Sunday, July 15, 2007

Cycling in Europe 6 - Bikes on Trains



Our last hours in the Netherlands included the remarkable Groningen railway station. Underneath a large, open forecourtthat is devoid of traffic, resides a massive bicycle parking area, with what seemed like tens of thousands of bikes parked up.

Groningen, with a population of 185,000 is about twice the size of Darlington, roughly as big as Sunderland. And this is the kind of picture that can be imagined if we had a cycling-friendly culture in the north east of England.

We put our bikes on the train in Groningen, and again space is tight. It's the rush hour on a small local train to the border town of Nieuweschans. From here, it's a short ride to the border, but remarkably the cycle route takes us into Germany without a hint of a border crossing. Only the change in road signs and bus stops give away the change of country - we actually crossed the border on a small path that runs alongside a single-track railway line.

Trains in Germany are quite different - an entire carriage at the rear of the train is given over to cyclists. The seats are lined up along the side walls, and can be up or down depending on the number of bikes.

In both cases, though, we need to pay for the bikes, (daily tickets cost 6 euros in the Netherlands, 4.50 in Germany) whatever the journey. So compared to the UK pluses and minuses - we don't pay for bikes on trains in the UK, but there is little space, and we must book in advance. In the Netherlands there is still little space, though it is at least a walk on service. In Germany, taking the bike is a lot easier, though again requires payment.

So we arrive at our destination, Bremen. A few days to cycle around and gain some further impressions before the return home.

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