Wow! I can’t believe that I’ve been on the road for one month now - crazy! The time since my last blog post has been spent in Germany, a country I was really excited about for two reasons. Firstly, because it was the first new country of my trip – I’d managed to cycle somewhere I’ve never been before… How awesome is that?! Secondly, because I’d spent 5 years learning German at school… which would mean I’d be able to communicate, right? Well… not quite! Apparently I’ve forgotten a lot since my A at GCSE German!
I’d heard about the Rhine cycle route which sounded perfect, spending the first few days pedalling besides this river, on the German – Swiss border. However, I very quickly got bored; the route did pass beside the river, but it was featureless, passing continuously through greying industrial eyesores, and skirting around German villages, and bypassing German culture. There was very little of any interest to be seen. I made the drastic decision, with no idea where it went, to begin following signs for a ‘Schwarzwald Panoramique’ (black forest panorama) cycle route which sounded far more interesting… and it turned out to go easterly (the right direction), which was a bonus!
I did not regret this decision. The first few days in Germany were spent in seemingly impenetrable forest, completely lost except for our narrow trail meandering a course through the woods. In the small villages we passed through, every quaint wooden house looked more and more like the setting for Hansel and Gretel than the one before it.
NB: To any bike tourers planning their own trip, I’d strongly recommend avoiding the Eurovelo 6 or 15 routes along this southern stretch by the Rhine, and heading north into the black forest for a way more interesting ride!
Shortly after leaving the black forest, I tried my luck with rivers again by joining Europe’s second longest river, the river Danube. Here a cycle path can be followed beside the river all the way to the black sea. As rivers flow downhill, I interpreted this as several thousand kilometres of constant downhill. The route hasn’t been quite that perfect, but it has been a pretty special ride! As well as following an interesting river, it frequently dips in and out the centre of old towns, which are often over 1000 years old with very impressive churches, town halls, and castles. As I stare at the mighty and formidable river, now spanning a couple of hundred metres across and easy to mistake for a lake at times, it seems strange to imagine that it is the same river I joined a week and a half ago when it was just a narrow stream!
The trip is proving to be a real challenge for me, more than I had expected. Physically I’m in the fittest shape I’ve been in. Mentally, I’ve experienced the highest highs of my life, a real sense of contentment, a strong reassurance that this is what I’m meant to be doing, while at other times I’ve had to battle true loneliness. Tucked up alone in a tent, at 8:30pm on a Friday night, when tired and hungry, with the rain lashing on the canvas, it can be hard to remember why you voluntarily put yourself in such a position, and will still be doing the same in a year’s time! Having said that, I’ve fully embraced the past week of solo travel, meeting people wherever possible which is the best cure for being alone, which leads on nicely to…
Since embracing solo travel, I’ve been making every effort to meet new people. Unfortunately I’m actually meeting too many amazing people to put everyone in this section, but thanks to everyone I’ve met!
In Ulm, I was approached by Karl, who it can safely be said is in love with the city. Having had him as a tour guide showing me all the beautiful areas and telling me some interesting facts about the city, I can completely see why he was so in love... I was ready to ditch the bike and settle down in Ulm myself!
The world's happiest farmer
It had been raining for days. All my stuff was wet. Usually I wait to pitch my tent until it begins getting dark and therefore more hidden/less people around. On this day, I pitched it immediately to dry when I stopped, hoping no-one would see/mind. Halfway through cooking dinner, a tractor rumbles to a halt beside me. Typical… It’s a good job I’d bumped into ‘the world’s happiest farmer’.
He spoke little English and was in absolute hysterics at the language barrier, physically pulling at words from the air around him and launching into a frenzy of charades in between bouts of laughter. I managed to ask him if we could camp here for the night, “Absolutely, of course, no problem at all” he managed to stammer in English before driving off, with a huge grin on his face, thoroughly entertained by the funny foreigner camping on his land.
It was my first day alone, and I stumbled across two Spanish guys doing much the same route.
They immediately asked me to join them, which I did. They were well-travelled, and experienced bike tourers with interesting tales to tell. When they stopped for a pit stop, they helped me refuel with a banana, a date, and most importantly a few shots of jagermeister… ‘for energy.’
Prashant, my couch-surfing host
I stumbled across the amazing Prashant on couch-surfing, or rather he found me and offered for me to stay at his house! I’ll save that story for a bonus blog post over the next few days!