Browsed by
Tag: london

London, Anne Frank’s House, Westerbork, Bergen-Belsen, Auschwitz and JCC Krakow’s Ride for the Living

London, Anne Frank’s House, Westerbork, Bergen-Belsen, Auschwitz and JCC Krakow’s Ride for the Living

Life is made up of experiences, and I have certainly lived over the past week.

A friend of mine was joining a charity bike ride from London to Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam. Without hesitation I signed up to retrace the Kindertransport route through Harwich, then taking the ferry to Hook of Holland where more than 10,000 Jewish children passed as they were saved from the Nazis.

A group of 18 of us had a tremendous tailwind along the seafront cycle lanes to Amsterdam. On arrival we had a tour of the Anne Frank House which describes one young lady’s story in hiding throughout the war. Our group of 20 cyclists contained a man who’s grandmother was in exactly the same situation as Anne Frank, but she somehow was never discovered. In fact, she was being hidden on the same street, just a few houses down – somehow she managed to survive.

Anne Frank Bookcase

The story told us how this young girl couldn’t leave her house, she could only carefully look out of the window. This would be torture for me, unable to exercise or explore the world, what a terrible state to be forced into for an indefinite amount of time.

Four of our cyclist group took a few extra days off work to push onwards from Amsterdam to Bergen-Belsen. We were without support as we attached heavy pannier bags to the back of our now cumbersome bikes. We arrived in Westerbork just a couple of days later, where 107,000 Dutch Jews were sent through, and only 5,000 of which survived. The place itself was not a place of death, but merely an imprisoned camp until the transport that would take you into the unknown. With hindsight, this was a waiting room for death.

Westerbork Memorial

Our group, now close knit after several days together with an emotional journey, continued on to the most beautiful cycling through the Dutch forests, we crossed into Germany on a dirt road with just a small sign to signify this milestone.

We had many discussions and conversations about what we should do today to combat racism; noting that the Nazi regime achieved their goals by slow and incremental change through propaganda. We all decided that education had to play a big part of it. Suggesting that the difficulty comes from those who are brought up in closed off families, unable to experience life outside of their narrow perception of the world.

After 6 days of cycling, we finally made it to Bergen-Belsen, a Nazi concentration camp where tens of thousands were killed. The British freed this camp in 1945, just a few months after Anne Frank had passed away from Typhus.

Bergen Belsen Gates

Several survivors I have met over the years were in the Bergen-Belsen camp on that day, and so it was powerful to stand in the same spot as my friends had. The museum here was all about first hand accounts; there were many survivor interviews, raw BBC videos and many written testimonies. Particularly poignant to me was a clip of a soldier, just one year younger than myself, who was standing there, in front of piles of dead bodies from the camp in 1945 commenting on how disgraceful the whole experience was. He exclaimed that when he first saw this place, he realised what he was fighting for, he recognised what him and his fellow soldiers signed up for and what they would be willing to die for.

There are many perspectives for different topics in life, but this is the most sure things I have ever experienced: fighting against Nazi’s is one of the most clear cut things in my mind that is good in this world.

This footage also contained some disturbing images of Jewish corpses being buried by the German SS guards after their surrender. The lack of care to the dead was horrifying as bodies were dragged across the dirt into mass grave pits.

It was in this pile of people that we expect Anne Frank to have been having died of typhus just months before this footage was recorded. The faces are anonymous, and the mound too large to contemplate. Yet this was just one of many mounds in this camp, and this camp just one of far too many camps.

Anne Frank Stone Bergen

The story of Anne Frank is just one of the 6 million Jews who were killed, her powerful story has made her become the face of the faceless millions who were persecuted – not just those who were killed.

Our group contemplated the whole unbelievable situation for the remaining 50km to Hannover. Within a few kilometres we were cycling among the most beautiful forest I have ever seen, quite a contrast to the horrors that went on just around the corner.

The following day, we flew to Krakow where we joined a group of 85 others for Ride for the Living. First we would tour around Auschwitz to educate ourselves more about history, but the following day would involve a bike ride from the gates of Auschwitz to the Jewish Community Centre in Krakow. A cycle that would act not just as a memorial ride, but a ride of defiance against the Nazi’s.

Auschwitz Ride for the Living

We were lucky to be joined by Marcel Zielinski who is now over 80. He was freed from Auschwitz-Birkenau when he was just 10 years old, and ended up walking the same route to Krakow to try and find his remaining family. This year, he joined us, cycling as a free man, together with his son and two grand-daughters. It was the most incredible feeling to cycle together through the gates of the JCC. After the long journey, Marcel and I embraced with tears in all of our eyes, sad tears from remembering the past, but happy tears from making the most of today.

My closing comments to the group included quoting my Mum: “everything happens for a reason” – but perhaps this can be derived if you have a positive outlook on life. I believe that anything from the past can be overcome if you have the right attitude today. The past cannot be changed; we must learn, we must never forget, but we must also live for today and for our future. That is exactly what this whole journey was about.

Cycle from London to Penzance

Cycle from London to Penzance

I spent 3 days, starting on Thursday last week, cycling just over 310 miles from London to Penzance. Planning to spend two nights in random hostels or B&Bs on the way; I planned to grab the last train back from Penzance into London Paddington leaving at 1740 on Saturday.

Cycle to Penzance
Cycling with my new friend Paul

Originally I wanted to visit Stonehenge for the first time and it is a convenient 100 miles from home. Then I thought why not push it down to Penzance for a bit more of an adventure.

The weather forecast showed Thursday as being brilliant in the 20s but Friday and Saturday being complete downpours. With the anticipation of doing another long distance ride (like London to Barcelona a few years ago) I wanted to push through the wet and even carry my laptop to see how reasonable it would be to have that on the road. Turns out having a big heavy laptop is the opposite of ideal and I re-learnt the same lessons from the Barcelona ride – the less you can take the better.

Therefore for my next long ride I will take a spare change of clothes for the evenings, toiletries and some cables to charge phone/camera. That is all. Anything else you just don’t need but the weight seriously hinders you on big hills.

Stone Henge
Stonehenge

Having reached the 100 mile goal to Stone Henge (where you have to pay £8 entry) on some fairly flat roads by about 3PM, I pushed on for another 22 miles with a commuting cyclist I bumped into (Paul) – the only cyclist of the day I met! Finding a rather cosy pub (The Somerset Arms – run by new owners Tim and Dee) I settled in for a nice hot meal and a warm evening sitting in their garden.

Starting on a cold and misty Friday morning at 6am I got on with my target of 100 miles for day 2 to make the last day just 80 at most. Having got lost several times, trying to avoid the A303’s scary dual carriageway, I found myself climbing a lot of short hills, only to come straight down the other side and immediately climb another. This continued for the whole morning giving me an astonishingly slow pace which made me question whether reaching Penzance, especially with these heavy bags, would be reasonable in my target of 3 days.

Fortunately there wasn’t the torrential downpours that the MET office predicted, which made me feel a nice sense of satisfaction as I passed their headquarters in Exeter in the early afternoon. My friend Daniel (who I cycled to Paris with recently) did a summer placement in Exeter last year and warned me of the ridiculous hills to come in Dartmoor. This time I was prepared for the hills, knowing I just needed to keep the legs turning and eventually (maybe) I would get to the top and could relax. After 6 miles of climbing and some nice descent I came to the final short 20% gradient climb into Moretonhampstead; with 2 hours of sunlight left and about 15 miles short of my 100 mile target I decided to push on – despite immense fatigue. Shoveling down chocolate, haribo and Mountain Dew; I just didn’t want to have to do these climbs the following morning when I had a train to catch!

Strong calves
Strong calves

I finally came to Princetown, which I later found to be one of the highest villages in England meaning lots of downhill the following day! They also had a large prison close to the hostel I was staying in which was a surprise to see getting over the last hill.

After a ridiculous amount of ribs I called it a night ready for my final day. Approximately 85 miles to go by 5pm.

Ribs!
Ribs!

I had a terrible night sleep in the bunk beds but had to get on with my final day if I wanted to make my train. By 630AM I was on the road again hitting even steeper longer hills than I had experienced the day before. Again my speed in the morning was slow and I seriously doubted making it. Morale was at an all time low when the rain began to pour down. This was all ahead of the serious thunderstorm warnings that afternoon. I couldn’t do much so chuckled to myself in the traditional British sense. I knew I had to press on through it. Thankfully it let up after half an hour and the sun same out to dry me off and warm me up.

 

Bad forecast for the last day
Bad forecast for the last day
Sad Bike
Sad Bike

The final push through Cornwall was nice and easy compared to the Moors. However a couple of local cyclists warned me of some serious hills on my way to Penzance (which never showed up). They obviously hadn’t been to the Moors! So much so that I got the second last train of the day to get into London for a reasonable time for a nice big dinner! Very excited to see St. Michael’s Mount and a great sense of achievement given so much doubt over the previous few days.

St Michales Mount
St Michales Mount
Penzance
Penzance

On the train home I met a man called Sammy who just completed John O’Groats to Lands end in just over 8 days. Having completed several challenges (e.g. walking across the whole of Spain and I believe a sail across the Atlantic) he was inspiring with his “why not?” attitude to adventures. We both agreed that carrying the least amount of weight is paramount to enjoying any sort of long distance trip.

Sunday was a big recovery day – despite naturally waking up at 630 and not being able to get back to sleep. But the endorphin kick was nice at energising despite most of my body aching.

 

I took a fair bit of footage on my GoPro and hope to get the time to turn it into a small montage soon.

Until the next adventure!

Cycle from London to Paris within 24 hours (June 2013)

Cycle from London to Paris within 24 hours (June 2013)

Dan and I were very excited on Saturday to set off, but having decided that we wanted to complete the ride within 24 hours, as it has a better ring to it, we needed to set off later in the day. We decided 1400 was a good time to allow us a casual ride to Newhaven via Ditchling Beacon and Brighton to have fish and chips on the beach.

We could barely contain our excitement but managed to meet at Westminster bridge at 1345 and waited impatiently to take a picture with Big Ben at 1400.

Ready to go at 2pm
Ready to go at 2pm

The ride to Brighton was quite a relaxed pace without many stops. We did plan to stop at turners hill for some late lunch but found the kitchen closed at 1500 when we arrived at 1605.

At the top of Turners Hill half way to Brighton
At the top of Turners Hill half way to Brighton

You always get to meet interesting other people and cyclists on the way; we bumped into some guys doing London to Paris (Marble Arch to the Arc de Triamphe), but taking 4 days instead of 1 to do it.

We continued all the way to Brighton only stopping for a short rest just before the “green beast” or “devil’s dyke” that is Ditchling Beacon. Whilst waiting, having a chat on a bench, about 40 other cyclists also doing London to Brighton showed up. This was fantastic timing as it allowed us to overtake most of them on the way up and it gave us people to chase.

I also managed to see a one armed cyclist make it to the top which was a new one! Very, very impressive.

(Ditchling Beacon climb video to come!)

Without stopping at the top for a breather we continued to Brighton for the obligatory photo next to the pier! 55 miles in 3 hours 45 elapsed cycling and just over 4 hours in total.

Reaching Brighton Pier ready for fish and chips!
Reaching Brighton Pier ready for fish and chips!

After a fish and chips, cheeky couple of beers and a 99 Flake we took the unnecessarily undulating road to Newhaven slowly. Just under 10 miles away, it was one of the windiest conditions I have ever cycled in.

Finally making it to the ferry stop an hour and a half early we took a quick nap until we boarded to sleep in the wonderful luxury accommodation for the 4 hour ferry.

Sleeping in the ferry waiting room
Sleeping in the ferry waiting room
Daniel asleep on the ferry with cushions on the floor - smart move!
Daniel asleep on the ferry with cushions on the floor – smart move!

We met another cyclist on the ferry who was a doctor and documentary maker who was delivering a sentimental DVD of a family he worked with on a documentary about triplets in Geneva. He was cycling there and back in just two weeks! Incredible.

Getting into the bitter cold with not much sleep at 4 am is a little painful, especially with no street lights and not knowing which side of the road you are meant to be one, but you can push on with the cycling and get a lot of miles knocked off before most people even contemplate waking up on a Sunday!

It's cold at 4am!
It’s cold at 4am!

After a beautiful ride along the Avenue Verte (40 miles of a paved over railway line that is brilliantly flat and incredibly smooth) where we took turns to take the headwind, we stopped for a breather at 615 with 40 miles under our belt. Just 65/70 odd to go.

With energy levels starting to drop we ate all the food we had: haribo, snickers, flapjacks, trackers and energy bars as well as a full bottle of Lucozade. We were like ravenous children consuming all sugar sources available.

With a new found burst of energy we continued for an hour until we saw a patisserie where we filled up on the water we desperately needed, as well as some pain au chocolats and croissants.

Slightly tired and confused having done close to 50 miles before breakfast
Slightly tired and confused having done close to 50 miles before breakfast

Again pressing on for another hour and a half we took shelter when the rain started in a small cafe for a coffee, then back onto the undulating hills to grab a quick breather in a bus stop another 20 miles down the road.

From here on in we knew we would be too excited to stop before reaching Paris just 40 kilometres away. Using Google maps with the route pre-loaded we could track our progress without needing to use the data.

Unfortunately just going past Pontoise, Daniel hit an odd pot hole or something and somehow managed to snap one of his spokes, immediately buckling the wheel. He tried to loosen the brake as much as possible but the bike was wobbling from side to side. It was like trying to run straight down a path whilst being pulled violently to one side every couple of seconds.

Snapped spoke
Snapped spoke
Unhappy speedy
Unhappy speedy

We decided to hit the train station conveniently next to us and see if we could get a train in. However feeling like it was cheating and with one working bike remaining I ruthlessly took the opportunity to get back on and meet Daniel at Paris Gare du Nord where this station had a train that also conveniently went directly to for just 5 euros. We could then check the bikes in for the Eurostar and have lunch around the corner at Montmartre. Perfect. And I could still complete the last 20km before the 24 hours was up (23 if you stay on English time).

I met another cyclist on the way into Paris who was taking part in a ride around Alpe d’Huez for the 5th year. It’s a 5000m ascent in just one day which he completes in about 10 hours; but the pros do in just 5 hours! This is a serious ride. Ridiculous.

We met at the station and completed the ride (albeit Daniel skipping the last little bit) in just over 22 hours door to door.

Shattered, but we made it before 24 hours!
Shattered, but we made it before 24 hours!

Checking the bikes into the Eurostar and grabbing a big meal we felt a weird sense of confusion as just a day ago we were setting off on a ride from home in London. Now we were in Paris. Soon to head back as well! A strange dream that leaves us exhausted.

Wandering round we found a discount clothing store where we got 2 sets of novelty tee shirts and jumpers for €20 (since all our other stuff was soaking from the rain) and grabbed a shower in a local gym after making a shady deal with the duty manager.

Heading back on the 1913 train to kings cross we were shattered, but still buzzing from the excitement of it all.

I hope to do this ride again with more people at some point, perhaps a little slower (so let me know if you are interested). But for now I want to get off the bike and regrow my gentleman parts.

Marathons: London to New York

Marathons: London to New York

This year I decided – perhaps through boredom and people letting me down on cycling trips to Spain (from England) – that I was going to run the London marathon in April of this year. This was also the final year of three of my degree at The University of Cambridge in Computer Science, which meant that I had a dissertation to complete, as well as revising for my finals.

I completed the London marathon with my friend Ollie Gershfield this year, 2010 in April. Despite me doing a lot more cycling and general exercise than him, Ollie beat my time of 4 hours and 42 minutes with his time of 4 hours and 6 minutes. The final months leading up to the marathon I was working extremely hard and not focusing on my running which was perhaps a mistake for the marathon (although given a choice between running and working on my dissertation I think I made the correct long term decision) and so I am having another go at hitting under the 4 hour mark this November in New York (in fact just a few days away from writing this).

For the London marathon I managed to raise just under £21k for Norwood that looks after thousands of children with learning disabilities as well as children and families in need.

This November I am raising money for Great Ormond Street Hospital which is another fantastic charity that help save children’s lives also. My target is to raise £50k which includes very generous personal, family and friend donations.

Having started work at Softwire recently I have gained a lot of support from colleagues as well as the company, both financially and mentally.

My donation page is http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/dezzy with Virgin Money Giving and not JustGiving since JustGiving are in it for profit and take a chunky 5% of the donations you generate. Virgin are supposed to be the best out there being non-profit and taking just 2% (as of November 2010) saving millions of pounds for charities.

I miss New York and am looking forward to running through all of the boroughs despite it supposedly being extremely cold at this time of year!