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.


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.