Archive for the ‘Europe 2014’ Category

The roads more and less travelled

22 August 2014

We set off from Vacha in the chilly morning and rode along the Werratal bicycle route beside the Werra river to Bad Salzungen, a spa town. After this some route finding experiments led us to take the road less travelled. Many people think that this is what one should do in life, but it is not always the case, especially if you are on a bike in the Thuringer Wald. This road started as a 2 wheel track, then became a rocky track inclining upwards, then grassy and then not really discernible at all. We found the way back to a proper road, but had not learned our lesson, and prompted by Google Maps woman (to whom we now refer as Wanda as she is supposed to be helping us wander around), we took another grassy track that deteriorated and took us into a forest. We retreated and eventually found a sign posted bike path that took us up a long steady climb which we enjoyed more as it was on smooth tarmac! At the top was a large hotel, Waldgaststatte Am Kissel, where we stopped for coffee. As Ian says, the route experiments help to keep the coffees apart which is what you want.

A long steep descent followed into Ruhla – our climb from the other side was much more gradual – then more descending into Wucha. Our destination was Gotha, only another 20km, but this was an elusive place that didn’t seem to get any closer the further we rode. We diligently followed signs but ended up a bit lost when the bike path suddenly evaporated. The thing to do in any such situation is to ask the nearest person, so we did and the next passing cyclist escorted us on to a better route. We were soon alongside the road more travelled – an autobahn.

Gotha kept getting closer and then further away, according to the distances on the bike path sign posts. In the end we made it into town, and a fine impressive place it is with a massive schloss, deep orange Rathaus and many other fine features.

Today’s route

Gotha Rathaus

Fulda and the Milseburg tunnel

21 August 2014

You can never go wrong by making ham and cheese rolls from the fruhstuck to take on the road for morning tea – and this is what we did! Riding out of Flieden we admired the humungous slag heap created by a potash mine and adorned with a cross at the top. Our bicycle route then came to a temporary stop due to roadworks and we had to mix it for a couple of scary km with heavy traffic (both size and quantity).

The city of Fulda, previously unknown to us, is impressive. It has a massive Dom with lots of statues, gilt everywhere, gigantic pipe organ, angels and putti (these are what I previously thought were cherubs but now know better) and a skeleton; a schloss; and another huge church, Stadtpfarrkirche St Blasius, with beautiful marble columns.

We have been riding on a rail trail for much of the day, with a long gradual climb to the Milseburg tunnel at about 500m and just over 1km long, well lit for the cycling traffic, and with a cafe at the other end. Easy gradients followed with a long descent and flat riding along the Ulster river. Cycling infrastructure is excellent with signposting good enough to manage with minimal map consultation and almost complete separation from road traffic. The path is mostly sealed or paved with a few short gravel sections.

The weather is sunny but cool. The countryside is beautiful with lots of forested hills, farms and fields, villages every few km each with a massive church. This region is part of the UNESCO Rhön Biosphere Reserve.

An observation: we saw some anti-smoking billboards around Frankfurt, but German towns have lots of cigarette vending machines in suburban streets as well as commercial areas, often decorated with photos of places of scenic beauty.  No plain packaging here!

Today’s route

Spire in markt platz, Fulda

Into the countryside of Hessen

20 August 2014

Early start, cold morning, first 10km or so on  busy road until we found a radweg (bikepath) along the river Main, then along the Kinzig, a smaller tributary. We have to do our own navigation as the Garmin (GPS) is out of the picture. This is due to an oversight by a member of our party who thought we had all the necessary maps and then found out that we don’t. Getting them is not as easy as you might think, so we are using a combination of Google Maps, a paper map and our powers of observation. Google Maps includes an American woman in Ian’s phone who tells us where to go, but her German pronunciation is so dreadful that we turn her off as much as possible.

We found a bicycle route from Hanau (near Frankfurt) in the direction we needed to go. It is well signposted and we managed to follow it fairly easily with only one accidental deviation that took us up an unnecessary hill. The gradient has been good – flat almost all the way through low lying country in the valley of the Kinzig. Scenery has been varied with unsealed sections through forest, grassy meadows, storks wheeling above, herons feeding in the fields, railways, highways and autobahns alongside, cornfields, an asparagus crop, apple trees, wind farms, a Nordic walking club and lots of people walking and cycling.

Today’s highlights were the towns of Gelnhausen and Salmunster. Gelnhausen is a walled city with an impressive steepled church and narrow streets of half-timbered houses. Salmunster’s church of Sts Peter and Paul has an impressive tower and rococo interior.

We are now in the small town of Flieden where the friendly young hotel proprietor speaks minimal English, provides no wifi and shrugs helplessly when offered a Mastercard! She serves a good German dinner though.

Today’s route

gelnhausen

Gelnhausen

Offenbach, Frankfurt & Darmstadt

19 August 2014

Today started with bike assembly followed by breakfast – fruhstuck oriental (Turkish) and sussen (sweet). We found the Offenbach market with lots of fruit, flowers, vegetables, sausage, cheese, bread. The egg woman gave us 2 eggs (hardboiled) after we admired her red and yellow dyed ones. We needed to find a bike shop to adjust Ian’s head set and asked a man if he knew of one. He did and gave us detailed instructions in German. We pretended to understand but he decided to escort us on his bike which was very kind. We cycled to Frankfurt through the industrial area, then along the Main to the Kaiserdom and various nearby platzen and the Kleinmarkthalle, an indoor market where we had wurst mit senf und brot (with mustard and bread).

Then to Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof to go by train to Darmstadt, about 30km to the south, to find Hundertwasser’s Waldspiral. This amazing residential building is in the suburban area of the town, surrounded by ordinary apartment buildings. It is built in an ascending spiral shape with trees and plants growing on top and several onion domes, lots of tiles and ceramic features, stripes and layers, looking completely exotic in an otherwise unremarkable place. There are Hundertwasser buildings in several European countries and one in New zealand which is a public toilet! Hundertwasser moved to NZ in the later part of his life.

There are thousands of bikes in Frankfurt, with good bike lanes and traffic lights, lots of parking rails. There are city bike schemes  with human powered and battery-assisted bikes. Most places that can be covered with graffiti have already received colourful coverage. There is a substantial challenge for everyone here to get through a lot of food each day – there are bakeries everywhere, food stalls, markets, cafes, bistros. We are committed to helping out as much as we can. Smokers are catered for with special smoking areas on train platforms and immediately outside the stations, so you have to walk through a smoke haze as you exit.

I have bought a tiny German-English dictionary to improve my vocabulary and have found out that Offenbach means open stream and Darmstadt means bowel or intestine town. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

Waldspiral, Damstadt

Waldspiral, Damstadt

A good plan should be followed

19 August 2014

We have arrived in Frankfurt and after a long wait to get out of the airport began the adventure of transporting ourselves and 2 bikes in boxes to our hotel. We started off with the advantage of a trolley but that didn’t last long. Found out that despite our belief that Germany is up to date with everything, they aren’t. You cannot purchase train ticket with credit card and, to make it worse, you have to have the correct change. Anyway Ian solved that problem somehow!

Our skills at each carrying 2 panniers, a musical instrument (ukulele and trumpet) and a large rectangular box down escalators and on and off trains developed quickly. We had a brief ride in First Class by accident but didn’t get into trouble! But the trouble began when we decided to go to a different station from the one intended as trains run there less frequently. This resulted in a 1km approx walk of increasing agony with luggage as described above, instead of a 50m walk – which was part of the original plan – aaaarrrrgggghhh! Not doing that again.

We are in Offenbach, not far from the centre of Frankfurt, an area of Polish and Turkish residents as indicated by the businesses nearby. Our hotel is interesting with lots of art work, a parlour and a courtyard. As we struggled to get the door open we met 2 other guests who look like the hairy bikers except probably not interested in cooking.

Offenbach Hbf – where we should have caught the train!

Getting the Berlin style right

15 August 2014

In my travel researches I came across a most informative book – Berlin Street Style. It gives clear instructions on how one should deport oneself in Berlin. Or at least it states what ‘the Berlin woman’ would do. For example:

  • Pearls are not at all hip in Berlin.
  • Vibrantly coloured blazers do not work at all in Berlin; the ideal colour is grey or dark blue.
  • The Berlin woman would never leave the house in a velour tracksuit.
  • The weekend look of the Berlin woman is rather rustic.
  • The Berlin woman is proud of her paleness.
  • Bracelets should not jingle on the arm too much; this irritates the Berlin woman when she is typing.

I will be removing my pearls when I reach the outskirts of town. Anyone know what the Berlin bloke it meant to do?

Bikelele is back!

13 August 2014

Our travels 18 August – 12 September 2014 will take us by bicycle from Frankfurt am Main to Berlin via the Thuringer Wald, Leipzig, Wittenburg, Elbe Radweg, Dresden, Sächsische Schweiz National Park, Oder-Neisse bicycle route and Frankfurt an der Oder.