Thursday, 19 April 2012

20 April Stage 11 Aalen - Ingolstadt

Dep 9.00 Arr 7.00 Dist 130 km Tot ???

I had a couple of bowls of Frosties with muesli for breakfast with the usual lovely soft but crusty cobs and as much coffee as I could drink. There were no town plans available so I looked at a map in the reception of the hostel and tried to remember my way out of the town. It wasn't difficult but I managed to get it wrong and FARTED AROUND (yes I'm shouting) for an hour or so. I made it to the main road and there were no further dramas, just decent progress, firstly along a main road with decent cycle tracks at the side and later on very minor roads where there were more tractors than cars. This second road was cutting across river valleys which meant a lot of ups and downs again. I just got into the granny gears going up and flew down the other side.

I made it to Neuburg an der Donau which was a bit emotional for some reason. Maybe because I had made it across the South of Germany to another major river valley which would be with me for a long way. I had the choice of camping here in Neuburg at the Englischer Garten or going on to Ingolstadt where there was a hostel. I decided to go the extra 25km or so to make the next day easier and also maybe because I'm getting soft and enjoying the clean linen and European breakfasts in the hostels. I made it and here I am at about 9.00 on a computer in an activities room with a group of teenage drama students making as much noise as possible.

Here I am later after a few drinks in this nice town. All was looking quiet as I walked out near the hostel until I turned a corner and it was the Ingolstadt equivalent of King Street. I went in the first bar and was happy to pay a euro for my wristband. It was a youngish type of place but I needed a drink. I got one down me and felt good. The lad next to me at the bar looked like me 100 years ago but I couldn't say anything for obvious rerasons. Then a big black lad came and bought a drink, did one of those deep throated chuckles and offered me his glass for a clunk, and likewise with young Fabien next to me. All was then well and people around us all started to talk, all because of one unsolicited friendly gesture. I had another drink with my new mates and then wandered off. I called in to a Turkish place and had a great doner and another drink and then one on the way home. All in all a great night out for me. I enjoyed it but I'm still focussed on the next few days and what I have to do.

I will be leaving Germany in a couple of days but I must record that right now I have the utmost respect for the way they live, the way they treat each other and the way they treat other people. So many little incidents over the last week or so have made me think this way.

Today's Route

19 April. Stage 10 Lowenstein - Aalen

Dep 8.50 Arr. 18.00 Dist 95.1 km. Total. 1054 km

I woke up at 6.20 feeling ok but for some reason I turned over and slept again till 8.10. I had breakfast in bed, ie, tent, some kind of oaty type muesli with milk and P&O sugar, quite nice actually. I was a bit apprehensive about the day's ride with no target and in unchartered territory.

I went to reception to hand back my wristband and asked the lady if she had a map of the area. A man appeared and gave me a map with all the local cycle routes on. When I told him my destination he looked at me like most people have done so far, a mixture of disbelief and what looks to me like admiration but is probably something else. He then suggested Aalen. He said it was quite a tough route but all other ways would be as well and this was quite direct. He said he does it himself in 8 or 9 hrs and he looked quite fit. which was ominous to say the least.

The way out of Lowenstein was uphill for about 5km which is a similar length of climb to Saddleworth but not as steep. Thankfully, the rest was generally flat, following a river valley. The road was quiet but occasionally a huge articulated lorry would come along. There were another three nasty climbs and the customary headwind now and then which wasn't strong but I felt it. I got to a busier road and made decent progress as I got closer to Aalen. The kindle informed me there was a hostel in Aalen but it was a remote area and stuff was very slow coming through. Also, my phone was very low on power. I eventually found the place and here I am now, nearly caught up again, blogging on my phone, which isn't easy. I've had my tea which was a bit weird but pleasant and filling.

It was quite a difficult day and I was very tired at times. I stopped and rested 4 or 5 times and seemed to be thirsty all the time and that's without beer last night! The destination tomorrow is Neuburg an der Donau so then I will meet another great river which will then be my companion for most of the way to Turkey.

Today's Route

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

18 April Stage 9 Worms - Lowenstein

Dep 8.50 Arr 19.00 Dist 134km. Total. 959km

After catching up with the blog in a smoke-filled internet cafe and watching Bayern v Real on the telly I managed to sleep well in a double bed in a guest house called Kalish which is a bit of a coincidence (to those in the know). It was good to leave stuff lying around - just like home - and reorganise my bags. I was aware that the next three days were important with hills and possibly bad weather ahead. I would soon be leaving the flatness of my old pal the Rhine behind and heading into the, sort of, unknown. I knew I must get as far as possible today to make the next few days easier. I would not be travelling through holiday type places so there would be less campsites and hardly any hostels.

Breakfast was tremendous. Corn Flakes and muesli, boiled egg, loads of coffee and warm cobs with ham or cheese, or both, in my case. That set me up nicely and all went well early on although there was a lot of cloud about. I got to Heidelberg with no problems. What an attractive place? I asked a nice couple to take my picture on one of the bridges and with usual German precision they took ages and then argued like mad for quite a while. I may need to go back to give evidence on the divorce proceedings. The clouds lifted and I had cool sunshine most of the rest of day with a Southerly wind which was against me now and then, and a ittle light rain late on. The usual happened just after Heidelberg when the road became a motorway for no apparent reason. I decided to abandon the original route and set off on minor roads heading generally south-east. The roads were very quiet and the countryside was rolling hills which meant I was up and down a lot. My kind of country. The kindle was a great help and I was feeling good and when I reached the most immaculate campsite found I had broken my world record. There was only one slight drama. My trusty steed went lame about 5km from Lowenstein and I had everything I needed apart from tyre levers. I managed with a spoon and a screwdriver and only checked in at the camp about 7.30. I took my time showering in the palacial washroom which was as good as any hotel reception. The doors opened automatically and the lights came on and music started. My evening meal consisted of spag bol from a packet followed by a packet of hobbits, hobnobs to us. I deserved a drink and strode purposefully to the restaurant thinking it will be expensive but what the hell? It was shut. The whole reception was desolate. Three days without beer. This thirst is growing. Someone is going to pay for this!

Today's Route

17 April Stage 8 Geisenheim - Worms

Dep  850     Arr  1630     Dist  89 km     Ave ??    Total  825 km

Bike computer reset again. 

When you have a lovely, clear, cloudless sky you must suffer the consequences. It had been a nice sunny evening but it turned into a very cold night. I was snug though in my sleeping bag with all my layers on and only my nose poking out. I woke about 6.45 and opened the tent. Flakes fell onto the groundsheet, surely not? Actually it was flakes of frost which had formed on the flysheet. I very slowly got washed and ready, spending as much time as possible in the warmth of the washroom which was predictably bare of any leftover washing stuff.

The plan was to stay out of trouble by ignoring my own maps and sticking rigidly to the cycle paths today. They were well signed and, if I kept on the straight and narrow, would get me to Heidelberg eventually. I reached Eltville and was going past a Tourist Information Office so I called in. I bought a detailed map of the cycle paths for 2 euros which turned out to be the worst money I have spent. The map looked great but the paths actually wound all over the place and if you missed a sign there was no chance of picking the route up again. It's a good job the internet fiasco is preventing me creating a track. I would hate to see the route I have been today. Also, the wind was from the South which was against me for most of the day so progress was slow. One of the bags was making a noise so I spent some time tightening everything up before a major problem occurred and it turned out to be a good decision. Some nuts and bolts had become quite loose. By mid-afternoon I abandoned plans for Heidelberg and settled on Worms (cue predictable comment). Coming in from the North it looked like a horrible place but I needed to get to the centre and find a hostel. It is actually a very nice place, steeped in history. From memory, Martin Luther did something here that changed the world.

I probably used a lot of internet on my phone finding if there was a hostel but I found there was one right near to where I was sitting on a bench. Unfortunately it was fully booked - on a Tuesday? The chap gave me the name of a small hotel which looks after "radfahrers" like me. I checked in and then asked if there was an internet connection. The lady said no but there is an internet cafe around the corner and here I am, delighted to have caught up with the blog, a bit knackered and ready to plan the next couple of days.

Today's Route

16 April Stage 7 Bad Honningen - Geisenheim

Dep 830     Arr  1550     Dist  109.1km    Ave 20.1kph

Computer reset itself for no apparent reason so records incomplete

My phone was being charge at the office so I didn't know what time it was when I woke which isn't a bad thing. It had rained a lot through the night and I remember it being very windy when I woke once or twice during the night, so I was apprehensive when I opened the tent. It wasn't too bad but there was a lot of dark cloud about. I didn't have any milk so I didn't bother with breakfast. I picked up my phone and things from the office and got on the road.

There was a Netto just outside Bad Honningen so I did some shopping there, milk, muesli, biscuits, energy bars and soap. I must have left my soap in the shower. On English campsites people very kindly leave shampoo and stuff in the showers. Maybe they do in Germany as well but there is always a Chinese cleaning lady to snaffle it so I had to invest. I started off down a cycle path at the side of a main road next to the mighty river. Every now and then the path disappeared so I went onto the road which seemed acceptable, ie, nobody tooted at me. Then, mysteriously and without warning the main road at Neuwied had turned into a motorway and everyone was blasting at me so I decided I had best get off. I walked along the hard shoulder for a few hundred yards and made my way up a slip road only to find I was on another motorway. I walked hopelessly for a while and eventually shimmied down the embankment and over a fence into an industrial estate. It's hard riding a bike with weight on it. Try carrying one over a fence. I got out onto a minor road which was quite busy and going the right way so I thought I was OK. The traffic fizzled out and before much longer the road stopped and became a tarmac path so I kept on. I mentioned the name of the next town to a lady walking her dog and she smiled and nodded. The path became a farm track and I had to get off and walk. Farm tracks start at farms, I thought and I did eventually get to a road which led to the right road. I stopped on a random bench in the middle of nowhere for breakfast which was nectar and the sun came out and the world was a better place.  That is, until I was on the main road again at a place called Lahnstien and there were roadworks going on. This navvy flagged me down and told me I shouldn't be on the highway. I told him it wasn't an autobahn and it must be OK. He said no it was a highway and I shouldn't be on it. His mates weren't interested until I asked, jokingly, OK sarcastically, if he was the police, or what? The lads didn't see the joke and started to look a bit mean so I smiled at them and swore and set off back. It was only 100 yds or so but it left me confused about which roads you can and can't go on. You can stick your fancy cycle paths. Give me the A6 every time.

The day ended well though. The wind then got up but the good news is.... it was right behind me and the track alongside the main road for the rest of the day was smooth and wide and neverending so I bombed along. That was, until I saw a post carrying a road sign lying across my path, and too late. It must have been blown over by the wind and was about 6 inches above the ground. I couldn't change direction so I just shouted and hoped for the best. I sort of jumped the bike up and I think the front wheel avoided it but the weight on the back kept the back wheel down and my trusty steed belted the obstacle. I stopped and checked it over. I was sure the wheel would be buckled or at least a flat tyre but there was not a whimper so on I, sorry we, went. I didn't realise at the time how significant this incident would be to future progress. I just thought "this is one tough bicycle" and steamed ahead.

The camp at Geisenheim was another big one with all the facilities. I didn't bother with the bar. I had my last packet of noodles and organised my bags a bit and had an early night.

Today's route

15 April Stage 6 Dusseldorf - Bad Honningen

Dep  1020     Arr  1730     Dist  114.6km  Ave  20.5 kph  On bike 5hr 35min    Beard coming on

Breakfast had been paid for in the hostel fee of 25 euros so I filled my boots, sort of. The coffee was fantastic, maybe because I hadn't had any for a while and it was in one of those flask things and it was help yourself. I had 3 or 4 cups and I must have had 8 or 9 rounds of toast as well, some with pate, some with cheese, some with jam. Continental breakfast rules! Before I left I checked on the internet and sorted my way out of Dusseldorf and vaguely planned the next 2 days.

The weather was cool and cloudy as I set off for the 4th consecutive day on the big ring. I managed to get out of Dusselfdorf OK and kept on main roads which were quiet with it being Sunday, as I only realised later. I hadn't planned to come this way so I didn't have very well prepared maps, just a list of towns on the route. When I was in any doubt I stopped and asked for the next town and people just kept pointing me in the direction I was going. Thankfully, I didn't go wrong too much. I stopped for lunch at a Turkish place and had chicken doner and chips. The lad din't understand my Turkish when I asked for tavuk. What chance have you got? There was loads so I took a doggy bag and really enjoyed the remains later. My route was generally a track alongside the main road through a lot of big towns and around cities like Leverkusen and Cologne but near the end the track ended up alongside the Rhine and took me through some beautiful little villages. There can't be many nicer places in the world than Erpel. I actually took a few photos which will appear on here one day.

I found the planned campsite at Bad Honningen which was a big  caravan type of site with almost everyone German. I was the only tent and I set up and found my way to the bar and asked for a beer. The standard measure is 0.2l which is less than a mouthful for me after 70 miles. I then asked for a large one and got 0.3l. The chap sussed I was English and got the FA cup 2nd/3rd place playoff between Chelsea and Spurs on the telly. I decided it was too windy to cook, honest, so I ordered some food off the seniors menu and they were worried that it was only a small portion of meat. They needn't have. It was tremendous. About 8 small pork steaks on a skewer with chips and rice with salad. Wunderbar, as they say. I finished off with a 0.5l bottle of weissbeer! When I had checked in I asked about charging phones and things and the girl said bring them to the office and I could collect them in the morning. I did that and got yed darn.

Today's Route