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.
Week four of nearly daily cycling means quite a bit of eating and being sure we have plenty of water during the day. Breakfasts are mostly included at the hotels we stay at, so that’s one meal sorted each day.
Our lunches are usually picnic style, with sandwiches purchased at a bakery in the morning. We feel qualified to critic sandwiches by county so far: Switzerland – too much mayo or salad cream or sauce! We resorted to scraping and squeezing excess goop off the sandwiches which were mostly purchased at supermarkets.
Switzerland doesn’t seem to have the quantity of bakeries we are enjoying in Germany. And, German ready made sandwiches are mostly mayo free. Butter on the bread holds up much better, and cucumber, lettuce, tomato and even a slice of hard boiled egg makes for a very nice lunch. Oh yes, and lovely seeded rolls! German sandwiches get the nod so far.
Why so many apple trees along the roads? I’m not certain. We only pick from those that are obviously not part of an orchard which is someones living, and I’ve read a few different reasons for why so many apple trees dotting the landscape. Perhaps from 17th century laws requiring grooms to plant oak and apple trees before marrying, maybe the more common sense and practical notion that tree lined roads are lovely and apple trees do well. We also had a week of plums gleaned from trees in villages which were so overloaded they were dropping on the street.
We have also learned the difficult and squabbling way that we have enough energy after a long day cycling to check in to a hotel, unpack (ie dump panniers upside on the floor), shower, and get drinks and dinner at ONE place. Not drinks at one place and move on to dinner at another – that doesn’t end well for hangry cyclists. Pick a place that meets both needs. Thankfully, Biergartens abound!
Stay well fed and carry plenty water, refill water when the opportunity presents itself, and happy pedaling!
It was not a long day biking to get here, but some good hill climbs, especially since the town sits on a ridge above the river. Let me amend that, the gorgeous town sits on a big ridge, far above the river.
On the advice of Rick Steves, we went to view the alter carvings and paintings at St. Jakob’s church. St. Jakob is St. James, as in Camino de Santiago, or St. James’ Way.
Rothenburg is one of three walled towns in Germany with an intact wall. And the town itself was spared from being too badly bombed during WWII by a quickly arranged surrender. The throngs of tourists attest to the charming nature of this town. The wall is amazing to walk, and our after dinner wall walk was thankfully quite free of thronging tourists.
We also took Rick Steves’ advice to skip the Schneeballen, the local pasty, but after a nice breakfast I did take some photos as we rolled out of town.
The ride out of town to our next destination, Schwäbisch Hall, was 70k and three river valleys. But I didn’t think about the long day ahead as we rode over cobblestones to leave Rothenburg. Happy Pedaling.
The ride to Regensburg was an initial steep climb out of the Beilngries area to the continental divide area of the two drainages, the Altmuhl into the Danube, versus the Aisch ultimately into the Rhine. Oh, divide. That sounds flat. Nope. Rollers up and down all day. With sweeping views. And a shifting headwind.
We met another cycle tourist at our afternoon tea break and rode the rest of the way into Regensburg with him. Hi Tobias, so great to meet you!
Since we’ve been bumbling a bit on this trip, no firm itinerary, we don’t read up a lot on our destinations. In this case that resulted in a lovely surprise- Regensburg is amazing! And we arrived on a lovely warm afternoon, the first day of school for most kids, and a population determined to enjoy the lovely summer weather. Fall is in the air, I know because I got smacked in the face with a fall leaf on a decent yesterday, so there is a felling of enjoy this weather while you can! We’re here for two nights so we get time to really embrace the city.
Next stop is a 3 night cat sitting gig through TrustedHousesitters. We’re very excited to get to spend some down time taking care of a kitty. Happy pedaling!
1) Habére-Poche, France. Where we are so lucky to have wonderful friends.
2) Évian-les-Bains, France. Where we shockingly saw people buying bottled water, and had to eat take out pizza on our balcony since our CA COVID QRs didn’t work and you needed them even to eat outdoors at a restaurant.
3) Montreaux, Switzerland, 2 nights. Where our fancy hotel (it was our Anniversary) had fire alarms going off our second night. I felt like Bill Murray in a Wes Anderson film standing on the street at 2am in my fluffy hotel bathrobe. (Sadly no photos…)
4) Sallion, Switzerland. In the wine area of the Rhône valley. We kept looking around thinking we were in Italy because it’s a dry valley.
5) Eischoll, Switzerland. Which we had to take a train and cable car to since we could not find a hotel in Sion – totally booked – but which ended up being a joy up in the mountains with a long long decent the next day.
6) Brigerbad, Switzerland. Where we visited the Thermalquellen Bridgerbad – outdoor pools still filled with vacationing Swiss and French, and 2 lone Americans who enjoyed themselves very much (again, no photos allowed.)
7) Zermatt, Switzerland. 2 nights. Yay, a lovely train ride up to the largely car free town with a view of the Matterhorn always near, clouds willing.
8) Feisch, Switzerland. Where we started debating whether or not to ride over the Furkapass. We decided on a train boost after the next town, but had a lovely gondola ride up the mountain.
9) Obergoms, Switzerland. Where, after riding up its valley for days we got to peep at the source of the Rhône river! (Almost, not quite the glacier but it’s pretty tiny here, that mighty river.) And we got our train hop to the top of Oberalppass. And rode down. Feeling a bit sheepish seeing all the cyclists coming UP the pass, but it was great fun that downhill.
10) Disentis, Switzerland. Another town, another gondola. You generally get a free or discounted pass to the gondola – we just made it on the last ride up and had to be sure not to miss the last ride down.
11) Ilanz, Switzerland. 2 nights. Where we swam in a stainless steel swimming pool, took a day trip to Chur and decided to head to Germany.
12) Wangen im Allgäu, Germany. Our first stop in Germany after a crowded ride along and away from Bodensee holiday bike traffic.
13) Memmingen, Germany. On the ride here we continued to be amazed by the number of solar panels on rooftops and had to seek shade for our picnic lunch.
14) Landsberg am Lech, Germany. First proper Biergärten, odd fun fact: Johnny Cash was stationed here during WW2. He was a Staff Sargent and a crack Morse code operator.
15) Augsburg, Germany. 2 nights. Wandered the old town enjoying the canals, and got Rich’s bike fixed! No easy feat with bike shop repair demand and an older touring bike chainring failure.