July 30th – Bike Ride

Got absolutely zero sleep last night, so shot into the morning of Monday 30th having been awake for 24 hours already. I got a lift to the bus station with my mum, and caught my lift to London Stansted relatively seamlessly. Although I tried to catch some shut-eye on the coach, I have a natural none-ability to sleep on moving vehicles, so I spent most of the ride listening to music, which started with a classic western ‘sound’ like this:

Upon arrival at Stansted, I remembered being there before – on the Prague expedition, now over eighteen months ago (and only seems like yesterday… *sigh*). I determined to take my time this time round, but found my check-in gate was already open. I crammed the last of my pre-packed food down, and headed through (the absolute sh*t storm of) the ‘processing’ sequence. First thing I found was that I had paid for a luggage bag on the plane that I’d never planned to use. Grade A for making it easy for me Ryan Air… jeez. £20 down, I then found I was unable to take my shower gel through customs as (despite it fitting in the quintessential plastic bags) the bottle was just too big. I chucked that one (there was only a bit left anyway), but snuck all other ‘over-sized’ items through customs. Yes… I’m that hardcore. After killing two hours in the departure lounge, I had to walk to what seemed like (as Lee Evans would put it) ‘Gate 95’. Twenty minutes down the freeway, I boarded the plane on the front row, which had the most leg room I’ve ever had on a flight!

I was planning to possibly get some sleep on my ‘two hour flight’. Sadly, ‘two hours’ actually meant ‘one hour’, as the clocks jump forward an hour as you head East. I was just getting comfortable when we landed (they even tried to sell sandwiches on the flight as well. One guy bought a coffee – we’d touched down before he’d finished it!) Looking out the window as we flew over the Netherlands, I saw rolling lush green fields, sheep, cows, farms, and vast evergreen forests. I thought it looked more like Britain than Britain does! At the airport, my first friend to meet on this journey was waiting at 9:00am sharp outside the airport – Thijs Stork, previous Teide ‘blizzard’ mountaineer champion. If you want to hear about that story, a rough cut for a final film I made can be found here. Today was hopefully going to be a little easier on the adrenaline… but that was not to be.

If anything previous experience should have told me, it was that Thijs was always one for pushing the boundaries. I was surprised (and a little humbled) to be greeted at such an early hour on a Monday morning. We headed straight into Eindhoven to find breakfast and have a look around. Thijs got into ‘tour guide’ mode straight away, pointing out the local art work and the stadium. The art work was very ‘minimalist’ (the Tate Modern would have a hay day). As it was though, we didn’t have to walk for long  for me to realise that this was the ‘Birmingham’ equivalent in the Netherlands – namely, there wasn’t much to do except shop. I visited a mountain shop and a ‘CEX’ equivalent called ‘Media Market’. Then, once shopping desires were sated, it became apparent that there wasn’t much else around.

Art – In the eyes of the beholder?

Breakfast consisted of a nine euro omelette (which was, to it’s credit, very nice). After that, we departed for Thijs’s house. Now, at this point, another thing became apparent. This was an important find regarding Dutch culture – everyone was riding bikes. I mean, like, there were the same amount of bikes as there were cars. Apparently in some places of the Netherlands, people have two cars to each person. But as we headed out into the suburban areas around Eindhoven, it became apparent that I would definitely be riding a bike at some point during my trip around the country. One hour later, and I’m on one.

Ham and Egg Omelette – First Dutch meal of the day!

Now, I’ve got a bit of a problem with bikes. I’ve always had issues with riding them since I was a kid. My rides usually ended with a spectacular crash of some description, and sometimes with the ‘write-off’ of the two-wheeler. Although I almost always opt for walking around places, I felt it was important to experience bike riding in the Netherlands, as it was so integral to the infrastructure and the culture (every pavement on every street has a bike lane running alongside it). It took five minutes outside Thijs’s house, but I eventually manage to get the hang of riding a fairly old, tall bike. Major problem – not really any brakes, you just had to try and pedal backwards to stop the bike from moving. Understanding that it wasn’t going to be easy, I set off anyway – for food, and to see the local area.

Bikes – There’s a lot of them over here! 

The pedal into the nearby town of Nuenen was relatively uneventful. We parked out bikes in the town centre, and loaded up with supplies for a marathon of ‘Game Of Thrones’ in the evening. This included a drink called ‘Safari’ – a tropical cocktail drink that was easy on the liver. I noticed that the town of Nuenen had a close connection to Vincent Van Gogh – we went by the house where he grew up. This was funny, as I am planning to visit the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam later on into the trip.

Nuenen – Where Vincent Van Gogh grew up.

Once laden (Thijs, not me!), I followed Thijs out into the countryside. The weather looked so-so, but we chanced it anyway. The journey took us into a forest, where the roads were definitely not for beginners! Avoiding various dikes and sludge pits, I saw de-forestation beginning to occur. We debated over whether cutting trees down and then re-planting new ones was a viable option for more wood, but to be honest most of the time I was just trying not to crash. Our route took us out into a vast expanse in the middle of the forest, where we ate a few wild berries (not dissimilar from the ones in England!). But then the pitter-patter of rain came, and we decided to head back sharp-ish.

It was allll downhill from here in terms of riding the bike for me. I figured I’d done admirably to make it this far, but after narrowly collapsing off the bike into a puddle, and swerving into a tractor on a side road, my luck finally ran out on a country lane not one mile from Thijs’s house. I missed a turn-in and tried to make a large u-turn in the road. There was a ditch running alongside it completely covered by foliage – and the rest is history! It was a proper ‘bumbling Brit’ moment – I was sat in the ditch, legs up, bike in the shrubs. After a moment of (natural) surprise, I was so, so glad to not feel any water below me. The shrubs were so dense they were probably suspending me above it to be honest! Any other time I might have felt a bit self-conscious, but I actually found the situation hilarious. Evidently this stuff does not just happen in films! Two dutch girls walking down the road were laughing there asses off, and so was I. Thijs pulled me out the ditch, and the bike was unharmed. I got straight back on it, and pedaled for another half-mile, before eventually striking into the classic ‘bollard’. Realising for the first time that I was actually running on no food, forty plus hours with no sleep, and a bike with a brake system I was having difficulty with, I decided to walk the last fifty meters. Sod it – I’d done my biking for the trip!

A scrape from my hand had left a blood mark on my white shirt which is what bothered me most. Thankfully, Thijs’s mum washed and bleached it for me, before cooking a really beautiful meal of lasagna and salad. I talked about my upcoming trip and the people I was going to meet, before eventually settling down to a TV series I’ve wanted to watch for a while – ‘Game Of Thrones’. Thijs and I talked for bit, played Portal 2, then set up my air-bed for the night. We crashed asleep at episode four of our TV marathon. Luckily, there were no dreams of Sean Bean, or any nightmares about bikes!

The Bike Ride – Deforestation (top), and Thijs meeting a playful dog in the central opening (middle and bottom). Sadly, we forgot to take a photo with both of us in it before I left Nuenen, but I’m sure there will be a next time! And for the record – at three hours, this was also the longest bike ride I’ve ever undergone as well!

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