Seven wonderful weeks cycling 2,300 km from Helsinki (Finland) to Calais (France) with two very companionable friends. (Jerry lives just down the road in Cribyn and Carl is my nephew from Dorset/Cornwall.)
We didn't break any speed records but we did have a great time exploring some lovely countries and camping in some lovely places. Our route avoided major hills, which suited my reduced energy levels perfectly, yet the flat terrain turned out to be anything but boring.
Click on the map and photos to enlarge them...
40 km / 25 miles, 1 day, with Jerry
There can't be any country in the World with a greener cycle-route linking its main airport and capital city - it's just a pity it wasn't signposted better! We enjoyed our short stay in Helsinki, the free, open-air concert of Sibelius music being the highlight for me.
349 km / 218 miles, 7 days, with Jerry
What a beautiful country! Miles and miles of lovely mixed forest, lush ground-cover and fabulous flowers (including the distinctive, yellow and purple 'wood cow-wheat').
Picturesque villages, the warm Baltic Sea and the delightful capital city of Tartu. Whilst in Estonia, we also stumbled across the site of one of the greatest hushed-up Soviet Red Army defeats of WW2 (see below).
354 km / 221 miles, 6 days, with Jerry
Curiously, Estonia changes into Latvia, and Estonian becomes Latvian, right in the middle of the town of Valga (examine the sign in first photo). We enjoyed sampling beer in a brewery we came across by a lake in the forest. And have you ever seen a neater woodstore (third photo)?
We were provided with candles to explore the dark passages inside Cēsis castle. By chance, we found ourselves cycling through Tukums on the day of its annual fair. And this cycle-path through a forest next to the Baltic coast was pure delight. We also visited a Soviet 'Cold War' nuclear bunker (see below.)
144 km / 90 miles, 3 days, with Jerry
Less forested than its Baltic neighbours but still excellent cycling country. It rained a lot while we were there but cycling in the rain is fine as long as you can keep warm and dry (which we did). We almost bumped into an elk near the coast.
Local gastronomic delicacies include cold beetroot soup and hot soup served in a bread bowl. We cycled a short distance down the sandy Curonian Spit from Klaipėda before returning to spend our pennies at one of the many stalls selling jewellery made from locally-sourced amber.
202 km / 126 miles, 3 days, with Jerry
We caught the overnight ferry to Karlshamn and cycled across southern Sweden, which is just how you'd imagine Sweden to be - clean, tidy, well-organised and well-maintained. We found a lovely campsite at Perstorp and were forced to investigate A+E at Helsingborg!
97 km / 61 miles, 3 days, with Jerry
314 km / 196 miles, 7 days, with Carl
We cycled though miles of suburbs before reaching the tourist must-sees of Copenhagen itself. The orange houses in the old part of the city were my favourites. Copenhagen is a city where cycling is the norm, but it took 2 days and dozens of cycle shops before finding a suitable touring bike for Carl to buy.
The southeast Baltic coast is beautiful; one night we slept in a wooden shelter right next to the sea. Last picture - sometimes the Danes seem to interpret their sex-equality laws a little too literally!
290 km / 181 miles, 9 days, with Carl
We enjoyed a few days with friends in Hannover, were taken to a beer and music festival next to the lake and were fascinated by these ingenious hand-powered tools and machines in a street-market. Germans are probably 'bigger' than their neighbours because of their liking for large helpings of Bratwurst, processed meat and potatoes.
Then we followed the Mittelland Kanal to the Dutch border, sometimes on minor roads and sometimes on the towpath itself. Carl's knee started playing up, which was a nuisance, but it had the advantage that my rather leisurely pace suited him too!
362 km / 226 miles, 9 days, with Carl
After camping in floods on the Dutch-German border, we spent a week zig-zagging across the Netherlands. One of the highlights was visiting Nuenen, where van Gogh lived and painted this old watermill in 1884.
We visted Amsterdam, where we saw this jolly sailor with his barrel-organ boat, and Delft with its delightful little canals and flowers. But my lasting impression of the country is of its vast network of cycle-paths which criss-cross mile upon mile of lush, well-managed pasture.
140 km / 88 miles, 3 days, with Carl
Bruges is a lovely old Flemish town which we explored by bike, boat and foot in the pouring rain. Some of the bars and cafés are wonderful but this one, in the main suqare, wasn't!
Carl climbed the town hall tower and photgraphed this enormous 'music-box' mechanism that rings different melodies on its bells every quarter-hour. Much of the Belgium coastline has been swallowed up by a string of built-up seaside resorts.
74 km / 46 miles, 1 day, with Carl
The coastal region between Belgium and Calais is a strange mixture of virgin sand-dunes, long sandy beaches, modern resorts, ugly shipping ports and a ghastly industrial zone. But, just a few km inland, are such gems as the 16th century fortified town of Gravelines. We caught the ferry home from Calais, but not before witnessing groups of African refugees and their makeshift accomodation on scrubland near the harbour.
We cheated and caught a few trains along the way...
Latvia: struggling to load a heavy bike into a train from a low platform (this is normal in many countries - how do wheelchair users cope?). Germany: lots of space for cycles on a German train (unlike in most other countries). Denmark: bike parking outside a Copenhagen tube station.
Estonia: site of one of the greatest hushed-up Soviet Red Army defeats of WW2 (~5,000 killed, >50,000 taken prisoner). Latvia: inside a 1980's Soviet nuclear bunker, hidden under a civilian 'rehabilitation centre'. Denmark: memorial to a primary school accidentally bombed by the RAF in WW2 (116 killed).
Denmark: camping next to 19th century canons pointing towards Sweden across the Øresund Strait. Germany: model showing the devastation of Hannover caused by RAF bombs in WW2. Netherlands: Nazi fortifications along the North Sea coast.
© Di + Chris Bell