Saturday, October 10, 2009

Waldos in Germany by Bike 2009 video

1972 DEJA VUE - Trip recap by Ted Waldo
In 1972 I took two of my sons, Brach and John, on a bicycle and rail trip on the Rhine River.
In the summer of 2009 John decided to take his two sons, Stephen and Daniel, on similar trip.
Fortunately they also invited me to come with them. John did the planning and made all the arrangements. In 1972 we used Arthur Frommer’s book “Europe on Five Dollars a Day”. For the 2009 trip John used Rick Steves' book “Guide to Germany and Austria” for planning. Reservations for air travel, hostels and hotels were made and confirmed on-line.
Packing for a bicycle trip is an important step. Experienced bicyclists tell you to spread out all
you plan to take and then put away half of it. We would not be camping so cooking and
sleeping equipment would not be needed on the bicycles.

For our 1972 trip we bought and picked up new bicycles in Paris. This trip we flew in and out of Munich Germany and rented bicycles from a shop at the Munich train station.

Munich was heavily damaged but rebuilt after WW II. The buildings in the central city were
rebuilt in pre-war style and none were allowed to be taller than the steeples of city’s symbol, The Frauen Church. Munich still has the feel of an older city. The corporate skyscrapers are all out in the suburbs.
We each had a German rail pass good for six days of rail travel to supplement our bicycle travel. The Neuschwanstein Castle in Fussen was our first stop. This castle is reported to have been the model for the Disneyland castle. It’s important to make reservations for this popular tour. A computer controlled twenty person group starts a tour every five minutes.
Back in Munich we picked up our bikes and took trains to Basel Switzerland. This trip
required three train changes. Two or three cars of each train have a small section for bicycles.
Passengers load and unload their bikes, generally with ten to twenty minutes between trains. The change of trains requires man-handling the loaded bikes down stairs and back up to get to the track for the next train. This is when packing lightly is important.
Travel in Bavaria provides many post card images of this scenic country. Many younger people speak English. However, when asked if they do speak English they generally respond with “Yes, a little”. It’s useful to know a few German words and phrases. The Germans are friendly and very willing to help travelers. In Basel a young woman we met on the train had her bike at the train station and lead us to the hostel.
Our first day along the Rhine took us to Breisach. There are signs marking the kilometer distance along the Rhine for the river traffic which also allowed us to track our progress.
In order to skip over some of the more industrial sections of the Rhine we took the train to Bingen. From there we cycled to St Goar. This is the location of the ruins of the Burg Rheinfels, the largest castle on the Rhine. Construction started in 1245 it was home to over 300 persons. A section of he ruins have been renovated into a hotel. The remainder is open to tours.

The next day we rode to Koblenz. The Rhine valley looks no different than when we saw it in 1972. Each town with its own castle ruins atop the bluffs overlooking the river and grapes growing on the hillsides. Bicycling along the Rhine I felt as if I were 39 again.
The Mosel River empties into the Rhine at Koblenz. The Mosel is narrower and more scenic than the Rhine. We took a river cruise up the Mosel to Cochem, a lively tourist town. The next day we bicycled along the Mosel back to Koblenz and then took a train to Cologne.
In Cologne we toured the famous Cathedral. Regular church services are held in the cathedral but it is open to tours between services. We also visited a wonderful chocolate factory and museum. Here you watch every step in the making of chocolate and also sample "the food of the gods".
The next d ay we left our bicycles in Cologne and took the train to Berlin. The train, an Inter City Express (ICE) travels at 250 kilometers per hour (150 mph) running as smooth as skating on ice. The rails are welded so there is no "clickety-clack."
Berlin is a new city. When we were there in 1972 Bonn was the capital and Berlin was divided. Now the wall is down and Berlin is the capital again. East Berlin has lost its gray dingy look. The main train station has been completely rebuilt. It is more like a shopping mall than train station, The city has a young feel.

Our hostel was in the old East Berlin. We found the subway system is easy to navigate.
We took a "hop-on hop-off " tour of the city. Tour companies have busses that run every half hour. You hop off at locations that interest you and hop on when another bus arrives. We stopped at Check Point Charlie and the Brandenburg Gate. From the bus we saw a remaining section of the wall and other points of interest.
From Berlin we took the train back to Cologne to get our bikes and then on to Munich.
Our last tour was to the Dachau concentration camp. This is a sobering but memorable experience.
The combination of bicycle and rail is a good way to see a country and to get close to its people.