Up and Away

Saturday 19th June 2005

Ross' matured and characterful black Porsche was parked outside in the middle of the road, there was no traffic, not even the market vendors were stupid enough to be up at that hour. We headed out to White Waltham with the top down and Hot Chocolate wafting from the speakers.

The sun started to burn the mist off as we loaded the wee airplane. The original plan had been to fly out to Le Touquet on the French coast and then route round east and north up through Belgium to Groningen in Holland. From there we would go North, way North, but there was a problem. Either our route would have to be tweaked or the French would have to be changed. The French air traffic controllers that we needed had sent out a message to say that they did not feel like working that day. The original plan was thrown 'dans la poubelle', lines were rubbed out and new ones drawn. We would by-pass France on the way out - that would teach them. The mist was replaced by a hazey soup. As we coasted out over Dover we climbed above it and we could make out the ships below thredding their way along the busiest channel in the world.

The rest of the flight was unremarkable; I would like to shake the hand of anyone who can find Belgium or Holland remarkable from the air. We were cleared as no.2 into Groningen and it was a greaser of a landing. We were definitely on our way now.

The bus paused as we were entering Groningen town. An elderly man had slipped on the edge of the pavement, fallen back and banged his head badly. The bus driver was impressively on the case by the time we realised what had happened, having blocked the road with the bus and assisted the man. We waited, willing, but unable to offer assistance until the ambulance arrived. The bus driver helped the disorientated and shocked man to find and replace his hearing aid as I noticed the small pool of blood on the pavement.

Ross booked us into a local hotel and we arrived to discover a wonderful place, boutique methinks. We talked excitedly about having made it to the continent and then the adrenaline wore off and we fell asleep, mid-sentence.

Groningen had a welcoming if studenty appeal. It was a manageable size and easy to get a feel for, a square shape boxed in on four sides by canals. There was a lively atmosphere and the streets were bustling. Suddenly and frighteningly it became very Dutch as we almost surrendered our lives to a pair of cyclists. The silent killers. There were thousands of them and every available space was used to park them. They moved swifly and lethally up and down the broad and, more worringly, the narrow streets. They had clearly been given a sort of holy right of way over cars and pedestrians and we were powerless to resist them.

We ate very well at a good restaurant where the menus were wonderfully incomprehensible. The waiters were friendly and efficient; we ordered our food in Dutch, they smiled and replied in perfect English.

Dover appears through the haze



Outside our hotel and surrounded by the 'silent killers'.



Groningen at dawn



Natural Navigation Book