Saturday, August 21, 2010

A rant about the Rhine cycleway

Apologies, but it needs to be said. The Rhine is the third or fourth most popular cycle route in Germany, in spite of the efforts of the provincial, local and probably national governments. The Cycleway has four or five names each with its own symbols: On Lake Constance it is the Bodensee Cycleway; Between Constance and Basel it is the Hochrhein Cycleway. In Basel the route becomes the Rhine Cycleway up to Remagen where it changes its name to the Erlebnisweg Radschiene. Then after Düsseldorf (plus minus) it swops to the Rhine Cycleway again, don't ask me why.

Once it crosses over the border into the Netherlands the route as such disappears. The Rhine gets another name. It is not critical in the Netherlands as the excellent Knooppunt system allows easy navigation. See which shows an example in Flemish about Belgium where the same system is used. Life would be a lot a better if the Germans could adopt this system of navigation. It is ironic that this will probably not occur because of the problems of interprovincial cooperation, because this system was invented by a German mining engineer in the mines around Maastricht.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

At the Travel Show Part 3

Eurovelo Routes
Remembering a pioneering bike tour we’d made from Mannheim to Orange (Rhone Valley) in our early days of cumbersome bikes, primitive panniers and quick to wet but slow to dry cotton clothing, we homed in on the Franche-Comté stand, to see what was new. Nantes to Budapest, Eurovelo Route 6 or the Atlantic to the Black Sea (4446 km) runs right through Franche-Comté (F-C). We had found our first (to us) new bike trail. The department of F-C lies south of Lorraine and Alsace, bordering the Rhine close to Basel, then running into the Jura hills along the Swiss border. When we rode through from Mulhouse to Belfort, Montbéliard and along the R. Doubs both cycleways and signposts were few. We made our own tour using the numerous D roads through wooded hills, sleepy villages and towns. The Doubs canal towpath boasted the usual French ‘c’est interdit...’ signs but as all the locals ignored them, we did too. It was not always easy to find places to stay, but we enjoyed the great variety of beds and the memorable notice in one hotel ‘in case of fire, open the window and make yourself known’. Fortunately the night’s worst problem was a violently sloping bed so the uphill body slipped down, the lower sleeper woke up, then walked round to the upper level to take their revenge. We ate wonderful meals, usually choosing the mid-priced menu and didn’t worry too much about what the collection of small birds on our plates had been when alive. We saw hardly any other touring cyclists and only had to joust with French camions for short distances. The Doubs is the rather strange river we had last seen whilst riding in the Swiss Jura, where it flows northeastwards through Pontarlier. As the Jura hills were folded along a NE-SW axis the river cut across the line of the folds in deep gorges until finally by Montbéliard it swung again to flow southwest, eventually into Rhone tributary, the Saone. The booklet we picked up covers the section from Dole to Belfort (187 km) and has detailed maps with information in French, English and German about things to see (lots), tourist offices, bike shops, restaurants, cyclist wardens as well as museums. The cyclist wardens, Velo guards are dressed in red and their aim is to offer assistance, first aid and advice rather than to act as police it seems. The information indicates that certain sections along waterways or by slopes can be hazardous, to careless riders. An accommodation list covers groups as well as individuals. It appears that almost the entire route is traffic free, well-surfaced and ‘signalized’ or signposted we would say. In cities like Montbéliard main roads need to be crossed with care, one section beyond Dole towards the Saone was still provisional in August 2010. Reading the information and looking at the maps suggests that the delightful, varied cities and landscapes along our old route are now accessible to the cyclist with less of the pioneering spirit needed. No doubt the ‘interdit’ signs have vanished too! Check out

What about the rest of the route?
A useful website is which has practical details concerning travel and visa requirements. It also suggests that the whole route is complete, though whether this means all the signposts are in place is debatable. The initiative for these routes came from umbrella organisation European Cyclists’ Federation (ECF). This is consists of representatives from national cycling clubs from inside and outside the EU. It aims both to represent cyclists’ interests generally and to lobby for improvements in cycle routes and improved safety for people on bikes. It may have a better chance of attracting funds designed to increase bike riding in towns and other ‘green’ transport initiatives, e.g. in 2008 the EU transport committee agreed a grant of €300 000 to this end, so not peanuts! The various Eurovelo routes link existing cycle ways and to qualify have to pass through at least two countries. Find more information by typing Eurovelo into a search engine. The websites suggest that 12 routes are at least partially complete, athough some seem to have few real grounds for hanging together. Cycling along many parts of any of them is interesting as we know (largely by chance, e.g. Andermatt to Rotterdam). Within the UK we know that there is interest in that part of the North Sea route (Eurovelo 12) which runs along the island’s east coast and continues after a sea break in the Shetland Islands. However, perhaps Eurovelo 5, London to Brindisi (3900 km) might lack a defining raison d’etre?

Monday, August 02, 2010

At the Travel Show Part 2

Many German cities like Frankfurt, Leipzig or Cologne have huge, purpose built exhibition halls for trade fairs or shows that are held regularly like the Book Fair in Frankfurt. In Cologne the RDA Workshop ‘only’ occupied two floors of one of the halls, but we entered via another, up imposing steps then over shiny granite floors through empty enormous spaces out into courtyards. Finally we reached the RDA building, completed the formalities and suitably identified with badges, descended onto the floor. The giant space before us was filled with a multitude of stands, information leaflets by the million and, this being Germany lots of people in Tracht (traditional dress - Lederhosen and Dirndls were favourite). He who hesitates in a trade fair ends up with aching feet and armfuls of irrelevant bumf, so we pushed on, heads up to find the Romantic Road stand first. Our cycling guide to this route from Würzburg to Füssen is being updated and revised (see for details) so we were anxious to check in with Jürgen Wünschenmeyer, the CEO of the Touristik-Arbeitsgemeinschaft-Romantische Strasse to hear how signposting of a few minor route changes was progressing. A mixed message, some good some bad news, which is not unusual with individual towns being responsible for local stretches. Some eMails and letters have since been fired off to encourage action.
However, working nearby were staff from both Rothenburg ob der Tauber and Augsburg, both stopping points along the approximately 450 km Romantic Road cycle route. One of our latest ventures is to whet potential cyclists’ appetites by publicising the many networks of local and regional cycleways around the towns between Würzburg and Füssen. Some of these are easy to find on the web and are partly or wholly in English. Others are obscure. Knowing that cyclists could spend a few days exploring well-signposted routes from a base in Augsburg or the Pfaffenwinkel villages we think may appeal to those who don’t want to pack up and move on each day. The Rothenburg odT connection had to admit that they were working on the idea, possibly for next year, whilst the Augsburg folks have promised us some more definite information. Within 30 minutes our meetings had achieved results that would have taken far longer with phone, fax or internet.
Now we had time and interest in making a few more connections and discoveries about cycling possibilities in other parts of Europe. Our feet were still fresh and fragrant, our rucksacks ready to gobble maps and cycling information.
Useful websites: and

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Transport Show in Cologne Part 1

On July 28 we visited the RDA Workshop in Cologne, Germany. We travelled by train and had the first interest of the day as we waited in Mannheim for our Intercity northwards. A long train en route for Basel drew in across the platform and the last two carriages had strikingly different liveries. They turned out to be the Minsk-Basel and Moscow-Basel sleepers. Although in summer we would not have expected bits of snow encrusted here and there, we later heard reports of searing temperatures and forest fires among Russia’s forests so perhaps there had been a few whiffs of singed paint work. From one of the carriages a party clearly wearing Eastern European fashions, stepped out, then shook hands with a large jolly blonde woman, as we tried in vain to catch a glimpse of a samovar within. Mannheim railway station, a prosaic workaday place disappeared as Anna Karenina, steppe and taiga seeped from films and books into our mind’s eye. Then the doors slammed, Minsk and Mocba disappeared down the track towards Basel and Switzerland.
Our journey to Cologne was protracted by technical problems, the wrong sort of rain or a landslide or two so after a cup of dreadful DB coffee we returned to thinking of Russian trains. It had always been possible to get to Russia by train from hereabouts, even with the Iron Curtain still in place. Commuting daily from Weinheim to Frankfurt in the early nineteen nineties Neil had occasionally observed dark green, very old-fashioned rolling stock three times a week, which linked Berne with Moscow. It was an interesting, though not a particularly enticing, thought at the time, with the hostile wastelands of East Germany and Poland to cross. To us island born Cold War children it also hinted at romance and impossible distances. Imagine an Edinburgh to Istanbul Express stopping at Wigan North West!
You could easily get a couple of Bromptons in those wagons we thought, even if carriage of bicycles is officially forbidden. One of our minor forms of what some cyclists call ‘soft anarchy’ is to quietly travel with a bike in a bag on some of Europe’s more exclusive trains. Does one still need a visa for Moscow or Minsk, and where on earth exactly IS Minsk? (Capital of Belarus, some distance west of Moscow itself.) Research has revealed that just boarding the train and hoping to set off in either place for the other by bike isn’t that easy since many travel restrictions still exist and individual journeys by cyclists are regarded by the authorities as dangerously eccentric at the least.
However we were on our way to a Workshop, aka Trade Fair about bus and group travel but with increasing interest in cyclists. Who knew what ideas and information, what routes and fantasies, we would have by the late afternoon?

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