So, as per usual, I'm on a train, travelling backwards. I'm not sure why I always travel backwards. We've just crossed the river into Strausbourg, and it would appear that everything has gone a little bit crap crossing to France from Germany. It's nice when countries live up to their stereotypes. I wanted to write something every night, but I usually seemed to end the day in some sort of state of minor insanity, meaning that uploading pics to Facebook was about as exciting as it would get. I find it hard to believe that two weeks and something like 830 miles has gone just like that. This was quite a different trip than previous. I actually put my faith in Google Maps and allowed it to select a cycling route. I would never do that in Britain, as the facilities are so shit, but it actually worked reasonably well from France onwards. French facilities were a bit meh, with a fair amount of broken glass. Flemish Belgian facilities were generally excellent. French Belgian, meh, but at least clean. German, outside of cities, generally terrific and often so smooth you could bowl on them. In cities, generally OK, though God only knows why all the countries think it is a good idea to use brick on a bike path. Brick, which is disturbed by each and every tree route. The other issue with in town cycling facilities is that one normally needs to toodle along pretty slowly. One because they are bumpy, but also because Germans of all persuasions actually cycle. Very unlike Britain the drivers were nearly all considerate towards cyclists. Belgium was a bit scary though as people take their righthand rule very seriously. It is nice though to cycle in a place where it's completely unremarkable, where families are out on multiday tours and oldsters out with their picnic baskets. As per usual I consumed a vast amount of salami and cheese (and schnitzel and cake) so I seriously doubt any weight loss has occurred!
Anyway, after a brief sojourn in Bonn, I set south in mid summer temperatures (90s) and high humidity to Mainz, 103 miles south. That part of the Rhein is beautiful, full of castles and very steep vineyards. Apparently it was the done thing, in the day, to live in a castle. The only minor issue on the day, besides the heat and the humidity, there was a very strong southerly wind. So, about 80 miles were into the headwind and the last 20 or so I was so dazed and exhausted as to not really care or remember how I got there. There was a pleasant but not very interesting hotel in a residential area of Mainz, itself not all that exciting seeming (though, to be fair, I was completely wasted tired by the time I got there). Slightly annoying was that the closest food was about a mile away. Pizza. Very good pizza though, sat outside on a sort of street square, definitely the only person not speaking German.
The next day was much cooler, with brief, heavy rain. Autumn had arrived, just like that. A more sensible 65 miles down the Rhein and then up the Neckar to Heidelberg, I spent the day mostly cycling amongst vineyards and cornfields. Something I absolutely love about Germany are what I ended up calling the corn roads. Basically they are little piddlyass roads with all but local traffic prohibited, criss crossing the farm fields. They are usually beautifully paved, but I did end up on about 10 miles of dirt and one of them did turn into a grass track. No, Google Maps, those are not cycle routes. So, I ended up in Heidelberg, which seems to be made up mostly of gingerbread (or looks it) and has a very scientific looking (ugly) university with loads of university students (American). Somehow it escaped the war, which is nice, as it saved it (except the university) from the frequent German curse of looking like Elephant and Castle. I walked around and did dutifully touristy things. There is a nice castle as well, much of which seemed to have been blown up several hundred years ago. Makes it low maintenance.
The next day was about 70 miles, to Stuttgart. This ended up being quite hilly and I'd really not gotten enough sleep, so I was a bit of a zombie for much of it. The countryside around Stuttgart is beautiful rolling farmland, with a fair sprinkling of wind turbines (this being Germany). The suburbs of Stuttgart are unremarkable but pleasant. The centre of Stuttgart is a complete construction disaster of detours and closed roads. They are modernising (burying?) the very ugly central train station, which has generally made a complete mess and pissed off everyone. Eventually finding my hotel, at the edge of the red light district (street?) I set off to find dinner. Mostly lost in the maze of 1950s streets (albeit full of shiny and expensive stores) I finally gave up and was lured in by the siren song of Starbucks. Not exactly international dining. Oh well.
The next day, about 75 miles, was split between riverside bike trail (slow and bumpy), gorgeous forested hills and smooth road, one detour around a closed road, pushing my bike along a pathway through a forest and about 10 miles of dirt roads through cornfields. Not exactly a winner route planning job that day. The exciting highlight of the day was convincing a slightly injured mole that it wanted to leave the road, rather than eat my shoe, then getting soaked in a very cold, heavy rainstorm. I eventually pulled into the enormous metropolis of Gunzburg (on the Danube) just as the sun set, then ate the remainder of my food in the warmth and comfort of the room rather than venture back out into the cold and dark.
It was on to Munich the next day. About 80 miles. Quite a lot of rolling farmland with properly scenic Bavarian towns. Then a very long, boring ride into the suburban flatness of western Munich. Munich itself I like a lot, but the western suburbs, mile after mile of concrete nothingness. An ode to 70s functional. On Saturday, as Mike was working and as I'd had to cut off the first day, to Dover, I cycled up to Tegernsee, in the Alps foothills. About 80 miles total through chocolate box gorgeous little towns, sweeping green fields, miles of forest, Bavarian off the tourist brochure. I made it to the lake, had a sandwich, froze my knickers off admiring the view, then retreated to the warmth and comfort of a mostly deserted ice cream shop before mostly coasting the 40 miles back to Munich.
Yesterday I did a lot of nothing, though I did manage to gym and run (as one does after 800 miles) and eat more schnitzel. Today it was up at 415 (awful), disassemble bike at the train station in Munich, reassemble it in Paris, then get home and back to work tomorrow for a punishing four day week before heading off to Stockholm on Saturday. (Terrible, I know).
It is, however, time to start thinking about the when, where and how of the next phase of life I think. I did definitely come to this conclusion on this trip. Anyway, that's enough typing for now with my thumbs on a tablet...
Nice report on your cycling Doug, but we need more frequent updates!
What have you been up to for the past year?
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