Heading down the Moselle

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.

Swan babies! Definitely not ugly ducklings.
Swan babies! Definitely not ugly ducklings.
Porta Nigra (Black Gates) in Trier
Porta Nigra (Black Gates) in Trier

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.

View from the Moselle River Radweg (Bike Path)
View from the Moselle River Radweg (Bike Path)
My sweetie
My sweetie

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.

Jeff, happy as a clam on the hotel veranda.
Jeff, happy as a clam on the hotel veranda.

Technology Hell

May 18, 2015

I bought a cheap Asus Windows tablet for this bike trip. It would appear that cheap is the operative word. This morning, two weeks to the day of its purchase, it bit the dust. This, just 48 hours after sending out a mass email announcing my blog. Oh dear; I can’t do this on an iPhone.

Fortunately, we were still in Saarbrücken, where we could actually buy a replacement. So off we went to Germany’s version of Best Buy. I knew exactly what I wanted. It was the Microsoft Surface tablet, which I had, with great restraint and maturity, not purchased two weeks earlier.

All was going well. The sales person spoke English, they had the tablet in stock, and the price was good. Then came the bomb: It had a German keyboard. In fact, every computer in the store had a German keyboard. Now, this shouldn’t have come as a great surprise to me, but it did. I hadn’t paid attention to the keyboard until I couldn’t find the ‘Y’. It turns out that German keyboards are QWERTZ, not QWERTY, and they have extra keys, and some of the keys are in different places. How bad could it be? I bought it.

I thought it might be handy to have a German keyboard. At least I wouldn’t have to go digging around for umlauts. Silly me; 45 years of touch typing is hard to undo. So, I reconfigured it as an English keyboard. The keys are mostly in the right place, but lots of them have the wrong labels. It’s confusing, to say the least.

My new keyboard
My new keyboard

With our technology crisis sorted out, we packed up and headed downstream on the Saar. The first 50K section, from Saarbrücken to Merzig was surprisingly industrial, but not at all unpleasant. Along the way we passed the Völklingen Ironworks, an amazing old abandoned steel factory. It’s a huge hulking structure, reminiscent of a Borg ship (for you Trekkies out there) – forbidding, yet strangely beautiful, as Jeff described it. Our pictures don’t do it justice, so here’s a link to some web photos. We were surprised to discover that it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, just like the Upper Middle Rhine Valley. Go figure. That’s the thing about bike touring: You can’t help but get off the beaten path and you never know what you’ll find.

A less bucolic stretch of bike path
A less bucolic stretch of bike path
The doors about to close for a barge in one of the many locks on the Saar river
The doors about to close for a barge in one of the many locks on the Saar river
Hmmm ... Which way to Mettlach?Hmmm ... Which way to Mettlach?
Hmmm … Which way to Mettlach?

May 19, 2015

A cold front came through today, so we bundled up in many layers of high tech fabric and continued down the Saar. This next section was absolutely gorgeous! Lush, green, quiet, peaceful, with almost no highway noise. What a treat. We even encountered some hills, one of which measured 15%. We didn’t have to walk it, so we must be getting stronger.

Our ride ended in Saarburg, a beautiful little town, with a castle and waterfall, that is not significant enough to be listed in the Lonely Planet guide. We often find that our favorite spots aren’t in the guide books.

A more bucolic path
A more bucolic path

DSC00752-C

A mini church, probably 8' x 10'
A mini church; probably 8′ x 10′
Saarburg's  castle
Saarburg’s castle
Waterfall, Saarburg
Waterfall, Saarburg

Tomorrow we head off for Trier, which is billed as the oldest city in Germany.

The Upper Middle Rhine Valley

May 16, 2015

First off, I must apologize to the town of Bingen for unfairly calling it a dump.  While it’s not going to win the Rhine’s most charming town award, it’s a perfectly fine town.  Our problem is that we missed most of it!  Yup; we discovered it as we were heading out.  Sometimes, you just don’t venture very far when you’re tired, cold, hungry and on a bike.

An idyllic view of the Rhine
An idyllic view of the Rhine

Today was spent riding through the Rhine gorge.  Above the river are impossibly steep vineyards, and alongside the river, on both sides, are very active train tracks.  And I mean active; we saw dozens of trains, both passenger and freight.  The river, too, is transporting oodles of people and freight — barges, cruise ships, day cruises.  It’s a busy place, yet picturesque; a working river that has maintained its charm.

Another castle
Another castle

Then there are the castles.  Every time we rounded a bend, there was another one perched on the top of a hill.  Some are crumbling, most are well preserved, and some are active tourist attractions with cafes and umbrellas.  There was no amount of charm that could entice us to even consider climbing up to one of them.  It’s the flat lands for us.

The tiredness is starting to set in.  Jeff is still only a few days post chemo, and I, of course, am not trained.  The repeated days on the bike, and hours spent outside, all day take a toll.  We’ll be cruising in a few weeks, but for now, we ache all over.

We spent the night in Boppard, another lovely town on the Romantic Rhine. After the previous night’s hotel debacle, I opted for a very civilized river front hotel.  I don’t know how Jeff goes bike camping.  I crave comfort after a day of cycling.  A shower, dinner, wine, clean sheets.  Ahhhhhh.

Tomorrow should be an easy one. We’ll ride a short 20KM to Koblenz, then take a train to Saarbrücken, which is on the Saar River, right by the French border.  The current plan, always subject to change, is to cycle along the Saar and Mosel rivers, back to Koblenz, then continue north on the Rhine until it becomes too industrialized for our tastes.  I’ve got a hankering to make it to the Netherlands this trip; we’ll see.

May 17th, 2015

The cycling today was short, but delightful — sunny, quieter than yesterday, and equally as lovely.  Before we knew it, we were in Koblenz, where things got more complicated.

Caught in a marathon
Caught in a marathon
In Germany, even nuns bike tour!
In Germany, even nuns bike tour!

I’m just going to say it now:  Our tandem and trailer combination is a beast in cities.  It’s fine riding around the countryside, but trying to navigate it in traffic, crowds or on public transportation is not for the faint of heart.  It’s enormous, heavy, unwieldy, and wants to fall over, or jack-knife at the slightest provocation.  Today we had to jump through hoops and resort to stairs when the tandem was too big to fit into bike specific elevators. And then there’s the crazy dash onto the train, with the tandem and trailer separated, dodging throngs of people as we search for the bike car.  Jeff got a good laugh out of my blood curdling scream “NOOOOOOOOO!” when I thought the train doors were closing on us before we could make it in.

The beast on the train platform
The beast on the train platform

But all’s well that ends well.  We made it to  Saarbrücken and even had dinner in a Mexican restaurant.  European Mexican restaurants are always a crap shoot, well actually, worse than a crap shoot.  As usual, this one wasn’t very authentic, but it tasted good and had lots of vegetables.  No complaints here.  We’re ready to get on the road.  Saarbrücken is way too big and crowded for us.

They call this a margarita? I swear, I wasn't even tipsy when this was taken.
They call this a margarita? I swear, I wasn’t even tipsy when this was taken.

On the Road

It’s supposed to begin with training, except that didn’t happen for me.  I’ve done nothing, zippo, nein!  What was I thinking? I used to ride a thousand miles in preparation for one of these trips, and I was a lot younger then.  It’s a good thing it’s flat.  It’s a good thing that Jeff’s been training.  Mostly, it’s a good thing we’re on a tandem.  I know I’ll be able to keep up with him!

At the Asheville airport, with all our luggage
At the Asheville airport, with all our luggage

It looks like we’re bringing a lot — 4 suitcases and 2 -carry-ons– but it’s actually quite minimalist.  Most of it is bike, trailer and tools.  Everything else easily fits in a single suitcase.  You’ll notice that we’ll be wearing the same clothes in all our pictures.  It’s all we’ve got!  High tech clothing and a commitment to daily hand washing is the only thing that gets us by

A very jet=lagged Jeff
A very jet-lagged Jeff

We landed in Frankfurt, bleary eyed, and took a short 20 minute train ride to Mainz, which will be our starting and ending location.  Mainz isn’t a big tourist attraction, although it does have the Gutenberg Museum.  We’re staying in a nice hotel, across from the train station, in a somewhat gritty section of town. Having left Holland 10 months ago, it all feels very familiar.  We look forward to getting into the daily routine of cycling.

Putting the bike together
Putting the bike together
Ready to roll
Ready to roll

It was a rough start.  The bike didn’t go together happily, Jeff was sick as a dog from his chemo a couple days ago, and getting out of Mainz was no fun.  It’s noisy, congested and industrial; perhaps not our best choice of launching cities.  We made it 40K to Bingen, a dumpy town on the  Rhine, with a castle and not much else.  Our decision to go for the cheap room has made us vow to give up on that cost containment strategy.  Jeff had to be rescued from his shower when the automatic lights left him in a pitch black bathroom with scalding water.

Bingen's castle
Bingen’s castle

The next section of the Rhine, from Bingen to Koblenz is reputed to be some of the finest cycling in Germany.

It's asparagus season!
It’s asparagus season!

Two Months Cycling in Germany

DSC00631-C This isn’t a “Bucket List” trip, although we probably wouldn’t be taking it if Jeff didn’t have lung cancer.  His cancer has taught us to not defer those things that are important to us.  Jeff was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer in September of 2013, and given a prognosis of 8-17 months.  Eight months later we took a one month cycling trip in Holland.  It is now 20 months post diagnosis and we have just arrived in Frankfurt, Germany with no definite plans other than a return ticket home, and chemotherapy half way through.