Trashing Hotel Rooms

30 07 2007

Here are a couple of examples of what happens to a hotel room about 20 minutes after I check in. After nearly giving one poor staff member heart failure, I keep the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign permanently slung around my doorknob during my stay…

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Zurich

30 07 2007

Zurich will feature strongly in my memories of this trip – (sadly) it was the departure point for my travel-buddy Gerry, (thankfully) a chance to chill-out and ‘recharge the batteries’ after the pace from Holland to Switzerland, and (happily) a reunion with a couple of wonderful friends of mine, and the making of a few more.

The day after our arrival, the weather improved considerably, and we ventured out for a shopping mission for Gerry, who had been given a list of things to return home with by his wife Shoko (part of the ‘two weeks of fun in Europe without me’ agreement, I suspect). The previous night’s advice from Alex proved very handy for tracking down the desired goods (and more), and everything was taken care of in plenty of time to get Gerry packed and off to the airport.

I always find the endings of these things a bit anti-climactic, and so it was with Gerry’s departure. We’d had a really fantastic road-trip holiday, covering six countries and 1400 km together, with lots of great memories and experiences, and it all ended with a ‘Thanks mate – take it easy, I’ll see you later’. Not much more to say, I guess. Nothing at all, actually – Gerry, if you’re reading this, thanks mate – take it easy, I’ll see you later!

The following day I was met by both of my lovely Zurich friends – Erika & Alexandra – and we went for lunch at a nice traditional Swiss restaurant. I had the Züri Gschnetzlets (I think), which is classic Zurich cuisine, and enjoyed every mouthful. This was followed by more friend-meeting and sightseeing, and then a rush to catch the last tram (yes, Tokyo isn’t the only city afflicted with this mega-hassle).

As previously mentioned, the girls were both in the middle of their final exam week, so my timing couldn’t really have been worse – but they really bent over backwards to make me feel welcome in town, and gave me much more time than they should have to show me around and help me enjoy Zurich fully. All thanks to them, I got to see Zurich from the lookout on the top of the local mountains, and enjoy a great lunch by the lakeside. Thanks again, girls!

My two lovely hosts, Erika & Alexandra. Yes, life was tough in Zurich… 😉
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I also met a guy named Simon Gerber, a friend of Alex’s, whom she referred to as ‘the bike guy’ – and she wasn’t kidding. Simon has the distinction of riding a bicycle solo from Switzerland to the Northernmost tip of Norway (‘Nordcup’), a very remote and inhospitable place, and back again at the age of 19 (!) – a distance of almost 10,000km. He is also a remarkably friendly and interesting person, who invited me over to his place, cooked dinner for me, gave me a presentation of his journey, some tips and advice, and put me onto a great bike shop in Zurich (Stolz). Brilliant! Hope to see you on the road one day, Simon.

Simon, the bike he rode, and a photo he sent me of Nordcup
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Zurich itself has a lot of charm, with loads of attractive old buildings and churches to be seen along the river and lakeside. The area around the lake in particular is magnificent, and I found myself down on its shores many times during my short stay. I wound up camping right at the waters edge on my final night in town, where the clouds decided to give me a little farewell dousing overnight.

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Am I the only one who finds the hot-dog guy disturbing?
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My days in Zurich culminated in being the guest of honor at a dinner at Alex’s family home. Erika picked me up by car and drove me to Alex’s place up in the hills behind Zurich, where I met her parents, brother & his girlfriend, and was later joined by Valentine. A feast of steak, scalloped potatoes, salad and bread, topped off with an excellent Spanish red (Rioja), coffee and dessert – fantastic! Thanks once again to the Ochsenbein family – I really appreciate your warmth and hospitality. Thanks also to Erika for driving all the way to come and get me, and to Valentine for taking me back to the hotel.

Life is certainly better with friends. Young, smart & beautiful friends don’t hurt either… (sorry Gerry!) 20070616-zurich_trio.jpg




Down the Rhine, Part II – Mainz to Zurich

29 07 2007

11th – 15th June, 2007

Mainz to Speyer

Another fine day of green river-side riding. Managed to get a little confused going through a big park-type thing, and wound up asking a local lady and her kids which way to head for Speyer (which we pronounced similar to ‘spare’) . After a brief debate over what we could possibly be talking about, one of the kids piped up with ‘Oh… Mainz, Shpy-er’, and we were all smiles. It turns out we were still on track, and not long after we rolled into said Shpy-er, which was quite a spectacular place. After briefly consulting the hotel database in my handy little GPS, we tracked down a rather nice place to stay, right next to the town’s cathedral.

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After stowing the bikes and getting cleaned up, we headed out for a bite to eat and a wander around this beautiful old town. The main strip was in amazing condition, and Gerry got very excited at discovering a statue of a pilgrim in front of a church – something to do with the Compostella de Santiago pilgrimage he and his wife had previously travelled. The guy in the statue didn’t look too excited…

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I also came across this funky inner-tube vending machine – the first and only one I’ve seen in my life. A great idea, but hopefully not an omen of things to come… 20070611-speyer_tubes.jpg

Speyer to Kehl

More clear skies and tailwinds – very lucky indeed. Got going mid-morning (Gerry being very patient with me) and rolled through fields of wheat and asparagus until noon or so.

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Gerry got excited again as it became apparent we would be crossing into France for a short while, so we decided to wait a bit and have lunch there. Apparently the French don’t like heavy vehicles, or cars that explode (though they have been known to build both…)

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After a passing glance at Strasbourg, we crossed back over the border into Germany to pitch tent in Kehl. The pace was starting to take its toll… 20070612-kehl03.jpg

Kehl to Mullheim

Up and rolling in the sunshine again, headed due south towards Switzerland. At one point we crossed over a narrow bridge on the ‘cycling path’ that had stairs at either end. Quite an ordeal to get my heavy beast on the planks, but preferable to attempting a ‘Dukes of Hazard’-style crossing. Sort of.

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The sports-grip gel sunscreen I’ve been using is very effective, but rather sticky… the bugs love it! 20070612-mullhelm02.jpg

We passed a trio of trucks, each toting a blade from one of the enormous windmills that we’ve seen dotted all over north-west Europe. Very streamlined and organic-looking – like some species of giant racing dolphin.

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We also came across the first of many bright-blue painted bicycles, chained to a pole on the side of the road. Not quite sure what they represent, but they get full marks for ultra-blueness.

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The day ended at a campsite in Mullhelm, Germany. Nothing remarkable, other than the beer, which was excellent as always in this great country.

Mullheim to Laufenburg

Yet another gorgeous sunny morning, and we were on the road again with an air of excitement and anticipation – we were due to cross over into Switzerland today!

My bicycle, caught lying down on the job, while Gerry’s pulls double-duty:

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This excitement soon faded somewhat, however, as Gerry started turning green in the saddle. He was feeling quite poorly for reasons unknown – perhaps something we ate, or the water at the campsite, but whatever it was, it took the shine off his morning.

We came across an interesting cliff-side church-thing around 11:30am, complete with picnic tables and shady trees, so we took an extended break.

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Gerry managed a short nap on one of the benches while I munched a muesli bar, enjoying the cool breeze and peaceful surrounds. When he hopped off the bench about 40 minutes later, he was much improved and ready to roll – so off we shot for the border.

Gerry ready for a multi-point diagnostics check:

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More ‘bike culture’ along the way:

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We rolled into Basel about 1:00pm, after negotiating a rather weird border crossing. We decided to try and avoid the congested toll-road leading over the border, while wondering whether we would need to show our passports to someone (Switzerland not being part of the EU).

After riding down a narrow back-lane for a while, then under a freeway bridge and through a parking lot, I spied a small concrete tunnel, which we both took to be mouth of a storm drain. But a little sign showing a bicycle with an arrow pointed to the drain, so in we went, and when we emerged on the other side we were in Switzerland! Definitely the strangest border crossing so far. The bike lane was clearly marked on the Swiss side, and so on we pedaled… 20070614-laufenburg05.jpg

A brief lunch-stop in Basel, then on to Laufenburg for the night, finding a hotel just as the rain started. The hotel was next to some kind of castle relic, which we had a nice view of through our window. They were even good enough to light it up for us at night!

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Laufenburg to Zurich

Our spell of fine weather over, we got rolling under a heavy sky and periodic drizzle, following the (quite excellent) cycling signposts through NW Switzerland toward Zurich. Not many photos today, other than of a nuclear power station that we passed surprisingly close to:

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…and of a great sign warning of tram tracks:

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As we approached Zurich, we had one long, curving climb to do before we could free-wheel all the way down into town. With perfect timing, the heavens opened up in earnest as we started the ascent, and absolutely bucketed down the whole way up and over the hill. We got utterly, hilariously soaked, and somehow avoided crashing as we sloshed our way down to the edge of the city. Again relying on the GPS hotel-finding function, we quickly made for the closest ‘cheap-sounding’ hotel, and were soon in the lobby of the Ibis City West.

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A shower and some dry clothes, and I decided to give my friend Alexandra a call. She’s a native Zuricher, whom I’d met in Tokyo some years earlier (along with her friend Erika), and had mentioned I should give her a shout when we rolled into town. Within an hour, Gerry & I were sitting in a trendy bar somewhere in central Zurich, sipping beer and having a chat with Alex, her boyfriend Valentine, and a few of her friends. Bright sparks, all of them, and right in the thick of their final exams. I don’t recall being remotely calm, composed or coherent in my exam days, but these guys certainly were. Outclassed yet warmly welcomed, we had a great time!

Gerry didn’t depart until the following day, but this is in fact the last photo with him in it, so I thought I’d post it:

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Nice riding with you buddy.





Down the Rhine, Part I – Koblenz to Mainz

13 07 2007

Koblenz lies at the juncture of the Mossel and Rhine rivers, and it was a very nice spot indeed. Loads of grand and beautiful buildings, fountains, promenades and parks. Plus the biggest man-on-a-horse we’ve ever seen, and we’ve seen plenty on this trip. This particular man is German Emperor Wilhelm I, and his horse alone is 14m high – very handy if you’re in a hurry.

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Good to see we’re not the only ones to enjoy a brew in the park…

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Castles galore down the river – great for impressing the neighbours, but a bit of a hike after a day at the office. Nice views though.

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We ended the day in Mainz, another beautiful city – but for reasons I can’t explain, I didn’t take a single photo… Sorry about that!





Up the Mossel, from Luxembourg to Koblenz

7 07 2007

Luxembourg was a beautiful city, but there was no time to mess about – we could already hear whispers of the boarding call for Gerry’s flight out of Zurich, and the rather hilly route through Belgium and Lux had taken their toll on the legs (on mine, at least). So we were off like dirty shirts, heading NE up the Mossel to catch the Rhine at Koblenz. Very very squiggly, but at least it was flat – even the occasional tailwind – and we made good progress, despite the wineries and pubs taunting us on either side.

Here’s a shot of me, truckin’ through the vinyards:

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A few highlights:

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Food, transport & accommodation (yes, I know my tent is upside-down):

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Some less-expected sights – apparently they drag-race tanks over the bridges when things get quiet.

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Like the Maas, the Mossel river is a gorgeous area for cycling or touring of any kind, and I only wish we’d had a little more time to sample the wines, food and brews of the region. Of course, I may well still be there if that were the case, so it’s probably just as well…





Calories

7 07 2007

With the distances being ridden, and the amount of junk I’m hauling with me, I must be burning a ton of calories each day. The love-handles and jelly-belly should be disappearing with each turn of the cranks, right? Well, I’m sorry to report that they aren’t, and here’s why….

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Maastricht, Belgium & Luxembourg

6 07 2007

Time to wrap up this leg of the journey – updates have been rather slow, mainly due to my difficulty in getting onto the ‘net with my own PC – but now that I finally have gotten connected, I’ll try to give you all a peek at this beautiful part of the world…

The open road

A typical view of the countryside around Maastricht:

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Not sure what inspired this, or what it means… hangin-bike.jpg

Saw quite a few bunkers and battlegrounds while riding through Belgium, plus this Panzer Kampfwagon – I was pretty stoked to see this particular bit of hardware, as I once owned a 1:35 scale plastic kit model of this very tank when I was a geeky teen. Oh, the memories… The ones that survived the paint thinners, at least.

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The White Stuff and G-Dawg hangin’ at the Site

Finally got to use those Therm-a-rest Trekker chair thingies I’d been lugging around.
This is near Dochamps, Belgium, by the way. We’re drinking a little vin rouge from recycled rice pudding cups – neither of us thought to pack the crystal for this trip…

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Gluttony & Consequence

This is not a terribly fair or accurate view of Gerry’s eating habits on this trip, but it makes a nice combo:

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A night-shot of Luxembourg station:

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The following morning, on the way out of Luxembourg:

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Bigfoot spotted in Europe! Dawning fury, as I realize the top of my ice-cream has been swiped while my guard was down…
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That about sums up the trip down to Luxembourg – next up is the Mossel river ride to meet-up with the mighty Rhine. Stay tuned…