Every time we come back from The Netherlands we say we’ll cycle more. This time we seem to be doing reasonably well at it. Yesterday I had a glorious cycle to Newport to buy some new crochet hooks. On the way there I heard a saxophonist playing in the woods which was an unexpected pleasure.

I’m glad we live at the Cowes end though as I get all the annoying obstacles out of the way early ( the hilly bit with no right of way and no visibilty at Medina Vally Centre, the stupidly close poles on the bridge that we definitely wouldn’t have managed to fit our kiddy trailer through, and the kicked out junction with no right of way at Stage Lane) and can just enjoy the rest of the ride home, the angle of the views are slightly better on the way back to cowes too!

Cycling home I realised that being on my bike on a car-free path – particularly in my favourite gear ratio (2:6 if you are interested) – makes me feel almost as contented as swimming does. If we had Dutch style infrastructure and attitudes to cyclists I would feel happy very often 🙂

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My favourite day at this site was definitely when we went to visit the Maastricht caves . We even had to cycle (or in my case push) up a proper hill to get there and we arrived a little early for the English language tour so there was time for yet another beer!

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The tour guide was brilliant, we had a long hot walk to the caves as the usual entrance was closed during which he established that we were a group that were a mix of English and German speaking so he switched flawlessly between both languages throughout the cave tour.

The extra walk was well worth it as we got to see into the vault which is usually too far for the tour. This was where many Dutch pictures were hidden through the 2nd world war, as well as a hidden radio and a fair few people!

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The caves are really man-made tunnels and there are the most amazing charcoal drawings throughout the caves.

Some dinosaurs,

the tour guide was rather critical of the fact that there were a couple of dinosaurs that were incorrectly included as they couldn’t have been from this area.

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An illustration of 5 people who helped the Spanish in the 17th century and then had their heads chopped off and displayed at De Vijf Koppen (The Five Heads Bastion).

We were quite excited to see this as we had visited this bastion on our walking tour the day before!

 

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A map of the underground caves and tunnels, it really is incredible just how extensive they are.

 

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My favourite part was hearing about the Jewish man who used the tunnels to escape to safety during the second world war and had carved his name in a wall in the 1940s and then seeing underneath the same name with a date just a few years ago when he had revisited the caves.

As well as the charcoal drawings there were many sculptures in the soft rock.

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The tour guide gave us a choice of the more adventurous experience or the standard one – we opted for the adventurous one and got to experience a little of the more creepy nature of the caves as the tour guide went ahead of us with the lanterns leaving us in complete darkness to follow him using our fingers on the walls as our guide. It was slow, scary and very disorientating even though i knew we were safe my heart was pounding at the complete helplessness I felt, if the tour guide left us we would have had no way out. He told us about some monks who had become lost in the mines and when they were later found their fingertips had been completely worn away as they had tried to trace their way out by running their hands along the rough walls. Many people have lost their lives in the caves and even with the torch light I was unable to identify which caverns we had been in before.

Jonathan was the only child on the tour so got to have a go at cutting a bit of the stone, it was soft but the idea of doing it for hours on end in the cold humidity was very unpleasant. People stopped working in the mines at the age of about 35 as the damp conditions led to horrendous arthritis.

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The temperature is about 12 degrees all the time in the mines which on the hottest day of the holiday was was a welcome relief!

Back outside we had lovely dappled sunshine

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and after a trek back up the hill we needed another cool beer and then enjoyed the unusual experience of free-wheeling down a Dutch hill to head back to the van.

Maastricht was an easy 30 minute cycle from out camp site, so we headed there for a couple of days.

The first day after the obligatory visit to the, rather impressive, tourist information centre (VVV)

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we set out on a walking tour of the city.

First stop was the magnificent bookshop converted from an ancient Dominican church – Boekhandel Dominicanen

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We opted for the fortifications tour so we saw lots of, well, fortifications.

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We learned that “molen” means mill and saw some watermills.

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Jonathan wanted to take some photos of the deer in the town park.

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We ended up back at the very empty town square and had an ice cream, toasted sandwich and a beer before cycling back to the camp site.

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We love going on holiday to The Netherlands – this year we decided to go somewhere other than the Katjekelder park in Nord Brabant so we headed for a camp site just outside Maastricht, Camping De Oosterdriessen.

This was a great choice: It had a large areas to camp in separated by light hedges,

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A lake to swim in,

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And some good weather to sit outside and eat the tarts

 

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and drink the wine we bought in France.

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parked_carsMaking good provision to allow people to walk, cycle and use public transport is a sensible thing to do even if you don’t give a stuff about the negative environmental or social consequences of driving a car and want to drive everywhere. Forget the green stuff*, simple old fashioned self interest shows it makes sense.

I’ll use the Isle of Wight as an example. We have a limited road network, little chance of major expansions to it and a population which mostly lives in small towns and large villages. For a rural area we have fairly low car ownership, and a higher than typical number of car-free households.

If our car ownership was more typical for our population density we would expect to see an extra 6,000 cars on the road (and this number could be much higher). Let’s ignore the impact that would have on congestion and demand for workplace parking and look at one single issue – overnight parking. A large number of these “new” cars would be owned by currently car-free households, some would be second/third etc. cars within a household. Given the makeup of Isle of Wight housing I think it is fair to say the majority of these cars would be parked on-road overnight. Conservatively let’s say 65%. Allowing 5.3 metres of space for parking (and people are going to have to get better at it if that’s all we use…) that’s 20.7km of extra on-road parking that needs to be found. I don’t know about you, but I struggle to see where we will find the space to put those extra cars

So, if we want to avoid this, doesn’t it make sense to ensure people have some good quality alternative options, so they don’t have to buy a car (or a second car, or a third car)? Wouldn’t it be better to invest in cycleways, making junctions safer for pedestrians, reducing traffic on side roads and improving public transport infrastructure and service provision than building 20km of new roads just to park our cars on?

(* Actually I’d rather you didn’t, but if you must…)

We had a fabulous time in The Netherlands and for me the highlight was definitely the cycling – I managed to get out on my bike everyday and sometimes two or three times.

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 We’re about to set off on an expedition apparently:

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I love how safe I feel cycling there and how the infrastructure and the attitude makes for such a pleasant experience.

Look at the size of these cycle paths:

 

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See the depression for the bicycle wheels to go alongside the steps for the underpass – what a simple and yet clever idea:

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Love the height and ease of use of the traffic light button:

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And easy to follow comprehensive signage:

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We don’t really celebrate Valentines day much as a couple or as a family. martin and I usually exchange cards – this year I made a card based on this circle activity. I changed it to heart shapes and mounted them on pink and red cards.

I didn’t manage to get up in time to give the card to Martin before he went to work so had a fairly lazy morning. Monday is my morning for sorting washing so that’s what I did.

Rebekah went out and the rest of us headed for horse riding. I dropped Ruth off in Newport to go to her 4×4 meeting – they were taking a chassis apart and putting back together again.

Jonathan enjoyed horse riding as usual.

After Horse riding we were off to a Valentines HE session.

They played a running matching game, learned some of the origins about Valentines day, cooking, playing team games and making some Valentines themed stained glass windows.

Stained glass windows:

Playing Games:

We got back quite late so Rebekah and I made a hasty sausage casserole and mash, Jonathan made a Hama bead dragon and Martin taught Ruth how to change an inner tube – mostly she learned not to leave a tyre leaver inside the tyre when you reattach it to the wheel!

Then, because it was Monday, we finished off Valentines day by updating paperwork together – what romance!

….is the plague of signs on our esplanades. I think they should all be removed, there are now so many that no-one pays them any attention and they are just a blot on the landscape. If we have to have signs lets have happy friendly ones that welcome people and invite them to have fun, rather than a myriad of metal monsters telling us we can’t do anything at all.

We got back a couple of days ago from a lightening trip to Frankfurt. It was borne out of Ryanair’s 1p flight deal, discovered thanks to the most excellent Martin Lewis and his splendid Moneysavingexpert.com website. When I say 1p, that was it. One solitary penny per person each way (inc. taxes). So 7 of us travelled from London Stansted to Frankfurt Hahn for 14p. Unfortunately it cost us ÂŁ55 to get across the Solent….

This was my first visit to Germany, and comments on line had left me uninspired about the idea of visiting Frankfurt. Overall I was pleasantly surprised. We found a clean city, a very friendly welcome, and a huge Christmas market (which was the main reason for our visit).

So, some vague ramblings about some of my observations. I’ll talk about the airport in a separate post, including our top transport tips!

The transfer from the airport left us at an S-Bahn station, where we needed a little help with the ticket machine to get the best tickets, but we ended up with an all day ticket for 5 people for just €8.40 and a single trip ticket for just €2. The trains were fast, clean, on time and the information provision was pretty good.

We stayed in the Hotel Europa (booked via Hostelworld.com), which was carefully selected as it appeared to be the cheapest habitable hotel with the right configuration of rooms. For a triple and a twin room we paid around ÂŁ80 for the night including breakfast. ÂŁ16 per person is pretty good in my book. The rooms were small but clean and comfortable, the hotel was a bit noisy but we were prepared for that based on online reviews (like this and this), but the staff were fantastic; helpful, laid back and friendly. Breakfast was simple but good and plentiful. Really can’t quibble for the money. Oh, and it’s 3 minutes walk from the Hauptbahnhof (main station).

I won’t bore you with all the details of the trip, but a few things stood out:

This beautiful (cough!) sculpture really is as dominant as it looks in the picture. I guess the people of Frankfurt are proud of their place at the centre of the European banking system. Unfortunately this appears to be what happens when you let bankers commission art. The towers in the background are interesting too. I had presumed that Frankfurt’s “skyscrapers” would all be in a group together in the city centre, but they are actually quite spread out. I don’t know if that’s a good or a bad thing…

Now this was a better attempt IMHO. This guy is pretty big, and he moves. I think the scale is just right for the space, and I actually got left behind because I kept wandering round this sculpture looking at it from different angles, where the size seems to magically change. The picture below shows how small it appears when viewed with the tower behind (sorry, didn’t notice what the building was, but it was tall!).

When taking these we were on our way to Senckenberg, the natural history museum in Frankfurt. As with most museums it had its good and bad points, but what really stood out was the Cafe. In the UK we pay high prices for awful canteen food in many museums. The Bistro in here was not particularly cheap, but the food was good (mmmmm cakes) and you could even get a beer….I wonder if the Natural History Museum in London serves alcohol…. It also looked very attractive. So all you OK museum curators – it can be done!

Heading back for the Christmas market we forced certain members of our party to walk rather than catching the underground. I’m glad we did, because we meandered along some interesting residential streets. They aren’t going to get in the guide books, but I think this is an important part of visiting a new city. I also saw lots of evidence of simple cycle provision, like residential streets which were one way for cars and two way for bikes. This was the norm it appeared, as it is in the Netherlands. Take note UK traffic planners!!!

I was going to rant about car drivers not giving way to cyclist travelling uphill, but see the Weekly Gripe has beaten me to it. (Great title by the way!). I share their grievance. Travelling along National Cycle Network 23 I had the same problem the other day. In a car, stopping to give way to a bike takes mere seconds and no effort (unless you count depressing the brake pedal). By following the correct procedure you will, however, save the cyclist from losing momentum, and expelling lots of effort restarting on a hill. Get a grip guys, it costs you mere seconds.