Bike trip in Europe -from Switzerland to the Netherlands via France, Germany and Luxembourg

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April 30th 2016
Published: June 27th 2016
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It is April 29th, and we are starting to pack for our big bike trip in Europe. The first challenge is to fit all our clothes etc. into bike panniers (each of us gets 2) This is a good thing as it focuses us on what is really necessary when travelling.

We have now done our final training rides as of yesterday (April 30th) and I have about 1400 kilometres since Feb 1st. We have been doing Salt Spring and Vancouver Island hills so the river valley rides in Europe should not be too tough but there is always wind..

As usual , the first stage is the ferry trip to Vancouver. We are leaving on the 0615 Long Harbour ferry , then bus to skytrain and on to YVR. We will then have a long wait until the Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt which leaves at 1620. Lufthansa is fairly bike friendly as we give them the assembled bikes (no boxes or dismantling) at the checkin counter -we get them back ready to ride in Germany. (In theory)

Now the night before we leave (May 2,2016) and we are ready...Early morning ferry tomorrow.

Finally on our way- just waiting for flight to load at YVR. The counter check in ladies were a bit clueless about bike loading and wanted a bag or box but we resisted. They also didn't charge us??? but this may get changed. The baggage loader who came up to get our bikes had a dim view of the counter staff's knowledge about bike transport. We will see who is right.

As it turned out, my bike came off fine in Frankfurt but Jan's bike had a minor front brake issue-nothing serious and the overall convenience out weighed the small mechanical issue.

In any case, we got everything assembled and proceeded to the train station. Our first leg was a short 12 minute train ride to the Frankfurt Main Station. We then had to change platforms to get to the train that would get us to Karlsruhe,then to Offenburg and on to Basel. We left the airport at 12.47 and arrived in Basel at 1811. The main challenge was getting heavily loaded bikes off one train and over to the correct connection platform in the short time provided between trains. We moved the bikes on escalators and/or stairs not realizing there were elevators but it all worked out.

After our arrival in Basel, we had a short and direct path to the pre-booked Basel YMCA, which is a cheap and cheerful hostel type option for accommodation in pricey Basel. We unloaded into the room and walked to the Wirk8 restaurant. After a fast dinner, it was back to the room for an early night. (after having been up for 20 some hours)

The next day it was off into the Basel streets to navigate our way to Nuef Brisarch in France. After a minor shoe clip incident and knee plant, we fumbled our way around Basel and eventually ended up on Velo 15, with the intention of heading towards Strasbourg. We passed through 3 countries in about 15 minutes, eventually ending on a canal path in France. The route to NB was fairly well signed but we had a few wrong turns in some of the little towns. Our GPS eventually ran out of battery so we went to our back up navigation plan (AS) which means "ask someone"... After 80 Kms, we ended up in the walled town of Nuef Brisarch and found La Lunate which was a nice little owner operated hotel. Dinner in our first night in France turned out to be spaghetti with almost free wine. The next day, our GPS took us right into a gravel pit but a friendly local led us to the Velo trail.

It turns out that this is a long weekend with Friday being Ascension Day. This meant that finding a hotel room at the end of the day was going to be a bit of a challenge so we booked a room for that night in the Hotel B and B in Ostwald. (breakfast not included) After a 72 Km ride, we found it with the excellent assistance of the counter person at the the Festin Chinois restaurant where they have good cold beer and a non-memorable Chinese buffet.

The next day (day 3-May 7th) we planned to try and do a shorter ride to Saverne which is on the Rhone au Marne canal. We left the Rhine at Strasbourg, which is a very bike friendly city and stayed on the canal path right to Saverne. Our final total was 62 Kms. With the the guidance of AS, we found the National Hotel right near the train station. (there are usually several hotels near the train station in every city) This hotel is right near the cycle path.

Each morning at the breakfast buffet served by whichever hotel we are in, we also stocked up with a sandwich and some fruit to eat for lunch. Breakfast usually costs 8 Euros each ($12) but we get two meals ... Lots of variety on the breakfast tables in most of the places we stayed.

Cycling the canal tow path puts us right near the water and we both wondered at times about straying off the track into the water..... Back in the day when the canals were built (1803 or so) the barges were towed by horses which had to be close to the canals,thus the location of the towpaths.

There were lots of people fishing along the canal.(I believe this is called course fishing) with all kinds of elaborate equipment and huge fishing rods. We saw some huge fish in the water and think they were carp. Apparently people catch fish weighing up to 60 pounds.

After Saverne we started climbing to get over the pass into the Moselle River valley. The canal originally went up and over with a series of locks, but this route was eventually replaced with some tunnels and a side ways boat lift. The bike path basically followed the old canals/lock route and there was some climbing. Once we got to the top, our navigation skills vanished and we ended up on a road system through the country side which took us further and further away from Velo 5 and on to a 4 km trek through a reed bed along the canal. The GPS then died and we had to seek assistance from some locals whose English was equal to our French. We eventually ended up in Blamont where we found one of the best hotels of the trip- beer at the door, a nice room with a great shower, an excellent french dinner and a good breakfast in the morning.

The next day (May 9th) we were on country roads with lots of hills. We did one major wrong turn, taking us way down a mountain road where we met a helpful french cyclist who directed us to the correct route (back up the mountain) We then continued on local roads (except for a wrong turn into a horse pasture) We ended up on a really bad gravel path along side a freeway and had our first flat tire.

After the flat tire, we made it to the town of Lunenville. We enjoyed a cold beer and then got some help from 2 locals who found us a map. The map showed us we were quite a long way off Velo 5 so a decision was made to catch the train to Metz. This worked out well as we bypassed Nancy and ended up back on the Moselle River trail.In Metz we found The Hotel Moderne near the train station. As noted, it seems you always can find lots of accommodation near the train stations.

The next day we finally got the front brake fixed and used the GPS to get out of town.(We are keeping ourselves posted on the big Caddy Lake fire-apparently some parts of West Hawk Lake have been evacuated) This is our first day along the Moselle River and we plan to make it out of France today into Germany and Luxembourg-supposedly about 60 Km. Our plan to stay in Schengen was thwarted by the only hotel we saw being closed. We had a beer at the bar by the bridge and then exited Luxembourg for Perl where we found an excellent Zimmer (Alte Maimuhle).

The next day we continued on the Moselle on the Luxembourg side (country number 94 for me) and crossed the river several times ,eventually ending up in Trier. This was our intended half way point distance wise (about 500 Km). Given that we were challenged for space from a luggage standpoint, we decided to go shopping and each bought a pair of shoes???

The route along the Moselle River is absolutely devoted to wine production and the grapes are grown on very steep hill sides. In some cases the workers have to go up and down the hill sides in motorized trams. The wine is excellent and even Jan (a wine hater) thought it was good.There were road side wine stands in many of the little villages, some of which were unattended. We also enjoyed the hotel vending machines which sold both wine and beer.(we saw no drunkenness on the streets)

We rode from Perl to Nuemagen-Dhron but everything was closed (off-season?) so we continued on to Piesport with some difficulty as a wrong turn put us in a farmers field. We had to cross a ditch and a busy highway to get back to the trail( we don't need no stinkin maps etc) However we were compensated by finding the best Zimmer so far at 68 Euros. (Karthauserhof) The owner makes his own wine and it was excellent as was dinner.

The next day being Friday the 13th there was some trepidation about the days events and we did get lost ending up in another farm field on our way to Bern Kastel. (in BK we actually got a Moselle trail map for the next part of the route) Nice ride today and we stopped fortuitously at a covered Beergarten just before the skies opened up with a small thunderstorm. We sheltered in the bar with 4 other Canadians and then used Garmin to find a good hotel.

Our next objective for May 14th was to ride to Cochem which is apparently a bit of tourist spot. Given that it was a long weekend ,we were a bit nervous about finding a room. We rode into the wind for a bit of the way but the Moselle has a lot of twists and turns so the wind disappeared in a few spots. The route also crossed back and forth across the river a few times, and we finally arrived in Cochem about 2.30-no rooms in the first few hotels but we finally got the last room for 130 euros at the Park Hotel. The restaurants were also busy.

The next day was to be our last day on the Moselle and given that it was still the long weekend, we booked a room in Koblenz. One problem with booking ahead is that you then have to find the place, whereas if you wing it, you can check in to the first hotel you see (if it isn't full) In any case we set off early into the 6C morning wearing everything we owned.For the most part the route was on the left bank as well as some on some road riding.

It stayed cool so we stopped for coffee/hot chocolate and then came out into a brief hailstorm. Luckily it started while we were close to a covered bus shelter.

The Stein Hotel in Koblenz was locked up so we had to phone the desk clerk. After some confusion, we got checked in and had the ending ride shower and beer. Dinner was about a kilometre down the street. A highlight was an ice cream sundae that took 2 people to carry to the table.

The next day (Monday May 16th) was the final day of the long weekend and we started it with the best breakfast to date including smoked salmon. In spite of having a Rhine map AND a GPS, we had big problems finding Velo 15 and finally used the AS method. The Rhine is in partial flood and the barges going against the current were really struggling. It should also be noted that many of the barges are carrying coal. We also passed a few large coal fired generating plants.Europe is not as "green" as people think...

It was a tough ride due to the wind, some navigation issues plus a flat tire. Our original plan was to cycle to Bonn but after 50 Kms , we started looking for a hotel in Remagen (just past the famous Remagen Bridge abutments) and ended up in the Pinder Hotel near the train station along with the Chelsea Pensioners (a group of Brits on a train tour of Germany) shades of Fawlty Towers...I took the opportunity to go and watch trains after dinner-lots of traffic. We are now at slightly over 700 kms with 6 days to go -1000 kms looks to be in reach.

Minor things not to like about this cycling trip:

-Paving stone bike paths (very bumpy)

-Lack of big picture maps in bike and book stores

- My non-breathable jacket

-Trail signage (on some parts of the system)

-My panniers which aren't waterproof but have waterproof covers-Getting things out with the covers on is tedious

Five Great things

-The bike paths

-Moselle wine

-Helpful locals

-Hot chocolate and beer stops

-The breakfast buffets

The next day (May 17th) we rode through some major urban centres, including Bonn and Cologne. The trail was very easy to follow as it is generally right beside the Rhine except for some industry bypasses. There was also a trail blockage due to forestry operations involving the falling of some huge trees (maybe 60 inches in diameter) We did a detour along a field.In Cologne there were lots of Viking Cruise ships taking on passengers and food-I don't think starvation is likely on these boats.The waterfront trail in Cologne was excellent.

Speaking of starvation we had ribs for dinner which turned out to be a poor choice. (one of the few bad meals on the trip) There was an impact on our ability to get a good nights sleep.

On May 18th ,the first stage involved a long stretch away from the river around a massive Ford car plant. We finally got back to the Rhine dike trail and rode quickly into Honz which is a old walled city where we thought there might be a tourist centre with a bike map (nein, nein, nein etc.) After hot chocolate and a latte, we caught the ferry in a very fast current to the other side of the river.

The next stage was a ride through Dusseldorf which ended up being a complete fiasco. However the GPS finally worked and we ended up on a massive bike bridge leading to the well developed waterfront trail. Out in the country after Dusseldorf , the trail without any apparent warning ended in a construction site , necessitating a climb up a quasi-cliff with loaded bikes to get on to a rough detour. Thus ended day 14 at 837 kms near the city of Krefeld.

The next day (May 19th-three riding days to go) we had a tough navigation challenge to get through Krefeld in city traffic. Once out in the country, it was strawberry season and we couldn't resist buying a basket of berries at a roadside stand. This is also wind generator country and for good reason...

After a 68.5 kilometre ride, we ended up in Weeze at the Jagerhof hotel. Today we used a combination of GPS plus the Iphone. It seems the Iphone/Google combination works pretty well but you need a good data plan. The Garmin works better when you enter a lot of waypoints, otherwise you can get some pretty weird routing plots. Another point of dining interest-no matter which country you are in, there is always an Italian restaurant.

Jan's 65th birthday on the 20th and we celebrated by crossing into our last country (the Netherlands) where we experienced some big hills and a major rain event. The bike paths are superb and there are some hills which are kind of enjoyable after all the flat riding.We also had the joy of seeing a man walking 3 beagles at once-what a hero.

Our goal for the day was the Canadian cemetery near Groesbeek. The cemetery is very well tended and one over riding feature is the age of the people-most are early 20s or younger.

We took a hotel back in Groesbeek which had the characteristic steep stairs to the second floor. Smoking is not an endangered activity in The Netherlands or anywhere we have been on this trip.

It is now Saturday May 27th and we need to go 57 Km to get to 1000 for the trip. We decided to ride into Nijmegen and visit the bike museum before heading back to Kevelaer in Germany. In order to navigate this section, we entered a number of waypoint spots and this seemed to work a lot better-a good thing to find out on the last day. Once we got to Nijmegen, there was a farmers market and we ended buying a curly sheepskin. Our final stop was the nearby Velo Museum which has 3 floors of bikes going right back to the first bikes in history- an excellent attraction.

The bike path situation the Netherlands spoils you for any other location. Bikes take priority and there are lots of cyclists. Hardly anyone wears a helmet and most people are riding in street clothes. Virtually all the bike paths are separated from the road. We spent most of the day on the Dutch trail system and crossed into Germany after Bergen. We arrived in Kevelaer at 4.00 and after some flailing around, a German cyclist led us right to the Park Hotel. ( a weird and overpriced hotel) (Final distance total - 1004 kms)

The next day we took the train ( Kevelaer to Krefit to Koln to Mainz) leaving at 0952 and arriving at 1338, all for 90 euros. The bikes go on fully loaded into the bike cars, which are either at the front or back of the train. In some cases, the bike car has side racks in a dedicated space. There were lots of cyclists on this route as it was a Sunday. Apparently lots of Germans take the train out to a particular region and ride the bike paths, then return home by train. Our home for two nights in Mainz (City Hotel) was easy to find. We did some relaxing...

The next day (my 70th birthday) was fairly uneventful. We checked the train connection to the Airport for tomorrow, then did a 4 hour walk. In honour of my birthday, I bought some sox. We ate at the City Theatre Restaurant which was pretty good.

The last day we made the long trek back to Salt Spring which included

- A German train ride from Mainz to the Airport

-The Luftansa flight to Vancouver

-The Skytrain to Bridgeport

-The express bus to Tswaasen ferry terminal

-The ferry to Long Harbour where our car had been left by a neighbour

It was a long day but one of our best trips ever.

Additional photos below
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5th July 2016

Great blog!!

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