Where are all the tulips?

July 26, 2013

Distance: 38.6 miles                  Climbing: 1063.0 ft

We woke up and realized we were very visible from the road. Nobody seemed to mind though, we even got a couple waves from people cycling by. We packed up quickly and hit the road. We had about an hour of driving left before we got to Kleve and were we would drop off the car. Again, everything went smoothly.

It took a little while to reassemble and pack up the bikes, but we had a huge parking lot to work in and took our time. After a quick lunch and some very dark clouds rolling in, it was time to hit the road. The moment our rears hit our seats, rain began to fall. We had purchased a large roll of garbage bags to keep the inside of the rental car clean of bike grease and pulled out a few to keep our legs dry. Chandler slit the bags open and we wore them like skirts. Good timing too, because it started pouring hard as we were putting them on.

Rain skirt in action

Rain skirt in action

We looked like such dorks, but were dry and had a good laugh over the situation. The rain eased up a bit and we found ourselves in Holland very suddenly. There was no border and little indication except a tiny little sign we almost missed. We stopped at a small grocery store for a snack, to wait out another strong rain burst and do a little route finding on the GPS.

Nederland

Nederland

Chan's snack

Chan’s snack pie

In the corner of Holland we were enjoying, there was an extensive trail network off the roads. It was a little muddy, but nice to be away from the traffic. We were surprised by the number of people out walking and biking on such a drizzly day. We had a feeling we were going to enjoy Holland.

Bike path in the trees

Bike path in the trees

The area we were riding through was the setting of an ill fated offensive by Allied forces during WWII. The goal of Operation Market Garden was to quickly hit the reeling German forces retreating east after the successful Allied landings at Normandy, and bring the war to a quick end, before Christmas 1944. Paratroopers and gliders full of British, Canadian, American and Polish soldiers landed in fields around the region then concentrated in order to seize strategic bridges with the help of the Dutch resistance before German forces could destroy them. As the bridges were being captured, a column of tanks would travel quickly through the Netherlands and strike Germany on its own soil. Ultimately, the airborne forces were spread too thin, and were met with much fiercer opposition than expected. The Germans retained or retook control of the route and stalled the advance of allied tanks.

Some damaged buildings were left as a reminder of the destruction. We also randomly came across and visited the moving Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery. Interestingly, many of the soldiers buried here were brought from where they fell during battle in Germany as Canadian soldiers were not permitted to be buried in German soil.

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Bombed building

WWII Canadian Cemetary

WWII Canadian Cemetery

After the cemetery, there was suddenly a lot of exciting things to see. Canals and ponies. Ponies were everywhere and it appeared that babies had just been born.Canal

Canal
Fat ponies

Fat ponies

The campground that we found was amazing. A man with a large pasture and a B&B allowed people to tent in the pasture. There were cherry, pear and plum trees everywhere. After setting up the tent, we were feeling a little restless and decided to go for a walk around the neighbor. The area was beautiful and we ended up walking for several hours. The campground was located near one of the dikes and we able to walk along the top and enjoy the views.

Fluffy sheep

Fluffy sheep

A dike

A dike

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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!