Here Today, Cologne Tomorrow

Saturday, July 2    Neuweid to Bonn

After a traditional German breakfast we rode back across the massive Rhine Bridge. It’s so peaceful yet interesting to ride along the big river watching the large cargo and passenger boat traffic.  3-IMG_88574-IMG_88585-IMG_8859After a few Kms we came to an ancient village that was having a display of collectable cars. 1-IMG_88542-IMG_8856

There were many places along the route today that had evidence of the recent flooding with some mud still on the path.  The air smelled of fish and standing water.

Bonn is a mid- sized city with an interesting walking area.  We passed a very large bike shop on the way to our hotel so stopped to do a little window shopping and have Ed’s gears adjusted.  The place had 6 mechanics working in the shop.  They were very helpful (only charged 8 Euro for working on Ed’s ride for more than ½ hr.) and gave us suggestions for a side trip out of Cologne into Belgium. After checking into our hotel we walked back to Beethoven’s house in the middle of the village for a visit. It bills itself as having the largest collection of Beethoven memorabilia.  It was the house where he was born and spent his early years. It had a number of his original sheets of music that he penned and several of his musical instruments.  It’s hard to imagine how valuable they are!  Tonight Germany plays Italy in the quarter finals of the European Soccer Championships so Bonn was all about beer gardens and partying in the streets. We partook in our hotel room.

Sunday, July 3  Bonn to Koln (Cologne)

Germany won last night and there were beer bottles and debris everywhere in the streets this morning.  The place felt hung over yet happy. Some people were still out with a beer in their hands first thing in the morning which may or may not have been related to the victory last night.

It was a very pleasant ride into Koln.  The city starts about 20kms outside its center. When we got into the old center near the Cathedral, we became acutely aware that it was the Gay Pride festival.  Wine, beer, food, music and general festival booths were set up for blocks. There were every type of dress, costumes, and “outfits” you can imagine.  All of it was most entertaining.  The parade went on for a couple of hours. Koln enjoys the reputation of the gay capital of Germany and it was evident that day. One of the highlights, aside from the wild outfits of some of the participants, was a group that called themselves the Pink Pom Pomers. They we completely in sinc with the music and had a great time as well as entertaining the hundreds of people who watched them on stage.

07-IMG_887506-IMG_8869  Our hotel was on Dom square under the shadow of the Cathedral.  We decided to take the advice of the Bonn bike shop guys and divert off the VR #15 for a ride into Belgium.  Tomorrow we’ll take a 2 hour train to Liege, Belgium and ride for 3-4 days back to Koln.  We walked to the train station which is just behind the Cathedral, after dinner and bought our tickets for the 9:45 a.m. train. We’re excited about the adventure.

We paid a visit to the inside of the cathedral, but were only able to get limited pictures as there was a service in progress. Needless to say it is huge, gorgeous and filled with treasures of art, carvings, marble, mosaics dating to the 13th century and wood. Although the city of Cologne was the target of a British bombing raid with a squadron of 1000 planes in 1942 against the civilian population which leveled about 80% of the city, the cathedral was used as a reference point for the bombers and thus not destroyed.09-IMG_887714-IMG_888312-IMG_888113-IMG_888211-IMG_889410-IMG_8893The outstanding features outside are the twin steeples which were the tallest in Europe until the 20th century. They seem to pierce the sky. They were built in the 19th century when the cathedral was finally finished. At 11:30 p.m. the festival in the streets was still going strong.  Thank goodness for our room in the back of the hotel and good windows!  Before going to bed, we’re headed out to see the Cathedral lit up for night.04-IMG_888702-IMG_888507-IMG_8890

Monday July 4th…Cologne, Germany to Liege, Belgium

We arrived in Liege by train around noon.  We had to change trains twice on the trip. On one, we had to change platforms. Although there was an elevator which would have taken our bikes down to the hallway we had to use to gt to the other platform, the elevator was not working which meant we had to carry the bikes loaded with our panniers down a long flight of stairs. There was a guy from our train in a wheel chair that had no way of getting off the platform.  The train attendant was trying to figure it out when we left. The train car one segment of this trip had 3 steps up into the train so again we had to lift the bikes loaded into the car. The old style trains from Germany must have gone to live in Belgium.

As we were making our lunch in the Liege station 2 Mormon missionaries came walking by.  It was good to talk with folks from the US.  One was from Texas and the other from Ohio.  Go figure.

We rode 4 Km along the river into the old city, found the TI, got a room in the Youth Hostel then did the self guided walking tour. When done with that we had a glass of local wine and Belgium cherry beer.  All in all, a very good 4th of July.

Tuesday, July 5  Liege, Belgium – Vaales, Holland – Aachen, Germany

Our stay in the hostel in Liege and the included breakfast were both first rate.  Except they didn’t provide towels so we improvised by grabbing extra fitted (flannel) sheets which worked well.

We headed out a little after 9:30. The first 5 kms were up hill to get out of the river valley in which Liege sits. It was strenuous (estimated 7-10 degrees) long, and more climbing than we have done in quite a while. There were 4 more long climbs today. At the end of the day we had done more than 2200’.  This may not seem like a lot until you factor in the extra 40 or so pounds of our gear in the panniers. The countryside in this part of Belgium is hilly with many valleys up which we had to climb in order to get into the next valleys. We followed the Belgium #38 bike route sign for much of the morning.

Our cappuccino break was in a small town with a diner type motif in the American style of the 50’s. The walls were decorated with license plates from many states, pictures of Hollywood movie stars of the 50’sand parts of 2 American cars of that era. A. great place to land for any American old enough to remember those days.03-IMG_891405-IMG_891607-IMG_891806-IMG_8917

Lunch was in a small village in front of a WW I and WW II memorial which included a tablet under which were buried the ashes of Dachau victims of the Holocaust live flowers on each side. 10-IMG_892112-IMG_892311-IMG_8922A little further on there was a memorial with an American flag flying and a plaque honoring 2 American soldiers who gave their lives on that spot doing their part to help free Europe from Nazi Germany.15-IMG_8926

This area of Belgium saw a great deal of the Allied march into Germany and then the German counter attack, known as th “Battle of the Bulge.”

We had our afternoon cappuccino with a rewarding snack for our climbing out of Liege and beyond. It would have been a shame not to memorialize our leaving the flat lands and the strawberries that are harvested in abundance this time of year. 01-IMG_8987  We chatted with a local couple who were at the next table and photographed some bathroom humor that adorned the wall in the WC in Gemmenich, Belgium. 16-IMG_8927We climbed a long hill then descended into Vaales, Holland. 21-IMG_893224-IMG_893523-IMG_893426-IMG_8937Ronald McDonald House Vaals, Holland

We were in Holland for only a few kms before crossing the border into Germany and on to Aachen. Nothing quite like a 3 country day of riding.

We had trouble identifying the Germany / Holland border as the  EU sign Netherlands (Nederland) was behind a bush that obscured part of it.22-IMG_8933 Almost immediately thereafter we were at the outskirts of Aachen where we rode into the center of town and found the TI. The woman who helped us was very enthusiastic about this very old city with history, artifacts and ruins that date to the time of Charlemagne in the 9th century.  Charlemagne actually lived and died here. We plan to stay here for 2 nights as there were several things we want to see and do and it was already 5:30 by the time we checked into our hotel.

Wednesday, July 6 Aachen

At about 10 am we rolled out of our hotel and did the self guided walking tour around the ancient city of Aachen.  It’s a very interesting and quaint old village.  The streets are very narrow, go every which way, and are adorned with lovely flowers.  One of the points on the walking tour was the Rathaus (city hall) 12-IMG_896109-IMG_895810-IMG_895911-IMG_8960so we rented the audio guide and gave ourselves a tour of the inside.  part of which  and the Cathedral were all part of Charlemagne’s palace with large parts of both structures dating to the year 800 or there abouts.

We took the English tour of the Dom at 2 pm. The cathedral contains three reliquaries dating to the time of Jesus. They are Jesus’ diaper/swaddling clothes, a sheet that once wrapped around the severed head of John the Baptist and a cloak worn by the Virgin Mary. All have been tested and do date to the time of Jesus, but no one can prove whether they had the religious significance attributed to them.  They are contained in gold and silver ornate boxes on display in the cathedral,17-IMG_896622-IMG_897123-IMG_897225-IMG_897432-IMG_898531-IMG_898429-IMG_898228-IMG_898033-IMG_8986We then rested our weary feet at one of the lovely outdoor cafes.  To prove the point of how cool their summers are, all of the cafes have a blanket on the back of each chair. 07-IMG_8956Dinner at a lovely Greek place on the walking street.

Thursday, July 7 Aachen to Sindorf

It was a beautiful warm day with no rain, just a little threatening in the afternoon. When we got to our original destination of Duren about 3 p.m. we decided to ride another 17 km since that would shorten our ride into Cologne tomorrow.  We wanted to catch the 4 p.m. walking tour of Koln tomorrow afternoon.  Doing the extra 17 kms. would insure that we would get to Koln and get settled in our hotel as well as give us enough time to get to the meeting place for the tour.

The farmland has once again changed away from vineyards to grains planted in the big, flat valleys. Some of our ride was through forested terrain which was very dense, like the Black Forest in southern Germany.  There was still evidence of the heavy rains of the past couple of weeks with spots on the unpaved portions of the route still wet and even a bit muddy, but no diversions or riding through big puddles.

We arrived at our hotel just after 6 and spent time with the owners talking about the south west and the national parks as they leave next week for LA and a 3 week trip around the southwest. They are very excited. We added to their excitement by giving them tips on places to see and when to see them. They were a very nice couple with a very nice small hotel. Big room and bathroom, lovely back yard, secure garage and great breakfast. They are proud of what they have done and should be. Dinner at Henry’s Sand Beach at their suggestion. A different type place with very good food and sand about ¼ inch thick carpeting the floor. We left there just as the semi final soccer game between Germany and France was about to begin. We watched the rest of the game from our room. Germany played far better than France, but France caught a couple of breaks and won 2-0. No one knew that Ed was secretly rooting for France as the host country.

Friday, July 8 Sindorf –Koln

A relatively short ride into Koln without too many wrong turns. Had some trouble finding the hotel as it is in a very small street only 2 blocks long in an area of many small, curvy streets. Finally found it with the help of a woman who was leaning out her ground floor apartment window. We settled in, which was somewhat hard to do because the room was tiny with one side of the double bed up against the wall/window and the distance from the front of the bed to its wall was about 4”, a challenge in the best of circumstances.

Walked into the center of town and went to the tourist office to find out where our tour was to begin and how to get there. We expected that the tour would start at or near the Cathedral, but instead it started a few subway and tram stops away. The TI lady told us which subway and tram to take and how to buy tickets which we proceeded to do and then ventured forth to tackle and master the public transport of Koln. The tour itself was a bit lack-luster. Our guide was a solar engineer from Wales and had been in Koln only 4 months to learn German. Some of the notable places we visited on the tour.12-IMG_8997Check out the one in the middle carefully.11-IMG_899613-IMG_899814-IMG_899908-IMG_8993

Saturday, July 9 Koln-Neuss (Dusseldorf)

Left Koln a little after 9:30 after dropping a package for home at DHL (clothes we do not expect to need, maps, and a few odds and ends.) Then rode through a few small villages and one very old one, Zon, where we had our picnic lunch under the windmill.  17-IMG_900519-IMG_900718-IMG_9006Then on to Dusseldorf which is a city of about 1 million inhabitants. We came upon a Rally of sorts that after talking to one of the young men, found out that it was indeed a rally in support of and for awareness of the Kurdish fighters (YPG) in northern Syria. They are fighting ISIS.

Next we stumbled upon a French food and wine festival along the wharf which was large, festive, and mobbed on this hot and sunny Saturday afternoon. 23-IMG_9012We each had a glass of French wine and spent a half hour talking to a young couple with whom we shared our table. We did not partake of the gastronomic delights as it was early and we were not hungry, although tempted, especially by the garlic smell wafting from the escargots booth which offered 12 escargots and a glass of wine for 10 Euro

After spending about an hour pushing our bikes through the fest, we rode back across the Rhine in search of our hotel. The GPS is almost always reliable, but sometimes leads us on a route that is not as direct as it could be and so it happened. We rode close to 20 kms. to our hotel across the river in Neuss per the GPS and could have taken a direct route of less than 10 kms. (Tiring and frustrating.) The young woman clerk at the hotel recommended we go to the middle of the old city of Neuss for dinner so off we went another 2 km. It was worth the ride.

Sunday July 10th     Dusseldorf to Duisburg

Sunny and warm.  We rode 10 Km back across the nearest bridge and into Dusseldorf to check out the old center. The French festival 05-IMG_9019was just waking up so we walked around the old city then back to the fest for lunch.  Ed had the escargot that he’d been thinking about since yesterday afternoon 06-IMG_902009-IMG_9024and Maggie had a wonderful crepe.  All very French!

Along the path we met a couple from Australia (Gina and Justin) mid afternoon and rode off and on together until we reached Duisburg. We all decided to stay at the same little hotel and settled in to watch the end of the Tour de France with beer and wine in their bar.  We were instructed to leave our bikes in the hallway near reception.

We walked across the street together for dinner and had a great time visiting and swapping stories.  When we went back over to the hotel, Gina’s bike was gone.  While we were having dinner and the hotel guys were at the desk, someone had come in and stolen her bike.  The other 3 were still there. Ed and Justin went out looking around the neighborhood and Ed came back with Gina’s helmet which he found in the bushes about a block away from the hotel , but the bike was nowhere to be found.  How devastating…..lots to figure out…..how to continue the ride, buy, rent, end the trip?  Maggie gave them the web site that explained the Rhine Bike (RB), which is an inexpensive program that rents bikes over the internet to travelers to pick up at one station and drop off at another station along the Rhine after a day or more when they are done. They were looking on the web for rental options as we retired for the night.

Monday, July 11      Duisburg-Xanten

We awoke to see Gina and Justin on the sidewalk across from the hotel both of whom had bikes. 10-IMG_9025They had successfully gotten on line last night, reserved a RB and picked it up at 7am this morning at a RB station only 200 meters from the hotel. They were loaded up and ready to roll.  We said our goodbyes and they headed off down the Rhine route towards Holland.  It was a very interesting and intense few hours with them.

On our way out of we stopped in the center of town at a huge bookstore to buy a map of the Netherlands.  We’ll be there in a few days and want to make plans for a side trip or two before crossing over to England.

Duisburg is one of Germany’s largest and busiest ports.  The shipping yards, docks and bridges are everywhere. 11-IMG_902616-IMG_9031It took 9Km to get through it all and back across to the west side of the Rhine.  From then on, the day was filled with wonderful riding.  In some places the path was rough, but the varied terrain and long views made for an interesting ride. We rode through many small (and even smaller) villages both near the river and inland through farm land.  Along the way we met a German couple touring with their teenage son.  They were amazing.  Mom and Dad were on a fully loaded tandem pulling a trailer with their very old Golden Retriever named Laik (pronounced Lika) in it. 14-IMG_902915-IMG_9030Their son was on a loaded bike pulling a trailer.  We road with them for several Km visiting.  They had done the first half of the EV #15 route from Switzerland to Cologne when their son was 8 yrs old, and now are doing the second half from Cologne to Rotterdam.

The wind kicked up very strong in the afternoon so we really got a work out for our 65km day.  We realized right away when we pulled into town that Xanten was a place we wanted to stay in an extra day.  There appears to be lots to see here and a lot of great riding around the countryside.The TI helped locate a room in a home about 2 km from the old city and off we rode to find our place to sleep tonight.

 

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