The cycle out of Amsterdam to IJmuiden was a bit more of a navigational challenge than we were expecting, but was otherwise fine. My legs were protesting a little as they had not recovered completely from the previous day, but the short ride was probably just what they needed even if not what they wanted. We were in plenty of time for the ferry and joined lots of other cyclists at the fish restaurant on the pier before joining the boarding queue. Different ferry this time, with a different section of the car deck set aside for bikes, but it still all felt very familiar – probably because the cabins had the same layout and the restaurants and cafes have the same names as on the other ferry, even if they are in slightly different places.
It’s always a bit sad to be finishing a holiday, and when we have been on a cycling trip outside the UK, this is compounded for me by the culture shock of returning to somewhere that often makes cyclists feel unwelcome. The cycle from the ferry terminal to Newcastle Central Station is only a bit more than 9 miles, and it’s reasonably well signposted – at least until the very last part up to the station itself, where we got lost once again. But the experience of catching the train was disappointing.
Getting from Berlin to Amsterdam was remarkably painless, if you discount the aches from sitting still for so long. The signs at the station showed where to stand for the carriage taking the bikes. The bike compartment had space for, I think, about 16 bikes, all numbered and with electronic screens showing bookings for that space in the same way that this is done for the seats. Even better, the remainder of the carriage was normal seating and those of us travelling with bikes had our seats booked there rather than at the other end of the train. The only downside is that there are steps up into the carriage from the platform and it’s a bit of a struggle getting the bikes up and down, but once done, it was all very easy. The train was smooth and comfortable, and got to Amsterdam on time. A good experience of travelling with a bike on a long-distance train.
At Newcastle, there was no information about which carriage on the train would be the bike carriage. We guessed at the front, and turned out to be exactly wrong. Although there were five minutes until the train was due to leave, the staff on the platform started yelling at us to hurry up when we were already jogging along the length of the train. I managed to wrestle my bike on and was stowing it before going to help Bruce. He had more luggage and was struggling, and none of the staff offered to help until he asked one outright. The bike compartment was in a sort of guard’s van area – only six bike spaces, and nothing to indicate bookings. There was no way through the train for passengers so we had to jump back off and onto the train in the next carriage, again being urged to hurry up. Not sure what all the fuss about hurrying was, as the train didn’t move until shortly after it was scheduled to leave and by that stage we were already struggling through to our booked seats, which were of course at the other end of the train. We eventually gave up after half a dozen carriages when we found a couple of unbooked seats free. I suppose that I should not complain: we and our bikes travelled safely to Edinburgh and arrived on time, and the cost of the tickets was reasonable. But we know it can be done better, and not just in continental Europe: the journey from Edinburgh down to Newcastle was made much more pleasant by a train guard who was helpful, friendly and organised. Yes, the bike compartment was not ideal and we had the same issue about our seats being at the other end of the train, but the guard helped us get the bikes off the train efficiently at Newcastle, didn’t raise his voice to rush us and generally made us feel welcome. Bruce has written to Virgin Trains with feedback, so let’s hope we get more positive experiences in future (or, of course, we may be blacklisted!)
Thoroughly enjoyed most of the 2017 cycle tour, aches and pains apart, and not at all sorry that we wound up in Berlin again, even though we had originally set off for Copenhagen. Bruce points out that this is a navigation failure on a grand scale! Back now to what my Mum would have called ‘old clothes and porridge’, with more time at desks and less time on the bike. Ho hum.