Hailstorms, heatwaves, broken spokes and one cool capital.
We left Munster on the Europa Radweg R1. This cycle route runs 3,500 km through 9 countries, from Boulogne-Sur-Mer in France to Saint Petersburg in Russia. We’re using the Bikeline Cycle Touring Book, which is the same series we used to follow the Danube last year. They have good maps showing which sections of the route are paved, unpaved, traffic-free or otherwise, and where the campsites are. They also have loads of information about tourist attractions en-route, but unfortunately the one we have this year is in German so we can only understand about 1 in 40 words.
The R1 cycle route does meander somewhat, avoiding busy roads and taking in as many tourist attractions as possible, so we’ve adapted it to our own needs. We’ll often cut corners by taking busier roads, or set out ‘off the page’, relying on the compass to pick up the map a few pages further along having missed out a lengthy meander.
Apart from a couple of hilly days skirting around the edge of the Harz mountains, the route has been predominantly flat – perfect for getting us back to fitness without destroying ourselves in the process. We’ve passed through picturesque villages and towns, across rolling farmland, through dappled forests and leafy glades, and bumped our way over more ‘ye olde cobbled streets’ than our wheels would really appreciate. Apart from the indifferent weather it’s been a really relaxing and enjoyable start to the tour.
We haven’t done a huge amount of sight-seeing en-route, deciding to save it for Berlin. We’re concentrating for the most part on getting some distance covered as we’re very conscious of the lateness of the season if we want to get to warmer climes by the winter, but most days we seem to arrive in a picturesque town at lunchtime and spend some time admiring the old buildings.
Places of note have been Dessau (home of the Bauhaus movement), Wittenberg (where Martin Luther did some reforming), Einbeck and Quedlinburg (both of which have lots of beautifully painted old half-timbered buildings) and Park Sanssouci in Potsdamer (palatial gardens).
It’s been quite a challenge to spot the difference between former west and east Germany….there’s no obvious border, but just a gradual realisation that there’s perhaps a higher proportion of utilitarian buildings in amongst the pretty ones, and that more and more roads, particularly the lower-category roads, are cobbled instead of tarmac, and that there’s far fewer solar panels (which seem to be in abundance on barns and farms in particular in the west of the country).
To be honest though, the most significant differences don’t seem to relate to former east/west divides, but are rather more to do with current area administrative boundaries. Some areas have invested heavily in silky-smooth tarmac on their cycle-paths, and others have not. In fact, in Brandenburg, the cycle-path surfaces are so superior to the road surfaces that Keith has actually been using the cycle-paths without demur!
The only downside to the trip so far (rubbish weather notwithstanding) has been the mysterious breakage of three spokes in two days. Last year we broke just one spoke in 11,500km, so this year we weren’t too pleased to have our brand new ones start to go after just 1000km. Usually spokes break at the elbow (the bend where they insert into the hub)….but ours have all broken inside the nipple (where they insert into the rim)…and all are on the non-drive side. Any idea what’s going on….anyone?
The weather (as mentioned) has been pretty cr*p: very cold and windy, and until a few days ago, very wet, with the odd torrential hailstorm thrown in for good measure. But at last the summer seems to be arriving and the last 3 days have been a bit of a heat wave, which has made a nice change. Prior to that Tamar had been so cold at night that she’d not taken her clothes off for the eight days straight that we’d been wild camping. A big thumbs-up for merino wool!
Despite being bundled up in winter clothes a tick still managed to attach itself to a momentarily bared leg, but we now have some fine-tipped tick-removing tweezers that worked a treat (unlike our efforts last year).
The route has taken us through lots of forested areas so finding wild campsites has been pretty easy. A variety of wildlife has taken a keen interest in the tent. One site was awash with caterpillars….from tiny threadlike ones, to pale green inchworms, to sturdy black undulating b*ggers…all intent on attaching themselves to the tent. The following night it wasn’t caterpillars, but spiders who were determined to take up residence. Small black shiny ones, spear-head-shaped stalking ones, long-legged fragile ones and some interesting radioactive-looking bright green ones.
On arriving in Berlin, the sun finally decided to make an appearance. We found a nice campsite about 15km out of the centre, but with great bike-route leading in to the main tourist attractions. We then spent a day looking at the few remaining bits of the wall and sating our curiosity at the DDR Museum: a small but fabulous, privately-run museum that’s set out in an innovative hands-on way. Several happy hours were spent poking around inside a mocked up ‘concrete slab apartment’, opening cupboard doors, looking at clothes, books, magazines and foods, watching movie clips and listening to music. We read about state-run communal potty-training, sat in a Trabant and then in a somewhat more luxurious Volvo used by party leaders.
We’ve been impressed with Berlin. It’s a great city to cycle in. Flat, with wide roads and sensible, workable cycle provision. Not too much traffic either. It’s a nice mix of old, new and ‘still-under-construction’, all set around a web of waterways. Add it to your list of places to visit if you haven’t already.
We’re about to head off again this afternoon (22 May) and should reach Poland in a couple of days time.