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Yesterday morning on the way to do the Sunday feeding rounds, I found myself in a tram carriage almost entirely full of local Eritreans wearing white clothes, from a large priest complete with hat and wooden cross in his hand, several old ladies with headscarves and a lot of younger guys including one who was compromising the dress code by wearing a white racing jacket. They were all talking in Eritrean and clearly having a great time.

There’s something infectious about being with fifty people laughing and enjoying themselves in a language you can’t understand. It quite cheered me up and made for a great start to a day chasing animals around the farm.

I’m glad I met them on the way in, on the return I may have been a bit nervous about getting my grubby farm clothes too near their Sunday best…

downdown_01I think I’ve got the ride to work sorted out, apart from a couple of little hiccups we won’t mention like the Xtracycle’s rear gear cable snapping on the one place where I have to ride uphill in traffic*.

I’d originally planned to use the tram for most of the route between our village and the farm, with a bike at both ends to cover the first and last bit, but apart from the security issue, Stuttgart’s tram system mostly goes from the edge to the centre, whereas I wanted to go from one suburb to another, and those trams ran only occasionally, usually before or after I wanted to travel, and often thirty seconds before I got to the station.

After an embarrassingly long time riding into Stuttgart and back out again, it finally occurred to me that I was travelling off-peak in both directions, so I could carry my Xtracycle on the tram for free (British public transport providers take note: this is possible without the sky falling). Now I cycle to the local tram stop, ride the tram to the highest part of the route, which rather conveniently is the last station before it goes down into Stuttgart, and ride the rest of the way. Coming back I catch any Stuttgart-bound tram on the other line, hop off again near the top of the hill, and pootle back through the forest. No bikes are left to the predations of local vandals, and I get to ride the Xtracycle. Everyone wins.

Until it snows, but let’s not worry about that yet.

*It turns out that with some pliers and a lot of swearing I can -just- get a normal, standard-length back gear cable to fit on an Xtracycle. I’m probably the last Xtracycle user to find this out, but I put it out there anyway.

My original idea for commuting to the farm was to have a bike at each end of the tram journey, cycle to the the local tram station, ride the tram across town, and pick up another bike to cover the last bit to the farm. This sounded great when I worked it out, but in practice there’s all kinds of problems, mainly that it relies on me being able to finish work, sweep the workshop, clean the privvy, unlock the bike, ride to a house within dashing distance of the station, lock the bike again, and leg it to the tram stop to meet the tram.

You will not be surprised to find this doesn’t work very well.

Of the three direct trams back from the farm, the first is long gone before I’m finished, the second usually leaves the station just as I come sprinting around the corner, and the next is far too late. If I even miss that one, we enter the twilight zone, that period the powers that be have decreed to be Off Peak, when no-one needs to travel, so the wait until the next connection is best measured with a calendar.

There are other trams, but they involve travelling into Stuttgart, changing and coming back out again. Either way I end up doubling the journey time. I know this because I missed the tram every evening so far.

So now I’ve come up with Cunning Plan 2.1. I can take a bike on the tram off-peak, and the farm opens mid-morning, so I can ride to the station at this end, carry the bike on the tram, ride to the farm, and then in the evening simply cycle home, thus saving all kinds of frustration. It would also mean I can use the Xtracycle, which solves the problem of the disintegrating panniers.

Spend enough time sitting on random tram stations and this sort of thing becomes interesting…

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Yesterday, Beautiful God-daughter -and others- were giving flute recitals, so naturally I went to watch. The Xtracycle can be seen above in the large plaza outside the town arts centre where the performance was held. It is a very tasteful rebuild of an old tram depot.

The tram used to run through here to a couple of other places, including this town. Unfortunately the line was closed in 1978 ‘for economic reasons’ and ‘because we need the space for cars’. Of course. A local group tried to build a museum on the edge of the town but the local government decided to use the space for a petrol station instead.

A walking/cycle way runs along the old tramway, which is a nice thought, but really, we’d have preferred to have the tram.

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Track on old level crossing

But the shell of the old tram depot has a few cycle racks in one corner, so that’s sustainable transport covered.

In 1995 a new road bridge was built over the valley, making it easier to drive, walk, and cycle from one side to the other. It was promptly closed to pedestrian & cycle traffic because it was ‘unsafe’, so schoolchildren now have to be driven by their parents or take the bus.

And the town centres on both sides are crammed full of cars.

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Eldest son on tramway.

So now the local governments are looking at plans to possibly, maybe, build a new tramway and/or railway running along a similar route, at a cost of millions of Euros…

Ah, well.

More importantly, Beautiful God-daughter was awesome…

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Living car free is easy, but the expectations of the car culture around us can be a problem. For example, when I have to get to several different places in a short period of time, and the public transport connection is just too tight or too long to be sure of making the appointments.

Enter the commuter bike which finds itself dumped at some distant tram or bus stop where I’d never dream of leaving my Xtracycle, while I follow some complex itinerary to get where I need to go.

Here it is towards the end of a rather complex journey involving two appointments in different places which required a round trip on several busses, trams and trains.

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A friend of ours needed to move house, and I opened my big mouth and suggested that I could drive a car-share van, thus saving him a lot of money compared to renting. Being totally unaware of my driving incompetence he agreed.

We arrived intact -after a minor detour in Tübingen and a tour of an old railway yard- and found his apartment in an old mill, down a narrow track alongside a stream, on the edge of a small village.

The sort of place which is just begging for a family like ours to come along and start a smallholding/arts centre, like we’ve been dreaming of doing for ages.

Our dream is becoming more practical as I’m going to be a fully fledged carpenter from 2015. This will give me the skills to build stuff, and a way of actually earning money*. Rather conveniently there is a shortage of carpenters in rural areas.

At which point lots of people feel the need to remind me that we couldn’t possibly do this with our lifestyle. The vast distances of the countryside are simply too much for us to rely on bicycles, and public transport as we know it doesn’t exist. Better, we are told, to stay near to the big city with all the convenience this brings. Or grow up and get a car.

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This is the view from our friends new apartment.

In the time it takes to catch a bus to our local tram stop and wait for a tram, my friend could take this train right into Tübingen, and take his bike with him.

Or he could use the traffic-free cycle way through the fields behind which goes into the centre of the city.

To add insult to injury, our friend pays far less rent than we do, because of the ‘convenience’ of our public transport.

* A Theatre studies degree being as useful as a submarine in the Sahara when it comes to making a living.

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Xtracycle taking it easy on the metro service. Taking a long bike on a narrow train can sometimes be a test of diplomacy skills. I often end up jumping off and back on at various stops to allow other people to exit.

This occasion though, I had the train pretty well to myself.

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