Thursday, October 02, 2014

Crazy Trip Dispatch #5 From Doug Walsh

There is a hilarious but entirely off-color anecdote in Doug's dispatch, so if you are easily offended, please steer clear. You have been warned.

September 30th, 2014

The past six weeks are a goulash of European flavors, sounds, and confusing roadsigns. My mind is a blur with the thousands of miles pedaled, the five languages we’ve encountered, and the complexities of three different currencies. “Let me use up the last of these Kroner before we cross out of Jutland,” I told Kristin as I pulled into the grocery store parking lot, only to confront prices quoted in Euros once inside. Crap. We entered Germany and didn’t even know it.

Europe is awash with too-close cities. In consecutive weekends we visited London, Hamburg, Amsterdam, Brussels, and now Paris. By bicycle. With all due apologies to Fargo, North Dakota, the Canadian capital of Ottawa was the first city we hit after two months of eastward cycling in North America. I can only imagine this is how Ichiro must have felt when being traded from the outpost Mariners to the commuter-friendly AL East.

From the UK we took an overnight ferry across the North Sea to Denmark and then pedaled south along the flattest landscape I’ve ever seen outside of southern Florida. With little to see but ultra-modern windmills on our left and the earthen dike to our right, we cranked out some big mileage days, pushing our average distance to over 70 miles per day en route to Amsterdam. These weren’t fun miles either, as Germany and the Netherlands have created a network of cycling infrastructure that is so impressive, the actual cycling becomes boring. Between the lack of hills, the arrow-straight, segregated bike paths, and the absent risk of winding up a hood ornament, I just found the whole region rather dull. The Netherlands may be the most bike-friendly country on Earth, but my love for a more challenging, endorphin-fueled brand of cycling runs too deep for me to ever want to live there.

Fortunately for us, so much of this tour happens out of the saddle. While the riding may have lacked flavor, our route from Amsterdam, south across Belgium, and onward to Paris added plenty of spice. Or, perhaps vice would be a better word?

Germany helped to get the ball rolling with wonderful food and plenty of beer. Nothing great, but better than the UK. Then it was on to Amsterdam where we spent a few nights imbibing the impressive local beers, sampling the fabled “coffee shops” – no need to roll your own – and doing a little window shopping in the red light district. The latter is where we met Sonya, an eastern European beauty in lace bra and panties who called us over to her neon-lit window and not once, not twice, but five times uttered what has now become a catchphrase of our trip. In between telling us that she likes couples, that we’re cute, and she charges one hundred Euro for twenty minutes, she repeatedly stated, as one might comment on the weather, “But I don’t leek the poo-see.” Which is not to be confused with poussez, the French word for opening a door. Yes, she likes couples a lot she swore, but, in that thick Bulgarian accent of hers, she’d immediately reiterate that she “don’t leek the poo-see.” A tempting offer, but a bit rich for our blood. We’ll continue browsing. Thanks anyway though.

Several nights later, perhaps in atonement for our sins, we spent the night at Maredsous Abbey in Belgium, a Benedictine monastery whose monks make really, really good beer. Then it was onward to Chimay the following night. Beer lovers will approve. And from there the Champagne region of France. I think you get the picture by now. So, as I sit here in my surprisingly bug-free budget hotel in Paris with  a bottle of low-rent rouge by my side, cork pushed into the bottle due to a missing corkscrew, I must look back upon the last month and say that Europe is an absolutely wonderful place to blow one’s travel budget. And one’s liver.

 The best souvenirs come in glass bottles,

Doug Walsh

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