Archive for the ‘Cycling’ Category

Tandem Tour 2015: Kitzingen to Bamberg via Sand am Main

Kintingen_sand2

The main route heading north and east is a delight.

Kintingen_sand

It is still significant enough to experiece ferries and sizeable bridges, some of which riders are required to use. We travelled in a northerly direction towards Dettelbach. This is very much wine country and Dettelbach (below right) is twee and offers a considerable – and probably necessary – marketing opportunity for growers. They have hostelries on the road side with opportunities to sample the local wine and DSCF1204then buy a crate. We acquired a taste for Domina (a fruity red) and Spätburgunder (another word for Pinot Noir). Suffice to say, we did not carry a crate on the tandem.

We actually stopped at Volkach for lunch where, clearly, we should have stopped at the St. Maria im Weingarten church, the home of another Riemenschneider carving. But we hadn’t done our homework.  However, by way of compensation, and as is so often the case, one DSCF1210stumbles upon strange – sometimes inexplicable – attractions. So at Stammheim, one encounters an air museum (left). And a ferry. I love ferry rides across rivers (below right).

Onward towards Schweinfurt which is a not insignificant industrial town. It produced most of the Nazi war machine’s ball bearings. For that reason it was a target of allied forces in 1945. It retains significant metal industry facilities. But if one follows the track, the city is largely bypassed.

Next up is Haßfurt, again somewhat bypassed. We were keen to get to our preferred campsite at Sand am Main.DSCF1213 We took a little detour adjacent to an airfield, surprisingly busy with small and micro aircraft. Sand am Main proved not as easy to get to as we might have thought. There is a lot of water which requires one to ride over the correct bridge just to the east of Knetzgau. The campsite is actually on the banks of Sanderbaggersee and is, consequently, relatively easy to find once in Sand.

DSCF1220Time for a day off from the tandem. The next day we walked into the nearby Zeil am Main (left), a centre for furniture manufacture, and caught the train into Bamberg. Bamberg – or at least its centre – is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And it is extraordinary. It has a thousand years of history, much of it religious. It lost its status as a city state in 1803 becoming part of the Bavarian kingdom.DSCF1227

It is certainly a hilly place (there are 7 hills, die Hügel), thus enjoying the architecture requires some strenuous walking. The stone used for the buildings gives it an unwarranted industrial feel. The Cathedral (right) is, for example, built from a sandy-coloured stone, as is the nearby Michaelsberg Abbey (below right). The cathedral dates from the 13th Century and is described as romanesque (Bamberg is often described, inappropriately, as Bavaria’s Rome). As for the 20150828_152853interior, one can find an ornate Riemenschneider tomb sculpted from marble (left). It was sculpted for Heinrich II and his wife (Kunigunde), and dates from the early 16th Century. It is adorned with carvings capturing a series of complex stories. For example, Kunigunde was challenged on her faithfulness to the KingDSCF1232 (left). She was essentially cleared after proving her faithfulness by runing over some hot sharp metal without injury!

Bamberg also has a history steeped in beer, not unlike most Bavarian towns, it has to be said. There is one very special beer, however, that had to be tried. That beer was Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier (essentially, dark smoked bier). The beer is smoked arising out of an DSCF1235accident. Fire damaged the brewery and soiled the ingredients including the hops. However, waste not want not, as-it-were. The next batch of beer had, not surprisingly, a smoked flavour. I have to say, one glass was enough. The hostelry itself offers traditional complementary food which is quick (the turnover inside is rapid) and surprisingly good, even for a vegetarian.

 

 

 

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Tandem Tour 2015: Tauberbishofsheim to Kitzingen via Würzburg

Tauber_KintzingenRather than go all the way along the Tauber to Wertheim to join the Main, we decided to go direct and take what is known as the Romantic Route linking WerbachDSCF1191 just north of Tauberbishofsheim and Würzburg via Alterheim. The route is well signposted (right) but, as a route it is not as well developed as the river routes. Essentially, treat it like a motorway with no services on it. Take food and water because this is not an easy 30km or so. That said, Werbach to Würzburg is easier than the other way around. The gradients are kinder. Not surprisingly, it is also much quieter.

When Würzburg arrives, it is fantastic.DSCF1195 The Fortress Marienburg (left) dominates the skyline and the city centre is as architcturally rich as any in the region. Though it is also a working city where the tourists are contained.

The Würzburger Residenz is a UNESCO World Heritage Site originally built between 1720 and 1744. The Rathaus (right) is a 14th Century building, but like the historic centres of many German cities it was severely damaged by allied bombs in 1945 (a firestorm on 16 March 1945 killed 5000 civilians). Fittingly, much of the historic centre was rebuilt. The Cathedral, moreover, has two examples of DSCF1198Riemenschneider’s extraordinary carvings.

We ate well at the Ratskeller before heading to the river and following the Main Radweg to Kitzingen. This takes riders principally through the historic town of Ochsenfurt. Just short of Kinzingen is the excellent riverside campsite. Kinzingen is another picture postcard town, the history of which is closely related to the Church, Würzburg and Napoleon.

DSCF1201Breakfast opportunities are considerable. It is also very cylcle friendly. First of all, if one has an e-bike – of which there are many to be seen on these cycle routes – there is a charging station. But more interestingly, there are secure luggage lockers (left) for cyclists!

 

Tandem Tour 2015: Eichstätt to Tauberbishofsheim

Eichstätt_TauberbishofsheimBreakfast is usually in some Konditorei in one of the many towns. Coffee and freshly made bread with jam and cheese fits the bill nicely. In Eichstätt we found one on the cycle route out of the town.

The next section is has a lot to recommend it. The cycle route shares a railway line in the valley as it passess through Dollnstein and Solnhofen (a major part of the local economy is stone – stein – this influences many of the place names). Further on is Treuchtlingen. In the Kurpark, one finds the seemingly incongruously located steam locomotive rather forlornly dumped (right).DSCF1168 The town itself was having a siesta when we passed through it (to be fair, it was very hot). But ultimately it is an old market town famous for handcrafts and silk. The aforementioned railway link to Ingolstadt and Munich, built in 1869, was key to the town’s industrial development. But there is a further significance, the railway station was bombed on 23 February 1945 by the allies. 300 people died on one train in the station. Maybe the forlorn locomotive fittingly commemorates that terrible event?

DSCF1173A little further along the river is Gunzenhausen, a resort on the Altmühlsee, a large inland lake (left). We camped there, breakfasting at a cafe on the shoreline. We then continued our tour north west towards Rothenburg ob der Tauber through Leutershausen and Colmburg. There is a bit of cross country to be done here and if you suitably miss the path,DSCF1176 as we did, you can be diverted into villages that show some of the eccentricities of the Bavarians relating to their gardens (right). I cannot quite remember in which village this scene of life and fantasy was discovered. But it made the detour worthwhile.

DSCF1175A little further on, we found another village (left) that was not quite looking its best. I was expecting a sign saying something like “sorry we are not looking our best, come back in 6 months…please”.

We found ourselves in Gasthof zur Krone having coffee and Apfel Strudel in Leutershausen (the Gasthof kitchens in Bavaria are mostly closed between 1500 and 1800, there is little hot food to get). The landlord told us that rain was forecast for around 6pm and if we wanted to make it to Rothenburg before it came (we were keen to get the tent up before it set in) then we should take a short cut. The road that was recommended seemed rather substantial (st2249). But in the event, largely unused. A recommended detour. A bit more hilly, though.

And then Rothenburg itself. First we would say, if you want to visit the town, go direct. Do not follow the cycleDSCF1181 track as it steeply descends into the valley and the way back up is tortuous. The town is significant in its history and is home to an amazing Tilman Riemenscheider alterpiece carving – something we discovered only on getting back and watching again Andrew Graham Dixon’s BBC documentary, The Art of Germany (though if we had read our guide close enough, we would also have known). Indeed there are many Riemenschneider carvings in Bavaria. We stopped off at two further churches containing examples of his work at Detwang (where we camped and pictured, above right) and a shade futher on the Herrgottskirche to the south of Credlingen on the L1005 (and don’t forget the Thimble Museum, below left).

The campsite at DetDSCF1183wang is described elsewhere. With heavy rain we abandoned any idea of getting into Rothenburg and elected to eat in one of the Gastätte in the village. Monday and Tuesday are closing days for one of the restaurants. We had, therefore, no choice but to go to the Gasthaus Tauberstube (http://tinyurl.com/o2yhwsy) despite a note on the door saying reservations only for the evening. It was great, though traditional food. They were well prepared to offer us something vegetarian. And we drank some local wine. The next day we met the landlord in another cafe in Credlingen – he was clearly checking up on the local competition! He recognised us even though we were on a tandem and wearing our gear. We have to revisit Rothenburg. I think we now know where to stay.

Onward towards our next stop, Tauberbishofsheim through the attractive towns of Röttingen, Weikersheim (right) andDSCF1188 significantly, Bad Mergentheim. The secret to its fortune is in the name. The area is rich in mineral springs and was found to be particularly useful in dealing with digestive disorders. The town also boasts a medieval castle with baroque church. But significantly, it feels like a real working town. Indeed over this stretch of the cycle path one cross the border into Baden-Württemberg, a culturally different place to neighbouring Bavaria. As one pushes further along the Tauber towards the confluence with the Main at Wertheim, it becomes more industrial and less twee. It is no worse for that.

DSCF1185Hence, one enters Tauberbishofsheim through a light industrial area; and whilst it is not unattractive in the centre, it feels much more lived in. There is no nearby campsite, though it is well frequented by cyclists as we discovered in the hotel in which we opted to spend the night.

Tandem Tour 2015: Regensburg to Eichstätt

Regensburg_EichstättWe took the train from Munich to Regensburg. The lifts at both stations are big enough to fit the loaded tandem. The signs outside the station immediately direct cyclists to the cycle path along the Danube in the first instance.

This section is picturesque, quite leafy and packed full of vertiginously perched castles and monuments. One should always be looking up as well as forward.

For2013_Weltenburg_19 example, at Kelheim one finds the wonderfully curious Befreiungshalle (right). If my understanding is correct it is a after-the-fact monument to the defeat of Napoleon during the Befreiungskriege of 1813-15. The work on the monument itself was started in 1842 and completed in 1856 after a number of issues, not least the death of the architect/builder. It was principally funded by King Ludwig I of Bavaria. However, one should never underestimate the effect of French occupation of German lands on the country’s history. Monuments like this are not so unusual. I’ve used an image by Derzno (Wikipedia) because when we passed by it was shrouded in scaffolding.

DSCF1142At Kelheim the Altmühl flows into the Danube. We were riding against the flow (and the wind). After camping at Kastlhof, we followed the river to Riedenburg (left) and Dietfurt. What one has to say about these places is that they are a shade generic. Dietfurt RathausDSCF1145 (right) is typical of the architecture of the region. And the Altmühl towns are, on the whole, very well looked after.

However, Eichstät itself is exceptional. A small town tracing its routes back to the 8th century BC with a cathedral, monestary (left) and a DSCF1160catholic university is quite something to behold. I quite like the random sculptures in front of a nicely graffiti’d wall. Just a concession to demonstrate that even here, a white wall is too much to resist. The town is rather quiet in the evening out of university time.

 

 

Tandem Tour 2015: Altmühl and Main Radwege, campsites

Main

DSCF1199 Kitzingen Great campsite. Camping area just behind a children’s play area. Approx. €15. Showers included. Washing machine and drier (tokens required). Greek Taverne adjacent on the river.
Bizarre campsite. Very large over two sites. Cheap,  – €12. Showers included. Washing machine and dryer. A cluster of decaying caravans in a distant corner. Don’t go to the toilet in the middle of the night as the facilities will be being cleaned. A few mosquitos to deal with. Village has Greek Taverne near to the church. Adds to the strangeness. Sand am Main DSCF1218
DSCF1245 Lichtenfels Public facility on the banks of the Main. Presided over by a larger-than-life manager. €10 per night. Miele washing machine and dryer (both €3). Excellent local baker drives mobile shop onto site each day at 0800 (queue forms in anticipation). Manager supplies coffee and table/chairs making perfect breakfast. Camp cat.

Tandem Tour 2015 – Tauber Altmühl and Main Radwege, Bayern, Germany

DSCF1297This year we decided not to stray too far from our base in Munich. In previous years we have had to negotiate up to 5 trains with the tandem (bicycles are not carried on InterCity trains in Germany) to get to our starting point. This year, the starting point was Regensburg, a relatively quick couple of hours by cycle-friendly regional train.

We are feeling a shade smug this year in that we managed to camp for all but one night, and that was because there were no campsites on that particular stretch. We navigated by means of a Garmin Edge 800 bicycle navigation system (topped up nightly largely by energy generated from our Power Monkey Solar battery pack) and ADFC Reiseführer “Tauber Altmühl Radweg” (Hans Luntz) and Bikeline (Esterbauer), “Main Radeweg”.

Both paths are well signposted taking in both designated cycle track and minor roads. That said, it is possible to lose the tracks, especially when negotiating the towns. Below are my comments on the campsites. Some, as ever, are better than others!

Altmühl

DSCF1138 Pillhausen (west of Kelheim) Family-run campsite directly on the river. Gasthof serves food until late. Food simple, but effective. Inexpensive (€15). Showers inclusive. One criticism, the owners knowingly admitted a group intending to have an all-night party with amplified music. Sleep was a challenge.
This is really a mobile home parking facility. But there is room for tents, right on the path and adjacent to the river. Very cheap at €8 paid using a ticket machine. Showers, 50 Euro Cent. Recommended. Eichstätt DSCF1156
DSCF1171 Camping Herzog, Gunzenhausen (Altmühl See) Very much purpose-built facility acting as a resort (Altmühl See is a big lake suitable for watersports). €21 per night (all pitches are the same size whether you are a caravan and car or a two-person tent and bicyle). Ground totally unsuitable for tent pegs. Washing machine and dryer. Showers 50 Euro Cent extra. On-site restaurant that was not bad (we enjoyed both the food and the company/clientele).
Rothenburg has two adjacent campsites. This one was the smaller of the two. Relatively cheap (approx €12, showers inclusive). The village has two Gasthofs with alternate closing evenings (Monday and Tuesday). Ignore any sign saying reservations essential. Rothenburg ob der Tauber (Detwang) DSCF1179
DSCF1189 Tauber-bishofsheim Badischer Hof Hotel We took the hotel because this section of the route has no campsites (in our direction of travel). €89 including breakfast – proved good value. Hotel has restaurant, but we went to the nearby Chinese restaurant (Asia Wok) and had a significant veggie meal (tofu, vegetables and noodles) at a fraction of the price. Hotel has garage for secure bicycle storage.

Tandem Tour 2015 – early thoughts

tauber_kaartIt is time to start thinking seriously about this year’s tour. We have decided to stay quite close to home this year and take on Northern Bavaria (or more precisely, Franconia). The aim is to start from Regensburg and follow the Tauber Altmühl Radweg (left), skirt around Nürnberg, head up to Coburg and finish up in Leipzig.

Early days. A couple of guides  have been purchased, but because our plan does Main_radwegnot form a part of a registered long-distance route, we have to mix and match the maps (and make one or two of our own).

Camping last year was a decidedly damp and cold affair. The long-range weather forecast for August is not yet out…

Tandem Tour 2014: Lommel to Maastricht

Lommel_MaastrichtThis is a ride for people who like flirting with national borders; in this case between Belgium and the Netherlands. It is rural and navigated by long avenues and canals. The route takes riders across the border, I presume, in order to visit the historic town of Thorn (below right).  It is called “the White Town”; seemingly, there are 105 protected white houses in the town. The church is also impressive. It is a good place for lunch, too.DSCF0727

After Thorn, it is back into Belgium and due south towards Maastrict. En route riders pass through Maaseik. Maaseik boasts a large central square (below, left) a museum and a couple of churches. It is the birthplace of Flemish painters Jan and Hubert van Eyck whose DSCF0730statues are in the central square.

It was late afternoon when we left Maaseik. We refuelled with ice-cream and burned it off along the Zuid Wilemsvaart (canal) and crossed the border again at Smeermaas. In search of hotels on the approach, we ended up in the main square, Vrijthof, that was hosting the annual raucous food festival. The raucousness came from the huge volumes of alcohol being consumed after the eating. Despite that, we found a quiet room in the adjacent Hotel Du Casque.

Maastricht is busy. The shopping streets on the western side of the river are largely car free. There is not much that isDSCF0732 unique from any other significant town across Europe with the possible exception of the Boekhandel Selexyz Dominicanen (bookshop) in an ancient (1294) Dominican church (right).

DSCF0746The east side, however, is modern but conversely more eclectic. It is home to the fantastic ceramic centre (left; when staying in Maastricht, visitors pay tax on hotel rooms for all of the museums and some public buildings like this one). There is some exquisite pottery inside to view. There is also some peculiar items like the tank teapot (right). DSCF0745

It is also home to the ‘drogerie’ with the most wonderful window Ceramique_restaurantdisplay and a vegetarian restaurant as good as any (left). And not forgetting the railway station with its ceramic sphinx (below right).DSCF0739

 

Tandem Tour 2014: Quirks

Brugges: the Wash Casino. Erm…casino, betting, gambling, chance, losing money, uncertainty. Or winning…other people’s laundry in a winner-takes-all situation. I think this may be a launderette to avoid?  DSCF0596
 DSCF0731 Maaseik – lamp-posts that double up as speakers pumping out ‘easy-listening’ music.
 Maastricht – the perfect shop window?  DSCF0753
 DSCF0718 Public toilets are always at a premium when travelling. We took refuge in a park for lunch where some retired people were playing boules. The unmarked white box had to have some purpose. Low and behold, there is it was. A fully functioning flush toilet.

 

 

Tandem Tour 2014 – Ghent to Lommel

Ghent_LommelI have often heard the mantra that providing that one wears the right clothes, the weather should not matter. Those who say this either have a budget beyond mine and are supplied by NASA or they never really experience a full day of heavy rain on a bicycle. We exposed ourselves to a full seven hours of riding in increasingly heavy rain in order to reach the small town of Boom, 110 kms east of Ghent.

This is river and canal riding at its best. The river is the Schelde and it becomes increasingly imposing and navigable. The Schelde does not actually flow through the centre of the city, but the cycle route joins it at St Amandsberg. There is a fantastic moment riding along where one has one of those, “do you see what I see?” moments (right). It is an old Sabena airliner that has come to rest in a factory yard.

DSCF0673There are two occasions on this stretch when the path takes riders over the river by ferry. Our experience in Germany is that ferries just, as-and-when, cross the river between set hours in the day. This is not so in Belgium, at least on the Schelde. Seemingly, they run a half-hour service. But more importantly, they can be requested. On two occasions, the ferryman, saw us waving (it was raining after all) and immediately collected us. The ferries are passenger ferries only. And they seem to run between places that are not exactly centres of population. They are also free (though the ferrymen were delighted to receive a good tip). What’s more, one finds the ferries bunched in pairs – situated perhaps a couple of kilometres apart. Essentially, they are operated by one man.

DSCF0687So we crossed the river at Mariekerke (left) having been unable to work out how to get the ferry across to nearby Sint Amands. Mariekerke is nothing more than a village, but it did have a welcome Gasthaus where we could get some hot food and warm up a shade. In fact, it was fantastic. It was a Monday afternoon and the place was hosting an afternoon lunch for a group of elder burgers. They were having a ball. And cared not a jot for us.

The second crossing was a little more complicated. The Schelde is joined by the Rupel, adjacent to both is a busy canal (Zeekanal) with a series of locks. Finding a closed gate that was crossable took us a little while. And then came the ferry. We flagged it down, it came, we went across. At the other side the path to the left goes to Schelle (and Antwerp) and right to Boom. Boom was our preferred end point for the day. And we found the only hotel in town.

Another full day of rain was forecast, so we decided to stay on for a second day and take the train to Antwerp. Wise, in many respects. Architecturally it is magnificent, and the magnificence starts with the railway station that is more like a church than a railway terminal (right)DSCF0697. There is a hierarchy of lines – the intercity trains depart from the ground level; regional trains for floor -1; and the trains to Boom from -2!

Antwerp is the home town of Peter Paul Rubens, the celebrated 16 Century artist. His paintings are everywhere, not least in the churches dotted around the city. His house, where he retreated DSCF0709after his prolific and highly lucrative years with his bride who was considerably younger than him, can easily be found. I’m not sure why we did not visit, especially being so wet. Instead we wandered around and visited the old town and waterfront (left).

It was back on the bicycle to Lommel the next day. The sun was shining and the rest day had been welcome. Bearing in mind our final destination was Aachen, the logic of going to Lommel was not strong other than it being the recommended route. The route continued with the river and canal theme (right). DSCF0714

We were taken to the vibrant little town called Lier. I have never seen such a cluster of bars in such a small place before. I trust Saturday night is lively. In the sunshine of the day, however, it is relaxing and the coffee is supplied to order. The town has a few curious pieces of architecture. A DSCF0717very striking clock (the Zimmer Tower, left) watches out over the bars, and an enormous central square seems to be looking for an event.

From Lier – where we arrived in late morning – it is canal towpath. Long, straight and quiet. The next port-of-call was Turnhout. The route does not actually pass through the town, but we took refuge in a popular waterside café to refresh, determined to ride late to reach Lommel.DSCF0720

The Kanaal Dessel-Schoten heads for the NE corner of Belgium and  over Lommel which hosts a Centerparc and offers two other camping options.

We crossed the canal onto the N746 route hoping to find either a campsite or a modest hotel. On that route we found neither. Once into the centre it all got very confusing as the town was hosting a funfair, so it was very difficult to orientate ourselves. In the end we had to ask and got directed to a hotel heading out west. Details can be found here.

DSCF0724Refreshed after a shower, we opted for a close-by restaurant. A Tapas. And what a Tapas it was. The menu seemed expensive, but the system goes like this. One chooses a main course and the restaurant supplies a series of tapas that complement the main course. It was magnificent. A father and son operation with authenticity (father is Spannish). The chef brought one of the courses to us. We finally had a picture outside the restaurant as we left. Well recommended.