Europe Tour 2017 Post Script – a new life for our bicycles

Good new today – Silvia and Andreas have donated our bicycles and they are going to new refugee owners in Stelle. It is great to imagine our bicycles having a useful life after their initial journey from Rome to Hamburg.
Here is an article about Herr Rudolf, who was recently honored by the Stelle community for his work. He runs a small workshop where volunteers repair and restore bicycles before they are donated to local refugees. This is where our bicycles have gone.

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Tour map and travel stats 2017

Here are some stats on the 2017 Europe trip:

Total number of traveling days – 55
Total distance traveled – 3650km
Average per day – 66.5km
Longest day – 110km

Total distance on bicycles (including sight seeing days) – 3837km

I have also completed a map of our route here – tour map

Each point on the map is an overnight stop, and links are provided to the relevant blog pages by clicking on the overnight stop.

 

10 July – Kris’s birthday – Minature Wonderland

Today was Kris’s birthday. It was also the last day of our holiday – so we were determined to make the most of the day.

Unfortunately it was raining, so this was a non-cycling day.

Andreas and Silvia kindly took us to buy some luggage and gifts at the Hamburg Decathlon. From here we drove back into the city, to view the wealthier areas to the north. We saw more burnt out cars resulting from the G20 protests here. We were also interested in the huge Airbus factory and airport across the river.

Because it was raining, Silvia suggested they drop us off at the Miniature Wonderland – a major tourist attraction in the Speicherstadt district.

This is the largest model trainset in the world – but it is so much more. It far exceed my expectations, in terms of the detail of the models, ships sailing in real water, an airport where planes take off, trucks traveling along the many roads. The lights dim on a periodic cycle, a sunset occurs and it is night – when you see another range of effects – such as an erupting volcano and a house on fire, with real smoke.  Airplanes land, taxi on the runways and take off again.   I highly recommend this to anyone – you don’t have to be a model train person to enjoy it!

We spent 3 and a half hours there until we couldn’t take in anymore – before making our way back to Stelle on bus and trains.

Silvia prepared a wonderful birthday dinner for Kris, and we enjoyed our last evening in Germany with good friends. Hopefully it wont be too long before we can return.

Here are a selection of my Miniature Wonderland photos …

The control room where activities can be controlled- the geeks here love their jobs. Some of the trains have cameras mounted to their fronts and you can view the footage on these monitors

Hamburg and the Elbphilharmonie

Los Vegas at night

Trains with castles in background

German village, market, trains

A working lock in the Scandinavian area

Winter Scandinavian scene at night

I loved the odd whimsical touches – such as this dragon circling a castle tower

The Swiss section was the largest, stretching over two stories to encompass alpine mountains (note the viewers overlooking from the top balcony)

Looking down on Swiss mountain scene – cranes, bridges, railways, roads below

Swiss Ski slope – railways in foreground. The ceiling pipes on top right are the only clue as to the true scale of this scene.

Intricate details in the midst of the huge layouts – such as the drama around this road accident

And this bicycle race

Humorous elements are tucked away in the landscapes- such as this alien hunter

Italian section – coastal scene including dolphins that leap from the water

Italian coast

Ruins complete with tourists

 

9 July – Hamburg

Today was our final ride on the bikes – into the center of Hamburg.
Now we can say that we rode all the way from Rome to Hamburg.
Hamburg center is about 30km from Stella.

We spent a very full day sight seeing around the city – with Andreas and Silvia as our tour guides. Our total distance for the day was 61km – we jumped on a train for part of the journey home. We were relatively unaffected by the G20 protests of the previous two days – it was quiet and peaceful in the city. We only saw some graffiti and smashed windows along one or two streets.

On our way into the city, we rode through Wilhelmsburg, the site of the 2013 International Building Exhibition. There is still a lot of building development in the area – using the impetus from the exhibition to uplift the previously low socio economic area. There are a number of very interesting futuristic buildings created for the exhibition. The most notable was perhaps this Algae house, which generate energy by growing algae in algae filled panels on the outside of the building.

Algae building

Our next stop was at this beer garden alongside a canal, where we sampled some locally brewed beer. There was a great Sunday morning atmosphere with people relaxing and enjoying the sunny weather.

People were out for Sunday morning paddles on kayaks alongside the beer garden

Sampling the local brew

We had some discussions on German grammar in this beer garden. Silvia shared this German grammar curiosity (for those who are interested in the language). The two sentences are almost identical but differences in capitalisation and an extra letter change the meaning radically.

Der Brauermeister Heidenreich ist Bräutigam und braut zugleich

Der kannibale Heidenreich isst Bräutigam und Braut zugleich

We had to change our planned route into the city as the old Elbe tunnel was closed due to the G20 protesters. Our new route took us across this bridge, with the city in the distance (you can see the church towers and Elbe Philharmonic Hall).

I was interested in the temporary accommodation that was created for refugees on the outskirts. It consists of shipping containers stacked on top of each other. I’m not sure how warm this would be in the north German winter or if it is too warm in summer …

We were impressed with the size of industrial and building activity in Hamburg. This is an area under development not far from the Speicherstadt.

The first tourist area we came to was the Speicherstadt – the historic “warehouse city”. The warehouses all front onto canals. Newer buildings have been carefully designed to fit in with the historical red brick facades.

Ship turbine on display in Speicherstadt

Speicherstadt view

A highlight of our Hamburg visit was the Elbphilharmonie (Elbe Philharmonic Hall) – which officially opened on 11 January 2017, and cost an estimated €789 million to construct. This is where Angela Merkel hosted the G20 leaders dinner. Here is a view of the hall from one of the canals that criss cross this part of the city.

Canal view with Elbphilharmonie in distance

You can get onto the viewing balcony that stretches around the hall for free – you just need to register for a ticket so they can control numbers. You get to the balcony area by riding up a very long escalator – the longest that we have ever been on. The city views are wonderful from up there – there is a lot of activity on the river – tourist and commercial ships. The view takes in ports and container harbors in the near distance and the Airbus factory farther away.

Andreas and Silvia at Elbphilharmonie

Another view from Elbphilharmonie, St. Pauli Landungsbrücken (piers) and entrance to Elb Tunnel

We went to the St. Pauli Landungsbrücken – another Hamburg tourist attraction. We drank an Astra – Hamburg’s most common beer – here.

Jenny with Astra

Astra – “I want six” – the German Six Pack

Elbe view from pier

From here we visited the Reeperbahn – Hamburg’s night life district. It was all quiet on a Sunday afternoon – just a few alternative looking characters walking around.

We also saw the Bismark monument, the famous St Michaelis church (one of the highest towers on the skyline) and impressive town hall.

Bismark monument – graffiti is a problem here!

Statue over St Michaelis church entrance

We rode past a number of beautiful lakes on parks on the way out of Hamburg.

Lake view, fountain and church towers on city skyline beyond

8 July – riding with Andreas and Silvia

Today was the last big ride of the tour, and our first ride together with Andreas and Silvia.
The ride took us from Hitzacker to Andreas and Silvia’s home in Stella (Hamburg) – 100km in all.

We started along the Elbe cycle path again, with some hill climbs just outside of Hitzacker.

We stopped at Bleckede for a break, and sampled the beer at a local craft brewery and beer garden. The locals can bring their own bottles to buy beer here, just as we do at home – except they use glass not plastic.

Quirky decor at Bleckede brew pub

Beer garden Bleckede

From here we left the Elbe cycle route and headed towards Lüneburg.

We stopped to admire the Scharnebeck twin ship lift, which can lift two ships up to a height of 38m between the Elbe and the Mittellandkanal – really impressive.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scharnebeck_twin_ship_lift

Ship lifts in lowered position

Both ship lifts raised

Our route from here to Lüneburg included a stretch alongside the Elb canal.

Lüneburg is a special historical town – incredibly picturesque.

View on entering Lüneburg

This is where Andreas and Silvia got married. It is also the site of a favorite brew pub and restaurant – Lüneburg is quite accessible to Hamburg by train. It began to rain as we were exploring the town, so we had to stop to sample some soup and beer at the pub. This is definitely one of those places I would like to visit again one day.

Lüneburg Rathaus (town hall)

Lüneburg brew pub and restaurant

The rural route from Lüneburg to Winsen was uneventful, apart from a sudden heavy shower that had us seeking shelter under a car port again. At Winsen we saw where Silvia works and bought some groceries before carrying on to Stella (about 9km away).

Statue in Winsen town center – of people catching a goose

Rest stop at canal on way to Stella

Amazing wood carving on the side of the road on the way to Stella – there were squirrels and owls on the sides of the tree as well

After 100km ride home – tired but happy to have made it

7 July – riding along the stop bank

It was raining in morning when we woke up, but we had a relaxed start and it had all but cleared up when we set off. The whole day was warm and humid. We enjoyed chatting with a lone German cyclist over breakfast – he is cycling the length of the old German east/west divide.

We rode out of town on the west, along a small road, until we hit the next town on the river.  Jenny stopped to take a photo of this old church and spoke (in German) with a good natured old man who stuck his head out of a nearby window – while Kris looked at the route map.

Soon after, Kris stopped to talk with an elderly lady who was tending her roses, while Jenny took a picture of more storks.

We found our way onto the stop bank alongside the river Elbe, which we followed for most of the rest of the journey. The road varied from gravel to tar to cement. The river was very wide, in the distance you could see the stop bank on the other side about a kilometer away. This was a beautiful ride, well frequented by cycle tourists. The blues and greens in the landscape were stunning.

Statue of the mythological ferryman who takes souls across the river Styx

We stopped for a break and to buy some cherry liquor chocolates, cheesecake and juice at a supermarket at Domitz. Here we realised we were not too far away from our final destination, so we slowed down.

We crossed this bridge, which was on the previous border between East and West Germany.

We were entertained by information boards alongside the cycleway about river ecosystems and frogs. We found this frog on the road and helped it back into the grass.

It was very hot in the afternoon.  Hitzaker was recommended by our friends Andreas and Silvia, who also arranged the accommodation. We can see why as it is a stunningly beautiful old town on an island surrounded by dikes. These dikes can be closed when the river floods. There are also huge pumps to pump the water away from the town.

Hitzacker house with pole for stork nest

Hitzacker dike that can be closed if the river floods

View of river from Hitzacker dike

Hitzacker

Hitzacker river view inside dike

The town is full of quaint timber framed houses – with sayings written on them in old Frisian German that is difficult to decipher

We were surprised to find the whole town decorated and tents and carousels set up for a “Schützenfest” – a traditional marksman’s festival. The festivities started with a parade and activities for the children at around 4pm.

children’s parade

We had plenty of time to look around the town and rest before Andreas and Silvia arrived by train from Hamburg. We had a good time together in the evening – drinking beer and eating from the stalls around the festival.

6 July – Premitz to Wittenberge

On leaving Premitz, we headed straight back to the river Havel and crossed over onto the Havel-Radweg again. We cruised along this bike path for a large part of the day.

Havel bike path in early morning

Fishermen alongside Havel bike path

The path took us past the site of an old Slavic castle from the 12th century before Rathenow. It was made of wood and earth, so nothing remains to be seen today.

Site of old Slavic castle – nothing remains today

We passed through Rathenow, and then the smaller towns of Gottlin and Grutz. The bike path was easy and there were a fair number of other cycle tourists on it.

We lost a spoke again at about 10am. Kris fixed it really quickly in 20 minutes and we were on our way again.

The spot where we fixed the spoke – notice the beautiful wide tarred cycle path

We temporarily lost the path and toured through this little town unnecessarily – but did enjoy seeing these storks nesting on a church.

Storks on a church
We asked for directions and got back onto the route, which took us through wheat and corn fields.

Finally we reached Havelberg – which was interesting and scenic because part of the town is built on an island in the middle of the Havel river. We had planned to eat something here, but the supermarket was up a hill, so we continued on.

Crossing bridge to Havelberg

The river Havel joins with the river Elbe just after Havelberg. We had a choice of three different bike paths, one on either side of the river and one in the middle. We took the middle one and rode along tracks and stop banks with a river on each side. This was the scenic highlight of the route.

We were getting very hungry and running out of energy by the time we reached Rühstädt, so we stopped to eat some bratwurst with mustard at a Gasthaus. This was a really cute and neat little village with lots of references to storks around the village (including the name of the Gasthaus) and some live storks nesting on roofs. Evidently the town is a “European Stork Village” with an unusually high stork population and storks are honorary citizens.

Stopping in Rühstädt, the stork village for some bratwurst

From here it was not far to Wittenberg and our accommodation. However we had a longish bike road detour (on a dirt track) as they were doing earthworks on the stop bank.

There was no one at our accommodation when we arrived at around 4pm – we were hot and tired and a little grumpy about it. This was the longest ride of our trip – at 110km.
We tracked back to the tourist info and they phoned the accommodation – the people had arrived back so we returned. In the end it was fine and we were able to drink a beer with the proprietor to cool down before showering and washing our clothes.

We walked around Wittenberge in the evening as it began to cool down. There was not much activity in a couple of beer gardens near the river. Wittenberge used to be in East Germany. Today there are a lot of retired people living there, the main tourists are cyclist tourists like ourselves. We ended up just eating a pizza at the local pizzeria.

Sculpture alongside the Elbe – Wittenberge

Rowers on the Elbe at dusk, sculpture in foreground – Wittenberge

 

5 July – We ride again – Potsdam to Premnitz

Today we set out again for the last section of our bicycle tour – from Berlin to Hamburg.

This morning we took the S-bahn train out to Potsdam, which is as far as the line goes, and cycled from there.
There was a light rain for the first hour, but luckily it never got any worse and we didn’t need to take out our rain gear.
We rode past the Neu Palace in Potsdam, seeing it for the second time. We had walked around it with Elsbeth a week ago.

Neu Palace – photo from sight seeing with Elsbeth (24 June)

Our next big town was Werder and then Phoben. There we got onto the Havel bike route and that took us almost all the way to Brandenburg. It was a beautiful route, alongside the river and wetlands.

There were also a lot of insects again – all our itchy bites had healed up during our Berlin stay and now we were stung again – after we stopped for a mid morning snack and break at this lovely spot.

The mis-hap of the day was Kris breaking a spoke just about a kilometer from Brandenburg. This is only the second incidence of broken spokes on this trip. To our dismay, we couldn’t find our socket to remove the rear cassette – a vital tool without which we could not replace this spoke. We rode into the town and found the nearest bicycle workshop. They wouldn’t sell us a tool and they were too busy to replace the spoke for us. However they were quite friendly and did lend us their socket, so Kris replaced the spoke in the parking lot. We then went to Tourist info to get the addresses of other bicycle shops. The first one we went to did sell us a socket – we hope there will be no more broken spokes this trip, but you never know. We ate some ice cream and pastries in Brandenburg, and then continued on the journey.

The ride after Brandenburg was less scenic, on a mixture of bike paths and small country roads.

I don’t know what this crop is, but it sure is pretty

We got back onto the Havel river cycle route and rode through Briest and Teickaw. From here we departed from the official route to ride on the north side of the river to our destination for the day – Premnitz (a shorter route). In all, the day’s ride was 94km long.

We stayed at the Hotel Super Bowl in Premnitz. It is a small hotel alongside a bowling alley, where we drank beer and watched the locals bowling.

21 June – 4 July – Break in Berlin

We had a change of pace and break from cycle touring to spend time in Berlin and environs with Elsbeth.
Here are photos of some of the highlights.

Old East-West border

Bridge of Spies – Glienicker Brücke

 Fähre Caputh-Geltow (Ferry)

Caputh (Ferry)

Köpenick

Brandenburg Gate

 

Reichstagsgebäude

Remaining piece of Berlin wall

Wannsee river cruise (tour of 7 lakes)

Wannsee river cruise

East Side Gallery

East Side Gallery

Neues Museum – Xantener Knabe

Bergmannstrassefest – Jazz festival

Our apartment in Lichterfelde

20 June – to Berlin

Today we made it to Berlin, where we are stopping our cycle tour for a couple of weeks to spend time with Elsbeth.

We first rode around the Straussee lake on our way out of Strausberg. It was very scenic and fresh, and we spied a few people having their morning swim in the lake.


We then spent some time riding through forested areas.

Some of the forest roads were slow tracks

Amazing wood carving alongside forest road

Once we got out of the forests, we began to make good time.

Wind farm undergoing maintenance

We noticed that Kris’s back tire was worn through to the inner sleeve. We decided to change direction and go into the center of Berlin (Alexanderplatz) rather than skirt the city to our accommodation in the north. We knew there is a big Decathlon there, so we planned to get a new tire fitted. Luckily the tire held out – on our previous trip Kris had the experience of a tire bursting.

As in most large German cities, it was easy to ride through to the center, Berlin has good cycling infrastructure with cycle paths alongside most of the bigger streets.

We had Decathlon fit the tire and had to hang around for an hour or so, so we walked around the Alexanderplatz area.

Neptune fountain near Alexanderplatz

Marx and Lenin statue

Then we cycled through to our accommodation in Birkenwerder in the north of the city. Riding north was interesting, we left the tourist route and rode through some very cosmopolitian areas, some a bit rough with a lot of graffiti on the walls. There were many different ethnicities in the city and also some lovely streets with lots of cafes and little shops. The city is BIG!

Part of our route out of the city was alongside the Berliner Mauerweg (Berlin Wall Trail), which runs along former Berlin wall patrol roads. It was a nice park-like area, so close to the city.

Berliner Mauerweg

The total distance of our ride was 87 km.

The accommodation was a unpleasant surprise – we had expected a ground floor flat, as the AirBnB site stated “garden apartment”. When we got there we found that it was in a cellar apartment, with steep stairs. It also had a toilet pump that was a bit smelly and started up each time water was used.  The stairs would be a problem for Elsbeth, so we stayed up late trying to find an alternative. I was very lucky to find another AirBnB apartment in Lichtenfelde (south west of the city). Luckily we could cancel the initial accommodation without too much expense, so we only stayed there for the two nights until Elsbeth arrived from London.