Dunkerque, France - June 27, 2013
Have had a few very nice days lately (nice as in no real serious rain) coming down through Denmark, northern Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium. I have to say, however, that driving through Denmark and Germany, I only got a small taste of the place and through the Netherlands and Belgium, almost nothing at all. In Denmark and northern Germany, the main roads are pretty rural whereas in Holland and Belgium, they're just like the interstates at home. I'll have to come back for a more leisurely visit. But I was on a bit of a mission to make it to Dunkerque today.
But did see a few pretty neat things along the way... like my first real windmill in Denmark. Stayed at a terrific campsite near there. $12/night and marble tiled bathrooms, wi-fi, laundry, TV and billiards room, and ice windy weather to boot. I do like to hear the wind blow on the tent at night. Rain no, wind yes. That flapping is very soothing. Also, while out along the coast, I saw a sign to a rest stop and decided to take a break. The others I had seen had been ho-hum but as I pulled into this one, I could see that it actually had a building (instead of some portapotty-like things) with a thatched roof. Very cool. But there I also found a door with one of the "points of interest" symbols. The symbol is weird. It is what you would trace if you went left around a square in a car that could only make right turns...you know like 270 turns in each corner. Anyway, I pushed the door open and found that it was a wetland migratory bird exhibit with a second thatched-roof building that acted as a blind overlooking an extensive wetland. They had massive binoculars suspended from the ceiling and regular hand scopes to use. I have to say that there were scads of birds there. Had no idea what I was looking at, but someone there from Copenhagen said that he had come up for a few days just to observe. Guess it is the best place in Europe to observe wetland species. Wow. And I got to see that all because I had to take a pee. Cool.
Church in Langen, Germany
Brickwork in Langen
Anyway, stayed last night in a very cute German town, just north of Bremerhaven. It looks like the whole town must have sprung up in a year or two as the date on almost everything was either 1911 or 1912 and the church was celebrating their 100th year. It wasn't cute in a colorful, quaint sort of way... very sombre in fact with everything built of dark red brick. But it did look like the whole town was built from the same kiddy construction kit and the fancy brickwork around the doors and windows was just excellent. You don't see that anymore. Anyway, I stayed in one of those streetside restaurant/bar/hotel kind of places... four rooms to rent. Anyway, nice, clean, cheap and so as they had no other business, I figured I'd be sociable and go have a little dinner in their restaurant. An older couple owned the place, and with only a smattering of English and less than a smattering of German, we had a nice talk. Same problems as elsewhere. Kids growing up and moving away and not wanting to carry on the family business. Anyway, despite the language barrier, when I asked him how the weather had been, he thought carefully and said "Shit summer". To that I could agree, meteorologically speaking.
So while I have only had a little rain in the past few days, I have had wind. It seems to be from the northwest and so no matter whether I am heading south or west, I've had this rather strong right crosswind. It's very tiring to fight it all the time and it disrupts the airflow over the windshield and so whips your head around. I get brain rattled after several hours of that. But the bike is running well, except for the speedometer. The needle started twitching in Finland... usually indicating that a speedo cable is about to go. No problem as I have a spare. So I was going to just let it go until it failed, then replace it. But as the miles piled on and the swinging got worse, I could see that it was not a cable problem as the odometer and trip meter were not speeding up and slowing down at all. They were steady and therefore, the cable was giving a steady rpm. So something is wrong with the speedometer part. Anyway, going through the tunnels in Norway I noticed that the instrument lights were out. Then all of a sudden the speedo needle was gone. It must have totally busted off from getting whipped around so much. I don't mean gone and lying in the bottom of the glass. But gone. Disappeared. I don't know how it could have fallen inside the speedometer but there is no other way out. Anyway, I did notice in the next tunnel that the lights were working again but that didn't last long. The lights are out again and now at times the instrument gives this horrific squeal that I can hear at highway speeds, even while driving next to trucks with earplugs in my ears. It might just be chewing up the needle. I'll have to have it fixed when I get home, but there is only one place that I know does that kind of work. Unfortunately, the words "cheap", "inexpensive" or even "reasonably priced" are not any part of their promotional scheme. It's interesting that a working speedometer can easily be 10, 15 percent or more of a bike's value. Expensive little buggers.
OK, so I am here in Dunkerque because of a small change in plans. I have yet to contact the shipper in London and sort out two issues... one, the exact date they want the bike delivered and two, just what, if anything, can go in along with the bike in the cases. No point in contacting them too early or you just get the "all things are possible" kind of answer. But if you remember two years ago, they wanted the bike delivered early so that they could wrap it, take an air sample and send the sample up to Heathrow so they could pass the sample under the nose of a bomb-detecting sniffer dog. Who knows. This year it may be need to be there early so that a medicine man can do a dance around it trying to sense if it harbors any evil spirits. Anyway, if it has to be there fast, I can hop the ferry from Dunkerque to Dover. If it doesn't have to be there soon, I can stay here and maybe take the train down to Amiens to see the cathedral there. Very interested in that. And besides, after my gallant battles with the wind and rain, it's only fitting that I be evacuated from the beaches of Dunkerque.
Dunkerque, Near the Beach
But speaking of cathedrals, those Gothic cathedrals are something else. It's just astounding to think that these were built in the 1200 and 1300's by people who had just passed their craft down from generation to generation and by engineers who were usually self-taught. Amiens is by far the largest of them all. It must have been absolutely inspiring (guess that was the point) for people of the day to be able to enclose such a large space. Unfortunately for Amiens, however, their enthusiasm was not matched by their engineering abilities and the cathedral started to bow and buckle even as it was being built. It's now strapped and reinforced to keep it from collapsing. It's interesting that in their day, the builders aspirations were beyond their grasp. It's all basic engineering... but they didn't understand it.Anyway, I'll contact the shippers in the morning if I can and if everything is cool, will take the train to Amiens for a day trip. It will be nice to leave the bike and helmet and all the bags at the hotel and just go off on my own. Besides, it's supposed to rain. Good day to spend on the train.
OK... if you hear that the cathedral at Amiens fell down... well, think of me. Hey no joke. When I was at Arches National Park in 2009, the rangers said be sure to see the such-and-such arch because they expect it to fall soon. Well when I got home I saw on the news that an arch had fallen in the park. It wasn't the one they expected, but the one just down the trail from it. Weird. Arches first, cathedrals next.