Day 2 – Monday 25th May
Distance: 34.71 miles; time: 04:05:49; Average speed: 8.5mph; Max speed: 30.5mph
Woke up horribly early (5am) while we were still at sea. Looked at the breakfast for sale but at €12.50 decided that was too much so had the banana I’d brought with me.
The tannoy called us to our cars so after some faffing with the lift I returned to the bike storage room. The Dutch man was there as well so helped me get my bike out – it was easier to manoeuvre without the panniers on.
Had my passport checked, then pedalled a grand total of 0.2 miles to the railway station at Hoek van Holland. I had decided, as it was 8am, to get a train from the Hook rather than cycle to Rotterdam – I already had the ticket as part of the ferry package, after all. I couldn’t catch a train with a bike until 9am but this turned out to be a good thing as it took me almost an hour to buy the ticket for my bike. The first ticket machine I tried wouldn’t speak English; when I had worked out the Dutch for a bike ticket, I discovered the machine only took cards – it didn’t like my debit card.
I then noticed a second ticket machine that took coins. Hurrah! So I went through the ticket-choosing rigmarole and it asked for 6€ for a bike ticket for the day. This was fine, except I only had 5,80€ in change. The man in the fish shop next to the ticket machines didn’t have any change either but directed me to the supermarket. I went there, bought a bar of chocolate (they had no fresh sandwiches whatsoever, which is what I wanted really), bought my bike ticket and ate my breakfast of 8 squares of chocolate.
The sprinter train duly arrived just after 9am. When the carriage door opened a pole in the centre looked like a problem but I squeezed the trike past it.
At Rotterdam there was a large lift which made it easy to get to the platform for the train to Venlo that was already waiting. It was easier to get the bike onto this train, a double-decker, but a bit tricky to stow it as there was another bike in the space too. I sat on the trike for a bit until proper seats became available and with half an hour to go to Venlo I had the carriage to myself.
At Venlo the trike on trains problems really started. To get off the platform into the ticket hall I had to go through a narrow doorway – which required me to turn the trike on its side. Not very easy and I ended up with massive oil marks on my leg.
When in the ticket hall I struggled to work out what ticket I needed. I gave up and went to the information desk. The woman at the desk told me she couldn’t sell me a ticket to Köln, only to Mönchengladbach, but that there was a Deutsche Bahn ticket machine in the central area. Indeed there was, so I went to have a chat with it. Despite having an option for English it steadfastly insisted on speaking German; fortunately this isn’t too bad as my German is notably ahead of my Dutch.
There wasn’t an option of a ticket to Köln but there was a direct train to Düsseldorf and as time was marching on (and the trains are only once an hour) I went for that one and also bought my bike ticket. I had to lift my bike through the narrow doors again and a station employee then took me across the tracks at the end of the platform so that I didn’t have to go up and down stairs. Hurrah!
The Deutsche Bahn train was already there and the conductor took one look at my trike and led me to the front carriage which he said was larger. He proceeded to disconnect the hand-grip pole between the train doors so that I could get the trike on – just. He said he’d come back and let me off at Düsseldorf when I explained that was where I was going.
When the train stopped at Mönchengladbach I could see across the platform the Köln-Koblenz train that I had initially planned to get. It had lovely wide doors with no inconvenient poles – but I didn’t have a ticket for it and the conductor wasn’t coming to let me out anyway so I watched it pull away, thinking it would have been nice to get it. How right I was!
When I got to Düsseldorf at about 12:30pm I was released from the train and had to drag the trike down a flight of steps off the platform. I had a bread roll for lunch and then set off towards the Rhine to start my journey southwards.
The next few hours are a bit of a hazy memory. Despite my guidebook and the fact that there was a river to follow, I kept getting lost. The cycle route signs were a bit sporadic and sometimes just seemed to disappear. I had to ask directions regularly (and no-one seemed to know which way to go) and ended up at one point on a film set! There were some heavy rainclouds creeping closer and I was very thirsty, my warm water having run out and the ubiquitous German cafes magically having disappeared. When I found a drinks shop in Dormagen I drank 750mls water straight away!
I rolled into Köln at six during a huge lightning storm (it always rains in Köln at 5pm), feeling pretty despondent as I was wet and had nowhere yet to stay. I asked in several hotels for their room prices but they were all 65€ and up, with no secure bike storage. In the end, after 15 minutes at the tourist information centre,they thought the Youth Hostel in Deutz (across the river from the Cathedral) would suit, although I’d have to share a room. They phoned them up (at my request) and discovered there is a bike cellar for safe bike storage. Hurrah. Oh, and the shared room would be just 25€.
I cycled there, getting lost again (despite being fairly familiar with Köln, just not on a bike) and lo and behold the Youth Hostel was really good. Even better, they had a single room available for 42€ which I went for. There was an excellent bike storage cellar and the room was very decent with en-suite. I showered in my clothes (feels very weird!) to wash them and hung them to dry on my heath robinson washing line before sampling the 5,20€ evening meal of rice and mysterious meatballs. They gave me extra rice at my request. By 8:30pm I was back in my room and could have fallen asleep but I had to spend some time cleaning the melted chocolate off the plastic bag lining my panniers (it looked like an accident with a dog poop bag so I cut a bit of the liner out, there was an excess fortunately) and then ate the salvageable chocolate for dessert. I turned the lights off and went to bed at 9pm, really tired and fairly disheartened about the whole thing.