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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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”.
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?
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.
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!
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” 🙂