For as long as I can remember, I’ve hated biking. Suffice it to say I had far too many bad childhood experiences for me to enjoy it. So when I moved away for college, I left my bike in my mom’s garage and really never looked back. But there always comes a point where it’s time to move beyond the past. This was that point.
Pat’s brother and sister-in-law lived in Germany for about 8 years and only recently moved back to North America. When they found out they’d be relocating, his brother immediately began putting together a plan for one last European hurrah for himself and all of us. The plan: a 4 day bike trip from Mainz to Köln (Cologne) along the Rhine River.
Well, obviously I wasn’t going to turn down the opportunity to visit Germany just because I don’t like riding a bike, so I decided to suck it up.
And you know what? I actually had a fantastic time!
We (Pat, his dad, stepmom, other brother, and I) arrived in Frankfurt after an overnight flight and hopped on a train to Mannheim. Pat’s brother and sister-in-law lived just across the Rhine River in the town of Ludwigshafen; his brother met us at the train station and we took a streetcar across the river to their apartment.
In the end, we used just about every possible mode of transportation that day: car, shuttle bus, plane, airport tram, train, streetcar, and feet.
Our arrival marked my first time in Europe, and also my first time experiencing any significant jet lag (Germany is 6 hours ahead of the east coast; I’d never flown across more than 3 time zones before). I’d always heard that the best thing to do is to push through the exhaustion and go to bed at a normal time, so that’s exactly what we did… save for a couple hours of dozing on the plane and an accidental 20 minute nap on the sofa. But we made it through the day, went to bed after being awake for the majority of the last 32 hours, and woke the next morning feeling refreshed and ready to begin our explorations.
We spent most of the first day and a half just hanging out and preparing for our trip, as well as doing a bit of exploring of Ludwigshafen and Mannheim.
The next day, we were packed and ready to go, so off we went. We picked up our bikes in Mannheim and rode the train up to Mainz (about a 40 minute journey) where we set off.
I took a tumble over a curb about ten minutes into our day, by which point I’m sure everyone was already regretting inviting me along. Fortunately, I landed on my feet and was unhurt. I did avoid hopping curbs for the remainder of the trip, but other than that riding a bike really was just like… well, riding a bike. It came back to me pretty quickly, and by day two I’d regained some confidence in my ability to not lose my balance.
(In retrospect, not riding a bike for ten years was not an appropriate method of preparation for this trip.)
Our entire trip was in the downriver direction meaning the bike path was largely flat or downhill. Day one was a leisurely 53 km (33 mile) journey along the northeastern bank of the Rhine from Mainz to Bacharach. Between picking up the rental bikes and the train trip, we’d gotten a later than ideal start so we ended up stopping for dinner at about the 2/3 point in Rudesheim am Rhein. We had beers and schnitzel at a local restaurant whose name I can’t remember before hopping back on our bikes and continuing on to a late evening arrival at our bed and breakfast in Bacharach.
Bacharach is located on the opposite side of the river, so this portion of the journey also included a quick ferry crossing. In most locations along the Rhine, it was historically determined to be cheaper to operate ferries than to build and maintain bridges, so this is the typical method of crossing in the rural areas.
Day two dawned calm and slightly cooler than day one (a welcome relief), and upon climbing out of bed we were all greeted with pain. My thighs were sore and sunburned, I had a blister on my thumb from the handlebars, and my shins were exceptionally bruised from colliding with the pedals multiple times (I’m a slow learner, apparently). But the most painful issue was extreme butt soreness. From this point on, “how’s your butt?” became our morning greeting.
Following a delicious German breakfast, we gave our butts a pep talk and headed off. After a few minutes on the bike, the pain disappeared as our butts went numb, so that was pretty much our method for dealing with soreness for the remainder of the trip.
Day two was the hilliest stretch of our trip, but I really didn’t notice because the inclines were so gradual. Now on the western bank of the Rhine, we covered about 50 km (31 miles) en route to our overnight stop in Koblenz.
Highlights of day two were the architecture – including numerous castles – and The Lorelei. I don’t have a ton of castle photos since I’m not coordinated enough to take a photo while riding a bike, but we did stop for photos at The Lorelei. The Lorelei is the subject of many songs and poems over the years, a result of her apparently alluring nature that caused many boats to run aground in her vicinity. The song Loreley by Blackmores Night (which I happened to already have even though I didn’t know the story behind it) is one such example.
After getting settled into our accommodations – City Hotel Kurfüst Balduin – we headed out on foot to spend the evening exploring Koblenz. We ate dinner at an Indian Restaurant in a little town square and then walked out to the koblenz – aka confluence – of the Rhine and Moselle Rivers. The waterfront area is paralleled by a walking/biking path, with an enormous statue of Kaiser Wilhelm towering above the confluence.
Our evening ended in what was the daily tradition for this trip: hanging out in our hotel room enjoying some delicious (and surprisingly inexpensive!) German beers.
This marks the halfway point of the bike trip and also our time in Germany, so I’m going to end here for today. Next week’s post will be all about the second half of our trip. Stay tuned!