Overnighting at the Kaapweg, Utrecht

Matthijs and I pulled the trigger Friday night and decided the forecast was good enough to attempt another night in the forest. The initial plan was to do it monthly, but as will all well laid-out plans in life, this did not happen, and we hadn’t been out since January.

Whilst our January trip was all about proving to ourselves that a night in the woods in winter could be done, we really wanted to improve the experience this time. So we went out with the aim to actually cook our meal this time from ingredients, not from a tin, improve the bedding situation, and a steely determination that we light a fire, because what’s the point in camping without a campfire?

Having agreed a meeting place (no car this time unfortunately) we then started texting and changed plans as we were both ready and rearing to go. So we each made our way to our respective train station. That’s when things started to go awry. My first train was delayed by 15 minutes, meaning I didn’t get on the train Matthijs was on at my connection station. Never mind, I’d catch up with him at the next connection. Meanwhile, waiting for the train, it began to rain. Tough Matt, who was a few kilometers away did not report any precipitation. Eventually, we met up at Weesp, in time to actually catch the train we were planning to be on. 

  
 From here things went smoothly again. The rain stopped, and we made it to Hilversum as planned. From Hilversum we started walking east, towards the forest Catherine and I had gone walking in at Easter. 

 
  
Following a slightly different route, we went into another part of the forest, and walked to the official wild camping spot which is marked by a water pump. Having verified that it worked, we walked around the clearing and off into the undergrowth to find a spot where we could build our shelter. A viable spot has two requirements: first, it should have trees that are far enough apart to string our hammocks between, and secondly, they should be close enough together that we can still string the hammocks between them and stretch the tarpaulin out above our heads. Having selected a potential spot we put down our bags and took out a hammock to confirm we had selected the correct spot. We then set about collecting long pieces of wood to build our “roof”. These were effectively fallen trees, and Matt brought out the first surprise of the day in the shape of an axe, which we used to clear small branch stubs off so they wouldn’t punch a hole through  the tarp. With this done we set up the hammock and moved our things around so they would be in the right spot. 

 
With camp pitched we set about gathering wood and selecting a spot to make a fire. This was not a particularly hard choice as some previous  campers had built what was effectively a make-shift kitchen complete with table, chairs and cooking area.  The whole lot protected from the wind by a small wall of logs. Very nifty! Within a few minutes we had a substantial little fire going. 

  
And with that it was time to start cooking. Or at least discussing the logistics for cooking a stew in a frying pan. Without oil we figured we had better cook some chorizo off first, and use the fat from that to fry off the vegetables. Which is exactly what we did, and is the precise moment when I noticed I forgot to pack an onion. No matter, I had 6 pita breads to make up for it. We cooked on, with the frying pan in the fire, and I added the spice mix that I had pre-prepared at home. Eventually, after adding chopped tomatoes and garlic, and dropping the chorizo back in, we had a shakshuka ready to eat, with freshly toasted pita bread. Needless to say, we topped it off with some eggs, and it tasted much yummier than it does at home, even without the onion.  

   

 After dinner, it was time to have a hot drink, so we voted for coffee. Which brought along our next dilemma, how to boil water without a pot… With resourcefulness naturally! We actually used the tomato tin, and dropped it full of water into the fire where it would quickly boil about two cups of water. So we bust out the Guatemalan coffee and the filters, (no instant rubbish this time!) and made our coffee with the strange tasting egg water from the well. 

  
We then continued by finding more wood to stoke our fire, which seemed to be combusting a surprising amount of wood, before stoking it and settling down with a beer. At this point we were actually too warm from the fire, and had to back away a bit from the flames. Finally here we relaxed and discussed a huge variety of topics, as men around a campfire should do.

  
Just after ten o’clock we got a very slight bit of rain, but nothing too serious. At ten thirty we got a real surprise though, some fellow campers arrived, just as the rain got a bit heavier. They didn’t seem to be carrying much, but within a few minutes had a tent up as well as a raging fire going. Very impressive.

At this point the rain got a little too heavy to sit in, so we retired to the comfort of  hammocks, after making minor modifications to the shelter to ensure water wouldn’t pool on the roof. We settled in for the first sleep. From about 11:30 till 1:30. 

  
Now last time we had a problem with heat escaping from the bottom of the sleeping bag and hammock. It would appear our diagnosis of the layer beneath us being crushed and thus providing no warmth was correct. To remedy it this time I lay on top of a thick woolen blanket, which solved the problem to a certain degree, however in the cold of the night, I could still feel some heat loss, more than I would have liked. I took the spare fleece jacket I had bright along and zipped it up around myself on the outside of the hammock, and used the arms to tie an extra tight knot. Whilst this did mean it felt I was sleeping in a straight jacket, it also meant I was substantially warmer than last time, especially considering I was wearing a hoodie and thermal t-shirt in my sleeping bag,  rather than my coat, as I had done in January. Final piece of luxury, I had folded my down body warmer into the bag of my sleeping bag, and used it as a fluffy pillow, that had the added benefit of keeping my neck and head nice and warm. Towards the end of the night, I still felt some cold round my feet, which is an area I still need to improve, nevertheless they were nowhere near as uncomfortable as last time, and I didn’t resort to boiling a kettle of hot water to put there (though Matt did, once).

Come six o’clock it was clear I wasn’t going to sleep again. I love birdsong, but the cacophony we were dealing with was on another level. So I crawled out of my hammock, put on my jeans and set about gathering some fresh wood for the fire. Naturally, this involved much manly axe-wielding, which made it all the more fun. 

  
Fire lit, we set about making breakfast, which included the usual 6 rashers of bacon, and this time, as an added luxury one and a half eggs each, as well as Guatemalan filter coffee. Like I said, we really wanted to up the game this time round. Our fire seemed to smoke out most of the forest, we could literally see the smoke just hanging low among the trees, owing to the fact that there was no wind at all.  To top it all off, we were sitting where we could see down a cut in the trees, and the sun rose, exactly in line with that cut, right onto our faces, meaning that for a few glorious minutes, we were bathed in the light of the rising sun. Pure magic. Though of course, in the way we had the fire, which was spewin out smoke, (we later noticed this was due to the conifer wood we were burning) and the smoke, in varying degrees of thickness, was changing the color of the sunlight. Literally as the smoke went past our faces, we could see the light coming down the path changing color and intensity, it was very odd. Breakfast finished, we made another coffee, chatted, and eventually tried to make a cup of them with pure well water. Despite leaving the teabag in for a poisonously long time, it did taste a bit queer. So, throwing the tea away, we decided it wood be better if we started tidying, doing the dishes and breaking camp. 

  
A short while later, things were put away, bags were packed, and shelter was dismantled. 

We poured water over the fire, ensuring it was out and began our walk back to the station, by way of a petrol station for a can of coke each, which we drank whilst waiting for the train, which was of course, delayed.

With that, back to reality.

PS, videos were made, they’ll follow later in the week. 

Race Report: Week 9

After much waiting and little practicing, the running race Catherine signed us up for was upon us.

At three o’clock we convened at our apartment with Helen and Matthijs for pasta (fuel of champions), before hitting the (longer than expected) road to Gasselte, which is practically in Groningen, about 200km from Amsterdam.

Thankfully, the weather was very pleasant, clear and fresh. We wouldn’t be having any problems with rain that evening. And on cue at 18:19, the sun dipped below the horizon just as we were arriving, in time for sign in.

 

Good bye sun, see you tomorrow!

Race numbers allocated, we made our way to the errr, bar to get changed into our race clothes and decide on what configuration of clothing we would wear. That sorted, final adjustments to head straps for the torches and action-cam strapped into place, we waited for 19:20, our official start time.

Though of course, it wouldn’t be right without a picture first.

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And with that, off to the start-line!


We went off into the woods, and quickly the group of 50-60 or so runners formed a single-file line, with a lot of dodging and weaving to avoid patches of deep boggy mud. It was pitch black in the forest and very very quiet. Not unlike the conditions I experienced with Matt here.

As you can see in the picture above, I did take the action cam with me, but apart from very few sections, it looks like a film made from the point of view of a blind person. I’ll cobble something together later on.

Nevertheless, running through the forest and at night is entirely magical. Unlike road-running, which you can pretty much do with your eyes shut, the forest floor is completely uneven, slippery and full of surprises. To get through it, a lot of concentration is required. This is easy in a pack, because the multitude of head-torches lights up the majority of the path. But when the pack thins out, you’re forced to look everywhere and really pay attention to what you’re running over. I actually found the experience really engaging. Loath as I am to claim I was “at one with nature”, I was definitely close to it. And when I say close to it, I almost mean that literally. When I let my attention slip, or looked at my watch, or tried to look at the scenery (or lack thereof) or see the night sky, I almost fell flat on my face. This happened more than once, until I learnt my lesson and just concentrated on where my feet were going.

After 7-8km through the woods, we opened up on what was once a sand quarry, and is now a lake surrounded by mountain bike trails. This is where things got really interesting, as the tracks weave about to make the most use of the space, and sometimes double back, meaning you’re actually running towards people until they veer off in another direction and you realise that they were on another track. This is also the section where the “hills” come into it.

At 20 meters high (and that’s me being generous), these hills were more a bump in the road than a major daunting force to be conquered. Still, they provided for some good scrambling, in the traditional trail running way, hands on knees to provide a bit of extra force. My usual cheeriness had me call out to my team-mates “UTMB here we come!!”, which was met by a resounding “F±*% you!”……I may have a bit more work ahead of me to convince them…..

The last three km or so plunged back into the woods, for the really soggy bit, where water seeps into your shoes, socks get really wet and the mud splashes commence. At this point I got separated from Matthijs and Catherine, so I upped the ante a bit to see how quickly I could plow through the terrain (turns out, not much faster than I was already going).

We rejoined the road, saw the marshall who told us we were at the end, but…surprise surprise, another marshall a bit further pointed us in the direction of the soggiest track yet, which had deep pools of cold water and squelchy mud do run through. Oh and a really slippery patch of mud on the final, sharp, corner which I think may have caught a fair few people out…

Here I come!

 

Here comes powerwoman!

 

Matt takes it easy.

 

Finally, there was the finish, complete with drinks, sweets, crisps, and of course, liquorice (we are in the Netherlands after all). Final photo taken, breath caught up, and off to the most important part of any race, the bar for hot soup and beer.

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I also made one crucial mistake. I left my normal shoes in the car, 700 metres away, and there was no way in hell I was putting my wet running shoes back on. So I did the only other thing I could do:


By the way, when it’s 0 degrees, I wouldn’t recommend it.

Thankfully, it was a very clear night and I could distract myself by looking for Big Bear and Little Bear, the only two constellations I know.

So trail running. Something for me?

Yes! 1000 times yes! It’s so much more exciting than road running! It’s peaceful, it’s quiet, you need to focus really hard and pay attention. Things that aren’t always a necessity in our automaton urban lives. A way to reconnect with nature? Definitely. An escape? Possibly. A great, healthy and fun way to spend your Saturday night? Absolutely. Will we be doing it again? Well…..


Thank you to Matt, for joining us in this endeavour. Congratulations to Catherine for completing her first ever foot race (not the first race I’d have chosen). And lastly, thank you Helen, for waiting, and doing all the driving, long after we’d fallen asleep!

B
PS: shame on you, McDonalds Hogeveen for not having a veggie burger, how were we supposed to feed our hardworking driver!?!?

Time for a catchup! Week(end) 47

It’s been quite a long time since my last post, which came out as slightly more heavy and philosophical than intended. Nevetheless it’s time for a bit of an update, not because I’ve been lazy, but because the past couple of weeks had not had much to update about. But finally this weekend, we did something a little exciting and different which didn’t involve mostly sitting at home on the Internet. 

In actually fact, it was my mum’s birthday on Monday. And though we had sent a card, we had not yet sent a present. Now, before someone decries that as horrible, allow me to explain. When my parents were last in Holland about a month ago, we had a chat with dad about the possibility of surprising mum with a visit. We all thought this was an excellent idea, with the exception that my parents were away last weekend. So we pushed back one weekend, and got an excellent deal on some flights to Geneva. (Roughly the same price as a meal at a smart restaurant for two people), for both of us together. So we pounced on the deal. We put dad in charge of discouraging mum from actually planning anything for this weekend. 

Friday evening we skyped mum and explained that due to “logistical problems” her present had only just arrived, and that therefore we would prefer to bring it to her ourselves……that evening. So would she mind coming to Geneva at 10:30 to pick us up. 😈

And with that, off to the airport we went.

Arriving late in Trevignin on Friday we got up on Saturday to torrential rain. Before anything else, some shopping needed doing to feed these unexpected additional mouths. Whilst in the supermarket, the temperature dropped and upon coming out we could see that outside the valley, the snow had started to appear on the flanks of the surrounding mountains. We returned to find the village covered in a fresh blanket of snow. In fact, the first snowfall of the season.

 

The view from mum and dad’s bedroom window.
 Jackets were gathered, walking boots were found, along with a plethora of gloves, hats and scarves and Catherine and I headed out for a walk in the fresh snow. 

 

Le Revard, in a brief ray of sunshine.
 Now I’m quite a fan of microadventures, little escapades that serve no purpose other than feeding the soul and making one exceedingly happy. So instead of just walking along the road, we headed up into the fields, and then through some bushes and scrub into  a little wood to try and find a stream. We then pushed through some more trees and followed the stream up into another field. 

 

All wrapped up and warm!

 
The snowplough doing its first round of the year, and removing our footprints in the process.
 We walked along and then back down into the woods. Along the way we found a discarded bathtub (which I was tempted to use as a sledge), and an observation platform that had probably been built by a local farmer for hunting. We then ran down the steep field through the snow (because why not?) cut through some more fields and back to the village. Here I got the head torch out, not because it was particularly dark, but because it fed the adventure my inner ten year old was having, and we sniffed the air for the log fires that were starting in chimneys nearby before standing in the village square with our tongues out, tasting the falling snow. 
 
View on the Massif de la Chartreuse (my parents live at the meeting point of the Jura, Chartreuse and Alps ranges.

We got home and lit our own fire in the chimney before preparing all that is required for a delicious raclette. Including pickled onions and gherkins, ham, rosette, boiled potatoes and of course, slicing a large chunk of cheese. After raclette we had a game of quirkle, and dad had me tastes delicious whisky from Wales. From the only distillery in Wales, as a matter of fact. For those interested its “Penderyn”, and it’s very smooth and very very tasty. 

On Sunday I was adamant that we should make the most of the mountains and the snow. So we picked a walk out of one of our guidebooks, gathered the required equipment and jumped in the car. Upon arriving, we noticed there might be a little more snow than we bargained for, but undaunted we set off. It was a stunning walk, the weather played ball and we crunched through the snow in wonderful tranquility. 

We did a route called Le golet de Doucy et Le col de Bornette. 

   

One of many little huts
    
   

We had gotten almost all the way to the end of our walk before noticing we had not yet stopped for some lunch (which I was carrying). But atop a little rise, a few hundred metres away we spotted a small hut along with a couple of barns. We figured we would find a spot a little way out of the wind, against a wall or something, but it was so much better than that!!!
  It turned out to be a refuge. A small hut available to mountaineers as a place to rest up. Complete with table, chairs and a small stove. (Or maybe it was a very dirty person’s house, in which case, our apologies for trespassing). So out of the wind, we managed to have  a hearty lunch, complete with hot drinks out of the thermos, big chunks of bread and ham. After lunch, we descended back towards the car, but I must admit, we got a bit silly. Having snowball fights, pushing each other into the snow, making snow angels and slithering down steep snowy banks. It was generally epic fun. 

  
  
  
 

Few creature comforts, but who needs em?
 
On the way home, we stopped off at a bakery, to pick out some cakes for our cup of tea. We’ve lit the fire, and now, time to relax. And with a day off tomorrow, no need to rush back to the airport!

I also spliced together a quick time lapse video, but it was shot from my pocket, so the view isn’t great. Nevertheless, I’ll add it below when it’s uploaded to YouTube. Though as we are on satellite internet here, that could be a bit later…  

Week 44: A week of firsts!

[Update: Apologies for anyone trying to read this post last night, a technical error meant we suffered from a bit of premature e-publication…..]

After all the excitement of last weekend we took the week fairly easy. Combined with a few later evenings at the office, it was a quiet week at home.

There was one picture I wanted to include form this week. It’s a quick snack I resort to when all else fails. It simply tabasco and salt on bread. (I checked with Andrew, I’m not weird…..).

Oddly satisfying nibble
Strange taste predilections aside I followed Catherine in signing up for our next race! We’ve changed tack completely this time, no long distances (well, depends on who’s point of view you’re using) and no roads. This time, we’re going for a trail run….at night…..in March. Yes, its the Neverest Runforestrun Night trail run. Obviously this is going to require some slightly different training. Though trails are in the mountains right? And this is Holland, ergo there are no mountains, so how bad can it be? (Famous last words?…..)

We started the weekend off by dipping a toe into the Netflix show “Narcos”. Which after a couple episodes we are looking forwards to continue watching.

Saturday was a productive day to say the least. As it was halloween we started off with some early morning pumpkin carving. But a jack-o-lantern with a face is boring, and as Catherine is a mad cat lady, we decided to make a witch’s cat instead. I think it turned out quite well. The plan is to roast the pumpkin seeds in such a manner.

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Following such excitement, we decided to raise it up a notch and prepare a picnic, jump on the motorbike and head out to the beach. A short 40 minute ride got us to Noordwijk. It was really nice to take the old girl out for a spin again (I’m referring to my motorbike, not the Girlfriend!), as she hadn’t moved since mid-august, just sat forlornly on the street outside our apartment. Amazingly, the tyre pressures were still fine, and she started on the first press of the starter. She might not hbe the most soulful bike, but by jove is she reliable!

Anyway, it was a sunny day and we were quickly very warm. For the last day of October we could not have asked for better weather! Catherine even ate in just her t-shirt! After a bit of lazying about we walked off up the beach and then came back through the little section of national park which is adjacent to the beach. A selection of pictures follows.


  
We rode home to prepare some dinner and get ready for the next thing on the plan for Saturday. My first ever live football match! It’s no secret I work for a sports apparel company, and we just happen to be close to Ajax Arena, where Amsterdam’s Ajax football club are based. And as I won the draw for seats for this weeks game I got to go along and take Catherine with me! The game itself was a bit of a massacre, with Ajax butchering the visiting team Roda JC (whom I’d never heard of). The ambience was really nice and jovial and quite frankly it was all over way too quickly. Also at one point in the match, everyone got their smartphone out and starting flashing the flash…. very strange. But I filmed a quick clip of it to show everyone! 🙂 I filmed a few other bits and pieces too that I’ve spliced together in a quick video (or I might combine the two, I haven’t decided yet).


  
 Anyway, I’m no football fan, but if the opportunity to go a football match presents itself again, I will definitely go. Catherine and I agree that we would like to go see Bayern play at the Allianz Arena in Munich, after all, we already have the appropriate attire!

Sunday was a lot quieter! We did all the necessary things in the house. As well as a small reorganisation in the living room in light of the arrival of my graduation present to myself…. In the afternoon went to see our friends Helen and her slave Matthijs at their very first market stall in Westerpark! Yes indeed, The Baking Tin had it’s first public outing! We took home one of each cupcake for a private sampling. If you follow my instagram, you’ll have seen why I spent the afternoon drooling. We also walked around the market a bit and picked up some interesting cider from Scotland from a friendly chap who’s business it is to sell Cider. We got a Whiskey cask aged cider and a cider with Ginger. I have high expectations from these two little brews. Interestingly, the chap told us the brewer (is a cider maker a brewer?…) doesn’t add sugar to the fermentation process, but rather chooses a particularly sweet variety of apples. I will report back…..


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We also saw a market stall that sold lamps made from reclaimed car parts, including an old Garret turbocharger (which I’m coveting), but I must have noted down their name wrong as I can’t find them. 😦

That brings us neatly to Sunday night. After dinner we will be rounding off the evening with a trip to the movies to watch Spectre with a well earned beer (though in the movies, it’ll only be Grolsch).

And here finally, is the quick clip I put together:

Week 43: Graduation

It’s nice waking up on a Monday and only having three days of work in the coming week. By Wednesday night, my parents arrived up from France having visited my cousin and some friends on the way up in Alsace and Germany.

Early Thursday morning we got up to go the the airport to pick up Catherine’s parents who flew in on the first flight. After showing them our apartment and enjoying coffee and tea, we headed out to lunch. After lunch Catherine’s parents made their way to Groningen where they were booked into a hotel for the night. We returned home to pick up my mum and dad and head into Amsterdam. But first, we needed to solve a common problem, tablet addiction….

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Me: So what would you like to do? Them: “Grunt”

After dragging the youth away from their devices, we headed into town and had a look round, starting at Waterlooplein and walking over to Rembrandtplein, De Munt, taking in the flower market and walking up to Spuistraat to have a drink where, much to Catherine’s look of terror, we were joined by a mouse scurrying about under the benches.

From there we walked slowly over to the Overtoom by way of the Apple store (because that’s what you do right, just to check everything out, even though it’s the same as last month when you visited), and Bever outdoor sports, because Dad and I are the kind of guys who could look at and debate the merits of outdoor gear for days, (much to both our partners dismay).

We tried to get into an Indonesian restaurant, but it was full so we crossed the road and went to a Thai restaurant instead. (We knew both, so we weren’t disappointed). After dinner, a walk through De Wallen was the done thing before catching a metro home.

Friday was my big day! Finally, graduation day! We got suited and booted and jumped in the car for the 2 hour drive up north to Groningen, where we met Catherine’s parents, and because we were early, went off for coffee and cake. At the required timeslot, we returned to the main academy building for my short graduation ceremony, which took 15 minutes all-told.

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My supervisor delivered a short speech on how we met and the work that was put in throughout my thesis project (and that is ongoing, my thesis has been adapted into a book chapter on lean management). Thereafter, it was time to sign my diploma, and with a handshake, I was a graduate!

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Then followed the customary pictures on the main stairway in the academy building.

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Wards: In decreasing order of size

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Thank you Mike for showing up and for the beer!

I then took everyone to lunch. We wanted pizza, but our favourite place didn’t fire up the pizza oven until 3, so (quite fittingly I think) we went to the Goudkantoor, which turns out to be the place my parents and I ate the first time when they brought me up to Groningen to move in over two years ago, therefore I thought it would bookend my life in Groningen quite nicely.

Saturday morning my parents hit the road for Germany to visit friends on the way home. We met up with Catherine’s parents in town and after a quick lunch, checked out the queue at the Van Gogh museum to see the Munch exhibition. However we decided that 45 minutes was a long wait and that we would book online and return the next day, so instead we walked back and had a canal tour.

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7 Bridges in a row.

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We then walked through the Vondelpark. At that point I decided everyone looked thirsty, and miraculously, we ended up one street away from Craft and Draft…. 😉 so in we went for a couple rounds. After that we returned up towards Nieuw Markt for some chinese food at one of the best addresses in Amsterdam, Nam Kee. As per usual, Catherine and I ordered the calf tripe, and salt and pepper squid. The chinese waiter always does a double take when I order the tripe. He always double checks that I do indeed want the tripe, to which I always tell him, of course, bring it on! I also have him remove the plates and cutlery and bring bowls and chopsticks instead. Just for extra authenticity.

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And with that, have a good Sunday!

B

Week 42, The Amsterdam Marathon!

After weeks of waiting (and not preparing), it was go time on the Amsterdam Marathon!

   On Saturday, after a quick haircut at a great barber I found, I met Catherine at Run2Day, where Catherine gifted me a pair of compression socks for the upcoming ordeal. Following that, Andrew picked us up and we drove to the olympic park for packet pick-up. The queue was fairly long, but once in the main hall, it was fairly quick and painless to get the race numbers and the t-shirts (included in the €70 starting fee for marathon runners, optional for the shorter distances).

Following that, it was home for pasta! Carbs, carbs and more carbs! I debated at length what to wear, obviously wearing the actual race shirt wasn’t allowed, as per here. The next morning I got up at 6 for a hearty helping of porridge, before snoozing for another hour and drinking plenty of fluids. Then we made sure we had packed everything I needed, including all the energy gels and a bottle of water in my bum bag.

Off to the metro we went to meet Andrew. The closer to the start, and naturally the busier the metro got, until it was heaving with people in brightly coloured running gear. Andrew and I agree that women by far have a better selection of cool leggings when it comes to running gear! Interesting patterns, cool colour schemes and so on. Neither of us particularly want pink running clothes, but a bit more variety in the men’s section would be cool.

We began queueing to enter the starting blocks, until we figured out we could skip the queue if we went around the side. I admit that was cheeky, but the queue really was going nowhere. Eventually in the stadium, we didn’t hear the start, but all of a sudden it was time to go! Around the stadium we went and out on our way!

   The first few kilometres were fined as we steadily cruised through Amsterdam. At kilometre 11 I caught sight of Tashi, who was marshalling. Unfortunately, just as we ran towards him, someone asked him a question and stood in front of him with her umbrella. So as I ran past I tapped him on the shoulder. I don’t know what I did, but I managed to trip myself up. Thankfully, I trained in Judo when I was younger, so instinctively rolling when I fall comes naturally. However, I managed to hit my head on the road, hard, and bruised my shoulder pretty badly. I couldn’t quite roll perfectly because of the water bottle tied around my waist, but I managed to get back up in one smooth action, pick up the energy gel I dropped and get on with the business of running. As I told Andrew, on the upside, my legs weren’t the most painful thing anymore! 

The following few kilometres went by without particular hiccup. A little tired towards the halfway mark, we thought we might have gone out a little too fast. 

We continued and got progressively more tired. That’s when strange stuff started happening. Including having bursts of energy followed by moments of utter devastating fatigue. But the weirdest ones were emotions. At one point I said to Andrew, “it’s very strange but I really feel like crying right now”, to which he answered “dude me too!”

The last 15 kilometres got pretty tough. It was blatantly clear that our sub-4hr goal was long gone. At this point the mere thought of eating more energy gel repulsed me. So I managed to choke down some water, chunks of banana and the odd energy drink at aid stations. 

Unfortunately by this point Andrew had opted to visit the medic to have his knee checked out, so we were no longer running together. My pace crashed, I was cold, and was loosing the will to keep going. Only the problem was, I didn’t have my transport card nor the key to my house, they were both st the finish line with Catherine! So the choice was made for me, I had to go on! 

   With about 10km to go I saw Matthijs cycling along. What a relief to see a familiar face. Don’t get me wrong, the support along the way was tremendous! With my name on my race bib several people were encouraging me including the one English girl who told me to “smash it Benjamin, smash it!” And people holding up signs such as “smile if you’re not wearing any underpants”, which even though I was, made me grin anyway. 

Eventually both Matt and Helen were lining the course at various intervals to take pictures and shout encouragement! And this made me smile. And it’s hard to feel miserable when you’re smiling. 

   When the 4:30 pace group caught up with me I managed to dig deep and hold on to them. Right behind the pacer was a little old lady, hunchbacked who had obviously spent the entire race glued to the pacing team. Big respect. Though I admit, if she could finish then I sure as hell could (she still beat me, there’s no space for ego in this sport). I managed to hold on to the group until the last kilometre or so, when I just let them go and hobbled to the finish. The last 500 metres seemed endless. 

As I crossed back into the stadium with half a lap of the track to go, I was very much on the brink of tears, but the elation at having dragged myself through it buoyed my spirits and had me grinning like some disturbed maniac. Until I finally crossed the line, 4 hours 33 minutes after setting off. I initially thought there was something wrong with me, I couldn’t swallow my water, but it was just the lump in my throat.

   I filtered through to get my medal and found myself in a queue where some grumpy old woman was just giving them to people, so I changed queue in favour of the one where a much prettier lady was actually putting them around our necks (and actually smiling, it’s the small things in life). I got my plastic sheet to wrap around my shoulders and hobbled out of the stadium, where I was given a tiny bottle of iso-drink (yuck), a cup of water and half a banana (stingy). I walked thorough the crowd to the point where I’d arranged to meet Catherine. And from then on, a quick change of clothes, had my medal engraved, caught up with Matt and Helen and Andrew, hydrated and then ate chips, croquet, and had a beer. 

   Then it was home time for a shower and a well-earned sit-down. (And more chips, a rib eye steak, more beer and eventually, some sleep!). 

Would I do it again? Ask me in 6 months….

Sunday 04.10. Hamburg continued!

I last left off on Saturday evening, after a long day exploring Hamburg. Sunday morning we woke up fairly early again, in order to enjoy our last day before catching a flight in the evening.

We ended up having breakfast at the same cafe as on the Saturday, much for the same reason: it was open. Not wanting a repeat of the bread and croissant of the day before, I fancied being a bit adventurous. In this case, I opted for the Kutscherfrühstück, or coach drivers breakfast. Simple enough, it contained 3 breads, one with cheese, one with egg salad, and one with “Mett”, which I assumed would be meat. I was right….. Now, I usually loathe people who take pictures of food, but in this instance, I thought I would make an exception and break my own rule.

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Now, that is quite seriously raw steak topped with raw onions. And it was absolutely delicious! Having lived in Germany before, I wasn’t as surprised as I might have been, but it was definitely not what I was expecting.

Anyway, after breakfast we walked around a bit and down to the harbour again, this time to visit Miniatur Wunderland. Holders of the world record for largest miniature trainset in the world (and still expanding).

It was absolutely brilliant. The attention to detail was absolutely incredible! We must have taken about 100 pictures. Here are a few highlights.

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Like an actual climbing hall in a watering can.
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A crime scene.

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There were also a few random bits, like this bunny school.

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For those with voyeuristic tendencies, there were also a few naughty scenes here and there.

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Bit of naked sunbathing…
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And frolicking amongst the sunflowers (Though they live dangerously, as the combine harvester is actually on its way, out of shot).

Every now and again they also dim the lights and turn it into night time, where everything is lit up!

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Quick trip to Vegas!

Last but not least, I made this short video to show the scale of one of the scenes, as well as a short clip of the airport with a plane taking off.

After spending about three hours there (we could have spent a lot longer), we left for lunch. Unfortunately Linda was taken up by group meetings for university so wasn’t able to make it to lunch after all.

We stopped at a Portugese restaurant in the city’s Portugese quarter. Lovely grilled fish. However, the lunch was slightly spoilt by a text from KLM saying “Your flight has been cancelled, please contact us”…

I tried to call a couple times but the lines were completely jammed, so we resolved to go back to the apartment, pick up our things and head to the airport early. Which we did. The best they could do was a flight the following afternoon. After a wait, they booked us into the Marriot nearby and we took the shuttle there. Now it was that strange time where it was a bit late to go into town, as we got free dinner included with our overnight stay. So instead we rested up (all that walking had tired us out, and we both were showing signs of an oncoming cold.. 😦 ). After having our “luxury buffet meal” we had a beer and crashed out.

Monday morning I sorted through some work emails (yes, I was supposed to be at my desk), and tried to assign some tasks to colleagues. Being the brilliant team that they are, they were happy to help out. 🙂

Monday morning we looked around the city again, and visited the church of St. Petri and the church of St. Jacobi.

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St Jacobi church.

We then got word that Linda would be free for lunch, so we headed over to Altona, a cool, studenty part of town where we were able to grab some lunch in the sun. From there we walked to the banks of the Elbe, from where we could see the port. Being supply chain nerds (yes, both of us), nothing is more exciting than ships and containers carrying who knows what, who knows where?!

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From there we walked along and tried to regain the river. We happened on a ice cream place, and no trip to Germany is complete without an Eiskaffee (according to Catherine). Quite frankly I would have to agree. Surprisingly, this place was completely vegan, and had I not read the sign, I would not have known. It was very tasty, and amazingly for a vegan place, normally priced.

Further along the docks we chanced on a submarine.

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I took the chance to let out my inner 10 year old and walk along the wall. Catherine treated us to a picture…

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We wondered back towards town by way of St Pauli, and this time we got a proper picture of “the street”.

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We then wondered through the Planten & Blomen garden where we saw a squirrel, though he wasn’t eager to get photographed.

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I’m also always surprised how much graffiti there is in Germany, some of it good, some of it not so good.

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Quick get on! The ducks are coming!

There were also some turtles having a chillout, before having a standoff with the ducks.

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This is our tree, got here first!

After that we took the U-bahn and S-bahn and headed to the airport, where this time, we did manage to get home (albeit 24 hours late). Unfortunately, those colds we thought we were getting, materialised, so we went to bed early to see if we could sleep them off. (We couldn’t..).

And with that, back to work we went.

B

Saturday 3.10. Hamburg!

I would normally have shared our trip on Sunday night, but that was not possible this week, read on to find out why…

So on Friday I left off with a bit of a teaser as to where we might have been going from Amsterdam airport. Anybody who may have been following my twitter (and Facebook, for that matter), may have noticed a few checkins via untappd in the gorgeous city of Hamburg, Germany!

We arrived later on Friday evening with a bit of delay to a very quiet and very empty Hamburg airport. At this point, we wanted to just get to our Airbnb as quickly as we could (as we were already late, and didn’t want to inconvenience our host). So we tried Uber for the first time. We waited just over 10 minutes for the driver to arrive from the city centre (Uber is not yet very active in Hamburg he said). In this case it was UberX or a taxi. UberX estimated under €20 to get us where we were going, and is reputed for being cheaper than a taxi. On this occurrence, it turned out to cost 15, or about a euro a minute. Definitely cheaper than hailing a cab! (If anyone fancies trying Uber, sign up with this link, and we both get a tenner off our next ride! Happy times!)

Following all that, we had a bit of a panic outside the door to the Airbnb host, because we didn’t know their last name and had no phone number. Normally you would think “surely you just pull the bell on the correct address right? Wrong! Number 11 happened to have about 9 different ringers and names on it…. So after unsuccessfully messaging our host, we set about googling key words in the hope of a linked-in or Facebook profile. We figured from his name that our host would be italian, so we narrowed it down to two names. On the second one, we got lucky, we found a newspaper article related to the local football club with a picture. A quick comparison of the airbnb picture made us sufficiently certain that we should try. Fingers crossed, we rang the bell and explained who we were. The door buzzed open, and we breathed a sigh of relief (remember, it was 11:30 in the evening). We were shown into a lovely apartment, cozy and with great decoration (sorry no pics 😦 ).

Following that we quickly went to bed.

We woke up around 8 to make good use of our time in the city. I like to step out onto the balcony first thing in the morning to get some fresh air and start the day, and this is the sight that greeted me.

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It was fresh and damp, but we got ready and headed into town. A quick ride in the U-bahn (which you can’t see against the sun, but is actually across the street in the picture), got us to town quick and we had some breakfast at a small cafe which won our favour simply on account that it was open.

Nearby was the town hall, which we didn’t visit, but ended up walking past several times in the following day(s).

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Following breakfast, we took a stroll around town to try and get our bearings. We eventually walked to HafenCity. A trendy part of town with lots of newly built housing mixing in with older loft style apartments. The brick buildings actually reminded me of Nottingham quite a bit.

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We walked all along the  harbour  and then began a lengthy search for something to eat. We wanted to get some good German food and this is where it downed on us that something wasn’t quite right. Namely that in Germany’s second city, on a Saturday, everything seemed to be shut. It seemed odd, but we didn’t give it much thought. We later found out it was a national holiday, “Tag der Deutsche Enheit”, or Day of German Unity, in other words, the day celebrating the reunification of Germany (extra tip, it was the 25th anniversary thereof). Eventually we found a place that served the longest Currywurst either of us had ever eaten with chips. Which is pretty much exactly what we wanted.

After lunch we went back to HavenCity to visit the Maritime Museum. The museum was superb, though we only spared 3 hours for it which was actually a bit tight as it was a surprisingly large museum. Nevertheless, it was a very interesting visit, and being a fan of sailing and boats, I was over the moon.

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Here, in no particular order, are a few pictures. Me with an anchor, Catherine with a buoy, and a lego version of Queen Mary 2 that required some 700,000 pieces of lego (Though I cannot get my head around why there is a cow on the aft sun deck)…

Follwing the museum visit we ate nearby, not wanting to repeat lunchtimes endless search.

Naturally we then transitioned to a visit to St Pauli, as no visit to Hamburg would really be complete without one right? (For those not in the know, St. Pauli is home to the Reeperbahn…….In case you live in a cave, the Reeperbahn is the name of Hamburg’s Red Light District….. If you need to ask what a Red Light district is, then quite frankly, I don’t think you should really be allowed on the internet unsupervised just yet, if you’re unsure what the internet is…..how did you get here again?).

The pictures from St Pauli are a bit blurry on account of being taken without authorisation by Catherine, as I visited the “men-only” street. This street is not a joke, there is a big sign that says no women allowed. Women who do visit it get doused with a bucket of cold water. Though its an improvement over old times, as it used to be a bucket of wee….. You’ve been warned.

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But I suppose there’s no harm in telling you what was down the street… I hope I’m not breaking some secret code of men. In essence, if you’ve ever been to Amsterdam, you won’t be shocked, as it’s more or less the same. There are a couple of differences though. Instead of being glued to their smartphones, the professionals working in Hamburg are much more vocal in offering their services. They call you out, suggest things and generally try to catch your eye to lure you into conversation. I have to hand it to them, they work hard. A word of warning, if you want to walk around that part of town as a man on his own, prepare to be hounded, especially if you go into what I called “dirty-grandad mode” and pulled your shoulders up and sunk into the collar of your coat and only glance furtively left and right occasionally. What can I say, as a bit of a shy introvert, being approached by loud, (and sometimes quite imposing) women is something I find quite intimidating (though I guess some people like that?). Anyway, upon exiting this street (and feeling extra-pervy as I walked it end-to-end twice) I came out of the barrier and could not find Catherine, so I had to walk up and down another street a couple of times, this one with the “professionals” right on the curb and in your face, not hemmed in behind their windows! After guaranteeing two charming young women that despite not having had “etwas mit zwei Frauen zugleich” before, it was not something I was particularly inclined to try out right away, I found Catherine again. Walking arm-in-arm was like donning Harry’s cloak of invisibility. If you have a lady-friend with you, guaranteed you will not be disturbed.

We moved on back towards the city and decided we would walk back to the apartment which should take 25 minutes or so. On the way we decided that if we found a decent looking bar, we should get  drink. Eventually we found a bar called “Oma’s Apotheke” with a table out on the pavement that seemed nice. We sat down and obtained a drinks list from a first waitress. A few minutes later the second waitress asked us “was wollen is zum trinken…..Hello, what are you doing here?”. It turned out to be Linda, Catherine’s housemate from Amstelveen, and to the best of our knowledge, the only person we know in Hamburg! (By the way, this was not preplanned or scripted for my blogging endeavours, this is genuine 100% unexpected coincidence!). We caught up for a few minutes and ordered some drinks, and arranged to meet the following day for lunch).

We got back to the apartment and after relaxing for a bit turned in for the night.

More to follow tomorrow!

B

What happened this week and weekend? Week 37.

Monday evening Catherine and I went to the climbing hall again. Slightly more crowded than last week, but I followed one of the “routes” this time. The purple one, averaging a level 5 with the odd foray into 6.

Wednesday marked an important day! Catherine and I celebrated being together for five years! We met in Amsterdam for a dinner date at an Ethiopian restaurant. The food was absolutely delicious, and as an added bonus we ate with our hands! Surprisingly, we wolfed it all down very quickly.

Cheshire cat smile on the Cat-herine

I had an interesting “African” beer (Mongozo, flavoured with mango), which turned out to be brewed in the Netherlands (I like beer, as evidenced by my Untappd profile). We topped it off with Ethiopian coffee, which was much milder than the coffee we’re used to here, but very fragrant. I thought I got some clove flavours out of it. Despite it being our “anniversary”, Catherine opted to sleep on the sofa-bed that evening because she needed to leave for work at 04:00 the next day!!! Being an intern at an air freight company, she got to go see a jumbo jet get unloaded , having flown in overnight from Africa full of fresh cargo (mostly flowers and mange-tout). Unfortunately for security reasons, I cannot share some of the cool pictures she took of the plane and surrounding apron during the unloading. She also got to climb into the plane for a good look around. Being a bit of a supply-chain kind of guy myself, I’m very disappointed I couldn’t have joined the field trip! This not being enough for Catherine, she went straight from the airfield to a job interview… (no, I don’t get it either).

As a result, Thursday evening was very quiet, and Catherine went to bed very early. To make up for the lack of interesting stories on Thursday, here is a picture of my bike, which I promised in a previous post.

My new ride

Friday evening I declared I would quite enjoy a pasta bake for dinner. So we got the ingredients together after work. Unfortunately we hadn’t read the recipe in sufficient detail, and began what turned out to be a 2:30 process. Halfway through I cycled back to the supermarket for some pizza, as we were halfway through and it was getting close to nine o’clock. (To be continued).

Saturday was given over to finishing the pasta bake and just getting the usual household-y stuff done like shopping cleaning and the like. My shopping trip to buy a couple shirts was hi-jacked by Catherine as we went out, she dragged me into a different shop, and wouldn’t let me go until…..the shops closed. This was followed by a night out to catch up with Matt, Helen and Tashi. Turns out Helen has had a few cakes commissioned and we’re very pleased for her. I will include a link to her page as soon as she sets one up (fear not, we’re encouraging (nagging) her to do it).

Sunday lead to a bit of a lie-in, more chores and a long run in the afternoon. I pushed my furthest distance up to 27km (still a long way to go before Marathon-readiness), and experimented with SIS energy gels, which I think on balance will be my sport gel of choice come race time. Unfortunately Andrew had not yet gotten the all-clear from the physio, so I went solo. Here’s the link to the strava file. The last couple kms got very slow and shuffly, so there’s work to be done there. The plan is to break 30 next weekend, 35 the next and then bring it back down for October 18th.

Another week gone! (Where do they go, and how do they go by so fast????)

What happened this weekend? Week 34

Saturday morning was dedicated to the more householdy things. Washes, cleaning, the usual after a busy work week. We also baked a cake and Catherine got a refresher on rewiring plugs.

We arranged to meet Tashi at Sail to check out more boats. It was absolutely incredible. We decided to wait a bit and watch one of the locks do its thing. Good opportunity to sit in the sun.  

     We walked along the banks of the Ij and saw the multitude of boats going by as well as some boats moored along the quai, including a submarine, a Dutch navy S.A.R ship as well as a destroyer. Other interesting “boats” included a Citroen (see pictures). Moored alongside, there were some beautiful training ships from the Russian navy, as well as really old “pirate” style ships which looked like props from Pirates of the Carribean. 

   

  

  

  

  

                From Sail we legged it west to Matt & Helen’s for Matt’s birthday party. It was an excellent bash! Matt’s little brother is part of a Spanish style Mariachi band (promise to find out the correct name). Great singing and music and even a little dancing! 

   

  

       The trip home was excitin too! We missed our metro by a few scones so we had to take a train to Amsterdam central and then the last train to Utrecht which also stopped by our house. We were both exhausted but the train ride included a puking dog and a girl instagramming stitches on her leg. Sunday was a quiet day which included a run for me (the running date was pushed back to Monday). Got 12km in, and used the new shoes that arrived this week. They’re incredibly light and the support is good. As a forefoot striker I prefer less cushioning and they fit the bill. However the heel is fairly tight, adidas seem to size shoes fairly small. Worth considering if in the market for running shoes. Also a first, I made use of an energy gel half way through. Not too bad and accounting for the placebo effect, I found it gave me a nice little boost of energy. 

Early night Sunday to get ready for another week!