Day 8, 12 Sep, from Deutchland to Netherlands, Pt 2

I had no choice but to sit on the staircase for the ride to Emmerich since my bike was in a very inconvenient position, latched onto a railing that led down the steps of the exit. A little later, a seat nearest to the stairs on the upper level was vacant and I quickly took it, while still able to keep an eye on my bike.

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Just before Emmerich, as I was preparing to get off, a young German girl of about 20 or so who was standing next to me sensed that it was going to be quite a task getting my whole loaded bike down, asked me very sweetly, ‘Do you need help getting your bike down?’

I guess angels do exist after all 🙂

After helping me, she walked off quickly before I could take a shot of her.

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Emmerich was just a small dot on the landscape. The station was rather scrappy looking and had seen better days. The town was quiet with little activity. As I headed out of town, it began to lightly drizzle. With my jacket on, I headed out towards the Rhine, and the little hamlet of Millingen an de Rjin, which is Dutch for Millingen on the Rhine. From there I would soon be in the Netherlands. I loved crossing borders.

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Outside the train station

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What I’m always on the lookout for

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Sculptures like this one facing the Rhine is common throughout Europe

 

 

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Houses began to take on a decidedly different look … in this case, Dutch.

 

Just before I reached Millingen, I realized the signs were reading a little differently. Then it dawned upon me that I had already crossed the border into Holland without even knowing it. By then, I was fairly famished and food was on top of my mind.

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Main street, Millingen en de Rjin or, Millingen on the Rhine

 

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I spotted a cutesy-looking café and decided to make it my lunch-stop. It was some kind of fast food joint run by a friendly ‘couple’

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‘Husband’ and wife, not twins

 

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They were the only one working the cafe

 

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They did serve a mean sandwich though

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An interesting subject at the cafe

 

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Interesting toilet of the cafe

 

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After lunch it was time to continue my journey towards Amsterdam. But first, we have to cross the river by ferry..

 

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Waiting for the ferry

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This is a passenger/bicycle ferry only, no cars

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The Millingen ferry crossing, which was just a stone’s throw away, took less than 5 minutes. The Dutch, I realized later, were friendlier than the Germans and even on the ferry, folks on bicycles were already talking to me, asking me where I was from and appreciated the fact that I had come all this way to see their country (inevitably, they would also ask if I was Indonesian, as the country was once colonized by the Dutch).

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Nice comfy seats made from fleece for the more matured cyclists. Check out the handlebars … they like it as high as possible

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Once on the other side, there were I had to determine my direction of travel towards Arnhem, about 45kms away.

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Can be quite bewildering. The signs in green are for specific routes, usually very scenic. The ones in red are for getting to the next village or town only.

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The ride to Arnhem looks vry promising

 

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I met many cyclists along the way. All were friendly. This was Dutch lady #1 of the countless Dutch ladies on bicycles from whom I would ask for help.

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This lady didn’t just give me directions, she ask me to follow her until the next town where she would show me the next easy route to take.

 

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The outskirts of Arnhem. I wish I had time to explore this lovely town but I had underestimated the distance. It turned out that Amsterdam was about 134 km away, so I decided that in the interest of time, I would take the train to Amsterdam instead.

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The modern, busy side of Arnhem

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At the train station

 

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Good thing most Dutch speak some English, as did this helpful ticket lady

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Bike -designated carriages are clearly marked

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Fellow cyclists on board, all of them heading to Amsterdam. This couple was riding a custom-built tandem built by a well-known woman bike maker in Amsterdam.

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Ample space on board

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Exactly 1 hour and 4 minutes later, I found myself in the beautiful city of Amsterdam. I couldn’t wait to explore the city but first, I had to sort out the digs for the night — Camp Zeeburg, in the district of Zeeburg, about 20 minutes from central Amsterdam.

After registering and paying the 8.50 Euros (plus an 80ct token for a hot shower), I headed out to the tent area, following directions from the camp map.

It was a very big campsite and I was about to get the shock of my life.

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It was a sea of green, blue, yellow, red and other assorted colours. It was also very noisy. My heart sank. All this time, I had been camping in relative luxury – big open spaces, few tents, quiet atmosphere — but this was different. I had stumbled on Woodstock. There were young kids shouting and singing, and the worst of all – the smell of marijuana was thick in the air (grass is legal in Amsterdam).

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I finally picked a ‘quieter’ spot by the edge of the water, and where there were fewer tents. The only saving grace was the splendid view from my tent’s entrance – reeds bending in the breeze, ducks and swans and geese swimming and noisily skimming the water as they landed in a big group, and at night,  the amber lights of the bridge would cast a warm glow across the water.

It didn’t feel too bad after all, except that I couldn’t quite take the smell of marijuana constantly wafting through the air. Even the tent behind me was going at it, sitting at the tent entrance doing their thing, blowing through a jar with water gurgling and smoke coming out of it. Looks like happy days are here in Amsterdam.

Next: Exploring the city of Amsterdam.

Distance today: 45km
Distance to date:

 

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Day 6, 10 Sep, Bonn to Cologne. Braving a cold, cloudy, windy day.

I’ve come to the realization that all the research I did on the European weather was not what it was made out to be. ‘Relative’ is the word to use if you want to put things in proper perspective.

First on the list is ‘cool’, which actually means ‘damn bloody cold’, as I found out to my chagrin this morning. Unless, of course, the sun is shining in all its glory. Even then, the moment the sun went behind a cloud, you’d feel the biting chill of the wind in an instant.

The wind is another factor, and it always seems to be blowing in a southerly direction this time of the year – right into my path — then I would only be able to do about 15kph or less. It’s worse when it comes with its good friend the rain.

……………..

Earplugs — what a lifesaver. And I sorely needed them last night when one of the boys in the dorm started off on his very melodic and perfectly-in-time snore. I’ve also learnt that the industrial-strength silicone rubber types are better than the foam types. Once you push it in all the way, the world outside is gone. Bliss…..

When I woke up this morning, it was a cold and drizzly day. European weather is most depressing when it’s rainy and cold. I was of 2 minds whether I should head for Cologne or stay another day and check out the town. After breakfast, it was still drizzly and I couldn’t go out anyway. So I chatted with one of the girls in the dorm.

Bonn is known to be some kind of happening cultural centre and the Spanish girl I talked to was here to audition for a role in Verdi’s La Boheme that very afternoon. She was staying the night here to save money. She was from Munich, a soprano, and her favourite song was La Traviata (The Drinking Song), also from La Boheme. It’s amazing the things you can find out about people just by talking to them.

I hope she gets it. She’s such a nice girl. She even told me  (just in case I didn’t know) that there was free breakfast in the kitchen….but of course she didn’t know that by then I’d already had my fill of toast, coffee and milk before she even woke up.

At noon, the checkout hour, the ding-donging came to a head and I decided to go to Cologne instead; mainly because I wanted to see what it was like to ride in lousy weather. So, I suited up to the gills — wind-proof tights and heavy jacket, snow-cap and waterproof/windproof Sealzkin gloves. After all, it was a still a little bit drizzly when I hit the road.

It was overkill … even for me.

The downside of travelling solo? Always having to ask nice strangers to take a shot of you

But first, before I headed out to the river, I had to do a couple of things – visit Beethoven House, and ‘Beethon’, the famous sculpture in Beethoven Park based on Beethoven’s most well-known portrait; you know that one – with the dark brooding looks of a genius composer.

Beethoven House was tucked away in a nondescript street and one could easily miss it. Unfortunately, for most cycle-tourers anyway, one of the disadvantages of touring is that you can’t simply go inside any establishment you like without worrying about your bike and stuff disappearing. So all I could do was pose for a few pictures. Then I went looking for the sculpture.

Beethoven House

It was just around the corner and it was fascinating to be able to finally come face to face with. It was great piece of art … even Beethoven would have approve of its intricate beauty.

Sculpture of Beethoven…from the side

 

 

still looking a bit muddled

 

there it is…the side profile of a genius

 

Finally, like a symphony, when it all comes together. Presenting, Ludwig von Beethoven, composer extraordinaire.

 

A plague next to the sculpture explains it all.

 

Objectives met, I headed for the river but not before stopping at a nearby bakery for a sandwich and a coffee. It was situated right next door to an old church and as usual, I chatted up the owner and he told me the church was called (in German) ‘Giving’ or something like that. I think he meant this was a church that blessed a lot people.

 

A luxury, by my standards — soft mozzarella cheese, tomato and lettuce held lovingly together by freshly baked bread

 

The church is just next door. ‘Go and have a look, it’s very beautiful, the cafe owner said. How could I refuse when it comes from a local, and especially when there weren’t any tourists around.

 

the warm but imposing interior and … no tourists!

 

A reminder of why He came to Earth — a Son, a Saviour, a Servant, a King.

 

Sightseeing done, I finally hit the trail again. Barely five minutes down the cycle path by the river, I saw a runner. He was only wearing a t-shirt on top and here I was, cocooned under 3 layers of clothing. I stopped him and asked him to take a picture of me cycling.

I also asked him, ‘You’re not cold’?

‘Oh no, not at all’ he replied casually, while the chilly wind blew on us. I think he must have wanted to say ‘refreshing’.

Show off…

It was almost 2pm, so I knew I had to hustle a bit to reach Cologne before it got too dark. The wind was cold but I was lucky — it didn’t rain. The sky was simply overcast and sulky. After a while, the body started building up some heat and pretty soon, I started shedding my clothes. First, I changed the heavy jacket for the windbreaker. Then I took off the gloves, then the sleeves of the windbreaker went. I was riding hard into the wind, but at least my chest was kept warm.

One of many bridges that span the Rhine

 

There were plenty of animals to see as well … swans and ducks …

 

ponies..

 

and even animals on rooftops …not real ones, of course.

 

I love it when the cycle path would suddenly swerve away from the river every once in a while and I would be riding among the trees

 

and meeting the occasional dog and its owner

Cologne ho! When I finally saw the twin spires of the Cologne’s Cathedral Dom in the distance, I knew I was done for the day. But for the moment, I had to still battle the winds to get to the campsite on the other side of the river.

 

 

The famous bridge crossing near Cathedral Dom that I would cross several times the next day.

 

Famous because of the many, many declarations of love, locked onto the railing for posterity

 

I’m quite the Casanova, it would seem.

 

This particular campsite by the Rhine was just as efficiently run but the owner wasn’t exactly Mr Happy… but he was ok. The tent section was quite sparse…just the way I liked it.

After pitching up the tent, I went for a shower, located inside this very swanky building

 

Showers ain’t free… I had to pay 0.50 Euro for a hot shower…for all of 4 minutes! Good thing was that I could turn it off and on at will, thereby not risking the water finishing and a head still covered in suds. As well, if that happened, my minuscule piece of micro-fleece that I call  a towel can barley cover my private parts if I had to step out of the shower to go get some more tokens.

 

My dinner…and a bottle of German brew somewhere around.

 

My day was done. I had cooked a simple dinner (if only to get a fire going on the cool multi-fuel stove that I loved playing with 🙂 after which I hunkered down for the night in my cosy little tent. It was a quiet place unlike in Koblenze where the long-distance trains passed by all night long.

 

Tomorrow, I will visit Germany’s most famous landmark (that’s what they claim anyway), the Cathedral Dom. There was another thing I had to do as well. After seeing the many locks on the bridge, I too wanted to be part of it 🙂

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Distance today: 35km
Distance to date: 322km

Playback today’s ride at Garmin Connect

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Day 5, 9 Sep, Koblenze to Bonn

The weatherman was right again – it was like summer; warm, sunny and dry with cool winds, perfect conditions for cycling.

It was still beginning of the trip and I was not very efficient at packing up yet. Although Bonn was 70kms away and I started late at noon, I estimated I should be there way before dark at 7.30pm.

The road out of the campsite led straight out to cycle path next to the Rhine and very soon, I got into the rhythm. It was an uneventful but absorbing ride.  There’s always something to see, and the Rhine, including the riverbank was quite busy … probably more so because of the fine weather.

Once out of Bonn, the cycle path took on a very pleasant outlook

In many places along the cycle path, benches are provided for the public. I stopped here for a quick bite and just to enjoy a quiet moment.

 

My quick bite — a satisfying porky sandwich

 

 

Right after this ancient-looking crane, the cycle path took a sharp left inland…

 

Through a tunnel..

 

And then up on on a path that was now higher than the road

 

Trains would zoom by every 15 minutes or so.

 

while cars zoomed by overhead

More twists and turns followed …

until I came to this an antiquated wooden bridge across an estuary.

Except for racers in training, no one else rides fast along this cycle route, least of all me. There’s just so much to be enthralled with…

including scenes of colourful denizens of the Rhine banks — like this mom and baby out for an evening ride.

When I reached Bonn, I realized there were no nearby campgrounds marked on my GPS, so I did a quick search on Googlemap, and with its GPS directions, I ended up at Max Hostel, a super-clean hostel manned by an almost bald friendly guy with a small pigtail. Everything was quite efficient in typical German manner – from the electronic front door to the electronically locked door of the 8-bed dorm I was assigned to.

It was a real bother hauling up so much baggage up to the dorm. Camping was certainly much easier — I simply threw everything into the tent. Privacy is assured and one is always close to nature.

One of the first buildings one sees upon entering Bonn — DHL, the German giant of couriers

In the centre of Bonn

Here in the city, some cycle paths are sandwiched between car and bus lanes. Can be quite intimidating at first but with the Germans, you never have to worry … they always give way to cyclists.

Tomorrow, I’m off to Cologne, or Koln, as the Germans call it, and a visit to the most famous of Germany’s cathedrals — Cathedral Dom.

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Distance today:: 77km
Distance to date:: 259km

Playback today’s ride on Garmin Connect

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Day 4, 8 Sep, Geisenheim to Koblenze, flowing with The Rhine up north

The weather held nicely for another day, although it was 11 degrees in the morning. But more importantly, the sky was clear – that means another wonderful day of riding. After one of Eva’s great breakfasts — smoked fish and baguette, I was ready to hit the road. I couldn’t have asked for a better start to my trip than these few days of staying with a German family in a charming little German house eating real German food and generally enjoying warm German hospitality.

Eva, Aljoscha and Mavin – you guys are the best 🙂

Even the tailor next door joined in my sending-off

 

To get to the other side of the Rhine, I had to take a quick 1Euro ferry. The guy with the gadget is collecting the fare.

 

Bur more importantly, the sun was out, warming the day

 

The ferry approaching Bingen

 

I didn’t go in to Bingen but it sure looked like a charming little German town

Today, I would be riding the 70 kms to Koblenze, and all the guide books pointed out that this was the best part of the Rhine – burgs (castles), vineyards, beautiful German houses and of course, beautiful German people along the way. I was not disappointed.

Although I didn’t see many fully-loaded tourers, there were plenty of cyclists along the Rhine cycle route – and they came in all shapes, sizes and colours. Pretty amazing too, to come across elderly aunties and uncles happily riding along, nicely dressed in their summer best and very fit-looking as well.

All along the riverside where patches of open ground were to be found, people were taking advantage of the warm weather – sunning, fishing, BBQing, frolicking with their dogs, and generally chilling out. Even geriatrics in wheelchairs were out in full force.

 

Markers along the Rhine. 529 is Bingen

Castle ruins in the distance, framed by fresh autumn colours

 

Vineyards, castles and lovely German houses dot this section of the Rhine

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2 aunties checking out my LHT

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At this point, I couldn’t help noticing the fact that there were 4 modes of transportation side by side — train, highway, cycle-path and the river.

 

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The scenery also blended in with the many forthcoming election billboards

 

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Campers were out in full force

 

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Passing by the touristy town of Lorelei

 

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..and where I treated myself to a hearty meal of sausage and fries. Love those big bangers…

 

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‘Weingut’ means winery. This one looks like its been around for a while.

 

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At times, the cycle path would wind its way in front of houses that fronted the Rhine. Pretty prime property.

 

Nearing Koblenze, the cycle path is busier, shadier and with more things to see

 

 

I arrived at Koblenze at about 3.30 in the afternoon. Here, I’m looking down from a vantage point of the statue of the Deutches Eck See pic below)– the Mosel on the left and the Rhine on the right, both meeting at this important and historic point.  The campsite is just across the river on the left.

 

The famous landmark at the confluence of the Moselle and Rhine – the Deutches Eck, another one of many monuments erected to honour Emperor Willhem Kaiser, as well as the colonization of the region by the Order of German Knights.

 

The campsite was on the other side of the river-mouth and the tents section commanded a wonderful view of Deutches Eck.

 

It was still a bit early as I rode in in to the campsite. The sun was still quite high and hot so I decided to treat myself to a cold beer while I waited for things to cool down.

 

Choice location… just across the river is where I had just come from

 

My neighbour, fellow-tourer John, an Aussie now living in US. He was on the legs of his Moselle tour.

 

On the left is John’s tent, on the right, some Scottish bikers were just packing up and ready to leave.

When the shadows became longer , I pitched up tent and then got ready to cook dinner. Dinner was wholemeal buns, Maggi’s porridge with Abalone (yes, I brought some all the way from home), some really sweet grapes from the nearby discount supermarket and another beer.  I also found out that in Germany, they don’t seem to give out plastic bags anymore, you have to provide your own bag. Very cool, I must say.

 

My first night camping out in Europe. It felt great to be finally doing this. I’m cooking my first meal of the tour with my trusty multi-fuel stove; this one is running on unleaded fuel. A real blast to use…literally, cos it sounds like a jet engine when turned turned up on full heat.

 

 

Tomorrow, I head for Bonn, the former capital of Germany, and where Beethoven was born,  lived and held court for a while.

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Distance today :: 75km

Distance to date:: 158km

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Day 2, 6 Sep, Geisenheim and Rudesheim – doing the tourist thing.

Geisenheim is a delightful little town on the Rhine. With a population of about 15,000, it’s the kind of suburbia that many city folk apparently liked to lived in. Property prices weren’t exactly soft in this town and rental is at a premium for some of the older and more charming houses.

It was a new experience for me; staying literally a stone’s throw away from a cathedral. The bell tolled at every quarter, half and on the hour faithfully. The quarter and half hour chimes were soft 1-bell tolls while the hourly tolls would start with soft chimes followed by louder ones that corresponded to the number of the hour. I absolutely loved it.

The view from my (Mavin’s) room…the town church. You don’t need an alarm clock or even a clock when you stay next to a church like these. The bells toll on the hour, every hour of the day.

The sun rises at about 6.30 in this part of the world and, just as I do at every new place I visit, I was up and raring to go by then. But, it was a Sunday, and nothing stirred in the cobbled streets below … neither were there any signs of life in the platz in front of the church. At about 8 o’clock, while the boys and Eva were still blissfully asleep, I decided to do a little exploring of my own.

While admiring the façade of the church, I saw a little procession trooping out of the main entrance of the church and the congregation … all of 50 or so people including the priest and altar boys and girls carrying flags. (Apparently, attendance is a little lacking these days; so much so it now takes 1 priest to mind the flock for 3 churches instead of the normal 1-priest-1-church arrangement. It was also an economically influenced decision, for obvious reasons.)

The majestic facade of the church. The congregation can be seen coming out of the main entrance.

 

Intrigued, I decided to follow the silent procession from a discreet distance, not wanting to come across as a gawking tourist (which, in fact, I was :). The wind was a little chilly but it was clear the sun would warm things up soon. The road began to wind up a gentle slope and I could see Geisenheim’s vineyards just behind. Still they continued. Soon, the procession stopped by the side of the road fringed by vineyards.

Their destination was a cross, with a fresco of Jesus in the arms of Mary below. They started singing and praying and one of them would read some kind of liturgy to the group. It was a solemn affair, and when they finished, they continued their way again but I decided I was done with my ‘Sunday church attendance’ and slowly walked back to the house.

It seemed like a great start to a great journey for me.

Back at the Pohs, Eva was the perfect host, preparing a German-style breakfast for me..

 

Freshly baked bread from bakery

‘The tourist doesn’t know where he’s been, and the traveller doesn’t know where he’s going’

As much as the romantic notion of unencumbered travelling was espoused in that phrase, I was happily going to be a tourist for a day – compliments of Eva. She was taking me to the town of Rudesheim, just a few kilometers down the road, to walk along the world-famous, Unesco World Heritage Drosselgasse.

We would also be riding a cable car to the top of a hill that featured an impressive monument called Niedwewald-denkmal – a tribute to one of Germany’s most famous kings, Wilhem Kaiser , and to the German people who fought the French army that was literally at their doorstep across the Rhine during the 1800s.

Riding the cable car that took us to the top of Niedwewald-denkmal

 

At the top is the monument Niedwewald-denkmal – a tribute to one of Germany’s most famous kings, Wilhem Kaiser , and to the German people who fought the French army that was literally at their doorstep across the Rhine during the 1800s.

The view of the Mainz from the hill…vineyards and the town of Bingen, across the river.

 

At the top of the hill, a modern-day organ grinder and his not-so-real monkey entertaining the crowds.

 

Back in Rudesheim, enjoying an al-fresco lunch at a restaurant along Drosselgasse.

 

Lunch was a lovely German dish of marinated beef with sauerkraut and dough balls.

 

Tomorrow, the bike shops would be open and I could finally get the front rack and panniers that I had planned to add to my on-bike ensemble of Tubus/Ortlieb collection. Eva would see to that 🙂

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When the leaves turn colour …

The European summer is almost at an end. Most of the tourists will be leaving for home, the crowds are thinning out, the temperature has begun to dip a little — and hopefully, so will prices. All good signs for free and independent cycle-tourers like me embarking on a Tour of Europe.

The plan, as always, is simple 🙂

5 countries, 26 days (4-30 Sep), 1,500km; give or take a couple of hundred kms.

The starting point will be Frankfurt, Germany. From there, I’ll flow with the River Rhine all the way to Amsterdam in the Netherlands, about 500kms to the north.

From Amsterdam, I head south-west to Belgium, crossing into France and then into Paris.

From Paris, it’s a north-westerly ride to Dieppe on the French coast; then a ferry ride across the Channel to Newhaven, England.

The last leg will see me heading north towards London, and then home on an AirAsia flight out of Stansted, 60km to the north.

The first part of the journey will be fully along the cycle paths of the River Rhine. It would be pretty hard to get lost following the river so that’s less one worry. At the end of this leg, Amsterdam should be good for a few days of rest and sightseeing — and of course, blending in with the 700,000 or bicycles that rule the roads of this canal city.

Campsites, or campingplatz as they call it in Germany, are easily found throughout the length of the river so camping is how I intend to overcome the expensive issue of accommodation . Even in big cities like Amsterdam and Paris, there are campsites to be found, right in the heart of it all, and all costing less than 10 Euros.

However, once I reach Belgium, I intend to retrace part of the route that Robert Louis Stevenson (he of Treasure Island fame) took when he sailed from Belgium to France in a sailing canoe. RSL is one of my favourite authors and, without a doubt, one of the finest travel writers of the 19th century.

In his first real book, An Inland Voyage, Stevenson chronicles his travels in a canoe with his good friend, Sir Walter Simpson, along the many canals that define this part of the world. The language may be a bit archaic but if one perseveres, one will be rewarded with the beauty and colour of the land that fairly leap out of the pages.

One of the reasons I’m following in the wake of his inland sailing adventure is that part of the route happens to coincide with that of the other famous French bike race — the Paris-Roubaix Classic — a one-day, 250km race across the countryside. In dozens of stretches along the way, the peloton goes bumpity-bump on some of the most vicious cobblestones that trace back to Roman times (they don’t nick-name this race ‘The Hell of the North‘ for nothing).

At Roubaix, and if allowed, I’m going to ride on the oval timber track of the town’s hallowed velodrome that always plays host to the traditional final km of the race.

Paris will probably be the longest stop of the trip — doing the tourist stuff, eating the best baguettes in the world, drinking coffee by the Parisian sidewalks and, the icing on the cake — riding the traditional Parisian loop of the Tour de France‘ s final stage along the boulevards of Champs Elysees, the Louvre and the Arc de Triomphe.

From France, it’s merely a 2-day ride to the coast and, after a short ferry ride across the English Channel, I shall be in the land of fish-and-chips, steak and kidney pies, stiff upper lips and all …

A simple plan, no?

I can’t wait 🙂

The map below is an approximate route of the area that I will be traversing.

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