Hawkes Bay NZ Water trail

Friday, May 31, 2013

Riding your Bike in Munich

The weather's awful but I can see this town is great for riding: divided pedestrian/bike walkways, a beer garden on every corner.
I rode from crappy hostel to nice hostel this morning, dressed in full on Seattle rain gear, over Hackebrucker bridge and a left on Bayerrische Strasse, yelling "Actung!" At any tourist blocking the bike lane with a suitcase, startling the locals by my "Bitte, ich bin auf Ihren Links", likely a ridiculously ungrammatical transliteration of "on yet left!" and telling an errant person who just ticked me off, "get out of the bike lane buddy!"
Whee hee! What an empowering experience. Now if you ride in the road with the cars it's fast and close, which is unnerving. And Munich had cute trams with scary when wet tram tracks snaking this way and that.
I hope it stops raining next Monday when I'll be back in Munich for night between Fussen and Salzburg. I'd like to ride the route along the river Izar, where I understand people surf. Now, coming as I do from the great state of Queensland Down Under, where surfing is basically, king, I really need to see that.

Where thousands of those murdered lie

The cremated prisoners were buried by the thousands on the grounds.
I suppose that if you need to know why genocide is wrong and why we should fight it, you could visit Dachau.
Never forget, is the motto nearby.

A raw and bleak day that echoes this raw and bleak site

The tour of Dachau, run by Radius Tours cost me 20,00 Euros, with a 2,00 discount included as I'm traveling with a popular guidebook. Worth it. Trip leader Maxine did a great job thoroughly explaining what happened here and why during the terrible years of the Third Reich. One man on the trip had a veryvspecial connection to this dreadful place. His father, recently deceased, had been one of the Rainbow Brigade that liberated this camp on April 20, 1945. Extraordinary.
It's a very somber and emotionally draining place.
Today's wild and wet day matches the location. It's hard to imagine the sun can ever shine here.

Spot the Bike

I left my bike in the hostel's skinny luggage storage room today, as I've planned a guided trip to Dachau.

At the Judisches Museum Munchen

Near to the Vikualienmarkt (closed due to the religious holiday) is this tastefully modern complex. The synagogue, which echoes the Wailing Wall in Israel, is closed to outsiders and the museum is run by the city of Munich. The windows are an art installation where the artist asked people around the world what they know of Nazis, relations between Jews and non Jews in contemporary Germany, what they know about Nuremberg, and other touchy topics. It's a very good project.
Security is very tight here. The guy in the black suit was watching me with intensity as I chained Wm the Comqueror to the lamppost in the deserted plaza. There's a kosher cafe inside I wanted to check out and I bought a couple of topical cartoon postcards in the gift shop.

You don't say?

William the Conqueror at the Munich Corpus Christi (?) event

Here's my bike resting against the bleachers Marienplatz. To the right is an angel defeating the serpent of heresy. Munich is Catholic so the serpent is Protestantism. You can't see from this photo but the woman putting her bag down was taking photos with an authentic looking box brownie type camera. A real one not a modern remake. Goes to show there's an appreciation of old school technology in unexpected places.

The electric yellow rain cover for bike bag is getting plenty of use on this trip.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

A picture worth a thousand words

Today at 11am in Marienplatz for the colourful and interesting parade of Catholics in honor of today's religious holiday in Bavaria.
It was such a slice of local custom you forget about "das Sauerwetter" hereabouts.
Imagine the audio track to this gathering: churchbells clanking from nearby St Peters and people singing hymns.
I guess only in Bavaria? This sort of unexpected gift is why independent travel can be so great.

Munich's cafe culture

Once the parade and dancing Catholics from Africa, Bolivia and Croatia were done, the rain came back and we've all been shooed away from Marienplatz so they can disassemble the bleachers and the stage decorated with white and yellow daisy "pomades". I'd come to watch the elaborate glockenspiel in the tower of the new town hall, but it wasn't running, preempted by today's parade. I wandered around the main shopping drag with all the other tourists here. All the stores in Kaufinger Strasse are closed, as are most of the restaurants. People are heading for the beer halls and big plates of white sausage. I've found somewhere more to my taste, the Cafe Bricelta, in a little courtyard hidden in the main drag. I've had cappuccino and a tasty little Portuguese custard cake, and I'm so comfy now I want to curl up like a cat and watch the rain drip from the gay colored and sodden umbrellas outside on the deserted terrace restaurant.

Proves that sometimes you can get what you really want.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

How's This for a City Hall?

A little further down from the dirndl shop I reached Munich's extraordinary late C19th neo Gothic new town hall in Marienplatz. It includes an amazing looking glockenspiel. I'll have to go back tomorrow at 11am to see it work.
There was an event here earlier this week on the temporary stage hung with daisy Pom poms. A very good klezmer group from Croatia was playing for tips and CD sales off to the left side.

Ach wie Schoen!

I was astonished to see this extraordinary display of dirndls in a specialty store close to the beer restaurant where I had dinner this evening. Seems the weather dried a bit while I was in the Augustinier. It's all very dark and cave-like inside so easy to miss it. Outside dozens of relieved people were out window shopping on Neuhauser Strasse, and the terrace restaurants had quickly set up their outside tables to grab some business.
This store is either called Wies'n Tracht & mehr or Original Steindl. I can't really tell. I picked up one of their catalogs inside the store, and it seems to be selling its wares with a great sense of humor, using mustachioed and tatooed guys in lederhosen alongside pretty Barbie like girls models who wave the axes, beer steins and other accessories needed for a life in Bavaria.
I laughed so much I almost wanted to buy one.

At the Stammhaus Zum Augustine in Munich

Although my new hostel is close to the big outdoor Augustiner beer garden, it looks particularly awful today in the drizzly and cloudy cold weather. So I ordered something here called the Allgauer Alm Platter with butcher's ravioli and some sort of stuffed meatballs, all smothered in creamed mushroom sauce and an enormous serving of Swabian noodles which seem to be egg flavoured gnocchi. Also ordered something called ein schnitt of this month's special light "helles" beer.
The meatballs were OK, I didn't care for the "mystery meat" nature of the ravioli. There were nice forest mushrooms ppin the sauce, and I ate about a quarter of the noodles. The beer is very nice, basically what I'd call a schooner of beer with a full head of froth. The meal itself is pretty much what I expected. That's it for culinary adventuring in Bavaria. Now I need to see what the immigrant food is like.
Well, it's a miserable day to arrive in Munich. My prepaid youth hostel for the next 2 nights isn't as nice as the one in Nurnberg, but I'm dealing with it.
The beer hall I'm having an early dinner in is extremely noisy but must be fun with a large group on a sunny day. But I'm here alone with a mild case of solo traveler blues.

I finished the meal with a shot of espresso to wake me up enough for the long cold walk back through Karlplatz and back past the Bahnhof. It isn't all lost. I managed to get a room at the Euro Youth Hotel for my 3rd night planned for Munich, so i can leave the disappointing one after 2nd night. I were at home i'd cancel ask for a refund. i could, as i charged it on my visa card, but i'm through with fighting today. The desk staff at the bad hostel are nice and doing their very best. But I won't risk this hostel chain again. God help them if they email me an evaluation form.
Apparently my dorm at Euro Youth is above the bar and I can expect 3 live bands on Friday night. That's OK. I travel with ear plugs and an eye mask as a matter of course. I can handle drunken shouting.
Tomorrow is some sort of religious holiday restricted to Munich. Most shops will be shut but according to the TI the major museums and restaurants are open. Just in case I bought ham and various cold vegetables at the REWE supermarket across from the train station.
My plan to take extra bread rolls from tomorrow's 6,00 breakfast and make myself a picnic lunch after i ride somewhere. A bike ride is always a depression lifter. Even on a wet day. Regarding my German accomodation so far, I find the typical hostel breakfast spread good for fresh rolls but the micro thin cold cuts are barely worth eating. But what really sticks in my craw are the kitchen gatekeepers who try to intimidate you into not eating too much. I'm too old to be intimidated by this and I quietly create my lunch from the breakfast spread. This is cheapskate nonsense. I'm paying plenty to share a dorm room with up to 6 strangers, so i intend to take as many rolls at breakfast as i care to. It's insulting to visitors whose Euros are working their way through the local economy. There are plenty enough obese people in Germany, so if it's an attempt to stop the scourge of overeating in this area, it's a total bust.

I ate one of the Bavarian pretzels in the photo. Again not to my taste but very nice looking.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Schmeckt Gut!

I have absolutely NO IDEA what most of this dishes are. But I managed to order a delicious meal of baked asparagus and apple strudel. And I found perhaps the only place in Nurnberg, or perhaps Germany itself, that is cool with taking my Visa card.

So I also treated myself to a big glass of Reisling to celebrate.

Yesterday's Experience Summarized

On Konigstrasse in Nurmberg today I admired all sorts of Christmas trinkets handmade in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, a famous town I've decided to skip as I've already been in Schwabisch Hall. These gift items include cute wooden Christmas trees, cute wooden Santa Clauses, cute enormous expensive looking Nutcrackers and a shelf full of oh so cute Hummel figurines.
Some meters on, I passed a store called Santa Fe Art, which has a window display of both cheap and expensive items from the American SouthWest.
I really liked this Nutcracker-sized Kachina. The Hopi Indian carver who made this one is onto something.
It's an uncanny self portrait from yesterday at 8pm after my big fun day.

Couldn't express absurdity better

I was admiring this window display promoting a bookstore's large spring collection of Fahrraden (bike touring) guidebooks for Germany.

Engraved in the glass door to the left is the equivalent of "Don't even THINK of parking your bike here."

Schwabisch Hall to Nurnberg by bike

Yesterday was the classic case of Murphy's Law, and something all long distance solo travelers know will happen, just not when.
Monday morning weather was dreary and wet. When I got to town after a lonely breakfast at the empty b&b I discovered to my increasing horror that none of the of the "plastic money" I brought from America worked here in deepest Baden Wurtenberg. The post office won't accept Visa card. My debit card is dead in the water as the one network it was supposed to link with, well, doesn't, and in the entire town, no bank was willing to change anything but a single $USD 20. What the heck? did i wake up this morning in another continent? In Germany there seems to be a truly insane insistence that you pay cash for everything. Here in the home of the Euro. Home of Frankfurt, where they have an actual stock exchange.
It started immediately, with my bed and breakfast type accommodation, which expected over 225 Euros in nice crispy banknotes. Now, i'd chosen to stay there as it was a recommendation from trusted people. OK, whatever, no problem, just go to a bank right? i'd seen a big modern shopping precinct in the nonmedieval part of Schwabisch Hall. When I went into town to find a bank to restock, I found myself in a world that Albrecht Durer would recognize. Noone would give this foreigner her money. After being turned away by every bank and cash machine i visited i was, simply, 100% panicked. Eventually, after the intercession of the TI and being able to track down some stragglers from the wedding party, I managed to scrounge enough cash for Nurmberg. Lucky for me I had pre-purchased a 10 trips in 1 month German rail card so at least I had that piece of my trip sorted. But, Mr Murphy wasn't ready to let me get going just yet. Hell no.
I rode out of the mittelstadt following the TI map expecting to ride a few km to the Hessenthal Bahnhof and an onward bound train. Instead, somehow I found myself on the Kocher Jag Radweg, a 330km long distance bike touring route that starts in someplace called Aalen. And without knowing it, I was heading back to Aalen, not towards Hessenthal. Now normally as a long distance cyclist, I would be interested in this sort of thing. Just not today, OK? When finally I realized the mistake and confirmed with 2 people the correct direction I got a flat tire.
Oh yes, just kick me while I'm down. Once I stopped crying, I gave myself a good internal slap then wheeled my rig to a bike shop I'd happened to notice on the way. I prevailed on the mechanics to fix the flat. Now time to pay. Of course when I tried to pay 15,00 Euros on a credit card, it was nein, nein, nein. I don't get it. That shop was full of expensive bikes. Do the locals bring in bags of gold coins when they decide to buy a bike?
Oh my happy outing was just getting warmed up. Between me and the Hessenthal train station was an encounter with a social worker leading a group of at risk teenage boys on a bike ride. I made the mistake of asking this well meaning person for directions. After all, he had a bike map and actually spoke German, which I certainly do not. But no, I soon realised I had better navigational skills and an intrinsic understanding that a busy nearby road just had to lead to the train station. Of course the train station was uphill. And at a confusing roundabout, the social workers group caught back up with me, after actually accepting that the foreign woman was heading in the right direction. By now it was close to 4:00pm and I'd left Schwabisch Hall at 1:00pm. Forget getting the direct train to Nurnburg as I'd planned. There was just enough time to be sassed by one of the teenage delinquents who scathingly told me off, when I asked him: "do the abbreviations bf and bfn both mean bahnhof" using the universal retort of typical of teens the world over: "hey lady why do you expect me to know everything?"

Now remember I don't speak German.

I'd been having a rather difficult day. I certainly understood loud and clear what this little punk was communicating. All I can say is this: jugend, you have NO idea how close you were to being punched in your smart aleck mouth by this stressed out American cyclist nearing the end of her rope.
Thank goodness, at the bahnhof I found a helpful woman in the DB office who spoke English and helped me validate my Deutsche Bahn rail card.

All I had left to do was manoeuvre my loaded bike down a double flight of stairs, through a tunnel and up another double flight of stairs to the correct platform which of course couldn't possibly be right next to the station.
By now I was beyond caring. I am familiar with this situation. During my long distance adventure in France, I managed to get my full size fully loaded touring bike jammed in the non coordinated double glass doors of the only handicapped entrance of a station outside Paris. That takes a special sort of person. That person is me. Double staircases, no worries.Par for the course. Apparently there are no wheelchair users in either country.
At least the Germans have installed a metal track down one side of these stairs, where theoretically a cyclist can wheel the bike up or down. Of course, having seen these contraptions on a footbridge in Frankfurt I already know that whoever engineered this solution is a well meaning person who doesn't actually ride a bike. The angle of the rail means the bike will immediately shoot out of your hands and drag you with it down the steps. With a loaded or even semi loaded bike, the speed of descent is logarithmically increased by at least the power of ten.

I invented a new language of English mixed with German swearing as I worked my way from track 2 to track 3 at the Hessenthal bahnhof. But I managed not to break my leg. I'm OK with that.

When I finally reached my destination, after having a kind man carrying a ladder (I am not making this up) on the train from Crailsheim to Nurnberg, I was beyond wasted. I pushed Wm the Conqueror on its nice new 15,00 Euro inner tubed front tire to the nearest hostel, the the A&O Bahnhof. Honestly I'd have stayed at the Nurnberg Ritz if there was one closer and it accepted credit cards. I can't afford it. I no longer give a damn at this point. Gott Im Himmel, the A&O had room, gave me a bed in a 4 bed dorm for 22,00 Euro/night, and the 2,95 euro surcharge for paying by card felt like a deal.
I ordered a nasty frozen pizza at the bar in the hostel and it never hit the sides as I scarfed it down. I hadn't eaten or drunk a thing since leaving my b&b at 8am kand by now I knew it was beyond foolhardy to even think of leaving the hostel on my first day from sheer hell of the trip. I knew I would be courting Fate if I tried to actually find decent food.
I know when to cry "uncle".
Give me a few weeks and I'll just laugh about today. Just not yet. Today I am still asking myself, why are you doing this?

Goodness me where did I leave my trousers, Eve?

Die Tugendbrunnen (C16th fountain of the virtues)

Some of the figures are streaming water from their little alpenhorns, but seven are using a different technique, in this civic treasure next door to Lorenzkirche.

Just following the decorative standards of the C14th Gothic joint next door, with its gory renditions of the slaughter of the innocents and the counting of the saved and the damned on Judgement Day.
Let's face it, literacy wasn't an option for your typical Nurmberger in 1360, so they went for the graphic novel approach.

Outside Saint Lawrence Church in Nuremberg


Sunday, May 26, 2013

Breakfast in Germany

Back to rain again so I will fortify myself with a typical fruhstuck and get back on my bike. Lots of interesting looking cold cuts hereabouts. Takes a bit of getting used to on the breakfast spread though. When I looked out the bedroom window this morning, a small truck full of pink snouted heritage porkers was driving past.

Joint Venture via Wedding Cake

This is an American style wedding cake with a sweet German heart. The bride told me that the best baker in Swabisch Hall wasn't at all familiar with the classic American buttercreamed showpiece, and didn't believe it existed. After long discussions and extensive use of the Internet, he came through winningly with this novel Baden Wurtenburg riff: three flavors: cheesecake, cinnamon sponge and kirsch soaked chocolate in classic Austrian thin layers. With its labish coat of French buttercream frosting, it looks like the aspens that grow on the hills above town. The garnishes are marzipan leaves and chocolate twigs. Note the valentine cut into the tree "bark."
I won't be at all surprised to learn in the future of a new regional specialty in Swabisch Hall.
As is proved over and over, traveling often expands your outlook.

Great performance art at the wedding reception

A show stopper at the reception, only topped by the giddily happy newlyweds. Called "sand art" a choreographed live on stage by artist from Munich drawing in sand and broadcast on a video screen. Covered key events in the couple's courtship. It was very sophisticated performance art. Makes me look forward to more great art to witness in coming weeks.

Saturday's event in Schwabisch Hall

There was a break in the rain for an important family wedding, the reason I chose to visit Germany this summer for a bike by train trip. Here is historic St Michael's church, once Catholic now Protestant, but with all the pre-Reformation religious art intact, despite the religious wars in this part of Martin Luther's Germany. Apparently all the papist trimmings survived the iconoclasm of the era because this was a little backwater town in the Middle Ages known only for salt production. Such is the history of so much of historically old Europe. Any tourist lucky to visit the main square today got a real treat: a high fashion wedding arranged by the bride's generous and creative new German in-laws. All of the Americans in the party audibly gasped when we were told to let these balloons go free for a memorable photo opp. Being from green and ecological Seattle, we automatically think "it'll kill the penguins" if we did this stateside. Germany is different. I am very grateful to my German hosts for demonstrating legendary Deutsch hospitality.
Vielen Dank.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Get your spargel here!

I took the local bus#32 for a 2,00 Euro ride from my hotel, which is 5km, and another century away from the nearest big town. The Saturday farmers market in Schwabisch Hall is in full swing. Here's the view from Cafe am Main, where I had breakfast with all the local homemakers. gosh, look, there is sunshine! The biggest queues were at the spargel seller, with white asparagus priced differently according to diameter, about 7,00/kg for 0.5 inch. That's a great price. In Seattle we buy green asparagus for $4/lb. I like white too, but it's uncommon at home.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Bike Riding in Frankfurt

Despite the unseasonably cold and wet weather in Frankfurt, I did fit in some city riding on Day 2 of my adventure.
From my hostel on the banks of the river Main I was a block from a C19th footbridge called Eiserner Steg and able to cross directly to the Romer town square. The Steg, whose decorative iron railings are infested with colored engraved padlocks reading things like "Rolf heart Leisl", spans the Main and gives you a nice view of the big industrial barges and tourist river boats that plow the river below. The padlock valentines are a bit of an eyesore IMHO. They echo that bridge in Paris that's now so encrusted with metal love tokens, one day soon I think it must surely collapse into the Seine. Perhapsp ecologically minded lovers prefer it to carving their initials into a nearby tree trunk. Beats me.
The Main is lined on both banks with fan shaped cobblestone footpaths and bike paths planted with Linden trees. Right now, the trees are barely leafed out but in a month I can see what a nice promenade this will be.
The locals follow the rules here: walkers stay on the cobbles cyclists on the sandy bike paths. In the center of town, along Frankfurt's winding streets, and in the greenbelt of parklands that ring the downtown core, this segregation of bike/footpaths predominates, sometimes evrn more pronounced by the use of different colored cobbles, metal reflectors and painted bike symbols. If pedestrians stray into the wrong domain watch out! i I saw a large group of wheeled luggage hauling college students blocking the bike path, who were soundly being scolded by a semi crazed bell slamming cyclist. Obviously there is a rule that forbids dismounting and walking one's bike through the idiot throng. Nein nein, here it's war: DingdingdingDIngDINGDINGDINGDINGDING!!!! As an American cyclist, i might have chosen to yell "Hey move it, you [insert preferred expletive here]!" In Frankfurt passive aggression is the behavioral norm. The hysterical volume of the bell ringing scold says a lot about cultural difference and i know it works both ways. When I stopped for my asparagus soup lunch, I was trying to chain my bike to a lamp post as there weren't any "bike staples" around. I guess I was too indecisive for the harrumphing pedestrian who pushed past me while I was considering my security strategies.
In busy busy Bankfurt clueless foreign cyclists had better be on their toes.

First Bike By Rail of my trip

Here's my luggage at 11am today heading to Schwabisch Hall via Stuttgart. Chose to cover the bike with its stealth cover but no one cared so will skip in future. Lucky trains not overcrowded so I had room to hoist things up and down two sets of train carriage steps: the ICE (intercity long distance fast) and the milk run slow train to Nurnburg. Always an inconvenience for a solo traveler.
It will take me a while to master correct train jumping but failure just isn't an option and well I know it.
Weather cloudy, and cold as heck but no real rain today, thankfully though it did hail a little when boarding the local. Where is the warmth of a german spring i wonder? All riders angry as Deutsche Bahn has done some staff layoffs so now the local trains are, "Gott im Himmel!" Efficient Germany now running late. Coming from USA, this makes me smile.Train service failures and ubiquitous ugly artless graffiti on buildings all over are the first sign of economic stress here that's obvious.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Paulskirche in cold and rainy Frankfurt

Two things you can count on with Starbucks outside the USA: prime location and free wifi.

I went riding on Wm the Conqueror this morning, after sharing a cafeteria style breakfast with a large group of German high school students staying at the youth hostel while on an educational trip. The weather was dry if cloudy at 10am. By 1 pm it turned to winter worthy rain. Of course I chose to leave my rain pants along with my luggage at the hostel, planning to pick it up later when I move to hostel #2 tonight. Can't stay put as there isn't a room for Thu night.

I discovered it's very easy to ride in the wrong direction on the winding strasse and gasse of Frankfurt. You can cover a lot more ground by bike than on foot, which is both a good and a bad thing today.

I've seen quite a lot of the leafier suburbs of town and gotten soaked for good measure. Stopped for spargel suppe in a bakery. It's white asparagus time here and all the restaurants are serving spargel this and spargel that.

Also took a look around "Bankfurt" seeing the "penguins" (financial office workers in their b&w suits, and piggy banks filled with chocolates wrapped as Euro notes in the gift shops of the city. I skipped the candy and instead bought a decent bike pump from a high end bike shop opposite the European Central Bank. Cost a few Euros more than it would at home but too bad. Need it gotta buy it.

I'm waiting out the rain sitting with a bunch of Chinese tourists at Starbucks before making a dash across town to shuttle my luggage to the new place.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Frankfurt airport 8am local time

Four hours from Seattle to Washington Dulles, 1.5 hours wait, then 7.5 hours to Frankfurt in the flying sardine canl that is United Economy.
The boxed bike and contents arrives intact, along with a form TSA note saying my luggage had been examined.

I found a quiet corridor at the airport and assembled my gear and bike, then traveled 3 stops on the regional train 4,25 euros one way to the Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof.

Only problem so far is jet lag wooziness from arriving in Germany at midnight Seattle time, and finding my mini bike pump isn't good at inflating the bike tires back to 80psi. I'd convinced myself that the weight savings was worth it. Hmm.

I found a bike store willing to let me use a floor pump in the Sachsen Hausen neighbourhood, near the Haus der Jugend youth hostel where I'm spending my first night. I might end up buying one here in Germany, as the toy pump that I brought (attaches to the Brompton frame) is inadequate.

The Maggi Koch Studio in Frankfurt

Landed on a gray and cold day in Germany. What is better than finding a store devoted to the comfort food of my childhood. And they even offer cooking classes for 40,00 Euros and up!

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Washington State ferry Walla Walla in Elliott Bay taken from the King County Water Taxi

How to Plan a Bike Trip to a Country Where You Don't Speak the Language

These 2013 guides mention enough about bike routes, bike rentals, and city-specific short bike tour companies to get you started:

  • Rick Steves’ Germany
  • Lonely Planet’s Munich, Bavaria & the Black Forest
  • Lonely Planet’s Berlin

Bettundbike [Bed and Bike] is in English, and lists bike friendly hotels and inns. As my budget is modest, I won't use many of them. Instead I plan to camp and stay in youth hostels. That's my choice. I would rather sleep in my tent after riding into town for a one Michelin star lunch, than luxuriate in a nice hotel, and only have enough Euros for a curry wurst at the end of the day.

The official German Tourism Bureau’s Cycling pages offers a guide to Germany’s long routes (100+ to 300+ km), and it’s in English.

ADFC, the German national bike club’s site is packed with information and maps, but you need to read German well, which of course I don’t. The takeaway, though, for any Deutsch-impaired cyclists like me, is that Germans like to ride their bikes all over their country, as well as pop over the borders into neighboring France, Belgium, Holland, etc.

Unfortunately, there is no Lonely Planet cycling guide to Germany.

I’ve used their France and Australia and USA guides to plan rides in these countries. Nor are there any Cicerone biking guides to Germany either. I've used this British publisher's books to plan and/or dream about rides on the Loire in France, or the Way of Saint James, in Spain.  There are, of course, perfectly sound German guides, but they are of limited utility to me as I can’t read them.

Still, I may end up riding pieces of the various German long distance routes, either by accident or design, during my trip. These “wegs”, like the Donauradweg, along the Danube, and the 100 Schlosser Route, which takes you past 100 castles apparently, remind me that I might want to plan a return trip to Germany later, if my first visit proves fun.

Still, I decided to fit in some riding in my favorite country, France, during this trip, because I’ve
  1. never been to Alsace or Lorraine, and I think I can fit in a ride around the World War One battlefields at Verdun
  2. In 2010 I learned that bikes, indeed, are the Queens of the Road there.
 Months of planning, revisions and thinking  about budgets and logistics result in a neat and tidy summary like this. It covers up the dead ends, impracticalities and bad ideas that I worked through to get to this neat and tidy place.

Given my persistent left ankle health concerns, at first I'd thought of doing a typical backpacker tour of Germany, renting bikes in the towns I visited. Once I ran the figures, though, I realized that bringing my own bike would save me $, and taking my bike on the train would get me nicely from point A to point B. The logistics of packing a bike for air travel to Europe from the West Coast of the USA do seem a challenge at first. But it seems, it's "like riding a bike." Once you learn it you never forget how to do it.

Now, the minute I set my bike shoes down on German soil, I know that things are likely to go pear-shaped, and all my fantastic planning will land in the roadside weeds as I gamely pedal off on another adventure.

This is both the agony and the ecstasy of self-supported bike travel. This is why there are thousands of bike touring companies out there with glossy magazine spreads promising to deliver you a stress-free holiday for $200 to $300/day, excluding airfare and gratuities.

Good luck to them. Self-supported bike touring can be fun too.

Folding Bike Travel by Air / Fitting It All In

Assuming my bathroom scales are accurate, the cardboard box weighs less than 50  lbs. I may take a small roll of tape to the check in counter anyway, just in case I need to readjust the contents. Sometimes the TSA lets you take the tape onboard. Sometimes they don't. So I plan to toss the roll out. Everything else I need for my 7 weeks exploring Germany and Alsace, France, is packed in the black Brompton bag. Under the bike helmet, which will be clipped onto the bag's shoulder strap when I board, are my dress shoes, a tissue-wrapped wedding outfit folded in a resealable plastic bag, makeup and jewelry. I've learned from other international flights that checked bags can go missing for a few days, so into my carry on goes a change of clothes, and anything else I can't live without. So if, god forbid, the cardboard box goes AWOL, I will be visiting Frankfurt stylishly dressed for a formal wedding. The black bag will fit the dimensions of United's carry on. And, yes, I can lift it.

The final touch tomorrow will be me boarding the plane wearing my Kentucky Derby-worthy picture hat. It is impossible to fit this confection in the carry on, so I will wear it. The flight attendants won't blink, as I know they've seen it all before.

Ah, the strange things we do to go a-travelin' by bicycle.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Trial Bike Packing for Germany

I've built the cardboard bike box for my flight to Frankfurt from Seattle. I plan to ditch the box at the airport, then set up my rig like this for the trip into the city. My ticket on United limits me to one piece of luggage, 50 lb, at no additional charge, plus carry on. Before I fold and pack the bike, and stuff about 11 lbs of gear around it, it's wise to do a test run. I used this configuration for my New Zealand trip in 2011, so I know how to make it work. Too squirrelly for long distance touring, but should work fine with my plan to travel point to point on the Deutsche Bahn trains.

The rest of the gear needs to go in my carry on bag, so I'm testing various configurations to make it work.

The red item is a canvas bag, which I'll use to corral the tent and the dry bags when hopping aboard trains. William the Conqueror will fold and on this trip I'm bringing along its clever black bike cover which turns a bike into a sort of wedge shaped canvas bag. Two pieces of luggage plus carry on. Done! This configuration avoids both the steep oversize luggage fee for a full size bike ($USD 100-$200+) on a plane, and the 5,00 Euro bike fee for a full size bike on the train. I have a rail pass that allows 10 days of travel in one month, so if I don't have to pay to load a bike, I have 50,00 Euro to spend on cuckoo clocks, slices of chocolate cake and beer.

In addition to this kit, I'm taking dress clothes and a large picture hat for a wedding in Baden Wurtenburg. My plan is to mail these items on to a friend in London post-wedding. I'm still mulling my options on managing these in my carry on. I am confident I'll figure it out. Several years ago, I brought a wedding cake from Australia on a Qantas flight, and served it at my own wedding. Formal clothes should be somewhat simpler.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Gute Reise

I am off to Frankfurt on May 21, taking William the Conqueror, and planning a month of folding bike + train travel. My first trip to Germany. Looking forward to new sights and new sites alike.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Golden Gardens Park at sunset on a gorgeous May weekend

Bikes, bongos and barbecues on a superbly unexpected riding weekend. Seattle in summer can be magic.