What a difference a country makes. We knew the first couple of weeks would be a test since we weren’t very fit, but it has been reassuring to know that part of it was the headwind and not our failing legs. The cycling has been so much more enjoyable in Germany, and we’re feeling much more upbeat about being able to do this. There’s also a noticeable positive difference in the number of cafes, shops and banks. And there is always Weissbier.
It’s hard to explain how kind and friendly people have been here, so here’s a couple of small examples: One elderly chap flagged us down in a small town, and though I explained we couldn’t speak German, he persistently kept repeating the same words and gestures until I realised he has seen us circling round and wanted to know, what are we looking for? A cafe. So he gave directions, made me repeat them, and then 20 minutes later walked passed us sitting drinking coffee and eating cakes, with an “It’s good, yes?” Another day it was threatening rain and we were in the middle of a queue to check in to a campsite. The receptionist came over to us, and said we could go and pitch our tent first and have a rest, and come and find her later.
The part of the Rhine we’ve been cycling on is fairytale beautiful. It’s hard to have a really bad day when your surroundings are like this. The route is easy to follow, even the city of Cologne was amazingly easy to navigate.
The only downside is that there have been some almighty rainstorms. The kind where tent pegs ping out and we spend sleepless nights worrying if we’re going to get flooded.
We also have an interesting problem with the German language. Because we practice the same phrases over and over again, we give the impression of comprehension, which is the not the one we want to give. What then happens is we are spoken to as though we understand, which we don’t. We need to strike a balance between polite use of a language, and a degree of incompetence. And for those times where we there is true incompetence, we have mime. I have successfully used this (with added sound effects) to buy soluble aspirin in an Apotheke, and Richard has communicated without words that he needs the gears on his bike fixed. The guy who did this just pointed to an honesty box when asked how much he charged.
After some good news from home, we treated ourselves to a hotel room. Duvet! Pillows! But then it was too hot, there was no fresh air, no birds tweeting on until dark and no frogs mating at 3 am. I woke up three times to see lights coming through the curtain, and thought each time “oh wow, our tent is actually really big” before remembering.
After days of glorious scenery and pretty German towns, we reached the city of Mainz. We crossed the bridge over the vast Rhine, with giant flags indicating the State of Rhineland-Palatinate for one side and the State of Hesse on the other. There have been lots of small targets and milestones, but Mainz is a crossroads and the confluence of two great rivers. The Rhine has been good to us. If not for the days of rain storms, it would have been near perfect. But following it south no longer makes sense. It would either force an Alps crossing, something we’re not ready for, or involve long diversions at a time when we need to worry about our time limit in the Schengen area. So we head East, towards Frankfurt, then Wurzburg and the next decision.
Here’s a playlist for the ride on the Rhine: