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Day 32 – Nackenheim to Assmanshausen to Oberwesel

Cycling along the Rhine dykes

This illustration is slightly imaginative, conjured up from memory. The poplar trees keep me company all along the cycle track on the river dykes. I hope to paint them again plein-air.

Wurstsalat has been the bug on every menu since Freiburg. At the biergarten in Bingen a woman sitting near me ordered it, so I forced myself to give it a try.
It was served in a glass jar with a lid and the contents looked like a nest of worms, but it was satisfyingly delicious! You would think having a German husband would have exposed me to this salad at least once on our many trips to see family in southern Germany. With my elevated cholesterol level I must stop having all these würsts, schnitzels, and bread served with FAT Schweineschmalz. At dinner this evening I was served a basket of bread and a little ceramic dish of fat. A thimble sized serving of pure white fat with bits of cured meat in it. I took a tiny scraping….but the guilt was huge.

This morning in the lovely city of Mainz I found an E-bike shop and asked the nice smartly dressed young salesman to please check my pedals. He tapped them and declared them tight.
I had the feeling he thought I was just looking for some attention.

Simon is coming to visit.

I am so excited that Simon is arriving in two days to keep me company for the weekend. I hope he’s not shocked at my vagabond appearance.

A month of daily sun and wind has darkened my face to a mottled brown (nose in particular). My glasses have protected the eye skin and weepy pink piggy eyes (allergies). Arms are as scaly as branches and my legs have a patchy burn on the back of the calves. The feet stripes are a mix between giraffe and zebra. Backs of the ankles are a mess from pedal bites. The hand tendons are pronounced. When I wake up in the morning they need time to unravel.

As for my clothes, I wear the same stretch pants every evening. It gets a bit cool on the terrace restaurants and there are mosquitoes around. The nice little frock I brought with me for romantic possibilities is hideously short and does nothing to cover the two-tone-tan effect.

My hair…oh dear! In Italian – “Un casino”

This morning when the church bells gonged in Nackenheim and woke me up at six, I painted a new sign for the handlebar bag. The other one was dull. It’s a bright and cheerful watercolour with the Italian flag in one corner and the Norwegian in the other… Roma – Oslo. At this point I’m beginning to believe that I may in fact, finish.

This caused a stir amongst the oncoming cycle traffic. Within minutes three women cyclists from Amsterdam called after me: “Roma!!! Roma!!!…” so I stopped and we gaggled together about our respective tours. A nice Italian man called Marco saw me at the caffe and said he would follow the blog.

On the ferry crossing over the Rhine once more, a large group of loud men doing their annual cycling tour, took it upon themselves to include me in their photographs. They galantly offered ‘ladies first’ when it was time to disembark. They all watched to see how I would negotiate the steep ramp out of the boat and up the river bank. Haha, I shot up there so fast with my battery on turbo…and heard them all having a good laugh.

The hilly slopes are beginning to steepen and are blanketed with vineyards. Beautiful scenery and architecture everywhere you look!

Found a very pleasant hotel at the water edge called Hotel Schön.

Odometer 2144.8
Only 60 kms today, with an average speed of 23 kmph. I don’t want to go too far. Simon and I would like to spend two days together on this stretch of river amongst the castles and vineyards around Loreley. How romantic!

See the map route here

Day 33 – Assmannshausen to Dellhofen

I dreamed I could fly and had a magic blanket that spilled out all manner of exquisite things when I shook it.

Breakfast on the veranda under a flowering trellis at a table dressed in white linen and elegantly battered silver cutlery and coffee pot. It must have been shiny once when my Great-Great Grandmother, Sarah sat at this very table. I have no proof of that, but she lived in Germany for a year… so maybe…

The morning is exuberant with fresh vineyards. Riesling grapes budding on the vines. The Rhein is becoming greener and deeper as it winds into the gorge at Sankt Goar.

Along the comfortable cycle route at the very edge of the water, someone has set up the perfect table and chairs on the riverbank just for me apparently. I painted the scene on the opposite bank from under a large white board with number 542 printed in black ….which I presume is a kilometer sign for boat pilots. It is a tricky section to navigate.

It is a really hot day, and so with a bit of meandering and hanging around painting I didn’t do more than 30 kilometres. On a tall stone was written this poem –

In jeder Planze
ist Mein Herz
spricht die Erde
So nur
fang den Himmel
ich auf

- F.G. Paff

The translation is more or less this – In every plant, is my heart, says the earth, only like this, I catch the sky.

Thought I would be soft on myself and book a room in advance. On arrival in the village of Oberwesel, as a challenge to my searching and finding skills (no map), I nonchalantly pedalled up and down looking for nr 43 Rheinhöhenstraße…  Eventually had to ask a shopkeeper. She said “Oh that’s right on top of the mountain!! You can’t go up there with the bicycle, it is a very hot day”. That’s the problem with google maps, you can’t see contour lines.

I did go up at great discomfort but thanks to my ebike. The river is nowhere to be seen from up here but Landhotel Zum Kronprinzen is really nice. The name is noble and dinner was served in a lovely private garden next door.

Tomorrow I’ll whizz down the hill to meet Simon.

See the map route here

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Days 28 and 29 – Erstein – Strasbourg – Marienthal

Watercolour by Leanne Talbot Nowell

Today I rode passed an army barracks onto a narrow path in the woods. A regiment of soldiers came jogging at me in single file. Unfortunately I couldn’t get a good look as I was forced to concentrate on the necessary avoidance manoeuvre. Narrow paths can be treacherous with tufts of thorny blackberries and hidden pointy stones.

Paying attention on the real world in present-moment-mode comes at the high cost of daydreaming. Avoiding mishaps is absolutely imperative at my age. A short lapse in concentration could compromise the entire project.

Pedalling at a good speed along the canals, one hand resting on my hip. The handlebars are instruments of torture. Every kilometer or so I stand on my pedals to allow blood to circulate again. Which brings me to thinking about the river. The Rhine must have been a beautiful thing once. Like a large plait with a myriad of small forested islands. There would have been pebbly beaches on those islands and swarms of life living in their nooks. Water would move quicker in some areas and slower in others, making it possible for all sorts of different habitats. I imagine it would have been teeming with fish, insects and flowers on the banks, big old wild trees bending over to dapple the water, and flocks of gorgeous birds.

Now riding along a cement canal parallel to the river which drags on between the dykes. This dead straight configuration lets the water flow faster, so locks and dams are necessary to prevent flooding. The mud at the bottom is toxic with factory waste. I glide along through the paradox of being able to do this ride so easily at the huge sacrifice of such a great and beautiful river. Without the economic farming and industrial network of support, it would be impossible to do this cycle tour. But I would give up this ride in an instant to have a healthy river back again.

Goethe said “things that matter most must never be at the mercy of those things that matter least”

Strasbourg is lovely.

I bought a little stuffed stork, which is symbolic of the Alsace region, hoping it will bring me more grandchildren. There are storks nesting on rooftops and electricity pylons.

A man was playing the sax so beautifully I couldn’t move under the spell.

Apparently the Parc de l’Orangerie is lovely to see, so I make my way under the shadow of the Cathedral and across town. No luck finding the garden, instead my track takes me north through a forest and farmland to Drusenheim where there is no available accommodation.

According to what I could eek out of my app, there is a hostel room in Bischwiller. At the gate stand an American couple who have booked in advance. Nobody answers the bell or the phone. After peeking through the crack between wall and gate I decide that it’s a lucky thing there is no-one at home and I make my escape. At the top of the next hill I check the app again and find a room in Marienthal.

I’m the only guest at Hotel Notre Dame – ‘L’Ermitage tonight. My bike is parked in the company of an Italian Ape (three-wheeled vehicle) in the shed. The owner said she would bring a tray of supper up to my room in 30 mins. It has been an hour now. I go downstairs to see if perhaps we have a misunderstanding. I find her in the kitchen eating dinner with the chef. She apologizes and laughs. Later she brings in a tray of salad leaves and hunks of cheese, slices of ham and a bottle of water. The remains of the day. I am very pleased.

Monument to Goethe at Sessenheim

Breakfast near the monument to Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe in Sessenheim. He met his beloved Frederike around here.

“Love does not dominate, it cultivates” – Goethe

It’s a green and gritty ride today, a long way on the dyke, which is forbidden apparently. Not sure when it happened but I find myself on the river side of an endless fence. Forced to do some bush-whacking, and scale a strange overpass. Perfectly lonely riding, not a soul on this enormous dyke. On and on it goes all morning until at last there is a faulty gate through which I escape.

GERMANY

Goodbye France. Crossed the bridge between France and Germany trailing a queue of cars behind me. The pungent odour of cows was waiting! ..phew!
Soon the smell changed to chicken schtink, then a field sprayed with pigswill made me gag. You wonder how the crops bear it!

The huge Mercedes factory is just south of Rastatt.

Hay-fever is a real thing out here with the farmers tossing hay into the sky. Big spinning mechanical forks fling it up to dry it out. That mixed with road dust, pollen clouds and swarms of gnats makes it impossible to go without a face mask. Nothing fancy, just a stretchy neck scarf which can be easily pulled down when oxygen levels get too low. The wheezing cough persists.

Crossed the river once again, but still in Germany now. Found a place to sleep in Neuberg tonight, at the Sonne hotel.  Terribly slow internet, but great Greek food!

“We should talk less and draw more. Personally I would like to renounce speech altogether, and like organic nature, communicate everything I have to say in sketches”. (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)

See the map route here

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Day 24 – Waldshut Tiengen to Karsau – bedbugz.

scenery along the way

The only men I attract by my appearance these days, are those with noisy machines. Mowers, tractors, builders and lorry drivers. Even the rubbish truck man made a comment after a near hit. I don’t think it was complimentary.
But the hoteliers usually always shake my hand when I leave, which is comforting.

My ebike has a little onboard computer which gives me four cycling modes, depending how much help I need for the terrain. I have added a pretend mode: “LOST” which is a boost for dizzy-blonde morale.

There are bedbugs in my industrial park motel room. EEEK!

Luckily I slept in my special silk sleeping sack to protect me from an annoying fly. Thereby unwittingly preventing those dreaded bed-bug bites. You must always travel with one of these silk cocoon bags. Bed bugs can’t get through the tightly woven silk. I saw them this morning clustered around my panniers which are standing on the floor. Now all my clothes need washing. Good thing, as they haven’t seen a washing machine for 4 weeks.  Hand washing my clothes every evening is obviously not quite enough judging by my attracting annoying flies.

Whistling along through yet another vacant village I see a public swimming pool. It is the hottest day so far and there is a blackboard outside with a fast food menu scribbled on it. The combination of pool and food is too much to resist. While guzzling a bratwurst smothered in mayo and ketchup, I watch a nice round Italian Mama dragging her crying little boy out of the water. He wants to play with the German kids….but she bellows “DEVI MANGIARE AMORE!!!”… . (you must eat my love). The water is icy cold and I wallow like a crocodile for a while.

Cooling towers, steel works, and other industry are beginning to pop up around every corner along the Rhine. Cement factories are my worst. Not only ugly and toxic, but the thought of covering the Earth with the deadly stuff is horrible.

A fantastic old covered wooden bridge – Holzbrücke Bad Säckingen – crosses the water between Germany and Switzerland. Switzerland is much more expensive so I ride across and back to the German side again. The Swiss like to shop in Germany because it’s cheaper and they can get the tax refunded.

At about 15:00 it’s time to search for accommodation. I haven’t seen any obvious places to stay along the route today. Even toilets are difficult to find. One cannot just piddle on the side of the road like the men do. Neither is this Italy where you can find a crowded cafe at the centre of even the smallest village. You can use the lavatory for the price of a cool drink and get help with finding accommodation.

Going strong and dizzily along this beautiful landscape. There are long stretches of shady bike tracks here but half the time you’re riding on the streets. Junctions can be a bit complicated, and routes take you along farm roads through cultivated fields. One of the hazards of riding in fields are the irrigation sprays. You must wait for the squirting and then speed passed while they turn the other way. I think a light sprinkling will be nice in this weather so I go pedalling through. Just so you know, it’s like a waterfall and rather blinding. I almost veered off into the maize.

Checked my booking.com for a place to stay, and found Pension B&B Jasmin, off track at Karsau. On the way up there I spot an a ebike shop. Feeling very happy to stop and ask the huge man for some chain grease. He shows me how to apply it. Now my gears don’t change very well, and the chain clatters terribly.

There is nobody at B&B Jasmin, so I plonk myself down at a Pub close by. Testing my German a little bit. A very traditional place that smells of cigarettes and sour beer. I randomly order dinner – Rinderleber with balsamico – for the Italian touch. The waiter brings it to the table and says it’s cow heart. After a few moments of revolted consideration, my reasonable voice says “oh well, maybe it’s good for courage, love and emotion”. Strangely it tastes exactly like liver and onions. Washed down with a freezing glass of white wine.

I am way too tired and my hair is a fright.

Odometer 1573.7

63 kms today.

See the route map here