On 4th April, four days after chipping a tooth on a forkful of broccoli, I catch the ferry to the Netherlands. Problem number one: proud purchase of double adaptor won’t fit in the cabin socket. Not an auspicious start.
Arrive at the Dutch port and salivate over the cycle infrastructure and the spacious, accessible cycle facilities on the train to Amsterdam. Official at passport control is impressed by my intention to cycle to Budapest, and though I’m getting to Donaueschingen, the source of the Danube, by train it strikes me it’s still quite a long way left to pedal…
The 2-day train journey goes through very hilly countryside and when I get to Donauschingen it’s so steep I have to push my bike up the hill – I’m getting very nervous now about the steep gradients lying in wait for me.
April 7th: official start day. But phone warns of gale-force winds with gusts up to 95 miles-per-hour so I decide to stay put. My recently re-waterproofed coat doesn’t even last 40 minutes in the pouring rain. April 8th: hurricane-force winds, glad Airbnb host persuaded me to delay my start for a second day.
April 9th: and I’m off, despite having to cycle through snow, flooding and 3°C. Despite this, I enjoy my first 35km – only 1,244 more to go. Spend the evening eating out (baked pasta and beer) and bingeing in (trashy streamed box sets). Well, it is a Saturday.
April 16th: one week down. Got asked for a photo by woman who organises the Fancy Women’s Bike Ride in her city. Cycled through a snowstorm. Conquered the hilliest section and even though I stopped for a breather (or several) I didn’t have to get off and push. Celebrated with a (mediocre) latte macchiato. A sunburnt nose is a small price to pay. Relaxed in Ulm for a couple of days, more chance to admire the cycle infrastructure – for instance, the Fahrradstrasse (cycle street, where cyclists are prioritised but local motor vehicle can use the road at a slow speed). Took the big step of sharing my mental health diagnosis on social media and was deeply moved by the lovely, heartfelt messages and comments I received.
April 23rd: reached Bavaria. Enjoyed the spectacle of Easter decorations, including the Osterbrunnen (Easter fountain) and a giant nest of decorated eggs. Felt smug when I reached the top of the highest hill in sight. And today I cycled with a half-drunk bottle of red wine in my pannier – waste not, want not. And then stumbled across a Beerfest, complete with oompah band, a lot of men in lederhosen, and beer in tankards of course. Did I join in? It would have been rude not to…
April 30th: This week I’ve been stalked by an anti-vax protest in Ingelstadt, finally found a café in Germany that does proper coffee (bit of justified lingering there), and followed advice to take the ferry between Weltenburg and Kelheim rather than ploughing up and down the gorge (the views were spectacular!). This on a day when I cycled 51km in a constant downpour, my glasses so rained-on they were opaque. The following day, I hit Regensburg. It’s the most gorgeous city, proudly Bavarian and yet it feels incredibly Italian, with its winding passageways, gothic cathedral, and medieval architecture. I stayed an extra day to fully appreciate it. Today, after a 52km ride, I arrived in Straubing only to discover my hotel doesn’t do check-in until 5pm. Aargh, how to do my warm-down stretching routine now? Even I can’t face performing it in the public gaze of the town square!
Reflections on Germany so far: motorists are incredibly courteous, giving you a wide berth and stopping at crossings to let you out. E-bikes are everywhere. There are all types of people using bikes, apparently with no age limit. Decent coffee is in short supply and naff 90s pop songs are ubiquitous. People have been incredibly friendly. And as in every country I visit, I get stared at by small children who seem to think I hold the secret to life.
If you want to follow Robyn’s journeys in her own words – entertaining even in the face of adversity – you can follow her journey on Twitter (@RobynJankel) and Instagram (@robynjankel and @ThatFloweryBike)