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Friday / Saturday 6 & 7 July 2007 :
Ely, Cambridgeshire is a small town of 15,000 inhabitants located 20 miles north of Cambridge. It has two attractions…the Oliver Cromwell House and Museum and the Ely Cathedral. The St. Paul’s Choir had been invited to be the choir in residence for the second week in July. When the choir accepted the offer, Becky expressed interest in going on the trip and singing in the cathedral; she asked me to go as well. I gave up singing in the choir several years ago, but I knew there must be roads for bicycles, so I agreed to go and take a bike for diversion. We soon decided to take a tandem instead of a single because Becky would be free every day until 3:00 in the afternoon before rehearsal. We had booked our flights on a Continental non-stop from Houston to London Gatwick. Most of the choir had reservations on BA which was scheduled to leave 30 minutes later than we were, however due to severe weather across the US incoming flights to Houston experienced significant delays. Our flight to Gatwick was delayed 2 ½ hours waiting for a group of 100 arriving from Salt Lake City. The BA flight left on time and thus we missed our ground transportation from Gatwick to Ely. Once we were underway, the flight across the Atlantic was quite comfortable, but there was no way to make up the lost time to meet up with the rest of the choir. After we cleared immigration and customs, we were faced with the challenge to find transportation for us and a tandem bicycle to Ely. None of the taxi services or any of the car rental agencies had a vehicle which could accommodate the bicycle…our only option was to take the train. The route was fairly direct, with only one change of trains in London…only problem was it was also a change of stations. We had 14 minutes to get us and our luggage from Kings Cross Thameslink to the Kings Cross Station, a distance of only 2 blocks but with two flights stairs and no elevators. Somehow we managed the transfer and arrived in Ely in less than 2 hours. Only one more challenge for the day…getting from the train station to the Castle Lodge Hotel. Again all of the taxi drivers refused to accept our bicycle so we were faced with the task of walking about a mile through town pushing a tandem bicycle in a Probike case and dragging our luggage. Guts, tenacity and determination were all we needed to make the ½ hour uphill gauntlet to our hotel…fortunately the weather was perfect and we had good directions. We managed our find our hotel and the room seemed satisfactory. Of course the first thing I wanted was a cold beer to celebrate our successful transfer from Gatwick. I had forgotten how weak and tasteless the British beer has evolved, but at this moment I couldn’t be picky and was happy to have a John Smith’s Bitter. After a few moments of unpacking and settling in, we reassembled the bike and took a quick tour around Ely and the Cathedral…trust me…it’s much easier riding the bike than pushing it through town in a traveling case. We found the Cutter Inn pub situated on the banks of the man-made Ouse River; the pub is a popular venue for both tourist and locals. The restaurant was full with over a 1 hour wait…we elected to eat sandwiches in the pub and enjoy another beer. I tried an IPA…it could have been a nice beer if it only had sufficient aromatic hops…in less than a day I’ve enjoyed all the British beer I care to and now I’m searching for the imported continental pilsners and Irish stouts.
Sunday 8 July 2007:
The sun was up by 5:00 but we managed to sleep until 7:00…no problems with jet lag this trip! The breakfast in the Castle Lodge is a full English offering with a choice of cereals and hot selections as well. We were eager to begin our first ride because the weather was perfect…bright sunshine and mid 60 degree temperature. We only had a general idea of were we wanted to ride….we wanted to follow the River Ouse north to Downham Market and continue on towards Kings Lyn on the Wash. None of the staff at the Castle Lodge could direct us along this route, but a guest who was checking out overheard our conversation and showed us the route on a detailed map he had in his car. We stopped at a convenience market to buy a bottle of water; fortunately the clerk provided us with the necessary local directions to get to the river road along side the Ouse. The road had a good surface and a brilliant tail wind which allowed us a 21 mph average to Downham Market. We were riding through the flat agricultural area called the Fens…this is reclaimed lowland which uses a series of canals and pumps to keep the land dry and useable. As we arrived in Downham Market, we stopped at a Jet service station and got some additional directions for some back country roads to Kings Lyn. We continued on this route until we reached our mileage goal (a bit short of Kings Lyn) and started the return to Ely. Back in Downham Market, we got some more directions for a rural route which would avoid the A10. This route took us through the Denver Sluice where we found the Jenyns Inn on the banks of the canal. We knew it must be a popular place based on the number of cars in the parking lot. (We were the only tandem bicycle) There was a nice outside patio right on the water where we found a table. The Sunday specials on the menu had exactly the style of lunch we were searching for and we found a decent IPA to enjoy. Our biking jerseys did invite conversation with the other patrons and we enjoyed some very interesting conversations with our neighbors. Now fortified with a huge meal and a couple of pints, we started the final 15 miles back to Ely. The road along the canal was narrow but practically void of traffic, the only challenge was the head wind. We arrived back at the Castle Lodge after completing a 60 mile ride across the Fens. After a quick shower and change we were ready to explore a little of Ely, but mostly we wanted to find the tourist information office to get some maps and information about cycling in the area. The assistants there had excellent information and introduced us to the Ordnance Survey Maps which had the level of detail we needed to plan back country routes. We had time to kill so we returned to the waterfront and discovered a bike shop; we inquired about rented bikes for friends who wanted to join us on some of our rides. By coincidence I was wearing a polo shirt from our 2004 trip on the Barge Athos. The bike shop owner asked me if I knew Julian (the Athos’ Captain) and when I replied “yes” he explained that he and Julian had been partners in a motor cycle shop in the past. This led to a conversation about barging and living on barges; he pointed to a 23 meter Luxemotor moored about 40 feet from where we were standing….that was his home and he had just move in with his family 3 days earlier. He invited us to tour his barge and gave us a list of valuable hints for planning and buying a barge. This was a serendipitous moment which only reinforced my quest for a barge retirement home. From the waterfront, we returned to the Castle Lodge to relax for the remainder of the evening.
Monday 9 July 2007 :
The brilliant sunrise at 5:00am made sleeping late a bit difficult to accomplish. There wasn’t a lot of reason to get up early because breakfast service would not begin until 7:00. Fortified with a full English breakfast, we were ready for the ride we had planned to Cambridge. The agent at the tourist information office had printed a cue sheet from the internet which routed us over back country roads to Cambridge. The roads went through the flat agricultural fields and connected the small villages of Witchford , Wilburton and Cottingham. The roads were labeled “B” roads or secondary routes…they are narrow without a shoulder, but fortunately there is very little traffic. We followed the signs to the city center, crossed over the Cam River and came to a stop at the university. Cambridge was the first city we had been to in the UK which had a large bicycle presence. We parked the bike and started a walking tour of the various colleges that comprised the university. Our tour ended abruptly when we spotted a coffee shop directly in front of Kings College…Becky suggested we stop in for a latte and muffin. Following the coffee break, we returned to the bike and started the return tour to Ely over the same route. We completed the 40 mile ride around noon so we had plenty of time to clean up, grab lunch and get Becky to the Cathedral for her 3:00 rehearsal call. I had time to walk over to the train station to get our tickets for the Wednesday trip to the Stansted Airport and then went to the waterfront to relax on a park bench. The weather began to change; heavy clouds started to roll in and the temperature turned noticeable cooler. I had planned to spend my afternoon exploring the bits of Ely that I hadn’t discovered, but when rain started falling I decided to attend the Evensong which began at 5:30. The choir sounded great…it’s just a shame that the Ely residents and tourists demonstrate little interest in attending these services. Following the service, Becky and I tried to find a place to eat and finally settled at an Indian restaurant. Following dinner, we had enough time to visit the Minster Pub and continue our quest for a decent British beer. We tried yet another IPA which was just as disappointing as the rest…thin and without benefit of hops. We returned to the cathedral at 9:00 for a private guided tour of the rooftops…this was an amazing tour through the rafters and galleries above the nave, up the turrets and out onto the roof of the Octagonal Tower. The view over the town at sunset was spectacular! Seeing the superstructure and the 600 year old trees and timbers that supported the roof and tower were a marvel to witness. The tour lasted 1 and ½ hours and was worth the over 150 steps we had to climb to get to the top. After the tour we only had a few minutes before the 11:00pm last call at the pubs…at least 10 of the choir revelers descended on the Lamb and started (continued) to party. Becky and I stayed long enough for one round and then retuned to our hotel at the end of a fulfilling day.
Tuesday 10 July 2007
The clouds, rain and cool temperature of the previous evening had given way to a brilliant blue sky and bright sunshine. Today’s itinerary was another 40 mile route through the Fens to Newmarket, the famous horse racing venue. With the aid of our Ordnance Survey map, we plotted a circular route through Prickwillow, Isleham, Chippenham, Snailwell, Newmarket, Exning and Fordham. We actually encountered the first bit of rolling terrain, nothing challenging, but enough to break up the boredom. We stopped in Newmarket for a break from the bike and to explore the city center on foot. The town is nicely decorated with hanging baskets on the lamp posts; the sidewalks were quite busy indicating a vibrant and robust economy. There were many pubs on the high street and most were open at 10:00 in the morning. We popped into The Crown for a latte (I’m beginning to see a pattern here) and to watch the people passing by on the walks. After a nice break we returned to our bike to continue the tour back to Ely. We had good intentions to stop at a pub for lunch, but we found nothing open in any of the little villages along the route. Instead we stopped in Ely and picked snacks at the supermarket deli. Becky had rehearsal at 3:00 followed with the Evensong service at 5:30. We met several other choir members afterwards and went to the Minster Pub for dinner.
Wednesday 11 July 2007
Our flight from London Stansted to Rotterdam had a scheduled departure of 7:45…there wasn’t a train early enough from Ely that would get to the airport in time; so we had to take a taxi at 5:00 to Cambridge where we boarded the train for the airport. We arrived one hour before the departure which gave us plenty of time to check in and clear security. We were booked on Transavia which is a low cost Dutch carrier. The service was on time and the equipment was a fairly new 737-700. We had reserved a rent car for the day and were on the road to Heerewaarden by 10:30. This was my first chance to try out the new TomTomGo navigation system. Katie (the voice inside the box) was spot on and directed us to the Euroshipservices facility without any hiccups. We arrived just about lunch time so we explained that we would like to eat before we began our discussions. Kees directed us to the Veerhuis hotel and restaurant which was about 5 kilometers away; after a nice lunch we returned and began our afternoon of research into barge ownership. First, Kees’ son Jim took us to the waterfront where we toured 3 newly built boats…a 15 meter, a 17 meter and an 18 meter. These were the first new built boat we had seen and they were all wonderful examples of brilliant design. After touring the boats we returned to Kees’ office and discussed sizes, options, operations, regulations, ownership, and the myriad other aspects that we would need to know to make an intelligent selection for our future retirement home. We did learn that 20 meter length is a magic number…under this length we would be eligible for a Rhine River recreation permit…any length over that would require a commercial permit which would be virtually impossible to attain. We discussed layouts, engines, electronics, air draft, etc, etc, etc; we looked at many different floor plans and discussed the advantages of each. We had just about reached the information overload when Kees offered us a chance to see a 20 meter boat that was on the way back to the Rotterdam airport. He gave us the address which we input into the TomTom and off we went. The difference with the extra 3 meters in the salon was significant; the space seem more like a home than a travel trailer. There was room for sofa, chairs, coffee table, and a dining set. We were pleased to see that we could realize our requirements within the 20 meter length. After our inspection, we returned to the Rotterdam airport where we had dinner and discussed our research. The flight back to Stansted was quick…we boarded the train and were back in Ely by 10:30…a bit tired but excited about the prospects of barge ownership.
Thursday 12July 2007
We had hoped to sleep late today to recover from the trip to Holland, but with the sunshine streaming into the room the struggle to sleep on was useless…once again we were the first to breakfast. We had mapped out a route that would take us back to the Jenyns Arms for lunch but over a different route from last Sunday. The day was fairly overcast and breezy…we had the wind to our back for the outbound ride and we zipped along at over 20mph through Little Downham, Pymoor and Nordelph on the way to the pub at the Denver Sluice. Unfortunately we arrived an hour before they would open so we had to press on to find an open pub…the three we found in Littleport all starting food service at noon….still more than an hour to wait…so nothing to do but continue on to Ely. We were still too early for lunch so we returned to the Castle Lodge to clean up and change for the afternoon. By now it was noon and the pubs were open for lunch…we went to the High Flyer where they were celebrating the launch of their new restaurant with a 2 for 8 pound lunch special. After riding 45 miles we were ready to enjoy the specials. Becky had to watch her time to make the 3:00 rehearsal….I found the public library which offered free 30 minute access to the internet. Following the Evesong, I met Becky outside the cathedral and then we walked to residence of six choir members who had planned a birthday party for members who had birthdays during the trip. It was a pleasant gathering and the weather had improved considerably which permitted most of the party to take place outside in the garden. After the party, seven of us walked to the Cutter Inn for dinner. After dinner and so more conversation on the water front, we were ready to return to the Castle Lodge for a well deserved rest.
Friday 13 July 2007
We woke up to overcast skies, but there was no heavy wind or rain, so we continued with our plans for another tandem ride through the Fens. We enjoyed another full English breakfast while we studied the map of the route for the day. This route offered several distance options; we would make our final decisions while underway pending weather and time. We started a few minutes after 8:00 in the direction of Prickwillow…about 6 miles into the ride, a heavy mist started to fall. We stopped long enough to pull on the rain parkas and continued on through the farmland. The mist didn’t last very long and really didn’t present any problems for us. We biked through the towns of Lakenheath, Hockwold and Feltwell. In Feltwell we found the number 30 National Cycle Route…it was a nice country lane but only covered a few miles. The mist started again and we decided to take the most direct route back to Ely. We had to stop once at a train crossing that is still manually operated…I did chat with the gate operator who said he has to close the gate four times each hour for trains to cross. The mist did eventually cease and we arrived back in Ely about 11:00 after covering 41 miles through the Cambridgeshire country side. Volker was flying in from Aberdeen to join us for the weekend; he arrived in Ely around mid-day and met us at the Castle Lodge. Volker and his family moved from Hannover to Aberdeen in August of 2006…this was the first time we had seen him since Ulrich’s wedding. We were all ready for some lunch and walked over to the High Flyer. By the time we had finished lunch, it was time to walk Becky to the cathedral for the afternoon rehearsal call. Volker and I went to an internet café for a few minutes and then returned to the Castle Lodge to break down the tandem and pack it away for the return trip to Houston. We had some time to visit and I showed Volker the information and plans for the barge that we had obtained in Holland on Wednesday. Soon we returned to the Cathedral for the Evensong Service which was held in the Lady Chapel instead of the choir. Following the service we had 2 hours to have dinner before returning for the sound and light show at the cathedral. This was an hour and a half presentation of music, light and history of the cathedral…it was a nice experience and very informative about the history of the cathedral. Following the sound and light presentation, several choir members retired to the Royal Standard Pub for a fitting close to the day.
Saturday 14 July 2007
Volker met us in the breakfast room at the Castle Lodge…we had only the morning to tour Cambridgeshire, because of Becky’s 3:00 rehearsal call. We drove to Cambridge over the same route we had taken by bicycle the previous Monday. This time we had benefit of the GPS navigation system which directed us effortlessly to the city center. We found a place to park the car and then walked to the tourist information office to get a guide map for a walking tour through the area. We did see most of the colleges which make up Cambridge University including Kings, Trinity, and St. Johns. We walked to the Magdelene Bridge and amused ourselves watching the tourist punting on the Cam river which was somewhat like a bumper car ride at a midway. Following the walking tour Becky wanted to visit the Starbucks and it seems that everyone else in Cambridge had the same idea. At least the service was quick and the queue moved at a reasonable pace. We were approaching the end of our allotted time at the parking space and it was time to move on to our chosen lunch spot at the Jenyns pub at the Denver Sluice. We programmed Katie to take us the fastest route and arrive there in about 30 minutes. The weather had cleared quite nicely so we could enjoy al fresco dining. I will miss the food and ambience of pub because there is nothing similar around Houston. We drove directly to the cathedral arriving just in time for rehearsal. Volker and I went to the train station to get some schedule information for the return to Gatwick and then went to the Tesco store to buy supplies for the evening dinner party. David, Jane and Sari had opened their accommodation for a pot luck stir fry dinner. Everyone was encouraged to bring something for the wok and Sari would treat us with her culinary skills. There was plenty to eat and David made certain there was ample to drink. We stayed at the party until after 10:00 and then returned to the hotel for the evening.
Sunday 15 July 2007
Becky had an 8:30 rehearsal call for the Sunday Eucharist Service. I met Volker in front of the cathedral a few minutes before the service began and we found a seat in the nave. In order for Volker to return to London to catch his flight to Aberdeen, he had to leave before the Eucharist ended. At the designated time he said his farewell and slipped out the side aisle to begin his drive to the airport. Our minister from St. Paul’s in Houston, Jim Bankston, had been invited to preach the morning sermon. It was a wonderful service. Following the service we had less than 2 hours to find lunch and return to the 2:00 rehearsal call. We joined other choir members at the High Flyer for the Sunday lunch and then returned to prepare for the Evesong. I had some time to go to the train station to get schedules for the return to Gatwick on Monday morning. I stopped to visit with a gentleman who had retired 2 years ago onto a narrow boat and was living full time on the boat. We chatted for several minutes about living full time on a boat and the pros and cons of the lifestyle. He was extremely positive about living on a boat; his only regret was that he had not retired sooner and started his life on the water years before. He advised me to pursue my interest in retiring to a barge and to do it as soon as possible…I hope I can realize his advice. At the train station I learned that we could take a train from Ely that would get us to Gatwick the next morning by 9:00 which was the recommended arrival time for our noon flight. The choir had arranged a bus but its departure time was planned to accommodate the BA departure which was 1 ½ hours later than our Continental flight and we had some concerns if there would be room for our tandem bicycle. I returned to the cathedral to wait for the 4:00 choral Evesong. This was the final service of the choir for this trip and it was a wonderful finale to the intense week of providing choral music for the Ely Cathedral. Following the service we were invited to the home of Canon Peter Sills for an afternoon tea. He lives on the property of the cathedral in a lovely home with a beautiful garden and a magnificent view of the cathedral tower. The mood was very upbeat following the successful completion of providing music for the week. David and Jane invited everyone back to their home to finish off the remaining beer and have some pizza. We stopped at the Pizza Express and picked up a couple of take-away pizzas for the party. Everyone was ready to party and celebrate the end of a great trip. We decided it was time to leave when underwear started flying out of the upstairs bedroom onto the garden patio.
Monday 16 July 2007 “A day that will live in infamy” Dear God, please allow me never to return to England!
We started our early morning by trudging through Ely dragging our luggage and tandem bicycle to the train station for our 6:23 departure to London. We got as far as Cambridge and then the day from Hell began! The train proceeded on a few miles and stopped in the country for unknown reasons. The operator explained that we had to wait for a signal and then we could continue…after a few minutes delay we chugged into the next station and stopped. There we learned there was a problem with the overhead power lines and that severe delays were expected. I tried to get a taxi, but was informed that there was over an hour wait to get a cab and there were no large cabs that could take the bike. After 45 minutes sitting on the train, we were returned to Cambridge where passengers could take an alternate train to London Liverpool Street. This was not an option for us because we could not take the bike on the underground. We did however find a cab large enough to accommodate the bike and we took off at 10 past 8 for Gatwick. Our driver made the trip in just under 2 hours, in time to catch our flight. By this time I had spent over $500 just to get from Ely to the airport. We thought our ordeal and ended as we reached the Continental check-in desk. As we were waiting in line one of the officials asked to weigh the contents of our bike bag. We lifted the bike onto the scales which revealed that it weight 40 kilos (88 pounds). He said we could not take the bike as baggage and had to ship it as cargo…no pleading…nor reasoning would convince him otherwise regardless that it have flown over as baggage he would not allow it to return. We were forced to take the bike to a cargo office for shipping…passengers in coach were paying less for their seats than it cost to return my tandem bike in a cargo hold. We did clear security in time to board the Continental flight to Houston. We did enjoy the 1 st class service and attention to our plight from the flight service manager. She arranged to have a Continental International Concierge meet us in Houston to help sort out the problems we had encountered in the Gatwick Airport. She was very sympathic to our situation and offered to check into what went wrong. We did hear from her the next day; she explained that the security rules in London do not allow excess weight baggage and that we should have been alerted of this problem not only when we made our reservations, but also when we checked in on the outbound flight from Houston. She gave us some vouchers for future travel on Continental and invited us to consult with her with any future issues. As a postlog to this misadventure, the bicycle did arrive in Houston 12 days later. It did sustain some damage during transit...the rear deraileur was destroyed and had to be replaced. But the bike is fixed and we're back on the road again...just as long as the road isn't in England!
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