Catha's Seat

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Days 6 to 10: Through my home away from home

During my third year at University I studied and completed my Masters thesis in Freiburg. I loved living in Germany; the people, the quality of life, the beer and being on a constant adventure! What an apt part of the world to re-live on a bike.

Luckily my German speaking had fallen back into place and while I was staying with Bastian and Karin we seldom reverted to English. I had planned so much into day 6; much like when I was at work, I also thought on the bike... "just imagine how much I can get done with a day off". I was overloaded, and after 4 hours of emailing and blogging there was very little time to get a look around Wiesbaden. The major event of the day was "pimping my ride" with some fancy German dynamo lights - they switch on automatically in the dark and the back light stays on when you stop! 

We had a great evening eating Tapas with Bastian and Karin's friends and doing a quick mini tour of Wiesbaden; the old casino and the hot spa fountain. Many thanks to Bastian and Karin for the fantastic stay and for putting up with my frantic bike building before dinner!

Some shots with Bastian and Karin
The ride between Wiesbaden and Landau through the wine region was one of the best days yet and my furthest distance at almost 100 miles. Gently rolling hills I found were more satisfactory than the flat - the downs allow you to take a rest and survey your surroundings. And pleasant views were in store; fields of vines, strange vine picking tractors that straddled their prey and quaint villages of colourful beamed houses oozing with floral decoration all accompanied by a scent of rotting grapes. I stopped in a pretty, but quiet town. The only place open was a butchers that was offering Warm Fleischkäse; a bit like meatloaf. Behind the butcher however I saw a small cafe - I was ushered around into a courtyard with hanging grapes that turned out to be part of a wine producers. Sitting underneath a canopy of vines I spent an idyllic half hour having my coffee and Fleischkäse whilst sampling the "Neuwein" - New Wine.

My idyllic half hour

The Courtyard 

Another view of the Courtyard

The day wasn't without its challenges though and having taken the most direct roads to munch the most miles I ended up carering towards an Autobahn being hollered at by passing drivers. The hint was the blue sign showing a singular white car at the entrance - automotive vehichles only please! While this one was my mistake I never really felt comfortable on roads in Germany. Cars hung behind and gave an unusually wide berth when passing, and many honked. I asked numerous natives what the rules were and the answer was always the same - you can cycle on any road, except on the Autobahn. There are cycle paths for bikes, on the road however, the car is king.

Landau was a surprisingly lovely University town that showed that you were now coming into southern Europe - every other place was a bar/cafe spilling onto the street with people relaxing with an late afternoon beverage. I ended up pushing on further and over the French border to a municipal campsite. It was all locked up when I arrived, however, in a lucky turn of events the major of the town, as I later found out, was hanging out behind the gates and let me in. Unlike the border with Holland you could tell when you crossed from Germany to France. The cars changed from BMWs to renaults, the buildings and streets left slightly more to the effects of nature. I looked forward to breakfasting on patisserie!

View from my tent at the French municipal camping site

Day 8 was to my old home away from home. After scoffing my awaited croissant and chocolate eclair I passed back over the Rhein on a ferry to be greeted back on the roads of Germany with lines of training road cyclists. Another day of tossing between main roads and confusing cycle routes ensued but eventually I found myself coming into the north of Freiburg. I wasn't familiar with this side of town and started an uneasy feeling of now being an outsider. Unfortunately I had no-one to meet. I had tried contacting one of my old lab colleagues to no avail. Still though - my favourite brew, Feierling helles, tasted just as good, and even better with the achievement of the day. The hostel had all the signs of a great place, lots of people, standard smells of josticks and chick peas however, the staff put me on edge. I was made to apologise for not booking a room in advance on a busy Saturday which was followed by "sorry doesn't get you a room". I don't know if it was a joke but that comment followed by warnings to lock up my stuff and no bedsheets only served to reduce my comfort levels. I had hoped to meet people in the hostel to go out with but had no luck and I feasted alone on wurst and sauerkraut at Martinsbrau and went on a late night cycle tour of my old haunts. I love eating but, without people to talk to and break up the mouthfuls it is not as enjoyable. When I was living here in a single apartment most nights I would invite others over to share dinner or I would introduce groups regularly to traditional british curry! There was.going to be a lot of eating alone on this trip.
Three fine brews
There is a local saying in Freiburg that if you fall into the little streams that flow through the streets, called "Bächle", you should marry a local. I pushed Scott in but so far he hasn't found a ladybike - I guess we will have to go back!
Freiburg and Scott falling into the Bächle
The next morning was the big climb into the black forest 5,500ft in total. Sitting in a low gear it was slow but fine with Sunday cyclists around to spur me on. Then came the 14% incline sign first for 2km and then a further 7km. I have never sweat so much!

Ups and downs

After the second climb we reached the top, feldberg passhöhe at 1233m. Whilst having kaffee und kuchen in a mountain hut I discussed the trip and options for camping. They warned me it could snow at any time and the old gentlemen pointed to a stuffed animal with big teeth on the wall and, with a grin, said "the Fuchs are out" and I assume, hungry!
A mission control (dad) weather forecast suggested the weather would hold for camping. After visiting the Rothaus brewery, which is the official state producer, I came back to the mountain restaurant next to the campsite for possibly the largest Schnitzel I have ever consumed. It was a very local place though and one man stared at me all evening. He seemed like the big chief around - he had a large stomach, moustache, voice and presence. His wife was almost mute in his shadow. I had planned to stay warm inside and write in my journal but I couldn't wait to get out.

Video: These cows are part of the Baden Württemburg Gamelan Music Society - seen on the way out of Feldberg

Beer making equipment at Rothaus

 Day 10 and what was supposed to be an easy downhill into Zürich. The downhills were steeper than the previous uphills and although the adrenaline wanted me to release the brakes I was worried, from reading Mark Beaumont's book about cycling.the world, that putting too much lateral stress on the spokes.with the extra weight through the winding downhill bends could leave me rebuilding wheels!

Another frustrating cycle path went off perpendicular to the main road. I felt awful from the previous day's exertions and couldn't take any additional distance. With lorries roaring past I hugged the edge of the road where the surface tarmac dropped sharply around 10cm to the grass. I took a quick drink to try and wake myself up and in putting it back I veered off to the right and onto the grass. A desperate attempt to turn back left allowed my wheels to scrape against the tarmac kerb and I was over, in the middle of the road. Worried that a vehicle was behind I dived to the side with the bag that fell off. It was fine - cars hundreds of metres back hardly noticed. A wake up call.

My old friend the Rhein - the border with Switzerland
Into Zürich was tough navigation. I passed the airport where I sat and watched for a bit joking at a caption for a potential picture "there is another way of course". My friend Bojan put it best when explaining in an email to a friend in Sarajevo "nick doesn't like planes so he's decided to cycle to Istanbul!"

Luckily I got lost in the centre as asking the way made me realise that my mapping software had an evil plan to send me off to another Bergstrasse in a neighbouring town.
My cousin Tom was recently married to Karen in Nicaragua, where she is from and where they met. We had unfortunately missed their wedding and I had only met Karen once before. I had only seen Tom once in the last 4 or so years but arriving with them after a tough day felt very welcoming and comfortable - a good, family feeling.

This short chapter was closed with a fondue feast and a trip to the Zürich Oktoberfest in the giant hall of the main station (see video on next post....).


  1. Hey Nick!
    Your blog is awesome! I'm looking forward to the next posts! Your trip is really inspirational and I'm well impressed.

    Furthermore...HAPPY BIRTHDAY! Depending on where you are, it looks like it should be a super sunny and warmish day over Germany, so I hope you'll have a blast!

    Viele Geburtstags-Grüße aus Berlin,

    Ben :-)

    1. Thanks muchly Ben. Germany, Switzerland and over the alps was ace. Now having a week off with Eliza around Italy.

      Well done on your marathon time - looked pretty outstanding!

      Take care