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”!!!

Supporting Save Millport Pier campaign on Euro tour training ride

The “old gal” and me pictured looking across to the under threat Millport pier.

Team Matilda like getting involved in a good campaign … and recently me and my dynamic crew were invited to join the fight to Save Millport Pier. As regular visitors to the island and big fans of its charm we were naturally delighted to become involved to add a bit of fun to the campaign.

Which is why at 6.30 bright and early on Sunday morning my crew awakened from their slumbers for a busy schedule heading “overseas” for some “warm weather” training to the island of Millport. And the good news was that – as forecast – the sun was already streaming in the window from behind the blind filling my crew with enthusiasm for the day ahead!

The “old git” and the “old gal” had already decided to go to their beloved “Costa del Millport” for one of their final training rides before this year’s Tour de France (including Holland) in mid September. The plan being to do some training laps round the island – officially known as The Isle of Cumbrae – as it is a cyclists paradise offering a virtually flat 10 mile loop on almost traffic free roads never more than a few yards from the coast.

And to add to the excitement Team Matilda is also going to be supporting the petition too help Save Millport Pier. Read on for more details – but I was delighted to be kitted out with a large red and white Save  Millport Pier sign attached to my frame. After a quick 77 mile drive in Matilda Transport to the west coast, I was unpacked in Largs and we tandemed to catch the CalMac ferry. The island is less than a 10 minute trip across the firth of Clyde, but those few minutes make a huge difference as it feels like you are heading to a different world as you leave the mainland behind.

On the ferry to Millport – my crew with King and Queen of the Mountain jerseys!

It would have to be said that my dynamic crew – always shy and reserved! – were attracting a fair bit of attention bedecked in their King and Queen of the Mountain red polka dot Tour de France jerseys … and matching socks! – impressive attention to detail! It was all definitely tongue firmly in cheek (or so the “old git” said) as the route round the island has no steep hills … just a few gradual inclines!

It was good to see so many bikes on the ferry crossing – even if there were no other tandems. As we disembarked the roll on-roll off ferry we headed clockwise for a gentle 4 mile warm-up into the town of Millport. You can check out the route of our tour of Millport training ride below – and don’t forget to click on the map image to get the full date and statistics!

There was a fair head-on breeze blowing as my dynamic crew pedalled from the slipway, so it was obviously going to be a day of battling the winds! But the sun was out and it was going to be a glorious day by the seaside! On arrival in the town of Millport my crew decided it was time for a coffee pit stop at the wonderfully named Crocodeli delicatessen – which combines the deli part with the famous Crocodile Rock landmark. The coffee was just as the “old gal” likes it – nice and strong and my crew couldn’t resist a small pistachio Italian pastry to accompany it!

Time for morning coffee ad pistachio pastry at Crocodeli – oh if you insist!

Time for the first lap and we headed off clockwise quickly pedalling out from the town and enjoying magnificent views across to neighbouring islands of Arran and then Bute. The scenery is breathtakingly beautiful, with numerous deserted beaches and abundant wildlife. In high spirits we identified our usual “private picnic table” and “made a booking” for an hour’s time when on our second lap! In what seemed like no time at all we had completed the first circuit by pedalling back into the town in around 50 minutes. Not bad for a warm-up!

Time to get some photos at Millport Pier and lend our support to the campaign to save the facility. We met up with Mari Wallace, one of the campaign organisers, who explained that the island’s fragile economy would be boosted by the retention of a working pier. The petition aims to draw attention to the community’s fears over the deterioration of the wooden pier which dates from 1833, amid fears over its long term future – with concern it will be demolished if funds are not invested in protecting it.

The old wooden part of Millport pier is now blocked off and unsafe – thus the campaign!

A  well-supported “sit-in” to launch the campaign had been held the day before – attracting coverage on national tv and radio. Amazingly over 7,300 signatures have now been added to the petition – more than five time’s the island’s population of just 1,400.

Mari told us that in 2014 North Ayrshire Council (NAC) took the decision to demolish the wooden part of Millport Pier. It had been neglected for several years prior to this decision being made and since then has fallen even into a worse state of repair, with it now being out of bounds for safety reasons.

The “sit-in” the day before our visit on Millport Pier was well attended. Credit: CRSC

A stay of execution was put in place when NAC were advised by some local people that the pier forms critical flood defence for the town and until other measures are put in place it is vital that it should be maintained or otherwise the town is at risk.

In the recent consultation on Millport Coastal Flood Prevention there was overwhelming support for the retention of Millport Pier and the construction of off shore breakwaters. The sting in the tail however is that even if offshore breakwaters are put in place North Ayrshire Council have ring fenced £0.5m for demolishing the pier and fully intend to do so on the premise that it’s cheaper to demolish than to maintain! Meanwhile the council says it has “no immediate plans” to demolish the pier.

My dynamic crew were directed to a great article with lots of amazing pictures about the history of Millport Pier on the Clyde River Steamer Club website. It records that in its post war heyday Millport welcomed large steamers like the Queen Mary 11, carrying over 2,000 passengers on summer holiday trips “doon the Watter” from Glasgow.

The huge Queen Mary 11 dwarfed Millport Pier back in its postwar heyday. Credit CRSC

There’s still time to sign the petition to Save Millport Pier – so please add your voice to the campaign to keep a key landmark and focal point of Millport’s sea front.

The “old git” at the entrance to the harbour – spot my Save Millport Pier sign!

After Team Matilda did our bit for the campaign, it was now time for our second circuit and this time my crew decided to go anti clockwise – to take in the views from a different direction. Pedalling out past Kames Bay the sun was shining brightly on some yellow flowers – providing an eye-catching photo opportunity for me.

The sun came out and these flowers provided a colourful image overlooking Kames Bay.

We pedalled on up past the ferry slipway and round the top of the island soon arriving at our idyllic quiet picnic tale with stunning views over the white sand and across to Rothesay. The balmy weather provided a perfect environment for one of my dynamic crew’s prosecco picnics!

Lunch table with a view! Our idyllic picnic bench overlooking the beach and over to Isle of Bute.

Now, as you know, prosecco picnics at remote spots are one of the great pleasures of tandeming and my crew are true exponents of the art! Today the food to emerge from their bicycle rider’s luncheon box was smoked salmon and chilli cream cheese on focaccia bread, followed by fresh strawberries and cream, and a square of chocolate. Oh, did I mention the prosecco to wash it all down?! Picnics don’t come much better than this!

Cheers! The “old git” toasts the “old gal” for another wonderful prosecco picnic!

After a walk on the beach while enjoying the warm sunshine my crew got back on my saddles to complete the anti clockwise lap with the promise of a coffee and cake stop at the Dancing Midge Cafe. There my crew enjoyed some freshly brewed coffee and yummy carrot cake – de rigeur for tandemers.

After refuelling my crew decided to investigate the giant marquee that has been erected for the following weekend’s Millport Country Music Festival.  Now the island has historically hosted a highly popular country and western music weekend, which started back in 1995.  22 years on the festival has gone from strength to strength, featuring country bands from all over the UK to become one of the most popular on the west coast of Scotland, and one of the biggest Country Music festivals in Scotland. This year will be the biggest ever  with the addition of a huge 3,000 capacity concert marquee.

The marquee which will hold 3000 fans for the Millport Country Music Festival.

The “old git” then decided to finish with a flourish and that the final lap of the day would be an attempt on my dynamic crew’s existing Tour de Millport time for going round the island of 41.28 minutes. After much discussion about which way to go – using arguments and counter arguments and the scientific experiment of sticking a finger in the air to try and establish which way the wind was blowing! – the “old gal” decided on clockwise! And to emphasise the serious nature of this record attempt – she even removed her cycling jacket!

We set off from the harbour and it would need to be said that I was uber-impressed as we fair whizzed along with the “old git” keeping me in high gears most of the time. I was really enjoying myself as this “old lady” doesn’t normally get to experience such speeds.

And I am very proud to report that my dynamic crew excelled themselves with a non-stop circuit of the island in a new personal best time of 40 minutes … give or take  the odd second or two – which means we were tandeming at an average speed of 15 miles an hour! All the more impressive when a check of the weather later revealed Team Matilda were battling a 14 mph headwind. And what’s more it was actually great fun – underlining my crew’s motto of “It’s always better when we’re tandeming together!”

The “old gal” looking fresh as the flowers on the prom after our record breaking lap!

After the exertions of the record breaking lap my crew decided a coffee stop would be very welcome and found a cheery welcome at the recently restored  Garrison House – a historic landmark building on the promenade which was built in 1745. It seems history reports that Millport owes its origins in the 1700s to the people who attempted to smuggle contraband into the Clyde and to those who tried to stop them! The Garrison House was built as the residence of the Captain and officers of the customs ship ‘Royal George’ which played a key role in the ‘hot pursuit’ of smugglers. The cafe was closing but happily produced some coffees which hit the spot!

Tandeming along the promenade we were hailed by Sean who owns bike hire shop On Your Bike Millport in the town. My dynamic crew turned round for a chat and it turns out Sean had seen my classic tandem frame earlier in the day and had admired it before doing some research and catching up with my blog! Sean was very complimentary about my appearance describing me as “a very well kept classic tandem who looks in fine fettle!” He also was full of praise for the “old gal” in her role as chief engineer for keeping me in shape!

Sean told us that he started his business 10 years ago and tandems are now a very important part of his hire trade on the island – with no less than 8 in his stable … although he admitted that none of them had a name like me! Apart from the tandems he runs a fleet of over 200 bikes, including the star attraction of a 7-seater “conference bike”.

He says that visitors to the island often end up having their first ever tandem ride when hiring from his business – and some … like my crew … end up being smitten by riding a bicycle made for two! Sean said: “Everyone should take a tandem ride at least once in their life! I’ve seen their popularity grow year on year. Nowadays many people are creating bucket lists of activities – and a tandem ride seems to be a popular inclusion as it is a lot less scary than a bungee jump or swimming with sharks!”

So after exchanging greetings with Sean – and his promise that he is going to become a regular reader of my blog! – we headed to the Harbour Restaurant for our meal. Regular readers of my blog will know that this is the restaurant of choice for the “old git” and the “old gal” on Millport. The food was brilliant as always – very tasty and originally presented! Both my dynamic crew were fairly hungry and couldn’t see past the burger selection! Just what was needed to restore energy levels.

After the meal it was time for the final pedal – four miles back to the ferry slipway. And after the relaxing meal  the pace was somewhat more sedate than our record lap earlier! While waiting for the ferry back to Largs my dynamic crew had time to check out Strava which officially recorded the ride as being worthy of no less than 22 gongs – made up of 8 personal bests, 10 seconds, and 11 thirds. Me and my crew had tandemed a distance of 39.3 miles with a moving time of 3 hours 11 minutes. Average speed was 12.3 mph and the elevation was a 1040  feet. The maximum speed was 21.5 mph and Team Matilda managed to burn up 1906 calories and produce an average power output of 149 W.

The Strava statistics and our route are brought to life in our Relive 3D video – so take a look below. It makes for amusing watching due to the laps and change of direction!  (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.)

Back in Largs a quick few hundred dash saw us back at Matilda Transport and in just over an hour we were all back at Matildas Rest after another fabulous day out full of fun, laughs, sunshine and great tandeming! Which left my dynamic crew wondering if there was a better way to spend a Sunday? As one of the island’s sign’s says: “Millport – in a world of its own!”

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?!

Busting a Gask(et!) on country roads ride to outskirts of Perth

After tandeming thru Gask our destination was Gloagburn at Tibbermore on outskirts of Perth.

My crew are always impressed at the rich history they find right on Team Matildas own doorstep. And our recent tandem trip was no exception – as they discovered while pedaling along on the rural Perthshire roads around Gask that it was the site of one of the earliest Roman settlements in Scotland. And it is even more interesting when you come across this history almost by accident.

The “old gal” had identified a new route, exploring a network of country roads in the general direction of Perth that had previously been unexplored by my dynamic crew. Not sure why – but tandeming along is a great way to see your local area that you would otherwise never see when driving a car.

So we were full of enthusiasm as we headed off from Matildas Rest on our adventure at 10.30 am – with the forecast promising a sunny weather window from the recent heavy rain … although whisper it … but it seemed likely we would be hit by the odd shower when we were out. 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! 

The great thing about living in Auchterarder is that we are out in the glorious Perthshire countryside, pedaling on quiet rural roads, in less than two minutes from starting. We soon were crossing our first point of interest  – the historic Kinkell Bridge which is a grand four-arched bridge over the River Earn and dates from 1793. It gives great views over one of Perthshire’s top salmon beats.

The scenic Kinkell Bridge spans the River Earn and dates from 1793.

A sharp right turn saw us heading along a wonderful gently undulating well surfaced road – ideal for tandeming – as we headed to Trinity Gask Parish Church. The original building traces its history back to 1770 and has a 19th-century bellcote which houses a bell bearing the date 1838. The area immediately opposite the church offers fantastic views overlooking the valley towards the landmark Craig Rossie hill, part of the Ochils.

The “old gal” overlooking the valley from near Trinity Gask Parish Church which dates from 1770.

We had perhaps been lulled into a false sense of complacency by the warm sun and the relatively flat roads. But on leaving Trinity Gask reality struck in the form of a sharp steep hill which appeared from nowhere round a corner. It certainly felt like my crew were busting a Gask…et (see what I did there!) on that climb!

As we reached the plateau my crew realised why the area is known as Gask Ridge Frontier  which the “old git” discovered was the earliest Roman land frontier in Britain – built in the 70’s or 80’s AD, 40 years before Hadrian’s Wall and 60 years before the Antonine Wall.

Nearby there are remains associated with the Gask Ridge frontier – a term describing a chain of Roman watchtowers and forts built to monitor movement between the Highland massif and Fife. We came across a sign for Kirkhill Watchtower –  one of the best preserved remaining sites which would have housed a timber watchtower as an observation point overlooking the clear view to the south.

The site of the Kirkhill Watchtower – with its clear view to the south.

After the history lesson Team Matilda turned right and fair zoomed along a nice flat stretch of just over 5 miles to our half way spot of Gloagburn Farm Shop at Tibbermore on the outskirts of Perth. No picnic today due to the likelihood of rain showers, but my dynamic crew were pleased to see that they had recorded the near 14 mile distance in a very respectable time of 1 hour and 01 minute – meaning they felt they deserved a coffee and cake break!

Here I am at the entrance to Gloagburn Farm Shop – our half way coffee stop!

My crew enjoyed a freshly baked cherry and almond scone before sharing a slice of carrot cake – de rigueur for tandemers – with a nice strong coffee. But guess what? The “old git” forgot to take a photo until after it was all scoffed!

Blink and you’ll miss it! The “old gal” looking like she ate all the scones and cakes!

Gloagburn has an interesting shop – which apart from selling lots of local produce from Perthshire’s larder, has a gift section. The “old git” couldn’t resist a joke photo when he found some copies of the Out of Africa book by record breaking endurance cyclist Mark Beaumont who lives in nearby Crieff. Mark is currently cycling across Australia on the second leg of his bid to cycle around the world in 80 days! So naturally the “old git” had to get a photo with signed copies of Mark’s books kidding on he was researching and planning for a future trip …. just like Mark! Oh how the “old gal” laughed!

Planning for a future trip like record breaker Mark Beaumont?! Aye rite!

Refuelled Team Matilda set off on the return trip and amazingly immediately started to pedal into a head wind! This seems to happen on almost every recent ride! But we soon built up a good speed again and the “old gal” decided we would take a different loop home to add a bit of variety. So we pedaled past the road end that would have taken us back to Trinity Gask, heading towards Madderty and turning left to the picturesque village of St Davids. Another steep climb before we picked up speed on a nice descent back to Kinkell Bridge.

Back at Kinkell Bridge – the “old gal” at the entrance to what was the toll house.

My dynamic crew again took a different loop to end, powering on up the slow steady grind of Easthill, before a welcome fast downhill finish through Auchterarder town centre and ending back at Matildas Rest. And the timing couldn’t have been better, as having avoided the showers all during the ride, as soon as I was safely back in my comfy garage the heavens opened with a heavy downpour!

Time for a quick congratulatory selfie after a great fun ride – before the rain!

Safely inside, a check of Strava revealed that this “old lady” registered three gongs on the ride – two personal bests and one Queen of the Mountain award – which is rather good considering most of the route was being travelled on for the first time.

Strava officially recorded the ride as a distance of 28.5 miles at an average speed of 11.7 mph, with a top speed of 31.1 mph. The traveling time was 2 hours 25 minutes and the elevation covered was a not insubstantial 1,163 feet. We managed to burn up 1,633 calories, and produced an estimated average power output of 168 W.

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 yet another great days tandeming – with lots of laughs and fun and a bit of fascinating local history thrown in along the way. I feel certain that we will be exploring some of the other network of roads around today’s route soon!