Friday, May 13, 2016

Bicycling in Germany

I just returned from another bicycle tour in Europe and a visit to Iceland. (I'll cover the Iceland visit in another post.) The bike tour took us along the Moselle and Saar Rivers in Germany. And this time my son Tuli joined me making the trip an extra special occasion. We met at the Frankfurt Airport on April 26th and hopped on a train to Saarbrucken where the journey began on the following day. As before I had booked a fully catered tour (bikes, meals and hotel accommodations) through Eurobike, the Austria based company that arranged my Danube ride a couple of years ago. Because this tour was in Germany they handed it off to their German partner, Velociped, which made the hotel arrangements. As before, everything went off without a hitch. The accommodations were excellent overall, the food, especially the buffet breakfasts, was outstanding and the top quality touring bicycles functioned flawlessly. If you're thinking about making a similar tour, 7 nights in 4-star hotels with breakfasts, expect to pay about $1,000 USD. The tour company shuttled our luggage from hotel to hotel so we needed only carry our rain gear, water and lunch in a (supplied) waterproof pannier bag. Check the website links above for more information.

The one downside to our trip was the weather during our week on the radwegs (bike paths) — it was fairly chilly most days and there were intervals of rain. We had one exceptionally fine day, a couple that started out cold and cloudy but developed into fairly nice days later, and one nasty afternoon of heavy rain that soaked me pretty well. Tuli, who bikes in Eugene, Oregon, had better gear so he didn't get as wet as yours truly. A new lightweight rain jacket is on my list of things to buy this summer.

On the Saar Radweg, day 1- Saarbrucken to Mettlach

Typical section of the Saar Radweg

Tuli, dressed for chilly weather in North Face's finest

Tour boat — Saar River

Hotel Zum Schwan - Mettlach
We had a fairly nice ride to Mattlach although this first section of the bike path ran alongside a busy highway and through the heavily industrialized Saar Valley. Our first day was a 42 mile haul, the longest of this particular tour. We reached Mettlach in good spirits, checked in to our hotel and bought a dinner of pizza, toasted sandwiches and sparkling water from the bakery next door.

The next day dawned chilly and gray. We left the hotel rather late that morning but because this was a short segment, only about 26 miles, we thought we'd best wait for the overcast to dissipate. It didn't so we hesitantly set out for Trier at about 10:30 am.

Start of Day 2 - Tuli and I with Mettlach in the distance
This short portion of the Saar Radweg had a nice gravel surface

Tuli riding the Saar Radweg
We rode to Trier on this day and at about the half way point, transitioned from the Saar to the Moselle River valley. The day's ride was not all that long in miles but in the event not all that comfortable either. As some of you know, I did many training rides in Thailand last month, more than 300 miles worth, to get my body accustomed to a bike saddle. I had hoped to be less bothered by long hours on the trail than I had been on my Danube trip. It turns out the discomfort (sore butt) was not because of inadequate conditioning but because the saddles the bikes come with are, in some way, no good. I know that because Tuli is very used to riding, putting in 10-15 miles a day during his commutes to work, so I reasoned that if his butt was sore after only 65 miles of biking, the source of my discomfort must lie elsewhere. I suspect it's because the saddle shape, which looks like the wider seats found on ladies' bikes of long ago, are too wide for someone used to modern day (narrow) men's saddles. But whatever it is, the result was that both of us had sore tails at the end of the day. My strong recommendation to others, and my commitment to myself if I ever do one of these tours again, is to bring along a saddle I'm used to riding on and swap them before the ride.

The next day brought rain. We could see it coming but on a tour like this, one doesn't have the option to wait for better weather. Your next hotel has already been booked and paid for as have all the others after that one. You simply must get to that hotel, rain or shine.

Rain ahead on the trail to Piesport - Moselle River

In Piesport it rained steadily all night and into the morning so we once again were forced to start later than normal. We waited until we were sure the rain was finished before leaving the hotel at around eleven o'clock. The forecast was encouraging and sure enough, by the time we drove the 26 miles to Traben, got settled into our lovely hotel, the Weingut Trossen, the sun came out for a few photo opps before we sat down to dinner.

We were in the heart of the Moselle wine region now and the river valleys, literally every square foot of them, are covered with vineyards, vineyards that have been there since Roman times. Yesterday's hotel in Piesport, the Weingut Lehnert-Viet, and the Weingut Trossen, are both working wineries that have had accommodations added on. (weingut means winery in German). Wine was plentiful, cheap, and I'm sure, quite tasty. Alas, I did not imbibe because my appetite for alcohol, as for so many other things, knows no bounds. I quit drinking alcohol years ago so it's simply better for me to try to ignore the aggravating fact that although I'm traveling in Germany, the home of one of my favorite wines, the beloved Gew├╝rztraminer, I'm unable to sample any of it.

Views from our hotel, the Weingut Trossen

No wine for me at the Weingut Trossen but happy nonetheless
The next day was by far the best of the trip. Beautiful sunshine and warm temperatures graced the entire day. We stopped often to bask in the warmth and watch the river sliding slowly by. The hills and vineyards shimmered in the sun and the Moselle Radweg provided many opportunities for rest stops.

Morning vineyard with grape harvesting machinery

Every possible square foot is used to grow grapes
Tuli rides the Moselle Radweg

These nice benches begged for a tryout
Reichsburg Castle - Cochem, Germany
We arrived at our hotel, the Karl M├╝ller, at about 5:30 and had plenty of time for a walk around the charming town of Cochem.

The next morning was cloudy with rain threatening. The path ran close by a highway for much of the way to Koblenz making this segment seem somewhat disappointing compared to the wonderful ride we'd enjoyed the day before. And then the weather deteriorated. We searched for shelter as the first few drops of rain spattered the pavement and blundered into an older hotel, the Lellman, where we had coffee and apple strudel as we watched the rain pound down outside. Luckily, it soon quit and we were able to proceed under partly sunny skies to our last stop, Koblenz.

We had biked a total of 195 miles (314 km) in six days of easy riding, rainy days excepted. Our Moselle bike trip was over.

On the trail to Koblenz