Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Ending Europe on the Rhein

Our final 2 weeks in Europe were spent along the Rhein River in Germany. We left the train station in Cologne at dusk enjoying the atmosphere. City lights and threatening clouds made for a pretty scene but like all cities we couldn’t ride out fast enough.

The next morning was extremely fresh!… the warm temperatures we were used to were long gone and we found our warm clothes and long pants - had to repack our panniers to better distribute the weight as we were wearing almost everything we had…

Tim refused to stop wearing his sandals (loves riding in cleats) and over the next day found out what chill-blanes were first hand. But the cycling was still enjoyable as it was flat, along well marked cycle paths and it wasn’t raining.

We kept moving upstream as pedalling was the best way to keep warm. We would only emerge from the tent after 9am when things had slightly warmed up.

The Rhein River cycle path will be remembered by the large barges/boats transporting goods up and downstream, vineyards during the final stages of the year – colours just beginning to change and trees in an amazing variety of colours from green through to yellows/oranges and impossibly bright reds.

Everyone we had met along our travels before reaching Germany warned us of the bad weather and constant rain during October. Yes it was cold but we saw the sun most days. Still we had expected the worst and hence did some planning to combat the predicted rain = WarmShowers.

CouchSurfing has turned largely into a dating agency and lost some of the joy of meeting people as it is swamped by freeloaders not looking to share an experience but to simply save some cash. Fortunately for us some bright spark created a bicycle touring specific version of CouchSurfing and gave it the appropriate name = WarmShowers which is just what a touring cyclist needs after a cold, wet day in the saddle.

We had 4 hosts along the Rhein that we cannot thank enough for their hospitality. We experienced amazing food with them - freshly pressed apple juice, dampfkundel with vanilla sauce, vegan spaghetti bolognaise and best of all a wonderful warm shower! Bizarrely we stayed with a German lady who travelled central Australia and had worked on the same cattle station we went mustering on back home in Alice Springs – small world!

One couple had stayed with us previously in Alice Springs so it was great to see them again and discuss and see photos of both of our trips. We enjoyed a wine festival with them but must admit our palates still prefer the brutal rough red wines of Australia and other hot climates to the delicate whites of Germany. A highlight was getting slightly lost in the roads of the villages so we just rode down the ‘path’ between vines and came out exactly where we needed to be.

Our last day riding the bicycles was to be from Wiesbaden to Frankfurt… but the October weather set in and we didn’t even ride 5km… simply into one train station and out the other end. An ordinary way to finish a cycling trip but we are Central Australian… why would you ride in the rain?

Frankfurt was just like returning home as we stayed with the same couple as in March before we started riding. We ate like kings, enjoyed the local area by car and managed to pack the bicycles into their boxes within the weight limits and orchestrated their delivery through the airport. Without Franz & Hania our holiday and European cycle trip would have been extremely stressful and difficult. We are so grateful!

Flying out of Europe was with WOWair… bright purple plane with call sign TF-GAY and TF-DAD. Fun to fly with, easy understood regulations on bicycle carriage and cheap! We exited Europe from Iceland and we were a little nervous as we knew we had overstayed our Visa for Europe by a mere 138 days or 4.5months. Short of marrying a local or enrolling in university, there is no possible way to extend a European visa, so we decided early on in our trip to find out how bad the punishment would be when trying to exit. We obviously played dumb (Tim excels in this role) and had our passports scrutinised and scanned several times. Overall we have been put onto the black list for entering Europe in the next 6 months – lucky for us this is not on the current agenda!

Frequently Asked Questions:

How may kilometres? No idea

How many nights in a tent? A lot – 80% at least

Tim is asked regularly if he would bicycle or tour by motorbike again – depends on the distance Europe or Central America = bicycle while South America or America definitely motorbike. Riding a bicycle you see more along the way but on the other hand with a motorbike you would actually explore a little more and visit places 20km down a side road.

Bicycle problems = 1x puncture, 1x broken mudguard attachment, 1x Pannier screw failure, 4x sets of brake pads, 2x broken bolts for bicycle stand.
(Coincidentally these problems all managed to happen to Tim’s bike!! – admittedly however the broken mudguard was caused by Emily crashing into it)

Europe was amazing by bicycle and lucky for us we enjoyed the riding probably the most (close to the food). Lots of memories and fun.

Get out there, risk enjoying yourself and remember work can wait!

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