Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Bicycle Museums Part III

The Musée de l’Aventure Peugeot (Peugeot Museum of Adventure) in Sochaux in the Doubs Valley near Montbelliard obviously shows a lot of motor cars, but also has 300 bicycles, scooters, mopeds and motorcycles in the museum's collection of which about 130 are shown at any one time. It also has a good collection of pepper mills and coffee grinders. Peugeot built pepper mills, coffee grinders and bicycles before branching out into motorcycles and cars

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Bicycle Museums Part II

From what I can gather the only bicycle museum in the Netherlands is the Velorama in Nijmegen. It has 250 bicycles including a hobby horse from 1817 or a replica of it. The museum is well worth visiting if only see the photograph of Queen Wilhelmina on her bicycle with the royal bicycle on display. What impressed me as well was the realisation that many of the features of the modern bicycle: gearing, springing and folding appeared very early on, but were not taken up.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Bicycle Museums Part I

A bicycle collector friend of ours, (A bicycle collector is defined as someone who has more bicycles than me.) sent me a link recently to
which is not a museum in the usual sense of the word but an archive. We received this when we returned from a cycling holiday in Tournus, Burgundy. The town has a bicycle museum. We did not know this before we went and unfortunately found out about the place after it closed for the winter(http://www.enviesdevelo.com in French). It is open for individuals from Easter until All Saints Day (November 1st), but groups can visit the whole year round by appointment. Obviously we did not visit the museum but the next time we are travelling through the area we will try to stop in or near Tournus and visit it. It struck us that we could well try to set up a list of bicycle museums and or museums with bicycles to add interest to cycle tours and or provide suggestions for somewhere to shelter when the weather is wet rather than the usual bus shelter. So watch this space.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

A rant about the Rhine cycleway

Apologies, but it needs to be said. The Rhine is the third or fourth most popular cycle route in Germany, in spite of the efforts of the provincial, local and probably national governments. The Cycleway has four or five names each with its own symbols: On Lake Constance it is the Bodensee Cycleway; Between Constance and Basel it is the Hochrhein Cycleway. In Basel the route becomes the Rhine Cycleway up to Remagen where it changes its name to the Erlebnisweg Radschiene. Then after Düsseldorf (plus minus) it swops to the Rhine Cycleway again, don't ask me why.

Once it crosses over the border into the Netherlands the route as such disappears. The Rhine gets another name. It is not critical in the Netherlands as the excellent Knooppunt system allows easy navigation. See http://www.fietsnet.be/routeplanner/default.aspx which shows an example in Flemish about Belgium where the same system is used. Life would be a lot a better if the Germans could adopt this system of navigation. It is ironic that this will probably not occur because of the problems of interprovincial cooperation, because this system was invented by a German mining engineer in the mines around Maastricht.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

At the Travel Show Part 3

Eurovelo Routes
Remembering a pioneering bike tour we’d made from Mannheim to Orange (Rhone Valley) in our early days of cumbersome bikes, primitive panniers and quick to wet but slow to dry cotton clothing, we homed in on the Franche-Comté stand, to see what was new. Nantes to Budapest, Eurovelo Route 6 or the Atlantic to the Black Sea (4446 km) runs right through Franche-Comté (F-C). We had found our first (to us) new bike trail. The department of F-C lies south of Lorraine and Alsace, bordering the Rhine close to Basel, then running into the Jura hills along the Swiss border. When we rode through from Mulhouse to Belfort, Montbéliard and along the R. Doubs both cycleways and signposts were few. We made our own tour using the numerous D roads through wooded hills, sleepy villages and towns. The Doubs canal towpath boasted the usual French ‘c’est interdit...’ signs but as all the locals ignored them, we did too. It was not always easy to find places to stay, but we enjoyed the great variety of beds and the memorable notice in one hotel ‘in case of fire, open the window and make yourself known’. Fortunately the night’s worst problem was a violently sloping bed so the uphill body slipped down, the lower sleeper woke up, then walked round to the upper level to take their revenge. We ate wonderful meals, usually choosing the mid-priced menu and didn’t worry too much about what the collection of small birds on our plates had been when alive. We saw hardly any other touring cyclists and only had to joust with French camions for short distances. The Doubs is the rather strange river we had last seen whilst riding in the Swiss Jura, where it flows northeastwards through Pontarlier. As the Jura hills were folded along a NE-SW axis the river cut across the line of the folds in deep gorges until finally by Montbéliard it swung again to flow southwest, eventually into Rhone tributary, the Saone. The booklet we picked up covers the section from Dole to Belfort (187 km) and has detailed maps with information in French, English and German about things to see (lots), tourist offices, bike shops, restaurants, cyclist wardens as well as museums. The cyclist wardens, Velo guards are dressed in red and their aim is to offer assistance, first aid and advice rather than to act as police it seems. The information indicates that certain sections along waterways or by slopes can be hazardous, to careless riders. An accommodation list covers groups as well as individuals. It appears that almost the entire route is traffic free, well-surfaced and ‘signalized’ or signposted we would say. In cities like Montbéliard main roads need to be crossed with care, one section beyond Dole towards the Saone was still provisional in August 2010. Reading the information and looking at the maps suggests that the delightful, varied cities and landscapes along our old route are now accessible to the cyclist with less of the pioneering spirit needed. No doubt the ‘interdit’ signs have vanished too! Check out www:franche-comte.org

What about the rest of the route?
A useful website is http://www.eurovelo6.org/ which has practical details concerning travel and visa requirements. It also suggests that the whole route is complete, though whether this means all the signposts are in place is debatable. The initiative for these routes came from umbrella organisation European Cyclists’ Federation (ECF). This is consists of representatives from national cycling clubs from inside and outside the EU. It aims both to represent cyclists’ interests generally and to lobby for improvements in cycle routes and improved safety for people on bikes. It may have a better chance of attracting funds designed to increase bike riding in towns and other ‘green’ transport initiatives, e.g. in 2008 the EU transport committee agreed a grant of €300 000 to this end, so not peanuts! The various Eurovelo routes link existing cycle ways and to qualify have to pass through at least two countries. Find more information by typing Eurovelo into a search engine. The websites suggest that 12 routes are at least partially complete, athough some seem to have few real grounds for hanging together. Cycling along many parts of any of them is interesting as we know (largely by chance, e.g. Andermatt to Rotterdam). Within the UK we know that there is interest in that part of the North Sea route (Eurovelo 12) which runs along the island’s east coast and continues after a sea break in the Shetland Islands. However, perhaps Eurovelo 5, London to Brindisi (3900 km) might lack a defining raison d’etre?

Monday, August 02, 2010

At the Travel Show Part 2

Many German cities like Frankfurt, Leipzig or Cologne have huge, purpose built exhibition halls for trade fairs or shows that are held regularly like the Book Fair in Frankfurt. In Cologne the RDA Workshop ‘only’ occupied two floors of one of the halls, but we entered via another, up imposing steps then over shiny granite floors through empty enormous spaces out into courtyards. Finally we reached the RDA building, completed the formalities and suitably identified with badges, descended onto the floor. The giant space before us was filled with a multitude of stands, information leaflets by the million and, this being Germany lots of people in Tracht (traditional dress - Lederhosen and Dirndls were favourite). He who hesitates in a trade fair ends up with aching feet and armfuls of irrelevant bumf, so we pushed on, heads up to find the Romantic Road stand first. Our cycling guide to this route from Würzburg to Füssen is being updated and revised (see www.bergstrassebikebooks.com for details) so we were anxious to check in with Jürgen Wünschenmeyer, the CEO of the Touristik-Arbeitsgemeinschaft-Romantische Strasse to hear how signposting of a few minor route changes was progressing. A mixed message, some good some bad news, which is not unusual with individual towns being responsible for local stretches. Some eMails and letters have since been fired off to encourage action.
However, working nearby were staff from both Rothenburg ob der Tauber and Augsburg, both stopping points along the approximately 450 km Romantic Road cycle route. One of our latest ventures is to whet potential cyclists’ appetites by publicising the many networks of local and regional cycleways around the towns between Würzburg and Füssen. Some of these are easy to find on the web and are partly or wholly in English. Others are obscure. Knowing that cyclists could spend a few days exploring well-signposted routes from a base in Augsburg or the Pfaffenwinkel villages we think may appeal to those who don’t want to pack up and move on each day. The Rothenburg odT connection had to admit that they were working on the idea, possibly for next year, whilst the Augsburg folks have promised us some more definite information. Within 30 minutes our meetings had achieved results that would have taken far longer with phone, fax or internet.
Now we had time and interest in making a few more connections and discoveries about cycling possibilities in other parts of Europe. Our feet were still fresh and fragrant, our rucksacks ready to gobble maps and cycling information.
Useful websites: www.romantischestrasse.de and www.romantic-road-coach.de

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Transport Show in Cologne Part 1

On July 28 we visited the RDA Workshop in Cologne, Germany. We travelled by train and had the first interest of the day as we waited in Mannheim for our Intercity northwards. A long train en route for Basel drew in across the platform and the last two carriages had strikingly different liveries. They turned out to be the Minsk-Basel and Moscow-Basel sleepers. Although in summer we would not have expected bits of snow encrusted here and there, we later heard reports of searing temperatures and forest fires among Russia’s forests so perhaps there had been a few whiffs of singed paint work. From one of the carriages a party clearly wearing Eastern European fashions, stepped out, then shook hands with a large jolly blonde woman, as we tried in vain to catch a glimpse of a samovar within. Mannheim railway station, a prosaic workaday place disappeared as Anna Karenina, steppe and taiga seeped from films and books into our mind’s eye. Then the doors slammed, Minsk and Mocba disappeared down the track towards Basel and Switzerland.
Our journey to Cologne was protracted by technical problems, the wrong sort of rain or a landslide or two so after a cup of dreadful DB coffee we returned to thinking of Russian trains. It had always been possible to get to Russia by train from hereabouts, even with the Iron Curtain still in place. Commuting daily from Weinheim to Frankfurt in the early nineteen nineties Neil had occasionally observed dark green, very old-fashioned rolling stock three times a week, which linked Berne with Moscow. It was an interesting, though not a particularly enticing, thought at the time, with the hostile wastelands of East Germany and Poland to cross. To us island born Cold War children it also hinted at romance and impossible distances. Imagine an Edinburgh to Istanbul Express stopping at Wigan North West!
You could easily get a couple of Bromptons in those wagons we thought, even if carriage of bicycles is officially forbidden. One of our minor forms of what some cyclists call ‘soft anarchy’ is to quietly travel with a bike in a bag on some of Europe’s more exclusive trains. Does one still need a visa for Moscow or Minsk, and where on earth exactly IS Minsk? (Capital of Belarus, some distance west of Moscow itself.) Research has revealed that just boarding the train and hoping to set off in either place for the other by bike isn’t that easy since many travel restrictions still exist and individual journeys by cyclists are regarded by the authorities as dangerously eccentric at the least.
However we were on our way to a Workshop, aka Trade Fair about bus and group travel but with increasing interest in cyclists. Who knew what ideas and information, what routes and fantasies, we would have by the late afternoon?

Friday, July 30, 2010

From Riesling to Pike-Perch

New cycling routes tend to spring up in Germany rather like unwanted garden weeds, so after reading in our local paper about a route combining wine and fish eating we decided to hop on bikes and trains and investigate. The von Riesling zum Zander route links Bad Bergzabern (a well known wine centre on the far west of the Rhine Rift Valley) with Neupotz, a tiny village set in the old ox-bow lakes of the Rhine. Our train journey there was enlivened by many Sunday cyclists crowding the bike compartment, plus a young father and daughter (about 9) with bikes and a huge trailer. By squeezing and breathing in everyone managed to get in AND more importantly get out at the correct stops. The worst weeks of the heat wave (36°C) lay behind us and we detrained into a sunny but cool morning in Kapellen-Drusweiler, one of the wine-growing villages a few kilometres east of Bad Bergzaben. We were a bit early for a Schoppen (a small glass) of wine, though the vintners were setting out their stalls by 11 o’clock. Their half-timbered yards bedecked with geraniums and petunias were most inviting, prices too much lower than in downtown Mannheim. The Riesling-Zander route links a series of existing cycle routes and we had no difficulty following the white signs with a green bike symbol from village to village. We had downloaded a map from the internet link before leaving home. On reaching the little town of Winden, thoughts of a coffee and cake lured us into a shady courtyard. At the entrance a man wearing a protective apron was just removing the first freshly smoked trout from a large black oven, the fish dangling on wooden staves, skins glistening and golden. Cake was abandoned, a smoked trout brötchen (open sandwich) ordered instead with our coffee. Quite delicious. Later the fish farmer explained that he came from Hinterweidenthal close to Pirmasens further west. Another of our favourite bike routes runs from there to Wissembourg in Alsace, so we’ll remember to eat smoked trout on our next visit.
More cyclists were appearing so we continued on across a gradually changing landscape, up and down gentle slopes, through stands of mature trees, leaving the line of the Pfalzer hills behind to the west. Each village was delightful, a few cobbled streets, farms and churches dozing in the sun, half-timbered houses more than 300 years old with new modern dwellings dotted in between and on the outskirts. Steinweiler offered more vintners and a maize labyrinth whilst in Erlenbach we enjoyed a cool mineral water at a potter’s shop without too much pressure to buy a giant plant pot. From time to time there was a glimpse over the forests close to the Rhine to the northern Black Forest hills beyond, dark blue shading into black.
We cycled into the long village of Rheinzabern, where the tiny houses have their gable ends to the street and long gardens at the back. Here we were enticed into a wonderland leading from a narrow yard between two restored half-timbered cottages. A series of outdoor rooms, a la Chelsea Flower Show had been created with flowers and bushes whilst behind a planted screen a round table had been set for tea. Most impressive, since it is still unusual for people to open their private gardens to the public here in Germany, though it seems to be catching on in nearby Alsace. Across the road was another delight where a farming family had turned their stables into a collection of implements and carts, together with clothing and articles in daily use from the beginning of the last century. It does come as something of a shock to see things my Grandmother used to have, in a museum! Tempus Fugit, once again.
By this time, the effects of our fish sandwich in Winder had long since worn off so we were pleased to reach Neupotz and signs to the Otterbachhofladen (an enormous timber framework barn, set out with long tables, decorated with bundles of wheat and wild flowers). Normally there is a farm shop here. A Radler (literally a cyclist but meaning a beer/lemonade shandy) and a sizeable plateful of German potato salad, a substantial Bratwürst and a crisp bread bun each, soon restored us. Unfortunately neither of us had room to sample some interesting confections, looking like giant jam and cream scones, being tackled by several local senior citizens... perhaps next time? Observing preparations for speeches and music on a stage in the middle of the barn, plus various individuals dressed in local costume and the promise of the appearance of a Tobacco Queen and South Wine Road Princess we gathered our plates and glasses and left town.
We still had about 20 km to ride northwards along the main Rhine embankment cycleway to reach Germersheim. As we entered the water meadows, lagoons and stands of massive willows bordering the Rhine our tempo increased along smooth tarmac. These are service roads alongside the flood embankments, with occasional pumping stations or access to the river bank. For cyclists they are a great boon and in high summer give superb stretches of every shade of greenery. Shortly before Germersheim we reached the riverside, where people and dogs paddled in the shallows or snoozed on a bench. The town is lovely with vast fortifications, partly intact and built too late to be any use. We cycled past the old moat and towers to the station and our train back to Mannheim. Back home our speedos displayed distances of around 76 km, mostly on trails unknown to us before. Another great day out in Rheinland Pfalz.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Yet more hire bikes in Rhineland Palatinate

The heat recently (35°C) has put us off doing any serious cycling though we did have a day out on Sunday cycling the new Vom Riesling zum Zander route from the Deutsche Weinstraße just north of Bad Bergzabern across to the Rhine. There were wine fests, farmers offering local produce and restaurants with Riesling and Zander dishes along the route's 35km. Zander is freshwater fish known as pike-perch in English and has a firm white flesh. It tastes excellent.

We also discovered a local bike hire company called fahrradverleih-suedpfalz.de. The company offers the full spectrum of bicycles apart from tandems: Road bikes, touring bikes, city bikes, trailers, MTBs and pedelec electrobikes at very reasonable prices. If you are thinking of going cycling starting in or around Speyer or Karlsruhe and don't wish to transport your bike to the Fatherland then check it out. The company has a free telephone number: 0800 22 88 440 (in Germany) or drop it a line at Fahrradverleih-Suedpfalz.de, Mühlweg 2, 76771 Hördt, Germany

Friday, July 16, 2010

The local bike shop

Like most of us I am all in favour of local bike shops (LBS), as are the national cycling clubs of Europe. When I write local I mean the kind of shop where the owner stands behind the counter, rather than the big sheds out on the bypass. Although all of these guys face serious competition from the Internet shops. I think we are slightly more logical than some of the national cycling clubs who profess to support their LBS, but offer a link to a major online shop on their websites.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Neustadt-Speyer Route

Last year we began our exploration of day excursions by bike in Rheinland Pfalz, the next province over on the west bank of the Rhine. We cycle into Mannheim (12km) then take a local railway usually to Neustadt an der Weinstrasse. Our over 60 ticket, which costs around 1€ per day allows us and our bikes to travel at no extra cost after the morning rush hour. Often we take other connections from Neustadt a.d. Weinstrasse to reach further into the Pfalz but this time we cycled out to Speyer (about 35km). Neustadt is a vineyard town on gentle slopes at the edge of the fault line marking the Rhine Rift Valley. Though they often moan about prices and problems, caused by anything from hailstorms to droughts and EU bureaucracy, most vintners make a reasonable living and the small towns have attractive buildings suggesting prosperity for centuries. Despite the media gloom-makers, true to form Neustadt's downtown area was marked by several major building projects, necessitating the removal or destruction of bike route signs. Away from the station we headed off in the general direction of Speyer and soon found ourselves trapped in pleasant countryside on the wrong side of an expressway (see first picture). After the usual cursing we found a bridge over the expressway (there nearly always is one in Germany, if only for the local farmers) and after a little thrashing in the woods on very local trails we soon hit our required NW-SP cycleway. The surface was hard gravel and led us through mixed woods, beloved by a wide variety of birds according to display boards put up by the local bird fanciers. The birds themselves trilled and sang, light winds kept us cool as we exchanged woods for fields and moved gradually eastwards. Occasionally we had to cross proper roads but traffic was sparse. A wooden shelter came in handy for our picnic stop and we had just finished as a tractor appeared to turn rows of cut grass ready for baling. We continued along the southern margin of the extensive strip of woodland lying east-west between Speyer and Neustadt. Approaching Dudenhofen we passed by a major supplier of wood for stoves and then into the little town itself, quietly dozing in the lunch-break. The fields around Speyer grow potatoes, sweetcorn and sugar beet and the open view revealed the towers and spires of its cathedral and numerous churches. A short distance beside the expressway, then a sharp left turn brought us beneath the highway and into the little city perched on a slope above the Rhine. Speyer is delightful, lies on the pilgrim route to Santiago de la Compostela, has a lovely main street with all the restaurants, ice cream parlours and historic buildings anyone could wish for, but on this occasion we just headed for the station and the S-bahn back to Mannheim. The clouds were gathering for a storm.

Cycling is booming in Germany

We are neither of us keen shoppers. Maybe it's the Northern English folk memories of the Depression in the 1930s - before our time, but we knew plenty of people who had lived through this. It is difficult to say. However we go to our local shopping centre (mall), Rhein-Neckar-Zentrum most weeks to visit Aldi and Bauhaus, a DIY store. The Zentrum does attempt to draw visitors in by having special exhibitions from time to time. Yesterday we visited an exhibition of the tourist attractions of the city of Schwerin, capital of the federal province of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. One of the principle pillars of this campaign is cycling. The tourist information package for the city comes with a cycle touring map giving suggestions for four cycle tours between 30 and 75 kilometre long and details of a bus service that will carry the tourists' bikes when they do not feel like cycling on.
It would appear in the economic crisis more and more Germans are turning to cycling for holiday and leisure activities. The bicycle touring business is booming. In 2009 in Germany alone cycle tourists generated 22 million overnight stays and spent around 3.87 billion (thousand million) Euros (Deutschen Tourismusverband DTV). The ADFC (German Cycling Club) has noticed that cycle tourism is bucking a declining trend for holiday making in the popular cycling regions and on long distance cycle routes. As an example, hotels on the Ruhr Valley Cycle Route showed a growth in bookings of 13% in 2009 whereas hotel bookings declined in the rest of the Ruhr by 2.5% in the same period. Biking is popular for group, bus, and club excursions, as well as for business and club events. This interest is being matched by the willingness of the local authorities to invest in cycle ways and information. (The top photograph shows a group of tourists relaxing in the town square of Feuchtwangen during on of the celebrations to mark 60 years of the Romantic Road. The lower photograph shows a new information table on the Danube Valley Cycle Way. )
This trend has not gone unnoticed by the organisers of the 36th International Coach Tourism Federation Workshop in Cologne from 27th to 29th July 2010. Its major theme is Cycle Touring. Exhibitors include bus operators, regional tourist authorities and the ADFC.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Tal Total

We visited the car free day (Tal Total) on the roads on the left and right banks of the Rhine last Sunday between Rüdesheim and Koblenz. It was good fun especially after 15:00 when all the football fans had left to watch the game. For much of the day we were cycling on fairly empty roads with all sorts of exotic machinery. We are normally no great fans of these open days as you can walk or bike on the participants' heads.
We could have picnicked in the middle of the road. We took a train from Bingen to Worms and cycled home. We were told in Mainz on the HBf over the loudspeakers that the German team had won, but even so where somewhat surprised in Worms to find ourselves mixed up with a parade of honking cars and idiots who remonstrated with us for not flying a German flag. However once out the town centre life quietened down so we could return home on quiet roads and paths through the forest to Viernheim.

Monday, June 21, 2010

High Noon

Germany too has been hit by waves of the patriotic flying Black, Red and Gold flags on their vehicles. There are those who wish to hedge their bets and so fly a German flag on one side of the vehicle and a foreign flag - Swiss or Italian on the other.
Personally we are not bothered by football, but have noticed that the streets of Viernheim before a big match resemble the small town in the film of "High Noon". Everywhere is empty. Nobody stirs. Then the match starts and we are able to work out the course of the game by the groans and cheers, If the German team scores a major goal there are rockets and other fireworks too.
What this has to do with cycling or even cycle touring, you may ask? Well, there is a new 800 km cycle route in North Rhine Westphalia called Die Deutsche Fußball Route (The German Football Route) running from Aachen to Bielefeld visiting the stadiums of some of Germany's best known clubs.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Gradient or gravel? More pictures

Left picture shows bikeway being relaid with cobbles - in Belgium, after heavy rain.
Other picture - deep sand on canalside trail - Belgium, very hard work

Gradient or gravel?

Many cyclists, especially those new to the game or returnees after a break get excited or alarmed about slopes or steepness, often regardless of whether these are uphill or down dale. Of course gradient is relevant when planning a tour and sometimes it pays to consider a route in two directions. Steep short climbs followed by long dreamy descents may be much better than riding the route the other way round. However, in our opinion riding surfaces are almost as important, to speed, general comfort and enjoyment. Even the simplest of bikes can cope with very different surfaces, when need be and mountain bikers relish bunny hopping over boulders, however when on tour most of us want to reach our destination safely and in time for a beer before bed. With provision of designated routes for cyclists growing and the costs of laying and maintaining these routes clearly important for local authorities, we’ve put together our experience of different types of surface. Though there is a school of thought that suggests that we cyclists should be grateful to be allowed to exist at all and to ride along the cast off shoulders of roads thanking our lucky stars, we always hope for improvements.
In the best possible world, top of our list comes the high speed metalled surface we’ve encountered along the upper Rhine, where the cycleway is combined with river flood protection work. At the bottom comes loose sand, an unfriendly surface that often tips the rider off as the wheels stop. Our local woods, growing on glacial sand dunes, feature several of these Sahara practice runs though only for short stretches. In between is a whole gamut of broken or decayed metalled surfaces, bouncy runs across tree roots and the various problems associated with Messrs. Gravel, Pebbles & Co. Over the years we’ve ridden touring bikes and Brompton folders across almost everything including freshly blasted rocks, high in the Swiss Alps, especially interesting after rain and long distances on rounded river pebbles newly dredged out of the nearby Scheldt in Belgium. The latter are frustrating and wearing on legs, seat and arms despite shock absorbers or springs and can slow speeds down as much as a headwind. Another horror concerns maintenance when pea gravel or small stones can be dumped on trails to a depth of several centimetres and simply flattened with a grader and lightweight roller. Without warning the cyclist passes from hard old gravel to unconsolidated track, on which headway is very difficult. In wet conditions some of these gravel surfaces become sticky or glue like so the rider’s thighs bulge to achieve a measly 8 km/h. So it was for us along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal in the wake of the rains of Hurricane Fran some years ago.
The original Paris-Roubaix race was rightly feared for the hazardous cobble sections, now the organisers have difficulty in finding a few kilometres of motor roads with cobbles to include in the route. However the cyclist on the Flanders bike route may find plenty of these surfaces to relish, including some being re-laid when we were there some years ago. At the top of the Gotthard Pass in Switzerland a sign warns of the danger of riding down the section of cobbled road, designated a National Monument, unless your bike has front shocks. Ours hadn’t but we made it without real problems.
Roads too have many hazards from the much documented grids to cracks and potholes and beyond to kerbs that topple unbalanced riders and even melting tar that dapples with black spots. A new version of this was a thin layer of tar sprayed on roads in Bavaria one summer. It was designed to seal old and new surfaces together and allowed us to leave our tread impressions to be fossilised but resulted in our sticky tyres collecting many small stones, extremely hard to dislodge. Most of the surfaces mentioned are just cause for delay or exasperation but some are dangerous and possibly fatal. We’ve rarely been defeated, thanks to determination and low gearing, and have even made headway over the dirty ice remains of avalanches lingering over remote trails in the Alps until late summer. We thought we’d coped with most vegetation problems, like overgrown hedges where roses and brambles try to pluck bicyclists from their saddles to high grasses from which the rider emerges like a figure in Monet’s paintings, growing out of the trail. However, a farmer along the Leinetal had clearly delighted in arranging his swaths of drying hay directly along an already narrow clay path. Our Bromptons triumphed, as ever, but it was a drag.
A quick glance at the Internet has not revealed any standard surfaces for bike trails in either Europe or North America. A recent wet day on new cycleways along the Danube in Germany suggested that the preferred gravel chip’n mud left much to be desired and most it was left on our gear. Bikes, packs and riders needed hosing off at the end of the day. Is it beyond engineers/road makers to suggest cheap materials that function well in wet and dry conditions, that give reasonable traction and don’t inflict too much damage in a tumble? No doubt other cyclists have their own stories of horror surfaces or perhaps solutions to offer?

Saturday, June 19, 2010


We find it is a good idea to take instructions for items like hub or derailleur gears, because at the critical point we forget the vital step to fix a maladjusted gear. We pop photocopies of the instructions in a sealable plastic bag to take with us on tour. Something that is worth not forgetting in our experience are the instructions to recalibrate the cycle computer after a battery change.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Karl Drais

Karl Drais was the inventor of the Laufmaschine or velocipede, the earliest form of the bicycle, initially without pedals. His first reported ride, from the Schloss in Mannheim to the "Schwetzinger Relaishaus" (a coaching inn, located in what is now "Rheinau", a district of Mannheim) took place on June 12, 1817.
The city of Mannheim in cooperation with the ADFC (a German cycling club) has laid out a new cycle route from the centre of Mannheim to Rheinau and onwards following Karl Drais's original test run. On Saturday June 10th 2010 the ADFC is organising a cycle event to open the cycle route starting from the Schloss in Mannheim at 12:00 along part of the route and finishing at the Stadler cycle shop in Neckarau, another district of Mannheim. The route has yet to be equipped with signposts, however this year is the 225th anniversary of his birth and 10th June is a Saturday.
We will be there (DV) and will report.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Saving money with Deutsche Bahn

Obviously if you are prepared to book early enough there are some good bargains to be had from German Railways. The 19 and/or 39 Euro tickets to travel the length and breadth of Germany are well worth checking out on www.bahn.de. However be warned there are not always many tickets available for some trains and you can forget Fridays.
There are other bargains available from the Bahn however:
The Länder tickets. Each of the German provinces offers a ticket valid after 09:00 from Monday to Fridays and all day on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays on local and regional trains. The disadvantages are 1) that the regional trains stop at more stations and are therefore somewhat slower. 2) you might have to change more often. However these trains take bicycles.
Schönes-Wochende-Ticket costs 37 Euro for up to 5 people. With this ticket it is possible to travel from one end of Germany in Konstanz at 8 am to Flensburg changing 8 times and getting in to Flensburg just before 2 am the next morning or west east from Saarbrücken to Görlitz starting just before 8 am and arriving at 9:30 pm changing only 7 times. They are slow journeys, but very cheap.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Cycle events

We are all supposed to have fifteen minutes of fame these days and I suppose ours came in early May. On 8 May the town of Viernheim held an event to encourage both children and adults to take more exercise. The ADFC took part. Judith and I were invited to the press conference. Afterwards one of the reporters attending the meeting noticed our Bromptons. We had the usual discussion: "No, they are no harder to cycle than a normal bike. "Yes, we are very satisfied with the bikes." He waited for us outside the meeting and took a quick photograph of us both and a folded and an unfolded Brompton. On 5 May we opened our local paper "Südhessen Morgen" and found that picture accompanying an article advertising the event on the following Saturday.

Thursday, April 22, 2010


We went up to Lorsch (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) last Saturday to visit a bicycle event organised by the town and the ADFC. The event was the usual mixture of an ADFC information stand, a second hand bike sale, a new bike hire company in Lorsch, a map sales stand, a sport club that runs a section for younger people wanting to learn how to do cycle acrobatics and a cycle proficiency test circuit. this kind of event happens fairly often in German towns, but what was somewhat unusual was that the town's development agency is actively supporting cycling as a way of encouraging tourism.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Rescue points

Both of us suffer from untreatable ‘Cartomania’, a little researched complaint involving the collection of maps, large, small, old and new. So yesterday I saw a new 1:30 000 cycle touring map of our local area and immediately succumbed to temptation. A couple of months ago, after the Neil, had had a chance to browse the Südliches Ried:Bergstrasse/Rhein-Neckar produced by MeKi Landkarten GmbH (www.meki-landkarten.de) (well it was his birthday), I got my chance too to see what was new. There were our old favourites south into Mannheim or northeast towards Bensheim and the Odenwald, together with new sections of longer distance cycle routes like the World Heritage Route (Welterbe-Radtour) as well as clearer information about cycle possibilities on the fringes of our day tour stamping ground like Ludwigshafen. New local train lines which take bikes, either free or for the price of a child’s ticket, have brought these more distant locations into consideration. We live in the Rhine Rift Valley, a roughly 40 km wide lowland sandwiched between the hills of the Pfalzerwald on the west and the Odenwald on the east. North of the big cities of Mannheim and Ludwigshafen it is basically an area of farms, small towns and forests, providing many cycling opportunities. People do use some routes as part of a commute to a station or employer and many others cycle in their free time. What is fairly immediately striking as the map is opened out is the area of forest or woodland. Our three local provinces of Hesse, where we live, Baden-Würtemberg to the east and south and Rheinland-Pfalz across the Rhine to the west are all much more wooded than most of the UK. The forests are not on a US or Canadian scale, true, but there are many kilometres of routes through the forests, cool in summer and offering shelter in autumn and winter. Some forests are almost all coniferous, others incorporate section of red oak, beech or chestnut trees. Most of the forests occupy stretches of glacial sands or dunes and were originally used for hunting by monks or local dukes in the middle ages. Now they provide timber, habitats for birds and other wildlife such as deer and ever increasing numbers of wild boar, plus of course green lungs for city dwellers. The cycle ways follow mostly gravelled roads made for foresters, often laid out as a grid and where GPS devices frequently cease to function. Route finding can be difficult and if there’s a diversion (timber operations, mud baths, fallen trees) we’ve often struggled to get back on track. We’ve occasionally speculated on forest rides in the dusk or in definitely spooky darkness about what to do when truly lost, ill or injured. Now we know that in Hesse at least all wooded areas and some other remote sites have a series of rescue points, marked on the ground and on large scale maps. In situ these are signs with a white cross on a green background with location and a number. On the MeKi Landkarten they are shown by a green oval with a number. These spots are known to local police, ambulance and emergency services and can be reached by their vehicles. Initially they were set up in case of accidents to workers in the forests but may be used to rescue the public generally. ADFC advice to any group with a rider ill or injured is to use a mobile phone to contact number 112 to alert the emergency service and give location of nearest rescue point. If necessary a party member can reach the rescue point and guide emergency services to the injured party. Outside mountain regions where rescue kit may be found at huts, passes or survey points this idea was new to me and may be of interest to others who may cycle in remote areas in the UK where access is difficult or to people who actually operate emergency services. Location by mobile phone has been used to rescue many people in difficulty I know but knowing an access point by road may also be useful.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Life is unfair?

It is fairly obvious that life is not always fair, particularly to us cyclists. We went to the southern Pfalz yesterday and drove from Landau to Bad Bergzabern. The road is hilly and climbs over a series of crests with a short climb up to each one. There is a cycleway running alongside the road. Now, whereas the road runs through a cutting at the top of each crest, the cycleway is along the rim of the cutting meaning that the poor cyclist has to do more work than the other powered road users. It could be said that it is better for us on human-powered vehicles to work harder: We will be fitter. That the cars need to climb less is good as well: They give out less carbon dioxide, but it still seems unfair as you pant over the brow of the hill.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

The Argonne Forest

Last Saturday but one we had a day off from our labours and joined a tour to some First World War battlefields in Northern France. An American acquaintance of ours, Deputy Director of the local US High School, is an amateur military historian and in fact his grandfather served there, on a gun battery commanded by Harry Truman. The area we visited was close to where we had cycled in the Moselle valley previously so we knew there were many remnants of the war, but we knew nothing of this particular offensive where the French were relieved by fresh US troops under the command of General Pershing, in an area NW of Verdun. We set off by bus when it was still dark, after getting up at 4.30 am. It was a bus trip for the educationalists in Mannheim and Heidelberg. The whole trip was planned like a military operation and once on the bus we were immersed in briefings about the war's origins, videos and with handouts. It was all very interesting and our friend knows so much about the various battles and heroic incidents, people involved etc which made it all the more real. Most of the route was on motorway and at a service station close to the battlefield, there was a great white marble monument to those who fought, on both sides. Underneath were two inscriptions - one giving the names of the first two men killed in 1914 on this battlefield - one French and one German - obviously young men and then another, more recent about the deaths of the last Frenchman and the last German to have fought there. Both died in 2008, one aged 110 and one aged 108! Quite amazing.
We then left the motorway and continued on tiny roads in our giant pink bus, up and down dale mostly in heavy, pouring rain. We couldn't see much of the surrounding countryside but still no one complained as we clambered up muddy paths and inspected immense holes where mines had exploded close to the opposing trenches, then moved on the examine other memorials and places where individual actions had taken place. Of course the whole thing is very sad, especially since we know that only a few years later the whole mess happened again and still politicians are sending young people off to wars. Fortunately we then had a break for a meal in a tiny French village where by a miracle they were able to accommodate and feed a party of 40, on roast chicken and salad with a glass of wine and an ice dessert. We didn't know most of the other folks, American teachers and ancillary staff at the American schools nearby, but they made us feel welcome.
Whilst we were inside the rain stopped and the sun even came out for a while before we managed to get out of the bus again for our longest walk in Châtel Chéhéry a tiny village. Here Sgt York managed to thwart a German ambush, killing a number of soldiers and then taking 132 Germans prisoner without further losses. Our leader had become fascinated by this story and had visited the area frequently to try to pinpoint exactly where the events occurred - this was very close to Armistice Day 1918 so it is almost 100 years ago now. We stood under our umbrellas in rain so heavy it was almost like the machine gun fire he was telling us about - most of us really not bothered about whether the action had happened here or half a mile up the road, but we drank a toast in brandy to all the brave men on both sides, drawn by chance into these battles, that came to an end literally just a few days later. Then it was back to the bus, in the warm and dry again and eventually home again by 10.45 pm. Though we cannot say that the visit was enjoyable, in the sense that the events were a pleasure we nonetheless do think it important to remember what happened and the people involved… lest we forget.
We ate lunch in the Le Grand Monarque Restaurant in Varenne en Argonne. There is now a move by the local authorities to encourage cycling and the area with its minor roads and historical connections is a good place to cycle. However if you are tempted to visit the Meuse area of Lorraine (www.tourisme-meuse.com) do not pick up any shells or munitions in the woods. There is still a lot around. Some of it is still live and some of it contains Mustard Gas, used by both sides in 1918. If all goes well I think we will return to the area.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Radreisemarkt (Cycle Touring Fair) Frankfurt IV

The Liebliches Taubertal (Gentle Tauber Valley) team were represented as it has been since the cycle touring fair started. We cannot remember an event without them anyway. What I like about these characters is their ability to find new cycle routes to connect the routes in their area with those in the areas round about. The first route was the 100km Klassiker the classic Tauber Valley Route, which connects Wertheim on the Main with Tothenburg ob der Tauber through Tauberbischofsheim, Lauda, Bad Mergentheim, Weikersheim, Creglingen and Rottingen. This was followed by the Sportive, the sporty Tauber Valley Route. This is a somewhat hillier variation that forms a loop around the Tauber valley and combined with the classic route makes up a trip of about 260km. The classic route has been upgraded or extended by the addition of a number of loops entitled die Erlebnistouren, which can be loosely translated as the Adventure Tours. The links to the south and the Jagst valley were next exploited in the Hohenloher Residenzweg (Hohenlohe Stately House Route) which visits a number of relatively unknown but quite interesting noble piles. The next was the Main-Tauber-Fränkisher Radachter (537 km) which follows part of the Tauber route before climbing over into the Main valley to follow the river downstream through Würzburg to Freudenberg and then returns to the Tauber via the Odenwald. This is a serious route. The latest routes are food and drink orientated: The Wein-Route in the Main and Tauber Valleys and the Grünkern-Route. Grünkern is dried unripe Dinkel (spelt) grain which was used initially after a wet summer in 1660 prevented full ripening of the grain and the unripe grain was dried in an attempt to make it edible. It was not much use as grain for bread, but added to soups it helped stave off hunger. It is now used in soups and in fritters and eaten as a delicacy in its own right. The hilly route runs through pleasant countryside through a number of interesting little villages.
Our "Romantic Road from Würzburg to Füssen" describes the Tauber Valley between Tauberbischofsheim and Rothenburg odT and can be obtained from us (www.bergstrassebikebooks.com) and the Romantic Road Tourist Authority (www.romantischestrasse.de).

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Radreisemarkt (Cycle Touring Fair) Frankfurt III

Saarland is one of Germany's smallest provinces, on the eastern border to France and Luxembourg, but it offers over 700 km of signposted cycleway. The province was represented at the Frankfurt fair and we were most impressed by the progress made over the last few years. We enquired about the Saarlorlux Route a circular route running through Saarland, Lorraine and Luxembourg, which is one those routes we look at from time to time and think it would be fun to do. It still is as long as one is prepared to navigate without specific signposting in Lorraine. There must be something about France that makes it difficult to organise signposting. The signposting is already in place in Saarland and Luxembourg. It was hoped as well to offer cycling holidays with pre-booked accommodation with baggage transfer. This too is proving difficult in France. However Saarland and Luxemburg have a network of cycleways crisscrossing the province and the Grand Duchy. One can book cycling holidays there. Contact the Saarland Tourist Office by eMail at info (at) tz-s.de or the Luxembourg Tourist Office (eMail: info (at) visitluxembourg.lu.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Radreisemarkt (Cycle Touring Fair) Frankfurt II

We met Monique Goldschmit again at the fair. She runs an interesting company in Luxembourg called Velosophie. The company offers a range of maps, books, bags, bells, safety accessories, and cyclist's greeting and postcards. In addition Monique leads and plans reasonably priced luxury cycle tours in Luxembourg with a leader, luggage transfer, and a wine tasting. She also teaches cycling to adults in Luxembourg. If you ever fancied cycling in this fascinating albeit small country, then check out the Velosophie website, which is in German and French, but an eMail in English to velosophie(at)pt.lu will bring a reply in English. (Replace the "(at)" by the more conventional symbol.)

Monday, March 15, 2010

Radreisemarkt (Cycle Touring Fair) Frankfurt I

Every year about this time the Frankfurt branch of the ADFC the German cycling club organises its Radreisemesse. If you live in or near Frankfurt it is worth popping along and paying 2 Euros to visit the stands set by various largely German tourist offices, the ADFC itself, bike shops and tour companies. We will report over the next few days or weeks about what we saw and what we think is interesting.
If you want to hire a bike, a pedelec, a trike or even a tandem in Frankfurt am Main then take a look at Mosch.spezialradreisen if you can read German or drop an eMail to post(at)spezialradreisen.de. This company organises cycle tours all over the world, but when the bikes are not needed for tours you can hire bikes from it. They seemed like a pleasant bunch of folks and their trikes: HP are top drawer machines.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Rubbish picking up day

Every year the town of Viernheim invites concerned citizens, clubs, political parties and the youth organisations to help clean up the mess that others throw out into the woods and verges around Viernheim. We took part this year as we have for several years. The litter lout looms large around Viernheim, in spite of bottle banks galore, free collection of packaging and a rubbish collection service that will accept almost anything - fridges, washing machines, car tyres, for example, for a small charge. We cleared a kilometre or so on the edge of the town which appears to be a favourite spot for Schnapps drinkers, who then throw the mini bottle out the car window, and fast food gourmets who don't want to have the remains of their repas stinking out their love nest on wheels. This is understandable, although from a road safety viewpoint somewhat worrying, that the early morning commuters have a quick double on the way to work, but why did someone throw away a valid Austrian motorway sticker; why did someone walk into the woods with a lorry battery when the town will take these for free? Did the number plate we found come from a stolen car? Still Viernheim looks all the better for its Spring clean and will stay looking well at least until the end of the week.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Germany’s Romantic Road celebrates 60th Birthday!

Recently the Guardian newspaper had a series of suggestions, for car drivers or motor cyclists, in its travel pages about Road Trips a la Route 66 and similar. They were a little sniffy about Germany’s Romantic Road which runs from Würzburg to Füssen. The newspaper suggested an Alpine variation, clearly offering more exciting landscapes, but we are doubtful that one can find more history per kilometre anywhere else in the world. We are surprised that our favourite newspaper treated the route with such disdain. Within its 420 km visitors can find amongst other treasures including: the Residenz in Würzburg, described by Napoleon as the finest vicarage in the world; Weikersheim whose chateau is a time machine back into the 18th century; Rothenburg ob der Tauber known the world over for its half-timbered mediaeval town centre; lesser known but equally charming are Dinkelsbühl, Feuchtwangen and Nördlingen (the latter lies in the middle of a meteor impact crater); Augsburg has connections with the Fugger family, the trading giants of their day, Mozart and Brecht; the Pfaffenwinkel area has magnificent views of the Alps and Füssen offers Ludwig’s fairy tale castle. We suspect the problem is that one needs to get off the motor bike or out of the car to appreciate the glories of this road.
Shortly afterwards the Tourist Authority for the Romantic Road sent us an invitation to join in the festivities to celebrate the 60th Jubilee of the founding of this route linking a whole series of fascinating towns. Throughout the year virtually all the towns along the route and the cities of Würzburg and Augsburg are holding special activities from wine festivals and concerts, sports events and open days to link together tourism, visitors and thousands of local people. On 8 May 2010 the programme will officially kick off in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, one of the best known of the small towns. Representatives from all 28 towns along the ‘road’ will converge on the Marktplatz, dressed in appropriate attire from 60 years ago to welcome guests and old friends. Period vehicles, cars, buses, bicycles and motorbikes dating back to the start of real tourism in the region will also be on display. The organisers hope that as many people as possible will raid grandfather’s, granny's and great aunt's wardrobes to find forgotten clothing from 60 years ago.
Music fans and anyone enjoying singing should try to head to Feuchtwangen on Sunday 4 July where there will be an open air concert in the Marktplatz. This will be directed and conducted by none other than Gotthilf Fischer, the German equivalent of the conductor of the Last Night of the Proms or the guy who used to lead the community singing before the Cup Final at Wembley Stadium. Any choir can join in - just contact the Tourist Authority beforehand.
The final major event, which we are likely to attend, will be in the fascinating little town of Bad Mergentheim on Sunday 10 October - billed as a celebration of the culinary delights to be encountered along the Romantic Road - our contact suggests it will be a gigantic excuse to eat and drink, probably to excess, but who cares as long as your hotel bed is booked and your bike parked safely until next day? With excellent vineyards in the Tauber Valley and around Würzburg and beer making in all local flavours and strengths further south many may wish to extend their stay. Food will certainly include many local dishes and extend well beyond sausages and sauerkraut while the Farmers Wives Association is publishing a cookbook. This could be your chance to learn German while preparing your lunch.
Write to: Romantische Straße Touristik-Arbeitsgemeinschaft GbR
Segringer Str.19
91550 Dinkelsbühl
0r: info@romantischestrasse.de
The Romantic Road Tourist Authority website: http://www.romantischestrasse.de/?lang=uk

Our book ‘The Romantic Road from Würzburg to Füssen’ has information about the history, landscape and descriptions of all the towns as well as about cycling. See:www.bergstrassebikebooks.com

Tuesday, March 09, 2010


Obviously when one mixes in with traffic cycling round the town, it is prudent to keep one's eye open for the motorist who, without looking, opens their door as you cycle up on the left side of the car allowing you to collide gracefully with it. The cure to this problem is to give yourself plenty of room, keep your eyes open and be ready to scream "TÜR!" if you see the slit by the door opening. This problem is complicated in Germany by cycleways that have park slots to their right. If the cycleways are wide enough, it is no real problem, but there is a variation that complicates matters. For some reason unknown a lot of German parents prefer to mount a child seat directly behind the driver meaning that mother, father and the child all need to get into and out of the car on the left, on the traffic side. The parent concerned is then occupied getting the child's rucksack, teddy bear or plate of Saumagen and sauerkraut off the back seat. Little Hans-Dieter can then wander off into your path or even in to the track of the juggernauts roaring past your left side. Why this is done we can never understand. Why not mount the child's seat on the right hand side of car, on the side that is usually traffic free? It is a mystery to us both.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Weathering summer storms III - Kiel Canal: July

We are in process of cleaning up the Bergstrasse Bike Books hard disk and realised that we had written this blog but not uploaded it, so better late than never:
After trying the Eifel and Lake Constance our next foray was north to Schleswig-Holstein and the canal linking the North and Baltic seas. Our travel arrangements were fairly complicated involving carrying folding bikes on trains where all the normal bike reservations were booked on a Sunday when half Germany was travelling to view Iron Man competitions here and a Music and Fun event there. We were a bit frazzled by the time we reached Glückstadt YH on a lovely late afternoon, the sun sparkling on the little harbour, its ships and fine houses. Our companions had an even more exciting, though shorter journey, from Kassel using a Schönes-Wochenende-Karte, with luggage and full size bikes. These tickets enable up to 5 people to travel together on local trains, the snag being that bike space can be limited, connection time somewhat tight and the rest of Germany is travelling this way. However, after meeting by chance around the harbour saving the need to try phone contact, and exchanging a couple of years life and cycling stories over dinner, plus knocking back a few glasses of grape juice at their ‘out of town’ billet with a view of the sunset, journey stress disappeared.
Day 2
What had happened to the sun after it set yesterday? We met along the dyke north of Glückstadt (on the Elbe Estuary, downstream of Hamburg) in light rain or heavy drizzle, our views limited to the occasional sheep with a misty backdrop. However we were cycling together again and there were occasional glimpses of light towers and even blurred floating apartment blocks, ships heading out into the North Sea or towards the Kiel Canal. As the morning progressed the skies brightened, by Brunsbüttel the sun came out, and we stripped down to T-shirts. The locks separate the Canal from the N. Sea and we spent time on the observation platforms and the little museum. We stocked up on sandwiches for lunch (Camembert cheese with cranberry sauce, umm… delicious) and found the NOK cycle route signs out of town, roughly northeastwards. NOK? The Germans call the canal the Nord-Ostsee Kanal. Gravel surface, a bit muddy here and there but quiet apart from bird song and cries to look out for a picnic bench stop.
Following the gourmet sandwich stop we swung right and saw our first major ship gliding between the reeds even before we reached the actual towpath. Neil and I come from near Manchester, UK, so we’re a bit blase about Ship Canals but the Kiel Canal in its present form is definitely in another league to say nothing of the vessels themselves, mostly spanking new and mind-bogglingly expensive. No wonder that the investment in moving 80 million m3 of earth materials, splitting settlements and maintaining numerous ferry services has paid off, at least up to now. The economic slowdown has caused a reduction in traffic but we were kept happily entertained by the vessels, big and small that we saw. Though the weather prospects faded as the day wore on, we explored several of the loops away from the canal. Out to Neuendorf where drainage over hundreds of year has so reduced the volume of the soils that the current land surface lies 3.5 m below sea level, making it the lowest point in Germany. Then we cycled back to the free ferry at Burg our destination, over the marsh and up a steep hill into the town centre. The tourist office had closed for the day, but a phone call from the bookshop where the ‘nerve centre’ is located soon resulted in Burg’s tourist officer returning to meet us. She quickly located an interesting overnight stop for us in an old school, being converted into B&Bs/apartments. Though not quite finished, all the important bits like toilets, beds and showers were in place. We walked out of town to eat at a pleasant ‘roadhouse’ sort of pub and all found something tasty to eat.
Day 3
Next morning our friend M’s research into Burg’s bakeries the evening before resulted in the most fantastic breakfast, choice of beverages, and brötchen, ham, cheese, croissants, jam or honey (about 6 €each). We staggered out of the cafe, thankful to start the day with a quick downhill ride to the towpath, in a chilly wind with darkening skies. Still we had the wind with us, unlike a large group battling along towards Brunsbüttel. Ferry, then out through the fields away from the canal, past enormous estate farms, their enormous brick barns like some red brick beast crouching in the landscape, the ride settled into some sort of pattern. Occasionally an Autobahn bridge soared over the canal, its surface covered with tiny speeding vehicles as we kept an eye on the weather behind us, trying to guess which clouds would produce a downpour, others merely threaten. We used woods, bus shelters, overhanging eaves of barns to keep off the worst and then swung on again, thankful for the following wind. Our loops took us through busy little Albersdorf, where many Stone Age relics have been found and via remote countryside to Fisherhütte before reaching Hanerau and Hademarschen. Again the local tourist office found us quarters in a FEWO, a holiday house with two fantastic bedrooms and use of the kitchen if we wanted. For our evening meal we found an interesting restaurant a short distance away, before which Neil had managed to buy another bike helmet to replace his old one. This had got fatally damaged on the train journey north, a Viking funeral was promised by the bike shop.
Day 4
We had really given up bothering about the weather forecasts, rain, torrential, pouring, heavy showers with thunder, were evidently normal in July here. What really annoyed all of us was that way down south in our ‘home bases’ the sun was apparently shining and egg frying on pavements was becoming a community sport. So bear it we did, mostly grinning, at least in the photos. The clouds scudded low at our backs as we returned to the canal bank, crossed by ferry and turned north east. Our eyes adjusted to the gloomy light and only looking at my pictures of the old sluice at Giselau did I realise how it was. Over the next ferry at Oldenbüttel we sailed along through the marshlands with the wind blowing the grasses lining the dykes. Soon we left the canal on a detour through a nature reserve and bird watching paradise, sheltering in a convenient bus shelter in Lütjenwestedt to take lunch perched on a rise above the marshes. There were wonderful views of cloud-wracked skies as we descended through Todenbüttel and on through small villages of Schulberg back to the towpath and the ferry at Breiholz. From here into Rendsburg our route lay parallel to the River Eider formerly used as a ships route as far as Rendsburg. The Eider itself was mostly invisible beyond the canal embankments. The run into Rendsburg was extremely pleasant with tree lined banks and lots of groups of walkers who mostly moved aside for us gracefully. Grain silos and docks mark the beginning of Rendsburg proper but we were all looking forward to seeing the ferry suspended between the Meccano-inspired high level rail bridge. The Ships’ Greeting Point on the north bank did us proud as a Gibraltar registered freighter prompted a verse of ‘God save the Queen‘ as we strolled down to watch. We finally tracked down the Tourist Office in a bookshop in a main square and soon found reasonably priced accommodation in an hotel on the south side of the Canal. Too soon we breathed a sigh of relief at having avoided the downpours for the clouds finally unzipped themselves and we were all drenched en route to a supermarket for provisions. We can only recommend the tunnel under the canal, complete with lifts for cyclists and pedestrians, despite the odd drip it was much drier than outside. Within minutes we reached our hotel, stowed our bikes in a garage and ourselves in a warm, comfortable annex whilst the North German monsoons raged outside. Our only exploration that evening was the excellent hotel restaurant next door.
Day 5
Occasional awakenings during the night suggested more storms and there were puddles aplenty on the loop we made south and west next morning through railway workers cottages and out through suburbia to Jevenstadt before returning to the canal and taking the transporter ferry below the railway bridge. This is a famous spot for railway fans since the trains make a huge U-shaped loop to lose height over the rooftops down to the station in Rendsburg. We used this route on our September visit and it is spectacular. We swept through the centre of Rendsburg and out over the bridge where the Eider escapes from a large inlet through a commercial centre then villas along the Obereider shoreline. We risked a picnic in fitful sunshine, followed shortly by the first rains of the day. On through pretty villages where boatyards had been for hundreds of years and where the route climbed and fell allowing interesting downhill plunges. We turned away northwestwards to climb towards Bünsdorf and were forced to shelter once more, in the lee of some farm buildings. The owners did come to look at us enquiringly but were evidently reassured by our muddy bikes and damp appearance, without the need to set the dogs on us. On a sunny day we are sure that the Wittensee and the little sailing resort of Bünsdorf are both delightful but we did not linger but sped on towards Sehesedt, an estate village chopped in two by the building of the canal. Luck was with us as we found comfortable quarters in a FEWO, conveniently across from the pub/restaurant. Anyone needing supplies (as we did) must head out 4 km (on a cycleway parallel to the busy road) to Holtsee where there is an excellent supermarket. On the way home we explored the little village with its enormous brick barns and country house Dodging the increasingly violent wind and rainstorms we dined well in the pub that night.
Day 6
The meteorologists promised another day of wind and rain and it was dark and gloomy as we set off to visit the old sluices of the Eider Canal across the ferry and through the villages of Hammer and another estate village of Osterade. Though undoubtedly picturesque, the weed lined canal remains, the old sluices and pump house at Kluvensiek were definitely melancholy so after a quick photo session and discussion of falling eel populations in the Eider (global warming, pollutants?) with a biologist collecting samples we returned to the canal the way we had come. We had decided to press on to reach Kiel that day, in view of the unpromising weather though there were touches of sun for part of the day. We had hoped to pick up lunch in one of the villages en route but were either too late or arrived on a rest day so we kept going until we found a convenient bakery on the run in to Kiel. The cycleways took us right into the city centre though a certain nerve and savoir faire are needed to mix with the traffic near the Hauptbahnhof (main railway station). We found Kiel Tourist Office easily enough on the quayside close to the station and were fixed up with reasonable rooms in a somewhat old fashioned hotel though we had the impression they were more used to people arriving by ship or posh four wheeled vehicles. Big city, thousands of visitors, famous sights, our few Euros were largely irrelevant I suppose, but it was such a difference not to be made welcome. We were quartered over in Ellerbek, where the shops catered for much of the immigrant population and the street scene was lively but very different from ‘Downtown’ by the Tourist Office. It suited us and in the evening we wandered on foot back to the centre and ate in a bustling restaurant watching the shoppers rushing past under their umbrellas. The meteorologists had unfortunately got their sums right.
Day 7
Our companions T and M took a train back to Kassel whilst we entrained as far as Neustadt (Holstein). After the usual gloomy start the weather rapidly improved and we enjoyed a pleasant run along the Ostsee (Baltic) cycle route via Travemünde to Lübeck where we stayed a couple of nights in a Youth Hostel, to visit a friend and collect our impressions of our trip. Our verdict was that we would return in a couple of months and explore further.
We did, the weather was much kinder and you can order the resultant: ‘Cycling in Northern Germany - a Loop through Schleswig-Holstein’ on: sales@bergstrassebikebooks.com.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Tea and coffee in Mannheim and Heidelberg

Unfortunately we need to go fairly regularly to the university clinics in both Mannheim and Heidelberg. On our last visit it struck us they also make excellent stopping points for cyclists. Both of them have good cafeterias and of course plenty of clean rest rooms. Cafeteria prices are reasonable and there seems to be no objection to members of the public popping in for a quick cuppa. The Heidelberg clinic is to be found in the university campus on the right bank of the Neckar near the youth hostel and the zoo. Each of the major clinic buildings has a cafeteria signposted from the entrance. More information can be found at http://www.klinikum.uni-heidelberg.de/103851.pdf?L=en. The Mannheim clinic is also on the right bank of the Neckar just to the north of the city centre. The cafeteria and canteen (Casino) is in the centre of the building complex. It is open from 0700 until 1500. Obviously other hospitals in German cities will offer similar facilities.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Winter Cycling Spiked tyres

Winter cycling or at least cycling in snow even with a helmet is something that we don't want to do. Both of us have fallen with or from our bicycles when cycling in summer following moments of inattention without major injury except to our pride. However being balanced on a two wheeled device when the wheels can easily slip on a greasy icy surface strikes us as being on the daft side. We don't do it. We walk. Old-fashioned but it works.
There is a technological cure for sideways slipping tyres which we have not invested in. You can buy spiked tyres. Schwalbe for example produce Marathon Winter tyres with tungsten carbide spikes. An acquaintance of ours who commutes about 10 km daily summer and winter on a forest track speaks highly of them. There is another piece of high tech equipment that is often ignored in Viernheim - the glove. I was out shovelling snow this morning at temperatures of about -1°C when a young lad cycled past with one bare hand clutching the handlebars and the other tucked up his jacket sleeve. I doubt if he could have used both brakes quickly in case of an emergency and the bare hand must have been seriously cold. As one says in Lancashire, "No sense, no feeling".

Monday, January 18, 2010

Plans for the summer

On Saturday we are due to go to a knees up organised by the regional ADFC (German cycling organisation, similar to the Cyclists' Touring Club in the UK and the League of American Bicyclists). "Knees up" is probably the wrong term. We are going to drink coffee and eat tiramasu, rather than brown ale and jellied eels. We are due to discuss our projects and cycling last year and the plans for this year rather than standing round the Joanna* singing about "My Old Dutch"* and sending out for a Ruby* afterwards. I have noticed that the cycling blogs too are in this reflective and planning mode. It is a bit too cold and/or icy to get out on the bike, so it is a good time to settle down, report and do some thinking. Judith has already reported on our year in the last blog, so what are we debating doing this year? Well, our Rhine II book is still selling quite well and the Ruhr is one of the European cultural capitals this year, so a trip to the Lower Rhine is on the cards. We have talked for some time about cycling the Weser Cycle Route. We enjoyed our time up in Schleswig-Holstein very much and the routes up into Denmark are also very interesting. Maybe this is the year we go down to southeastern Bavaria to look at the Pope Benedict Route. There are large chunks of eastern Germany, the Oder-Neise Route, for example, we would like to visit. We definitely want to carry on with our day trip series in the Rhineland Palatinate, published by Guide Gecko. There is even a 420 km mountain bike route through Alsace which could well be good fun if we can get fit enough. We will have to see.

*For any non British readers:
"Knees up" is a raucous party. The name derives from a 1938 popular song "Knees up Mrs Brown".
"Joanna" is Cockney rhyming slang for a piano.
Dutch is London slang and is an abbreviation of Duchess, i.e. My Old Dutch is my wife. It is another popular song.
A "Ruby" is Cockney rhyming slang for a curry from Ruby Murray, a 1950's pop singer.

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