This is my absolute last chance to write my New Year post and wish you all a wonderful 2019, as tomorrow is the first day of February. I have an exciting year ahead – I am going to retire on 30th June (although I shall keep up my certified translations for a few more years). Retirement will, I hope, give me more time to blog.
Travel continued to play a big role in our lives this year, with our first trip away in February, to the island of Malta, where we stayed in a flat called Marine View in Senglea with a most stunning view both day and night. There were many interesting places to visit and the weather was wonderful, but Cyprus, where we went last year, remains my favourite Mediterranean island.
A snowfall on our return provided the occasion for my most stunning photo yet of Château de Chambord which remains high on the list of our cycling destinations in summer and a great place to walk in the winter.
In April we went to La Rochelle for a long week-end and had a truly unforgettable experience at Christopher Coutanceau’s 2-star Michelin restaurant followed by lots of cycling on nearby Ile-de-Ré. It’s a very busy and lively town and it’s a great place to shop in comfort (especially for a non-shopper like myself). There’s lots of activity at night along the waterfront which made a bit of a change from the Loire in winter.
We spent the whole of June in Germany and Poland, on our power-assisted bikes clocking up 800 kilometers for 16 days’ cycling. As ever, Germany was a pure delight. It is just so geared to cyclists with all its bike paths and rest-stops and I adore the colourful half-timbered houses in all the little towns and villages!
Poland, however, was another story. Although the major cities such as Poznan, Gdansk, Warsaw, Krakow and Wraclow have an amazing network of bike paths, as soon as you get out of the built-up area, you have to take either the main road or go on mountain-bike trails for 20-year-olds in top form. One unforgettable ride through a very sandy forest had me preferring the bitumen and traffic! There are practically no pretty villages which was a great disappointment. The only exception was Gdansk which we really loved. We had an apartment outside the town and were able to cycle happily up and down the coast through the seaside vilalges as well as into the city with its beautiful baroque façades.
After two weeks in Poland, we were relieved to get back to Germany and follow the Main River! Poland, despite its drawbacks, is a country on the rise economically and that was obvious everywhere we went. It was difficult to have much contact with the locals though, as they were not very welcoming on the whole.
Our week’s holiday in autumn this year took us to Porto with Ryan Air (never again!) from the nearby city of Tours. We enjoyed the first three days in Porto, by which time we had exhausted its possibilities, including a rather hair-raising bike ride along the coast. For the next three days, we took day trains (about one-hour each way) to the very interesting historical towns of Guimaraes, Aveiro and Braga. Poland may be on the way up, but Portugal is definitely going in the opposite direction. It’s very sad to see.
On the home front, we continued to cycle throughout July, August and September nearly every day, often in the evenings for a picnic on weekdays thanks to the long twilight and the amazing weather. We are now up to 5000 kms since we bought our power bikes in May 2017.
The winter, so far, has been cold and rainy. I’ve been forcing myself to go for an hour’s walk every two days but it’s not very attractive. We have a yearly pass to Château de Chenonceau though which makes a welcome change.
Jean Michel kept on with the renovations at the studio flat in Blois most of the year and it is now ready for holiday accommodation on www.chatelrose.com. I amused myself with some of the decorative features but my brilliant ideas always turned out to be more time-consuming than expected. As it is in a very old building, Jean Michel had to face up to a lot of challenges as well.
This coming year, especially once I have retired, we went to do more home exchanges as well. And in case anyone is wondering – we still follow the 5:2 diet twice a week and are in very good health! I miss my blog and hope that retirement really will bring me the time and energy I need to write more often! In the meantime, I would like to wish everyone a very happy and fulfilling 2019 and maybe see you over at www.loiredailyphoto.com!
We seem to have scored with our hotel at last. It is well-located, right on the bike path, the room is spacious with a sofa, two chairs and a desk, the bed is comfortable (and there is even a double bed unlike most accommodation in Germany where two single beds are usually pushed together), it has black-out curtains, the floor doesn’t creak, the shower doesn’t have water spiking out every which way, it has real towels, the breakfast is excellent and the staff is friendly and accommodating. It’s called Martinshof in Rottenburg am Neckar and I can recommend it! We are staying four nights.
The little town of Rottenburg am Neckar has a marktplatz with several historical buildings and a path along the Neckar where we go to have our picnic dinner each evening as we don’t have a terrace. The light is perfect the first time we go there and I manage to take several stunning photos. It also has one of the best ice-cream parlours we’ve been to in Germany. The dark chocolate is to die for.
The weather prediction for the three days we are staying here is warm and sunny, even very hot the first day. We make the effort to get up early (8 am) and are on our way by 9.30.
The Neckartal-Radweg path takes us through pretty countryside and is mostly flat. We look for a café in the first village, Obernau, to no avail, so push on to Bieringen which has a seemingly non-descript bakery/open air café that is obviously known for miles around as people keep pulling up in their cars and dashing in to pick up boxes and packets.
We enjoy our cappuccino but aren’t hungry enough for cake. By now it must be about 28°C.
To our immense surprise, we go past a golf course. You’d wonder where the people come from. It’s getting hotter and hotter and we are positively sweltering by the time we reach Eutingen Im Gäu. From then on, we spend most of our time going up and down hills. When we see the motorway bridge above us, we’re not surprised.
Fortunately, we then go through a wooded area or we may not have survived! We keep stopping to drink water which we keep chilled with our Aussie stubbie coolers.
Our destination, Horb, is not exactly what we expected. First, it is on top of a VERY HIGH HILL which we walk up, of course. At the top, we see the painted rathaus and church but no restaurants so we go back down the hill.
I suggest we ride along the river in the opposite direction to see what we can find. Jean Michel is very dubious but I insist. Suddenly we come across an outdoor Italian restaurant under shady trees. It has a very basic menu but we don’t care.
There is a high school just behind and the students are all cooling themselves off in the river a hundred metres on. We order wiener schnitzel to be on the safe side with French fries and they are excellent. Jean Michel tells me everyone is calling them “pommice”. We later learn it is the German pronunciation of pommes short for pommes frites, which means French fries in French. I feel sorry for the Italian mamma who’s cooking today. We are reasonably cool in the shade.
I am dreading the ride back because of all those hills but in fact, they are not so steep in this direction. After an hour, though, I am happy to stretch out on a conveniently located wooden bench to recuperate.
We call in again at the bakery in Bieringen. By now it is 32°C in the shade and we need to cool off again. Business continues to be brisk but we still don’t feel like eating cream cakes and my dictionary does not tell me what holzofen brot is.
All we want when we get back after cycling 55 km in 4 hours is a cold shower. Our room does not have air-conditioning but we cool off along the river with an ice-cream. On the way home, we hear an impromptu concert in one of the squares.
It’s next morning and an intermittent fast day. Fortunately, it isn’t as hot and the temperature is only expected to get to 28°C. We shall have to drink a lot of water though.
We pack our picnic lunch and set out at 9.30 am. Initially, the route is not very exciting, but at least it’s flat. Tübingen, our main destination, is only 12 km away. Since it was not bombed during World War II, most of the houses are very old, many are half-timbered and some are painted.
The rathaus with its oriel window is particularly attractive.
We have an espresso next to a little canal to the accompaniment of live music from Budapest and watch two enormous trucks try to get past each other.
After visiting the main sights in the upper part of the town, we cycle down to the tourist office just next to the Neckar Bridge. Tübingen has a population of 66,000 people, one third of whom are university students. They seem to be everywhere!
We see gondola-like boats on the river which apparently are the local tourist attraction.
As we haven’t determined where we are going next, I ask the man in the tourist office to suggest something to visit within a radius of 10 km. He gives me a brochure on Bebenhausen monastery and castle which is 6 km out of town.
On the way, we come across a little café on the bike path and have an espresso. Dark rain clouds are threatening and I haven’t packed our rain capes. In the little wood just after the café, there are definite signs that a shower that has already taken place. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.
When we reach Bebenhausen, we are enchanted. I don’t understand why the brochure only shows the rather drab inside of the castle and church when the village itself is so pretty.
Although it is not teeming with tourists we are not on our own. There are two groups of schoolchildren and two groups of adults which makes it difficult to take photographs!
We stop off at Tübigen on the way back to visit the cathedral because it has a flamboyant gothic jubé. There are some interesting wooden statues at the end of some of the pews.
We’re back at our hotel by 4 pm, having cycled 42 km in 3 hours 20 minutes in near-perfect weather.
We have dinner along the river as usual, but no ice-cream because it’s an intermittent fast day. As we reach the marktplatz we can hear music. We’ve arrived at the tail end of some sort of organised event but it’s good to know that our little town is so active.
After a refreshing sleep in our sccond hotel room in Tauberbishofsheim and Spiegel ei for breakfast, we are ready to go. We’re on our bikes by 9.45 am and it’s already 17°C and expected to get to 22°C in the afternoon. This is the best weather we’ve had for several days. As we ride through Tauberbishofsheim, we take a few more photos and are soon out in the country. This is what we’ve been waiting for!
It’s Sunday morning and we see people milling around the church and cemetery but in this area, no one is dressed in traditional costume. Just out of town, there is a little chapel with a cemetery which is also popular this morning.
We go past a field of hops which seems to have an educational purpose and remember all the hop fields when we cycled along the Danube.
In Lauda-Königshofen, our first stop, we have a cappuccino at an eis café and the owner talks to us in Italian. Nearly all the eis cafés we’ve been to here are run by Italians. When he brings out the coffee, he shows us the sugar sticks – men for me, women for Jean Michel.
There are several attractive 17th and 18th centuries houses but Lauda-Königshofen’s main claims to fame are its vineyards, the little baroque bridge over the Grünbach with its larger-than-life statues of Holy Kilian, Burkhard, Michael and Nepomuk at nearby Gerlasheim which also has an abbey church.
The bridge is as romantic as the guide book says and just as I’m crossing it, I see a flock of geese walk timidly across the road in front of a calvary.
We arrive at the 18th century baroque church of Heilig Kreuz, built as an abbey church in 1723 – 1730, just as mass is over which means we can also visit inside. The apse is blue, which is unusual. Pastel pinks are more common.
The ride, which is mostly flat, continues to be very pleasant, following the Tauber and passing in between fields of hay, maize and wheat, with vines on the hillslopes.
Our furthest destination today is Bad Mergentheim which is a spa town. The marktplatz is very similar to many others, with a fountain in the middle and the rathaus at one end flanked by several half-timbered houses.
We cycle around a bit looking for a restaurant for lunch but there are mostly only cafés and after going to the tourist information office we end up in a Greek restaurant that looks anything but!
We have been told at the tourist office that there is an event at the spa with a 1920s theme. It seems very amateurish and somewhat of a disappointment so we don’t stay long.
I have seen on the map that there is a walking path called Pfr Sebastian-Kneipp who is one of my ancestors so we set off to find it.
On our way back to Tauberbishofsheim, we stop off to visit the little baroque church of Lauda-Königshofen where we had our cappuccino. We were not able to visit it earlier because there was a mass. It’s no different from any of the others except for maybe it’s blue draperies above the altar.
After 46 km and 3 hours of cycling and more sun than we expected, we’re glad to relax on our balcony at the hotel. We are still having internet problems though.
Next morning, it’s an intermittent fast day and we need to pay a visit to the supermarket. One of the things on my list is hard-boiled eggs, which you cannot buy in France, but which are readily available in Germany. You can recognize them by their bright colours.
We then drive to the little village of Elpersheim which is just a few kilometers from Weikersheim, the next village mentioned on our Romantic Road map and renowned for its castle, once the residence of the princes of Hohenlohe. We are on our bikes by 11 am and arrive at Weikersheim fifteen minutes later. It is already 23°C and, as you can see in the photo, we are not alone!
The marktplatz has a church at one end with gabled houses around it. It also has a number of contemporary statues of young girls which are the second attraction after the castle and very life-like.
The castle itself is extremely interesting. Unfortunately, there are only guided tours and they are all in German but we are given brochures in French so we won’t get bored. No photos unfortunately. It is one of the rare Renaissance castles that still has its original furniture. The plan is always symmetrical with the male quarters on one side and the female quarters on the other, organized so that you can see right through from one end to the other.
I take a sneak photo of the most prestigious bedroom with its golden cradle.
We then go into the Knights’ Hall which is quite overwhelming and most unusual. Completed in around 1600, it is 40 metres long with a painted caisson ceiling to match the three-dimensional stucco figures of hunting trophies.
One of the people in the group starts taking photos and the guide explains in English that he has special permission and that, as a result, we, too, can use our cameras. We don’t hesitate of course!
After the visit, we take photos of the gardens then find a bench in the nearby park to eat our lunch under the linden trees which are very common in Germany.
It has turned very hot and at 2 pm, we are only just beginning our 45 kilometer round trip.
At Tauberrettersheim, the next village, there is an old stone bridge with figures of saints and an unusual sundial.
But the sundials really begin with the next village of Röttingen which they have become a speciality.
The village also has several towers, one of which has been rehabilitated and turned into holiday flats!
By the time we get to our destination of Creglingen after a steady though not very steep climb of 4 kilometers, we need a cold drink, but have to content ourselves with a Coca Cola Light. No ice-creams allowed on a fast day!
Creglingen itself doesn’t have much to offer but a couple of kilometers further on, up a steep hill this time, is the church of Herrgott which has a famous 11-metre high early 16th century wooden altar. We decide it’s worth the climb!
As we leave Creglingen, I’m looking forward to 4 kilometers of freewheeling but Jean Michel suggests we take an alternative route. I stupidly agree. So much for coasting down the hill. On the other side of the Tauber it’s up and down all the time.
We have a rest next to the bridge in Tauberrettersheim and are amused by the second hand dealer opposite.
In Weikersheim, we discover a tower we didn’t see on our way through and take some more photos of the main square.
We are very happy with our two days of cycling and have now completed the main sights along the Romantic Road. We would have liked to visit more on our bikes, but the weather did not permit – it’s no fun cycling when it’s cold and rainy.
Tomorrow, we’re moving to the Neckar Valley, starting with Rottenburg am Necker which is about 170 km southwest of Tauberbishofsheim. So stay with us on our last week of cycling in Germany.
After our disappointing cycling experience in the Po Valley in Italy, where we were based in Crema for two nights, ,Jean Michel suggests we go back to Wies in Bavaria. I agree but insist on getting a proper cycling map first.
First we schedule an over-night stopover in Innsbruck in the south of Austria, with an abortive lunch stop at Bolzano which turns out to be nothing but new buildings. We leave town and get back on the motorway, then follow a sign saying Gudon. The only two restaurants in this pretty little mountain village which is more Austrian than Italian are closed but I find a bench in the shade near the church and we have a picnic. We love the beauty of the site, the panoramic view and the lovely cemetery.
After another 1 ½ hours, we arrive in Innsbruck. going back to the same hotel we stayed in 5 years ago, Gastof Koreth. It’s been renovated, the rooms seem to have shrunk, the balcony still has the same great view of Innsbruck and the surrounding mountains, the wooden floor creaks badly and breakfast is hardly any better than in Italy.
After a short rest, we ride into the Old Town to see the Golden Roof again but there are so many tourists that we decide to cycle along the river for a few kilometers. This is the sort of holiday we like! We have our aperitif at the same café, Dom Café, as last time opposite the Cathedral and dinner in the same beer garden, Löwen Haus, as we did five years ago. We are creatures of habit if nothing else. Actually, it’s easier than searching for new places! The dinner’s a bit disappointing though – we should have taken the day’s special.
After cycling back up the hill to our hotel, we start the next accommodation search on booking.com. This is not a task that either of us likes. We have a lot of difficulty finding anything as we’d like an apartment for a few days and nothing seems to be available even on German websites which have the added complication of being in German. We settle for the Alpen Hotel in Peiting, about 30 km north of Fussen, for two nights. We are tempted by Sonnenbichl where we stayed in 1999, but would like a little more comfort. I suggest we stop off at Garmich-Partenkirche on the way and pick up some tourist information.
When we get there, we park and walk into the centre. Every single building is decorated with beautiful murals. There is no tourist information about the area we are going to (Pfaffenwinkel – priests’ corner) but we are able to buy a couple of bike maps at a bookshop. Even in German, they are still useful.
On the way to Peiting, I see an interesting-looking dome off to the right in a place called Ettal. I ask Jean Michel who has had enough driving on winding roads if we can stop. We’re glad we did. Ettal has a stunningly beautiful baroque Benedictine monastery built in the eighteenth century according to the plans of a Swiss-Italian architect. However we don’t anywhere we would like to have lunch.
A bit further on, our GPS sends us on a most unlikely road to the villag e of Altenau. We see some people having lunch under blue and white umbrellas at the Altenauer Dorfwirt which according to my iPhone German dictionary means something like the village host. We order Viener Schnitzel (what else?) and some cold white wine. The centre of the village is very lively and we watched school children and tractors file past. Jean Michel has perked up by now.
We arrive in Peiting mid-afternoon and are relieved to discover that the hotel room is spacious with French windows on two sides, each with a balcony, and that the floor doesn’t creak. We venture out and discover we are in a pretty little village. Andrea at the tourist office speaks good English and gives us the local maps and information as well as a list of holiday flats. She shows us several bike itineraries including Wies and it looks as though we have enough information not to get lost. She also directs us to the local organic supermarket.
In the evening, after a picnic dinner on the balcony (now why can’t I grow geraniums like that?) and an ice-cream at the Eis Cafe down the road, we try to no avail to find an apartment for a few days. All the websites are in German and they don’t have calendars to indicate availability. I decide to go back and see Andrea next day which we do, after a disappointing breakfast. Are we getting harder to please?
She is very helpful and tries several places. V-lan (wifi) seems to be the main problem, which is surprising. One apartment seems promising and she says she’ll have the answer in an hour. I leave her my cell number and off we go. Our cycling holiday in Germany seems to be off to a good start!
Venice, Germany and Lisbon, in that order, outside France, and Turquant near Chinon, closer to home.
Venice comes first because of our wonderful gondola experience (which sounds very touristy I know) and all our other less touristy visits as it was our second time in the Floating City. Strange as it may seem, it was not until I had read my way through Donna Leon’s 23 Commissioner Brunetti crime novels a few months later that it became really apparent to me that there are no cars in Venice.
I see Venice as being full of canals and bridges and boats and alleyways rather than being without cars. I was fascinated by all the different types of boats and activities on the canal. Last time we were there, I had a foot problem and we spent a lot of time on the vaporettos. This time, we did a lot more walking.
Next, Germany, where we cycled for a month, first along the Moselle River, then the Rhine, followed by the Elbe, which took as into the former East Germany then up to the North Sea and Friesland, chasing the sun and windmills.
September found us in Lisbon which we loved when the sun come out but found somewhat seedy when it rained, which was more often than not. The best surprise was the marvellous monastery of Jeronimos in Belem, which is among the five places in the world that have left an indelible mark on me. The others are Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Plitvice Lakes in Croatia, Tasman National Park in Australia and Rila Monastery in Bulgaria.
Lisbon is a city of vistas and tiles and we even bought some 18th century azulejos to incorporate into our future kitchen. The other place we really enjoyed was Sintra with its beautiful palace and hilltop castles.
We didn’t go very far afield in France this year, because we spent a lot of time cycling along the many paths around Blois and the neighbouring châteaux of Chambord, Chaumont and Cheverny, but we did go to Turquant on the Loire not far from Saumur for a surprisingly early cycling weekend in March.
We went back to visit the austere and beautiful 12th century abbey of Fontevraud with its extraordinary kitchens.
Our first trip in 2015 will be to Granada for a week at the end of January to soak up the Spanish atmosphere of Andalucia, which we discovered (and loved) in Seville a few years ago and get some much-needed sun.
We have a home-exchange in Istanbul to redeem, but haven’t fixed the dates yet.
With Black Cat now living in New York I would like to visit the city through her eyes and take in Boston as well.
I’m still hoping to go to Australia before the end of the year but don’t know yet whether that will eventuate.
This summer may be a series of short cycling trips, along the lines of Turquant, as we plan to renovate the kitchen and add at least one large and several small windows to bring in more light. And, as everyone knows, renovation always takes far longer than expected!
We have now been on four cycling trips to Germany, first on the Rhine near Lake Constance, second along the Danube from its source to Budapest, third on the Moselle, Rhine, Elbe and Eiser Rivers through former East Germany and north-west Germany and fourth along the Romantic Road in Bavaria and the Neckar Valley. My preference goes to the Rhine and Danube for various reasons. Here are my suggestions and conclusions which mainly concern people who do not speak more than very basic German.
In our experience so far, Germany is the country that offers the most possibilities to cyclists, not only in small and large cities but also in country areas. Bike routes are usually well signposted and cyclists are well-respected by motorists. They are mostly dedicated routes often separated from car traffic by a low concrete wall.
Bikeline, Kompass, Bergstrasse, Public Press and the ADFC all have excellent detailed maps and plasticised guidebooks, but only a couple are available in English which means that you lose a lot of the information. The German versions can be found in most tourist offices and bookshops. In some cities such as Bremen, there are Radstations which have a large collection on sale. However, it is best to order the English versions on-line. The local tourist offices often have free maps of cycling paths in their area.
First, a note on what we are looking for: a good bed, a clean, quiet, reasonably spacious room, a good shower, a balcony or terrace, and if not a lounge corner with two chairs and a table, a good wifi connection, attractive but not luxurious furniture and furnishings, blackout curtains, easy parking and pleasant surroundings. Also, a good breakfast when it’s not a self-catering flat. We don’t need a TV or hi-fi equipment, toiletries or even a hair dryer. If possible, we like an electric jug. If staying in a town, we like to be in the centre so that we can walk everywhere as most town centres are pedestrian-only. A garage for our bikes can be useful.
The Bikeline and Public Press maps have accommodation suggestions, especially along the Danube. We often rode past signs for zimmer (B&Bs) and ferienwohnung (holiday flats) but were rarely able to obtain any lists that indicated facilities and prices. We did not want to knock on someone’s door, have them show us the room, then refuse. In the end, we preferred using booking.com which has two types of bookings: either your accommodation is guaranteed up until 6 pm and you don’t give need a credit card, or it is non-refundable usually with a special offer using your credit card. We also used www.hotel.de but one of my bookings wasn’t registered.
We found that you can usually book the night before unless it’s a weekend or a very popular venue (watch out for local events especially in summer) but we often had to spend a couple of hours searching with no real guarantee of results. In general, former West Germany offers more spacious and comfortable accommodation than former East Germany.
Our budget is 60 to 100 euros a night. The only time we went over that amount we were disappointed in the accommodation but it was a very touristy area.
We travel by car with a Thule bike rack that enables our bikes to be attached in such a way that they can’t be stolen (or stripped). We choose a half-way point where we stay 2 to 4 nights, fanning out in each direction, sometimes doing a loop, sometimes returning along the same route and sometimes taking the train back. As a result, we do not have to worry about luggage. On the Danube, special rad hotels, such as the Draxler, will take your bags from one place to the next for a fee but I imagine it would have to be organised beforehand.
The reason we go by car is that it means we can follow the good weather as we don’t like cycling in the rain! We choose mid-June to mid-July to avoid the crowds and benefit from the very long twilight. If it’s too hot, we can avoid being out in the midday sun and if the mornings are still a little chilly we can sleep late. An occasional rainy day gives us well-needed R&R.
We try to alternate staying in B&Bs, hotels and flats. Most places offer a fairly copious breakfast, particularly if you like cold cuts (which we don’t). The buffet always includes bread, boiled eggs, cheese, cold cuts, fruit, sometimes yoghurt and juice, often tomatoes and cucumber. You can often ask for a fried egg (spiegel ei).
Except on our twice-weekly intermittent fast days when we don’t have breakfast and have a picnic lunch, we eat in a local restaurant in the middle of the day. The food is fairly standard with a lot of pork and potatoes, usually served with a side salad. We have a glass of wine each and the bill is usually between 20 and 40 euros.
We have a car fridge that we can plug into a wall socket in our room if there is no mini-bar, so at night, we usually have a picnic on the balcony of our room, consisting of raw vegetables such as tomatoes, cucumber, baby peppers, carrots and asparagus, in addition to cheese or smoked salmon, bread and fruit. We usually have a glass of wine with pistachios first.
We have now discovered the perfect solution to the clothing and washing problem. We have found several brands of clothing in France and Germany that are specially designed and made to keep you dry and eliminate smells (Fusalp, Columbia, Wolfskin). You can easily wash them out at night and they are usually dry by morning. We make do with two pairs of ¾ pants and 4 shirts each without having to resort to the usual multi-coloured lycra cycling outfits worn by the cyclists in the photo above. I can highly recommend them despite the price (watch out for end-of-season sales). They are extremely comfortable and never stick to your body. They don’t look like cycling clothes so you can wear them when not cycling as well. We were able to wear the pants 2 or 3 days in a row and the shirts twice without any smells at all. We have long-sleeved “overshirts” in the same material.
I also use a “mechanical” washing machine I once read about in a book by Steinbeck called Travels with Charley. You need a small plastic rubbish bin with a secure lid. You add water, washing powder (buy the special travelling sort in a tube) and a couple of shirts and underwear and put it in the boot of the car. When you arrive at your destination, you rinse the clothes and hang them on hangers in the shower to drip. If they are not completely dry next morning, you can either hang them in the car or in the wardrobe. It is an extremely efficient method!
CASH AND CREDIT CARDS
We only have Visa cards which were often not accepted so we had to juggle with having enough cash to pay for accommodation and meals. Maestro seemed to be more widely accepted.
We usually cycle 40 to 60 kilometers a day, taking frequent breaks to visit or have refreshments. Many of the riverside paths are flat, which is good on the knees and bad on the rear end. Make sure you have been cycling regularly before you go. Due to bad spring weather on one occasion, we hadn’t done much cycling and I was saddlesore for two weeks. Take some nappy rash cream with you!
We each have a front bag with a Click Fix attachment and map holders. Jean Michel’s bag contains a full repair kit while I carry the first aid kit as well as our personal effects and a bike pump each. We also have a distance recorder and I have an iphone stand.
We then have expandable saddle bags that slide onto the bike rack, containing a long-sleeved shirt, a windcheater, a poncho and plastic trousers depending on the weather. We also carry sunscreen, biscuits and mosquito repellent. The poncho isn’t ideal but we haven’t found anything better. We use ½ litre plastic Evian-type water bottles with screw tops that we refrigerate overnight and put in stubby coolers inside the side pouches.
We don’t wear helmets which are not compulsory in Europe but we always wear caps and use sunscreen. We wear MEINDL and TEVA walking sandals that seem to last forever, because we like to alternate cycling and visiting. If it’s a little frisky, you can add socks and look very German!
In Germany, ferries that take people, bikes and sometimes cars across the river are very popular. They usually cost 1 or 2 euros per person with a bike. There is no set schedule. The ferryman crosses when there are enough people. Sometimes there is an intercom you can press if there is no one in sight. The car ferries are usually cable-operated while the people/bike ferries can also be motorised. Bridges don’t always have a dedicated bike lane.
You can read more about our cycling intineraries in Germany, France and other European destinations by entering “Cycling in Germany” or “Danube”, “Elb”, “Rhine”, “Moselle”, etc. in the search box. Another excellent source of information is the Bicycle Germany website. Below is some useful vocab. I’d love to hear about your own experience or answer any questions you may have. Happy cycling!
Rad, Farhhad – bike
Radweg – bike route
Radler – cyclist
Radfarher – cyclist
Radfarhen – to bike/cycle
Radtour, Radfahrt – bike ride
Radhotel – hotel that especially caters to cyclists
Fahrradabsteigen – get off your bike
Zimmer – B&B (literally means bedroom)
Ferienwohnung – holiday flat
Färhe – ferry
It’s the last day of our cycling holiday in Germany and we’re going to visit Germany’s oldest town – Trier – then cycle from Thörnich to Neumagen-Dhron. We’re not cycling around Trier itself because the bike paths in and out of the city look as though they go through industrial areas. On the way, we drive up a winding road near Piesport to have a view of the Moselle below.
We’ve been to Trier before, during a wonderful holiday in Luxembourg over 15 years ago but it was just for dinner one night and the only thing we remember, apart from an excellent entrecôte, is the Porta Nigra which today is the largest Roman city gate north of the Alps.
As we approach the centre, we see the ruins of three Roman baths. It really is astonishing that Jean Michel has no recollection of them at all, not so surprising for me though because I have such a terrible memory for places.
We park in an almost empty parking place not far from the baths and within easy walking distance from the centre through a lovely garden, the Palastgarten. From what I can work out, the parkschein (parking metre – see all this useful vocab I’ve learnt) is only for tourist buses. As there are other cars parked there, I assume it’s free if you’re not a bus.
After a welcome drink at the Zeitspuring Café which would have a perfect view of the almost obscenely baroque 17th century Kurfürstliches Palais, if it wasn’t being refurbished, we head for the Neolithic-looking Constantine Basilica behind it.
A basilica in the Roman sense, it was actually the 67 m long throne hall of the Roman Emperor Constantine. Today, it is used as a Protestant Church.
Next on the list are two churches, sort of interwoven. The 13th century Gothic Liebfrauenkirche is one of the most important early Gothic cathedrals in Germany but doesn’t look anything like a French Gothic cathedral with its little towers and no flying buttresses.
Inside it certainly looks Gothic though, except for the painted vaulting.
When we enter the 4th century Romanesque Cathedral next door, we’re pleased we saw the other one first because it would have paled in comparison otherwise!
It has several very eclectic features including a most unusual organ. Even with our binoculars, we can’t work out exactly what it’s made of. It looks like mother-of-pearl to me.
After leaving the church, we turn left towards marktplatz which is very crowded and lined with colourful façades.
From the square, you can see the Porta Nigra, built of grey sandstone in 200 AD. It acquired its name (black gate) in the Middle Ages because of its colour. It originally consisted of two four-storied towers and was one of four. I have a vague memory of it …
By then we are hot – it’s 33°C – and hungry so go back to a shady outdoor restaurant I noticed on the way. There is a card on the table explaining in English and German that you go inside and buy your drinks and order your food. You are given a flag with a number that you put in the flowerpot on your table and the waitress brings your order. Just like an Australian pub, says Jean Michel.
He comes back with two different glasses of Riesling and I go and order the pork steaks and summersalat. The restaurant also has a great view of the two churches – provided you know about the second terrace, which we only discover after we finish.
Just next to the Kesselstadt Weinstube is an unusual stone monument of a Neumanger weinschiff, or wine boat.
After lunch, we decide we’ve seen enough of Trier so return to the parking lot where we have a 10 euro parking ticket. I obviously misinterpreted the information!
We drive to Thörnich wondering why on earth we’re going to cycle in the heat. “Where are my binoculars?”, I suddenly cry. I look everywhere but have no recollection of when I last saw them. I phone the weinstube, having checked how to say binoculars in German (fernglas) but no one has found them. Ah, you were luckier with your sunglasses, I say, just in case Jean Michel is tempted to mention how often I lose things.
It’s very hot going, mainly through vineyards, with some occasional shade along the edge of the Moselle. Also, I’m feelilng very depressed about the binoculars.They were a present from my children and Jean Michel and are very good Leica binoculars. I try to put them out of my mind.
We arrive at Neumagen-Dhron which we didn’t even enter yesterday because it looked most unpromising and discover it’s actually a pretty little village with lots of places to eat, in particular an eis café.
Just in front, what do we see, but another weinschiff monument with an explanation in approximate English. It’s a winegrower’s tombstone, with 4 wooden wine kegs. I have to wait until a French cyclist finishes his mobile phone conversation before I can take the photo.
On the way back, I stop to take a photo of what looks like a children’s paddling pool. I later learn it’s a kneippbad after Dr Sebastian Kneipp, who may be one of my ancestors. It’s a therapeutic pool that you are supposed to wade through like a stork. What a pity I don’t know!
We’re hotter than ever when we get back to the car. I check the car for my binoculars again but still no sign of them.
After shopping in a little supermarket we found earlier that has the most surprising coffee shop at the entrance we go back to our flat.
We’re sitting out on the balcony experiencing end-of-holiday blues while drinking the wine we bought in Bernkastel the day before. It hasn’t been a real holiday, says Jean Michel. We haven’t had any time for relaxation. I can’t agree more. We talk about why. I think that we were expecting the same magic as our Danube trip last year but Jean Michel doesn’t agree.
However, we both agree that when everything is planned ahead of time, it’s less stressful. But we wanted to follow the good weather, which we accomplished pretty well.
Let’s not stay in for dinner, says Jean Michel. Let’s go and find something in Bernkastel. On the way we find a hotel with a garden restaurant. We have rumpsteak (not schwein!) and the waitress speaks real English which is somewhat of a relief.
After dinner we walk over the bridge to the old city and discover that there is another long street with lots of beautiful houses (and restaurants) we missed the day before. By now our end-of-holiday blues have disappeared.
It’s next morning and we set out early on our 6 ½ hour drive to Blois. As we’re packing up the car, I have another look for my binoculars. And there they are! They’ve half fallen into the top zippered part of my bike bag that I only use when we have a picnic. When we got back to the car after Trier I must have put them on the back seat on top of the bike bag and because both the binoculars and the bag are black, I didn’t see them.
We arrive in Bernkastel at about 1.30 pm after a 4-hour drive from Hann Münden with only a couple of rough patches on the motorway. I wouldn’t have liked to be going in the other direction around Hanover though. The line-up seemed to go on forever. One thing I will not regret are the German motorways.
The sun is out although the temperature is not that high. We have a light lunch at the Weinkulturel centre which is next to the 15th century Saint Nicolas hospital where they only ever have 33 patients because it was the age at which Christ died. In any case, it’s a very lovely spot.
We have to check in at our ferienwohnung (holiday flat) between 2 and 3 pm. The owner is very friendly and speaks good English. The flat is fairly rudimentary but has a little balcony with an excellent view of the vine-covered hillside and the ruins of the Burg Landshut castle on the other side of the Moselle if you ignore the school in the foreground. The big problem is the internet connection which only works if I sit on the step between the entrance and the living room. I try moving the small sofa but one of the legs falls off … not our best accommodation.
After a short shopping excursion, we set out on our bikes directly from the flat 15-K downstream to Lösnich. On the way , we discover a small platz in Bernkastel which we find attractive and get some brochures from the tourist office next door.
We’re a little disappointed with the countryside which corresponds to what we initially saw around Kondorf. Jean Michel is a little worried that it’s not going to bet any better. Also, we are often parallel to the road.
We see some interesting sundials, though, in the middle of the vineyards. They were built in the 19th century so that the workers knew when to knock off for lunch or go home for the day!
On our return to Bernkastel, we can’t find a restaurant to our liking so end up going home, which is actually much more relaxing and we’re really not that hungry. We watch the sun set over Burg Landshut on our little balcony.
The bed turns out to be a disaster – hard and creaky. The pillow gives me a sore neck so I don’t have a very good night despite the good shutters. I’m really starting to long for my own bed.
Today, we’re heading 25 km upstream to Neumagen-Dhron. The scenery is much prettier and the bike path is closer to the river and we go through a lot of little villages.
In Lieser, we see a very unusual 19th century Neo-gothic building that is obviously being refurbished. It has some amazing details on the façade including mosaics and fish-shaped gutters.
We come across any number of weinguts or wineries but no cafés, not even for radlers (cyclists). We finally get some coffee at Peter’s bäckerei in where I have to bring out the coffee myself.
Our bike path includes some nearly vertical sections which I’m flat out wheeling my bike up but Jean Michel, who’s been riding a bike since primary school, cycles up with great aplomb.
Most of the vineyards which encircle us on every side are also nearly vertical! In one place, there is obviously no other way to get to one lot of vines except by boat.
I spy a little roadside chapel whose legend is explained in English for once. Probably in the 17th century, a wooden cross swirled around in the same place when the river was in spate, pointing in the direction of the village of Ferres. This was taken as a sign to build a chapel. Today, the locals call it Ferres Cathedral because of its great importance to them.
Further down the road, there is a house that looks like it has a second-hand shop on its wall!
As we cycle past Piesport, I see a couple of likely lunch spots just in case Neumagen-Dhron doesn’t have anything better to offer. I’m right and by the time we get back to Piesport along the other side of the river, we are well and truly ready for our trocken weiss wein! It must be about 28°C.
We choose the Karthäuserhof with its inviting parasols, and only the bike path between us and the river. We manage to communicate with the very jovial waitress and enjoy our wiener art schnitzels and pommes frites.
It’s a bit difficult to get back on our bikes after such high calorie food (not to mention the wine) and we seem to go up and down a lot among the vineyards but we finally reach Bernkastel ready for an ice-cream.
I suggest we go further than the platz we’ve already visited and to our immense surprise, the little streets are very pretty (and full of tourists). Then we come out into Marktplatz and look at each other in bemusement. Why isn’t this mentioned in our guidebooks and the local brochures? The 16th and 17th century façades are really beautiful.
After wandering around we finally end up at a shady table at the Ratskeller with a glass of wine and our binoculars studying all the wonderful architectural features. I see that the façades are not just painted but carved as well. They also have some lovely wind vanes.
Before we go and visit the only remaining town gate, we enter the nearby weingut, Robert Schmitz-Herges, which looks as though it might keel over any moment, and buy an excellent 2010 Spitzhäusen riesling classic at 4.90 euro a bottle! All the vineyards are around Bernkastel.
After our three days of wonderful weather in Friesland, we are homeward bound. We have 5 nights left in Germany and are spending the last three on the Moselle, near Trier, which is an 8-hour drive, so we are looking for somewhere in the middle where it’s not going to pour with rain. I would like to go to Hamelin (of Pied Piper fame) but it’s a bit out of the way and drizzly. We opt for Hann Münden for which light showers are forecast.
As there is nothing interesting on the way and it’s an intermittent fast day, we have a picnic lunch and arrive at the Werratal Hotel in the rain at 3 pm. We flake out and finally emerge at 6.30 pm. It’s no longer raining so we ask the girl at the desk if she has a map of the bike path to Hann Münden as it’s 6 K from the hotel. She looks so sceptical – after the rain, it will be very muddy – that we change our minds and drive there.
We find a stone picnic table and bench overlooking the town which is at the confluence of the Fulda and Weser Rivers on which Bremen is located.
It has another claim to fame. Blois’ most important historical figure, Denis Papin, inventor of the steam engine and pressure cooker, built a steam-pump powered paddlewheel boat, probably pedal-driven, in 1704, and as a demonstration, used his steam paddlewheeler to navigate down the Fulda River from Kassel to Hann. Münden in 1707.
We wander over the covered wooden bridge, typical of those we saw on the Danube last year, and into the town, which has more than 700 historical houses, some of them more than 600 years old, in the Weser Renaissance style.
It is not as stunning as Celle, but it is still very charming and there are some beautiful painted doors.
It’s next morning and we’ve had an excellent breakfast (good bread for once!). The forecast is scattered showers so we’re taking a chance. We’ve studied the cycling map on the web and decided to start at Bad Karlshafe, which has an interesting history.
It was founded in 1699 by French Huguenots fleeing persecution in France. Though initially named Sieburg, the town was later named after Charles I, Landgrave of Hesse-Kassel, who granted them refuge. We find this particularly interesting as the original owners of our house in Blois, Closerie Falaiseau, were Huguenots.
The town was built to an ideal plan in the classical Baroque style with a harbour in the centre that is currently undergoing restoration, which unfortunately somewhat detracts from the overall aesthetics.
After a false start we find ourselves on a very pleasant bike path along the Weser River. We lament the lack of sun because the scenery is very calm and peaceful, with rolling hills on both sides.
It’s nearly midday. I’m feeling sluggish and needing a coffee fix so when we arrive at Lauenförde which has some lovely old houses with more painted doorways, we stop at the first outdoor café we see, the Dolce Vita Theatre Café. The cappuccino is almost real and the excellent Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (Black Forest) will keep us going until lunch in Höxter which is still another 20 K.
I go in to use the ladies and discover that the inside is like an antique library. It’s beautiful. Downstairs in the basement, there is a small theatre, hence the name. I follow the Ausgang sign and find myself in a small courtyard with a well – we could have sat there instead of facing the street!
The path to Höxter is very pleasant and the sun finally comes out. Höxter proves to have more beautiful painted façades, with a different sort of motif. We cycle through the pedestrian centre until we find a restaurant to our liking. By then it’s 2 pm and we are the only people there.
Using my German dictionary app, we order roast suckling pig with saukerkraut and dumplings – klein for me and gross for Jean Michel (of course). We are brought a little cup of cucumber and cream soup while we’re waiting. The food is delicious. The bill, including a glass of trocken weiss wein each is 34 euros! I can definitely recommend the Paulaner Wirtshaus on Stummreger Strasse.
We call in at the tourist office to get a town map and check we’ve seen all the sights. Ah, we’ve missed Adam & Eve’s house. It turns out to be just down the road from our restaurant and is worth the detour.
We take the path back on the other side the river and it is just as pretty – and just as hilly!
At Wehrden, we visit the grounds of a schloss, a bit worried when we see a privat sign, then have a very cold (and rare) Coke sitting in comfortable chairs with a view of the Weser.
At Beverunge, there are more painted façades and an old winch which was no doubt used for a cable ferry. There is also another book tower but not nearly as cute as the red one in Friesland.
By the time we get to Herstelle, it’s 6.05 pm and we can see the ferry across the river. The sign says the ferry stops at 6 pm but the ferryman waves to us and comes over. Another couple of cyclists are waiting. We’ve never seen a ferry like this one. I’m even wondering how I’ll get my bike on.
But the ferryman shows us how to turn the bike and back it into the main part of the ferry. With four bikes and 5 people, we’re almost full. When he sees us taking photos of him, he spontaneously offers to take photos of us. He’s obviously done this before. The ferry costs 1 euro for two people and two bikes.
On the other side, a brass band is obviously about to start practising but after waiting around for a while we move on. It’s getting late and we haven’t bought our tomatoes, lettuce and fruit yet for dinner.
At 7.30 we’re on our balcony with a glass of Riesling and a packet of pistachios, having cycled 54 K and had the sort of day we love – soaking up the scenery, discovering new types of architecture, visiting unusual places – and it didn’t rain! Tomorrow, we’re off to the Moselle and the weather forecast is hot and sunny.
Windmills and dykes, I can hear you saying. Aren’t they Dutch? Well, we are in the north-east of Germany, near the North Sea, in East Friesland in Lower Saxony which is only separated from the Netherlands by a small stretch of water. From what I gather, the Dutch province of Friesland and the German province were both occupied by the Frisians until the 15th century.
Day 1. Bremen to Norden takes about 2 hours so we’ve scheduled lunch at Leer. There’s a photo on the cycling map of a restaurant called Zur Waage und Börse in front of the town’s most historical building, the Waage, which my dictionary says means “scales” so I guess it’s a weighing station. We have an excellent dish of plaice which I learn is Scholle, which is going to be a useful word because it is the local dish.
When we arrive in Norden, the first thing we see are two windmills, on either side of a shopping centre. We buy supplies for our evening picnic.
Hotel Stadt Norden, although well-located, turns out to be a disappointment. It’s the most expensive so far at 110 euro/night, rather run-down with frayed towels, despite being a 4-star hotel! The young boy on reception seemed outraged that we didn’t guess the entrance to the parking lot was in a back street. Later when I ask for help with my wifi connection, he also seems to take it as a personal affront.
But we pack our picnic and by 6.45 pm are on our bikes. The weather is beautiful so we head for the coast (well, for the end of the polder on the other side of the dyke), passing another windmill on the way out of Norden. After reaching Nord-deich (deich means dyke), we ride parallel to the dyke rather than on top because of the sheep and we know how I attract sheep! We also see an amazing number of wind turbines.
Jean Michel has a great time watching the tractors and other farming equipment which he claims are performing tasks he’s never seen in France and thinks may contribute to the biomass process.
Three hours and 32 Km later, we are back at our hotel, ready to sink into bed!
Day 2. The blackout curtains are effective in keeping out the light so we reach the breakfast room around 9 am after the rush. The selection is quite good with scrambled, fried and boiled eggs and smoked salmon in addition to the usual cheese and pork cuts. There is even champagne but I don’t see anyone drinking it …
This is to be a big day, with a 57-km circuit. We set out from Norden to Marienkirche in Marienhafe. Hafe means port which is interesting because we’re inland but the church was built in 1230 before the dykes and polders added large stretches of farming land.
The church doesn’t appear to be open but there is a sign indicating a museum. We climb up to the first floor and see a winding staircase going up to the tower. I rashly suggest we buy tickets and we start walking up. By the time we get to the first floor, I’m feeling weak at the knees. There’s still another couple of floors to go. “I’ll just wait here”, I announce.
But I decide I may as well continue now that I’ve got this far. Now, that’s a bad move. The steps are narrower and steeper. I stay glued to Jean Michel’s patient back until we finally reach the top. The view is magnificient but I’m not really sure it’s worth it. Coming down is even worse. I have to follow Jean Michel, once step at a time. The last flight is a breeze compared with the other two. We learn the tower was so dilapidated in the 19th century that the top two floors were removed. What a relief!
There seem to be no cafés around for a morning break so we get back on our bikes to visit two more windmills. I’m still not feeling all that confident. Just as we reach the second windmill, I hear a car behind me and realise that I’m on the street and not on the bike path. I panic and don’t mount the footpath at the right angle. Next moment I’m crashing into the hedge.
The boy driving the car stops and gets out but I can’t even explain it’s not his fault! I get up and pull my bike up to show I’m not hurt and limp round the corner to a handy bench. I’ve grazed one knee badly and given myself a terrific bruise on the other leg. My pride is also severely wounded. Jean Michel is very reassuring and helps me clean the wound with our first-aid kit. I haven’t fallen off my bike since Jean Michel tried to kiss me cycling along the Marne.
After a few photos of the windmill, we mount our bikes again. My knee is quite painful for a while but it doesn’t actually stop me cycling.
Next stop is the very pretty little port of Greetsiel with its traditional fishing boats.
We have scholle at the Captains Dinner but Jean Michel is convinced it’s not the same fish as the one we ate in Leer the day before, even though it’s the same word in German. The waitress speaks English which is a relief. We are buffeted about by the wind but it’s still warm and sunny. I hate to imagine what it must be like in winter.
After exploring the little town, we start the return journey to Norden, passing more dykes and wind turbines, both of which are synonymous with wind. Fortunately, it’s about 26 or 27°C so at least it isn’t a cold wind. At one stage, we have a canal on the other side as well.
By the time we get back at 6.30 pm, we’ve clocked up 57 km and all I want to do is have a cold drink and stretch out on the bed! I’m thankful that I didn’t do myself any greater harm.
Day 3. It’s our last day in Norden and we’ve exhausted the immediate surroundings so drive to Marienhafe to take the 37-km thatched roof circuit. The thatched roofs are all in an outdoor peat bog museum. We’ve seen some from time to time but the thatch doesn’t go to the end of the roof so Jean Michel is not convinced of their authenticity.
On the way, we see another windmill in Münkeboe, whose adjacent house contains various objects, including a couple of wooden bicycles. I hate to think how many falls I could have on those!
The Moormuseum in Moordorf proves to very interesting. The lady at the ticket counter obligingly finds us document in English and in French and although the little video they’re showing is in German, it is quite understandable.
It’s hard to imagine living in such terrible poverty. The houses are tiny, damp and isolated.
Demonstrations of various crafts such as spinning, knitting and ironwork are held on Saturday afternoons. Jean Michel finds himself invited to share a pot of pork and split pea stew by some of the demonstrators and calls me to join him.
That is the last food we see until 4.30 pm. There is a teestube but there are a lot of people and apart from matjees (herring), we can’t work out what else there is to eat. There is only beer and brannwein (which I later discover is a sort of vodka) so we decide to push on.
It is not until we have made several wrong turnings and encountered this strange “book tower” that we arrive back in Marienhafe (we’re now up to 44 km) and console ourselves with a triple ice-cream because everything else is closed.
We have a third type of scholle at the hotel restaurant which also serves complementary pea soup and a moka cream affair with our decaffeinated coffee.
Three great days of sun and cycling but tomorrow we’re expecting rain clouds so are off to another destination.