Homeward Bound

20/7/18. The hills of the Neckar Valley end at Heidelberg and the river flows another 20 or 30 km across the Rhine valley floor to its confluence with its much larger and more famous cousin. It goes through a series of suburbs/dormitory towns of Mannheim before ensuring entering the city itself and the bike route becomes quite uninteresting – so much so that neither of us could be fussed to do the last 3 or 4 km. So we turned off through the centre towards the campsite on the banks of the Rhine to the south of the city and, once past the station, entered a very pleasant wooded area.

 

The campsite was excellent for one so close to the centre of a major city and was also convenient for the station from which we would be taking the train to Belgium the next day. There was a cafe next to the site and, when we went for a drink that evening, we were amazed at the number of people enjoying a pizza and a beer looking out over the river in the warmth of the setting sun.

On Friday we took a series of 6 trains from Mannheim via Mainz, Cologne, Aachen, Brussels and Ghent to de Panne – the last town on the Belgian coast before France. Because of bike restrictions (and also having bought the cheapest tickets) in Germany we were restricted to regional trains rather than the faster Inter City Expresses and so it was past 8 o’clock before we arrived at the campsite in de Panne, which was one we had used 2 years ago when riding home from Berlin along the Baltic and North Sea coasts.

In case you are wondering why we had chosen come to this obscure little town (!) it was because it is relatively convenient for the ferry from Dunkerque to Dover and meant that we could avoid French trains which are not very bike friendly and would have required us going via Paris with an inevitable change of stations and at far greater cost!

Tomorrow we have a 30 km ride to the ferry and then is back to Blighty!

…Quite Quick, Stop!

18/7/18. Well, we didn’t quite complete the “Slow, Slow, Quick, Quick, Slow” sequence primarily due to the spacing of campsites (but the temperature and our attitude played their parts too!)

Tuesday took us 54 km from Heilbronn to Eberbach through a succession of pretty little towns and villages situated wherever the hills pulled back a little from the river banks. In between the views were even more lovely than the previous day and every so often there was a large barge or a river cruise boat to provide additional interest.

The campsite in Eberbach could not have been more convenient for the cycle route – the gate was at least 10 metres off to the right! We took a pitch right on the river bank with views of the old town and surrounding hills on the other side. The only slight downside with the site was the absence of Wi-Fi.

As it was only mid afternoon we wandered over the bridge to have a look around the town and to investigate train fares and times for the trip to Heidelberg that we were planning for the next day. (We were only a day’s ride from the end of the Neckar bike route where it flows into the Rhine at Mannheim providing we did not stop to look around Heidelberg on the way and, anyway, there were no campsites around the city famed for its ancient university – a similar age to Oxford and Cambridge.)

Heidelberg was half an hour’s train ride from Eberbach and, while the ticket for one person seemed expensive at €18 return, a ticket for two was only an extra €4. We were both very impressed by the city, particularly when we took the funicular railway up to the castle and wandered around the gardens. The views over the city, the river, the hills and out to the much wider and flatter Rhine valley were stunning.

Slow,Slow, Quick…

16/7/18. (It remains to be seen whether we complete the above sequence with a “…Quick, Slow”)

With the train arriving back in Tübingen (where we had left the Neckar Valley bike route to go to the Bodensee) at lunchtime it was probably an ambitious target to make the first campsite downriver since it was more than 60 km away. With the heat building up through the afternoon and Christine’s legs “blocked” by a week off the bike it proved to be too much and she started to wilt. After a couple of stops to cool off in the shade we decided that a hotel in Köngen or Wendlingen am Neckar (twin towns either side of the river) was the sensible option. At the fourth time of asking we found a hotel that was both open and had a room but of course it was the most expensive looking one!

Christine crashed out at about 5.30 and slept until 8 the next morning other than rousing herself for half an hour to eat a pretzel and take a drink of apple juice mid evening.

In the morning she still felt tired! After a couple of hours sitting still for her “pill day” we set off just before the final check out time of 11 o’clock and headed for the campsite which was about 30 km away in Stuttgart. Although the sun was shining when we set out the clouds started to roll in and, by the time we reached the campsite in Stuttgart 2½ hours later (having passed at least three Mercedes factories – Stuttgart is the company’s headquarters), the forecast thunderstorm looked very imminent.

With reception shut for lunch we were tempted to put up the tent and check in afterwards but we’re dissuaded from doing so by man who was very insistent that “ Reception opens at 2 o’clock”. A few spots of rain were falling by the time we had paid our fees and were “legal” campers so we rushed to get the tent up and were just in time before the heavy stuff arrived. Luckily it only lasted for 15 minutes or so.

The showers continued throughout the afternoon and night (but without thunder) and the clouds were still looming when we set off on Monday morning. The initial part of the route was OK being off road but it passed through an industrial and unattractive part of Stuttgart, but once we left the city behind us the river meandered its way through some steep sided valleys covered with vineyards. Who knew that this was a wine producing region? We certainly didn’t! It was all rather lovely.

Gradually the clouds were burnt off and the sun started to warm things up. However, we made good time thanks to some long shaded stretches and the gentle downward slope. (We’re heading downriver of course. There are no flies on us!) Naturally, the river’s meanders meant that we didn’t make as much progress as the crow flies (at one stage Stephen saw on his Garmin that our starting point was almost exactly half of the 54 km that we had cycled) but that’s not the point. And our intended destination campsite took account of the indirect, scenic route we were following.

It was nearing 6 o’clock when we reached the campsite but Christine in particular felt pretty pleased with herself for having achieved our joint longest day (other than the unloaded blast around Lake Constance) on this trip at 84 km. With the temperature having got close to 30° in the afternoon the showers (normal ones where the water flowed without having to hit a button every few seconds) were really, really welcome and we were more than ready for the usual pasta in tomato sauce washed down with a choice of apfelschörle and beer!

The Bodensee Again

13/7/18. When we arrived at the campsite in Fischbach, the same one that we used last summer, we found we were the only ones staying in the cyclists’ area and so we were able to take one of the prime spots right on the lakeside. There was no sign of a large family of ducks like last year (there was an “army”of 18 ducklings following their mother around). Instead there was a swans nest about 5 metres from our tent with a mother and two cygnets. The father seemed to think his role was limited to offshore protection patrols.

With two full days before the ”kids” arrived we decided to have one lazy day and one energetic one. The showers on Thursday morning were sufficiently heavy to deter even Stephen so the bike ride around the lake was deferred to Friday. He just lounged around the tent reading and listening to podcasts all day while Christine combined similar “activities” with a walk into Immenstaad to pick up food.

A heavy thunderstorm that evening did not augur well for the bike ride next day. Christine was amazed when Stephen fell asleep at about 8 o’clock despite the extremely loud drumming of raindrops on the tent but he was briefly woken about 15 minutes later when there was the most enormous clap of thunder seemingly overhead.

The showers on Friday morning seemed a little lighter than Thursday and so we set off around the lake…

In opposite directions!

You may well ask “Why?”

Despite all our many, many years of cycling together we still ride at very different speeds. Stephen has managed to train himself to stop at various points such as the top of hills, public toilets and junctions when we’re not familiar with the route and might get separated. None of these applied this time as we were going on a circular route which we had both ridden several times before. In addition, Stephen wanted to go anti clockwise “Because we already always go clockwise” while Christine wanted to finish with the “pretty bit” through Meersburg, Hagnau and Immenstaat rather than alongside the busy main road from Friedrichshafen.

As it turned out we both made it all the way round (well, technically, not all the way round because we took a ferry between Constance and Meersburg cutting out the uninteresting northern part of the lake – but the Bodensee Radmarathon (= Lake Constance Cycle Ride) does the same every year so it is “allowed”, right?). It was between 125 and 130 km (depending on whose bike computer you looked at! Christine took a slightly shorter route around the Rhine delta because it is an exposed stretch and the weather was not looking good at the time)

And, since you ask, we did meet up! It was in Switzerland, close to the Austrian border. We were both rather surprised – Christine because it was just after her short cut and Stephen because his computer was showing only 65km compared to Christine’s 60km! (Additional motivation for the rest of the ride for him!!!!!)

The weather was much better in the afternoon and we both arrived back “home” well before dinner time (although Christine’s arrival was delayed somewhat by a celebratory ice cream sundae 10 km from the end!)

On Saturday we made our way to the flat we had rented in Lindau at the southern end of the lake and where we were joined by the newly-engaged Alaric and Annabelle and the Bahrain exiles Conal, Tamsin and Reuben. We’ll spare you the details of our week together other than to say we had a wonderful time and it was over too quickly! (And, of course, 7 month old Reuben was joint star of the show along with Annabelle’s new ring!

Down the Neckar

4/7/18. Although we had been pleasantly surprised at the quality of the cycle paths in Strasbourg they did have a tendency to fizzle out suddenly and signage was a little sketchy (perhaps because we didn’t know the names of the areas making up the city. Of course, as soon as we crossed the Rhine into Germany the infrastructure stepped up a notch, with cycle paths everywhere and signs to towns we could see on the map.  

We found our way to a nice little campsite near the town of Offenburg the only downside being the constant drone of traffic from the nearby autobahn while big positives were (a) the availability of cold beers and Apfelschörle (Christine’s favorite tipple of apple juice and fizzy mineral water) at reception and (b) decent toilets (sorry France, but you really do need to get your act together on toilets before you can truly be considered civilised!)

A short ride into town on Monday morning took us to the station where we caught the train up (altitude gain of 600 metres) into the Black Forest from where we intended cycling down the valley of the river Neckar to its confluence with the Rhine at Mannheim.

Arriving in Schwennigen we looked in vain for signs to the cycle route (we were as well prepared as ever!) but then spotted that the tourist information office was round the front of the station. A town map showed that we were actually on the route already and so off we set!

Initially it was downhill – in the first 10 km we descended more than 40 metres and only “climbed” 2 metres. However, as we approached the town of Rottweil (where we assume the name for Rottweiler  dogs comes from) the route started to go up the sides off the valley and also joined quite busy roads. Christine rapidly became ticked off at the amount of climbing. However, a few kilometres past the town we were back on quiet trails that (mainly) stuck to the valley floor passing under a spectacular bridge carrying the motorway from one side to the other high above us.

As we approached the town of Oberndorf we consulted Christine’s iPad to see where the campsite was located. A man wandered over and asked if we were lost. He told us to look out for the mini golf and ask at the kiosk which we duly did.

The campsite was similar to one that we had stayed at in another town in southern Germany when riding down the Danube 3 years ago. It was a small area hidden behind hedges and clearly intended only for cyclists and walkers there being no room for caravans, motorhomes or tents larger than those for 3 or maybe 4 people. There was a small toilet and shower facility attached to the cafe serving the mini golf which was locked once the cafe closed but we were given a key. It cost the princely sum of €5 post person and we were the only ones staying there! The local “yoof“ had decided that it would be a good location for a party but they didn’t seem to be a bad bunch, kept their distance and were relatively quiet. They even decided that 10 o’clock was time to call it a night so we had no real complaint.

We had told the man running the kiosk that we were expecting to leave between 9 and 10 o’clock so, with typical Germanic efficiency  he turned up promptly at 9 to pick up the key to the toilets even though his normal opening time was 9.30.

For the first time for, seemingly, weeks there were clouds in the sky when we set off and they became more threatening as the morning progressed. We reached the small town of Sulz and spotted a bookshop for the first time since we arrived in Germany and Christine made a beeline for it hoping to find a Bikeline book of the Neckar Valley bike route as she had been feeling bereft without a map on the top of her handlebar bag to follow our progress. Bikeline is an Austrian company that produces books of maps and route descriptions of cycle rides which fit perfectly in handlebar map cases. They are mainly in German (not a problem for Christine ) but the more popular routes are available in English and we highly recommend them as useful and helpful guides.

Success! (So Stephen thought it would be another case of “Happy wife means a happy life”!)

Just as Christine emerged from the shop clutching her book we felt a few spots of rain. They rapidly increased in intensity and so we rushed into the cafe next to the bookshop for shelter and caffeine/chocolate fixes.

Thankfully it was only a short, if heavy, shower and we were soon on our way again. The sun came out and by the time we reached our destination of Tübingen, home of one of Germany’s oldest universities founded in 1477, the ice creams from the campsite reception were definitely needed!

We spent the evening nattering to two British cyclists who were traveling extremely lightweight (no tent – just bivvy bags – and two sets of clothing – one for cycling, washed each night, and one for the evening) and then watching England play Columbia in the World Cup.Christine retired to the tent during extra time, unable to watch any more – but then followed progress on the BBC website! She felt she had suffered quite enough football disappointment already this season, and had no confidence the match would end successfully.

We spent this morning looking around Tübingen which, while beautiful in parts, didn’t strike us as particularly outstanding given our experience of Germany’s pretty towns. After that we made our way to the station where we had 1½ hours to wait for the slow train to Lake Constance. (We have decided to come a couple of days early before our sons and their families descend on us!)

Rhine Ride Replete

8/8/17. The northern part of Worms which we passed through the next morning was less attractive than the centre – not surprisingly really and the city presumably cannot live on the back of tourism alone. That’s not too to say it was heavily industrialised but there were commercial developments and small factories along the busy road that we rode beside (thankfully on a separate cycle path).

Once out of the city we reached pleasant pastoral land seemingly devoted to growing the whole world’s supply of onions. There were fields and fields of them! It was easy cycling even if Christine was still not really enjoying it. Ahead we could see a few hills but were not worried as we knew that the cycle path followed the river closely.

As we approached Nierstein the onion fields started to give way to vines and once we entered the town there was much evidence of the wine responsible for its main claim to fame. We passed through without stopping to try the local produce following a bizarrely zig zag route which led us to a small track through vineyards clinging to the slopes of the hills which started immediately after the town. These hills sloped right down to the river leaving little room for the cycle track, the main road, and the railway all tightly squeezed together.

As we entered Mainz the hills levelled out and we crossed the river to the campsite which was located on a small island behind locked gates. As we stood there trying to work out if it was open to the public or a private site for permanent caravans a car drove up and the driver said we should go in behind him. We needed to go to a “small, white house and see Mr Grossman”.

We followed him in and cycled up to the house but there was no reply when we knocked. Reading an adjacent noticeboard, there was a phone number to call so we tried that. Again no reply.

Somewhat puzzled we decided that, as it was about 6 o’clock, we would cook dinner on a piece of grass on which were stood two caravans (mobile ones) and wait for Mr Grossman to return. This done, we tried the phone – again without success – and had just decided to find a hotel when we saw two people emerge from the house and drive off. However, as they were not the ones who shut the door it was clear that there was someone else inside, so Christine tried ringing the doorbell again.

Success! Mr Grossman proved to be a very affable man whose phone was broken! He said we were welcome to stay where we had cooked dinner or there was an area which was more sheltered and the cost was €10 which went straight in his back pocket without any formal registration as at most other sites. We doubt that the German taxman will hear about that income!

Anyway, we were sorted for the night!

The next morning, being Sunday, Christine headed for Mainz cathedral to take in a service while Stephen watched the bikes and drank coffee at a cafe across the square.

Duties done, we set off and again encountered some difficulty leaving a city because of confusing signposting and construction work but eventually made our way into the right path and had a pleasant 30 km cycle to the next campsite in Bingen. We arrived there shortly after lunch and were pleasantly surprised that it cost only €12.50 despite being very busy and located right on the river. The Ladies’ toilets and showers were again a Portacabin (again with urinals!) because the permanent ones were being refurbished. The Gents’ upgrade had been completed and looked very impressive. Stephen was a little disconcerted in the morning to find several women wandering into the shower area to avail themselves of the superior facilities.

As we had almost the whole afternoon “free” we went our separate ways with Christine walking into town (not particularly inspiring but she found a decent ice cream parlour) while Stephen decided to take advantage of leaving the luggage in the tent and went for a ride in the hills around that were simply covered in vineyards.

Between Bingen and Koblenz the Rhine passes through a very famous and picturesque gorge about 70 km long which is busy with cruise ships going both ways. It is also the site of the Lorelei rock which is a fundamental part of German folklore.

We did not complete the ride through the gorge in a day stopping at a campsite just after the village of Boppard about 50 km. Although it was located with great views right on the river bank it was rather noisy because the main road passed within a few yards and the (extremely busy) railway was also very close.

The spell of very pleasant weather came to an end overnight with short sharp showers throughout the morning. As we were going to be catching the train from Koblenz anyway, we contemplated giving the last stretch of the gorge a miss but decided that the lack of staff in the small stations would make finding a reasonable deal to get us close to our into Holland difficult or expensive. So we pressed on sheltering whenever the rain got heavy and reached Koblenz main station about 12 o’clock completing our cycle trip along the Rhine.

Lost: One Cycling Mojo

5/8/17. The last few days have been trying for us. Christine has completely lost all enthusiasm for cycling at the moment and, as a result, is finding any time on the bike a chore. This, of course, is meaning that Stephen is not enjoying things either (although he has not lost his enthusiasm!)

It started on our first day back in Germany. When we left the municipal campsite near Seltz the weather was quite cloudy but it looked as though it was going to get better. By the time we crossed the border after about 20 km the sun was blazing down and the temperature was climbing into the low 30”s. Christine does not function well in these sort of temperatures, particularly if she is exerting herself physically, and she started to wilt. To make matters worse there was a dearth of campsites on this stretch of the river and it was after 92k and nearly 7 o’clock when we rolled into the campsite in Speyer at the second attempt. The first place we had tried turned out to be a private place for permanent mobile homes.

En route Christine felt her rear tyre go flat for the second time in recent days (the first one was when we were border hopping between Germany and Switzerland). Again it was not because something sharp penetrated the tyre – this time it was an old repair patch whereas the previous time was a split along the seam/join of the inner tube. Remarkably these were the first flats either of us had experienced since we were riding through Holland along the North Sea coast last August in which time we have ridden between 13 and 14,000 km combined. That is one heck of a testament to the puncture resistance of Schwalbe Marathon Plus Tour tyres!

The campsite had a certain charm but was expensive for what it was – €22, the toilets and showers were in two containers (with the Ladies even having urinals!) and the only place to wash up was using a stand pipe. It was a real disappointment after the three sites we had stayed at in France which were much more reasonable at €12 or 13 and with better facilities (although it must be said their Ladies did not have the urinals!)

The campsite did not improve Christine’s demeanour and nor did the heavy rain and thunder during the night. By the time morning came the last thing she wanted to do was get back on the bike. On the other hand staying at the expensive campsite was not an attractive proposition either so, being a real trooper, she just “got on with it”.

By 12 o’clock we had covered 25 km and were on the edge of Ludwigshafen, a largish city across the river from Mannheim. With Christine’s funk continuing or worsening, we decided to find a hotel, there being no campsites in the vicinity. The nearest one looked rather nice but a bit pricey. Stephen decided to give it a go but was put off by the price which started at €100 but which came down by 20% when he pulled a face. However, the lady caught sight of a baleful looking Christine outside and made a final offer of €60 which we gratefully accepted!

While Christine applied her stock remedy for all ailments, namely bed and a couple of hours sleep, Stephen took himself off to Mannheim by bike – just to see what there was too see. Not much was the answer but that view was coloured by him getting hopelessly confused by the one way system and the aggravating cycle route signs which only showed Mannheim Centre on about one sign in two. He will not be rushing back!

After a good breakfast (included in the price) Christine felt a little better so we set off for Worms with the idea that she could have a look round the city which, as you may well know, is very significant in the development of the Protestant faith (Martin Luther, the Diet of Worms and all that). Just as we approached the city, we found the canoe club campsite and got ourselves set up there.

Christine walked into town where she looked round the (surprisingly) Catholic cathedral and saw the monument to Luther before indulging in an ice cream from a cafe offering 80 different flavours. Stephen followed later by bike meeting with her briefly before turning to camp as his knee still gives him some “gyp” if he walks any distance.

Border Hopping

29/7/17. Our departure from Lake Constance was delayed by our reluctance to head off into the rain that was falling on Thursday morning. Having checked out of the campsite, we “hid” in the local cafe hoping for the promised better weather.

Eventually the sky started to look a little brighter and we set off towards the ferry in Meersburg to take us to the city of Constance itself. (A mighty pretty place it is too.) After stocking up on provisions at the last supermarket in Germany we crossed into the land of the banking “gnomes” and the famously high prices through a deserted border post.

The route along the southern shore of the Untersee (the smaller part of Lake Constance) took us through villages that had a different feel to their German counterparts, more rural and less touristy, and even the clang of cowbell, and led us to the picture postcard pretty town of Stein am Rhein. Ignoring the cycle route signs we went along the main street thronged with tourists and passed out through the western town gate to find ourselves back on the bike path which obviously took the long and not so pretty route round the less busy ring road.

On the northern bank of the river we soon crossed back into Germany, and then back into Switzerland. It was a taste of things to come!

We were aiming for a campsite that appeared on Stephen’s Garmin but when we arrived it appeared to have only permanent caravans despite several road signs with a tent. We pressed on crossing the river and back into Germany for another campsite. This one accepted tents but there were big signs everywhere saying “Private Campground for the Canoe Club only”.

We moved on. The road signs changed again although there was no other indication of a border crossing. It was now heading towards 7 o’clock so when we saw a sign for a B&B and temptation got the better of us. As we entered the village it still looked like Switzerland but turning up the side road to the farm where the B&B was Christine noticed that all the cars had German number plates.

Once we were booked in we asked “Are we in Germany or Switzerland?” The lady laughed and said it was an enclave of Germany completely surrounded by Switzerland. “We are politically German but economically Swiss”. We noticed this in the prices – €70 for the room and another €20 for breakfast which we declined figuring we could buy some bread rolls at a shop in the village in the morning.

Well! We chose 4 nice looking but smallish rolls and we’re staggered to be told that, once converted from Swiss francs, that they cost €5.40 – say £4.50! Definitely Swiss prices!

Friday was spent battling against a westerly wind on the northern bank, mainly in Germany but with a couple of forays into Switzerland. The route veered away from the river taking a shorter but hillier path through the minor foothills of the Black Forest. We had been hoping to get reasonably close to Basel by the evening but the wind, the heat (the rain clouds having gradually disappeared over the last two days) and the hills meant that we reached the town of Waldshut (Germany, in case you’re wondering) where we had stayed just over two years ago when we were aiming for the Black Sea. So we made for the same campsite. The area for tents was “free form” in that there were were no marked out spaces so, because we were there quite early, we could choose almost anywhere. As more and more people arrived it became more and more crowded.

Looking back at what we wrote last time we stayed here Stephen was annoyed at the cost €17 plus €1 for 4 minutes in the shower. This was after a couple of weeks in France. This time round it didn’t feel as extortionate after time in Finland where we occasionally paid close to €30 albeit with “free” showers, sauna and kitchen. It all depends on your perspective!

We had good chats to two separate British couples – Derek and Linda who were 4 weeks into a similar trip to us heading for the Black Sea, India and points east so we were able to share some of our experiences – and Carrie and (Sorry! We’ve forgotten your name!! How embarrassing!!!) who were driving down to Lake Constance to meet their son and who told us about a really interesting museum in Neanderthal.

On Saturday morning the tent was very wet from free and condensation so we were even slower than usual in getting going. The first part of the day was through pretty German towns on the north bank looking over at equally picturesque towns on the Swiss side and we found a lovely shaded spot for lunch on the old walls high above the river.

The last 20 km into Basel were as uninspiring as leaving the city had been two years ago but eventually we made our way through the suburbs, crossing briefly into Switzerland for the last time before hitting the French border for the last 2 km to another previously visited campsite in Huningue. This was at the more basic end of campsites but it’s price more than reflected this at €12 for the two of us for one night – and, amazingly for a campsite in France, there were toilet seats!

It has been interesting revisiting these two campsites after 2 years as, for both of us, it feels a bit like “completing the circle” of our trip.

Becalmed Beside the Bodensee

25/7/17. The absence of updates is an indication that not much has been happening in our lives in the last week or so. We have been waiting for Stephen’s back to recover and we’re pleased to report that it is much improved. One morning it took him the best part of 10 minutes to get out of the tent amid much grimacing and swearing under his breath but the last couple of evenings have seen it almost as good as new (it seems to regress during the night and then improve as the day goes on). He didn’t leave the campsite for the first two days – which was not too much of a problem as it is in such a lovely location – and he has hardly been on his bike the whole time which shows how much he has been suffering! However, with it just about recovered we should be making a move in the next day or two – assuming the weather improves. He will, of course, take things very carefully at first.

Friday and Saturday were glorious although there were spectacular electric storms both nights (with a group of young lads “next door” having to vacate their tents for the sanitation block at 1 in the morning because everything was soaked). Since then, though, the weather has been much less friendly with frequent heavy showers and strong gusts of wind.

We have enjoyed watching a family of mallards that periodically leave the lake to wander around the campsite. The mother is doing a phenomenal job of shepherding her 17 (yes! Seventeen!!) ducklings around and they are growing fast. There is a family of swans with 4 cygnets and one of the adults takes exception to the ducklings whenever they stay too close to his/her family chasing them away with much hissing and flapping.

On Monday evening we had a blow out at a favourite restaurant of ours, spending two days’ budget on the meal. But it was worth it! Especially Christine’s most favourite dessert – the Grosse Dessertteller or “Big Pudding Plate” which is a selection of 8 different dishes all served on the one plate. She has been told on previous occasions that people normally share it but she offers Stephen only a mouthful or two! [Photo to follow]

She found cycling the 3 km back to the campsite a bit of a struggle.

Boats and Trains (but no Planes)

20/7/17. The last few days have been spent travelling down to our favourite place in Germany – the Bodensee or Lake Constance where Germany, Austria and Switzerland meet at a widening of the Rhine. We have been here numerous times before (at least 10) and it is our favourite place – it is so beautiful and easy and German and good for cycling and lovely! In fact we often say if we ever had a holiday home it would be here!

We took the ferry from Helsinki to Travemünde, near Lúbeck, in northern Germany, but not before Stephen had a last bike ride in Finland while Christine had her pill “sitting down” session! The ferry sailed at 5 in the afternoon but check in was only between 1.30 and 3 and, because we declined the offer of a cabin at €290, we wanted to be one of the first on board to grab some of the best reclining seats for the 30 hour trip so aimed to get there early.

Of course the inevitable happened! We and the other 8 cyclists were put into one of the last lanes to be loaded. However, it was not really a problem as it seemed that most of the motorists were in cabins and mainly the cyclists who were slumming it. It was an unexciting trip across the Baltic which was at its most placid – thankfully as Christine had not got any sea sickness pills.

We arrived in Travemünde as it was getting dark (a real novelty!) and quickly made our way to the campsite nearby to get some shut-eye as, while better than it might have been because we had used our camping mattresses rather than the reclining seats, our sleep onboard had not been the best.

After a lie-in we slowly made our way to Lübeck, some 20 km away, enjoying loading the bikes on the bus to go through the Herrentunnel as we had almost a year ago en route from Berlin to Dieppe (see The Baltic Bummel 3). We were more than happy to use the same campsite and Christine went for a walk around the city while Stephen loafed around at the tent to rest his right knee which has been giving him “gip” for the last couple  of weeks when walking (but thankfully not cycling!)

On Tuesday we embarked on the first leg of our rail trip from one end of Germany to the other. We used a cheapo ticket which meant the second person (and also up to 3 others) to go anywhere for €8. The only problem was that the ticket was only valid on the slower regional trains rather than the fast Inter City ones. Thus we had to make five! changes of train and after 10 hours of travelling we had only reached the northern edge of Baden-Wurttemberg. However, Christine in particular enjoyed watching the changing landscape go past and it was a good opportunity to catch up on podcasts and reading.

The changes of train involved changing platforms and while there were generally lifts, at one station there were none so Stephen ended up carrying the bikes (minus a couple of panniers) up and down steps. At the last stop of the day, there were lifts but the one from the platform down to the tunnel to the exit was out of commission necessitating more carrying. In addition, most of the trains were such that we could wheel the bikes on and off but one, at a station where the train only stopped for a couple of minutes, required the bikes to be lifted up and down 3 steps. Somewhere on the journey Stephen didn’t do a “proper” lift and by the evening his back had seized up in protest. This combined with his dodgy knee left him feeling about 30 years older than he had at the start of the day!

We stopped in the small town of Lauda which appeared to be on a popular cycling route judging by the number of other cyclists in the hotel. The advantage of having reached here the previous evening was that on Wednesday we could buy a cheaper ticket for travel within B-W which would get us to our destination of Friedrichshafen on the shore of the Bodensee.

We arrived at the station in plenty of time in case we needed to use the broken lift so Christine could carry the bags and bikes in about10 trips up and down steps because Stephen’s back was completely out of commission. However, this was thankfully unnecessary.

While we sat waiting for the train a man walked along the platform carrying a cricket bat – something we had never seen in many trips to Germany. We got speaking to Khan, originally from Pakistan, and he explained that he played for Karlsrühe, a team in the cricket Bundesliga. He noticed Stephen wincing when moving and had a quick look at his back. He got out his ice-spray (very welcome) and gave Christine some physio-tape to apply that evening. Clearly he has some role in keeping the team healthy as well as being a player.

Just before the train was due sure there was an announcement that it was running 15 minutes late. We eventually caught the next train which was due an hour later and was itself half an hour late. To further discredit the reputation of German railway efficiency it stopped two stations short of its destination, Stuttgart, so we had to catch a suburban service before we could get on our final train to Friedrichshafen – so our journey across Germany involved 9 trains and one damaged back!

By the time we reached the Bodensee the clouds that had been around since a thunderstorm just after we arrived at the hotel in Lauda the previous evening had blown away and we were greeted by lovely sunshine and a cool breeze for a short ride to the campsite near the small town of Immenstaad, where we have stayed on all our previous visits to the lake except one. Here Christine took responsibility for pitching the tent on her own for the first time ever – but Stephen kept a close eye on her and issued detailed instructions!

The campsite is idyllicly situated right by the lake, with a small area exclusively for cycle tourists in the best spot. From our tent we have wonderful views across to Switzerland and the Alps. Just perfect!