The no bikes sign we didnt see

The 'no bikes' sign we didn't see

In the centre of Düsseldorf is a wide, traffic free promenade which is perfect for cycling . Unfortunately someone has set up a street market and put barriers on the promenade with “No Cycling” signs. This on a major pan-European cycleway. Would they block an Autobahn without giving an alternative route? Worse, the signs point south, so by the time we realise we’re being naughty, we aren’t any more.

Following the band in a village neat Düsseldorf

Following the band in a village near Düsseldorf

At the southern end of Düsseldorf, we cross the Rhine for the 3rd time, and take the straightest route on the map towards Köln. In the outer suburbs of the city, I fall into conversation with a local who gives the useful information that a triathlon in the city and many of the roads are closed. Sure enough we find people directing traffic, but they are more than helpful and wave us past.

Cities are resolving themselves into a familiar pattern: fields; sudden, nondescript industry; well-heeled centre; industry, sudden fields. Köln is the same: we’re rolling through a picturesque farming village, and suddenly we turn a corner and we’re surrounded by heavy industry. On the plus side the road alongside us is closed for the triathlon, so instead of trucks delivering to the factories, we’re being passed by Lycra-clad triathletes on super-light racing bikes. What we don’t have is a way to the river: it’s blocked by a large complex owned by the Ford motor company.

Eventually we find a gap in the buildings, ride down it, and there is the river. And then as suddenly as it began, the industry stops, and we’re riding through a park on a wide avenues end seeing the first glimpse of Köln cathedral. We ride along the embankment, past houseboats and flanked by more triathletes, under the massive rail bridge, and climb up into the city square. 330 kilometres after leaving Amsterdam, we are in Köln.

Xtra and Köln cathedral

Xtra and Köln cathedral

We spend about half an hour in Köln, trying to photograph the cathedral and the bikes together and looking about the square, but  I’m a lousy tourist and I want to press on to Bonn.  Travis is keen to see the city and have a beer, so he elects to take the train to Bonn and meet us there.

Bridge and Cathedral, before we hit the chaos

Bridge (fourth Rhine crossing) and Cathedral, before we hit the chaos

The centre of Köln is chaos: along the river people are running back and forth along carefully constructed routes and everywhere there are barriers, along roads and across them, which we have to negotiate. Out of the city all this careful control disappears, and we find ourselves riding along another avenue with people running in different directions each side of us. At this point Alex is riding the Bakfiets, and the sight of him squeezing between runners is quite amusing. At the turning point even that doesn’t work, and in an attempt to avoid hitting a someone, he ends up crossing the checkpoint and triggering the automatic counter. There’s nothing to I can do except follow him, so we become official participants in the Köln 2009 Triathlon, if only for a few seconds.

Alex in the Triathlon

Alex in the Triathlon

After this, the roads seem rather empty. We follow a wide promenade along the river, and once we’re realised that the signs for the bike route are now red and blue, not blue and yellow, we make good progress, except when we follow a sign saying “Short cut”, which isn’t. Soon after this, we find a sign showing “Köln 18km” and “Bonn 18km”. This is reason enough to stop and eat some celebratory Abendbrot, watching the ships labour their way past.

The short cut that wasnt

The short cut that wasn't

Half way

Half way

We’re noticing changes. Buildings are gradually changing from the brick of the north to the wide roof eaves I’m more familiar with in the south, and as we approach Bonn, we can see hills silhouetted to the south, reminding us that we’re leaving the flood plains and tomorrow we’ll be in in a land of gorges and steep-sided valleys.

Arriving in Bonn, fifth Rhine crossing

Arriving in Bonn, fifth Rhine crossing

Bonn is roughly half-way between Amsterdam and Stuttgart, and by way of celebration Alex has booked a night in a Youth hostel. To our eyes the Maxx Hostel seems very luxurious, although it’s possible that we’re just ridiculously excited at the prospect of beds and electricity, and even warm showers. After meeting Travis and eating a pizza at a local restaurant I come back to our room early, call Beautiful Wife, play with the lights for a bit, and go to bed. We’ve covered just over 100km today, and we’re half way home: we’re feeling fit and we’re back on schedule. Things are looking up.

Dodgy shot of youth hostel

Dodgy shot of youth hostel

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