My blog of my slog through Europe.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Venice

Wednesday morning, took the bus to the airport to pick up my hire car, wanted an estate car to get the bike in the back and they gave me a galaxy witch was a bit different to get about in. My hotel was on the mainland becuase I didn't fancy getting around the canals with my bike n bits. So I hadn't actually seen the proper Venice yet. Went for a drive around the mainland, wanted to see if there were any beaches but I was also bearing in mind that I had to find a box for my bike to fly home in. Found a couple of bike shops but it seemed that they were not selling many bikes and therefore didn't have any boxes spare. With Thursday and a bit of Friday left, I was getting a little anxious.

I wasn't really enjoying my time in Italy. It wasn't much of a challenge staying in a hotel and apart from going home, I didn't have anything to look forward to. A couple of weeks earlier, I was looking forward to riding to my next desitination, planning and it was a challenge. Now it was just living more like a travelling salesman.

Thursday, head to couple of other cities on the mainland in search of larger bike shops. Went to Treviso and Padova and still had no luck. Either the shops were closed or they had no box. Was tired from walking and driving and was starting to panic. I had started to look through the cardboard recycling skips in search for a suitable box but no luck. At 6pm I found one more shop and resorted to buying a bike bag to fly home with, similar to the one I had at home. Crap day.

Friday, day I was flying home, got up early to pack up my bike, did so pretty quick, checked-out and then decided to head in to Venice proper to cheer myself up and give Italy a second chance. I drove over to Venice and parked up in one of the car parks and went for a walk about, very nice, very different. Was tiring so went back to the car park, a bit like an NCP, put in the ticket to pay at the machine, 18 EUROS! I was only there 2 hours!! What a rip-off, stuff I have read about rip-off Venice was accurate. Was ready to come home.

I found driving in Italy ok, Italians are nutters really but of the other Euro countries I've driven in, I found it pretty easy. You've got to be aggresive, not give anyone an inch and be totally confident and then all is fine. Pedestrians don't have a chance, I saw old women and a person in a wheelchair waiting at a zebra crossing for ages before someone would let them cross only for them to have to wait in the middle of the road for the traffic in the other direction to stop with mopeds streaming down the middle of the road in both directions. I started to wonder how the guy in the wheelchair got there in the first place.

Flight home was a couple of hours late but I was home...

Goodnight Vienna


I found another Irish Bar to watch the Arsenal game on the Monday night and they won fairly easily. Had a good night and got more drunk this night than I did when England played while I was in Basel. Suffered the morning after and felt quite rough sorting myself out before heading to the train station for the 7 hour train journey to Venice. The rain had started again and I got drenched riding to the station but had time to dry off before finding my train. This was an Italian train with those old style compartments where I had a reservation. I had a hotel booked in Venice for the last two night but nothing for the Tuesday night. So I did a little bit of research and worked out roughly how to get to the hotel when I arrived in Venice at about 22.30 so I booked an extra night.

Long journey, fantastic views through the Austrian mountains, more impressive than the German mountains I had been knocking around in a week earlier. Train was running late already which I didn't appreciate becuase I wanted to find my hotel at the other end ASAP. I thought the train would make up the time at the Italian border crossing but we were even more delayed when two people were hauled off the train by Italian border officials but the train eventually got going without them.

Arrived in Venice a little bit late, so I was in a hurry to get going. Set my bike up on the platform and had to carry my bike, with all the stuff on, down and up the stairs to get out the station, no lift for disabled people here! The only thing I had to go on to find the hotel was my gps compass (I knew I had to go NE) and a crappy paper map that showed the general location of the hotel down to about 5km. Roads were quiet and I head in the general direction and within about 25 minutes found the road 'Via Orlando' where the hotel was situated. Rode up the road, no luck so rode back for about 3 miles and started to get pissed off.

I saw a woman standing by the side of the main road (that was pretty quiet) and so I approached her. I asked her if she spoke English and she said no, so I said I was looking for a hotel, did she know where it was. I got my reservation out of my pocket and before I could I could show her the hotel name, she was gesturing that she wasn't from around here. I thanked her and set off back up the road.

It was then I saw another woman standing by the road, then a couple of others and it dawned on me that I was asking directions from a prostitute. I started to laugh to myself becuase I was asking the prostitute for a hotel, could have been a messy misunderstanding so no wonder she was keen to tell me she wasn't from around those parts and get rid of me. After getting directions from another hotel I eventually found my hotel which wasn't far from the pitch where the prostitute was stood and I am pleased to say that she looked like she had found some business as I past so I hope everyone invloved had a good night!

My hotel had seven Ferraris parked up outside reception, I thought may I was a bit out of place turning up looking shabby on my mountainbike with my tent and sleeping bag. Checked in with the night receptionist who looked like Borat, had taken just over an hour so wasn't too annoyed.

In my fifth country, Italy.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Vienna

After the wash out that was Saturday, Sunday was dry but I had already bought my train ticket to Vienna so I could have a couple of nights here before going to Italy for 3/4 days. Train was easy again, came in to the West station and had to cycle through Vienna to find my hotel. Being a Sunday, it was quiet and the cycle paths were excellent. My gps directed me in the direction of the hotel, found it in no time.

First time I've stayed in a hotel on my trip, but I have appreciated it. It is a summer hotel, only open in summer months and cost me about 80 quid for 2 nights. Not bad becuase the location is great, 5 mins from the centre bit of Vienna. Really close to the OPEC buidling I noticed last night that I saw again on the TV this morning, they are discussing increasing oil production in Vienna today. Having a TV is great, took a while to get it to work mind you. Doesn't turn back on if you turn it off so left it on with the sound down when I went out for grub last night! Only English channel is CNN, good sport, French TV is awful, Spanish TV mainly children/family orientated with junior eurovision, German/Austrian TV better with films and stuff, but some German election chat. Just nice to have a TV again, didn't miss it before.

Vienna is really nice, going to explore in more depth this afternoon on my bike but what I have seen it is pretty cool. For a big city, the bike cycle lane network is fantastic. Going to and find a sports bar for the Arsenal game tonight, if I fancy braving 90 mins of Arsenal at the moment.

Will now have to sort a hotel for the last couple of nights in Venice. Not sorting a hotel for the night I arrive, reason being becuase it is so late. I plan to lock bike at station, deposit bags in lockers at station then find hotel on foot. Wednesday I will go to the airport to pick up my hire car then go back in to Venice to pick up bike and bags. Probably will just hire an estate mondeo for the boot space getting the bike to the airport on Friday. Gutted I've got the bike, Hertz have those Mazda RX8 cars for not much more money, would loved to have thrashed one of those around Italy for a few days.

Most of the hardcore cycling is over, time to have a break and relax.

Grade 1, bitte

I've had three haircuts now while being on the road, one in Germany, one in Switzerland and now one in Austria. Here I will give an enthralling acount of each cut.

1. Mannheim, Germany. 13 Euros

This was undertaken by an Italian in the street where I had my bike wheel fixed the first time. I arrived wearing my baseball cap and he didn't speak much English but luckily the woman in the chair having a cut n blow spoken a tiny amount. I gestured that I wanted a haircut and exposed my hair which, to be honest, wasn't that long and he probably didn't think I needed it cut. He spoke to the woman in the chair and she asked me if I wanted it cut with the "machine" or with scissors. I said machine, he was going to have his work cut out trying to cut it with scissors. Took about 15 minutes, the result was even and I was happy. Thought that 13 Euros was a little much but then he did go round it about 5 times with the clippers.

8/10

2. Basel, Switzerland. 7 Euros

A traditional salon with a Swiss/French/German woman and her assistant. This differed as she opted to use a tiny clipper, like the ones some hairdressers use to style sideburns. Up to her, it just meant it was more work for her, even though I could see the larger clipper 'machine' on the side. It was hot, I'd just done alot of walking seeing the city so I was sweating under the sheet. Beads were running down my forehead so she decided to to rinse my head under cold water when finished. Better small talk here than before. When I got back to the hostel and inspected her handywork a little more, she had not made an even cut around my crown, not that I think anybody would notice. This was the problem with using a small clipper.

6/10

3. Vienna, Austria. 10 Euros

This was the most traumatic experience. I left my hotel and walked in the opposite direction of the city centre to find a hairdressers, found one in only 5 minutes. Nobody inside, but sign said open from 9-6. Tried door, opened and entered. Suddenly I heard a woman yelling, couldn't see her so wasn't sure if she was yelling at me, she appeared, she was yelling at me. She came running up to me and pushed me out of the door, I quickly explained I wanted a haircut and she screamed at me to come back at 12. No bloody way would I trust her to cut my grass let alone my hair. She was nuts.

Eventually found what looked like a better outfit, explained what I needed to the two apprentice girls who didn't understand and soon cowered away with an older lady appearing. She was very friendly and it was over in no time. Small talk was excellent, she told me that people in Vienna are friendly just like they are in the UK, and unlike they are in France. Glad to hear that the French generally get a bashing from everyone else in Europe and the States! Went back to hotel for shower and closer inspection, more even cut than Basel but a few tiny bits missed.

7/10

Conclusion, you get what you pay for. The Italian guy in Mannheim took his time and did a good job.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Austria

I arrived in Passau about 6pm. My friend Marius who I worked with at Excel was in Passau the night before as he was signing in at Uni there. He is starting a business course there. It would have been nice to meet him again but it wasn't to be. He told me that when he left they said there would be beds at the hostel and that this hostel was at the top of another huge hill. What is it with German hostels?? Always uphill, just what I need after a long day, lugging my bike and over 30kg's of stuff up a hill.

I checked in with the help of a young guy at reception, he wasn't very helpful. Ok, we were communicating in English and I do feel very guilty still about using English but, again, like the woman at the campsite 2 days before, the attitude was stroppy. My tent was wet after camping in the mountains so I asked him where the wash room was. I knew they had one because it was in my youth hostel guide. He told me they only had private facilities, not for guests. I then asked him if I could put my bike in the cycle store, he told me that the key was broken so I could'nt. My bike was going to be staying outside for the first time, not bothered so much about theft, more about dew settling and rain.

I like to think I am quite observational, and I noticed a piece of paper with my name on it. I hadn't reserved a room so I asked him was it was. He said someone had left a note for me. He gave it to me and it was a note left by Marius which was a nice suprise. But this guy had my name, why didn't he give me the note? Thanks for your help, mate.

They put me in a dorm room, this was the first night I might have to share. Nobody there when I arrived. I'm not that bothered about sharing but I do like to spread my stuff about and like my privacy, I also like a beer before bed which is strictly forbidden in hostel rooms! I went out on my bikes to have a look round the town. Really nice place, Marius is very lucky to be studying in Passau and I would jump at the chance to visit him sometime there. Went back to my room to find that 2 people were now there. They were a little older than me and speaking German, so for some reason, I said "hello, I'm English", stupid really. We soon got chatting (in English) and it turns out they were both cyclists on tour. One guy was Dutch and he soon went to find some food. The second guy was German and his name was Bernd. He looked a bit like Mr Bean but he was a top bloke. He was cycling the other way to me, bascially from Vienna. We chatted for agaes, he had cycled in England and Wales and had been to Aberystwyth. Much travelled. He was from N. Germany, from Hannover.

I told him that I had intended to loads of washing in Passau and this was my plan for a few days, I was running out of clean shirts to cycle in. I told him that the guy had told me there was only private facilities. He said he was going out for food, I showered and he was in the room when I got back from the shower. He told me that he had bought tokens from reception for the dryer! Why hadn't the bloke sold me the tokens? Tosser! Ok, I'm not going to jump to any assumptions. Bernd said I could share the dryer with his stuff, I appreciated his help.

I have found the people in Germany to be very friendly, that goes for Switzerland too. And taking in to consideration they are speaking in a second language, I am always very thankful and curteous. But, a few of the people I had come in to contact with in Bavaria were far from helpful, again not going to jump to any assumptions.

Friday, and I left Passau in to Austria, down the Donau towards Vienna. Bernd had just come from this way and told me to either stop for the night before or after Linz. He said it was heevily industrialised and that it wasn't very nice. I set off and found the cycling very good, my legs felt fresh and I was cruising at a satisfying 14/15mph. The weather was good and the scenary better that what I had already seen on the Rhine. Lots of tourers going my way. I covered a fair few miles and made it to where I wanted to camp by lunchtime but I decided to keep going. As it turned out, I arrived in Linz and was ready to stop, just where I was told not to. Found a campsite, had a look around Linz, wasn't as bad as Bernd had warned.

I went to the station as now that I was in Austria, I had to work out how I was going to get from Vienna to Venice by train, something I knew was possible but needed some confirmation or a reservation. I bought my ticket, my train leaves Vienna on Tuesday afternoon at 15.30 and is 7 hours in duration. Had to book my bike on this EuroCity train which has limited bike space. I was pleased to have sorted this arrangement. I just now need to sort a hotel in Venice for 3 nights and book car hire for 2 days to get my bike to the airport for Friday night.

Woke up today (Saturday) and I could hear the rain on my tent and it was pretty heavy. Decided to sleep longer to see if it let up but it hasn't all day and I decided not to ride today, have come in to Linz to sort out some stuff.

Less than a week left, the first week I was finding my feet, second week was great with great weather, third week was a little unsettled with a few tough days. I'm heading to Vienna then Venice in search of some decent weather...

Eagle's Nest and the Curse

I left crappy hostel in Munich (another without a bar!) and cycled to the main train station to catch the train to Berchtesgaden. The hostels in the big cities seem not to have benefited from the renovation that the hostels in the smaller towns got in the last decade. I was staying on a floor with a school party, a bunch of teenagers who were pushing the limits of when they could go to bed. It didnt bother me, but watching their reaction every time I opened my door, they crapped themselves and ran to their rooms thinking I might have been their teacher about to give them a rollocking. I did that a few times for good measure.

The train journey was fine, making one change, I arrived in Berchtesgaden. The mountains were pretty cool, the weather was very overcast but dry so I head straight to the campsite about 4 miles outside the town and set up my tent. The guy said I could set up my tent and come back and register. Put up my tent, it started to rain so I decided to have a rest before registering. Fell asleep, woke up two hours later and dashed up to the reception to to register. The lady obviously had a problem. She was slamming the copier when she copied my passport, huffing and puffing, she either didn't like her job or didn't like me! Legged it back to the tent in the rain and by now I was starving. No food or drink, nothing on site, nearest food 3/4 miles away. The rain let up at 6pm so put the lights on my bike and scooted to town. Got my food by when I came out of the shop, it was pouring again and I got soaked riding back. Very unhappy when it rains, the only time I don't really enjoy myself. Had an early night.

Wednesday, and my trip to the Eagle's Nest. Weather was dry if a little cloudy, happy! The Eagle's Nest was a mountain retreat built on top of one of Germany's tallest mountains overlooking Austria. It was a present from the Nazi Party to Adolf Hitler, I think in 1938. The first I heard about it was from Band of Brothers, the HBO series about US paratroopers invading Europe. In the show, you see the triumphent soliders taking the Eagle's Nest without resistance. I knew that the series wasn't exactly 100% historically accurate, so I wasn't very suprised when I found out that it was actually the French who took Eagle's Nest, or Kehlstein as it is known in German. And the French didn't take it without a fight either, unlike in the TV series where the yanks just whalzed in and started looting the place. The American's secured the town at Berchtesgaden, it was the French that climbed 5000ft to secure the Nest.

I had planned to cycle up to Eagle's Nest but the people at the tourist information place said it was only accessible by a special but service that climbs a private road. It was possible for me to cycle to a place called Obersalzburg where you meet the bus. I arrived at the foot of the road to Obersalzburg, signs said no lorries or caravans and the gradient sign said 24%! I would start at 1000ft, meet bus at 2000ft then 4000ft by bus. So I started the climb, it was bloody tough. The road was busy, with cars and local buses so I gave up on the road half way up and decided to take to the footpaths which were actually steaper than the road. Got a bit lost and ended up climbing higher than Obersalzburg but I wasn't too bothered when I found my way and coasted down the to the coach/car park.

It was really busy, mainly with Americans and British tourists. I bought my ticket and waited for my bus. I shared my bus with a group of Amercian High School kids, maybe youngish College students. I sat on the back seats next to a girl who was scared of heights, she didn't really enjoy the 20 minute climb up the single track road on the mountain side. Three buses went up and pass three buses that stop on the way down. The ride was pretty hairy, especially when we were driving through the clouds on the monutainside but we arrived at the coach park at 6000ft. You then have to book your bus back down by time, I didn't want long up there because I could see it was cloudy below so the views would not be amazing unfortunately.

To get to the house (now a restaurant!) you have to walk through a cold tunnel to an elevator. In Band of Brothers, this was described as a golden elevator. Actually it was brass, still impressive, operated by a fat bloke on a stall. Had to wait a few mintues for the lift, so the Amercians kids started singing, which was actually quite cool. They were quite good and it sound good in the hallway where we were standing. The few German tourists there appreciated it and clapped when they finished. I got speaking with 2 German couples who were fascinated by my height. They started guessing in German how tall I was. I told them how tall I was, in German, and it was shoter than they had guessed but they were still amazed. The guy asked me if I played basketball, I just said yes and then he was very keen that I get a photo with his wife. Cheese! Thank god the lift arrived to take us the final 124ft, it took 41 seconds.

Got to the Eagle's Nest and the cloud did block the view but did clear every few minutes so I could see the view which was amazing. I've never been skiing so this was quite a novelty for me being up a mountain. Nothing really remained of the house that was now an eatery. Shame really. Hitler didn't come here much, he was scared of heights. I then saw three blokes on mountain bikes, I didn't think they brought them on the bus, then I saw that there was a path all the way down the monutain! Crap info from the tourist office, I would at least liked to have walked up there.

I met the bus to come down, sat with a different lot of Americans this time. I chatted to the woman next to me who was with her parents on a week tour of Germany and Austria. Her parents had never left the states before and probably in their 70's. I asked her if the Eagle's Nest was famous in the US. She said only really because of Band of Brothers. I wondered if they realised it was actually the French who took it, I didn't ask. I'm sure their tour guide told them. Their German tour guide told the group a joke in English (of course) which I overheard.

"At the gates of heaven, two people ask St. Christopher for entrance to Heaven. One is a lifelong dedicated priest and the other is an Eagle's Nest coach driver. The coach driver is granted permission to enter Heaven and enters. The priest is denied entry. When the priest asked why he was denied entry and the coach driver was granted entry, the priest was told that when he started his services everyone would fall asleep. When the Eagle's Nest driver started his bus, everybody started to pray!"

I thought this was quite funny, she also said that if the bus did go over the side then it would take a while to hit something solid so not to worry. She was a good guide, bet those Amercian tourists paid a fortune for their trip.

Got back to Obersalzburg to collect my bike and I was very much looking forward to the mental descent. Put on my gloves, glasses and helmet on and in true Tour de France style, stuffed a newspaper down my t-shirt to combat the wind. Waited for a few cars to clear then went for it. The road was dry so I used the whole road on the bends. This was the best bit of riding ever! My gps unit was on measuring my speed but I hardly looked as I concentrated on the road. Soon caught up with two cars but quickly overtook them, I was flying. My gps unit then beaped at me to say that it had lost connection with the satelites, probably becuase the road hugged the mountainside.

Then suddenly I realised I had a problem, a blow-out on my rear wheel. Oh my god, the rear tyre was all over the place with no air left at all and my guess was I was doing about 45-50mph. I was on a straighish section so I slammed on the back brake skidded off the road (controlled) and on to the side of the bank over the drop in to trees. I was lucky but I had stopped about half way down. The curse of the rear wheel had struck again, this time on my new wheel.

Didn't have a spare tube so walked down the mountain and went to the bike shop to get a repair. We looked at the wheel and it was decided that the reason it had punctured was because the lining on the wheel that I had bought from the lesbian in Karlsruhe was not thick enough. The lining stops the rough spoke end touching the tube so you don't get a puncture. Too thin width ways so a spoke touched the tube and burst. At least I had not come off.

Went back to the campsite and chatted to the two Barnsley lads in the tent next to mine. They didn't offer me a ketchup sandwich, to my suprise. They were on an interesting trip. They had been to the Costa del Sol to drop off a caravan then drove up to Austria and Germany for a holiday. They were a bit nuts, the next morning as I was packing my tent up, they were destroying their's with a pair of scissors. They explained that they didn't need the tent anymore so decided to trash it, fair enough I thought as I left for the station. 4.5 hour trip to Passau further north but again on German/Austria border. 2 connections to make.

I had chatted to my Mum the night before and talked about the difference between UK/German trains. She said she thought they would be better, which they probably are but I had noticed that there are not as many trains as you get in the S.E of England at least. In Munich, trains would sit on platforms for longer, up to a couple of hours but you would'nt see that at any London stations, as soon as they arrive they are off again. Also, on the platforms and concourse, they don't list each individual stop, maybe only 2 or 3 places that the train is stopping. This leads to confusion and the number of people who have asked me if a train stops at so and so is amazing. Sometimes I've known and helped them, sometimes I've just shrugged and told them I didn't know. Actually, the number of people asking me for directions still amazes me, mostly car/van drivers who can see that on my bike I am carrying most of my stuff, do I look like a local out for a quick spin on my bike with everything I own expect my car and PC??

Anyway, I missed my first connection. The train was late and even though I had 15 minutes to change my second train had already gone. I looked for an alternative and I was right about how trains are less frequent. The connection I was making could not be made again until the next day. I would have to go back to Munich (where the train I got off was going) and go from there. I worked out that this would make my journey a 7 hour trip, sobeit.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Bavaria

Woke up Sunday, fed up from the previous couple of days so decided to take the train from Schaffhausen to Kreuzlingen, the Swiss town right next to Konstanz. Caught my train, arrived about 45 mins later.

Here I was at Konstanz. Kind of the main destinations on my trip, I had followed the Rhine all the way from Bonn down to Konstanz. The hostel in Kreuzlingen had a bed so I knew I could clean up and dry off that evening. Spirits were lifted and I was now generally dry and warm and the sun was shining. Decided to check out where the boats go from at the harbour at Konstanz, I intended to take the boat the next day, i.e. Monday.

Dunno what came over me but I suddenly thought I would continue by boat there and then, as long as the hostel in Lindau (3 hours by ferry) had a bed. Phoned them, they did, bought my ferry tickets and cruised across the Bodensee, which was really cool. I didnt know what to expect of the lake, mountains on one side, vast open water, like a sea between two countries, expect is was a sea surrounded by 3 countries. Made it to Lindau and found the hostel pretty quick, they were'nt best pleased that I was arriving later than 6pm.


So after all the talk of making it to Konstanz, I was there for about 45 minutes. Mind you, I was looking to make up some time and press on.

Today, Monday, woke up and repacked everything after it dryed overnight. Decided to head for Munich, which is where I am now. Basel Friday, Munich Monday, with a little help from the trains and a boat.

Munich is cool, very big, probably the biggest places I have visited so far. Much like any other, I have to say, I come from the city so most others don't really grab me. The people and sights are cool, but the big cities are not a cycle friendly. I was going to stay here for a couple of nights but finding a bed for tomorrow is proving difficult. So I will head to the mountains for real, to Berchtesgaden.

I would have stayed if Bayern Munich were at home and not away in Vienna in tomorrow night's Champions League match...another place I am heading for.

Friday, Saturday...


To be honest, these two days were pretty tough and uneventful. But I'm going to log it here so I have a record of just how crap these two days were.

Friday, woke up in Basel after a cool couple of days there and ready to head West. It was overcast a spitting with rain but I set off anyway, head back over in to Germany and then along the north Rhine route. Within 30 mins my legs were starting to play up. The muscle I pulled getting to Basel was fixed, hurt already. And my right knee, which gives me trouble sometimes was also clicking away and hurting like hell. But I stuck with it. The riding here was a mix of busy roads, country lanes and getting lost. The signs were terrible just outside of Basel.

Weather stayed a bit poop but I found my campsite at Waldshut. Pitched up then it pissed down with rain. Had a huge meal to make me feel better and got an early night, legs hurting and tired.

Saturday, my tent was wet when I packed it up. Was probably going to have to camp again the next night as I decided to go back over to Switzerland for the day. Good decision becuase the cycling was more interesting even if it was more hilly and my legs were far from healed. About 10 miles from my final destination at Schaffhausen, it absolutely poured down, first bit of rain in 15 days but it was saving itself. And where was my rain jacket? Right at the bottom of my pannier so that took a while to find in the pissing rain.

Totally soaked, dunno why but why is it that foreign rain always seems to be harder and faster than the rain at home? Paths were flooded, drains were over-spilling, I was drenched. Struggled on in my wet, leg hurting state and made it to the campsite after waiting for an hour for the rain to stop. Set up, went out for grub, then it rained again, all night this time. Tent drenched, stuff in a mess, legs still in pain, not happy!

And that was Friday and Saturday...a crap couple of days.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Switzerland, the feeling's neutral


Now in Basel, and, actually, it is my favourite place I have visited so far. Have spent 2 nights here. This is partly becuase I went out last night and got hammered watching England slump to NI - what a pile of crap. Didn't really ruin my night. I went to the English/Irish pub on one of the main streets in Basel which had an interesting atmosphere. At the front of the bar the Swiss watched Switzerland, in the middle the French watched France, towards the back the Scots and mostly everyone watched England at the back.

The Swiss might be neutral, but Basel is a mix of German, French and Italian all living in the same city. I hear people talking in German and saying goodbye in French, it makes it very confusing when using shops etc, not knowing which language they speak, so I've adopted the safest policy, speaking English everywhere I go!

The bar I went to last night was full of Brits, mainly Scots and English who I guess are living here. I got chatting to an English and an Irish bloke who for them the pub was their local. We drunk talked for ages about football and other rubbish, until it was time for me to stagger back to the hostel. Dunno how I found it but I did. The odd thing about the pub was the number of Swiss who all wore England shirts and obviously followed England...dunno why anyone would want to follow them right now.

Slept until 2pm today then did a bit more exploring. The hostel is really cool, central, and they give you a free travelcard during your stay so I've been jumping on and off trams all day. It is a little more expensive here, I've got through a few swiss francs but I think I will head back over the border tomorrow in to Germany.

So I have now visited Germany, France and Switzerland on my travels. The wheel held up after leaving Freiburg, a very 'cool' town with loads of Uni students. Loads of gypos aswell, I think it is kinda the Newquay of Germany. Pulled a muscle in my leg on the way to Basel so needed to rest up today.

Starting to ride East tomorrow, Konstanz by Sunday hopefully.

Monday, September 05, 2005

From Porsche to Proton

I said before that I felt my bike was a Porsche pulling a caravan. Now its more like a Proton. I have had to purchase a new wheel. I set out early on Monday morning to find the couple of bike shops in Karlsruhe that I'd found on my arrival yesterday. The first said it opened at 10, got there about 10.30 and it was closed. Went to the second and it was closed, I was starting to think it was a public holiday and that nobody had told me.

Finally found a third shop and the female shop assistant was quite helpful and could understand what I needed. The German efficiency kicked in again, they started to work on it straight away and I went off to get some shopping. Got back within about 25 minutes and it was done.

My Proton wheel isn't a bad as I feared. It is silver, a little more chunky but it should do the trick. As the girl in the bike shop quite rightly pointed out, the rims I was running are designed for disc brakes and probably not quite up to it. Fair enough. The hub is Shimano, the wheel plus fitting cost 80 Euro or just over 50 quid. As long as it goes ok, the rim is double layered to offer more strength, doesnt actually weigh too much either.

Returned to the hostel to drop off my bike to set off to post office and railway station. This hostel is by far the worst I've stayed in so far. This place resembles what hostelling must have been like 25 years ago. It's basically a multi-storey car park with walls and beds. Not even a bar! The rest have been modern, bright and very comfortable, normally built in last 10 years or so. I was amazed last night when at about 11pm I was outside having a smoke when this fairly respectable guy and his gal walked in to the reception area of the hostel and placed some kind of wire in to the coke vending machine. The other end of the machine was attached to his mobile phone. He then did something and it gave him a free bottle of pop. I was impressed, if a little disapproving!

Anyway, went to the post office after finding a bicycle wheel carboard box from another bike shop. This box was a perfect fit. So I marked up the box with Jay's address (mother is off to Croatia) and went to the counter. The guy didn't speak any English but I didn't think this would be a problem as he could see where the box needed to go. I filled out the delivery sheet and it was going to cost 17 Euros. Then he realised the box was too big by 20cms. I couldn't believe it. No problem, I will just pay more to send it on a different service, fat packet euro delivery. Turns out this doesn't exist so I couldn't send a box of this size to England. I personally think it was crazy. And all parcels with Deutsche Post go with DHL! Got the number for UPS but their office was right outside of the city so I gave up. Besides, it would cost alot more so by the time I paid for postage and got it fixed at home, might aswell just buy a new wheel.

I took the wheel back to the bike shop where I had my wheel replaced. The girl who served me in the morning was there still so I offered her the wheel. I think at first she thought I wanted to sell it but as it was quite a novelty being served by a woman in the bike shop she could have it for free. She was very nice, I think probably a lesbian and if I had known how to say "a bra would really suit you" then I might have. They needed support!

Bought my ticket for Freiburg, my second trip on a train. The first trip was a bit difficult. Firstly, the train was late! Or was it Mussolini who got the trains to run on time? Climbed up the steps on the train and in to the bicycle compartment which was already pretty full. Already 2 bikes one side, 3 the other. I leaned my bike up against the 2, train pulled off, I turned to find a seat, my bike falls in to the 3 sitting on the opposite side with a huge crash. The bloke whose bike was on top came out of the compartment and up to me in a huff to check if his 4-tonne peugeot bike was in tact. It was, that hump of junk could have survived a direct nuclear blast, I was sorry all the same. But he started having a right go at me...all I could do was stare back at him, I didn't have a clue what he was saying!

Anyway, off again tomorrow. Need to get some more miles on the clock, a couple of days behind now. Actually, didn't realise alot of the riding I will be doing in the next week is in Switzerland, who don't use the Euro! No problem, just didn't realise I was going to be in Switzerland so long...

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Spoke too soon!

It seems things were going a bit too good to be true. I was feeling much refreshed after my rest day as I left Mainz heading for Mannheim. It was another long ride, 50 miles with all the farting around finding places for food, drink, sleep etc. The weather had cooled but the riding was again a little less interesting. About a third of the way to Mannheim, I was riding through a village, quite slowly, when I head a 'twang' from my rear wheel. I knew exactly what had happened, a spoke had gone.

The wheel had started to buckle and being its not the sort of thing you can fix on the road, I just had to keep going for Mannheim. The bike was rideable but you just don't know how long it will run.

I made it to Mannheim, quite depressed by this stage. Mannheim is a heavy industrial city and the route in to the centre from my approach was really quite ugly, not in the best of moods! My map had one cycle shop listed near to the railway station, so I went there. The guy said he couldn't fix it until Monday, which meant Fri, Sat, Sun and possibly Mon nights in Manheim.

Decided to set up camp for the night and figure something out on Saturday morning. I found a campsite about 3 miles from the city centre, pretty typical site but a bit more basic than usual. I needed a number 2 so went to the shower/toilet shack only to find no lav, only urinals. I went to speak to the guy at reception (battered caravan) and he pointed to the restaurant next door. Dunno what women do when the restaurant is shut, didn't see any women having wildy's on the site! Later, I was sitting outside my tent chilling, about 10pm. I noticed a large rat running towards my tent and heading towards my food that was outside next to me. I jumped to my feet and the rat legged it, I had to get my bike fixed in the morning and get out of Mannheim.

The only good thing that happened on Friday was that I found a 10euro note on the floor which bought my lunch. I gave it the usual pick-up, look around pretending to see if anyone nearby had dropped it, but actually checking nobody saw me take it...

Today, Saturday, I got up reasonably early and went straight to tourist info in city centre. I asked for a list of bike shops and said I needed an urgent repair. The kind woman actually phoned a bike shop and asked the guy if he could make a repair today, he said yes. Went to the bike shop, got there about 10:45 and he said it would be ready by 1, 2 o'clock, turned out two spokes had gone. Fine, gives me time to give Mannheim a second chance to impress me.

Walked out the shop, still needed a haircut, right there was a haridressers. He cut my hair, first haircut in about 5 years (by a professional) then walked two blocks over before my phone rang. Bike shop geezer had finished my bike...German efficiency for you. Back at the campsite by 12, even fitted in lunch. OK, the hairdresser was Italian and the brunch was a Subway (US, Oz?) but I was well happy, I could leave Mannheim!

Again south, to a place called Speyer. Again two more spokes go. I'm now thinking I am carrying too much weight on the rear end. The wheel is a 'heavy duty' mountain bike wheel, the weight must be too much. I have faith in my bike, I kinda think of it as a porsche pulling a caravan! But must decide what to do, could abandon it and go inter-railing! Need to either ditch some weight or purchase a more heavy-duty wheel, which will take time and money. Need to decide, and soon.

Taking the train to Karlsruhe on Sunday, actually got in to the hostel here in Speyer on a Sat night which a result. Speyer is a really cool place, small but very laid back and classy. There is a cool technology museum here next to the hostel which I am going to investigate before leaving tomorrow.
Looking at my schedule, I'd better get moving. Under 3 weeks left and loads to fit in. Will have to get the train more often now anyway. Freiburg Monday, Basel Tuesday, my first time in Switzerland!