13 June – well executed ride

Today was a smooth and well executed 60km ride. We hit every town on Kris’s planned route without missing a beat – and making great time. The weather was also wonderfully overcast and cool – very comfortable for cycling.
Jenny’s bicycle was humming along smoothly with its’ new gears.

On leaving Leipzig, the towns we passed through were Plaussig, Portitz, Merkwitz, Gottscheina, Mutschlena, Kupsal, Boyda, Wolkau, Goritz, Krippelina, Noitzsch, Wellaune, and Bad Duban.

The distance between each town was around 2 to 3km, on rural country roads – mostly alongside wheat and vegetable fields. These included a strawberry field at one point – you could even small them from the road.

Country road alongside vegetable field

We stopped at Bad Duben, to pick up some maps at the tourist info and meander around a bit. There is an old watermill, a small castle, a little lake and a windmill.

Bad Duben WatermillB

Bad Duben spa gardens

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Bad Duben windmill

We had some slower forest paths just before and after Bad Duben.


Bike path through forest just before Bad Duben- the little pine cones are a pain to dodge while you are riding

We made our way through this forest to Sollichau, before finding Bad Schmiedeberg.

Which way to go? Kris navigating through unmarked forest paths

Bad Schmiedeberg is also a spa town, and this is vBery apparent when you arrive – there are lots of clinics, disability scooters, and people shuffling around with walkers. The main central area next to the big rehab clinic (specialising in orthopedics and gynaecology) is very attractive with ponds and gardens. There is a special water source that is evidently good for kidney stones – we refilled our bottles here just in case.

Spa gardens Bad Schmiedeberg

Filling water bottles at Bad Schmiedeberg

The town was very quiet with hardly anyone about, as was our accommodation. It is pretty overpriced for what we are getting. All in all quite a strange place place to stay.

12 June – rest day in Leipzig

Today was a rest day and we headed out for the Leipzig Decathlon, after a slow start and a good hotel breakfast.
We received excellent service as usual – they replaced the rear gear cassette on Jenny’s bicycle free of charge, even though we were up front about the number of kilometers we had done on the bicycle. The mechanic was impressed that we had come over the Alps with the bikes and commented that he hadn’t realised that you could tour on these bikes.

We ate some pizza in the mall where the Decathlon is situated while waiting for the bike to be fixed.

We had another ride around the city center and then through some of the northern parts that we had not seen on our way in (46km in all). 
This is one of the largest stretches of lawn I have ever seen, in the park near the zoo – tt was being cut with tractors.

I liked this street-art, similar in style (same artist?), but at different sites.

On wall in inner city

 Near pub where we drank a Weisse beer on outskirts

11 June – to Leipzig

Today was a fairly straight forward ride of 43km to Leipzig, but we had done 81km altogether once we explored the city and found our hotel.
Along the way we also traveled from the state of Thuringen into Saxony.

There was a evidence of recent heavy rain, with wash outs on parts of the bicycle path to avoid. At one point our route took us through a rough track that was completely flooded under a bridge. Kris determined that the only way through was to ride through the water, which was more than ankle deep and muddy.

Kris got through more or less intact, only a little damp, but Jenny stalled just before the end and got her feet soaking wet! She did the rest of her ride in sandals, with the wet shoes drying on the back of her bicycle. Luckily the weather was hot.

Soon after the wet feet incident, we stopped at a curious historical mining park, called the “Bergbau Technik Park” (http://www.bergbau-technik-park.de/en/the-park/).

Old mining equipment at historical mining park

Two other cyclists, older men, struck up a conversation with Kris. They were brothers, one a local resident and the other visiting from West Germany. They explained that this park is a museum covering the coal mining that used to dominate this area before re-unification. The whole area is now a green parkland, but it used to be a industrial wasteland, black and polluted, before the 1990s. A huge effort and a lot of money has been put into restoring the area. They left with the enigmatic comment (in German) that you need to bring the past into the present so that you don’t forget it.

We hadn’t had breakfast at the hotel, so we stopped at the food kiosk outside the mining park for some bratwurst and coffee. Soon afterwards, a group of young men on a quad bike tour stopped for beer and bratwurst. Our observation is that Germans don’t hesitate to drink beer at 10am in the morning on Sundays or holidays – more people began to arrive and the atmosphere was quite festive.

On leaving the park, we began to ride past the lakes to the south of Leipzig that were formed out of the surface mining residual holes – the area is now called the “Leipziger Neuseenland” (new lake land). It was lovely, with many people out walking or riding along bike paths alongside the lakes and canals.

Bike path alongside canal – people in kayaks on canal

We were impressed with this artificial rapids for kayaks, alongside one of the big lakes.

Complex with artificial rapids for kayaks

There were also many people sitting on the beach alongside this lake, or swimming – some in designated spots for nude bathing.

Beach scene

We rode around this lake for a while, and then into the outskirts of the city. We rode through many parks – and noticed quite a bit of rubbish from the previous (Saturday) evening. There were many people sitting enjoying the sun in the parks.

Statue in park on city outskirts

We were curious about these large pipes snaking alongside some paths in the city, going up into the air and back down in some places. Kris asked the tourist information about them later but they were fairly clueless. The best information we got was from a barman later during our stay. Evidently they are water pipes, used to drain water out of the city when needed.

Water pipes

We explored the inner city, it was quite lively with many buskers around. The beer was very expensive at the outdoor cafes in the tourist areas (over 4 Euros), so we just had some snacks from a bakery.

The first church we saw on entering the city – the imposing Universitatskirche

Buskers – music students

Bach statue

Listening to buskers in pedestrian mall while enjoying a snack

We rode through and past a number of different “Kleingartens” – small cultivated garden plots, on the way to our accommodation. We are always amazed that people have the time and energy to cultivate a garden like this away from their own home. Maybe they live in apartments? Many of them are very beautifully maintained.

Typical “kleingarten” in Leipzig

It was very hot in the afternoon and we felt quite dehydrated by the time we reached our hotel a few kilometers outside of the city.
We had a beer at the hotel and chatted with the manager. There was no Weissbier, and the manager noted that it is not common to stock it in this part of Germany. The people drink mostly Pils, and sometimes a dark (dunkel) Weissbier. Jenny had the Pils and Kris drank the dunkel Weissbier.

10 June – Altenburg Marathon

Today was an easy 43km ride along good bike paths – from Gera to Altenburg. The countryside is definitely getting flatter and the bike paths easier to follow.
We rode through Collis, Ronneburg (where we stopped to photograph the castle), Posterstein, Schmolln and Saara.

We were impressed with this smart pedestrian bridge in a park just before Ronneburg

Ronneburg Castle

Forest bike path

We arrived early in Altenburg just after 11am – to find the town center full of people and half of them in running gear. It was a Saturday and the Altenburg City Marathon was in progress. There were also lots of children who had evidently taken part, with medals around their necks. And adults still running on the course. The finish was in the town market square in front of the church – there was a lot of noise – PA systems and live music.

Altenburg town square and marathon end

Band entertaining crowd

We stopped at a busy outdoor seafood cafe and had some fish sandwiches and a beer. After a stop at tourist info, we decided to ride around the town and explore a bit. We ended up doing another 10km around town. It was a little frustrating as we kept on crossing paths with the runners. There is a big lake with a little island (with an animal park) in the middle.

View of Altenburg from across lake

There is also a castle on the hill, but we couldn’t get close to it with our bicycles (because of stairs). The solar farm in the city suburbs was also interesting – the marathon went right past it too.

Solar farm in Altenburg

Later in the evening we walked around the town some more. Although it is very nice in the center and there are lots of well preserved old buildings, we also noticed many crumbling, abandoned old buildings – unusual for Germany. It looks as though there are economic issues here, maybe people are leaving the area and where there is no demand for these buildings they are no longer maintained.

Crumbling abandoned buildings

9 June – new pedals for Kris

We set off for Gera after waking up to the surprise result of the UK elections.

The ride took us 58km, and we deviated from the official bike path more often than not.

We started out doing a little ride through Greiz, as we had been too hot and tired the day before.

Greiz street scene

Greiz summer palace

There were road works along a long stretch of road directly out of Greiz, we picked our way through on the bikes, though no cars were getting through. We then enjoyed about 10km of beautiful road almost all to ourselves.

After this we found the official bike path and rode along the river for a while. When the path ended, we cut across on very small country roads and through tiny villages Lehnamühle, Tschirma, Altgernsdorf, to Zickra. Some of this ride was on a country plateau, among green wheat fields.
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On plateau among wheat fields

Just at Altgernsdorf we crested a hill and were surprised to see a huge factory on the other side – we ended up riding right past it, on pretty rough roads.

Huge factory in the distance

The next biggish town was Berga, and we found the bike path here again. However it had a lot of gravel and was not an easy ride.

Bike path alongside river – gravel!

Eventually we took a wrong turn on this path (it was signposted to our next stop?) and ended up on a forest road that couldn’t possibly be described as a bike path.

Forest road
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We ended up pushing our bikes out along a steep rocky road. From here Kris just navigated us along country roads away from the river to Gera.

Gera’s East German pastl is still clear in it’s wide boulevards and remaining soviet style buildings as you enter the town. The town has an unusual layout with trams running on alternate parallel streets and pedestrian walkways in between these streets.
The central square is very attractive – we had some coffee and cake there later and chatted with a local (elderly) lady sitting nearby – she says it is going better since the German reunification. And though things are more expensive, lots of stuff are available in the shops.

Gera central square – stalls

Fountain on Gera central square

Amusing statues on windows above shop – Gera central square

Kris had been riding very carefully, trying not to put too much pressure on his cracked right pedal for the last few days. However the tape eventually wore off and the crack was slowly deteriorating. We got directions to a large bike shop from the Tourist Info – it was quite close and had some new pedals at a reasonable price! Kris’s new pedals are bright white and huge – good grip for his feet – no keeping him back now.

8 June – hilly ride to Greiz

Today’s ride was a long one – 83km to Greiz. It was nice and cool in the morning, becoming hot again in the afternoon. It took the whole day, until around 3pm, as there were a lot of hills slowing us down.

We had some big hill climbs through forests right at the start, we missed our planned route out of town and found ourselves at Lichtenberg.
We by-passed the Saale bicycle path to ride through Lobenstein, Schonbrun, Eberdorf, Zoppoten – to Saalburg.

Typical countryside vista

Up to here there were lots of hills and it was hard work. They were repairing the bridge into Saalburg, but you could still walk across with a bicycle.

Approaching Saalburg

Saalburg Rathaus

Then we were back on the Saale bicycle path – we cycled around part of the river that widened out with many bends.

Saale river view

We found an excellent bike path built on an old train line – very comfortable to cycle on – called Radfernweg Euregio Egrensis.

cycleway on old train track

unique bike tunnel

This took us almost all the way into Schleiz, where we had a pastry snack from the local Lidl supermarket.

Then we worked our way to Oetersdorf and took a short cut away from the bicycle path through Lohma, Goschitz and Fortan (lots of nice down-hill runs).
After Lavitz we were back on the cycle route again, but we may just as well have chosen our own small roads, as the cycle route followed the roads.

Typical road scene with wheat fields

It started to get really hilly again just close to our Greiz, our target town. The town itself is also built over hills. It is very attractive town with a castle on the hill.

Greiz

The town used to be in East Germany, and we noticed the East German Ampelmann on the traffic lights for the first time on this trip.

We did a big shop at Kaufland and went to our accommodation which is an apartment. We managed to follow entry instructions (finding a key in a mailbox) and got in. The apartment has everything in it (kitchen, bedroom, bathroom), but is cramped with too many pieces of furniture – obviously it is someones flat and now they are renting it out. We enjoyed having the fridge to cool our beer and cheese and Sky TV/ CNN to catch up on world news. We didn’t have the energy to go back out into the heat and face the hills of Greiz for more sightseeing, so decided to view the town on our way out the next day.

7 June – mechanical problems, a thunderstorm and a surprising detour

Today we cycled for 60km from Münchberg to Blankenstein.

We were expecting showers this morning and a thunderstorm was forecast in the afternoon at 2pm, so we planned a shorter ride again.

The showers never eventuated. It was cool the whole day. We had periods of strong winds and dark bulbous clouds overhead, interspersed with sunshine. Then a shock hailstorm within a kilometer from our accommodation – we quickly rode down the road to the nearest house – luckily it was not too far, went through their gate and sheltered under a car port. The whole thing was over in about five minutes and the sun was already out when we got to our accommodation.

The ride today was all along the Saale River Cycleway, and we had a good brochure from tourist info with the distances and key towns. We passed through Schwarchenbach, Oberkotzau, Hof (the biggest town), Saalenstein, Lamitz, Hirschberg, Rudolphstein and finally Blankenstein.

The path varied from rougher unpaved stretches through forests or over farmland, to smooth stretches on roads (without too much traffic). The country-side is quite hilly, and we even pushed once or twice (near Rudolphstein).

The rear gear cassette on Jenny’s bike is slipping in the lowest gear, so she is riding without the very lowest gear.
Kris noticed that his right pedal has cracked today and he is currently holding it together with tape.

We missed a cycle route sign just after Hof and found ourselves riding through a sewage plant – sorry no photos were taken. Surprisingly it didn’t smell that bad. A friendly worker opened the a gate for us so we could get back onto the cycle path without backtracking.

Today we are in Thuringen, having left Bavaria behind. We are in the area of the former border between East and West Germany.

Sign marking the previous East German border

Our accommodation is in a nice small cafe and pension – I found it on Bed and Bike – a website for accommodation providers who focus on cyclists. They have to meet certain bicycle friendly criteria to be listed.

Cafe & Pension am Rennsteig

No one was around when we arrived, but a sign said the cafe opened at 2pm. We walked back down to the town while we waited to the tourist information office, and had a Weizenbier at the small cafe next door, before walking back. The town is very small – not much else in it apart from a supermarket. The main tourist attraction in the town is the Rennsteig, one of Germany’s oldest hiking trails. The people at the cafe told us that it has been very quiet because the weather has not been so good for tramping.

By the time we got back the cafe was open and they welcomed us in – very friendly people and a lovely large room. We ate at the pension in the evening – home made goulash with dumplings and sauerkraut – with more beer – very satisfying.

Saale river at Blankenstein

6 June – Forest rides and frustrating search for accommodation

Today we left fairly early (just after 8am) after a good breakfast and planned a shorter ride, as we were told that rain was expected in the afternoon. The WLAN did not work at our accommodation, so we hadn’t booked a hotel for the evening and had to allow some time to find accommodation too.

In total we covered about 49km from Kulmbach to Münchberg, including our search for hotels.

The first part (15km or so) was uneventful – through some tiny villages. then we turned to cross a hill to Marktshorgast – to get there we had to go through a small forest trail. This was one of the best parts of the ride.

It was not always clear what road to take. Suddenly we were out in the villages again.

It seemed like the bike path was going in the wrong direction, and Kris was right. We got some directions from a woman walking a small dog and abandoned the bike path. We ended up in Hoflas and from here Kris navigated us from village to village – up and down many hills.

Eventually the cycle road signs reappeared and we began to follow them, but Kris realised we were going off track again – so we got onto a secondary road and wizzed into Münchberg with a strong wind behind us and a smooth mostly downhill road.

Then we had a fairly unsuccessful search for accommodation. We got a list from the tourist info and ended up riding all over the place – adding about another ten kilometers to our ride. It was threatening to rain all this time, but thankfully held off. The first hotel was closed (for a rest day), and the second full. We ended up in a fairly overpriced and boring hotel in the middle of town.

5 June – Cool ride to Kulmbach

We set off early again, although this was not really necessary, as it was wonderfully overcast and cool the whole day. It is a lot easier to ride in the cool.

According to Google and the open source map on the phone, today’s route should have taken 60km – however, we ended up riding 91km – due to meandering bicycle paths and a little sight-seeing ride through Kulmbach at the end of the day.

We had some wonderful wide smooth cycle paths today and we could ride alongside each other on long stretches.
The first part of the ride was fairly flat and through the Main river valley. We were nominally on the Main Radweg – though we lost it a few times due to construction on the roads disrupting it. At one point we rode along a brand new road – no traffic yet and really smooth. We crossed the river a few times, but otherwise you couldn’t really see the river from the cycle route – it was mostly through farmlands and small settlements. Lots of wheat and corn.

We hadn’t realised that today was a public holiday, and had remarked at how quiet it was in the towns first thing in the morning. We were planning to buy some bakery goods from a supermarket for breakfast, so it was quite a shock (for Jenny) when the first supermarket we came to was closed.

Jenny had to hold out until Lichtenfels at about 10.30am, where we found a small roadside stall with some seating, selling beer and bratwurst. There were already several men standing around drinking beers and smoking. A bratwurst with bread roll and mustard went down very well.
An hour or so later we found a bakery and cafe at an intersection. It was quite busy – it must have been one of the few places open – there were other cyclists and motor cycle tourists also stopped there – everyone was drinking coffee and eating pastries. We also enjoyed some coffee, cheesecake and nut pastry before setting off again well satisfied and with a takeaway pastry too.

We had a few more rolling hills before we came into Kulmbach, and the last part of the ride was all alongside the railway line.

It began to threaten to rain, with a few drops falling as we arrived into Kulmbach. One of the first things you see on entering the town is the brewery (Kulmbacher), which is huge. The other thing you notice is the castle up on the hill.

Beer crates next to the brewery

Brewery with castle in background

The old town is beautiful – nice and small with lovely old buildings – with lots of people sitting drinking beer and eating ice creams at outdoor cafes.

It began to rain properly just as we were leaving town for our accommodation about 2km away. We were quite damp by the time we found it. It is a small guest house (Landhotel Schwartzhof), next to some stables that breed thoroughbred horses and a beer garden. However it was all closed up when we arrived. Kris sent a text to the phone number posted on the door and soon a man stuck his head out an upstairs window and called to us. We were expected and he welcomed us in. The room is very beautiful – larger and more characterful than the last few more expensive rooms we staying in at more commercial hotels.

Here is a photo (from the next morning) showing how our bicycles slept overnight – in a stable alongside the horses.

We had a simple but good meal that evening and a lot of political discussion with the hotel owner and other guests. One was a retired cycle tourist, one a retired local (regular) and another a politician from Berlin!

We tried the smoked beer that they make in Bamburg – it is quite strange but not unpleasant.   The smoked taste comes from smoking the barley before brewing.

4 June – sightseeing in Bamberg

It was good timing for a non-riding day, as it rained the whole morning. We relaxed in the hotel until around 11am, when we ventured out to do some sight seeing.

Bamburg is a beautiful city set alongside the Regnitz river and evidently over seven hills (I’m not sure we climbed them all!) – there is a lot to see here.

Palace on river

Riding alongside the river

Crossing bridge to old city

City views from gardens around Cloister St Michael – up on hill

Cathedral (with scaffolding)

18th century rose garden

Door detail near rose garden

haOld Rathaus (town hall) – key tourist area

View from Rathaus bridge

Look how happy he looks next to her!

We were interested in the “Pulse of Europe” demonstration in one of the pedestrian shopping streets. They are a citizens initiative against Trump and Brexit and advocating for European unity.

We ended up at the wine festival again – eating some Bratwurst and drinking beer – and enjoying the live music.