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86km Altheim to Craintal

Posted August 1st, 2007

Cycling through a wine townWe rose early and hit the road while the sun was just starting to warm the earth up; a welcome event after a chilly night in the tent. The air overnight and first thing in the morning was the coolest it’s been in some time, although it’s sure to be colder this autumn and we’re a bit worried that our down sleeping bags don’t seem as thick and insulating as they used to be. Perhaps too many feathers have been shaken out by all this camping. Late yesterday we seemed to lose the bike path we’d been following so this morning we just decided to join the cars and drive east on the main road to see where we’d end up. We got lucky. The road was going in the right direction (at one point we did take a detour to avoid a 13% grade uphill!) and we soon happened upon another bike path that we followed with more success along the Tauber river and through plenty of old town centres, filled with half-timbered houses, flower-covered balconies and many bakeries and coffee shops to tempt us. We give in to that kind of temptation pretty easily so it wasn’t long before we were each sitting with a large cup of coffee and a “nuss hörnchen” – a sweet bread filled with nuts and almond flavour – and watching the locals stream in and out for their fresh rolls and pastries. German bakeries are wonderful. A guaranteed source of energy for the hungry cyclist and a good but cheap cup of black coffee. We strolled along the river for the rest of the day, stopping at lunch time to make a huge salad filled with all the in-season produce like green beans and a type of mushroom called Pfefferlinge. Not long after our midday meal we got chatting to another cyclist as we rode, a man from the area around Frankfurt who goes for a little jaunt around Germany every couple of years on his bike. He was covering over 100km a day and pushing ahead to reach the next campground, still some way down the road. When we learned we’d been wild camping he looked at us disapprovingly and said the police were likely to come make us take down our tent, wherever we put it up. We’ll take our chances. So far we have wild camped several times in Germany, and in fact during our whole trip, with never more than a passing glance from the occasional walker or jogger. It’s true if whoever owns the land complained to the police, we would have to go. That would certainly make for a bit of work at the end of a day!

72km Niedernberg to Altheim

Posted July 31st, 2007

The quaint town of MiltenbergAfter spending most of early July complaining about the heat, we’re now wishing the sun would come back. It’s cold in Germany with grey days, a lot of rain and little sun. For the first time in well over a month we really snuggled into our sleeping bags last night and when we emerged this morning to make our coffee there was a near frost on the grass. Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

It can’t be good business for the many outdoor pools we’ve passed. The water is ready but we haven’t seen a single swimmer.

With an extra layer of clothes on, we toddled steadily southward, first along the Main river path, where grape vines grow on the steep river banks and almost all the towns are full of  pretty half-timbered houses. Miltenberg was the largest town on our route and we pushed our way through crowds of tourists admiring the historic centre to get to a bakery, where we enjoyed a coffee and resisted the temptation to spend all our money on plum cake. We also stopped to get lunch supplies from a local butcher before ploughing back through the picture-snapping, umbrella-toting bus tour groups and hitting the road again.

From there we took up another trail which led us alternately through farm fields and woodland until we found a camping spot late in the evening. Unfortunately the cycle paths don’t seem to be as well signed as we’ve gotten used to over the past few weeks, so we lost some time taking wrong turns and trying to find the right way. Tomorrow we will likely hit the roads again. It’s just too frustrating trying to follow a trail when half the turns aren’t marked.

74km Frankfurt to Niedernberg

Posted July 30th, 2007

The bike path we followedA warm house can be a real blessing sometimes and as we watched the rain pelt down on Sunday from a snug flat in Frankfurt, we were very happy not to be cycling. A big thanks to our friend Peter, who put up with us put us up for a few nights, showed us the town and helped recharge our batteries for the next leg of our journey. Peter also makes the best coffee in Frankfurt, quite possibly in all of Germany!

Our departure from Frankfurt means we are finally making a definitive move to leave Europe – yes, really! Our sights are now firmly set on heading steadily south through Austria, Italy and Eastern Europe, towards Turkey for the autumn. From there, who knows. But one thing is for sure, we will not be back in Europe next summer.

With this big challenge looming in our heads (how to arrange visas for many tricky countries and other administrative delights), we made a quick stop before we left Frankfurt at an amazingly well stocked camping and outdoor store, Globetrotters. We have never seen a shop that had so many things. Even Canada’s famous Mountain Equipment Coop didn’t quite measure up, although it’s a close second. At Globetrotters we were very kindly given, absolutely free, a replacement pole section for our tent (a great relief after we stupidly put a crack in ours a few days ago) as well as other goodies like waterproof covers for our shoes in case of rain, two nifty bandanas that can be hats or scarves or any number of other neat things and new underwear for Andrew. Lucky man!

It was close to midday before we rolled out of Frankfurt and back along the Main river, jostling with the hordes of other cycle tourists. The route along the river is certainly pretty but like the Danube Cycle Path it’s also extremely crowded at this time of year. Even with a bit of rain and chilly temperatures, there were still plenty of people to share the trail with, well into the evening.

By the time we got 60km or so down the trail we were quite tired so, even though it was reasonably early, we looked for a place for our tent. There don’t seem to be any campsites around here so we had to settle for a cornfield again. This one is not so secluded as our other “farm stays” though, since a secondary trail runs nearby and is used by joggers and walkers. We were pooped so we set up regardless – with a bit more energy we might have carried on to find a quieter spot – and no one really seemed to give us more than a passing glance as they went by. Being in the country, we think we’re pretty safe.

118km Lohr am Main to Frankfurt

Posted July 27th, 2007

Frankfurt viewCyclists on the riverAfter much indecision on which route to take this morning, we decided the shortest way into Frankfurt was going to be up into the woods, cutting off one loop of the curvy Main river. But after so many days of riding along river paths, any venture inland was going to entail a climb or two and our legs weren’t used to all the work! The landscaped changed drastically, from low-lying farm land to logging forest and the trail stopped being an easily cyclable paved road and instead switched to a gravel trail. Normally this would be a nightmare, with loose stones and potholes to swerve around, but Germany seems to take care of all its cycle paths well so we didn’t have any trouble. Just our tired calf muscles were complaining as we climbed the Spessart hills. Around midday we reached a peak and then cruised downhill from there back towards the Main river, joining the hordes of other cyclists on the riverside path. There were plenty of locals out, making their way into and out of Frankfurt, but equally lots of touring cyclists. During our whole detour off the river path we only saw one other touring bike, a tandem. It’s too bad more people don’t try going off the path for a little while since the scenery makes for a nice change from the river and you can have the whole trail nearly to yourself. We really took our time in the afternoon, stopping to pick fresh blackberries from bushes alongside the trail and then for a long while on a bench to eat supper and watch the traffic passing. Finally in the evening we finished up the last few kilometers into Frankfurt, where we met our friend Peter, saw his flat and then went out for supper and a few drinks in a bustling district just outside Frankfurt’s core.

68km Würzburg to Lohr am Main

Posted July 26th, 2007

Wurzburg bridge in b&w“Stop! Doping control!”

We turned our heads to look at the cyclist passing us, laughing all the way. Obviously he decided these words were as good as ringing his bell when he pulled out to pass us on the trail leading out of Würzburg – a funny take on the Tour de France and so many of the riders being caught taking drugs.

When we stopped for a coffee just a little further down the path our attention was drawn to the sorry state of the Tour de France once again, with front page picture of one of the cyclists on the front page of the Bild newspaper with a headline that roughly translated as “Just doping and silly games”.

We have to agree. Undoubtedly there are some great riders in the Tour de France, but you have to be exceptionally stupid and selfish to take drugs, try and get away with it and then make your whole team suffer when you are found out. Why haven’t the competitors got it through their heads yet that this is not the way to earn cycling fame?

No doping here on our tour though, unless you count the cup of strong coffee we had by the Main river. It was nice to finally find a simple little cafe with cheap but good filter coffee instead of frothy cappucinos at high prices. (more…)