Starting on June 6th 2012
Carrying 2 bikes under my arm I crossed Terminal 1 at Hamburg Airport several times, looking for the right check in counter. Despite the picky supervisor at British Airways, mumbling something about boxes for bicycles according to British Airways policy, I managed to check in after “only “60 minutes; both bikes and my luggage without paying additional fees. However I felt like I had mastered my first tour leg crossing a mountain.
In London Heathrow I met Sven, who arrived on time half an hour earlier directly from Miami. Contrary to the reputation of London / Heathrow Airport our luggage including bicycles had arrived, so we could put on our bike gear immediately. Sven was wondering about the cold air-conditioning, but after leaving the airport building he noticed that the temperature in the building was almost 10 degrees Celsius above the outside temperature. Now it was very obvious that Sven had brought his bike shorts completely unnecessarily.
After some slight disorientation – we circled Heathrow several times – we went on to London. We passed the Royal Albert Hall and Hyde Park, had a short stop at Starbuck’s, then we saw Big Ben in front of us.
Along the River Thames we came to the Tower Bridge.
On our last year’s legs we’ve been positively surprised by the English cuisine and the English cities. However in our first night at Dartford we could confirm the stereotypes. The hotel was ugly, with an incredibly bad restaurant; the lobby including the neighboring party area was at the back of the hotel, ending into a dark parking garage. We could not sense anything of the supposed charm of the town.
It may also have been because of the consistently gray weather with the continuous drizzling rain. Even the very charming place, Canterbury, with its pretty old houses and the great cathedral somehow appeared bleak to us.
The next day’s ride took us further through the south east of England to the ferry to Dover, interrupted only by brief stops to warm up. Finally we were on our ferry and could dry our clothes. By the way, we managed throughout our entire trip through England to avoid eating Fish and Chips, even “fish and chips to go”.
In Calais we rewarded ourselves after this wet nasty leg with a nice hotel and enjoyed an excellent dinner.
The next day was supposed to bring us north along the coast. However, heavy winds almost blew us off the bikes. Of course, the strong head wind was coming directly from the northeast, so we decided to go further inland and to shorten the planned route through Belgium a bit.
For a lunch break we had chosen Cassel. Though this place is really pretty, that was a big strategic mistake. After an exhausting stage against the strong and for the time of the year unusual cold wind we were looking forward to the upcoming break. But first of all we had to master the only hill in this flat landscape of northern France with a never ending rise. Finally at the top of the hill we found out that all the restaurants had closed. A little Bistro took pity on us and we enjoyed the only available food: Baguettes. Lunch has never tasted so good.
After warming up and regaining our strength, the rest of the way to Armentieres was almost a walk in the park.
Inspired by a tip from the hotel, we tried the local Breton cuisine. On the 4th Day we made a short visit to Belgium; a large national park (Saint-Amand-Les-Eaux) ; which brought us close to our final destination already (see name of the Café). We stayed overnight at the rather boring place called Cambrai.
The absolute highlight of our tour was the 5th day. The weather was so nice and warm that even Sven dared to take off his long-sleeved shirt during our break. Our struggle in the first days against the wind was rewarded by the pure joy of cycling; we rode southwards with tailwinds.
Therefore, we were looking forward to even the short but crisp rise to the center of Laon, with the cathedral on a hill, which was already visible an hour before we reached it.
Having just arrived in the Champagne region, we of course tested this tasty drink with a delicious dinner.
The last day brought us to Reims, where we spontaneously decided to enjoy a guided tour through the Champagne cellars of Pommery. Unfortunately we learned that you have to register weeks in advance! On the positive flipside, we had time for a visit of the Cathedral of Reims.
By train and through the Paris Metro at rush hour, we headed to the Airport Charles de Gaulle.
This was again the end of a great trip, bringing us 500 km closer to our final destination – Istanbul.