Archive for the 'Germany' Category

East Meets West

Friday, August 3rd, 2007

Our last stretch of riding in Germany on the Regental and Chambtal Radwegs was our favorite of all. The countryside was less populated and there were fewer fields of corn and more forests; it was the most beautiful scenery we have seen in Germany. No spectacular mountains, but just nice green forested hills with clear blue lakes and rivers.


We also got off the cycle paths and onto the roads more on this last stretch. For some reason, cycling on a road is more enjoyable than a cycle path for us. There is something nice about traveling along quickly along a smooth, open road and we feel like we are actually seeing the country rather than riding in a park the entire time.


Saying goodbye to Germany meant saying goodbye to amazing bread and copious amounts of Haribo gummy bears. I spent most of the last days with my cheeks packed full of gummy bears as we rode along. Better than any energy gel I’ve ever tasted!


As we neared the border, things got more and more hilly. We were never very high, but the climbs were short and steep. Sarah shows off her now famous “Lance” face.


We were glad we were going down this one instead of up! The German translates roughly as “Give up you poor bastard.”


We were just about to cross the border from Germany into the Czech Republic when we decided to stop on a residential corner to eat our last meal of German bread, cheese, and salami. We had only been sitting in the grass for a few minutes when a woman came over and said something quickly to us in German. It took us a few seconds to realize that she was asking us if we would rather eat our meal on her porch instead of the curb. Once we understood the message we quickly said yes and followed her to her house. I can speak a little German, so we were able to tell her that we were Americans and that we were cycling through Eastern Europe for four months. She was impressed, but even more impressed when we told her that we were cycling for one year and had come from New Zealand and Southeast Asia before Europe. We chatted for a few minutes and she fed us some delicious cheesecake and coffee. Just as we were about to leave, she asked us where we were going to stay for the night and we told her that we planned to cross the border and after that, we didn’t know. Hearing that, we were invited to camp in the garden and we accepted. As we headed to the backyard to set up our tent, we realized that there were a dozen kids running around the yard. At first we thought it was a daycare but then we realized all the children were cousins and they were together to celebrate the first day of summer vacation from school in Bavaria. We were introduced to all the children of the family and we spent the evening practicing our German with all the kids and cousins. In the morning we had breakfast with the family and then set off. Here are Monika, Veronika, and Helena. Vielen Dank to the entire family for welcoming us into their home!


After we crossed the border into the Czech Republic (very easy, the guard was impressed we’d ridden from Frankfurt), the terrain was very similar to Germany.


The towns and villages looked a little shabbier though. All the buildings were a little more run-down.


The people were noticeably different too. Mullets are popular here as is dying your hair various shades of red. Blonde with red stripes is a popular option.

The Czech Republic has a network of bicycle routes running all over it, including the elusive international route number 3. Route 3 runs from Vienna to Prague and we were thinking of following it, but this sign was the last we saw of it and soon we found ourselves on the busy main highway.


We stopped at an internet cafe along the way to try and figure out where we went wrong, but there is very little information on the Czech cycling routes online, so we decided to forge our own path. This is actually the first country where we have had to avoid major roads. In every other country we have cycled in, there was only one road to follow so we didn’t have much of a choice. There are lots of roads here in the Czech Republic so we have been searching out the nice quiet ones where we can relax.


We were planning on riding all the way to Pilsen on our first day, but the hills got the best of us and we stopped at a campsite outside a small town called Nepomunk. We only had to pay 135.00 crowns for our site (less than 5€)which is quite a bit more reasonable than the 20€ we paid once for a nasty, crowded site in Germany!

Today we woke up with some tired legs, so we decided to take a rest day here at the campsite. We spent the day relaxing by the lakeside and enjoying the famous Pilsner Urquell lager while perusing through our Lonely Planet Eastern Europe and planning the rest of our route. Tomorrow we head for Prague and the Bohemian Switzerland National Park.


Hot Pitch, Coming Right Up!

Monday, July 30th, 2007

Hello from Regensburg! We finally found an internet cafe here in Germany. They seem to be few and far between in this region we are traveling through. Maybe it is because this country is more developed and everybody has an internet connection at home or maybe because all the tourists here are over 65 years old! We’ll see if there is an improvement in the Czech Republic.

We are still really loving the touring in Germany – it almost feels like we are on a luxury bicycle vacation! One of the nicest parts are the impressive network of bicycle trails the cover the entire country. These are not bicycle lanes that are part of the actual road, meaning you ride beside cars all day but have your own tiny bicycle lane. Instead, these are small roads for bicycles only – they weave through forests, along rivers, through the centers of tiny villages, and beside fields of wheat and corn. We can ride side by side and chat all day long, stopping for a picnic lunch of German bread, cheese, and meat at one of the many benches along the way. Here’s a typical lunch for us – Jamie is especially delighted by the huge selection of sausages and salami. I love the cheese.

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There are also Haribo gummy candies everywhere here. This makes Jamie very happy. Here is how he preps his bike for a long ride; note the gummy candies lined up on his handlebar bag for easy access:

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Here is another favorite snack for James. Bratwurst. Touring German style people!.


We tend to make very slow progress during our actual riding time. This is in part due to the bicycle trails – they tend to be full of twists and turns, which makes building up speed almost impossible. Also, the signs indicating turns on the trail are very tiny. We are so busy sightseeing that we ride right pass the trail signs and get lost. This happens at least a few times per day, which is really frustrating. As a result, we have finally begun to use our compass to determine which way we need to ride to re-find the bike trail. Germany is the absolute last place I thought we’d be breaking out our compass, but it has turned out to be very useful!

Yesterday we got lost and found ourselves completely off the bicycle trail, riding along a small rut in the grass next to some train tracks in the middle of nowhere. We used our trusty compass to determine that the city we could see far in the distance was in the correct direction of our final destination for the day, so we pushed on and ran into the bicycle trail a few kilometers later. I felt like Indiana Jones, finding my way through the remote wilderness of a German farm back to the civilization of the bicycle trail using only a compass!

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Another reason for our slow progress is the wind. It has been extremely windy here for the past week – just as bad as parts of New Zealand! It is great fun when the wind is behind you because you can cruise along at 20km/hr without even pedaling! Riding into the wind is miserable though. It makes the riding as difficult as climbing up a big hill, but the difference is that with the wind it can go on all day long. You never know when or if it will end, which drives me crazy. Here’s Jamie giving a wind-strength demonstration using our map:

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And here he is attempting to stay upright in the fierce gale!

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Speaking of wind, let’s talk gas. The human kind. One surprising thing we noticed in Asia is that we never farted there. I mean never. We had been in Thailand for about ten days when we both realized we hadn’t passes gas in over a week. Something about that Asian diet really worked wonders for us! But after about three days back on this diet of bread, meat, cheese, milk, and yogurt we were back to our usual gassy selves. So, if you have a hot date planned for the night you might want to choose the Thai restaurant over the German deli.

A final reason behind our slow daily progress are a all the diversions along the way. Yesterday we rode past a park with lots of fun playground equipment that we don’t have in the parks back home. For example – a zip line!!

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And a giant basket-like swing that you can lay down in, for extra scariness on those high pushes:



The scenery in the country side is very pretty with rolling hills, farmed fields, and small rivers. Every village we pass through is beautiful and almost fake looking. It is hard to believe all these buildings weren’t built for decoration in a theme park, but are originals from the 17th and 18th centuries. The Germans think it is hilarious that we are amazed by a building from 1700. They are only impressed if it was built in year 600 or 700.


They used to pour hot pitch through this mask on attackers!


We took a break from staying with German families for the past two nights and instead tested out our free camping skills. Both nights we were able to find very nice secluded spots next to farmed fields. The only thing we have to worry about before camping for the night is getting enough water for dinner, drinking, and breakfast. We can carry 6 1/2 liters in our water bottle cages, and then we have 3 3-liter water bags. We can drink the tap water here, so instead of buying water for the night like we did in Asia we find somewhere to get it for free here. Businesses like gas stations and coffee shops are the easiest, but twice we have found ourselves far from any businesses and had to get water from people’s houses. The first time we filled up from someone’s front yard hose (with their blessing), and the second time we had to knock on a few doors in the early afternoon to find someone at home. We were a little nervous about doing this, but the woman we ended up meeting was more than happy to let us use her kitchen sink to refill our bottles. She even offered us a snack and apologized she didn’t have something substantial for us to eat! These Germans are amazing!

Here are our peaceful camping spots.



I learned how to squat like a true Asian in Thailand so now I never need a picnic table to eat my breakfast in the morning!


We are about to turn northeast and head for the border with the Czech Republic. We think we should make it to Prague in three to four days.

Ein schöner Radweg

Tuesday, July 24th, 2007

Sorry for the delay, we’ve been too busy living the good life here in Deutschland to write any journal entries!

First of all, thank you to everyone who has hosted us here! Melanie, Ingo, and Ronja in Frankfurt, Thomas and Sabina in Aschaffenburg, the Stobbies Family in Wertheim, and the Kuttenkeuler family in Würzburg. We have been overwhelmed by the friendliness and generosity of everyone. We are really getting spoiled here.

Germany has been a bicycle touring dream so far; I think it would be the perfect place for a luxury bicycle touring vacation or honeymoon. The entire country is covered with beautiful bicycle paths that pass through small, romantic villages and there is a Biergarten every kilometer or so. What more could you ask for!


Bicycle touring also seems to be the national pastime here. Every bicycle shop is stocked with a full array of touring gear and bicycles. Whenever we walk into one of these, everyone looks at Sarah’s lugged steel bike and says “Das ist old skool!” No one can believe her bike is new and expensive. The bicycle paths also have extremely detailed maps complete with contour lines and descriptions of the local sights and history. It is a good thing they are written in German, otherwise we would we would probably go broke buying them all! There are even two magazines dedicated to bicycle touring here. It’s like we’ve discovered a whole new world.

In fact, it has almost been a little too easy here. I didn’t think we would have any culture shock coming here, but we did. It was a strange feeling to leave the dirty, crowded streets of Bangkok in the morning and walk out of the airport in Frankfurt in the evening to see pristine sidewalks and to feel a cool breeze on your face. It really makes you think about how different things are and how amazing it is that you can travel so far in one day. The cycling has also been very different: traveling on a quiet path meandering along a river valley and through small fields of wheat and sunflowers. After being constantly surrounded by the sights, sounds, and smells of Asia it feels a little lonely. I told Sarah that I didn’t feel like we were really traveling anymore because I need to feel like I am going to die “at least once a day” and she almost died laughing, saying those are the last words she ever expected to hear coming out of my mouth. Rest in peace Mr. Safety!


Before we flew to Frankfurt, we signed up for an account on CouchSurfing and arranged to stay with Melanie and Ingo. We ended up spending three nights with them and their adorable daughter Ronja. Melanie and Ingo completed a year-long world trip on bicycles in 2006 and we had a blast discussing our experiences with them. They toured South America and are now planning on moving to Argentina to start a guesthouse and mountain bike tour company. They are going to be in Argentina this winter so we may be able to see them again if we go there! Ingo is also an expert mechanic and he helped us a lot with some small repairs we needed on our bicycles. After three days, we were sufficiently recovered from our jetlag and we hit the road. Here is Ingo leading us out of the city.


Since then we have followed the Main and Tauber rivers to Würzburg where we are now. We have been cycling through the river valleys enjoying the scenery and stopping at small villages that look like they are straight out of a fairytale.



We have also both been loving the bread here. Every village has a bakery in the town center where they bake all kinds of bread fresh daily.


The bread is so dense it is unbelievable. We’ve added a chainsaw to our list of most-wanted gear. This loaf literally weighed 5 kilograms and Sarah almost broke her arm again ripping a piece off.


Along the way in Wertheim, we spent a night with Johann Stobbies and his family in the former schoolhouse that they live in. The schoolhouse was built in 1870 and Johann did a beautiful job restoring it. He was also absolutely hilarious and we had a lot of fun laughing and talking with him. Here is the Stobbies family minus their youngest son outside their home.


We arrived in Würzburg yesterday and spent today exploring the palaces, castles, and churches of the city. We found our first UNESCO World Heritage Site in Europe at the Residenz here.


We are staying with the Kutttenkeuler family here and have had a wonderful time eating, drinking, and talking with them. Tomorrow we will head south towards Rothenburg ob der Tauber, which suffered no damage during WWII. A rare thing around here.