Today, I read, is International Day of Happiness. (Isn’t every day? Mmm… Perhaps not…) Anyway, upon discovering that March 20th is a day of all-round joy (apologies if you’re just not feeling it), I was reminded of cycling through Lower Saxony en route from Tarifa to Nordkapp for the new book, Spain to Norway on a Bike Called Reggie. Here’s an extract:
The first large town in Lower Saxony was Osnabrück. It was now mid-Sunday afternoon and the streets were quiet, the shops closed, the traffic approaching non-existent and the people at home being happy. I knew this, as my guidebook told me that in a nationwide poll, the citizens of Osnabrück had been declared the most content with their lives. How did you measure such a thing?
‘Excuse me. Are you content with life?’
I stared intently at the few people who passed by. They didn’t appear to be deliriously happy with their lot in life but neither did they look particularly hard done by. Further research into the minds of the Osnabrückers was required and perhaps I could conduct it at the out-of-town campsite.
Campingplatz Niedersachsenhof was deserted; I wondered whether another RAF-induced evacuation had taken place. I loitered around the reception area for a while, pondering my options. Much of the site was hidden beyond hedges and trees but from what I could see, it had many of the unwelcoming charms of the Montargis ‘wild camping’ place back in France, albeit with fewer prostitutes or dodgy young men.
I went online and discovered a reasonably priced hotel option a few kilometres further north but as my finger hovered over the ‘book now’ button, a man appeared and asked if I was planning to stay the night. He wasn’t one of the happy folk of Osnabrück; my finger touched the screen, I made my excuses and cycled off in the direction of the Landgasthaus Kortlüke.
The employees of the Gasthaus were a happiness researcher’s dream. Even the prospect of washing my somewhat soiled clothes didn’t faze them in the slightest and, once laundered, they were delivered to my room with a smile. In the meantime, I had been lying on the floor, somewhat minimally dressed, perusing the map and my onward journey to Bremen. It being a large city that I had never previously visited, I planned to take a day off and explore on Tuesday. Monday would be spent cycling the 100 plus kilometres to the campsite to the north of the centre of Bremen. My eyes scanned the towns and villages through which I might pass: Venne, Diepholz, Twistringen, Bassum… Syke. Syke! There was a town in Germany only one consonant short of being my surname. Goodness.
Syke. Home to the Syke people, or the Sykes? I was a little unsure of the linguistics but I wasn’t going to let that prevent me from cycling into town, seeking out the Rathaus and announcing that I had returned home.
Suddenly, a suspected day of inconsequential cycling across lower Lower Saxony had been transformed. The following morning I was up early and eagerly demolished the buffet breakfast. I wondered if the other guests could sense my excitement.
‘Excuse me. Are you excited?’
The book is published on May 11th. Pre-order now from Amazon and, if you are in West Yorkshire on April 8th, come to Square Chapel Arts Centre to hear all about cycling from the southernmost to the northernmost points of the European continent. A full list of upcoming speaking engagements can be found here.