TRIP ALONG THE RHINE FROM THE SOURCE TO THE SEA, JULY 2015
DAY O BRISTOL TO HOSPENTAL
OK flight to Zurich, where the temperature was in the 30s. My first attempt at German on the flight was understood, and I got the apple juice I asked for without having to repeat myself. Met up with Steve from Bike Adventures and some of the other people on the trip, including Americans Gary and Dave from the French End to End last year. Bus took us to the hotel through beautiful as-you-would-expect scenery in Switzerland – low lying lakes with irregular odd formations of hills above and snow covered mountains above that. Driver insisted on having his rest but also gave us the jitters by weaving in and out of traffic jams on the motorway. Dinner at the hotel was OK but painfully slow. Main course at 10.30 led to mad nightmares: rescuing neglected children on Ambra Vale, wearing someone else's flip-flops and getting locked out of my house.
We don't put up the average age of people on the trip by very much, but all these old codgers look very fit.
DAY 1 HOSPENTAL TO CHUR 55 MILES
I almost used up my entire anxiety quota for the trip when I opened the bike box and saw what the bike shop had done. Almost entirely dismantled, with zip ties just all over the place. Bike Adventures people did a really good job in putting it back together for me. Taken in the van to Oberalppass, nearest place to the source of the Rhine. A swooping descent through tight hairpin bends for several miles to start. The Rhine was an amazing light emerald colour and soon widened out. Dramatic gorges, villages tucked into thick wooded hills which towered high above them, and relatively gentle climbing brought us much closer to the hills. It's all absurdly picturesque. Customary lunch of bread, cheese, bananas and chocolate milk, courtesy of a Coop supermarket. Ann's heel started giving serious gyp in the afternoon, ibuprofen and paracetamol keeping it at bay. Ibis hotel is fine, and we had dinner at a restaurant in the old town of Chur, spaghetti carbonara for the second night running. Switzerland lives up to its reputation for being expensive.
DAY 2 CHUR TO LINDAU 69 MILES
A morning of extraordinary variety – crop fields, industrial estates, cattle, orchards, vineyards. And always the mountains around us, starting to get nearer and lower. Also the day of four countries. First, Switzerland and then Liechtenstein (for the hell of it) – it has the highest per capita GDP in the world and has more registered companies than people. Truly the Land of the One Per Cent. Then Austria and Germany, ending at Lake Konstanz.
Afternoon, lots of riding on flood dykes along the river. The Rhine changed colour as we came down to green fields, looking to me less emerald green and more blue. Long straight stretches. |Just beginning to wonder whether the scenery was enough to outweigh the long straight path when the strong wind came directly in our faces and we went on to a coarse, loose gravel surface. Suddenly needed full attention just to stay aboard.
Late afternoon, Ann fell off negotiating a busy junction at a bridge getting on to a cycle path. Grazed knee, blood coming from her finger but not seriously hurt. Resisted kind offer from another cyclist to call an ambulance.
Walked to the old town at Lindau for food- reasonable Italian restaurant. Rain while there and on the way back.
Wild life seen during the day included cormorants, herons, storks, a deer leaping across the road just in front of us, and lots of speed skaters gracefully going along bike paths. Noticeable that when we passed briefly into Austria there were far fewer cycle helmets. Presumably Swiss cyclists wear them in the mistaken belief that it will protect them against all the big posh cars around.
DAY 3 LINDAU TO NEUHAUSEN 61 MILES
The day was defined by Lake Konstanz. It is the largest lake I have ever seen and looks just like a huge sea. We spent a lot of the day riding alongside it and there must have been thousands of people sunning themselves, swimming, etc.
Ann had a bout of nausea but it seemed to go off.
I had never understood the level of cycling in Switzerland and Germany. Hordes and hordes and hordes of people on every kind of bike, including recumbents and bikes with trailers holding kids or luggage. And many, many of these people are real old codgers. There are facilities to match, dedicated cycle paths all over the place, cycle lanes along main roads, priority to bikes at roundabouts, and a very high level of courtesy and consideration from motorists.
Hot, hot, hot again today.
DAY 4 NEUHAUSEN TO RHEINFELDEN 62 MILES
We heard the Rhine for the first time today as opposed to seeing it – near Rheinfall, which we decided we didn't have time to visit. Then the river disappeared for large parts of the day as we rode through agricultural scenery reminiscent of the UK – valleys, woods, crop fields. We saw huge birds of prey and lots and lots of wild hedgerow flowers.
Ann's diversion of the day was an attack of loose rib, which necessitated lying on a bench. But things got worse in scorching heat and it was very hard on her for the last 10 miles or so. Steve has offered her a place in the van if she wants to bale out tomorrow. She generously said she could ride with the back marker, making pick up by the van easier, while I rode with Nick so as not to be left too far behind. She is a lovely person, even though she shouted at me for wanting to go what turned out to be the right way after being diverted off the route.
DAY 5 RHEINFELDEN TO RUST 77 MILES
Ann gave it a try but had to bale out from exhaustion and a bad stomach after 26 miles. At least the van was handy for her.
Not a scenically exciting day, much of it on the Rhine Canal network. Hot morning but in early afternoon we had what all 5 of us said was the worst thunderstorm we had ever experienced. Soaked to the skin before I could tog up, driving rain eventually penetrated the bushes we were next to, then the wind changed direction and came straight in our faces. Huge hailstorms to follow. Spent the rest of the ride drying out.
We had to cross a couple of grass verges and a fast busy road – very difficult for Mike who has severe mobility problems and rides an electric bike. Robin the poultry farmer from Norwich boldly stood in the middle of the oncoming lane holding his hand up and miraculously the traffic just stopped.
A long day on long straight paths and dykes with lots and lots of gravel. But I was nicely endorphined by the time I arrived.
Hurrah! Ann feels a lot better and thinks she will ride tomorrow.
DAY 6 RUST TO RASTATT 64 MILES
Quite a lot of riding along Canal du Rhȏne au Rhin again, long and straight. Mostly good surfaces today, through woodland, arable fields and along dykes. Cooler today, which made the riding easier. Ann a lot better, though she had some incipient cramp.
Managed to get through the private section owned by General Motors just before they closed it off to test some souped up car. The guy who had to open the gates for us at the far end stressed how dangerous it was, and not sure that he believed us when we said the gates at the near end had still been open.
Saw a heron taking off, quite a sight. Where we crossed back over to Germany from France the Rhine had become very, very wide, majestic and impressive. Shorter day tomorrow but later start because we are being led out as a group through a hard-to-describe route.
DAY 7 RASTATT TO SPEYER 48 MILES
Almost half way and it's going quite fast. We've settled down to picnic lunches of Camembert, bread, grapes, bananas and chocolate milk with occasional fresh plum pie from the Coop.
A shorter day, and we were led out for the first 20 miles because the route was too complex to do by instruction. It was a relief just to ride without constantly having to refer to the route. A lot of woodland riding today, as well as the usual straight lines along dykes.
Ferry over the river and lunch at a wooded area with benches, tables and locked toilets. Life saving ice cream and drinks at a campsite next to a lake in the afternoon heat. Spent the evening traipsing round Speyer in the still stifling heat with Ann's ankle hurting a lot, looking for the right biergarten to meet Nick in. Way too busy so we went back to the hotel only to find their restaurant wasn't open. Ended up with a very acceptable meal in a nearby Greek restaurant.
This trip started with such dramatically great scenery that it's difficult to keep it up.
Mosquito bites have come up with a vengeance in the last couple of days and made me very bad tempered tonight in the heat. Ann forgave me.
DAY 8 SPEYER TO MAINZ 61 MILES
A varied day in lots of respects. Cool woodland paths; industrial areas (I resisted the lure of wild damsons next to a row of power stations which looked like an up to date and aesthetic version of Avonmouth); farmland; the usual dykes. Much cooler and a few showers. Very strong wind mostly in our backs with a couple of stretches of tricky cross wind. The care and patience of drivers continues to amaze me.
Ann's ankle seems a lot better. Dinner at the aptly named Va Piano, because each Italian dish is cooked on demand. There were long queues for different kinds of pasta dishes, salad, etc, and patience was rewarded with good quality dishes. Chi va piano va sano e va lontano indeed.
DAY 9 MAINZ TO KOBLENZ 63 MILES
We left Mainz wading through whole cratefuls of broken glass but managed to avoid any punctures. Weather sunny but much cooler and I had cold hands and feet for the first time – unthinkable a few days ago in the heat of Switzerland.
The other side of the incredible care and consideration of German travellers is that they tell you in no uncertain terms if they think you are in the wrong place – eg on a pedestrian only path which has suddenly stopped being pedestrian and cyclist; or on the road when there is a cycle path alongside. This seems fair enough given the ubiquity and adequacy of provision for all modes of travel. It's not fair enough in the UK, where cycle paths are sporadic, often badly designed and sometimes positively dangerous.
Beautiful scenery reasserted itself today – the best since leaving Switzerland and perhaps even better. We spent the morning riding along the side of the wide, majestic river, populated by lots and lots of boats and with thick woods coming right down to the water's edge. The afternoon was similar but we were riding on a path alongside a busy road. And all day long there were more castles than you could shake a pike at: plain ones, fancy ones, from all periods of history, and often several on view all at the same time.
The day was overshadowed by Ann's ankle giving her gyp again and her feeling that the daily mileage of the trip is just too high for her now. Definitely eating at the hotel tonight rather than going out foraging. Not long to go now.
DAY 10 KOBLENZ TO KÖLN 66 MILES
An awful day. Unforgivably, I lost my temper with Ann in the supermarket, she then jarred her ankle going over some road works, we got lost coming out of Koblenz and it was pouring with rain. I had just enough German to ask the way and get back on route, then we got lost again and had to retrace.
After 7 miles it was obvious Ann couldn't go on and we called the van. Reluctantly, I left her to wait for it and went on so as not to fall too far back. To my surprise I caught up with Nick and co after 16 miles and the van also arrived with Ann in it. Rode the rest of the day with with Nick, Kim, Robin and Martina. It was not a day for savouring the Mosel river, the distant mountains, the small pretty villages, etc, but I believe they were there.
Arrived at the hotel to find that the hotel owner had kindly arranged an appointment for Ann with a physio. We discussed the various options, including her getting a train to our next day's stopping place. She will decide in the morning what to do.
We at least ended the day with a nice meal: a place recommended by the hotel, very German and local, where we had bratwurst, spuds and leeks, and the beer just kept coming until you placed a coaster over the top of your glass.
DAY 11 KÖLN TO DUISBURG 54 MILES
Ann decided to look round the Cathedral here and then get the train to Duisburg. That all worked out well and I'm pleased it included an enjoyable stop at a Starbuck's for her.
Rode with the same group as yesterday, lots of picking our way through industrial areas at the start and finish, and a dull day scenically. Coldest so far and wet for some of the time. There was also a dangerously strong cross wind as we biked along the top of dykes. It was cold enough to swallow our pride and stop at a McDonald's for hot chocolate, etc. Surly staff who seemed reluctant to give Nick the muffin he craved.
Discovered by email that Nicola and Martin, daughter and son in law of our friend Gillian, are following us down the Rhine with tents on their bikes.
DAY 12 DUISBURG TO ARNHEM 69 MILES
Ann's leg still swollen and she decided to go in the van. Boy, did she ever make the right decision! Once again, it was not a day for contemplating scenery. It started dry, if very cold, but we were caught in another thunderstorm within heartbreaking sight of a bridge which might have sheltered us. Again soaked through before being able to get waterproofs on. The storm itself was not as bad this time, the hailstones were the size of marbles rather than walnuts. But the aftermath was far worse. Immensely powerful wind and lashing pouring rain. We eventually found an information centre and cafe to shelter in, soaked to the core and shivering. Life saving tomato soup was available.
The afternoon was drier with occasional showers, but we were mostly riding on the top of dykes in a head wind or cross wind. Nick and I were both blown off the road at one point. An utterly grinding, unenjoyable day, battling against the elements. Blow winds and crack your cheeks.
Ann says the swelling has reduced a lot and has decided to ride tomorrow. It has to be her decision, but I wish she wouldn't. There is no way she would have finished the ride today and we don't know what tomorrow's might bring.
The one redeeming feature of the day is that the beautiful blue-purple flowers which have been evident in great abundance almost throughout the trip have reappeared. Nick took some pics to ask Jeannie to identify them, she thought they were some kind of flax.
DAY 13 ARNHEM TO SCHOONHOVEN 57 MILES
In the event Ann's leg was still not good so she decided to take another day in the van. I really feel for her so much, it must be so disappointing and she never complains.
The day was quite similar to yesterday, starting very cold, then came rain and strong wind. Some riding through forest with small hills (the Dutch Alps according to Nick), then eventually the obligatory riding along the top of dykes. Some of the scenery was good and reminded me of Rembrandt etchings: open, wide meadows, vast sky, distant classical Dutch low rise villages with a church steeple on the skyline.
Rain on and off all afternoon but we managed to find one open restaurant in a place we went through and stopped for hot chocolate and tostis. The moment we left it started to bucket down so we waited under the sun parasols outside.
Best sight of the day were the rubbish bins along the road, tilted at an angle and with a wide mouth – so that cyclists could throw their rubbish in as they went past.
Nice semi gourmet meal at the hotel in Schoonhoven. One day to go. Not sorry.
DAY 14 SCHOONHOVEN TO HOOK OF HOLLAND 48 MILES
A nicer day to finish. It started cold but sunny and took us through areas as rural as Holland gets, very wide fields and massive sky. Also as rough a surface as we've had for several miles.
Got to the Kinderdijk where there are lots of windmills all visible simultaneously. Glad to hear that Ann was able to see this by getting here in the van.
There was an unfortunate incident when we got lost and were hooted at by a driver. We thought it was impatience; in fact they just wanted to help us find the way. Smoothed over as ever by Nick's charm. Several more gettings lost after we reached the North Sea and the official end of the ride then had to find our way to the hotel through some impromptu roadworks.
Fini, c'est dans la poche. An interesting trip, first half was better, didn't realise how much time we would spend actually away from the Rhine (which after all is an industrial asset for long stretches). First few days were a bit hillier than expected, the rest was mainly flat rather than downhill. Organisation by Bike Adventures was first rate; there were many glitches in the route but that is to be expected on its first outing. Standard of the hotels was very high and just what is needed after a day's riding.
A FEW PHOTOS FROM THE TRIP