The R1 – Europearadweg
After Arnhem I aim for Vreden on the boarder with Germany to then follow the R1 across the middle of Germany. I say ‘aim for’ … as can be the case my navigation skills are a little off and I spend too long circling Arnhem and then get sucked into a complicated navigation of rivers in the surrounding area …. this is made worse by my errant determination to avoid using a ferry. Sometimes I surprise myself with my wonky sense of determination (aka stubbornness).
After a couple of hours detour, which included a complete circle at one point, I get back on track. Somehow following signs is a complicated business.
Coming up to the boarder with Germany I start to see the influences in the towns and especially notice the enormous car lots in evidence.
For the first time in the Netherlands I also see an old man in his garden, hoeing, in the largest pair of wooden clogs imaginable.
I am determined to cross over into Germany this evening and as the sun gets lower in the sky I am racing across the ground, singing to myself. There is a lot of singing that happens on the road! “No .. sleep .. ’til Vreden” (Beastie Boys stylee!!) This has been a favorite on the trip so far and has been used for Folkestone amongst many other.
I reach Germany after the sun has set but within my extendable parameters since it is still twilight and the diminishing sunset is beautiful.
As I take a picture or two of the boarder between the Netherlands and Germany – again the boarder is almost missable and I cannot get my head around the lack of natural or constructed boundary in Europe – there is a blue and yellow EU sign and an old boundary stone – a car pulls up and a man calls out to me – how are you, can I help, do you need water? Ok … he is about 65 years old, seems harmless and yes water would be great. He turns the car around and I follow him for about 5 minutes on the bike. When we get to what I think is his home I follow him in with the water bottles and we enter what becomes apparent is a bar area … which has a group of older men and women sitting around in the semi dark having a post Easter drink!! I have to confess I immediately made the association with a seance – it all seemed harmless but I got water, spoke briefly to them all and when the discussion turns to me travelling alone and whether I am married I make my excuses and leave!!
‘Idiot’ you may well say but it is important to have those sorts of experiences in a ‘managable’ form because since then I have been a bit more consciousness of who I talk to and of managing my interactions with different people. I don’t for a second think that I was in danger – I think the general puffing and wheezing from the man indicated greater danger for him than me, should he have tried anything that involving physical excertion ….
In addition I think my Kung-Fu training (http://www.kungfufit.co.uk/) would have covered things easily – thanks Mark … I feel I can take on an asthmatic, 65 year old – you must be proud!!
After some cycling around, following this strange encounter, and some deliberation about what I am doing here and what to do next, I set up camp for the night just outside Vreden in what appears to be a bus shelter crossed with an open fronted, circular hut, which would not be out of place in on a fantasy woodland walk.
About an hour after I fall asleep I am woken by a near full moon rising right in front of me. The light is so bright I can see the beginnings of frost on the ground and my breath shows just how low the temperature has dropped – again I am thankful for the down sleeping bag and snuggle in deeper, aware I will be up at 5am.
Up early and I am cycling the main roads contemplating how to find the R1 Euro Radweg … It is beautiful getting up at this time and after making a hot breakfast I can fully appreciate it. As I cycle I successfully stumble upon the signage for the route and head for Coesfeld the next town on the route. I manage to find a pay phone and finally wish Mama a belated Happy Birthday. Pay phones are few and far between since everyone has mobiles these days.
Coesfeld is a small market town with some interesting steam punk esque sculpture outside the church … the snails coming out of the pigs arse are a little disconcerting, as is the arse … !
I am heading for the city of Munster and given my previous experiences of entering cities on a bicycle I am a little nervous about this and wondering if the radweg will get me in and out safely. I need not have worried … German effiency has meant that the cycle path is totally effective and I get in and out of Munster with no issues. The strangest thing is being on a track in the middle of nowhere having just cycled through villages and then going over a rise and seeing the outskirts of the town or city in front where previously there had appeared to be nothing. In one of the small towns I passed during the day I stopped at the market and was pounced on by a woman who had seen me in a previous town and wanted to find out what I was doing. Its great when people want to get involved!
The architecture in the city is lovely to see and I am surprised by the building facades that are held up by joists and appear to be there as total ornamentation. Munster catherdral is an amazing gothic looking cathedral which is made even more gothic looking, in contrast to its surroundings, by the blackening of the intricate stonework of the spire, I assume due to smoke and city pollution. The detail in the stonework is more evident in the lower areas of the cathedral.
Once out of Munster I am cycling across farmland and through wooded nature reserves. I find an area of newly planted trees and set up the tent for the night. Typically for me I find out in the morning light that there is a house on the next hill and I have probably been in full view!
Cycling on through Germay on the following days I arrive at Höxter. It is an amazing town with very old wooden buildings and great ice cream! The wooden decorations put me in mind of the Celtic knotwork I am so familiar with from the UK. The door ways also put me in mind of the art work from Tolkein’s The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings … I remember reading somewhere that the LOR was seen by some as an allegory for the industrialisation of Europe and the coming of WWII and as I have been cycling I have often wondered whather the houses in the Netherlands and this style of German archeitecture/art were an influence.
After Höxter I cycle throught the evening passing by beautiful villages and an enormous monastry alongside the river and find a place to camp beside what might be a chapel. In the morning I am just waking up when a dog starts barking outside and a torch light shines on the tent. I remain inside and both dog and owner continue on their walk – I get up and pack quickly – its 0535hrs and the sun is just creeping over the horizon and the morning is beautiful and cold.
After a few days of travelling across farmland and flat open land I reach the region of Hartz. It is a much more hilly region, the signage has changed and become more sporadic (not great for those of us with no maps or GPS). In one town there are pairs of what appear to be black swans -it is becoming a bit disconcerting the speed with which I can pass through towns and villages. I can see some of the aspects of these places but don’t really engage with them fully – sometimes all I can do is smell the bakery or the new flowers blossoming in the spring warmth – I am also aware of feeling quite ‘full’ of new views, aspects and experiences.
As I reach Bad Hertzberg, a thermal spa town in Hartz I take a wrong turn and go ‘off piste’. In this case it is not as pleasant an off piste as I might have hoped – fast cars, steep up hill and various dramatic notices warning of the dangers of taking the bends too fast. I am passed by a local bus which pulls into a layby a bit further ahead. As I draw level with the parked bus the driver calls out and I have to get off and cross over as I cannot hear him. I am initially a bit annoyed at having to stop but Stefan, the driver, turns out to be a complete star and tells me, in perfect English, that I am going the wrong way for the R1!! By quite a distance … so he offers to drive me throught the Hartz hills to a different point where I can cycle for a while and get back on the route. So we pack Tilly onto the bus and head off!! Stefan informed me that there had been snow in Hartz last week and as we drive I see its remains. After about 45mins drive Stefan drops me off and suggests I go back towards the R1 via a local resevoir – its just beautiful cycling there but then Stefan is a keen cyclist so knows the deal! As we part Stefan advises that he has been inspired to plan his tour of Hartz, by bike – I look forward to hearing how he gets on!
I have been enjoying the cycling so far and had thought l that physically I am in pretty good shape however as I reach Bad Hartzberg it becomes apparent that I am having problems with my knees and then later with my lower back. I am devastated. This is my first taste of my physical body potentially ‘letting me down’ – I remember french Joe (who I met on the Arnhem campsite) asking if I was worried about being physically able to make this trip … until now it had not been a consideration. So I spend 3 days on a campsite (expensive and full of ‘old’ people using the thermal baths in the town) and use the thermal baths in the town!!
Having some down time is great but frustrating since I just want my body to feel fixed immediately – unfortunately I mean I want my body to be that of a 2o year old which is sadly not going to happen! The upside of spending time in the spa was that I got to chat to lots of the ‘old’ German people there and my rusty German improved to the point of being able to have a fairly comprehensive conversation, whilst naked (I had been told off for wearing a swimming costume previously!), in a sauna, with an elderly male ex cycle-touer, also naked about our different cycling experiences!
As I am feeling stronger I continue to cycle through Hartz. The hilly, forested region gives rise to some great towns and castles. There is also a very evident sense of folklore in this region and with that an association with witches. Blankenberg was the town that went the furthest and had wood carvings of witches and their familiars on every corner – the most interesting was the 3 sided sculpture of the ‘maiden/mother/crone’ just outside the church!
Hartz is eventually replaced by the region of Seeland – it is characterised by wide open spaces and what appears to be old water filled mining sites. It is remarkably stark countryside after the hills and forests and waterfalls of Hartz. It is beautiful in its very different way and I see deer grazing by one of the lakes in the early morning.
In Kothen I decide to spend a night in a hostel – the first hostel of the trip – and find Nettys Nest. It used to be a restaurant and is now run, in a very relaxed way, by Netty. Its the sort of place I feel right at home since it is filled with random ‘tat’ and I end up spending a lot of the following day there just sitting in the sun on the balcony. Netty suggests that I head for Dessau-Roßlau and then Worlitz, where there is a lovely village and palace to admire … so this is what I do.
In Dessau-Roßlau I pick up the Elba cycle path, after viewing some amazing Bauhaus buildings – unfortunately behind fully grown trees now – and start following the river through beautiful UNESCO bioreservations.
At Worlitz it is getting dark and whilst I get to see the palace and the village it is the sunset that steals the show. I also get to meet Monique and her mother Anne – wonderful people who celebrate my 1000miles with me and give me special fresh baked bread. Monique tells me that there are no fences or gates becuase the prince who designed the palace and the grounds believed in a more open way of farming where everyone had access to knowledge and space. It was really wonderful to be able to spend some time with them at teh end of their day – they both love Worlitz and had evidently had a very special time there together.
Sunset in Worlitz
It is dark when I leave Monique and Anne and on reaching the ferry to get to Coswig I find it has stopped so camp in a nearby field for the night. In the morning, when I am aboard, I am told by the ferry man that the ferry is powered by angels, that there is no motor on the boat – curious about this I question further and find out that actually the ferry uses the angles and the flow of the rievr to manuver back and forth … I am a little disappointed as well as finding it great that this ferry continues to be used and has just celebrated its 150th birthday.
After Coswig I cycle through Lutherstadt-Wittenberg, and past all of the amazing run-down old houses just outside Beelitz – as it is getting dark I camp beyond Beelitz and hope to be in Berlin the following day.
Unfortunately before Berlin I have to navigate Pottsdam. I get into the city by 10am and I spend most of the day trying to get out through it, in the end giving up and going to visit Parc Sanssouci. I had not wanted to before as I was hoping to have the day in Berlin but was really glad to have been forced by my need to have a break for dodgy navigation! The park was amazing and had so may different palaces, gardens and statues to see.
Next stop ….. Berlin, a major landmark for me on this journey.
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