Europe by Cable-Ties

July 18, 2011

Well, the pre-trip planning has been the usual, thoroughly organised affair. We’re cycling around 600 miles, supposedly, from Amsterdam to Copenhagen on bikes a generation-or-three older than us, which are basically held together with cable-ties and optimism — one that makes an unexplained clicky-noise roughly every other metre, and one without a single working wheel — neither of which are even guaranteed a place on the airplane, of course, depending mostly on whether easyJet accept bubblewrap, sticky tape, and smiles as a valid alternative to ‘a bike bag or bike box.’

Basically, we’re probably about to spend three weeks in an airport somewhere, drinking Bloody Marys or moaning about them, and praying that some Icelandic fucking volcano-or-other will go off and give us an excuse for being so incredibly shit while we cash in the refund.

This is all Neil’s fault.

The G-Word
July 21, 2011

Hello there. Right now, Neil and I are sitting in a living room in Amsterdam, drinking proper coffee, and aching.

See? Aching.

Why are we aching, you didn’t ask? Well, because we’ve decided to do ten press-ups every time we say a few certain words, you know, to make sure the top halves of our bodies keep up with the soon-to-bulge-frighteningly bottom halves. We decided on the words G.o.d., J.e.s.u.s., and C.h.r.i.s.t. — the G-word, the J-word, and the C-word respectively — because I have recently become part-Catholic (I was ‘communised’ by eating J-dog’s dry, bready body at a wedding last week), and because me and Neil are equally atheistic (aside from my recent Chri-curiousness), and open to the idea of replacing our religious lingual exclamations with considerably more fun alternatives like, ‘Cripes!’, ‘Oh my giddy biscuits!, or ‘what in the name of all that is Boris Johnson was that?!’

Turns out, we say those original words a lot. Two days we’ve been here, and we’ve shared a good few hundred press-ups already between us. I’m knackered. If you poke me anywhere on my top half, I go ‘Ahhh,’ and not in a good way. Indeed, we woke up this morning, as you do, and watched some stupid video Neil had recorded of us cycling home the previous night, a bit drunk (massively legal here, by the way), and caught ourselves saying the G-word a couple of times each.

So what else have we done, aside from trying and failing to exorcise blasphemous language from our vocabulary? Well, as you may remember from the previous short chapter of our story, we arrived on our cycling trip with only one working bicycle. Not ideal. In the interest of satisfying your need for narrative resolution, then, we find ourselves joining the story in a bike repair shop near Amsterdam Central station, where a large, cheeky, bearded bear of a gay has taken a fancy to me. I inform him I already have a place to stay, thanks, and we spend the next half an hour making sexual innuendos about bicycles, which, as it turns out, is easy. Ride, grip, saddle, ball bearings, rims, helmet, it’s all there.

Where's that screwdriver going?

Some excellent banter later and with my bike riding like a dream, we join our excellent host Kristina (who I once met at a CouchSurfing party in London, and who is quick to remind me of my exploits that evening), and she cycle-leads us to her apartment. By this point, my bike is broken again, but after we drop our stuff at her place, a quick fix with cable-ties (wonderful, wonderful cable-ties) is enough to carry us back to the bike shop to moan about it to my big, gay bear-friend. They replace my wheel for cheap this time, as I had already given them a tip before, and explained how tight I am and what a big deal that was. We leave again, acquire a small green gift from some Americans who are heading to the airport while we're waiting, and agree that we will probably be back at the bike shop again in another hour.

Let's try that again, shall we?

That night, we were the guests of honour at a language course Kristina runs for Russian students learning English. We begin the meet-and-greet by answering some questions about our culture (“well… it rains and we drink”) then explain that we know all of the words in the English language, and should therefore be utilised like walking, blinking dictionaries. We have a lot of fun with these guys, play some floor-sitty, hand-slappy game, and exchange our ‘craziest’ stories (a German guy, Julius, includes a riveting tale of some poor time-keeping he was involved in once. Wacky fucker.) We finish the night in the spirit of cultural exchange, and suggest a ‘field-trip’ to the pub. We teach them how to drink a bit more appropriately (less of this small beer shit, please), do some press-ups, take photos, and exchange hats, then wobble home for a night cap.

The next day greets us with the glow of sunlight, and we breakfast ourselves into town to meet some friends from the night before. We cycle around, taking it in turns to carry the girls on the back of our bikes, crashing, stopping, wobbling, falling, swerving, beering, swearing, praying, press-up-ing, and meandering our way through the various parks, bars, and tourist hotspots of the city.


The evening’s entertainment, this time, is a Dutch cultural evening, and we attend to meet a much bigger congregation of Russians who, apparently, just didn’t give a shit what goes down on our wet, drunk little island.

We drink wine at the back of the room, and listen with increasingly baffled faces as a group of Russians ask a young Dutch guy, with complete sincerity and curiosity, questions like, ”can a person with black skin be Dutch?” and “how do you know who is a gay?” We help as best we can by explaining that black people can, of course, only be dutch if they cover themselves in flour and wear wooden shoes, and that you can recognise a gay because they always, always have a penis in their ear. Having been about as helpful as two twats giggling at the back of a room can be, we then suggest another field-trip. Kristina offers the idea of a gay bay this time, and an hour later that’s where we are, with a drunken man called Andrew calling me a ‘sexy Harry Potter’ and continuously groping my balls while the delighted Russians take dozens of photos at what, quite obviously, was one of those elusive gays they had heard so much about. After I was man-handled in a way that is a criminal offence in most countries for another hour, my semi-rapist Andrew eventually buys everyone (by this point, around 15 of us) a drink, before softening his grip on my testicles for long enough to tell us earnestly how great it is that we are visiting the gay district at a time when a fairly conservative Dutch government is trying to crack down on it. He then offers me a blow job, which is very friendly of him, but I decline in favour of another wobbly ride home.

One more sleep finds us here, now, with me writing this, and Neil doing 20 more press-ups because he just said the G-word, then stopped briefly to explain, again, that he was doing them because he’d said the G-word.

Good Golly, what a fucking cunt.

July 23, 2011

Plans, like Neil’s personal and physical attributes, are best when you can change them. That’s why two days in Amsterdam can become five days in Amsterdam quicker than you could say ‘Cheese and Clogs,’ the essential shop we just passed that has presumably helped smash old Dutch stereotypes to pieces, then rebuilt them in the shapes of cheese and clogs. This morning, then, was the third one that we tried to leave the City.

The problem with mornings, of course, is that by the time you miss them, it’s the afternoon, and by the time its the afternoon you’re half way to the night and a bit drunk, so you might as well just smoke something, call yourself a silly bean, try to cuddle someone pretty, then basically call it tomorrow. When that nonsense happens several days in a row, though, and when you have a happy bunch of Dutch, Russians, Germans, Spaniards, Armenians, Canadians and Canasians to do silly things with during the gaps, you suddenly find you have to do a lot more exercise every day just to make sure you get somewhere away from Anne Frank’s presumably shit house on your ‘cycling trip.’

These people, for example

Still, our plans changed for good reasons, from sheesha days to midnight cycles, from wrong turns to right decisions, from magical mystery tours to cheeky drunken lobbying. When we eventually took a ferry over the river to North Amsterdam, we said fond goodbyes to new friends, especially our host Kristina who really was absolutely brilliant at taking care of us and making sure we had an amazing time with whatever gender and sexual orientation of person she was trying to set us up with at the time.

With our guardian (the toy)

I had at least three male admirers in their forties, which is surprising as we ascertained that Neil is perhaps sporting the most notorious homosexual haircut in the Netherlands.

Anyway, we finally started cycling with a map and a compass and some cakes for the road (it didn’t eat them, ho ho ho), eventually finding ourselves in a cafe 20 miles north of the City, having only had a brief break in the town of Edam, presumably famous for something like cheese rather than the field I navigated us into. After some mud, shit, a few gates, and an electric fence, though, Neil complained that he didn’t like my shortcut. He’s always naysaying my shortcuts, though, especially when they involve electric current going through us. Despite me facilitating several unique encounters that regular tourists just don’t get to experience, like the faint smell of onions and a pile of tyres, he still complained that he didn’t want to go through a ditch, a river, or a field of menacing cows.

We continued our journey North.

The wind, however, was on an opposite journey South, and we had a bit of conflict with it over the next hour or so. The gust, 66mph as it was, was intent on punching us in the face, whilst we were more focussed on swearing, and trying not to die from a little post-Amsterdam condition called ‘excercise.’ The last five miles have taken about the same time as the previous fifteen, so we have stopped for a break to experiment with sausages. There’s some very curious sausages in this place we're sitting in, and I’m going to put some of them in my mouth. Three or so inches higher, I also have one eye trained on a boy outside who is near my bike. He has a cigarette in his wonky gob, a face you could put on a stick to protect your corn, and an earring of all things in his fucking head. He’s probably lovely, and certainly not to be as distrusted as a similarly aged English youth, but if that cigarette gets any nearer to my bike bags, well, I just don’t know what I’ll do.

He’s just left.

The G-Man is PUNishing Us
July 23, 2011, by Neil Hayes.

To prove its not just Paul on this trip that can use a keyboard, i figured i should probably write something. I’m Neil. The fat one.


So by now Paul has filled you in about amsterdam. Good, because i can’t quite remember it all myself. Anywho, it’s safe to say that Amsterdam is fucking incredible, but unfortunately we had to leave. Three days ago.

To make up for the time that we ‘lost’ in Amsterdam, we headed North into a wind capable of destroying an entire garden shed. Epic stuff, I know. It was raining, windy and cold, but we had music and windmills to look at. We were happy. However, Paul’s bike had other ideas and started throwing nuts, bolts and bits of derailer at me. We stop on quite possibly the longest, most open road in the Netherlands. Paul gets his serious face on whilst I wrestle mother nature-on-steroids trying to keep my bike upright (all because my damn kick-stand didn’t come through the post in time.)

Wankers. The lot of them.

Miraculously, we find all the parts that Paul’s bike threw at my face, and he somehow manages to fix it. I was impressed. I was even more impressed, however, when he later informs me it was fixed with bits of his bottle holder and our trusty friend, the cable-tie.

So we head towards the coast with two working bikes and the wind on our backs. To put it politely, it was fucking bliss. After a few miles along the coast we reached a town called Hoorne. Mother nature flexes her frighteningly large muscles and begins to urinate on us. Lovely. A decision was made that it was about time for a beer. A good decision it was. Drenched, cold and on-our-way-to miserable we find a small pub and enter. The locals are friendly and the owner gives us some leaflets for campsites. He is keen to also point out a nude campsite. NATURALLY. <——–pun. We are interested, but we decline due to the weather.

Now, I know the Dutch are notoriously friendly, but nothing prepared me for the next few hours. Still in the pub, Bob (the owner) offers to call a campsite to check for space, and then drive us and our bikes 10km to the campsite's door. Door?

Paul, being a pessimist, thinks we are going to a field hosted by a cow. He was wrong, very wrong. Consistantly wrong. We are led into a shed to store our bikes and then in to a living area to warm up. He tells us that we can either pitch our tent out the back or sleep on the sofas in the warm and dry. It’s pretty obvious which one we choose. Paul finds a dog to entertain him, and we introduce ourselves to the happy campers. All of which are very chatty and interested in what we are doing. They even bloody feed us.
So to anyone that gives a rats arse, I’m still alive and well. Even got a cheeky lift in the process. That’s cheating?

Fuck off, I’m on holiday.

I Was Going To Write a Post, But...
July 26, 2011

Just look at him, the self-timed, twat-grinning, fat-kneed, squinty-eyed little freak

Also, this just happened...

KNEEsy Does It
August 1, 2011, by Neil Hayes

Hello again.

Right now, Paul is currently writing something a lot better and funnier than me. Do I care? Yes, a little, but he has a shit patchy beard and a hairstyle like a diseased cabbage.

Just to let you know, I’m slightly drunk and also using an iPhone to write this. Harder than you think when Steve Jobs is constantly correcting Bremen to erection, or beer to ‘shove that in your vagina and smoke it’. Exaggerating? Possibly, but he is still a cock.

So the cycling is slightly harder than we trained for. Now, that could be to do with the gale force winds or the fact that our ‘training’ was basically a 5 minute roll down a hill to a pub, or attaching completely useless objects to our bikes with cable ties. Lessons learned so far? Cable ties can’t fix your knees. Yet.

We are actually getting better at the cycling though. Probably because we have started to pedal rather than sitting in a bar in Amsterdam. However, our legs really fucking hate us. Our knees started off by having a little peaceful protest -- kind of saying “hey, you should stop” -- then gradually getting nastier and nastier until full blown riots erupted. We obviously stopped and had a sandwich. We KNEEded the rest. <------ PUN.

Whoever said that northern Europe is flat is a liar. Complete bullshit, there is definitely at least one hill, and we found it. Probably thanks to Paul constantly shouting “I think this is a shortcut!” and subsequently almost always leading us to a dead-end. I should explain that we are basing all of our decisions on a compass. We have no map of Germany, but we know that we have to go east, and then a bit north. Foolproof.

Anyway, our knees needed a break before they broke so we paid for a train to Oldenburg, and then accidentally-on-purpose stayed on the train until Bremen. The same train went all the way to Berlin which was very tempting, but then we realised it was about 5 hours away and in completely the wrong direction to Denmark. Our next couch is with Mareike, who lives in an awesome apartment. We drink beer, Paul finds a guitar and sings the only 5 songs he knows. Badly. We did try to write something but a video seemed a better idea. Pretty much because we were both far too lazy/drunk to write anything but gibberish.

The weather finally picks up so I take a shower in sun lotion. Two days of near perfect cycling weather, apart from one downpour which briefly dampens the mood <--------- PUN. We cover 130km and arrive in Hamburg. Paul gets his wits out and sends a few messages to find a place to stay. We offer a pineapple and get a response in minutes. The guy who responds is called Jacek, his profile states he has a dry sense of humour, and he likes to feed his guests only alcohol. Perfect. On arrival we kindly lend our increasingly achy, weak and generally unfit bodies to help move a load of mattresses out of his flat. Not the best thing to see when arriving at a CouchSurfers place. I say hello to Jacek, to which he replies “good afternoon, here are the keys. Goodbye”.

As we sit in his literally empty living room wondering if he will be back in half an hour or if we’ve just bought a flat in Germany, I get a text from another couchsurfer, Janina. She invites us round and we drink, make silly faces and take photos. Janina’s friend Mathilda tells us about how good Aarhus is, precisely where we are not going, and how expensive and HILLY Copenhagen is. Fucking hills G-mandammit!

Hours of fun

Again, the sun comes out and burns every bit of my skin on show and we leave Hamburg. Another few days of cycling that were most probably eventful, but in all honesty I can’t be arsed to try and remember, and we reach the northern coast of Germany. A place called Fehmarn, in which we find a campsite and pitch up on what we later find out was essentially a floodplain. Paul’s shit bike has broken again by this point. Which is hugely overdue considering just how shit it is. My bike on the other hand is perfect, even with a slightly buckled and almost certainly unstable front wheel. Paul gets a little jealous, and rides my incredibly perfect bike to a bike shop. They admire the beauty of my bike and precede to sell him an inner tube. Which is completely the wrong size and for a racing bike. Paul doesn’t have a racing bike.

It works, somehow.

So with two working bikes again we do some extensive non cycling, wash our clothes and sunbathe. After a day of nothing (our favourite type of day) we head to the port and buy two tickets for a ferry. Which could have gone anywhere as we didn’t ask. That involves planning, and we are us.

Luckily it went to Denmark, and we arrive in the dark with nowhere to sleep. After toying with the idea of camping on some cornfields, we find a low fence and the towns local football stadium.

At this point, I’d like to briefly introduce you to Paul ‘the warthog’ Hawkins. He only comes out at night, he is ugly, shockingly loud and keeps people awake at night with his grunting. He’s so fucking annoying that last night I kicked him repeatedly for an hour. Did he stop? Nope, only made him worse.

Paul’s explanation….

“I only snore when I’m drunk or have a cold”

Which means he’s an alcoholic hypochondriac.

I prefer my explanation.

He’s a prick.

August 2, 2011

On Saturday we woke up in the same place that we went to bed, which, on a windy night, is ideal. Some lovely Dutch woman-or-other got us up at Bollocks o’ Clock and we blinked at the windows to see the same wet, windy shit as the night before. However, we weighed up our options, and decided it might be nicer to carry on cycling rather than spend a long day with very friendly but very retired Dutch people who may well want to play Boggle with us or euthanise each other or something.


Anyway, we decided to travel away from how harsh that joke was by cycling North, against the wind –of course– and following the eastern coast of Holland towards the dike that connects it to the rest of the Netherlands.

It wasn’t brilliant.

We spent the morning battling the wind, swearing, blinking, wobbling, sighing, moaning, being overtaken by arthritic grandmothers, snails, and one ambitious type of mushroom. After 30km of the stuff that makes you wonder whether you are actually on holiday or test-driving a shit mobile life, we eventually reach Den Oever, the marina town that connects the two big chunks of the country, and stop for something warm to match our spirits.


We hide from the anti-social forces of outside for half an hour, then get a text message from a CouchSurfer offering us a place to escape the rain in a town 60km away. We accept willingly, and begin the long cycle over the dike in front of us — the straightest dike I’ve ever seen, incidentally. For 35km the mist of the sea showers us as we ride with the wind on our backs. We arrive later in the definitely-not-Swiss town of Zurick, grab a few beers to give us time to dry, then ride another hour North to jump the last train to Leeuwarden where a student called Jeroen meets us at the station, we pick up some drinks and head back to his apartment where he’s only gone and got the bloody soup on, hasn’t he?

Well, the evening passes quickly with coffee and beer and techno, and stories and photos, a trip to the local bar, and a long night of geeking out about ideas and art and social media. Mostly, him and Neil bang on about Twitter once an hour with only occasional pauses to drink and smoke.

The next morning, Jeroen really flexes his Communications and Media muscles and basically plans our next day and night for us while we stare at our thumbs and eat breakfast cake. He opens Google Maps, zooms out. Finds next stop: Groningen. Facebook; CTRL + Click; CouchSurfing, New Tab; He browses his friends. Grabs his iPhone; makes several calls to the next town on our map. No answer. No time. No space. He opens a new window; Tweetdeck. Sends message: “Two crazy Englishmen coming to Groningen tonight – can any one host them?’ He pauses for just a minute.

Simultaneously, his iPhone, iPad and iMac bleep and light up. He checks them. A couple more No’s and a few retweets, he says.

“Now there are several thousand people who all know you are looking for a place to stay.”

Messages pour in. Many people are away, but know people in the area. They retweet, some reply, some forward it on @Friends. In five minutes, a message comes back from a music magazine writer called Wouter who offers us a place to crash. With a few more wizard strokes on his keyboard, Jeroen confirms it, and looks at me with I-told-you-Twitter-was-useful eyes, if such eyes exist. I am forced to agree, and spend the next 8 hours wondering if I’ve been a Tweeter or a Twitterer or a Tweep all this time, just hiding in some closet of baffling ignorance.

Gadget fun with Jeroen

I also thought that there may be a joke there somewhere about a story with 140 characters, but decided it would only be distracting you from the man smiling down at us from his balcony in Groningen.

Wouter greets us, and is a lovely, smiley, happy sort of a man; he’s quick to offer us coffee, we are even quicker to drink it, and then we melt in to his sofa to moan about our knees and chat away the evening. Afterwards, we lay horizontally, separately, consistently, and quietly, for many hours where I DEFINITELY DO NOT SNORE, and rise early the next day to grab what we like to call a ‘catch-up train’ to Bremen. This is much easier than cycling, it turns out, and miles of Dutch and German countryside rush past us at a delightful speed. It might be the kind of time that you would think that we would be thinking  ’why are we cycling?’ but, like Neil’s haircut, you’d be wrong.

We were actually thinking, ‘who the fuck is this fucking nutcase next to me?’

The man who had helped us with our bikes seemed initially friendly at first, and I certainly held my own in our starting conversation about the New World Order, one world governments, CIA phone-tapping, and secret Masonic conspiracies, but then it went even more mental. John had bought us a coffee by this point, of course, so I felt obliged to listen to him as his face got more intense, his eyes shook with passion and his words twisted slowly from English in to Fucking Nonsense. Before long, he was telling me all about some angry man in the sky, how all people were born in sin, and all religions were wrong but he alone had been told the True Word and would be saved. By the time he got to the bit where he insisted, quite earnestly, that if G.o.d. put him in front of 7 billion people with a microphone, his voice would “magically” (his word) transform literally and instantly into every language in the world. Good bloody microphone, I thought. By this point Neil was bored and insisting on cigarette breaks, so I tried have a cheeky debate with the man.

“G.o.d. is all-knowing and all-powerful.”

“But  if He knows everything, then he must know what will happen tomorrow, and if he knows what will happen tomorrow then he cannot change it. And if he can change it, then surely he cannot know it?”

His reply might as well have involved a pickle.

“…G.o.d. has a master plan, and you can choose only to obey him!”

“But if He has a master plan, then how can I have free-will to choose anything? Either I have a choice or I don’t, and if I do have a choice, then I am powerful enough to change his plans so why would I obey him?”

He poked his tongue out, and stuck a plastic sausage in his ear, chanted ‘Weather! Sweden! Chimney!’ then mounted a round cheese, and insisted he was headed to the Moon.

I asked him one last question. “How many people do you tell the Word?”

“Every one I meet.”

Well, that was a bit sad I thought, so we meandered away, thanking him for the coffee and continuing on to Bremen, the home of Becks beer, which you can find out very quickly and easily from any of the nearest bars to the station where they serve it cold, and in large glasses, and keep bringing it whenever you ask for it, which is roughly how that afternoon came and went. We have another host planned, psychology student Marieke, so we wobble to her crazy place in the North of town, while she goes out for a meal with her friends. We are more than happy to stay and drink beer and play her guitar.

We were suitably lubricated when she arrived home to blabber on at her for several more hours before going to bed and deciding to leave early the next morning to get back on the saddle.

That's her, look

We left about 2pm, then, and had two days of beautiful cycling with only one short hour where it rained, we hid in a bus stop and Neil shouted ‘this is ballbags’ at the sky.

We arrive in Hamburg and receive a text from a Polish guy called Jacek. He offers us his place if we’re stuck, we are, so we do, and we arrive to find him leaving. He gives us his keys, says little more than 5 words to Neil, then leaves for the night, and we don’t see him again. A strange one.

Us with Jacek

Blimey, I’m bored of typing. Me and Neil are currently sat in a bar in Maribo, Denmark, the first place we’ve found internet in days so there’s too much to catch up on to even bother really. So between Hamburg and here, here’s a brief summary.

  • A very German beach party with party-pop and a smoke machine that went off randomly and often in between the songs.
  • Neil is very, very afraid of wasps.
  • I proposed to a 90-year old German lady.
  • A train, and a ferry, and a train on a bloody ferry.
  • Forgetting the Danish don’t use the Euro.
  • Camping, fire and leaving to the sound of shotguns.
  • Tent flood.
  • A hilarious photo of my nipple.
  • Hammocks, beaches, and lots of stupid faces.

The End
What? Why? I don't know.