Sunday 31st July – Monchengladbach to Mehlem nr. Bonn
Up at 8.30AM, still feeling pretty knackered. No breakfast at the hotel, its not served unless you book it on arrival. Coffee, sandwich and a croissant at the cafe next door did the trick. As I was packing the bike outside the hotel I asked the two women, the older one possibly the owner, if they could tell me the way out of town. “Take the train” the older one said helpfully. She may have been joking. It can’t be easy to get the appropriate ironic inflection in a different language. Maybe its just the German accent. Maybe this is why they have a reputation for humourlessness. Consulted MapDroyd and found my own way out of town quite easily. Not sorry to leave if I’m being honest.
In Germany most of the cycle paths follow the roads. You either cycle on the pavement in town or on a smooth tarmac path adjacent to the main route. Great stuff. I was heading for Köln, Cologne to those unitiated in sophisticated continental ways. Made it there pretty quickly with no getting lost at all. The German cycle paths are very well signposted, with lots of cycle specific signage.Very helpful. Köln is a busy place, lots of tourists. The cathedral is impressive and the other draw must be the Rhine, along which I was about to travel for a few days.
The cycle path ran right alongside the river and the towns along the way were well signposted. Handy for navigation, especially as I hadn’t been able to get a map. Germany being, it appears, quite a devout country with strong labour protection laws. Nothing open on a Sunday apart from bars, restaurants and churches. I passed a couple of large capsites on the outskirts of Köln but decided I’d like to do a bit more mileage before stopping for the night. I didn’t find any sites after that, even as I approached Bonn. This concerned me a bit. I didn’t want to be too late for a spot and I certainly didn’t want to stay in a hotel again. Eventually found a site about 6 km south of Bonn, in a town called Mehlem, at around 8.30 PM.
I was assisted curtly and efficiently by the site owner; a stern old lady with pulled back hair, silver rimmed spectacles and a German style hunting jacket, who wasn’t entertaining any pleasantries or idle chit-chat. A picture of her and, I assume, her late husband, took pride of place behind the small bar. As I pitched my tent I got chatting to an older German couple who were cycling down to Switzerland. There was also a group of youngsters in Manga style costumes, they were packing up to leave. I remember passing a whole bunch of these Manga kids on the river at Bonn city centre. No shops open so I cycled to the town and had an enourmous serving of pork schnitzel, accompanied by a big bowl of chips and a wee salad. All washed down with a very welcome beer. Not a bad day all told. Got a decent distance, found a campsite and there’s some very pretty Rhine scenery across the river, hopefully lots more to come.
Monday 1st August – Mehlem to Sankt Goar
It had been quite a chilly night so when I awoke the inside of the tent fly was covered in condensation. I thought it best to hang around until it was at least a bit dry. Coffee, a Snickers bar some peanuts and a couple of coffees from the camp bar. That was breakfast out the way. Set off at 10.30AM in to a gentle but persistent south easterly headwind. Cut my average speed down a bit. I’m not so aerodynamic you see. Bumped into the German couple from the campsite down the road a bit. They were making coffee and offered me some. Unfortunately my mug was buried deep down in one of my inaccessible rear bags. Must get that kind of stuff oraganised better. They’d been taking the path along the main road most of the way. They said the river path was too bumpy and there were too many people getting in the way. I thought I’d give the road a bash too. On the way I met Declan and his girlfriend, a pair of Irish teachers, living in Manchester and cycling to Istanbul. In the end the signs directed me back to the river anyway. 8km to Koblenz on the road or 15km along the Rhine. No contest. The scenery along the river was worth the extra distance.
Just before Koblenz city centre I stopped at a supermarket to get supples for the evening. In the car park I met two cyclists. Zascha, a young German chap who was just starting a cycle to Morocco and Dennis, a Slovak guy who was cycling back to the Netherlands from Slovakia, or possibly the other way round. He spoke very quickly in very broken English so I wasn’t sure what he meant. He had an ancient wreck of a bike. He’d destroyed his inner tube and Zascha was helping out by trying a 26″ tume on Dennis’ 28″ wheel. I lent them my pump then went in to do my shopping. They were all smiles when I came back out. Then there was a loud bang. The bodge hadn’t worked. Dennis had no money so Zascha and I gave him a few euros each, enough to buy a new 28″ tube from the nearby bike shop
Bumped in to the German couple again as I was passing through Koblenz centre. They gave me a suggestion for a campsite in a town called Boppard, quite a distance downriver. As I cycled the sides of the Rhine valley got steeper and became covered in grape vines. My kind of country. Along I arrived in Boppard and was immediately shouted at by an irate lady for cycling on the pedestrian bit. How was I to know. I’m foreign. Boppard was busy and expensive looking, full of well heeled and well fed tourists, many of them British. I decided to give it a miss and pressed on to the next town, Sankt Goar, 22 km further along the river. The headwind had got stronger as the valley became steeper so I was overjoyed to find that the Sankt Goar campsite was a couple of kilometres up a very steep hill. A couple whizzing down shouted in ecouragement “only 1.5 km to go!”
I checked in just after 8.00PM and assumed that the camp’s bar kitchen would be shutting soon. I pitched my tent and whizzed down the hill in to what was a lovely little town. Plenty of tourists still but a smaller place with a more friendly feel. I filled my face with a very good spaghetti carbonara. This was washed down with a big beer and a glass of locally produce dry reisling. The wine was excellent and surprisingly similar to Albariño. Loreley was the name of the producer if I remember correctly. Going back up the hill on my unloaded bike was surprisingly easy.
My tent was pitched in a different part of the site to all the rest, I had arrived quite late. So there was nobody else around me. There was a table and chairs nearby so I took advantage of these while writing my journal. I half expected to see a pair of eyes peering out from the trees, glowing in my torchlight. Five minutes later there was a loud rustling from the trees beside my lonely little section of campsite. Sure enough, as I swept the trees with my torch, there was a pair of eyes, glowing in my torchlight, peering out at me from the trees. They disappeared quickly. I carefully looked around the trees at the edge of the camp and saw the eyes again. In my torchlight it looked like it was a small deer, not a bear. Or a werewolf. I slept peacefully.
Tuesday 2nd August – Sankt Goar to Mainz
After coffee and breakfast from the camp cafe, served by the grumpy male half of the husband and wife team who owned the place, I set off. Quite late again of course. Mainz or Weisbaden was to be my destination today, ajourney of around 70 km.
The Rhine valley was quite narrow and steep at this point, the scenery was stunning. The narrow valley amplified the effect of the headwind making it harder going than the day before.
The rest of the day’s cycling was pretty unremarkable, apart from the scenery. Just before the town of Bingen the cycle path left the river. It then passed through miles and mile of private allotments, mostly growing grapes and tree fruit. The rest of the path ran alongside a high grassy bank blocking any view of the river. I saw a sign for Weisbaden and decided to go there. I then found myself underneath a motorway interchange and presented with about forty steep steps to get up with my loaded bike. A chap coming down indicate3d another route so I went that way. I ended up in Mainz. Not a problem, I found a campsite quickly, just a few kilometres out of town. I checked in for two nights, decideing that I was having a day off tomorrow. I was pretty hungry as I’d not got round to eating my lunch sandwiches.
As I was scoffing these, a couple of cyclists, whom I’d passed on the road earlier, started setting up camp beside me. Conrad and Marishka were a Dutch couple about my age, they were cycling from Amsterdam to Regensberg for their summer holiday. They were the couple who had shouted encouragement as I was puffing up the hill on my way in to the camp at Sankt Goar the night before. They regularly do long cycle tours in Europe, their previous trip was from Amsterdam to Florence. They are heading along a route called Die Limes (the limits), which I think follows the line demarking the limits of the Roman Empire, or something like that. They’re heading aling the Main river next, which I expect I’ll be doing too. We chatted about all sorts of stuff for the next few hours over a few beers. They’re heading to Frankfurt tomorrow and I’m having a day off.
Wednesday 3rd August – Mainz
I think the trick today will be to find the balance between having a rest and being productive. Although productivity has never been my strongest point. Had a lie in then headed into town at midday. Met Conrad and Marishka as they were leaving for Frankfurt. I found a big bookshop with lots of maps. After looking at them for quite some time I then discovered the cycle map section. There was so much choice I decided to retire for lunch before making any rash purchase.
Had a great big grilled fish salad in a newly opened (no WiFi) cafe, washed down with a cheeky wee reisling. The cafe was just around the corner from the Gutenberg Museum. It would appear that Mainz is the home to the first information revolution. Back to the bookshop and bought a selection of maps that should see me all the way to Budapest. I then went to the cafe at the Gutenberg Museum as they were advertising free WiFi. Unfortunately it wasn’t a reliable connection. Gave up trying to upload stuff so I went back to the camp, cooked dinner, did some laundry and went to bed.
Thursday 4th August – Mainz to Worth am Main
Heavy showers all night. Fortunately I’d put the washing out to dry under cover. Took forever to pack up again. I’ll need to repack and organise my kit so I don’t have to unpack then repack everything each morning. Set off at 11.00AM towards Frankfurt about 40km away. Made good time in the hot sun and was there in just over a couple of hours. Frankfurt is a big city and Germany’s main financial centre. Lots of modern skyscrapers as well as very nice appartment blocks lining the river. Plenty of suits promenading the riverside on their lunch break, as well as more than one or two rather attractive joggers.
Shortly after I set off from Frankfurt I noticed that an old cyclist was following close behind, in my slipstream. Cheeky sod, he hadn’t even said hello. I ignored him and, to the strains of The Clash, set a pretty brisk pace. He stuck behind me, which was quite impressive given his age. He wasn’t carrying nearly as much as me though. I stopped at a bench and he stopped to and immediately launche in to conversation. When he discovered I was from Scotland he started telling me how his son had played with Murdo Macleod at Borussia Dortmund many years ago. He was a touch eccentric, very animated, wouldn’t stop talking as we cycled, shouting hello to all that we passed. He intimated that I would probably get shot in both Jordan and Egypt, then threw his hands up in despair at the mention of the Sudan and Kenya. Harmless, crazy chap that he was, I found his company a bit wearing. I stopped for a coke and he went on. Phew. I can get on in peaqce.
I had decided to stop at a campsite in Sulzbach. However, when I got there it didn’t look too good and was in the middle of nowhere. It was almost 7.00 PM and I’d already done 100km but I decided to head to Worth am Main, about 15 to 20km further on. I got to the site at just after 8.00PM and immediately spied Conrad and Marishka who’d got there a couple of hours earlier from Frankfurt. It started pouring just as I lit my stove to cook dinner. So it was pork schnitzel, chips and salad for dinner at the camp cafe. Spent what was left of the evening chatting to Conrad and Marishka. A German cyclist showed us his map and we all decided to follow the Tauber then Altmuhl rivers to Regensberg. A more direct route for me and less serious hill climbs for the Dutch couple. Pretty bushed after a long day in the saddle so I was asleep pretty quickly.
Friday 5th August – Worth am Main – Wertheim
Planning a short day today to Wertheim, where the Tauber forks off the Main. A hearty breakfast of Meuseli mixed with vanilla Actimel and fresh blueberries was surprisingly tasty. Unfortunately the Actimel didn’t work with my coffee. I suppose I should’ve known that. Set off just after 11.00AM.
The mind was willing but the legs were protesting a bit after the day before. I bumped in to Conrad and Marishka at Miltenberg, a pretty town busy with tourists. It was only 40km to Wertheim so I set an easy pace. The cycle path was good as usual and the Main scenery very pleasing on the eye. Compareed to th UK this really is cycle touring paradise. Great routes passing through spectacular scenery on very good paths. Shops, bars, restaurants and cheap, well equipped campsites are liberally spread along the routes.
Arrived in Wertheim at 4.30PM and found a large campsite on the banks of the river about 2km out of town. At 13 euros it was the most expensive one so far. Pitched camp then headed off to the supermarket. The choice was either Lidl or NORMA, both budget typ supermarkets. Does Germany only have these kinds of supermarkets, there doesn’t seem to an equivalent to Tesco or Sainsbury. Just Aldi, Lidl, NORMA, Netto and Penny Markt. Back to camp and cooked dinner. I’m running pretty short on fuel so I’ll need to pick some up as soon as I can. Retired to the bar to draft some blog stuff then got quite sleepy so off to bed.
Saturday 6th August – Wertheim to Rothenburg
Managed to rise at a reasonable 7.30AM. Decided that I would try a repack of my kit to make the commonly used stuff more accessible. This took some time. After picking up a cycle route map that will take me all the way to Regensberg I hit the road at about 11.30AM. I was determined to reach Rothenbur 100km along the route.
The Tauber is a small river, probably about as wide as the Kelvin in Glasgow. As a result the path was not a riverside one. It started climbing up the valley pretty quickly and pretty steeply. Down hill is always fun though. The path stayed this way for the rest of the day. The sout-easterly headwind was pretty strong today, making the miles hard earned. Gentle farming scenery intrspersed by pretty towns and villages on the low but steep hills either side of the valley. Not much else to report about the day’s cycle. It was hard work in the very hot sun, around 32C, and with the headwind. A couple of pit stops along the way, one for coffee and beer and one for coke and ice cream. It was pretty hot. A very welcome rain shower at about 6.30PM helped me along the last hour to Rothenburg.
The campsite is in a village called Detwang, a couple of kilometres down hill from the medieval town of Rothenburg. I was pitched next to a familiar tent and pair of bicycles. Conrad and Marishka had arrived a couple of hours earlier. I popped up the very steep hill into town to get some cash then whizzed back down to the camp. Just as I started cooking dinner it started raining. This is becoming a habit. I shelterd under some trees beside the tents. Then my fuel ran out. Fortunately Conrad let me use their stove to cook my pasta. Dinner was washed down with a couple of well earned beers. A bit of a chat to Conrad and Marishka and it was quite late so off to bed.