Cycling from London to Istanbul - leg 1
Guest Blogger: Ben Wade is cycling from London all the way to Istanbul. The first of his dispatches described his preparations for the trip, here is his second, which reports on the first leg, from London to Amsterdam:
My journey from London began with an uneventful ride along busy English roads to Dover, the highlight of which was an interesting conversation with a cafe owner, who, after asking about my trip exclaimed: 'You have a super bike, it goes further than my car!' Music to any green traveller's ears. From the south coast, I booked a £11 one way ferry, my bike travelling for free, from Dover to Dunkirk with Norfolk Line.
Getting the boat with my bike couldn’t have been easier as I was given priority boarding and even assisted with tying it upright in the dedicated cycle bays (there are a limited number of these, so check in advance that there is space). At the other end I simply waited for all the large trucks to depart, then rolled down the ramp and onto the continent. I soon realised that the Dunkirk ferry terminal is nowhere near the town of Dunkirk, but the road into town was wide and quiet and I quickly managed to find a campsite for my first evening.
In the morning a short stretch on the French back roads (again quiet) and into Belgium enabled me to pick up the North Sea Cycle Network. As the name suggests this is a dedicated cycle tour of the North Sea that mainly follows dedicated, traffic free cycle routes. It is fairly well signposted, and navigation is easy, just keep the sea on your left (or right if you are going the other direction.) My preconception of the North Sea had been one of brown murky water, heavy industry and cold winds, but what I was actually seeing now were golden sandy beaches (yesreally) seaside towns selling buckets and spades and long rolling dunes.
With the sun on my back as I started to turn north it almost felt like I was back home in Devon, only the surrounding countryside was completely flat. After three days along the North Sea coast I reached the Hook of Holland and met Lucy, who arrived with her bike on the Stena Line Sail Rail ferry. This is another great way of reaching the continent, and for convenience tickets can even include train travel from any National Express East Anglia train station to the ferry terminal in Harwich and onwards to any Dutch one. Lucy had travelled overnight from Harwich so with a fresh sea breeze in the air we set off on the Dutch Cycle Network. In the Netherlands the bicycle really is the best way to travel. Well surfaced, off road cycle lanes run everywhere, signs with destinations and distances can be found at almost every junction, oh, and you probably already know it is completely flat.
From the ferry port at the Hook of Holland there was a sign pointing the way to Amsterdam along the coast and through La Hague. We abandoned our plans to head straight off down the Rhine and instead followed this route, emerging after 100km amongst the pretty canals and bustling streets of Holland’s 'Venice of the North'. So far the cycling has been great. Whizzing by windmills, and cruising past fields of tulips, the riding has been easy, safe and very relaxing.
We have been camping as we go, enjoying the flexibility that a small tent provides, requiring no advanced planning for overnight stops. However, hostels, hotels and B&B’s are easy to come by if you don’t want to carry the extra weight, and every town has a helpful Dutch person to point you in the right direction if you do get stuck.
From Amsterdam we will now head south to pick up the Rhine as it flows into Germany, although it is very tempting to stay in Holland and continue touring here. I just hope the next stretch of cycling is as good as it has been so far.
You can follow Ben's route from London to Istanbul on this google map of Ben's route.
For a wide selection of unique and adventurous cycling holidays, see greentraveller's cycling holidays in Europe reachable by train.