Germany (19/07/11 - 06/08/11)

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Europe » Germany
July 31st 2011
Published: August 10th 2011
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It's all a little bit different

So, into Germany, the route continued but the signs changed, we worked out that the North Sea Cycle Route signs appeared intermittently and at all other times we should go straight on unless we saw a sign indicating cyclists should turn left or right, problems arose when there was more than one sign at which point we resorted to an iPod and Mapswithme. Anyway we found an open cafe within 5km of crossing the border so bonus cake points to Germany and bonus smug points to me as I managed to order two Danish pastries and two coffees in German having not spoken the language for 31 years.
Suitably refreshed we rolled on, German cycle routes are very different to those in the Netherlands, we were mostly on concrete paths which are also used as farm tracks and in places have been cracked by heavy machinery, then patched with bitumen for an overall 'relief map of the alps' look. The scenery however was very familiar, farmlands full of sheep and Fresian cows to our right, a grass covered dyke with sheep all over it to our left and cattle grids to clatter over regularly. We reached Ditzum in time for the 17:00 ferry and beat the other couple of cycle tourists into Emden and the last room at the Jugenherberge (Youth Hostel).

Are you sure we're going the right way?

We set off towards Norrdeich into a northerly headwind (there's a surprise), we lost the route before we were out of Emden but found ourselves in Rysum via some of the worst cycling surfaces we have ridden on, had a coffee and found ourselves back on the NSCR again. It was a pig of a day's ride, slowly grinding out the distance on interminable dyke routes with no change to the view and regular stops to get through gates. Eventually we reached our destination and checked into our first German campsite, it had a small, badly stocked supermarket, a very smart restaurant and the most palatial toilet block I have ever seen. By contrast our next night was spent on a huge site at Schillig, the town seemed to be just holiday accommodation, mainly the campsite but also a number of hotels and holiday apartment blocks. The tent area of the site was rubbish strewn grass and sand littered with crown caps which we spent ages gathering up to stop them tearing the ground sheet, the toilet block was far enough away to make peeing in the hedge an attractive option and the showers had taps that cut off after about 20 seconds.
In the morning we rode into the wind and rain rather than stay another night. We stayed on the route for about 20km before once again missing a sign and having to follow random cyclist route signs in what we thought was the right direction to Wilhelmshaven. Comedy moment as Vernon said “Hang on, there's a street name, I'll find us on the map.” The street was “Einbahnstrasse”.
We completed a non-guided tour of the less salubrious parts of Wilhelmshaven as the rain got heavier and more horizontal, before accidentally finding the bus station and thus the info centre. In a short while we were spreading dampness all around a hotel room just as the rain stopped outside.
There followed two days' lay-up as the weather threw all it could at us - not such a bad thing, we had a TV, Eurosport and live coverage of the Tour. Hah, do your worst weather!
A dry day at last. We headed off around the Jade Busen – a mud flat which becomes a harbour at high tide, just like Langstone though not quite as smelly. We avoided getting lost not by trying to follow the NSCR but rather by staying on the road and heading directly to Tossens. We passed and were then re-passed by a couple of men cycling in jeans, T-shirts and work boots, they looked like they were heading home from work. One of them kept yelling to us in German, we didn't understand a word of it but he seemed cheerful enough. We reached Tossens without getting lost, failed to find the Tourist Info, failed to find the DJH, found a supermarket for supplies and then found the campsite. On arrival we saw our two new German friends again, ensconced on a bench with bottles of beer, the chatty one indicated that we'd taken an age to get there – he was right.
In the morning they breakfasted on beer before pedalling away chatting and laughing with the empties from the night before strapped all over their bags. We had our usual breakfast of porage washed down with many cups of tea before riding along the side of another dyke and annoying the resident sheep population with the clattering of many gates on our way to Blexen where we caught the ferry to Bremerhaven.
After lunch at a rather swish looking cafe in the town square we headed for the bookshop to look for NSCR maps. The bookshop was in the middle of the shopping area but we couldn't see any 'No Cycling' signs and took care as we pedalled slowly along, straight into the path of two policemen who stopped us and told us off for cycling in a pedestrianised zone. Ah well, we apologised, they said no problem, wished us good luck with our travels and we dismounted and walked the 5 metres further to the bookshop where we found our maps.
Bremerhaven is a port city and has a fine collection of old marine vessels, so after finding a very good room in the DJH we pedalled back into town to have a look around; as well as the standard (for this area) wooden sailing ships we also saw the largest non-nuclear submarine outside Russia (apparently but Vernon can't remember where he read that!) and a cracking little 1950s hydrofoil.
The next morning our route took us through the dock area, it is massive with continental ferry terminals and a huge container port, lots of rail lines to ride over and the occasional bit of heavy engineering-with-wheels-and-an-engine to contend with. For once we were quite happy to be routed onto the pavement. Further up the coast we reached the tourist area, Cuxhaven is a major tourist spot for this part of Germany and we found ourselves sharing the route with loads of cyclists, some on novelty multi-people machines, some on bike shaped objects but most were on wonderful Dutch-style tourers. We ate our lunch on the dyke at Cuxhaven and people watched for a while, most riders walked up the dyke, they really don't do hills at all, small children on their balance bikes or their first set of pedals were the most determined to get to the top, with a steely look in their eyes they continued upwards as their parents smiled and walked alongside.
We stayed at Ottendorf, in a hotel with a football bar, on the night Barca were playing Bayern Munich in the final of the Audi Cup, I don't know how that happened :-) The next morning we nearly stayed even longer as I couldn't get the garage doors open to release the bikes but once sorted we were off and missed our first turn after 200m . We were headed inland through farmland and were routed onto some pretty crappy farm tracks and gravelly off road sections plus a couple of sand traps golfers would refuse to play out of and enough cobbles to keep a dentist in business and then we got lost again! A short while later we found our first hill since Essex, it was quite a surprise to be needing the granny ring after so long. We were also passing a zoological park and had the sounds of the gibbons laughing as we pedalled on. Still, uphills mean downhills and we had some good rolling to go with the effort. Stade was our stop for the night and we got a room at the DJH and wandered aimlessly around the old town for a while looking for an eatery, we chose a cafe which had veggie meals but sadly my mushroom omelette came with a smattering of bacon bits.


we reached Hamburg on the 29th July, the final part of the route took us past EADS Airbus factory but we were routed away from it along a rutted, gravelly and winding path through trees before we decided enough was enough and got ourselves back onto the tarmac coated, straight road from which we were immediately directed onto a gravel path cum car park behind a housing estate.
The Frinkelburger-Hamburg ferry was a fantastic way to get into the city, brilliant views of the docks and the harbourside architecture. Hamburg is undergoing something of a renaissance with a lot of re-development going on around the waterfront to replace old industrial buildings with new mixed use developments. The half-built Elbphilharmonie building already looks stunning and, from the plans which we saw, the science building will be totally barmy. On arrival we tried to find accommodation but were put off by the Tourist Information people who told us we wouldn't find anything below 80 Euros pppn, they directed us to the DJH (full) and then a street of “small hotels” where we might find something; we found no hotels, three closed lodging houses, a couple of pole dancing clubs, a place with rooms available by the hour and a number of bars with bangin' choons to deafen us. By now it was 16:00 we hadn't eaten since breakfast and I was getting ratty, we found a bakery, grabbed some carbohydrates of the sticky bun variety and standard German coffee (melts plastic on contact) and Vernon performed some sort of web-trickery to get us a room at the very centrally placed Hanse Clipper Haus. Not just a room it was an apartment with our own cooking facilities, space to dry everything and, for a brief moment, a small child as the kid from the apartment next door made a bid for freedom and found his way into our bit of garden. Thankfully a responsible adult appeared and reclaimed him.
The next day we wandered around the city centre, found a useful map shop and looked around the botanical gardens during the day but in the evening we headed to Minatur Wunderland the largest model railway in the world (allegedly). It was amazing, we spent an entire evening there, an entire Saturday evening when we could be viewing the erm 'sights' of Hamburg and enjoying a beer or two. I have no idea who started the place or why but you can get lost for hours in there just looking at all the details, there are buttons you can press to make stuff happen – cable cars run, cranes move, the Flying Dutchman sail past that kind of thing. There is an airport with planes that take off and land, a fun fair, a Bavarian beer keller, a mine, Las Vegas, the occasional dinosaur, at least one flasher and a number of naked couples. It really is just brilliant. There should be loads of photos on here, probably mostly below that annoying advert that has recently appeared at the end of all the words.

Heading for Denmark

Once again the weather caused a day's delay as we woke to gales and rain on the 31st and given the choice of a day's riding into a headwind and heavy rain or a day lazing around in comfort we went for the latter. So as August began we escaped Hamburg slowly, our first stop was a cafe 5m from the hotel, then we followed the NSCR along the banks of the Elbe, including a 2km off-road section where cycling was disallowed, we then remounted and performed the comedy mud, sand and grit crawl as far as Wedel where we were directed up a flight of steps with a 45 degree ramp to push the bikes up. The day continued in a similar vein as we found the bridge swung open at Pinnau Sperrwerk, we had missed the final closing of the day so had a detour to Neuendeich where we were held up by the bridge there being opened to let a number of boats through.
The next morning we woke to a hot, sunny day with a tail wind all the way to Brunsbuttel, for once we were on the other side of the dyke and had sea views all day. It was a day of bizarre conversations, we were accosted by a German couple who spoke no English but wanted to know all about our trip and tell us all about their 800km journey to their daughter's house. At least that's what we think they were saying. Later, in a restaurant in Brunsbuttel I was struggling to explain that I was a vegetarian and ask what I could eat from the menu when the waiter said “Can you speak English?” Then on the way back to our accommodation an Israeli cyclist asked us if we could speak English then asked for directions to the Kiel canal. We were glad to get back to Huttendorf and hide in our hut.
Huttendorf is a brilliant place, it is a little hut village set up for cyclists and walkers, each hut has six beds, a table and six chairs, shelves and hanging space, outside each one there is a huge Sheffield stand for locking bikes to, picnic benches and a separate toilet/shower block. Breakfast is an optional extra and for added security it is all in a gated compound. We were very comfortable and ignored the alarms for quite a while, just managing to drag ourselves to the breakfast buffet before the other cyclists decimated it.
We continued northwards, firstly inland towards St Michaelisdonn and the second hill of the trip, this one was marked on the map with chevrons but a couple of minutes in the granny ring and we were up it and merrily rolling down the other side. Lunch at Meldorf, in a cafe with a vaulted cellar which on of the other eaters described as a troll house. We were back at the seaside in the afternoon and the tourist hell that was Busum, we did a quick food shop and escaped to a campsite behind the dyke. After a very short night's sleep (noisy site and the little girl in the tent next door was randomly crying all night) we dithered a lot about moving on as it was raining and we had a strong cross wind again. Eventually we set off aiming for Hsum, the rain stopped and the sun came out but we kept the wind all day. Surprisingly we also lost the route but in doing so found a very good cafe for coffee, cake and working out where the heck we were. Found another campsite in the middle of nowhere and pitched a very damp tent. The next morning we awoke to more rain and high winds, finally got ourselves to Husum (10km) for coffee and tried to get accommodation but the DJH was full so we pushed on to Niebull, struggling up the coast for 40km before turning inland and getting blown to our destination. Niebull was full but the DJH made room for us. They had a group of disabled youngsters in and one of the other guests, having asked if we had disability in England, helpfully explained to us that all disability is caused by pregnant women having ultrasound scans which should be made illegal. Thankfully for me I got the 'going to reception to book us in' gig, leaving Vernon guarding the bikes and getting the full force of the man's opinions on a number of subjects. On a more positive note we finally got a tail wind which blew us to the Danish border the next day.

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21st August 2011

How ya goin' mate? Roland here (Esperance YHA, downunder). You guys have come a long way since we met! I'll have some reading to do to catch up on your travel adventures. Hope you're doing well.
23rd August 2011

Hi from Denmark
Hi Roland, we've not done that well, we got into China via a mix of train and plane and bike but then had to return home because Clare's right knee blew apart rather spectacularly (she couldn't climb stairs without swearing violently so cycling was right out of the question). We are now on our solos in northern Europe having a grand time, we rode through your country about a month ago - thoroughly enjoyed it! We're taking our time, looking at stuff and staying away from home! Cheers, C&V

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