We were leaving the Black Forest now and heading along the Rhein â€“ first to Strasbourg, and then north and into Germany again. Plans were vague, there were a few places weâ€™d like to reach to the north-east, but we didnâ€™t know where exactly weâ€™d get from here.
We hadnâ€™t camped too far from Strasbourg last night, so a long sleep-in, then a quick cycle in the cold and we were in town, cycling around to check out the sights before meeting Julien (a friend from the internet â€“ ah, magical internet) at 6pm. At his place he fed us dinner and PIE! and we met his white rabbit, before heading out to sample the Strasbourg nightlife â€“ itâ€™s always an experience going out in Europe, whenever weâ€™ve done so the group has been a varied mix of nationalities with all sorts of different languages in common with each other.
Strasbourg – old railway building
Tea with Julien (and route planning)
We were woken by the white rabbit at 8am, then after a few morning chores (laundry, market, new rear wheel for Alex after he realised his old one had cracked on the rim), Julien took us for a tour of the city (where I learnt that both budgerigars and cockatiels are Australia â€“ Iâ€™m so used to them being a common pet bird I didnâ€™t realise), before leaving us at the University after lunch.
From there we crossed the Rhein into Germany and cycled north in the cold and wind. The cycling wasnâ€™t terribly exciting (although we did find blackberries!) and neither of us felt terribly motivated. We found a patch of forest to camp in, and kept the deers company.
Leaving Strasbourg along the Rhein – nice and sunny, but cold and windy
Standard forest camp, hidden from passers-by
After another sleep-in (well, the mornings are getting darker and colder) we packed up in the sun and cycled off to find a bakery. It was one of the coldest days weâ€™ve had yet â€“ I had on pretty much all of the clothes I own (including my down jacket), and still wasnâ€™t feeling particularly warm. We continued north along the Rhein, cycling through towns where a glance at a thermometer sign let us know that it was 4oC. Ah. The cycling was boring and thoroughly NOT RECOMMENDED; although the wind and cold werenâ€™t really improving our impressions of the area. In the end we found camping in another forest, and the whole day had passed without really noticing anything much exciting about our surroundings.
After yet another sleep-in (we were getting 10-12 hours sleep every night, and somehow kept needing it anyway) we eventually dragged ourselves out of bed to cycle onwards along the river. Today was slightly warmer than yesterday, at about 6oC. But then it started to rain. After stopping to shelter a few times we gave up and found a campsite â€“ this was huddling in the tent weather if weâ€™d ever hit it. If we had any definite goal to aim for we could have made ourselves keep going, but at this point we were just meandering and trying to see a few more interesting towns before we had to be in Paris in 12 days time. So campground it was.
The owner seemed initially hesitant to let us camp there â€“ apparently he thought Alex was Irish, and thereâ€™d been a few scamming Irish thieves in the area recently. As soon as he saw Alexâ€™s Australian passport he became thoroughly friendly. So we set up by a power-point and spent the rest of the day catching up with things on the internet and watching movies in the warmth of our tent as the rain continued to fall outside.
The campground by a nuclear power plant
We lay around in the tent waiting for the rain to clear the next morning, which it did eventually. Cycling onwards we spend some time wandering around in Speyer â€“ a very touristy town, then continue on to Neustadt. There was a little rain, and the day seemed windy and muddy. Up and into the hills we went, before getting side-tracked south and diving into a forest to find camping. Our first attempt at finding a camping spot led us to one of the hunting setups weâ€™d seen a few of before. They have corn, apples and a salt lick scattered on the ground, all surrounded by high towers for shooting from. We decided it didnâ€™t look like a friendly spot to camp, and moved on to a patch of forest further along.
The shortening daylight hours mean itâ€™s now nearly 8am before the sun is up. We left our forest and backtracked to the main road which we followed to Frankenstein â€“ there was even a convenient castle perched above the town, just the thing for aspiring mad inventors to work in. The traffic was quiet, and the road scenic, and it wasnâ€™t so bone-numbingly cold as it has been recently.
We spent some time wandering around Kaiserslautern, which has the best fountain sculpture Iâ€™ve come across, and then followed the bike path to Lauterecken before striking out on road 270. We left the road just before 4pm to stop early, following a rough trail above the road to camp on an old section of track, between two blackberry thickets. We spent the rest of the daylight hours reading and eating and watching the autumn leaves fall. As you can perhaps tell, our cycling is beginning to wind down now â€“ although it hasnâ€™t helped that our current route isnâ€™t terribly exciting. Weâ€™d hoped to reach Heidelberg and Wurzberg and perhaps even Frankfurt â€“ but a series of cold and unpleasant days put and end to that idea.
Deep frost overnight leads to another cold morning â€“ weâ€™ve taken to storing the Nutella in our sleeping bags overnight after one night a week or two ago where it solidified overnight and had to be chipped out in the morning. Sleeping bag warmed Nutella is always lovely and spreadable (and yes, Nutella became a staple breakfast food at some point a couple of months back â€“ I was dreaming of finding the 5kg jars that are reportedly sometimes available in Italy â€“ just imagine the look on a car drivers face as they overtake you cycling up some mountain pass with 5kg jar of Nutella tied to the back of your bike).
Anyway, the morning was cold, but pretty; we made lots of stops to photograph the frost as we got going. The leaves were raining down from the trees as they defrosted in the morning sun, leaving huge piles on the road. When we reached Idar-Oberstein at 11am it was a toasty 0oC. The cold didnâ€™t seem that bad with nice scenery to distract me from it, although our fingers and toes were getting quite numb at times.
With the standard bakery, grocery and lunch stops out of the way we cycled on through Morbach and down to Bernkastel. There was lots of going uphill, then plateaus, wind turbines, and then a hairpin descent down to the river valley. Once we hit the river (the Mosel) there were hoards of tourists â€“ and no wonder, as itâ€™s quite an interesting old town, with lots of old buildings and cobbles and shoppes. After a thorough poke around we continued west along the river. Todayâ€™s scenery was definitely an improvement over the last few days! There were grape vines all over the hills on either bank of the river, spreading out in all directions.
On the Mosel River
Vineyards and wine for sale everywhere along the Mosel – and it was sunny and warm!
When we found a campground by the river to stop in for the night, a friendly man came over and asked us if it would offend our honour if he offered us a table and chairs? We said why no of course not, and thank you very much. As we sat up to prepare our meal with the aid of these fancy chair and table arrangements, he came by again and offered us a half-bottle of local red wine that he wouldnâ€™t need, and some glasses! Thoroughly overwhelmed by his generosity and our good fortune we enjoyed our wine and dinner, sitting in chairs and watching the sun set over the vineyards and the Mosel River.
The glasses and table lent to us by a fellow camper, together with the half bottle of red wine he gave us! (Plus the Spot, and preparations for dinner)
We awoke to another frosty morning â€“ a really deep hoar frost which covers the table and wine glasses and bikes and panniers and the tent. The sky was almost clear and the sun was appearing â€“ oh for a warm misty morning! With frozen fingers we packed up the tent and headed to reception to quickly go online and try to sort out some housed accommodation for some of the coming days.
After a bakery stop in town we continued along the river. It was a nice sunny day, the river was clear and blue(ish) and the grapes were being harvested and lots of wine was for sale. We grabbed some meat and cheese for lunch on a bench by the river, then continued. Apart from the morning, this was turning out to be a reasonably warm day. Itâ€™s been a nice cycle along the Mosel so far, along quiet roads and bike path, well sign-posted too. We hope it will continue in France.
More vineyards and cute little villages along the Mosel
Finally we crossed over into Luxembourg, and found a campground in Wasserbillig, on the river and looking across into Germany. My German came into use once again as we met the elderly campground owners who spoke only German or French. But hurrah, the shower was free! Weâ€™ve noticed that the rule of campgrounds in Europe seems to be that the more expensive a campground is, the more noisy and unpleasant it will be to camp in, the more likely that the facilities are dirty, and the more likely that youâ€™ll have to pay extra for a shower. The best campgrounds weâ€™ve stayed in have been the cheapest. Sad but true (and theyâ€™re always the ones that are impossible to track down on the internet, so you just have to get lucky and find them by chance).
Into Luxembourg, the last ‘new’ country of the trip
Distance cycled: 487km
Sleeping arrangements: Wild camping, a campground and a friendâ€™s house
Days of rain: 2/8
Public toilets: Available
Bike friendliness: Not bad, some difficult following poorly signposted trails along the Rhein, mostly good roads to cycle on though
Free wifi availability: Lousy