Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Weathering summer storms I:In the Eifel

Even though we are retired, we plan our cycling excursions somewhat in advance of weather forecasts. By the time we’ve organised cancelling the paper, mowing the grass and engaging friends to water or harvest whatever fruit or vegetable our tiny garden is producing, potential settled high pressure has often been seen off by dark and cloudy depressions. So it was with our Eifel tour in mid May. The Eifel region is a plateau in northern Rheinland-Pfalz roughly bounded in the south by the Mosel/Moselle and on the east by the Rhine. Other rivers like the Kyll, a Mosel tributary and the Ahr, which flows into the Rhine just upstream of Remagen have cut deep valleys while the uplands in this still tectonically active region continue to rise very slowly. As ever friends scratched their heads as to why we wanted to take to the hills by bike. As usual we found that with a bit of guile in the route planning and pacing ourselves on the uphills we thoroughly enjoyed our trip, despite a few downpours.
Day 1 En route to Trier by train, we were discouraged by a group of purple-kneed, soaked mountain bikers who threw themselves and their bikes suddenly into our compartment just beyond Kaiserslautern and shivered in their wet clothes, as the train pottered on through cloudbursts. By Trier the worst was over and we sailed with a tailwind, skirting the puddles, upstream along the familiar Mosel Radweg towards Luxembourg and Schengen. There is a short hiatus close to the frontier because there is no room beneath the bridge for a bike path but we were soon in Luxembourg, grateful for an excellent public toilet by the bridge. Our route continued alongside the Sauer/Sûre river, on quiet roads or cycleways, short climbs followed by flatter sections as the hills closed in around the incised meanders. Here and there war memorials reminded us that this region was in the front-line towards the end of WWII. By the time we reached the bridge at Bollendorf, our overnight stop, the weather was sultry and both of us sweated as we pushed our bikes up near vertical narrow streets to the YH, perched high above the village and back in Germany. The thoughtful wardens served us an excellent meal of tomato soup, roast chicken and veggies plus stewed fruit, in quiet splendour in a spare dining room away from the madding crowd of teenagers. We followed this with a beer in the cellar bar and retired to our comfortable double room pleased with our start.
Day 2 After a good breakfast we loaded the bikes under lowering clouds and set off northwards, losing a little of the height gained the evening before, reaching a minor road over our first real Eifel ridge which we crossed easily. We descended steeply into Enzen, taking a quick look at a castle on the way. From here the Enz cycleway, a converted railway line complete with lighted tunnels and viaducts was to lead us to Prüm. Woods, wildflowers, birds big and small were our companions the whole day as we thanked the railway builders, constricted by the physical limitations of the coefficient of steel on steel to gradients eminently suited to elderly cyclists. Even occasional showers weren’t enough to dampen our spirits, or the final climb to Prüm YH, a wonderful modern building where our room was hotel standard, large, airy and with twin beds plus en suite bathroom. Meanwhile the weather forecasts were looking ever grimmer, with falling temperatures adding to the gloom. Ah well, to think I’d brought a new tricot to brighten up our picture record!
Day 3 If you start the day in the headwaters of one valley and end in the headwaters of another, clearly climbing is necessary. Northwards in the Enz valley out of Prüm a concrete highroad bridge soared over to our right. After a climb steep enough to make both hearts and lungs work faster we crossed beneath the bridge and then looked down on the poor souls in their metal boxes, en route to meetings or whatever. Our way now rolled over high meadows and woods, through villages and past wind turbines, now down, now gently up heading towards Gerolstein. This is the home of a former noted German cycle racing team sponsored by the local mineral water company. This extracts water from wells deep beneath the volcanic rocks. The promised bad weather seemed to have passed by so we turned right before Gerolstein down the Kyll valley cycleway. The Kyll is delightful, mature woods interspersed with meadows, farms and villages, castles dotted here and there and linked for the cyclist by well surfaced trails, new bridges and picnic places. Information boards in English, French and German abound as this route has been designed to be child friendly to attract families as well as school parties. We bowled along gently downhill enjoying the sights and the ride, knowing that we could board a train for the trip back uphill. We stopped cycling in Kyllburg, just before the cycleway makes a short, very steep ascent to avoid a gorge, but after we’d cycled through a tunnel still in use by the trains (separated by high wire fences, but still making the heart beat). We fancied an ice cream, or lunch but the station restaurant was having its Ruhetag (i.e. closed day) so we diverted to a nearby supermarket, just in time for the first rain. That night it poured as we wended our way to a restaurant, ate well and braved the rain on return.
Day 4 Rain showers were still lashing the streets and pavillions erected in advance of a huge cycle fest over the weekend as we woke but had slackened to drizzle as we headed towards Pelm. We made a shortish tour to Daun over hill and dale, through forests and rarely out of sight of wind generators. It seems Daun is one of those places only reached by climbing steeply, whatever the direction of approach. We wanted to visit the Geological Museum there to bone up on the crater lakes dotting the landscape. First we needed to find the YH, which inevitably was perched on a crag in the woods. After some sweat and cursing we got there, dumped our bags and returned, uphill to the Museum (fortunately well worth a visit). Our evening was much enlivened by meeting a couple of Aussie motor cyclists, somewhat missing the promised German summer, so we drowned our sorrows together in the bar (a beer each, no worries).
Day 5 To the station in drizzle, with temperatures sinking. We wanted to take the Eifel Querbahn over to Ulmen. This is an historic diesel powered railcar, running at the weekends in summer and chugs along gently swaying through the woods and fields. Staff actually lifted our bikes aboard and handed the ‘old lady’ up and down! (Unfortunately since our visit one railcar has been rammed by a truck on a level crossing, with some casualties, so we are not sure of its future.) In Ulmen the weather was fine and bright with a fierce wind, fortunately mostly behind us. We headed north, through beautiful beech woods along bike trails linking villages devoid of shops where ‘the fox and hare say goodnight to each other’ as the Germans say. Intermittent rain, scudding clouds and wind turbines. Somewhere up ahead was the Nürburgring, said to cause traffic problems at weekends, and today was...a Saturday. Up, down, through Kelberg with its wartime air raid shelter cut into the hillside, then the climb to Nürburg began. Our information said that a route existed for cyclists, under, over, via the Ring so we slowly ground up an old rail trail conscious of apparent swarms of giant maddened bees off to our left, but without real worries about crossing the Ring. At last at the top, bee swarms clearly machines being driven to breaking point and...our cycle route ended in a building site of Olympic proportions. Signs ‘We are building an Erlebniszentrum (Experience Centre), we hope you understand’! Sure, much putting it down to experience and heading to the road (a normal public road, as used by normal vehicles) as a poorer alternative. Diversion! More Experience, and all free! Underwhelmed we returned to the building site where little old lady cyclist questioned security officers of route to freedom. No problems, straight on, ignore signs. A couple of hundred metres on, more road closures and another hi-vis guy. Still no problem, all downhill from here, soon into Nürburg village, he insisted. Well, the downhill soon turned into uphill and a feeder road for would-be Jenson Buttons, including a couple of JBs driving a bus and a Landrover who nearly took us out on the hard shoulder, deafened as we were by the maddened bees on the actual track. Then miraculously we were past and standing below the castle itself - the Nürburg, the highest in the whole of the Eifel. Relief, blow the castle, because our route took us down through fields and woods, past totally unknown villages like Quiddelbach, Herschbroich and Broidscheid, each gentle descent leading to another and even the sun breaking through. The quaint town of Adenau, on Sundays is a draw for be-leathered fans of two and four wheeled speed machines, drinking their decaffeinated lattes or being photographed next to something sleek and low slung, that clearly wasn’t theirs. Full of moral superiority we veered right onto the bike trail again, river banks, foals in fields and still running downhill to meet the Ahr cycleway by Dumpelfeld. Despite the valley apparently being far too narrow and the sides actually rock cliffs at times, to accommodate road, railway and bike path we found one all the way into Altenahr, just as pretty and quaint as Adenau but with fewer bikers and speed kings. We’d promised ourselves a beer or at least Kaffee and Kuchen if we made it alive from the Nürburgring but somehow we kept looking for the perfect place and eventually settled for the YH, almost hidden downstream in the valley depths. It seemed not quite as welcoming as Bollendorf, though the food was great.
Day 6 Yesterday we had both worn windproofs and pullovers the whole day and on our last day it rained most of the way down the Ahr valley, so we needed care on various wooden bridges and overpasses on route to Sinzig and our train. We were probably 5 minutes late in starting and in Kurort Bad- Neuenahr-Ahweiler we were also slowed by the Sunday morning strollers so we missed our intended train by a few minutes. It wasn’t much of a disaster, the weather was brightening up and we eventually enjoyed our trip to Worms with a change in Bingen. Keen-eyed husband Neil had noted that a change to a meandering, flower plucking local train enabled use of our over 60’s special passes. As we detrained in Worms it was clear that summer had broken out again so my new tricot did get an airing, Kaffee and Kuchen were eaten in style in a pavement cafe before we cycled home, across the Rhine bridge and through the fields south.
Rain yes, hills sure, but definitely great scenery, few cyclists and well worth the effort.

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