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Bike Touring: France, Germany & the Netherlands (Part 4)

10 Sep

In Part 3, we started in Geneva and made our way to Briesach. Now for the final part of our journey, where we made it all the way to Amsterdam for the Pride celebrations.

23/07/2011 RIDE Hunigue – Strausbourg (100k)

White Swans and their babies

White Swans and their babies on the Rhine

The track was wet and muddy, and when we looked at the maps that were near the track, it looked like it would be straightforward. However we ended up having to take a huge detour around a canal, and ended up on some even rougher tracks. It was much nicer when we emerged from the detour and got back on the path which was built up into a bank along the river.

Rhine track

The best of the Rhine-Weg

We came across a group of people wandering down the track, and stopped to have a drink and a snack. One of the women had a dog, who was busy hunting in the grass. We were watching her hunt, and it’s owner said “I see you like my hund”. We ended up chatting to her for a while. The woman actually lived in Mongolia for a while, and rescued the dog there, then importing her in to Germany. There were no quarantine requirements, it was just very expensive.

The lucky dog from Mongolia

We got to a big bridge to cross over to the Strausbourg side and thought we were close to our destination. We ate the last of our food and headed towards town. Turned out it was a lot longer than we thought. We ended up in the Strausbourg forest from following the bike signs, so we asked another cyclist which way we should go. He told us to go down the road as it was more direct, but we ended up riding through the whole industrial area before we got close to the centre. We then had to buy maps in order to find the hotel.

By the time we got to the hotel it was dark and late. It was a very very long day. We went on a boat tour around Strausbourg the next day because it was still raining. Later that night we enjoyed a bit of a free jazz concert near my favourite cathedral.

Notre Dame Cathedral - Strausbourg

Strausbourg was probably one of my favourite places – I like the half-timber houses, and watching people walk their Alsatians (German Shepherds) around the centre of town.

strausbourg

A typical old centre street in Strausbourg

25/07/2011 RIDE Strausbourg – La Wantzenau (20k)

The way out of Strausbourg was much nicer than the road we came in on. There was a bike path until the outer reach of town, and then we rode via a quiet country road to La Wantzenau. There is a bus service that connects La Wantzenau to Strausbourg but it is a small town all of it’s own. It was a short ride, and when we arrived one of the locals asked us where we were going and where we were from with that look of wonder mixed with jealousy the locals often have. I think they would all love to be out on their bikes doing what we are doing, but their lives get in the way, a lot like us at home!

Coachman's Inn

N found an old Coachman’s Inn to stay in, which was affordable and charming. As it started raining heavily as soon as we got there, the receptionist allowed us to keep our bikes inside, leaned up against a wall in the hallway. The Inn was awesome although the ‘free wifi’ didn’t work in the rooms because it couldn’t get through the massive stone walls! We had a great dinner at a seafood restaurant.

26/07/2011 RIDE La Wantzenau – Rastatt (55k)

This ride involved our first car-ferry across the Rhine. It was also the smallest one, and it was free!

On our first car ferry crossing

We probably should have stayed on the French side though because the Germans don’t do camping like the French. The Rastatt campsite was expensive, and the showers didn’t really work properly. Usually at German campsites you have to insert coins into a little control box in order to have a shower. At this campsite the showers were free, but you had to press the little button on the control box and they gave you a timed amount of water. When the timed amount of water finished, you had to wait a long time before you could press the button again and get more water. Bad luck if you are still soapy! After we set up camp we went in search of a castle in the centre of Rastatt but we never found it.

Some big official building in Rastatt - wasn't what we were looking for!

27/07/2011 ride Rastatt – Karlsruhe TRAIN – Mainz

This was a frustrating day. We didn’t have a map, so we lost the bike path numerous times. A kind lady showed us where it was because she couldn’t explain in English. Once we got to Karlsruhe, N was in a bad mood. We ate lunch and decided we might as well catch the train to Mainz, as that is where the ‘pretty bit’ of the Rhine valley starts, known as the ‘Romantik Rhine’. This was the only train trip we took with the bikes as bikes, but the Germans have quite a generous view of bikes on trains, we didn’t have to buy a ticket, just haul them on.

Awaiting our ride from Karlsruhe to Mainz

Mainz is fairly big, and we picked a hotel at random. We checked in and there were thunderstorms again! We dried out our tent which had gotten wet in Rastatt. The rain continued so we decided to stay an extra night, but we moved hotels because the first one wasn’t that nice.

Tourist cruise boats start gathering in Mainz

In Mainz we came across some protestors who were floating down the Rhine on a raft crudely made of logs, with a small outboard motor. They were anti-nuclear power demonstrators, we looked to see if we would catch them again but they were taking their trip up the Rhine a good deal more slowly than we were.

The Robin Wood anti-nuclear protest boat

29/07/2011 RIDE Mainz – St Goar (65k)

Armed with a map (Radwegg) from a Mainz book store, we thought we were better prepared. At first we were following a family – mum, dad and a couple of barely teenaged boys. The boys were carrying their own panniers and had some impressive legs. We lost them after then turned away from the Rhine – but they probably knew something we didn’t.

Castles are plentiful in the surrounding countryside - this is the Romantik Rhine

Unfortunately, the path that we were intending to use was suddenly blocked off and there was no detour information. We went into the nearby town and tried to head towards the next town via minor roads – there was a marked bike route but it’s easy to miss the signs. We got a bit lost, and I spotted a tourer with red Ortliebs heading in the direction we wanted to head in. We caught him on a hill, and then found the signs again. We stopped to take photos of the steep vineyards we were riding in and he said hi as he rode past.

Pretty Vineyards

Then we got a bit lost, and N started talking to him as he had stopped too. He had a GPS, very handy bit of kit. We had a chat, and all rode together for a little while. He was riding to Berlin, and then catching the train back. He put oil on our chains when we went on the car ferry to cross the river again. We bid him farewell when we stopped for lunch.

On the ferry with our new friend putting oil on our chains

The Rhine Gorge

After lunch the ride was easy, and there were SO MANY other tourers. Most of them heading in the opposite direction though. The path was all paved, although at times the valley is noisy because you are between two rail lines, and two major highways.

Another castle

We stayed in a cute hotel in St Goar – the bikes went in the basement and we had to haul our trailers up the stairs as there was no lift. We saw the family again – they were loading themselves onto the Koln – Dusseldorf ferry. They recognised us and waved their cheery goodbyes. 

30/7/2011 RIDE St Goar – Bad Briezig – Bad Honnigen (75k)

The ride continued as it left off, on a separate, sealed path, amongst steep vineyards. There are so many old castle ruins along here you get sick of saying ‘castle!’ I wanted to stop sooner but we went all the way to Bad Briezig, then couldn’t get a room in a hotel. Some women stopped and asked if we were looking for a hotel room, then told us we wouldn’t get one because the Rhine fireworks were on tonight and everyone comes and stays in town for it. I had spotted a campground on the other side of the river, so we caught the car ferry across and rode to the entrance. We got the ‘last camping spot’, but they just had a big green common area for tents and it looked like there was plenty of room. This was a typical German campground where you have to feed the coin box in the shower and kitchen sinks for warm water.

The path was sealed and easy to follow, though at times was noisy

It was freezing but it didn’t rain much. We stayed up and watched the fireworks. They just set them off from the bank with very little of the safety regulations we have in Australia. The sparks and embers from the fireworks were landing in the trees – if that happened in Australia there would be a fire! There was a band playing all night so it took a while for me to get to sleep, but I slept soundly after a long day of battling a headwind, and then trying to keep warm.

A nice stroll along the Rhine after dinner

31/7/2011 RIDE Bad Honnigen – Bad Briezig – Bonn (35k)

The ride to Bonn was pretty easy – just follow the river! It was busy though, lots of cyclists, and as we got closer to Bonn, lots of joggers. There were also a lot of people who were rollerblading and pushing a pram along. It looked awkward and I hadn’t ever seen it anywhere else.

We had a charming hotel to stay in which had been offered at a special rate on the internet. As it was a classy hotel, the receptionist took one look at our bike trailers and bought out buckets of soapy water and rags so that we would wash the mud off them before we went upstairs. Our bikes were ushered into a stairwell space to be stored. When we left the next day, they rushed us out the back door. We got the feeling that taking our bikes to that hotel was not the ‘done thing’.

During our afternoon in Bonn we checked out the Beethoven museum. It was a very comprehensive collection of portraits and artifacts of his life. There were English language audioguides which were just like an old-fashioned mobile phone handset. At first it seemed really odd, all these people wandering around with phones pressed to their ears!

Bust of Ludwig Beethoven at the museum in his 'birth house'

1/08/2011 RIDE Bonn – Koln (32k)

The Dom In Koln - this Cathedral's image is printed on almost all tourist regalia

We lost the river because we had to divert around some big industry, and ended up coming in from the outer suburbs of Koln. I am glad we had a map of Koln or we would have had issues. The hotel in Koln did not have any bike parking, and so we had to lock our bikes up in a nearby mall. It was very busy with other bikes, and it was an alfresco dining/pub strip so there were a lot of people around. I figured they were safe enough – we could even see them from our hotel room window.

Koln is a fairly political and arty place and I felt right at home. We ate Japanese for the first time since we left Australia, and while it was expensive, it was delicious. We also spent some time in a massive art gallery, and just wandering the streets. The weather was warm and sunny again, but the heat was a bit much!

Politics in Koln

Koln has a lego shop which is worth visiting if you loved lego as a kid. I had never seen so much in one place. I bought two minifigure keyrings – one was a lego spaceman just like the ones I had when I was a kid, and the other was a lego version of the Anubis guards from some movie.

Souvenirs from the Lego shop

We also visited the chocolate museum which was really really interesting. I learned that hot chocolate was seen as a drink of the ruling classes while coffee with it’s stimulant properties was the hot drink of the working man. I also learned that the vast majority of workers who grow cocoa beans have never eaten the finished product, chocolate. They do grind the cocoa beans and eat them themselves though.

Delish dessert at the chocolate museum cafe

03/08/2011 TRAIN Koln – Utrecht

Koln is a hussling & bustling place, so we were on the look out for a quiet place to pack our Bike Fridays. We found a square which was a short walk from our hotel, took our trailers, bikes and tools there, and returned to the hotel with our bicycles hidden away from view in their Samsonite cases, so they could be in our room!

We caught the ICE train, and we didn’t bother reserving seating. As it happened, where we got on the train, most of the seats were reserved – you can tell because they have labels above the seats which say which stops the seats are reserved at. We ended up about a carriage away from our Bike Fridays though I bought the rest of my stuff down to the next carriage so I would have access to it.

The change in scenery was pretty abrupt when we left Germany and entered the Netherlands. Suddenly there were bikes everywhere travelling on their own bike lanes. It was a grey, miserable day but people were still riding. When we got to Utrecht, I remembered last time I was there – we arrived late and the surrounding shops were all closed, so the group I was travelling with rode through the mall. We walked through the mall and assembled our bikes, then rode out of the centre to our charming hotel in a quiet street. Bike parking was provided in front of the hotel, we locked them up with our own locks, and at night the hotel staff put a big lock through all the bikes for extra security.

A Street organ at the Utrecht museum of musical instruments (and clocks)

In Utrecht we visited the muscial instrument and clock museum. I found the street organs most impressive, and the organs for dance halls were pretty cool too.

Clever kitty making use of plentiful seating in Utrecht

Utrecht was a great place to get used to riding in the Netherlands. It was different because of all of the other cyclists – we are accustomed to being the minority, navigating our way through car traffic on roads, and the Netherlands is very different, mainly because cyclists are so variable in their speeds, abilities, and even the bikes they ride. We overtook slow Bakfietsen and guys ‘ghost riding’ a second bike, while we were often overtaken by people on their grandpa bikes. For a while it was a bit scary – bikes are so much more manoeuvrable and unpredictable than cars, but once we got used to it, I began to appreciate it.

It can be hard to find somewhere to park in the Netherlands...

05/08/2011 RIDE Utrecht – Amsterdam (50k)

The only inconvenient crossing - over a residential type canal

We absolutely blew through this ride, and stuck to the canal, even though we had to get over this inconvenient bridge which went over a residential canal. It was really cool watching the residents cruising around on their little boats, using them as Perth suburbanites use their cars. Riding along the canal was direct, and fairly fast. We were overtaking a lot of heavy ships along the way.

When we got to the outskirts of Amsterdam we decided to follow a sign that pointed through a park-looking area instead of just continuing to follow the Amsterdam Rhine Canal. We ended up in a rough looking neighbourhood trying to find the bike path again. Finally I decided we should head towards the train station, and I found the bike path again.

It was on this path that we had our first encounter with Dutch micro-cars. These cars can be driven without a license on bicycle infrastructure and they sound like lawn mowers. They are annoying because they are noisy, stinky and quite wide for a lot of the infrastructure.

Dutch Micro-car

We stayed in an apartment out in Middenweg, where we came across our first proper Dutch stairwell. It was fun carrying the bikes up there!

Stairwell, or ladder?

Amsterdam centre was really really busy, because it was the Pride festival. I could not stop thinking about how horrible Amsterdam would be if it was full of cars. With most people riding, catching trams or pedicabs for transport, the street parties were for the people, not cars. Even part of a tram line was shut down to ensure that people could use the space without being run over.

In the residential area where were were staying had 30kph speed limit streets, and I had to train myself out of the internal reaction to swoop in and collect children and dogs in case someone comes along and runs them over. It really hit home to me that there are better ways to plan our cities.

Crowd watching the Canal Pride Parade

We cleaned our bikes thoroughly in order to avoid an expensive steam/pressure clean by Australian customs when we arrived home, packed them into their cases, and then caught the tram and train to the airport. The train to the airport was very pleasant, but as we were on the Fyra (express) service, everyone, except us was caught out without their supplementary ticket. The supplementary train ticket costs 80 euro cents from the ticket machine at the train station, but if you don’t have it they charge you 20 euros on the train! Everyone complained they didn’t know, but there were signs on the platform and an announcement on the train that it was a special ‘fyra’ service and that you need a supplementary ticket. The announcements were in English and Dutch!

I was looking forward to coming home, though then I realised that meant coming home to my compulsory helmet, Air Zound, blazing Ay-Ups and Rad-bot and vehicular cycling. Ah cycling had been so relaxed and respected in Europe!

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2 Comments

Posted by on September 10, 2011 in Bike Friday, Touring

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

2 responses to “Bike Touring: France, Germany & the Netherlands (Part 4)

  1. Son of Shaft

    September 22, 2011 at 9:31 pm

    One does have to have a license for the microcar(brommobiel). At least a moped license since they are classified as mopeds(brommer) with a top speed of 45Kph.
    Brommobielen are mostly used by disabled or the elderly who can’t drive regular cars anymore.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_driving_licence

    Strange that the stairs in A’dam didn’t have handrails. Or at least on one side. With rails you can just pull yourself up to up and hold the rails for a fast but controlled slide down the stairs. Unless you’re carrying stuff. They are also part of having a bit of daily excercise.

     
    • perthcyclist

      September 23, 2011 at 12:23 am

      Ah someone misled me about the brommobielen license! I must say, I much prefer to share the path with two-wheeled mopeds, as the brommobielen are a little wider and squeezed us when overtaking – just like on the road at home!

      I didn’t mind the lack of handrails, but hauling all our stuff up there was definitely a mission. Sliding down that would have been fun though!

       

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