmark then this one. Throw in Twickel castle… argh!

It got only worse. The last mile toward the southern bridge across the canal into the old city was a tangle of construction. It took over half an hour even when we could see our next turn.

Getting into Bruges was no better. People lined the streets with tables of trinkets and such, though thankfully many of them seemed to be packing up. Pedestrians strolled down the middle of the narrow cobbled roads while other cars added to the mess. We couldn’t find the parking the hotel staff had told us about. The first sign that pointed us toward it was followed by nothing else.

Loved this building across the canal from our room

Loved this building across the canal from our room

Another view from our hotel room

Another view from our hotel room

Jens was getting wound up, me stressed from the sheer amount of people. Finding our hotel near a small square where a guy was singing Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis and others from that time, filled half the city as did the screaming ‘woo!’s of drunk people doing the Twist.

We parked illegally and I waited near the car, trying not to cry as I felt like the whole trip was turning into a disaster. We never did find the parking area, but settled for a spot along a street a couple blocks away where we could at least settle for overnight. The day is more difficult since from 9 am on, there’s a 2 hour limit. Oh, and the parking machine wouldn’t take Jens’ cards. He asked a nice man who owned one of the shops for change to one of his bills so he could pay in coins.

Beautiful!

Beautiful!

The rain was returning as we finally checked in and climbed up the stairs to our 2nd floor room. It’s nice and fairly comfortable.

Cleaning up, and calming down we went out into the madhouse to find real food.

Our search didn’t go any further than the tiny square area just outside our hotel. One way out leads by a chocolatier and the columned square where the musician still blared. The other goes between two of the SIX restaurants in our mini-neighborhood.

We picked one that had a lovely sounding rack of lamb for me as well as the mussels that are a Belgian specialty for Jens. It was a good meal and the two staff members who attended us were very friendly.

As we waited for our food. Before it even arrived, a magical change took place. Bruges which was such a mad house suddenly turned quiet. The musician gone and the crowds vanishing like the last cup of water draining from a jug. We commented about it to one of the waiters and laughed. It turns out this was one of the ‘car-free’ Sundays in the old town which are always a little insane. Most of the streets are closed to vehicles, the street vendors (musicians) and crowds pile in. As soon as the little lanes and alleys are opened for traffic again and the sun starts to set, the crowds disappear.

Unfortunately, wind and rain arrived with the disappearance of the crowds. Even I felt chilled. Or would have if not for the cosy little heater hung from ceiling above our table.

The meal was fabulous and though I’m sure they were laughing at me, the waiters did seem to appreciate that I used what little French I could remember. One even asked if I was from England. Was this my first time in Bruges? I mentioned my cycling plans and he told me I would love Damme when I reached it and I should have lunch at one of the cafes. “Before coming here again for dinner”, he added with a joking smile.

The food was very good. Lamb perfectly cooked, served with potatoes au gratin. Jens’ mussels were so well done that they fell right out of the shells. Every mussel I’ve ever eaten had to be pulled forcefully off. Not those.

The rain continued to come and go as I finished off with a true Belgian waffle, eaten in Belgium with vanilla ice cream and hot, bitter-sweet chocolate sauce. Yum!

When we settled the check, the rain came again and the waiter told us to enjoy the city. Jens commented that our hotel was just across the way so we wouldn’t get too wet.

“No! Enjoy the city! Don’t go sit in your hotel!” the waiter urged.

Just Beautiful

Just Beautiful

You know, that’s exactly what we did. First we went to our car to fetch my jacket and then, in spite of cold rain and wind, being tired from the drive and stress, we strolled along the canals to admire the buildings and took photos of those beautifully lit. We paused to watch a parade of 22 graceful swans glide over the rippling dark surface of the canal. We admired the gorgeous building fronts of the main square and the tallest tower in old town.

Then we returned to our hotel and crashed into bed.

This bed was much better than the ferry bunks though perhaps a touch on the firm side for both our liking. The night started off peacefully…

Then of course the DUCK started. At least I feel rested enough to hopefully enjoy the day. It appears I’ll be riding today and walking with Jens tomorrow.

Time to get moving. Breakfast awaits in the hotel restaurant downstairs!



There’s No Place Like Home!
September 26, 2013, 4:18 am
Filed under: Misc

Truer words were never spoken, written or filmed.

Jens and I arrived home yesterday. My brain was very nearly goo from all the road time even before we arrived home. It felt soooo good to stagger through the door, exhausted. Loke was absolutely thrilled to see us. Usually when I do the ‘Love the Puppy’, he walks over all cute and wiggly. When I did it this time, he bounded into the circle of my arms with an exuberant joy and even licked my face. Licked! Loke isn’t a licking sort of dog except for hands that have something tasty on them. Of course, 5 minutes later it was as if we’d never been gone.

It was a crazy trip with ups and downs of a roller coaster and not all of them were the roads and scenery.

In spite of the face I only went for 1 ride on the entire trip, I’m still going to write about trip and share photos. I’m thinking of the next collection of posts as the ‘Thwarted Rides of Europe’. The rides I wasn’t able to do would have been visually stunning even if profoundly exhausting. If only the fog would have relented earlier in the days!

So, now to work and posts of my 1 ride around the area of Bruges and the others that never were will be coming.



Off We Go!
September 17, 2013, 5:33 am
Filed under: Misc

Begun September 15th

Nothing to say really about trike riding about yesterday. We drove through Sweden. That is to say, I drove through Sweden. Jens awoke with a nasty cold that simply sucked his will to live. He kept apologizing for the fact that he didn’t have the energy to show any enthusiasm as we frantically ran around to finish the last of the packing. Even so, we still had a couple of hiccups. Leaving without the map-books for one thing. Had to rush back to the apartment for almost 8 miles to fetch them.

With Jens feeling so poorly, I took the first driving shift which stretched on to the ferry port in Trelleborg. I sang softly along with music I liked wired into the radio via an iPhone while Jens managed to snooze.

Coming through the southern part of Sweden felt strange. We were just here in July and I remember things distinctly. Yet it was so different with the significant shift in light angles and quality between then and now. Throw in a lack of glowing yellow-green wheat, it almost looked like a whole different world.

When Jens roused to consciousness again, he apologized for ‘making’ me drive the whole distance, that it wasn’t a great way to start a vacation. I answered that our vacation hadn’t started yet in my eyes. Probably not so much tomorrow either. It’s just ‘hammer down, flying like the wind to reach where we need to be so we can start our vacation’ days. When we arrive in Bruges, take a deep breath and act like humans instead of frantically migrating animals, then our vacation starts.

Kind of a pity to treat Germany so dismissively, but being uncertain where the prettiest places are to ride and no way to look at the streets via Google’s Street View sort of killed it.

Reconstructed Palisade At Trelleborg

Reconstructed Palisade At Trelleborg

Trelleborg Palisade Gate

Trelleborg Palisade Gate

Trelleborg is a mix of unappealing industry with just a small hint of ‘old’ hiding in its heart. The industry isn’t too surprising. It IS a port after all and sits at the edge of the Baltic. A fair chunk of the port area is devoted to the ferries. Ferries to several places in Germany, Poland and I forget where else.

We found a large grocery shop in the town to pick up a few liters of bottled water. I looked at the fruit, but it wasn’t very tasty looking. Still we found a little something for munching and drinking. Then we still had 5 hours to kill before the ferry left.

As we drove off to explore the town, Jens pointed to a band of grassy sward running between the cycle/foot path and the unloading bays behind the grocery. A rabbit. A real, true rabbit!

Smithy Hut - Interior

Smithy Hut – Interior

I haven’t seen a wild(ish) rabbit since the colony of cast-off bunnies were finally removed from Stockholm.

What colony? On an acre or so of earth mounded between one very busy road running along one of the channels separating Stockholm’s islands and another road ramping up to an elevated one above, as many as 100 rabbits used to eek out a living. They never would have all survived if not for people who came buy to drop hay, vegetables and food pellets. That tiny strip of ground was stripped of just about every bit of vegetation and riddled with their warren holes. Every one of them was once someone’s pet, discarded or a descendent of unwanted pets.

They’d been there for years. Jens told me about them even before we were married. Then sometime, a few years ago, they were just gone. No clue.

Neat tower constructed sometime in the late 1800's

Neat tower constructed sometime in the late 1800’s

Yet, munching on that bit of grass was a rabbit. Barely two breaths later, FIVE rabbits making the best of the evening light for a meal. Then more and more. The sheer number of them wedged between a shopping center and busy road/sidewalk was boggling. It reminded me a lot of one area back in the states called the ‘Causeway’. Essentially a dike of earth running across the wetlands between two arms of the Pascagoula River with Pascagoula on one side and Gautier (pronounced Go-shay) on the other. Sometimes I could see dozens of rabbits along that several miles. Quite a few hawks too.

Once we found the entrance to the ferries, we explored a bit. First we went to the site of ‘Trelleborg’. Not much to see there that wasn’t recreated, but since Viking forts were built mostly of wood which doesn’t tend to last 1000 years without constant care, not surprising. Still the mock up of a portion of the palisade wall with a gate was interesting. So were a couple smaller buildings to one side.

Jens and I both had been catching glimpses of a tall structure while driving around. After a bit of searching, we found parking near it. It turned out to be a park with a tower at its heart. As we strolled toward the brick edifice, approaching a modernistic twist of a sculpture, Jens said, “Is that a turkey?”

I'll be! A turkey!

I’ll be! A turkey!

With eyes only for the tower at first, I glanced at the dark mound lit only by the beginnings of twilight. “Turkey? What would a turkey be doing in a city park in Sweden?” I wasn’t even sure the blob was alive until I saw it move slightly. “A dog probably.”

Then we got closer and I stared in astonishment. It really was a turkey! A rather impressive sized tom. He was snoozing happily with his beak tucked into the feathers of his back. He opened his eyes as I closed to about 15 feet. When I got even closer, he turned his head to watch me, not particularly wary.

One of the roosters bullying the hen

One of the roosters bullying the hen

Actually, the entire park was thick with domestic birds. We only saw the one turkey, but there were chickens as well. What sounded like about a dozen roosters of which we saw about five. Those five were harassing the one poor, harried looking hen who was running around to avoid the roosters I couldn’t get a shot of her. Also spotted a cluster of half-grown chicks. A bit beyond them, was a peacock as well. Poor thing only had a few tattered, broken off quills for a tail feather. Completely unexpected find in a park in the heart of town/tiny city.

Then we went in search of a stretch of beach that wasn’t hogged by the port and rail yards. We found it, but Jens decided he wasn’t interested enough in wavy water to go look. I rather agreed. My new shoes which had felt so great when I tried them on and the couple of times I wore them were killing my feet!

On the way back into Trelleborg proper, I spotted a group of pheasant of all things. They were searching for food in the grass at the road side. About a dozen of them, all in juvenile plumage. Made me forget my feet and aggravation at my new shoes that had felt so comfortable at the shop.

Then we found a place to eat that wasn’t burgers at a british pub sort of establishment. The food was okay.

While waiting for our food, I noticed Jens was stressing. He was sitting bolt up-right in his chair with eyes open wide. It was disconcerting. If a car had backfired, Jens probably would have leapt through the ceiling.

I’ve seen him somewhat like this before, but not this bad. Even he admitted that he’s gotten worse over the years. He’s considering this trip as something huge and otherwise, I’ve not been in the position to see him in this state.

We finished eating and hurried to the ferry dock for a 2 hour wait in line, not even the first people in line. Once the ferry arrived, the car was parked and we were dropping things in our cabin, my tightly-wound hubby drew a deep breath, probably the first of the evening.

The ferry departed at 10:45 pm, so I started getting ready for bed right away.

The bunks were HELLISH. They didn’t look so bad upon first sight. Once I laid down on the pad and my head hit the huge, puffy pillow, it became a nightmare. I expected the pad to be a bit thin and uncomfortable, but that doesn’t even come close to description. It might have been more tolerable if the 2.5 ft x 2.5 ft x 1 ft pillow had been as wonderful as it looked. No, it had been fluffed within an inch of its life. As soon as my head hit it, instant compression to half an inch thick.

So, I spent the night trying to find a position that didn’t leave some body part hurting or falling asleep while continually rebundling the pillow into some kind of shape that offered support for my head and neck. I felt like I barely slept. I had this sense that I was simply waiting for the alarm to go off so I could do something more productive than futile attempts at sleep.

A rough night for Jens and I both



What A Mixed Muddle!
September 8, 2013, 5:51 am
Filed under: Day Rides, Misc

The day after the revival of my cycle partner from the fuzzy lump we’ve been calling Loke, his arthritis reared its ugly head and made my poor puppy limp. Well, more of an oddness in his walk than a true limp, but definitely not right. It was easy to tell it was in the hip and not the foot or the muscles lower down.

I took that as a sign that despite his high energy and boatloads of stamina, Loke will be kept to outings of 10 miles or less. Much as I hate it, I’m sure Loke will hate it more once the truly cooler weather sets in. Right now his distance is roughly 620 miles for the year. Even with short runs, it’s fairly certain he’ll break the 702 miles last year. Yet with the shortened distances, with definite rest days in between, it may well mean that this year will be his lifetime best for distance. Any chance of him accompanying me on tours is gone.

Very sad. I knew the day had to come, but I’d hoped not until he was 10 or 11.

Monday, we both took a rest clearly, since Loke was walking strangely. Tuesday, I was about to crawl out of my skin from inactivity. So… I sneaked out.

It wasn’t much of a sneak, but it was an underhanded trick to Loke’s perception. I dressed in my full cycle outfit, complete with the shoes, and then took Loke for a 20 minute walk. They’re surprisingly comfy to walk in given how stiff the soles are for better power transfer from leg to pedal. Most of it is due to the shape of the sole, allowing a somewhat natural movement when walking.

It tricked Loke into forgetting exactly what the clothes meant and once we were home, I loafed a little, making sure he had water. To top it off, I rumpled a blanket and hid tasty little tidbits in the folds. The fuzzy one didn’t even notice when I said, ‘I’ll be back’ and walked out.

I set what was, for me, a blazing pace as I skimmed through the first half of the river loop and headed out into the countryside down Gamla Börje Road. Even as I crept up and then flew down that first hill, I hadn’t made up my mind which loop to do. Läby/Shopping Center? Börje? Ulva/Gamla Uppsala? By mile 4, I’d decided and hung a left to head toward Läby. Before rejoining the river loop, I spontaneously turned toward central Uppsala. When it was all done, I had 17.19 miles under the wheels in less than 2 hours. Not too bad for me!

When I got home, the woman in the apartment adjacent to ours was on her balcony. I asked if Loke had been a bother. ‘Not a sound,’ she answered. Even better was that all our shoes were undisturbed. The only thing out of place was the blanket Loke had flattened in his search for all the ‘cookies’ I’d squirreled away in it. A success all the way around.

Tuesday evening, Loke was again walking normally. Wednesday was a rest day for me though Loke was a bit of a pest. I wanted at least one completely limp-free day out of him before taking him out with the trike again.

Thursday was busy trike wise. Jens woke at 5 am to be out the door for the airport by 5:30. That meant no walkies for Loke with the hubby. After several days being violently sick thanks to migraines, it seems I strained my back muscles. Walking was killing my lower back. That meant Loke’s business outings had to be with the trike.

As soon as the sun was decently up, I got moving to get dressed, harness the furball who seemed somewhat excited for a change and get out to ready the trike. We rolled out just as the clock showed 7:00 am on my Garmin. Loke was raring to go though not quite as fiery as he used to be.

We finished the round in good time. I saw Loke settled in with water and his breakfast before running out the door.

Glorious Day on Cusp of Autumn!

Glorious Day on Cusp of Autumn!

I powered off to do Börje Loop. I felt a little shaky in the legs when I started, but soon felt better and strong.

Look! True autumn coloring on the right!

Look! True autumn coloring on the right!

I really do push myself a bit too hard when riding solo. While I try to spin the pedals rather than mash, I think I still power too much. That or my knees are simply objecting to cadence.

Beautiful horse in beautiful surroundings

Beautiful horse in beautiful surroundings

Still it was a good ride. I found a lovely Appaloosa. I’ve not seen an Appy since leaving the states and this one was gorgeous.

A little further past the Appy, a pair of adolescent pheasants startled out of the field edge. One was going to be a handsome cock come next year or the one after. He already had flecks of green starting on his head and a few more of red coming out of the bland brown mottle of his ‘childhood’ feathers.

Gamla Uppsala Church

Gamla Uppsala Church – March 2010

Rather than stick to the main road skirting the mounds, I decided to take the path through them. As I passed Gamla Uppsala Church, the open door caught my attention. I stopped, abruptly realizing that in the 8+ years of living here and the hundreds of times I’ve cycled or walked by, not once had I gone in.

I loved this chest!

I loved this chest!

I parked, locked and scurried in.

Must have been stunning centuries ago

Must have been stunning centuries ago

It’s pretty, though not nearly as stunning as I expected. It has a bit of a museum feel to it as well. The porch had postcards and books in several languages about the history of the mounds and such.

Beautifully Engraved Leather

Beautifully Engraved Leather

Sadly Faded Murals

Sadly Faded Murals

Just inside the door of the nave were tables against the walls. Set neatly on the tops were bibles. Easily two dozen of them. Tiny small things mean to be carried by ladies. Larger ones with notes written inside. Truly huge ones, almost a foot thick, with yellowed pages and bindings of cracking leather and wood. Some had dates going back to the mid-1500’s.

Not even half of the old bibles on display

Not even half of the old bibles on display

I very carefully opened a few, looking at the personal notes within, searching for dates or possibly family trees that are sometimes drawn within such bibles. I did so only after thoroughly looking for signs prohibiting touching them, but the only such found were for bibles secured in glass cases. Those belonged to kings centuries ago.

Gamla Uppsala Church Interior

Gamla Uppsala Church Interior

The closed pews were lovely.

There were murals, but nearly all so fade it was hard to tell what they were meant to be other than general shapes.

Still hard to believe I’d never been inside after all these years. I’ve been in the cathedral more times than Gamla Uppsala Church!

Arriving home with 22.62 miles for the day, it still wasn’t over. I took some time to recover from the longer ride and still went out again. About 5 pm, Loke and I headed out again since he gets at least two walks a day. I tried to do the ride a bit shorter, but somewhere slightly different to perk Loke’s interest. Technically it was shorter, but still came out to 3.7 miles. Barely clipped off 1.5 mile from the basic river loop.

Still, Loke seemed content with the day and not a sign of a limp. I’d accumulated 29.9 miles for the day making 71 for the month and just 5 days in! I was humming as I jumped into the tub for an evening shower.

I came out and my good mood took a down turn. Loke had a vaguely guilty look about him. A closer look showed that his right-front paw was wet. Sighing, I parted his toes. It was vivid, furious red and painful looking. The infection had reared its ugly head after all these months. Oddly, it was fine just the day before. Not even a hint of it being overly pink.

Bad timing too. The last thing I want is to leave Loke with Jens’ parents for two weeks when his feet need tending. It’s one thing to have someone take care of a healthy dog (or child) for a time. Quite another when there’s illness or something that needs careful attention to add to the favor’s burden.

Started treatment, but it didn’t appear to be working. By Friday evening, it looked even worse. So, this morning, I scurried to the vet with him.

She worked me in after a couple with a pair of cats being vaccinated for travel. We decided to go with antibiotics due to the timing and the fact that the treatments I had from last time weren’t working.

Hopefully, the meds will quickly pull the infection back under control. Because of his on-again-off-again limping from arthritis, the vet also gave me a mild anti-inflammatory medication to use as needed. If Jens’ dad decides to try having Loke at their place, the fuzzy one may need it with a hyper, bossy, bouncy poodle even if she is a year older than Loke.

Fingers crossed that my back and Loke’s foot are in good order by next Saturday!

So, that’s the mixed muddle of occurrences of the past week or so. Good and bad neatly sandwiched. Hopefully things will level out. There’s still planning to do and we’re leaving next Saturday!



There He Is!
September 2, 2013, 2:40 pm
Filed under: Day Rides

The husky I take such delight in riding with made a reappearance yesterday!

In spite of the many significant milestones passed on August 31st, my mood was still strained with worry about Loke’s sluggishness even over an area he delighted in charging through just at the beginning of the year.

Most of this return was due to Jens’ almost vehement encouragement to try Loke somewhere completely new to see how much of his apathy has been due to boredom. So, I plotted a loop of about 21 miles. It was in the Örsundsbro area again, but mostly along roads Loke’s not seen in quite some time and then only once.

The drive over only served to deepen my worries. Firstly, Loke was acting very strange. He didn’t seem excited, but more stressed and uncomfortable. At one point, it looked as if he was having trouble sitting and might sick up. Add chill temps in the lower 50’s with brisk winds and drizzle which verged on the edge of rain at times. Yeah… not a good drive over.

Jens kept reassuring me that he’d come get Loke at the drop of a hat if I called, or both of us if I got too cold. He’d even wait 10 or 15 minutes before leaving the church to be sure the fuzzy one wasn’t having problems from the beginning.

Giresta Church

Giresta Church

Whatever had been bothering Loke in the car disappeared once he was trotting around Giresta Church with Jens.

Trike assembled, I realized I’d not photographed the church. So, Jens had to wait another few minutes while I ran through the lychgate to find a good angle.

The furry one actually seemed moderately excited once he was hitched up and I sat down. His tail wagged and he even vocalized a little. Not the full throated yodels of old, but certainly more than he’s done since Denmark. I loosed the brake and he leaped forward, powering for the road.

My spirits took wing seeing such energy and eagerness. I tried to keep his speed down to about 12 – 13 mph rather than an full charge of 17+ mph. Trying to find a balance between such enthusiasm and minimizing impact to Loke’s joints can be a challenge at times. I did let him stretch his legs and move though.

Beginnings of Autumn

Beginnings of Autumn

I pedaled briskly to help us along and ease additional strains on Loke as he loped along with that floppy tongued husky grin I love so much and haven’t seen in so long. At 52 F with stiff winds and lead gray skies, it was a doggie smile instead of jaws gaping for panting. Loke was reveling in the chill morning and unfamiliar landscape. A grin made my cheeks ache as the trike sped along and I ruffled Loke’s fur every few minutes.

The fading colors of a field of purple clover

The fading colors of a field of purple clover

Clover Field From Different Angle

Clover Field From Different Angle

It was cold enough I had to stop to pull on my windbreaker, though thankfully no further spates of rain came along to dampen me or my spirits. Without a good layer of wool under my cycle clothes, getting wet would have spelled the end of the ride in those temps with that wind. I’m pretty sure the wind-chill was in the lower 40’s at least.

Only about 2 miles along, the trike abruptly felt draggy and the sound of something rubbing in the back caught my attention. I found a place that let me get safely out of random traffic to examine the problem.

The right pad on the rear parking brake was, for some reason, rubbing against the wheel rim. Annoying, particularly since fiddling with brakes requires laying on the ground with a recumbent trike. With a normal bike, one can just flip it upside down so it’s sitting on saddle and handlebars.

Oddly, it never occurred to me to just end the ride and call Jens as I might have in the past. A sign of increased confidence in my trike mechanical abilities perhaps? I pulled off the jacket and set to work trying to figure out the how/why it was rubbing and what needed to be done to correct it.

Loved this building with ivy on the wall

Loved this building with ivy on the wall

While looking for a way to adjust the brake without loosing the cable, I accidentally popped free the tension wire on the left side from the peg bracing it. As I put it back, I wondered if it was that simple on the right side. Sure enough. There was the tension wire swinging loose. Fastening it behind it’s peg mostly fixed that, but I discovered a screw to further adjust the tension and turned it a few times.

It actually took me longer to put away the tools and put the jacket back on then to fix it. I will also add that Loke’s impatient sighs were music to my ears. He wanted to GO!

Rolling onward, the day brightened as the cloud cover changed from a pewter gray, featureless sheet to clumps of shaded silver and white before finally pulling apart to reveal fleeting glimpses of blue.

Uppland Runestone #746

Uppland Runestone #746

Near mile 4, I swerved over to stop again, this time for a surprise runestone. There were many sighs from Loke, letting me know what he thought about all these stops for photos and repair.

As I walked through the matted grass between the road and the stone, I spotted about half a dozen large snails. It made me laugh. Imagine! Snails in their natural environment! It was a change from swerving around them on roads or cycle paths. I’d saved a few from a grisly fate of crushed by car, slowing enough to scoop them up and toss gently to the grass in the direction they’d been creeping.

Uppland Runestone #746 is in good condition for it’s 1000 or so years of age. No lichen or moss and only a touch of weathering along the edge where maybe a 4 footed creature had worn away. Not much info on it though at least there was a rune translation on the placard.

Snail au naturel - About size of a golfball

Snail au naturel – About size of a golfball

Going back to the trike, I bored Loke to pieces with a short rest. He clearly didn’t appreciate that it was for his sake as we weren’t even 1/3 of the way through the ride.

My ‘mini-meal’ alarm went off, but I’d forgotten food. The plan had been to pack some almonds and grapes, but they’d been forgotten in the rush out the door. Loke wouldn’t do more than sit for a minute or two at a time. Particularly after we heard the thud of hooves and jingle of harness. Two sulkies went gliding by on what seemed to be a track hidden by the tall weeds. I think Loke wanted to race with them. Goof.

During the 15 minute break, the weather couldn’t quite make up its mind what it was going to do. The sun looked like was going to emerge, but then the clouds moved back in. Perversity because I was thinking about using my tripod mayhap.

Can't make up its mind

Can’t make up its mind. Rain or Clearing?

I almost wonder if I could travel around, breaking droughts simply by showing up and start setting my tripod. I exaggerate, but it does seem to summon rain.

Loke actually did a happy spin when he sensed I was getting ready to move out. Upon putting away his water dish, I found him standing right next to his running bar where I could easily hitch him, his tail wagged in anticipation.

Within a quarter mile of the sulky training track, the geese began. At first it was a sizable flock of about 40 in a field to our left. About 75 yards away, the nearest ones spooked and took wing. Within another 20 yards, the rest of them followed. Only then I spotted the ones on the right. A small cluster of 10 jumped away. Then another group further out. Abruptly, a huge flock that must have been nearly 200 hundred strong seemed to ripple out of the distant stumps of wheat. Honking in alarm, they stayed below the canopy of the distant trees as they streamed across the road after the other smaller flocks.

It wasn’t just geese. A tiny group of 4 cranes made a distinctive contrast of size and shape as they tagged along. All of it happened too far away for the standard lens and too quick to make the change to the long one.

Believe it or not, there are a lot of geese in this shot

Believe it or not, there are a lot of geese in this shot

Those were the only geese. It was like the initial flood out of a dam. Others flew overhead in their traditional ‘V’ formation. I could hear others honking in the distance along with occasional cries of more cranes. Definite signs that autumn is coming.

Scenery with hints of blue sky

Scenery with hints of blue sky

There have been other indications for a couple weeks now at least. Waking a few mornings to temperatures in the mid-40’s. Hints of colors other than green in the trees. A few yellow leaves here. A faint blush of red tinging others. Hard to tell how much vibrancy we’ll get this year. At times, it almost seems as if the leaves are flinging themselves from the branches as soon as they begin to turn.

Pity. I do so love autumn colors when they come strong and linger a few weeks. I still love this time of the year even if the leaves don’t blaze. The cooler temps invigorate me.

And the blue disappears

And the blue disappears

My careful monitoring of Loke’s strength and enthusiasm continued. He didn’t seem to be flagging at all. He still wanted to move into a 10-12 mph lope from time to time, showed impatience when I stopped. All encouraging signs.

As I came up to the the turn west which would be the worst stretch of the ride, I paused to peruse my maps. Only then did I realize how close we were to a ‘slott’ which is the Swedish word for castle or manor house. What a nice addition to the ride.

And the sun emerges

And the sun emerges

It was then the clouds finally began to break apart in earnest and like the choral voices of angels from on-high, sun struck the earth. Part of me would have liked for the clouds to linger on. Wearing the jacket was no bother and the chill, brisk temps thanks to the lack of sun were vastly more comfortable for Loke.

Biggest wood anthill I've ever seen.

Biggest wood anthill I’ve ever seen.

We scooted over the wide road to a smaller tree shaded lane and immediately turned onto an unpaved drive toward Ekoslund’s Manor.

Loke loved this stretch

Loke loved this stretch

Loke perked up at the site of the gravel surface, still damp from the morning’s rain and flanked with trees close to either side. He wanted to race down it. He actually woofed at me when I stopped to goggle at what had to be largest hill built by wood ants I’ve ever seen. Easily over 3 feet tall though less than 5 feet in diameter. I guess I’m impressed by small things at times, but it was photo worthy to me and worthwhile for me to mention here.

As we followed the lane with it’s brief curves and even a bit of a hill, I had a heart racing moment. I heard the car racing toward us. That gave me just enough time to swerve sharply right, giving Loke a rude shove to get us off the road as much and as quickly as possible.

It crested the hill and the driver braked suddenly, probably stunned to find us there. He waved apologetically as he rolled by at a more reasonable speed.

First view of the manor's four buildings

First view of the manor’s four buildings

The splash of water preceded the first view of Ekoslund’s Manor. It was a small fountain, bronze I think, with swan statues in the pool around the three tier high basin column. There were perfectly clipped hedges and the lawn was lush, green without any browning or bald spots, flowers in neat beds. The grass beneath the trees was clear of any leaves or twigs. Each of them had neat little signs to label them. At least half a dozen of them were two or three different sorts of cherries.

Panoramic View North to South in Courtyard

Panoramic View in Courtyard Looking East

The closer I came to the buildings, the more worn and weathered they appeared. In spite of the very faded paint on the right hand one, the small curved buildings looked the best kept with flowers in the windows. They almost seemed divided into small rooms entered through wooden doors. Each door had a number on it as well as a charming little bell with a dangling rope to clang the clapper. Certainly more interesting than an electronic doorbell or a standard knocker.

View down to the 'garden'

View down to the ‘garden’

The northern large building of the manor complex seemed the worst off of the four. Broken windows, the paint-faded plaster cracking and breaking off the brick beneath. I peeked in through the windows and was stunned. It look like a hoarder’s nest. Broken furniture, wire shelving, electric wires and cables, boxes full of who knows what. A stuffed hooded crow, tattered and dusty sat on one sill as if looking longingly for escape from the mess. Most perplexing was a modern surgery light that wouldn’t look out of place in a medical scene in a new movie. That makes more sense now since the manor did serve as a cardiovascular center for a time.

Apparently, the southern structure is used as a residence, but from a distance some of its rooms looked as cluttered as the more dilapidated one. It was also used as the recording location for the Swedish version of ‘Biggest Loser’ in 2005.

I quickly finished with my explorations, keeping my distance from the buildings that looked potentially inhabited. During that wander, I finally pulled the jacket off as the temperature climbed with the sun finally out.

Loke was quite happy to go briskly back the way we came, but his interest flagged quite a bit when we reached the main road.

The traffic was heavy, but blessfully, there was a very wide and accommodating shoulder. Less blessfully, the winds had kicked up more and came furiously right down the big road into our faces. It was like pushing up a very long 4-5% grade climb. Not particularly hard for a short distance, but as it went on and on, it got worse and worse. Then of course a few real hills jumped in on the fun.

Pretty Building Across From Church

Pretty Building Across From Church

We hadn’t gone far down the long road when I saw the top of a church’s tower above the tree crowns. I hadn’t marked or see a church there on my maps. Perhaps I’d already stopped at it some time in the past? I decided to ride to it rather than risk it.

We made the turn which put the wind to our side and went on a bit faster. Loke seemed relieved to be on the smaller road and helped up the hill toward the church.

Almost a dozen cars were in the church’s parking lot, so I was hopeful of a bathroom break in a building which held the toilet and what appeared to be a small kitchen for church activities. Alas, it was locked.

Husby-Sjutolft Church

Husby-Sjutolft Church

Muttering about having been so cruelly teased, I set off to explore Husby-Sjutolft Church. It’s a fairly common looking church, but pretty. The inside is apparently quite lovely, but sadly locked so I couldn’t see for myself. I’ve no clue if there are any runestones hiding within in the porch or the church floor. I didn’t even look for stones along the route before I left. I was just out for a ride rather than hunting for history.

Loke was less impatient as we took a rest for about 15 minutes in the parking lot. We’d covered about 10 miles, roughly half of what I’d mapped. At a guess, I thought the little detour to and from the unexpected church added about a mile. I toyed with calling Jens, but Loke still had energy enough to bug me. Less impatient doesn’t mean he was a rug on the ground.

Reluctantly, I returned us to the bigger road and it’s unhindered wind with about 2 miles more to the northward leg of the loop.

Litslena Church - iPhone

Litslena Church – iPhone 2012

Often when I map areas, I don’t realize exactly where the marks on the map relate to the real world. So, when I saw Litslena Church just off a big round-about I recognized, my mind went ‘Ooooh, I’ll be riding part of THAT loop’. The major slip-n-slide ride of December 31st, 2012. At least this time we wouldn’t be dealing with rock hard ice glossed with rainwater.

The 3 miles of that previous loop looked completely different with sunlight, deciduous trees with leaves and other green plants while heading north instead of south.

Golden hay fields say 'Autumn' like yellow and red leaves

Golden hay fields say ‘Autumn’ like yellow and red leaves

Pretty building & hints of autumn colors in the trees

Pretty building & hints of autumn colors in the trees

Loke wanted more water and more frequently. Without the jacket and the sun out, it felt just perfect for me pedaling around. Naturally, that meant it was a bit warmer for Loke. His husky grin started to look more and more like panting. I even wet down his ears a few times, not because it was necessary, but in hopes of making him more comfortable.

Warm or not and with 15 miles under his paws, Loke still had plenty of verve. He ticked along like a well tuned machine and had plenty of interest in his surroundings. It was glorious! This was the husky I’ve been missing. My fun companion and my cycle partner.

I had a choice at the next intersection. I could have turned almost due west, adding as much as 2 miles or north which was the mapped way. The western way was the continuation of the good dirt road. North was… ugly. Big rocks studding sand made a bit mushy by the rain we’d had earlier in the morning. Admittedly, I had an argument with myself.

Finally, in Loke’s interest we went north. Loke was wearing socks so the surface wouldn’t impact him too much and it felt more sensible to keep the distance as short as possible even if I could call Jens to get the furball. He was still going strong, but no sense in adding to the trip just because I was being a wimp.

Almost like the earthen paths of the City Forest

Almost like the earthen paths of the City Forest

Loke was quite helpful as we went along. He didn’t pull hard, but every little bit helps on that sort of ground. The track worsened a bit and I had to swerve wildly to avoid big stones (head-sized and a little larger) thrusting up from the dirt. After most of a mile of that, it changed again, becoming loose packed soil beneath a fine carpet of fallen pine-needles.

As soon as Loke saw that, it was as if we were just starting the ride instead of nearing the end. His tail was raised high and nose busy as he wanted to run. I relented, spinning us up to about 10 mph as I swerved to avoid the mud puddles so his socks wouldn’t fall apart. He just adores that kind of running surface, especially if it’s surrounded by trees! He tried his best to pull us faster, but after I told him ‘Easy’ a few times, he settled into the easy lope I permitted.

Fröslunda Church - May 2013

Fröslunda Church – May 2013

We rejoined the paved road and soon were rolling past Fröslunda Church, familiar from a ride several years ago as well as earlier this year. After a slow climb up a hill, Loke got to lope a little more as it felt mostly downhill to Örsundsbro. The wind, finally at our backs helped.

We didn’t go far into Örsundsbro, but made the final turn back to our starting place, about only 2 miles away. Jens called about then to ask if things were going okay. I told him how far we were from stopping, adding he could probably leave about 10 minutes later to arrive.

The distance went quickly. Even with 20-21 miles, Loke still went smoothly and strongly.

As we went down the gravel drive toward the parking lot, an older (70-80 years old) man stepped well back from the road edge. Then he waved a greeting and I stopped to say hello. He asked about the trike and Loke. Noticing that Loke was quite warm, he mentioned that the water in his house came from a spring high on the hill, no additives and pure. Would Loke and I like some?

After sipping warmish water from a plastic bag, I wasn’t about to turn that down. He walked slowly between a mowed path in hedges. Hidden among black and red current berry bushes in an apple orchard was a darling yellow and white house. His wife was sitting on the steps, enjoying the sun.

The man said he’d offered us water so she went inside to return with a big metal bowl for Loke. They were a wonderful couple. The woman had to move slowly. When I finally saw her hands, I winced at how painful it must have been to carry the bowl. They were swollen and painful. She kept apologizing for their orchard/yard. I rather liked it even overgrown as it was, but she was clearly unhappy with it but unable to do much with it.

The man suddenly asked if I’d like some apples from their trees. Again, I wasn’t about to refuse! Fresh picked apples? Of course! He’d just finished picking about 5 lbs of them when Jens called to say he was at the church. I said my farewells to charming pair who told me I was welcome any time.

It was the perfect ending to what had turned into such a wonderful day. Though the morning had been wet when we left the apartment, it had turned glorious and sunny. Loke had still been bouncing around the apple orchard and wallowing in the grass, obviously not worn out in spite of 22.19 miles. I’d had a great time with the cycle partner I’ve been missing so.