We are four weeks into our journey so far. It feels like months. Not because we’ve been having a bad time of course but because time seems to take on another form when you are sleeping somewhere different each night, with a changing backdrop as well as constantly meeting new people.
We have just crossed into our sixth country, Austria, where we are taking a day off from cycling by chilling out in Salzburg with Mozart’s face all over the place. Our second day off since we began our trip in fact. It feels good to do nothing.
Wild camping in Belgian forests was fantastic, a lovely scenic backdrop followed us all the way and it felt easy. We don’t remember too much about this lovely country because it was over fairly quickly. Oh yeah, this friendly beardy Belgian guy made us an amazing sandwich.
After two weeks of straight cycling, We took a much needed holiday in the linguistic utopia of The Grand Dutchy of Luxembourg. The capital city has the distinctive quirk of having upper and lower parts, accessible via a lift or the steep hills to get in and out of the valley. Everything here is deluxe indeed.
We then spent two weeks in Germany, entering from a stunning hilltop at the Luxembourg border into the delightful Saarland, which appears to be one of Germany’s smallest of provinces. We instantly found Germany to be well equipped for cyclists; a network of Tarmac paths, cycle shops everywhere, Fahrrad this, Fahrrad that. On the first day we were presented with a riverside main road which had been closed off for cyclists for the day, stretching for some 30km.
Its cycling networks were as friendly as the cyclists themselves; it was not possible to map-check for a few seconds without being seen by another 2wheeled citizen and being asked if we needed any assistance. This behaviour followed us through Germany and helped us out on many occasions including the time when a dozen senior citizens became our convoy to the nearest campsite one evening by the Rhine valley. My rusty german listening skills told me that they once did a 1500k trip! Either that or they were 1500 years old?
I had to avoid German supermarkets in fear of exiting with a pile of food too heavy to fit about our 10 panniers. They are great, especially the one called Rewe because it looks like my surname. I made Carmen do the food shopping most of the time in order regulate our expenses.
Apart from the copious daily amounts of chocolate and cheese and bread and crisps and bratwurst and we’ve actually been eating very well. Our favourite meals include:
Courgette and garlic pasta
Dhal with self made chapatti breads
Fried gnocchi (thanks to our warm showers host Sebastian by Bodensee!)
Steak, salad, fried onions, red wine and cheese
We also make fresh coffee every morning, without using a filter! Our little unleaded petrol stove is brilliant. I’ve refilled it thrice since we left, which equates to a monthly gas bill of €3.
Unlike our rent, which was around €300 for Germany alone. Germans look away now.
Yes, Germans seem to have reinvented camping. Just a patch of grass and a bit of water is not possible to find. Unfortunately for us, these two luxuries are invariably accompanied with:
Automatic sliding doors
Fancy Dyson futuristic hand dryers
Onsite bars, restaurants and bakeries
Electronic fob entry passes
Grotesquely huge camper vans (which were often permanent installations)
Taking into account theses luxuries, €20+ seems quite reasonable I suppose but i did wonder if Germany has the equivalent of a no-thrills campsite. Actually, I remember Spain and Holland being the same. Campervans have hijacked camping and the tents have all gone.
Wild camping was pretty tricky here too, we spent a lot of our time around hills so finding a plateau wasn’t easy. There isnt much disused land here; probably why wild camping is illegal. After stopping for a coffee in Wank one day and watching the Wankers going about their daily business, we pushed pushed our bikes up a very steep hill (out of sheer desperation of rent costs) and almost immediately the sky opened to a torrent of rain. Bless our little waterproof hybrid merino wool, polyester and cotton socks. After about an hour, exhausted wet and emotional, we set up camp on an incline, slept like crap and decided that €20+, Automatic sliding doors, fancy Dyson futuristic hand dryers, onsite bars, restaurants and bakeries, electronic fob entry passes and grotesquely huge camper vans were a great idea and that we’d simply bite the bullet for the rest of €-land. Even though wifi is never included. Death to the Euro. Europe is bloody expensive.
We exited the great republic via six days of hilly, picturesque and wet Bavaria, complete with little villages and villagers sporting traditional dress.
It felt good to be moving east-bound, away from the linguistic comfort of France which had followed us as we tickled the border descending into Germany. At one point we took a wrong turn, accidentally descended the steep hill we had just climbed, ended up by a stream, pretty much in a german family’s garden as they were lunching. Unsure whether or not we were trespassing we crossed their little footbridge and found ourselves in a French field,pushing our bikes out of marshland for the next 30minutes still in view of the german family across the border 30metres away. We spent the rest of that day in and out of the two countries and as we camped up in France I found myself wondering about the history of the area as we entered Ligne Maginot military areas.
All warmshowers hosts have been wonderful too,including Joe (great name) and his flatmate as well as Sebastian and all his friends. It’s great to break up our time with these fantastic social interludes. We even got stopped by a Floridian cyclist who took us in on a cold and wet day, gave us a bed and took us out for a meal. Amazing!
We spent this morning planning the route through the alps down to the T. The most difficult part of the path will probably be the 20k incline of 1000metres at Solkpass reaching 1790 metres. Not quite sure what all the fuss is about cycling through the Alps nor why there is a disturbingly low number of cycle routes present at http://www.cyclingthealps.com on our chosen pass.
We’re geared and ready.