After an easy train ride, and a short, but harrowing ride through Essen, we arrived at our out-of-the-way hotel. It was located in a fairly upscale residential community, an easy 10 minute walk to the University Clinic; not a happening spot, but perfect for our needs. Essen is not a tourist destination. It’s a city of half a million, but most Americans will never have heard of it.
On a lark we had a “Dinner in the Dark” the night we arrived. I had heard of the concept, but this was our first time experiencing it. We ate dinner completely in the dark, served by a blind waiter, who only knew a few words of English. And dark is really dark; totally black. We couldn’t see our hands in front of our faces. We followed the waiter, my hands on his shoulders, Jeff’s on mine, to our table, where we had to feel around for our chairs, the table, the place setting. We could hear the other diners, all German. A set meal was served to us. Vegetarian; no other information. The soup was a breeze; we could both easily navigate a spoon and bowl. Water on one side, wine on the other. So far, so good. Salad, with a round of goat cheese on top, was more challenging. We started using our fingers for exploration. By the time the main course came, our fingers were our primary utensil. Forks would, more often than not, come up empty. At one point, I mentioned to Jeff that I was really hot, and felt like taking off my shirt. He reminded me that here I could. I swear, I didn’t!
The next morning we headed off to the Essen University Cancer Center, or Tumorzentrum. Apparently they don’t get many American patients; we were the first for the woman who checked us in. Dr. Wilfried Eberhardt, a colleague of our oncologist at Wake Forest, had arranged everything for us, which was an enormous relief. He spent a lot of time with us, talked about options should Jeff’s cancer progress (which it generally does … we just prefer “if” to “when”), and personally ushered us through the entire process. In fact, he put Jeff’s IV line in, which was an absolute first for me. I have never seen anyone other than a nurse perform that kind of task. And he was good at it! No pain, no bruising. All in all, it was a wonderful experience. We felt pampered and cared for. Everyone was kind and helpful. We give our special thanks to both Dr. Eberhardt and our oncologist, Dr. Petty, for coordinating this.
I’d like to take a moment to talk about the care that Jeff has received. A terminal cancer diagnosis is tough stuff. We hear and read about people who have had terrible experiences, both with their doctors and their treatment. This has not been the case for us. We feel supported, respected and cared for by the team of doctors and nurses supporting Jeff … from the oncology center at Wake Forest, to the holistic and alternative practitioners that Jeff uses to augment his traditional treatment. We don’t know what component, or combination of components has allowed him to thrive this long, but we are filled with gratitude to everyone who has helped us along this path. Thank you.
We have been in Germany for twenty-one days now. We’ve stayed in nineteen different towns, with nineteen hotels, beds, pillows and bathrooms. We wake up in the dark, and try to remember where the bathroom is, and whether there are any toe stubbing or knee banging room elements. We feel around to flush the toilet (European toilets never have simple handles on the tank).
It’s all becoming a blur. I’m often hard pressed to tell you the name of the town we’re in, much less the hotel name, even less the room number.
We have each other, and the bike, and a credit card. We have our stuff, always packed up the same way, and we have our routines. After a ride, we shower, do laundry, wander around town, have dinner, and we’re down for the count. The next day we have breakfast, pack up, buy something for lunch, and head out on the bike again. We’ve traversed 850 km, along five rivers. It’s simple; it engages us completely and gives us great pleasure. We’re never bored, although we miss our animals something awful!
We’ve been staying out of trouble since our Nuremberg fiasco. Fortunately, getting out of Nuremberg was a lot easier than getting into it. It’s amazing what a good night’s sleep and a map will do.
For the next two days, our route ran primarily along the Rhine/Main/Danube Canal, through varied terrain – some industrial, but mostly quiet and rural. The canal is interesting. It connects the Danube to the Rhine, via the Main River, creating a navigable waterway from the Black Sea to the North Sea.
The signage along the canal route was less than optimal. We had dozens of navigation stops, and a few not very serious mis-steps along the way. We also had an almost constant head wind, which can be grueling, and oh so cold on a chilly day.
The canal ended in Bamberg, where the Regnitz and Main Rivers meet. Bamberg is one of those must see places in the tourist books. Architecturally beautiful, brimming with hotels, restaurants, sights, and of course, tourists. There were at least a half dozen walking tours starting out as we were leaving the city. Each guide holding a flag, and the entire group wearing headsets. That’s a new development we haven’t seen before. We even wound up being part of the tour, some local color – Radfahrers (bike tourists) doing it the “old fashioned” way, without battery power, as the tour guide noted, pointing to us, and highlighting our panniers and trailer. A few people snapped pictures. There we were, immortalized in someone’s vacation photos.
The strong head wind continued on our first day cycling the Main. By the time we made the 66 km to our destination city, Schweinfurt, we were utterly exhausted. It was our 14th day in a row riding, and we were beat. Time for a rest. We snagged an amazingly luxurious room for the price of a standard room and decided it was the perfect place for a whole lot of nothing.
Well, not exactly nothing … we each splurged on a two hour Thai massage, done side by side, by the tiniest women, who climb up on the table and give it their all. Now, that’s a rest day! Tomorrow we head out to Dettelbach, then Würzburg on Sunday.
The day started deceptively well. Our train ride from Koblenz to Nuremberg was a breeze — three trains and six hours of travel without a hitch. It was raining throughout much of the train ride. How lucky, we thought; we’d managed to use up a rain-day on train travel, rather than being forced to hole up in a hotel.
It was late afternoon, and raining lightly as we walked out of the train station in Nuremberg. The station was surrounded by hotels, which we foolishly decided to pass up. It was so busy and congested by the station. Let’s head out toward the bike path and find a hotel in a quieter area. We didn’t have a map of Nuremberg, and our iPhones were low on juice as we’d been using them to entertain ourselves on the train. You can probably see where this is going.
Immediately outside of the train station was a sign for the Danube/Main Canal. That sounded good. Our route ran along both the Regnitz River and the Danube/Main Canal. How fortuitous! So we followed the signs for 4 or 5 kilometers until they petered out. The rain started to pick up. We asked numerous people for directions, none of whom spoke English. We, of course, are hopeless in German. We repeatedly checked Google Maps, as we watched our phone batteries die a fast death. We finally made it to the canal, which had no bike path beside it, and was in a God forsaken industrial wasteland. We forged on, choosing roads that appeared to run more or less parallel to the canal, only to have them dead-end at gated industrial facilities, or take a circuitous route that lead to who knows where.
It was grim. We were bickering with each other … could of, would of, should of. It was raining, our feet were wet, we were hopelessly lost and it was getting late. We eventually stumbled upon a veterinarian’s office in the middle of nowhere, and got detailed directions from one of the clients who spoke English. Whew! Except that his directions routed us onto a limited access highway. Perhaps if it hadn’t been raining, or if we knew one iota of German, we would have realized it earlier, but we didn’t figure it out until it was too late and we were on the highway. We cycled along the shoulder, as fast as we could, looking for the first exit. Right before the exit, was a construction zone that took away the shoulder. Cars were whizzing by, so we ducked into the construction area, figuring we would get around it.
We were stopped by an enormous barricade of trash and construction materials. By this time, I had nothing left; I was a broken woman. Jeff sprang into action, unhitched the trailer and started looking for a way through it. It was a filthy, sloppy, slick, muddy mess, full of sharp objects. He instructed me; I complied. It wasn’t easy. We finally got the bike, trailer and the two of us past the blockade. Jeff was covered with sticky glue-like mud. Of course, our water bottles were empty, so he couldn’t even clean up.
We continued on, still hopelessly lost. The scenery started to look familiar, and we realized that we were passing buildings that we had passed an hour and a half earlier. Our hearts sank. Right then, in our darkest hour, Jeff saw a sign for an IBIS Budget Hotel 500 meters ahead. Hallelujah! We checked in; two filthy drowned rats on a tandem.
I will say it right now, the Nuremberg IBIS Budget Hotel is the most singularly strange hotel I have ever seen. It’s in the middle of a large corporate park, and is barely marked. There is no main entrance, only a small door in the back of the building, in a parking lot full of heavy equipment. Apparently it was once a shoe factory, and was re-purposed as a hotel 15 years ago. The rooms, all the same, are like futuristic pods – modern, stark, simplistic. The showerhead had blue and red LED lights that changed color while you showered. And it had a double bed that didn’t have a crack in the middle. It was perfect.
We cleaned up, did our laundry, and with the help of the hotel receptionist, had a pizza and bottle of wine delivered to the hotel. Life was good again.
I’m a bit behind on my postings. We had a doozy of a day yesterday, which I’ll try to get to tonight. For now, here’s one from a couple days ago. Some of you might be pleased to hear that I’ve finally awakened to the fact that my pictures were at least 10 times as big as they should have been. My apologies to anyone who struggled to open them. I will compress from now on.
Today is my 62nd birthday and I am filled with gratitude. I’m grateful to be here in Germany, cycling with Jeff, and for the lessons we’ve learned the last couple of years. I’m grateful for all the support we have gotten, and for those of you following this blog and cheering us along. I’m also grateful that Jeff washed my laundry today, a sweet birthday gift.
We’ve been winding our way along the Moselle for the last few days and finally reached the end – the confluence of the Moselle and the Rhine Rivers. The Moselle was fun; beautiful scenery, impossibly charming towns, great wine, and a slow, relaxed pace. All in all, a blast.
Now on to the next adventure, which has been a few days in the planning. It’s a puzzle; we need to be in Essen in three weeks for Jeff’s chemo. If we head up the Rhine now, we’ll reach Essen too early. After days of looking at maps, train schedules and bike routes, we have a plan! We’ll take a train to Nuremberg, then ride 500 kilometers on the Regnitz and Main rivers back to the Rhine. If all goes well, we’ll make it to the Rhine with time to spare and perhaps sneak in a short tour of the Lahn river before reaching Essen. Tomorrow we brave the rail system with our beast of a bike.
To date, we’ve ridden 422 kilometers in ten consecutive days of riding. Not bad. We’re sore and ready for a rest day, but doing pretty well. Even our butts are hanging in. That, I attribute to our most beloved Brooks saddles.
Have I mentioned the German beds? We’ve never seen a double bed here. They’re all two single beds, pushed together, with a big crack in the middle. To top it off, they’re made up with two single down comforters … regardless of the season. 80 degrees? It’s down or nothing! Not much cuddling happening outside of the dead of winter. It’s no wonder Germany has one of the lowest birthrates in the world!
It rained for the first time today. Fortunately we got an early start and made it to Trier before the rains came. Fifty-five degrees and wet is not fun on a bike. We checked in early and spent the next few hours planning our route and booking rooms through the weekend. It’s not our style to plan that far ahead, but this is a popular place, and the hotels can get booked up, particularly on weekends. We’re not going to rush through this one; the Moselle is supposed to be a very special place.
Trier was as advertised; an ancient and fascinating city. It was founded by the Romans in the first century AD, and still has the very impressive Porta Nigra (Black Gates) to prove it. Unfortunately, it also has throngs of people pouring into the city to see its sites. The tour guides dress up in Roman garb, and the city hires buff actors in short Roman togas to shout from the Porta Nigra towers. While we recognize all that Trier has to offer, it’s just not for us. We’ve not been quick studies on this one. For years now, we’ve known that we’re happiest in small, less touristy towns, yet still feel compelled to make it to the “must see” destinations. That is about to change.
As is often the case with large cities, we struggled getting out of town. The route was congested, heavily trafficked, noisy, odorific, and poorly marked. To make matters worse, about 10K into the ride, the bike developed a clunking noise from the rear crank and refused to shift into the large chain ring. Ugh. Mechanical problems are one of the realities of bike touring. Nearly 20K into the ride, we made it back to the river, where our fortune changed. Jeff discovered the problem (my bottom bracket had come unscrewed), and handily fixed it. The ride changed from the least pleasant we had encountered so far, to the most pleasant. Just like that! The path ambled along the river and through vineyards, past quaint little villages. The sun was shining. Who could ask for more? By the time we made it to our charming winery/hotel in the tiny village of Trittenheim and settled in on the veranda with a glass of Riesling, the morning’s hardships were long forgotten.