The Grey Nomad Goes Forth
When Anna suggested a European jaunt to Vienna in August she thought about amazing cake, enormous history, wide vistas of a beautiful city etc. and I immediately thought I could ride my bike there! In fairness one of my favourite films is The Third Man set in post war Vienna with Orson Welles and I note there is a walking tour of the famous images in the city from that 1949 classic. From Vienna we’re planning to get the train to Bratislava for a day trip. This will be my first visit to Slovakia. (They must be excited, I know).
It’s only about 900 miles from York. And my plan was hatched via maps being perused and another spreadsheet being created (with the daily mileages, elevations to be climbed and camping stops identified). It’ll take me 17 days of around 60 plus miles a day with a couple of rest days thrown in. This is quite a light schedule for me and I may change the route.
The route is from Zeebrugge (and Belgium) into Luxembourg. This small country does have some rugged hills and after those undulations I’ll be in South Germany. Last year I spent a long time here but further east and well south beneath Munich. I must admit it wasn’t inspiring and in someways for all that Germany is ‘switched on’ and ‘happening’, albeit industrial, then what I saw wasn’t. However this is a different part of the south and one route has a stop at my favourite record store in Stuttgart which would be a highlight before finding the Danube and trundling into Vienna. Germany has some interesting laws, the most worthy being the prohibition of trucks on the roads on Sunday. In fact our 24/7 retail life hasn’t afflicted the Teutons yet. Power to their elbows.
My mission, as I trundle through their land, is to get one person to smile back.
Our Summer has been pants and apart from one freak day it’s been fleeces and umbrellas even into July. I hope I haven’t missed the European heat wave. I am looking forward to something sizzling.
As I set off I’ve amassed nearly 2,000 miles year to date and much of that has been dragging myself up and down the Yorkshire Wolds. I should be in reasonable nick. I post the following snap: I once did a presentation of my expedition across the USA and someone, only half in jest, commented that they never saw a picture of me riding a bike!
Grey Nomad? This phrase apparently is quite common for over 55 independent Australian travellers but it came to my attention from a millennial who’s blog I read about a ride down the east coast of Australia. She was put out that whilst singing along to a bearded pal playing a guitar at an early hour of the morning on a campsite; an elderly male clambered out of his tent to tell the player to stick the said instrument up a place where the sun wouldn’t shine the next day. I feel I was that man. She named him and others as ‘Grey Nomads’ for this outrage. I shall wear the badge with honour.
The first day sees me depart Acaster Malbis and cycle to the ferry in Hull. (Memo to self: do not be rude about Hull as Steve will be unhappy).
Day 1 - Acaster Malbis to Hull - 52 miles
Don’t Talk To Strangers
So we’re off!
The present Mrs Ives was either delighted to see me off the premises and rode with me for nearly 12 miles to ensure I was gone or she was an ‘out rider’ providing a guard of honour on my early miles?
Needless to say her services were handsomely rewarded with a Solaro before I continued to Hull and she cycled back to Acaster Malbis: her longest ride yet, respect.
I trundled on to Market Weighton and then started climbing until I reached North Newbald. This is where I really ascended. I have ridden a lot of miles this year to have decent ‘legs’ but the weight of 20kg of luggage on a steel bike is a different proposition. Anyway I’m spinning up this ‘wall’ when Terry cycles alongside. Terry, forty something, is on a £6,000 BMC carbon bike and dressed for a photo shoot. I’m going up this hill like a jaded snail. He slows down to chat. He’s a sports fanatic with a wife who’s a triathlon European champion for her age group. He’s seriously fit with dietary plans, overseas training programmes and the type of bikes to die for. I’m Tony from Acaster in my Euro 2010 Croatia football shirt carrying tatty luggage that’s sat on my 12 year old cheap bike. He’s interested about touring but roadies have a different mindset that's hard to conquer. There were lots of interesting question to me, which was polite and kind.
He says he’s happy to ride at my pace and as we breast this beast of a climb I’m quite quick (or is that heavy?) on the descent! Terry is expounding on the error of a traditional carbohydrate diet for elite athletes as we descend. As the wind rushes into my ears I miss the salient points except “think about it, Eskimos thrive on a high fat diet…” At a point where I usually plod on to North Hull he volunteers a change in direction as an alternative. We end up descending directly south.
What a f*#king mistake!
Anyway North Ferriby and Hessle are quite nice in the sun (Steve) but I’m now dying on each incline with aching legs. When he leaves me I’m left to cycle up, firstly, the Hessle Road and then into the impenetrable rush hour hell of the dangerous A63: I know I’ve been sold a pup. It adds up to an additional four miles on my ride. I get to the Ferry well past the start of loading and jiggered after following him at a pace that is ridiculous for Day 1. Anyway I’m on board relieved but feeling wan. When finding my cabin a number of school boys rush past. One is enquiring as to why the toilet won’t flush to a teacher behind me. A helpful pal asks one of his entourage if Tyler has deposited an embarrassing ‘log’ that won’t flush away? Who says teacher’s don’t earn their money? I expect they’ll have a busy night chasing these kids around the boat.
Showered and laundry done I check in with my ‘out rider’ who got back safely. Explaining my depleted state I spend a ridiculous amount to have dinner and breakfast. At dinner Gary and Alison are at the next table and incredulous as school girls parade by in unsuitable skimpy clothes. I agree! They’re off to watch a daughter ride an Etape de Tour in the French Alps. Gary has ridden loads and has a selection of bicycles. However a neck injury is stopping him riding a regular bike and he’s contemplating a recumbent. His jealousy of my saunter to Vienna is obvious, not least the camping. I feel a bit of a heel.
He recounts his career in mental health and the reward of taking some lads to Robin Hoods Bay to camp by bike. It was a success apart from losing two of the patients! The good news is that the Police eventually apprehended them. The food was restorative and I found my way to the bar for a pint. Let’s hope Day 2 is without a pacemaker and in the right direction toward Brussels.
Day 2 - Zeebrugge to Grimbergen (North Brussels) - 72 miles
Into The Old Routine
So an early start as the ship’s tannoy woke me up and then It was off to breakfast. I joined swarms of rotund Belgian pensioners lurching toward their tables with plates groaning with fried food. Clearly the lure of an ‘English breakfast’ outweighed their likely expiration through over eating. Whilst waiting to be called down to the car decks I was sat there in my cycling clobber when a wiry but quite old chap approached me for a chat. Turns out that back in the 60s he cycle raced over in Belgium. With his wife they were off to stay with the children of a couple he stayed with back in the day. They also accommodated Brian Robinson, Tom Simpson and Barry Hoban - all 60s British cycling legends. As we reminisced about cycling in that era I commented about modern day speeds and the drugs. He volunteered that amphetamines were rife in the 60s and he attributed their popularity to the Germans and American soldiers who used them to stay awake whilst fighting. I can’t believe there hasn’t been an expose of Eddie Mercx suggesting he owes it all to Adolf Hitler.
Thanks to Terry I was about last on the ferry and therefore nearly first off! I soon found myself heading toward Ghent down canal cycle paths. In fact the whole day had a route going south east. Other cycles were occasionally sighted: either sleek men racers or couples on sedate urban bikes riding in convoy. All these couples were singularly focussed on ignoring me with grim expressions of disinterest. However the ride was sensational. It was 20° C, sunny in between the beautiful trees, no wind and a good surface - no complaints. As you do with hours alone I did ponder why in 20 miles I never saw a boat on the canal. Clearly the route to Zeebrugge is commercial rather than pleasure and I expect moving goods on small barge at about 10% of the speed on a truck is not popular.
However I did find larger canals:
I eventually found myself in downtown Ghent. What a beautiful place! I had no idea about the river or the architecture and history. Needless to say foreign tourists were taking panoramic photos or selfies. I stopped at McDonalds due to it being there and quick and easy. In fairness it’s not cheap or haute cuisine.
Fuelled up and sun tan lotion applied I continued south east toward Brussels. All my route had been on dedicated cycle paths. Like Holland the bicycle is built into all the transport infrastructure and whether you are in a busy large town centre or paddling along beside an A road a trusty cycle path is available. They are not always well maintained and they’re often bedevilled with junctions and traffic lights. However, if you want a safe and straightforward passage it is unbeatable.
Human contact was limited. A bloke at some lights saw the decals on my panniers and started asking about Yorkshire and where I was going. Another old boy (75) was quite a decent cyclist on a routine urban bike and with my weight I was not gaining on him up a hill. Over the top I sailed past only for him to see this as a challenge. Tired tourers don’t need or want geriatric racers. Any way he came alongside and cleared his throat. Or maybe he said something to me in Flemish? All a similar sound I reckon. I told him I was English and that threw him as he translated in his head what he wanted to say. Eventually he went on about where are you going etc. A couple of miles down the road we parted and he wished me well.
The ride was routine but hot with temperatures up to 33°C and bright sunshine all day. As always I had a lot of water on board including one bottle with electrolytes. (Yesterday I didn’t and got cramp in the bar!)
The above plaque was seen in the Reception office!
After 73 miles I got to a fabulous campsite north of Brussels in Grimbergen. €12.50 worth of grass and a shower. All good. A young French couple heard me blowing into my air bed to inflate it and hurried round to offer a pump. The adaptor wouldn’t fit and in any case I’ve done this hundreds of times before. Mind you, I did borrow their mallet to knock in my tent pegs.
Day 3 - Grimbergen to Durnal - 61 miles
The campsite was super. However, each site has its positives and negatives, this one had no toilet paper in the loos. (Don’t worry I travel ‘armed’ for such challenges). I rolled out at 8.30am and never stopped climbing. In fact for the day I climbed 1,110m. Belgium is not flat.
The first ascent was into the centre of Brussels. I was here in 2016 with the second born but that time we saw the tourist hub in the very centre. You know the picture - buskers, shops selling key rings, grim restaurants etc. This time I saw some of the city’s attractive architecture but I also saw some of its run down suburbs. Later I cycled down a long palatial street with all the embassies on it.
It was slow going in the city with hills, badly maintained cycle paths, trams and endless traffic lights. The outskirts were tatty: predictably these seemed immigrant areas.
Recent immigrants always tend to be residing in inner cities with few personal resources and hence they end up in poor areas. Gentlemen of Middle Eastern origin sat shooting the breeze beside a shop with a large selection of fruit and vegetables on display. The city centre could be grand but I really hated the cobbles!
I’d stay longer in the EU to see its top brass in a race across the cobbles on these:
(In fact these electric scooters were popular and a common sight throughout my journey).
This and the cycle paths with their small kerbs were continually jolting my heavy bike. This led to losing a bolt on my rear rack. I hope my fix works.
Brussels and Belgium makes a fortune out of being the epicentre of the European Union. I never worked out that to Belgium it was a great revenue earner. This apparently leads to lots of diplomats.
I’ve never really understood what the EU Commission or its Parliament did. Heaven knows what diplomats from Singapore, Burkino Faso or Chile do everyday? I tried to tot up the £billions from property, services and salaries involved with all these people and buildings.
I was pleased to ease out of Brussels and get some speed up. However the pattern of the day was long climbs and long descents. A continual switch between chain wheels and from spinning to freewheeling. There are a lot of electric bikes out there and not all ridden by the elderly. A young couple went past me like Lewis Hamilton on one incline, I was a might jealous. My first town after Brussels was Overrijse and the Sat Nav plonked me in a street market.
“I was defeated, you won the war...”
However after this interesting town I was out into rolling arable land beside a main road with fast traffic on the main road to Namur. Where I had to negotiate the traffic then it was courteous and a cyclist always had priority - this was at junctions and regular roundabouts. The Belgians respect their cyclists. So it was several hours of up and down. About five miles short of Namur there were a row of houses beside the highway. Not unusual but they seemed a bit lonely amongst the wheat fields.
More unusual was the sign that a couple of the houses were ‘clubs’. As I cycled past one then in the front window was a nice young lady badly under dressed for either driving a tractor or feeding chickens. She was sat high on a chair looking outwards with an enormous amount of leg on show. The next house saw another woman similarly dressed for entertaining menfolk! Of course, being from Yorkshire I waved to them. They both enthusiastically waved back: more to break their afternoon boredom than entice me into their boudoirs I imagine.
A contrast was the third house where a couple were outside mending a gutter with the man on the ladder whilst she handed up tools. I’m sure they have little to do with the neighbours. So eventually into Namur. An industrial city with no charm and looking quite tired. A large river seemed to be the focus.
I needed to reprogram the Sat Nav and came off the ubiquitous cycle path and onto a wide pavement. Much to my bemusement another old chap suddenly appeared (I’m attracting quite a few, aren’t I?) berating me for being on the pavement rather than on the cycle path. I endured his barrage of elegant French. Lots of “monsieur” etc. As I’m wasting time listening I may have been a trifle knackered and fractious so I’m wandering whether to be ‘Tolerant Tony’ or suggest he moved on before his carer found out that he was out on the streets without supervision. Anyway I heard him out (my French was inadequate for sparkling repartee).
From here I had 12 miles of murderous climbing - 400m, in fact, but eventually I found my campsite. The road surfaces were appalling - I will not complain about Yorkshire again. I need to dig out a bigger map but I think I'm in the Ardennes. There were an increasing number of flags, memorials and graphics to WW2.
This was in the middle of nowhere and despite no toilet paper (again) there was a cafe with the promise of a beer and spaghetti bolognese.
I was attempting to write this up when it started to rain.
Day 4 - Durnal to Bastogne - 58 miles
Can’t See The Wood For The Trees
When I woke it was raining but on girding my loins to take down the tent it seemed to dry up and for breakfast I had the small Bakewell tarts I’d bought in Tesco’s about 3 days ago - yum.
I packed up and anticipated a hellish day. Baby Jesus hearing me loud and clear did not fail to meet my expectations. However it was a good start because after a brutal early climb I was in Spontin and sat in a bakery eating croissants and drinking proper coffee. Such was my morale I even took picture of old Belgian train and carriages.
The weather had been mid twenties so far on the trip. It was mainly overcast with some hot sunny intervals. No complaints from me.
However I needed to get on. I had found the Ardennes hard going, a bit like the Nazis and US infantry and Airborne Divisions did all those years ago, I was grinding gears up hills of gradients between 5 to 9% all day but they were dodging shells and bullets.
I never take for granted my liberty. A good reason why became evident in a supermarket I popped into a Lidl for bananas and lunch bits. In the queue in front was a man with a fourteen year old (I guess) boy. The boy was smiling but looked a little delirious and had a bib for drooling. He also had callipers on his ankles. He was being held by the adult (father) yet the child repeatedly grabbed items off the shelves or tried to grab my lunch. The adult continually pulled him back. That’s a job someone has for life. He had no say in ‘getting the job’ and his priority most waking hours will be this severely disabled boy. If I whinge a little here on the blog about hills or unsmiling Germans then slap me (gently) next time you see me.
In between the gear changing there were some lovely sights. The above Château de Jemeppe in Hargimont.
Such was the impact of the war that you can see some Allied flags on a bridge at Rochefort. Here I bought a cream cake, a bit like a vanilla slice but with chocolate and coffee cream. If I’m ever on death row or on Desert Islands Discs then this would be my chosen luxury item.
As dramatic as it might sound then this might have been in reality a simple pleasure before my imminent death...
I followed my Sat Nav and even checked Google Maps and it directed me onto a double carriageway A road with cars and trucks going at 70mph plus and me on a badly rutted and narrow hard shoulder. Now as I’m stupid on two wheels I don’t scare easily but on approaching (another) long slow hill with a reduced shoulder I thought maybe not, time for Tony to rejoin Planet Earth.
Good decision? Well. I was on a motorway and so there were no slip roads and so I heaved my stallion across a large concrete barrier and thought I’d push the bike plus 20kg of luggage up the hill on the safe side of the barrier until a wider shoulder appeared. I simply couldn’t push on the ‘safe side’ as there wasn’t enough space, the bike was unwieldy to push and so I thought up Plan C.
I pushed the bike up a hill through trees and undergrowth away from the motorway deep into a wood. It was nearly as bad to push the bike as beside the barrier and I was getting further lost with no bearings. At one point I waded through a bog and got one foot dunked. I was hoping to find a farm track which would take me to a farmhouse and where I could tests how much English Belgians knew about trespass and befuddled cyclists emerging from their forests.
So I lugged this weight up hills and into bushes for 30 or 40 minutes going nowhere fast and then I heard and saw the motorway again. Had I reached a part with more of a shoulder? I wandered 150 yards down a bank to the road to take a look. No, it was no better. I started to return to the bike: shit! where had I left it every tree looked the same? I’d left my passport, money and all worldly goods on it. I wasn’t worried about theft but it would rather hobble the expedition if I never found it!
I did find it and kept pushing up a bank where I did find a farm track. I had no idea where it led. As it happens it led to the motorway. Irrespective of shoulders I mounted and pedalled. I had no option really.
I did eventually come to a slip road and by way of reward I was led a merry dance to Bastogne with a further 400m of climbing before arriving at the town.
(Anna never reads the blogs and will be unaware of my stupidity. Relax).
Bastogne threw up a campsite, nearby supermarkets and acceptable ablutions. Yes, toilet roll has come back into my life, however, the plonkers do require a token for a shower. This wouldn’t have been too inconvenient if I hadn’t been naked in the shower block when I discovered a 350m dash to Reception was needed.
Being Friday night the site was ‘popping’ with highly excitable teenagers and revellers at the bar. Despite this cacophony I did eventually fall into a stupor.
Day 5 - Bastogne, Belgium to Trier, Germany - 71 miles
Down By The Riverside
I was up and away just past 8am and the plan was to dispose of Luxembourg in a day and find my way to Trier in Germany. In fact after my woodland wander I had fallen behind schedule and had some distance to make up.
Cycling day after day with a ludicrously heavy bike is something that even I marvel at how I do it. Firstly the quads start to complain, as they’re not used to this bewildering weight to propel, and then you hope that other potentially achy parts such as butt, back and feet have been hardened up through a lot of winter and spring riding. On a tour I simply work my way through the screaming quads and find my lowest ‘granny’ gear for another 9% gradient. One way or another I get by and whilst the weariness accumulates the muscles just seem resigned to this workload.
Despite my muscles’ acceptance then on Luxembourg’s pristine roads the first three mile climb was not fun, especially as the sun and heat appeared. I hadn’t listened to my iPod until now but plugged in hoping to ease the pain.
I’d clocked up some terrible single digit average speeds on this tour but here I was now trundling through the Duchy at over 11 mph. With this state of affairs I reached Ettelbruck. Now first impressions of Luxembourg were those of nearby France as regards geography but potholes were absent and ‘neat and tidy’ was the order of the day.
Feeling that I should continue to barrel along I pointed my bike for Diekirch. As I’m about to join this decent fast A road a Mercedes SUV pulls alongside and the driver winds down the windows and imparts “You are not allowed to join the motorway”. Gulp, I thought it had all being going rather well. So I turn round and head back into town trusting Google Maps for the next route.
It deposits me on a fabulous cycle path that takes me all the way to Trier! But you don’t like cycle paths? No I don’t but the ones in Luxembourg so far were the exception. In effect I followed the River Sauer which took me to its joining the Moselle and then another cycle path took me to Trier.
From a cycle path beside a river Luxembourg looked lovely. Along this river there were tributes to the US Army who fought the Germans along this river in WW2. There were monuments to the sacrifice of US soldiers: I was touched and impressed.
In Germany I’ll see no visible memorials to the dead of WW2. The contrast either side of the borders with France, Belgium and Luxembourg is stark. I read a book about the Russian advance on Berlin from the east - these German civilians had been bombed to bits and when that finished the Red Army raped and thieved its way to the capital. After that they became an occupied country behind ‘The Iron Curtain’ until the fall of the Wall. At least the Germans in South Germany were over run by the US Army - a more humane, generous and well behaved force. One stone outlined how Luxembourg men had been shipped out by the Nazis to Germany to work in the factories.
Along the river banks were many campsites and the Dutch were here in similar numbers to the infantrymen and also under canvas. However they were sunning themselves or playing in the river in canoes.
In mid afternoon I arrived at Bollendorf and found a restaurant for my first schnitzel of the trip.
The waiter was delighted about my Croatia football team top. He was Croatian. Luckily for him he didn’t speak English or else I could have bored him for an hour about being in Split during the World Cup Finals. (Croatia got to the Final and the place went berserk, even when they lost).
Continuing, replete with pork, and now cooled after getting out of the sun I crossed my second border for the day and headed for Trier. Here I found a great spot for my miniature tent and got down to some serious laundry.
Day 6 - Trier to Saarbrücken - 84 miles
A campsite is full of interesting stories. Trier’s was especially. Around me was a man with two teenage boys. All seemed calm. To my left we’re a couple with three children, the youngest being a very demanding toddler. The party had cycled here. The toddler sat behind his mother as she rode to the site and away. She made an interesting sight breast feeding the child in public view. All the organising and keeping this young family fed and happy in such an environment seemed daunting.
A pitch with a view
Yippee! I’d grabbed a bench
Just behind was a motorcyclist in a tent as big as mine. You get the impression this was an overnight stop as he and his mates moved elsewhere in Germany at speed. Nearby and my ‘hammer’ suppliers (for whacking in my tent pegs) were a young Dutch millennial couple. They were practising for a life a camping. Canvas would become their only holiday solution: it’s in the constitution of the Netherlands. I imagine that they had camped with their parents until the ‘difficult’ late teens and now having found a partner they were embarking on adventures together.
I say all this because they seemed a little unsure of what to do for entertainment (outside the tent!) Like mum and dad before they were sat a small table playing a game with cards. I imagine the last time this age group touched a pack of cards was with the family on a campsite. I feel David Attenborough could do a splendid programme on the lifecycle of a Dutch camper. From children running around playing together through to the phase where they become irritating and raucous at 11 O’Clock after several Heinekens. I should add that apart from a few complaining motorists then I have never met a disagreeable Dutch person.
Check had come with an unusual instruction - "make sure your shoes are inside overnight. We have a fox who steals them". If a fox stole my cycling shoes I think they would asphyxiate themselves. Having cycled 6 to 7 hours a day in them they're not nice and definitely not coming in my tent overnight! Anyway I wedged them under another pannier that 'sleeps' outside. Basil kept away.
I managed to do loads of laundry and found a supermarket. The heat and exhaustion suppress my appetite. It’s a counter intuitive reality. I can look at supermarket shelves and see nothing I want except bananas and peaches (at least two a day is my ration). However in the foyer I came across a Turkish vendor with a rack of minced lamb. I invested in an enormous sandwich. Terrific. The chef spoke a little English and described where he came from with a clucking noise. We both agreed that a chicken was similar if not a turkey.
The next morning I’d decided to abandon going cross country and plumped for going south along the tow path of the Moselle and then Saar river. Firstly, I had a look around Trier. The campsite was on the other bank. The town in the quiet of a Sunday morning looked grand and beautiful. I need to return and investigate it properly. Even better was finding a bakery open on a Sunday! I was to work my way through a rustic baguette with a jar of peanut butter during the day.
The route was glorious - scenic, flat, interesting and easy to navigate (sort of). At the joining of the two rivers I left the Moselle and followed the Saar. At the top of the river things were very touristy. There was an industrial scale of wine growing.
Does anyone still drink Blue Nun?
The path could sometimes turn to shale/gravel track rather than asphalt. Mind you, I took this image whilst lost. How can you get lost following a river? Easy, trust me.
As I progressed the river became just a large piece of water that flowed through towns and mundane countryside. I think it is a long time since the river was a serious mode of transportation of materials by barge. There were massive locks along much of the route but small pleasure cruisers seemed to be the only customer. Maybe Sunday kept the big boat numbers down.
I was now in serious heat from setting off until finishing. Gone were overcast skies and these temperatures stuck at 33°C.
The river flowed through Saarlouis and past a serious ginormous steel works. This is one delightful exhibit in several square miles of mills. In a former life I bought automotive components from foundries and forges in Germany. I was quite nostalgic seeing all this heavy industry. Notable memories were how long it took to pour a proper pils in a bar, the fact German suppliers always gave you gifts when you visited eg. pens, booze etc and how diplomatic they were in all their dealings.
Eventually as I approached Saarbücken I decided that I better find a campsite. out came the phone, found Google Maps and typed in 'camping'. This entailed a lot of climbing and entering France. On this matter then I never expected to visit the Gauls on this trip!
The campsite was beside a motorway, which was fine for one night. I was amazed to see permanent caravan pitches. The traffic noise was inescapable for about the 22 hours a day as trucks and cars thundered past.
Day 7 - Saarbrücken to Rastatt - 75 miles
A Love affair Is Reignited
I was launched onto an 85 metre climb in less than a mile after leaving the campsite and entering France. Good morning! It seemed I was going to ride in France for the day. This was alright by me because it is the finest country in the world to cycle in.
The first reaffirmation was in Sarreguemines where I came across a bakery that had so many delights I nearly fainted:
It's impossible to carry delicate food on the bike in heat without it melting, getting squashed or turning quite nasty. However, had I been in a car I would have invested heavily. As it was I bought two croissants and headed east.
France has less traffic, more spacious roads, fabulous scenery, greater levels of beauty and frankly, I worry that it's wasted on them. They can be fairly indifferent to their gifts. I well remember their insouciance at winning the World Cup last year as I cycled back from Croatia just after the Final. In England the nation would have gone ga-ga for a month. The French? They just shrugged their shoulders and got back to shooting the breeze in the street, taking long lunches and repairing their 2CVs.
As I was crawling up a hill I felt the back of the bike wobble and knew what the problem was: a puncture. So in the 33°C heat I got down to swapping the inner tube.
As cycle tourers will affirm when you inspect the punctured tube it's good to see the offending hole. From here you can properly check the tyre and make sure it doesn't happen again. I couldn't see anything. (Later that night with a bowl of water I inflated the tube and found the hole, it appears to have been a friction problem creating a breech).
Plodding on the countryside didn't disappoint with rolling hills. Despite the gradients then apart from one hill, where I had to dismount, everything was quite acceptable. I feel where cycling is concerned that I am writing for roadies. Dismounting is like admitting to having (and liking) Kylie Minogue CDs. Boys, if you are cycling day after day for such long stints then why destroy yourself in high heat for an activity that you'll probably only do marginally quicker than walking? Not least you are by yourself and so who are you trying to keep up appearances for?
History abounds on this France/Germany border and there are the remains of the Maginot Line to see. These series of fortifications were constructed after WW1 to keep out the Germans should another invasion be on their mind. Sadly it was but Hitler simply went around the sides of it.
I was very excited to come across this large French town. Schoolboy I know. Forgive me! It might become a well used GIF.
Many of the towns had German names indicating that until the 19th Century they were part of Germany (and or its constituents states). As you can see the architecture is very Teutonic.
(Not sure why this got an American tank put on it)
So after a wonderful day 'flying' in France I remembered that I had only eaten a bowl of cereal, two croissants, two bananas and two peaches. All this for 7 hours and 23 minutes cycling over 75 miles and climbing 955 metres. Crossing the Rhine I knew I should stop. Looking at my phone there was a nearby site at Rastatt. When I got there I was charged €8 for the night. Outrageous! However I did spend over three times that at the restaurant.
(Yup, more schnitzel)
Day 8 - Rastatt to Stuttgart - 76 miles
Not A Piece Of Cake
Last year before meeting Anna in Strasbourg I’d cycled the Black Forest mountain range. It was hell. Although this was a different section it continued to be difficult with endless steep climbing and imprecise routes. The fact the temperature topped out at around 40°C just added to the pleasure.
Leaving the campsite I noted early risers were on bicycles with their hounds on leads trotting obediently alongside. I thought one of the reasons folk got dogs was for their own exercise? Anyway my ride was initially delightful and on the flat and I reached Rastatt for brekkie before trundling onto Ettlingen: all on the flat. Like me they have a telephone box, ours is in our back garden!
It was here that the German road system started to groan. Too many cars, too small/ narrow roads and incessant traffic flow. This persisted throughout much of the country. So much of the countryside is manicured and the houses neat and tidy and then comes along a ten ton truck (often with trailer) thundering past.
Even on quieter moments I imagined I was on the Truman Show movie set. In relative isolation I would approach a junction and it was as if people watching my movements with walkie talkies summoned a car to appear at the junction at the very time I reached it. I acknowledge my paranoia but you should see how many times it happened.
I did get organised and stop for a sandwich. This meant the usual transaction where the assistant rings something up and I play stupid. That is I tip out all the itsy bitsy brown coins and let Helga rummage through the pile until she is happy and the transaction is complete.
So I followed cycle routes that were spasmodically placed and the reality was that I may have taken the least efficient route. One such set of signs sent me into a wood. I didn't like the gravel or windy nature of the track but the temperature fell by several degrees as a respite. The latter challenge seems to have been trying to get to Stuttgart when the traffic is steered to one main road (unsuitable for bikes) rather than a passable B Road: hence all my detours and paths followed.
(This should satisfy all you Strava junkies)
(Note the temperature)
Anyway the climbing didn't relent even to the edge of Stuttgart. This is a very large city and after the battle to reach it I discovered I was still over 4 miles from the hotel. My Sat Nav attempted to have me ascend staircases and planned to send me through a tunnel (a genuine bowel draining experience for any cycle tourer: high speed traffic in the dark, which is not expecting to find a bicycle and apocalyptical levels of noise).
However I did pull in front of this splendid establishment in the suburbs at 7:40 pm. Anna had booked it on line for €224 for two nights. This city with its size and abundant industry (and visitors) was expensive.
In the hotel the food was very German - meat, sauces, noodles and enough calories to kill a bear. Bring it on.
Day 9 - Stuttgart Rest Day
Strolled into breakfast and noted the Germans were headlining on the ascension of the apocalyptic disturber.
Breakfast was a superb spread of fresh fruit, yoghurts, sausages, cereals, scrambled eggs, pastries, all sorts of bread and cheese. Frankly I was a little overwhelmed. However, I attempted to ensure I got my €12 worth.
So Stuttgart? Probably the last football team we (Leeds United) beat in the European Cup (1992). Even this needed the help of UEFA. Strictly we lost on away goals but the silly Bavarian sausages had played an ineligible player in Leeds and were made to play a third game in Spain. It was here that the 'Lion Of Barcelona' got the winner in a 2-1 thriller. Carl Shutt was the said 'lion'. No doubt he now runs a successful car valeting business in Holmfirth.
However aside from football I like the city for a certain record store. First I needed to visit a laundrette. I cycled to one and asking someone for help on how to make the machines work found Ed from Illinois.
He was the doing the laundry of three sons who were holidaying with him in Southern Germany. His analysis was that if the clothes touched their bodies for even a short time period then it was discarded into the laundry basket. He was a burly but fit chap who'd been touring around and seeing some distant relatives. He'd enjoyed Europe and drew some comparisons with the USA. We drifted onto The Donald, firearms, soccer (he meant football) and the tricky problem of a gift for his wife. This last enormous challenge was solved by buying, with her approval, a cuckoo clock. So precious was this tick tock that it was being shipped separately to the USA. (I feel he will have covered all the revenue needs for the state of Bavaria for at least a week with this purchase).
After washing and drying I found myself in a busy retail area looking for a sandwich.
The city centre had some impressive spaces.
From here I ascended into heaven and entered 'Second Hand Records'. This shop mainly sells old vinyl at knock down prices. I had some things on a shopping list but perused the racks for ideas. All this resulted in the Woodstock triple, a Bill Nelson compilation double, one by The Motors, one by The Average White Band and three by The Love Unlimited Orchestra. All this plus shipping to Blighty came to €57.
The pannier contained the newly washed clothes
I then wended my way back to the hotel - over 4 miles in the continuing staggering heat. Noting that I had not had my mandatory two peaches I stopped at a small mini market. It looked all Turkish/Middle Eastern. Not least because with the fruit and vegetables and other ethnic foods were various editions of the Koran for sale.
Back in my room I found myself lying on the bed with my eyes shut and two hours later I opened them! Later I indulged in another amazing Bavarian delicacy - mildly curried turkey with rice - yes those are raspberries.
To walk off this meal I wandered the streets behind the hotel and came across the River Rems with a lock complete with a barge and 33 containers being raised.
Day 10 - Stuttgart to Reisbürg
Back In The Saddle
The receptionist didn't believe I was cycling to Vienna and popped outside to see the bike. I asked her to take a photo.
It was going to be another hot day and I should have been away earlier but in a hotel room without the usual nearby hum of a motorway, noisy neighbours or daylight creeping into the tent I slept in until 7am. As per bloody usual the ride started off with a long climb out of Stuttgart but then levelled off. Stuttgart is a big city and its suburbs and dormitory villages stretch for some distance. This meant it was busy on the road and where possible I followed cycle paths.
Yes, the above looks lovely but it wasn't typical and my time was split between pedalling on busy roads or enjoying these delightful interludes. I'd mentioned electric bikes and these two mountain bikes were leaning against a McDonalds. I had briefly popped in there (purely for medicinal purposes).
These were popular on the gravel paths and in the towns with the 'youfs'. A chap in a bike shop explained that you have to be a certain age to get a moped/motorbike and even when you had there were restrictions in town centres on riding them. These things can happily plough along at 20mph and substituted well. They also seem tremendous fun on a steep gravel mountain path. I do associate Germany with engineering and manufacturing: I saw this on a roundabout near a large outfit that machined them. It's a crankshaft. I expect one this size goes into a ship's engine. Back in the day I bought these much smaller unmachined forgings for tractor engines. Indulge me....
(Crankshaft. After the explosion in the piston it rotates to drive the prop-shaft).
Plodding along it seemed a long old day with the added task of some quite steep hills to finish the day. My trusty Sat Nav (Garmin 800) has broken, that is, it doesn't switch on or off by a little button on the side. This brilliant device has been used thousands of times in high heat, desperate cold, rain etc. I've had it for about 7 years, it owes me nothing but as Kenny Rogers once observed "you picked a fine time to leave me Lucille...."
Anyway I later discovered by inserting a penknife into its innards I could prod a switch and give it life! Hopefully we can continue like this to Vienna (please). Added to this is the rapid depleting of my iPhone 7 battery - this is a real bind and anywhere I stop my thoughts are where is a socket in the wall to stick in my adaptor. Despite all my challenges I shall note the fortitude of the men in Apollo 13 who retrieved their mission and got the crate back to Earth: I know how these boys felt.
The campsite was very spacious to say the least and some corporate hospitality was taking place in some buildings nearby. The barbecue smelt fab but the musical entertainment confirmed that the Germans have struggled since Beethoven to find anyone who can knock out a tune.
After the sumptuous dining of Stuttgart this was an 'in house' affair! Part of this experience is offering your body to any biting insect that comes out of the grass at dusk - I have to say my legs are raw in places.
Day 11 - Riesbürg to Ingolstadt - 67 miles
Wherever I Lay My Head
My Dutch neighbour was up at Stupid O’Clock and whilst he was nearly quiet packing his tent this meant I also woke up. My legs have been tolerable all trip but I am many hours down on sleep: this early start doesn’t help. Due to all the merriment around the Reception last night I hadn’t had chance to pay and wanted to get off at 7.30 am. I wandered around the buildings and a young woman appeared to enquire as to what I wanted? She required €8.50 and I only had a €10 note. I let her keep the change thinking she could take the extra €1.50 as the first instalment of the £39 billion Theresa had promised Michel and Jean Claude.
The landscape was flat and it was all arable farming. There were still a number of serious drags but little to complain about compared to other days.
I headed to Donauwörth to pick up the Danube (or Donau as they call it) earlier in the trip than I had planned. I hoped it would be flatter. It was sort of flatter or maybe it was a predictable set of gradients. The cycle path doesn’t exactly follow the river and can suddenly veer away and climb a steep valley side. In the end I climbed 554 metres for the day which is respectable (and not flat).
On my travels I had seen few other cycle tourers. I recollect a couple in the Ardennes but unless you follow the prescribed paths you won’t: I don’t. However here on the Danube I came across several couples lumbering up these hills and toiling in the heat. Some were squabbling over maps with her no doubt saying “if you loved me you’d never have suggested a cycling holiday” and others were flaked out in the shade. In fact in the Land of The One Eyed King I was err… king. I ascended the hills like a proverbial mountain goat cycling and soared down the hills like a gazelle sneering at the tourists in their pain. The test was always a hill where after a good pace the tourers would literally go backwards. Fortunately nobody was riding an electric bike to humiliate me.
If this wasn’t a significant restoration of morale then discovering a Subway was the cherry on the cake. When I was cycling across the USA in the smallest town of little or no population, maybe 60 miles form the next settlement, you would come across this sandwich shop. My pleasure, at the time, other than getting a tuna sandwich was observing the customer in front simply putting any filling they could into their lunch. Combinations included cheese, jalapeños, salami, lettuce, mayo, ketchup, tomato, lettuce, tuna, peppers, cucumber etc etc. Clearly they had no taste buds but a major desire to get full value.
My win was not the cheese sandwich I selected but the paper cup that came with the meal that I could endlessly refill. In this heat it was a glorious icy bonus. (I’m surprised that I’m still not there).
Awash with Coke I floated to Ingolstadt and replaced a drink bottle at a convenient bike store. What a store! So many bike and accessories on two floors. Had it been my rest day I would have loved to have had a close look at their Ortleib luggage. My handle bar bag is a weary old thing and needs to be replaced.
Earlier negotiation had taken place with the expedition’s financial controller and to get a good night’s sleep I was allowed to stay under a proper roof. I chose an apartment that was superb. However, the Reception was closed at 5.30pm on Friday night and I had to call a number. When she answered and discovered that I didn’t speak German (and she didn’t speak English) she summarised the situation by exclaiming loudly “Gott!” I know what that means. I recollect ‘war mags’ where the cornered ‘Gerry’ would exclaim “Gott in himmel”. Of course I had retained this important information since 1967 and recognised this Teutonic blasphemy.
Anyway I knew the information I wanted, which was a key code for a box to access a proper key. In 5 numbers (in English) the problem was solved and I was in. The next morning there was no one to pay. I assume the online booking credit card, for defaults, will be used?
As I had rented an apartment with kitchenette I popped down to Aldi and bought some dinner along with some items to make lunch the next day. All in all a satisfactory end to the day.
Day 12 - Ingolstadt to Straubing - 66 miles
Ingolstadt is on the Danube and so expecting a decent path I got quite a shock to find it was still mainly gravel paths. Truth be told then my tyres being are only 28mm wide and not really wide enough for gravel. If you descend or ascend a sharp bank you can feel like you’re on black ice. Added to this challenge was the terrible dust it spread across the bike and luggage. However it was a change to ride along the banks and you could clearly see the size of the mighty river.
(For what it’s worth I’m listening to the BBC Radio 4 news as I make my way. In the UK I seem to listen to the news all day. With my fractured holiday listening it’s confirmed I’ve missed nothing new as the same old stuff comes back up and the supporters or naysayers are hauled out for their views).
These paths, unless you have dedicated maps, can suddenly end up leaving you confused as to whether you’ve missed a key turning or a bridge that would have taken you to the other bank. I know this sounds improbable: it isn’t!
So the upshot was that I was back on the road after being faced with a grassy track. It was Saturday and nearly all the trucks had gone.
In many ways Germany’s weekends are like a step back in time. Britain is really a 24/7 economy and many people work on the weekend. Such as those in services, retail and distribution, this isn’t the case here at all.
In lots of villages I came across some quite weedy Maypole constructions.
The weather had really ‘fallen off’ and I could have been in the UK with temperatures in the low to mid twenties. In addition it was only sunny intervals. This meant cycling was considerably easier but retarded my plan to have a sun tan that would make the females in my family jealous.
The countryside was a lot flatter and the harvest had been gathered in. I even noticed some blackberries starting to ripen – that’s September for the UK isn’t?
After ‘deviating’ off my original tour plan then reaching Straubing would restore me to it. Straubing was delightful with a large open centre with lots of restaurants and shops – clearly tourism overcomes the German weekend shutdown. I got to the campsite early and was directed to a large empty field. I could pitch anywhere and so I started wondering about being in the shade now but able to catch the morning sun? Secondly, where could I be sure that another camper won’t pitch too close? What happens is you leave the site to often return to find an oik has gotten very close.
As the day progressed this field filled up – I’m on a tourist route. I’d have been delighted to be alone. I showered, did my laundry, went to Aldi for some provisions and then went back into the town for a better look.
Back at the site, one of my neighbours, a portly French lady refrained briefly from vaping and asked as to the location of campsites further down the Danube. She had a Kindle but no smart phone! Anyway we found one 60km east which seemed to fit. I have to say this type of random rambling is not me. She’d got to Germany by train from Lyons. I think her travel arrangements as regards a return were ‘work in progress’.
By the way I loved these brilliant cars that two Dutch parties were driving. The yellow Citroën 2CV van was full of clogs!
Nearly concours standard - Citroën DS
After my statutory schnitzel (mit chips) and a couple of pints I climbed into my tent (away from the frigging mosquitos) and spoke to Anna. It seems at about 8.30 pm I was fading faster than Leeds United’s last season and I was asleep leaving the campers to their evening.
Day 13 - Straubing to Passau - 70 miles
Today would bring up 822 miles and as the weather had cooled it was easier going. I really hit the flatlands. This coincided with finding the part of the Danube that was really the popular tourist area and also attracted the occasional cycle tourers. These folk just wanted to roll along and not deal with some of the ups and downs that I liked.
Again being Sunday I sorted out some bread from one of the only open bakeries and thought that my little picnic en route would suffice. The path surface was all asphalt and talking to a neighbour, a German lady, she hauled out her dedicated map to confirm this should be the deal all the way to Vienna.
The Danube is not a working river. Yes, there are a few barges and a few cruise barges/ships but there is little traffic on it. You can cycle for a couple of hours without seeing a thing. Even small pleasure boats are not much evidence. I expect that local by-laws prohibit their presence as a ‘hazard’ to larger vessels and the current can be fierce between various locks. In fact whilst the calm and beauty of a large wide river is preferable to a lot of road traffic there is not a lot to see. There are several locks down the river to make it navigable. I saw one cruise barge called the ‘Dnipro’. That’s a town in the Ukraine, I assume it sailed to west of Vienna via the Danube and other rivers and canals that link it to the Ukraine: it must have taken weeks!
I noted the weekenders giving their pride and joys a work out.
As I pottered along I had to sort my failing technology and came off the route to enter Deggendorf to have a break and find a spare socket to charge things.
One of the benefits was this delicious cake at a McCafe. I reckon I am burning an extra 3,500 calories a day and so this comes for free. What doesn’t come for free is the fact my feet are morphing into pig’s trotters. As a man who tries to only eat red meat twice a week then I have progressed to eating pork meat only twice a day. Heaven forbid my large nose starts to be come porcine!
Whilst the interaction with strangers is heartening and companionable then it’s stuff like turning up at a McDonalds looking scruffy, poor and brandishing a mass of cables and then getting the enthusiastic help from staff as they scurry around the restaurant searching out places you can insert your adaptor that remain long in my memory.
Topped up I moved on. A tourer’s delight is a ferry and as I’m pedalling east a ferryman shouts to me that the path ends and I need to cross the river. So for €1.50 I jump on a little ferry for literally 5 minutes to change banks.