Thursday, 30 September 2010

Day 12 Germany. 30/09/2010 Remagen–Bad Breisig–Andernach– Urmitz – Wollersheim-Koblenz– Lahnstein. 40.2miles/65.17km.4hr38min ride time. Av 8.7mph.

We left Remagen on a grey but still dry day and continued our journey south. Considering we had both slept well, we both appeared to be suffering from heavy legs. The rain that then started didn't help!

Cycling in the rain becomes just that, cycling. It is very hard to be interested in your surroundings when you are continually getting wetter. Especially when the sky is so grey you cant see it letting up. Which it didn't!

We trudged our way along through Andernach, Urmitz and then encountered the dreaded road works which involved a long unmarked detour. As we found the bridge that would cross the river Mosel into Koblenz, Debbie's knee gave up and it was with some amount of pain that she limped her way into the city.

We patched her up as best we could and gave up on the idea of looking at Koblenz. Rather helpfully they have dug up the whole waterside area so navigation was tricky. Nevertheless we managed to eventually get on the bridge that crossed the Rhein and headed towards Lahnstein. What we did not expect on a marked cycle route was a cobbled slope that ended in a set of steep stone steps, pointed directly at the Rhein. Our phrase book does not cover 'Help, my bicycle is in the Rhein!'. One bike at a time, with both of us holding on tight we managed to bump them down the steps. Everyday is an adventure!

Riding into Lahnstein we found a sign for camping that helpfully pointed in two directions! Following one of the directions we ended up some way out of town but did eventually find a camp-site ran by a very friendly German guy, who thought we were mad to stay in a tent on such a horrible day. The rain eventually eased and a few beers in the bar helped wash the rain caused blues away.

Blue skies or at least better weather is promised tomorrow, so fingers crossed it will be nice for Debbie's birthday. Plus she was given a small bottle of wine by the camp-site owner to celebrate!

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Day 11 Germany. 29/09/2010 Koln – Wesseling – Bonn – Bad Godesburg – Oberwinter – Remagen. 43.30miles/67.9kms. 4hr37mins ride time. Averaging 9.3mph

After a belly buster breakfast we made what seemed like 10 trips up and down the hostel elevator to get all our gear to the bikes. With the promise of blue skies we set off from Cologne bound for Remagen and an open camp-site!

MattDebs0041UKtoZA MattDebs0042UKtoZA

Navigating out of Cologne was relatively easy as we were just following the Rhein south.


Around Wesseling things got a little trickier when we had another case of the disappearing cycle route sign. Somehow we ended up in an industrial train depot which was clearly wrong. After a few wrong turns we ended up back on the correct route and headed for the nation's ex capital of Bonn.

It's amazing how easy it is to lose a large river when you head into a city...which is exactly what we did when we headed into Bonn! We had only gone into the city to find some bread for lunch and possibly some milk. With the help of a few passers by we managed to find the correct route back to the Rhein, had a brief stop for lunch and then headed on to Remagen.

For some reason the Germans have decided to dig everything up at once. Cycle paths were closed, as were the roads we wanted to take as a diversion. Finding the correct route has become more of a challenge than we would have liked. Nevertheless we eventually made it to Remagen and found the camp-site. Lovely weather today, hope it holds!

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Day 10 Germany. 28/09/2010 Koln/Cologne Approx 3.5/4mph on foot.

Breakfast is included! Having eaten our fill, we went to have a look at the sights of Cologne. To be truthful we could have left a little later as not much seems to get going very early in Germany. We walked past mainly closed shops on our way to the Dom (Cathedral). Unfortunately the weather has remained the same so although stunning and huge the cathedral remained shrouded in grey dreary light. Not great for photographs!

MattDebs0035UKtoZA MattDebs0027UKtoZA

We had a walk down to the Rhein and looked at the many pretty medieval buildings that line the water front. Being the main tourist area these are almost all now hotels, bars and restaurants. After looking at several other old churches we had the highlight of the day which was buying some more fuel for the stove and a pair of waterproof socks for Debbie. Such is the life of a cycle tourer, comfort and food first, sightseeing later!

Having bought some fantastic bread and cakes from one of the many bakeries we called it a morning and went back to the hotel to sort our stuff for tomorrow.

We headed out again early evening after a rest, bound for the restaurants and beer houses of the waterfront. We enjoyed a few beers and some traditional German faire and then called it a night. Hopefully not so far tomorrow and the internet informs us that the camp-site is open! Weather still looking grey though but should be warmer.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Day 9 Germany. 27/09/2010 GroBenbaum–Kalkum–Kaiserswerth–Dusseldorf–Dormagen– Rheinkassel-Merkeruch–Koln 49.17miles/80.16km. 5hr38mins. Av 8.9mph

Woke up to a dry but grey day, packed in double quick time and got back on the road. Managed to navigate with some ease our way back onto the cycle route and headed to rejoin the Rhein. This involved a railway man opening a level crossing for us by telephoning ahead to check the line was clear. The path then went straight into a forest where we encountered what seemed like a whole school on an outing. Needless to say none of them felt that inclined to move and let us past. Nice to see German school kids are just like ours!

After negotiating the kids it was relatively straight forward to find the right path and continue to Dusseldorf. Despite it being another big city, the cycle route to the centre was very easy to follow. If only it hadn't now been persistently raining for a few hours the centre would have been very attractive. We made a stop at the tourist information office to see about some more maps and were directed to a large bookshop across town.

English books! Terrific news as I forgot to pack one! Plus we found a couple of map books that should get us to Basel.

Braving the continual rain we cycled out of Dusseldorf via an industrial estate and the container docks. Not exactly the correct route but we made it!

Unfortunately after a trouble free start to the day, the rest became a bit of a trial. The continual rain meant Debbie was freezing, I developed some kind of knee problem which made stopping and putting weight on it painful and when we found our proposed camp-site it was closed!

We had no choice but to make a dash for Koln and hope we could find a hostel/hotel where we could store the bikes. Obviously the cycle route signs disappeared and it was only by some luck that we found the right route into the city, via Ford cars land!

Desperation had clearly set in when we tried a Park Inn hotel, but they were full, or at least they didn't want us there! Still, they gave me a map and the rough location of a hostel nearby, so we set off once again across the city.

Fortunately the location was correct and the Hostel (Hotel is a better name) after a few mishaps with being charged for a single room when there was clearly two of us is warm, comfortable and has a garage for the bikes.

Staying put tomorrow to sightsee Koln and give my leg and a very tired Debbie a rest!

Milestone reached, my cycle computer went through the 500km mark. Only have to do this 39 times more and we might be in South Africa!

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Day 8 Germany. 26/09/2010 Kalkar – Xanten – Rheinberg – Alt-Homberg – Duisberg – GroBenbaum. 49.95miles/80.54km, 5hr18min cycling time, averaging 9.4m

Decided to make up for some time today. Sticking to the cycle path along the B57 an old Roman road we forgo the more meandering Rhein route. We even got away quite early in the morning!

Having made good time for the first 20km's we stopped for a very brief walk round the picturesque Roman town of Xanten. Being Sunday most things were closed, but it seemed like a reasonable place to spend a few days given the time.


Setting off again, we made good progress to Rheinberg. The whole area is becoming much more industrial now, with huge factories spewing smoke into the air.

It was on our way to Alt-Homberg that things became a little trickier, no matter how hard we tried we couldn't find the right road. The cycle route signs disappeared and at least one was pointing in entirely the wrong direction. With the prospect of trying to navigate through the sprawling Duisberg next, tensions were running a little high!

Finally with the aid of a few helpful locals we eventually made it and managed to find the centre of Duisberg without too much trouble, which of course was closed!

The Germans don't mess about when it comes to Sundays, still I guess it used to be that way in England, maybe it still should be?

More amazingly still with only a little help, we managed to navigate our way to the area that our proposed camp site was in. The only problem was, where is it and is it open.

If the Germans didn't insist on labelling roads 'no through road' when it clearly is, we would have found it sooner! As it was, more stress was had!

Anyway we made it, it was open and they sold beer. Cheers for now!

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Day 7 Germany. 25/09/2010 Rest Day. Campsite – Kalkar – Campsite. 5.86miles/9.4km, 35mins cycling time, averaging 9.7mph

Decided to stay put today and recharge for the much straighter run up the Rhein, plus it would be nice if some of our washing dried. You can only have your wet pants hanging off the back of your bike for so long before someone complains/calls the police!

We visited the charming medieval town of Kalkar, wandered round the sights, had a Cappuccino in the town square, shopped in Aldi and then headed back to catch up with the blog.

MattDebs0020UKtoZA MattDebs0019UKtoZA

Just in time as rain is definitely on the cards!

Until next time

Take care all,

Matt, Debs & Toad xxx

Friday, 24 September 2010

Day 6 Germany. 24/09/2010 Groesbeek – Grafwegen – Kleve – Kalkar. 27.15miles/43.76km, 2hr55min cycling time, averaging 9.2mph

Another damp tent to pack away, the rain eventually let up during the night and it is dry as we leave. So far the Gods of weather have been with us, the afternoons have been generally warm and sunny.

We head into Groesbeek for supplies and then head back to Grafwegen to enter the Reichswald, a former German royal hunting forest. The forest contains several war cemeteries, all of which we managed to miss. The huge hill that climbed to 89 metres at Brandenberg however we didn't miss! Still with every up there has to be a down Debbie reached 29.5 mph and I made it to 50km/h. If we hadn't been concerned about potholes we may have gone faster, still we were only supposed to be doing 20km/h.

At some point we entered Germany, no idea where, you would think there would be a sign!

Kleve (famous for its association with the ill fated Anne of Cleves), is a bustling town and looked like a good place to lay up and take the afternoon off. Would you believe the only camp-site (ideally situated about 1km from the town centre) wouldn't take us because the toilets were locked until Sunday?!


With no choice but to press on and the day waning, we set off for the next town of Kalkar which boasted no less than two camp sites. The 11km was dispatched in double quick time along a well maintained cycle path beside the B57, plus we managed to find the camp-site. It was a bit dear at 20 Euros but we didn't mind at all. When you have decided to have the afternoon off its a bit depressing spending it looking for somewhere to stay!

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Day 5 Holland, 23/09/2010 Erichem – Tiel – Ochten – Dodewaard – Oosterhout – Nijmegen – Groesbeek. 40.74miles/65.18km, ride time 4hr03mins, av 10.1mph

Another damp start greeted us, must be something to do with most of Holland being below sea level!

Drama strikes, I lost my cycle computer. We spend ages looking for it, but it has gone. A loss already and its only day 5!

Slightly later than planned because of all the searching we head for the Dutch/German border. We bypass the Large town of Tiel and follow the northern bank of the river Waal through several villages all the way to Nijmegen. With tired legs we head into the city of Nijmegen with the plan once again to find a useful map. Nijmegen is Holland's oldest city and the whole surrounding area was the scene of fierce fighting towards the end of World War II, as the allies pressed onwards to Germany.

With not much luck from the tourist office, we eventually bought a road map of the upper Rhein from the ANWB (much more useful tourist office and map shop than the VVV).

With thanks to a helpful local who led us out of the city centre and pointed us in the right direction, we carried on through university campus land and by now quite hilly forestry tracks towards Groesbeek.

The detours into city centres have cost us a huge amount of time, we have been finding that 4hrs of riding is taking nearer 7hrs with the stops. The idea of 100kms a day is at the moment looking unlikely. It has to be said that the sticking to cycle paths has occasionally taken us on quite a meandering route.

Deciding that we would stop inside Holland and then cross into Germany tomorrow, we located a camp-site on our map and went to check it out. If you find yourself in Grafwegen, don't bother with the camp-site. A hasty made up price of 20 Euros, by an unfriendly owner was more than we were willing to pay. Unfortunately the alternative was up a very steep hill, which is not what you need with a very tired Debbie at the end of a long day (plus Toad is still refusing to pedal!).

At the other camp-site (on Klein Amerika for those interested.) we were met by a very friendly farmer who had no idea of the price (possibly 8,9 or 10 Euros) and said he would send his wife round later., but pitch where you like in the mean time.


His wife was equally helpful, although we stared to worry that we would be asleep before she came round. 10 Euros later, we settled into the tent for the night.

With hindsight pitching on a slope wasn't the best idea, that and the huge thunderstorms above our heads, didn't make for an exactly restful night.

Good news! My cycle computer turned up, it was in my sleeping bag?!

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Day 4 Holland, 22/09/10. Oud-Alblas–Ottoland–Nordeloos–Meerkerk–Leerdam–Geldermalsen–Buren–Erichem 42.99miles/68.79km, 4hr23mins ride time, av 9.7mph

First thing to mention, packing up a damp tent and loading a touring bicycle takes a bit of time. We didn't get away quite as early as we planned but, it isn't like we are in a rush!

Our route continued through farm land, small pretty villages, where everyone seems to live in a huge Dutch barn conversion/new builds. Passing the occasional windmill, we cycled on through the flat landscape.

A quick word on cycling in a flat landscape; you never stop pedalling, it becomes quite relentless!


As we passed the large town of Leerdam the farmland gave way to orchards. We resisted the chance to go scrumping, not wanting to end up on wanted posters with the world's slowest getaway vehicles! Instead we bought some apples from outside a house and continued onwards to a larger camp-site outside Erichem.

The camp-site appeared to be only open to house the large amount of Polish fruit pickers, who apparently flood to this area for the season. The opportunity for free camping in Holland looks unlikely, mainly due to every acre of land being used for farming/orchards and most of it surrounded by drainage dykes.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Day 3 Holland, 21/09/10. Hook of Holland – Rotterdam – Kinderdijk – Oud-Alblas 41.42miles / 67.41km, 4hr28mins ride time, averaging 8.9mph.

We were greeted by a very misty damp morning as we rode down the ferry ramp and into Holland. After a bit of trial and error we found the correct cycle path to Rotterdam and headed on our way.


The whole area was a bit like a ghost town, we can only assume nothing gets going very early in Holland. After about 20kms of drainage dykes, deserted cycle paths and the odd miserable other cyclist (In 3 days only about 1 in 20 acknowledge a greeting!) we had the rude awakening of cycling in Rotterdam.

Rotterdam's cycle lanes are great, but the sheer number of cyclists and mopeds using them, makes navigating two, quite wide, heavy bicycles a bit of a challenge. After some trouble and the assistance of a few helpful people we found the Tourist Information office (VVV in Holland). The plan was to buy some maps of the Rhein route and cycle off on our merry way. Maps however have turned out to be a problem, there are plenty to choose from, but none of them cover much area. Perhaps GPS may have been a wise purchase after all!

Leaving with at least one map, we made it safely out of the city and eventually to the passenger/cycle ferry that would take us to Kinderdijk.

MattDebs0003UKtoZA MattDebs0008UKtoZA

Kinderdijk is a world heritage listed site containing probably the largest collection of preserved windmills in Holland. In 1740, 19 of them were built to drain water from the area and lift it to the river Lek. The cycle path between them is quite beautiful and certainly made a pleasant change from the more urban landscape of Rotterdam.

Passing a 'Mini Camping' (small, usually farm run camp site) we decided to stop for the night in the quiet village of Oud-Alblas. Our tent and bicycles got a few funny looks from the few other caravan owners but we were too tired to care.


Monday, 20 September 2010

Day 1 & 2, 19/09/10 & 20/09/10. Saham Hills – Stowupland – Harwich Ferry Terminal 79.58 miles or 128.63 km, 7h 45 mins ride time, averaging 10.2mph

We left Saham Hills with a fond farewell from family and friends at 12pm (probably a minute after if you ask my Father!) and headed off via a trip to our good friend Stuart's for another photo shoot.

Watton high street was strangely bare of bunting, flags and well wishers. Clearly no-one had informed the town of our leaving!

The rest of the journey to our first stop of Stowupland went largely without incident, although a map would have been better than Google Map directions (fine in a car, not great on a bicycle). We also discovered Suffolk is not flat! I suppose the clue is in the name 'Upland'

We cannot recommend the accommodation in Stowupland more, a lovely roast dinner, beer & wine, three very sweet children and a comfy air mattress. Kelly and Tom, we cannot thank you enough for your hospitality. It was good to see Karen & Ben again as well. Good luck in Antarctica guys.

The journey to Harwich was a bit of an eye opener to the challenge ahead. The road was considerably hillier than we had expected and the gears got a proper work out. Only on a 10% gradient do you start to realise how heavy the bikes are when fully laden.

We eventually made it in to Harwich at about 5pm, only to find out that the Ferry terminal is not in Harwich! I am sure most people would have checked first, fortunately it isn't too far out of town.

We made a quick stop at Morrison's to stock up for breakfast, then went to check out the boarding procedures. The boarding didn't start until 8pm so we headed to the pub for a quick dinner and pint. At least it would have been a quick dinner if there hadn't been a power cut!

By the time power had been restored and we had been fed, it was nearing 10pm so we rode straight onto the Ferry and found what turned out to be a very nice cabin.

Would loved to say we toasted a farewell to England as we pulled out of the port. But the truth is we each had a can of Heineken we didn't want and fell asleep ready for disembarkation at 7:45am European time.