Touring the red light districts of Europe
Amsterdam, Netherlands – Hamburg, Germany – Esbjerg, Denmark, June 2010, 600 miles
Almost a year to the day after arriving back into London having had our first taste of cycling on the continent, we were heading back across the North Sea to continue along the world’s longest signposted cycle route.
This time we would head north-eastwards through the Netherlands, Germany and into Denmark – double the distance and duration than in 2009. We hadn’t been able to get any girls along again, but Laura wasn’t going to miss out, so prepared herself for a week’s worth of ‘boy humour’ along with visits to two of Europe’s most famous red light districts.
In Holland it felt good to be back where cyclists take priority on the road. We rode northwards on boardwalks winding across the dunes accompanied by the ‘mamils’ out for their brisk early Sunday morning rides.
We navigated the busy cycle paths and crossed countless canals heading into central Amsterdam to reach our hotel. Steve became worried of theft as the pavement racks were filled with hundreds of the typical Dutch utility bicycles rather than fancy racers – a paranoia that of course spread to the rest of us. Once we’d heaved our panniers and bikes up the three steep sets of stairs, we set off to explore the city by visiting the various bars and a a quick tour of the red light district.
Whilst the flat landscape along country lanes and canal paths meant a relaxed, sociable style of cycle touring, it lacked challenges to really earn the sundowners. So, upon reaching the start of the 20 mile afsluitdijk, a remarkable piece of Dutch engineering separating the Sea from Europe’s largest freshwater lake, the guys raced to cross it in an hour. They just missed out courtesy of a raised sluice gate at the other end. Laura and I took it at more leisurely pace listening to the Kings of Leon using the excellent CyFi mounted to my handlebars audible above the wind whistling over the top of the sea wall.
Hugging the impressive North Sea wall that protects so much of the coast, we headed eastwards towards Germany. Laura continued to do exceptionally well to keep up with the boys on their light racers, but struggled when headwind gusts struck and sapped the energy out of her girl legs.
On the fifth day we were tasked with riding in excess of 100 miles. Whilst we had good weather, flat smooth roads and no mechanical problems, we still felt the burn the following day which only made us even more impressed at round-the-world record cyclists that cover that distance day-in day-out for months on end.
Reaching the outskirts of Hamburg, Google Maps demonstrated just why it needs a disclaimer, as it suggested going over a long motorway bridge with no hard shoulder let alone cycle path – the tunnel was for cars only too. The only viable option was a two hour wait for a short and last of the day ferry ride across the river which at least gave us a great perspective of this Europe’s third largest port in action. This delay, combined with a ‘non-intentional scenic detour’ earlier in the day, gave just enough time for Will and Steve to catch up after a late start to replace Will’s wheel in Bremerhaven.
After a day’s rest taking in the beautiful city sights and famous Reeperbahn red light district on a bus tour, albeit with a slightly distorted commentary of the blame in World War II, we set off in our new red team kit raring to for the final part of the journey towards the border and to our Danish destination of Esjberg.
A quiet lane that ended unexpectedly at a railway embankment saw us take a short walk along the embankment to reach the main road; only for level crossing warning to sound which led Laura and I to turn back and Paul to sprint across just in time .
With wind burnt faces matching our shirts we reached the popular German holiday island of Sylt and spent our last evening by taking advantage of the spa facilities to relax our legs and giggling at how prude we were when sharing a nude sauna with our lycra shorts on.
In the lounge aboard the slow ferry back to the UK, we looked back through the photos of the trip reminiscing on the adventures we’d had and places we’d seen. It felt surreal to have only been away for just over a week but in the 600 miles we’d been on the road, we had many more memories than had we been on a beach holiday.
Of the little we’d seen of Denmark on the final day, the bakeries and scenery in particular, there was little doubt in our mind that a resumption of the North Sea Cycle Route is on the agenda but with South America in 2011 and 2012 the only question is when?