Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Full throttle at Revs

Pic by ALT.
I first visited Florida in 1972, when I hitchhiked there from Washington D.C., and have been there, on and off, ever since.
Sat 12 March
Dep 16:50 Air Canada from Toronto Pearson Terminal 1 (YYZ) to South-West Florida International Airport (RSW). Pickup blue Hyundai Accent rental car at Alamo, Fort Myers Airport. The lady at the check-in desk insists I look like Donald Trump. I wonder what training course she attended?
Via I75 to check-in at Ramada Naples. Late supper at the Cheesecake Factory, 1900 Tamiami Trail, veggie burger, pasta, $34.80, $40.11 incl tip.
Sun 13 March
To Downtown Naples, drive around, park at 5th Avenue. Walk to lunch at "The Café" 821 5th Ave South, fruit yoghurt, ham and brie Panini, $26.98 plus tip. A touch precious for our taste.
To Publix grocery, 1981 Tamiami Trail, shopping $64.34, including 750 ml Lindemans Pinot Grigio $5.99, "Dixie Lily" quick grits $1.35 (to take back to Canada). Supper at the hotel room including Entenmann's Lemon Cake. Pitstop at Pompano Surf & Turf (the hotel bar), three pints Bud Light $10.50, plus an 18% service charge which comes standard, baffling to European visitors. A good old boy is sat at the bar, in his eighties, complaining about an underdone burger. He tells the bar staff to fire the chef. They give him a slice of cheesecake to placate him, which he donates to Annette. Turns out he had worked in Toronto managing the Claussen pickle factory, back when Hogtown made things. He used to stay at the King Eddie Hotel.
Mon 14 March
To the Revs Institute, also known as the Collier Collection, for 09:00 research appointment.
This is a stunning facility dedicated to preserving the history of the motor car. The phrase "World Class" is overused, particularly by a certain Toronto politician, but applies in this case.
Put simply the museum has a car collection; facilities for restoring and maintaining the cars; plus a document, photograph and film library.
We talk to Paul about the provenance of an AC Cobra he is researching. Could the steering wheel have switched sides? A bunch of guys are lamenting the quality of petrol used at Le Mans in the nineteen thirties. One of them does not want to let a precious document out of his sight. This is petrolhead heaven.
I particularly admire a silver 1962 Lotus Elite Series II SE, Serial No. EB 1661, registration 300 TKK. We book to visit the car collection on Thursday.
Lunch at Spanky's, 1550 Airport Road North, is recommended to us. Soup, Tuna Melt, Chili, sitting among the memorabilia. We stop at Walgreen's for Flossups, $8 sunglasses for Annette and find Goldenberg's Peanut Chews. (Walgreen's are taking over Rite-Aid, our favourite U.S. pharmacy, so now we know they will be in good hands.) To Barnes & Noble, 5377 Tamiami Trail, $29.68 for two Lemony Snicket hardbacks. Back at Pompano Surf & Turf Annette orders a Keylime Pie.
Tues 15 March
To the Waffle House, 6531 Dudley Drive, for cooked breakfast including grits, $20 for two including tip. The Waffle House is reassuringly familiar - you could be in Brooks, Kentucky, St. Robert, Missouri or Tupelo, Mississippi - stops on previous tours. Annette tops it off with raisin toast and apple butter.
We drive on to the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, 375 Sanctuary Road West, run by the Audubon Society, $24 for two, $2 off coupon, no tax applied (plus $3 for one binocular rental). "Welcome to the swamp."
Worthwhile guided tour, lasting 90 minutes, conducted by knowledgeable volunteer docent. Unseasonal rain in January means that the swamp is much wetter than normal, affecting the breeding habits of the Wood Stork. They are apparently giving it a miss for the second year in a row. We hear of the devastating effects of an estimated 10,000 Burmese pythons, rampaging through south Florida and killing 90-95% of the small mammals and birds of the Everglades. They are thought to have originated from a Homestead, Florida, petstore set free during a hurricane. This shows the folly of allowing the import of exotic pets. Attempts to stamp them out are proving futile.
After a coastal tour among the highrise apartments at Vanderbilt Beach we are hungry. We stop at Cibao Grille where the patron triumphantly announces they are closed for lunch at 13:30. We retreat next door to Rosati's, a Chicago-style Pizza Restaurant, at 818 Neapolitan Way. The reception is altogether more convivial. The lady running the place is from Wheaton, Illinois. We order the special, a large mushroom Pizza to share, with unsweet iced tea. $24.37 plus tip.
Wed 16 March
Get some cash at First Florida Integrity Bank, 895 Fifth Avenue South. To 5th Avenue Coffee Company & 6th Street Diner, for morning coffee and cookie. Spacious corner location, pleasant atmosphere midweek with reasonable prices. Reading the Naples Daily News. Earlier we saw a McLaren supercar parked outside.
After a stroll we took lunch at the newly-opened Crispy Seafood & Wine Bar. This proved to be a mixed bag. The wait staff were green. There was no iced tea, a $5 fail for two of us, and lady customers were being advised to use the gents as their washroom was out-of-order, not something you wish to contemplate while lunching. The food however was excellent.
I move on to Tin City, some old sheds selling souvenirs, by the water. I met up with my nephew Owen and family, reflecting on how we both managed to be in Naples at the same time. On return to the parking garage I saw what appeared to be an abandoned vehicle next to mine, with extensive rear damage, door open and files or folders on the passenger seat. Nobody was about apart from somebody sitting in a nearby SUV. Not wishing to become part of an incident I beat the retreat.
Thurs 17 March
For breakfast we drive to 360 Market, 2891 Bayview Drive, a trendy restaurant by a boat dock. They have a Vince Lombardi quote on the wall, something like: "I am not remotely interested in just being good."
California Benedict for Annette, Fryup for me, $36 plus tip. Then to Naples Botanical Gardens, total $27.90 for two, $1 off coupon. Two green parakeets entertain us in the parking lot. Strolling round this splendid place is relaxing but pay heed to the gator warning signs. We have a quick snack back at Spanky's, 1550 Airport Road North. At 12:00 we are due at Revs. We produce our booking number at the cash desk. The lady says that number has been cancelled. We all are momentarily puzzled but then she recalls we are to get in free! So begins a marvelous tour of the car collection. The core collections are the cars of Briggs Cunningham and a sammlung of Porsches, including an Elva-Porsche, built in Sussex. Everybody is most gracious, showing us behind the scenes, including the workshops and the library. Quote: "Nobody gets in the library!" We head out with a Briggs Cunningham mug on the house!
The swamp, the botanical gardens and Revs have something in common: donations and volunteers.
To Grouper and Chips, 338 9th Street North, we share a crabcake starter and two-piece grouper basket with chips. Recommended.
Back at Pompano Surf & Turf I chat to Greg at the bar, a Porsche fan, who is unaware of the kampfgruppe from Stuttgart nearby. He vows to visit Revs soon.
Fri 18 March
Drive south to Marco Island. Having enjoyed the 5th Avenue Coffee Company in Naples we call at their store at 740 North Collier Boulevard, Marco Island. The boss meets us outside afterwards and thanks us for stopping by. While enjoying breakfast outdoors we have spotted Winn Dixie across the street: "Proudly serving the southeast since 1925." We cannot resist a visit, acquiring the ingredients for crab rolls and "cheese flavor" grits to tuck in our luggage. You can't beat a good groceteria.
We have our sandqwiches at Caxambas Park Marina, a small boat launch, where we see pelicans, egrets up close and, in the distance, dolphins. Evening meal at Cosmos Ristorante and Pizzeria, 536 Tamiami Trail. A Sardinian restaurant: Calamari starter, Pasta Special (Fettuccine with seafood), Risotto al Salmone. Good for a last night treat but a bit spendy at $83.92 including tip. Walking distance from the hotel so we saved on cab fare and I could enjoy an $8 glass of wine.
Sat 19 March
Depart hotel at 05:20. I have chosen the option to return the car to the airport empty so we are hypermiling just in case. We pass Pelican Landing, Bonita Springs on Hwy 41, turning right at Corkscrew Road. Arrive at airport 06:07 for the flight to the frozen north. The holiday has ended all too soon.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Fares slashed to save UP Express

The inevitable fare reductions on the UP Express Train, linking downtown Toronto to Pearson Airport, come into effect on 9 March 2016. The Globe and Mail has the story. Just as PunchBuggy predicted last July fares have been slashed. The premium service is toast and the scapegoating has started. Uber anyone? They didn't see it coming.

Friday, January 01, 2016

Old dog learns new tricks

Pic by John Lawrence.
One of the highlights of 2015 was kart racing at Downsview, Toronto, at the end of January. Part of a stag night, most of the drivers were less than half my age. I qualified eighth out of nine. Pathetic. I spoke to the pole-sitter about the correct lines to take and determined to drive through the field come race time. I thought some of the others were bound to crash and determined to keep it off the guardrails. The plan worked and I drove through the pack to third place. Not bad for an old git!

Moving on...

On 13th December we took a U-Haul cargo van to Guelph to deliver some furniture, surplus to requirements because we are moving. Near the rental place in Toronto we came across this Jaguar restoration shop:
Pics by RLT.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

IGS tour – part 2

31 JULY: Dresden to Zurich, Swiss Flight LX915, Dep 9:20, Arr 10:45.
My birthday. We took an early 07:00 taxi (Toyota Prius) to Dresden (rhymes with Neasden) airport. This is quiet with few flights. Croissant and baguette breakfast. Short and uneventful flight to Zurich, where you are in the shops before you know it.
Zurich Flughafen to Zurich HB: Train 718 IC, Dep 12:13, Arr 12:23.
Zurich HB to Luzern, TRN 2647, Dep 12:35, Arr 13:25.
Annette forages for snacks while I guard the luggage.
Luzern to Interlaken Ost: Train 2928, Dep 14:05, Arr 15:55.
Climb through the Brünig Mountain Pass, then via Meiringen.
On arrival for six nights at Best Western Bernerhof Hotel, Bahnhofstrasse 16, Interlaken, phone 33 826 7676, incl breakfast. This is adjacent to the Interlaken West railway and bus stations, and convenient for quick getaways. The hotel issues a ‘free’ bus pass for local travel. Birthday supper at Per Bacco, Rugenparkstrasse 2, 3800 Interlaken, near the station, incl Port wine.
It is soon apparent that staying in Interlaken is a mistake – the city is so cosmopolitan that there is little Swiss about it – not at all like a previous visit. We resolve to explore the surrounding villages.
Saturday take the #103 post bus to Iseltwald. Walk by the lake, birds and ducks, then uphill on the Wanderweg. Return by bus to Bönigen, The Edelweiss airship is circling overhead. Back in town we ride the Funiculaire to a picnic on the Wanderweg, enjoying a free bottled beer handed out in town. It is Swiss National Day and there is a parade in the afternoon. Later a beer stop at a wine bar, fireworks.
Sunday we take the bus to Ringgenberg, changing to the train for Brienz, to ride the Brienz Rothorn Bahn (BRB) to Planalp. We do not go all the way to the top as it is cheaper and less frightening, although the ride through the fluhs is quite hair-raising. This is a rack-railway using the Abt system, our engine being a diesel-fuelled steam engine from 1991, built by SLM Winterthur. At Planalp we walk three minutes to a café, crowded with a hiking grupo, for coffee and peppermint tea. A railway fundi gives us a copy of Dampfblatt, a newsletter for BRB volunteers. Lunch at a lakeside restaurant in Brienz, generally good but charged 3 euro for a glass of tap water. Walz tea room & restaurant & hotel, 3855 Brienz, 42.70 Sfr. Best avoided. Back in Interlaken picnic supper on a bench, followed by Bärner Müntschi beer at Hüsi Bierhaus, not too blokey.
Monday bus ride to Thun. Police posters warning of pickpockets. Shopping for batteries, book. Teashop outdoors at Loeb/Schönholzer’s. Picnic on park bench then walk to the Schloss. Bus to Spiez Hauptbahnhof, walk downhill to the lakeshore, boat ride to Interlaken West on MS Bubenberg, tea and two beer trip, 15.10 euro. Snack supper from Konditorei.
Tueday early bus to Beatenberg, a twenty-minute hair-raising ride into the mountains. Walk back from end of the line to Bel-aire tea room, on the terrasse. Bus back down mountain, switch to the #103 for lunch at the Strandhotel, Iseltwald. Lunch with local Rugenbräu beer and Ramseier Süessmost (Jus de Pomme), 50.60 euro. 13:28 bus back to town. Short bus ride to Unterseen, for the Touristik-Museum-der-Jungfrau-Region. Interesting feature re the first Thomas Cook's Tour of Switzerland, 25 June-16 July 1863.
Wednesday bus #105 to Wilderswil, change to BOB train for Lauterbrunnen. Bought a bike shirt for 50 Sfr. Walk to Staubbachfall, a waterfall which inspired Goethe and Byron. There is nobody about, we have the place to ourselves. In the scramble for the Jungfraujoch the grockles have missed a peach. More ruminations on the nature of mass tourism. Continue on up the valley before hopping bus #141 to the Stechelberg Hotel. Annette enjoys an apfelstrudel with vanilla sauce. Walk back down the valley to Lauterbrunnen, about seven miles in all. Laundry at Thai Restaurant. Supper at Altes Hüsi Bierhaus, burgers and drinks, 39.90 Sfr.
06 AUG: DB ICE 08:05 from Interlaken to Thun (destination Berlin), change for Burgdorf, for pleasant diversion through the Emmenthal. Arriving Burgdorf there is a large 'F bomb' in graffiti on final approach, the station itself lacks name boards, you could be anywhere. Extensive bike racks, coffee at pavement café. Then local train to Bern.
6 Aug to 9 Aug: Wild Rose B & B, Mayweg 7, 3007 Bern, Switzerland +41 31 331 44 72. From Stn #3 tram dir Weissenbühl, 5th stop Beaumont. Lunch in Restaurant Terrasse, Eigerplatz 5; 37.90 Sfr. In evening ride in VW Golf to Restaurant Mänziwilegg, 3068 Utzigen. Spectacular views looking south, with outdoor cowbell chorus.
Next morning we went to find the old Bremgarten motor racing circuit in Bern.
Tram to town then rented bicycles (first four hours free), at Hirschengraben, near the Hauptbahnhof, for the short ride to the old Bremgarten circuit. While the park remains, there was nothing to tell that Grand Prix cars used to race there in the fifties and before WW2. The old circuit has been severed by a motorway and the park seems much more overgrown than in the film.
Return bikes and take #10 bus to the Rosengarten, overlooking the city. Restaurant Rosengarten, Alter Aargauerstalden 318, 3006 Bern. 57 Sfr for two, lunch special outstanding, Felsenau – Mein Berner Bier. To the Altstadt where the Busker Festival features a kids show. Roland Zoss and the Bandidos are singing a song about muesli. Supper at Toscana Ristorante Pizzeria, Seftigenstrasse 27, 3007 Bern.
Next day by car to Gruyères, a cheesy hilltop town, with a French accent (free parking). On the way we visited the La Roche-La Berra hill climb course.
Return via Fribourg, walking in the old town and down a long stairway to the River Aare. Snack lunch at Café Bar Les Falaises, Rue de Neuveville 37; 39.70 Sfr for three. The chatty lady in charge spoke of hard times in the tourist trade.
Back in Bern to the Brocki (thrift store) where I scored a Bodum coffee cup, a Lancia wrench, a Stahlwille socket and a Langnauer Keramik butter dish for Annette, 4 Sfr.
09 AUG: After morning stroll in Bern, DB ICE train dep 13:04, arr 13:59 in Basel.
Steinenschanze Stadthotel, Steinengraben 69, 4051 Basel +41612725353. (#30 bus from Stn.) We stayed here last year and were glad to be back. Last time we failed to see the Rhine River, so we took the #30 bus and walked along the towpath some distance. Tram hopping. Supper at the Stadthof Basel, Gerbergasse 84, 4001 Basel; 72.60 Sfr. Walked back to hotel.
10 AUG: Dep Bern on #30 bus to Hauptbahnhof, change onto #50 bus to airport. Short Lufthansa flight BASEL – FRANKFURT, V LH 1203, Dep 11:05, arr 12:05.
Frankfurt Airport is ghastly – buses, a train, walkways, escalators and miles to walk. (The employees ride bicycles.) Delays. The customs man confiscates my small Lancia wrench, with a sadistic look that only his breed can conjure.
Condor flight FRANKFURT – TORONTO, DE 1060, Dep 14:05, arr 17:05 (9:00h). The passengers in front keep tilting their seats, tipping all my stuff on the floor, including a meal, four times during the flight. YYZ is an utter shambles on arrival – the customs hall being busier than ever. The trip ends badly.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

IGS Tour - part 1

For our summer tour this year we decided on a trip to Iceland, Germany and Switzerland. We booked everything ourselves online.


Pic by ALT.
20 JULY: Icelandair Flight FI600 from Toronto YYZ to Keflavik KEF, Dep 14:25, Arrival 23:40.
Scored two free Gull beers on the flight. The hostess realised she forgot to charge me and said: "They are on the house." On arrival at Keflavik we find we have to queue in a ramshackle shed for a full security check which includes searching my luggage. These folks have been on a training course behind the Iron Curtain - a sharp contrast with later arrivals at Hamburg and Zurich. Iceland is marketed as a "stopover" between North America and Europe. They need to up their game.
We rush to catch a Gray Line bus to Reykjavik, about 45 minutes, where we are decanted into a minibus for delivery to our accomodation at 02:00, efficient. I check the neighbourhood for possible supper, no chance. Villa Skolavordustigur 30, 101 Reykjavik, phone +3548231268, 20 to 23 July. Basic digs: no television, phone or breakfast. Not cheap. Located near Hallsgrimskirkja Church which is visible from most parts of Reykjavik. Walk downhill to breakfast at Prikid, est. 1951, corner of Bankastraati/Ingolfstraati. Trading as oldest cafe/bar in Iceland, restaurant shabby and unhygienic. Fluffy omelet good, extra Lavazza coffee. Friendly enough, not cheap. Stroll in downtown which shows signs of mass tourism with grupos etc. There is not much traffic and English is spoken everywhere. We head for the harbour which evokes memories of the cod wars. Trawlers and tourist boats. We take a boat ride to Viðey island, 1,100 Krona each for round trip. On the way we see the cruise ship MSC Splendida and a rather smaller cruiser called www.aida.de. Earlier we have spotted this URL on bicycles in the town, presumably belonging to the ship. There is not much at Viðey island besides an improbable memorial to John Lennon - no accounting for taste. At one time "the only railway in Iceland" was here. We take a pot of tea served by girls who are bored rigid. Birds are the highlight.
Back in town we walk to Bonus supermarket to acquire snacks, then Sjaverbarrin, Grandagardi 9-101 for fish and chips, near the Maritime Museum, including grandma's fish cakes and Gull beer. Annette scores a Moomintroll mug near our hotel.
Next morning to Tourist Information to book Gray Line bus for 04:30 pickup. We report our impressions of the airport. I suggest they take the staff to Las Vegas to show them how an airport should be run. You could lose a bundle on the slots in LV before clearing customs at Keflavik.
Breakfast at the vaguely hip Laundromat Cafe, Austurstræti 9: "Please don't love us on Facebook, like us in life!" We did like them, but they need to heat the hot breakfast plates and make more use of bar trays. Coffee refill. By the way the laundry is in the basement.
We walk past the duckponds where I rescue litter including a floating vodka bottle. (I still suffer remorse at failing to rescue a beer bottle in St. Moritz.) Annette spots a house used as a film location in the movie Life in a Fishbowl. We walk on to the National Museum where we score free entry as their payment card gizmo is not working. There is not much about Iceland in WW2, when the Brits were here. The nearby domestic airport in Reykjavik was built at that time. Walk via wetlands and airport to the Pearl. This water tower has great views in all directions, entrance free. There is graffiti in Reykjavik, but also cycle paths with bridges that put Toronto to shame. Walk back to Icelandic Cafe Loki, nr Hallsgrimskirkja Church, for lunch, 5,090 Króna. We then walked down to the harbour and hopped a bus into town, changing for a run round the projects to Háholt and return, great views. Evening supper at Eldsmiðjan Pizza Place, Bragagata 38a (Freyjugata), Miõborg, 101 Reykjavik. Three-storey pizzeria with glacial service, share large pizza with two Thule beers, 5,685 Króna.
Next morning early start to Keflavik airport, which is running over capacity. The designer evidently didn't know about departure lounges so you stand in a corridor as other passengers fight their way past. Arrivals and departures aren't segregated so everybody is bumping into everybody else. Some of the above may be due to reconstruction. Catering satisfactory.
Would I go back to Reykjavik again? Probably not. If you have the time and inclination to travel outside the city that might be different. For Keflavik airport, 4/10 overall. This is supposed to be a holiday - cross it off your list - too much hassle getting in and out.


Trabant in Berlin, pic by RLT.
23 JULY: Icelandair Flight FI510 from KEF to HAM, Dep 07:50, Arr 13:05. We are through Hamburg Airport in a heartbeat and hop the 'S' Bahn to the Hauptbahnhof. It is very busy so after activating our Eurail Regional Pass we retreat into nearby Galeria Kaufhof for a snack lunch. Hamburg to Hanover: ICE Train 771, Dep 15:24, Arr 16:38, the train runs 36 minutes late. Three nights at Central-hotel Kaiserhof, Ernst-august-platz 4, 30159 Hanover. The hotel is opposite the magnificent station across a large square. Comfortably old fashioned but the location is a mixed blessing, being very noisy in our room overlooking the platz. Among the delights are tuner cars peeling out at all hours. The trams aren't running here due to road works. Evening on the terrasse with Bitburger beer, watching the world go by. (I used to be a regular visitor to Hanover for Cebit, the computer exhibition, while at the Post Office.)
Next day we took the 'U' Bahn from Kroepcke to Herrenhausen. TagesGruppenTicket 9.60 euro for 1 Zone. A scumbag tried to rob Annette at the 'U' Bahn station, fortunately unsuccessfully. We have come to see the Palace (rebuilt, it was bombed flat in 1943) and Gardens, of the Hanoverian Royals.The museum at Herrenhausen says the Allies targeted the Palace, as if we could have been that accurate. It was just bad luck all round. A replica calculating machine attributed to Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz from 1693 was the source of much fascination. Spendy lunch at the Gottfried Wilhelm Schlossküche. Stroll round the Berggarten and Georgengarten.
We consulted tourist information in town where a man carefully explained it was impossible to visit the Schloss Marienburg by public transit. He underestimated us. It did take all morning but we got there on three buses, departing the crummy suburb of Steintor, and arriving at 12:00. TagesGruppenTicket 15.10 euro for 3 Zones. Two guided tours and a torrential downpour later, we head back on the 14:15 #310/300 bus all the way to Hanover ZOB (Zentraler Omnibus Bahnhof), a short walk from our hotel.
Supper at Mövenpick Kroepcke, Georgstrasse 35, 30159 Hannover; 47.60 euro.
26 JULY: Hanover to Berlin: Train 1645 ICE Dep 11: 31, Arr 13:08. Delayed, Dep 12:14. We gain access to the first class lounge (we are turned away in Hamburg and Berlin). Like in Animal Farm some first class passengers are more important than others.
Both Hamburg-Hannover and Hannover-Berlin trains delayed so far. The once mighty ICE trains now have faded paintwork, some with graffiti, and run when they feel like it. The Germans have caught the British disease.
Arrive Berlin Hauptbahnhof and take taxi to three nights at Ameron Hotel Abion Spreebogen, Alt-Moabit 99, Berlin +49-30-399200. Outstanding value at approx $100 CDN per night, quiet room overlooking River Spree. Hard to fault. Quick reconnaissance of neighbourhood, locating nearby Bellevue 'S' Bahn station across the river. Turns out we are staying in the old British sector. Supper outdoors at Lanninger, the hotel restaurant.
Next morning walk by River Spree to Mitte (city centre) and Reichstag, Brandenburg Gate, Unter den Linden, Pariser Platz, and Potsdamer Platz. We take the 'U' Bahn to Eberwalder Strasse, exit Danziger Strasse, to Berlin on Bike in an old brewery complex.
Take an escorted bike ride round the sights, 15 km, 19 euros each. I choose SRAM (ex-Sachs) three-speed step-through with rear coaster brake for tour. Here, and in Hannover, Sachs lives on with many survivors and also SRAM 3-speeds everywhere. Flat country makes them very suitable - hardly any hills in Berlin and bikes everywhere - bike lanes throughout. Typical bike hire is 10-14 euro per day and bike stands are everywhere. Bought the book Dresden, Tuesday 13 February 1945 by Frederick Taylor, re the bombing, at: St. George's English Book Shop, Wörther Str. 27, 10405 Berlin. Tram to Alexanderplatz, 'S' Bahn to hotel.
Next morning walk to laundry at Freddy Leck sein Waschsalon, Gotzkowskystraße 11, Berlin. Spotted eight 2CVs rallying at Ernst Reuter Platz, also Trabant, smart roadster, Ape etc. Outdoor breakfast at Manufactum brot&butter Berlin, Hardenbergstraße 4-5,10623 Berlin, 17.00 euro for two. Walk on to the Zoo, Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtnis-Kirche and Kurfürstendamm.
Took train from the Zoo to Potsdam. Bought tageskarte - day ticket go anywhere on bus, tram and train. On arrival the buses at the Hauptbahhof for Sans Souci Royal Palace are heavily oversubscribed with grupo leaders queue barging, so we walk back in the direction of Babelsberg, enjoying the Deutsche Bahn Werk ruin porn. We pick up the #94 tram to Schloß Charlottenhof which is relatively uncrowded. After a walk in the park we ride on a free red golf cart to Sans Souci. The driver is delighted to be compared to Sebastian Vettel. After tea in town we return to Berlin, via Babelsberg.
Dinner for two with wine 30 euro approx at Lombardi Pizzeria, down the street from hotel.
29 JULY: Berlin to Dresden: Train 175 EC, Dep 10:46, Arr 13:13. We spent some time at Berlin Hauptbahnhof, one of the modern wonders of the railway world. Arriving at the historic Dresden Hauptbahnhof we took two trams to the hotel, which should have been easy to find but wasn't. The Elbe river is nearby. Two nights at Dresden Hilton, An der Frauenkirche 5, Altstadt, Dresden, 01067, +493518642700.
After time out we fitted in a quick visit to the transport museum at a reduced price with one hour to go. Verkehrs Museum, Augustusstraße 1, 01067 Dresden. There are cars, motorbikes, mopeds and bicycles of East German origin that you are unlikely to see elsewhere. Some suited gentlemen are demonstrating the Scrooser in the square.
Supper at the Bistro-Hilton Dresden, 34.80 euro.
Up early next morning exploring I found myself in a McCafe - the only place open. We ride the #4 tram trying to find Radebeul-Ost. We overshot and back tracked two stops on the 'S' Bahn. Here we found the old Deutsche Reichsbahn steam train to Radeburg. Time for a top-notch breakfast at Dresdner Backhaus, Sidonienstr, Radebeul, Sachsen, 16.10 euro for two, arguably the breakfast of the tour. The Lößnitzgrundbahn is a narrow-gauge line, and I marvel at the thought of riding a steam train through the East German countryside. Time for a quick coffee with a friendly steam fundi at Radeburg, then we back track to Moritzburg. A route march into town and quick visit to the Käthe Kollwitz haus, and 'walk by' of the Schloss Moritzburg. Back at Radebeul-Ost we find the Karl May Museum (author of German wild west fantasies), at end of steam train ride. Tram back to town.
Supper outdoors at Foersters Restaurant & Bar, Weisse Gasse 5, 01067 Dresden, 32.30 euro for two.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Trains running on empty

Pic by Ron Stockey.
We went to check out the Union Pearson Express, the new train linking downtown Toronto with the airport. PunchBuggy is all in favour of public transit, but something has gone badly wrong here. We saw three trains viewed from the Toronto Railpath. I did not see a single passenger on any of these trains. I can only conclude that the pricing policy of $27.50 for a single trip, which takes 25 minutes, is an offer the passengers have refused. Look out for some pricing action before too long.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Friends in low places

We left Lewes on Sunday evening by very overcrowded 2-car train for overnight stop in a convenient B & B at Ashford, the Cornerhouse, and a cheap lukewarm 'Italian' meal in Wetherspoons. Then early departure next day on Eurostar for Lille (avoiding Calais). Breakfasted on croissant and coffee at the Terminal where check-in was quick and friendly. There were overunning engineering works, but we had no connection to make at Lille. Mid-morning departure from Lille on bicycles (two Bromptons, one Loopwheels) for Amsterdam via Zandvoort, out on the coast. Richard on Brompton P type, 6 speed Sram; Jack on customised H type with P bars, 6 speed Brompton/Sturmey - which has to be the tallest Brompton in the world! The Loopwheels bike has no spokes, features belt drive, disc brakes and 11-speed Alfine hub gears.
Stage 1: 8th June. Lille-Ronse, 38 miles.
I lost the boys in the suburbs of Lille on the road to Hem, before we left France. With no map, compass or tools I started to busk my way east following the Canal de L'Espierres for some distance, crossing the Schelde near Warcoing, to reach Hérinnes. Somewhere along the way I learned that Ronse is Renaix in French, helpful when navigating by road signs and bus timetables. Lunch consisted of an energy bar. Not far short of the target near Mont-de-L'Enclus I punctured the front tyre on a drawing pin. With no prospect of mending it I walked on, reaching Garage Dewolf. They took pity on me and put the bike in the back of an estate car, then they drove me to Hostellerie Lou Pahou, Zuidstraat 25, 9600 Ronse. It is just amazing how fair people can be. I reached the hotel before my companions who had at one stage got hopelessly lost trying to get out of Hem, despite all modern navigational aids. They had though scored sandwiches and tarts. The main party crossed into Belgium at Nechin. We garaged the bikes, planning to fix the flat in the morning.
To Italian restaurant Il Pinel'lo, Grote Markt 9, 9600 Ronse. 136.80 EUR for three, reasonable value. The fair was in town.
Stage 2: 9th June. Ronse-Brussels, 49 miles.
Front puncture soon fixed at Jacky-Sport, zonnestraat 163, 9600 Ronse. Quick release on front wheel made removal a cinch.
Depart 10:00 on long climb out of Ronse at start of up and down day. Aldi shopping. Tea stops at two rural bars, Boekkouter and Hemelveerdegum. Picked up a cycle path along the River Dender, all the way into Ninove, where we lunched outside a superette on Beverstraat. Separated out towards Gooik. Glad to eventually see the tower blocks of Brussels in the distance. Took the Groene Weg to Anderlecht, busked to the Grand Place in Brussels. Phoned the boys from the Ibis Hotel, Grasmarkt 100, Rue du Marché aux Herbes 100, 1000 Brussels, while enjoying large (cheap: 5.00 euros per demilitre) Stella beers in the sunshine, requesting rescue. Main party had stopped for coffee in St-Kwintens-Lennik, and also entered the capital by way of Anderlecht. Modern self-catering apartment at Residence Opera, rue de l'eveque. On corner of square near Theatre Royal. The boys took some while to locate the remote check-in bureau but spacious, comfortable, and good value. Supper at nearby Mexican Restaurant: Chi-Chi's Tex-Mex, Anspachlaan 5, 1000 Brussels.
10th June at leisure in Brussels. Morning visit to Atomium on tram, return via underground. Lunch at the apartment. Obligatory viewing of the Mannekin Pis. Pleasant evening in the bar of the Ibis, followed by chips and waffles in the street, and nightcaps at the bar L’Ecuyer, near our apartment, where we earlier had breakfast. Local beer could be had for as little as 3.20 euros per demilitre.
Stage 3: 11th June. Brussels-Wouwse Plantage, 61 miles.
06:45 depart Brussels northbound via Grimbergen. Cool. Follow Zeekanal Brussel-Schelde. Tea stop at Willebroek, by lift bridge. Picnic lunch stop on fringes of Antwerp by tram terminus, then ploughing through the interminable docks in hot weather. Eventually reach pleasant countryside, via Stabroek, taking us to Putte in Holland. Immediate improvement in cycle lanes and signage. Stop for double Orangina at Restaurant Jagersrust, Putseweg 21, 4641 RS Ossendrecht. Last lap into Wouwse Plantage, running on empty. B&B Ouwerveldezicht, Schouwenbaan 10, 4725 ST Wouwse Plantage (3 rooms, 58 euros pp), beer, swimming pool on arrival. Nightcap, stout breakfast for cyclists. Good value. Ride to Restaurant-Taverne Kwizien, 2 km, outstanding dinner outdoors 136.80 EUR plus tip for 3.
Stage 4: 12th June. Wouwse Plantage-Nieuwerkerk, 54 miles.
Headwinds through the polders into Rotterdam, via Steenbergen. Lift bridges, intriguing derelict buildings. Picnic lunch on island, Hellegatsplein at river crossing. Even the motorway bridges here provide for cyclist transit. After a nasty mile-long run against the headwind, very friendly air-conditioned pitstop for ice creams at gas station, where attendant spoke perfect English and was a keen cyclist. Offer from other friendly locals to investigate squeaky, rough-running rear wheel, but no time. Passed through Heinenoordtunnel, a separate bore for cyclists and a cold plunge. Got separated on final approach, baffled but rode down the dyke to Niewerkerk.
Hotel Nieuwerkerk, Parallelweg Zuid 185, 2914 LE Nieuwerkerk a/d IJssel (trouble finding hotel as it is not called the Van Der Valk, a chain name). Superior digs. Jug of fizzy water and apple juice to rehydrate. Nice supper on the terrace. Attitudes of numerous young hotel staff vary from cool rudeness to helpful 'customer-focus'. Loopwheels bike stashed in storeroom. Crashed out.
Stage 5: 13th. Nieuwerkerk-Zandvoort, 44 miles.
Via excellent cycle paths through Zoeterwoude to Leiden, which has much of the charm of Amsterdam but without the crowds. Passing towns with familiar names from previous visits. Apart from about 20 minutes of heavy rain, very helpful weather with strong tailwind to Hotel Zeespiegel, Hogeweg 70, 2042 GJ Zandvoort. Italian Restaurant MMX, Haltestraat 13, 2042 LJ Zandvoort. Acceptable. Watched Le Mans 24 Hours on bar TV.
14th June. At leisure in Zandvoort, 14 local miles. To Circuit Park Zandvoort for cycling exhibition. We test ride a number of electric bikes, plus lap of short circuit. Loopwheels bike attracts much attention. Picnic in town. Later Porsche winning Le Mans on TV in a bar. Chris Froome wins Critérium du Dauphiné. Greek Restaurant where, just as in Greece, all meals taste like school dinners.
Stage 6: 15th June. Zandvoort-Amsterdam, 25 miles.
Early start through the dunes to pavement breakfast at De Complete Bakker Portvlies, 279 Bloemendaalseweg, Overveen. Remorse that tour is ending. On into Amsterdam, tea at pavement cafe in western reaches of the city, enjoying the bicycle culture, short tour to Rijksmuseum. Train home via Brussels: first class all the way to Ashford, with plenty of freebie food and alcohol on offer. I travelled, like Jack, as a senior so got it all cheap!

Total: 285 miles approx.

Plus Points: Minimal luggage. New bike better than Brompton on the rough stuff, including pavé. GPS navigation; weather mostly good; tailwinds, health benefits (the gift that keeps on giving). Yet again the Bromptons totally reliable though, and much easier to fold. Cycling infrastructure, with much running separated from vehicles.
Thanks to Harvey at Cycleshack2, Lewes, for fettling Loopwheels bike.

Downsides: Headwinds, punctured Continental tyre, teething troubles with new bike, getting separated (mostly unlike previous tours), no mobile phone. Foldabilty of new bike not a patch on Brompton.

Learning points: The Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyre an option for Loopwheels bike. Get mobile.

Overall: Good tour in low countries, a classic.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Tool News

We like to keep it local here at PunchBuggy. So here is our new can opener, similar to the old one on the left. The old Swing-A-Way, made in the USA, is being supplemented by the new EZ-DUZ-IT on the right. The story here is that Swing-A-Way outsourced production to the PRC, while selling the tooling to the John J Steuby Company of Hazelwood, Missouri. So we have a new heartland, midwest-made can opener, built to last. $14.63 including tax at Williams-Sonoma.

While getting gas on Saturday we spotted a sign for a local estate sale. I couldn't get there quick enough. The selection of thirteen tools above was picked for $5. All but one Canada or U.S. made, the exception being the small Oxwall bicycle wrench from Japan. The pick of the crop is the Ford branded antique open-ended wrench, inscribed Ford Made In Canada. Also included a Scrulox Robertson screwdriver and my first Mac Tools screwdriver, from Ohio, somewhat abused by the previous owner but good for the 'user' pile.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Autumn in Angoulême

Pic by RLT.
The cycling season is coming to an end here in Toronto. This summer I have covered some 550 miles on three tours. Here is the report of a trip to Angoulême, France in September.

Tues 16 Sept:
An early start. We caught the 05.23 train from Lewes to Ashford, changing at Eastbourne. The connecting service was running late, so we scramble at Ashford for the 07.28 Eurostar to Lille Europe, arriving at 09.30. The early departure is dictated by the limited Eurostar service from Ashford.
We ride the short distance to Lille Flandres station, coffee out front at Restaurant Le Napoléon in the Place de la Gare, immediately panhandled. There are too many beggars hanging round the station. France is doing everything it can to make life unpleasant for tourists.
11.06 Lille Flandres (1st class) to Nantes arrive 15.59. Cycle about 15 miles south, out through the suburbs of Nantes in rush hour traffic, using iPad navigation, a bit stop-start but better than getting lost. Overnight at Château-Thébaud at the winery. The owner had mixed up her days and wasn't expecting us, but all was quickly sorted out. Good digs.
We ride our bikes to beer and buffet supper at Au P'tit Sarment, "Le Bulay" R.N. 137, 44690 Château-Thébaud. Exceptional value for hungry cyclists. Three courses for three people, Euro 40 including drinks. Back at the Cave, on the farm, we are gargling two more bottles of wine, Muscadet and Rose from the fridge.

Weds 17th
Cycle 54 miles. We set off at 09:00. Snacks at St Martin des Noyer, drinks at Bournezeau.
This is the deep end. I am not sleeping (jetlag) or feeding well, it is blazing hot (86 Fahrenheit), and the camions are getting closer as we tackle a long switchback sector on a main road. I arrive exhausted. My companions think I'm faking it. Despite all difficulties I am on my best cycling form.
Overnight at Sainte Hermine, Vendée, in an old chambres d'hôtes with a Citroën 2CV parked in the yard. We have a five room suite at Euro 125 for three.
After lying prostrate we walk out in the town which appears to be closed. We retrace our steps to the main road. Luckily we blunder into Le Minage, 17 Route de la Rochelle, 85210 Sainte-Hermine. They are not yet open so we take a beer in a nearby bar, Au Père La Victoire, in the Place Clemenceau. The supper is quite upmarket, considering the setting, and a proper treat commencing with Kir Royal and seafood starter.

Thurs 18th
Cycle 58 miles. After breakfast in our suite, which is brought on a tray, we set off through the Vendée. We are following the Michelin cycle route, which in places is more suitable for mountain bikes. I am happier back on the blacktop. The first two hours is crucial, as a good launch phase sets you up for the remaining ride. This is windy country with windmills everywhere. Arrive at Mouzeuil-Saint-Martin, Pays de la Loire, on the D104, where we stop at the boulangerie, opposite the Mairie. Exit D68 for Le Langon.
On to the linear village of Vix, which seems to go on forever. Gathering supplies at a pâtisserie we lunch at the bus stop. Then across the ancient canal and on to the Sèvre Niortaise river, which we follow for a while before getting disoriented. We drift south-west to Courçon, where we have a pitstop by the church, then a supermarket stop at Intermarché, Rue de la Distillerie, Mauzé-sur-le-Mignon. Try finding a cold drink in a French supermarket!
Overnight at Vergne in a cheap motel, where we have an inclusive stopover deal with a meal at the Relais Tout Y Faut, out front with the truckers. Overall good. Not sure about the S&M club in back.
A great day in the saddle.

Fri 19th
Cycle 50 miles. News that Scotland voted No.
We make a flying start, teamworking our way south-east on the D115. We divert for a pitstop for Orangina and Perrier at Aulnay, outdoors in the town square, at the Bar Tabac Le Concorde. The weather turns wet at lunchtime as we snack in a bus shelter at Verdille, then exit D66. To Vouharte on the D737, where we meet the dreaded route barrée sign. Always a dilemna for cyclists. Do we divert or press on? We press on passing some road works with ease. We are continuing by the Charente. We want to stop for a drink, but nowhere presents itself. Eventually we stop at our old favourite Bar Le Donjon, Montignac.
On the last travelling day collaboration vanishes as I get tailed off heading uphill on the D737. A sign for Champniers leads to a navigational snafu, resulting in a long downhill on the D37 to the village of Argence, followed by an inevitable climb, all avoidable. (The hotel is not really in Champniers, which may not matter to motorists but is important to this cyclist.) I reach the Hotel Kyriad on a frontage road totally baffled thinking I'd finished. Ride on to Bouticycle shop and all becomes clear.
Arrive at Hotel F1 Angoulême Nord for 3 night stay. Meet up with Pete Webber who joins us for the weekend on his circa-2000 green Brompton bicycle. Beers in the bar at the adjacent Ibis Hotel. Supper at Restaurant La Boucherie, Les Grandes Chaumes, 16430 Champniers.

Sat 20th
Cycle 23 miles. Easy ride (without luggage) to Bric-à-Brac at Vindelle, on the Charente, where Richard snags a cheap road sign. Drinks at recently-opened Le P'tit Varsois, Vars, then D115 to Montignac for beer at the Bar le Donjon once more. We return via Rouhenac. The party splits at Courcon, after the first hill on the tour nobody could cycle up. I am secretly pleased. I lead the charge back to the hotel for a snooze, while the rest take further light refreshment at the Cafe de Pontouvre by the roundabout. Supper at Ristorante Pizzeria Anfiteatro, Zone des Avenauds, Gond Pontouvre.

Sun 21st
A day at the classic car races in Angoulême. We take a taxi into town, encountering a large display of Alpine cars, in the Place des Halles. Paddock tour. Lunch near the Champ de Mars: Latitude Pub, 10 Rue Raymond Poincaré, Angoulême. Indifferent service. The acid test is would you go back? Probably not. We finish at familiar watering hole: Café Bulle, 36 Rue de la Cloche Verte, 16000, Angoulême.

Mon 22nd
Ride into town, then idling at the outdoor station café. 12.27 Angoulême to Lille Europe (1st classs) arrive 16.38. 17.36 Lille Europe to Ashford arrive 17.37. Change for Lewes.

Total: 205 miles approx.

Plus Points: GPS navigation; weather (sometimes too much of a good thing); new gilet suitable, especially in the dark; health benefits (the gift that keeps on giving); no punctures; avoided Paris.

Downsides: Too many professional beggars trading on public stupidity.

Learning points: The Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyre is definitely suitable for a Brompton, and desirable on long trips. Cut down on luggage even further.

Overall: Good tour in interesting part of France.