June 26, 2003

Hallo Germany

In frankfurt we arrived 5pm local time. The airport was nice, we went through customs without even any questioning, just look at the passport then stamp. All our bags came out fine. Our bikes too eventually we found. However we could see them tossing them onto the conveyor belt when they loaded them which of course was not confidence inspiring. (this is an excert, follow the link to read the whole thing)

hallo from deutchsland!

It is very hot, the hottest hot spell in Germany for 200 years. up to 35°C sometimes. I am typing here on this crazy german keyboard where the letters are all reranged. Actuallz the main differance is the "y" and "z" are switched, tzping is more difficult, excuse the errors please. there are manz more things I could say about the keyboard but who cares and it is hard to type them because the stuff is all switched.

So, we got to the airport allright and mostly moved out. We forgot to move the boat and also I never got around to selling my prints to martin like I intended. My parents drove us to the airport early which was good and we had to pack our bikes up in a bag. They sell bags at the counter 5$ only - which is nice. We didn't have to remove pedals, only take the air out of the tires. We bungeed our panniers together. It was all good except by the time we'd done all that we were no longer early for the check-in and there were no more windows seats. however we did get to sit together.

We got flying alright and sat next to a man named Thomas who was a plumber in Germany. He had been bicycle touring around north america but his black road bike got stolen in Hope, BC, at 6am when he was showering. He was nice to talk to and good for Jane to warm up her German and me to get use to hearing it. The flight was only one hour to Calgary then sit in the plane for and hour then 8 more hours to Frankfurt. We special ordered a "asian vegetarian" meal for the flight because our travel agent had offered many food choices (including vegan, muslim...) The food came before everyone elses in a regular airplane food box with a promising "A.V" scrawled on the outside. However wehn we opened it was pretty crappy. The food was not "asian" in any way. The food was basically a poor vegetarian subsitute for crappy meat airplane food. The sandwich was the same but without meat and cheese and we get apple slices instead of a tiny chocolate bar. Anyway if you're offered the choice for airplane food ask the travel agent if this is a real choice of just a superficial choice. Really it was just regular airplane food but we had high hopes because of this bogus "asian vegetarian" catagory. We thought we might get nice vegetarian (a la Buddist Veg or Bo Kong) the finest vancouver asian cuisine, but actually the food came from Calgary so it was Calgary's lame attempt at meatless. The flight was long and the seats were very cramped, even with my short legs, my knees were touching the seat in front... what can you expect. I long for trans-continental bicycle blimps!

In frankfurt we arrived 5pm local time. The airport was nice, we went through customs without even any questioning, just look at the passport then stamp. All our bags came out fine. Our bikes too eventually we found. However we could see them tossing them onto the conveyor belt when they loaded them which of course was not confidence inspiring. however they were in good shape. The only problem was Jane's bike had been thrown on the derailleur side and this slight bend the derailleur was more than enough to screw up her annoying Shimano index shifting - it still doesn't run smooth after several hours of tiny bends and much tuning. Good idea to back your bike in a bag, not let quite all of the air out of your tires (protect the rims) and wrap your derailleur in protective cardboard well. So we got everything assembled there in the airport fine, Jane's bike still works well it's just super annoying to shift. Oh yeah one last thing about the airport is there are guards walking around with machine guns (sub?) ... very intimidating.

We got some directions in the airport information that were vague and we bought a useless car map of Germany. We got outside and befriended a German cyclist (Eric) who showed us the way. He was a little unsure himself but very friendly and rode with us quite a ways. There are amazing bike trails everywhere. You can see from the airplane how the layout is not like north america with suburbs and cities. Here is is more like smaller, very dense clusters and then in between relatively uninhabited farmers fields and second growth forests (woods). Throughout the country side is mostly gravel paths (great for biking) in a web everywhere that is sometimes well mmarked but not often. This is the bicycle path network or the Raadveig (Rad=bike Vei=way this is very rough, I only slightly know how to understand german to hear it and reading or writing is way beyond me) Jane is quite good at German, not quite fluent but very functional. She asked amany friendly cyclists in the woods and eventually we made it to Mernfield where we planned to camp that night. The towns are so cute but they have cigarette vending machines on the walls outside of people'S houses. generally the cars are good at passing you with plenty of space, they are certainly more accustomed and respectful of the Raad. (räd?) We also rode with a man who live in mernfield where apparently they are famous for growing asparagus but not this year because it is too dry and sunny and expensive. The campsite was kind of a European RV park but it worked fine for us. It was 15euro for one night and you have to pay 50 cents for a shower. they had a really nice restaurant where we ate dinner after setting up the tent. It was about 9:15pm when we arrived at the campsite and we went to eat around 10pm. It was still light out until about 10:30 after the sunset. The restaurant (which was part of the RV park!) had good italian food and beer and desert. i had Ravioli with sage and parmesan and Jane had a pizza with carrots and brocoli (italian style) the beer is cheap and very good. Also we talked to the waiter who helped us understand some of the German custom. there is a 16% tax on your receipt which is extra to the food. the food prices all include tax but on the bill is tells you how much of it is tax - that is why not all the numbers add up on the bill. Also the waiter brings the bill and you are supposed to give the money then when he is talking to you rather than he goes away and you leave the money for him on the table. He was from Belgium and in Belgium they just leave money on the table and so he was not offended that we didn't pay when we should have. He said he has heard about Vancouver for the Skiing and one day would like to come there to snowboard. He heard that the East of Vancouver is cheaper to stay at. Funny little snippets of information that forigners hear about from far away!

One of the most annoying things about germany is that you can't really drink the tap water. Apparently in Frankfurt it is safe to do so (you won't be sick) but it tastes very bad. This is perhaps because it is hard water or has a lot of treatment. Many people complain about vancouver tap water and the taste and don't drink it. However this is very different. No one we have met drinks the water and even I who think bottled water is a scam agree the taste is a problem. So everybody drinks Schprudel which is fizzy water, club soda. Luckily Jane and I like that. It can be cheap but often is not. For example that night at the campsite we bought a bottle - one litre - for 3.80 euro! We have bought water for as cheap as 30 cents a bottle 1.5L. We don't often get to the cheap places to buy it but that will change soon.

We were very slow getting going in the morning, we also kind of repacked our bags because we packed in such a rush. There were dozens of tiny rabbits around the campsite, very cute. We didn't have any 50 cent peices for the shower and couldn't get change, the best we could do was a lady gave Jane a 50 cent peice. So Jane snuck me into the ladies bathroom and we had a quick shower together. I put a towel around my head to exit the bathroom because finally there were lots of people in the bathroom.

We rode to town and bought food to make sandwiches. Things were closed for mid day lunch until 2:30, we explored a little. in the supermarket there was really cheap good cheese and yogurt, 99cents for a large wedge of Brie with the brand "Ja!" (not very good brie but tasty food) Also the wine was very cheap. 99 cents for a litre of table wine in a box. We bought a bottle of fancy looking red wine from caves in france for only 3euros. Also there was peanutbutter for 1.80euro which was contrary to Aaron Wilson's warnings about Europe. Generally most things were not cheap, about the same number (99cents for example) as a Vancouver price but of course in the more expensive euro.

We wandered in circles through the forest for a while with jane asking directions and eventually came in the back route to a very nice swimming lake that Eric (we met on the first day) had told us about. The water was very warm and we went into the camp area. It cost 11euros total (actually supposed to be 11 each but since they misscommunicated to us and since we came all the way from canada they let us pay 11 total). there were very nice anchored rafts to swim to and permanent awnings for the sun. It got kind of windy. There was a large (school?) group camping there also of teenagers probably from a high school. they had ducks which were very similar to Canadian mallard ducks with the green headed males, except a little skinnier shaped and longer necks and kind of faster moving. The store at the campsite had beer on tap, very cheap, good bear. We had one small glass just because we could though we were tired and it has been so hot (that we don't feel hydrated enough to want to drink much). We sat out late on the floating dock and then after a while decided to out to the raft and look at the stars. It was not cold at all. After we swam back we walked along the grassy/sandy showe and heard a lot of splashing. With the flashlight we discovered a strange fish. Quite big, more than 35cm long, thick as your forearm. We thought maybe it was spawning or dying (but this was a partly man made lake?) It was all white. When we shone the flashlight directly at it it wum to the shore and kind of beached itself and just sat there semi-submerged. We touched it and it didn't move, just sat there breathing. The top fin was kind of bloody, maybe dying. Suddenly it splashed around and swum back out. We didn't look at it again because we didn't want it to come to the light and beach itself. Also we saw a smallish toad ccrawling slowly in the sand that would not jump but kind of ran. It was about 5cm and also fat. This was a strange lake! We slept well and got up early with the sun. It seems the jet lack has tuned our late night working/sleep-in late habits to the time change nicely.

The bathrooms at the campsite were very good. The newer one near us was all brand new stainless steel. Weird robo toilet. there were one room non-gendered WC (water Closet in deutch I guess) and the toilet would flush automatically when you lock it. The flush works by you waving your hand in front of a certain tile (all the electronics were hiden under the ceramic) and the sink was a crazy box, you stick your hand in, then soap drips down, then water comes then a hot air dryer. (according to the sign, only the air dryer never worked.)

We bought more overpriced water then headed back to frankfurt to find the train. We got confused becausewe thought the train station was in the airport (there is one) but the main train station is actually in the centre of town. Also many people didn't think we could ride bikes so far 14km (even though we rode the Raadveig all the way) we even asked two police women on horses who looked very smart in their tight uniforms but really hadn't any idea about the bike paths. In the city of Frankfurt it was ver busy. They had designated bicycle sidewalks most places and many street cars. However also lots of stinky gas cars, and those parked on the sidewalk a lot too. We eventually got to the station with a lot of asking but pretty directly. At the train station it was very busy. Jane asked the Infomation booth for routing and they printed her a route. Then we had to buy the tickets in the ticket office. We went in there and Jane explained where we were going again and managed to get the same thing cheaper. She got us one ticket within the first province flat rate and then another direct ticket. This was cheaper than the previous route by 3 or 4 euros (about 49euros total). Your have to pay 3 euros for the bikes. This route took 4 trains, 3 connections. It was leaving in 8 minutes from when Jane finished talking to the friendly ticket guy. I rushed around and got food and drinks from the stores.

We made it on with about 1 minute to spare. You have to load the bikes in a special car at the end of the train (at the end or the front of the train, depending who you ask). It was very good with a open area for bikes and a seat belt type thing to secure them so they don't fall over. We U-locked out frames and went upstairs to enjoy the train ride. The first train was the newest, we rode for an hour to Mannheim Hbf. The trains are so cool! There was lots of graphiti murals painted to be visible from the train, a rolling art show. Mannheim was a big train station and we had to go down the stairs in the tunnel to get to the other platform which is difficult with our heavily loaded bikes. We noticed a ramp down after we had already carried them down the stairs. For the way up to platform 8 there was only stairs however there is also a handy conveyor belt thing at the side of the stairs and you put your bike onto it, then remember to hold the brakes shut so it works and the thing pulls your bike up for you - genius. It is made for suitcases but works for bikes well. The The second train was the same as the first but a two hour long train ride to Stuttgart which is a big city. We had some time here between trains so we bought icecream. I saw outside the station and there were much less biczcles parked there than outside of the station in Frankfurt. We got on the train but this one was much older. not air conditioned and much more full of people. We had to lift out bikes a little up one step from the train platform. This train was crowded and people were sitting in the bicycle area of the train. We got talking to a man who was a librarian in stutgart on his way home from work. The train was slightly delayed and it was somewhat confusing. The train has two people on it typically. Always one driver and then a "guard" (I think that was the word they used) who collects tickets. The guard also makes sure everyone is on before the train goes and helps you with the door and stuff. In this case the guard was also organising the train to pick up extra people at the stations because this other train was not running today. The S line train was broken and so the D line train (ours) was picking up the slack. The librarian was a daily commuter and explained it all to us. He says about once a week nowadays there are problems like this. The government privatised the trains a few years ago for cash reasons (ideological reasons using dollar figures as a pretense -in my opinion). They use to have one person at every train station to run the station. Now they have cut that back and use automated, centralised systems. This all works fine when it works fine. However any irregularity cannot be handled by the skeleton system and so problems result. In many places there is only one track so there is a lot of coordination so that the two trains in opposite directions do not crash. This means that if there is a problem which makes the train late then the train is off schedule for the track use and so it becomes delayed furthur and the problem sort of snowballs. This librarian whose name I forget also mentioned they are probably going to privatise dental care soon in Germany and that he doesn't think the problem is only about money because it worked fine before and that politics plays a larger role. this man spoke English pretty well as you can imagine it is hard for us to have such a complex conversation in German... Jane can sometimes do that I suppose but it is to hard to think and talk and then translate for me so i don't understand what's going on. Anyway the train got back on shedule because the guard was working very hard to fix the problem. We actually arrived on schedule because we caught up over the hour long ride. He was running back and forth a lot and talking into his radio and trying to rush the train a little during loading. He talked to us and called ahead to the train which we were to connect with to tell them to wait for us. He said he could not guaruntee that it would wait but he would try. It turned out were on time in the end so that didn't matter. This was good because the stop was in Swebish-Hall Hessent and we only had 4 minutes between trains. We needed that because the door to the old train was to stiff and complicated for us to open without the conductors help and the platform at this small station was not raised so we had to load the bikes up 3 or for very steep train stairs. Then we had to go up and down stairs to the other platform and this little station had no ramps or handy luggage escalators. but we did make the train connection with a little help for our final train, only 18 minutes, to Valdenburg.

Our next step was to ride our bikes from Valdenburg to Durrensimmon where Jane's family lives. We got our bikes ready and discovered this great art of old bicycles spray painted and tied to the fence. Good biking town! We took photos of that with Jane's camera later to discover the film was missing. Surprisingly Jane's uncle Gerhardt (who we later discovered works in Valdenburg) arrived at the train station. He took our bags in the car, made sure we had lights, showed us a better map of our route and insisted we take the shorter car route instead of the windey radvig. He insisted we go soon and fast and he went to drive to buy us water because we were all out. This was a little bit weird and Jane explained he has a weird sense of humour. Anway it was a nice flat ride on a narrow highway with not so many cars that usually would pass with lots of room. Not as nice as the Radvig surely and in some areas it was busy with cars. We saw Gerhardt in Kupezesomthing and he gave us two cold bottles of cold water which we needed. Then we rode on. It looked like the praries with rolling fields of wheat everwhere but after the small town with a slight hill to it we came upon a very very steep and long hill down into a valley. Everything was lush and green down there (not rainforest however) and so we sped down the hill fast. We then wound through some town and came to Ingelfingen, the town next to durenzimmon where we turn off. We rode through the cute tiny narrow streep then it was all up hill. Very up hill. The same hill we just went down, we had to exit the valley. This climb took a while and it certainly would have been much more difficult fully loaded. Horray for granny gear mountain bikes! we finally remembered the reason we didn't bring hip beautiful looking minimalist euro road bikes - fashion over function. Anyway it was a slow final 5km to Durrenzimmon but we did it. We stopped and had a few ripe cherry´s at the side of the road (kirshe) and then it was down hill into the valley of durrenzimmon (though not quite as far down). We arrived and met Gerhardt waiting at the church in the centre of this 400 person town and then walked up to his house. He is Hildegard's husband (Jane's mother is the sister to hildegard). Hildegard was out at a play that night. We met his daughter Jane's cousin Ulrike. Ulrike is one year out of highschool and also studying Art, she also applied to a program similar to Industrial Design and didn´t get in just like me. Too bad my deutch is so nonexistant. Hildegard came home and is very warm and friendly and gave us the key to the house and showed us everything. They have the only wooden house on the block (everything else is brick, also the road sytem isn´t really ´blocks´). We slept well.

This morning we slept in for the first time until about 10am and had a little yogurt for breakfast. they have really good yogurt here, full milk (vollmilch) not diet milk (1% 2%). We went and saw Jane´s O-ma and O-pa just down the road at 11am for their big noon meal. They of course speak German only so I was dumb but they were very warm. Their house is quite old, probably not changed since the 60s and even then much older than that. Jane showed me all the rooms she had exploered in her childhood visiting. they have a wood fire water heater for the bathtub in the basement. Also there is lots of neatly chopped fire wood, lots and lots, enough to impress the norquists even. Aslo this wood was chopped by Jane´s 90 year old O-pa. They are both quite old however and no longer very energetic or mobile, however they are far from inactive. Jane´s other uncle Reinhold came over and then his wife Connie. We talked with them and hildegard came over too. We had this large balls kind of like jewish matzah balls but with a different name and slightly more lumpy. There was meat in red sauce and cucmber salad. A good meal, traditional I suppose, kind of fun. The bakery in town is closed so this truck comes to deliver bread and O-ma and Jane picked out many breads and desserts and pretzels (brezels en deutch). We went to Reinhold´s house which was under renovation which is why reinhold and connie and their baby toddler hannis are living with jane´s Oma and Opa. Then we went with Hildegard back home and took our bikes to explore the town. We were a little to tired to explore much and so we went home and I came to compose this message on the computer and Jane took a nap. I wrote for so long then I got interrupted by dinner which we ate with Hildegard and Ulrike. They had a thing that looked like lasagna but was just cheese and brocoli without pasta. Also we had freash potatoes which we weren´t allowed to eat the skins of which I would have disagreed with if I could talk, but I cooperated with the evil potatoes peeling scheme...

Then after dinner Jane and hildegard and I drove in her car to Swebish-Hall which we saw from the train and is a cool old town nearby which has really old buildings and a moat and ancient castle walls. Also they have a shakespereian round globe theatre and lots of art and artists and an art school that Ulrike went to before. I saw a lot of cool little graphiti and stickers, political ones. I saw a stencil which was a Saddam hussein a la Che Guevera Icon which was funny (though bad taste) and a rainbow peace flag just like the one darren sent us from Italy. We ate really nice icecream and then drove back and Hildegard pointed out to us some local swimming lakes for us to visit tommorrow. Now i am here on the computer.

Don´t expect all my entries to be this long and detailed, today i just needed to write a lot and feel articulate.

Choos (slang goodbye en deutch)

PS: good luck have fun on the 1000 wheels ride tommorrow! post something on http://vancouver.indymedia.org so I can read about it. Bring your friends!

Posted by rusl at June 26, 2003 12:23 AM

Hi guys,
Great reading your entry, Russel! Lots of interesting details... I just finished reading it to my honey, Anil, while sitting on his lap in front of my computer. Nice especially to hear about your arrival in Doerrenzimmern, since it is a place where I have also experienced many fond memories!
Ciao for now,
PS - had a great week off!!
PPS - I put the wrong address to avoid getting junk mail (you know my real one, right?)

Posted by: Andrea Buker on June 27, 2003 02:59 AM

Hi you two,
It sure is great to get so many details, Russell. I know you won't have time or opportunity to continue with such so much detail, but do update often. Love ya.

Posted by: Neale on June 28, 2003 02:38 AM

Jane and Russell,
This blog is smurftastic! Ness and I just had breakfast at Denny's (yuck) and she told me about Egypt (cool). She is going to be in Toronto next year and I'm going to be in Montreal starting in August. What about snow biking? Wanna come for a visit?
I love hearing of your adventures! And I saw an article of yours (or about you?) in a biking zine. About Portland and riding your bikes naked. Ooh la la. How European! Kay, have fun! love, Heather

P.S. Russell, I signed a card for your grandpa's 90th birthday! That's incredible! I told him he was the only person I have known with night vision goggles.

Posted by: Qquheather on July 11, 2003 07:26 PM
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