Friday, July 25, 2014

Pedaling from Minneapolis to Duluth for a One Hour Radio Show

A couple of months ago we drove go Duluth and took in the live radio show called Take It With You. The show is the work of friends of ours Mary and Blake who are Actors and Musicians.  When we were at the show in late May, I thought it would be fun to pedal to Duluth for a show sometime this summer.  The ride came together for the July 22 show.

Right - let's pedal 2 days for a one hour radio show.  Then let's pedal 2 days to get home.  Sounds about right.

We put the word out to a few people and Mike, Joyce and their daughter Hannah joined us.  The route consisted primarily of trails and Forest Boulevard/County 61 that paralleled I-35.  The difficult part of this was figuring where to stay and space the route out so that we had food and lodging.

Kay and I rode our Surly CrossCheck bikes, and I pulled the Bob Trailer.  Mike, Joyce and Hannah had their Banjo Brother's panniers for the trip.

Here is how it all went down....

Monday, July 21, 2014 - Minneapolis to Hinckley (~91 miles)
The weather was hot and humid, 92 degrees and dew-points into the high 60s.  There was a south wind of about 10-15mph throughout the day.  We made use of several stops on the way, the most pleasant one was the Cenex gas station in Rush City.  The attendant there was a 17-19 year old woman, and was happy to let us hang out and chat.

There is also an old hotel/restaurant called the Grant House Hotel and Eatery that looks interesting.  Maybe we can make a stop here some time.

We stayed at Americas Best Value Inn in Hinckley.  It is a tired place that was reasonably clean.  There were warnings on the door that drug use and underage drinking would be dealt with by calling in the police.  I have no doubt that this has happened at this place.  On the upside there is a liquor store immediately across the street and Cassidy's restaurant (more than adequate, really good breakfast) right next door.  Net-net:  It was more than adequate, and next time we may look into the casino hotel.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014 - Hinckley to Duluth (~79 miles)
A thunderstorm came through at about midnight and that made for much better weather on Tuesday.  The high was about 75 degrees and the dew-point was much more tolerable.  The entire length of the  Munger Trail and some well-signed streets through Duluth is our route today.

We encountered some down tree branches and completely down trees within the first 10 miles today.  Apparently there was some substantial wind.  We needed up stopping to move branches or portage over down trees, all while being pursued by deer flies.

Duluth - outside of our hotel
We stayed at The Suites Hotel on Canal Park, and we will stay here again.  The rooms are real big, clean and the location is great.  Dinner was at The Lake Avenue Cafe and Breakfast on Wednesday was at Amazing Grace Cafe, both recommendations of Mike's and both very good.  Both are located in the same building.

We made the show at 7:25... just in time.  Take It With You was great... we were so glad that we were able to go... and we plan on making the next one.  Mary gave our group a shout out from making the pedal from Minneapolis to Duluth for the show.   As it turns out, Mike and Joyce are friends of the radio show's special guest, Scott Laderman.  Scott is from California and lived in SoCal and NorCal, where he became an avid surfer.  Now living in Duluth, he surfs Lake Superior and offers a course in Surfing an UM-D.  He authored the book Empire in Waves - A Political History of Surfing.  The five of us joined Scott and his wife Jill for a beverage and conversation at the Harborview Restaurant, a revolving rooftop restaurant on the top floor of the Radisson.  It was a great night.  We really enjoy Take It With You.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014 - Duluth to Pine City (~93 miles)
The weather was absoutely perfect on Wednesday. There was a bit of a headwind or cross wind, and it even became a tailwind at times. Once again the route was the entire Munger trail, followed by County 61 (which has a wide shoulder).  

I would be remiss if I did not mention the Lazy Moose Restaurant in Moose Lake, MN.  We stopped there on the way up and the way back.  They have a good menu, the veggie burger was really good and they have pie.  

We rolled into Pine City and ordered a couple of pizza's from the Pizza Pub to be delivered.  We also ate at the North Branch location.  They do a great job.   

The Motel tonight was the Gail Motel.  It is an independent place, the kind of place that has been around a while.  It was a clean place and was fine for what we needed.  There is only one other motel in Pine City (The Old Oak Inn), and all they had left was one non-smoking room, and some smoking room.  That wasn't going to work, so we are at the Gail.  

We were having pizza at the Fire pit when a raccoon came out and just hung out about 50 feet from us.  The raccoon was soon joined by a fox, then another fox, and a second raccoon.  We encouraged them to leave, but they were comfortable around people.  We finished our dinner and went in.  A few minutes later, someone came out with a pail and fed these animals.  That explained why they were there and why they were comfortable hanging out.  It was strange. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014 - Pine City to Minneapolis (~76 miles)
Pine City seems like a real pleasant place.  We went to Cabin Coffee's, the local coffee and breakfast place.   It's a full-on coffee shop, they even know what a Depth Charge is and brew it very well.  It was the best coffee we have all week.  The place filled with a group of gentlemen in their 60's-70's who really seemed to run the town.  We talked about cycling and one of the gents said that "we are working on extending the Munger Trail through here..." and that sort of thing.  I quickly got a sense that these people cared about their community, and the town is clearly better for it.  We got quite a reaction when we told them where we stayed, and we assured them that the Gail was a clean place.

We rolled into Minneapolis at about 4:30 with smiles, had a few refreshments and called it a tour.  We pledged that we would to it again.  Maybe a quick weekend dealio to Red Wing, or up to Rush City.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

San Francisco - 2014

Imagine that - a whole year has passed since I blogged.  That is because (a) blogging is so 2006 or (b) I have nothing of interest to share.  Anyway - here goes another SF trip.  We are trying to make this an annual thing.

March 1, 2014 - 
Today we have tickets to see the Georgia O'Keeffe exhibit at the de Young Museum at Golden Gate Park with my cousin Steph and her husband Steve.  We had brunch at Velo Rogue in the inner-Richmond, then took a nice walk around the park.  I learned a lot about Georgia O'Keeffe at the exhibit.  She was born in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin for starters, then moved to New York and intimately New Mexico.  It was great to be in the park and catch up with Steph and Steve.

We spent the late afternoon and evening walking the Upper Market area.  Dinner was at Chow on Church Street near Market.  Chow was great, and reminded us of the Citizen Cafe near our house in Minneapolis.  Everything is made from scratch using local food.  The service was great too.

We enjoyed a walk around the residential streets of the upper market area in the evening.  There was a bit of rain, but nothing an umbrella and decent shoes could not handle.  The mansion at 250 Douglass was a site to see at night.  As were the steps that are scattered throughout the area.

We leave for Minneapolis tomorrow, the 2nd.  The cold weather continues there.  It will be about -10F when we get home.  The trip was good and we did almost everything we set out to do.  Can't wait to come back again next year.

February 28, 2014 -
Rain was predicted throughout the day, and that it what happened today.  It was the typical San Francisco rain store that I remember, not a complete washout, but off and on showers of varying intensity.

We took the 24 Divisadero bus to Cafe Mojo, a Coffee/Bike shop that I was aware of.  The bike shop doesn't open until 11AM, almost no retail opens before 11, but the coffee shop was open.  Cool place, we recommend it.

We caught the 24 bus back to the Castro, transferred to the 33 and got off at Valencia.  We shopped Valencia, made a stop at Ritual Roasters for a coffee and a tea.  Ritual is a roasting company in San Francisco.  Their beans are found in a number of coffee shops and restaurants.  We like their product.

The rain had stopped so we walked 24th Street to the Noe Valley and shopped there.  After that we walked  over Diamond Street back to the apartment.   All told it was about 3 miles in walking so far.

Dinner was with Jane and her partner Obo.  Jane is the last of the neighborhood Moms who remained in her place from when we lived here.  Everyone else in our circle from that time has left The City.  Dinner was at Pakwan, a Pakistani restaurant that has a few locations in the Bay Area.  The food was excellent, and its inexpensive.  It is an order at the counter and pick up your food kind of place.  We had never at Pakistani food, and we found it to be indistinguishable from Indian food.  We walked over to Bi-Rite Creamery for an ice cream for dessert.   It was great to catch up with Jane and meet Obo for the first time.

February 27, 2014 - 
The weather cooperated today, so we headed out not he bikes to the east bay.  We pedaled to Embarcadero BART and got out at West Oakland.  We pedaled the new east end of the Bay Bridge.  It doesn't quite go to Yerba Buena and Treasure Island, but it was a worthwhile ride.

After the Bay Bridge we made our way to Emeryville and Berkeley, and decided to have lunch at Tacubaya.  I managed to get a flat (front) and repaired it with a little help from one of the mechanics at Mike's Bike in Berkeley.  (Brompton Tires are tough to roll on to the rim).

We made our way back to the City.  Dinner was at Frances near 17th/Noe, and it exceeded our high expectations.

February 26, 2014 - 
I discovered that the Front Axel Nylon Hook on Kay's Brompton had cracked.  Its the little plastic piece that is mounted to the front fork that keeps the front wheel all tucked in when the bike is folded down and is being carried.  It is non-essential for riding, but Huckleberry Bicycles is a Brompton dealer and a shop I want to visit, so we stopped in, met Nate and he sold us the part.

It is raining off and on, mostly on, so no ride today.  Breakfast was at the Dolores Park Cafe.  We were witness to a Google Bus that pulled up in front of the cafe.  It was marked GBus to MTV (Mountain View, CA).  When the bus pulled up about 4 people immediately left the Cafe and boarded the bus.  I had heard about how Google and some other firms provide transportation for their employees.  That was the first time that we saw it.

I also saw a person wearing Google Glass today at a Muni station.  That was a first for us.

After breakfast we took the historic F line down market to Kearny Street.  We walked to Chinatown, opting for the more touristy Grant Street.  From there, it was North Beach, including a stop at the venerable City Lights Books (no signs of Bukowski's ghost) and Al's Attire (did not drop any money this time).  On the way back we shopped the Farmer's Market at City Hall/UN Plaza.

Tonight's dinner plan was to meet my cousin Steph and her husband Steve at a Sushi restaurant in Oakland.  When we arrived at Civic Center BART station there was a crowd of people waiting to get in.  We learned that the BART system was closed due to police activity in the tunnel between 16th Street and 24th Street station.  Apparently someone stole a atop near 22nd/Mission and fled from the police in the BART tunnels.  We didn't make it to Oakland, so plan B was to go to the Sushi Boat at 389 Geary.  Steve was still in the City where he works.  He was also unable to get home, so he met us (sorry Steph).

February 25, 2014 - 
We fly to SF, the Brompton Bikes are going with too.  California is in a real serious drought, but rain is predicted for most of the time that we are in SF.  With the cost of rental bikes, and the hassle, we decide to bring the Bromptons.

Upon arrival we immediately set up the bikes (which means attach the seats, attach one of Jim's pedals and put air in the tires).  We decide to roll past the painted ladies (hilly) and then on to Golden Gate Park (flat) to the ocean.  The Richmond and Sunset Districts are behaving predictably, meaning fog and wind.  We just left -6 degrees Fahrenheit, so we are more than good.

On the way back we find our way to the Mosiac Steps.  These are steps that have been finished with Tiles that reflect underwater life at the bottom and the solar system at the top.  The steps are located at Moraga and 16th Avenue.  Kay discovered them on line before our trip, and we are glad that we found them.

We rolled back inbound, and headed to Market Street.  We eventually made our way to a bar called 21st Amendment for a beverage.  From there we made our way to SOMA Streatfood Park, a space that features about 7 food trucks, indoor seating, beverages and events.  There was trivia going on while we were there.  Kay had a Crab sandwich, I had a po-boy, plus we split some excellent pierogi.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

San Francisco - 2013

We were long overdue to return to The City, the place where we grew up, so we booked travel and are here.   We packed the Brompton Bikes are boarded Delta.  This is what happened:

February 27, 2013 - MSP to SFO
We took the 23 bus to Light Rail and to the airport.  Had a drama-free flight to SFO.  From there it was BART to Civic Center, where we jumped on MUNI to the Castro.  From there a short walk to our Garden Apartment that we found on VRBO.  The weather is great, sunny and about 70.  Perfect.

We grab a quick bite to eat at the nearby Queen Malika Cafe.  They offer dumplings, crepes and Espresso.  Awesome lunch.

We jump on the Bromptons and pedal out to Golden Gate Park, out on 8th Ave through the Richmond District and into the Presidio by way of the Arguello Gate near Senator Feinstein's house.  We pedal over the Golden Gate Bridge and down to Sausalito.  From there its a Ferry Ride back to City.  We pedal back through China Basin, which I don't recognize anymore.  There has been a tremendous amount of growth and gentrification of the area.  For starters, there is now  "T" MUNI line that didn't exist when we lived here.

After getting to the Castro we had a beer at The Last Call bar.  Dinner was at Cafe La Taza on 18th Street.  Great meal, sort of a Spanish-American (I will call it that).

February 28, 2013 - Carrie Rodriguez in Berkeley
We still recognize upper Market and the Castro.   Tower Records is long gone, but there are still may familiar places like Rossi's Deli, the Castro Theatre and the Cheese/Coffee shop near the theatre.  One of the familiar places is Cafe Flore at Market and Noe.  We ate there - split the Crab Benedict, espresso and a croissant.  It was exemplary, a fantastic breakfast.

We pedaled through the Mission District, around the Embarcadero and into the Presidio.  Its a climb out of the Presidio back to the Richmond District, and we decided that Kay's Brompton would be upgraded to 6-speed before our next trip here.

Tonight we have tickets to see Carrie Rodriguez and Luke Jacobs at Freight and Salvage in Berkeley.  We met my cousin Stephanie and her husband Steve before the show for Dinner at Gather Restaurant.  Gather offers a California cuisine, including Charcuterie and pizza.  The food and wine were very good.  Prior to dinner we walked the area near the Downtown Berkeley and popped into a store that sells clothing and met the owners.  It turns out that the family that runs the store are from Milwaukee, second-generation Poles like me.  We have a great conversation about Milwaukee and the state of affairs under the Walker regime in Wisconsin, and about their present and temporary location.

March 1, 2013 - Filoli Visit
Today's breakfast was at the Dolores Park Cafe at 18th/Dolores.  We split a scramble that included  pesto, sun-dried tomatoes and feta cheese.  We also had espresso and a croissant.  It was all very good and recommended.

We left the Dolores Park Cafe and pedaled to the San Francisco Caltrain Station, loaded the Bromptons in the Bike Car and got out at Redwood City.  From there it was a 8 mile bike ride to Filoli (Fight, Love, Live) Gardens and Mansion.  Kay had been to Filoli before, this was my first visit.  The tour includes the first floor of the house and the gardens.  The tour is impressive and worthwhile. The weather was perfect, probably 70 degrees and sunny.

After returning on Caltrain to the City we decided to grab a bite to eat at Sushi Boat and then head out to the First Friday North Beach Art Crawl, having discovered that at  We met an Artist from Milwaukee who was a painter, an Artist who made Crystal Art, a Tie-Dye Artist who was friendly and others along the way.  We also went to Al's Attire on Grant Street in North Beach, where I found a sweet set of local and hand-made boots that I had to have.  So - they are mine.  We decided on a cab back, met the owners of the Apartment Jan and Wandralee and called it a night.

March 2, 2013 - Brunch with Jane
Before leaving we tried to reach our last-known friend from the neighborhood... Jane.  The number that we had rang to a fax machine.  It ended up being wrong by one number.  We had also put a card in the mail.  The second day we were here we dropped by her Mission District apartment and left a note.  Jane received both the note and the card, and we met for lunch today at Thorough Bread in the Mission.  We enjoyed a 2 hour lunch and great conversation, followed by a walk through the Mission Dolores Park.

Dolores Park seems to epitomize the gentrification that has occurred in San Francisco since we left in the early 90's.  Today is a Saturday, and the park is full of people of all ages, including many families enjoying the park.  The children's playground area is completely new.  The large Boat structure that was there is gone, and it was replaced by a slide, bridge and other structures that appear to be state-of-the-art.

Dinner was at Woodhouse Fish Company at Market and Church.  I had the stuffed artichoke diner and Kay had a crab sandwich.   It was very good, I recommend.

Tomorrow we have brunch with my cousin Stephanie and Steve at Cafe Flore, then its off to the airport and back to Minneapolis for us.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

July 11-13, 2012 - Olsztyn

We took the train from Krakow to Olsztyn, an 8-hour train ride.  The PKP Trains, while they seem to be reliable and on time, they are an aged fleet.  Not to complain, because America absolutely sucks when it comes to trains.  My gripe is with congress, not with Amtrak.

We walked from the Olsztyn Zach station to the Pod Zakiem B&B where we would spend the next two nights.  Olsztyn is a charming city, very green with parks and hills.  There was a music festival going on.  Strachy na Lachy was performing in an outdoor amphitheare very near our B&B.  It was sold out, bur we were able to hear the band and capture a few photos and videos.

After the Strachy na Lachy show there was recorded music and dancing going on all night.  Literally.  All. Night.  The music didn't not stop until 6AM, making it hard to sleep.  The interesting thing was that this was all taking place on week-nights.  It makes me wonder what these people do to make a living, when they aren't interrupting our sleep.

We rented a car on July 12.  Our destinations were Lukta and the Wolf's Lair.  Kay 2's Grandfather was born in Lukta and his family attended the church there.  It was important for Kay 2 to walk around Lukta where her Grandfather was from and few up before immigrating to the United States.

After leaving Lukta we drove to the Wolf's Lair.  This is where Hitler had set up a command center in Word War 2.  There were about 2,500 people who worked out the the Lair, and Hitler spent over 800 days there.  We took a brief, self-guided tour.  The rain shortened our stay there a bit.  We did get to bunker 3, where Claus von Stauffenberg made an unsuccessful attempt on Hitler's life.  We also got to bunker 13, which was Hitler's own bunker.  We have visited two very important sites where World War II is concerned.

During the drive we saw per 50 Polish Storks.  They are an interesting looking bird, fun to see.  They have nests that are low enough to get a good view of what they are doing, even while driving.

On the 13th we go our separate ways.  Kay 2 heads to Warsaw, flies to Paris and then home.  Kay 1 and I are off to Poznan, Lodz and Warsaw before our flight home.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

July 6-11, 2012 in Krakow, Poland

We took the train down from Warsaw to Krakow.  The PKP Trains are not air conditioned, at least not the one that we were on.  It was a 3 hour ride, and it was a crowded train on this Friday afternoon.  I got advice before the trip to book First class tickets so we would be assured of getting an assigned seat. That turned out to be great advice because we had seats.  Some were seated in hallways, standing and one person was removed from our cabin because another person had purchased that seat prior.

We were picked up by Zibby and driven to our apartment near Krakow Glowny, specifically it is very near the Hotel Chopin.  It is two Tram stops to the Stare Miasto and located where there are plenty of bicycling trails and roads that are suitable for cycling.  Pawo made sure that we had everything we needed, and provided advice.  We stopped by The Wine Garage and, after looking at the menu, decided that we would go to The Metropolitan Restaurant instead.  We all had a great meal and sampled Polish Vodka after.  We had a beer on the Stare Miasto and then came home for the evening.

Saturday - We had breakfast at a bakery near Topolowa and Rackwicka.  The woman working there spoke no English, and my 7 weeks of Community Education Polish paid off.  This was a bakery, so it was really a quick snack.  It was appropriate to have Drugie śniadanie (2nd Breakfast) when the nearby Anc Ho opened at 11:00.  Great meal, we promised to return.  We spent the day cycling saw Schindler's Factory, the Mound to the south of Krakow, the new bike/ped Piłsudski Bridge, the Vistula River and the sobering monument called the Plac Bohaterow Getta.  Dinner was in the Kazimierz at Stajnia, where the food was good but the service was very slow.  We finished the night at Omertà Bar, a place that Kay 2 was aware of from a previous trip.  Omertà features a large number of local craft beers.

Sunday - Breakfast was at Karma, a place that I had learned about reading the Krakow Post web site.  The Post claims that this was where the best coffee in Krakow was to be found, and they were right.  The food, which is 100% vegetarian, was outstanding.  We will return, tomorrow.  We spent the day walking the city and had lunch at Roti Roti, an Indian restaurant for a wrap.  Roti Roti was another Krakow Post recommendation.  Dinner was back at Aco Ho.

Monday - we went cycling and shopping.  We headed along the Vistula River and nearly got to the Tyniec Abbey that is at the end of the trail.  We headed back to the Stare Miasto in time to hear the Trumpet player at noon.   We spent the afternoon shopping, and had dinner at Miyako Sushi at the Galleria.

Somewhere in the middle of all that, after the bike ride and before dinner, we were a bit lost and wandering back to the apartment.  We were looking for a toilet, and striking out.  We found a large, communist-era grocery store and the check-out clerk directed us to the back of the building.  The toilets were locked, so we went to the bar next door.  The bar patrons were all local; we were the only English speaking people in the place.  A gentleman named Francis walked up and shook hands with all ~10 people in the place.  He ordered a beer and asked if he could sit with us.  He knew very little English, and we had a conversation.  It was great.  He knew someone, the son of a friend, who lived in New York… Manhattan.  I introduced him to Kay Squared, and my Polish language skills were tested to their fullest.  The bar keep was a wonderful woman.  We ordered three Żubrówka vodkas, and she suggested some apple juice with that.  We agreed to that.  We had a great chat with Francis, bought him a beer (5PLN = $1.70 USD) and hit the road, happy for the experience.  This all happened  at Ul. Daszynskiego 9 in Kraków.  This is immediately behind the Hala Targowa flea market.

Tuesday - we visited Auschwitz and Birkenau today.  Zibi from Zibi's Taxi drove us and arranged for tickets.  The tour is led by an guide and our group of about 30 people wear wireless headsets to hear the guide walk us through.  The gas chambers and crematoriums were destroyed by the Nazis, except for one.  The tour actually lead us through the gas chamber, including the location where the pellets were dropped.  In the crematorium immediately next door, there was an Auschwitz survivor present with a group of people on a tour.  It was a woman who had to be over 80 years old.  It was an amazing site to see her at that location.  It was also very rare to see a survivor visiting the site.  Zibi indicated that he had only heard of that on 5 or 6 other occasions in the 8 years that he has been driving people to Auschwitz.

Zibby does a great job with his ground transport business.  He has a van that is large enough for a number of people or gear.  He sent someone ahead of us to buy our tickets in advance, so we didn;t wait at all.

We decided on a proper Polish, and early, dinner tonight. The Pod Baranem was our choice and we were all delighted.

Wednesday we are out of here and headed to Olsztyn.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Warsaw Poland - July 5, 2012

We arrived in Warsaw and met our friend Kay at Warsaw Srodmiescie station.   The Kay Squared tour begins. 

Dinner was at Radio Café, just around the corner from the Marriott that we are staying at for the night.  With tip we spent 160 PLN, about $55 UUSD for our meal and a beer each.

After dinner we walked down Aleje Jerozolimski to the Palm Tree and headed north on Nowy Swiat to the Old Town, the Nowy Swiat and back.  We came across an alley, the first alley north of Aleje Jerozolimski, called Smolna with a number of small bars  with outdoor seating.  We landed at one at the very end and had a beer (Brackie) and a shot of Zubrowka, which was very nice.   The beers were 8PLN, about $2.50 USD. 

We walked back to the hotel, and grabbed a bread topped with cheese, mushrooms, and a red and white sauce.  Tomorrow we tour a couple of monuments and then head to Krakow via the train.  


We are on Holiday, our trip to Poland via Helsinki, Finland.  When we booked this trip several months ago it was cost advantageous to book Finnair through Helsinki and spend 3 days there, so that is what we did.  Our flight was Minneapolis - Chicago and Chicago - Helsinki, both Code-share on American.  I am writing this at the Helsinki airport, after our stay in Helsinki, waiting to board our Finnair flight to Warsaw.

Our accommodations were at the Glo Art Hotel, and we both enjoyed it.  Our room was clean and efficient and large by European standards.  The place was about 6 blocks from the Central Train Station.

We brought our Brompton Bikes and really enjoyed pedaling around Helsinki.  We were surprised by the number of people here who wear helmets while riding.  Our guess is ~70% of riders were helmets, much different than when we visited Amsterdam a few years ago.  The cycling infrastructure is well above average, and there are paths that parallel the main roads.  Its easy to get anywhere on a bike in Helsinki.  We did our own ride on July 3rd, the day that we arrived.  On July 4th we did a Ride with Serge Delrue of Helsinki City Ride.  On the 5th we also did a spin around town on our own.

The sun came up at 4AM and didn't set until 11PM.

Other highlights of Helsinki included a flea market, the Harbor Square (Kauppatori) where we had a nice fish lunch and the Esplanadi park square.  We had a great lunch at Fafa's follows up by a beer at The Black Door Public House across the street.  We had great Indian food at Pikku Nepal, near our hotel.

All the photos from Helsinki are here

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Amstel Race

April 18, 2010.

Today is the Amstel-Gold race, a one day spring classic that starts in Maastricht and ends in nearby Van Valkenburg. The race started at the Markt, just 2 blocks from our hotel. We carried out our plan of watching the riders start in Maastricht and then renting bikes and catching the race again out on the course.

The Markt Square was impressive, was full of people. Only one vendor was selling bike schwag, and I bought a miniature set of bikes with the Garmin logo for 5,50 Euros. We watched the introductions and sign ins, which was cool. Obviously the Dutch riders got the most applause and spoke the most during the pre-race festivities.

The weather today was even better than yesterday. Clear sunny skies, despite the volcanic activity in Iceland that poses a threat to our return flight. It had to top out at 75 degrees (F) or more, we regret not buying sunscreen.

We returned to Orange Bike in the hopes of renting the same steeds that we had on Saturday. All of those, the better bikes, we reserved. We settled for heavy three-speed bikes, but they worked for our needs. We headed out of the shop at 11:15AM and didn’t return until 4:00PM.

Out on the course we saw the race three more times. After the Maastricht start we pedaled to and saw the race at Sibbe, Berg and Bemelen. We met a nice couple at the Berg race point and chatted for about 15 minutes with them. They are at the end of a video that I will upload to You-Tube and link here when I get home. He was the one that pointed us to Bemelen, through a cycle and pedestrian-only road that only that started as on pavement, then turned to dirt, then became a downhill trail (2 meters wide) that Kay and Diane elected to walk down. It was a 4km pedal from Berg to Bemelen. We waited less than 5 minutes for the race to go through, and chatted with the British blokes. The riders went through exceptionally fast as that is where an 11% grade began.

After the race went through we pedaled on the same route as the race the 7km back to Maastricht. Diane fell behind a bit and we waited. One of the British blokes said that our “friend got a bit wobbly back there in the traffic, but she’s alright.” Kind of cool, nice of him to let us know. Diane rolled up about 30 seconds later. There was a lot of bike traffic of all ages headed back to Maastricht, and just a few cars (maybe 5% of the traffic at that point).

I will upload pictures and links to some cool videos later.

Amstel Tour

April 17, 2010 - Maastricht, NL

The Amstel Tour version is today. 9,000 riders registered within 90 minutes a few months ago when registration was briefly open. Needless to say, we did not get in but we intend to jump on the course for a bit anyway.

We rented bicycles from Orange Bike, just two blocks from our hotel The DuCasque). The guy that works there recommended their geared bikes because our destination was Van Valkenburg, about 10 miles away. The geared bikes were 3-speed city bikes, heavy and typical of the bikes that are found in the Netherlands.

We were off and on our way, although I got turned around and we ended up going the wrong direction. I figured out that something was wrong when we reached the Belgium border. Had I understood how close it was I would have planned on pedaling there anyway, so it was good that we got there by mistake.

Once we got turned around it was relatively easy to find Van Valkenburg. It’s a charming place that I’d enjoy staying in again, as was Houthem just to the west of there. The cycling in the Netherlands is great too. The roads with high car counts have separate bike lanes, and there were several roads today that were country roads with few cars.

We saw the Amstel Tour Version at several locations and joined the riders on a climb from Van Valkenburg to Sibbe. We were headed the wrong way and needed to correct our course, and it just happened to be on the Amstel Tour Version course. All of the bikes on the tour were high-end road bikes, with the exception of a few mountain bikes. We stuck out with our city bikes, urban cycling attire and no helmets. It was especially fun to pass a number of riders, sometimes while taking photos, as I made the climb on that heavy bikes. I got a number of looks from those that I passed, plus some cheers (in Dutch) from three women who were watching the ride from their lawn. It was a good time, and the weather was perfect (sunny, probably 70 degrees F.