Friday, 20 July 2018

Circumnavigating Lac St Jean and to the confluence of the St Lawrence and the Saguenay rivers.

The Quebecois are overwhelmingly friendly and welcoming. In their customer service roles they really look after the customer. food is not great, but everything else is good to excellent, including bike route signing. Take a bow, Quebec!

Beginning in Alma, we have now ridden around the lake, stopping off at Sainte-Felicien, Dolbeau-Mitassini, Saint Monique and Saint Gedeon. Lots of saints, I know, and they did a good job of keeping us safe.

The multi-coloured crew preparing to leave St Gedeon.

We overnighted in a great Auberge de Jeunesse in St Gedeon, one highlight the wonderful dinner and brekkie cooked by Kendy and Karen. So good to eat freshly-cooked non-fried food.

The other highlight was Bill tinkling the ivories in both the church at Saint Monique and at the Auberge in Saint Gedeon. This was the first item in our forthcoming talent concert. Beautiful playing, Bill.

Bill playing in Saint Monique.

Leaving Saint Gedeon we headed for Saguenay enjoying a damn good ride along quiet country roads and through lush forests, finishing with a beautiful 'cathedral' ride where the cool trees shaded us, the track was downhillish and the wind was at our backs.

And then the NEXT day! Our Fab Four took off and rode those damn hills. And in anybody's measure of a hill these are HILLS! Al and Katherine also rode off but were not intending to do the whole ride.
Michael, Bill, Dave and Karen.

We have three nights now at Tadoussac to watch whales, do the washing and let our legs relax before another couple of gruelling rides.

Stats that may or may not be interesting

Saturday 14 July, Bastille Day: we took off in the rain which cleared after an hour and rode 90kms to Sainte Felicien. A huge thunderstorm greeted us as we arrived.

Sunday 15 July: a shortish day of 60kms to Dolbeau-Mistassini. Unusually th4e chain fell off my bike 5kms from the end of the day. Michael put it back on. Who's ever heard of a chain falling off a bike mid-ride?

Monday 16 July: a lovely day's ride, short at 55kms, to Saint Monique. Very pleasant lunch at Peribonka.

Tuesday 17 July:  a beautiful 75km ride broken into three parts: forest, road and ferry, then quiet roads and tracks to St Gedeon.

Des and Maureen avoiding moose, beavers, chipmunks and mosquitoes in the park.

Wednesday 18 July: A day of rolling hills and beautiful riding through lush farmland and forests. the 90kms whizzed by under our wheels. Our first day of riding as a 9-member team.

Thursday 19 July: I wimped out along with others to ride the van for the 125kms to Tadoussac.

Where's Garis?

This was the question on everyone's lips as we assembled in Alma, Quebec, from where we began our ride. Garis, it seems, has made an impression on all of us for several reasons: some recalled Garis Gadget on an Orient Express talent night; some desperately wanted his advice about bike issues; and others just plain wanted to say hello.

Some of the people saying 'Hello Garis!'
Bill says 'Hello Garis!' too.

We also missed Garis on our Via Rail journey from Montreal to Hebertville. Slated for an 8.15 departure we expected to arrive at about 4.30 to ride the remiaing 10 or so kms to Alma to meet everyone. As it turned out there was train trouble. And again, Garis was missed!

Garis advising the Czech train staff about pantogrpahs and other things rail-related. He's explaining to Karen  when this was taken.

So Garis, if you're reading this, know that you are a valuable team member in this odd-bod bike riding fraternity that we have collected around us.

Friday, 13 July 2018

Canada, Oh Canada

Come 8 July we flew to Canada via Vancouver, landing up in Montreal. Montreal has surprised us with its bike riding culture and the many many kms of shared and separated paths. We climbed to the top of Mont Royal to get a great view of the city and Leonard! 
One of the huge Leonard Cohen portraits on buildings in Montreal

View of Montreal from the top

Michael, Maureen, Maggie, Janice, Des on Mont Royal

The ride up Mont Royal is a lovely ride of benign gradient through the trees, squirrels darting round about. 

We then tackled downtown where there are both separated bike lanes–Copenhagen lanes we call them in Melbourne–and marked lanes on roads. Knowing which street goes which way is critical in a city of predominantly one-way traffic. After some friendly assistance near McGill College, we cycled down Atwater Street to the market where we enjoyed a delicious lunch from the many food stalls operating there.

Michael enjoying a charcuterie platter
After lunch we rode down the Lachine Canal to the Saint Lawrence River, a quiet ride through both industrial and ritzy housing. During this Michale helped with some minor bike issues like Maggie's handlebars collapsing and my brakes. We didn't pick up the fact that neither Maggie's nor Maureen's back wheels were housed properly, though! 

A bit of bike fixing

Michael and Maggie

In the team so far are Maggie, Maureen, Des, Michael, Janice and Kendy so far. We are being joined by more fellow riders in Alma where we start our 2,600 km ride, first circumnavigating Lac Saint-Jean before riding down the northern shore of the Saguenay Fjord. Then onto St Johns in Newfoundland by traversing parts of New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia.
So far we've ridden about 65kms in Montreal's perfect summer weather of blue skies and warmth.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Rounding Up

Sally, Graeme and Des all snappy and happy.

This is what they were shooting.

Don't know how older people cope on cobbles and hillsides. Being a nun might help.

Des celebrating with an ice from Eis Murano, Nierstein.

Graeme decided to celebrate with a beer instead.

And os Heidleberg it was on teh second last riding day before the team rolled into Mannheim.
Maureen shouted Des and Janice a welcome to Nierstein ice-cream. Yummo!
Here we are back in Nierstein at the lovely Villa Spiegelberg after 42 days on the road. Each of us rode for 36 days, the balance spent behind the wheel of the car listening to Emily as she directed us through villages and cities en route to our next overnight stop. Last days of a tour are always sweet, unless of course it is pouring rain, and should be rewarded with appropriate things.

If you look closely, you can see why Des burnt off the peleton in the last few days;
he purchased extra horse power at a flew market.

Fitness improved for all, not surprisingly, after some long days traversing both horizontal and vertical landscapes. Purchases at Decathalon in Mannheim means that we are now all outfitted to continue pedaling to our heart's content. Des is on record saying he is going to ride several times each week on our return to Melbourne. Guess that means I'll go too. Can't be all that bad, can it? Surely those truck drivers and cars have softened in their attitudes to two-wheelers during our time away. That's why we appreciate Germany so much as a riding terrain as vehicle drivers respect bike riders and the respect is reinforced as so many more people ride bikes and I suppose there are some laws about sharing roads as well.

High on a hill was a lovely sheep herd. The question was, however, why the hell were we up there too?
Despite our experience earlier on the trip of getting lost and continuing to climb steep hills on gravel surfaces, we managed to do it again. This time the gravel was less benign and we had to walk downhill as well. Our day turned into quite a long one and we were all keen to reach Neckartzenlingen, only to find a shambolic guest house run by one Ingeborg, that offered few if any comforts, kind of like the town itself. Avoid this place for an overnight stay if you're in the area. Bad Urach is a much prettier place.

Janice enjoying a beer.
Marbach am Neckar was a hoot as we went to a local eatery for dinner and were delighted by our host who plied us with wine, spirituous liquor and even wanted to dance with us. Luckily her husband kicked us out round 10pm otherwise we might still be somewhere on a German Radweg.

All in all this was a very successful bike trip. No injuries; one flat tyre; one broken spoke. Not bad for collectively more than 14,500kms of riding. A lot of laughs, mainly about silly things, which are always the best. And a great insight into Germany - its social climate, its geography and its agriculture. 

We each rode more than 2100 kms, distance really depending on which day was an allocated driving day. Our final stats are:
2 September: Ulm to Neckartzenlingen; 95kms added to by mountainous goat tacks. Our biggest climing day with over 1100 metres
3 September: Neckartzenlingen to Marbach am Neckar; 75 kms of great riding
4 September: Marbach am Neckar to Haßmersheim; 70kms including a wine festival, hills and rain
5 September: Haßmersheim to Mannheim; 98kms with sightseeing in Heidelberg
6 September: Mannheim to Nierstein; 71kms in near perfect riding conditions

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Rounding the Bend onto the Donau, and yes, it has stopped raining

After a rousing swim in the Regnitz river at Bamberg enjoyed by Maureen and myself - you climb in one end of the wooden platform and swim 100 metres to the end where you clamber out again, any further and you'd be swept down the river - we were ready for the penultimate stage. Little did we know that after a pleasant 40kms or so we would spend the remainder of the day on gravel, goat tracks and roads climbing up and down, up and down, up and down, until we finally found our hotel after 6pm. A LONG day in the saddle, and a good one to have over.

Amberg to Regensburg was a smooth day and we were fortunate enough to book ourselves into an oasis right in the heart of the old town. We cooked dinner and enjoyed lazing round on comfy couches and even watched some of the last bits of the Vuelta. Umm, we thought we were doing it tough!

It was good to glimpse the Donau again, not seen by me since 2014 briefly in Serbia sitting on the high banks in a park, and ridden along from Donaueschingen to Bratislava in 2008, remembered fondly but alas, not accurately. Riding into Ulm we rode along the river for a good part of the day, but prior to then, the river was only seen in major towns.
The stone bridge across the Donau at Regensburg

We entertained ourselves on this stretch in many ways: cooking dinner; watching villagers erect a 'Maypole'; spotting swans; enjoying picnic lunches; and trying not to think too much about hill climbing.

Maureen cooking up a storm in our Regensburg apartment.

Erecting the pole using ropes and props.

One of the many locks.

A glimpse of the Danube.

Janice and Sally riding forth.
Janice attempting to escape from another youth hostel.

Being watched over as we crossed a bridge.

There are many variations of the free book swap house in many villages and cities.

Graeme meets a goat.

An impressive woodstack and bird house.

Donauworth from our youth hostel window.

A small farm farmer getting on with business.
One of our interesting encounters on the ride into Ulm was meeting two blokes who were paddling down the Danube to Budapest. They had just purchased a 'new' second-hand canoe after theirs was smashed in half in rapids the previous day.

It was also a day for wildlife spotting, two swan families and a black squirrel providing the highlights.
A four cygnet swan family on the Donau.

The Ulm Munster at night.
And so we have five more riding days left until we roll back into Nierstein to conclude our 42 days on the road. And guess what? There's more hills in store. Oh goody!

Kids at play.

Des extracting the car from the Regensburg oasis.

Laundromats are such fun!

The ladies of the laundromat left to their own devices.

More stats for those so inclined to emulate this ride:

26 August: Bamberg to Amberg; 126kms; 775 uphill meters; long and hot - guess that's why they're called 'Bergs'
27 August: Amberg to Regensburg; 70km; more climbing
28 August: Regensburg to Dietfurt; 71kms; more climbing
29 August: Dietfurt to Eichstatt; 64kms; more climbing
30 August: Eichstatt to Donauworth:70kms; lots of climbing
31 August: Donaworth to Ulm; 87kms - only a little climbing

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Miscellaneous Reflections, Thoughts and Considerations

Making a bike tour in Germany is not all about the bike, as there are many other considerations and observations required. Here is a list for you to ponder.

1. Someone has to drive the car. This means missing out on a riding day, which can be convenient depending on 'skin tears', bruising, tiredness or some other ailment or other that may make being on the bike more perilous than necessary. It also means navigating. Fortunately, our commodious Skoda is equipped with a satellite navigation system, otherwise known as a GPS, and the melodious voice of Emily can guide the driver in and out of narrow streets on the way into old towns, take on the best on a German Autobahn and find otherwise tucked away villages too small to make a mark on our maps. For us accustomed to driving on the left, the hardest thing is making a left-hand turn on a multi-lane road or street, and ending up on the right-hand side of the road. Other tricks include learning to turn on the indicator lights, not the windscreen wipers; and getting the hang of positioning the car in the middle of the lane rather than too far to the right which can lead to mounting gutters and knocking over rubbish bins.

Various glass recyling bins.

2. We generate rubbish, or Mull, as the Germans call it. But most of what we think of as rubbish is recycling material for Germans. There are usually three receptacles just for glass which must be sorted according to colour: white, green or brown. There are special places for metal, paper and compost. Supermarkets usually have a bottle - including plastic bottles - sucker-up machine adjacent to the foyer. One inserts bottles and Euros come out of a slot. Quite the incentive, it seems. I'm not sure as yet where the plastic bag goes - perhaps that is all that should be put in the Mull pile. As you can imagine, getting this system right can cause stress, so much so that we have just bagged up stuff - not bottles or cans though - and carried our crap off to a nearby public bin and shoved it in hoping that CCTV cameras are not trained on us. And there are many bins for clothing and shoes in towns and villages. Once, I was trying to find a laundromat - Waschsalon in German - and a kind young woman directed me to the clothing recycle bin. 

3. Shooting deer is a national pastime. I'm not sure how many are shot, but spotting towers dot the countryside everywhere. Those proud of their kill may mount the skeletal heads complete with antlers attached, onto pieces of timber and screw these plaques to some wall or other. One toilet I went into had seven small skulls hanging from the walls.

4. Outside clothes lines are rare. This in a country where wind towers are as common as the deer spotting towers and thousands upon thousands of half-acres are planted out with solar panels. 

5. Everything is clean. And I mean everything. We have passed many people sweeping a few leaves and some dust from the street in front of their house using a small brush and pan, and those intent on tweezering out tiny weeds growing between paving stones seem to be endlessly occupied. It wasn't until we got to Bamberg, a city of 75,000, 15,000 of whom are university students, that we noticed weeds in public and private places, and a more relaxed approach to external perfection.

6. If the red hair dye manufacturers went on strike, German women would call on Angela Merkel to declare a state of national emergency.

7. Not just a little tractor will do when you can have one or two or three, even, humongous beasts to roam around your small fields, ploughing, spreading liquid manure, raking and hay-bale collecting. It is good that farmyards are built on a grand scale to house these creatures of German industry.

8. Germany is a riot of floral splendor. Window boxes abound, yes, even on cow barns. Bridges are bedecked with hanging baskets, windowsills sport those long-flowering orchids (along with so much other 'stuff' - Kitsch indeed) pots of red geraniums decorate Biergartens and domestic gardens mix cottage favourites, including roses, with vegetables, fruit trees and grassy verges. As per point 5, everything is trimmed, dead-headed and swept presenting an immaculate picture for the passerby.

A small bridge bedecked with hanging baskets.

9. There is nothing that Germans like better than a good old beer-fueled summer festival. Out from the wardrobes or newly purchased from the shop come the Dirndls and Lederhosen - yes, even up north there are costumes similar in nature to the Bavarian ones you might recognise - and out they go: with the dog or without; with the kids costumed or not; with grandma and grandpa most definitely. There must be huge potteries somewhere making all those ceramic steins, only a few of which end up as shards on the street on Sunday morning.
Bamberg celebrations.

The boys in Regensburg.

10. When entering each town there is at least one sign, sometimes more, advising the days and time when mass or communion is celebrated. This is because each town has at least one Catholic, and, more than likely, at least one other Christian-denomination church.

I have not as yet seen any mosques in the countryside. Michael said that recent asylum seeker arrivals have been housed in communities throughout the nation, the number in proportion to the overall original population. Sounds sensible. There they wait for processing, unable to work and living in a variety of accommodation including guests houses and youth hostels. Our contact with the recent arrivals has been very limited.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Once upon a time...

...we rode The Fairytale Route, circling the large city of Kassel. Leaving Gottingen we headed to a very different German town, Bad Karlshafen, high in the hills, only found through swathes of forest and villages that can only be located on large-scale maps.
Sally contemplating a hill.

Maggie marvelling at a 25% gradient.
True to its name, there was a modern bathing house on the river, so I took the water cure along wth tens of aged and bronzed Germans, some wearing swimming attire nearly as old as themselves, affording me views of wrinkled nether regions and equally wrinkled attendant bits. (At least they did not have face cloths on their heads, as is the preference of some at the Maribyrnong swimming pool.) But the most striking thing about Bad Karlshafen is its architecture: white squared-off buildings standing along wide streets, and residences constructed from stone the colour of stewed nectarines, giving it the air of a French or perhaps Spanish settlement. The hostel we stayed in was a former sanitarium perched on a hill to take in the views and the air. We BBQed our hearts out.
Graeme keeping the home fires burning.
Imagine listening to tales of Little Red Riding Hood while tucked up in  bed in the attic...

Next town on our list was Zierenberg, further uphill and deeper into the forest. We arrived on a Saturday amidst preparations for a mountain bike race to be held the next morning. Funnily enough, the organizers all could have been organizers of an Australian bike event - lean men with cropped hair, bulging calf muscles and a disdain for riders like us, who, goddamit, even had a duck cable-tied to one of their bikes! The highlights  of the day were two: riding through a former rail tunnel where we met a couple who told us about their rides through the countryside as well as a ride they took from Seville to Madrid; and climbing to the castle where Rapunzel was imprisoned, a little off our route, but worth the climb.
You can see Rapunzel's hair cascading down if you look hard.

The tunnel which we rode through twice.
Hard to find a coffee but eventually we came across a larger town and made good with a supermarket bakery.

You get to meet all sorts along the Radwegs, and these German women were friendly, and like most we speak to, amazed that people from Australia would come to Germany to ride a bike. Germans tend to believe that the best cycling in the world is in Holland. Personally, I cannot agree.
The team in action.

Next morning we stopped off at Wolfhagen and amused ourselves with the story of the wolf and the seven goats, only one of which remained in the town square statue.
The only wolf I have spotted in Germany.
Coffee and cake in the old Watchhouse, watched over by groups of older men enjoying a smorgasbord breakfast.
Des does like a good cream cake.
After the learn pickings at our guesthouse earlier in the day, we were sorely tempted, but refrained. More climbing and more forest, we rode into Fritzlar, where the definite highlight was the last day of a three-day Kaiser festival. Men, women and children dressed in medieval gear prowled the cobbled streets, bands struck up a tune or two, blacksmiths wrought implements from red-hot iron, horse-head minstrels wandered through the crowds who were enjoying en masse lots of beer, baked pork rolls, more beer, and fairy floss for the kids. I resisted the urge to purchase a sword and challenge Maureen to a duel. 

Our next town was Neukirchen, so small that it didn't even appear on the bike signs until we were 10kms distant. A pleasant day's riding through fields and valleys, up hills - again - and down into villages. Our wildlife spotting yielded two white swans protecting two cygnets, lots of herons, the odd stork, many small hawks and endless flocks of sparrows. I looked out for a deer, but the one spotted on day 2 of this route remains the sole entrant. There was never a shortage of apples along the wayside however, so no wonder the wicked stepmother chose one to tempt Snow White.

Apples for Snow White and the horses on a Sunday trot.
We didn't make it to Sleeping Beauty's castle - too high up and an 18km detour. I know, wimps we are.

Our guesthouse, although boasting a pleasant beer garden, did not permit BBQs, so we took ourselves down to the grassy banks beside a small stream and baked and grilled into the evening. And you know the best bit? Pinging red-hot BBQ coals into the water where they banged like a gun, smoked a lot and sailed off downstream. It was especially delicious because we had already been told by some busybody chap that we had to clean up after ourselves, and as we were women, good at both cleaning and breastfeeding, he hoped we did a good job of it. Umm. Not one of our best encounters, perhaps.

Picnic BBQ on the stream.

The ride into Rotenburg an der Fulda goes down as the best 80km ride of the trip. It began with a gentle 15km climb, hardly noticeable, followed by a swooping downhill for the next 6kms. All day we rode along tree-lined paved paths or beside burbling brooks, and later the Fulda River, into a pretty town. Although we climbed more than 500 meters, we all agreed that we didn't feel it as we have felt the other 500+ meter climbs we have done each day on this stage, probably because we weren't on goat tracks, rough gravel, pinging over tree roots, or wallowing along muddy paths. There is a marked difference in surface, sometimes on a minute-by-minute basis on the Radwegs. Not that we mind. Much.
Another goat track masquerading as Radweg 4.
Also, getting out of towns can be challenging indeed, but this time in Bad Hersfeld, we were lucky to come across Hans Otto Kurz, an octogenarian on an electric bike complete with oxygen tank strapped behind, who led us safely and calmly back onto Radweg 1 beside the Fulda. 
Hans' bike.

Maggie and I got talking to Gerhard who hunts wild boar and makes sausages and smoked meats from that animal as well as deer/stags. His dog, Paola, whom he purchased in England is a Parson's terrier and bred for hunting. He presented us with a slab of smoked stag meat - very dark in colour, as well as a sausage he had made. These were left on a table where we were drinking wine, so we never did get to taste them more's the pity.

Wishing Maureen happy birthday, joined by her sister Catherine and friend Claire who came down from Berlin for the occasion, was fun.

Saying goodbye to Maggie was sad as she is such a great riding companion: good-humoured, persistent and patient. We are so glad she re-joined the team, albeit for such a short time.

Our metrics - again!
19 August: Gottingen to Bad Karlshafen; 68kms 
20 August: Bad Karlshafen to Zierenberg; 52kms
21 August: Zierenberg to Fritzlar; 53kms
22 August: Fritzlar to Neukirchen; 66kms
23 August: Neukirchen to Rotenburg an dear Fulda; 78kms 

Total climbing on this stage: 2700 meters