European Leg – Update 1

Monday May 3rd

We arose early from our hotel, and in the pouring rain at Dover, Jodie hugged and said goodbye to her Dad at the docks. The ferry ride was fairy uninspiring, a handful of passengers looking to venture across to Calais despite the conditions. We had been advised by the captain, but despite this, the battering we took from the freezing northerly wind was enough to remind us of the challenge that lay ahead. The moment the ferry’s planks were lowered, two days of admittedly feeble “traveller’s beard” was immediately removed from my face. Against my better instincts, we ignored the signs for the Hypermarket and pleasures that lay within, and we instead fought on against the souring headwind for 30km. We made slow progress and silently wondered whether 500km a week was ever realistic. As it turned out, this was mostly an isolated storm and so when a little further inland, we made up time and pedalled into the early evening. We had a hysterical map, one of those “most of Europe on one page” jobs that you pick up at a Petrol Station, we had bought ours on the ferry! Despite this, once out of Calais, we picked the right roads and ended up on the correct path to Lille. This was to be our first night of “opportunist “ camping in Europe, we had only one night’s experience, and that had been one to forget! As it turned out, this wasn’t much better, only we were much better hidden, and enjoyed an undisturbed night’s sleep amongst our prickly, thorny friends. Day 3 – 110km – cash £

Tuesday May 4th

We arose at 6:30am to untangle ourselves from the brambles, and make off towards Lille, having achieved a far greater distance than expected on the previous afternoon, we naturally arrived before even a shop had opened, let alone the tourist information. We decided to be our own tour guides and so connected to the free McDonalds Wifi (from outside) and found a map to our first rugby destination in Europe, Lille Metropolitan Rugby Club. Easy to find you may have thought, we certainly did, but sadly not. This is after all, Northern France, not famous for its egg chasing culture, but more for its……………..

As we weaved out way through the South Eastern suburbs of Lille, only guided by our compass, we must have looked a strange sight. Strange enough at least, to a man called Pierre, who took it upon himself to invite us into his house for coffee and find out what all the confusion was about. Luckily for us, he was an experienced man of Lille, and a very friendly chap to boot. “We are cycling to the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand” we told him, and here in Lille we wish to visit the Lille Metropolitan Rugby Club”. “Lille Metropolitan Rugby Club” he said? “You must mean the one at the University ground”, “er yes” we replied, “do you know where that is?”. He took out a map from under the table as if he had been expecting our arrival for years. He pointed to a green blob, promising, but unfortunately over the complete other side of town! “There’s only one rugby club in Lille” he added “it must be that one”.

After connecting to the internet in his house, we managed to establish that in fact, we were pretty much already next to the ground, and so he kindly cycled us to the pitch himself. I think he was as surprised to find the club as we were, and despite only finding a grounds man at the scene, Rugby Club 1 on the trip had been achieved. So what have we unearthed here? Well, as I write in 2010, France have just completed the 6 nations grand slam and are clearly a force to be reckoned with. What I can say is this, if they are to achieve Glory in New Zealand, they will have to go there without the support of Pierre and his Lille counterparts.

We pedalled on from Lille, heading mostly East, mainly guided by fabricated road signs, “Tournai 8 km” great, nearly there. “Tournai 9km” Que? Are we going the right way? Yes it still says this way “Tournai 8km”, Ok right clearly progress now, “Tournai 5km” “Tournai 5km” “Tournai 5km” until we finally trip over the final batch from the “Tournai 5km” road sign Dutch auction and land quite literally in the middle of the town. You soon learn to ignore the distances, we judged how far we were away from town by assuming we were far, far away, until we were very, very close. Day 2 – 93.8km – cash EUR 3.68

Wednesday May 5th

Waking up next to a horse paddock was the nicest wild camping experience yet, and buoyed by our new lifestyle, we set about a brew on the multi burner. Coffee inside us, we polished off the short 10km to Mons, a beautiful town. On arriving around 9am, we were met by a young man who introduced himself as Lauren. Lauren was a keen cyclist, motocross fan, and as it happened, a rugby one too. In fact, he told us that the coming Saturday, he would be heading to Brussels for the Belgian National Rugby Final, his friend played in one of the top 2 teams in Belgian. When I asked if he knew of any players who played for the Belgian National Side, he mulled over the question for a while, either deciding whether he knew anyone, or whether there was actually a National side of Belgium. He thought the idea of an amateur player in Belgian signing his name alongside the likes of Steve Borthwick was quite amusing, I guess he was right, but considering that the sport is still entirely amateur, perhaps the levels of achievement can be put into perspective.

We exchanged stories of cycling, ours based extensively of about 4 days, his of many thousand kilometres across Europe. One story took my interest in particular, the one where he pedalled from here, Belgium, to the Mediterranean. “Sorry Lauren?” I asked, “did you say here, Belgium?” He offered me an expression of confusion and disbelief. In fairness, I was trying to dig a little deeper, without sounding ridiculous, surely we were in France no? After asking Lauren to point out the Belgian border on our 1:5,000,000 European map, it emerged that we had not only entered Belgium, but already spent the night sleeping with Belgian horses. Our French experience had turned out to be rather short lived, just the solitary night.

After exchanging e-mails, we pushed our bikes to the nearest cafe to fill our water bottles. Instead, the owner welcomed us into the warmth of his shop for free coffee to set us on our way. Thus far, the warmth and friendliness showed to us had been completely unexpected, but graciously received.

We pedalled to Charleroi, about 45km and arrived for lunch. We had been advised that this was an industrial town, it didn’t disappoint on those grounds. Factory spotters out there, we would strongly advise you to visit. A short break was all we needed to check the e-mail, and send a couple of speculative ones in order to break through the rugby silence . Within minutes, we had a response from a rugby club in Liege. They were willing to meet with us the following evening at 5:30pm as they trained for a plate final on Saturday. It was 3:30pm on Wednesday by this point, and the club Liege was around 150km away. Our first challenge had been set, we replied, and jumped onto the saddles. We pedalled late into the evening desparately searching for a suitable camping spot, with no success. On and on we pedalled, until we were left with no choice but to knock at a door and plead stupidity. This proved the correct decision and we were invited in to sleep in the building site of a converted barn. Patrick, the owner was a very friendly man, and seemed less impressed that we were cycling to New Zealand, and more genuinely surprised to learn that we were English! Day 3 – 120km – cash EUR 1.84

Thursday May 6th

Having pedalled at least 25km passed our intended camping spot the previous night, we now faced a less daunting day on the saddle to reach Liege in time for our meeting with Royal Liege Rugby club. Confronted with some dismal weather and some very busy dual carriageways, we made good ground and reached Liege from the industrial South West, passing the impressive Standard de Liege football ground on the way through. We located the rugby club, about 30 minutes of steep uphill pedalling to the North and were met by Monique, the clubhouse manager. We were spoiled. We were immediately offered hot showers, and while we did our laundry, Monique was busy fixing us a spot of tea upstairs in the bar. We sat and waited and slowly the coach and players filtered in. We were introduced to several members, in particular, one young player called Gilles, he had spent 3 years living in Liverpool at school and was very competent with English. Before training had even begun, he had arranged for us to stay the night with him and his family. The weather was atrocious and we were very thankful to leave the tent in the bag.

Royal Liege were training for the Plate Final, of the “Plate d’effort” as they call it. Training finished and the players filtered back into the bar. In true rugby club spirit we were showered with free drinks and introduced to most of the past and present players. They were a fantastic club. If I was in Liege right now, they would have my membership fee.

Most importantly about this night, even bigger than being taken to a Belgian karaoke bar after closing, was the signing of the scroll. Royal Liege boasted 3 players who had represented their country numerous times over previous generations. Coincidentally, all three were called Philippe, and all great personalities. All in all, it was a great experience. Day 4 – km – cash EUR

Friday May 7th

After breakfast at Gilles’, we were taken back to the rugby club to collect the bikes, then head East towards Germany. We had no plan, other than to reach the border and see what we could arrange. The roads were easy pedalling and we reached our halfway town earlier than expected. A quick check of the e-mail and we had received a potential lead to a German signature down in Heidelberg. Again, it was a big detour, but the offer to meet the president of German rugby, some national players, and a rugby museum would tick enough boxes to justify the extra days. We continued in the cold towards the border. Upon reaching Monschau, the language literally changed within yards. We were in Germany. Our French was rendered useless, and our fears that Aldi shopping may end became a worrying possibility. We had covered good distance and set about pitching our tent in the plentiful woods of West Germany. Unfortunately the torrential rains had turned all forests into heavy bog land, and we were forced to pedal on for hours into the late evening. One Germany couple took us into their house for coffee and biscuits, and helped us out with a map to guide us in future days pedalling, but we were soon back out in the cold night. With more luck than judgement, we managed to find a campsite just before dark, and even better for us, there was nobody there to ask for costs. A pretty tiring day, but we had made it. Calais to Germany in just 5 days. Day 5 – 87.5km – cash EUR 3.38

Saturday May 8th

Saturday, and we only had a further 15km to reach our weekly target of 500km. Then, surely a day to rest the legs, recharge the batteries (quite literally) and get the necessary photos and reports off to the various media channels. Germany wasn’t like France or Belgium, Germany has hills. I hoped that the 2 days hill training in Wales had turned us into hill professionals. Unfortunately for me, this was just a hope. After long slow slogs of pedalling on my granny cog, we crawled our way south towards Prum, at one point averaging less than 6 km per hour. Even Einstein would be pushed to explain how these maths equated in us achieving 77km.  On a positive note, we found an Aldi !! You would have to be on a strict bicycle budget to understand our excitement, but believe us, we WERE excited. We achieved the weekly target with a day to spare, but the day was perhaps otherwise non-eventful.  Day 6 – 77km – cash EUR 9.96

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10 Responses

  1. Hi Tom and Jodie

    Great to hear your still moving !! and making such good progress. Sorry weather not a little drier and warmer ..but in months to come you may wish you had colder wetter weather. (we are sitting here in Dunedin NZ on a late Autumn day suffering sun and 18c !!!)
    Well it has been excellent reading your updates ! We were getting worried thought some French boar had eaten you for dinner !!
    Write again soon take care and happy peddling !!!
    Mum xxx

  2. So the reports of you being spotted on Bondi beach are false ??

    Fantastic effort guys I am so jealous.

  3. Hey Tom & Jodie,

    Loving the blog, looking forward to buying the book once youre done!

    Well done on your fantastic effort & good luck in avoiding Boars, rusty nails & German Hills.

    Took the kids camping in Suffolk over the Bank Holiday and it was so cold I would have sold at least a couple of them for a hot water bottle at 3am, so ultimate respect for what youre both doing, if I had a hat I would raise it to you both, as it is, it’ll have a be a pint instead.

    Speaking of Belgium, Tom, did I ever mention that I nearly got deported when I saw Arsenal play in Liege years ago – story best told over pint tho…sounds like you had a far better time there than I did!!

    Anyway good luck & all the best – cant wait for further instalments!

    See you in Melbourne for the Ashes 2014
    Cheers
    Layth

  4. Sounds like you are having a great time! Some adventures and some lucky breaks, hope the good luck keeps coming your way! Can’t believe you haven’t broken budget either 🙂

  5. Hi Jodie and Tom

    So good to hear all about your experiences so far! Keep on tearing through those (many, many) miles!

    Colleen

  6. Huddo,
    I’m guessing you saw the result of the 20/20 World Cup. Wasn’t really a surprise….
    All we need now is the Footbal WC in the summer and we’ve got all 3.
    Cheers
    Johnno

  7. Please send an Urgent update, have you found an Aldi or not ?? What about Netto or do Aldi shoppers look down on Netto shoppers. It’s a social mine field.

  8. Fact of the day, the brothers who set up Aldi occupy 1st & 2nd on richest people in Germany list. More aldi facts coming soon.

  9. Hello Kids, it’s me again talking to myself. Three things :

    1.Sunday Times cycle bloke said Thorn bikes are the best touring bikes for the money in the World.

    2.Went to Adventure Evening 2 last night. If you need some inspiration check out this bloke
    http://www.mileshilton-barber.com

    3.4th richest person in Germany is the BMW hieress

  10. Hi you two intrepid cyclers !!!!!!!!!!!! ………….

    Where are you ????????
    assume no sun still otherwise laptop would be fireing.

    Hope you are still loving the adventure and making reasonable if not good progress ! Getting grayer by the day worrying. So let us know what is going on ……..

    Looked up wolves in the school library !! apparently due to human influence they are no longer in Europe !!! yippeeeee only the boars can get you meant to ask did you buy a tazer ???????
    Hope to hear updates very soon
    love mum xxxxxx

    Ros and Gareth hadn’t realised you were leaving UK for good !!!!

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