I’ve been trying to post to the blog but it has been some time since we’ve had a internet connection reliable enough. Today we rolled into Koblenz, Germany and we’ve checked into a hotel with a decent internet connection. Yay! I think we’ll make tomorrow a rest day, so I will try to catch up on posts for the days that we have missed, starting with this one. As before, I will back date them so that the post date is the same as the day it describes.
Today we rode 37.48 km from Rudesheim to Sankt Goar
We packed up camp and rode into Rudesheim proper. Rudesheim is siad to be the second most visited tourist destination in Germany, after the Cologne Cathedral. Smack in the middle of the wine country of the Middle Rhine, it is a cute little village, but very, very touristy. In fact, I don’t think there is much in town other than tourist-focused businesses. It’s cute little streets and alleyways are packed full of little cafes, trinket shops, wine bars, beer gardens, and B&Bs. A tourist ghetto, but a nice one. We poked around town and had a tea and some sweets while we waited for the next ferry across the river.
I happened to snap the following photo in Rudesheim, so I’ll go off on a quick “gear” tangent… Somewhere along the way someone stole my handlebar bag. Or maybe we left it in the hotel in Strasburg. We’re not sure. All we know is it went missing (it was empty at the time). Anyway, I bought a cheap 20 Euro bag at a bike shop near Mainz. Here’s a shot of the front of my bike with the new handlebar bag and Mila’s new sleeping bag which now lives on my front rack.
The new bag is much bigger. All I had in the old bag was my camera, so this one allows me to stash a few other things in there too, and provides easier access to the camera, which is nice.
So. We hopped on the ferry and headed across the river to Bingen, where we picked up the route along the West shore of the river.
We landed in Bingen, which had a great view of the terraced vineyards across the river. The hand-built stone retaining walls were pretty amazing. They have certainly mastered the art of hillside farming.
We rolled into town and found the main shopping street where we stopped into the mobile phone shop to buy more credits for our prepaid SIM card. We use Google Maps on my phone for navigation and for searching for campgrounds and other things that we might need along the way.
Credits “topped up” we found the path and hit the road. The path followed the bank of the river and we had nice views of the passing ships as well as the terraced hillsides and little villages along the opposite bank. Along the way we passed more jetties with little sandy “beaches.” We stopped for a beach break.
While we were stopped an older man on a bike stopped and told us that he had a boat and that the water levels were really low in the river. That was something that we had been noticing for a couple of days. From the look of the water lines on the shore, the vegetation and even the floating docks, it looked like the water level was as much as 2 or 2.5 meters lower than “normal.”
Oh, did I mention there were castles? Along this section of the Middle Rhine there are many castles and it has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Along with all of the cargo ships, we’ve started to see lots of big river cruise ships too.
In many of the towns and villages we’ve passed through, they are getting ready for Octoberfest with town squares, main streets and river fronts morphing into soon-to-be-open biergartens!
As we got closer to Lorelei and St. Goar the trail hugged the edge of the river and was often high up above the river. Immediately to our left was the two lane highway, so it was noisy with passing vehicles. When the big river cruise ships passed we rang our bicycle bells and waved, trying to get the all the old people (there seemed to be nothing but grey hair!) on the boats to wave back. Some of them did.
Here’s how Wikipedia describes the Lorelei:
The Lorelei is a rock on the eastern bank of the Rhine near St. Goarshausen, Germany, which soars some 120 metres above the waterline. It marks the narrowest part of the river between Switzerland and the North Sea, and is the most famous feature of the Rhine Gorge… A very strong current and rocks below the waterline have caused many boat accidents there.
Lorelei is also the name of a feminine water spirit, similar to mermaids or Rhinemaidens, associated with this rock in popular folklore and in works of music, art and literature.
There are a number of stories and myths about the Lorelei – from a beautiful siren who lures men to their deaths to dwarfs living in caves on the cliff. We didn’t see either, but we did stop for the night and set up camp in a beautiful spot on the bank right across the river.
Our camp was right next to a house and Jette had a fun time climbing the stone walls. At a couple points a girl about Jette’s age walked by, checking us out. The second time she came by I said hello and told her our names. She said her name was Sophia. I asked if she lived in the house. She said yes and with a shy smile she was gone again. We didn’t see her again but in the morning we left her a note thanking her for letting us camp next to her house and giving her Jette’s email address and asking if she wanted to be pen pals.
We had dinner at on the patio of a nearby restaurant. Jette had some fun on their trampoline.
I enjoyed what has become a typical dinner for me in this part of Germany – a green salad and a margherita pizza. Yum!
After dinner we hit the sack and slept to the sound of many, many boats and ships passing the Lorelei in the darkness.
Today we rode 34.94 km from Mainz to Rudesheim am Rhein.
We had nowhere to plug in last night, and our camera batteries are dead. Photos today are from my phone, which doesn’t always like to focus, so some are blurry. C’est la vie.
I got up a couple hours before Mila and Jette and had a hot tea. It was a chilly morning and my sleeping bag had been too light for the night before. I drank the tea and walked around the campground to warm up. Alan was up and we talked for an hour or more. Mila and Jette woke up and we packed up camp and said our goodbyes to Alan. We rode back across the bridge into town to find breakfast and to get a warmer sleeping bag at the camping store we saw next door to Taco Kidd.
With a new sleeping bag in hand we rode over to one of the main shopping streets to find breakfast and food for the road. We were slow and it was almost noon by the time we had crossed the river again and were back on the Euro Velo 15 route headed North. There was quite a bit of construction and a number of detours along the way and we got off the route a few times. Signage was poor around Mainz and that made it easy to get off route too.
We stopped for an ice cream break in sleepy little Wiesbaden. Ice cream seems to be a popular treat for touring cyclists and there have been surprisingly few ice cream shops along the route!
The weather was nice and we even had a tailwind for some of the day. That’s a treat. Unlike the Upper Rhine where there were virtually no boats, and the Rhone au Rhin Canal where we didn’t see boats until the latter part, this section of the Rhine is full of big ships coming from the Netherlands, the North Sea and beyond. We saw big container ships, barges, and tankers.
We stopped for a water break at Oestrich-Winkel where this is an old crane that was once used to loading and unloading wine barrels from ships.
Built in 1745, the crane was powered by people on treadmills! Image two giant hamster wheels inside the crane, each with two men on them. Sound like fun? It was hard, dangerous work. Apparently it was not uncommon for the men to slip and fall in the wheels and have limbs crused by the machinery, or even to be crushed to death. I’ll pass on the human hamster job, thanks.
As we got closer to Rudesheim there were jetties built along the shore, often with little sandy beaches in their corners.
On the edge of Rudesheim, we set up camp at Rheingaucamping. We had a great location with just the bike path between our tent and the river.
The folks at the campground were nice enough to loan us an RV hookup cable and outlet so we could have power in our tent to charge our batteries! The only thing missing was internet, but at least we could charge our cameras and phones. Nice.
We had a nice dinner at the Boosthaus Restaurant just down the path.
We watched the ships go by as the sun set on the Rhine.
Mila was cozy in the new sleeping bag, and I used our two light sleeping bags together. Unless it gets really cold, I think we’ll all be cozy and warm now.
Today we took the train from Strasbourg, France to Mainz, Germany. We rode 7.75 km.
We woke up early, packed the bikes and rode a few blocks to the train station. Getting the bike to the platform was easy. We rolled right into the station and there was an elevator to the platform. We were able to leave all the bags on the bikes and simply roll them into the elevator, one-by-one. Once we were up on the platform, Mila and Jette ran back down to get breakfast and snacks for later. Fully provisioned, we made our way down the platform. The train was already there,standing empty but the doors were locked. After half an hour or so, they powered up the train and unlocked the doors. Thankfully it was one of the commuter trains where the floor of the train is level with the platform, so when the unlocked the doors, once again we simply rolled the bikes on, fully loaded. So nice!
About twenty minutes later we rolled the bikes off in Appenweier. The plan was to go to the ticket agent there and buy tickets for Mainz for us and the bikes. The train pulled away and we were left standing on an empty platform. There was no station, no ticket agent. Just the empty platform of a suburban commuter station. Thankfully there was a ticket machine. Using the ticket machine we were able to find the trains to Mainz and purchase tickets for ourselves. The only problem was the bikes. The schedule said that reservations were required to transport bicycles on that route, but the ticket machine did not let us make reservations, nor did it tell us how we might do so. With no other options, we decided to simply do it, and ask for forgiveness not reservations!
As we stood waiting on the platform, we realized that the tickets said “Platform 1” and the platform we were waiting on had a sign saying “9.” Odd. There were no other platforms in sight. This appeared to be a one platform station. Adjacent to the ticket machine Mila found a display which showed a map of the station. Cleary there were other platforms out of view. We hopped on our bikes, rode down the sidewalk, around a corner, along a street under an overpass and back up on the other side where there there two more platforms. (Still no station or ticket agents). Whew! That was a close one. Our train arrived and once again it was a regional commuter. We rolled the bikes on to a busy train and they just fit. There was some contortionist action necessary but we were on. A few stops later, off again and another train. This time it was a regional express. Almost empty. We had to unload the bikes this time, but there was plenty of room for bikes and bags, and it was pretty easy to split them across two cars. It was a comfortable ride and we looked out the window to changing scenery. Flatlands and corn fields were being replaced with rolling hills, vineyards, and large, modern windmills. The conductor announced Mainz as the next stop. A rushed dance of bikes and bags and we were standing on the Mainz platform with the train pulling away.
Two elevators later we rolled out of the station and into traffic of the city. We made our way across town to the Gutenberg Museum. Yes, that Gutenberg. You know, the German dude with the printing press and the bible who effectively ended the Middle Ages, ushered in modernity, and utterly transformed the world? Yeah, him. OK, perhaps it wasn’t him alone, but he was a pivotal figure and his printing innovations helped to user in the Renaissance, the Scientific Revolution and the Protestant Reformation.
It was a very nice museum with a large vault room housing original Gutenberg Bibles and a large collection of pre-Gutenberg hand written books of incalculable value, presses of various types and four floors of exhibits to put it all in context. Photography was not allowed, except for the printing demonstration.
After the museum it was time for fuel (a.k.a. “food”). Across the plaza from the museum were a number of restaurants. Jette went straight for Taco Kidd, the first “mexican” food we had seen for some time. The folks there were super nice and fixed Jette up with a bean and cheese burrito. It wasn’t Tex-Mex but it was good.
Mila and I opted for one of the plaza cafes where she had beef tips (yes, you read that right, Mila ate beef tips! When in Rome…) and I had a really delicious salad. The only photo I shot of Mila has her with her eyes closed, so I’ll post this one of our smokey neighbors on the patio. It is still shocking how many people in Europe still smoke, and smoke constantly. You can’t see it in this photo, but all of these guys were smoking non-stop. D-i-s-g-u-s-t-i-n-g but typical. Despite the smokies, it was a nice dinner.
As the sun was getting low, it was starting to get chilly. In fact some of the trees think it is already Fall.
After dinner we rode across the river to our campsite. We crossed and rode along the biggest and busiest road we have seen for a long time, and then up and over a big bridge. The noise from the traffic was jarring. After the quiet country roads, canal paths and forest trails, the noise, foul air and general chaos of the city traffic was a shock to the senses.
The campsite was right across the river, with a great view of the city. The location made up for a grumpy proprietor who seemed more interested in smoking and drinking on the patio than assisting guests. While we were setting up camp, we met Alan from Alaska, a super nice guy who had just arrived in Europe and was beginning a bike tour of his own. His plan was to ride up the Rhine to Rotterdam and then South West along the cost of France and possibly Spain. We spent probably an hour or more talking that evening and then again in the morning. He’s cycled the continental US East-West from coast to coat and North-South from border to border. He’s even cycled through Alpine, Texas ;-). Alan, if you read this, we wish you safe travels and tailwinds!
We haven’t had a pop quiz for a while, so here you go kiddos:
POP QUIZ! Western History is typically divided into three main periods: Antiquity, ____________, and the Modern Period.
Today was a short 23 km from Basel to Kembs, France.
First thing this morning I found a bike shop and got the broken spoke on my rear wheel replaced. The shop, Cenci Velo, was kind enough to do the work while I waited. Thanks guys!
While I was out getting my spoke replaced, Jette and Mila packed our bags at the hotel. When I returned, we checked out, left our luggage at the hotel and had a quick breakfast. Then we hopped on our unloaded bikes (wow, they sure felt light!) and explored the Old City of Basel.
We then went down one of the main shopping streets. I went into a fantastic book store and bought a couple of books. Mila and Jette went into a pharmacy to get some gauze and ointment for her scraped knee. Instead, the pharmacist dressed the wound for Jette and wrapped it with an elastic bandage.
We all popped back into the bookstore so Jette could get a new mechanical pencil and eraser to replace her broken/lost set.
After that it was back to the hotel to pick up our bags and pack the bikes, then we hit the road. We rode out of Basel on the Rhine Route past the massive Novartis corporate/industrial campus. It is like a city unto itself.
A little further on and we came to the intersection of the Rhine and Rhone au Rhin Canal.
The rest of the day’s cycling would be along the canal path.
We stopped to learn about the fish that live in the canal. There are 12 main species of fish today. In the 1980’s pollution in the Rhine killed off many of the fish and had a big impact on the biodiversity of the canal. In recent years the pollution has lessened and the fish have made a comeback, with a different species mix.
As we came into Kembs we saw people along the canal banks looking at something in the water. As we closer we thought they were beavers, but they were not…
Can you tell what they are?
They are coypu a.k.a “river rats.” Whatever they are when Jette saw them she said, “Awww…they’re adorable!” and fed them an apple she found on the ground.
Meanwhile I tried swapped SIM cards in my phone, trying to find one that would work. The German card wouldn’t, even though I could throw a rock into Germany. With the Swiss one, I got a text message suggesting that I upgrade to a roaming data package for France, but when I clicked on the link in the message I got an error saying that I didn’t have a roaming data plan! It was a Swisscomm catch-22.
I was hoping for access to Google Maps so I could search for campgrounds close by. Jette was tired and we were all ready for a shorter rest day. A man came out of the house we were parked in front of and in my rusty French I asked him if there was any camping nearby. He said that he wasn’t aware of anything but that we could pitch our tent in his yard if we wanted. It was very kind, but I thanked him profusely and declined. I did’t say it to him, but we were as interested in the potential of a shower and internet connection as much as we were a place to pitch the tent.
I found a spot where apparently the phone “thought” I was close enough to Germany and got a connection. The closest campgrounds were too far and there were no hotels in Kembs. Jette and I rode back to an information map and sign we had passed and found a listing of local B&B’s. There were three, all on the same street. We turned off the canal path and rode into town. Compared to most of of the towns and villages we’ve been thorough on this trip it seemed a bit plain and even rough around the edges.
We quickly found the street we were looking for and two of the B&B’s. The first was a gasthaus style pub-hotel. There was a note taped to the door saying that it was closed until next week. The next one looked more promising, but it too had a note taped to the door. It said that there were two rooms available and gave a phone number to call. The door was locked. I tried my phone, but couldn’t get service with any of the the three SIM cards (German, Swiss, Dutch). I was hoping that one of them would let me buy a roaming package, but no luck. So, we got on our bikes and went in search of the third B&B which was supposedly on the same street. We rode down to where we thought we should find it based on the house number, but there was a roundabout and the street changed names. So, it was back to the second one. We knocked on the door. No answer. There was a restaurant across the street so Jette and I went in and asked if they had a phone we could use. Somehow they understood my French and kindly obliged. I stumbled through a conversation with the man on the other end of the line and a few minutes later we were back across the street and entering the magical oasis of Au Relais de la Pose aux Chevaux.
Built in 1739 the building used to be a mail relay station (thus the name Relay of the Mail by Horses). We were warmly greeted by the owner and shown into the beautiful garden and then into the home.
As you can see, it is a beautiful, charming place and a fine setting for handstands and cartwheels.
It is almost midnight, so I am off to bed. Goodnight.
Yesterday we rode 45.19km from Bad Sackingen, Germany to Basel, Switzerland.
There were fewer hills than previous days so the distance felt shorter. Mila and Jette both held up well, but I think we are all a bit fatigued after 7 days on the road with no rest. It felt like a long slow day, as we made lots of stops. I had one mechanical issue and Jette took a tumble.
The plan was to pass through Basel and find a campground in France, but we decided, quite wisely I think, to find a hotel in Basel. We found a nice one in the middle of town with a comfortable bed and fast internet. Both are well-appreciated luxuries, and two hotel nights in a row is quite a treat!
I’ve dowloaded photos and videos from the cameras, and will try to get some posts written for the days that we have missed. When I do, I will back date the posts so they are published on the blog on the date they might actually have been if we had had the power/internet/time/energy, and they will appear in the blog in the “proper” order. Here’s the first one: Night Train to Lindau.
So, we began our day yesterday in Bad Sackingen with a huge breakfast at the hotel. Our hotel was a nice one in the middle of town and on the river. We had a fantastic view of the famous covered bridge, which happens to be the longest wooden covered bridge in Europe. It was built in 1272! It was destroyed and rebuilt a number of times and the current version dates from 1700.
The night before we enjoyed a stroll around town and dinner on the old plaza just in front of our hotel.
So with full tummies, we said goodbye to Bad Sackingen and hit the road. We crossed back into Stein on the South side of the river and followed the D8 route in Switzerland. the route had us on a busy two lane highway as we came out of Stein, so it was a pleasant relief when got out of town and into the forests.
Since the beginning of the trip, we’ve been noting and discussing the changing nature of the landscape, the river, settlement patterns, agriculture, land use and culture. Somehow it seems easier to see these changes as we travel on bikes. The landscape around is is not a motion picture blur like it is on a train or in an automobile. We see it passing slowly and feel the mountains and hills, smell the fresh plowed fields, feel the cool shade of the forests and even taste it in the water.
The route from Bad Sackingen was decidedly less picturesque than days before. The beautiful mountain scenery is past. The terraced hillsides of fruit orchards and vineyards have been replaced with industrial agriculture and more livestock. That’s not to say it is ugly or unpleasant, it’s just different. We did enjoy many shady forest trails.
On one of the forest trails, I made a u-turn to the left, then looped back a bit to the right to straighten out. The right turn was too acute and trailer tow bar hit my rear wheel. The trailer is quite heavy and the force of the bump knocked by rear wheel out of alignment, with the tire touching the chainstay of the frame.
I grabbed a few tools from the trailer, and in about 5 minutes had the wheel re-centered and we were back on our way.
We stopped at a great playground at a park beside the river for a little fun. There was a zombie attack and Jette had to escape to the tower.
Shortly afterwards we stopped in ancient Rome and had lunch in a 2,000 year old theater. Really.
We were in Augusta Raurica, the Roman settlement built around 15 B.C.
The theater has been excavated and the remaining, original structures preserved. Modern stone replaces what was lost to time, and the theater is still in use. It is a beautiful spot!
On the outskirts of Basel we decided that we would find a hotel in Basel. It was getting late and we were too tired to make it on to France and a campground.
After so many days in the quiet countryside, coming into the city felt like culture shock. We found a hotel in center city, but not before Jette caught her front wheel in a crack between the bike lane and gutter pan of the curb and took a tumble. Scraped knee.
We made our way through town and to a very nice hotel. Showered, found a grocery store, munched on dinner in our room, and crashed. We were tired!
OK, Im’m out of time. Have to get out bags packed and on the bikes for today!