Thursday, 24 May 2012
I have now cycled 147 kilometres in a day. It did funny things to me. From Mainz where the Rhine meets the Main, I headed to Frankfurt. The cycle way goes right under the international airport, so I let a couple of Lufthansa jets buzz me before carrying on. Frankfurt skyline guided me in, it's scrapers reminding me a little of the isle of dogs. It was a warm Saturday and my route took me along the busy waterfront. Everyone was out, couples hand in hand, lots of dog walkers, families with small children and the curse of the walkway: rollerbladers. I said to myself as I weaved in and out of groups of gum chewing american tourists and well healed frankfurtians - Frankfurtii, Frankfurters - 'Richard, with your bike loaded high and unmanoeuvreable as it is, you will be lucky to pass through Frankfurt without running someone down.' Moments later a small blonde child backed into my path, I passed safely, keeping my eye on the child until I had passed. My concentration was suddenly averted forward by a shout, a warning, a panic stricken primeval yell of quite some volume and I saw a bloody great big frankfurter on rollerblades hurtling straight for me. In a split second decision I decided doing nothing was the best course of action. The massive guy on blades careered off the path and onto the grass taking a tumble that could have included a couple of rolls. Thankfully I was unharmed. I pulled him to his feet. The child was given a ticking off. The next day I came across a wondersful palace on the riverside at a place called Ascahffenberg, it was closed but I understand it has a wonderful collection of model buildings made from cork. The ladies in the tourist office said it had been rebuilt as only one tower had remained after being levelled during the second world war. I feared it may have been our boys in their flying machines, so I didn't press. Turns out it was the Americans. The ladies in the tourist information office get five stars - they gave me half a dozen very useful maps - I have decided travelling with maps useful - one of which we highlighted my route from Aschaffenberg all the way to the Austrian border. In Wurzburg I staid in a nice hostel. I told the receptionist I had a bike with me. "You have a bike!? Then you must leave, no refund." I shared a room with a Japanese celloist, who rightly took me for mad - or an idiot, left me to my devices, and two German train spotters called Mike and Tom. Mike showed me the days highlights. A train. But wait: this train had about a mile of freight trucks attached. I watched them watching their footage, their faces alight with child like delgiht. I had done only 60K getting to Wurzburg - I'd cut across land when the Main went north and had found more hills than I would have preferred. Such a small tally drove me on. At the breakfast bar, where I introduced Tom and Mike to a free lunch - If the Germans will eat ham and bread for breakfast...it's an unspoken rule anyway, I think - we were joined by some middle aged cycle tourists. They asked me where I was going today and without thinking I blurted out "Nuremburg!" And that was that. More hills, more wrong directions - I have a love hate relationship with German cyle paths now - some quite large German Shepheards - a grazed knee, lots of choclate, some pretty churches and 130 something kilometres I was on the outskirts of Nuremberg. I followed the river path into the heart of the city. The old centre, which was levelled during the war and again, rebuilt after, is a walled citadel with the youth hostel right at the top. Dark now, tired, no water, I pushed my bike up a steep cobblestone ramp towards the youthhostel. It was closed for renovation. I asked some students where was a good cheap price to pay and they recommended Motel One. I have now come to the conclusion students don't know anything. Seventy nine euros is not a good deal. Smelly, sweaty I checked myself into a hotel that looked like it was a set from hollyoaks, wheeling my bike between Ikea furniture and white canvas shoes. At midday I rolled my bike out of the haircut motel. Directly opposite was a hostel. Not able to find somewhere quiet to shout expletives I checked into the hostel and paid twenty euros, breakfast included. I shared a room with a young American solider on leave, who when he wasn't running around with a massive machine gun - he showed me on his ipod - he liked nothing better than to skateboard. He said he was going to Afghanistan next year. Later that night I retraced my weary steps of the previous night, I had walked right past the hostel's reception, but from the approach I had taken, there was no way I could have seen the hostel. In the day its billboard was visible, but unlike Motel One didn't illuminate them at night. I stopped beating myself up about it and went for a kebab.
Saturday, 12 May 2012
I accidentally went to Holland. I had intended to cross Belgium straight into Germany headed towards Aachen what the bicycle map showed. But I got to an area called Trois Frontières or Drei Land Punkt - and whatever it is in Dutch - and entered a town one end of which spoke French, the other end Flemish. On the road through the village I saw a car with Belgium numberplates followed by a Dutch then a German car. Anyway, after asking the directions to Aachen (through the Dutch town of Vaals)I crossed into Germany at Aachen. It looked like rain so I wimped out of camping and sought the Youth Hostel in a southern suburn of the town. I reasoned with myself that since my bike needed a bit of work, this should be done on the even surface of a youth hostel bike shed and no where else. Oh yes, Mitch my Belgium host pointed out that my front forks where on the wrong way round. I dismissed this suggestion: how could it be, the brakes should be in front of the forks, no? No. Later that night I finished turning my forks round and reconnecting the wiring et al. I had a shower and strolled out of the hostel in search of food. It was pushing midnight so I was looking for a kebab, or pizza, or anything at this point. I asked a man who had jsut emerged from his car; he offered to drive me to a food joint as there were none nearby. I said I was just passing by and what started as a search for food turned into an impromptu tour of historic Aachen. I think Markus showed me round for possibly one of two reasons. Reason A: He was, he told me, travelling to Guildford for a seminar on sustainable energy and I believe he wanted to brush up on his English. Reason B: Only a knuckle head would "just pass through" Aachen: it is a beatiful old town, once Charlemanges capital, with an intriguing cathedral at its heart with three distinct influences, the oldest part Roman style octagon. The city is also home to around 45,000 students most studying technical disciplines. I could see why Markus, a researcher at the university himself, wanted to show me Aachen. He was understandably proud of the place. "I must get to the Rhine" became my peddling refrain, but I knew it would take me at best two days from Aachen. There were some hills to cross as well and after Aachen I camped at a site in the Eifel national park. I cycled up and down pine forest cycle paths stopping in a small meadowed vale with a stream running through. I passed a man who said he was a 'Jaeger', he mimed pulling a bow and the horns of the antler. I offered him some nuts, he gratefully took some. We parted and I was glad he hadn't mistaken me for a deer. Perhaps the antler bicycle helmet is a potential hazard afterall. Weather improving, but still the occasional heavy downpouring. After a mammoth day of 94 kilometres I crossed the Rhine at Sunset on a car Ferry. This river is immense - It looks a third or more wider than the Thames. High slopes either side, a lot of vineyards on the high slopes which are crested every now and then with a Gothic Castle. One night I slept in my tent metres from the Rhine. Just as I was settling down for the night, what sounded like an air raid siren went off in the village on the far bank. 'Oh christ! What the hell is that?' I assumed it was an early warning for a flooding of the Rhine, and thought nothing more on it and slept soundly till the morn. Turned out it was just a forest fire. And now I am in Mainz at the moment. I now - sadly - leave the Rhine and head along the Main to Bamburg. From there, the Main Donau Kanal and then the Danube. Here are some funny german letters: ö ä ß
Monday, 7 May 2012
First of all I am fine, and thankfully the rain has stopped. For now. Since leaving Chart Sutton on Monday I have travelled 530 kilometres (you will have to convert to church of England yourselves)although it feels like more. From a very wet camping experience in Dover I crossed the chanel on Tuesday and arrived in Calais just after mid-day. After 20 minutes of sight seeing in circles I decided to check my route with two helpful locals. I found the Calais Canal leading me out of Calais in a south east direction. Stayed in a campsite the first night - telling the owner my destination, he presented me with three slices of very nice apple tart. The French do cycling very well: their wide straight roads easily accomadating a cycle path on either side. Second day in France it rained and rained and rained. Stopping early to camp in a wood listening to the rain on the leaves whilst I read my book. I only noticed I had entered Belgium (via Peruwelz) when suddenly the number plates changed to red on white. Certainly the highlight of the trip so far has been the generosity of Micheal and his family who fed me and provided what felt like the most comfortable bed I have ever slept in. Looking for a youth Hostel in Mons I went into a Bicyle shop to ask directions. The owner asked me to direct my questions to his patron - Michael - who probably speaks English better than I does. It turned out Michael and his wife Murielle had been watching a tv game show the night before in which contestants travel across unfamiliar and exotic countries with no money - the winner whoever is first to reach a predetermined destination. Maria had turned to Michael and said "would you help someone out in a situation like that?" "Sure" To my eternal gratitude was his reply. With a map of Belgium provided by my hosts I rode off into the rising sun along the N90 towards Charleoi and what I have come to affectionately call "the industrial heartland of Europe" ending up in Namur, a nice university town where the Meuse and Sambre rivers meet. After a frantic hour of asking where the youth hostel was and getting blank expressions I eventually found it just outside the centre in a nice suburb along the Meuse. Three Belgium beers later I was happily arguing with a french student. From Namur to Liege - a large city I had heard of before but nothing else. I have staid two days to refuel, restock and rest my derrier. Today: Germany, hills and Aachen. Thinking off you all bqcck home, hoping you are all well and happy. Wish I knew what was happening in Game of Thrones