Terii’s Cycling Babble


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!

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