Monday, 19 May 2014

Reconnaissance across Groningen: A Cycling Adventure

There are times, particularly when the sun is shining, when it is time to get out from behind the desk. Having spent a weekend writing, playing music, and generally enjoying myself, I thought I should do some work today. I was very studious and (somewhat) focused until about mid-afternoon. I hadn't planned on having an adventure today, but then again, each day usually tends to be some kind of adventure in my life, so I wasn't altogether surprised.

To reach the northern part of the city of Groningen I usually take the bus, but now with the onslaught of lovely weather, I decided it is no longer a good excuse. I have some places to be in the north in the coming week and I thought it best to 'do a reccy' (reconnaissance) to suss out which bicycle paths I would need to take. I studied the map before I left, and it looked fairly simple. I did not, however, take the map with me, thinking it would be easy to remember. My father always did warn me about complacency....

I set off on my clunking, Batavus bicycle, spending the first ten minutes stuck in traffic at stop lights. So much for it being a quick reconnaissance mission. The first bit of the trip once I was out of the traffic was fairly uneventful. I had a pleasant run, and according to my calculations of landmarks, everything was going well. I was passing through suburbia, blocks of flats rising like sores on the city's skyline, and it wasn't until I came to a rather terrifying roundabout that things took a turn. 

This roundabout, right, is insane. While it does have a cycle lane, I not only had to look four different directions, but I must watch out for cars, mopeds, pedestrians and the ever present danger of mad Dutch cyclists. After a few seconds of unladylike expletives, I was safely through. I kept down this street, thinking 'I must be there soon.' I knew the general area of where I was going, having seen it from the bus window, but this wasn't looking familiar. I knew from my memory of the map that if I ended up in the platteland (countryside) I would have gone too far. 

I went too far. 

Suddenly, I was in a lovely area of small, winding canals and pasture land full of birds. Nice as it was, I knew I'd gone wrong somewhere. I turned back and found a bus stop - all the bus stops with a shelter have maps of the city - and figured out where I was. I couldn't quite see where I'd gone wrong, but I knew I had to go back. I certainly took a wrong turn again somewhere, because for the next 45 minutes I cruised through all the straten (streets), lanen (lanes), and wegen (ways) imaginable. 

At one point I found myself in a sort of retail park, then I was cycling past old fabrieks (factories), schools with screaming children, a sports ground. I began to wonder if I was still even in the right area. I knew I was still in Groningen at least. Across a sort of ditch I could see a half familiar block of flats through the trees. Typical Netherlands, being blocked by water...I managed to find a path that went along it and eventually over it. The bullfrogs were croaking like mad (mating season?) all sounding like Kookaburras with a nasty cold.

Now I found myself in a sort of "Furniture Centre" - huge stores full of sofas, mattresses, and carpets were screaming their discounts at me as I went past. I didn't know I could get 20% off if I bought two sofas... I also went past a sort of warehouse called, rather worryingly, "Baby Dump" (I kid [no pun intended] you not). I really hope it is either a three story crèche or some place that sells prams...

Anyway, I continued on, being attacked by small insects and allergies. (With the warm weather, everyone is cutting the grass!). After stopping at another bus halt, I saw I was on the right track. Rather promisingly I began to recognise things. It was only when I arrived at the ruddy roundabout again I realised why. I had gone in a very large circle, only to end up back where I'd gone wrong! I took a different turning off the roundabout this time and found the actual area I'd been looking for was not two streets away. Most annoying. 

After my rather long, hot detour I turned tail and headed back towards the city centre. The fact that poor Barney (that's the bicycle, by the way - he couldn't really continue to go unnamed after this adventure) and I could have avoided getting lost if I'd persevered for another two streets was maddening, but altogether fun. I've seen far more of Groningen than I anticipated, and it was gorgeous weather for getting lost in. 

As we neared the city centre I also realised that had I taken a left turn at the end of the canal at the start of the journey, I would have shaved off another fifteen minutes and avoided half a dozen roadworks....Ah well, live and learn. We arrived back safely and I had a few ice creams to rejuvenate.

I know for next time at least - take the map!
(Of course if I was one of these cool kids with a smartphone I would never have been lost, never had a hot, sweaty trip across the wilds of the north city, and would have, equally, nothing to write about. Sometimes, old fashioned is more fun...but I will remember the map next time...)