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.

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