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 1, 5 Sep – Frankfurt to Geisenheim, meeting up with old friends.

I was seriously overweight when I checked in to KLIA for my midnight flight to Frankfurt. My checked-in baggage, that is — my Surly and a box containing my tent, Thermarest, sleeping bag, a duvet, my cycling shoes, tools, stove, cookset etc etc.

MAS only allowed 20kg of free baggage per person, but the nice boy who was checking me in turned to me with a smile and said (in Malay), ‘It’s like this, Sir, you’re 9kg overweight.

But I tell you what, I’ll give you a 5kg discount ok?…and you just pay the balance of 4kgs’. ‘Ok, I replied. ‘So how much per kg? The nice boy looked at me with a nice smile and said ‘RM160’

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The nice boy who wanted to charge me RM640 for being overweight

Ok, that explains the nice smile… because RM160 X 4 equals a ridiculous RM640! My reflex action was typical — bargain like crazy. I put on a nicer smile than the nice boy and spun him some baloney about my being so skinny and why don’t he consider the fact that there were other passengers who carried excess baggage around their waists (and which the airline couldn’t charge for) and on and on….

I was very surprised when he said ‘Ok, ok … I’ll give you another 2kgs discount but…that’s all I can do, ok?’ I paused for a bit and wondered if I could push my luck. ‘Ok la’  I said. What was I to do? Overweight is overweight. So, while Lilian went to pay the bill, I checked in my bike at the oversize baggage check-in and that was it.

After 12 hours of squirming about in a not-too-comfortable seat, and with some shut-eye in between, I arrived at Frankfurt at 6.30 in the morning. The moment I stepped out of the airport, the cold autumn air bit into me so sharply I was totally unprepared for it. I guessed it must have been about 10 degrees. Undaunted, I quickly put on a sweater, pushed my RM160-overweight baggage to a quiet corner and began to slowly reassemble my bike.

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Re-assembling the bike outside the airport

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One and a half hours later, I pushed off onto the main road and headed for a bike shop near the airport where I planned to buy a front rack, and a pair of panniers to match. Germany was, after all, the home of 3 very popular brands of touring equipment — Ortlieb panniers, Schwalbe tires and Tubus racks.

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The road leading out of the airport wasn’t that busy. It was a cold grey morning though…

 

5 minutes from the airport and a nice tree-lined bike path is mine to enjoy. It was my first taste of a typical European cycling path. It was serene and it wound its way through a light forest … I was suitably impressed.

Finally, I found the bike shop, but it wasn’t open. The owner was off to some Eurobike fair or something. So I asked and was directed to another bike shop nearby but no luck, they didn’t have a front rack that could fit. The owner was nice enough to give it a try though

I decided to then head for Geisenhem instead to look for my old friends from Penang — the Pohs — Eva and her 2 sons, Aljoscha and Mavin. The boys and my kids grew up together as neighbours but after they moved back to Germany, we lost touch with them.

It was really a wonderful coincidence when I found out after I had decided to start my Tour of Europe from Frankfurt that the Pohs were located in my intended path along the Rhine heading north.

Crossing the Mainz…then I got lost

 

Apples seem to be in season… I was tempted to help myself

 

Back on the Rhine cycle path, I was came upon some kind of dance performance

The bike paths here are very well-marked.

 

With sights like these along the river, there’s no hurry to get where i’m going

 

Geisenhem was only about 50kms or so from Frankfurt but since I didn’t have a proper map yet, I got lost somewhere between Wiesbaden and the Mainz river. After repeatedly asking some locals for directions, I made it back to the banks of the Rhine and followed it as advised.

After clocking 80km, I reached Geisenheim On The Rhine, but not before I had to deal with a vicious (and cold) headwind that blew incessantly…so much so I was down to a miserable 10kph at certain stretches.

Exhausted, I rolled into the quaint and charming little town of Geisenheim and as soon as I entered the town platz, or square, the bells of the town’s beautiful cathedral tolled a stunning chime to mark 6 o’clock.

The beautiful cathedral in the town square. and just across the front door of the Pohs’ home. A good sign of His grace shining  upon me … or so I’d like to think 🙂

 

The Pohs’ home, where Eva and her kids live on the second and third floors. It’s a century-old charming little building that oozed old-world charm. It was in the town square itself but even more amazing, the bedroom windows looked out to the church itself.

 

Anyhow, the reunion of sorts with the Pohs was simply a blast. Aljoscha and Mavin had both grown up to be strapping young lads, and Eva looked pretty much the same as when I last saw them in Penang. Over dinner in their cosy townhouse kitchen, we reminisced about old times and it was just wonderful to be able to see familiar faces 10,000km away from home.

Next: Exploring Geisenheim and the neighbouring tourist town of Rudesheim.

Distance today:: 83km
Distance to date:: 83km

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