Let’s go for a drive

July 25, 2013

Now that we were in Stuttgart, Chandler and I had a desicion to make about what we wanted to do next. We had plans to meet my sister and her family in France in mid-August, however we couldn’t get excited about the bike ride there. The cycling routes in Germany were good but it was a lot of stop and go cycling, as we had to reorient at every intersection. We were used to longer medatative grinds. Also, with the time we had it was going to be a less than liesurely haul to make it on time to rendezvous with family. We discussed taking a train again, but after some research we came to an easy conclusion. We would rent a car and drive to Kleve, a German town on the border of Holland, and continue biking from there. Then we’d cycle to France and cover the last bit of distance with another rental car. Oddly, even with gas, it was cheaper to rent a car for a day than it was to take the train, plus we could pick our own route!

So, Chandler left early in the morning to catch a train to the airport to pick up our car. I stayed at the campground to take down the tent, pack up everything and disassemble the bikes enough to fit in the boot. Everything actually went smoothly and we were on the road before noon.

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That doesn’t look right

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Everything fits!

Getting out of town was complicated but the car came with a really slick integrated GPS that we were able to program to English. After a very scary mile or two of heavy rains, lots of traffic and no speed limit, we headed off for the Black Forest. It was vast and beautiful, but there was no cake or ham to be found.

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The Black Forest

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Beautiful butterfly

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The trees grow faces here

We only had the car for a day and had to reach our destination, which was still several hours away, so we drove fast. There really is no speed limit on the Autobahn… Our rental car was only comfortable in the 90 mph range, and even travelling at this speed lots of folks were passing us going at least 20-30 mph faster. We made only one or two stops for dinner and bathroom needs. Chandler was very excited to see a bratwurst stand outside a grocery store, so his dinner was easy.

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Princess Chan and his brats

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Sunset

We arrived at the campground too late and the gate was locked, so we kept driving. However, we were on a minor rural road and managed to find a parking pullout. Being close to midnight and too tired to keep going, we decided to stop. We pitched the tent in a bit of grass near some trees and hoped no one would bug us.

The Mercedes-Benz Museum

July 24, 2013

We picked a good day to spend time in a museum because it rained very hard the entire time we were inside.

The Mercedes-Benz museum was really well done. Surprisingly, there was an unemployed person’s admission rate, so Chandler and I only had to pay half the normal price. There were free audio tour devices and loads of information. And of course, cars!

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The building was shaped like a giant spiral. At the top, we began with the invention of the engine and its first cars built by Daimler and Benz, and as you walked down and around the floors, the displays progressed through the history of the company.

Motorized bicycle

Motorized bicycle

Benz Victoria

Benz Victoria

40 hp Mercedez Simplex

40 hp Mercedes Simplex

Two logo poster

Two logo poster

It was interesting to learn about the history of the different companies that merged to create the Mercedes-Benz brand. Benz comes from Karl Benz, who invented  the first petrol-powered car and Mercedes was actually the daughter of a business man who financed the development and manufacture of race cars.

Winning cars from the years

Winning cars from the years

There was also a section of Mercedes driving by famous people. Princess Diana’s red Mercedes 500SL, a bus used by a soccer team and a car owned by Ringo Starr were among just a few on display. However, my favorite was the Pope mobile, designed for the visit to Germany by the Pope.

Pope mobile

Pope mobile

We were also given a little preview at what is to come.

Clay model

Clay model

S500 lang

S500 lang

It was a nice day to do something off the bikes and out of the elements.

Family ties

July 23, 2013

Distance: 36.7 miles                    Climbing: 1879.9 ft

Chandler’s grandfather’s family was from Germany, hence the last name, and we knew they were from the area. While Skyping with Tayler, we found out that the family was from Plochingen, directly on our path to Stuttgart.

The ride began with some interesting sculptures and birds. We passed a museum with some dinosaur and other prehistoric creatures of display. We thought about checking out the inside, but there was a huge group of kids and we were interested in a more quiet activity. We didn’t find what we were looking for, because school must have just started or something. There were kids in school uniforms everywhere, on the bike paths, in the grocery store and feeding some swans.

Squid thing sculpture

Squid thing sculpture

Swan

Swan

After we got our fill of the birds, we went on to Plochingen. The town was small and quiet, with lots of nice architecture to take in. We roamed around for a while, but it was really hot so soon we got back on the road.

Town Hall

Town Hall

Library

Library

Soon we began traveling through the sprawling suburbs of Stuttgart. Assuming that we were officially out of the countryside, we were surprised to see a huge vineyard growing on the side of a steep hill directly adjacent to a busy road. On the other side of the road were large apartment buildings. It was quite a sight.

HIllside vineyard

HIllside vineyard

Vineyard in the city

Vineyard in the city

There were big, dark clouds rolling in, but we hoped we could make it to the campground in time. The area of Stuttgart we rode through, didn’t have the same charm as Munich, so we hustled to keep going. Everything was going smoothly until we were trying to find the entrance. We were a bit lost and a huge windstorm picked up swirling dirt, trash and loads of tree pollen into the air. Luckily, I wear “safety” glasses all the time, but Chan doesn’t, so he was having a miserable time trying to ride his bike, look at the map and keep his eyes clear with his hand.

The GPS indicated one way to the campground, but when we arrived, the road was gated off. So, we went around and found ourselves in a horse stable. There was a road in our path that we couldn’t seem to get around and was bounded by fences everywhere we looked. We considered climbing over the fence but decided against it as it seemed that would be trying too hard and that we must be missing something.

We back-tracked again to the main highway and finally found some stairs we could walk our bikes down, which was a pain. We ended up on a bike path next to the river and realized the “road” that was in our way was the Mercedes-Benz factory test-track. Shuttling our bikes across that might not have gone over so well.

The campground was very decently priced considering it was located in the center of the city and there was a grassy section just for tents. While I set up camp, Chandler chatted with our neighbors and found out that the Mercedes-Benz and Porsche museums were very close by. We would definitely be staying another day. Until then, Chandler found another game store and bought us a little present!

Carcassone

Carcassone

Visiting an old friend

July 21 – 22, 2013

Distance: 39.5 miles              Climbing: 2450.8 ft

Breakfast was as quick as possible. The mosquitoes were just as fierce as the night before, so we weren’t interested in dawdling while getting eaten alive. We didn’t even take time to make coffee. So, it wasn’t surprising when we both felt the need for a pick-me-up after a few hours.

Lovely road

Lovely road

We rode through more fields interspersed with small forests . While the scenery was all very similar, we did see a couple things of interest.

Too bad we left the tank at home

Too bad we left the tank at home

Some sort of bird of prey

Some sort of bird of prey

My friend, Mike, whom I haven’t seen since graduating high school, recently moved back to Germany. Since we were going to be in the area, I figured it was a good time for a little reunion. He picked us up at the campground and drove us into town. We spent the next several hours eating, drinking and catching up.

Good looking guys

Good looking guys

Me and Mike

Me and Mike

The next morning, we were tired and maybe feeling the effects of the night before. We decided to stay at the campground another night. It was a good thing too, because we were able to Skype with Chandler’s family and my best friend, Lindsey. Chandler also found me a treat at the grocery store, vegan bratwurst! We prepared a huge brunch feast and had a mellow afternoon and evening with Mike again.

Bavarian building

Bavarian building

Dreams fulfilled

July 20, 2013

Distance: 31.8 miles                        Climbing: 1453.4 ft

Everyone woke up surprisingly early, considering the fun we had the night before. Ulrich went on a run while Chandler and I sunned ourselves. When Ulrich returned, he had another amazing feast planned for us. He prepared Chandler white sausage, which is only eaten for breakfast, and got him some delicious non alcoholic beer, for the nutrients. For me, there was yogurt and lots of fresh fruit. Everything was very tasty.

Breakfast feast

Breakfast feast

After breakfast, I took a nap in the sun while Ulrich and Chandler drove to the store to figure out getting us a cell phone. Ulrich had an old Nokia lying around that he offered us so we could access the internet at the McDonald’s. Ulrich has a 40th anniversary edition 911 Porsche and was not in the driver’s seat when the guys returned. Apparently, on the way to the store, Ulrich insisted that Chandler take the car for a spin. Chandler told me later that one of his lifelong dreams had been fulfilled.

Chan, Ulrich and the Porsche

Chan, Ulrich and the Porsche

Porsche

Porsche

We were very reluctant to leave Ulrich’s company, especially since he encouraged us to stay longer, but made the decision late in the afternoon. I had made tentative plans with a friend near Stuttgart and we needed to continue on our way. We took a few pictures and exchanged email addresses before saying goodbye to Ulrich. He frequently visits New York and we hope to someday repay his generosity in the States. We left his house inspired by meeting another person who was so completely kind and generous without asking for anything but our friendship in return. Ulrich truly made of time in Germany unforgettable.

Us

Us

We wanted to put in some miles, but didn’t really feel like putting in the work, so slowly we went. We found ourselves on a bike path which followed the highway. The scenery was boring until we heard a horrible cover of a Journey song and wondered what was going on. Then we approached a hill that had giant Lego pieces at the top and knew we were in a magical place: Legoland!  The price of admission was a little (WAAAY) out of our price range, but discussed it anyways. If we had gone, all of Chandler’s dreams circa 1998 would have come true in one day. Driving a Porsche, kissing a girl and going to Legoland, two out of three ain’t bad.

Legoland!!!

Legoland!!!

On our way to find a campsite

On our way to find a campsite

Somewhere along the way, we stopped at a grocery store and bought everything for eggplant parmesan again. After the first attempt was so successful, we figured it could become a staple in our diet. Back on the road, we began to look for a free campsite. So far, the pickings were very slim. There are lots of houses or open farm fields. Germany is quite expensive, so we were hoping to save some money by avoiding the campgrounds. Finally, we passed a small wooded area, not quite big enough to be called a forest, but enough trees to keep us concealed. The spot was perfect, except for the hundreds and hundreds of mosquitoes and ticks everywhere. I made dinner as quickly as possible while Chandler set up the tent, sleeping mats and sleeping bags. We ate fast and escaped into the safety of the tent as soon as we were done.

Meeting a new friend

July 19, 2013

Distance: 42.6 miles                        Climbing: 2119.4 ft

We had our usual breakfast of eggs and potatoes before heading off to McDonald’s for coffee and internet. The coffee wasn’t bad but the internet was only available by entering a cell phone number into the website to receive a password. As we were trying to figure out a way to access the internet without a cell phone, a man approached our table and inquired about our bicycles. After chatting about bike touring and our trip, he asked us where we were headed for the night and offered us a place to stay. Ulrich’s town was actually in the general direction of Stuttgart and roughly 50km away.

Bike path

Bike path

Back on the road, we figured if we made it to Ulrich’s place, great and if not, we would camp, but we would head in his direction. For the most part, we were on bike paths, which was a nice change from the hectic cycling we had become accustomed to in Croatia. However, the cycling was still fairly stressful due to the number of choices. There are so many more roads that the GPS gets bogged down and doesn’t always pick the most direct route, so Chandler was constantly stopping to check out the map.

Free water

Free water

Not sure what this is, but every town had one

Not sure what this is, but every town had one

Being in Germany has been such a drastic change. Suddenly, we are in a first world country. There was recycling on every corner, bike lanes, every house has solar panels and drivers respected the road signs. It has been a long time since we have been in a country were being “green” is the thing to do.

Solar panels

Solar panels

Super green roof

Super green roof

At some point in the day, we realized we weren’t interested in biking too far and would just go to Ulrich’s house. We weren’t very far from his village and didn’t want to show up too early, so we decided to take a little break and try some new German beers. Apparently, beer and soda is quite popular, so Chandler decided we should try one out. He picked out a coke and beer flavored beverage, which turned out to be as bad as one would imagine it to be. We washed it down by sharing a regular, more traditional pilsner.

Cola beer

Cola beer

When we turned onto Ulrich’s street, we didn’t see any house numbers and were not sure we were even in the right place. Right when we were turning around for a second look at the first house, a window popped open and Ulrich was waving and calling to us. He had just begun to wonder if we were going to show up and had arrived at the perfect time. He immediately showed us where to put our bikes and handed us each a radler. Radler is a low alcoholic beer mixed with sparkling lemonade, very refreshing and delicious. Next, we were given towels, shown the bathroom for showers and told to relax while he went to the store. Once cleaned up, laundry started and reclining in chairs outside in the sun, Ulrich returned with giant bags full of food. We were going to have a feast!

Chan getting the BBQ ready

Chan getting the BBQ ready

Chandler and Ulrich

Chandler and Ulrich

While Ulrich made me some veggie pasta, Chandler fired up the BBQ for steaks and sausages. Ulrich pulled out all the stops for us with wine, beer, baked potatoes, corn on the cob and fresh salad. Dessert included fruit and chocolate. We ended up chatting late into the night about anything and everything. We were so lucky to have met Ulrich at the McDonald’s and had a truly amazing night!

Dachau

July 18, 2013

Distance: 26.8 miles              Climbing: 2696.9 ft

We woke up and used the kitchen at the campground to make a huge breakfast including some of the leftovers from our biergarten feast the day before. Sauerkraut actually goes pretty well with fried eggs and potatoes! After enjoying ourselves thoroughly in Munich we were ready to head to the country, so we made a plan to roughly head west towards Stuttgart. We dallied a little on the way out of town, stopping for a while at a grocery store stocking up on some ingredients for dinner.

Adventure path

Adventure path

We had done some research in the library of the campground and realized that we were quite near Dachau. We made a little detour to the north in order to visit the notorious prison camp located near the city.

As expected, it was a somber experience. The main gate building was intact as were several of the guard towers which dominated the grounds. All of the camp structures where the prisoners lived were razed after the war, but the foundations were left intact in two long columns. At one end of the yard was the former maintenance building which now houses a museum which provided an overview of the concentration/death camp system and specifically what life was like at Dachau. Specific emphasis was placed on the way that camp life degraded from relatively clean and humane conditions before the war, worsening when war was declared to the disgusting environment that existed as the Allies closed on Germany and ultimately liberated the camp in 1945.

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Barbed wire fence

The other end of the yard was dominated by memorials erected for those who were imprisoned and murdered at the camp, each representing a specific religion.

The Jewish memorial

The Jewish memorial

A road led across a small canal and through the main fence, which bounded the west side of the yard. In a small wooded area along the road, two innocuous-looking buildings were the most disturbing parts of the whole complex. In these buildings, thousands of innocent people were murdered and disposed of. Walking though the holding rooms, the “showers” and the oven rooms carried a similar weight that we felt when we visited the S-21 prison in Phnom Penh. What was most striking, to me at least, was how “normal” everything looked.  My mind’s eye had pictured a grotesque killing factory equal in appearance to the nature of the acts committed there, but instead they were just small, simple buildings. Their disarming appearance made them seem even more sinister.

One of many gas chambers

One of many gas chambers

The ovens

The ovens

When done at the camp, we reset our course to the west and headed towards a campground marked on the GPS. The riding was fine, but not extraordinary. We passed through lots of fields of barley. When we got to the campground it turned out to be a parking lot for RV’s with not a blade of grass in sight. It was probably the most depressing campsite ever, wedged up against the autobahn to boot! We made a quick reverse and ducked into some woods we had seen shortly before. The area seemed to be logged periodically, so there were some old roads crisscrossing that we followed until we found a nice spot in some tall straight conifers.

Barley field

Barley field

We pulled out the ingredients for a new camp stove creation: Eggplant Parmesan! It actually worked pretty well. Jenny breaded while I fried the eggplant, we made up a garlicy tomato sauce, then put it all together with a bunch of mozzarella and parmesan. A perfect meal for hungry cycle tourists.

Chandler and the Animator

Chandler and the Animator

Dinner

Dinner