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Day 38 – Monheim am Rhein to Duisburg – Goodbye Rhine.

bicycle along the river, watercolour by Leanne Talbot Nowell

The sun gradually dragged the billowing sky down to the smoking chimney stacks. A giant storm growled through dinner, but not a drop of rain fell on my Erdinger sponsored umbrella at the factory food place.

Getting here by cycle track from Monheim am Rhein took me through Düsseldorf, where an enthusiastic young man at the central bike shop sold me a stretchy gadget that looks like a condom with strategic holes. He wrapped the phone onto the handlebars with it, making it possible for me see the screen while riding. You are probably rolling your eyes and wondering why I didn’t get that sorted out at the beginning of the trip. Two reasons would be – I’m a slow organiser and I have a ‘make do’ attitude left over from the war.

Düsseldorf surprised me with it’s simplicity, and I had no problem at all getting into town, and out of it again. Doris, who we met doing the Francigena in Italy, had kindly invited me to stay with her here. At the time I didn’t know exactly where the city of Düsseldorf was. So it is quite surprising I made it here at all. Would be nice to know if she ever reached Rome and what she thought of our complex home city. Unfortunately she’s not in town at the moment.


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North of Düsseldorf, the cycle path takes me into a poem.

So beautiful. Huge old trees line the road, many old people pedal along too, some in wheelchairs, some on roller skates. You can go for miles and miles through the fields without interruption. The wild ancient forests are all gone, but what remains is a stunning hint of what was there before.

A lunch place popped up with tables set out under a dark canopy of trees. Alte Rheinfähre.

The waiter dressed in black and white had a special look about him, he stooped down to get my order, and I nervously pointed at the middle of the menu. The surprise plate was …matjes, with roast potatoes and a creamy dill dressing. Marinated fish, really delicious.

Afternoons on the bike tend to get a bit hot and complicated. Most of it is done standing on the pedals. My right hand is certainly not well. After the googley girl told me to go around the same field twice I switched her off and just road willy-nilly. That’s the nice thing about not knowing where to go is wherever you go is ok.  It’s not wrong at least. I went through many small towns, mostly very quiet. On the skyline begin an ominous line of enormous factory towers and billowing chimneys.


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Flammkuchen is a thin pastry crust with high edges. It is smeared with a thin layer of sour cheese, and usually served with traditional onions and speck sprinkled on top, but I opted for the veggie version with sliced tomatoes and rocket. Eat it fast while it’s hot.


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Losing sight of the Great Emotional River Rhine.

The route will take me slightly eastward and away. It is a moving goodbye. I will miss the scintilla, the dark swirls and reflections. The whole thing rushes into the Netherlands and merges with the sea at Rotterdam.

Thankfully there has been a great effort over the past few years to clean it up. Fish are beginning to return and the stinky chemical slime has moved on. The only trouble is the e-coli from sewage processing plants and the heavy boat traffic but some good people are working on improving that.

A small bottle of water cost me Euro 5 this afternoon. More expensive than beer.

While being lost in the town of Duisburg, I found myself doing a u-turn in front of a police station. It looked approachable, so I went in and declared the theft of my glasses. An officer wrote up the report..

Typing intently on his old clickitty-clacketty computer keyboard at high speed, after about fifteen minutes he printed it out for me and stamped it. Astonishingly he only managed three sentences. Seriously, this report will be sent to the police in Linz am Rhein, where I have declared the thief stole my bug glasses and sun hat. There they will investigate the matter further. I’m sure they will, this is Germany. What a bother.


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Spent the night in a hostel Jugendherberge, Duisberg, Landschaftspark…in a rusty restored Industrial zone.

The girl at the hostel desk has given me their special handicap room, most likely because I’m the oldest guest by far and I look like I could use a walker. It is sparkling clean and comfortable with a chair in the shower, and a red switch next to the bed, which I pressed thinking it was the light switch. It blinked for a while, then I blinked off to sleep.

66 kms.

See the route map here.

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Day 34 – 36 – Loreley

Rheinstein Castle on the Rhine river, watercolour by Leanne Talbot Nowell

Simon left Rome very early in the morning and landed at Frankfurt-Hahn airport, hired a car and drove to meet me at Oberwesel. Happily freewheeled down the hill to find him waiting in the car park.  We wandered through the quaint town and milky coffee and a large slice of romantic cake at the Konditorei-caffè Bonsch.

For the sake of love I let him ride my bike sans-panniers for 17 kms to Boppard while I drove the cumbersome car.  There he surprised me with a booking at the extraordinary Bellevue Rheinhotel. A luxurious room with a river view! Lovely place for some pampering.

No cycling this weekend but as Simon is known to be a no-limits man, we managed to visit five different castles on one day. Including the infamous Loreley rock. “Die Loreley” is a poem written by Heinrich Heine in 1824  which describes a lovely siren sitting on the slate cliff above the Rhine and combing her golden hair. She unwittingly distracted shipmen with her beauty and song causing them to crash on the rocks.

The tour was not without a good number of wine tasting sessions. This is Riesling territory after all.

One cannot escape sampling the German beer as well,  and eating enormous helpings of tasty food under the hanging baskets of geraniums and rose covered pergolas. It was all supremely majestical.

We also took a small boat over to an island to see the customs house. Once the passing ships had to stop to pay taxes here. History on https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pfalzgrafenstein_Castle

Here are loads of photographs which tell the story.

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The horseshoe which belonged to the devil, was embedded in the road when the people rolled a barrel down upon him as he tried to enter the town….

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Day  36 – Boppard to Bad Honnin

Simon had to leave very early on Monday morning to get back to the office in time.

He was not there to see me heading off north down river, hopping from coast to coast by ferry, whenever things looked more interesting on the opposite bank. The track is perfect up until Koblenz where it gets a bit lost in the industrial zone. An older couple stopped me to complain, they thought it was an idyllic riverside tour all the way. It soon became idyllic once again.
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Having got lost and eventually crossed over the train bridge at Ermitz, the path fizzled out, and I found myself struggling along in the grass. But after some panicky moments in a dark wood, up popped a lovely girl with a dog, and said I should persist. Soon a town popped up and I felt much more on the right track. There are many lovely little villages along the way,  but now they are much flatter and more spread out.
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Linz am Rhein.

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Found the super Bacchus garten at Leyscher Hotel in Leutesdorf under giant walnut trees on the river bank for lunch.

The track was closed, so I shot onto the ferry just in time. On the opposite bank was another ferry just ready to go, so hopped onto that one, so zigzagged a bit to avoid the construction works.

Later that afternoon I was happy to accept a very generous invitation to stay with our friends Rolf and Bianca in Bad Honnef. They treated me to a sumptuous BBQ with good Italian wine and a lovely guest room. Fabulous friends.

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88 kms.

See the route map 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