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 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. 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.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

The treno tour - Part 3

Part Three: Italy
The contrast with Switzerland is jaw-dropping. We ride the scruffy local train to Monza (say it Mont-za) amid dereliction and decay. We flee the railway station where undesirables lurk. The first night in Italy, 31st July, we check-in at Locanda San Paolo, Piazza San Paolo 3, Monza, 20900, Italy, +39039325994.
Birthday supper outdoors in considerably warmer weather: Trattoria Caprese, Piazza Roma, 10. Chain restaurant. Overordered at Euro 48.80 for two.
Next morning transfer to: The Penthouse, Via Italia, 44 Monza, 20900, Italy, Tel: 393939119439. Good digs with self catering. Drop off luggage for two nights. Take the bus to Missaglia, meeting friend Rosita at the bus stop. After brief tour, by car to Montevecchia, climbing the 174 steps to the Shrine of our Lady of Mount Carmel, splendid walk and views, then delightful lunch and kind hospitality at Albergo Ristorante Maggioni. The bus goes via Arcore where Silvio Berlusconi has a house. However he was not using his bus pass when we visited and there was no sign of a bunga bunga party.
Luna Cafe, Via Italia, for breakfast, 3 x brioche, 2 x capucci, Euro 7.30, deal. To the station to buy our train tickets for Padua. Then walk to the bike rental location in the massive Royal Park, to tour the autodromo monza. Two bikes, two hours, Euro 12. The park is much run down in places, largely deserted early morning. We pick up beer cans and bin them. Fantastic views of the old banked motor racing circuit, which they are in the process of restoring. They raced on this track in Indy front-engined roadsters in the fifties - outrageous. Cycled round the paddock where there is a cheerful lack of security. At the bike hire place they recommend lunch outdoors at Cascina del Sole, in the park. Good service and value at Euro 30 for two, including tip.
Next day take local train to the magnificent Milan Centrale station, where we change for Padua, boarding the Trenitalia Frecciabianca. The train is five munutes late in arriving and we take a taxi to the hotel: Hotel Albergo Verdi, Via Dondi Dall'Orologio, 7 Padova, 35139 for four nights. Soon we are in "Piazzaworld" lunching in the Piazza Dei Signori, where a storm is brewing and the staff are hurrying to clear the outdoor tables.
This splendid country does grow on you despite beggars, hookers, con artists, etc. We have dodged any depradations so far. All transactions here are strictly cash - "My machine is not working - I do not know why." Gets a bit like a stuck record for the umpteenth time. The real economy here is probably twice the size of government figures. When you have a dysfunctional government you get on with life by other means. The Euro has done nothing but add to Italy's troubles, much industry being shuttered and emigration the chosen option for many.
Hereabouts is the land of the no-gears bicycle - shoppers and roadsters - all ages aboard and in all states of repair. Many derailleurs but hub gears virtually unknown. I did see a few remnants of Sachs and Sturmey Archer days, and the red local hire-scheme bikes had Shimano three speeds. Everybody on parade in the evenings - lights an unlikely optional extra. Electric bikes spotted including with Bosch drivetrain.
Visit to Botanical Gardens, founded 1545, part of the Università degli Studi di Padova. Wonderful oasis away from the crowds, contemplating scientific endeavour over such a sustained period. Spotted Physalis plant, which may explain the name of the charmless bar in Spay, France.
Early start for half-day trip to Venice, travelling by 07:21 train, a journey of about twenty miles. Walked to the Rialto Bridge, St Marks Square, Bridge of Sighs etc. We are amused by the sight of a gondolier glued to his mobile phone. By mid-morning everywhere is bedlam with waves of tourists in grupo tours. So many people overwhelming the place when they could visit Montevecchia in peace. By midday we can take no more and head for the station, taking the 12:05 to Padua.
Lunch at Cafè Il Padovano, Via Martiri della Libertà, 17, 35137 Padua. Sampled local Lugana wine. Supper at Osteria dei Fabbri, Via dei fabbri, Padua. Notable for black pasta. Annette says:

The orecchiette servite con code di gamberi e broccoli (ear-shaped pasta with shrimp and broccoli) and tagliolini neri serviti con vongole veraci e funghi porcini (black noodles with clams and mushrooms) are heavenly! Add excellent ambiance and service and you've got a meal to remember.

Our last full day is spent promenading and shopping. Pizza in the Piazza dei Signori followed by gelato. Also frequented Bar Caffe' Missaglia, Via Santa Lucia, 47 Padova.
Next day Busitalia from Padova to Venice Marco Polo Airport, Euro 8.50 x 2. Air Transat home.
Pleasing to see cultural exports on TV: Top Gear in German, Wheeler Dealers in Italian.

Coffee spoons x 12. Euro 2.50. The cheap variety that make french cafes irresistible. La Vaisselerie, 80 Boulevard Haussmann, Paris, Tel: 0145 22 32 47. Bodum bistro spoons (6 x 14cm Sfr 3.90; 6 x 20cm Sfr 4.90) Bodum 70th Anniversary book, gratis. Bodum Store Luzern, Weinmarkt 7, 6000 Luzern 5, Tel: 041 412 38 38. Bargain bin cycling vest in outlet store, 63 Sfr. Discounted 60%. Outlet Sport by Balmelli, Via Maderno 16, Lugano, Tel: 091 922 67 77. Bodum bistro coffee mug (Sfr 2.40, reduced from Sfr 4.90). Coop St Moritz Bellevue, Via dal Bagn 20, 7500 St. Moritz, Tel: 41 81 837 56 60. Duralex Lys Coupelle or Coppetta x 2, Total Euro 1.80. laRinascente, piazza giuseppe garibaldi, 35122, Padua, Tel: 39 049 8760166.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The treno tour - Part 2

Part Two: Switzerland
The Swiss leg of the trip starts in Basel. We catch the #30 free bus from the train station to the Steinenschanze Stadthotel, Steinengraben 69, 4051 Basel, Tel: +41 61 272 53 53.
We take a walk round town taking in the bookshops and stationery shops, then a tram ride. I spotted a lovely Puch roadster bicycle mit Fichtel und Sachs dreigang. There are many Sturmey Archer survivors en Suisse, which has a strong cycling culture. I read that there are 250,000 e-bikes in Switzerland. Back at the hotel it is time for happy hour, help yourself to a couple of generous glasses of wine with snacks on the house. Recommended.
We take breakfast next morning at the train station, apricot croissants, and coffee, then ride the train to Luzern, via Olten, arriving for early check-in at Waldstaetterhof Hotel, Zentralstrasse 4 6003 Luzern, Tel: +41 (0)41 227 12 71. Comfortable and conveniently close to the station.
After multiple Duralex sightings in France, I found a Bodum shop in Luzern. Bodum are celebrating 70 years and I scored a free commemorative catalogue. Roesti lunch at Restaurant Fritschi, Sternenplatz 5, Lucerne 6004, Tel: +41 41 410 16 15. Afternoon stroll uphill to the Museggmauer (old town wall) which does not seem to be on the tourist beat. Supper at Dean & David Luzern, Morgartenstrasse 4, Lucerne 6003. Close to our hotel. Yogurt afters from Migros.
Next day we catch the steamboat "Stadt Luzern" to Fluelen, a three-hour boat cruise on Lake Lucerne, lunching in the first-class cabin. We change onto the Wilhelm Tell Express Train. Winding though the Reuss Valley, climbing through the St. Gotthard range and through the Gotthard railway tunnel to Bellinzona, where we change trains for Lugano.
We check in to the Continental Parkhotel Lugano, Via Basel, 28 - CH-6900 Lugano, which is near the station. Next day we need to do some washing, so we roam around in the rain to find Lavanderia Il Girasole, via Giuseppe Bagutti 8, Tel: 076 503 79 64. I bought a bargain bin cycling jacket or gilet, reduced from 139 Sfr to 63 Sfr, in an outlet store. Avoided remaindered Lance Armstrong gear. Outlet Sport by Balmelli, Via Maderno 16, Lugano, Tel: 091 922 67 77. Lunch outdoors at the Birreria al Forte, via al Forte, where we managed to eat a whole meal without being panhandled. There is also no graffiti in this part of town, although the Italian-part of Switzerland is far from free of it. We ride the funicular which connects the town centre with the station above.
Next day we catch the big red bus from Lugano station, past Gandria and into Italy. Empty factories indicate a hurting economy. The bus is the first leg on the Bernina Express, to Tirano in Italy, where we board the train for St Moritz. Lunch in Tirano is spoiled by a grumpy waiter who objected to us trying to order coffee! The Bernina train is the highest adhesion railway (no rack and pinion) in Europe, with a maximum gradient of 7%. We see some adventurous types out on mountain bikes as we came along in the train. We arrive in St Moritz and take a taxi to Hotel Soldanella, Via Somplaz 17, CH-7500 St. Moritz. Supper at an outdoor pub, where a tuneless geezer was singing to backing tapes, improvising the words to covers, he would have been at home in Morecambe.
On our free day in St Moritz we stroll in the town, then by the lake to Bad St Moritz where I purchase a Bodum Bistro coffee mug, 4.90 Sfr reduced to 2.40 Sfr at the Co-op. Lunch back in town outdoors at Le Lapin Bleu at the Steffani Hotel, spendy but a real treat at Sfr 75 for two. We retreat under an awning as it starts to rain. Next day we board the Glacier Express to Zermatt via Chur, Andermatt and Brig. A snafu with our tickets means we leave an hour late at 09:02, after one more coffee in the station buffet at St Moritz. This is the train that derailed spectacularly a few weeks later. A stop in Chur enables us to photograph the train. Chur is allegedly home to the first cathedral north of the Alps. We follow the Rhine River into the mountains and pass by Disentis, home to religious dissenters. Thanks to Luther Protestantism took hold early in these parts.
After a huge roast lunch on the train we arrive at car-free Zermatt. We walk to Garni Sarazena Hotel, Bahnhofplatz 14, 3920 Zermatt.
Next morning a herd of goats comes down the high street, cowbells clanking, and we follow them out onto the pasture, where paragliders are landing. We then walk on to the English church, where many who perished climbing the mountains hereabouts are buried. Edward Whymper, the Englishman first to climb the Matterhorn, said:

“Climb if you will, but remember that courage and strength are naught without prudence, and that a momentary negligence may destroy the happiness of a lifetime. Do nothing in haste, look well to each step, and from the beginning think what may be the end.”

After a visit to the Matterhorn Museum we take lunch outdoors in chilly weather at Walliserkanne, Bahnhofstrasse 1, 3920 Zermatt, Tel:+41 27 966 46 10. Chef's menu, 3 courses, 22 Sfr.
On departure next morning we retrace our steps to Brig, changing trains for Andermatt, then again for the steep descent to Göschenen, where we rush across the platform for the southbound train. We change at Chiasso, where our Swiss rail pass runs out.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The treno tour - Part 1

For our summer tour this year we decided on a train trip in France, Switzerland and Italy. Starting in Paris, finishing in Venice.
Part One: France
We arrive on Air Transat at Paris CDG early morning for five nights in France. A Concorde aircraft is on display. This dated airport relies on a coach transfer to the terminal.
We were quickly on our way on the RER train to Chatelet-Les Halles, in the centre of the city, for transfer to St Germain en Laye to the west. As advised we waited for our destination to appear on the indicator panel on the platform. It never did, so we finally boarded a train to Le Vésinet-Le Pecq, one stop down the line, where a shuttle bus was waiting. A veritable herd of railway employees were supervising at the bus stop.
After a quick breakfast of coffee and croissants in St Germain and consulting with the tourist office, we caught the #4 bus to Chambourcy. A short walk from the bus stop to the Campanile Hotel, Routes de Mantes, RN13, 6 Allee de Pomone, 78100 St Germain en Laye, Tel: +33 1 34 51 59 59, for early check-in, cheap and cheerful. After shopping at Lidl we are watching the Tour de France on TV, and crashing out. Reading an obit for Johnny Winter in the bar in the evening.
First morning in Chambourcy we walk into the old village and on to the modern shopping centre. I finally hit Duralex paydirt - the hotel in Chambourcy has the glasses in the bar, and they are for sale in Carrefour, first time I have seen them for sale in France.
After lunch we walk on to the Desert de Retz, a folly garden outside Chambourcy, for a guided tour lasting about 1½ hours. As we start to walk back we are offered a lift to the hotel, by an English-speaking couple. Supper at Maotai, 78 route de Mantes, 78240 Chambourcy, Tel: 33 (0) 1 30 06 09 75. Trip Advisor: “Desperately needs a restaurant make over. Food is very tasty and well priced but dining room, printed menus and service are in need of critical up-grades." 3 of 5 stars. Reviewed 23 July 2014.
Next day fellow-researcher Emmanuel Tilloy picks us up for a splendid lunch at Chesnay and a tour of the gardens at Versailles. We are discussing the history of the coalfields in the Crowsnest Pass. On this holiday I am reprising many places visited when a youngster, for example staying in the Paris hotel where I stayed in 1960, Lugano, Venice etc.
So next morning we take the bus to St Germain and RER train to Auber, for early check-in at the Hôtel Saint Petersbourg, 33-35 rue Caumartin 75009 PARIS, Tel: + 33 1 42 66 60 38. Comfortable but the wifi isn't working at this three-star hotel. We haven't been on the street ten minutes, near the Opera, before a woman, who looks like a witch, tries to work the 'gold ring' trick on us.
Next day we walk to the Parc Monceau, a folly garden, notable for being the site of the first parachute jump. Bought a dozen cheap coffee spoons, in a hardware store, as found in French cafes, after years of searching.
On departure we are waiting for the crowded RER train to leave for Gare de Lyon but it fails to leave the station. We scramble onto the metro, changing at Pyramid. Fare dodgers jumping the barriers are a feature of the Paris transit system. Also avoid young ladies with clipboards, working in pairs, who intend to rob you. Paris is living up to its reputation as a 'scam city.'
With some relief we board the TGV Lyria train 9211, bound for Dijon, Mulhouse, Basel and Zurich. A splendid lunch is served before we reach our destination in Basel.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Ancient spanners aid Sachs comeback

After a lengthy search I finally managed to acquire a pair of period Fichtel & Sachs bicycle spanners at a most acceptable price. Even got a sprocket snap-ring thrown in!
For Raleigh equivalent see PunchBuggy Passim.