Tour de Friends/Freunde

We left you in Trier, about a week ago. Since then we’ve done a bit of cycling and a lot of socialising…

The ride up the Kyll river was just fabulous. Although we really enjoyed the Mosel, it had a lot of tourists on it, whereas the Kyll had just us. The valley was narrow with forest coming right down to the river. Whilst there was a railway, there weren’t many trains on it. We took a short diversion to see a castle (Burgruine Ramstein) but other than that we were just happy to slowly climb up the river valley.

We spent the night at Gerolstein. The town itself was quite modern and didn’t really have much charm. Also, the springs themselves were not in town, but rather up a huge hill. We had to make do with filling our water bottles from the spring in town – which tasted the same anyway. (Sadly, after a day in the sun and a lot of bumps to de-fizz it the water just wasn’t as good as a fresh-bought bottle). Gerolstein is also the home of the Gerolsteiner Dolomites. Like the Italian Dolomites, the cliffs that surround the town are an old coral reef that was once at the bottom of a sea. We were pretty tired from all the uphill riding so we contented ourselves with looking at them from our campsite rather than make the 7km hike around them.

An easy ride over undulating hills took us from the Kyll valley over to the Ahr valley. After riding uphill for so long we literally whizzed down. It was too fast. As I said in a previous post, it’s just too easy to miss things when you are going downhill. Also, this bike path tended to stick to the river and not divert into towns. Luckily we chose to divert into Mayschoss where we spent a couple of hours tasting wines and talking to the vintner. The Ahr valley is one of the only Pinot Noir regions in Germany. It has steep vineyards like I described in the Mosel, but unlike the Mosel it is very narrow, so the winds skip across the valley, leaving the vineyards hot and dry. They had some excellent wines and we bought a few bottles to take with us, as well as sending some home for Guy’s birthday present.

After all this wine-drinking it was a long ride down the river to meet up with the Rhein and then up the Rhein to Bonn. In Bonn we stayed with our friends Uwe and Simone again, this time in their recently rented apartment. In fact it was so recently rented that they hadn’t even moved in properly. We, and they, camped on the floor of the flat with our mats and sleeping bags (they have been camping at friends places for about a month since they got back so it wasn’t unusual for them!) It was good to see them again and after dinner at the local biergarten we spent a late night chatting and drinking wine.

Although we had another night in Bonn, we spent the next day in Cologne. As luck would have it my friend Jayne, who lives in the States, was in Germany. We’d worked out that this was the best day that we could meet as she was making the long train journey from Amsterdam to Frankfurt and would be coming through Cologne. So after spending the morning visiting the Australia shop (for thank you presents) and the “Temple” (the huge Globetrotter outdoor store in Cologne) we met Jayne for lunch. She had her boyfriend Jason in tow and it was really nice to meet him and to just hang out and chat in a foreign city.

The humidity that had been in the air for the past week finally became a huge thunderstorm that afternoon and we took shelter in the cathedral. Cologne cathedral is truly awe-inspiring and the thunder rolling around it only added to the sense of occasion. What we didn’t realise was that whilst we were in there the spire was struck by lightning! We thought that the priests were all running around because of the flooding (rain was literally pouring in through some of those ancient windows) but when the rain finally stopped we ventured out to find that the cathedral was surrounded by firetrucks and a police cordon. Of course this meant that tours up the tower were out but we made a second visit to Cologne a day or so later and saw the tower. Back in Bonn we had another fun night with Uwe and Simone, but the second late night in a row was hard to take. I had to retire around midnight although Guy and Simone made it through until 2.30am!

I had mixed emotions the next day as we cycled off. I was sad to leave our Bonn friends – we’re not exactly going to be able to drop in for a cuppa anytime soon – but I was also excited to get to Dusseldorf and catch up with one of Dad’s best friends who I hadn’t seen for a long time. In fact, I remember Rob best from my childhood when my sister and I used to climb up him! Rob married Ingrid, a german gal, a couple of years ago and is living just out of Dusseldorf in a village called Knittkuhl.

We stayed with Rob and Ingrid for three nights. They have a very tiny apartment and it was a bit of a squeeze with four of us. But they also have a huge garden! We were quite excited by the garden because it’s of the type that we ride past all the time and wonder who owns them and why. Now we know – it’s the tiny apartment dwellers who don’t have much space. Although Rob had intended that we spend quite a bit of time in the garden we were so busy that we only visited it twice. We had a BBQ there when we arrived and we stopped to take some photos in the morning sun on the day we left.

We stayed busy by exploring the local area. We spent the first day on a cycling tour of the local towns guided by Rob. It was interesting to get a bit more of an insight into some of the things that we see a lot as we ride. For example the local farmer’s trout pond, he’s the guy that we see selling fish from a caravan at the local market. And also the big grocery barn that a farmer rents out to assorted stallholders who sell anything from fresh fruit and veggies, to cured meats, to cheese, jams, etc. The trouble is that I want to buy all this yummy stuff, but on a bike we can only really buy day-to-day.

And on the second day we took the train to the Wuppertal and then to Cologne. What’s the Wuppertal I hear you ask? Well, it’s a valley, and it has a schwebebahn in it. The schwebebahn is a 100-year-old monorail system that runs above the river. It’s very, very, cool. I’ll post a pic separately but in the meantime you should google it. It’s not touristy or anything, it’s just the local transport for the valley and covered in the daily train ticket. We took the half hour journey up the valley and we could have easily spent half the day riding up and down.

In Cologne we climbed the cathedral tower, peered at the lovely roman mosaic through the windows of the museum (we were too late to go in), met Ingrid after work, walked on a section of old roman road, bought a Solingen peeling knife from an amazing store (interesting design-focussed products, old and new), ate a traditional German meal in Frueh brewery and also visited the railway bridge but forgot to bring a lock to put on it. In the last couple of years a tradition has started where people come and put a lock on the bridge for luck, mostly for relationships I think. I’ll post a pic. We finished off a great day with an ice cream and a walk along the Rhein promenade in Dusseldorf.

Now here’s where our plans took a turn, so far for the better! We had planned to catch the train to Berlin and ride to Prague, but it didn’t feel like the right thing to do. There were a few reasons: we hadn’t really enjoyed the Rhein and were worried that the Elbe might be too big and touristy for us, it felt like a long way to go and a long way to get back at the end of the trip, and most of all it just felt like we hadn’t finished with cycling in this part of the country. So, we changed our plans. We took a train to Aachen, near the Belgian border, and began cycling from there. We’ve spent two days cycling from Aachen to Monschau. It’s been hilly but really beautiful. We’ve: seen a couple of amazingly beautiful towns – Korneli-muenster and Monschau, ridden along the Rur river and the Rursee, been scorched by the 32+ degree heat, delighted in the cool shade of the German forests (I’m amazed at how cool they are when it’s so hot in the sun, a good 10 degrees cooler at least), swum in one of the coldest streams we’ve ever found (glacier water excluded) and generally had an excellent time.

Today we head into Belgium to the town of Malmedi where we will meet up with a Dutch friend of mine that I cycled in Africa with. And after that we plan to head south along the Our and Saar rivers, probably with a side trip into Luxembourg. But don’t hold us to that, we could change our minds at any time…

For the stats lovers:
total kms so far – 723
ice creams to schnitzel ratio – 9 to 5

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