Life’s a beach (but not sunbathing temperature!) on ride to Carnoustie

“Where’s the sun” asks the freezing “old gal” in a somewhat forlorn manner!

So after our first ride of 2018 the “Beast Fae the East” – as it was called around these parts – meant heavy snow abandoned any hopes of another outing anytime soon. Finally the weather forecasters promised some milder air and my dynamic crew decided it would be safe to venture out – if they kept to the coast. The lure of a balmy 10C and even a few rays of sun was just too tempting. After all the weather folk are never wrong … are they?!

The “old git” had selected one of my favourite routes – a 13 mile ride across the Tay Road Bridge and onto Sustrans Scotland NCR1 to Carnoustie. And the “old gal” likes it too, as it is relatively flat.

The first doubts about the weather forecast surfaced however as we pulled into the Tay Bridge car park opposite Dundee. As I was unpacked from Matilda Transport it was quite difficult to even see the bridge – despite it being so close – due to mist and low cloud.

The Tay Road Bridge is there somewhere – if you look closely thru the mist!

The omens were not looking good and the “old gal” who doesn’t do cold was already full of a feeling of foreboding. But the “old git’s” natural exuberance told her the cloud would lift and there would be sunshine by the time we got to Carnoustie! Let’s just say he was wrong!

Check out the details of our route by clicking on the Strava map below.

The first part of the trip was crossing the Tay Bridge – which carries the A92 across the Firth of Tay, and is one of the longest road bridges in Europe. On this bridge the cycle path intriguingly sits in in the middle of the two carriageways for cars, unlike most bridges where the path runs at the side of the bridge. It can be quite alarming watching lorries speeding in what seems straight for you – but you are safely boxed in behind crash barriers. Just the joggers and dog walkers to look out for!

The mist shrouded the far side before somewhat eerily the huge new V&A Museum of Design Dundee emerged from the low cloud. It is in the final stages of construction – with the building designed to look like ships. Opening later this year, it will be an international centre of design for Scotland – the first ever design museum to be built in the UK outside London.

Off the bridge and we followed the well signposted NCR1 through the Dundee port area. Emerging from the electronic gates the “old gal” was already shivering so the “old git” chivalrously offered her his cycling jacket so she had double the protection against the elements.

We pedalled on trying to work up some internal steam to fight off the bitter cold. As we tandemed round the bay the charming old fishing town of Broughty Ferry came in to view – albeit it was looking a bit damp and grey today. Passing the quaint castle we continued along a stretch of the cycle path which hugged the Blue Flag beach – which was completely deserted! Wonder why?!

The route continues to Monifieth where a new stretch of path heads over Barry Links, past a very large Ministry of Defence area on the right known as the Barry Buddon Training Centre. This has high security fencing along its perimeter and rather ominously every 100 yards or so there are warnings signs telling you to keep out as this is a live military firing area! Not surprisingly the “old gal” ordered the “old git” to pay heed to the signs and not to veer off course!

Brrr! The “old gal” trying to escape the chill for a quick picnic and welcome coffee at Carnoustie.

Another couple of miles and we reached our half way point on the ride – and our picnic destination – at Carnoustie sea front. Certainly no sunbathing for the “old gal” today as she huddled in a shelter under two jackets and warm gloves nursing a very welcome flask of coffee! The good thing was that we didn’t have to queue for a picnic bench as they were all deserted! Strange that!

Where is everyone! The picnic benches were (not surprisingly) deserted!

Despite the chilly conditions my dynamic crew bravely ate their picnic of smoked salmon and spinach wraps with and some fresh fruit. Just a shame it wasn’t a bit warmer as the view from our picnic shelter was amazing. But that sea looked icy cold!

Erm what do we do now? Here I am at the top of the bmx and skateboard track!

Our picnic spot was close to a bmx bike and skateboard track and naturally the “old git” thought this was an ideal spot for a couple of fun photos! I seriously thought he was going to take me for a ride down some of the steep slopes! As an “old lady” classic tandem I would have found that quite exhilarating! Mind you I think the “old git” was the one who was scared and decided not to risk life and limb … and my brakes! Secretly everyone was quite glad!

Personally, me thinks the “old git” was more scared than me looking at the steep slopes!

The steps at a slipway which providing another interesting photo opportunity with big waves crashing in leaving the beach almost non existent. The “old git” helpfully promised the “old gal” that they would return on a day when the sun was splitting the skies so she could soak up some rays on the sand!

It was fair to say it was bracing with the waves pounding in to Carnoustie beach!

As we tandemed back thru the car park there was a brief stop to check out the preparations for the 147th The Open which is to be played over the Carnoustie links golf course in July. It has a well-deserved reputation as one of the world’s most challenging links course, and at 7,421 yards it is the longest of any of the Open venues. The last time The Open was played at Carnoustie was in 1999 when Scots golfer Paul Lawrie lifted the famous claret jug.

The “old git” checking preparations for the 147th The Open being played over Carnoustie Links in July.

As we headed off on our 13 mile return trip it was clear lots of work is going on all over the course – and at a huge extension to the hotel overlooking the 18th green. It wll be jam packed come the week of the tournament in July.

My dynamic crew quickly got into their synchronicity factor and soon we were speeding back along the NCR1. Half way back the “old gal” made a good call for a coffee and carrot cake stop at the Glass Pavilion in Broughty Ferry.

Refuelled – and with the “old gal” having regained feeling in her feet – we tandemed back thru the dockyard before facing the final challenge of our ride – the return uphill crossing of the Tay Bridge. Into a head wind, and being cold and a bit tired from our adventure, this was a bit of a grind!

But we made it back to Matilda Transport in one piece! Back in the warmth of Matildas Rest the “old gal” immediately had a bath to defrost while the “old git” checked Strava which officially recorded the ride as being worthy of no less than 20 gongs! Amazingly we recorded a personal best for the initial crossing of the bridge covering the 1.3 miles in a time of 5 minutes and 06 seconds – it seems at an average speed of 15.7 mph. We also collected 8 2nd bests and a further 11 3rd bests! Not at all bad considering the temperature and that it was only our second outing of the year.

My dynamic crew tandemed a distance of 25.3 miles with a moving time of 2 hours 54 minutes. As always it is the smiles not the miles that count, but our average speed was 8.7 mph and the elevation was 512 feet. The maximum speed was 18.6 mph and Team Matilda managed to burn up 1,050 calories and produce an average power output of 90 W. As always the route is brought to life in our Relive 3D video – so take a look below.

So the second outing of 2018 ticked off! Both the “old gal” and the “old git” are getting a bit fed up with the cold weather. Winter can go away now – as all three of us on Team Matilda are hoping some warmer temperatures are on the way soon for sunny tandem rides!

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A coffee table book of my Musings and lots of tandeming Christmas gifts!

My new Matildas Musings blog book outlines my latest European tandeming adventures!

Excitement reached fever pitch at Matilda’s Rest on Monday when Christmas Day finally arrived! The “old git” – who should really be re-named Santa over the festive period! – made sure everyone had their ‘ho! ho! ho!’ on, whether they wanted to or not!

On Christmas Eve the “old gal” even put on her Christmas jumper to signal she was in the mood for Santa’s arrival! She had whispered to me that I was getting a present or two all for myself so I could hardly contain myself!

And I knew the “old git” had been planning something with my blog as a present for the “old gal” so it was an exciting time! I could hardly sleep and I am sure I heard Santa’s jingle bells as he and Rudolph delivered his presents around rural Perthshire …. presumably in #tandem!

The “old git” was up early on Christmas morning making sure that Santa had arrived – and he certainly delivered … filling the “old gal’s” stockings to overflowing … and he even dropped a few presents in the “old git’s” stockings too! (Yes he does have some …. weird or what!)

Then it was time for my dynamic duo to tear open their presents. The thing the “old git” had been secretly scheming away about was turning all my Musings about our tandeming  tour adventures across Europe during September into a beautiful hard-back coffee-table style book.

My Musings of our European trip turned into a glossy coffee table book.

I must say even I was impressed at the what the “old git” had achieved – and you know I’m not easily impressed! … and as for the “old gal” well she thought it was brilliant! There was even a wee tear in her eye as she read the “old git’s” soppy dedication at the front of the book! Awh shucks!

Each page is in glossy colour and the book is essentially a full record of each day of my blog – including all the photos – as they appeared on my on-line blog! A great permanent record of a fabulous trip! And great fun to flick through and bring back those memories of my dynamic duo’s days in my saddles in warm sunshine … oh and not forgetting those amazing picnics and wines and champagnes!

And as a special festive season treat for readers of my blog you can take a look at the complete book (in a pdf version) by clicking on the title of the book here: Le Tour de France et Holland du Tandem

I do hope you enjoy re-reading it all again, as much as me and the “old gal” did!

A bundle of tandeming presents from my good friends John and Jane.

So then it was time to open my presents, and the “old git” and the “old gal” made sure Santa delivered a bundle of presents from my dynamic crew’s tandeming friends – and fellow self-proclaimed founding members of The Nutty Tandemers Club – John and Jane who have their own Travelling in Tandem blog! They have a stable of no less than three tandems – Siggy, Henry and their original Bluebird.

The presents included a fabulous cushion cover which captures the good life my dynamic crew enjoy en France! Perfect! There was also a lovely Matilda sign – ideal for the garage door at Matildas Rest!

The garage at Matildas Rest now proudly bears my nameplate!

The “old git” said that I must have been a “very good girl” as I am reliably informed that only “good girls” get presents from Santa! And there was more in the present from John and Jane! My handlebars now bear a pretty mini vase – especially for bikes!

Tulips from Amsterdam! My new handlebar vase proudly in place!

Regular readers of my blog will remember that Team Matilda enjoyed magnificent hospitality from team Bluebird during Le Tour de New Forest back in July, which followed an equally memorable Le Tour de Perthshire the year before.

So naturally my dynamic crew had organised a present on my behalf for Team Bluebird and designed a personalised Nutty Tandemers Club 2017 calendar – with each month having a great memory from our wonderful week together touring the New Forest.

Calendar time – our European Tour on the left and Le Tour de New Forest on the right.

Now these two tours have been such a success that Team Bluebird and Team Matilda are already planning a joint Le tour de Hebridean Way in June 2018. This will be an attempt at completing the Hebridean Way  – a simple matter of 185 mile tandem across 10 islands of the Outer Hebrides. I may need some lucky white heather in my new handlebar vase for this trip!

John and Jane are riding Siggy the tandem on this trip – and it looks like the Outer Hebrides won’t ever have seen anything like the two tandems as we will both be carrying that highly sophisticated must-have accessory for tandems – eye-catching and very French La Bouclée wine carriers.

You see my dynamic crew have long been extolling the virtues of  La Bouclée to Team Bluebird – as Scottish ambassadors for the product no less! So they decided that it would make an ideal Christmas present for John and Jane – complete with a bottle of champagne specially selected and brought back from our tour of the Champagne area!

Henry the tandem sporting his new la bouclee wine carrier!

John and Jane were so impressed with the product that they immediately attached it to Henry (Siggy was too dirty it seems!) – well they did after watching the Youtube video how to do it! It’s only easy when you know how!

There were lots of other presents to open with a special one for me from the “old gal”! It was a replacement gel saddle cover for my front saddle as the “old git” had worn thru the previous one!

My new gel saddle cover – a replacement for the “old git” to sit on as Captain!

My dynamic crew even bought each other tandem t-shirts! The “old gal’s” had the wording: “It takes two to tandem” on it while the “old git’s” said: “Complete Tandemonium” They will certainly catch the eye on future trips!

My dynamic crew happily wearing their new tandeming t-shirts!

Now you know that my stoker, the “old gal”, has a bit of a quirky sense of humour … well she excelled herself with one of her presents for my captain – the “old git.” He was delighted to receive tandem cuff links … but not just any tandem cuff links – specially commissioned hand-made silver cuff links … the only ones in existence!

The “old git’s” very exclusive specially commissioned hand-made silver tandem cuff links!

Another present for the “old git” which he loved were a new pair of trainers to match the “old gal’s”! He had secretly coveted her day-glo orange trainers ever since she bought a new pair for our European tour. And when he delved into his stocking a pair was there for him!

So now my dynamic crew will not only be matching but totally unmissable! I guess he must have been a good Captain throughout the year then!

The “old git” got a pair of day-glo orange trainers to be a match with the “old gal”!

Last but not least was some wonderful soft bamboo silk socks from seriouslysillysocks – complete with bicycle patterns.

Great soft bamboo silk socks with cycling patterns.

Matildas Musings Strava

As the year comes to a close my dynamic Matildas Musings crew have had a great time during 2017 in #tandem! Our Strava app recorded every one of our 43 tandem adventures during the year – which incredibly saw us clock up approaching 1,000 miles.

The nice people at Strava have compiled a little video which pulls together all our statistics which is fun to view. Just click on any on the images below to watch – it only takes 60 seconds!

The blog is great fun to write – and I am delighted to report that over the year that according to host WordPress, my Matildas Musings blog has published 35 new posts which has attracted nearly 5,000 views from nearly 60 different countries around the globe.

The most popular countries are the UK, followed by France then the USA. But my worldwide appeal sees my blogs being red as far afield as the Philippines, Mexico, United Arab Emirates and Indonesia.

So, to everyone who has read a blog post – a huge thank you!

And thanks for all your messages of support – whether that be a comment on my blog, or on my Matildas Musings FacebookTwitter or Youtube feeds. If you want to follow me on social media hit any of the images below to access my pages, and then hit follow or subscribe.

Matildas Musings Facebook feed

Matildas Musings Twitter feed

Matildas Musings Youtube feed

Team Matildas Musings sincerely hope you continue to find the adventures of the UK’s only blogging tandem entertaining – and that it makes you smile – while finding something that you (as non-professional non-lycra-clad fun-loving fellow tandemers) can relate to!

Finally for the moment, I hope all readers of my Musings had a lovely Christmas and that Santa brought you and your tandems what you wanted! If not then the only explanation is that you were on the “naughty” list!

And if we don’t speak until after the bells – on behalf of Team Matildas Musings – let me be one of the first to wish you all the best for 2018 … and many happy tandeming miles together for you and your team!

Here’s to more adventures in 2018 for Team Matildas Musings as “it’s always better when we’re tandeming together!”

Cheers!

Here I am at Matildas Rest waiting on the weather to improve to get put on some 2018 adventures!

Reflections on Le Tour de France et Holland du tandem 2017

It’s always better when we’ve tandemed 300 miles together on Le Tour de France et Holland

Back home at Matildas Rest there has been plenty of  time for Team Tandem Ecosse to reflect on what was an incredible three legs of their two week Le Tour de France et Holland du tandem 2017 – and an amazing sense of achievement in completing the 300 mile route.

Although it was hectic, and very full-on, the “old git” and the “old gal” are already suffering from the “tandem blues” – missing their days of togetherness in the saddle while on the the quiet cycle lanes and back roads of the beautifully scenic dykes and towns of the North Holland peninsula, followed by tandeming thru the vineyards and villages of the Alsace, and Champagne.

The scenery throughout the trip was fabulously eye-catching and a real joy to experience and provided real brain food with stunning images to store in my dynamic crew’s memory banks as we  tandemed along – experiencing an incredible contrast between the serenity of the windmills and vineyards to the bustling towns along the route – while all the time being at one with nature.

Team Tandem Ecosse managed to experience their target of ticking three bucket list items – eating Edam cheese in Edam; sampling Alsace wine in the Alsatian vineyards; and quaffing champagne in Champagne. So mission accomplished!

Sampling Edam in Edam – first bucket list tick!

Sampling Alsace wine in the Alsatian vineyards – second bucket list tick!

Sampling champagne in Champagne – third bucket list tick!

Before we set out my crew always said that “the journey” was going to be the holiday – not racing from place to place. Sticking firmly to that agenda all three of us on Team Tandem Ecosse enjoyed long warm sunny days on the road in both Holland and France – giving a fantastic in-depth experience of the local geography and the friendly people along our route.

As always our journey was so much more satisfying for my dynamic duo being self-propelled at the slower pace of a tandem – rather than travelling by car. Every view of a windmill, vineyard or eye-catching village lasted so much longer – as did the amazing picnics and many wine and champagne tastings en route!

Amazing picnics are de rigueur for my dynamic crew!

My dynamic crew more than fulfilled the remit on their t-shirts!

I think it is also fair to say that Team Tandem Ecosse more than fulfilled their remit on their Euro Tour 2017 t-shirts – which had them on a tandem quest to find the best wines and champagnes en route!

Travelling by the relatively fragile mode of transport that a tandem is certainly exposed us not only to the warm sunshine – and on one day fairly heavy rain – but to the physically demanding exertions of progressing from place to place … especially in the mountains of the Champagne region!

It also brought us into close interaction with lots of local people, many of whom tooted their support and issued friendly “bonjours” as they passed Team Tandem Ecosse – unmissable in their multi-lingual day-glo cycling shirts.  And of course the many other cyclists we met along the way – with whom we shared a special bond. Amazingly we did not see any other tandems along our route.

But perhaps the most important thing is that my dynamic duo of the “old gal” and the “old git” did the trip as a real team – laughing and smiling all the way even when frustration levels increased as energy levels fell! And that was the case even when at confusing signposts my crew had to pedal back to the previous junction to take the “correct” turning; or over the course of many meaningful “discussions” as to which direction to take!

Confusing signposts! 12km to Dambach-la-ville to the left and 13 km to the right!

After all my dynamic duo firmly believe in their twin mottos of: “It’s the Smiles that count, not the miles!” and “Its always better when we are tandeming together!”

And this “old lady” is proud to say that my dynamic crew resolutely supported each other every pedal and every kilometre of the way – and emerged from the experience even more together, and in love!

And I am even more delighted to say – as are the “old git” and the old gal” – that this classic tandem managed to get through the two weeks without a squeak … and even managed to avoid the dreaded p-word! And honours too for Matilda Transport which clocked up a not insubstantial 1850 miles on the Euro Tandem Tour 2017.

So after some 300 miles and 35 hours in the saddle over 10 days all three of us on Team Tandem Ecosse experienced another fabulous adventure – and we wouldn’t have missed it for the world!

Euro Tandem Tour 2017 was another unmissable adventure!

In conclusion our brief overviews and thoughts on each of the three legs of Le Tour de France et Holland du tandem 2017:

Euro tour 1st leg – tandeming along the dykes and thru the windmills of north Holland

Team Tandem Ecosse really enjoyed their first venture into Holland with a three-day taster tour of the North Holland peninsula. Everyone said my dynamic crew would love Holland for at least two reasons – its impressive cycling infrastructure – and because it was so flat!  Well they were correct on both counts! My dynamic crew could have tandemed all day on the amazing cycle paths. Our route took us in a triangle from Amsterdam out along the dykes to Marken and Volendam then thru Edam before turning inland to Alkmaar and back to Amsterdam. The highlights were seeing the fabulous picture postcard windmill area, and tandeming thru the centre of the red light district in Amsterdam with its pretty canals! We covered around 100 miles and despite the minor mishap of getting lost – which to be fair was probably the fault of my dynamic crew! – I am told we will certainly be back!

One of my crews favourite shots as it sums up the Holland experience!

The pretty canals and bridges offered a sharp contrast to Amsterdam’s Red Light District.

Here is a video montage of the images form the Holland leg set to music – watch by clicking here:

Euro Tour 2nd leg – tandeming the vineyards and canals of l’Alsace à velo

Team Tandem Ecosse had some amazing sights and experiences on their four-day 125 mile tandem trip in the Alsace – pedalling thru the scenic vineyards and wine towns on ‘Alsace à vélo before heading along the fantastic canals on EuroVelo 15. Despite hitting the challenging hills of the Vosges – let’s just say the downhill stretches were great! – it was a spectacular trip made all the better for my dynamic crew by the many wine and cremant tastings along the way! Our self-guided Tour d’Alsace du Tandem covered 125 sun kissed miles in a loop starting in Strasbourg, France with overnight stops to enjoy gourmet meals and luxurious chambre d’hôtes in Obernai, Beblenheim, and Colmar before returning to Strasbourg. The highlights were filling my bidons direct from a vat of newly made wine, and tandeming along the flat canal paths! It seems canals could be the way forward for future tours!

Filling my bidons with nouveau vin direct from the vat!

This sums up the blissful Alsace for Team Tandem Ecosse.

Here is a video montage of the images form the Alsace leg set to music – watch by clicking here:

Euro Tour 3rd leg – tandeming (and pushing) up the Montagne de Reims vineyards to drink champagne en Champagne!

Team Tandem Ecosse saw some amazing sights and enjoyed fabulous experiences on their challenging 75 mile three-day tandeming trip in the heart of the Champagne region, thru the wonderfully scenic vineyards and villages of Montagne de Reims Regional Natural Park! Yes the word montagne means mountains … and my dynamic crew faced no less than four category 4 climbs (or walks!) en route in their quest to sample the best champagnes! It would be fair to say that we definitely underestimated the terrain which resulted in my crew overstretching their cycling ability in places. But again there are some fantastic memories in the memory bank and the “old git” and “old gal” enjoyed many tastings of the different varieties of champagne along the way – purely for research purposes, of course! Our self-guided tour started in Reims and taking in a loop around Epernay – the champagne capital. The highlights were visiting the wonderful hilltop village of Hautvillers, which is the cradle of champagne making, and a crazy ride along L’Avenue de Champagne – one of the most expensive streets in the world kitted out in full King and Queen of the Mountain gear! Would my dynamic crew return? – yes, definitely – but probably taking in the views of the champagne vineyards from the luxury of a hot air balloon … in tandem, of course!

Hautvillers – said to be the cradle of champagne – was a charming village.

Not many better places to be than the headquarters of Moet & Chandon on the Avenue du Champagne!

Here is a video montage of the images form the Champagne leg set to music – watch by clicking here:

Le Tour de France et Holland du tandem 2017 certainly was a Bon Voyage! Cheers!

Time to celebrate in style – with champagne obv! Over 300 miles and over 300 smiles along the way!

Euro Tour 3rd leg – tandeming (and pushing) up the Montagne de Reims vineyards to drink champagne en Champagne!

This sums up the hilly (mountainous!) tandem tour of Champagne for Team Tandem Ecosse.

After Team Tandem Ecosse’s fantastic tour of the Alsace – and ticking off the bucket list item of sampling Alsatian wine where it was made, in the vineyards of the Alsace! – it was time for another bucket list item … this time the task was to quaff champagne in Champagne! So there was a non cycling day on the itinerary for the three of us to reposition from Strasbourg to Reims to begin the third and final leg of our two week Le Tour de France et Holland du tandem 2017.

So as our tour t-shirts said – the “old git” and the “old gal” were determined in their quest for le vin et champagne! A three hour drive along the fabulous French toll roads flew past and soon Matilda Transport was pulling up at Le Clos des Roys, our chambres d’hote in Reims – marking the start point for a three day tour of the vineyards of Champagne.

And what a fantastic location – the beautiful old fabric trading town house was located in the heart of the historic district, just 30 metres from the forecourt of the city’s magnificent Cathedral. We received a warm welcome from hosts Marie Ann and Gerard and shown to our luxurious room.

With both me and our car parked safely in an internal courtyard, my dynamic crew didn’t waste any time in exploring their new base, so headed out for dinner and their first taste of champagne! Our hosts had made a booking at the highly recommended Brasserie de Boulingrin – an art deco sea food restaurant dating from 1925 which we later discovered is an institution in Reims.

First ever champagne in Champagne – accompanied by a fisherman’s basket! oh if you insist!

The menu was mouthwatering! Pop went the first of many champagne corks to be popped over the next few days and “the old git” and the “old gal” toasted what they knew would be an epic trip with their first ever taste of champagne in Champagne! It really was one of those special moments to savour and remember – even more special as it was accompanied by a fisherman’s basket of gorgeous seafood including oysters! OOh la la!

All in all, a promising start to Le Tour de Champagne!

Day 1  Climbing and climbing from Reims to fab champagne vineyards at Verzenay and Bouzy as phone died at epic moment!

Smiles at the lighthouse in the middle of the champagne vineyards!

An early alarm and after another wonderful communal petit dejeuner, it was time for my dynamic crew to get me kitted up to depart on our 35 mile adventure on Le Route de Champagne. The schedule being to tandem from Reims to the other main town in the region called Epernay – which lays claim to be the champagne capital. Team Tandem Ecosse are staying there for two nights – with a short ride on the day in between – before heading back to Reims on day three.

With three days tandem touring – and given that Team Tandem Ecosse was going completely self sustained and self-guided with no luggage transfer as they had enjoyed in previous years – my four panniers were again packed full to the brim, adding substantially to my weight!

Heading off from our stylish Le Clos des Roys chambres d’hotes in Reims.

In bright sunshine and in high spirits all three of us pedalled off from our stylish base and headed towards Epernay in our quest to find out lots more about champagne. Check out the details of our Day 1 route by clicking on the Strava map below.

The start was idyllic as we tandemed out along the cycle path along the banks of the Canal de l’Aisne à la Marne out towards the town of Sillery and then head towards the first of the villages with names which resonate, Mailly-Champagne.

It was at this stage that the realisation dawned on my dynamic crew that the champagne vineyards are hilly. Maybe the “old git” and “old gal” should have realised when the route description said: “You will be touring through the villages of the Montagne de Reims!” For some reason the word montagne hadn’t hit home … but let’s say it did as we left Sillery behind and started to climb … and climb!

Climbing (and climbing) in the Champagne vineyards towards the famous windmill.

My dynamic crew – who were a bit less than dynamic with the effort required on the hills – have subsequently realised (with a bit of basic research) that the best grapes for champagne require long roots to give them the best flavour – and long roots means they grow on slopes on the hillside! Doh!

Did someone mention hills? The view back to the canal showing the sudden elevation!

The views across the vineyards were stunning however. A quick glance at the guidebook for the area there are more than 15,000 wine growers in the designated Champagne area, 5,000 small champagne houses and over 100 well-known houses. We pedalled thru a welcome flat part at Mailly-Champagne – one of the over 300 picturesque villages which make their living from the fizz and were amazed to see winegrower’s houses at every turn … all offering their own name champagne. All fabulously scenic!

The amazing high axled tractors which mechanically pick the champagne grapes.

Leaving the village and back into climbing mode, my dynamic crew were fortunate enough to see one of the eye-catching high axled tractors which amazingly pick the grapes mechanically. It is a sight to be seen and obviously cuts out a lot of back breaking work!

Our target – and hopefully where the mountains would plateau – was firstly a landmark windmill and then a lighthouse at Verzenay. I got to feel a real VIP by posing at the gates of the windmill which is owned by the world-famous GH Mumm. The windmill – officially known as Le Moulin de Verzenay  is unfortunately not open to the public – but it is used by the company as a corporate reception area. The next day we discovered that Olympic sprint champion Usain Bolt had flown in by helicopter in his role as brand ambassador. Obviously he wasn’t fit enough to cycle up the hills to get there either!

Posing at the gates to the windmill owned by the Mumm champagne house.

A final climb took us over the next ridge to the village of Verzenay and a welcome stop at Le Phare de Verzenay – a lighthouse which incongruously sits overlooking the vineyards. It was built in 1909 by Joseph Goulet to promote his brand of champagne – shining its light all over the vines. It turned into a bit of a folly but now combines a role as a promotional area for champagne tasting and museum.

Relief for the “old gal” when finally we reached the plateau at Le Phare de Verzenay.

Le phare offers the chance to sample up to 50 different varieties of  champagne – which was just what my dynamic crew needed for recovery after their exertions. Well they sampled a glass each – not 50! And they were able to chill and relax and enjoy their tasting in a fabulous sun-kissed garden area overlooking the vineyards under the lighthouse.

Le phare offered a perfect tasting area in a garden overlooking the vineyards! Cheers!

The “old gal” reflecting on those energy sapping hills!

After that reviving refreshment – my crew climbed the 120 odd stairs to the viewing platform of le phare to get a magnificent vista. The “old gal” recorded a short video to show it is hilly and the view from the top of the lighthouse over the champagne vineyards – which you can view by clicking here:

Before leaving the lighthouse the “old git” purchased a  bottle of champagne using his new found knowledge of the different types of the fizz. It’s not just any old champagne you know! Oh no! There are three different grape varieties used in champagne – white Chardonnay grapes and the red Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.

The “old git” selected a bottle of blanc de blancs – which is  made entirely from the white Chardonnay  grapes. The tasting notes said: “With its elegant and lithe style this is the Champagne of choice among serious oenophiles.” After googling oenophile and discovering it meant wine connoisseur – he wholeheartedly agreed!

On leaving the lighthouse we were approached by a photographer, Karine Lhémon. who wanted to take some pictures of me and my crew! Karine introduced herself as being the official photographer for the Office de Tourisme du Grand Reims and was looking to take some shots of visitors to the area for their publicity purposes.  Obviously the “old git” was hesitant and had to be persuaded – jokingly saying: “Only if you twist our arm and give us champagne!”

Pose for publicity shots? Only if twist our arm and give us champagne!

My dynamic crew even had to sign an official form giving permission for the tourist agency to use the photos in their marketing. Given that the “old git” works in communications, he was suggesting some ideas for shots – and cheekily took a photo of Karine taking a photo of Team Tandem Ecosse!

Taking a photo of the photographer from Reims Tourisme snapping us!

The photographer wanted me involved in the photos too!

All the photos had le phare in them and after taking some of my dynamic crew, the photographer wanted to get me involved in the photo shoot as well! Well after all as a classic tandem, I am the star of the show! It was all good fun – and produced lots of laughs. After Karine promised to email some of the pictures, we bid farewell with her determined to capture us tandeming off for posterity!

“3-2-1-Go” Our start-up routine captured for posterity!

My crew immediately hit another hill but had to battle on to save face as they were still being filmed! One more short climb at Mount Sinia marked the peak – before the road through the vineyards started to go steeply downhill. It was a good long stretch so we were able to pick up speed rapidly.

Unfortunately it was at this very inopportune moment that the “old git’s” phone decided it would have a battery fail – but this wasn’t discovered till a few miles further on. Therefore Strava didn’t record the epic moment when my crew hit a new top speed – as recorded by the good old-fashioned handlebar speedometer – of 38.9 mph. Weeeeeh! It was our Chris Froome moment!

Full of high speed adrenalin my dynamic crew soon arrived at the village of Bouzy, famous for its red wine as well as champagne! Heaven for the “old gal” who has a fondness for both!

Tasting Bouzy Rouge – the wine of Kings – at the champagne house in the well-named Bouzy!

Bouzy is a Grand Cru village on the south side of the Montagne de Reims and we found the perfect spot for a tasting at the combined home of Paul Clouet and Bonnair champagne. To celebrate our new record high speed, naturally my crew had to sample both types! In addition the champagne house is famous for its Bouzy Rouge. This is known as the ‘Wine of Kings’ as it historically was served at the Court during the grand banquets of the coronations. The red wine is made exclusively from Pinot Noir grapes from the village. The “old gal” deemed it as living up to its regal reputation! A bottle was bought for the Christmas table and safely stored in my panniers!

After sampling the best of Bouzy – and feeling a teensy bit bouzy themselves! – my crew decided that an ice cold soft drink was required to fuel them for the final hour pedal to our overnight stop in Epernay. Happily for the “old gal” and the “old git” it was downhill to Tour-sur-Marne and on to the cycle path running alongside the Canal latéral à la Marne which took us direct into the city.

Amazingly just as we were pouring over a street map of Epernay, on the edge of the world-famous Avenue de Champagne, a car stopped and asked if we were looking for Les Epecuriens chambres d’hotes. I think the tandem was a bit of a give away – but it was our host Laure and my crew eagerly pedalled after her car to the front door.

I was parked up safely in a very colourful indoor courtyard while my crew were shown to their room – the Noble Equestrian Suite. More about the amazing chambres d’hotes later, but suffice to say for the moment that Laure had thought of everything and there were luxurious touches everywhere.

Glad to see standards being maintained at Les Epicuriens!

The “old git” was particularly impressed with a sign which said it was forbidden to drink champagne from a plastic glass! So glad to see standards being maintained! He knew my crew were in the hands of an expert!

Having arrived fairly late my crew enjoyed a welcome glass of fizz from Laure before showers and heading to dinner at the recommended Au Petit Fourneau restaurant for dinner where the speciality was les patates – effectively baked potatoes! But these were rather special – cut into slices and smothered in an amazing array of toppings. The “old git” had the Bretonne with prawns and emmental cheese sauce; while the “old gal” indulged in the Fromages one with reblechon, emmental, blue cheese and goats cheese. Oh and there was a bottle of champagne – just to sample the local produce of course! They told me it was rather yum!

Not surprisingly after a long day on the slopes of the vineyards, sleep wasn’t far away! So a somewhat challenging but still sensational first day of the Champagne leg of Le Tour de France et Holland du tandem covering an actual total of 35 miles (with only 26 of them recorded on Strava!) As always the route is brought to life in our Relive 3D video – so take a look below.

Day 2 – KoM climb to Hautvillers – home of Dom Perignon – and whizz back down to tandem along L’Avenue de Champagne in style!

Not many better places to be than the headquarters of Moet & Chandon on L’Avenue de Champagne!

My dynamic crew wakened after a deep recovery sleep to find there had been unexpected heavy rain and thunder overnight! Tell me about it! I was soaked thru as the lovely internal courtyard was open to the elements! All my bits were sopping – including my front panniers which had not been removed!

Heavy rain overnight and into Saturday morning left me a bit wet in my colourful courtyard!

After a hearty breakfast – including freshly baked bread – my dynamic crew had to reorganise the day as rain stopped play! The original plan was to leave early for a short loop of the scenic villages around Epernay followed by a more relaxing afternoon. A quick look at the weather forecast said heavy rain all morning – suddenly stopping around lunchtime turning to warm bright sunny conditions. So the schedule was turned back to front – as were my panniers in an attempt to dry them out! As for me the “old gal” gave me a good rub down with a towel! She is good that way!

Borrowing big umbrellas, my dynamic crew ventured out to the local food market and had a wonderful morning ooohing and aaahing at all the gorgeous fresh produce on display. The “old gal” was in her element and quickly secured some provisions for today’s picnic – which was going to be an indoor picnic! Funny how there is always one day the picnic has to be inside on these trips!

There’s always one! Each of our tours seems to have one indoor picnic!

Amazingly, bang on cue as per the local forecast, the rain clouds rapidly cleared just after lunch and the sun came out to play. So, with more hills on the route, my crew donned their King (and Queen) of the Mountain jerseys and got me kitted up before heading off on today’s loop.

Check out the details of our Day 2 route by clicking on the Strava map below.

With the sun on our backs it was a real joy to be back out on the cycle paths for Team Tandem Ecosse. We weaved our way thru the city heading out along a long flat stretch towards Cumieres before heading uphill to our destination of the pretty village of Hautvillers. My crew had been warned that the climb would get their hearts racing! That was a bit of an understatement!

Well the climb turned out to have two Tour de France category 4-rated climbs (or in our case walks!) – which means it was steep! Very steep! As the “old git” and “old gal” struggled for breath they were at least able to tick off some of the world’s most famous champagne houses as the vineyards were all clearly labelled and were like a who’s who of champagnes.

It was quite a climb – but worth it as like a who’s who of champagnes!

It was so steep that even when pushing the “old git” thought my brakes were on! But the panoramic views overlooking Epernay and the Marne river were stunning – with champagne vineyards stretching before us as far as our eyes could see. Truly beautiful!

The trip to magical Hautvillers involved two category 4 climbs! Just a bit steep!

Finally we crawled (almost literally!”) into the village of Hautvillers – causing quite a stir among the tourists who had arrived by car and coach! Can’t think why! A couple of people even asked if they could take pictures of “le doublé vélo” – maybe they thought we were mad arriving by bike!

Hautvillers – said to be the cradle of champagne – was a charming village.

The charming champagne producing village is recognised as the cradle of champagne as it was here in the ancient Benedictine abbey at Hautvillers that the monk Dom Pérignon discovered the champagne wine-making process in the 18th century.

My crew also discovered (via good tandeming friends Jane and John) that Hautvillers is twinned with the town of Beaulieu which we visited in our Tour de New Forest back in July.

After recovering their breath my crew sought out the sanctuary of the highly recommended Le Cave et Jardin antique shop. It really is a veritable Aladdin’s cave of all things related to champagne! While enjoying a fascinating browse, the owners offer the chance to visitors to indulge by buying a glass of fine local product – which naturally my crew thought would have been rude to refuse!

A visit to the fascinating Entre Cave et Jardin antiques shop is a must at Hautvillers.

Le Cave et Jardin offers a chance to enjoy a glass of fine champagne while browsing antiques.

My dynamic crew sat in the jardin (garden) part while quaffing their bubbly – establishing some kind of equilibrium after their mountain pedalling exertions! They even had a toast to Dom Pérignon before purchasing a Moet Chandom champagne glass set for two as a momento!

We then tandemed along the cobbled streets to find the Saint-Sindulphe abbey church – which houses Dom Pérignon’s black marble tombstone.

Dom Perignon, the monk who invented champagne, is buried here.

At every turn in the village there are links to Dom Pérignon – including a photo opportunity to turn yourself into the champagne inventing monk – which the “old git” obviously couldn’t resist!

The “old git” posing as Dom Perignon in the village!

Leaving the village my dynamic crew enjoyed a fab whizz back downhill – retracing our pedals to the city with plenty of time to explore the ‘Champs Elysees of Epernay’ –  the famous L’Avenue de Champagne which hosts the glitzy headquarters of the main champagne houses.

It offered a fascinating insight into the luxury world of champagne – with the whole avenue simply oozing money and opulence. An interesting fact is that the 19th century buildings sit above some 110 kms of underground cellars, built into the limestone, used for storing the champagne at temperatures of around 10 C.

Moet & Chandon is the most famous champagne firm and honours its links to Dom Pérignon with an impressive statue at the entrance to its headquarters. Each of the champagne houses were trying to outdo each other with eye catching displays – which offered a real spectacle.

The “old gal” at the Dom Perignon statue at the Moet & Chandon headquarters in Epernay.

The Boizel champagne house offered a good photo opportunity on L’Avenue de Champagne.

Things you never thought you’d ever do! My dynamic crew always had drinking champagne in Champagne on their bucket list! But how many people can say they have tandemed down the glitzy L’Avenue de Champagne in Epernay – the capital of Champagne ?!

Well we did and the “old gal” recorded some video footage for posterity which you can watch here:

It would need to be said that a tandem cycling down the L’Avenue de Champagne with a crew decked out in polka dot cycling jerseys was always going to attract quite a bit of inquisitive attention – and after we had finished we even received a round of applause! After all that fun and frivolity my dynamic crew headed back to the sanctuary of Les Epecuriens chambres d’hotes.

My crew were looking forward to the evening as they had booked a private steam room session in the property’s hamman on their return, and later, a private champagne dinner a deux – home cooked by our host Laure – served in our suite! Told you it was classy!

I was parked back in the internal courtyard, and this time our hosts covered me with a huge plastic sheet – just in case the rain returned. The “old git” and “old gal” thoroughly enjoyed relaxing in the heat of the steam room – ideal to help them get over the tail end of their heavy colds.

Our fabulous dinner in our suite at Les Epicuriens home cooked by our host Laure.

The dinner which followed was a culinary delight, as it turns out one of Laure’s main interests is cooking – and has even produced her own cookbook. My crew eagerly ate up their four course dinner – which was naturally accompanied by a fine bottle of champagne from a nearby vineyard.

So two epic category 4 climbs today on another brilliant second  day of the Champagne leg of Le Tour de France et Holland du tandem covering just 8 miles – with the route brought to life in our Relive 3D video – so take a look below.

Day 3 – Grand finale Euro tour 2017 up mountains to Reims from Epernay as we clocked up 300 miles in 10 days

The scenic reward for the climb of tree tunnels in the Parc Naturel de la Montagne de Reims.

This was the final ride of our brilliant two week Le Tour de France et Holland du tandem 2017 and the schedule today had us tandeming back to Reims from Epernay – a distance of just over 30 miles. That’ll be easy at this stage in the tour then for my dynamic crew who were now finely tuned athletes! Let’s just say it didn’t turn out that way! …

My dynamic crew were reluctant to leave the luxury of Les Epicuriens chambres d’hotes.

After another gorgeous and tasty petit dejeuner at Les Epecuriens chambres d’hotes Team Tandem Ecosse were a bit reluctant to leave their luxurious surroundings. We sadly took our leave from the wonderfully hospitable Laure and headed thru Epernay for the last time heading out into the country towards the ancient town of Ay.

Check out the details of our Day 3 route by clicking on the Strava map below.

The “old git” and the “old gal” had both looked at the maps and knew it was hilly so were suitably kitted out in their King and Queen of the Mountain jerseys! But they didn’t realise the emphasis today would be on the word mountains! Mind you, the fact that one of the villages very near our route was called Rilly la Montagne should have been a bit of a clue!

The first few miles were great and we soon picked up speed along the flat roads thru the vineyards. This was giving us a false sense of security … but then it happened! My crew hit the Montagne de Reims like a brick wall! A very high brick wall at that!

Team Tandem Ecosse huffed and puffed their way up the first climb (slowly) before resorting to taking me for a walk on the second – which was the first of another two category 4-rated climbs of the day! Since I was fully laden the “old git” had to use significant effort to push me up what seemed like an almost vertical incline, while the “old gal” – who suffers from asthma and therefore finds hills difficult at the best of times – puffed along behind!

Ab fab! We ticked off names of many champagnes including Bolly!

The only break my dynamic crew (who were feeling somewhat less than dynamic at this stage) had from the relentless climbing was ticking off more names of the major champagne brands, including Bollinger and Mercier. Let’s just say that my crew were now acutely aware that the best champagnes need the best grapes and they grow on steep slopes!

Mercier was next to be ticked off on the climb to Germaine.

A local guide book informed my crew that the term “mountain” is justified for the Montage de Reims by the brutality of the change of relief between the plain at 80 meters above sea level and the slopes where the vines produce the champagne some 200  metres higher. That made them feel so much better … not!

To be honest, we overstretched our ability on this route – and on the next big climb, which was a category 4 between Germaine and Ville-en-Selve it became less than fun for the first time on this trip. With my heavy panniers weighing me down, it was little wonder that the “old git” kept looking to see if my brakes were locked on as he slowly pushed up to the summit. This was by far the toughest route we have ever tackled! … Or ever want to tackle!

The Route de Champagnes offered some fascinating glimpses of past and present.

After taking an energy sapping 2 hours 45 minutes to travel 14 miles, we finally reached the plateau just  after Ville-en-Selve- a fantastic forest area which is part of the Park Naturel Regional de La Montagne de Reims. This gave my crew a bit of respite. The smiles returned as they enjoyed some scenic tree tunnels and the beauty of the leaves changing colours.

The climb was worth it to see the colours change at Ville-en-Selve.

The beautiful scenery helped restore spirits as did the sight of the first downhill stretch for some time which saw my dynamic crew whizz down into the village of Ludes. It was Sunday and our experience tells us everywhere is closed – but we came across a patisserie which was open. Coffee and yummy apricot tarts restored energy levels for the “old gal” and “old git”

The “old gal” at the picturesque Mairie (town hall) in Ludes.

After a much required stop to restore equilibrium after my crew’s mountain climbing exploits, we headed further downhill and saw a signpost for Chigny-les-Roses famous for its rose champagne – made from the Pinot Meunier grapes. Just at the entrance to the town is an old barrel used in the champagne process – which provided a fun photo stop!

The “old gal” was happy to see the town of Chigny-les-Roses famous for its rose fizz!

The “old gal” was happy to see the Canal de l’Aisne à la Marne ahead of us and we pedalled off – enjoying some welcome freewheeling to reach the canal cycle path at Sillery.

The Sillery French Military Cemetry contains graves of over 11,000 soldiers killed in the first World War.

Just before reaching the canal my crew stopped at the impressive Sillery French Military Cemetry which contains graves of over 11,000 soldiers killed in the first World War during the battles of Champagne.

Final picnic of le tour! Sadly all good things have to come to an end! Last one on canal at Sillery.

After paying our respects at the war cemetery, my dynamic crew found a nice seat by the canal for our last picnic of this year’s Euro Tour du Tandem. By now readers of my blog will know that the picnic is one of the key points of the day for the “old git” and “old gal” and this one was no exception.

After a late picnic lunch we tandemed along the canal path – again in awe at the fabulous surface and how everyone respects the cycling culture. This for Team Tandem Ecosse is what tandeming is about! My crew were enjoying themselves so much they deliberately pedalled on past the turn off into Reims in order to clock up 75 miles on the Champagne leg – to break the 300 mile total for the 10 days cycling on the three legs of Le Tour de France et Holland du tandem 2017.

The Cathedral Notre-Dame in Reims marked the end point.

The magnificent frontage of the Cathedral Notre-Dame in Reims was the official end point of our tour – and the “old gal” purchased a bottle of champagne in one of the gift shops in the square to allow my dynamic crew to celebrate when we we arrived back at Le Clos des Roys, our chambres d’hote.

Job done! Celebrating arriving at Les Clos des Roys after 75 gruelling miles in Champagne.

It’s always better when we’ve tandemed over 300 miles together on Le Tour de France et Holland

After I was secure in the inner courtyard, it was time for my dynamic crew to enjoy some end of tour celebrations! And how do you celebrate when in Champagne! Yes in the only way that is possible here – by drinking champagne in Champagne!

Time to celebrate in style – with champagne obv! Over 300 miles and over 300 smiles along the way!

… even if it was just a tad knackering on some of the uphill stretches! Time for relaxation!

As my crew enjoyed the feeling that their legs wouldn’t have to pedal up any more hills, they were buoyed when the “old git” checked Strava on his phone and discovered that they had achieved their highest every placings in the league tables! Amazingly Team Matildas Musings were in third place in the Tandem Club UK table for tandemers in Britain having clocked 154.2 miles over the last seven days; and 14th in the league table for tandmers around the world!

.. and 14th in world tandemers in last 7 days!

Delighted at 3rd place in UK tandemers over last week.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My crew had a most welcome shower and a bit of relaxation before heading out for a celebration end of tour dinner. Our hosts Marie Ann and Gerard came up trumps with a wonderful recommendation – La Paix which is a bustling brasserie known for its fish and seafood specialties. It was a perfect spot for a gala meal and my crew decided to splash out on the menu gourmand which saw them enjoy six fabulous oysters as a starter followed by a sensational meal – and all washed down with a perfectly chilled dry local Rieseling. Quite simply a sensational way to finish!

So although we hit the Montange de Reims like a brick wall – overall it was still another unmissable ride on the final day of the Champagne leg of Le Tour de France et Holland du tandem covering 30.7 miles, with the route brought to life in our Relive 3D video – so take a look below.

As a quick overview of the third and final leg of our Euro Tandem Tour 2017, Team Tandem Ecosse again saw some amazing sights and enjoyed fabulous experiences on their cycling trip in the heart of the Champagne region. The total distance covered over the three days was just 75 miles – but it felt most of these were up hills and mountains. We definitely underestimated the terrain which resulted in my crew overstretching their cycling ability in places. But again there are some fantastic memories in the memory bank and the “old git” and “old gal” have ticked off that bucket list item of quaffing champagne in Champagne! The overall conclusion from my dynamic crew is that they wouldn’t have missed it for the world! Would they return – yes, definitely – but probably taking in the views of the vineyards from the luxury of a hot air balloon!

There will be a blog reflecting on Le Tour de France et Holland du tandem 2017 overall. For now our European tandem adventures were over for another year but before the three hour drive to the Eurotunnel service back to the UK, there was time for my crew to sample some of the sights of Reims and pick up a few supplies and presents.

The magnificent 13C stained glass rose window in Reims cathedral.

We paid a visit to the magnificent Gothic Cathedral Notre-Dame, which is where French Kings were traditionally crowned.  More than 2,300 statues decorate the exterior and one of the key highlights is the 13th Century stained glass rose window. There is also a plaque marking the spot where Clovis, the king of the Franks, was baptised by the Bishop of Reims.

Clovis, King of the Franks, was baptised in the cathedral.

According to legend a dove brought a phial containing holy oil, which was used to anoint Clovis. It was then used for the coronation of every King of France from the 11th Century to 1825 – the most famous being King Charles V11 in 1429 at the height of the Hundred Years War in the presence of Joan of Arc. A real history lesson then for my dynamic crew.

The roll call of French kings who were crowned at Reims cathedral.

After being steeped in history my crew walked around the market and bought a few presents – while noting the slightly alarming high level security presence of armed police even for a local market, which underlined the high state of alert in France due to recent terrorist atrocities.

Then it was time for the “old git” and the “old gal” to have fun stocking up on supplies of champagne to take back home! My crew carefully selected their bottles which marked key spots on our Tour de Champagne from the more than 700 different varieties on offer at Le Cave des Sacres – a fabulous champagne cellar situated in the shadow of the cathedral. Purchases made, the “old git” then needed to borrow a trolley to get the boxes back to Matilda Transport!

The “old git” needed a trolley to get champagne supplies to the car!

Time for a quick late lunch burger before Team Tandem Ecosse had to head to Calais for our Eurotunnel connection back to the UK and then an overnight drive back to Matildas Rest.

A fitting setting for the final toast of champagne in Champagne!

The courtyard of the cathedral provided a fitting setting for my dynamic crew for their final toast of champagne in Champagne – bringing to an end an epic Le Tour de France et Holland du tandem 2017.

These tours are what memories are made of! Cheers!

Euro Tour 2nd leg – tandeming the vineyards of l’Alsace à vélo

This sums up the blissful tandem tour of Alsace for Team Tandem Ecosse.

After Holland there was a day on the itinerary for Team Tandem Ecosse to reposition into France to begin the second leg of our two week Le Tour de France et Holland du tandem 2017. On paper it seemed a straightforward 400 mile drive from Amsterdam to Strasbourg.

But as you know things rarely work out according to schedule for my dynamic crew and while enjoying beautiful scenery we got very badly lost in Luxembourg when the main motorway was closed for roadworks. The “old gal” – who was driving – said it was confusing road signs but we lost 2 hours trying to find a way out of the diversion route which saw us going round the same loop three times!

Eventually we arrived somewhat late and frazzled to be calmed by our palatial surroundings at La Celistine, our chambres d’hote in Strasbourg – the start point for a four day tour of the vineyards and canals of the Alsace to allow my dynamic crew to tandem thru the vineyards and enjoy sampling Alsace wine in the Alsace! My crew quickly regained their equilibrium with a fabulous traditional Alsatian dinner at a brilliant old style restaurant called Au Cruchon – and had their first taste of the local Riesling!

The “old gal” selected this leg after the success of our previous vineyard tours in Burgundy, Bordeaux and the Loire Valley. The route selected was a loop of around 120 miles following the l’Alsace à vélo and Veloroute du Vignobles d’Alsace with overnight stops in Obernai, Beblenheim, and Colmar  and back to Strasbourg.

With four days tandem touring – and given that Team Tandem Ecosse was going completely self sustained and self-guided with no luggage transfer as they had enjoyed in previous years – my four panniers were packed full and my overall weight had increased substantially.

Day 1 – Canals, filling bidons with wine, private organ recital and some big hills on l’Alsace à vélo

The Veloroute du Vignobles d’Alsace offered truly spectacular scenery.

After getting up early and a very enjoyable communal petit dejeuner provided by Claude and Fabienne our hosts at La Celistine, it was time for my dynamic crew to get me out of Matilda Transport and kitted up to depart on our adventure on the l’Alsace à vélo. In bright sunshine, all three of us on Team Tandem Ecosse were full of high spirits about the day ahead that promised canal path cycling before joining the ‘route des vins’ and heading into the vineyards.

Check out the details of our Day 1 route by clicking on the Strava map below.

Strasbourg boasts that it is France’s most cycling-friendly city and it was certainly a joy to pedal out of the city on smooth dedicated cycle paths with clear cycle signposting in warm sunshine. We were heading along the banks of the Canal de la Bruche towards the old town of Molsheim – part of the impressive l’Alsace à vélo network.

The cycle path hugged the picturesque canal all the way and took us past numerous pretty villages. It was a Sunday and it was great to see the cycle path so busy with bikes, walkers and joggers. Plenty of room for everyone as all kept to the discipline of keeping to their side of the path.

It was a joy to ride the beautiful Canal de la Bruche out of Strasbourg.

Most of the bridges were bedecked in flowers which made a colourful sight as we pedalled on. In next to no time we were in the outskirts of Molsheim and luckily found a patisserie and cafe that was open as most places seemed shut because it was Sunday, including the supermarkets, which meant my crew had been unable to stock up on picnic supplies.

As a result the cafe was a magnet for all cyclists on the route, and it would need to be said that a tandem with my dynamic crew kitted out in their new day-glo yellow multi-lingual t-shirts – featuring the slogan ‘tandem quest for wine and champagne’ – certainly attracted attention!

Fortified by some tasty local delicacies – and lulled into a false sense of security by the distance covered in a short time on the easy canal tandeming – my crew decided to spend some time in Molsheim, which used to be the religious capital of Alsace. The town offered our first experience of the local historic architecture – with most towns having an entrance arch.

Me and the “old gal” at one of the three scenic town arches in Molsheim.

The “old git” had done his research and discovered that there was a Bugatti museum in the town where the Bugatti Foundation displays mementoes of the family and a few of the classic cars that were built here between the two world wars.

An ideal place for a classic tandem – the Bugatti museum in Molsheim!

Molsheim is the home of the Bugatti family, the birthplace of the brand and the modern headquarters of the company. The town is where Bugatti’s long history of success began in 1909 when it started making cars that caused an absolute sensation.

The “old gal” admiring the classic cars in the Bugatti museum.

My dynamic crew admiring the Bugatti cars which caused a sensation in the early 1900s.

According to the museum: “This was where the brand values of art, form and technology were born; values which endure to this day. Ettore Bugatti was a true gentleman of his day, cultivating personal relationships with many of his customers. Today, we are proud to be continuing the Bugatti tradition in the place where it began, here in Molsheim – just as its founder would have wanted.”

The “old gal” pictured beside founder Ettore Bugatti.

After leaving the museum the next stop was the imposing Gothic style Eglise des Jesuites which dates from 1615. The church once belonged to the famous Jesuit university, which was transferred to Strasbourg in 1702. It was also part of the Carthusian monestry, the only one ever to be built in a town. My dynamic crew were the only people there at the time and were fortunate to be treated to a private Sunday afternoon recital by the organist.

The stunning organ which gave my dynamic crew a private recital at the Eglise de Jesuites.

The “old gal” recorded a short video which captured part the private organ recital at the Eglise de Jesuites which you can view by clicking here:

Molsheim is in the heart of a wine growing area and duty called in the quest for le vin! The “old git” saw a sign for ‘le vin nouveau’ and pulled on my brakes and pedalled into a courtyard. Here my dynamic crew had a fascinating visit and discovered that the new wine had only been made the day before and had just started its fermentation process into the famous Bruderthal grand cru. They were offered the chance to tick another of their bucket list items by filling my bidons direct from the vat of wine. And the price for this extravagance? One euro a bottle! What a bargain! Hic!

Bucket list tick! Filling my bidons with vin nouveau direct from the vat!

Having spent a highly relaxing couple of hours exploring the town my crew thought they better head off and complete the remaining 10 miles to our overnight stop at Obernai – which they expected would be an easy pedal taking well less than an hour. Wrong!

Almost immediately on leaving Molsheim we joined the Veloroute du Vignobles d’Alsace and hit the hills of the Vosges! I am not sure if it was the effects of le vin nouveau – but my dynamic crew were suddenly rendered a bit less than dynamic and quickly almost ground to a halt with the sudden change of geography!

On leaving Molsheim, the slopes of the Vosges took the “old gal” by surprise!

But I am proud to say they battled on – doing their best to counter the weight of my panniers – with the spectacular views of the vineyards stretching for miles in either direction spurring them on! Let’s just say that the downhill stretches were great!

For a bit of relief Team Tandem Ecosse stopped in the wine producing town of Rosheim – which features ruined ramparts and some of the oldest buildings in Alsace and a Romanesque church.

One of the arches at Rosheim – among the oldest buildings in Alsace.

Refreshed by an ice cold soft drink, my crew battled a couple more hills before a most welcome downhill into the tourist holiday resort centre of Obernai and our comfortable and modern L’Ecurie chambres d’hotes for the night.

After a rest and showers – and with me safely secured in the courtyard – my crew walked into the town to enjoy a lovely relaxed dinner at the Restaurant Santa Maria which served delicious Alsatian food, washed down with a cheeky bottle of local cremant. Perhaps not surprisingly, sleep came easily when they fell into bed!

So a sensational first day of the Alsace leg of Le Tour de France et Holland du tandem covering 24.2 miles with the route brought to life in our Relive 3D video – so take a look below.

Day 2 – Up and down tandeming weaving our way thru the fab vineyards of the Vosges on l’Alsace à vélo!

Me and the “old gal” overlooking the vineyards of the famous Moenchberg Grand Cru at Andlau.

Sunshine again greeted my crew as they awoke after a sound nights sleep at L’Ecurie chambres d’hotes in Obernai – but my dynamic crew had a bit of a worry about the day’s tandeming ahead given the hills which suddenly appeared yesterday afternoon! Today was a route of over 30 miles tandeming thru the vineyards of the Vosges – and over breakfast they realised that means the certainty of a few more tough big climbs! It could be a long day in my saddles!

The Halloween-themed entrance to our suite at L’Ecurie chambres d’hotes in Obernai

Check out the details of our Day 2 route by clicking on the Strava map below.

Before leaving Obernia my crew explored the town – including the square with its fountain with a statue of St Odile. The “old gal” also took the opportunity to replenish picnic supplies – including some still warm freshly baked bread and a trip into a fromagerie to stock up with some cheese. This turned out to be the most expensive piece of cheese my crew had ever bought as the “old gal” selected a mature 7 year old Comte without registering the price and ended up paying 22 euros for the slab!

My dynamic crew at the start of day 2 in the tourist town of Obernai.

Off we pedalled and after a few wrong turns, quickly picked up the Veloroute du Vignobles d’Alsace and headed out of town and almost immediately into more spectacular vineyards. In general we found the l’Alsace à velo network to be well signposted – but today we came across some interesting directions … with one signpost pointing both left and right to our destination for lunch! Looking closely at the map one went a hillier route – so we chose the slightly shorter distance!

Confusing directions! 12km to Dambach-la-ville to the left and 13 km to the right!

Heading out of Barr we faced the first serious climb of the day but were rewarded at the summit by being able to see the grape harvest in full swing. I was even able to join in for a photo with baskets of grapes while my crew got their breath back!

Joining in the grape harvest! Two newly picked buckets of grapes … in tandem of course!

Another climb – on which my dynamic crew could have done with a handy supply of oxygen – took us to a spectacular viewpoint and photo spot above Andlau – right at the heart of Riesling country and home to three famous vintages including Moenchberg Grand Cru. High above the vineyards at the viewpoint, is a stone statue of a fat monk – with a wine barrel on his back. This is said to be Saint Vincent de Saragosse, who is recognised as the patron saint of winemakers. The “old git” whipped out his extendable tripod and bluetooth clicker to take a couple of pictures of my dynamic crew together!

My dynamic crew with the statue of the monk who is patron saint of winemakers above Andlau.

Tandeming thru the paths with vineyards groaning with ready-to-be-harvested grapes not surprisingly put the “old gal” in the mood to continue the quest for wine! Happily the “old git” spotted a sign for a tasting in the village of Blienschwiller. Again this turned out to be a great stop as my dynamic crew found themselves in a family wine house, Jos Straub fils, and were treated to an explanation of the production methods and some tastings of their Winzenberg Grand Cru Riesling which was being sold at the unbelievably cheap price of just 11 euros a bottle.

The “old gal” enjoying a personal wine and cremant tasting at Blienschwiller.

My crew were only able to carry one bottle so selected a very refreshing rose cremant which was then strapped safely in to my la bouclee wine carrier. Amazingly the owners of the wine house had never seen one before and were impressed!

My la bouclee – complete with a bottle of rose cremant – was much admired at the wine house.

From the wine tasting it was just a couple of miles to the renowned wine town of Dambach-la-ville with its timber framed houses and three historic town arches. It is also home to the Frankenstein variety of vintage Alsace wine. But you wouldn’t know today. It was like a ghost town as it was Monday and everywhere was closed! So it was just as well the “old gal” had bought picnic supplies earlier!

Just as well we had a picnic at Dambach-la-ville as everywhere was closed!

Fortified by another fabulous sunshine picnic my dynamic crew tandemed out of the town – stopping for a chat at a crossroads with a couple on solo bikes from New Zealand who were doing  a similar trip and were even more heavily laden than Team Tandem Ecosse!

Wishing each other good luck we climbed another steep hill before the cycle route seemed to plateau out and we enjoyed some gently undulating cycling thru some amazing vineyards and picturesque wine villages including Chatenois and Kintzheim.

My dynamic crew couldn’t fail to be impressed by the beautiful wine villages between the vineyards.

Some welcome downhill took me and my dynamic crew to the pretty small wine town of Ribeuville – nestling at the foot of the Vosges – and a pit stop for a coffee and refreshment. The town is famous for its Riesling and Gewurztraminer wines – so it would have bee rude not to continue the quest and do some sampling … all in the name of research, of course!

Ribeauville at the foot of the Vosges provided a pretty place for the last stop of the day.

The “old gal” was feeling a bit drained and suggested buying some tasty goodies and supplies to have a quiet dinner in the room of their chambres d’hotes  – to which the “old git” eagerly agreed – as both were starting to feel the effects of colds which had hit them.

Here I am beside on old wine cart in Ribeauville – famous for its Riesling and Gewurztraminer wines.

Fortunately the last few miles to our base for the night in the village of Beblenheim was fairly flat and some 8 hours after we set off my dynamic crew were happy to arrive at Domaine Mauler – a wine house which also runs chambres d’hotes in their half timbered 18th century home right on the edge of their vineyards.

I had a nice airy courtyard all to myself as my crew showered off the dust of the day before settling down to enjoy a gorgeous dinner in their room – washed down with that rather nice rose cremant. Bliss! Sleep wasn’t far away either!

So a long but fun day tandeming 32.1 miles in glorious sunshine with some amazing scenery on some serious climbs up the slopes of the Vosges on the second day of the Alsace leg of Le Tour de France et Holland du tandem – with the route brought to life in our Relive 3D video – so take a look below.

Day 3 – True meaning of recycling and recharging our batteries on a short run thru more Alsace vineyards

My dynamic crew found a perfect spot for a picnic in Kaysersberg on their recharging day!

The third day of the Alsace leg of Team Tandem Ecosse’s Euro Tour 2017 was always planned as a kind of rest and recharge day – with fewer miles built into the busy schedule. And my dynamic crew were particularly glad of that as they wakened feeling a bit rough with both the “old gal” and the “old git” suffering the effects of heavy colds.

So over a  yummy continental breakfast – with fresh croissant – my crew were looking forward to a day of gentle tandeming, relaxing stops and wine tastings in the villages and towns amongst the vineyards … with a distance of just 15 miles to be covered as we weaved our way to Colmar. It was going to be a day when – in the word’s of my Team Matilda’s motto – it’s not the miles that count – but the smiles!

Our fabulous Domaine Mauler chambres d’hote on the edge of a vineyard in Beblenheim.

Check out the details of our Day 3 route by clicking on the Strava map below.

As my crew checked out of our wonderful homely Domaine Mauler chambres d’hote we were offered a post breakfast wine tasting by our host Claudine Mauler. As mentioned, we were situated right on the edge of a renowned vineyard in Beblenheim – so it would have been rude not to! I’m not sure that even the “old git” and the “old gal” thought that this was the best time of day to be finding out about the unique differences and specialties of the local wines – but the true professionals that they are, they battled thru in their quest to find the best wines! They even selected a bottle of Premier Cru Riesling for today’s picnic – which we were told was ideal for country buffets!

There was time for a post-breakfast wine tasting before we headed off from Beblenheim!

The next step was stocking up on picnic goodies and bread at the fantastic village shop – which was a million miles better than our local Coop back home! The “old gal” also spotted the local village hairdressers and jokingly checked it out as a potential overseas expansion for her hair salon business! She particularly liked the sign which read “Coiffure espirit nature” which translates as hairdressing with nature! No blue rinse ladies here obviously – just free spirits!

My dynamic crew at the local cooperative for vineyard owners! Bit different from our local Coop!

The “old gal” checking out a potential overseas expansion for her hair salon business!

As we left Beblenheim behind we immediately hit a series of sharp hills as we climbed out of the village on the Veloroute du Vignobles d’Alsace. But as any cyclist will try to joke – for every uphill there is a downhill! And for that my dynamic crew were eternally grateful – except here in the heart of the Vosges there was occasionally a sign warning about a hazardously steep descent!

Sometimes on reaching a summit the downhill can be dangerous!

It was however a fabulous free wheel down the side of one of the many vineyards – where we managed to clock a top speed of just under 34 mph. It was a real thrill for me as an “old lady” tandem – but I can’t understand why the “old gal’s” eyes were closed!

First stop today for Team Tandem Ecossee was the attractive town of Riquewihr – a medieval town right in the heart of the Alsatian vineyards which is classified among the “Most Beautiful Villages in France.” As such the entrance to the town is a bit like Disney, but we quickly pushed thru that to admire the scenic beauty of the town which prides itself in looking as it did back in the 16th Century.

Here I am at Riquewihr – a town that looks today like it did in the 16th Century.

The town was quite touristy and this display of macaroons caught my eye!

Even tho it was relatively early the town was very busy with tourists and I was attracting lots of attention as a “double velo”! The “old git’s” research had revealed that the key attraction was the 13th Century Dolder – or defensive gate. It seems you can climb up four floors to the bell tower for great views over the rooftops – but unfortunately it was only open weekends out of high season. So the “old gal” had to make do with a photo opportunity, or two!

The attractive dolder offers great views – but sadly it was closed.

The “old gal” and me in one of attractive Riquewihr’s medieval streets.

It was lovely to wander round the cobbled streets which were also home to a community of local artists. The “old git” was particularly taken with the stylish sculptures of ladies in their erotic underwear on display in the windows of one of the many art galleries!

Eye catching sculptures in one of Riquewihr’s stylish art galleries!

There was time to people watch as my crew had a cofee from a mouth drooling patisserie – where they sampled a tart au myrtille – which was a gorgeous blueberry tart! They also picked up a small quiche to add to the picnic supplies. Leaving the tourists behind in Riquewihr we tandemed on back out into the vineyards and found Kientzheim – a much quieter but equally quaint medieval wine village which offered a colourful photo stop in the charming Schwendi square, with its renaissance fountain and beautiful mansions. Kientzheim is home to the headquarters of St Stephen’s Brotherhood, the official body controlling the quality of Alsatian wines.

The picturesque village of Kientzheim offered a colourful and historic photo opportunity.

It was a lovely warm sunny day and my dynamic crew were in good spirits – and not just from the wine tastings! It would need to be said that they were delighted that I had been performing like a finely tuned tandem and had avoided any mechanicals. As always when those thoughts come to mind, reality strikes and my chain slipped as the “old git” slowed and changed down gears to pull into a lay-by to check the route. Despite jamming itself between the gear cogs and my frame the “old gal” – in her role as chief engineer – calmly forced it free and we were on our way again.

Now as you know my dynamic crew are big fans of a picnic lunch – in fact it is the very essence of what Team Tandem Ecosse is all about. Today the”old gal” found a wonderful spot in pretty Kaysersberg – where the vineyards come right down to meet the town. It was all rather special, as can be seen in this video of them outlining the merits of a picnic du tandem Matildas Musings style! Click below.

As my crew enjoyed their picnic goodies in the shadow of the ruins of the medieval castle the “old gal” discovered that France had named Kaysersberg as its favourite village in the country in a recent tv show. It is famous for its half-timbered houses and quaint cobbled streets reflecting its history. Together with the rest of Alsace, Kaysersberg was part of Germany between the Franco-Prussian War and the First World War.

My dynamic crew are serious about their picnics – turning the concept into a bit of an art form!

As previously mentioned this was a day for recharging my crew’s batteries – a bit of a recycling (of energy) day, if you’ll excuse the pun! The “old git” however found a whole new meaning to the concept of recycling when visiting the loos in Kaysersberg with eye-catching urinals for beer, wine and whisky! There was even a kiddies one for cola!

Bringing a whole new meaning to the concept of recycling! The loos at Kayserberg!

I found a new friend with this bit of street bike art in Kaysersberg!

After picking up a few presents in the tourist shops – and another wine tasting – Team Tandem Ecosse meandered on pedalling back into the vineyards .. and up a few more hills! But despite the deliberately slow progress the scenery was just fabulous – never being more than a few feet away from the grapes.

After lunch there were a few more climbs in bright sun up thru the vineyards!

A downhill stretch took us to the colourful ancient town of Turckheim, complete with its three fortified gateways. It is the last town in Alsace where a night watchman walks the streets carrying his lamp and horn, stopping and singing on every street corner at 10pm. Clearly it was too early for that spectacle so my dynamic crew made do with a coffee stop.

The ancient fortified town of Turckheim offered a pretty coffee stop.

Before we left Turckheim, the “old gal” made the rather dubious decision to buy six of the traditional green coloured Alsatian wine glasses as a souvenir of our wine tastings! They were well packed to survive the bumps, but let’s just say it made for an interesting re-arranging of my pannier luggage!

A nice flat ride took us right into the historic centre of Colmar – the Alsatian wine capital, and enjoyed its charms of half-timbered houses, canals and the flower-decked town centre. We quickly found our Cour du Weinhof chambres d’hotes, ideally situated in the shadow of the imposing St-Martin cathedral.

I had the honour of being parked up in a 14th Century garage before my dynamic crew enjoyed showers and relaxed in the comfort of their room before heading out to dinner. The owners had recommended a fish restaurant amongst the canals in an area known as ‘Little Venice’ called Aux Trois Poissons. They were not disappointed enjoying the culinary delights of the Gourmet Menu washed down with a bottle of perfectly chilled Sylvaner wine! A perfect end to a perfect day!

So a more relaxing third day of the Alsace leg of Le Tour de France et Holland du tandem covering just 14.9 miles as my crew recharged their batteries. The route is brought to life in our Relive 3D video – so take a look below:

Day 4 – Incredible tandeming along Canal du Rhone du Rhin back to Strasbourg to end Alsace tour

If Carlsberg did cycle paths! … my dynamic crew thought Eurovelo 15 was fab!

So a fairly straightforward itinerary today as Team Tandem Ecosse plan to leave the vineyards of the Alsace behind  and tandem the 40 odd miles from Colmar back to the centre of Strasbourg along the Eurovelo 15 cycle path which run along the canals. And the good part for my dynamic crew is that canals means no energy sapping hills!

The “old git” and “old gal” felt somewhat refreshed today after a less frenetic day in my saddles yesterday. Their colds had improved and the sun was shining which all meant it was going to be a good day! And even my crew can’t get lost cycling along a canal … I mean they can’t … can they?!

After a lovely breakfast I was retrieved from my posh resting place in the medieval garage at our fantastic Cour du Weinhof chambres d’hotes and my crew headed to the local covered market to pick up food and drink supplies for today’s canal side picnic.

The medieval courtyard and garage at Cour du Weinhof.

Check out the details of our Day 4 route by clicking on the Strava map below.

Our hosts Rachel and Hubert at Cour de Weinhof really couldn’t have done any more to make us feel at home and comfortable – but then went the extra mile this morning (literally) when Hubert cycled out with us to show us the way to the start of the canal path! Maybe he had heard about my dynamic crew’s ability to get lost when following the simplest of directions!

Hubert, the owner of the chambres d’hotes, cycled out with us to get us on the canal path!

Safely on the side of the canal our route firstly took us a few miles along the banks of the Canal de Colmar, which dates back to 1864. This was a great warm up for my crew and a great taster of things to come later when we joined the main Canal de Rhone au Rhin. Conditions were ideal and my crew were in jolly spirits as we soon got into our stride, quickly eating up the miles.

The route to Strasbourg initially took us along the scenic Canal de Colmar.

Just at the join of the two canals we saw the first of several bike repair stations – complete with a variety of handy tools and a tyre pump. This just underlines the whole focus on cycling in France, and the fact that (unlike it would be in the UK) the repair station was in perfect condition and not vandalised shows the ethos of wanting to make cycling easy.

An amazing bike repair station on the canal cycle path shows the focus on cycling.

Now if the Canal de Colmar was impressive – when my dynamic crew joined the Canal du Rhone au Rhin at the village of Artzenheim they felt they had just moved up to the equivalent of motorway standards of cycle paths. Or as the “old git” said – if Carlsberg did cycle paths ….!

The canal path was part of Eurovelo 15 which you can cycle all the way from Rotterdam to Nantes or Budapest. To show just how perfect the conditions were for long distance tandeming on the canal, my dynamic crew shot a short video which you can watch here by clicking below:

The tandeming was so enjoyable – being so flat, easy to cycle and scenic on the eye! A good bit after passing the half way mark to Strasbourg my dynamic crew decided it was time for lunch and the “old git” found another idyllic spot at one of the deserted canal lock gates – Lock 78.

Cheers! The “old gal” enjoying our perfect picnic spot at a canal lock gate.

Canal Lock 78 was deserted and was a great spot for our picnic lunch!

To prove picnics don’t come much better than this the “old gal” shot an impromptu Matildas Musings video which you can see by clicking below:

The cycle paths said 19km to go to Strasbourg, but my crew were happy to get back on my saddles to complete the journey – after a photo shoot to show me off at my classic tandem best beside the canal under a bright blue sky and warm sunshine!

19km still to go – but easy tandeming on the sensational Canal du Rhone au Rhin.

Because my dynamic crew were self sufficient with plenty of supplies,  we didn’t actually leave the canal path – but the regular signposts show minor diversions are available into nearby towns with food shops, bars and cafes.  With the sun at its warmest the “old git” was quite happy to find the route went into a lovely shaded section on the final run into Strasbourg.

The canal offered some lovely shaded sections on the final run in to Strasbourg.

The dedicated cycle path emphasises it green credentials all along the route.

For the last two miles the route switched back on to the Canal de la Bruche. Incredibly after less than 4 hours cycling the whole 42 miles along canal paths we were back bang in the very heart of Strasbourg – exactly at the point we left four days before. Right in front of my crew on the Place d’Austerlitz a glitzy gin bar appeared like an apparition – so there was only one thing for it … time to celebrate finishing leg 2 of Euro Tour du tandem 2017 with a refreshing gin and tonic!

Team Tandem Ecosse’s return to Strasbourg was marked with a celebratory (and costly) gin and tonic!

Appropriately called Supertonic this was the ideal place to sample one of the 60 gins on offer – but they also charged super prices with the bill for two gin and tonics and two soft drinks coming to 30 euros! But the “old gal” says it was worth every cent!

Team Tandem Ecosse then checked back into the welcoming La Celistine, our chambres d’hote in the city where we spent Sunday night. With me safely stored in an internal courtyard, my crew enjoyed a relaxing snooze and showers before dinner. Our host Claude surpassed himself with his recommendation tonight – which took us to Au Pont Corbeau – which turned out to be one of the most famous and renowned restaurants in Strasbourg.

My dynamic due enjoyed a real culinary theatrical experience at Au Pont Corbeau.

Fortunately it didn’t have prices to match it’s reputation but my dynamic crew enjoyed an amazing evening of a real culinary theatrical experience of a lifetime where the owner was at the very top of his game. The Michelin rated restaurant was absolutely mobbed with hardly room to lift your elbows because so many customers had been squeezed in. And the service was the opposite of what you would expect from such an establishment, with the staff treating customers like they should count themselves lucky to be there at all! Incredibly people were being moved tables between courses to make way for bigger groups! But all this didn’t stop the place being queued out the door because of the incredible locally sourced Alsatian food that was served. It really was an amazing night!

So a simply sensational final day of the Alsace leg of Le Tour de France et Holland du tandem covering 42.4 miles, with the route brought to life in our Relive 3D video – so take a look below.

As a quick overview of the second leg of our Euro Tandem Tour 2017, Team Tandem Ecosse had some amazing sights and experiences on their trip in the Alsace. Total distance covered was just short of 125 miles and although we hit some challenging hills in the vineyards, it was a fabulous trip overall – with my crew fuelled along the way by some fantastic food and wine. The overall conclusion from my dynamic crew is that they wouldn’t have missed it for the world!

The final leg takes us to Champagne but before the three hour drive there was time for my crew to sample some of the sights of Strasbourg, which is the intellectual and economic capital of Alsace. The tourist highlight is the famous Gothic Notre-dame Cathedral which traces its history back to 1015. The cathedral’s most popular feature is the Astronomical Clock – the oldest in the world being built in 1550.

My dynamic crew saw the world’s oldest astronomical clock..

My crew were lucky enough to get tickets to see the daily performance as it chimes at 12.30pm – half an hour behind normal time. As part of the movement the 12 Apostles pass in front of Christ who blesses them as a cockerel flaps its wings and crows three times, a reminder of Peter’s denial of Christ.

The “old gal” enjoying a quick drink at lunchtime.

A quick refreshment followed in the busy Place de la Catherdrale – which is a UNESCO World Heritage site – before my crew managed to squeeze in a guided boat trip on the River Ill. This offered great views of many of the city’s key sights including the romantic ‘Petit France’ area of the old town and the Strasbourg base of the European Parliament.

The Strasbourg base of the European Parliament viewed from a river trip.

After an enjoyable few days in Strasbourg and the Alsace it was time to head to Matilda Transport and drive to Champagne for the final leg of our Euro Tour 2017!

Euro Tour 1st leg – tandeming the dykes of Holland

The historic working windmills of the North Holland peninsula were a truly awesome sight!

So after a day for my dynamic crew to familiarise themselves into the Dutch way of life – and of course sample some local food and drink! – it was time to begin our three leg two week Le Tour de France et Holland du tandem. The first of three legs was a three day tour of the North Holland peninsula. It was the first visit for Team Tandem Ecosse to Holland – having been persuaded to give it a try by recommendations about both the scenic and flat landscape, and of course the fabulous network of brilliantly signposted cycle paths.

The “old git” had selected a route which promised “Holland at is flattest” with the peninsula tour “fitting the image that most foreigners have of Holland – with its dykes, canals, clogs, cheese and windmills.” The route selected was a 90-odd mile loop from Amsterdam to Marken and Vollendam before crossing inland to Alkmaar, then back down to Amsterdam through the historic River Zaan settlements.

And in a break from previous years, Team Tandem Ecosse was going completely self sustained and self-guided. Instead of booking through a tour company – which offered step-by-step tried and tested routes and daily luggage transfers – my dynamic crew had booked all their own overnight stops, checked out the routes, and were carrying everything they needed in four panniers!

It was certainly interesting – particularly the routes part … which threw up lots of opportunity for “discussions” about what was the correct way to go!

Day 1 – Tandeming the dykes from Amsterdam to Marken then boat to Volendam

Bright eyed and bushy tailed! My dynamic crew before Le Grand Depart!

My dynamic crew woke feeling very sprightly – all bright eyed and bushy tailed – in preparation for the actual Le Grand Depart of the Euro tandem tour 2017. Excitement was palpable over the brilliant breakfast buffet spread at  our Amsterdam base – the superb Westcord Art Hotel .

The “old gal” looking somewhat perplexed at the electronic bike charging point!

A final check of my panniers and Team Tandem Ecosse were ready – but only after the “old gal” looked somewhat puzzled and perplexed at the electronic bike charger units in the hotel car park – I mean classic tandems don’t have battery power for goodness sake! But it does underline the fabulous infrastructure which exists for bikes in Holland. There was also the matter of taking the “start of tour” picture” for posterity – then we were off!

All smiles and thumbs up at the start of Euro Tour du Tandem 2017! What could possibly go wrong!

Check out the details of our Day 1 route by clicking on the Strava map below.

The first part of the ride was retracing our steps from yesterday along the amazing cycle paths – down by scenic canals – to the front of Amsterdam’s Centraal Station for a ferry across to the north of the city. This was an amazing experience as there were bikes everywhere queuing up for the short five minute crossing to Buiksloterwerg. Clearly this was a very busy commuter route as most people seemed to be heading to work. There were four ferries continually heading back and forth across the water to meet the demand – and whats more it was free! It was actually difficult for my crew not to stop and stare at the scene before them.

Actually I think it was the commuters who were staring at my dynamic crew as they looked somewhat “tourists abroad” with a tandem and all kitted out in their Tour de France King of the Mountain cycling jerseys! However one or two friendly locals did get the joke as the “old git” and “old gal” had deliberately chosen to wear those jerseys because the terrain was so flat!

The “old gal” recorded a short video which captured some of the eye-catching scenes at the ferry which you can view by clicking here:

On leaving the ferry, and all the commuters, we quickly found the cycle route we required – LF7 and pedalled off. It really is quite difficult to describe the incredible network of cycle paths without experiencing it at first hand as it is something which my dynamic crew have never seen before. All the paths are very clearly signposted and intersections with other paths are clearly flagged up. Essentially all you have to do is take a  note of junction numbers and follow your route that way! Easy! And the paths themselves are a real joy – flat, with great smooth tarmac surfaces ideal for road bikes.

My crew easily found the next route – LF21 – which would take us all the way to our destination of Marken. It was fantastic tandeming as we headed along the dykes taking in the spectacular scenery of Lake Markermeer and the village of Durgerdam.

The “old gal” taking a breather to take in the scenery and stylised houses at the village of Durgerdam

Opposite the houses there is a marina for all the villagers boats on the canal.

We pedalled on thru Uitdam – stopping for a coffee in what was essentially someone’s front garden … complete with dedicated bike parking spot! – before heading along the causeway and onto the former island of Marken.

The views were truly spectacular tandeming along the dyke at Lake Markermeer.

The coffee stop in someone’s front garden – complete with bike parking spot!

Good tandeming friends Jane and John – who hosted Team Matilda for the recent Tour de New Forest and who have their own blog Travelling in Tandem – said we had to visit the lighthouse known as the Paard van Marken – or the Horse of Marken in English. Although not open to the public it offers a great spot for some spectacular photos and was well worth a short diversion off the route to the town.

The Paard van Marken lighthouse offered a great scenic spot for photos!

The “old git” even got his remote control bluetooth camera gizmo to work!

Time for lunch and a handy supermarket provided the perfect ingredients for the first picnic of the Euro Tour du tandem 2017 – some freshly baked bread, grapes, ham, local cheese, salads and the obligatory bottle of prosecco which cost the princely sum of just three euros!

We pedaled into the quaint fishing village of Marken for lunch which prides itself in maintaining the authentic atmosphere of the old days – and found a perfect spot at the edge of the harbour wall … even if we did have to fight off some rather aggressive sparrows who were keen to share our picnic!

The “old gal” enjoying the first prosecco picnic of the Euro Tour du tandem 2017 at Marken.

The sun even decided to come out to play allowing the “old gal” to bask in its rays!

A sculpture paying homage to the local fishing community near our picnic spot at Marken.

After lunch there was time to explore more of the village of Marken with its small alleys, drawbridges and closely built houses which sit on top of mounds to protect them from floods. A souvenir shop allowed the “old git” to tick the requirement to get a silly photo wearing giant clogs!

Tick! Silly shot of the “old git” wearing giant sized clogs!

The next part of the trip involved a 30 minute ferry crossing from Marken to the village of Voldendam – which was to be our base for the night. There are regular crossings on the Volednam-Marken Express ferry service which offers a special cyclists ticket which included a welcome coffee and a slice of home made apple pie! Oh if you insist!

Here I am on the back deck of the ferry to Volendam enjoying the sun!

Yum! Apple pie and coffee was a key attraction for the “old gal” on the cyclists ticket!

Volendam is a bit special – its definitely a must see tourist fishing village offering what it describes as “an atmosphere of geniality and romance.” The locals say here are 16 million Dutch citizens and 22,000 Volendammers in Holland – as that sums up the different nature of the local people who are renowned for their hard work and hospitality.

Hoping that the “old git is holding me tight right at the edge of Volendam harbour!

A quick tandem around the village and the harbour saw today’s tandmeing come to an end with a beer at one of the many bars overlooking the picturesque harbour. There is clearly money here given the expensive nature of some of the boats tied up.

My dynamic crew then checked into the historic Art Hotel Spaander which dates back to 1881 – happy to be booked into a room with a balcony overlooking the IJsselmeer.

Time for a bit of relaxation and showers for the “old gal” and the “old git” before a fabulous meal of different types of mussels dishes in a traditional pub setting on the edge of the harbour! Bliss! I can officially say that Team Tandem Ecosse are enjoying their first Dutch experience!

So a great first day of Le Tour de France et Holland du tandem covering 21.9 miles with the route brought to life in our Relive 3D video – so take a look below. (Remember if you are reading this on email, you may need to click on the blog first – via the link at the bottom of the email – to view the video.)

Day 2 – Cheesy but fab ride from Volendam thru Edam to the historic windmills of Alkmaar

One piece of history beside another! Here I am beside the windmill museum.

After a night of deep sleep my dynamic crew were up early and out on the balcony of their room to take in the amazing views over the water with the sun already shining brightly. Clearly it was going to be a spectacular day with a tandem ride to taste Edam in Edam before heading further up the coast then turning in land thru historic windmill country to the city of Alkmaar.

My dynamic crew up early on the balcony of their room taking in the views

Check out the details of our Day 2 route by clicking on the Strava map below.

Team Tandem Ecosse pedalled off leaving Volendam behind with a short tandem of just three miles to our first stop of the day – the historical town of Edam, famous for the cheese which bears its name! My dynamic crew were immediately taken by the beauty of this town which dates back to the 12th Century, and enjoyed taking in the views of some of its many narrow canals and pretty bridges.

Me and the “old git” on one of the many bridges over the canals in scenic Edam.

Now the main aim of visiting this town was for the “old git” and the “old gal” to tick the bucket list item of sampling the world renowned Edam cheese in Edam. They quickly found Henri Willig’s specialty cheese shop based in a 16th century building in the historical centre and popped in to taste some of the many varieties on offer.

The “old gal” – who has a particular fondness for cheese – thought she had died and gone to heaven as the samples kept coming! Eventually my crew decided to purchase three different flavours of Edam – hazelnut, pesto, and the star attraction … truffle.

Sampling Edam in Edam – tick! The “old gal” with a cheese cart!

After taking the tourist must-do pictures with the cheese cart, my crew stocked up with goodies for today’s picnic at a wonderful deli which insisted in packing everything in picnic friendly tubs and recommended a bottle of “local” slightly sparkling vinho verde for me to carry in my la bouclee wine carrier  – emphasising the Dutch-Portugal connections!

Edam was beautiful and offered the perfect stop for a morning coffee.

After a morning coffee it was noon as my dynamic crew set off with nearly 30 miles still to go! But it was truly sensational tandeming again with the sun beating down as we pedalled along the dykes up the coast towards Warder and Schadam on LF21 where we headed inland – to cycle almost right across the peninsula from east to west to Alkmaar, all along the one fantastic cycle path, LF15.

The “old gal” and the “old git” were both hugely impressed with the signposting on the cycle path – particularly the “old gal” who could relax a bit from her map reading duties and just follow a series of junction numbers, all clearly flagged up in big green circles on signposts with direction arrows.

The signposting for the cycle paths was brilliant – just follow the numbers!

The landscape changed as we cycled away from the coast, with us pedalling past neatly lined polders – which are small pieces of low-lying land reclaimed from the sea or a lake and protected by dykes. It was amazingly scenic and my dynamic crew revelled in cycling along a long flat tree lined avenue which seperated two banks of polders. Not surprisingly the miles just flew past with ease!

Tandeming at its best – a long straight flat tree lined path!

We were promised historic windmills on this route and just as my crew were starting to get peckish, windmills suddenly sprung up before our eyes! What a magnificent sight they were. We had arrived at Schermerhorn, the site of Museum Molen or the windmill museum.

A picnic bench in the shadow of the only windmill of the Golden Century which is accessible for visitors offered a perfect spot for my dynamic crew’s late lunch. The whirr of the four mast windmill as it turned in the wind made the experience all the more atmospheric.

What a perfect picnic spot in the shadow of the working windmill museum.

After refuelling there was time for a tour of the windmill – including a great display and video explaining exactly how the windmills were used to raise and lower the water levels in the fields. The big highlight for my crew was being able to go inside the windmill to see it as it would have been all those centuries ago – and to be able to climb up very steep ladders right to the very top.

The “old git” and the “old gal” pose for classic Dutch photo!

The “old git” was virtually speechless – and that doesn’t happen very often! – but back on ground level he regained his composure to shoot a short video of the “old gal” standing in front of the impressive sails as they turned effortlessly in the wind – which you can watch by clicking here:

The visit finished with a couple of purchases in the museum shop – including … yes you’ve guessed a pair of clogs! But these weren’t your normal tourist clogs – oh no! These were authentic clogs – as worn by a Dutch farmer which are going to feature as a garden decoration back at Matildas Rest! The only slight problem was that my crew had to find a place in the panniers to carry them!

And time for the “old gal” to do the silly giant clogs pose!

There was even time for the “old gal” to pose for a silly photo in the decorative giant clogs before we had to leave just before the museum’s closing time and pedal on to our overnight stop in Alkmaar.

Buoyed by such a fantastic history lesson experience, the pedaling was easier than ever – helped by the fact that within two miles of the restart we came across a run of another three of the windmills in a row by the edge of the cycle path. The curator of the museum had told us to look out for them as they had been converted into luxurious homes – and she and her family stayed in the first one.

It was an almost surreal experience and certainly one of the best sights my dynamic crew have ever seen from a cycle path! The “old gal” quickly switched her phone to video camera and shot some footage as we tandemed past, which you can watch here:

The last few miles into the city were a joy despite arriving at the height of rush hour as the bike is the key mode of transport here. We pedaled along very busy cycle paths alongside lots of commuters who were showing great interest in me as an “old lady” classic tandem. One of the best bits was the cycle traffic lights which held up the cars on the dual carriageway to let all the bikes cross in safety – with clear priority over vehicles. The very last stage – right outside our hotel – was a roundabout for bikes on the perimeter of the main vehicle roundabout … and again bikes had priority. The infrastructure for two wheeled travel was simply gobsmackingly awe inspiring!

After checking in to the Amrath Hotel in Alkmaar – and making sure I was safe and secure in the car park – my dynamic crew set about some mundane tasks of life as tandem tourists – with a washing being high on the agenda to ensure cycling clothes were fresh. A handy washing line over the shower in the bathroom helped the process!

Washing done! One of the essentials of tandem touring to keep things fresh!

Washing done it was time for my crew to head out to sample the delights of Alkmaar by night. The “old gal” spotted a rather nice looking Italian restaurant in the shadows of the impressive Grote Sint-Laurenskerk church – and they savoured a reviving gin and tonic before ordering what turned out to be massive pizzas washed down with a cheeky Italian red wine! Yum! Perfect for recharging those batteries before some much needed sleep!

Huge pizzas for my dynamic crew as they refuelled in an Italian restaurant.

There was one rather amusing final act of the day when three Dutch ladies accosted the “old git” in the hotel lift after spotting the flags painted on his toenails and in unison shouted: “S – e – x- y”! Oh how it made his night!

So a sensational second day of Le Tour de France et Holland du tandem covering 29.7 miles with the route brought to life in our Relive 3D video – so take a look below.

Day 3 – Alkmaar cheese market and getting very lost in rain in windmill country on ride back to Amsterdam

The canal networks in Alkmaar have a key role to play in the weekly cheese market.

The final leg of our Holland taster part of Euro Tour du tandem 2017 and Team Tandem Ecosse were taking in the historic cheese market at Alkmaar before the not insubstantial matter of a near 40 mile ride through the beautiful River Zaan area back into Amsterdam in plenty of time for a risque night out for my dynamic crew in the Red Light district! A straightforward schedule surely with the flat landscape and the great cycle path signposting! Surely …. ?!

Check out the details of our Day 3 route by clicking on the Strava map below.

Without doubt, the Alkmaar Cheese Market is the main attraction in the city. And the “old git” and the “old gal” were in luck as this was Friday – the day of the weekly market where cheese is traded according to a tradition that is centuries old.

A cheese market has been taking place in Alkmaar since 1365 and it was certainly a colourful spectacle full of folklore which met my crew in picturesque Waagplein square in the centre of the city which was mobbed with tourists as the bell rang at 10am to mark the beginning of trading. Some 30,000 kilos, or 2200 whole cheeses, were lined up and waiting for customers.

The impressive cheese market building on the Waagplein in Alkmaar.

Fortunately my dynamic crew found a space on the tiered seating and were able to take in all the atmosphere of the spectacle – including watching the  ‘kaasdragers’, or cheese porters, carrying the whole cheeses on their wooden sledges on straps from their shoulders, wearing their traditional outfits of white clothes, straw hats and bow ties – all surrounded by girls in traditional pretty Dutch costume. The sledges carry eight Gouda cheeses, each of them weighing 13,5 kilos. Due to the weight the carriers walk with a special “cheese carriers’dribble” – a particular walking rhythm to make it easier.

The kaasdragers carrying the whole cheeses on the wooden sledges.

Girls working as cheese sellers in traditional pretty Dutch costume.

The “old gal” – who in a classic understatement is known to like a bit of cheese – somehow managed to catch the eye of one of the traders who was sampling the huge round cheeses who gave her a lesson in how to inspect the cheese. This involved more than just looking at its exterior – the cheese is knocked on and then a special cheese scoop is pushed into the cheese to extract a piece, which is then crumbled between the fingers and smelled. And, naturally, it is tasted to assess the relation between taste, and the percentages of fat and moisture. The “old git” managed to video the “old gal” doing the sampling – which you can watch by clicking here:

Not wishing to be outdone, the “old git” had to get involved and found himself being the subject of a weighing in the Waaggebouw and proudly got a certificate saying he was the equivalent weight of 105 kgs of Gouda! Naturally there was a cheesy photo – complete with straw hat!

The “old git” in cheesy pose – weighing the same as 105kg of Gouda!

Surrounding the cheese market was a whole range of market stalls and some sketches of couples on bicycles from a local artist – called Sietse Wiersma – caught the “old gal’s” attention. Obviously she asked if had any drawings of tandems and sadly he didn’t. But on buying a couple of his prints, Sietse quickly drew a personal greeting on the wrapping – complete with a tandem image!

The “old gal” with local artist Sietse and his quick tandem sketch!

As time marched on, my dynamic crew had to pull themselves away from the cheese market – and after a coffee beside one of  the canals, and picking up some picnic supplies, we pedalled out of Alkmaar at 12.30pm confident we would be back in Amsterdam at 4.30pm at an average of 10 mph.

Then it all started to go a bit wrong and got a tad frustrating for my crew who became a bit less than dynamic for a spell! We found the cycle path to leave the city ok and hit the first point of Helios and then headed for the town of Limmen where all of a sudden the route numbers bizarrely disappeared!

At this point we were lost in a housing estate which resulted in several repetitions of a process of asking for directions, interpreting confused looks, cycling on a bit, and getting lost again! Oh and it started to rain … heavily! So much so that my crew’s fetching blue ponchos and my snazzy pannier rain covers made an appearance! Oh how the “old git” and the “old gal” laughed! Not!

No shots of my crew in ponchos – but the rain was heavy – as seen from my back saddle!

After seeking refuge in a cafe, and getting a useful bit of advice from a local cyclist, we headed off with fingers crossed and with a bit of luck rejoined the cycle path and its junction numbers. Why there was a stretch where they were missing is obviously a mystery. But it made my crew feel lots better when we saw several groups of tourist cyclists bemusedly looking at maps and scratching their heads as they found the same problem in the opposite direction.

We had lost nearly two hours shuttling back and forth in frustration – but the rain started to clear as we pedaled through pleasant open countryside – on our route – and into Wormerveer. A quick check that we were going the correct way and we headed on with the “old gal”  and the “old git” impressed to suddenly find themselves tandeming in the sunshine thru the fabulous Zaanse Schans – which is an inhabited recreated neighbourhood in the style of this area on the River Zaan in the 17th-18th Centuries – with its beautiful dark green wooden buildings, bridges and windmills.

This is a favourite shot of me and my dynamic crew as it sums up the Holland experience!

This area was a real highlight although it was clearly a major tourist attraction. Fortunately my crew stopped at a small cafe at the first windmill – where it was still fairly quiet and had a reviving hot chocolate and ate their picnic as a (very) late lunch. Again it was fascinating to discover the heritage here – with these windmills originally being used as industrial windmills for uses such as sawmills.

Another shot of the fabulous windmills in the Zaanse Schans neighbourhood.

Refreshed after some sustenance my crew were feeling more dynamic and embarked on the last stretch of the route back with gusto – enjoying cycling thru scenic parkland around Landsmeer and then along the banks of a canal back towards the Buiksloterweg ferry to cross back to Amsterdam.

It was late into Friday night rush hour now  and the cycle paths were as busy as motorways with people rushing to get home for the weekend. At one junction such was the congestion of bikes that we had the almost unbelievable experience of having to queue and wait with other bikes for three repetitions of the cycle traffic lights to cross a main dual carriageway!

Team Tandem Ecosse finally arrived back at the Westcord Art Hotel just as the sun was setting after a long, but – in the most part – fabulous day on my saddles!

As I was safely locked up in the underground car park, there was time for a quick but very welcome shower for my crew and a quick change before catching the bus back into the city centre for an evening in the Red Light District! They tucked into a hamburger meal before wandering around the narrow streets and canals with their eyes wide open in amazement as they took in the scene and the window displays!

For a laugh my crew decided to pay a visit to the Red Light Secrets museum and the “old gal” even had the opportunity to experience how it felt to sit in one of the windows!

The “old gal” posing in a window at Red Light Secrets!

After an entertaining evening of people watching a quiet drink in a side street brought the evening to an end as my crew returned to the hotel for some much needed sleep.

The final day of the first leg of Le Tour de France et Holland du tandem covered 38.7 miles but there was a Strava recording error due to a mobile phone battery running out. The app still recorded the correct distance but very wrongly had us cycling for nearly nine hours at an average speed of just 4.5 mph. The trusted old fashioned milometer on my handlebars recorded the same distance but in an actual cycling time just short of four hours at a more respectable average of nearly 10 mph. As always the route is brought to life in our Relive 3D video – so take a look below.

So to conclude the first leg of the Euro Tandem Tour 2017, Team Tandem Ecosse really enjoyed their taster tour of Holland with its highly impressive cycling infrastructure – and because it was so flat!  We covered around 100 miles and despite the minor mishap of getting lost – which to be fair was probably the fault of my dynamic crew! – I am told we will certainly be back!

Meanwhile it is time to drive to Strasbourg and tackle the Alsace a velo!

Le Grand Depart pour Euro Tour du tandem and Dutch warm-up ride!

On arrival there was time to stretch my pedals around the canals of Amsterdam!

It’s Tuesday (19 September) and “Team Tandem Ecosse” – the name used by Team Matilda on foreign soil! – have arrived safely in Amsterdam in Holland and are already sampling the local produce!

Between them the “old git” and the “old gal” drove to Hull to catch the overnight ferry to Zeebrugge – then drove to the Dutch capital, arriving early afternoon in the bustling city which is the start point for a 3-leg two week Le Tour de France et Holland du tandem.

My dynamic duo were almost deliriously happy when we first set wheels on Dutch soil as we drove off the P&O ferry, as that meant we had finally arrived for our Euro Tour – after almost a year of planning.

It seems a long time since Saturday night when I was a star attraction at a wedding before a frenzied day of packing on Sunday. My crew were so busy they didn’t even have time to toast the trip – but am sure they will make up for that over the next two weeks as we tandem thru Holland and France!

There will be loads of time for tastings as we pedal along through the Dutch and French countryside – particularly on the last leg which will be in Champagne where my dynamic crew will have to do lots of strict taste tests to see it is up to standards!

Matilda Transport fully loaded and branded up for our Euro Tour 2017.

So Monday dawned and after some much-needed sleep, the alarm was duly set for 7 am and, after much checking, double checking and even triple checking, we set off at 9 am. My crew quickly ate up the miles on the M74 and on to the M6 before a stop at the fantastic Tebay services – where they stocked up on a few additional items for the picnic further down the motorway. Although it was a long trip I was very comfortable in Matilda Transport, I was ratchet strapped in so that my ageing frame was protected from too much shaking en route! You know, the old dears really do look after me like the “old lady” that I am!

The “old git” and the “old gal” travelling in tandem in Matilda Transport! All very comfy!

As you know my dynamic duo are so committed to the cause of tandeming, that in order to fit me into the vehicle, they have to sit in tandem while driving, with one occupying the driving seat, and the other sitting in the single “back seat” that is usable. It is actually all very cozy and comfy and all three of us really feel part of the team. The “old gal” can drive, while the “old git” has a chill and a snooze – and then they swap over every two hours.

The first bit of the journey flew past and we soon arrived at the Port of Hull to catch the P&O Ferries “Pride of York” evening sailing to Zeebrugge Port. This was all very exciting as it is the first time that Team Matilda has been on one of the big overnight ferries and my dynamic crew decided to use the North Sea crossing as the official start of their holiday!

So fairly soon after Matilda Transport was safely parked up, the “old gal” and the “old git” were up on deck having their first cocktail of the trip as we departed from Hull and sailed out into the Humber.

Cheers! The first cocktail of the Euro Tour 2017 to help my crew find their sea legs!

The “old gal” taking in the sea air as the Pride of York headed out into the Humber.

After celebrating our departure, next up was finding our cabin for our overnight stay – and it was actually quite luxurious with its en-suite facilities and even a port hole to see what was going on outside! Fortunately the sea was calm as the “old git” is not known for being the best on the high seas, so he took his anti sea sickness tablets just to be sure! And there was the obligatory bottle of prosecco to be opened just to help them settle in!

The “old gal” getting comfy and settling into the cabin for the overnight crossing.

Those anti sea sickness tablets were probably a good idea as next up on my dynamic crew’s schedule was a pre-dinner gin tasting! And amazingly they were the only people to turn up to the shopping area for it – so it became a private gin tasting – hosted by the wonderful (and the “old gal” said very good looking!) Bruno! He imparted his knowledge of all things gin and went through an informative series of tastings of some of the main – and lesser known – brands.

My dynamic crew with Bruno – their host for the private gin tasting on board!

The highlight was being introduced to Whitley Neill Rhubarb and Ginger Gin – but unfortunately the ship was out of stock so we had to make do with buying a large bottle of one of my crew’s favourites – the Botanist! After the “old gal” endeared herself by giving Bruno her recipe for yummy gin and tonic mussels, it was time for dinner.

Now the “old git” is known to like some of the finer things in life and had made a booking for the luxury restaurant on board – rather than the self-service canteen style eaterie. And what a treat it was as they were literally waited on hand and foot with the restaurant staff keen to make the evening very special as the ship was actually very quiet. The “old gal” relished the experience and both were treated to a gastronomic delight while on the high seas. It was all such fun that the “old gal” was heard to say that going on a cruise might actually be fun!

Enjoying the high life on the ocean wave in the fine dining restaurant on the Pride of York.

There was time for some more shopping and a quick night cap in the cabaret lounge before my crew retired to their cabin for the night – ahead of driving to Amsterdam to begin our three day tandem tour of the North Holland peninsula. 

That will be the first of three legs – one in Holland and two in France – which will involve three bucket list ticks of eating Edam cheese in Edam-Volendam on the North Holland peninsula leg before enjoying Vins d’Alsace while #tandeming the Alsace a velo, before the third and final leg drinking champagne while pedaling through the Champagne-Ardenne, France.

Ready to roll! Waiting for the doors to open to allow us to drive off the ferry!

After dreaming about all the wonderful experiences ahead my crew were up bright eyed and bushy tailed for breakfast as we docked at Zeebrugge before driving off the ship for the near three hour drive to Amsterdam. First impressions of Holland were great – it was very scenic and of course flat … a real bonus for the “old gal” who (as you may know) has a bit of an aversion to hills!

In no time we had found our base – the Westcord Art Hotel – parked up in the underground car park, unloaded and checked in to our fabulous room. After a bit of lunch my crew decided there was plenty of time to get me all kitted up with my panniers then stretch my pedals with a short warm-up tandem ride into the city centre – just to check all was well after the long journey.

You can check out the route of our warm–up trip around Amsterdam city centre below – and don’t forget to click on the Strava map image to get the full date and statistics!

As Team Tandem Ecosse emerged into the sunlight we were immediately met by Batman and Robin – well at least Batman and Robin cows, which were part of a new art trail in the city. The madcap meeting was certainly only the first of many “unusual” sights we would see in Amsterdam! And me and my crew are such innocents!

“So where did you park the Batmobile Robin?!” The bizarre superhero cows outside our hotel.

The first thing we all noticed was the bicycles – there are bikes everywhere! And I mean everywhere! A recent study came up with the finding that there are more bikes than people in the city! And the infrastructure for cycling is something that back home in Scotland my crew can only dream of.

As we pedalled into the city there are clearly marked cycling lanes – going in both directions – with their own traffic light system. And the great thing is that at junctions bicycles have right of way. Yes the bicycle is king in Holland … and it is great to see.

Now I am sure I left my bike here! – the massive bike parking areas in central Amsterdam.

We quickly and very easily navigated our way right into the city centre and happily tandemed down to the front of Centraal Station to find the short bike ferry link we would be using tomorrow when we head off on our tour in earnest.

Something else which couldn’t fail to catch the eye of my crew was the massive bike parks around the station. Every spare inch was taken up with parking for bikes – all supremely well organised with double deck racking systems! Just remember to take a note of the number of the rack you left it in!

Old ferries were docked by the station and turned into bike parking facilities.

Despite the literally millions of bicycles – of all shapes, sizes and functions – I have to say that this “old lady” was attracting a fair bit of attention from other cyclists because there are practically no tandems in Holland … so I am deemed a somewhat unusual bike!

Feeling brave after a ride to the station, the “old git” persuaded the “old gal” to cycle through a bike only tunnel into the bustling city centre so we could do the tourist bit and get a few scenic canal shots.

A typical shot on one of the many bridges over the scenic canals in central Amsterdam.

Then after what seemed to be an accidental turn (or at least that’s what the “old git” claimed!) we suddenly found ourselves in the heart of the red light district of Amsterdam – purely for research purposes for my blog! Now Amsterdam is famous for its museums – but let’s just say the ones we saw here weren’t exactly the Van Gogh type museums! But I was ok as I had my very own red cycling light with me – because that’s obviously what it refers to … yes?!

Amsterdam is known for its museums – but this wasn’t the Van Gogh one!

This kind lady offered to tell me the “secrets” of my red lights on my frame … I think!

After an interesting afternoon – and a ride back through a park – it was time to return to the hotel. My dynamic crew had been told that Dutch gins were rather good so naturally had to sample the local Bobby’s variety. And rather tasty it was too!

While supping the gin my my dynamic crew had time to check out Strava which officially recorded the ride as being a useful warm-up of 7.4 miles. The Strava statistics and our route are brought to life in our Relive 3D video – so take a look below.  (Remember if you are reading this on email, you need to click on the blog first – via the link at the bottom of the email – to view the video.)

My dynamic crew returned – by bus this time! – to the city centre for a tapas dinner – followed by a late evening Lover’s Amsterdam Candlelight Cruise around the city’s canal networks.

Cruising the Amsterdam canal network by candlelight – the perfect end to a busy day!

A planned visit to sample the sights in the Red Light District in darkness was postponed till my crew’s return to Amsterdam in a few days time, as it was time for some very necessary zzz’s before an early rise as we set off on the start of our 300 mile Euro tour adventure on a bicycle made for two.

Fingers crossed! A bientot !

P.S. Eagle eyed readers will be aware that the blog has being written after Le Tour du Tandem 2017 was completed, due to lack of time en route!