Tag Archives: germany

Denmark cares

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Cycling in Denmark after Germany feels like I’ve been beat up for a long time, and suddenly someone hugged me. Both car and bike roads are leveled here, even the dirt and gravel paths in the woods. The transitions on and off cycle paths at intersections are smooth, thought through. There is empathy for cyclists here. I’m not tense on the bike anymore to keep myself steady after going over obstacles. Really, it’s a pleasure.

Yesterday was a bittersweet day. Germany can be charming, but the key is to take a train between the charming places and pretend the other places don’t exist. I covered 50 miles from Lübeck to Sütel Strand, just a hair from the Northern tip of Germany. This portion is part of the Baltic Sea Cycle Route, a very popular Eurovelo route. The route took me along what I deemed to be the Myrtle Beach of Germany, a series of seaside resorts lined with tall hotels, where older people walk arm in arm slowly by the beach. Shopping and eating at overpriced waterfront restaurants are pretty much the only things to do.

The Baltic Sea Cycle Route was memorable. It took me from the Myrtle Beaches of Germany to fields of wheat and corn, to green rolling hills (wasn’t too jazzed about the climbing part before the “rolling” but even in my grumpiness I had to admit it was picturesque). Germany ended on a high note. I would come back to this friendly sea, I thought.

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Overall, camping in Germany left me underwhelmed. Receptions close early (5pm!) and late arrivals such as myself are left to fend for themselves. A camping card is needed to enter the bathroom, take a shower or use outlets, and without such a card I’ve had to wait around for someone to open the door to the loo with their card just so I could pee! Given my 6pm arrival yesterday, and my 7:30am departure this morning to catch the Puttgarden ferry to Denmark, I left without paying, as there was no one to pay to. Just as well, since I didn’t actually make use of their facilities. But I did get to camp for free on a lawn full of bunnies!

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For comparison, in the Netherlands and Denmark common facilities like the kitchenette and bathrooms are always open, and the reception usually has a sign that says “Late arrivals, find a spot you like to set up your tent, and we’ll sort it out in the morning!”. Thank you Denmark, I think we’ll get along.

Total (reluctant) miles in Germany: 301 (484 km)

Lübeck, I love you

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When you travel on two wheels you absorb more of the feeling of place than when you drive, and get out of the car in various places to sightsee. Imagine you arrive in a city as people would arrive in the old days on horseback: slowly, deliberately, with suspense. You see the city skyline from afar, have time to form expectations, then you begin to make the city’s acquaintance from its fingertips, the outskirts, all the way to its lungs where all the tourists are. Biking into a city is an organic, fascinating way of knowing a place.

You may have read about my troubles with the rain, but all is forgotten now because I may have found the most beautiful place in Germany: Lübeck. This small Northern city with only 200,000 people is beyond lovely (its name draws from the Slavic “Liubice” – lovely), it’s like a museum-city that doesn’t try too hard.

It’s not a good route for cyclists for sure, the cobblestone is much too brutal. After securing the bike at my AirBnb for the night, I proceeded to explore the city on foot, which was the correct thing to do. And I loved Lübeck! Here I didn’t get the tourist-borne agoraphobia of trendier places like Bremen or Hamburg. The town felt airy and quietly artistic, but still equipped with all the quaint cafes and jazz bars and shops that are so charming for a tourist. The architecture blows you away, it’s easy to see why the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Fun fact: this is also where some of the finest marzipan is made!

From Hamburg it was only 40 short miles to Lübeck, and I was lucky to find a route that took me along straight roads with solid, separate bike paths. The route was not scenic, nothing to write home about, and a little too hilly for my taste, but the slow descent into Lübeck along corn fields and then onto oldschool single track dirt paths by the Trave river turned on the poetry for this place.

Many bike roads are crappy in Germany but when you find one that isn’t, or a road, you ffffly! Here’s a short clip of me goofing off at 25mph (40km/h) downhill, around Kastorf. My bike’s never gone this fast before so I was excited:

 

Unhappy camper arrives in Hamburg

IMG_20170701_172441.jpgToday I made it to Hamburg. My original route avoided all big cities, and for good reason. I’ve no desire to navigate an unfamiliar route and urban combustion at once, by myself. But I ended up here because of the rain. I’ve changed the original route to cut out the entire Western part of Germany and Denmark, and am now traveling Northeast to resume my original route in Southeastern Denmark.

The rain finally stopped, but not before drenching all my belongings and seeping deep into my brain. I feel like I’ve been moisturized for a lifetime. Today’s 60 miles from Zeven to my AirBnb in the Northern part of Hamburg (important, because Hamburg is simply enormous so I kept crossing the city for over 25 miles) were the hardest yet. 60 miles in The Netherlands is easy, but 60 miles in Germany is like a multi layered pain sandwich.

I would not recommend Germany to any cyclist, if they have other options. In the countryside there aren’t cycle paths everywhere, and if even briefly your route takes you on a road with no separate path you feel very exposed. I live in San Francisco, I know what exposed means but this is something else. Cars drive very fast here, and though drivers are usually careful when overtaking and give you space (much kudos to German drivers!), the passing of cars on the already narrow roads is very unpleasant because of the noise and, if the street is wet, all the backsplash from the tires which hits you square in the face. This happened to me today repeatedly, as it was (still) pouring rain on me for at least 30 of the 60 miles I covered. Just what was missing from my already derelict appearance: some face mud.

Also on the “do not try” list is Hamburg on a bicycle. After experiencing The Netherlands, I’m downright offended as a cyclist about what passes as a “cycle route” in this city’s infrastructure. I switched 3 different routing apps because I couldn’t believe what kind of routes I was being guided on. Streets with large, uneven cobblestones, streets with broken pavement, streets where you have to jump the curb to get off the “cycle path” (?!). Halfway through the city I gave up on trying to navigate the ridiculous partitioned sidewalk “paths” (also cobblestone) and rode the rest of the way hustling for space with cars on the street like in San Francisco. Cars drive much faster here, and that made me feel unsafe.

Since there is no Google Street View for Germany, as a cyclist it’s impossible to preview your route ahead of time. Google Maps or other apps have to “guess” what would be a bikeable street, and often times they get it wrong. There is no cycling routing information I could find which provided the granularity I’d have needed to create a route through Germany, and this made me nervous about cycling here from the very beginning.

Hamburg is decidedly the least enjoyable city I have cycled it, surpassing even my native Bucharest. The two cities are similar in mood, and the scent of linden trees and those wafting out of large apartment buildings made me a little nostalgic, and regrettably in lack of cycling infrastructure they are also similar. But Hamburg takes the cake for the least enjoyable ride on account of the cobblestone and the lack of any information on how to make your way around town comfortably as a cyclist.

I wish I could say something nice about Germany. I really wanted to like it. Tomorrow I’m heading out to explore Hamburg on foot, and maybe I will find something redeeming.

 

See ya later NL, hello DE!

I’ve left the friendly LF cycling network path and made my way North from Groningen to meet the North Sea Cycle Route, also known as Eurovelo 12. But you know what Northbound means? It means wind. I can’t imagine someone doing this entire route unless they really, really love wind. I am not that person.

Yesterday’s 50 miles against the wind towards Germany gave me a lot of time to think. It seemed every direction I turned the wind was against me and I struggled miserably. To distract myself from these trials I started thinking about how to summarize my 5 days in The Netherlands.

All of the cyclists I met along the way who seemed to be touring (had luggage) were older couples. Most were touring for a few days, all of them were Dutch, and only one couple on an extended tour like mine. This was intriguing – where is my age bracket at?

People don’t often see GoPro cameras in The Netherlands, and if you wear one on your helmet – it’s already weird that you are wearing a helmet and you will get looks! – everyone will stare, and people will even stop you to ask (nicely) what the hell is that thing on your head.

Every day I learn how to do this better. I’ve developed a way to geometrically arrange the items in the trailer bag for optimal space usage and in a way that nothing’s poking out and rubbing against the wheels. I’ve determined which are the items I need most frequently, and I keep those on top or in my handlebar bag. This way I don’t have to stop frequently to rummage through the bag to find my sunscreen or my lock, or amateur things like that. I now setup my tent in less than 5 minutes. Optimize, optimize.

Since I spoiled myself with an AirBnb today and had some computer time available, I downloaded some of my GoPro video from yesterday’s cross into Germany. This portion was surreal because of the omnipresent wind, but also because of the endless expanse of fields of wheat and corn and grass, undisturbed and virtually untravelled. It made me feel like I was pedaling forever, into nothing.

Total mileage in The Netherlands before crossing into Germany: 276 (444 km)