We have a rule when cycle touring that we don’t take a pastry break until 20k/12miles into our day of riding. And then it may take some kilometers to find the exact right spot to take a break. We try to stop at a bakery in the town where we slept, or the next town, so we hit the bakery when they have a good selection of treats and sandwiches. I usually fill my Kleen Kanteen thermos with tea, and we’re ready for our pastry break.
We could call it elevenses, with our American habit of adopting things from other cultures we have embraced the British elevenses, but we’re sometimes earlier than 11:00. Second breakfast also works to describe this break.
We take turns going into the bakeries and procuring food. One of us stays with the bikes and one braves the bakery. It can be stressful if it’s busy, but usually the women behind the counters are helpful and patient.
I think I found the name of it in a streusal cookbook by the checkout line at the grocery store: Streuseltaler, or Streuseltielchen.
Our mornings always start with the bakery and lunch discussion. Where to stop, when to stop. We always err on the side of stopping at the one in town unless there seems to be a better bakery up the road, and in Allinge on Bornholm Island we stopped in town which was very busy with Folkemødet 2022 starting.
Folkemødet, The People’s Meeting, in Allinge is Denmark’s festival about society’s opportunities and challenges. It made for a very busy town, Island actually, and was fun to see the set up and the people arriving. But, back to pastries, and elevenses.
Yes, there is more to cycle touring than eating yummy baked goods. There are hours of cycling, head winds, tail winds, the occasional mechanical issue and a small slow speed tumble – me. Too many pastries maybe? Only a small bruise. We’re now in Copenhagen for a week and will, for the first time, see a stage of the Tour de France. The first stage is in Copenhagen this year. We’re also excited to get our bikes tuned up for the first time in two years. The supply chain issues seems to have cleared up, and the shop we stopped by here in Copenhagen said, sure no problem, we can do it in a day. Music to our ears. More posts soon, with more riding.
If it sounds like we can’t make up our minds where to go, that’s partially correct. We took a train from Dresden to Rostock, planning on staying somewhere out of Rostock and closer to where we planned on catching a ferry to Sweden.
We rolled into Graal-Müritz pretty late in the day, but with plenty of sunlight. It is a popular vacation destination for the eastern part of Germany, and we again felt like the only Americans in town. It’s fun to see the surprised reactions from people when we say we’re from California – what are you doing here? As confirmed by German friends, most Americans visit Berlin, Munich, maybe Frankfurt or Hamburg, but rarely make it to the smaller destinations. That is one of our favorite things about bike touring, staying in the small places, being the only foreign tourists.
Our ride to Stralsund was 94 kilometers, one of our longer days. With so much daylight, it’s not as daunting to agree to a long day. You know there is time to take loads of breaks. The tailwind helped a lot too.
We were only about 20k from Stralsund when my right shifter, for the rear chainrings, broke. Suddenly I’m riding a single speed bike loaded with gear. Rich managed to get me into a more realistic gear in the back and we limped to town. Now begins the strategizing and planning on how and where to get my bike fixed. Oh, did I mention it was Saturday afternoon when my bike broke? And we know that nothing is open on Sunday. No bike shops, barely any grocery stores. Now what? Stay in Stralsund for two nights and hope the not very encouraging looking bike shop can fix my bike?
We took the train to Sassnitz on Sunday where a bike shop fixed my broken shifter on Monday morning, which allowed us to catch the Tuesday morning ferry to Sweden. And, gave us a bonus day in Sassnitz to hike the UNESCO listed beech forest and amazing chalk cliffs.
So what do you do on a two hour ferry ride? I read. We have tea and pastries. And Rich travel plans, since we got on the ferry knowing only where it landed in Sweden. Ystad. Rich was still deciding where to go next. We had gotten a recommendation from a friend to go to Bornholm Island. Beautiful and great cycling, he said.
The second ferry left about ten minutes after the first arrived, so if we hustled off and rode fast around the corner we could spend only ten minutes in Sweden before leaving again. Assuming we could find the second ferry and get on in time. We did. The ramp was pulled up just after we and two other cyclists rolled onto the ferry. Phew. It feels good when it works out.
Happy June everyone and hope that you are are enjoying the summer so far. Getting out on the bikes has been nice, but we’ve hit a few bumps in the road along the way, and rambling without a detailed plan in the beginning of peak European travel season is a bit more challenging.
So we’ve been mixing up some regional train hops and full cycling days to make our way out of the state of Hessen, across Thuringia, and well into Saxony. The scenery has been beautiful in late Spring with full greenery and loads of wildflowers.
We’ve managed to learn a lot more about the local history via some great museums and historic sites. It’s an area steeped in history from the early Middle Ages to the tumultuous 20th century of 2 wars, partition, and reunification. The Forum museum in Leipzig is highly recommended as it’s an extremely well curated and interactive history of the GDR.
As much as we thought that we knew the basic history of the former Eastern Block, this museum will add to your understanding, and you can’t help put it in the current context agression in Ukraine, as well as a lot of the variances in prosperity that still divide the former East and West.
The biggest challenge of the past week has been that Cheryl has been less than 100% due to a nasty stomach bug, which hit her hard for a few days, with a slow recovery. Cycle touring and stomach bugs are not the best combination, so we’ve had to scale back our cycling distances and incorporate a bit more rest and recovery into our agenda. It was kind of rough for a few days. But she stayed in the tour and carried on.
Luckily, the train system has helped to shorten some days and get us on to places of more interest, such as Leipzig, and now Dresden, both vibrant and interesting cities. But Cheryl is a trooper, and despite running on fumes, continued to cycle most days, with my challenge being to make sure the day was not too tough or long! She’s on the mend now and we anticipate heading out of Dresden tomorrow with more oomph in our pedaling!
On the mechanical front, I started to notice as we left Bad Hersfeld that my back tire seemed to be rubbing the fender more and more. It turns out that my long lasting Schwalbe Tire had a bulge developing in one spot….definitely time for a new tire! Luckily we made it to Fulda, which had a half dozen bike shops listed, so I engaged on the hunt for a new tire.
The first place in town had a single lovely Schwalble Marathon 700×38 tire. These hand finished German tires are the clear global favorites in the bike touring and commuting community. Unfortunately, with my tight fender and frame, this tire was one size too big and they had no other similar tires. The next shop on the edge of town had no Schwable touring tires, but was able to sell me a right sized 700×35 Matrix touring tire. I’d never heard of the brand, but his shop was full of their parts. As it turns out, these Thailand made parts are some of the most available. I figured I better take it.
Since he spoke English, I was able to get an informative update on the global supply chain issues still facing the bicycling industry. I asked him about bike parts for a full group replacement on my touring bike, as all my well loved Ultegra parts are close to failing. (Hang in there right shifter!). He said that parts are still on short supply and that it may be cheaper or more plausible just to buy a new touring bike! Zoinkees.
He said that e-bikes, mountain bikes, and kids bikes are now more available, but that touring/hybrid/road bikes are still hard to get. He also noted that aluminum supplies have been disrupted from Ukraine war, so frame and part manufactures may have more issues! The last few years have really opened up the worlds eyes to the fragility of global supply chains, and the relative bounty we all had in the past 30 years of massive global expansion.
So I put on the new €20 touring tire and hope it holds up for even half the life of my trusty Schwable. So far so good.
But where to next? We are still discussing some options as are now eager to get further north to the Baltic Coast and cross to Sweden. We love Germany, but it does have many quirks, and we can tell that we may have had our fill for now of small town Germany (And even brats, schnitzel, and potatoes… hence our pull to the vibrant cities for Vietnamese food and burritos!).
The city and town connections via cycle routes are wonderful here, and it’s safe, pleasant, clean. The bigger cities, such as Leipzig and Dresden are diverse, fantastic to explore, and have very low automobile traffic. (So quiet in most central neighborhoods!). But there is indeed (a somewhat stereotypical) rigidity and other quirks to life here that can make make cycle touring more challenging. Like what, you ask?
No public drinking fountains…anywhere! Not along cycle routes, not in parks, not even outside bathrooms….and by the way, public bathrooms are also EXTREMELY rare. Museums or restaurants are your best bets. So if you can’t pee al fresco, frequently without hesitation, then cycle touring here is not for you. The only solution to the lack of water fountains is to buy water (which we only do as last resort) or bring a lot of water for the day (which we do).
And what is rarer than a public bathroom in Germany? A convenience store. They are not part of the culture, even in cities. They are everywhere in Denmark and Sweden, with fresh foods, and takeaway options….perfect for cycle touring.
But we have found that below the sometimes abrupt exterior of some Germans, there is a deep care the environment and the plight of others. We saw the heartwarming handling of the 2015 Syrian refuge crisis in Munich, and again have witnessed the real welcome signs for Ukrainians on 2022. And they don’t brag about it, they just do it.
So we head north this Friday morning by train, feeling our privilege to be healthy and free.
After seven months of backpack travel we’re reunited with our touring bikes. Izmir, Turkey to Geneva, Switzerland was another one of those dislocating travel days. We’re super lucky to have a place to land in France, very good and generous friends who allow us to leave our bikes and extra bags at their place, so the switch from Turkey to a mountain side French village was a known and comforting destination.
The lush green views were a big change from the blue waters and Mediterranean climate of Turkey as well. We hit peak spring in France. So green. Flowers blooming, bees buzzing, ants crawling. We dusted off our bikes and went for a ride up the valley to make sure everything still worked, both on the bikes and our bodies.
Then the tougher part. Where to next? Our original plan had been to ride the Baltic Coast but the war in Ukraine made us decide that getting around Kaliningrad was a bit too difficult for the time frame we have. So we’ll save that for another year.
After a fantastic week in France we headed to the Geneva train station to catch a train. It’s nice to start off with a lovely long downhill ride.
But where? You’re still asking. Where are you going?
The first train took us to Basel, Switzerland. We had a nice evening and morning walking around and enjoying the city and then a second train took us to Mainz, Germany.
The worst train boarding is when you don’t know where the bike storage space is. This is when you find yourself trotting down the platform wheeling your bike in a bit of a panic. Thankfully German and Swiss train apps let you know where the bike storage is. So, the only scramble is getting the bikes and bags on the train. Rich does the bike lifting and I do the bag lifting. One final count of bags every time we get on or off a train, and we settle in.
From Mainz we’re riding East/Northeast towards Dresden and towards the German Polish border. That’s the scenario for now. As we all know, plans are never set in stone. I always need a few days cycling to convince myself I can still do this. Get on the loaded bike day after day and turn the pedals over, cranking out the miles. The first day’s euphoria turns into the second day’s tiredness, and the third day’s exhaustion.
But with my best travel companion in front of me (I draft behind him shamelessly), I push through the tired cranky afternoons and know that the pedaling legs will come back. More fun cycle touring to come.
This is the country where we are most likely to overeat, over indulge, and find ourselves over padded as a result.
How to avoid this? Move. Just keep moving. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Have a hiking day. Walk the long way home after dinner out. Walking and biking are second nature to us, so that’s what we do when we get somewhere.
If we have a train day, we make sure to have an active day next. Of course, some train days involve loads of walking too. We rarely take taxis, we walk to and from train stations or take a local bus. Being sensitive to the impact of car traffic on cities encourages us not to add to it. Walking gives you more time to notice things and grounds you geographically. I’m slightly directionally challenged, landmarks are how I navigate. That shop, this fountain, a row of green flower pots, all help me find my way though new places.
The Amalfi coast has so many trails, walkways and tiny roads to explore. And stairways. So many stairways. Our day hiking above Amalfi was one of the most memorable hikes we’ve done. The coast road is more famous, but the paths and small roads are what we love.
Are all of our hikes blissful and conflict free? No. We have very different paces and one of us, the tall one, hikes much faster than the other shorter one. In an attempt to get more of a work out Rich came bounding back down the first big staircase climb out of Amalfi as I was struggling up. Morale killer? Yes. Squabble? Yes. I demanded that he turn around and then after I passed him I insisted he go back down as far as he wanted as I hiked on – in the lead for once! Temporarily, but happily.
The weather cooperated for our first full day in Bari so we rented bikes and headed down the coast, knowing there was a train to take back and enjoying the tailwind.
So this is how we stay healthy and happy. But, six months in we have learned that Rich absolutely needs more exercise than me. He’ll be upgrading to a slightly larger travel backpack so he can add running shoes to his kit. And I’ll be better at not getting mad when he bounds back down a hill I’m still climbing so he can turn around and go up again. (Seriously, who does this?)
As we pedaled along a few days ago and did the math, we realized we’d been bike touring for 48 days. That’s our longest trip ever on bikes. As I write this, on a train from Tours to Dijon, it’s day 50. It’s certainly a lot of work, not the pedaling part although that can be tough at times, but the moving most nights. The unpacking (I call it the bag barf, where I simply turn my panniers upside down and let everything cascade to the floor.), the packing, and of course the travel planning done exclusively by Rich. Each day he checks terrain and weather and towns that look nice for a stay, one night or two, the feeding of two hungry cyclists – thank goodness for hotel breakfasts – whoops, watch out for Sunday, everything closes about noon, be ready for that!
But everyday at one point or another, while looking at the river, or a chateau in the mist, or collapsed on a bench for a tea break, we look around and say to each other- wow, this is amazing and we are so lucky.
The things that we notice while traveling the speed we can pedal are so detailed. Wild boar in the forests on the way to Chateau Chambord. Hunters in orange vests ranged out alongside a forested patch near the river, hunting boar we assume. We stopped to watch, heard the hunting dogs baying, and saw a deer come running out of the forest across a field, followed by a hare who ran so fast and so far – completely spooked and relived that the men in orange were not after him. Gunshots rang out, we checked our brightly colored rain jackets were on for increased visibility, and pedaled away. Just another day on the bike tour, but one I hope we’ll always remember.
At a Sunday stop at a bakery for sandwiches we chatted with a super nice British couple who’d been living in France for 30 years, he was a cyclist and wanted to chat about our American made bikes. As Rich described our route and we mentioned that we had taken some train hops he shook his head and his partner said, oh, he thinks trains are cheating when you’re bike touring. We don’t. We haven’t owned a car in 21 years, we’ve earned these train hops.
We’re headed back to our French “home base”, looking forward to some time not moving, cooking for ourselves and hiking in addition to biking. We’ll leave the bikes there, swap our our luggage and head by train to Paris, then to London, and then to Tenby, Wales.
Bike touring with a cold reminds me of how professional riders will say “I just didn’t have the legs today.” to explain what happened on a disastrous stage of a tour. Well, that was me for a few days. I just didn’t have the legs.
The wild Loire River continues to delight us with its scenery, and we’re meeting more cycle tourists too, which is fun. While we were stopped at a picnic area a French guy pulled up, and excused himself from joining us at our table by explaining he wasn’t vaccinated, so we chatted from a distance. He was planning on going to the US ‘when this COVID stuff is over’ and ride from San Diego to Vancouver, Canada, and then across Canada to Montreal. When we said something about distance, that is a long ride, he responded with a most French shrug of his shoulders and a noise that sounded like ‘bwooeef’.
We spent two nights in Orleans to rest up. We both had head colds but I got hit harder then Rich. I spent most of our rest day in bed.
This area of the Loire is blessed with many chateaus. I promise pictures of some of them, but it’s not so easy to actually go inside and visit when bike touring. There is the problem of not only locking the bikes up, but securing the bags as well. So far we’ve been content with merely looking at and reading about the chateaus.
This is the kind of riding Rich loves – rollers up and down, quiet roads with only occasional cars and busy but careful farm vehicles bringing the grapes in.
This is the kind of riding I love too, through wine county.
Harvesting here looks different from what we see in California. In Germany a machine rolls along actually shaking and pulling the bunches of grapes off the vines. Here, a machine rolls along cutting the lower leaves off and leaving the bunches of grapes hanging naked below the vines. Then, we saw teams of locals, mostly women, wearing aprons and wielding clippers, start into the vineyards.
The towns we rode through for the past two days were each more charming than the last, making for some slow riding as I stopped to take photos and read tourist info plaques. Blienschwiller, Itterschwiller, Mittelbergheim, Barr, Bernardswiller, and Molsheim where we had a wonderful long lunch and sheltered from the rain on day one.
This area was German and then French, making for some mixed up seeming names. One war memorial I stopped to read had Jean Michael Herzog among others, and of course the usual and heartbreaking lists of family names from both wars – a reminder of the sadness and horror that must have felt as if it were stalking families.
The historic Canal de la Bruche was our route out of Strasbourg and reminded us of the many UK narrow boat vlogs we watched during lockdown. Beautiful.
We’re in Colmar now, here for two nights in this charming town, then on to more adventures. Our plans are changing as we ride and explore. Happy pedaling!
We left Colmar by train on a forecast rainy day and did a 3 train hop to Nevers during which it rained very satisfyingly hard. It made me very happy to hear that rain pelt the train windows while we were warm and dry inside.
Train travel tip with bikes: always leave super early to ride to the train station, you never know what will suck up that extra time. So far we’ve had: crowded market day along the route, broken elevators requiring unloading and carrying bags and bikes up and down stairs, massive construction projects leading to circumnavigating the entire station, and uncooperative ticket machines (we usually book on line but the website was down.). So pad that trip with extra time. The worst that happens is that you’re early and get to hang out on the platform wondering which carriages will have the bike logo on the side – near where you’re standing or a trot down the platform?
We’ve found the local French trains, Ters or regional, reliably have a bike car at the front of the train, and usually at least one if not more further down. If you’re really not sure where the bike space will be, figure out which way the train is traveling and stand at the end of the platform where the train arrives. You’ll be able to see the marked bike cars and can always run down the platform if you need to.
Another good tip is to make sure you can take your panniers off quickly, not only to make the bike lighter to lift up stairs, but to be able to stack the bikes efficiently in the bike area. Also so that you can do a quick bag removal, toss the bags into the train and then lift your bike in all while panicking that the train will try to leave without you. The station at Nevers did not have ramps or elevators, us and three other cyclists did the unload bags, carry down carry up, wondering aloud what people with mobility issues would do. We found the answer to that question, which is hail a member of staff and they will help you cross the tracks at the end of the platform. Strictly prohibited for general use. Of course, we were also told that finding a member of staff can be difficult, but now we know.
We rolled out of Nevers and started the Loire River Eurovelo Route 6, heading west.
One of the joys about not having to plan too far in advance, or being so busy sorting out places to stay, so that we don’t really know what’s coming up, is being surprised by something like the Pont Canal de Briare.
We may push on to the Atlantic Ocean, or we may not. There are more Châteaus to see and more wild river to enjoy. Happy pedaling.
We stayed two nights in Strasbourg and celebrated being back in France by having Sri Lankan food one night, and Syrian food the second night. One of the things we miss about SF is eating around the world in a single week, so when we’re in a larger city we take advantage and find some different restaurants.
Today we head out on the Eurovelo 5, to the Alsatian wine route. Goal is the Atlantic Ocean (with a train hop in there!) But let me repeat- wine route!
Rain is expected today so the rain gear we’ve been carrying for five weeks may finally get an outing.