The brochure from MC1 Tours shows that they offer several, ‘Small and Rider Friendly,’ tours at the back. Briefly, these offer accommodation in British run hotels abroad for various lengths of time on a bed, breakfast and evening meal basis. This holiday was one such. Travel involved departing on a Saturday, and setting off for home on the following Saturday.
We chose to travel on DFDS ferries from Newcastle to Ijmuiden in Holland, the holiday cost included this. Accompanying me was Richard Hewitt, whom I had met the previous summer on an MSL tour to Slovenia. We had to check in at around 4.30pm for a 5.30pm sailing. Our arrival on the dockside was at about 4.15pm after a bit of a queue for the Tyne Tunnel, and we were surprised at the number of bikes awaiting embarkation. A rough guess put it at approximately 100 bikes, many of them from Germany or Holland. Unlike the other cross channel ferry operators we had to tie our bikes down ourselves, and there was some concern due to the gales blowing. Tying down must have taken about 20 minutes if not half an hour, by which time we were a wee bit warm. Eventually up we went to find our cabin. Now how do you open the door? We had been given two cards at check-in, one of which turned out to be an electronic door key, but we couldn’t make it work without enlisting the help of the nearby steward. Relief came as he opened the door on his third attempt. Unpacking and a shower were next on the agenda, followed by an exploration of the facilities and a couple of beers.
Whilst consuming the first beers a group sat at the next table to us. The back view of one of the blokes looked like the double of one Brian Laverick, but I thought, it couldn’t because he was going to France. We ate in the a la carte restaurant that evening, and breakfasted in the buffet. Entertainment took the form of a few 20 minute spots by the resident band. Docking in Ijmuiden was bang on time at 10, European time, and the look-a-like Brian Laverick had been nagging away at me. I looked for him as we untied the bikes, and there he was with his Pan, so I went over and said hello, as you do. It was Brian and his group off to Brussels, Rheims, Dijon and Grenoble. By 10.30 we were on our way onto the excellent Dutch motorway system heading first for Arnhem to look at the famous bridge.
Richard had planned the route using his Sat Nav, so for once my navigation skills were redundant, or so I thought. We found the bridge, or rather the sat nav did. Richard pulled in to check where the bridge was and I stopped alongside him. He told me the bridge should be behind the buildings on the right. So I asked him what the bridge ahead was. Oh, there it is he said! Where we stopped was an old 25 pounder gun and some photos of part of the conflict, plus an old bomb case. Next on the list to see was the Mohne and Eder dams blown up by the RAF during the war. So after a short stop in Arnhem off we went again back onto the motorways into Germany to find the Mohne dam first.
All went well until suddenly as we were going past an autobahn exit road at about 80mph Richard dived off onto it in front of a van. I judged it too dangerous for me to follow, so was obliged to continue on the original route on my own. Fortunately I had some new maps in my luggage so at the next autobahn halt I pulled in for fuel, a sandwich, and a careful look at the map. Knowing Richard’s plans, I decided to attempt to follow his route on the off-chance we would meet up again. I found the Mohne dam, but missed the road to find the dam head which had been breached in the war. I looked carefully for Richard’s bike in the town of Delecke but to no avail. Unbeknown to me Richard had tried ringing me, but my phone was off as is usual when I am riding. It seemed that my phone perhaps is faulty since it did not allow me to make calls, just receive them we found out. So it was onwards to find the Eder dam after a second check on my direction. I managed to remember about an hour’s worth of directions at a time, which was useful in as much as it gave me regular stops to avoid tiredness. Again at the Eder dam there was no sign of Richard, so I continued on my way to our eventual destination, Bad Grund in the Harz Mountains. I resumed autobahn riding after an enjoyable break on normal roads finding the dams, and needed a break north of Kassel. I as pulled into the rest halt there was Richard with his bike already there. What a stroke of luck. He had realised, apparently, as he had turned off earlier on that it was the wrong junction anyway so he had turned round and rejoined our original route. He must have ridden past the rest area where I had stopped but hadn’t realised I was there. He had been to the Mohne dam, but was involved in the aftermath of a nasty accident on the autobahn on his way to the Eder dam as emergency services closed the autobahn to clear it up. There was even a helicopter landed on the road for a time he told me. This held him up for about an hour or so, which meant that he did not go to the Eder dam. I was so glad I had not gone that way! It was fortunate that we did meet, since MCi had not given us adequate directions to find the hotel. However the sat nav saved the day and took us straight there. We found out later in the week that directions to find the hotel had been sent but had been lost somewhere in transit.
We were made very welcome by Simon and Elaine who had been here running it for about 2 years having sold up in Stevenage and moved out of the UK. Unpacking, a shower each, and then the evening meal followed shortly, along with tales of our journey and the obligatory beer or three. There were a number of other Brits on holiday, and there was a lively atmosphere during the evening. We stayed there for 6 nights, and during the days Simon managed to spare some time to take us out for rides to show us around the area. We were left to our own devices on Monday and Friday. We returned to the Eder dam on Monday since Richard hadn’t seen it, and took Norman and Neil from Scotland along with us. Due to road works there was a diversion to enable us to find the head of the dam after we had lunched on sausage and chips. We were all very interested in the sight of the obviously repaired dam wall, and spent some time in the museum in which were a number of German photographs from immediately after the event. Our return to Bad Grund was via normal roads rather than using the autobahns on the way down. We found some lovely twisty roads north of Kassel, and thoroughly enjoyed our day out. The next three days saw us benefiting from Simon’s local knowledge as he took us round some of the areas he had found in his two years in Germany. We visited a free museum on the Tuesday set up by the owner of a lot of NSU bikes. Sometimes we ventured into areas which had formerly been in East Germany which I found interesting, and perhaps a little bit daunting, wondering what we might find there. Some of the buildings were in a state of disrepair, but I hasten to add that these are now very much in the minority. Also some of the road surfaces were not quite up to the standard in the rest of Germany. Simon suggested that some of this was due to the snow that lay every winter. We did enjoy very many twisty roads with very few of the hairpins that characterise Alpine roads. Many of the bends were roughly 90 degree bends, mainly on good surfaces, very grippy, and at weekends are a playground for bikers apparently.
Amongst some of the sights we saw were a massive monument to a former Kaiser, very many wood framed houses much like our own Tudor buildings, eagles in the wild, German cakes and a spectacular gorge. We also visited an old mine, which by the time we arrived had shut, and a model railway exhibition which was still open. It featured trains by Marlkellen and was well worth the visit. We stopped for a bite to eat on one day at one of the many ‘Imbiss’ which does fast and cheap food. My sausage in a bun was 1 Euro 20, less than £1. This was in the former East Germany at a place called Blankenburg. Earlier in the week in Nordhausen we had stopped in the old town to admire the architecture which included a church with two towers. One of these was a wee bit out of line. A coffee and cake here came to the princely sum of 1 Euro 30. At Goslar we sat in a square eating ice creams, drinking Cappuccinos, watching a weeding celebration and its photo session by the fountain when the clock chimed 3 o’clock. This was accompanied by tunes on a bell system along with statues that suddenly appeared from trap doors either side of the clock.
Weather-wise we were disappointed. Our arrival on the Sunday was warm and dry, though not as warm as the previous week had been apparently. Then overnight there was heavy rain. Monday was colder, whilst Tuesday and Wednesday showed single figure temperatures. Unbelievable for May31st! On Thursday we had light showers interspersed with sunny periods before a prolonged period of heavy rain fell for a while. Eventually the sun made a belated appearance.
On our ride back to Amsterdam on Saturday we encountered several torrential showers as we rode a
cross the border into Holland. Arriving in Amsterdam the showers stopped. On the way through the outskirts we met a fair bit of congestion. I was amused to note one jam on the east bound carriageway appeared to be caused by two blokes who were out of their car and were pushing it for all they were worth. Richard’s sat nav once again proved its worth by allowing us to find our way around this very bustly city. We found the cyclists were a problem since they have right of way, and they tended to approach from all directions without warning. We had planned to do a canal trip, but we considered that perhaps by the time we arrived there was insufficient time for this. We had a quick walk around the city centre near to the railway station instead and a rapid bite to eat plus cappuccino in a café before finding our way to the ferry port and check -in. Again, there were a lot of bikes to load, and again we had to do the tying down ourselves. Richard was concerned as a German rider on an old CX 500 parked it rather close to his bike. He had them sorted so that it could not fall onto his bike. After a further couple of beers, we went to eat in the buffet for the return crossing. This was a touch more expensive than the a la carte we used on the way out, but the compensation was in the presentation, choice and quality of the food. We were both delighted with our meal. So we repaired to the bar (surprise surprise!) and enjoyed a thoroughly enjoyable cabaret from the resident band and a dance group who between them put on a very well rehearsed and professional show.
Our overall thoughts at the end of the holiday were of an enjoyable time spent in good company despite the attempts of the weather to dampen our spirits. Next year might be a diy tour instead of using the services of a tour firm.