Germany (with a bit of France thrown in). 13th – 20th May

We arrived in Germany, and then ten minutes later we went to France. Then we went to the supermarket in Germany, and then went and camped in France. I don’t like the idea of borders. The very fact they exist is sad. Products of conflict, war, greed, power, under the guise of security (uh-oh I went deep). In contradiction, the contrasts in culture they produce is one of the main reasons we are here. The often instant transition of food, language and currency that border towns produce fascinates me. The difference in wealth can be instant. The buildings appear different. Even little things like road signs instantly change. This border crossing was not so clear. We were at a confluence of Luxembourg, Germany and France and found a campsite nearby with a riverside location and an incredible view of a castle (oh god, I sound like an estate agent).

As we cut across a corner of France through Strasbourg, our journey the next day was quite a tough one. It was incredibly hot and we had a headwind most of the day. Unknown to us until we arrived at a campsite with not even an employee on site that night and pitched up next to a lake, we were overheated and overwinded (definitely not a word). Hannah was feeling quite rough so took some medication and hit the hay. We had experience of the strength of the sun from our last cycle tour. We soon realised that drinking ump-teen litres of water was not enough. You often don’t realise it until it’s too late that the sun has been draining you of vital salts and minerals all day. You often have a breeze on you when cycling that masks the suns rays and the damage it’s doing and you only feel the strength of it when you stop. This time we were well stocked with medication.

We both woke the next day beaten up and lacking energy still. Nature was doing it’s best to distract us with a spectacular stretch of river with resident woodpeckers and cuckoos. Nature was again distracting us with Hannah experiencing some side effects of the heat exhaustion and having to duck in to the woods on a dozen occasions throughout the day (too much information?). We didn’t see another person or even bar or shop for a very long time and soon ran out of food and water. We eventually arrived at a village towards the end of the day with a token shop but nothing else. We bought tinned food (it was the only food on the only shelf, sad times). Yet another beautiful campsite was found, surrounded by dramatic rock formations we dined on undecipherable tinned stuff and crashed out. We were invited to have drinks with some nice Dutchies, I was very tempted but just too tired from the days ride to socialise (more sad times).

Hannah awoke feeling normal again. More delights along the river today with a pretty village in particular with a market selling freshly cooked dishes that were out of our daily budget. We were tempted by paella (so very French) and beer until we realised it was 9 in the morning, paella is not a breakfast dish (boom boom). We rode through Strasbourg and over the Rhine back in to Germany. We decided to ignore the obvious cycle route that takes you around the Black Forest through Basel and head straight through it. We found the reason why the cycle route takes you around it as halfway up and over we felt heavy and hot as we tackled our steepest climbs yet. Good training for what is to come further down the trip at least. The forest was incredible. It felt tall, enchanted, with dramatic Alpine views whenever we looked up and away from the sweat dripping on the tarmac below us. Despite the most beautiful wild camping spots on offer, it was just too early to stop and we annoyingly settled for an average overpriced campsite at the end of the day. We always seem to be 60km before or after the best wild camping spots. You may be thinking, what’s the rush? Why not stop and relax? Well, we need to get through Europe pretty quickly as our goal of heading to China takes us through the Pamir Highway, it’s ten mountain passes up to 6000m high mean that reaching this area before the passes become too snowy and challenging trumps taking it easy in Europe. We tell ourselves that Europe is next door and we will likely re-visit these areas more than mountain passes in Kyrgyzstan. Hannah has just returned with the running style and excitement of a child and the news that you can buy hot giant pretzels from vending machines. We will definitely be returning it seems…

More rain. Then thunder and lightning. Then hail. We got absolutely drenched as there was no shelter anywhere. And once you’re wet, well, you’re wet. You can’t really get more wet than wet. Unless you’re wet, wet, wet in a swimming pool (I wonder if Francis Rossi makes the same joke to himself at his local pool). We’d experienced all types of rain so far. Light rain, warm rain, big old fat rain. It can be quite refreshing at times. We get strange looks when we’re cycling in the pouring rain. But it’s not like at home. All our bags are super waterproof (hopefully) and it’s not like we are cycling in our finest suede brogues (I don’t own suede brogues). You just think, sod it, let’s get wet, it’s quite nice.

We continued east and out of the Black Forest enjoying the flip-side of climbing up to the top… uninterrupted downhills, “weeeeeeeeeeeeeeee”. We found the start of the eurovelo route 6 in a town called Donaueschingen at the start of the Danube river. We would be following this route all the way along the Danube to Bulgaria. Our theory being that there would be not much map-looking and a nice picturesque, car-free route for weeks to come. As we approached the city of Tuttlingen late afternoon, Hannah was suffering from bad stomach pain and was finding it hard to cycle. She was annoyed to be stopping short of our daily goal of 80 miles but had to due to the pain. It was time to decide where we were staying that night. Looking on the map, Hannah found a free campsite in the city centre. Sounded a bit weird but in for penny ‘n all. We treated ourselves to a beer on the river. Hannah was looking quite coy. ‘What’s up my love?’ I said. ‘Feeling better?’ I followed. ‘Yes’ she said. ‘What’s up then?’ I quizzed. ‘My stomach pain was just wind’ she said hesitantly. ‘Nice’ I concluded. When we arrived, we were a bit confused as the campsite turned out to be an empty small patch of grass in the corner of a huge city park. Coming from London I was not completely at ease with pitching my tent in a public park. Anything could happen! (I sound like my Mum). I told Hannah that you wouldn’t pitch your tent in a park in London and that it didn’t feel right. She informed me that this was not London and felt more like a Cambridge. I said I wouldn’t pitch my tent in Cambridge either (no offence Cambridge).

After a broken nights sleep in Cambridge worrying about all the Londoners we continued out of the city heading east. I was still annoyed that my urban camping experience was forced upon me by Hannah’s wind. As we stopped to cross some traffic lights we saw another cycle tourer a few metres away. A huge smile and arms in the sky made us smile in response. Michael from the USA had cycled the world. We were envious. At 57 he had retired some years before and had decided to hit the road. When we told him our plans all he said was ‘YES!…YES!’. This comforted Hannah as the normal response is ‘Are you crazy?’, or ‘Is that safe?’. We cycled with Michael for most of the day. It was our most beautiful path yet. Towering limestone formations either side of us, we cycled on a car free path along the river crossing bridges and darting through forests. Michael’s positivity, enthusiasm and energy for life were infectious. He was incredibly knowledgeable and we felt pretty thick in his presence. Especially when it came to history. We said our goodbyes and felt blessed to have met him.

We were unsure that night whether to commit to finding a wild camp spot or really go for it on the bikes and do more than we wanted to make it to a camp site. As we left the car free experience behind and picked up a small road leading to a typical Bavarian village, we were faced with an old stone built brewery with several bicycles outside. The decision was made for us. Two pints of the most incredible cloudy beer later we were cycling with the well known two-pint confidence in the hunt for a nice spot to sleep. This night we were in luck as we found the most beautiful little patch of ground next to the river hidden by trees. We were out of sight and confident (probably the beers) that we had found the perfect spot. We cooked up another random pasta concoction and slept under the stars. These are the moments we dreamt of weeks ago when planning the trip. Fun times…

Cycled through a city called Ulm, where Einstein was born apparently. Forgot what day of the week it was and didn’t know that supermarkets were closed on Sundays. It was Sunday. The only place we found open was a bakery. Oh crumbs (pun intended). Filled up on savoury beigeness. No complaints. We were on a mission to do 150kms today. It was a target we had yet to meet. We were awake early as we had wild camped, the weather was good, the roads were flat, the odds were in our favour. By mid afternoon we had clocked up around 110kms and were in high spirits as the big bag of beige from the bakery was keeping us energised. With plenty of sunlight left the 150kms was happening. Then we met Saha. The happy, sunny face cycled up behind us and was intrigued as to our journey. We talked and cycled and instantly hit it off. As we neared her home town and the end of the road for her she informed us of a brewery a couple of hundred metres off our route that we should visit. The 150km goal was thrown in the Danube as we entered the brewery with Saha and sunk another great pint. Saha was a great soul and we talked and laughed like close friends. She talked of her love of Marvel superheroes and of her story of fleeing Croatia for Germany in 1992. She bought us our drinks and even gave us a bottle to take with us to enjoy at the end of the day. So, so generous. I hope one day we can repay the favour… We eventually manged 146km before stopping at a canoe club and pitching up for the night. The bar was closing up but we were ushered to a vending machine that distributed bottled beer. First warm pretzels, then cold bottled beer, what else will Germany offer us through a vending machine? Answers on a postcard…

Rain. Just sod off now please. I take it back. You can be more than wet. You can be pissing wet and pissed off. Hannah often says I can be overly optimistic, especially when it comes to the weather, but today I was not. We ducked in under a bridge and made a lunch of pumpernickel (I know! It’s a real thing!) and cheese spread and decided on a plan. Hannah found a free camp spot for canoers and kayakers. I’d left my canoe at the last campsite but hoped nobody noticed as we pitched our tent in the pissing rain (note how the rain has gone from quite nice to pissing, it’s the same rain as yesterday, just the mood that’s changed). I rode off in the rain to get some supplies and then sat outside making fajitas in the rain. It was not nice. It was actually really not nice. But I bought some interesting beers and we got afternoon drunk in the tent. Every cloud…

Watch our 1-minute video of Cycle Touring Luxembourg & Germany here…

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