Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Making a beeline to Russia

Soon I'll be setting off to the Solovetsky Islands in the White Sea, a 3000km pilgrimage.

The idea came from something I posted on my LEL blog back in 2009.  And it was years before (2000 I think), that an article, written by Paul Adriaensen in a Flemish bee magazine, first caught my eye.

It described St Zozimus and St Sabatius who, in 1429, founded one of the biggest monasteries in Russia.  Since then, I kept coming across snippets of information on the topic.  Especially their depiction on icons was intriguing.  Very often the two monks are presented together, and often with a reference to bees.  Both, but more so St Zozimus, are seen as protectors of beekeepers.

The more I found out, the more I was drawn to the Solovetsky Islands.   The islands are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The monastery is shown on the 500 rubles banknote.   The area has a troubled history, being the site of the first gulag prison camp.

Religion and history were my worst subjects at school.  This pilgrimage is about religion and history.

Friends and colleagues have wanted to express support.  It wasn't my intention to raise funds, but Bees for Development (BfD) would certainly welcome a donation.  BfD make a huge impact on beepkeers' livelihoods in the developing world.  Thank you!

PayPal Donation - no registration required - do add a 'Note to Seller' with a reference me or this trip.

I'll tweet using #stzozi, along this 4 week journey.  Follow me, tweet me.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Flemish NRttKust

The pictures tell the story: here

Do you know what a Flandrien is?  It's a cyclist who rides until he can't remember his own name, somebody who is silent, never complains, has enormous physical strength and perseverance.  Flemish people like to think they're natural born Flandriens. I'd like to add that if you come off your bike, pick yourself up and continue to ride, then that would be a characteristic of a Flandrien also. So with that I'm going to award something very special, it's the unique Friday Foreign Flandrien award and it goes to Susie.  Who wouldn't be proud of a triple F status?  By the way, Wiggins won the International Flandriens award last year, he was born in Belgium after all ...

There was a wonderful photo of the start of De Ronde Van Vlaanderen, in Ghent 1930, in the 100 year celebratory magazine of Het Nieuwsblad (March 2013).  It shows the peloton on a tramlined,  cobblestoned road.  Shame I can't find the picture online.

Those tramlines are still there, and they'll be a feature of the safety talk at next year's Flemish NRttKust.  Mind you, we'll be avoiding tram lines at all cost.  At least until we reach the coast.  Because on the coast, is the longest tram line in the world, as researched by mmmmartin.

Maybe that is what we should do?  Maybe we should ride to Knokke.  That could make us ride just north of Ghent.  And people wanting to get the tram would get full value of the longest tram line in the world, as researched by mmmmartin.  Knokke also has train connections back to Brussels and would be closer for the Delftse Posts amongst us.

Finding a middle of the night stop might be harder mind.

For the middle of the night stop, we could fill my sister Kris' pannier bags with pastries and coffee/tea flasks.  I had given here a lecture along the lines of 'don't come kitted out for a trek to Kazakhstan'.  But, my goodness, she do so well!  Never cycled that distance, never cycled at night, brand new bike, recovered from a back injury only days before.  Kept up with everybody, took wonderful photos, contributed to navigation.  I apologise to her for my sense of humour failure as she brightly suggested we cycle the scenic route home from the local train station, on the way back.  I feel so bad, but yep, my sense of humour had gone.  I felt battered and shattered and only wanted to get home as quickly as possible.  I'm very pleased for my sister that she enjoyed herself.  I think she might just have come out tops with her bike taking all the curbs, bumps, cobblestones and tram lines on the way.  She went to work on Monday and felt none the worse for the night ride.  Just amazing.

Other thoughts of the weekend:
  • Kris and I sitting outside on La Grande Place eating waffles was great
  • No rain during the ride
  • No mechanicals
  • Hearing cuckoos a couple of times
  • The little plover (? I think) in Ostend
  • Cycling through Bruges was absolutely wonderful.  I was so in awe that I didn't take any photos.  We were already tired by then, and hunting for break stop was priority.  But next time (if we go through Bruges again), we should wonder around more.  Seeing Bruges empty can be fully appreciated if you've been to Bruges on a typical touristy day.
  • The many professional looking cycling groups going at great speed along the canal.  I would hold my breath in as two opposing groups were crossing ... just next to us.
  • Hearing the word posh so often (???)
  • Celebrating my mum's birthday
  • Coming home (Hanwell), parking, opening the door and hearing a 'YESsssss' from several houses along the street.  A moment later, an even bigger cheer was heard.  The first Yes, was Brentford saving a penalty, the second Yes, was Brentford scoring the winning penalty goal.  The Bees are going to Wembley and I'm going too!  
  • The a low of the news that my parents pet sheep died on the Monday, 16 years old she was
  • The high of my dynamo light with USB port arriving
  • The sky high of bumping into V for Vengadetta at work, who told me about his plans on making electronic shifters for somebody who needs both left and right on the same panel.  Just brilliant and inspiring

What could be improved?
  • Definitive route.  Contrary to what mmmmartin thinks, I'm no good navigator.  I do have a good sense for when I'm lost, which is most of the time.  
  • More scenic route.  The Gentsesteenweg may not need many waymarkers, but there is a lot of sameness.  I love a warts 'n all route, and you do get that when mapping the most direct route between A and B.  I've seen Belgium now, like I have never before!  
  • We'll have scope for a seaside breakfast place, since the ride takes longer than expected, more places will be open
  • Meet at the station? Cycle through the Grote Markt together?
I loved the company and appreciated the team work.  I'm already looking forward to next year.  There is some great feedback (max 20 riders is a good call from BalkanExpress).  mmmmartin could be our transport correspondent, BalkanExpress could be the Brussels - Ghent guru, and my sister and I will explore Ghent to the coast.