Friday, July 25, 2014

Back in NL.

Gradually the weather changed for the better. When we reached Münster it was really hot, in the high thirties. Our last campsite in Germany was the worst until now. A big site full of caravans on small lots, completely stuffed with sheds, make shift verandas and stuff like that. Typically a site for long stay summer campers from the region. For us there was an open meadow in the full sun.
The next day we entered the Netherlands and found – to our surprise – the Villa Mondriaan in Winterswijk. Very well designed art centre on the spot of Mondriaan's youth, a worth while stop. 

an early Mondriaan
The campsite that evening was the opposite of the one before, a big, full, fully equipped and well organised recreation centre. Despite the crowds we had a good stay.
The next day we rode north in the pouring rain and had to stop at a B&B. The day after was beautiful again and we reached the beautiful and shining valley of river Vecht, where we put up our tent on a fresh meadow on the bank of the river. Awakening after a good night sleep was extra nice, as the weather wat at its best and so was Eveline, it was her 65th birthday. Lovely breakfast in the field we had!
Now we have reached our son's house, where the little one greeted us with a big smile and a show of her new skill: walking! While we were on our journey, she had decided to learn how to walk. Such a nice surprise.

Tomorrow we will head for Breda and conclude an interesting European tour of a good 1600 k.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Romantic and beautiful, when not bombed and erased....

The route from Dessau to Münster led us through the Harz. Harz can be substituted for “Hard”. The paths were like mountainbike-tracks now and then, steep and in bad condition due to the heavy rains too, and we were forced to take to normal roads in order to make reasonable progress.
But then we discovered the Germany as it must have been everywhere in the past. A whole series of small historic towns, often from the 12th and 13th century, and in their original shape. That is, with medieval buildings in the typical wood and plaster style (half-timbered), narrow streets and cosy market places, each with beautiful Rathaus and church. Lovely and romantic. It shows that the Germans obviously cherish their heritage, as they so succesfully succeed in preserving these intimate places.

Too many towns and cities in this country are so different, so lacking this warm small-scale atmosphere. The reason is clear; in order to defeat the lunatic Nazis the clever and honourable allied forces found it necessary to bomb all these treasures of civilisation off the face of the earth. The smaller towns we now passed through were saved, or maybe the war ended too soon for them to have their turn. So lucky.
War clearly appears a very intelligent method to settle differences of opinion: large scale killing, ruining and demolishing as a method to solve problems or achieve goals. Why care for a personal history, personal integrity and suffering, for a collective heritage of centuries?
And how we have learned from our past..........
Today we spent the day in Münster. Nice historic center, that is..., correctly rebuilt after WOII's destruction. Unexpectedly for us there is a Picasso museum here, dedicated to his graphic work. A beautiful collection, completed by a series of photos of Picasso and his family in the villa “California” near Nice, taken by the American photographer Duncan. We were very pleased with it.
Strikingly in accordance with the theme of this entry of our blog, the second floor of the museum had an exhibition of graphic work of Francisco Goya, the famous Spanish painter from around 1800. The graphics at display here were made by Goya after the uprise of the citizens of Madrid against the French oppressors (under Napoleon) in 1808. In this work, which seems to have never been displayed before, he depicts the horrors of this war. It was of all ages, will it remain so?
The most famous paining by Goya about this uprise is in the Prado in Madrid:

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Exit Poland – Berlin and on

Altogether we cycled some 370 kms in Poland. Beautiful agrarian countrysides, often just a little hilly and very small villages along the way. No places to sit and have a drink, very few shops. The country simply is not densely populated and as cyclists we use small roads en therefore we encounter few facilities. We didn't camp, the weather made us make other choices. We stayed with our WarmShowers hosts of course, as mentioned before, but later we used hotels. Prices are comfortably low for us Euro-people.
We made long days, as distances were great but most of all because our speed was very low because of the strong headwind, sometimes combined with showers of rain. This, and our tight schedule, made us decide to skip some kilometers and take a train from Pila to Kostztryn on the Polish-German border. And, as we had been in touch with our old (since 1990) friends in Birkenwerder, just north of Berlin, we were met at Kostzstryn station by Olaf in his motorhome. All our gear was loaded in the moving house and off we were to Olaf and Gudrun's lovely home. On our way home we visited the Seelöwer Höhe, were there is a memorial of the battle in February 1945 of the Red Army against the defending Nazi troops, so close to Berlin and near the end of the war.
The next three days we spent in Berlin. We commuted to and fro by S-Bahn, a 30 minute ride. We appreciated the city, its atmosphere and relaxedness. 

We walked a lot, saw all the highlights, and the musea, that is, just a selection as there are so many of them. But we saw everything, from the Dutch and Flemish masters to contemporary artists as Joseph Beusz and Andy Warhol.

Now, after having seen the Dutch soccer team beat the Costa Ricans in a penalty series and after having said good bye to Gudrun and Olaf, we are on our way again. We will remember their great hospitality and cordiality.

We crossed through the region around Berlin with the magnificent rivers Havel and Spree and all the lakes full of boats and got to Lutherstadt Wittenberg yesterday. Beautiful historic centre, we took the opportunity to see Chagall, Dix, Kokovska, Picasso, Beckmann and others in a religious artss exhibition in Das Alte Rathaus. Again it appeared not to be our favourite theme.

After a very rainy night in our tent we are now in a hotel in Dessau, the Bauhaus town.

Saturday, July 5, 2014


It's our second visit to Poland. The first time we were in this country was 43 years ago, 1971. We were much younger and we were highly interested how life really was for the ordinary man behind the “Iron Curtain”, that was there in all it's dark and threatening cold war status. We must have been one of the very few tourists to travel to this country in that era.
We had to prepare the journey very carefully. Visas were difficultly obtained and expensive. You had to state beforehand how many days you intended to stay in the country, as one was obliged to spend a minimum amount of money per day and buy vouchers to that amount at the embassy before you left.
We travelled in our little red Renault 4 and there were the checks at the borders between West and East Gemany at Helmstedt, into West Berlin at Drewitz, then again out of West Berlin at Heinrich Heine Strasse and again out of the GDR at Frankfurt an der Oder and into Poland at Slubice. Each time mirrors under the car, unloading of luggage on to the street, thorough examinations of the travel documents, all by frowning and unfriendly border guards.
In Poland we experienced that shops had little for sale. “Niema” is the word we remember, “not present”, we don't have it. We saw houses in bad shape and hardly any paint, many drunks in the streets (mostly in the morning!). Food was hard to get, both of us lost 4 kilos of weight during our 18 days stay. We also saw that some people had motor boats on the Masurian lakes, military families. Most people had nothing. We saw with our own eyes how the socialist utopia worked out in practice.
During our current trip we saw the workings of the EU co-operation. Differences between our countries have faded and we are extremely happy to see that.
How good would it be if all Europeans, many of whom are now so critical about the European co-operation, would realize how the world was just some years ago and how it has changed. If everyone would realize how it was, where we come from, and what has been acheived in a lifetime. To be more precise, in my very own lifetime (born 1945). From killing each other by the millions in WW II to sharing great freedom and peace with hundreds of millions in this continent. It would only be wise to cherish this.

In Poland

by Eveline

During our visits to the beautiful cities of Gdansk and the impressively large castle in Malbork (Marienburg), we stayed at WarmShowers addresses. Couples in their early thirties. Their apartments are small (44 m² for dad, mom and baby), but everything is there. In both cases we slept on a sofa bed in the living room. Fine, but it requires great adaption of the hosts. Their living room suddenly filled with panniers, electronics for GPS, Ipad and laptop, toiletbags and towels. Obviously they find it important to be WarmShowers hosts and be in touch with cyclists from other places.

Later we cycled on the lovely Polish farmland. Cloudy, occasional a watery sun and a drop of rain. Sometimes a stormy wind, headwind of course, but with temperatures of about 21˚C cycling was alright. No good weather to camp though, thus we stayed in hotels.
The countryside is hilly and varied, there are quite a few villages, but with no facilities as a terrace for a coffee or things like that. We see many waving yellow fields, wheat, rye etc, sometimes with the blue and / or red glow of cornflowers and poppies. It gives me a nostalgic feeling, but I do not know if that is true, because were there cornfields in Zundert when I was young? Frans knows that they were there, but if it was barley or rye? Probably the latter, the farmers made their own bread with it. In any case, it is nice.
We notice the farms are well taken care of. The people look well too. No difference with our country, except the German oriented architecture.

We had a special meeting with a farm worker, at least that's how he looked. His clothes were dirty and he didn't look well cared. He stood at a cafe and we wondered if we could get coffee there. No, but beer we could have. He opened a bottle for himself and smiled. Moments later, he passed us on his rickety bicycle and gestured that we could have coffee with him. We arrived at a grimy little group of houses. People were hanging about in a messy little street. His mother (?) grudges him because of our arrival we thought, but his wife Monica welcomed us warmly. By a 'kitchen' we be are guided into a living room that is stowed with beds and knickknacks. Here is also the television. The children, three of the six are very charming. There is a table in the kitchen that they move to the room for our coffee. We have a choice of instant coffee or "primero", Polish coffee, which requires caution, because the sludge is at the bottom of the cup and you would rather not drink that. Dad tells his Monica to provide us with food and she's already preparing it when I tell her not to. We can only communicate with hands and feet with them and I think this is enough. Such a cordiality of such a simple little family.

Friday, June 27, 2014


By Eveline

After a pleasant train ride in a nice bed in our berth, we arrived in the beautiful city of Gdansk. We visited the tourist office and had lunch at one of the many terraces in the main street. Then we searched our WarmShowers-address. 
A nice couple in their early thirties, a French guy, Regis and his Polish girlfriend Hanja. They got to know each other through WarmShowers and made a bike topur together in Turkey and Georgia. Now she is pregnant and they're living together in her apartment. 
Our day in Gdansk was too short. We did not visit everything, but what we saw was really worth while. We wandered through the old town and wondered again about the performance that the Poles have made to rebuild this city, which was totally destroyed in 1945. We visited the town hall with a historical museum and saw pictures of how it was. It is a pleasure to walk around and admire the buildings. Renaissance, Baroque, Dutch Mannerism  Gothic, it's all there. The museum "A road to freedom" with the struggles of Lech Walesa and his followers, his decline and later his victory, confronts us with our wealth: a free Europe. We need to be aware of this and to cherish it. 1989 is  very recent for us. For our children it may be hard to realize, but freedom can be gone before you know.

Lech Walesa's monster ballpoint which which he signed the first Solidarnosc-treaty with the communist government.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Baby first, then Gdansk

We're off again. On Tuesday 24th we will pack our bikes and leave for this year's summer tour. The first stage will bring us to Woerden, near Utrecht, where we will spend the next day with our little granddaughter. You know, these days both parents have to work hard for their living, and we as grand parents have to do our share. And we do it with joy, she is a lovely and funny little person. As you can see in the background of the photo, she already owns her own bike. Our present (of course!) for her first birthday a couple of months ago.

The very same night we'll travel by train to Gdansk, from where we will ride back to the Netherlands via Euroroute R1. Will be very easy to find our way, since this whole route is signed, all the way from Boulogne sur Mère in France to Leningrad, Russia. We will do part of it in the opposite direction. We will reach Woerden a month later, as the little girl will be waiting for us again on that day. After that it'll be Breda again.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Singapore, finished!

So we are in Singapore. We pedalled away 3800 kilometers to get here from Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand.
It was an interesting trip and we enjoyed it. We met no difficulties or hardships. We had one flat tyre, that was all.
There were days that were long, or boring, or with too much traffic to feel comfortable, but those were exceptions. Most of the time we had good roads in nice scenery. Thailand is easier to travel through than Malaysia, the Thai are much more tuned to tourists and as a tourist you will always find what you need at that moment. In Malaysia this is different. Part of that is due to the fact that this country lacks the lovely beaches and islands that Thailand has in abundance, but we think that the cultural difference is a big factor as well. The Thai are buddhists and behave in a relaxed and easy going way, the great majority of the Malay are muslims and this culrure has a lot of rules, do's and don'ts that you're not aware of in Thailand. So Thailand remains our favourite.
Singapore is a very organised place. Things work here and the city looks fine. After a first night in a guesthouse we moved to a Warmshowers host in a village like little part of the city, on walking distance from Singapore river and the city centre where the highlights are. As we usually do we visited the musea and parks etc. Eveline did her “I want to have ran in all the world's big cities”-run, twice this time.

Now it happens that our Warmshowers host, her name is Kristel Zweers, is a comedian (click on her name for her website). She has done three one-woman-show theatre tours in the Netherlands before she moved to Singapore, where her husband has a job in the offshore industry. Here she has started up her own business as an improvisation trainer and regularly she's on stage in stand-up-comedy shows. So yesterday we were in the Blu Jaz café and enjoyed an hilarious evening during which she was one of the performers. 
Again: Warmshowers is awesome!

This very last day we'll do another walk, to the Marine area this time, and then pack, wait for the mini-van taxi to take us to the airport.
Breda, here we come!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Melaka and on.

As mentioned before we happened to be in Melaka on the days of the Chinese New Year. Therefore the town, at least the Chinese quarter, was overcrowded.
We did the Dutch heritage walk which took us from the Stadhuys (old Dutch for town hall) and a bastion called Fort Middelburg (the name of a historic town in the south west of the Netherlands) via historic VOC-mansions and government buildings to the only city gate that's left and was built by the Portuguese even before the Dutch arrived. Then there was the Dutch graveyard and Saint Paul's cathedral on top of the hill that overlooks the town and old port. There was the gravestone of Mrs. Van Riebeek, wife of the founder of Capetown and Batavia,now Djakarta. Thrilling to see the history lessons of the fourth and fifth grade of primary school coming to live here.
Other graves showed how harsh life must have been these days: many died young, in their twenties and thirties. One gravestone in the cathedral referred to a mother of 24 and her four children who all died within a fortnight from diftheria, “leaving the bereaved husband and father to bemoan their irreparable loss”. This certainly quiets you down for a couple of minutes.

This was all very interesting, as is the way how the local tourist industry deals with this history. On one particular street there are trishaws active, those 3-weeled bicycle-taxis. These guys are crazy. They have decorated their vehicles with the utmost kitsch-rubbish in the most akward colours. It is not funny any more, way over the top. Disneyland would fire them immediately, and you know about their good taste :-). And the real lunatics among them have mounted a loud car-audio system on their fairy vehicle. There are only very few locations where you can sit, relax and have a drink (this is Malaysia!), and just there they constantly passed with their blaring raggea, Hindu-hymnes and Indo-China-honey-pop. I just hated them.

Four days later we reached Johor Bahru (JB). This is the city on the border with Singapore. Three days along the coast, not bad riding, though the heat became a real factor. We always started early, but could not prevent riding in temperatures of 35 ˚C and more. February is already summer here, and we're almost on the equator. Hot! But as long as you ride, you're OK. There are two bridges that cross the water between Malaysia and Singapore. One is forbidden for biccycles. You can use it, but only with the bikes in a taxi or bus. The other one can be used, and we decided to do so. The roads towards JB were horrible. I mentioned the lack of planning in the infrastructure in this country. We had to ride on 6 and 8-lane motorways without a side lane for tens of kilometers. Scaring, loud, nerve-wrecking. And consider that the Warmshowershost that we were heading to in JB had figured out the most quiet and bike-friendly route, I had it in my gps.
Our Warmshowers place though was a ground floor apartment in a guarded gated community with all amenities, including swimming pool and all that. A relief. And the host was not even there, we were given the keys of the house by his young cousin. I repeat: Warmshowers is awesome!

The next day the ride into Singapore was totally different. As soon as we had crossed the bridge and got through customs we were on clean, wide, shady and quiet roads. A lovely ride through a hilly park like countryside to the city centre and our guesthouse in an old shophouse amidst the skyscrapers.

Later we heard why roads are so quiet in the million people city: in order to be allowed to buy a car you first have to by a license to buy a car. It costs about 80.000 Singapore dollars, which is more than 46.000 Euros. Then you can go and buy a car. Did not prevent us from seeing a convoy of at least 20 Maserattis, Porsches and Ferraris roaring by the first day we were there.

Monday, February 3, 2014


As a little boy in primary school I loved the geography lessons. The world opened itself to me. We also learned about our then recently lost colony, the Dutch East Indies, now Indonesia and the peninsula next to it, called Malakka, now Malaysia. At secondary school my English teacher, mr Vonk, was born and bred in our East Indies and we, as young as we were, felt that he'd rather stayed there and that he didn't belong in the cold and wet low lands. He was a nice man and there was nothing in his name or outer appearance that betrayed his origin but for the words he now and then used, he sometimes spoke Malay. That was the language of his former homeland.
While walking around here in historic Melaka it is not hard to realize this. The Dutch have ruled this place for a good 130 years, till they had to leave it to the British when Napoleon conquered the Netherlands. The Dutch, that is the VOC (United East Indies Company), had taken it over from the Portuguese, who landed here as early as 1512, subjugated the sultanate and founded their trading post and fortified it and thus founded the city of Melaka.
There is a historic walk to be made here, the Dutch heritage walk and it goes through streets with names as Heeren street and Jonker street. This part of town is a Unesco world heritage site. The Chinese shophouses appear to be built by the Dutch colonizers, and they continued on the patterns made by the Portuguese. They deserve the adjective Chinese only because they have been used by Chinese traders for the last couple of centuries.
The whole heritage quarter with the Dutch street names is now a complete Chinese quarter. The Malay and Indian people live in other quarters. We happened to arrive here on the eve of the Chinese New Year. And for them this is the new year, not that of the rest of the world. There is a 4-day holiday and it looked as if all Malay and Singapore Chinese had come to Melaka. The streets were overcrowded, you could walk over the heads. People went to the temples, of which there are some, and worshipped in masses. Clouds of incense over the streets. At midnight big fireworks were set off, there was a dragon dance and the crowds kept on coming. They walked the streets, visited the stalls where food, trinkets and all kinds of new-year-stuff (red!) was sold. The festivities lasted for 4 days, exactly the days we were there. We were glad when it was over and there was some quiet again, but also glad that we were part of it.

Our arrival here was not so pleasant. We had an appointment in a guesthouse, that was also a Warmshowers member. To make a long story short, it appeared to be a place that was old, not very well maintained,chaotic, unclean, delapidated. The owner was nice and friendly, but we didn't feel well there and we spent a whole day trying to find alternative accommodation. Which was hard, since all the Chinese had come to Melakka for the New Year and there was nothing free. At last we managed to find a simple, but clean and tidy place right next to the Chinese quarter. But a stressful first 24 hours.

The Dutch Square with the Stadthuys in the background.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

KL, yes and no.

In a way Kuala Lumpur and New York City are comparable. The skylines are similar, a forest of skyscapers. But that's it. Whereas it is nice to walk around in Manhattan this is next to impossible in KL.
On a first visit of New York City one is surprised by the relative calm and organised atmospere in Manhattan. It is easy to roam over the pedestrian sidewalks and, though there are many people everywhere and the traffic is busy, the level of noise and the nervous hustle are much less than you would expect. And a stroll, or a bikeride, in Central Park can even be romantic. Or nostalgic, as we experienced once in Strawberry Fields, a section of Central Park opposite of the block where John Lennon used to live. When we walked there we found a band playing Beatle songs. Elderly men of course (my age) and it was so moving to see and hear them play the songs of our youth.
It's hard to imagine such a thing to occur in KL. There are some parks and in certain parts there are sidewalks, but as usual in this country these sidewalks are not level, there are dangerous holes in it, there are shop racks, parked cars or motorbikes blocking it. In other parts there are no sidewalks at all. In the part where we stayed, near Raja Chulan-Jalan Ismail it was much better, but this is a good part of the city. China Town and Little India can be done on foot, these are the older parts of town. But try to visit the Museum of Visial Art, or the Botanic Garden without using a car. You'll have a hard time. Very often you are confronted with this spaghetti of motorways (and railroads), all very heavily used and built only for the automobile and motorbike. All other creatures are more or less forgotten. Not completely of course, but for them there's not much pleasure. Cycling is horror. Dave, our host, had sent his road bike back to England. Useless. We had been warned and hence our decision to leave our bikes somewhere else and travel into KL by train.
There are some sights to be seen, but spending more than 2 days is otiose. You need not put KL on your priority list. We managed to have some pleasant days here though. We went around, saw the Museums of Islamic Art and the one of Visual Art, Eveline did her jogging in the park of the Petronas towers and ticked KL as the next number on her list of world capitals where she has ran.

An ancient Koran in the Islamic Arts Museum

The greatest contribution to the pleasant stay came from our host Dave, in whose house we very comfortably stayed and with whom we had a good time. Warmshowers is wonderful. It seems that, being cycle tourers among each other, you're on the same mind level. Each time we have no lack of topics to talk about and this time our Warmshowers stay made KL a very good experience.

Monday, January 27, 2014

From Penang to KL

In 6 stages we cycled from Georgetown to Klang, near Kuala Lumpur. Mainly remote countryside. No tourists, basic facilities. Sometimes very hilly roads, sometimes very beautiful with oil palm plantations, rice paddies and many blue flashing kingfishers.

In Taiping we stayed an extra day. This is a former tin-mining town and the places where they dug for the ore have now been converted into a large lush green park, with trees hanging over ponds, walking paths and a zoo. There's also the stop for the 4-wheel drives that take you up to Bukit Larut or Maxwell Hill. This is a so-called hill station, founded by the British. On an altitude of 1050 meters there are houses and bungalows where the early colonizers used to go in the hottest period of the year. The road uphill is unbelievably steep and has 72 hairpins. They only way up (10 k) is on foot or by jeep. It takes the jeeps half an hour. Indeed it was nice and cool up there, and very quiet. I can't help thinking how akwardly boring it must have been to live up there for a couple of months. (No internet in those days and all that :-) ).

Kuala Kangsar is the capital of Perak, one of the five sultanats of Malaysia. The sultans palace is situated in the so-called royal district and is beautiful and luxurious, as is the whole royal district. Green parks, well kept, clean and quiet. A gem. Currently the sultan of Perak happens to be the king of the whole country. Every five years another sultan is chosen to be the king. Beatrix wouldn't have liked such a system, I think.

In the not very nice and big port city of Klang we stayed in the Prescott hotel, where we left our bikes and some luggage behind and took a train to Kuala Lumpur. Mostly they just say KL. The reason why we didn't cycle into Kl is because this city is so designed (better: not designed) that pedestrians and cyclists are absoluely ignored. It's many lane motorways, fly-overs, railroads, monorail, fences, concrete walls, absent sidewalks, blocked sidewalks etc. all over, moving as a normal human being on foot or two wheels is crazy, impossible and very dangerous.

In KL we stayed with Dave, our Warmshowers host. He works for a French company building a huge powerplant on the coast here. He lives in a high rise building on the tenth floor in a gated community with all kinds of facilities, like gym, swimming pool and military dressed guardsmen all around. We have keys with sensors the guards greet you with a military salute: “Morning sir”. Quite nice actually :-), though I never heard them say “Good morning sir, madam”. (In public life in certain societies women are simply ignored by the male part of the population). The building is located between the two highest buildings of KL (and there are very many high buildings here), the telecom tower (432) and the Petronas towers (452) and we have a view on the latter. We feel privileged.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

There's a first for everything

Do pigs ride on motorbikes?
Not an obvious question. Let me explain. We were riding on a normal two-lane through road south of Kuala Kangsar. The road was quiet, some cars, the usual small motorbikes and us. It happened on a slope, we were riding uphill, slowly. I was 100 meters ahead of Eveline and had just rounded a corner, when I thought I heard her shout. Because of the corner I could not see her and I feared that she had fallen or something. I hastely turned and while doing this I saw a man on a motorbike in a green shirt do the same. I thought that he had seen what was going on with Eveline and wanted to help. A second later I saw Eveline standing along the roadside, not hurt or anything. I felt releived but wondered what had happened. The man on the motorbike had disappeared. Then Eveline told me that the motorbike-man, when he passed her, had grabbed her breast, and quite hard too. What you feel at such a moment is immediate rage. What the f….., the pig. And then the man on the motorbike passed again, and he took the time to have a good look at us. It was good that he didn't stop ….
Eveline was rather shocked, when it happened she was mainly concerned not to fall, which she fortunately didn't. Then her reaction was the same as mine, anger, disbelief, outrage. For the rest no real harm was done.
I tried to imagine what must have gone on in this man's head. A normal day, he is riding his motorbike going for an errand or so. Then he sees a woman on a bicycle. Not a normal thing to see here, especially dressed like this, bare arms, bike shorts. In a second he must have made up his mind: “I'm going to slow down, grab her and see what happens. Haha!”. Something like that. And he even returned to see the result (or continue with the next step?), psychopat. So yes, in this country there's at least one pig that rides a motorbike.

On all our bike tours over so many thousands of kilometers, this is the first time. Most likely the last, I'm sure.

Later in KL we saw these train carriages. Is it that bad?

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Pedal Inn Penang

Every now and then you find a guesthouse where you really feel at home. Pedal Inn is such a guesthouse.
Cycling is becoming more and more popular all over the world and also in Malaysia. Although infrastructural circumstances are by far not as good as they are in western Europe gradually more and more Malaysians take to the bike for excercise and for fun touring. In Georgetown on the island of Penang there's is a group of such bike fans and one of them is Steven. Steven decided 2 years ago to make it his living and opened a guesthouse in a rented old Chinese shophouse in Lorong Macalister in Georgetown. The house was redecorated and it is now a cosy and quiet place where you as a guest can be yourself and where Steven has created an atmosphere of a living room. Breakfast and coffee are free, cold drinks can be bought and Steven is always there for advice, for a chat and for serious discussions on all that keeps us busy. The neighbours walk in in the evening, as well as friends, and they all contribute to the homely ethos.

The house has 3 4-person dorms and a room with a double bed. If the double is occupied cycling couples get a dorm for their own. Bathrooms are shared, there's a personal locker for each guest, everything is clean and tidy. There is place to park the bikes and there are tools and buckets for cleaning and maintenance. Food courts, the typical Malayan, but certainly Penang, way of having your meals, are close, as is the old historic centre.
We came in as guests, we left as friends.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Langkawi and Penang.

We got into Malaysia by ferry. Ferries here are only for passengers, they are fast, not expensive and run pretty frequently. Often they have closed cabins where as an extra service very loud karaoke is played from big screens in front and where the aircon is working so hard that people put on jackets and all they have in order not to freeze. Not completely unneccesary, though they are a bit soft on that here.
(In the streets you see many riders of the small motorbikes wearing a jacket with the back in front to protect themselves from the 'cold' wind, while temps are well over 30. Makes me smile.)

In the modern terminal on Langkawi pier we went though customs, bought a Malaysian sim-card and then we rode the 25 k to Pantai Cenang, where we found a not too nice bungalow. On the other side of the street there was the beach, behind an almost closed row of little shops, guesthouses and restaurants. Pantai Cenang is a tourist hotspot on this island and indeed, it's more or less crowded. We spent a couple of days there, lingering on the beach that, unless the many people, water scooters, air-bananas with people or parapents behind motor boats, is reasonably calm. Enjoyable, especially in the evenings, sunset over the beach, a drink on an easy chair in the sand, we did not complain.
By ferry we went back to the Malaysian mainland in order to ride to Penang island and the interesting city of Georgetown. It was a 3-day ride through a poor region. The villages were messy and dirty, and the people looked similar. Alor Setar though, where we stayed, is a city with a pretty centre and there were a couple of nice beach resorts along our way.

These days taught us how different it is to travel through this area. This region clearly is not set on receiving foreigners.u You may know how much we appreciate a cool beer after a hot riding day. And hot the days are, 35˚C is no exception. In these regions this comfort is not easy to be found, it's a pure muslim area. And the 7-Elevens that we so appreciated in Thailand are scarce here and they just don't have what we need. There are no things like a terrace to sit and have a drink on, only food stalls. These sell drinks as well (juices and when we're lucky they have ice-coffee), but it's not the same. Besides that all the women are wearing scarves and we hear imans chanting through strong loudspeakers in many places. The people are friendly and open, still it's different from elsewhere, less easy.

Another ferry took us to Penang island, right into the city of Georgetown. This place is an old settlement where once the Portugese, then the Dutch and after them the British ruled. All of them left their traces. But most of all the Chinese immigrants made this place whta it is now. Now there are clearly three major communities, the Chinese, the Indians and the Malays, and they live well among each other. They have their own cultures, often their own language but they work together in many ways. No ethnic problems here. (Though the government clearly favours the "original" Malay, who are muslims). English seems to be the lingua franca, certainly in commerce. The streets in the old centre are characterized by the Chinese shop houses. These are two story houses in rows along the street, with the roof beams parallel to it. Often they are combined with a similar house in the street behind, so that a long space is created with an opening in the middle. This allows a cooling airflow and such houses feel rather comfortable.

We stayed in (a not enlongated) one, Pedall Inn (more about this in a later blog). We roamed the streets, visited some museums, a grand temple, some well preserved clan houses and two houses of very rich old families, that in the past had been of great significance for the city. Streets are named after the group of settlers that used to live and work there, so there's Armenian street, Little India, Burma road etc.There's a creative spirit which shows in the remarkable street art on walls here and there. It's an agreeable spot on the globe, we felt comfortable here.

As an extra we witnessed the first day of Thaipassum. This is an annual Hindu celebration during which they have a long 2-day lasting procession through Georgetown and where all Hindus seem to gather in their best clothes, with gifts for their deities, with burdens carried and coconuts smashed on the streets. An event!

Friday, January 10, 2014

Exit Thailand

We spent 55 days in Thailand this time. We travelled south from Chiang Mai in the very north to the southern border with Malaysia in 40 stages and covered 2600 kms.
Thailand is a very easy country to travel in. There's a reasonable or good system of public transport, that we hardly used. We just used some longtail boats and (very fast) ferries. In general there is always and everywhere a motorbike taxi, a song thaew, mini bus or bigger available to bring a tourist to any destination.
Prices are very affordable, food, transport and accommodation are cheap compared to most other tourist countries. No wonder that Tailand is a backpacker's favourite. Low prices are not the only reason for this though. There's is the climate, always warm to hot, with a well defined rainy season, during which travelling is still very well possible.
In our opinion though it's the people that is the most important reason for this country being so easy. People are gentle and kind, they welcome you with a welcoming smile that in the beginning you must get used to. It's just so uncommon for a European. Maybe it's because we're on bikes that makes people even more friendly. Very, very often we are loudly greeted from far in a field, from within a house or a yard, from passing motorbikes and pick-up trucks, and don't forget the children. And then there often is this smile, displaying a genuine happiness to see us.
The main religion is Buddhism, and this certainly contributes to this open attitude towards us as farang (westerners). We tend to feel very positive about Buddhism and the effect that it seems to have on the people. Though there is another side to it. We spoke a young American, who had lived abraod many years and had now been a teacher for three years in this country. He told us that he had the same same feeling initially, but now he could hardly stand it any more. People are very superstitious, believe in the silliest tokens and act accordingly, don't learn to think for themselves, just reproduce. And are thus vulnurable for deceiving politicians (cf. our populists and the tea part in the usa) who make them scared and angry. The man was very dissapointed. On the other hand we spoke with a Thai who was very active in the current opposition demonstrations against the Taksim clan, who more or less owns and corrupts the country to the bone.
In the south part, the last app. 500 k, it was mainly Islam. Generally we noticed less acceptance and openess, even a kind of suspiciousnes in such regions, though we must say that we didn't feel that now.
The countryside is mostly beautiful. We rode past the endless and immaculate green of rice paddies in the north, through amazing Karst rocks and mountains, dense jungle, coconut and palm tree plantations, rubbertrees, fish-nurseries, fishermen's ports and white sandy beaches dotted with waiting long tail boats with the many coloured cloth wrapped round the bowsprit, there were hardly any stretches that we did not like.
Roads are mostly good, with side strips to cycle on. Sometimes busy 4 lane high roads, mostly two lane and more quiet. There are reaonably many newer cars on the roads, recent models, mostly smaller types as Mazda 2 and Toyota Yaris. This gives reason to believe that prosperity is spreading in the country and that a new middle class is developing. There's nobody who doen't use a mobile phone.
We stayed in the most beautiful and romantic accommodations to the most basic ones. The older hotels sometimes give you the idea of being in a prison. Prices varied roughly from € 8 to 35.
We spent time on beaches, snorkled, swam through caves, visited lots of lovely temples and musea if there were any and did what all tourists do. Besides that we enjoyed the Thai food, which is delicious and light, and mostly had it accompanied by well cooled beer.
Being bike-travellers gives us just that different touch with the land, the culture and the people. We loved it and enjoyed it.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014


The last couple of weeks we passed through a countryside that is characterized by a mono-culture of rubber trees. It's the main agricultural activity in the utmost south of Thailand. Miles and miles of rubber trees, with the typical slanting cuttings in the bark. Through the bark runs the latex, a white syrup-like liquid that is freed through these cuttings and slowly flows into a cup via a little hanging gutter. It's important to realize that it's not the tree's sap that is taken from the tree. This sap runs through the cambium, just under the bark, so the tree is not harmed in it's growth.
The trees are up to 10 meters high, have a stained bark and are not thicker than 20 centimeters in diameter. The plantations have the trees in regular rows in a monotonous line-up. It looks like it's the business of small local farmers and that there are no big industrial and foreign owned plantations. Sometimes you see a farmer, or often a child, walking through the plantation and emptying the cups in a bucket or other plastic container. They then take this to a collecting point, of which there are many. Dirty places! It's then a liquid, and from there it's transported further in a tank on a pick-up truck.
But more often we saw the latex in a dried, solid form in the cups and being collected in big dirty lumps on pick-ups. Why there is this difference we don't know. We do know that formic acid is used as a collagen, but if that is the case here? Maybe it is in the cases when we saw that some farmers proces the crude latex themselves. The result we saw hanging on racks to dry, as if the towels of a hotel have been washed. Sometimes these 'towels' are white, sometimes brownish, or a dirty white.
Once or twice we passed a big rubber factory. We think that here the locals work ends and the big industry does the rest.
We made some pictures of this form of agriculture and loaded them up in this little album.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Koh Lipe

We're just a couple of days away from Malaysia and we did not stay on a single Thai island. So in Pak Bara we decided to give it a try and we booked a ferry to Koh (=island) Lipe. This was an “uninhabited” island until some years ago. It's a tiny island surrounded by coral, app. 1 k long, with jungle and three or four pristine beaches. Some 60 k out of the coast. The only residents living there were a group of so-called sea gipsies, more or less nomadic fishermen's tribes. But then it was discovered, among others by a Thai investor. Now there are a number of resorts, most of them very pricy. There's a concrete 2 meter wide street called Walking Street with some little shops and coffee bars. The street is completely covered by sand, like everything else on the island and is only 200 meters long. No cars, just a few motor bikes. Most transport is being done by longtail boats.

Though it was still high season we didn't book ahead, we were assured by the lady of the ferry ticket office that we would be able to find affordable rooms. We left our bikes and most of the luggage behind and landed, via a floating platform and longtailboat-taxi, on the main beach and checked. The first possibility was 3 times more expensive than we ever paid before during this trip. So, with our basic luggage we dragged on in the heat of the day. By accident I took a wrong path between two houses and we climbed a hill and after 15 minutes we found our sweating selves at Art Garden, a tiny resort on the slope. From there we could see the other side of the island through the trees, just 100 meters away. There was no room available in Art Garden, but the very kind Argentinian young man who worked there took us to the resort down at the beach that we could see (named Porn resort). There was one free bungalow, very affordable and on the beach. For us!! We were extremely lucky. The bungalow was just a bamboo shed, less than 4 x 4 m, with a toilet (no flush but bucket and pan), cold shower, a mattres, mosquito net and fan, but our own balcony was directly on the beach. It was the most quiet side of the island, Sunset Beach. We stayed in these Bounty spheres for two days, enjoying to the full the crystal clear water, the fresh fish that was delivered directly on the beach, reading, swimming and brushing the sand from our feet. Then, after two days it was enough and we longtailed back to the platform to board a very fast ferry. Five Honda engines, 70 k/hr, back to Pak Bara and the day after tomorrow we will be on a boat again. This time it'll take us to Langkawi, Malaysia!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

New year 2014

After having said goodbye to our Australian friends we left Khao Sok in southerly direction for the coast. Here we were confronted with the high season in the for western tourists most popular region of this country. For a week or more we had difficulties in finding a place to stay. So we started to use the inernet to find out in advance if accommodations were avalailable. Until now we have never needed this method, we just stopped somewhere and got a room, or something like that :-).
New Year's eve we thus arrived in Sabai Resort, some 4 k away from Pak Meng Beach, were we initially intended to stay, but full. We learned that during these specific holidays each Thai takes his picknick basket, loads his family on a pick-up truck and goes to a place like Pak Meng. When we had taken our bikes to see the beach boulevard, we returned earlier than planned. The road was congested and the beaches crowded. Thai families seem just to sit down somewhere, rocky or sandy ground, beach, shaded roadside, who cares, unpack their loads of food, eat and drink, sleep, sit, talk, let their children play, and at 17.00 hrs they leave. What stays behind is what they didn't eat and the plastic where it was all packed in. A big mess. We cycled back home to our remote resort, feeling happy that we needed not be a part of this. The resort was an oasis of quietness, with cold beer, good food and interesting conversations with the Italian-Thai owners.

On New Year's day we made a 4-island tour, starting from Pak Meng Pier. We were the only falang (westerners, white people) among app. 60 Thai. The boat first took us to an island, actually mainly a big limestone rock standing out in the Andaman sea. There all the passengers hadt to put on a life jacket, then we all got off the boat into the sea. It was too deep to stand and I think that there are hardly any Thai who can swim. But we were all kept afloat by our life jackets, and we were told to hang on to the one in front of us. Thus we were pulled by the guides, who obviously could swim, into a cave in the huge wall of rock. Far beyond all ISO-standards I'm sure. It was a app. 80 meter long tunnel and it was fun, this train of people, clinging to each other and floating in the water in the pitch dark cave, shouting and cheering (of fear?) and then arriving in an amazing open space with daylight through an opening high above. Aswesome!
Then we had a big lunch on board, we stopped on a pristine beach of another fairy-tale island, we snorkled and saw multy coloured fish in all sizes and after seeing flying dogs hanging from a rock we returned to the pier, to be picked up and taken back home to Sabai Resort.
Then it was, due to the time-differences, the right moment to make phone calls to our beloved at home.
A lovely new year's day!