Cycling to Amsterdam

 

I decided to make use of the four day Easter holiday weekend and cycle from London to Amsterdam.  However, since I was leaving directly after work on Thursday evening and didn’t want to cycle dangerous British roads in the dark, I got a train to Dover and made it just in time to catch the midnight ferry to Dunkirk.  This however, proved to be a mistake, as, due to the length of the journey and the hour time difference, I arrived in Dunkirk at 3am.  Predictably the hostel I had booked gave up waiting for me and locked up, so I had no choice but to either keep cycling and hope to find somewhere open, or sleep outdoors in the rain with the refugees.

I cycled on for the next two hours through rainy traffic and refugee camps until eventually at five am I was lucky enough to find another hostel, the lovely owner of which took me in and gave me my own private room for the night/morning.  I knew I had to make it 150km’s the next day through Belgium to Breskens in the Netherlands if I wanted to catch the last ferry to Vlissengen, so I didn’t have the luxury of sleeping in late.  I grabbed five hours sleep and was up at 10am, had a quick (free) breakfast and was back on the road.

Riding along the beach in Belgium

The day went fairly smoothly for the first few hours – it was nice and sunny and I dried out my wet clothes by hanging them off my bike as I rode. Initially I felt I was making good time, but after a number of stops for photographs, lunch and exploring I realised at 5pm I was going to have to hurry to make the 9pm ferry!  I abandoned the slow moving beach roads and got onto the main road for a few hours of hard pedalling.  I whisked through Belgium fairly quickly and then just after entering the Netherlands developed a rather serious pain in my left Achilles tendon.  I tried adjusting my foot to accommodate it but I couldn’t really slow down or rest so I had to push through, despite the pain worsening.  Luckily I made it to the ferry in time, but I was seriously worried about whether I could continue the next day.

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I spent that evening in quite a nice hostel in Vlissengen, and being that it was a seemingly quiet deserted town I thought nothing of leaving my bike locked up outside on the street.  Bad idea…. but more of that later.

Anyway this hostel had been left in the care of a very young lad from somewhere or other who was travelling and needed work, and the owner was busy that night DJ’ing at a club in town.  Luckily the hostel only had one or two other guests who were already in bed, so he decided he would come with me for a few drinks at an Irish pub down the road, where we chatted about our respective travels and had a few beers.  He was a nice enough chap but clearly didn’t know anything about how the hostel worked, and forgot to take any payment from me before I left the next morning!  (the owner, luckily for him, had my email and tracked me down for payment a few days later).

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My bike with stolen seat

Upon returning to my bike I found my seat missing – the whole seat-post and saddle as well as my saddlebag with all my tools and puncture kit!  Coupled with the somewhat better but still sore pain in my Achilles tendon this was not good news.  I hummed-and-harred about what to do for awhile until eventually deciding to push on through, standing up to pedal until I found a bike shop.

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New seat and ready to go

Fortunately this was exactly what my Achilles tendon needed, as the change in foot position while standing took the pressure off it and I went along quite well and full of renewed energy for the next hour until I reached a town with a fairly big bike shop.  There a very helpful bike mechanic found me a cheap, used seat-post and saddle and I was on my way again, only €30 poorer.

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The route along the dykes

I continued on along a route I’ve been wanting to cycle for many years, along the Dutch dyke system that holds back the ocean south of Rotterdam and The Hague and connects many small islands and outcropping bits of land.  It’s an incredibly interesting landscape and the huge, modern mechanical dykes are amazing to see up close.

Unfortunately the weather wasn’t great that day, and with the combination of a headwind, my sore Achilles tendon and the delays of buying a new seat it didn’t look like I would make it to Amsterdam that evening as planned. However I still had a good time exploring the dykes and cycling the tiny little villages on the many islands along the route.  The cycle infrastructure in the Netherlands is incredible, and is maintained equally if not better than the roads.

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A typical Dutch dyke bridge

There is a seperate, dedicated bicycle lane next to every single street, no matter where you go.  In many places it even goes under or over the road when crossing, so for the most part you need never be involved with or worry about vehicular traffic.  Despite this I still managed to accidentally cycle onto the freeway at one point, and had to get off and walk back along the grass verge to the normal road.  The truckers driving past in their massive 18-wheelers found this rather amusing.

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Rotterdam

I stopped for lunch in a great little seafood restaurant in the docks of a small village and had a well deserved beer with calamari and chips.  By the time I got to Rotterdam it was already 6pm and I was exhausted, so I had to choose to spend a night in Rotterdam and continue the next day, or get the train to Amsterdam and spend the night there.

I decided to go with the latter as I knew Amsterdam better and figured I would have a good Saturday night there.  I almost got in trouble on the train as I didn’t put my bike in the correct section, but luckily the conductors are understanding of foreigners and let me off.

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Amsterdam

So I finally arrived in Amsterdam, and although I didn’t quite cycle all the way I had a great trip and overcame many obstacles.  That night I made some friends in The Flying Pig hostel, drank an entire pitcher of beer and multiple tequila’s, explored a bit of the red light district and then we went out to a techno club until 4am.  The next afternoon, slightly hungover, I packed up my bike into a box kindly donated by a local bike shop, and headed off to the airport to fly back home to London.

I hope to do this trip again some time, however I would spread it over 3 days and go via Bruges.

 

 

A week in Watamu, Kenya

 

In March 2016, my cousin got married in the beach resort town of Watamu, Kenya.

I only had a week off work, which was enough time to see most of this tiny fishing village, but I could have easily stayed another week!  It is one of the most beautiful and relaxing places I’ve ever seen.  Truly heaven!

I was staying with my parents and my brother and his girlfriend, as well as another couple who we didn’t know but were guests of the bride and groom.  We all rented a huge, mansion like house just off the beach, with four double bedrooms, a huge living area, bar, kitchen, massive swimming pool and amazing outdoor lounge and sitting areas.  It even had an outdoor bed next to the pool!  And all this for a very affordable price, being that the exchange rate in Kenya works out very favourably to the British pound.

Most days were spent lounging around the pool, walking along the beach and generally just eating, drinking and relaxing. Proper holiday style!

We did a few activities, like snorkelling, paddleboarding and riding around on the back of incredibly scary motorbike taxis that weave in and out of traffic and ride with wild abandon along rocky dirt roads.

One of the best days was spent out on a small “glass-bottom” boat – the glass-bottom was only one very small, dirty square meter of perspex in the bottom of the wooden boat through which you could see very little.  However we had no need for it as we spent most of the time in the water around the boat, snorkelling with the free snorkelling gear the boatmen provided us with.  The water was a bit murky from all the sand kicked up by the boat motors, but I managed to see quite a few colourful fish and coral gardens.

 

The day before the wedding we visited a lovely, more deserted beach slightly north of the house.  We travelled there precariously on the back of a small rickety motorbike taxi, up some rocky dirt roads that I would struggle to drive a 4×4 up!  Luckily nobody died and we were rewarded with the most incredible white sands and blue seas I have ever seen.

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We walked quite far out into the shallow ocean and took some pictures sunbathing on a sand dune.  At one point someone dropped my phone in the ocean but luckily it’s a waterproof Xperia z3 and I was pleasantly surprised at how well the waterproofing actually works!
After getting sufficently sunburnt, we enjoyed an amazing meal of fresh fish and seafood in a tiny little wooden restaurant presumably run by the local fisherman.  Amazing they even had cold beer and wifi!  Although the toilets left much to be desired…

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As you can imagine in a small fishing village the nightlife isn’t expansive, however we managed to find a few bars with a bit of a vibe, the best of which was the infamous Pole Pole Bar (pronounced Poly Poly).10273470_10156752727600220_3041581785144207921_n  It was a bit dead the night we went and they were playing mostly awful radio pop and oldskool tunes, but amongst the eight or so of us we managed to get quite a dancefloor going!

That evening I finished off same as most others, lounging in the pool drinking Auchentoshan whiskey and watching the stars.  It’s so hot the pool water was still warm at 7am every morning!

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The day of the wedding went smoothly, with excellent weather, clear blue skies and only a slight breeze.  The ceremony was performed right on the beach under the palm trees and next to the softly lapping waves, in what must surely be the most beautiful wedding venue I’ve ever been to.  A small arch was erected for the bride and groom and the 20 or so guests were provided with sarongs to sit on the sand.  After the many touching speeches and formalities of the ceremony, it was time for the real reason people go to weddings – the reception!

We all piled into tuk-tuk’s and were whisked off a few kilometers to another huge lagoon-side mansion where my cousin and her family were all staying, and where the dinner and wedding party were to take place.  It was a stunning setting, all outdoors with white tableclothes set around a beautiful swimming pool and catered by a huge seafood buffet.  I drank and danced until inevitably ending up in the swimming pool, losing my shoes and yet somehow waking up in bed the next morning, albeit still wet.

 

 

 

A Wedding in Watamu, Kenya

 

In March 2016, my cousin got married in the beach resort town of Watamu, Kenya.

I only had a week off work, which was enough time to see most of this tiny fishing village, but I could have easily stayed another week!  It is one of the most beautiful and relaxing places I’ve ever seen.  Truly heaven!

I was staying with my parents and my brother and his girlfriend, as well as another couple who we didn’t know but were guests of the bride and groom.  We all rented a huge, mansion like house just off the beach, with four double bedrooms, a huge living area, bar, kitchen, massive swimming pool and amazing outdoor lounge and sitting areas.  It even had an outdoor bed next to the pool!  And all this for a very affordable price, being that the exchange rate in Kenya works out very favourably to the British pound.

Most days were spent lounging around the pool, walking along the beach and generally just eating, drinking and relaxing. Proper holiday style!

We did a few activities, like snorkelling, paddleboarding and riding around on the back of incredibly scary motorbike taxis that weave in and out of traffic and ride with wild abandon along rocky dirt roads.

One of the best days was spent out on a small “glass-bottom” boat – the glass-bottom was only one very small, dirty square meter of perspex in the bottom of the wooden boat through which you could see very little.  However we had no need for it as we spent most of the time in the water around the boat, snorkelling with the free snorkelling gear the boatmen provided us with.  The water was a bit murky from all the sand kicked up by the boat motors, but I managed to see quite a few colourful fish and coral gardens.

 

The day before the wedding we visited a lovely, more deserted beach slightly north of the house.  We travelled there precariously on the back of a small rickety motorbike taxi, up some rocky dirt roads that I would struggle to drive a 4×4 up!  Luckily nobody died and we were rewarded with the most incredible white sands and blue seas I have ever seen.

12096117_10156762550835220_3436346047139880738_n

We walked quite far out into the shallow ocean and took some pictures sunbathing on a sand dune.  At one point someone dropped my phone in the ocean but luckily it’s a waterproof Xperia z3 and I was pleasantly surprised at how well the waterproofing actually works!
After getting sufficently sunburnt, we enjoyed an amazing meal of fresh fish and seafood in a tiny little wooden restaurant presumably run by the local fisherman.  Amazing they even had cold beer and wifi!  Although the toilets left much to be desired…

225597_10156762548660220_87430267711748597_n

As you can imagine in a small fishing village the nightlife isn’t expansive, however we managed to find a few bars with a bit of a vibe, the best of which was the infamous Pole Pole Bar (pronounced Poly Poly).10273470_10156752727600220_3041581785144207921_n  It was a bit dead the night we went and they were playing mostly awful radio pop and oldskool tunes, but amongst the eight or so of us we managed to get quite a dancefloor going!

That evening I finished off same as most others, lounging in the pool drinking Auchentoshan whiskey and watching the stars.  It’s so hot the pool water was still warm at 7am every morning!

12832559_10156740097360220_1829164436593995399_n

The day of the wedding went smoothly, with excellent weather, clear blue skies and only a slight breeze.  The ceremony was performed right on the beach under the palm trees and next to the softly lapping waves, in what must surely be the most beautiful wedding venue I’ve ever been to.  A small arch was erected for the bride and groom and the 20 or so guests were provided with sarongs to sit on the sand.  After the many touching speeches and formalities of the ceremony, it was time for the real reason people go to weddings – the reception!

We all piled into tuk-tuk’s and were whisked off a few kilometers to another huge lagoon-side mansion where my cousin and her family were all staying, and where the dinner and wedding party were to take place.  It was a stunning setting, all outdoors with white tableclothes set around a beautiful swimming pool and catered by a huge seafood buffet.  I drank and danced until inevitably ending up in the swimming pool, losing my shoes and yet somehow waking up in bed the next morning, albeit still wet.