A Tale of Two Cities.

Not the Paris and London William Shakespeare wrote about, but our version features Helsinki and Tallinn.

Whatever was going to follow Stockholm was going to find it a hard act to follow, and to be honest Helsinki struggled. That’s not saying Helsinki is a bad place, far from it. It has a lot to offer and we spent three days seeing most of what the city had to offer at a much slower pace than normal.

Once again we managed to find a campsite with easy access to the City Centre. The site itself was one of the best we have been on during this trip, with plenty of space and loads of facilities including the obligatory Finnish sauna and access to a small beach.

Plenty of space at this site.

Two minutes walk from the site was a Metro stop and in 15 minutes we were in the centre of the city. Straight away we started to notice differences between Finland and Sweden. We had thought they would be very similar considering Finland was part of Sweden for hundreds of years but in many ways they are poles apart.

The first thing that is noticeable is, unlike The Swedes, The Fins aren’t big talkers, whether that is to strangers, neighbours, family, anyone in fact. They are on the whole uncomfortable with eye contact and conversation.

Heavy Metal music is huge here. They have the most bands per head of population than anywhere in The World and this is reflected in their dress which can be quite dark and almost grunge like. Then there is their hair. Not a subject Steve can be really called an expert on, but if he had any it certainly wouldn’t be dyed every colour of the rainbow, which is a very common look around Helsinki.

Helsinki is a relatively new city. Turku, close to Sweden, was the capital until The Russians took over in the early 19th Century and they moved the capital closer to St Petersburg and built Helsinki which was a small fishing village at the time. This is reflected in the architecture, with most of the buildings looking very similar to one another. In fact, some are actually identical. They are, however, painted in more pastel colours which does brighten things up.

The beautiful Helsinki train station?

We joined another free walking tour. Which was good for getting our bearings and identifying a couple of places to revist. It also took us to the Helsinki version of Changing of the Guard. This actually could not have been on any smaller scale. It was a straight one for one swap, literally a changing of “THE” guard!


Probably the most impressive two buildings in The City are the two Cathedrals. One is Lutheran and the other Russian Orthodox.

The white imposing Lutheran Cathedral dominates the city. It is set in the centre of town, at the head of a large open stone square and definitely looks the part from the outside. The inside, however, is a completely different story.

Beautiful……on the outside at least.

There is apparently a joke in Helsinki which says they spent so much money building the Cathedral there was nothing left to decorate the inside. Lutheran churches are always plainly decorated and the Helsinki Cathedral epitomises this. Five minutes inside and you have seen it all ….. twice!

The Russian Orthodox Cathedral down by the docks is very different in design, very dark and ornate. Although the inside has more to see than its Lutheran counterpart, you can only access a small part of the building and we were, in truth, left a little underwhelmed. It’s hard not to compare them against the magnificent churches of Spain, Italy and France.

The Russian Orthodox Cathedral.

Luckily our weather in Helsinki was beautiful and ideal for strolling around the city, people watching and trying to spot a couple having a conversation!

“Someone talk to me…….please”

On our other full day, we made the 15 minute ferry ride to the island fortress of Suomenlinna. Wherever you look this is always number one on places to visit in The City.

Walking around Suomenlinna.

Eight hundred people live on the island and they were getting close to a million visitors a year pre-Covid. It has a long and turbulent history and was a nice enough place to stroll around for a few hours in the sun playing with the cannons. It also had an old, small submarine exhibit and Steve relived some of his dim and distant past.

Steve wanders down memory lane.

After Helsinki we had a few days in hand. We had finished the cycle leg of this trip considerably earlier than we had expected and we were paying for it a little as we were both pretty tired. So we decided to go somewhere for a rest and a break from camping. We had never been to Estonia before so we boarded a ferry for the two and a half hour crossing across The Baltic Sea, booked a swanky apartment, and headed off to Tallinn for five days.

Off to Tallinn.

One thing we can say about travel is that very rarely places are as you imagine them to be. Before visiting a country you build up an image about it, driven by what you have seen, read and been told. Sometimes the image is close and sometimes it is way off the mark. Tallinn was more of the latter.

We knew there would be an Old Town and that lots of cruise ships visit but other than that we knew very little. It was an old Soviet State so maybe it was struggling to throw off that part of its past.

We loved it. One of the first things that struck us was how clean it was. Oh, and people talk to one another. The Old Town was much bigger than we expected and we spent a few afternoons wandering and exploring.

Tallinn was a pleasure to wander around.

One thing we didn’t realise was how technologically advanced Estonia is. Apparently, there are more ‘Start Up’ companies per head of population than anywhere in The World. Two in particular caught our eye, driverless buses and small robotic boxes on wheels moving around the town. At first we couldn’t work them out but after a bit of digging they turned out to be delivery robots!

“OK, I give in, what are you?”

We did another free walking tour where we learned quite a lot about Estonia and its history of invasions and the various Nations who have ruled it, until it gained independence only 31 years ago.

We spent a few days wandering around the Old Town and along the very modern looking seafront promenade which is still being developed with ultra modern apartment blocks and the beautiful city gardens.

In the evenings we relaxed in our amazing apartment in an old converted warehouse, which was possibly the best accommodation we have had this year. It even had a sauna in the bathroom. Unfortunately the weather was so good it was too hot to use for its designed purpose but Sarah did find a great use for it!

Eight loads of washing have to be dried somewhere!

On the whole we took time out, relaxed and recharged our batteries after a hectic and heavily camping loaded six weeks, and prepared for the next six weeks which is very likely to be hectic and heavily camping loaded!

So our Tale of Two Cities didn’t have any unusual incidents or funny stories. It was just sightseeing and relaxing. However, we have been saving one incident for just such an occasion (actually we forgot to include it at the time!).

We need to go back to when we were at Amsterdam airport in May. We had checked in our luggage and our bikes for the flight to Milan and were making our way to the gate. Normally we walk but on this occasion we decided to use the travelators to save our legs for the upcoming bike ride. As we travelled along, enjoying our free ride, we were admiring a series of huge aerial photographs of various locations throughout The Netherlands. We had spotted a bridge connecting a series of islands which we had driven over in the last year. How were we to know the travelator was coming to an end? Where was the warning? Sarah got there first, side on. She hit the end and then static floor, struggling to keep her balance with her legs and arms everywhere. Will she fall? Won’t she fall? must have been the question on the other passengers lips. She was just gaining her composure when Steve hit the end, grabbed hold of Sarah, and we went into some sort of crazy pirouette dancing move which would surely have achieved a ’10’ on a popular TV dance competition. Remarkably we stayed off the floor and on our feet. We regained our composure before walking on in fits of laughter. I’m sure we brightened up a few of the other passengers days!

“Mine is bigger than yours”

Old Friends and New Places.

Once we had finished our Rhine cycling trip and arrived at our car in Amsterdam, we made a quick change, loaded the bikes onto the cycle carrier, and 30 minutes after finishing one trip we were starting the next.

Our plan was to drive to the North of Germany, jump on a ferry to Sweden, then do a big loop through Sweden, Finland, Lapland Norway and Denmark before making our way back to The Netherlands for a ferry home. Oh, and we are considering a side trip to Estonia!

Before any of that though, we had a social call to make to our friends, Mark and Lisa, where we stayed for just one night in their amazing new home which is now almost fully modernised. It’s strange to think we were there at the very start when Steve nearly got stuck up the chimney!

A great place to live.

It’s a great place to live with sheep, cows and swans almost in the back garden. They cooked us dinner, we had a good catch up and in the morning we were off again. We are returning for a few days with them in September and we are all looking forward to it.

So it was back into Germany for a couple of night’s recovery. We had really pushed on for the last five days of the cycle and we were both in need of a rest. We had booked an Airbnb in the small town of Lüneburg. We had never heard of it before, but it was just over halfway to the ferry and looked OK from our research.

Luxury! Well for us anyway.

It was a nice enough town, but more like the best of a bad bunch than the jewel in the crown. We strolled around the medieval streets and had an enjoyable day doing not much at all and made a good start on our recovery.

An easy walk in Lüneburg.

Our ferry was due to depart from Rostock a Baltic Sea port at the very top of Germany, but we drove to the close by seaside town of Warnemünde which is a popular stop off point for cruise ships ploughing the Baltic route. We really quite enjoyed it and think we would have enjoyed more time there rather than in Lüneburg. It had a wide seafront promenade, a pretty town centre and a harbour area where the fishing boats had been turned into takeaways selling all sorts of things from waffles and bratwurst to fish and chips. There is obviously more money to be made selling the fish hot and battered rather than catching it cold and slippery!

“I can’t believe people are in bikinis “

Our hotel for the night was a little strange, with plenty of unusual decor and furnishings. Our room even had three tree trunks in it. It was very comfortable though and another step on the recovery road.

Room for a dozen or so in this chair.

The following morning we were up early for the ferry to Sweden. We both enjoy a ferry trip and we have done quite a few over the last 20 or so years. It can be quite a relaxed way to travel but in some countries it can be chaos.

“That looks like our ferry, better get a move on”

This crossing was definitely the former and the six hour crossing went smoothly and we spent most of the time catching up on admin and research for the future. There always seem plenty of that to do!

A little blustery.

We arrived in Sweden, a new country for both of us, to warm weather and blue skies. We had landed near Malmo in the very South West of the country and were ultimately heading for Stockholm around eight our so hours drive away. We had filled up with fuel in Germany, which was 20p per litre cheaper than Sweden. We have around 5000 miles to cover on this trip and in this day and age strategic fueling will make a bit of a difference. So we were straight out into the Swedish countryside on our way for an overnight stop in Kalmar.

The first thing we noticed was Sweden is green, very green with a never ending scene of fields and forests. The rape seed fields stand out bright yellow against the green background and the whole picture is dotted with red painted houses. It seems every house in Sweden is painted red! It all looked very pretty and tranquil.

Driving along in Sweden.

We made our campsite in good time with still five hours of daylight left. It doesn’t get dark until after 10pm and first light is not long after 3am. So we were able to pitch the tent, cook, eat and clean up after dinner and there was still plenty of time for a walk around the lake.

I think we will see lots of lakes on this trip.

After a leisurely start the next morning we hit the road to Stockholm. We both felt the tiredness was fading away and were excited about visiting the Swedish capital and had managed to find a campsite close to the city centre. We slotted into our routine of swapping drivers every hour with the non driver doing the navigating. This proved an easy task, with only a couple of roads to travel on, it felt a bit like driving back in OZ.

We stopped for lunch and arrived at the site late afternoon. We decided to start our assault on the city early the next morning which gave Steve the opportunity to get out on his bike and Sarah to start her new book. It had been a month since we left the UK and she hadn’t read a single page. It sort of indicates how busy and tired we were on the bikes.

Stockholm was totally amazing. We loved every minute of it and by the end had promised each other to definitely come back again.

Typical Stockholm
Narrow alleys all over.

We started with a free walking tour of the Old Town. These are always a great way to orientate yourself and learn a little about the city and its people and there are always a few weird and interesting facts thrown in. One thing that kept reoccurring was that Swedes like to keep things simple and straightforward. They don’t like to over complicate things. On the whole we found this to be the case and even in a country where we did not know a single word of the language, we never really struggled. Steve, however, said that they should maybe revist the IKEA concept as that is the most complicated shop on the planet. “It’s easier to get in and out of Hampton Court maze”, is his view on that one!

Changing of The Guard Swedish style.

Next, was a visit to the Royal Palace to watch the ‘Changing of The Guard’. We weren’t expecting too much, after all we have made numerous visits to London where ceremony and pageant are second to none.

We were though pleasantly surprised with the 45 minute display of marching, running, rifle swirlling and all to a horse mounted band. Not quite Buckingham Palace, but still very good.

We then did our usual thing of putting our walking shoes into action and strolled around different areas and islands of the city. Stockholm is built on 14 islands, although there are 24,000 in the whole archipelago, so plenty to keep us busy!

We came across a majestic looking church and Sarah wandered in to have a look and take a photo, only to realise she had strolled into the start of a wedding. No-one seemed to mind though, The Swedes are pretty easy going.

We had ended up quite a long way from the main hub of the city, but the public transport system is amazing. Besides the metro, buses and trams there is an excellent ferry network all covered by the same daily ticket. So we jumped on one for a harbour cruise back to town.

Out on the water.

There was no excuse in Stockholm not to put back in some of the calories we had expended on the cycle, with pastry and cake shops everywhere and a couple of refuelling stops a day were essential. Steve particularly liked the local ‘kanelbulle’, a cinnamon and cardamom flavoured pastry.

The long days can really catch you out and by the time we had made it back to the campsite it was approaching 8pm and we still had dinner to sort out. It is light at the moment here until way past 10pm.

It had been a great first day in Stockholm. More of the same tomorrow please!

We started the following day by taking advantage of the ferry system and took a boat out to one of the furthest stops. It was a great way to see the concentration of islands, large and small, some containing whole suburbs and others just a single house!

Stockholm from the water.

We used the metro to get back to town and took one or two detours to take in some of the subway art. Most of the stations have some sort of decoration but a few of them are pretty special.

Our favourite two stations.

In the afternoon we went to Djurgarden or ‘Museum Island’, as it is known. Most of the City’s museums are located here as well as a roller-coaster fairground. The choice of museums is many and varied and there were two or three we fancied seeing, including The ABBA Museum!!

We started of at The Vasa Museum and made a huge miscalculation on time. This is the most visited Museum in Sweden and is utterly brilliant. Well we both thought it was.

We loved this museum.

Essentially, The Vasa was a 17th Century warship that sunk in the harbour on its maiden voyage due to a design fault. It was eventually located and salvaged in the 1960’s and after years of searching and painstaking reconstruction it has been put back together and cleaned, and is now 98% the same ship that sank almost 400 years ago.

Amazing preservation and detail.

It is huge and impressive and the whole museum is a great experience, designed incredibly well with all sorts of films and displays. You get so close to the ship from ground level to right up above for some great views.

Unfortunately, we spent so long in The Vasa Museum our time ran out for any other museum visits. Oh well, its just another excuse to come back to Stockholm in the future.

Our final morning was spent on our bikes. We got them out and spent a few hours cycling between the City’s parks for yet another different perspective of Stockholm, before making our way to the docks to board yet another ferry. This time an overnight one to Helsinki, Finland.

Stockholm was a real big hit with us and easily ranks right up there with our favourite cities of the world. Let’s see what Helsinki has to offer.

Finland here we come!

“Have you seen my bumbag?”

Rudesheim turned out to be a lovely place to stop and have a day off the bikes. Our accommodation was right in the old town, not The Ring of Uncertainty, which was still there but much smaller. We were staying in a 400 year old house which had been tastefully decorated and was very comfortable.

Our accommodation (not the whole building)

We spent our day off by catching the cable car up to a huge statue which overlooks the Rhine and commemorates the unification of Germany in 1871. Normally we would walk up but energy preservation was becoming a priority. The views were stunning especially on a beautiful sunny day and we were both looking forward to the scenery we would encounter on the next day.

The easy way up!
The “Germania” statue.

We did walk back down to town though. The walk wound its way through vineyards as the area is famous for producing Reisling wine and it was good to stretch our legs a little.

The town itself was probably the best we have seen in Germany. It is very pretty, with some green park areas but its location right on the banks of The Rhine was the real attraction. It was obviously very popular with several river cruise ships using it as a stop off.

One of many pretty streets.

We also spent some time planning the final stretch of this trip. We still had 275 miles to go and had planned to do it in six days, five days of cycling and one final day off. We were, however, struggling with where to have the day off as nowhere was really jumping out at us. But our main issue was the weather forecast, with a significant amount of rain set to drop in five or six day’s time. After a long discussion we decided that tired legs were better than enduring wet camping and cycling, so we would push on and try and finish in four and a half days. We would average just over 60 miles a day, with already tired legs and carrying the weight, it was not going to be easy.

Time to head off after a good break.

We also had the added complication that it was a holiday weekend in both Germany and The Netherlands, so finding available campsites at the right distances presented a challenge. But after plenty of phone calls and a bit of pleading by Sarah, “We only have a really small tent and no car”, we managed to secure some places to camp.

Our first day out of Rudesheim was, as promised, pretty scenic. We entered the Rhine Gorge and for the first time since the first couple of days of the trip our view was not of flat, wide open fields and farmland. Now it was steep sided hills, with vineyards and forests.

One of several castles along the way.

The route took us along a wide cycle path of varying quality, sometimes perfectly smooth, but sometimes a bit of a boneshaker and Steve could hear Sarah cursing behind whenever we hit an uneven patch! The main thing though, it was perfectly flat and hugged the river for the first 40 miles. With a castle perched at what seemed like every curve of the river and numerous pretty villages to pass through, the time flew by. We were also spoilt for choice when it came to places to stop and flash up the stove for a coffee!

A classic Rhine scene.

Our easy, scenic ride came to an abrupt end as we exited the gorge and entered the city of Koblenz. Cities are invariably difficult on bikes with navigation issues, traffic lights, traffic, pedestrians etc, which all add up to slow progress. It is also more tiring. Steve compared his bike to a heavily laden truck, in that it takes a lot of effort to get it going from a standing start, plenty of time to slow it down and needing a lot of space in which to turn it.

We battled through Koblenz and emerged on the other side, unscathed. One more stop for a drink and we rolled into our campsite after 66 miles of ever changing scenery.

Not too busy yet!

The site was right next to a spa and thermal pool, which sounded very tempting. But we were tired, hungry and it was also getting cold, so we decided against it. Nothing stops the Germans in this department though and they are well know for their love of naturism. While we were eating dinner a man appeared on the terrace of the spa in all his glory. “That reminds me”, said Sarah “I must have a bratwurst on this trip!”

The next morning we were up and away early. We had another long day ahead and were expecting it to be our hardest yet as, due to our new schedule, we had to negotiate three major cities, Bonn, Cologne and Dusseldorf. It was a cold morning but we were up for the challenge as we boarded a ferry to cross back to the West Side of the river.

Catching the morning ferry.

There aren’t too many bridges across the river outside of the big cities. Many of them were bombed during WWII. However a network of small ferries has sprung up carrying cars, cycles and pedestrians from one side to the other for a small fee. We have used them a few times and found them incredibly handy.

All that remains of the Remagen bridge.

In short we made great progress through all three cities. The cycle network was extensive, well maintained and hugged the river fairly well all the way. We had no major navigational errors and, in fact, had to take a detour into Cologne to see the impressive gothic Cathedral where we had lunch.

The areas between the cities was big industry. This is one of the big industrial areas of one of the big World economies. Chemical plants, motor manufacturing and oil refineries are on a big scale. Some of the sites were several kilometres long and made for a different vista than the previous morning.

Miles of industrial sites.

After clearing Dusseldorf we were back on a cycle path next to the river, in green fields with the smoking chimneys behind us. With another 73 miles completed, the legs a little more tired, and the finish another day closer, we pulled into a fantastic campsite, once more right on the river. After a great warm shower, we set about cooking dinner in the warm evening sun, feeling quite pleased with the last couple of days. We had cycled 139 miles in two days, the furthest Sarah had completed in that time, with or without panniers.

That won’t last long.
“No, I can’t wait”

It was now time to turn West as The Rhine headed towards The Netherlands. After the previous two contrasting days, this was a little boring as we made our way through rural Germany. The cycle paths, however, were excellent but for the first time in what seemed like ages we had a bit of a tail wind.

The evening’s accommodation had been the most difficult to secure. Saturday, on a Holiday weekend, at the beginning of summer was never going to be easy. Sarah found a Bed and Breakfast place right on the Dutch border that also had camping in their orchard so that’s where we pulled in.

How should we describe it? Let’s go with rustic! Essentially it was a small holding with pigs, chickens and a donkey, alongside the most uneven small orchard ever.

Camping buddies.

Sarah went to pay the owner while Steve looked for a flatish area to pitch the tent. He was still surveying the Himalayas when Sarah returned with a sort of quizzical smile on her face. “The woman said we can sleep in the dining area of the B&B as long as we are gone by 8.30 when the guests have breakfast”. “How weird”, thought Steve, “But it has to be better than sleeping on Krakatoa!”

We made our way to the B&B building only to be met by the woman who had an even better plan. Now we were to sleep in the hallway upstairs outside a room that was empty that night. We blew up our airbeds and unpacked a few things, when the woman emerged yet again, this time with bad news!! Apparently her husband had rented out the room without her knowledge and the occupants had just arrived. The woman was insistent that we should not move and luckily the occupants were a couple of Dutch cyclists on a four day trip. They were not concerned at all by us sleeping outside their room. In fact, they pulled up a chair from their room and we sat chatting until almost midnight!

We do stay in some strange places.

The following morning with no tent to pack we were away early and laughed out loud at our strange night’s accommodation. “It was essentially BYO B&B”, said Steve. “Bring your own bed and bring your own breakfast”.

Back in The Netherlands.

Our final full day of cycling was back in The Netherlands. Cycling is massive there and it seems that every single person has a bike. The cycle network is essentially a road network with similar rules and regulations. It is very busy around towns and cities, and everyone seems to know what they are doing. Everyone that is except the two crazy English touring cyclists!

Between the towns and cities it was pretty straightforward with plenty of time to think ahead. But when it got busy, especially in the centre of Utrecht, we have to admit there were times we just closed our eyes and hoped for the best. We emerged unscathed, although we did hear lots of shouting behind us a couple of times, but who knows what that was all about?

A Dutch road block

We made our final night’s camping at the same campsite we had stayed on three weeks before and it was another beautiful evening with the sun setting at almost 10pm and staying fairly warm until not long before.

Our last evening on this trip.

The following morning we emerged from the tent at 6.30am, both of us excited about the prospect of it being the last day and a short one at that.

“Can you pass me my bumbag out of the tent”, Steve asked as he got dressed. “It’s not in here”, came the reply …. Panic hit!

To cut a long story short, Steve carries the passports and bank cards in a bumbag. He always has it. For four years it’s been part of him everyday. It’s not the most fashionable item and he sometimes gets annoyed with it. But it’s worked well ….. up until now.

He had gone to the toilet at 10pm the night before, hung it on the toilet door and, probably because he was so tired, he forgot it. When he went back in the morning it was gone!!!

Hardly any of the other campers were awake and no-one had handed it into reception. It was only a smallish campsite, maybe 50 or so pitches, so we decided to wait and speak to everyone in the hope someone had taken it for safe keeping.

While we waited we started to prepare for the worst and could only see a mountain of issues and complications and changed plans ahead.

We positioned ourselves by the shower block and one by one the other campers came and went with no bumbag. After an hour of waiting we were giving up hope when Steve spotted a man walking towards us swinging a black bag. His hopes were lifted but then he thought, “No, it looks like his wash bag”. However, as he got closer he realised it was his bumbag!! He gave the man a huge hug and thanked him a thousand times and we set off on the bikes with our plans still on track.

The morning was spent mostly in a state of relief as we moved away from The Rhine and towards Amsterdam Airport where our car had been parked 19 days before. Our attention was brought back into focus as the roar of jet engines overhead signalled our proximity to the airport. After almost 900 miles in 16 days of cycling and way ahead of schedule we rolled into the car park. Another long distance cycle was completed, and we were both shattered!

Back at last. Now what’s next!

We made a quick change in the car park, loaded the bikes onto the car, and set off to our friends, Mark and Lisa, for a quick visit.

“STOP”, shouted Sarah, as we approached the barrier!! “Have you got your bumbag” 🙂

The Ring of Uncertainty.

Bad Säckingen turned out to be ‘Sort of alright Säckingen’. We have noticed that lots of German towns and villages (even the really pretty ones) have an Old Town which have remained, to a certain extent, intact. Then around this area the town has expanded out in the modern world, with housing and services to supply the people who work or live there. This is pretty much what happens everywhere all over The World. But we have noticed that in some areas of Europe particularly in France, Spain and Italy, there is a definite open space between old and new. This is especially the case in Andalucia and The Luberon. In Germany, the ring around the old town is, how can we put it?…. a ring of uncertainty! You just have to be that little bit more aware of your surroundings.

In Bad Säckingen our apartment was in the ‘ring of uncertainty’. The block didn’t look anything special at all but the apartment itself was lovely with a comfy bed, comfy sofa, comfy everything. It was just what we needed for two nights of good rest and a full day off the bikes!

Outside of the apartment block.
Inside was great!

We had never heard of Bad Säckingen before and only chose it because of the impending rain that was forecast. Over the years we have almost become amateur meteorologists. We regularly monitor weather patterns and various international and local websites to make adjustments to our trips. Most places have an optimum time to visit in order to do the things you want to do. As a basic example, you wouldn’t go to The French Alps for the best skiing in July, you would go hiking or mountain biking instead!

During our trips we also hold back or push on when depending on the weather, especially when rain is predominantly in the forecast. Which brings us back to Bad Säckingen. Heavy rain was forecast and we did not want to cycle or camp in it, so a day off was needed and Bad Sack seemed as good a place as any.

Back in Germany after a short walk to Switzerland.

We woke up on our day off to heavy, steely grey skies, but no rain. So we decided to see what the place had to offer. We threaded our way through the ‘ring of uncertainty’, passed a few drunks, along some less than sweet smelling alleys and under some graffiti decorated subways, to emerge in a pretty German medieval town.

The Rhine at Bad Säckingen

It had a large central square, occupied by a church, lots of cobbled streets that twisted and turned at all sorts of angles, and a long covered wooden bridge that stretched across The Rhine to Switzerland.

It was a pretty but not amazing town. We stopped for a coffee and Steve sat at a table outside while Sarah went to order. Then out of nowhere a huge gust of wind blew through the street taking chairs and advertising boards with it. This was followed by a crack of thunder and an absolute downpour as if someone had just ripped open the clouds. Within seconds the street was a river. The woman running the coffee shop was frantically trying to get everything inside so we jumped in to help. The woman was genuinely surprised at our efforts, so much so that she gave us a small sticky waffle for our trouble. “Don’t tell anyone about this”, said Steve “We are not on a working visa!”

We watched as the rain turned to hailstones and the sky turned almost black. We laughed at how it would have been cycling along in the deluge. “A good call I think”, said Sarah.

The rain eased but continued lighter and we made our way back through ‘the ring of uncertainty’ to our lovely, dry apartment and enjoyed the rest of our day off.

The following day was planned to be our longest day of cycling on this trip, 72 miles, so we were up early and ready for the off. Unfortunately, as Steve prepared the bikes he noticed Sarah’s back tyre was quite soft and further investigation revealed a slow puncture. But with a quick change of inner tube we were soon on our way.

The weather front had passed but had left behind some cloudy skies and colder temperatures. But after a few small hills we soon warmed up and were flying along the Rhine towards the city of Basel.

The main square in Basel….not too exciting!

Today was to be another one of those ‘three countries in a few hours’ day. We crossed into Switzerland along the wooden bridge we had seen the day before, then we navigated through Basel and turned North and into France.

We decided to leave the path along The Rhine and hit some of the rural French roads which are nearly always great for cycling, and we weren’t disappointed, so we made some great progress. Sarah spotted a tabac and patisserie in a small village. We stopped and she emerged with two take-out coffees and a couple of amazing fresh croissants and sat on a wall to devour them in seconds. Getting calories was always high on the agenda.

“Feed me”
“And me”

The day moved on and so did the clouds. As we arrived at our destination in Colmar the sun was out, it was hot, and we pitched our tent in a great spot at a campsite by the river.

This is more like it!

Colmar was one of the places Steve had wanted to visit on this trip so we had decided to take the following day off in order to see it.

Pretty Colmar…..
….with interesting public toilets!

This turned out to be a good decision. Colmar is beautiful and we had a sunny day on which to explore it. The town and the surrounding villages are said to be the inspiration for the Beauty and the Beast story. It is real fairytale stuff with half timbered, crooked, colourful buildings and narrow cobbled streets. A picture postcard at each corner. It is very popular and busy with its fair share of cafes, bars, restaurants and tourists shops, but definitely worth the visit.

A great view at every turn….
…well, almost!

Our next day was one of ease of navigation. We left the campsite, crossed a road and joined a cycle path which ran straight for about 15 miles. The path then turned left and ran along the side of the Rhine Grand Canal for about 35 miles, straight, straight, straight until it popped us out right in the centre of the city of Strasbourg.

The route was far from boring with changing scenery along the way and plenty of activity on the canal. Cyclists, anglers, day cruisers, transport barges, house boats and even a ‘stag’ party!

The Rhine Grand Canal.

We made a quick stop at the impressive gothic Cathedral which is impossible to photograph completely because of its size and location amongst tightly packed streets. Then we crossed back over The Rhine into Germany and to the adjoining city of Kehl for another night under canvas.

It does have a top.

The next two days were almost identical to one another. We followed the route along the Rhine and passed through one non-descript German village after another. At one point it felt like we had gone in a big circle as the villages were so similar. We also found it very quiet, almost eerily so. It was the weekend and many places were closed. As we passed a couple of villages we saw almost no-one. So for a couple of days we just put our heads down and got through the miles.

I have no idea where we are?

The campsites were also nothing special. However, on one of them we did bump into a lovely South African couple who now live in The Netherlands and were cycling in the opposite direction to ourselves. We shared a picnic table for cooking and eating dinner and spent a couple of hours chatting and exchanging travel stories. It’s great to have these chance meetings with people with a similar outlook to ourselves. They invited us to stay with them at the end of our cycle but I just don’t think we can make it fit, which is a shame because we did share a few laughs with them.

No. We are not at a festival!

The miles rolled by and we slowly edged closer to our next day off which was to be in the town of Rudesheim. Rudesheim has a big reputation and is also at the start of the Rhine Gorge, which for many is apparently the most scenic part of the trip. “I wonder if we will be staying in The Ring of Uncertainty”, thought Steve, as we cycled into town.