Merry Christmas everyone!
We enjoyed our Christmas eve celebration with Owen, Aaron and Serena. Here are a few photos, starting with decorating the tree on Christmas eve.
Waiting for it to get dark…
Candle light and Christmas plates on Christmas eve
Lunch on Christmas day – still lots of ham to eat.
Goodbye group photo
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.
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.
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 …
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We went to the St. Pauli Landungsbrücken – another Hamburg tourist attraction. We drank an Astra – Hamburg’s most common beer – here.
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.
We rode past a number of beautiful lakes on parks on the way out of Hamburg.
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.
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.
Our route from here to Lüneburg included a stretch alongside the Elb canal.
Lüneburg is a special historical town – incredibly picturesque.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We temporarily lost the path and toured through this little town unnecessarily – but did enjoy seeing these storks nesting on a church.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.