We’ve reached Trier and our first rest day. After five days cycling up the Rhine and Mosel, we’re ready for one, but let me start at the beginning…
Our arrival in Germany came off just as planned. We reached Frankfurt at about lunchtime after a lifetime on the plane (I know, it’s not really a lifetime, but it seems Iike one) and manhandled the bikes, still in their boxes, through the airport onto the transfer bus and through to the train station. Our plan was to get them onto the ICE fast train while they were still disguised as luggage since once they are unpacked the ICE trains become no go zones for bikes. The fast train to Karlsruhe is only an hour, otherwise the regional train would take us about three hours. And it was no problem. “Normally OK” said the ticket seller as we bought our tickets, “This door here” said the platform attendant, “Have a nice trip” said the conductor as he climbed over our pile of bags stacked around the corridor of the train. Of course, we actually don’t have any more baggage than what you see some people get off the plane with!
We spent about an hour putting the bikes together at Karlsruhe station and left our boxes in a neat pile. A twenty minute bike ride down the Alb river and we were ringing on Hannes & Uli’s bell at 6.30 – just in time for drinks at Gutenburgplatz followed by dinner at a Greek restaurant. Two biers, two weins, two ouzos later and we had to push the bikes home (OK, we only pushed because we didn’t have our lights with us). By the time we fell into bed it was midnight – about 8am our time. It was a long first day!
We spent the next couple of days getting over our jet lag and reacquainting ourselves with the language and our friends. A bike ride around the city sites on the Sunday and then on Monday Guy and I took the train up into the Black Forest and did a 70km warm up ride, sans panniers, back down to Karlsruhe. It was really cold both days and I started to worry that I hadn’t brought enough clothes and that my sleeping bag wasn’t warm enough. Uli kindly gave me a pair of old long johns and some socks that her mother had knitted so I felt more prepared. And as it turns out the heat has been the problem, not the cold!
We set off on the bikes on Tuesday morning and it was an auspicious beginning. We started off by riding down Karlsruhe’s Fahrradstrasse. When a street has more bikes using it than cars, it becomes a dedicated bike street. Cars are still allowed but bikes take precedence. A nice start to a bike tour. Plus it was market day in Gutenburgplatz so we picked up yummy lunch supplies (fleischsalat, wurst, avocado) and to top it off it was sunny and warm.
Our tour of the Rhine valley started after a train ride at Bingen, at one end of the Middle Rhine UNESCO designated area and we were going as far as Koblenz which is at the other end. Handily, the father of some cycle touring friends lives halfway in the village of Kestert, so that was our first night’s stop. Uwe and Simone have just returned from a year cycling and we met them when they came through Melbourne in March. It was really great to see them again and although we’d only been on the road for one day we stopped for a second night with them. They kindly drove us around to all the hills above the Rhine – places we weren’t going to get to on the bikes – including Kloster Eberbach which is where the interiors for The Name of the Rose were filmed. We finished the day with a BBQ and then watched Germany make it through the group rounds in the world cup. Of course it’s football fever over here right now. A few days later Germany trounced England in the next round and Guy suddenly thought it prudent not to flash our GB passports around – suddenly we are Australian and Kiwi again!
We headed off from Kestert the next day with promises to catch up again when we come through Bonn in a week or so.
Both Guy and I didn’t really enjoy riding on the Rhine. It’s big and busy, barges and boats, trains and cars rushing along on all sides. I was wishing that we were riding up on the high, undulating countryside above the Rhein where it is quieter. We couldn’t get ourselves motivated and stopped at every opportunity. Pretty German town? Better stop and explore it. Biergarten with a river view? Better sample the local brew. Two towns that really stood out for us were Bacharach with it’s old town wall and ruined castle, and Rhens with it’s pretty town square. We spent quite a lot of time in both. Koblenz, on the other hand, was busy and crowded and almost the whole town was a baustelle (construction zone) since they are prettying it up for the 2011 flower show. Even the famous Deutches Ecke (German Corner) monument where the Rhein and Mosel meet was almost impossible to get to. We gave up on Koblenz and after using it’s size to our advantage (SIM card, stove fuel, map) we kept riding to make camp in a quieter town.
We spent the next four days moseying along the Mosel. It’s a beautiful river and we enjoyed it a lot. There was some amazing scenery that had us stopping more than we were riding! Some of the vineyards are so steep (up to 68%) that you can hardly walk up them. I didn’t envy the folks I could see up there pruning the vines. Guy was very intrigued with the little wine railways that ran up the hill and clambered up through the vines to take a closer look (of course). He declared them mechanically dodgy and too scary to ride on!
The vines themselves seem to be growing in rock – there was so much slate on the ground that we could hardly see the earth. Apparently this helps with the quality of the wine around here. We had our first wine tasting at a cellar door in Pommern. We chose somewhere at random as we headed to find a place for dinner. We have no idea what we drank, except that it was a very tasty halb-trocken (half dry).
We did our share of castles. The nicest was Burg Eltz. We were expecting a sweaty half hour walk up to the top of the valley (your usual schloss location), but it turned out to be tucked up along a creek with hardly any up at all. It’s been in the same family since the 1100’s and was never conquered so it’s very well preserved. Even so it’s starting to show it’s age and there are extensive restoration works being undertaken to preserve it.
The Mosel is bigger than I had imagined and has a lot of river traffic. There are lots of barges. The ones heading upstream travel slower than us but pass us when we stop, then we catch them up again. But they finally lose us at the end of the day when they travel longer into the night. I had thought that barges were a bit old-fashioned and quaint, but when I read that they carry the equivalent of 50 trucks, you can see the benefit of river transport. There are fourteen locks on the Mosel and thankfully we didn’t have to stop at all of them. We did spend almost an hour at Detzem lock watching a barge and four boats enter the lock. Guy couldn’t believe that we had spent that long, but I certainly could!
We’ve just spent a ‘rest day’ in Trier. Although we are more tired from traipsing around town checking out all the old roman stuff than if we had spent the day on the bikes! We had an interesting day. Trier has been around since at least 17BC and has some interesting sites – an amphitheatre, ancient gate, some baths and a great museum. Although we have been spoiled with Pompeii and Pula on the last trip so we couldn’t help comparing to some of those sites.
We’ve done our washing, Guy has had a broken spoke fixed and we’re ready to head off again tomorrow – up the Kyll river for the next three days before heading into Bonn to see Uwe and Simone again.
Apologies for the lack of photos, the iPad is not good without the camera kit, which we’ve so far been unable to get. We’ll try again in Cologne and Berlin as the iPad just went on sale here a few days ago so we could be in luck now. Until then I’ll try to post more iPhone photos than I have so far – now we have 3G. Nigel, the iPad has been excellent as a guidebook reader, and quite adequate to type on. If I can get a camera kit, and with a 3G version I think it will get a big thumbs up!
For the stats lovers:
total kms so far – 356
ice creams to schnitzel ratio – 5 to 3