Monday, 18 February 2013

Cycling through Essen, Germany

Here's my bike. Note my laptop and camera case in the basket.
I'll be honest. I never thought I'd get the chance to cycle around Essen. First, I figured that the system would somehow let me down – it almost did – and then I thought that a lack of time would be the big downer. But it turned out I had some time to spare.

I'd been in a meeting all morning and we got all the way through to lunch and it was just before noon, meaning that whatever way I looked at it, I'd be back at my hotel by around 1pm to 1.30pm and I'd have time to mess around on the bikes before heading off for my next meeting.

But life isn't easy, as we all know, and at first I thought it best to take a walk through Essen towards the railway station. But then I decided to check out the bikes, which meant walking back to the hotel and seeking the advice of the receptionist. She advised me to key in my details and 'off you go', so 'off I went' and found, as usual, that all things in life are a little more complicated.

Here I am, the guy in the trenchcoat, with my bike.
I followed the instructions on the machine, but reached a dead end. Sod it! I'll walk to the railway station.

My schedule was slightly off-kilter. I'd had a meeting in the morning in Essen and now I had a meeting at 3pm in nearby Dusseldorf (around 20 minutes by train). I thought I'd leave my suitcase at the hotel and come back for it later and that decision meant that I could use a bike to take me to the station. Fine, but the machine had reached some kind of dead end, although there was a number, a phone number, so I called it and told the man on the other end that I'd gone through the process: I'd keyed in my credit card number and expiry date and I wanted to know whether or not I been charged?

The man told me that he couldn't ascertain whether I'd been charged unless I went through the process again, with him. So off I went – I gave him my credit card number and three-digit code and the expiry date and then he said, no, I hadn't been charged. Good! So, did I want to go ahead and hire a bike? It would cost me EUR8 – about £3.50. If I agreed, the man on the end of the phone would give me the code to release the bike and then, when I reached my destination, I'd call the same number, quote the figures on the side of the bike and tell the man that I'd arrived and the bike was back in its mooring.

First Class? Nope! Second Class. Nice, German trains!
I decided to go for it, he gave me the code and off I went. The bike had a basket and it was big enough to carry my laptop and my camera case (see top photo). So, it was game on, I unlocked the bike and headed off, following a map provided earlier by the hotel receptionist. Oddly, I'd chosen a route that took me along a pedestrianised route towards Essen railway station. This meant dodging pedestrians, but first I had to get used to the bike. It had a strange braking system that involved one front brake and a mechanism for back-pedalling to bring the bike to a halt. Strangely, it was very effective and I soon got to grips with the way the bike handled and rode off – in the wrong direction. Rather annoyingly, I had to ask for directions and we all know that asking for directions is not cool. However, it turned out that I was riding away from where I wanted to be and time was getting a little short. So short, in fact, that I felt compelled to ring my next appointment and tell them I'd be late.

After weaving in and out of pedestrians, I found myself at Essen station and the docking point for the bikes. Now all I had to do was call the number again and say that the bike was back in its docking station – easier said than done, but eventually I managed it and, feeling suitably exercised, I headed for the railway station where I took the train to Dusseldorf and then a rather long taxi ride to my next appointment.
Room 315, Holiday Inn, Essen. A nice hotel.
Things were getting out of hand. The interview was fine, but it went on a bit. Once it was over I took a taxi back to Dusseldorf and then a train, to Essen. I picked up my suitcase from the hotel and took the same taxi back to Essen station where I bought a ticket to Arnhem in Holland and then onwards to Terborg.

Essen to Duisburg was first and that bit of the ride was fine. But the ride from Duisburg to Arnhem in Holland was problematic: unusually for the Germans, the train was delayed by 20 minutes. I met a Romanian woman in the cold waiting room. She was half Hungarian and lived in Arnhem. Sadly, her father, who was in his mid-70s, was dying from terminal cancer and she'd taken a flight from Dortmund to see him. I told her about my dad and we chatted about this and that.

The train was 20 minutes late and we boarded it and carried on our conversation, which turned out to be captivating. We never exchanged names, but she was a psychologist (so she probably knew my name anyway) and we started talking about life and death and all the serious stuff you'd not normally share with a stranger. She lived in Arnhem with her husband and daughter. The time passed very quickly. Suddenly we were there and she advised me not to travel all the way to my destination – Terborg – which was in the middle of nowhere. The chances of getting a taxi from Terborg were very slim. She suggested instead that I disembark two stops earlier and then take a cab to Terborg. Fine,  but when I reached the suggested stop there were no cabs, just a free telephone service. I was told the cab would arrive in up to 30 minutes. It arrived after 10 minutes and was more of a minibus than a minicab. The driver was a jolly soul who had worked in social care, but had been made redundant. He was, quite simply, a great bloke and he got me to my hotel and here I am now writing this blogpost.
Room 35, De Roode Leeuw hotel, Terborg, Holland.

The hotel is very interesting. It's not your average dwelling. Normally I stay in branded hotels, but this one was booked by the company I'm seeing tomorrow (Tuesday). It's a quirky, eccentric place with wood-panelled walls, oil paintings and stuffed birds everywhere. There was no check-in process. I noticed my name on a piece of paper at the reception desk and that was it – no sign-in process, no chirpy, female receptionist. I was led to the room by the owner and then I went down to the bar for a glass or two of Merlot and some peanuts. Sadly, no dinner, but it was late so the peanuts would have to do. I vowed to myself that I'd eat a hearty breakfast.

The hotel is called Hotel De Roode Leeuw (Sint Jorisplein 14, Terborg) and I love it. I wish I was here for a couple of days, but I'm checking out tomorrow. This is a laid back sort of place and I'm sitting here watching Brian Cox on BBC2 – brilliant! Well, not that brilliant, but it's nice watching UK television in a foreign country.

I'd better hit the sack as I'm being picked up from here tomorrow morning at 9am – time enough for a decent breakfast. After lunch at my first appointment yesterday, all I've had to eat is a ham and cheese roll at Essen station, so I can't wait for the morning.

Okay. I'm signing off, but the great achievement of the day was cycling through Essen. Pleasant, but the pedestrian-dodging was a little tricky.


  1. Gee wiz mate you are getting around!

  2. Yes, and next stop is Houston/San Antonio/Knoxville/Los Angeles and then London. I'll try and ride a few bikes while I'm there!