Archive for March, 2013

20 Mar 2013

Review of Cicerone Guide: The Rhine Cycle Route

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My first reward when receiving this guide was to discover that, not only was there a networked cycle route following the entire course of the Rhine, but here was a detailed route guide, complete with background information, advice on general and bike specific preparation, plus help with food, accommodation and general services en route.

Cicerone's new guide: The Rhine Cycle Route

Cicerone’s new guide: The Rhine Cycle Route

Tracing the route of a river, from its infant source through to its final entry into an estuary, or the sea, has always fascinated me, particularly in analysing how that river has affected habitation and human activity along its course. When that river is the Rhine and its 1300km course passes through six countries, following its route will provide a unique insight into a variety of different cultures, as well as an appreciation of how the Rhine has shaped and influenced the great events in European history over the centuries, from the Romans, through internecine Medieval conflict to the Second World War.

For cyclists, particularly those embarking on a long-distance ride, complete with packed panniers and other equipment distributed across their bikes, the idea of a route following a river has instant appeal as, by definition, it will be downhill all the way. As the Rhine’s source is located high among the Swiss mountains – conveniently accessed by a bike-carrying train – then this route provides the mouth-watering prospect of free-wheeling down the steep early stages, before enjoying some relatively easy pedalling along the flat agricultural land of the Netherlands towards journey’s end at the North Sea.

The topography also makes this route suitable for cyclists, who as long as they possess a reasonable degree of fitness, do not necessarily have to be experienced or super fit. Indeed, the comprehensive, non-technical advice contained in this guide is particularly well-suited to enthusiastic, would-be cycle tourers who  have not previously completed a long-distance ride.

Plenty of pictures and maps to keep you on the right route

Plenty of pictures and maps to keep you on the right route

As with all Cicerone guides, the Rhine Cycle Route is amply illustrated with photographs of many places of interest, as well as containing a wealth of vital maps, showing the best passages through urban areas and detailed sections outlining each stage of the route. And even allowing for its 250 pages, its compact size makes it ideal for convenient stashing in the back pocket of a cycling shirt.

Sadly, I was a little disappointed with some inaccuracies in the section detailing how to reach the route by rail. Given the wealth of detail elsewhere, clearly based on painstaking research, this might seem like an over pedantic moan, but as getting to the start of a cycle route should always been done in as carbon-friendly method as possible, it would be a shame if this discourages some people from taking the train to the start.

It is perfectly possible to book in advance and take your bike with you on the same Eurostar service. It costs £30 and this service has been available for several years (although not from Ebbsfleet or Ashford). Alternatively, you can turn up on the day with your bike, pay £25 and, in 80 per cent of cases, it will travel on the same train: if not, Eurostar guarantees it will arrive at your Eurostar destination within 24 hours. Bikes don’t have to be boxed and Eurostar no longer carries boxed bikes in the luggage areas

The recently updated Eurostar site has a user-friendly page on cycle carriage  For all matters relating to train travel here and in Europe, do always refer to Mark Smith’s indispensable Seat 61  as this also includes up-to-date information on the growing number of TGV and other high-speed services that are now carrying bikes – Seat 61 I suggest, would be an invaluable addition to the appendix of this and similar guides.

Nerdy train details apart, this is a useful guide to an enticing route and one that has certainly whetted my appetite for a mountain-to-coast ride down the Rhine

 

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18 Mar 2013

Siempre Bicycle Cafe, Glasgow

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A bicycle cafe! Sounds like my Elysium: a vision of freshly-brewed coffee, artisan baking, all kinds of bicycles and bike memorabilia in an accessible urban space – where you can even park your own bike right next to your table. Probably  a delusion though, I mean no one place  could actually provide all my favourite things; could it?

Well yes. As soon as I entered Siempre Bicycle Cafe last week, all my habitual cautious pessimism evaporated  as I sensed the heady aroma of roasted coffee, noticed the cool retro cycling prints and was warmly welcomed  by the friendly staff. Invited to look around, things just got better: in addition to the combination of my favourite object and drink of choice, the cafe also offers bike maintenance, aims to attract and encourage women cyclists and stocks singular gear that is perfect for cycling but doesn’t look like cycling kit.

Located in Glasgow’s West End, right next door to Kelvinhall Subway Station, the cafe defines itself on its locally-sourced and organic produce, such as  Tapas breads and Dear Green coffee. It’s open from 6.30am, providing healthy breakfast options to hungry commuters and the cafe space can be hired for special occasions and celebrations.

And outside, once current construction work is complete, will be transformed into an inclusive space where commuters can leave their bikes, diners can relax in the sun and kids can learn to cycle.

Siempre is not just for cyclists though. The spacious interior is equally pram and luggage friendly and the free, fast in-house WiFI, makes the cafe ideal for impromptu meetings, as well as social and work related net surfing.

Combining my love of coffee, cake and bikes in some form has always been one of my life ambitions. While my aspirations remain firmly in the dream category for the moment, I’m more than happy to enjoy Siempre’s  excellent realisation of three of my favourite things.

On your bike, on foot, en route to and from the subway, to Kelvingrove or the Riverside, pop into Siempre and see how a derelict and unused city building can be transformed into a vibrant and co-operative urban space.

Any initiative that encourages and facilitates more people to cycle has to be positive and, when it also includes creamy flat whites, melt-in-the-mouth fudge and freshly baked bread, what’s not to like?

Well done Siempre, I’m already looking forward to my next visit.

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17 Mar 2013

Riverhill Cafe: Glasgow and Helensburgh

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As regular readers will know all too well, I always take the opportunity to plug Glasgow as the ideal location to combine some top notch culture, food and  shopping with the chance to enjoy some spectacular local outdoor jaunts as well.

Maybe because my trips to the city as a child were many and varied and ranged from pantomime visits, to shopping expeditions and later on, all kinds of things connected with education, that I have always considered Glasgow to be such an eclectic place.

Among these primal associations, it was in the city that I first began my love affair with good coffee; indeed, I can still remember the excitement of discovering what I termed ‘frothy coffee’,  drinking it from a glass cup in one of the Italian cafes I was taken to by my grandmother. And, from then on, sourcing and consuming the best coffee I can find has become something of an obsession – as well as providing the excuse to sample some of the finest cafes that Vienna, Budapest, Rome and Turin have to offer.

So, it was with a sense of excitement that I headed across Gordon Street last Monday to try out the new Riverhill Cafe. Its first few weeks had certainly been a hit on social media, and if its coffee was half as good as its location – within luggage wheeling distance of Central Station and in an otherwise desert of good independent refreshment outlets – it would be worth the wait.

It was. My flat white was rich and creamy and a crusty sandwich of Italian sausage with salad and dressing was freshly made and nicely on the plus side of substantial. But, it was the staff who provided the real highlight; pleasant, informative and happy to accommodate any requests for slight variations of the items on offer. My only disappointment was that, after my sandwich, even I couldn’t find room for a piece of their appropriately-named billionaire’s shortbread.

Overlooking Helensburgh and the Firth of Clyde

Overlooking Helensburgh and the Firth of Clyde

However, apart from its excellent menu and ideal location, Riverhill has yet another asset; its sister, the Riverhill Cafe and Deli, in Helensburgh. And as Helensburgh just so happened to be where I started and finished a couple of stages on the Three Lochs Way later in the week, then I really had no excuse not to taste another excellent flat white and replace some of the calories expended tramping through the forest with a slice of their slightly different take on that luxury shortbread. Apparently the chef here also regularly forages for edible herbs and plants to use in the daily menu, so no excuse then not to factor in another trip around Helensburgh on my next visit.

Well done Riverhill: you’ll be my first and last stop next time I’m back in Glasgow and, with the Hill House, other handsome buildings and enviable setting beneath the mountains and beside the Firth, yet another reason to boot and bike to Helensburgh.

 

RIverhill Cafe: 24 Gordon Street, Glasgow G1 3PU  0141 204 4762

Riverhill Cafe and Deli: 64 Sinclair Street, Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park, Helensburgh G84 6TP 01436 677575

 

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