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This weekend I made a trip to Bad Urach, in the hope of making a metric century.* Bad Urach is the sort of German town you see on calenders, with a medieval centre, winding cobbled streets, timber framed buildings, street cafés and a chemist claiming to have been in business since 1429. The town has been thankfully well looked after too, with a merciful absence of ugly modern buildings, apart from one brutalist concrete monstrosity that the council must have approved during an office party, but even that was tucked down a side street. The council did manage to make most of the old town pedestrianised so that instead of cars in the centre you get scenes like this.

Of course, just after I took this picture a car came trundling furtively down the road towards the café, probably having taken a wrong turn somewhere. I’m not one to criticise drivers for getting stuck on the wrong road, as I’m especially prone to doing exactly that: my dad still hasn’t forgotten the trauma of driving here while trying to follow instructions like “Turn left here… Oops, that’s a cycleway.” But, dear readers, I would ask one question: if you have unfortunately managed to find yourself driving along a pedestrianised street barely wide enough for your car, and come across a café whose furniture makes it even narrower and thus impossible to pass, do you:

A: Drive back the way you came and find one of the perfectly good, fast roads around the town to get to your destination, or…

B: …get your passenger to alight from the vehicle and move the offending furniture so that you can keep going, because obviously, you need to get somewhere and the furniture is In The Way?

I wonder what they would have done if the tables had been occupied…

*106km as you asked, at an average speed of 19km/h, and my legs let me know about it the next day…

What the well-heeled farmer is building this year. Modern barn with rock outcrop accesories.

I’m back home. This was not part of the plan.

The plan (skip this if you’re read it before) was to go off to north Germany for just under a month and learn how to be an ambulance driver, come home in June, get eight weeks experience and go back for exams in the beginning of August. The plan worked, despite certain practical problems, right up to arriving at the school. Unfortunately that’s where things began to unravel.

The problem was not the many-headed monster, the language or any of the other stuff I was concerned about. It was decibels, specifically coming from our teacher.

He started shouting in the first lesson: this school wasn’t going to be ‘average'; it would be the best; we were going to be pushed to the limit; he’d make us stressed as far as we could bear and then some; his students scored an average of 1.2* and he would make sure we did the same, apparently by shouting. Everything taught each day would have to be learned in its entirety by the next morning. It would be tested by pulling people up to the front and grilling them, and woe betide any student that was not Good Enough.

Quite what this was meant to achieve I don’t know: all it did for me was stop my brain working.

I held out until Monday: the teacher did deal with some of us more carefully than others, but in the end it dawned on me that to stay I’d have to spend the next three weeks trying to make myself fit into the ethos of the school, and that wasn’t the sort of person I am or want to be, and wouldn’t have made me a better ambulance driver either. My identity didn’t need to be wrapped up in being Good Enough for this particular teacher, nor in becoming an ambulance driver by August, so after watching five people get shouted at for an entire lesson I packed my bags and came home.

When I wasn’t avoiding the teacher I was having a great time and enjoying the work, so I’m trying to find another way to get to the same place, maybe by working with the local Red Cross and then applying to a school nearby with more relaxed lessons and less decibles; we’ll see.

In the meantime it’s planting season, and I still want to ride a century this year, I’ve a carpentry apprenticeship to start in September, something fell off Middle Son’s bike, (It is a mystery to me how the boys manage to lose obscure fittings on their bikes, but they do) so I need to get fixing it, and I’ve just realised it’s mothers day in Germany tomorrow.

More normal (ie: Bike and garden related) posts from next week.

*Exams in Germany are typically graded from 1.0 (perfection) down to 4.9 or 5. Britain as usual has to be different so my grades are all in letters, which causes no end of confusion.

Where the lions and tigers and bears might be, and the lumberjacks had already been. (Bigger version here)

If I’m honest, it’s about five minutes after I wrote my last post: I’m going to let this go online automatically so I have a bit of time to get settled in and sort out my internet connection in a castle in the middle of a field.

Here’s the bike that I’ve been working on, and if all goes to plan, the one which will have transported me some of the way to Schloss Daschow and the Nee-Naw training school. The finished result isn’t going to win any beauty competitions but that’s not the point. The point was to make something reliable but not likely to be stolen. (and as it used to look like this, I couldn’t make it any worse anyway)

Stuttgart is filled to the place denoting filled-ness with cars. This is means the bike infrastructure is pretty awful (a point I will probably labour next month when commuting in the city) but on the other hand, it means that the chances of your bike getting nicked isn’t high. This is because hardly anyone wants a bike, because everyone else drives a car.

Now, I’min a region known for cycling*, and thus a place where bikes get nicked more often. Fortunately Stuttgart helped here as well because people chuck all manner of useful stuff away for the diligent scrounger to collect, so I didn’t have to spend too much to get this bike working nicely, fortunately for you I can’t remember what came from where so you’ll be spared the details. so you’re spared the details, although I know the mudguards came free from a pile of ‘rubbish’ I was able to get at before the council picked it up and the luggage rack came from another bike a customer brought into the shop last year to “get rid of it”. I just knew I’d use it one day. The tyres are reused as well, but that doesn’t count because they were mine and I bought them about fifteen years ago in the UK, which makes me feel old. The Boss at the bike shop is convinced they will end their days in a formula-1 style blow-out with bits flying in all directions and throw me into a ditch somewhere.

But then if I’m going to have an accident, a school full of wannabe ambulance drivers is the place to do it…

*Which of course, I’m not, yet, but you get the idea.

I have a habit of photographing barns: built as cheaply as possible budget, using simple materials, all ways for the same purpose, ie, a big box to keep stuff in, and yet so often highly individual, and generally ignored.

As you can tell from the title, I intend to inflict my barn habit on you as well.

[Update: sorry to people who found a blank space instead of a picture: does anyone know how to make ImageShack work with WordPress?]

On the way to Tübingen, Andi waiting for yours truly to stop messing about with the camera and decide which route to follow. (bigger picture)

There were a lot of decisions to make this month, but finally things are coming together. Watch this space.

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Last week we went to Tübingen. The week had been bright and sunny, so of course it was overcast. Foolishly I agreed with my co-rider, Andi, that we should try a direct route that he’d found on the map. I never learn.

Andi and I have a different approach to cycling an that’s all there is to it. I look at a map and find valleys and rivers and work out a nice flat route towards the goal. Andi just puts a ruler across the landscape and there’s his route. He doesn’t worry about contour lines, but then to be fair he doesn’t notice hills, just powers up them. At least he’s kind enough to wait for me. Occasionally.

So off we went over the hills and far away, where we found more hills and possibly lions and tigers and bears but I was too busy trying to keep up to notice. The downhill bits were fun though.

And eventually, after a couple more hills, and a secret cycleway through a fence, we went through another forest and arrived in Tübingen, where for the first time in a week, it was raining. On the other hand we also had a tailwind down the valley, which meant I could at least keep up with Andi.

And while I’m here, a question for German readers: If you wanted to make a set of wooden mudguards, what sort of glue would you use, and what sort of lackierung? And where would you get it?

From our balcony I can see a range of hills (when it’s not raining, and of course today it is, but work with me) which form the European Watershed, which I find pretty exciting, but I did study Geography for several years. Rain falling this side of them will flow north to the Rhine and out to Amsterdam, and anything falling beyond will make an epic journey through Austria, Hungary and Romania and off to the Black Sea.

If todays weather is anything to go by, neither region will be short of water over the next weeks.

I could cycle over the European Watershed from here, I just haven’t got around to it yet. This is partly because I was otherwise engaged doing things like attending permaculture courses, visiting Japan and transporting poo, but also because I’m a lazyoaf and the idea of climbing up the side of said hills is a bit daunting. But next year I’m determined to cross that watershed.

I’ve done some serious plotting with things called ‘maps’*. It seems I can follow a route I’ve done before to the Neckar valley, which has a well signposted long distance route. From there it looks fairly easy to the city of Reutlingen, which looks a bit daunting, but after that there is a traffic free cycleway on an old railway line from Reutlingen through Lichtenstein (Not the tax haven, but it does have a nice castle) and then up the side of a cliff hill to a smallish village called Engstingen, which is on a river leading to the Donau.

According to the mighty Google it’s about 65km. One way. And then I have to get back again, so 130km in total, which is a bit over my current record of 114km when we brought the Bakfiets from the Netherlands to Germany, and on that occasion it was in the sort of country where a bridge counts as a hill, whereas this route goes down into at least three valleys and back up out of them again, a caps the lot with a 200 metre (600 feet and then some) climb at the end. In theory, the return should be a bit easier because it’s down hill most of the way. Right…

Still, now I’ve told you lot about it, I’ll have to do it. I guess that’s not a bad new years resolution, especially as another resolution is to ride a full century (160km) next year** so It’ll be good preparation for that. I’ll put it on the list along with ‘sort out the garden'; ‘refurbish bike N+1′; and ‘write a blog entry each week’…

*A sort of papery thing that people used before GPS.
**Actually I said the same last year, but we’ll ignore that.

Happy Christmas, and many thanks for reading and commenting this year.

That is all.

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