Don’t be a cyclist whilst listening to jazz in the wood.

Days on the road: 29

Kilometres cycled: 1564

Countries visited: 5

Punctures: 0

 

That’s right, we have made it this far without any punctures (not to our bikes anyway, I’ve punctured my sleeping mat twice). Since our last blog, we have cycled lots (as you would expect), had a few scary experiences (military air bases and wolves), seen some unbelievable scenery (sometimes from an unexpected vantage point), met some truly amazing people, and had another musical experience worth writing about. Here is the story of our journey from Amsterdam, Holland, to Munich, Germany.

 

On day 11 of our journey, we bid Amsterdam a fond farewell. Cycling in a rough south easterly direction, heading for the river Rhine. The weather had been kind to us, and would continue to do so for a while to come. Following cycle routes, we crossed endless fields, ran parallel with tranquil canals and crossed glistening rivers. All the time playing count the striking windmills…there were lots!

 

 

We carried on our path and collected some BBQ style dinner for our first wild camp of the journey. With good weather and 70km under our belt, we were both excited about what lay ahead. A flat piece of forest would be our home for the night, and as if in a film, two deer ran past us upon our entry to our short-term home. Shortly after pitching tent and rustling up some food, Tom and I heard a weird noise coming from a distant, one which can only be described as ‘The Black Smoke’ noise from Lost. Looking at one another with fear, Tom mentioned that we may be pitched next to an Army base, or in fact, we may be pitched in an army base! Although this is a story that can be described with words, we happened to catch some of it on camera…it’s well worth a watch!

 

 

Our alarm went off early, but The Black Smoke had already woken us up. The mist and wet tent did nothing to help us get out of bed, but eventually we rose and hit the cold wet road. The weather cleared and we were headed for the German border and our 5th country, this was our motivation for the day, but to be honest, when the weather is that good and the scenery is that picturesque, there is no need for motivation.

 

We followed a cycle path and finally hit the Rhine; the dramatic change in scenery presented us with our best cycling day at that point. The concrete cycle path snaked through succulent grass, running perfectly alongside the fast flowing, shimmering Rhine. Confident ducks lined the sides of the roads and the wind was behind us; we cruised along at a comfortable 30km/h and made good progress. We hit the 80km mark, set up camp in another forest, made our first ‘wild fire’ and ate a wholesome dinner. Ahead of us lay a paranoid sleep where we would stir at every leaf movement and twig crackle. Surprisingly, we survived the night and continued on our way.

 

 

After two days camping, we looked like tramps. An image only compounded by our smell and our impromptu lunch stop outside Lidl. Germans do not like smelly campers. Our plan was to cycle the 100km (according to Google maps) to Dusseldorf, where we would stay with a friend, Anna. We eventually got there at 9.30pm, 125km later. Apparently, the laws for cycling on the motorway in Germany are exactly the same as they are in England. True to nature, Tom and I found this out the hard way and soon realised that the shouting and tooting coming from the German cars was not a gesture of congratulations, more one of “get the hell off our road”.

After surviving our brief encounter with the Autobahn, we stayed in Dusseldorf for a few days, working away at our video for our trip to Africa (keep an eye out for it), and doing other ‘admin’ items.

During our time in the stunning Dusseldorf, we managed to go out to a small ‘night club’ in search of a musical experience like no other. After all, Germans are famous for their epic raves. However, the opposite could not have been truer and Tom has specifically asked to be quoted on this one:

 

The German Liquid Envy, full of a mega-mix of 90’s crap, interlaced with overpriced drinks and a condescending young crowd barely through puberty’ 

 

Other than that, it was a great night! No, seriously, it was. Good company and a good laugh; but certainly not the melodious experience we are searching for.

 

                                                                                  

Our main navigational tool so far has been our i-phones and google maps. Let’s just say it’s less than reliable and our mileage has been slightly increased due to following inaccessible routes. We have spent hours following roads that lead us to wrong places, up steep hills and down farmers’ ‘roads’. Needless to say, we are now on paper maps and our legs (and bikes) are much happier for it. However, on one of our many diversions, we were cycling along a riverbank and came across a small and welcoming airfield. Tom suggested we checked to see if we could have a quick flight, an idea that I instantly dismissed in my head. An hour later, we were sitting in a glider and being propelled into the sky at a staggering rate, 0-100km/h in under 3 seconds. Being supported by nothing but the dynamic reaction of the air against the wings of a massive paper aeroplane is a fairly scary experience, and that initial fear was only intensified by the following conversation:

 

“So, how do the parachutes work?” Tom and I asked with obvious trepidation

 

“Just pull on here,” uttered the pilot in broken English

 

“What this part?” we quizzed

 

Looking us both in the eye, the pilot said with sincerity “But when you pull it, don’t lose it, it’s very expensive” completely ignoring our previous question and not indicating what part to pull

 

“What about the hatch, how do we open that?”

 

“OK, we’re ready to go” said the pilot whilst getting into the glider

 

“What about the hatch?” Tom uttered with fear but to no avail. He was going. 

 

“Bye Tom…good luck mate”  I said, delighted that Tom was going first!

 

Luckily, the need to use the parachute never arose, and we both had fantastic flights, enjoying the German scenery from a different perspective. 

 

If the experience was a cake, then the icing on said cake was Tom getting an additional ride in a microlight, this time for much longer, and the cherry was getting it all for free. We can’t thank the guys at the airfield enough; it made an average day one of the best we’ve had so far.

 

 

With smiles on our faces, we continued our navigation of the Rhine and worked our way from town to town; Stuttgart our end destination. The weather was amazing, blue skies every day, but nevertheless, wild camping can be a tricky and tiresome pastime. Luckily, we had discovered a web site called warm showers; a fantastic community of cyclists who kindly act as hosts for other touring cyclists. The result of this was 4 out of 5 nights sleeping on a stranger’s sofa; little did we know how much we’d enjoy these experiences and how unbelievably nice the people would be. A huge thank you to Wolfgang (Cologne), Ruben (Koblenz), Stephan and Nadine (Mainz), and Elisabeth and Kristian (Mannheim). Your hospitality, beds and kindness were a blessing and we are completely indebted to you.

 

Our best days cycling so far soon came to us. It started as normal: waking up, pumping our tyres, loading Dusty and Jasmine and setting off. Pretty standard. Prior to this day, the scenery that bordered the river was beautiful; endless fields, blooming trees and cute villages. Nevertheless, it was starting to get a bit samey and we craved a change. Today the Rhine carpeted the floor of a huge valley, reflecting the idyllic images of palaces, castles and towering rock faces. Every corner we turned we were faced with another breath taking scene, constantly accompanied by effervescent birds singing their songs, warm temperatures and perfect blue skies. God (or whoever designed it) had a good day at the office when he designed this part of the river.

 

Eventually the valley ended, and with a tail wind and the start of an epic sunset we pedalled with ease down the Rhine that we were used to, taking in the scenery as we went along, constantly checking one another’s faces to see if the smile had disappeared. In the distance a bar by the side of the river came into a view. With a gabble of chattering people outside, we could feel the atmosphere as we approached, and, as if on cue, a bird of prey (I’m guessing golden eagle) swooped from the sky, hit the river and came out with a fish (I’m guessing Salmon). A pretzel and a glass of wine was the perfect combination as we sat and digested the enormity of our day so far.

Little did we know, but the highlight of our day was still to come. After our enjoyable rest stop, we continued our cycling toward the city of Mainz. Cruising at 30km/h, we felt strong and content as we approached the main bridge. As we climbed, we were gifted a view that can’t be put into words….so here’s a picture. It was the perfect end to a textbook days cycling. Job done.

 

 

 

140km outside of Stuttgart, we looked on google maps for a wild camping spot. Happy with our aim, we darted off ready to spend another cold night in camp. The morning went well, and after 30km, we made the decision to ‘man-up’ and get to Stuttgart in one day. We’d been spoilt up to that point, flat roads, good surfaces and no rain. In fact, 5 minutes after making the decision to go for it, Tom said “wouldn’t it be amazing if we could cycle the whole world and never get rained on”. You can guess what happened next! With 100km still to go, the clouds opened and began their inaudible duet with the hills of Southern Germany. Once again following google maps, we ended up in a forest, with a 15% gradient slope and mud for a road. At a way junction there were signposts in 4 directions, 3 of them with cycle routes indicated; obviously, we followed the one that didn’t have a bike sign on it. Ten minutes later, we were at the bottom of a valley, with no roads in sight and no sign of human life. We were concerned and stressed; knowing we still had a hard day ahead of us only compounded this fact. We were back in boy-scouts, armed with our compasses and our trusty steeds. We felt like school kids as we nervously navigated our way through the forest to a road, using nothing but the polar directions and lady luck. We found our bearings, a small village and a few friendly smiles. A sweet German lady offered us directions to the nearest big town which was on our route.

 

“Yes, you can turn right here, then past the vine yard, left and then stay on the road” the sweet old lady informed us.

 

“Thanks so much. Is it hilly that way?” we asked out of curiosity

 

“No, we don’t have big hills around here. It’s fine”

 

4kms and one hour later, we were left contemplating if the sweet German lady was a mean bitch, a mental cow or just plain stupid. The hill was massive and we were livid. In the back of our minds we didn’t think we could make it, but like the rain and the hills, we continued.

 

Many hours later, we started to go delirious. We could no longer feel the pain in our legs and our speed had reduced dramatically; laughing sporadically, talking to our bikes, dancing to songs in our heads and cycling down hills, in the dark, at 50km/h. We had lost it.

 

Nevertheless, we were making progress and Stuttgart was in sight. Eventually, we passed the sign notating the start of Stuttgart city and I jumped for joy out of my leather bum holder. My celebrations were premature. Stuttgart is bigger than we thought. Another 20kms went past and we were in sight of the hostel. Only trouble was it was 10.30pm and there was a massive hill in front of us. We both contemplated the horrible thought of not being able to check in, but as luck would have it, we managed to secure a room and a much-needed night’s sleep. We had done it and celebrated with two tiresome beers. This was not an enjoyable day, but the reward was one of massive pride in our achievement. We still smiled.

 

 

Morning came and with it so did two beautiful Welsh ladies. Our first visitors on the road and they certainly set the bar high. The weekend with them was full of beer, dancing, card games, laughter and general Stuttgart malarkey. The best day was Saturday, for starters, a hung-over visit to the zoo, where I saw my favourite animal for the first time in real life, the Polar bear did not disappoint. For mains, a delicious meal courtesy of Miss Mabey. And for dessert, a trip to The Traditional Jazz Hall, Stuttgart, an underground, smoky and old fashioned jazz club. The band performing, Lindford swing affairs, were tremendous, and the supporting dance troop were simply incredible, dressed in traditional 40’s outfits and following the music perfectly. The band finished, but our night had just begun. We started talking to the lead singer and the drummer, and, long story short they invited us to a lock in at the club. Beer continued to pass lips and it wasn’t long until we were up on stage ‘jamming’ with them. Here is a snippet:

 


 

The music was interspersed with talk of great jazz players and music in general. In became abundantly clear that music is extremely important to Germany as a country, and it has been ever since the War ended. Unfortunately I have to make assumptions and generalisations in this part, but for some years, many Germans felt suppressed and found it hard to have a national identity. The recent World Cup did much to dispel this, but prior to that, music, and in particular jazz, gave people an opportunity to find a release, to forget about national identity and to just live in the moment. I guess that’s what music is about and this night certainly allowed us to experience that feeling. We learnt, or re-affirmed, that a great musical experience isn’t about how many people you’re with, it’s not about the style of music or even the quality, it’s about the ability of the music to make you go into a place where you forget who you are, lose your inhibitions, and are free to be whatever you want to be. A huge thank you to the guys at the jazz hall and the girls for giving us that night. It was awesome. 

The weekend went by and once again we were left to say some sad goodbyes. But it was a few days to remember and I’ll never forget them.

 

From Stuttgart we travelled to Ulm, prior to our arrival, we had a night of wild camping and with that a terrible nights sleep. At the base of a valley, a beautiful forest turned into home for The Porchester Cottage (our tent). It’s amazing how quickly forests become scary when it gets dark. However, it isn’t surprising they become scary when you are surrounding by shotgun fire, wolf like sounding dogs, camera flashes going off from outside your tent, and a flickering light at the top of the valley. Needless to say, it was a terrible nights sleep and we packed our tent away at record pace in order to escape the nightmare. The cycling the next day was hard and not even the home of the largest church tower in the world (covered by ugly scaffolding) could lighten our mood. However, the best hostel we have stayed in so far did exactly that. By chance we discovered the Red Brick hostel and couldn’t believe the welcome we got. A cute guesthouse, with an amazing host, clean and comfy beds, and the most relaxed atmosphere we had experienced so far. To make things even better, there was an honesty box, full of beer and sweets, AND, we got a heavily discounted rate on our stay. Thanks Anja for our one night there, we wish it were for longer. 

Our next stop was the home of Tom’s family friends, the Haubolds. Words cannot describe how much they did for us, but I’ll give it a go anyway. After a hard days cycling in the pouring rain and freezing cold, we arrived at their house, welcomed with biscuits, warm showers and a perfect dinner. The recipe for homesickness? The Haubolds! A beautiful family, who spent their time enjoying one another’s company, playing music together and walking their gorgeous dog. On our second nights stay there, the family gathered around the piano and sung a three-part harmony of Hallelujah, with the dog singing along and a proud father looking on, it was certainly a musical experience that will be remembered, and yet even more evidence of music bringing people together. We can’t thank you enough for everything you did for us during those two days; we are overwhelmed with your generosity and your genuine family ethos. Thank you.

 

From there we began our cycle to Munich, camping over night without any problems and getting to the Bavarian hub at a reasonable hour. After checking into a good value hostel, we ate at a famous brewery, got rather tipsy and ended up in a traditional German Irish bar. Tom bought some underage girls some drinks, soon realising they were underage and then I informed him they MIGHT be lesbians. I’m not sure what I based this on, but the short hair, tattoos and lesbian tendencies might have been something to do with it.

A soul band were playing and drinks continued to flow, and despite the abrupt locals pushing into us, the night was a success, culminating in a small and under stocked German electro club, a visit to McDonalds and a brief but successful visit to the casino (10 euro limit). An extremely ugly, and atrociously drunk Dutch man trying to get into bed with me was the crescendo of the evening. After a quick spooning I sent him to his bed and no more was said. I felt used.

 

Now, I’m writing this and getting mentally prepared for the next few weeks. We’ve made the decision to cross the Alps, through Austria and into Slovenia. It’s going to be cold, snowy, steep and steeper, but we know the advantages will out-weigh the dis-advantages like a big fat girl, sitting on a seesaw opposite…a midget*

 

 

*quote adjusted for family reading

 

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Posted on April 15, 2012, in General and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Well done, Phil (and Tom). I’m sure you’ve made brilliant progress since you wrote your last blog; I trust you are not too cold, wet or hungry and have been able to sleep well! Your adventure sounds great and I’m following your story with interest. Take care. Michele

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