After leaving the Rhine Gorge we came quickly to what looked on the map like a pretty ugly section of the tour, one big city after another — Bonn, Köln, Düsseldorf, Essen. Then we’d be in Holland. However, I was quite surprised. This section was much better than I expected. Germany does an excellent job of having green areas right up to and even inside the big cities, and their recommended bicycle routes of course take advantage of these forests and parks. Coming into Düsselforf, for example, looks like continuous built-up city on my map, but we were on pleasant paths through parks and the university campus right into the center of the city. In Essen we coasted straight down to the central train station, and the route into Köln followed the parks along the Rhine for many kms into the city center.
In Köln we stayed with our second and last Warm Showers host of the trip, Agathe, and her boyfriend, Kamal, both from France. Agathe came to Germany with the goal of learning German, but she speaks French at home and English at work so progress is slower than she expected. She’s travelled some by bicycle in South America (Peru and Brazil?), but what I found fascinating about her travels was her way of finding accommodation. She travelled solo and before dark would simply find someone and ask if she could spend the night at their house. She met lots of people and often travelled in places where she didn’t know the language. Seems like that would be incredibly tiring. I’ve never heard of anyone else travelling the way Agathe did.
In our rest day in Köln (where we had the first rain of the trip) we visited the city’s huge cathedral, another UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The highlight of a Rhine River bicycle tour might be the Rhine Gorge, aka Upper Middle Rhine Valley, the whole of which is yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site. If there’s an all-purpose worldwide travel bucket list, it’s these World Heritage Sites. There’s such a variety of nature, culture, and history. You’d sure learn a hell a lot about the world if you were to visit them all.
Ferda and I weren’t always very good about sticking with Rhine during our tour. Just a day after joining the Rhine in Basel, we were already tired of it and went into the wine villages in the hills south of Freiburg. Because of flood control measures in that area, there weren’t any villages right by the river, making the route a little monotonous. In some flat areas we cut straight across instead of doggedly sticking to the Rhine meanders. There are actually few meanders and little natural left about the Rhine. It’s been such an important transport route in Europe that the river’s been straightened and tamed for centuries in order to ease navigation.
My friend, Krista, has planned on a Rhine cycle tour for years. When she and Kurt suggested we do it together, it sounded great. Krista described it as quite flat, lots of castles, lots of good food, and a little riding so you can keep enjoying all that good food. Super, let’s do it, I said. Well, Ferda and I found cheap tickets to Geneva and decided July would be perfect for the Rhine tour — except that I hadn’t consulted Krista, and that’s the hardest time for her to get away from work. So, the Rhine was really Krista’s idea, but because of my poor communication, we’re here without her and Kurt.
We crossed the Rhine again using the free ferry at Rhinau to ride for a few days in Alsace. I love being able to cross national borders without any immigration or customs controls. Is there anywhere in the world where this is possible besides the EU? I also liked being back in France where I can talk to everyone. However, the first thing we did in France was stop for a beer — something that we had become accustomed to in Germany — and that’s a mistake. The beer is better and much cheaper in Germany.
Instead of the Rhine River for this section we chose to follow the Grand Canal d’Alsace. Our few hours pedalling along the canal were some of the fastest kilometers of the trip. There are so many roads and bike routes in this part of Europe that it seems we’re stopping to read signs and/or look at the map every few minutes. Because the bicycle paths often follow small tracks, finding them can be difficult and counter-intuitive. You just need to trust the signs, and once you’ve missed a sign, it can be a lot of guesswork to get back to the route. In the end what this means is that you go less distance in a day than you might expect. Navigation on the canal, on the other hand, was simple.
One of the reasons to go on a bicycle tour in July was to get away from the heat of Antalya where it’s 35°C every day. I hate to come to Europe and complain about the heat, but, wow, it can be hot in southern Germany — 35°C every day! The way we found to keep cool was to get in the water, eat ice cream, and drink beer at every opportunity. Maybe it shouldn’t be surprising that there were lots of opportunities.