This time I’m including London, which along with Paris was Charles Dicken’s chosen cities in his famous book. I went overland to Amsterdam via London recently in a plan to see 2 major art exhibitions. It meant cycling to the ferry in Dublin port, a train from Holyhead to London and then the Eurostar to Amsterdam. It’s time-consuming and much more costly than flying. The Sail/Rail to London is good value but the Eurostar is getting very expensive. We badly need a decent carbon tax on flying in our efforts to address global heating. 

However, there is one major benefit of travelling overland - you can stop over on the way to your destination. In the past, I travelled to see my niece near Barcelona and got to see Paris, Avignon and Arles en route. This time in London, I managed to see the fine Cezanne exhibition in the Tate Modern. It is housed in the former Battersea power station. It is an imaginative conversion of a big old building to a new use. Six million bricks were used in its initial construction! London has a fantastic array of fine public and private buildings and squares from many centuries. I particularly like the red-brick Victorian architecture – the restored Eurostar train terminal at St. Pancras is very impressive. Cycling in London has increased greatly and I was impressed with the good cycling infrastructure on the city streets.

The Eurostar is a great way to travel to the continent, and the view from the window is always interesting, except when you are ploughing under the English channel in the tunnel! With Brexit, there are more requirements to arrive early for your departure. I found it straightforward getting though all the checks. A good book is handy to help pass the time. One negative of modern train travel is the packaging one gets, especially plastic, in food and drink consumed along the way, including waiting in train stations. I bring a flask and picnic with me which helps minimise my waste.

Amsterdam is one of my favourite cities. I love walking along the many canals and admiring the fine period houses along their banks. The canals are all spotless, which shows up the litter-prone Dublin canals I help to clean regularly. Cycling in the city is incredible –it is the most popular form of transport. The cycling lanes are ubiquitous on all streets. One has to look out for cycling traffic more than cars when crossing the road! One thing I noticed was the complete absence of scooters, which are becoming very familiar in our towns and cities. As usual, virtually nobody wears a helmet.

One of my plans for my trip was to cycle from Amsterdam to Utrecht with my nephew Philip who is studying in the city. I previously saw a 2-hour video of the cycle from the camera of a cyclist on complete cycling infrastructure connecting both city centres. I wanted to do it myself. It was good to have somebody to help me navigate the route. It was very enjoyable and followed canals and wooded areas, and virtually all off-road. I was a little saddle-sore on my rented bike, but we covered the distance of 45kms in around 3 hours.

Utrecht is a fine old city and was once the capital of the Netherlands. It has even greater cycling facilities than Amsterdam! They changed over a major road route back to the canal it was, along with provision for cycling and walking. We parked our bikes in one of those huge multi-storey bike parking stations they have in the country. You just need to remember where you left your bike!

I also planned to see the Vermeer exhibition in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. 28 of his output of 37 paintings are on show, including one from our National Gallery. Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to get a ticket before travelling. Half a million tickets were sold at €32 a go! My Plan B was to go to a Rembrandt & his Contempories exhibition in the Amsterdam Hermitage museum. They decided to cut their links with the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia following the invasion of Ukraine. It now has a new name.

I returned in one day to Dublin. I left my Amsterdam hostel at 6.15 am and arrived back home on my bike at 1am next day (2am Netherlands time) -that is nearly 20 hours! As I’ve said before, it is not easy being green, but the trip is worth the effort.