12 June, 2007

Days 18-25: Bavaria & my village.

50 miles, 410 miles total.

"Germany has really opened my eyes to how pleasant life can be...It's gonna be hard to go back..."



Das Autobahn, zoom zoom! We got a rental Mercedes and we decided to make the long drive down to Neuschwanstein and the Alps. The drive was the length of our bike tour in an afternoon. The autobahn is the ultimate driving experience. It really makes driving in America seem sad and scary. Most heavy freight is on train or barge, freeing the lanes for slow cars on the right, people going 100mph in the center, and "Get out of the way!" in the left lane. Seriously, get out of their way.

The car of choice for the left lane was Audi wagons, and when they passed we only had a few seconds to see them come and go. My rental came with a sticker warning the tires were only made to drive up to 175km/hr so my speed was around 110mph for a number of hours.

The autobahn felt safe and people drove with the common sense and respect that makes a system like this work. Many Germans can not afford the luxury of frequent autobahn trips, and perhaps this helps to create a high-end automobile experience.

The scenery changed quickly when we arrived in Fussen. Camping was over $20/night since this is a top tourist destination. In the picture above from our campsite you can see a castle, and to the left, up on the mountain, a giant pole that supported a gondola for our hiking trip into Austria.


Schloss Neuschwanstein is a crazy place. Although it is a newer castle (late 19th century), this "over-the-top" fantasy land is only outdone by the real life story of it's creator Ludwig II.


The bike paths around Fussen are sweet, and some of the alps are open to mtn. biking. I don't know if you could ride into Fussen from other regions on paths, but once you're here getting around is easy by bike.

So our backup camera battery is dead, and I have no new pictures.
After a few days down south we drove up to my old house near Ramstein AFB. The lonely abandoned train tracks that we once walked have since been converted into a bicycle highway and that makes me very happy.

We found camping by the lake and rode the paths pictured below. I saw my old house and walked through the fields I played in as a boy. Little had changed and those beautiful fields between villages remained untouched.



Returning to Koln it seemed impossible for such an experience to ever end. We both missed bike touring already. Even though our summer still had much excitement in store, we knew this vacation was special.

Upon our return we would get some rest in Virginia before hiking Yosemite, biking Downieville, and riding in the Tour de Fat- San Francisco.

Best summer ever.

I hope this has been a good read, and I encourage you view the world from the seat of a bicycle.

Tschuss!



06 June, 2007

Day 17: Ride+Train to Koln

"Biking on the Rhine is wunderbar! Such nice bike paths, such nice river views."


This is the last official day of the bike tour since tomorrow I will pick-up a rental car from the airport in Koln.

We took a train from Aachen to Koln with a little confusion. The regular train had broken down and the replacement did not have a bike car. A train worker told us we could not board with our bikes, but when another women with a bike talked herself onto the train, we quickly rolled on board behind her.


There was no place to store the bikes so we had to stand with them and move every time people came on or off the train (just like BART in SF).

Back in Koln there was a Christian festival that had packed the campsites. We went to the campsite on the far side of the river to avoid a huge check-in line.

With the rest of the day we scouted the route to the airport I must ride early tomorrow morning, and loafed around on the Rhine.

05 June, 2007

Day 16: Riding to Aachen

"I ended up liking Aachen, its just hard to navigate once you leave the Zentrum, but the Zentrum was rockin'."



Today we left Belgium and rode back into Germany. The downtown of Aachen was preparing for a large event. It turns out that they were in the middle of religious pilgrimage that happens every seven years.



The dom in Aachen is a UNESCO site since it was the coronation site of some 30+ European kings including Charlemagne, who is fabled to have been born here and still currently resides in an intricate gold box.

Our first attempt to enter the dom was foiled by huge crowds, after a lunch break we tried again.


The architecture of the dom was nice, but the main draw of the pilgrimage was the religious artifacts temporarily put on display. We saw what was claimed to be a tunic worn by Mary, a sack that held the head of Jean the Baptiste, and diapers worn by Jesus... thats right the underpants of J.C.

Church officials gently touched items brought by pilgrims against the cloak of Mary to bless them. Most people brought candles, pictures, BBQ spare ribs, or trinkets..

P.S. Don't forget to take your hat off, I did..

04 June, 2007

Day 15: Riding to Belgium

34 miles today 336 miles total.  "Saw a nun on a bike in full nun outfit."


Since we were so close to the border we decided to spend a night in Belgium. It may seem trivial to cross only a few km beyond the border, but immediately one can tell you are in another country. 

Most notably, the language in Belguim is much more French sounding. The countryside in these parts had much more expensive housing and nice cars instead of bicycles. 

The campsite was wonderful again, lush green vegetation, trails nearby, a restaurant, and it was nearly deserted


03 June, 2007

Day 14: Rest day in Gulpen

 "forest thick with berrybushes...it was crazy beautfiul...tons of baby frogs jumping..."

Camping in Gulpen was the most expensive ($20/tent) along the bike tour, but had trails heading right out of our tent into the nearby woods.


How Holland is different from Germany. 

Germany: Italian eis of every flavor, chocolate, and fine beer.
Holland: vanilla soft serve ice cream (mostly on waffles), chocolate, and fine beer.

The Germans are outgoing and the Dutch more proper.
In Holland people camp in suits, the Germans a sleeveless t-shirt.

Obviously this is an over generalization and not a judgment. The point being that Europe has distinct cultures occupying small geographic spaces.

02 June, 2007

Day 13: Riding to Gulpen

"At one or two points we were in the race." 19 miles today, 302 miles total.


Did I say Holland loves bicycles? Back into the rolling countryside and villages; today we got mixed into a road bike race for a few blocks. When we rolled into Gulpen we saw the end of a cross-country mountain bike race.


The little downtown was banging with live music, local brews, and bike riders everywhere. Later in the afternoon a bus load of hikers flooded in hungry, thirsty, and bubbling with excitement after practicing for an all night hike later this month.

Some of the bike paths here were dream-like. As a bike nut, Gulpen is ideal. You have a choice between joining the hundreds riding road, or going off-road on one of the many linking forest trails. Either way you are surrounded by bike paths!

01 June, 2007

Day 12: Rest day in Maastricht


"There are tons of HUGE bunnies here. Like well-fed pet-sized bunnies." about our campground.


Maastricht is a fancy town and we appeared to be the least well dressed in the entire city. I can't emphasize enough how bike crazy this place is. Everyone from athletes to rich business men/women rode bikes. We saw women riding with fancy dresses complete with high heels.

This city was a little to formal for us but the Dutch live in bike heaven.



31 May, 2007

Day 11: Riding to Maastricht

50 miles today, 283 miles total.  

"P.S. There were tons of hills today, but none too steep."



It did not take long to get out of Aachen, and out of Germany. Holland is in love with bikes, and practically every road is a bike route in the rural southern province. We had the option of crossing dirt farm roads or staying on pavement. 

It makes me so happy to know that bicycles get access like this somewhere on the planet.


It threatened rain all day. With so many bike routes the trick is finding the right one! Packs of roadies passed us with gleams in their eyes and smiles on their faces. The fields of wheat and hops? were amazing and we even saw a windmill. 

The language here is extremely difficult for us and without their English we would be resorting to pointing or using German.

30 May, 2007

Day 10: Riding+Train to Aachen

28 miles today, 234 miles total.


"We are near the vineyards, through the vineyards, through small, quaint villages."


The sun is shining and the bike paths are back on the menu! Returning to Koblenz we saw all the beautiful scenery and bike paths we had missed in the rain. The path along this section is usually not right on the river, but instead meanders through villages and vineyards. 


This was our favorite bit of riding so far. The Mosel is more natural than the Rhine with less cars, trains, and barges.

When in Koblenz we did a little shopping. I got nagelknippers and we had some more Asain food. I was occasionally trying a wurst or schweinfleisch to get a feel for German cuisine. Currywurst and Pommes-Frites became a staple. A hamburger can not be found anywhere beyond McFranchises that I do not frequent. They do occasional offer "Hamburger" on a menu, but they are a pork/vege patty. These are a version more true to the name, and less appetizing to my beef trained tastes.

A tip we picked up is to bring your own water into restaurants. In most eating establishments "wasser" meant a small, bottled, relatively expensive glass of mineral water. No one ever complained when we downed liters of our tap water in order to stay hydrated.


Getting on the train was not difficult. Bikes cost a little extra, and you must check to see if the train has a bike car. A picture of a bike is listed next to the train on the schedule and is posted outside of that car, usually in the front or rear.

When we switched trains in Koln it required us to take our loaded bikes up two escalators and down two flights of stairs in a crowded terminal.

We arrived in Aachen, got lost, and eventually found the campsite after getting directions. The old downtown is pretty darn cool.

29 May, 2007

Day 9: Rest day at Burg Eltz

"A castle hidden away in a beautiful valley"

Burg Eltz is widely regarded as one of the best castles in Germany. Over the hundreds of years it has never been destroyed and the original family still ownes it today. Taking the short but informative tour leads you through the rooms with historical decor.

Burg Eltz gives you a sense what it would be like to live in a castle; cramped, cold, and plumbing that only flushes in the rain.

The hike to the castle from Moselkern is delightful. I highly recommend the walk. The numerous other trails that link together in the woods look tempting.

The remote setting in the misty hills is almost surreal and brings to mind so many fairy-tales.




28 May, 2007

Day 8: Riding to Moselkern

24 miles today, 206 miles total. "Another day, another bike ride."


Rain, rain, rain. While the sunburn on my back is still fresh, today we are shivering in the cold. Early on I ditched my warm layers since it was so hot, but today I am wearing every remaining item.

The ride was not nice since we stayed on the shoulder of the highway all day. Occasionally we would see an attractive bike path, but in the horrid weather we didn't feel like risking getting lost.

At Moselkern the campground was minimal, and the town was totally asleep.

27 May, 2007

Day 7: Rest day at Koblenz

"Yeah for Sunday!"

Sleepy Sunday and we are hanging around town doing laundry at our fabulous campsite, and planning our side-trip up the Mosel River.


The Germans must be a testament to exercise. It seems like most people drink beer/wine, smoke, snack on sweets, and eat fatty meats. I think it is the walking and biking that limits the negative effects of this diet.



There was a little carnival/fair in Koblenz. It looked familiar to us from afar, but upon closer inspection it featured meat, cheese, and house plant auctions. It was more of an outdoor market with kiddie rides. Our favorite place was the gummi-bar. Every type of gummi candy imaginable!


26 May, 2007

Day 6: Riding back to Koblenz

47 miles today, 182 miles total.

"Some random things about Germany I've noticed: city ducks, French fry fork, overalls, and mayonnaise"

Today it is cloudy and an easy ride backtracking downriver to Koblenz. We abandoned our plan to ride a massive loop through Idar-Oberstein to my former home at Greis and back along the Mosel River.

Now we'll ride one day down the Mosel to Burg Eltz castle and return to Koblenz before hopping a train into Holland. I definitely want to go Dutch for a few days.

We stopped for pizza in Bacharach, which is pretty but a bit touristy.


In Koblenz we pitched camp and headed into town for dinner. We found an Asian restaurant that had many vegetarian options. Being vegetarian limits Heather's choices here and we often resort to fries. Walking home dark clouds rolled in and lightning filled the sky.

25 May, 2007

Day 5: Riding to Bingen

28 miles today, 135 total.

"Thought that today was the most beautiful stretch of the Rhine so far."


We started the day early at nearby castle Rheinfels. The grounds are extensive and we had a great time exploring the castle by ourselves before the tourist shuttles arrived. Being alone helps me visualize the castle of ages past, instead of being shuffled along by a tour guide. Ruins rock!


I would recommend this castle, especially if you have kids or are a kid at heart, since you can run around and get hands on with history.



After the castle we broke camp and headed up the Rhine. The views today were spectacular, and so was the heat! The past couple days have been downright hot and the German men are sporting their speedos.


The bike path meanders from highway shoulder to village gardens or along the river's edge. Lovely riding.



As we rolled into Bingin, construction had torn up most of the Rhine bike path and we saw no detour signs. The town was less romantic and the campground was lumpy.

Frustrations boiled over since we were still recovering, adjusting, and getting mayonnaise on salads.

24 May, 2007

Day 4: Riding to St. Goar

"Ate a can of spaghetti for dinner. Best dinner we've had since Virginia."

22 miles today, 107 miles total.


Today we broke camp and easily found the path along the Rhine.


The path itself was often narrow cobblestone or situated next to the highway, but still excellent riding.

The seemingly endless views of castles kept our spirits high.


There are nice little towns along the river. Our favorite, and a great place for eis (ice cream), was Boppard.

At the end of the day we arrived at another luxurious camp in St. Goar, located at a notorious bend in the Rhine known for rapids and nasty currents.

23 May, 2007

Day 3: Riding to Koblenz

"My butt is not too badly chaffed."  65 miles today, 85 miles total.





Today was our highest mileage day at 105km. This got us to Koblenz. The only confusing part is just south of Koln where you encounter a power plant. When you go over the train tracks only cross the first set. The path is there and not in the village on the other side of the 2nd set. There were no clear signs.
I've read that this section is not scenic and we considered skipping it by train, but I'm glad we did not. Although you see no castles, the path is great and feels so...German...


Heading into Koblenz the path gets a little scattered, just watch for signs.
Koblenz itself is a charm of a city. The historically restored downtown is beautiful and has great access to shopping/restaurants. This city is just over 100,000 people and felt more our pace compared to Koln at nearly a million.



The campsite here was our favorite for the price. It had a really laid-back atmosphere. It was the only busy campsite we encountered, probably due to the great location right on the confluence of the Rhine and Mosel Rivers. I expect it gets full during peak months since it was popular with Dutch, German, and non-Euro vacation goers alike.

Our camping neighbors were two Australians riding the Rhine from Budapest to Amsterdam. They had been riding for weeks and loving every minute.

22 May, 2007

Day 2: Rest day at Koeln

"We walk along the river and talk of communism." 20 miles today.

It doesn't take long to realize that bikes have awesome access around Koln. We rolled out of the airport and onto a bike path! 

The numerous bridges that cross the Rhine all had great bike paths separate from traffic.


When we got to "Neumarkt" (new downtown) I stopped at Meyerische, a large bookstore chain. The bike map department was huge! You could get bike maps for almost anywhere within 500 miles. I picked up some Bikeline maps and we did a little sight seeing.



To end the day we stayed in one of the two fine camps located just south of downtown on the Rhine. Most campgrounds include showers, washing machines, and a store/restaurant. It really isn't roughing it. These camps are right in the city and are amazingly safe.

21 May, 2007

Day 1: San Francisco to Cologne, via Richmond, VA

"Lordy. It has been a battle, a trip through hell, died and reborn."

Since we were flying over the east coast it was a great time to visit my parents.

I arrive at my parental sanctuary-resort from Atlanta feeling a bit off. During diner I got full quickly and retired early. That night I was up sick till morning.

We could not delay our departure for any reasonable amount of money.
After another restless night, still unable to eat or drink more than a few sips, I embarked onto a small aircraft for a shuttle to NJ. Our plane sat on the tarmac without water for five painful hours before taking off. In New Jersey it was raining and we had missed our departure; to be rescheduled tomorrow.

Over the next 10 hours at the airport hotel I started to feel human again. The next day, while waiting for our flight in the terminal, Heather encouraged me to eat while we waited to board. I refused and let her use my food vouchers.

After flying through the night we caught our first glimpse of the Rhine in the morning light. The anticipation of assembling the bikes and finding our hotel had me feeling better. Heather, on the other hand, was having increasing stomach pains; much the same as I had. This was going to be ugly.


I have not eaten and barely drank in two and a half days and now Heather is looking worse every 20 minutes. Standing in line at customs we drew a few glances. I was conserving energy by taking a knee in line, Heather was making audible moans while clutching her stomach, both of us were pale and sweaty.

We had to exchange currency, assemble the bikes, dispose of the cardboard boxes, and then ride to the "Bett und Bike" hotel.

assembling our bikes in the airport


Heather held together amazingly well, forced to stay with our luggage as I ran through the terminals asking where to dispose of large cardboard boxes and exchange money. When I could not find a place to dispose of the boxes, we decided to walk outside to look for a dumpster with our bikes.

We got 10ft (9m) outside the revolving doors when Heather got sick.
Food poisoning? Nasty stomach virus? We'll never know.

After getting slightly lost, discovering we had no local maps and didn't know how to work the rented British cell-phone, we found the hotel thanks to a friendly local.

It was beautiful and the TV had bike racing on two channels. Totally exhausted, I wept in bed as Heather worked through her sickness.

After an hour we went to buy nourishment in the form of vegetable broth & potato chips. We forced ourselves to stay awake until 6:30pm local time by walking the neighborhood in a half-dead zombie-daze. 

At 6:29pm we collapsed in an epic manner of emotional and physical magnitude.

16 May, 2007

Germany & Netherlands Tour

http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/euro2007

410 miles over 25 days along the Rhine and Mosel Rivers, with side-trips to Southern Netherlands and Bavaria.

--
Germany & Holland embrace bicycles. No one makes you feel weird for accommodating your bike. It is a fact of life.

Our bike trip will follow well traveled routes, the Rhine and Mosel Rivers, except for gaunts into southern Holland and Bavaria.


The following pages are short descriptions of what we did each day and what the bicycle riding was like along that route. Without Heather's journaling I would be at a loss for specific details, the quotes are from her writing.

-enjoy-

Germany and Holland have ideal bike riding. If your perfect vacation includes miles of dedicated bike path, scenic surroundings both natural and man-made, no exposure to heavy or fast vehicular traffic, concise maps and signs, and easy access to camping then you will not be disappointed.

I spent more time researching routes and sites than one would need. It was nice to have all the background info, but our plans changed almost daily and maps were always readily available.

Originally, I wanted to go up the Rhine and loop back on the Mosel. Instead we abandoned the plans. Why rush? We wanted to leave time for a leisurely trip to Holland and my old stomping grounds at Greis.

We visited 3 very unique and noteworthy castles. Burg Eltz (historically preserved), Rinefels (ruins), and Schloss Neuschwanstein (most famous).
Hiking is very popular and leaving the bike is the only way to "wander" many of these trails. Try currywurst, avoid "hamburgers"*(see day 10), and when you cross paths with a festival stay a while!

I feel comfortable speaking broken German, but I was at a loss with Dutch. I was delighted when my German elicited a response, even if I did not understand a single word. Thankfully every person we spoke with knew some English. In fact so many people spoke so well, that I began to feel silly asking if they spoke English.

_Favorites of the Germany/Holland tour_
-Best cities: Koblenz, Koln, Boppard, Gulpen, Fussen-
-not worrying about getting run-over again & uber-respectful drivers!
-beautiful pastoral scenery mixed with tranquil forests, both green in spring-
-endless paths, lanes, routes, trails for bikes-
-those paths and routes have great signs and maps-
-friendly people and great quality of life-
-Wunderbar Eis, gummi's, chocolade-
-bike cars on trains-
-camping downtown, and its safe!-
-bustling people-oriented city centers (cafes in the streets instead of cars)-
-seeing so many regular bike riders-
-experiencing another way of life-
== == == ==

GEAR
I spent less than $300 for two rear and one front rack with panniers.
I used cheap nylon panniers and inexpensive dry bags that fit inside of them. This was a slight inconvenience since it took a number of bungees and compression straps to make them stable.
All our stuff
basic tent (REI halfdome)
sleeping bags and therma-rests
maps & guides
bike tools, tubes
extra day's food, snacks
clothes
tarps
rain-gear
toiletries
hiking sandals
personal items (camera, journal, good luck charms)
== == ==

Financing:
We went in May-June and it was the end of off-season. Although tourists are always found mid-day at the most popular destinations, we avoided the summer peak and reaped the benefits of saving money and time competing with crowds.

The most expensive part was the plane tickets. We found camping for $12-17 per night, groceries similar to US retail, eating out was more expensive w/19% tax and 5% tip, medium length train rides about $30/person with bike, and we got student discounts on castle admissions for about $12.
-- -- -- --

Bike maps can be obtained along the way, or often found posted at local paths. Digging into some Deutsch web-pages revealed detailed maps all over Germany.

http://www.germany-tourism.de/cycling/cycling.htm
for an overview map and route information
http://bicyclegermany.com/
for advice, route descriptions, and help with language/laws
http://holland.cyclingaroundtheworld.nl/
to convince yourself you should also go to Holland