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.

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

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 past 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.

An observation on Bicycle development

The excellent German cycling infrastructure is encouraging more and more people to become cyclists. Many older Germans are taking up cycle touring in their retirement.
The combination of new and established cyclists can be seen in the choice of bicycles.
We often see older cyclists, well past their retirement, at supermarkets with bicycles that may be as old as their children. Some of these older cyclists seem to have trouble walking but have no trouble making a smooth exit on their bicycles.

Some newbie tour cyclists buy expensive bicycles. For example, an elderly pair was touring on mountain bicycles with double suspension systems that are battery powered and have custom made batteries. Their bicycles required specially made attachments to mount luggage.

German electric cycles are well designed for short term usage, but not for long term maintenance. Most German electric bicycles have the motor and battery integrated with the pedal system. The propulsion is all on the chain, so this causes more wear on the drive chain and rear cassette. In my opinion the best electric bicycle design have the electric motor on the front wheel. This separates the maintenance of the mechanical drive system to the rear wheel and the maintenance of the electric drive to the front wheel (making the bicycle simpler to maintain and also causing less wear). It also provides a bicycle with drive traction on both wheels.

We are traveling on very cheap Decathlon Hoprider 300 cycles that are cheap to maintain.
Sometimes people ask us – Are those good bicycles? The correct answer is “Yes, top of the range”. They are top of the range at Decathlon.

And all this diversity can only be good for the evolution of the next generation of bicycles.

3 June – Canal ride to Bamberg

This morning we had a nice early 7.30am start while it was still nice and cool (though a thermometer outside a pharmacy advised it was already 22 degrees!). We found the river path quickly and rode amongst hundreds of Saturday morning dog walkers, joggers and cyclists.
Cycleway signs informed us that there is a cycle route called the Regnitz Radweg that goes from Nurnberg to Bamberg and we stayed on this for the rest of the ride.

We spotted a cute squirrel along the way. We have seen quite a bit of wildlife on the bike paths so far – foxes, huge hares, smaller rabbits and deer.

Most of the route was alongside a huge modern canal – the Main-Donau-Kanal  (1960-1992) – still very much in use with barges transporting coal and other loads to Nurnberg.

Canal barge

A huge lock on the canal

Other side of the lock, the road goes right over the lock

Statue on a bridge

We arrived in Bamberg at about midday, after riding for 73km, and just as the heat was really starting to build up. We had booked for two nights at our most expensive hotel yet, though it is pretty basic and about 5km from the center – we couldn’t get anything reasonably priced in town.

When we went out again at about 4pm it was still cooking. We found a supermarket to buy some food and then headed into the town center. We stopped our exploration when we came across a wine festival happening in a town square. There was a band wearing Lederhosen and playing Schlagermusik on a stage. There were stalls selling food and wine and beer, and many long tables at which to sit.


We enjoyed drinking some Weizenbier here – the beer we now seek out in Germany – it is very refreshing after a long hot bicycle ride.

All the men in the Lederhosen gathered around the beer stall (ignoring the wine)

Just as the first band was finishing up, it clouded over, there was some thunder and it started to rain. Everyone moved under the sun shades. We waited around for the second band to start and the rain to clear. After about another hour we couldn’t wait any more (or drink more beer), so we took off, it was not too wet getting home.

2 June – Nürnberg sightseeing

Today was a relaxed day sightseeing around Nürnberg (22km).

There is a lot to see, including several impressive churches and an old castle.

Castle

City view from castle wall

Entering castle walls

Castle garden – cooling off under the sprinklers!

Nürnberg is the second largest city in Bavaria (after Munich).  We enjoyed the wide pedesreallytrian only shopping streets.

We are loving the German baking – couldn’t resist this “pudding bretzel” and cheese bretzel with coffee at a cafe/bakery – sitting outside and watching the people go by.

A shop that interested us was the Lego store.

You can buy almost any type of brick or part here – pick ‘n mix style

This was a pretty outrageous (entertaining) modern fountain.

The human rights monument references the UN Declaration of Human Rights.

Each pillar has one article of the declaration inscribed on it in German, and in another language below the German – a different language on each pillar.

We were back at the 14th century Frauenkirche at midday, when the mechanical clock (Männleinlaufen) activated, as it does every day. The trumpeters and drummers trumpet and drum while the “prince-electors” process around the Holy Roman Emperor.

Kris standing in the shade (under the clock) while all the tourists photograph the mechanical clock in action.

At the end of our city tour we found a pub where local people were eating and drinking – a little away from the center. We cooled down with some Weizenbier and also enjoyed some asparagus soup.

1 June – long ride to Nürnberg

Today was a long hot ride from Hirschau to Nürnberg. We had completed 87km when we reached our Nürnberg hotel. And 100 km after riding around Nürnberg in the evening.

The first part of the bicycle path was not very easy to follow. At one point it seemed to want to take us up and around onto obscure forest paths – we took a more direct and easier (still rural) road.

We passed through Sulzbach-Rosenberg – a bit of a climb up into the town and then back out again, after getting directions from two cyclists.

The bike paths sorted themselves out for a while, as this is the where we joined the Fünf Flüsse (Five Rivers) Radweg. However we lost the signs again soon after town and Kris had to rely on his navigational skills to keep us on track.

The path became really nice after Etzelwang, when we ended up riding in a pretty valley alongside a little river, away from the main roads.

There were horses and lots of wheat fields. There were a number of touring cyclists, obviously a more popular part of the cycleway.

We considered staying in Lauf and looked around for accommodation for a bit. It was extremely hot and we could not find an open tourist office, only a list of places outside an information center. The town was picturesque alongside the Pegnitz river.

It was full of tourists eating and drinking at expensive looking restaurants. Kris decided we should push on to make Nürnberg.

We were very hot and sweaty when we presented ourselves at the Nürnberg Tourist Office. They were helpful and we organised a hotel for two nights, to give us a chance to see the city.

The Tourist Office is just outside the Frauenkirche and market square. Kris spotted an IPA at a market stall for a local brewery. We were offered a taste and it was really good, so we couldn’t resist buying a cold bottle to drink right away – in this part of Germany you may drink on the street, as long as you are standing or walking. Jenny bought a Lebkuchen (German gingerbread) from the stall alongside. It was delicious with the beer – and we were told that we were following a 700 year old tradition – to drink beer and Lebkuchen when arriving in Nürnberg!

The combination of the heat and beer lead to a nice sleep once we had found our hotel room and had a shower.

We set off again in the evening to search for food and drink. We found a supermarket and stocked up on a heap of goodies – we love the packed salads you can buy in German supermarkets at a very reasonable price. We rode around the gardens alongside the river – it was lovely there with lots of people out cycling and walking. We stopped first to eat our ice creams. Then we found a beer garden next to next to a swimming pool and tennis courts, where we had a beer before going back to our hotel room for a late supper.