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Last week I finally made it over the border into France, see evidence above. It was… different, in a strange way: an odd mix of German place names and French street signs.

I will return to the subject at some point, but I’m visiting the family this weekend so it’ll have to wait for a few days.

 

 

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So I built a ramp.

I know, I can’t stand the excitement either.

Things at work and the apartment are gradually getting into a routine meaning that I have a bit more time and energy to spare, while a combination of introversion and a certain virus means my social life consists of Internet forums, building chicken runs and visits from the Landlady’s dog. Therefore I decided it was about time to make something interesting and use some of the machines being used for boring stuff like making pallets. I was also fed up with lifting the bike up the step outside the apartment.

Which is all fine, but brought up the question of how I was going to get it back to said apartment. For the last decade the answer to this would be a choice between using the Xtracycle or the Bakfiets*, either of which could have hauled this quite handily. Unfortunately both are still in Stuttgart.

Plan ‘A’, making some kind of cunning system to make the ramp fold down or assemble simply on arrival was rejected in the initial enthusiasm to make stuff, so now I had a 1 metre (3’3 5/8″) long wooden frame and a standard luggage rack.

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In the end I added two wooden cross pieces to the bottom of the construction whose main purpose was to fit snugly around the sides of the rack and survive for the fifteen minute ride. I backed this up with two trekking straps so the whole thing didn’t fly off at the blistering speeds I expected to achieve, and declared it good to go.

To my surprise this actually worked pretty well. I had to remember not to try riding through any narrow gaps and the weather was thoroughly uncooperative by sending a headwind, but on the other hand cars gave me a nice wide gap, and I didn’t get airborne.

Even better, it actually fitted my step. Plans to hold a proper opening ceremony were ruined because the Landlady’s Dog claimed a prior appointment.

Still had fun ‘testing’ it for a bit in front of an audience of bemused chickens…

*It really is ten years since I bought our cargo bike in Amsterdam, so it’s even longer since I started blogging: I’m getting old.

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Last time I returned to Freiburg from visiting the family I hopped off the train at a place called Lahr and rode the last 30km on a warm Sunday afternoon. This doesn’t feature in a blog entry because I didn’t have a camera and there are limits to how much of my prose you can handle without pictures to break it up occasionally. However that ride showed that this was a possible strategy and would undoubtedly be even faster if I didn’t take a wrong turning leading to a 10 kilometre diversion around the German countryside.

Looking at a map, I reasoned that the next time I could get off at Offenburg, a mere 20k north of where I’d de-trained last time, giving a bit more of a ride before arriving in my village.

On the other hand, 50k isn’t a quick and easy ride, and I did have work the next day.

Much fretting ensued, ended by German Railways (who were, it has to be said, having a bad day generally) announcing that their shiny new train had thrown a sulk and would be staying in Offenburg.

Problem solved, I got on the bike and followed signs into the town, which it turns out has a very pretty centre including revolving bronze cartoon birds.

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I’m not sure why either.

I’m not going to go exaggerating the difficulty of riding this trip. Okay it’s about 50k, but that’s almost 50 thoroughly flat kilometres on nice smooth cycleways, signposted most of the way.

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Yeah, I’m spoiled.

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Well, until I came to a village, when the cycleway vanished and I had to dodge traffic, but you can’t have everything.

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The sun was slowly heading for the horizon so I was pushing it as much as a moderately unfit middle aged bloke can, and the ride settled into a rhythm of long straight cycleway, village, mad dash through traffic, back to cycleway. In my concern to keep time I ignored many signs pointing to marketplaces, baroque churches and historic gates, so I’ll have to visit those on another ride. This time it was about the road, stretching off into the distance, and the setting sun.

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And later on the list became a bit longer with the addition of “aching legs”. It was quite a relief to reach villages which are now becoming familiar and not have to stop and look at the map any more, and even more when the church spire for the Village Across The River came into view and I only had to haul my sorry self up and over the railway line and the river, wiggle through the old town, check the post, and crunch over the gravel to my front door.

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I’d managed 50k in about 2 ½ hours, which is about an average speed of 20km/h. Any smugness about this was thoroughly destroyed by the complaints from my lower limbs the next morning…

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The weather report here was warning us to ignore the large yellow object in the sky as a cruel trick, put there to lure people out side to be caught by the rain, storms, followed by more storms, more rain and then some storms that moment. However, there was a short window in the afternoon where they claimed they could reliably predict things would be reliably dry(ish).

So your correspondent waited all day indoors ignoring the apparently sunny weather and doing sensible things like the washing (thank heavens for a large wide veranda) and got ready to go out in the short bit of time when it wasn’t actually raining, and of course as I took the bike out of the house it started raining.

I didn’t want to go back inside so I pootled around the village for a bit, then noticed it was a bit clearer to the south and decided to risk a short loop.

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By the time I got here, it was looking a bit more pleasant. This is the village of Eichstetten, home to some beautiful buildings and half a dozen monumentally badly positioned electricity pylons.

The lop I’d planned was fine for a drizzly day, but a bit short now that there was actually blue sky, so I decided to risk a detour up into the vineyards of the Kaiserstuhl, the long extinct volcano in the middle of the Rhine valley. Apart from anything else, I hadn’t cycled up any real hills in weeks, so it was about time I got some practice.

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Worth it for the view, too, although there were still clouds covering a lot of the Black Forest.

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Most roads in the area are closed to cars but open to bikes which means the road down the other side of the hill was traffic free and I could just let the bike roll.

Until I came around a corner and suddenly found myself in a village area: German towns are compact and tend to start suddenly…

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Brief stop to allow the brakes to cool down outside a very French looking restaurant.

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All this exploring is well and good but at some point though I’m going to have to go in the other direction, as my medium term goal is to ride a two day tour to Stuttgart, hopefully when I have some holiday in October. This means I need to find a route through the rather intimidating hills over the other side of the valley in the Black Forest.

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To be continued…

I rather spontaneously decided to ride into Freiburg today, on the basis that I really should visit the city as I’ve lived just outside for a month. It turns out the city is a lot quicker to cycle into than I thought.

They have trams. With some seriously bright colour schemes:

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It also has lots and lots of cycleways, which are direct, and link up to other cycleways, and hardly ever send you somewhere you think you’re going to get run over. This is a bit confusing because I’ve lived for over ten years by Stuttgart which treats cyclists as pedestrians with wheels, so the cycleways are generally on the pavements and you have to watch the pedestrian lights. Freiburg treats you like a car with pedals so I suddenly have to follow traffic lights.

Once in Freiburg I did the touristy thing.

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The Martinstor is one of the most famous sights in the city, which is why I kept this photo despite it being a bit rough. Apparently the city council compromised with the fast food chain occupying the gate: they were allowed to put their name outside but not in red and yellow…

After pretending to be all cultured:

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…and sampling some more of the cycle infrastructure, including the rather wonderfully named “Wiwili” (pron: Vee-Vil-Eee) bridge which is a “Bike street” connecting the two sides of the city for cyclists and pedestrians…

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I decided I’d experienced all of city life I wanted for a while and headed back north. It really is astonishing how fast you can get somewhere on a bike when there are direct, well signposted cycleways.

Unfortunately, this advantage doesn’t help if you then take a wrong turning and get lost in a random field somewhere…

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Still, I’ve established there is a fairly direct and ridable route into Freiburg. Now all I have to do is make sure I follow it next time…

A few kilometres from the new digs is the Kaiserstühl, a small range of volcanic hills in the middle of the wide plain of the Rhine valley. I’d worked out that if I cycle west, across the bottom of the hills to a town called Breisach am Rhein.

The border is currently closed, so I planned to follow the river north, past the lumpy bits, and back across open fields to the new base of operations, without climbing more than a few metres. This appealed for obvious reasons.

(map from Bikemap.net with additional labelling using Gimp; both are free.)

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The region is known as the “German Tuscany”: it is famous for having a Mediterranean climate and as a result most of the southern slopes are covered in vineyards. It also has a lot of things like this (Pic 1 on the map above):

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Apparently it’s a wine press. I’ve no idea how they work but it apparently required a donkey. This one is restored as a sort of village monument and would make an excellent cooking/eating point for long distance touring. Hopefully some other villages will have one.

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(Pic 2) There are villages every few kilometres, all of which are stunningly beautiful and beyond my skill with a camera, but I won’t stop trying. They often seem to have a river running down the high street, as seen here, a couple of churches and a cooperative dedicated to the sale of grape-based liquids of all kinds, the one in this village being the large glass fronted building on the left.

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(Pic 3). In contrast to the region around Stuttgart the older churches tend to be Catholic. This is the church at Wasenweiler. Notice as usual that your correspondent is not riding on the hill in the distance but the nice flat land in front.

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Finally after several detours because I’m easily distracted I reached Breisach (Pic 4). This is smack on the French border, and is built on a plug of rock surrounded by flat lowland, as a result it has changed ownership more times than a poker chip on a Saturday night. The railway used to cross the river which is why it has such a massive station building to accommodate the customs officers that they needed when this was a major stopping point between Paris and Vienna.

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After a brief detour around the harbour, the Rhine cycleway manages to follow the river for some distance (Pic 5).I know you’ve seen this one before but I still can’t get over the proximity of different countries in Europe.

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Apparently this is European Cycleway #15 riunning from lake Constance to Rotterdam (pic 6). There are information boards like this every few kilometres with local information in several languages, including of course places to eat, sleep and otherwise spend money.

After leaving the river I could cross back to where I live. This took me through Endingen which I visited a couple of days ago so I knew the way back from here. That’s forward planning, that is.

It turns out they have a rather nice city gate (pic 7):

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And a pretty town centre (Pic 8):

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Now I knew where i was going I was able to speed up and follow the cycleway back along the river to my new home town. I was feeling pretty tired but also rather pleased with myself, which all went to pot when I realised I was definitely no more than 500m from my apartment but I didn’t have a clue how to get there:

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(Pic 9) Bike waiting patiently while twit owner works out where the heck he is…

Now I’ve got my cycling legs back, it’s time to investigate the other direction, and get a bit further into the Black Forest…

The new landlady has a garden which my apartment looks out on to, and last week she took delivery of six chickens. This was a little difficult as there wasn’t anywhere to put them, so her daughter, son-in-law and I spent a couple of entertaining evenings helping to make a chicken run. This largely involved digging a trench to sink the fence into and hitting fencing stakes into the ground with a big hammer.

Now the chickens have one part of the garden, the dog has the other, and we get fresh eggs. Everyone is happy.

Friday was the first day at the new job, hence the slight delay in this post.

I’m on the staff at a protected workshop for clients with psychological disabilities, which provides a variety of occupations for people with varying psychological and cognitive abilities. To keep this range of options as broad as possible, departments can seem to be a bit random, which is why I’m on the team in charge of a laundry and a carpentry making wooden toys. Amongst other things this department makes wooden boats that are a popular souvenir of the city and which once a year take part in a race along the small streams that run along the main streets of the city centre. So I’m now partially responsible for an icon of the city of Freiburg* and if that isn’t integrating in my host culture I don’t know what is.

This is how the boats are made:

Here’s the state TV report on the boat race every year, hopefully with English subtitles, but you can get the idea from the pictures…

 

I got some really good news on day one; all the tedious report writing is dealt with by a social worker who comes in once a month. On the other hand, we have to run the department and deal with supplies and suppliers and make sure things are delivered on time.

And as I was finishing I was the person currently in charge of this department casually mentioned that he’s leaving in about two months and I’ll have to take over.

Useful experience, right, it’s all useful experience…

*Very ‘partially’ indeed, along with a lot of other people; thankfully…

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Touring bike coming for a explore with me around the new neighbourhood, with a waymarker, and bulk freight barge passing along the Rhine in the background. The barge is running pretty much down the French/German border; the proximity of different countries is something I still can’t get over having grown up on a island.

I’ll be exploring over the river, just as soon as a certain virus has pushed off sufficiently for the border to reopen…

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Tinybug is learning to ride, so Papa is required to help and occasionally push. The desired route is to go and visit the cow farm and say hello to the (my goodness aren’t they big?) cows, to the dandelion field to pick dandelions and then to the local farm shop where we feed the rabbits.

Right now we’re working on Starting without any help, but she is a small person and this is a heavy bike. So far, however she’s learned:

  • How to ride in a straight line
  • Riding without Papa holding the luggage rack, to the great relief of my upper back, I might add.
  • Leaning into corners,
  • Stopping on command,

And under “general life lessons”:

  • Cows like to sniff people; and they make a huge amount of poo.

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