Monday, 22 June 2009

Day eighteen.

The Princess of Norway, our ferry back to Engerland and definitely where the party's at tonight, you hear?

A jerk

Home, sweet home. Well, South Shields, but close enough.

Day eighteen.

''Let us brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, "This was their finest hour."

And so, the conquest draws to a close. Today the magnificents made their final push through Amsterdam to the port of Ijmuiden on the North West coast of Holland.

The journey has been a long one, fraught with dangerous dangers and perilous perils. There have been laughs, tears, blood, sweat and enormous saddle sores. There have been highs and lows, good times and bad. We have met some extremely interesting people and some not-so-interesting people. We have seen things many will never see except in movies or on the telly, if at all. It has been a huge challenge, but worth every single mile.

We will now venture forth on our homeward craft, the Princess of Norway, towards the hallowed shores of North Shields and England. Glorious England.

It's been fun dearest readers, assuming there are any of you out there. We hope you've enjoyed listening to us whinge and moan, because we've certainly enjoyed whinging and moaning to you.

Till next time, adios

The 3 Magnificent Men
(and John Rambanana, who survived by the way)

Day seventeen.

A plaque erected on behalf of the Allied forces involved in Market Garden, addressed to the people of Gelderland

The Market Garden Cemetery in Arnhem

The Magnificents on Arnhem bridge

Day seventeen.

The penultimate day of the tour, today the magnificos visited the two main sites of the biggest airborne military operation in history, operation Market Garden.

In September 1944 Fieldmarshal Montgomery launched an airborne assault on two bridges crossing the Rhine at Nijmegen and Arnhem in Holland. The idea was to seize control of the bridges and thus ease the passage of Allied forces into northern Holland and Germany. The plan was designed, as famously claimed by Montgomery, to end the War by Christmas.

A combination of the slow progress of Allied reinforcements and an extremely determined enemy meant that the operation sustained heavy losses and ultimately failed.

We hit the bridge at Nijmegen first and you really wouldn't know its significance by just looking at it - no plaques or memorials or anything. Yeesh.

A few miles up the road was the bridge at Arnhem, beside which sat a small Market Garden museum and memorial. The main Airborne museum, which we spent an hour trying to find, was closed until July. Typical. Nevertheless, it was quite refreshing to see a site of such historical significance which was not overrun by tourists dressed like soldiers.

Our hotel for our last night on the road is the 3* Tulip Inn in Amersfoort, and we are currently chilling out watching Mrs Doubtfire on Dutch telly. An old drag queen setting fire to his boobs is funny in any language, I don't care what you say.

Tomorrow is our last day, we rise at 7.30 and make our way to the port of Ijmuiden for the long ferry home. Our last blog will no doubt be written whilst shitfaced on said ferry, so from sober Flameboy and Jonny Hurricane, au revoir and thanks for reading. The Raging Inferno will, as always, be sober anyway.


Day sixteen.

1000 km

Nummer Zes, our bed and breakfast for the night. Complete with electric moving matresses. Bed goes up, bed goes down...

Day sixteen.

The relentless march towards Arnhem continued apace today as the magnificents ventured deeper into occupied Holland.

Our destination today was the lakeside retreat of Plasmolen, just 10 miles south of Nijmegen. The ride today was long - 70 miles - and windy. But at least there were no stinking hills.

Not a great deal happened to be honest, the good stuff should all go on tomorrow. But we managed to find a McDonalds for lunch, which was a triumph in itself.Oh yeah, and we got to hop on a little boat to take us over a river, which was pretty fun.

Tomorrow's post will have more effort put into it, quite tired today. Adios.


Day fifteen.

Don't worry Holland, we're coming to ruin your day too

Gav and Joe fix a punctured tyre whilst Jonno messes around taking pictures

The Hotel Turboch. That's it.

Day fifteen.

Today we finally said goodbye to the hills and valleys of Belgium and hello pretty mama to the flatness of Holland. We love the Dutch.

After about 20 miles we crossed our third border of the tour and celebrated by taking off our trousers and running naked back into Belgium, then into Holland, then Belgium etc etc, just like the first settlers did.

Slightly further on we were halted in our tracks by a professional cycle race, a warm-up for the Tour de France. The guys in it looked pretty handy; no magnificents but not bad. Then, slightly further on, Gav got a puncture, the first of the Tour. The tyre was successfully changed, I'm happy to report.

Our hotel for the night was the Hotel Terboch in Roosteren and was again of poor quality. In the evening we wandered a couple of km into the centre for some food, crossing the Maas river on the way and in the process going back into Belgium, as the river marks the border. Which was weird. But not that weird really.

Tomorrow will be our longest mileage day of the tour, 60+ miles. Joy.


Thursday, 18 June 2009

Day fourteen.

Our good friend Derek, the albino reindeer

Our hotel for tonight, the very nice Hotel du Wayai. Nazi salute courtesy of The Raging Inferno, naturally.

The woods outside of Bastogne, where the US Airborne were dug in during the Battle of the Bulge

Day fourteen:

Today, sadly, the magnificents left Bastogne and began the homeward leg of their epic journey.

This morning we said a fond farewell to the Bates Motel and plundered our way back into the Ardennes forest, heading for Spa.

The trip today was still pretty hilly, with a couple of monsters to test the old thighs, but the scenery was again breathtaking and pretty worth it if I'm being honest Bob.

Our hotel tonight is called the Hotel Wayai (geordie owned I think), and is really really nice. It has a pool and a zoo, with goats and a reindeer in it. (The zoo, not the pool)

We're off down the road for a chinese tonight then back for part 3 of the BBC's gripping drama, Occupation, which we have been following with interest for the last couple of nights. Will Mike be able to salvage what's left of his tattered marriage? Will Hibbs lose his head? (Ba dum tish)

It's all too much to bear. Tomorrow - the magnificents arrive in Holland. We love the dutch.


Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Day thirteen.

In the company of heroes - Gav meets his Great Uncle Basil.

The American Battle of the Bulge Memorial.

The German owned Bastogne museum had an alarmingly large amount of Nazi paraphernalia.

Day thirteen.

''Highty tighty christ almighty, who the hell are we? Zim-zam, god damn, we're airborne infantry.''

''Highty tighty christ almighty, who the hell are we? Zim-zam, god damn, we're airborne infantry.''

''Highty tighty christ almighty, who the hell are them? Zim-zam, god damn, they're 3 magnificent men.''

Such was the chant of the joyous American airborne veterans when the magnificents emerged this morning and made their way towards the centre of Bastogne.

First things first this morning - we got the bus out to the village of Hotton on the outskirts of Bastogne to visit the grave of Gav's great uncle, Sergeant Basil Orrick, who was killed in the Battle of the Bulge. The small cemetery was as peaceful and picturesque a war cemetery as we have seen on this trip and a really fitting resting place for a real hero, who died aged just 19 fighting for his country.

After that we hit the Ardennes offensive museum in Bastogne, a small privately owned collection of artefacts from in and around Bastogne. The owner spoke with a German accent, and most of the artefacts were German. And there were a fair few Nazi flags hanging around. Hmm...

Anywaaaay, we then made our merry way over to the American memorial, about 2km outside of the town. This enormous star-shaped structure was erected after the War to honour the 79,000 US soldiers killed or injured in the Battle of the Bulge. The museum annexed to the memorial was good, full of authentic weaponry and other artefacts, and the memorial itself was extremely impressive.

We are now back in our hotel and are soon off out to get some carb-loaded food to prepare for the homeward leg, which begins tomorrow.


Day twelve.

The Bates Motel...I mean, err, Hotel Du Sud, Bastogne.

No expenses spared on tonights hotel.

Day twelve.

After feasting heartily this morning on the usual fayre of bread and croissants we set off on our final day of cycling on this leg, towards the famous town of Bastogne.

The cycle itself was again hot and sweaty but still pretty spectacular given the surroundings. We were now entering the domain of the Battle of the Bulge, where the American 501st and 502nd battalions found themselves surrounded by the German Panzer divisions with limited supplies and no protection against the freezing winter temperatures.

We checked into our crap hotel at about half four and set out to find somewhere to get some food.

War stuff was limited as we've got the day off tomorrow to look around. Off to get some beer now. Fanta orange for Joe.



Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Day eleven.

The Magnificents reach Belgium like Frenchmen - sweaty and covered in flies.

Our lovely bed and breakfast.

Day eleven:

Belgium today baby!! We left the dumphole that was our Revin hotel this morning and headed for the border.

For the first hour we followed the cycle path right along the banks of the River Meuse, which was really really lovely; so lovely in fact that Joe cried. After that we headed into the mountains, at which point Jonno cried.

The climb out of our valley went on for 4 whole horrible, slow, sweaty, hot, minging miles and was probably the hardest part of the trip so far.

The rest of the cycle was easier but still pretty tough, and the monsoon which tagged along with us for the last 15 miles didn't help one little bit. We eventually reached Wellin, exhausted and soaked through, at about 4.30.

Our bed and breakfast was the Mairie Zulma and was superb. It's always a shame when you get a really good place to stay and have to leave after one night. We stayed there all evening due to the apocalyse going on outside and, after a couple of beers and a dinner of Belgium's traditional dish, celery wrapped in ham and cheese (which tasted like nothing more or less than celery wrapped in ham and cheese), we hit the sack.

Last day before the rest day tomorrow. Belgium is good so far!


Day ten.

Our hotel for the night. the second * on the sign is actually a collection of tiny little flies.

A beautiful view from the terrace.
As the Magnificents passed into the Ardennes the scenery suddenly turned proper mint like.

Day 10: mucho scorchio!

Another day of slow cooking by the big yellow sicko, but at least today we made it out of the cows, farms and fields of bocage country and into the Ardennes forest, with big mountains, lakes, rivers and, typical of forests, trees.

Our destination today was Revin, about 15 miles from the border with Belgium and, after another uneventful ride of about 45 miles, we got here at about 4.30pm.

The scenery here is pretty breathtaking and will hopefully make the next two days of uphills at least bearable.

Our hotel tonight is the barely 2* Francois Premier, which has more of those stupid pointless tiny little flies in it than people. By about 100 to 1. We are at the bottom of a pretty humid valley though, so its understandable. I guess.

Anyway, no good TV on tonight like last night so its back to watching crap shows in a language none of us really understands. Joy.

Out of France tomorrow, yay! Roll on Belgium...


Day nine.

The magnificent's logo.

Thievery! We threatened to drag the Boulangerie's arse through the courts but they settled with a free cream bun a piece. Great success!

Day 9: scorchio!

The sun was relentless today, beating down on us like some sick yellow ball of sadism whilst we slogged our way over the hills of St Quentin towards Vervins. Luckily we only had 30 miles to cover today and we made good time, arriving at out hotel at about 1.30pm.

The accommodation wasn't bad; after unpacking our bags we went for a drink in the crazy little Grotto bar downstairs, which looked a bit like a hobbit hole.

We then ventured out into Vervins, had a drink or two in the town and found a takeaway pizza place for dinner. We didn't fancy the hobbit hotel menu one little bit.

Jonno treated himself to a Bolognaise pizza, Joe to a pepperoni and Gavsan to a margarita covered in mini cocktail sausages.

After that we headed back to the room to watch what we thought would be yet more rubbish French television. What we found was possibly the greatest cabaret show on earth. It began with a compere announcing something to the audience, surrounded by topless showgirls. Which was nice.

Then they had two hours of variety acts, including the sickest jugglers ever ever ever, an escapologist who actually died on stage and a guy who played Mozart on six flutes at once - four in his mouth and one up each nostril.

Outstanding. Any of them would have rinsed Mentalist Boyle off Britain's Got Talent.

Thus, a fairly routine day ended with a bang, and we all went to bed happy.

Later y'all.


Day eight.

The Magnificents with their new friend - Big Gay Jean-Christophe.

Day 8: 50 miles: major sunburn.

Today our heroes headed out of the Somme area towards St Quentin, beginning the long road towards Belgium's Ardennes forest.

The ride itself was again pretty uneventful, as everything worth seeing around the area was covered yesterday. One good piece of news, for the St Quentin locals as much as for us, was that we managed to find a laundrette where we could finally de-stink our rotten clothes.

Unfortunately, however, Gav unwittingly de-stank his phone along with all the clothes and by the time the proprietor had understood the phrase ''OPEN THE MACHINE!!'' and opened the machine, the phone had gone to live on the farm.

Tomorrow, we head to Vervins, a small town in Northern France where nothing has ever happened, ever.

Roll on Belgium.


Day seven.

Contrary to belief, this is not the damage caused by Jonno's curry the night before but in fact the scar on the Earth caused by Durham miners to mark the start of the assault on the battle of the Somme.
Never a truer word.

Memorial at Thiepval to commemorate the 72,000 men still missing in action during the battle of the Somme.

The magnificents roaming the trenches at The Somme.

Day seven:


Today we started with a lie in which was rudely disturbed by the cleaner lady who burst in, hoover at the ready, and then promptly left.

The day would continue with many fits and starts as we visited the Somme battlefields not on our bikes, but via car, driven by the Harley seniors.

We firstly visited Albert, a town ruined by the by the battles of WW1. We entered a museum commemorating the great battle of the Somme, and were amazed to find many of the relics for sale in the shop at the end of the tour.

We then left Albert and headed for La Boisselle. At La Boisselle lies a crater 100 meters wide and 30 meters deep. It was created by miners who tunnelled towards the German lines and stuffed the final part of the tunnel with tonnes of TNT. It was detonated 2 minutes before the Somme assault took place. Phenomenal.

After the Great Hole came an Australian memorial from which Gav noticed what looked to be a British memorial. We made our way to find a cemetery with hundreds of graves and plaques covering the walls with that of more soldiers killed. T'was very humbling.

However, the memorial at Thiepval was truly unbelievable. There are 72,000 names of men still missing in the Somme battlefields. A huge monument symbolises the men lost to the fields of France.

And finally, to raise us from our sombre moods, we then visited a series of former trenches, which had a deer screaming from a rock and something called the 'danger tree', so it wasn't all bad.

Anyway, back to cycling tomorrow. Toodles for now.


Thursday, 11 June 2009

Day six.

No lucky lucky here...Despite the glow, it's only bed and breakfast on the menu for day 6 and 7 I'm afraid.

As we reached Somme it all became clear and our mission grew in importance.

The best way of taking care of a Nazi... Memorial for all!

Day six:

''I can see what's happening (what?)

And they don't have a clue (who?) Joe smashed his face up on the road and,

Our trio's down to two (oh)''

Due to injuries sustained to his knee yesterday Joe took an extra day off today and left Jonny Hurricane and Flameboy to brave the road to Amiens alone.

Our route passed into WW1 country today. Amiens sits atop the Somme river, an area which played host to one of the bloodiest single battles in Western military history.

More than 19,000 British soldiers died on the first day of the Somme offensive, nearly twice the total number of Allied dead on D-Day.

Unfortunately, the lure of beers prevented Gavin and Jonno from taking time out to visit the historical sites, but the magnificents have a day off tomorrow to do just that.

Joe shall recommence the conquest on Friday when we make off for Belgium, and hopefully between now and then we'll have something interesting to write about.

Anyway, for now y'all take care.


Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Day five.

Le Chat Chocolat, our headquarters for the night...And the hosts are English so here is hoping for a fry in the morning, if I have to have jam and bread again so help me!

The scene from a bridge over River Seine in Rouen.

Day five: 45 miles.

No rain today, thanks the good Lord. And the wind was behind us. Finally a break for the magnificents.

After dreams of Whoopi Goldberg in a habit (Back in the Habit - I just got that) we awoke and enjoyed a breakfast which included the rare luxury of cornflakes and milk, which must be a delicacy in France cause you just don't get it anywhere, damn it.

Today's ride was much easier and less blood-soaked than yesterday's thankfully, but we have now moved out of significant WW2 area for the time being so, aside from seeing our first McDonalds of the trip, the day passed pretty much without incident.

As such, there is little more to do than reveal the nature of yesterday's 'incident'. It's the moment you've all been waiting for faithful readers.

Yesterday's hills were hideous, so it was a real joy when we were faced with a sign telling us the next 2km would all be downhill. Laughing in the face of the wet road, Joe accelerated his bike to 600 miles an hour and promptly lost control on a bend.

Gravity took care of the rest. He hit the deck chin-first and careered on into a ditch. Luckily, a helpful French passer-by offered him a lift to the local doctor, who had him patched up and on his way in no time.

We were all relieved to see Joe was OK of course, but the true relief came when we realised that John Rambanana had survived. We are all thankful for that one.

Au revior for now.


Monday, 8 June 2009

Day four.

Joe decided it would be a good idea to use his chin as a break at 35 mph down a mountain...Good thing the road was there to break his fall.

Day four: 51 miles.

Unfortunately today was not going to be a day of historical significance but merely a pedal to the flag of day 4.

We started with a stunning breakfast of bread and jam (Obviously the French don't have the same funding as home house) and fully fuelled we made our way eagerly towards Cormeilles.

Little did we know this was situated the opposite side of the Alps, deep in the Amazon basin... If you haven’t already gathered it was a nightmare of hills and rain from start to finish.

Having devoured the single most welcomed trio of omelettes we continued our journey onward (AND UPWARD) towards our final resting place for the night, the Hotel Corne d' Abundance in Bourglaroulde-infraville. Finally an English speaking host for Gav to talk to, and after this morning ''slight incident'' we now have new best friends... Our beds!

Well, that is it I'm afraid and Sister Act 2 is a out to start so I'm going to try decipher 'I will follow him in French.

Here's hoping for a better day 5. Au Revoir.

P.S. No pics I'm afraid, sure you all know what rain looks like.


Sunday, 7 June 2009

Day three.

Able seaman Geoffrey Bull, WWII D-Day Omaha Beach veteran and our dining partner for the evening. Hero, legend, comedian and friend!

Manoir Du Sens - our Playboy mansion for the night.

The almighty Sherman Tank.

The Cross of Sacrifice at Bayeux War Cemetery.

Day three:

Today was a day of distinct highs and lows for the magnificents. We set off from La Poterie and the lovely Monique at about 9.30 this morning, having been stuffed full of breakfast crepes and green tea, and arrived at our current haunt at about 5pm.

The cycle in between was basically characterised by wind, rain and big, stupid hills. 55 miles of them. Along the way we stopped at the British Cemetery in Bayeux which, like any military Cemetery, was a really sobering sight. Comparatively small in size it nevertheless houses around 3000 graves, the vast majority of which belong to men no older than 25.

After more wind, rain and hills we made it to Caen, excited at the prospect of immersing ourselves in the history of the city which represented the focal point of the entire Allied advance in the days after D-Day. Unfortunately, however, everything was closed. Except the baguette shop. Which, despite selling exceedingly good baguettes, was of no historical significance whatsoever.

By the time we reached our hotel we were thoroughly fed up, the day having been tougher and less fruitful than we expected. Fear not, however, dearest reader, for our day would soon take a turn for the better.

Sitting in our village having a beer just before dinner we happened to get chatting to an old decorated WW2 veteran and his younger, less decorated friend.

The vet introduced himself as Geoff and told us that he had served at Omaha Beach on D-Day on one of the warships which provided artillery support to the invading ground troops, and for the next 2 hours we sat and listened intently to his tales of hijinks in the Navy. Legend.

So, thanks to Able Seaman Geoffrey Bull today was not a complete write-off. More tomorrow, ta ta.


Day two.

You know what...I think we are still at war!

The scale of what is Omaha Beach.

3 Magnificent Men in Nazi gun bunker @ Pointe Du Hoc.

Day two:

Got up later than expected and we were hoping for a fine day wandering around the Omaha Beach memorials that were due north of us. However the day would not go as planned. Firstly we went to Pointe Du Hoc, site of the famous assault on the steep cliffs of the coast by the American Rangers. It was littered with craters from aerial and naval bombardment. T'was truly incredible, and the bunkers there were in the exact condition they were 65 years ago.

After this excursion we headed to Omaha Beach, the site of around 3000 American casualties. We grabbed some Croque Monsieurs and overlooked the mighty beach whilst waving our little British Flags. How fitting.

We were then to visit the Omaha Beach Cemetery, where around 21000 fallen soldiers lie. However, due to a certain President, we weren't even allowed in a village 5km away from the cemetery, never mind the memorial itself. Joke!

So we then decided to head back to our accommodation, and then decided to get the most expensive taxi in history into Bayeux for some tea. And when we got there it started to pour down, so we jumped from the taxi into the downpour with 50 Euros less in our pockets.

After finding a posh restaurant, we sat down in our scruffy, rain sodden clothes and had something to eat. We were quickly hurried out, and we then ordered another swindling taxi to take us home. We arrived home to find Monique setting up some evening drinks for us all with the Yanks joining in also.

We then spent the night with them watching the French television show 'Sing with my childhood music hero'. Truly, truly awful.


Friday, 5 June 2009

Day one.

Sleeping quarters for nights one and two.

Are we still at war?

C-47 Transport Plane @ Merville Battery

Introducing Joe's entrusted mascot - 'John Rambanana'

Day one: 50 Miles

Day one on the road for the 3 magnificents. Drove down to Portsmouth yesterday. Woke up at 5 this morning in the most grotty yet spacious Travelodge ever and, once Joe had secured John Rambanana to his trusty steed, cycled the gruelling 400 yards to the ferry terminal for our 7am ferry.

Four hours later, having been forced to sit through one and a half showings of High School Musical, including all of the DVD extras, we disembarked to begin our conquest.

The first port of call was the Merville Gun Battery, which the Nazis built to hammer our brave landing forces with 80-pound explosive shells. After that we had a tuna sandwich.

We then made our way back towards the port, crossing over Pegasus Bridge on the way. The capture of this bridge by the British 6th Airborne on the morning of D-Day was one of the most crucial operations carried out during the invasion. So there.

After that we decided to visit Sword Beach, but thanks to Jonno's superb navigational skills we ended up heading away from the coast and never quite got there.

Our lovely accommodation at La Poterie was another hour and a half from there, and we were greeted on our arrival by our lovely host Mme Gomez.

We've just finished downing our welcome glasses of what tasted like grape-flavoured aviation fuel and are getting ready for bed.

Nighty night all, more to come soon.