My last day in the Netherlands was my birthday. I awoke early, had a strong coffee, packed up and was ready to hit the road early, before the wind got stronger.
Generally the wind is not strong first thing. On the way through Muntendam, I thought I’d get some more cash. Not all Dutch supermarkets accepted cards from non Dutch banks. I stopped at a Geldmaat cash machine.
Firstly my halifax card refused the transaction so I resorted to my Natwest card. This appeared to work and I was asked which combination of notes I needed. I chose the one with the least €50 notes.
I waited… the machine made some noise…. I waited some more… the machine made a clunk. Then very briefly displayed a message that the combination of notes I wanted, were not available. Goodbye!
Mmm… that wasn’t expected. I checked my natwest account and the money was shown as having been debited. I rang the bank immediately. After waiting what seemed a lifetime, I was asked to type my customer number in. I duly typed it in, but as I typed, it kept talking as if I wasn’t entering my number. Eventually after the machine at the other end misheard my reason for calling several times. At one point me saying “the atm didn’t give any cash” was taken as someone had died! When I did speak to a human I was told there was nothing they could do until the next day, the funds may be reversed at the end of the day. I requested the lady make a record on my account that I had called immediately, but she refused! Said there was no point. I’d have thought maybe a customer requesting this for their own piece of mind wouldn’t have been a big ask. More on this later..
Slightly disgruntled and as I had now wasted a precious early morning hour, I set off properly. Only for the wind to get up. One of the reasons for starting early, is that the wind tends to get stronger throughout the day. The earlier that you set off, the easier it is to cover ground relatively quickly. I’d prebooked a campsite in Germany, so knew my ride was to be about 55 miles or so to Westerstede.
After the earlier ATM hiccup, I planned to try and get cash again, but not in the Netherlands. It was about 20 miles to reach the German border.
When I reached the border, there were no signs. Just a change in style. I looked over to the motorway through the trees and could see a sign welcoming people to the Netherlands.
To start with, the cycle paths completely disappeared. But did come back eventually. It took quite a while for the phone signal to change over. For a while I was a little concerned it wasn’t going to switch at all. A few miles later the ping of a message coming through from my phone provider, re-iterating I can use my allowance as normal in EU countries, came through.
Ten miles into Germany and it was clear, Germany was far busier and more populated than the Netherlands. Lorries with additional trailers zoomed by, and there was an almost constant stream of cars. Towns seemed more built up and more going on, closer to being back in the UK, with the exception that the roads were actually silky smooth! Not a pothole in sight!
I passed my first church, complete like so many others in europe, with a memorial to the lives lost in earlier wars. Very sad to see the long lists of names. It doesn’t matter which country you see these in, the huge loss in life is astounding, something that should never be repeated. What’s happening further East, only illustrates that lessons are not learned by those with the power to send people to their end at a whim. Sorry, getting a bit heavy there.
I happened across another bank. There were no tellers and me speaking literally no German other than to say thanks or order a beer, I first tried to get money out of a deposit machine. Once I realised, I tried what looked like a cash machine. Bingo. I’ll try again. Natwest….declined. Damn.
Switched to my Chase card and bingo. I don’t know why I travel with natwest. It’s always caused problems. Cards refused more times than it’s accepted and it charges. Possibly I could use it as a dummy card for thieves to steal, I cant seem to get any money from it, doubt they will either..
I had booked a campsite online. Relatively cheap compared to the U.K. the booking in system was a little challenging. Trying to work out what I needed to do to check in and then where ZP02 my allocated spot was, wasn’t the easiest task. I found another tent and pitched next to it. A German cyclist Dominic had cycled 160km testing his bikepacking setup. He still had concerns over comfort when riding longer distances, something that eases the more you do. I did show him online the Wiggle DHB shorts that I use, super comfortable and good value for money.
I’d been to a Lidl before reaching the campsite. Picked up some groceries and beer. Tuborg, Danish beer was only 79 cents. As it was warm, before setting up the tent, out came the Ortlieb collapsible washing bowl, filled with cold water and chucked the beers in to cool while I set up the tent.
Dinner was Kabanossi sausage, with tomatoes and garlic, with pasta and hint of curry powder, finished off with some pasta chucked in. I had bought too many tomatoes and offered some to Dominic, in return he had too many cookies, which I didn’t turn my nose up at.
Over dinner, while drinking a now cool beer, Dominic and I chatted about cycling, routes, the damned wind. I was pleased to hear that he had also struggled with the electronic booking in system. At least it wasn’t just down the language barrier.
The ride to Bremen was pleasant. As ever the constant crosswinds and headwinds were present, but I made good time. I was riding to Bremen to meet up with Renas, a chap I ridden in Spain with in 2014 when I rode to South Africa. Originally I had told Renas that I would be there around 15:00 – 15:30. I had made a good start, after calling the bank again as instructed and getting nowhere. I was due to arrive earlier at about 14:30, having covered the 45 miles in good time.Renas is currently studying Mechanical Engineering and was back at University and in the middle of a lecture when I tried to call. He messaged that I might like to wait by the river and sent me a pin on google maps as to where locals go to relax.
I spent a nice afternoon reading my book making coffee and sand which with left over sausage and tomato and then watching the word go by in Bremen. Young families were there, playing in the water, that had been cordoned off with stainless steel barriers to keep the children safe. Groups of students and teens came and sat under trees to chew the fat and I kept seeing people coming by and checking the bins. Something I had not seen since I was in Africa.
Later I asked Renas what that was about, most of the recyclables have a value that can be redeemed at supermarkets, bottles were only worth €0.10 but beer cans were €0.25. So the Tuborgs I had bought were really only €0.54 each if I had redeemed the tins. Apparently some people make enough out of collecting this, to make a living. Renas explained when we had a beer later, you leave the bottles by the bin, to save the people collecting them, having to rummage around inside.
When Renas had finished his lecture, we arranged to meet at a bridge, it was great to see him again, the same big smile I remembered. Initially before we could go back to his place, he had to pick up a guitar from a friends house, sadly a relative had passed away and Renas had been offered the guitar. A short ride later and we were back at his flat where we man handled my heavy bike up the stairs. A quick shower and change and out we went. Downstairs, literally and one door over was a supermarket.
We needed beer, Renas recommended the Haake Becks, which was made in Bremen originally, the same brewery as the Becks that we have in the UK.
We then went a bit down the road to order Pizza, Thursday night being cheap night, €6.50 each.
We took everything to the local park where nice seating is put out in the summer for people eat and drink at and caught up on old times, whats happened since, and what the future may bring.
We had a great evening catching up. Rênas had built his own touring bike from scratch. And when I say scratch, I mean scratch, even making the frame himself! It was built like my surly, for long distance touring. Had all the bells and whistles and looked super cool!
In the morning we went for a quick breakfast. Rênas had an appointment, on the way to it he showed me a statue related to a brothers Grimm fairytale l, “The town Musicians” that I had not heard of, based in Bremen. It was good luck to make a wish while holding the foot of the Donkey.
There were people queuing to have their photo taken. You can find out more about the tale here https://www.storynory.com/the-town-musicians-of-breman/amp/