Euro Tour 2nd leg – tandeming the vineyards and canals 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!

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Euro Tour 1st leg – tandeming along the dykes and thru the windmills of north 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!

Le Tour hi-vis yellow t-shirts, a wedding, and final countdown to le grand depart!

Front view of the new Tandem Quest t-shirts – subtle and understated of course!

Quelle excitement! (see! I am learning the lingo!) I have to admit I am getting uber-excited about Le Grand Depart for our Tour de France et Holland as me, the “old git” and the “old gal” – renamed Team Tandem Ecosse for our Euro adventures – head off from Matildas Rest.

I have actually been finding it difficult to sleep as it is a veritable whirlwind of preparations and packing! And it won’t surprise you to know that the “old git” has drawn up list upon lists – and there is even a list of lists!

The 2017 tour logo

The “old gal” just rolls her eyes and smiles sweetly – knowing it is easier, and far less hassle, than to get in the way! But she has a quiet but firm way of getting her own back – putting her foot down and saying “No, we will do it this way.” And the “old git” has to sheepishly agree, because he knows it makes sense – even tho naturally he is loathe to admit it.

But the “old git” always manages to turn the “old gal” round with the promise of filing up my bidons – water bottles – with wine direct from the vat of wine in one of the many tasting caves along the route! How she smiles at that!

With excitement, it was time for the big unveiling of this year’s tour t-shirts – in electric hi-vis yellow naturellement! – which will certainly get my dynamic crew noticed! Or as the “old git” tells anyone who will listen – the garish t-shirts save us having to wear hi-vis safety tops!

Coming up with an amusing new slogan – which can translate well into French and make people smile – is always a challenge but this year the “old gal” came up trumps again! She certainly had a reputation to live up to. For our first trip in 2014 to Burgundy the design said “Two old farts on a tandem!”. That was followed in 2015 by “Always better when we’re together” – which again attracted considerable attention in France. Last year the slogan was “We’re here for the ride … and the wine!”

Now one of the legs of this year’s Euro tour will be tandeming through the vineyards in the champagne region – to fulfill a bucket list ambition to drink champagne in champagne. So that was the obvious focus for this year’s slogan and the “old gal” came up with “Tandem quest for wine and champagne” – complete with a large tandem logo. The t-shirts are again bi-lingual, with the English version on one side and French on the other!

So after in-depth consultation with the French language experts at Google translation, and a consultation with a friendly linguist, the dynamic duo came up with the phrase: “La quête par tandem pour vin et champagne.”

And rear view – spot the multilingual text! Clever or what!

Wording done, it was then simply a matter of handing over the design artwork to a good friend of the “old gal” called Gill, who along with her husband Kevin run Sprinterz in Perth – who are digital print and embroidery specialists.

The highly professional team at Sprinterz produced stunning eye-catching t-shirts, in that fetching electric yellow colour, made of lightweight Cooltex material. There was even space for the web address for my blog! The arms of the t-shirts have the specially created tour logo on one sleeve, and my dynamic crew’s team names on the other. And on the back they added a Scottish and French flag to mark the “Auld Alliance” between the two countries. Clever guys or what?

Now t-shirts apart it has been a traumatic time for me as this “old lady” has been under the surgeon’s knife in an unscheduled operation! But thanks to amazing 6 star-customer service from John – my personal #tandem bike surgeon at Richards Cycles in Perth City Centre – I am now back on my wheels and ready for Le Grand Depart for Le Tour de France et Holland du Tandem 2017!

My new super strong rear wheel – it was actually painless and I was very well looked after!

It looked like our Euro tour may be in jeopardy when my rear wheel developed an untimely badly cracked rim just two weeks before departure. John said it was no problem and calmed the fears of my dynamic crew – and quickly sourced a new rim from Holland – before undertaking a labour-intensive rebuild of my wheel including resizing my existing super strong spokes to fit … and all to a tight deadline.

After all that, there was a personal home delivery in their fancy van back to my garage! Personal service – and attention to detail – at its best for this “old lady” #tandem. Thanks to all J.M. Richards cycles. My dynamic crew have promised to toast you all as we tour the vineyards of Champagne! Whisper it, but they may even pick up a small thankyou gift along the way!

Now as the final countdown to Le Grand Depart built up speed the “old git” has been getting into the French spirit – literally! And not just le vin!  To help gel with the French and keep the spirit of the Auld Alliance alive between Scotland and France he gamely decided to get his big toe nails painted – one with the Scottish saltire flag and the other with the French tricolour!

The “old git’s” rather eye-catching “Auld Alliance” nails!

A brilliant – and somewhat unusual – job by Louise Raphael Nail Artist  who works with the “old gal” in her hair salon in Auchterarder! And I must admit, although this “old lady” was a bit sceptical the results are quite spectacular and impressive! They will look fab when he has his sandals on when not wearing his cycling shoes.

Wow! What a transformation! On stage as a wedding prop! Could be a whole new career!

Now if that wasn’t enough excitement for the pre departure weekend, then how about this! The “old gal” had fixed up for me to play a starring role at the wedding of Ashley Henderson and Maximilian Glodde at the Church of the Holy Rude then The Albert Halls, Stirling. Seems the happy couple had one of their first ever dates on a tandem – a bit like my dynamic crew – and the bride’s mother thought it would be a hoot to have this “old lady” on the stage as a wedding prop for photos!

Aww shucks! The newly married couple celebrate with a tandem kiss!

It was a fabulous day and I was delighted to be able to share the brilliant occasion with them! My dynamic crew had polished me all up so I was sparkling then the wedding planner added the finishing touches of a basket of flowers and a “just married” sign along with a glittering trail of cans behind me like a car when it leaves a wedding! Oh and if you are wondering the image of the dog is, it’s a lifesize photo of the couple’s dog. There could be a whole new career opening up for me here! And the “old git” is already pondering if I could be rented out to pay for an extra holiday!

It was a very glamorous society wedding with the hall beautifully decorated!

Ashley and Max loved the idea of having a tandem there and everyone crowded round to take photos. Now the story is that Max took his brave pills and took up the rear position! Mind you in the wedding speeches he admitted it was so he could get a good view … of Ashley’s bum!

My dynamic crew had to get in on the photos – even tho they are NOT just married!

My dynamic crew – who both know the bride’s parents – had a brilliant day as well – and managed to forget about the lists for long enough to enjoy a sensational day – including a rather tasty meal and some ceilidh dancing! I was on stage till well after midnight so it was a rather late night before the final packing frenzy.

Caption competition! I thought I would leave the caption here to your imagination!

So Sunday, the day before Le Grand Depart was a flurry of lists and packing and finally it was time for me to be loaded into Matilda Transport! Once I was strapped in, then all the luggage was fitted in! There was just about room for my dynamic crew to squeeze in!

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

It was actually an interesting exercise for Team Matildas Musings after an unscheduled wee prosecco at a post wedding celebration barbecue held at the parents of the bride’s house in Auchterarder. Well they had to be sociable after all, I suppose! And of course I got plenty of comments as to how smart I looked on stage as a photo prop for the happy couple!

Now I know some of my loyal blog readers have sleepless nights wondering about how we all travel! Because I am a classic tandem I go inside the vehicle! My dynamic crew fold down most of the seats, including the front passenger seat, and I can squeeze in comfortably taking up every inch from tailgate to dashboard!

Oh the glamour! The three of us squeezed into Matilda Transport ready to roll!

Now this means that because my crew are so committed to the cause of #tandeming, that they have to sit in tandem during the drive – while one drives, the other occupies the single “back seat” behind the driver! But it is all worth it in the end! And we all feel part of the team  – and it is actually great fun! One can drive, while the other chills and has a snooze in the rear – and they swap over driving duties every two hours to eat up the miles!

Matilda Transport is all branded up with the tour logo so we are finally ready to roll! First bit is to drive to the Port of Hull to catch the P&O Ferries evening sailing to Zeebrugge Port before driving to Amsterdam to start a #tandem tour of the North Holland peninsula. 

The tour 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.

As always when touring abroad Team MatildasMusings  has even been given a temporary nickname of Team Tandem Ecosse for this pre-Brexit tour and my dynamic crew  promise to do as much as we can to boost the entente cordiale with our Euro partners! I am sure the Auld Alliance (or Ancienne Alliance) between Scotland and France will survive no matter what! Well it will as long as there are not too many comments of “elle ne pédale pas”!!

So I hope you enjoy our adventures over a planned 270 miles or so of #tandeming on our Euro tour – and please do get in touch to wish me and my dynamic crew “Bon Voyage” and “Bon Chance!”

“Pedal”!!!

Hurricane Gert ride around Loch Leven and burger at Larder

The “old gal” and the “old git” at the viewpoint at Loch Leven … with a special guest!

*WARNING* this blog contains images of a red poncho which some readers may find alarming!

So with the weekend approaching the “old git” – ever the romantic – asked the “old gal” if she fancied going out for something to eat on Saturday evening. He explained that he had heard that there was a summer weekends pop up burger bar at Loch Leven’s Larder – a recommended foodie farm shop-cafe just a few hundred yards from the banks of Loch Leven.

But there’s no flies on the “old gal” – that should be there are no midges on her! – and she got it right away … she was going to have to earn her burger with a 13 mile tandem ride round the loch first!

But gamely she immediately agreed! And that’s why at about 5pm we were cycling away from the car park – right into the full force of the entrails of Hurricane Gert! Let’s just say there was a bit of head wind to start until we got into our stride – or before synchronicity kicked in!

Fortunately the route is relatively flat. Built at a cost of £3 million – it is known as the Loch Leven Heritage Trail – linking 30 natural and cultural heritage sites. You can check out the route of our tour of Loch Katrine on Strava below – and don’t forget to click on the map image to get the full date and statistics!

We set off on a clockwise loop and it wasn’t long before my crew encountered the dreaded midges. On a stretch along some stagnant water there were thick swarms of midges everywhere. The “old git” was literally coated in the nasty little blighters as he took the full blast as my Captain! He was muttering something about it was due to the fact that we were going so fast that there were so many on his body! We didn’t believe him of course, but the “old gal” helpfully took a picture of his forehead to show how many midges were about! (after removing his crash helmet, of course!)

Midges everywhere! Fortunately the Smidge worked wonders and meant they didn’t bite!

Fortunately my crew had taken the precaution of spraying themselves from head to foot with Smidge – a highly effective repellent that they knew from previous experiences works a treat in throwing the midges off your scent and stops them biting.

My crew were picking up speed – perhaps to try and leave the midges behind – and we soon we tandemed past the interesting RSPB Loch Leven Nature Reserve at Vane Farm before pedalling up the only real inclines to the viewpoint area battling more strong Hurricane Gert headwinds!

My dynamic crew against a backdrop of blue skies at the viewpoint overlooking scenic Loch Leven.

At the viewpoint the “old git” whipped out his portable extendable tripod and bluetooth camera clicker which allows him to take pictures of both of my dynamic crew together and took  a few arty shots to show the blue sky overlooking the fantastic vista of the loch.

Now today’s trip brought back memories of exactly a year ago when Team Matilda hosted John and Jane of  Team Bluebird to our area for a memorable week long Tour de Perthshire – which included a somewhat wet loop of Loch Leven. As the heavens opened Jane donned some “high fashion” waterproof protection – forever to be known now as “the fetching red poncho!”

Flashback to a year ago – Jane with the fetching red poncho!

So as a friendly wheeze the “old git” decided that Jane would be introduced into our ride as a special guest – courtesy of a large photo of her wearing said fetching red poncho! It was actually a bit windy and the flimsy paper print kept flapping about in the (hurricane force) winds! But my dynamic crew persevered to get the shot … just to show the three of us were thinking of Jane! Oh how we laughed!

The “old gal” saying ‘wish you were here’ to Jane in honour of the red poncho!

The “old gal” had to dissuade the “old git” from attaching the photo of Jane in a plastic wallet to the big round rock at the viewpoint and adding her email in case anyone wanted to buy a similar fashion statement! And after many smiles at the gentle ribbing, and at great memories of tandeming with wonderful friends John and Jane, we pedalled on.

The strong wind was behind us for a bit which offered some relief – but then, as always happens, it turned in direction and blasted us as a viscous side wind. Any as you know, I am a long vehicle so when the wind catches me it can be mildly scary for keeping our balance!

We negotiated a trip off the path through the car park at Kinross Pier, and a wooden boardwalk section, before rejoining the path just in time for a great view of Loch Leven castle  in the middle of the loch – which was the setting for the most traumatic year in the life of Mary Queen of Scots. It was here in 1567 that she was imprisoned and forced to abdicate before her dramatic escape a year later.

The last section took my dynamic crew back into the forest for a final coating of midges before we sped back to Matilda Transport and the end of our loop.  Feeling healthy after the ride – and wiping off  what seemed like hundreds of dead midges – my crew then retired to the sanctuary of Loch Leven’s Larder  and the pop up burger bar to enjoy some decadent pleasures.

Time for a well earned burger and a wee glass of prosecco – in tandem naturally!

While looking over the burger menu there was time to check out Strava which officially recorded the ride as being worthy of no less than 9 gongs – 6 personal bests and 3 seconds. Me and my crew had tandemed a distance of 13 miles with a moving time of 1 hour 17 minutes. The elevation was a minimal 252  feet which allowed a healthy average speed of 10.1 mph. The recorded top speed was 38.9 mph but that had to be a Strava glitch  – which makes a change from an ‘operator error!’ – as the old fashioned handlebar speedo recorded a much more realistic top speed of 17.8 mph.  Team Matilda managed to burn up 629 calories and produce an average power output of 121 W.

Cheers! Time for a wee cheeky alfresco prosecco on the decking awaiting the burgers!

Certainly something worth to toast there with the obligatory prosecco – as if my crew needed any excuse! The “old gal” ordered a sharing platter which consisted of a yummy selection of perfectly barbecued burgers – beef, salmon, chicken and portobello mushroom with a giant frankfurter thrown in for good measure.  It was all served with bowls of healthy fresh crunchy salads and tasty dressings and it really hit the spot.

Restaurant with a view! My crew’s table overlooked the nature reserve at Loch Leven.

My crew were really lucky with the weather as the hurricane winds had all but disappeared and the sun was out! It really made it an idyllic spot – with the restaurant decking overlooking the nature reserve at Loch Leven. The “old git” lost count of the number of flights of geese he saw taking off – flying in perfect v formation over the water!

We were lucky with the weather – but clearly it isn’t always sunny!

As I say, my crew were lucky – but clearly the weather isn’t always wonderful however … if the cheeky sign above the exit to the outdoor area is anything to go by … with the wording: Sorry but sometimes the weather here is pants” … written on large pairs of bloomers!

After the burgers there was just enough room it seems for the “old gal” and the “old git” to squeeze in a slice of caramel shortcake with a strong coffee before heading home exercised, fed and watered! Another great #tandem ride to show the amazing scenery of the Perth & Kinross Countryside TrustPerth & Kinross Council and Perth City Centre area! #perthistheplace for cycling!

As always 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.)

So back at Matildas Rest and I was unpacked into my garage, with my dynamic crew reflecting on yet another memorable ride full of laughs – emphasising that its the Smiles not the miles that count. What better way is there to spend a Saturday evening?!

Tandem King of Mountain ride and music cruise celebration at Loch Katrine

The “old git” and the “old gal” were joined by solo cyclist friends Gillian and Craig.

There’s nothing like tempting fate! In his infinite wisdom (ie questionable!) the “old git” decided we needed to beat our demons and do a trouble free and deluge free tandem trip to Loch Katrine – which nestles in some of Scotland’s most atmospheric, picturesque and historic scenery in the heart of Rob Roy Country and the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park.

For those of you unfamiliar with the mechanical breakdowns (which seemed to be put down to my ageing frame) – a quick reminder. Three years ago, in July 2014, my rear gear cog disintegrated and then two years ago the pedal arm sheared clean off my rear pedal crank axle. But we did successfully complete a Beating the demons tandem ride last year – albeit ending up pretty soggy in driving rain.

So it was with somewhat more confidence – hopefully not misplaced – combined with an encouraging weather forecast that we set off from Matildas Rest to meet up with good solo cyclist friends of the “old gal” and “old git” – Gillian and Craig. The “old git” had done his research and discovered there was a music cruise on the historic steamship Sir Walter Scott  later in the afternoon – and booked tickets so my dynamic duo could relax with Gillian and Craig after their exertions!

So at at ten o’clock on Sunday morning we were parked at the head of the beautiful Loch Katrine at Trossachs Pier. As we unpacked it was apparent that we were in midge country – with literally swarms of the nasty little blighters everywhere. Fortunately my crew had taken the precaution of spraying themselves from head to foot with Smidge – a highly effective repellent that they knew from previous experiences works a treat in throwing the midges off your scent and stops them biting.

The itinerary – planned (as usual) with military precision – was for us to tandem the 13 miles down to the bottom of the lock at Stronachlachar, before having a spot of lunch, then cycle the return leg, before the cruise. The distance was a manageable 26 miles – but the terrain is fairly undulating! (“That’s HILLY – not undulating” shouts the “old gal”!) So it was going to be a good test for my dynamic crew’s new found fitness! And that’s why – somewhat tongue in cheek – the “old git” was sporting his red polka dot Tour de France King of the Mountains jersey! Oh and he has matching socks too!

The “old git” was glad he wasn’t doing the hills on this penny farthing!

You can check out the route of our tour of Loch Katrine on Strava below – and don’t forget to click on the map image to get the full date and statistics!

In lovely dry conditions we set off tandeming down the loch – with the synchronicity soon kicking in and we picked up a fair pace. The route down the side of the loch is a well maintained private road owned by Scottish Water who use the loch as a reservoir to supply Glasgow. And of course the amazing scenery is real brain food. After about four miles, and the first really tough King of the Mountain hill, we all stopped for a welcome breather and took in the awesome views across the loch.

My dynamic crew hamming up being knackered after the first real hill! Or so they said!

An arty through my handlebars shot showing the moody skies.

My dynamic crew were really enjoying the ride – even managing to nail most of the hills that previously required them to get off and push. The route was busy with cyclists – quite a few who were clearly with cycling clubs given their matching lycra kit! A couple of very friendly ones stepped off their pace to chat for a bit and jokingly admired the “old git’s” King of the Mountain jersey and said that the “old gal’s” green one represented the sprint jersey in the Tour de France … making us quite a powerful combination. To which the “old gal” replied that my crew simply had delusions of grandeur!

It was tough going but – in a mark of the new found fitness of the “old git” and the “old gal” – we reached the bottom end in what seemed like no time at all and cycled round to Stronachlachar for a halfway break. Gillian and Craig had already arrived a good few minutes ahead of us, but they videoed our arrival as their stomachs rumbled ready for lunch! (Don’t forget that 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.)

There is a fantastic spot for lunch here – the Pier Cafe which really is a treasure of a find, in a very remote corner of the country. It has new owners and all the food on the refreshed menu is home-made on the premises. After a much-needed reviving chilled drink, extremely tasty paninis were ordered and demolished! Coffee and caramel shortcake followed – to ensure energy levels were topped up for the return journey. Five stars for the service and food – and it was good value too.

The Pier Cafe at Stronalachar offers great food and super views up the loch.

Before heading back my crew noticed a great addition to the car park – the old red phone box had been turned into a defibrillator station. Naturally my crew joked that with the hills it may be needed! – but seriously it is a great place to store such a vital piece of life saving equipment.

The “old gal” laughing that she needed the defibrillator after tackling the hills!

As we hit the first hill it brought back happy memories for the “old gal” and the “old git” – as they reminisced about a day five years go when they visited Loch Katrine on their first proper date together! You see, this spot has a very special place in the hearts of my dynamic duo as without Loch Katrine they may never have teamed up together! It is the very reason they got into tandeming in the first place and it was totally by accident! They had planned a walk along the banks of the loch but as they arrived, they noticed tandems for hire from Katrine Wheelz at Trossachs Pier.

The “old git” and “old gal” on their first ever tandem ride five years ago on their first proper date!

Thinking this would be a fun way to break the ice on the date they set off in an unsteady fashion – but the result was they got hooked on tandeming immediately – despite the constant heavy rain that day and the “old gal” falling off into an unglamorous muddy heap on at least two occasions!

And the rest, as they say, is history – with my crew romantically falling in love with a new hobby … and each other … as a result! And despite my crews unconventional way of starting out, they have gelled as an unbreakable team – having become synchronised with each others foibles … both on and off the saddle. You can read a humorous account of that fateful day here.

Those fifth anniversary memories of their first tandem ride spurred my crew on as they battled the hills on the return journey. And fortunately the weather was much better and they were able to enjoy the fantastic awe inspiring scenery – albeit there was the odd shower of rain.

One of the highlights, about half way back along the route, is a scenic viewpoint at Portnellan which overlooks the burial ground of the Clan MacGregor – which dates back to the 17th century – and has historic links to the legendary Rob Roy MacGregor.

The “old gal” at the viewpoint at Portnellan looking down at the Clan MacGregor burial ground.

On we pedalled up and down hills and spotted a couple of hired tandems coming in the opposite direction. They were crewed by Dutch tourists who insisted on high-fiving my captain on the way past! Team Matilda was happy to do our bit for post-Brexit European relations! My crew had planned a prosecco stop half way back along, but when we arrived at the picnic tables there were swarms of those midges everywhere and that idea was quickly abandoned. It must be one of the few times that my crew have voluntarily given up prosecco – but they did pledge to open it later! The good thing about cycling is that we were travelling too fast for the midges – so it was actually very pleasant … until we stopped! So a final couple of hills before the route finally levels out for the last couple of miles back to Trossachs Pier where you get a great view across to the steamship.

The “old git” on the banks of the loch looking across at the Walter Scott steamship.

On return to Trossachs Pier I was quickly packed back inside Matilda Transport in a futile attempt to thwart the midges! But my dynamic crew were delighted that we had beaten our demons and completed Loch Katrine without a major mechanical incident …. and without getting soaked!

Strava officially recorded the ride as covering an elevation of 1,643 feet – one of the biggest up and down hill rides that my dynamic duo have done. All credit to them – and I would even have to say that the “old git” really deserved to be wearing his King of the Mountains jersey! Whisper it but I think he is going to order the “old gal” one as well!

There was great euphoria when my dynamic crew discovered that Strava had awarded Team Matilda 14 gongs along the way – no less than 12 personal bests … I will repeat that … no less than 12 personal bests!! … and 2 second bests.

We tandemed a distance of 26.3 miles with a moving time of 2 hours 41 minutes, with an average speed of 9.8 mph – which is pretty impressive given the hilly terrain. Top speed was 32.9 mph – and we managed to burn up 1,858 calories and produce an estimated average power output of 172 W.

The “old gal” popping the prosecco cork after 12 personal bests!

If my dynamic crew ever needed an excuse to pop open the prosecco, then those impressive figures provided a great reason. As I rested up, my dynamic duo and Gillian and Craig got changed out of their cycling gear and had a celebration glass of bubbly on the pier. The toast was not only to the PBs – but of course to five fantastic years since that first (fateful) tandem date! Cheers!

Cheers! The “old gal” and the “old git” toast five wonderful years since that first fateful tandem ride!

As always 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.)

The four cyclists then boarded the Sir Walter Scott for a two hour music cruise on Loch Katrine. It was a wonderful event, sailing on an iconic 115 year old steamship, listening to rock, folk and pop music – along with a good few cheesy tunes – from enthusiastic entertainer Dougie McQ against a backdrop of the stunning mountains and almost mirror-like flat loch which was reflecting the scenery.

The “old gal” pictured beside the calm reflective waters of the loch from the boat.

My dynamic crew clowning around and having lots of fun aboard the steamship.

The “old git” had to be persuaded not to get up to do his “Dad dancing” routine again – well banned by the “old gal” actually! – so he had to make do with singing along to some of his favourites from the 1970s!  The “old gal” had prepared one of her special picnics for my crew to eat while listening to the music as the cruise took us all the way down to the bottom of Loch Katrine and back up again.

The view from a porthole on the steamship underlines the beauty of the loch.

The “old gal” enjoying the view of the spectacular scenery from the front of the boat .

After disembarking my crew bid farewell to Gillian and Craig before Team Matilda headed back to Matildas Rest. All in all another fabulous tandem ride – with no mechanical mishaps – and another day full of fun, laughs, iconic scenery, sunshine, a bit of rain, prosecco, and a fantastic picnic … all shared with good friends!

And that is truly the definition of another great tandem day out for me and my dynamic crew!

All Shook Up after Elvis party on wilderness ride at Loch Rannoch

“Its Now or Never”! Time for prosecco picnic at Loch Rannoch after Elvis party.

So you know how it is when the “old git” gets an idea into his head! Sometimes – did I hear the “old gal” say ‘often’ there! – they seem a bit madcap … but more often than not it would need to be admitted that they turn out to be great days out. Yes sometimes they can go spectacularly awry and today’s plan certainly had that potential – but fortunately it fell into the spectacularly good category.

You see my dynamic crew were invited to a birthday party for the Dad of a friend of the “old gal’s” on the Saturday night in our home town of Auchterarder. And it wasn’t just any birthday party – it was a 60th party with an Elvis theme … with compulsory dressing up in Elvis-era gear as the birthday boy was a huge fan of the King of Rock and Roll. And so bedecked in their teddy boy outfit and rockabilly dress my crew had great fun as they partied the night away till 11.30pm.

Which is all fine and dandy except the “old git” had decided that the next day Team Matilda would head off to one of our favourite wilderness spots of Loch Rannoch in Highland Perthshire!  And that’s why at 7am the morning after the night before the alarm wakened my crew. A couple of hours later and we were driving up the A9 turning off just after Pitlochry for Tummel Bridge. Amazingly, 75 miles away from base, we were parked up and ready to ride by 11.30am.

What a difference twelve hours can make!

Cool Cats! My crew at Elvis party at 11.30pm on Saturday in Auchterarder.

Tandeming Cats! My crew at 11.30am on Sunday ready to roll (without the rock!) on the banks of scenic Loch Rannoch nearly 75 miles away from Auchterrader. What a difference 12 hours can make! Sunglasses required but not for sore heads!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now sunglasses were required as we set off – but not for reasons of sore heads, but because the sun was shining brightly! Now despite giving the appearance of being bright eyed and bushy tailed it was evident that my crew – or at least the “old git” – did still feel a bit ‘All Shook Up’ as there was an ‘operator error’ with Strava at the first photo stop! Read on for more details!

The “old gal” had suggested we go anti-clockwise round the loch for the first time. Every previous visit had seen us stick to a clockwise rotation of the loch – but the “old gal” is a bit of a rebel and likes a change to freshen things up now and then, so the decision was made. You can check out the details of our route on Strava below – and don’t forget to click on the map image to be transferred to Strava to get the full data and statistics!  Oh and apologies in advance for the “operator error” which results in us appearing to tandem on water up the loch! Read on to discover whose fault that was!

The Loch Rannoch folly.

The anti-clockwise circuit started with a nice descent from our parking spot, turning right before crossing the bridge over the River Gaur followed by a steady steep uphill climb for about half a mile. It certainly raised the body temperatures of my dynamic crew! But the climb is worth it with views across the whole length and breadth of the loch. A point of interest is Eilean Nam Faoileag – a small island which was occupied from the middle of the 15th century until the middle of the 17th century and now is home to a tower which is a 19th-century folly. You can’t miss the impressive Rannoch Power Station – part of the Tummel Valley hydro scheme – which has been in operation since 1930 and is currently being renovated to extend its lifespan.

The route on the quieter south side of the lock is amazingly scenic – possibly more so than the (slightly) busier north shore road. The B-class single track road never seems to be more than a couple of yards from the loch itself and there is always lots to catch the eye of Team Matilda.

The “old gal” spotted a (mini) kilted Highlander at the side of the road!

The wilderness factor is underlined as the narrow road winds its way through the magical Black Wood of Rannoch – one of the largest areas of ancient pine forest left in Scotland. It certainly lives up to its Forestry Commission billing as “a living growing monument with some trees thought to be about 400 years old, and is home to a wonderful variety of plants and wildlife, including deer, pine martens and red squirrel.” It is little wonder that it is designated a Special Area of Conservation and was looking magnificent in the sunshine. It was truly a wonderful spot to be out tandeming in and both the “old gal” and the “old git” felt privileged to be there.

The route is gently undulating – and despite their excesses from partying last night (or should that be because of!) – my dynamic crew were really in the zone today and we were pedalling along at an average of over 15-16 mph for long stretches – a good bit faster than our normal.

We soon reached a stony beach area at the top of the loch – which my dynamic crew decided would be a perfect spot for their prosecco picnic. But as he dismounted the “old git” let out a loud “Aaagh” as he made the discovery that Strava had not been recording the ride for 8 miles from the first photo stop! Seems he had stopped the timer so as not to waste valuable seconds when taking some pictures – and then promptly forgot to start it again as we tandemed off! And his pain was made even worse by the fact that we had been fair rattling along! Oh how me and the “old gal” laughed!

Painful moment for the “old git” discovering HIS Strava operator error. Oh how we laughed!

However his pain – or was that embarrassment because the “old gal” is always telling him to just let it auto-pause – was soon forgotten about when the “old git” spied a perfect picnic table for two right at the edge of the loch. He quickly unhooked the bottle of prosecco I had been safely carrying in my la bouclee bottle carrier and plonked it in nature’s fridge that is Loch Rannoch to chill.

Arty shot of the bottle of prosecco in nature’s fridge at Loch Rannoch!

As the “old git” popped open the prosecco cork with a loud pop, a Mum was walking on the beach with her young daughter and says to the girl that there was a couple celebrating! The Mum asked the “old gal” what my crew were celebrating. My stoker replied that we were just celebrating it being Sunday lunchtime! To which she replied as she walked off enviously: “Oh I remember these days, I think!”

Cheers! Perfect prosecco picnic table for two with a view on the edge of the loch.

My dynamic crew toasted another sensational picnic spot with a nicely chilled glass of fizz before enjoying some smoked salmon and chilli cream cheese croissants and some fresh fruit for lunch.

The “old git” did manage to redeem himself a bit in the “old gal’s” critical eye when he brought out his portable tripod extension and set it up, linked to a bluetooth clicker, to be able to take pictures of both of us together. Whisper it but in the photo below,  the “old gal” put on her best smile when he said “ready” – even tho it was being taken from behind and only showed her back view!

I’ve obviously been learning to take pictures of my dynamic crew when they’re not looking!

After enjoying the prosecco picnic – and some amazing views right down the loch in bright sunshine – it was time for my crew to get back on my saddles and pedal across the bridge over the River Tummel and thru Kinloch Rannoch before heading down the north side of the loch.

The “old gal” decided a quick stop was required at the wild camping area about a third of the way back down the loch – which offers a perfect viewpoint for pictures with the majesty of the perfectly conical shape of Schiehallion – one of Scotland’s most recognisable mountains – in the background. This area provides easy access to rocky beach and the loch which was looking beautiful despite the clouds darkening and the imminent prospect of rain. Unfortunately those clouds had “stolen” the top of Schiehallion which wasn’t visible in the photos!

Here I am at the wild camping site on the north side – but where is Schiehallion hiding?!

It’s up there under the cloud! The “old gal” pointing to where Schiehallion’s iconic conical top should be.

My crew didn’t stop for long as it appeared the forecast rain was due to arrive soon. And just short of three miles from the end it started – fortunately just light rain as we climbed a steep hill towards the end of the loch before a rapid downhill to Bridge of Gaur and the mile or so back to our parking spot.

After a quick hi five to celebrate completing the circuit, and with the rain getting heavier, I was quickly packed away in Matilda Transport and my crew drove the 5 miles to the end of the road and the wonderfully remote Rannoch railway station where there is a favourite coffee and cake spot for the “old git” and the “old gal” – the amazing Rannoch Station Tearoom.

It really is a truly fabulous hidden gem – and must get the vote for being not only the most remote tearoom in Scotland – but the most welcoming and friendly. Run by the uber-hospitable Bill and Jenny Anderson it offers cyclists, walkers and railway passengers an amazing oasis of home made tasty coffees, cakes and light meals. You can even have a wine or a beer while sitting on the station platform watching the live theatre that is the natural wilderness of Rannoch Moor.

The duo’s customer service ethic has no bounds – and even runs to delivering phone orders of bacon butties to train passengers travelling up and down the Glasgow to Fort William route. In my crew’s case it extends to happily reserving a couple of scones (via Facebook) to ensure they didn’t run out! What service!  So it was delicious home made fruit scones with clotted cream and jam followed by gigantic slices of seriously yummy carrot cake and lemon mascarpone cake, washed down with a cafetiere of wonderfully strong freshly brewed coffee.

Finger lickin good clotted cream scones, fab cakes and strong coffee! Yum!

According to my dynamic crew the tearoom more than lived up to its five star Trip Advisor certificate of excellence award. And if the look of satisfaction on the “old gal’s” face as she sampled the goodies was anything to go by, I think if she could have awarded six stars, it would have been more than earned!

Bill and Jenny were excitedly getting ready for a visit from a tv crew filming for the new series of the Channel 4 show Village of the Year with actress Penelope Keith. Over this summer the programme has been visiting villages across the UK to determine the winner of this brand new competition, with a £10,000 prize to be spent on a worthwhile community project. Kinloch Rannoch has been one of the villages nominated for filming for the 2017 series which aims to celebrate all that is great about our rural communities. Certainly if breathtaking wilderness scenery is anything to go by, the village should be an outright winner! My crew will be watching progress.

The uber hospitable Bill and Jenny who take service standards to new highs at Rannoch Station Tearoom.

As my dynamic crew were leaving  a nice gentleman introduced himself – after recognising them by their hi-viz yellow t-shirts emblazoned with my blog – as being Steve from Dial a Bike Rannoch who said he was an avid reader of my blog posts! Steve runs a cycle rental service in the Rannoch Moor, Kinloch Rannoch and Tummel Bridge area. So if you happen to be staying in the area and need some bikes to get around then Steve is your man! He even has a couple of those electric bikes – for those that want to cheat! But he has yet to introduce a tandem to his stable of bikes – although my crew did their best to persuade him that he should!

Replete and refreshed after their afternoon tea, it was time to head back out of the Tummel Valley and back to base. The weather had deteriorated to heavy rain, leaving Team Matilda feeling lucky that we had such an enjoyable – and mainly dry – ride round the loch. Back at Matildas Rest – and with internet connection restored – a check of Strava revealed that we didn’t record any gongs on our route … but this was because it was the first time that we had done the Loch Rannoch loop anti-clockwise!

Now due to that unfortunate incident – which the “old git” refers to as “operator error” when it was really his own silly fault! – Strava officially recorded the ride as covering a distance of only 15.8 miles at an average speed of 12.2 mph, and a top speed of 31.1 mph. However the old-fashioned speedometer thingy on my handlebars, which is not prone to “operator error”! – recorded me and my dynamic crew covering 24.7 miles and an average speed of 13.6 mph and a maximum of 32.1 mph. The traveling time was 1 hour 49 minutes and we managed to burn up 1,441 calories.

As always the Strava statistics and our route are brought to life in our Relive 3D video – so take a look below. Oh and I will apologies again for the Strava “operator error” which results in us appearing to tandem on water up loch on the video! (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.)

It has certainly been an action packed 24 hours for my dynamic crew – from arriving at the Elvis party to arriving back at Matildas Rest after another memorable tandeming trip full of laughs and fun.

Next up the “old git” tells me we are doing another loch trip on Sunday when we return to Loch Katrine in the heart of Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park and Rob Roy Country – the scene of some previous “interesting” trips which have included some fairly serious mechanical problems of my rear gear cog disintegrating and then the pedal arm sheared clean off my rear pedal crank axle. My spokes are crossed there is no repeat this time – and also for some much needed summer sunshine!