Germany: A cyclist’s paradise, kind of.

This is a long one – sorry in advance!

I’ve been on the road again for the past six days, having left Luxembourg city on Tuesday morning.

Day 1: Luxembourg to Saarbruecken (100km):

Tuesday was uneventful from a cycling point of view. Leaving Luxembourg was an ordeal because the hostel was located at the bottom of an extremely steep hill. I failed to notice this on the way in, or maybe I ignored it! Anyway, it took an age to get out of there. Then I broke water bottle number one. D’oh.

I found my way to the Saar river and followed that for the latter 50km. Germany is mostly fantastic for cycling. There are cycle paths almost everywhere. They’re usually well signposted and about 70% of them are in impeccable condition. It’s so easy to follow a flat river for hours to get to your destination too. A tad boring maybe, but I didn’t care. Easy is good!

Quick spot of lunch under a bridge. Yum.

Quick spot of lunch under a bridge. Yum.

It was 100km to Saarbruecken where I stayed with David from Warmshowers.org. If you’re like some of my friends, you may have a little snigger when you hear of a website called Warmshowers.org. No, it’s not that. Warmshowers.org is a cycle touring community like Couch Surfing, except it’s aimed at cyclists and the only obligation is to provide a warm shower. Many people offer more than that including sometimes a bed/sofa, maybe a meal and a beer. It depends on the host, and how they get on with the guest. Some people just give the shower and their back garden to pitch your tent. That’s Warmshowers.org.

German Cycle Paths: There are usually lots of good cycle paths next to main roads. Sometimes they're not great, but mostly they're excellent.

German Cycle Paths: There are usually lots of good cycle paths next to main roads. Sometimes they’re not great, but mostly they’re excellent.

Anyway, I met David at 5pm and he welcomed me into his apartment, gave me a few beers and we went out for a bite to eat. I had some lovely German beer and local food, and I really enjoyed it. The next morning as I had only 80km to my next stop, David and I went for breakfast in a local bakery, which, being the gent that he is, he paid for. As far as hosts on WS, David is up there with the best. I felt very comfortable and enjoyed the company instead of the usual hotel/hostel solitude. Saarbruecken was a very big town with everything you’d need. It’s a shame I could only pass through, but that’s the essence of my trip.

David from WarmShowers. A true gent and an excellent host!

David from WarmShowers. A true gent and an excellent host!

Day 2: Saarbruecken to Kaiserslautern (80km)

Tough one mentally, not physically. The kms just seemed to go by very slowly. I think it was tougher because I started later in the day. I really find starting earlier is better, although I’m brutal at getting up in the morning.

I arrived in Kaiserslautern at 5:30pm and met Thomas, my next Warmshowers.org host. Another true gentleman and an excellent host. His apartment is impressive to say the least! I was a bit jealous. Thomas cooked some good food and we met his friends for a few beers and to watch some football. German beer is fantastic – love it!

On the way into Kaiserslautern I’d noticed “Ramstein Air Base” with big military cargo planes taking off. The lads told me that Kaiserlautern is full of American military and that Ramstein Air Base is the hub for most personnel headed to Afghanistan/Iraq or wherever else America are having the craic. They had some funny stories about Military Police patrolling the city centre at the weekends to stop US soldiers getting hammered! Really good fun meeting these guys, and again, great to have company as a break from the normal solitude. My sincerest thanks to Thomas and his friends for making me feel so welcome. Oh, and the “Meter of Beer” – a great idea!

The "Meter of Beer" - 15 0.2L beers. German beer is wonderful. Thomas from WarmShowers is to my left. Another excellent host.

The “Meter of Beer” – 15 0.2L beers. German beer is wonderful. Thomas from WarmShowers is to my left. An excellent host.

Day 3: Kaiserslautern to Heidelberg (100km)

I left Kaiserslautern at 8am as I wanted to get to Heidelberg early and enjoy the city. Things didn’t quite go to plan. First of all, I left my helmet outside Thomas’s place so had to cycle back to get it. The kms were difficult again. Not because of hills or wind, just the same thing as the day before. It was also bloody freezing. -2° for much of the morning so I had to add extra layers, a second set of gloves and a second pair of socks. I brought shoe covers with me, which are great in the cold, but I lost them at some point the previous day so couldn’t use them to break the cold on my feet. Damn. I pressed on anyway and made good time despite not feeling great. Less beer, more water is probably a good idea. I also dropped another water bottle in the same way I did bottle number one, so I needed two new water bottles.

About 20km from Heidelberg I passed a huge cycling shop, so in I went and picked up a new set of overshoes and two new water bottles. They were truly sound in there, the girl serving me was pretty hot too and gave me a cup of coffee. Always nice to go into a friendly bike shop. Lots of interest in my trip too, so all good.

What was supposed to be an easy, downhill 85km day somehow turned into 100km. I have no idea where I went wrong. I didn’t make as many navigation mistakes as I usually do but that’s how it just goes sometimes. The final 20km into Heidelberg were pretty nice going through farmland and just taking in the fresh air.

I arrived in Heidelberg and passed a camping shop. I’d been meaning to pick up some extra tent pegs to hold my tarp down, assuming I camp at some point in the future. So I come out of the shop and realise my tarp had blown off the back of the bike at some point in the past hour and I hadn’t noticed it. One of the water bottles I’d bought no more than an hour previous was in the tarp, so that was gone! So I now have extra tent pegs and nothing to do with them. I moved on down the street 50m and there’s another bike shop so I replaced the other lost water bottle. I’d passed two others on the way in. Like I said, Germany can be a cyclist’s paradise at times. Heidelberg is full of bikes. Full.

That night I stayed with my friend Donal’s sister, Bronagh. She proved to be another amazing host and left me keys to let myself into her apartment which was great. We went to meet her friends for dinner (Chloe and Paul) and then I realised it was Bronagh’s birthday! I felt awful asking to kip on her sofa and for her to play hostess on her birthday! Another good evening with great company and a comfy bed.

Bronagh (left) and her friends Chloe and Paul. It was Bronagh's birthday and I didn't know! I'll definitely have to send her a small present when I get to somewhere more "interesting"

Bronagh (left) and her friends Chloe and Paul. It was Bronagh’s birthday and I didn’t know! I’ll definitely have to send her a small present when I get to somewhere more “interesting”. Oh, and that’s some plun Schnapps in Paul’s hand. Yum.

Day 4: Heidelberg to Stuttgart (110km)

I was supposed to go a completely different route and camp on Friday night but didn’t fancy the terrain or camping in -2 degrees, so opted for Stuttgart late the day before and booked a hostel. The terrain looked okay on the map, but this was another tough day. I really felt it in my legs. A bit of a navigational nightmare earlier on in the day as I hadn’t planned the route very well and then hit a lot of hills due to the lack of planning – I should know better at this stage.

I arrived in Stuttgart just as it was getting dark. Empty stomach and my god, the congestion there was unreal. Whereas I’d previously said Germany is a cyclist’s paradise, Stuttgart doesn’t seem to be. Just absolutely wedged with cars.

Having felt it in my legs I opted for an early night to rest up as I’d 3 more days to go until Munich.

Day 5: Stuttgart to Ulm (95km)

After some much needed sleep I was still knackered and even dreamt about taking a train to Ulm! Less of those thoughts please! There was an excellent breakfast in the hostel for €8. A tad pricey, but I made the most of it. I sat for 45 minutes gorging on what they had. I thought I’d look out of place but two lads beside me ate even more than me.

I was on the road at 8am, but Stuttgart hadn’t finished with me yet. I had to push the bike for about 2km as there was a loooonnnnngggggggg and steep hill from the hostel out of the city. Long hill, tired legs, first thing in the morning. FML was said frequently.

The kms flew by in the morning and I got halfway to Ulm handy enough. I’d checked the elevation profile on MapMyRide.com and I knew at about 45km there was a large climb. Well f*ck me. So here’s the thing: Sat Nav opts for bicycle paths. In Germany, cycle paths are usually excellent, but there are plenty of occasions where this is not the case. So there I was at the start of this hill. This 800m monster that threatened my already weary legs and the navigation was telling me “nah mate, don’t go up the hill…go around it on these conveniently nearby cycle paths. You’re in Germany, cycle paths are great.”

We all know what comes after, or do we? You see it’s cold in Germany at the moment. Consistently 2 below zero. That’s cold. When you get up high there’s also snow. Lots of snow. My cycle track carved its way through snow capped fields and hills, but then degraded into just frozen tractor tracks covered in snow. After about 2.5km of dragging the bike along these tracks I found there was no cycle track. Just a dead end. That was it. FML entered my head once again. I turned around and limped back to the main road about 2km away.

This was the "Cycle Track" the Sat Nav brought me down. It's one of those things: Once you're committed, you'll continue regardless of how stupidly hopeless it may seem!

This was the “Cycle Track” the Sat Nav brought me down. It’s one of those things: Once you’re committed, you’ll continue regardless of how stupidly hopeless it may seem!

I still had the monster to conquer. My bicycle weighs about 50kg. I weight about 90kg. Hauling 140kg up an 800m climb is difficult. But, I did it! In fact, I had to do it twice as after the first one the hill descended into a valley and I had to go back up again. There was a smaller hill after that, but the big thing here is that despite the cycle track disaster, which really left me knackered, and despite my tired legs, I got myself up those hills. They were more like small mountains. I felt like a champion afterwards and had my afternoon feed of snickers bars and fruit and I was just full of beans. I nailed the final 40km in well under 2 hours and I was really happy with myself.

The hostel in Ulm was dead. So dead in fact I had a dorm to myself. I wasn’t overly worried though as I was knackered and had 2 days of my 7 day ride to Munich left so some sleep and downtime were welcome.

Day 6: Ulm to Augsburg (100km)

Today was a good day, despite once again falling foul of the navigation software early on. I’ve pretty much given up on it at this point. After a 20km detour (yikes) I got onto a B Road that took me all the way to Augsburg. The day was completely non-eventful except for not being able to get food due to everywhere being closed so I had lunch in McDonalds (2 Sausage and Egg McMuffins) and then my afternoon feed in a cafe (Croissant & cream doughnut with coffee).

I landed in the youth hostel in Augsburg and for €30 I’ve got myself a quality en-suite single room all to myself. That’s good value! The hostel I was in last night was empty, like, I was the only person in this massive building, so I had a dorm to myself. I’ve had it good accommodation wise this week! I felt bad for the ladies working there having to put out a full breakfast spread from 6am for just one person, but sure that’s how it goes.

Today was a good day for several reasons: Despite the navigational mishap earlier, I just started smiling and thinking about good times to get through the boredom. This helped a lot. I then stopped looking at the speedometers and just started singing along to the music. Much to the bemusement of passers by. This, coupled with improved fitness and my knee being less painful made the day much much better. I’ve also found that getting a solid night’s sleep is essential. I’m not a good sleeper so whereas 8 hours is enough for most, I think I need about 9-10 to feel good on the bike from an early hour. The early start is crucial too – if something goes wrong, having started early gives you time to deal with it. Yesterday was a good example as my brake blocks finally burnt out completely and I had to replace them at the side of the road. The navigational mishaps are other things you need time to deal with.

This evening I went to an Irish bar for a couple of pints, some much needed food (remember, EVERYWHERE in Germany is closed on Sundays so eating out was essential) and got to see Ireland vs Scotland in the Six Nations. Happy days. I sat content with the thought that I’d cycled 1400km from where that match was being played. A good thought.

So overall I’m feeling upbeat. I’m excited about a few days’ rest with the lads in Mayrhofen from Tuesday. Just 70km to Munich tomorrow and staying with Barry’s friends for the night.

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1 Response to Germany: A cyclist’s paradise, kind of.

  1. Kieran Cunningham. says:

    Hi Stevo. Great to hear you last night. Hopefully Big Fella will set up the electronic yokey to allow us to also see you next time. Your blogs are really interesting and journalism could beckon as a career change from Google. Mind yourself and those gammy knees. Luvya – Dad xx.

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