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Europe by Tandem

From Castellon (Spain) to Northern Cape (Norway) by Tandem supporting the fight against cancer.

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Day 38. Sant Carles de la Rápita – Castellón

Posted by admin On Agosto - 27 - 2010

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109 kilometers. 4 hours.
JL: I’m writing this belated blog post about the Sant Carles de la Rápita- Castellón final stage. I can’t say much about the road since we cycled along the national road N-340.   Not many kilometers but at warp speed. We had to get to Castellón on time, at 1 p.m. No further [...]

Day 37. El Vendrell- Sant Carles de la Rápita

Posted by admin On Agosto - 16 - 2010

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129 kilometers. 5 hours and 54 minutes.
IVAN: The kilometers we covered today along the hellish national road N-340 weren’t as hard as we thought they would be. An ugly day; it was cloudy for a change but there were blasts of fair wind. We went past the Ebro Delta; that’s worth mentioning. Take a close-up [...]

Day 36. Vic- El Vendrell

Posted by admin On Agosto - 16 - 2010

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142 kilometers. 8 hours and 34 minutes.
IVAN: 6:45 a.m. The alarm clock goes off at the same time it does every single day. It doesn’t wake me up, though. I’ve been awake for 15 minutes. I look through the window next to my bed. It’s open. I can see a blanket of thick black clouds [...]

Day 30. Simandre- sur- Suran- Vienne

Posted by admin On Agosto - 9 - 2010ADD COMMENTS

132 kilometers. 6 hours and 5 minutes.

IVAN: Today’s stage was at full steam. We cycled at an average speed of 21 kilometers per hour; we travelled around the lovely and peaceful French countryside. We saw beautiful spots, a lot of castles and rivers; as you will see later on. In fact, if we draw a comparison between today’s stage and yesterday’s stage, there’s a world of difference. Yesterday, we got a flat tire at midmorning; it took us a while to fix it because the tire deflated slowly and we had to make some stops to pump it up so that we could get to the nearest gas station. Because of this little mishap, we arrived in the town where we wanted to have lunch at 2 o’clock sharp. We could have anything hot to eat since restaurants close at that time; no later than that. We wound up by rustling up an outdoor lunch in a park and with products we bought in the discount supermarket chain, LIDL.  Once we got to the town where we were supposed to spend the night, we found out that the two hotels in that town had no rooms vacant and the nearest one was 20 kilometers south of the town. When we arrived there, the hotel sign read “no vacancies”. Luckily, they let us sleep at a sort of lounge; apparently, after all this, it looked as thought our stroke of bad luck finally ran out.

Today was a spectacular sunny day; the wind was blowing from behind (I tell you this by whispering it in your ear so that Aeolus can’t hear me). We had lunch in an amazing place in which I had frogs; yes, that’s right, I ate frogs and not only their legs but the entire frog. How tasty! When we left the restaurant, we went by a place where people usually go for a swim. What magnificent surroundings! As you can see from the pics below, we also grasped the opportunity to take a refreshing dip. We got to our destination at 6:30 in the afternoon. This is living in the lap of luxury!

We are in Vienne now; it’s a lovely town located about 20 kilometers south of Lyon. This means there are less than 1000 kilometers to go! I can almost smell Spanish omelet, orange blossoms from our land and Serrano ham, hahaha…well, I want to set something straight, when I say “I can almost smell…” what I mean is that we are getting closer…because in terms of smell, well…we do smell; we stink! We’ve been wearing the same clothes (and, as a result, sweating through them) for two weeks in a row! We haven’t washed them, either! The result: a strong foul odor that resembles that of a South African elephant, of a Rocky mountain goat and of a Royal Bengal tiger.

Day 29. Morteau- Simandre- sur- Suran

Posted by admin On Agosto - 9 - 2010ADD COMMENTS

165 kilometers. 8 hours and 15 minutes.

JL: Captain’s log for starship Enterpac. Stardate 2010.8.8. The starship Enterpac, under the spirited and skillful command of captain Skerk, made an 2.2 M light-pedal interstellar voyage which departed from the space station of Morteau to explore the station of Simandre- sur- Suran in the space region of Rhone- Alpes in the Gallia galaxy. Its mission: “to boldly go where no one has gone before.”

The starship traveled at 20 kilometers per hour at warp speed through space. During the voyage, the Supernova “Sun” obliged the captain and the lieutenant commander to raise their F50 Ambre Solaire shields to protect the Enterpac external structure from damages. The conn officer, the lieutenant commander Sanchekov, carefully and effectively monitored the navigation console and planned the best itinerary possible to take a leap into hyperspace. Halfway through, the rear warp drive was mortally damaged by an asteroid; as a consequence, the space exploration vessel went aground since it was in need of undergoing a refit: the rear warp drive Isoprene C5H8 had to be replaced. The refit could be carried out at the station of Champagnole, in which the crew had an inexpensive lunch and took a brief rest. Long voyage: departure time: 9 a.m.; arrival time: 8:20 p.m. Tomorrow the crew will be extremely tired.

Day 28- Dannemarie- Morteau

Posted by admin On Agosto - 9 - 2010ADD COMMENTS

127 kilometers. 7 hours and 9 minutes.

IVAN: During today’s stage, we covered the French regions of Alsace and Belfort; it was one of the loveliest routes we had taken in Europe and one of the toughest as well. In fact, we are 20 kilometers from Switzerland, a country we wanted to keep away from at all costs because of its far-famed chains of mountains, I guess what I have just said speaks volumes. Today was one of the hardest days of this European trip (well, in fact, most of them are hard, aren’t they?); we wound up doing a beyond-category climb of more than 2100 meters above sea level.   

The day was seasoned with the following oddities: we left the amazing hostel in Dannemarie after 8:30 in the morning; we said goodbye to Ricardo, a Spaniard who has been living in France for a long time and who we met while having dinner, and his friends. A few minutes after we left, we suffered our first mishap: the bicycle chain fell off its sprockets and got entangled in a rather funny way between a hub and a spoke. This little mishap made us waste 15 minutes. We could then continue cycling as usual, that is to say, absolutely flabbergasted by the scenery, until we bumped into the first two ascents that went upward up to 600 meters and then went downward up to 300 meters above sea level; just to warm us up.

Later on, we got to Pont-de-Roide, the town where we wanted to have lunch. What a lovely place! We were only too delighted to be there. We ate on the cheap at a wonderful place (see the photo below). As to the flavors, no comment! Look, the food was really good in Norway and Finland; in Sweden, Poland and Germany as well; but the French have a thingamajig, don’t know how to put it,  they are far and away the best cooks. I tasted a dark and white chocolate mousse that made me shed some tears.

From here onwards, it was tough going. We had to cover a mountainous area very close to Switzerland. We went upward along a 900-meter mountain pass in one fell swoop; without taking a break; all the way riding uphill. We cycled for 10 hard but beautiful kilometers in one and a half hours at 7 kilometers per hour; and to think that we were carrying a bag of more than 30 kilograms… It shouldn’t have posed a problem for us if we had taken something to wet our whistles and fill our bellies with but, as we are the bomb, we jumped off the deep end without carrying anything in our bag. So, we were up there, hungry as a hunter and without anything to drink or to eat. There wasn’t a single spot where we could go into and shoveled food into our mouths. We finally cracked, hit the wall. We almost ended up going door to door begging for food. So much so that the moment we saw something that looked like a bar, J.L threw himself into it looking for food. Unfortunately, he proved to be unsuccessful: he went away empty-handed and he was saying angrily: “I don’t know if I can’t see straight but I think this bar isn’t an ordinary one but a gentlemen’s bar.” At that very moment, we caught a glimpse of the sign that read “Chez la Marie”.

After cycling for 10 kilometers more and after loads of minutes, we found, by chance, a fruit stand in the middle of nowhere…we stripped it bare! We gobbled down 4 fruit each, which helped us to get to the nearest bakery where we took 3 pastries each. I’m telling you all this one hour later, sitting at the table where I’m going to have dinner. My goodness! How ravenously hungry we were! Hope tomorrow will be a better day.

By the way, here go some crazy things we recorded with the video camera. Hope you like them!

Day 27. Ringsheim- Dannemarie

Posted by admin On Agosto - 9 - 2010ADD COMMENTS

125 kilometers. 5 hours and 47 minutes.

JL:

“I have been keeping a watchful eye on you for a long time, where are you wheeling these two men to?”  said the wind to the tandem bicycle. “I’m escorting them to accomplish a mission,” replied the tandem bicycle. “What sort of mission do you refer to?”  inquired the wind. “The mission is to help people see things differently,” answered the tandem bicycle. “That is not hard to get; I am used to doing it since I possess the capacity to change my outlook continually,” said the wind with a laugh. (after thinking for a while)“You do it without really knowing why because you have an innate capacity; it’s in your nature. However, people do need to be deeply touched. The two men know about it. Follow them closely and you will be able to get a sound grasp of this,” said the tandem bicycle. And the wind remained silent.

Today we entered France through Marckolsheim. We crossed the border, the Rhine and the famous Maginot Line. This line was a line of concrete fortifications constructed along the French border to protect France from Germany and Italy. It was built to deter the Germans from attacking France. It was a linear defense and it was composed of a system of  forts and bunkers interconnected by anti-tank obstacles and by an anti-personnel obstacle system made primarily of very dense barbed wire. It was constructed 10 kilometers from the French-German border and spread along it and it varied in depth from between 20 to 25 kilometers. Striking figures show the marvel of engineering and the of military strategy. However, the Germans eventually flanked the Maginot Line, as it usually happens, where they least expected it: by breaking through Belgium. There is a cycle path today that lays out alongside the old Maginot Line. Crossing the path by tandem presented no problem for us; we were just equipped with a bicycle pump and a video camara.

Once you crossed the river, the road turned southward and it ran parallel to the Rhine, making use of a strip of flat land between two chains of mountains; orchard crops, apple fields and, above all, wheat fields dotted the landscape.

We are in Alsace, a beautiful, rich area strategically located in the center of Europe; a long-disputed region, such as the Duchy of Milan, which has changed hands many times in the last centuries. 

The road surface posed no difficulty to us; however, river valleys are, as usual, wind tunnels. Apart from getting a flat tire 400 meters after setting off, we had to cope with the wind, again.

Being in a different country entails getting used to a different language, different products with different uses, a different time zone… and a wealth of tiny details that make the process of adaptation easier. Coming across people who speak English is not an easy task, contrary to what happened in the Scandinavian countries, Poland or Germany. So much so, that I went into a drugstore to get some vitamins and the druggist wanted to explain to me the difference between 11-vitamin tablets and 11-vitamin tablets plus a ginseng complex. I guess she didn’t know how to put it so it occurred to her to make a gesture with her hand like saying “it’s for male sexual virility” as if it were the most natural thing in the world. So, imagine I was standing there wearing cycling gear and saying “Oh, I see” while I was trying to choke my laughter back. What a professional!

Today we are staying at a road hostel. Don’t get confused by its name. It’s probably the most decent place we’ve stayed at since we started this challenge. We didn’t miss the opportunity to introduce ourselves to the people at the hostel dining room. Full bellies, we go to bed to get our strength back.

See you tomorrow! More kilometers added to the counter!

Day 26. Bruchsal- Ringsheim

Posted by admin On Agosto - 5 - 2010ADD COMMENTS

132 kilometers. 6 hours and 51 minutes.

IVAN: Today’s 132 kilometers would have been merely a formality…Well, in fact this was the last entire stage in German lands. We cycled along a national road dotted with towns, built-up areas, villages and so on and so forth. I guess there are so many of these because two large cities, Karlsruhe and Strasbourg, are in close proximity of this road.

I’ve just touched on two issues that I’d like to clear up. First off, “the last entire stage in German lands”: tomorrow first thing in the morning we are crossing the French-German border by cycling across the Rhine river and we are finishing the stage in Gaul lands. Secondly, “today’s 132 kilometers would have been a mere formality…”; (that’s right, sheer red tape, paperwork in the cycling world) IF it hadn’t been for the head wind that whipped us up right from the start. We had to pedal each of the 132 kilometers; this, in the long run, will have an impact on our bodies. Hope this happens over the long haul. In fact, this extra effort and the fact that the scenery worth taking in is conspicious by its absence (I repeat myself, “a national road dotted with towns”) make the tandem back rider become an autist, lower his head, stare at the crankset and sprockets fixedly, and pass the buck to the front rider. In this way, you focus your mind on making the engine, which is at foot-level, work; the engine becomes part of you, an extension of your body that creates a biomechanical entity.

Regarding today’s peculiarity section, we went past the famous German town, Baden-Baden, which became known by a joke that our beloved Eugenio (a popular Spanish comedian) cracked. It goes like this:

“Two friends get together. One says to the other:
Hey, where do you usually spend you vacations?
In Baden-Baden, and you?
In Vilanova i la Geltrú- Vilanova i la Geltrú.”

It may seem silly but because of this joke I expected Baden-Baden to be a summer town. I’m not saying it is not pretty or nice, not in the least. In fact, I admire how harmoniously the Germans build their towns; but, of course, Baden-Baden is far from being a summer town. What’s more, it is a known fact where the German people (who aren’t dumb at all) spend their summer vacations; they travel to Majorca. The most interesting part of this is tha they rent Record-Go cars, which means they are somehow chipping in for making this sports and solidarity challenge possible. Best regards to the German-Majorcan people.

Here go some photographs we took of some strawberries we bought in an improvised fruit stand in the middle of the road. We gobbled them up before we got to our destination. Hey, don’t be green with envy!

Day 25. Aschaffenburg- Bruchsal

Posted by admin On Agosto - 5 - 2010ADD COMMENTS

128 kilometers. 6 hours and 44 minutes.

JL: I’m going to open today’s blog post by giving my regards to all the wonderful bunch of people who work in Record Go. I know full well that they keep track of us, that they take interest and show concern, and that they avidly read our posts. We are also doing this for you, guys: “impossible is nothing.” Regarding customer queues building up at airport (which, as you know, are rather short in summer peak season), go get’m!

Well, hope nobody gets scared but the truth is that this is getting harder and harder. It isn’t just physical tiredness. Our constant effort and our steely determination to reach our goal are beginning to stress us out, mentally. Because of this, Iván and I decided, this morning, to do the following exercise: whenever a negative thought struck us, we had to brush it away by saying it aloud in a “positive” way. I’ll give you some real examples:

“Getting wet first thing in the morning, that’s great! Hey! we don’t need to get used to it afterwards” or “a head wind makes my face cooler and my ideas clearer”, take this one, “luckily, it’s raining again because the slicker was getting creased” or “thanks to the torment of biblical proportions that the bicycle saddle inflicts on my butt, my soul gets purified” or “I thank our lucky star that we took the wrong road; otherwise, we would have missed this mountain pass”… Does it work? Well, when thinking about how to make another person smile, you don’t think about the misfortunes that befall you.

After so many good soaks, we’re looking forward to coming back and seeing the sun,  but there are many stages to go. We spent today’s stage cycling the Naturpark Bergstrasse – Odenwald along the road that winds by the Neckar river. It’s a nice valley, not very deep, with thick woody walls of humid bright deep green. This made the road more pleasant; every step along the way we wanted to stop to take some shots, the gray sky marred the scenery, though.



The region was full of charming towns teeming with local visitors. Loads of places you’ll never find in a travel brochure. Places which would please those who don’t want to be just tourists but fit it and pass unnoticed. The heart of Germany is highly recommended.

Tomorrow is our last day in Germany. The day after tomorrow we will be in France, at last! We feel closer to home.

Day 24. Neuhof- Aschaffenburg

Posted by admin On Agosto - 3 - 2010ADD COMMENTS

112 kilometers. 6 hours and 35 minutes.

IVAN: Day 24 of our European adventure; I don’t know how many kilometers we’ve covered, but both our legs and our faces start showing it. Our solidarity counter for the fight against cancer is also noticing it, and that’s the main reason why we pedal day after day.

Anyway, it rained first thing in the morning. That’s odd, isn’t it? Well, we got soaked right from the start. We thought it would rain harder from noon onwards. Apparently Aeolus or Zeus or the Vanir had pity on us (I can’t tell for sure which of these gods had something to do with it this time). Thank heavens! It’s unbelievable! I know full well that if I do a quick count of the amount of rainwater that has pounded on me in the last year, it’ll be more than in my thirty years. Well, when the going gets tough, the tough get going (the tough may also get wet, though!)

The anecdote of the day: the penny finally dropped. We realized why we got, by mistake, into a hotel where we had no booking yesterday. There weren’t two hotels that went by the same name. In fact, there are hundreds of hotels that carry the same name all over the country! The thing is that “Gasthof” means “inn”. We are the bomb!

Regarding our European neighbors, I’d like to add something new to our so-called peculiarity section. The interior part of the country is astonishing, beautiful; a real flower and fruit garden. The woods are becoming our constant companions; something I’m really happy about. The water, this is something that absolutely stuns me. Some days ago, I commented on the vast amount of Scandinavian water, on how wonderful it is and that you can’t get bottled water. Well, something similar happens here in Germany. There is NO way we can find still bottled water. It’s amazing! They do have something they call STILL that is less sparkling than the one which doesn’t carry that name; yet it is fizzy! Hard to think what may happen to these guys when drinking bubbly beer and carbonated water at lunchtime or at dinnertime. Jeez! The thing is that I’ve become a talented “running water” taste-tester; wherever we stay (at inns, hotels, shacks and restaurants) I assess tap water quality. Hope nothing bad happens to me…

Day 23. Mülhausen- Neuhof

Posted by admin On Agosto - 3 - 2010ADD COMMENTS

124 kilometers. 8 hours and 3 minutes.

JL: I found out, first thing in the morning, that my sunglasses were broken. Solution: to get new sunglasses at a gas station for 10.93 euros (quite sleazy, you may guess). Then, we saw that the back tire was worn out and had some cracks. Solution: to pull the whole wheel off and replace the tire. So, we decided to get the spare tire and, at that very moment, we noticed that our supplier got something wrong and sold us two 23-inch tires instead of 25-inch tires, which are the ones we use. Solution: to look for a place where to buy other tires. Apart from that, we noticed that the bicycle chains were too dry and too dirty; we had to fix it to avoid chain wear. Solution: to go to a gas station and lubricate them. Well, on our way to the gas station, it started to rain. Solution: to grin and bear it and to sing in the rain. The rain is no longer an issue for us; we walk in it as wild beasts do. At 3 in the afternoon, it started to rain…again. We didn’t even wear the slicker. OK, we travel forth in time. We arrived in our destination at night: Neuhof. We had a booking at the Gasthof hotel. Well, that two hotels had the same name, that’s the devil’s job. We had our reservation in a modern, traditional and charming hotel, with WI-FI internet access and breakfast buffet that takes your breath away. The other hotel had nothing of the sort: no-frills; it was filthy, and it had a kitchen where Freddy Kruger would be more than happy. Guess what: which of these two hotels did we first get into by mistake? On top of that, we’ll have to pay for the other hotel costs because we didn’t show up. Besides, since there was no internet connection, we could neither see tomorrow’s route nor upload it to the GPS, which means we will have to use a map in the old style.

Are we going to be in a bad mood? What for? Forget it! And to think that the stage started off, from the very beginning, with a slight head wind. We woke up at 7 a.m and, under the circumstances, we began cycling round 11 a.m. and got to our destination at 9:04 p.m. Not that bad if we take into account that the sun set at 21:08 p.m. We had to make a hard effort, so much so that there were only 8 kilometers to go and we had to stop to have dinner. Either we had dinner or we couldn’t make it. We ran out of strength for pedaling; we were empty. Salad, fish and potatoes in 20 minutes and, off we went so that it didn’t get dark.

But, it was worth it because we went round interesting spots.

First of all, the road went through two nature reserves: the Nationalpark Hainrich and the Biosphärenreservat Rhön. Since we cycled near the birthplace (Frankfurt am Main) of the German poet and scientist, J.W. Goethe, it doesn’t hurt to recall what he said about how to take in the beauty of the scenery:                                                          

You must, when contemplating nature,
Attend to this, in each and every feature:
There’s nought outside and nought within,
For she is inside out and outside in.
Thus will you grasp, with no delay,
The holy secret, clear as day.

Goethe—“Epirrhema” (1821)

In the second place, we crossed the old border that had separated West from East Germany until 1989. It is curious to see the border patrol surveillance towers, but nobody should forget to feel ashamed while they are visiting them or we wouldn’t have learned the lesson.

Last but not least, we saw the famous salt open-pit mines. Their appearance is amazing; you can spot, from a distance, a huge white mountain that sticks out in the green landscape.

Day 22- Magdeburg- Mulhausen

Posted by admin On Agosto - 2 - 2010ADD COMMENTS

157 kilometers. 8 hours and  12 minutes.

IVAN: Today we gritted our teeth, flexed our muscles and panted for air; we did all this in time to the tandem music when cycling upward. That special swaying rhythmic motion you perform in partner dancing; a gentle and pleasing-to-the-eye motion that makes people who see us cycling fall under its spell (or that’s what I think). The funny thing is that we had a bad time; however, I can say it was a pleasant bad time. It feels so good to suffer when making a good ascent, especially after cycling for 50 kilometers on a flat area; which helped you warm up your legs enough to be on a first-name basis with the upward slope of the mountain.

Today we cycled around the heart of Germany. In fact, although there are still some stages to go, we could see some traces of the so-called BLACK FOREST. What a place! The Swedish, Finnish and Norwegian woods are spectacular and that’s a fact. However, the broad roads in these countries make the woods be at least 10 meters away from you; woods surround you. This is not the case here. Woods are on top of you. You’re not surrounded by woods, you’re deep in the woods. You cannot even see the sun. It’s dark in there. If it rained, you wouldn’t get wet. Another feature that characterizes this area is its road surface that is in perfect condition. The sharp curves make this place a paradise on earth for motorcyclists. We saw bikers in tons; they were wearing multi-colored outfits. Honestly! You should see the motorbikes they ride and the overalls they wear. They look as though they came out of a bag of Lacasitos (colorful button-shaped candies like the M&M’s): here goes a red one, and here goes a green one…

The anecdote of the day: At lunchtime and in the heart of Germany, we were confidently expecting to find a place (in the middle of nowhere or in the middle of everywhere depending on your point of view) where the cook, the owner, the waiter/waitress and the person in charge spoke English. Well, that wasn’t possible. Where we had lunch, there was only one woman who performed the cook, owner, waitress and person in charge roles. And, she didn’t speak English! What’s more, the menu was in perfect German and no translation was available. And, since we were starving and, since J.L and I are not that familiar with the German language, we decided to order one of each of the dishes on the menu, and whatever will be, will be! German food: not suitable for vegetarians, but, for God’s sake, how delicious it is!

Day 21. Berlin- Magdeburg

Posted by admin On Julio - 30 - 2010ADD COMMENTS

156 kilometers. 7 hours and 55 minutes.

JL: We left Berlin after a two-day rest. One rest day had been planned in advanced and the other had been forced off on us under the circumstances. The tandem rear wheel had the same problem we had when cycling in Avila: one of the rear hub cones was loose. So, there was no way out but to pull the entire wheel off the rim, adjust or replace the cones and, assemble the whole thing again. This isn’t something you can do in 30 minutes, let alone in a bike store in Berlin where you have no membership card.

At least we took advantage of these two days to relax our heavily overloaded legs, to eat our fill and to put on some lost weight (some grams that are really necessary when it’s cold and rainy), and to do the laundry. We planted ourselves at the hotel reception wearing our last half clean T-
shirts and said: “Hurry up! These are our last decent garments.”

Berlin has left an indelible mark on us. We feel really bad about leaving but we have to move on; if not, we’ll get used to the good life. Today’s stage started off a bit late because we wanted to snap a series of shots to the remains of the former Berlin Wall. Its outline was simple and without much history, though. We arrived in our destination around 7:30 p.m. We are really looking forward to getting into mountainous areas, and that ain’t no lie. We’re fond of mountains passes. Stages of winding roads are a real legbreaker and which make us go through more muscle pain.

Not only could we see amazing woods again; but also large cereal croplands where machines were harvesting wheat. This is a good harvest season because the weather is dry; otherwise some of the moisture from the harvested grain would have to be removed. We also went by some cherry (in German “kirsche”) production regions. The cherries fell off on the road and formed a sticky paste that mixed with the road dirt, which stuck to the tandem wheels.

We had some qualms about cycling in Germany while our bicycle bag was waving the Spanish flag. As you know, the Spanish soccer team beat Germany in the World Cup semi-final and won the Euro Cup over Germany. In the end, we left our flag on the show. We thought nobody would interpret it as bragging or as if we were waving the bloody shirt.

We are getting closer…

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