London to Amsterdam in 7 days
Days on the road: 8
Kilometres cycled: 464
Countries visited: 4
So this is our first blog from on the road, it’s come soon after we left, but we thought ‘why keep you waiting?’
Let’s start by introducing you to two very special ladies, Jasmine and Dusty; two sisters that’ll be keeping Tom and I company over the next two years. They are black, quite heavy, and very robus. They are a bit dirty, could probably do with some body work and we’ll be riding them all the way around the world. In case you weren’t clear, we’re referring to our bikes, mine is named after none other than the smoking hot Jasmine from Alladin, and Tom’s is named after the one and only Dusty Springfield.
Our journey officially started on the 17th as we departed The Drafthouse in Clapham, South London, at 11.30. An overwhelming number of people attended which only added to what was an already emotional day. We both managed to hold it together, but there were a few moments where I almost broke down; most notably when saying goodbye to my whole family. We cycled the wrong way ‘on purpose’ and then back past The Drafthouse to milk our goodbye one last time.
With our friend, Ben Watkiss, leading the way, we headed towards our first overnight stop, a campsite called Thriftwood in Sevenoaks. After navigating our way up the steepest slopes in South London, and through an onslaught of Sunday drivers, we completed the 45km cycle, set up camp and enjoyed a few beers whilst watching Wales win the grand slam! The night passed and eventually we had to say goodbye to the 8 friends and family that had joined us for the trip. After a few beers it was more of an emotionally goodbye, furthermore for Tom as he had to say goodbye to his closest friends and his parents.
After the goodbyes, bed was calling us and in spite of the rain and the local chav music, Tom, his sister Sarah and I, tried to get some sleep in the wet tent we now call home.
Waking up before an alarm is never good, but when it’s freezing and pouring with rain it’s even worse. We repacked our panniers (after a knee jerk load shedding) and hit the road. Ahead of us lay 75km of road before we hit Canterbury where we would spend our last night in the UK. We needed fuel and decided to stop at The George Inn, Trottiscliffe, for some breakfast. Upon explaining our forthcoming adventure, the landlord gave us the breakfasts on the house.
We left the pub and instantly stumbled upon more kindness from strangers, this time it went by the name of Colin who would act as our guide for the next 20km and ensure we only cycled scenic roads. Such a nice guy who went out of his way to help us! We arrived in Canterbury after a beautiful cycle and Tom said his final emotional goodbye to his sister before she got on the train. We were alone and our journey was about to begin for real; tomorrow we would be in a different country! A massive thanks to Chris and Nick for letting us stay at their house, it was a much needed shower stop and the bed was much appreciated.
Our alarm went off at a refreshing 5.30am, and our tyres touched tarmac by 6am. The cycle to Dover was a quick one, despite heavy legs and freezing temperatures. Things were real for us now; the realisation of leaving the country was sinking in. After an overpriced Burger King, we boarded the ferry and waved goodbye to the Motherland. The perfect blue sun and the disappearing White cliffs provided us both with the symbolism and the epic moment we were craving. With no real plans ahead of us, the world truly was our oyster, and only now is that fact starting to sink in.
Our extreme tiredness was illustrated by my bemusement when red lines didn’t appear under misspelt words in my handwritten journal. Eventually, the boat docked, we disembarked and headed out on a NE bearing. Our aim was to get to Bruges, however, we soon realised that we had lost an hour and were 10km further south than anticipated. This meant we had 86km ahead of us, and about 4 hours of light left. Just like the light, our confidence was fading and we started to think of where we could camp. After much debating we decided to ‘man up’ and cycle until we got to the most famous Belgium city. Baring in mind our furthest practise cycle was 60km, some might have considered this foolish, and come 4 o’clock, we thought the same. Our legs were heavy; we were exhausted and still had a long way to go.
We stopped for a revitalising lunch in the picturesque Vernes. Belgium is made for cycling. We started to eat away at the kilometres, and before too long we were on the outskirts of Bruges. The city is unbelievably beautiful, with medieval spires and iconic cobble roads; unfortunately, I spent the most of our three days there in bed with a chest infection and fever. Not a good start to our two-year journey!
On one of the rare occasions that I braved the sunlight, we soon discovered a distinct lack of music within the city. No live music was scheduled, there were no buskers and there was just one record shop. Our search for the ultimate musical experience would certainly not end in Bruges; in fact, it wouldn’t even start!
After three expensive nights in Bruges (without even seeing one midget*), we decided to embark on the journey to our next country, Holland. We have friends in Amsterdam that agreed to put us up for the weekend, so we had to be there by the Saturday. It was 211km away, we had three days and I was still feeling rough. Taking the beautiful North Sea cycle route, we were privy to some fantastic views and some annoyingly aggresive head winds. Feeling weak and struggling with the wind, we only did 70km before setting up camp in the aptly named village of Kamperland. We stayed on a campsite, but couldn’t find anywhere to pay, so…we didn’t.
After a freezing nights sleep (sleep is a loose term), we were up bright and early and ready for a big day. We felt stronger and we ended up cycling 120km, our furthest yet. This was after discovering that my bike can’t go up steep hills made of sand! Home was a youth hostel called The Flying Pig, Noordwijk. We treated ourselves to an uncultured, overpriced, but hugely satisfying McDonalds, a few beers and some Jager; we knew we had a short cycle to Amsterdam in the morning.
Once in Amsterdam, we met our friend Annebet and couldn’t believe our luck when she said we could use her flat for the next three days. Unbelievably, my fever came back, so I spent the next day in bed whilst Tom was editing a video. Not exactly the rock and roll lifestyle we envisaged having in Amsterdam, but the rest was much needed. Ironically, finding drugs (antibiotics) in Amsterdam was an expensive and tiresome pastime, but nevertheless, perseverance got me some overpriced pills and I’m now on the mend (I hope).
During the time I was in bed, Tom headed out, eager to find some live music. A local bar played host to a singer/songwriter duo, Tessa Perry (New York) and Liz Clark (Cork, Ireland) performed a contemporary/bluesy/acoustic set, joined at times by Jonne Beenke, a regular on the Amsterdam music scene. Although flying solo, Tom still had a good night meeting the artists between sets and interacting with the others also there enjoying the music. We’ll post some links of there work soon.
The music scene in Amsterdam is very similar to that of London. In fact, the songs are all the same! Holland’s film and music industry is mainly based on that of the UK and the US, so there’s no ground breaking new music to be found here…well none more so then you would expect in the UK. The people here use music in a similar way to us back in the UK; there are buskers making a living, people partying in clubs, some chilling in Cafés and most listening without even knowing it. Music is clearly an important part of society here, but in reality, it’s no different to how it’s integrated into our lives at homes.
The one night we both made it out, we went to a field hockey party that Annabet invited us to. 3000 hockey players, one bar, loud music and an 80’s style light dance floor; what more could you ask for? There was an amazing atmosphere, everyone dancing and drinking, and we lapped it up like two starving kittens attacking a bowl of milk. We cycled back into town and stopped of at a café for a local coffee brew, then sampled some of the Thai food in the red light district (strangely we were very hungry). Soon after we hit the sack for a much needed sleep.
The one major thing that the UK could learn from Belgium and Holland is the appreciation and utilisation of two-wheeled un-motorised transport. The roads are built for cyclists, they have cycle lanes on every road, which are flat and smooth, and the bikes take priority over the cars. We love it here and fear that we have been spoilt and are slightly concerned about the hills that lie ahead of us.
Thanks for reading, speak soon.
Posted on March 27, 2012, in General and tagged Around the world by bicycle, Cycle around the World, Cycle the world, Daring Dynamos, Festivals for All, H4TH, Hats for the Hill, Kerven Bros, Kerven Brothers, NUCO, NUCO Travel, OnePiece, Phil Saunders, Spotify, Tom Nelson, VADO, War Child, War Child UK. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.