There have been many celebrations over the past few weeks, including Beau’s in Vankleek Hill, and the Barrhaven Oktoberfest. We didn’t make it to either.

If you’re looking for less of a drunkfest, with some good food and an authentic Bavarian host, check out tomorrow’s Oktoberfest at St. George’s Church. I’m not Catholic, but NosyNeighbour and I will be there in our Bavarian attire. Because once you spend the big bucks on the authentic garb, you have to find places to wear it.

Oktoberfest

I recently returned from 40 days in Germany. The first two weeks NosyNeighbour and I traveled around Bavaria by bike, living as tourists. The last four weeks, I lived as a student in Freiburg while learning German at the Goethe Institut.

I lived in the Institut’s Gästhaus in the student ghetto, on the other side of the tracks from the main railway station. When I first arrived in my accommodation, I was shocked at the amount of litter, broken glass and graffiti that seemed to be everywhere between my student housing and the Wiwili Bridge. This bridge accommodates cyclists in the middle and pedestrians on the outer sides. Once you cross the bridge, city workers regularly clean up the broken glass and remove graffiti. I guess that’s where the tourists are. Eventually I found a walking route that either felt safer or I just got used to the mess.

Living as a student is different than staying in a posh hotel. You don’t get a free transit pass. As a result, I walked everywhere or signed up for the group trips through the Institut’s Kultur und Freizeit Program. They took care of arranging buses for larger groups, or buying group tickets for the train. Figuring out the train system is a bit of a mystery. If you go to the train station and speak to a DB employee, you pay more for your ticket than if you buy it at the machine beside the office. Tickets bought at least a week in advance are also cheaper. But if you can find four friends, you can get a good deal on a weekend pass. But it’s not good on all trains. And the conductor came by on every trip I took. So don’t even think about trying to ride the rails for free.

As a student in the Gästhaus, you must provide 100 euros cash as a deposit for your accommodation. All rights lie with the landlord and all responsibility with the tenant. Early checkout is frowned upon, especially if you are  a woman. I heard the Hausmeister repeatedly say to women that it was not possible to check out early. Women were supposed to find a “friend” who would give them 100 euros cash in exchange for their key. This person would then receive the 100 euros from the Hausmeister. Eventually I was able to make arrangements, but it seemed that the Hausmeister had more authority than the women who supposedly ran the accommodation section. I also learned that renters must pay three percent of their rent to the Makler (basically a real estate agent that focuses on the rental market). The landlord pays nothing. After this experience, I decided that visiting Germany was better than living in Germany.

There a lot of bikes in Freiburg. There are a lot of students. There are a lot of bike thefts. For this reason most people have at least two bikes: one for riding into town and the other for longer bike rides. All city bikes have a rear bike rack, with a basket on top. I saw a young nun riding a bike in her habit, a young man carrying a boxed cake in one hand, a young woman cycling with her umbrella over her head. But the best were the number of people that rode a bike while bringing a second bike along side of them.

Because people own more than one bike, maintenance is regularly overlooked. You really don’t know if the person has brakes until you accidentally walk in front of them. Sometimes the brakes lock up and throw the rider off the bike. One of my fellow students had this happen in front of all of us. He looked at me and said that he might like to have a helmet from then on.

Freiburg Ikea

With that many bikes you really need to be aware of where you walk. Not all bike lanes are signposted. And sometimes the bike lane turns into the pedestrian crosswalk. For the most part, cyclists were polite and patient. Drivers were forced to wait behind cyclists in the city’s core, with a signposted speed of only 30 km/h. Cyclists were slowed down by the many cobblestone streets. Freiburg is relatively flat and small so commuting by bike makes sense. There is rarely snow in the city so you can commute year round with the right clothing. Ikea has even capitalized on the large student population by offering rental bikes with trailers.

Many people visit Europe and question why Ottawa can’t be more like the cycle-friendly cities they’ve visited. But trying turn Ottawa into Freiburg just wouldn’t work. Most people in Ottawa don’t live within an easy commute of where they work (approximately 10km), whereas in Freiburg they do. Ottawa has lots of snow to deal with, which makes winter cycling more challenging. The freeze / thaw cycle of our winters doesn’t help with the amount of potholes (I’m still seeing them today in September!) Freiburg also has a lot of students and they are in school year round, not like here where they leave for the summer months (for the most part).

So here’s my list of what I liked about Freiburg:

  • meeting students from around the world and learning to say hello and goodbye in their languages
  • meandering around the Altstadt, following Bächle (small water-filled runnels)
  • roaming around Schloßberg, including its Turm and biergarten
  • crossing the Wiwili Brücke every day, and eventually climbing on top like all the other students
  • taking day trips to Schauinsland, Triberg, and Colmar (France)
  • drinking beer whenever and wherever you want
  • finding cheap and tasty icecream on every corner
  • making and tasting Flammkuchen
  • eating Champagne Apfelstrudel

PaperArtist_2014-08-28_14-32-39

  • And things I won’t miss about Freiburg
  • dealing with the rude Hausmeister
  • enduring the cliques that formed in class
  • smoking on patios and in clubs
  • finding broken glass everywhere
  • rain  appearing every day in what was supposed to be the sunniest part of Germany
  • walking into the filthy communal kitchen
  • sleeping on the small uncomfortable bed
  • the chauvinism in some cultures (but we tried to change that in four weeks!)
  • dealing with the rude Hausmeister

While I was living in Freiburg, this is what I missed about home (apart from NosyNeighbour and Wellington):

  • our Essentia bed
  • our kitchen, with all the tools I need to make anything I want to eat
  • smoking bans on patios and all city property
  • hiking poles
  • Sunday shopping
  • having a real computer
  • a comfy chair
  • any of my bikes
  • our garden with all of its produce

And now that I’ve been home for a week, here’s what I miss about Freiburg:

  • the friends I made
  • having a routine every day
  • the sound of the cargo trains passing in the night muffled by the sound of the fan (much more soothing than the Harleys going down Island Park!)
  • having a roll down external blind to keep the room cool and dark
  • being able to walk everywhere
  • having small grocery stores with small sizes
  • being able to buy beer at the Penny
  • walking through the Altstadt on weekends and heading to Schloßberg for a hike, without having to drive there.

The next morning, I ate the blandest breakfast I could. Then I waited to see what would happen with my stomach. We waited until 11:00, and then I made the decision to cycle. I  brought a ziploc bag full of toilet paper, just in case, but managed to make it the whole way without needing it.

Altstadt in Regensburg

Altstadt in Regensburg

The path followed the Danube (or Donau as its known in Germany). Along the way, I was almost taken out by a fishing rod and I caused an accident with NosyNeighbour when I was looking up at a passing fighter jet and slammed on my brakes. It caused him to run into me and fall over. Thankfully there were no injuries and only one of his bags fell of the bike.

The next day in Regensburg, we visited the Apotheke and I finally got a remedy for what was ailing me. I managed to walk around the Altstadt a bit more. It’s actually much bigger than I had first thought, which explains why it’s a UNESCO world heritage site.

And so ended our Bayern Hopfen Radtour. We then headed off to the Black Forest for a night in Gengenbach and then to Freiburg, where I’m currently learning more German. A post about Freiburg will follow at some point.

Freising to Abensberg was the most challenging but most interesting day, full of fields of barley and rows upon rows of hops. It was 66km, but hilly. Not really long and not really steep, but there were lots. And it was another scorcher.

On the way to Abensberg

On the way to Abensberg

Because of all the hills, we didn’t really see much of the towns we cycled through. You were either tucked on the downhill or had your head down and focused on your breathing on the uphills. Until we got to an interesting accommodation in the middle of nowhere

I also had my first near accident on the road. On one of the downhill curvy sections I decided to leave extra space between me and NosyNeighbour. I’m glad I did. And I’m glad I had my mirror on my sunglasses. I could see the van coming up behind me so I slowed down and got right on the edge of the road. Just as he was about to pass me another van came around the corner heading towards us. They both slammed on their brakes right at the point they would have passed me. I went off onto the “shoulder” created by concrete blocks installed beside the road. It was a bumpy ride but at least I wasn’t crushed.

Kuchlbauer Turm in Abensberg

Kuchlbauer Turm in Abensberg

After several back-and-forth emails with the Kuchlbauer Brauerei  the day before we arrived, we managed to book a tour of  of the Hunterwasser Turm. It was in German, but they loaned you the English text. It’s one of the better brewery tours we’ve done, a bit like Willy Wonka for beer lovers. But it would have probably been shorter and more enjoyable in English.

And then something every traveler dreads happened. I got sick. Not a cold, but the type of infliction that has you running (pun intended) to the bathroom all night. As I lay in bed waiting for the next bout, I started surfing the Internet trying to figure out if we could do the last day by train instead. As luck would have it, there is a direct train to Regensburg from Abensburg.

 

From Landshut we cycled to Freising, on what should have been an easy 40k. We’ve stayed in Freising several times as it’s near the Munich airport. So when we got to Moosburg, we thought we’d stop for a snack and check out the town. We each had a Radler and shared some Obazda, then got back on our bikes for what should have been an easy flat 20k finish.

The parking elevator in Freising

The parking elevator in Freising

But soon after we got back on the path, the dreaded Umleitung, or detour, sign appeared.  it meant aditional 6k, including some hills, but the worst part was no longer being able to use the GPS maps we’d created.  We now had to focus on finding the small Umleitung signs for cyclists. But it did mean we got to see farmland and some villages that we wouldn’t have otherwise.

We stayed at our usual hotel in Freising, the Bayerischer Hof. We’ve stayed there a few times because it’s close to the airport without having planes taking off overhead and not too far from Munich. The S-Bahn and express trains take you there in about 20 minutes. The hotel has been renovating the past few times we’ve visited. This time their new parking garage was open. And we got to check out the car elevator to get our bikes into the garage.

Best local restaurant in Freising

Best local restaurant in Freising

In Freising, we made the pilgrimage to the Weihenstephaner biergarten for a beer. It’s up on the hill so you get a great view.

Then for supper we went to the Huber / Hofbrauhaus for another lovely outdoor meal. I loved the way the old men lined up with their backs against the outside wall of the restaurant, staring at everyone in the biergarten. The biergarten is typical Bavarian. Long tables with benches mean you’re likely to share with others. It meant an opportunity for me to practise my German.

I have to admit that we were a bit disappointed that we hadn’t seen a lot of hops to this point.

 

On the way to Landshut

On the way to Landshut

Day three took us to Landshut,  a much prettier and bigger town than Landau. It was 50 km, with most of it paved paths and roads, but the last 10k were brutal. A rough path with big rough stones, cycling beside a dyke with no view and lots of bugs. It was another scorcher, but at least the last part was mostly in the shade.

We stayed at the Himmel Landshut Pension, which is also a cafe. It was a bit awkward finding the pension because it’s mainly a cafe, with access to the rooms through an old crooked door beside the cafe. The rooms have been recently renovated, but for same strange reason they put dark brown shag carpeting on the floors.  But you couldn’t beat the location along the river and just a bridge away from the Altstadt.  Unfortunately,  the Internet wouldn’t work with our North American phones, but we managed to find free hotspots in the Altstadt.

Landshut

Landshut

Because it was Sunday, none of the shops were open. We walked to the end of the pedestrian zone then discovered a castle on the hill as we looked up an alley. We climbed up to the top and saw some great views of the town, the river and a park below. There was even an oompah band playing in the park. Spectators were huddled together in the shady spots under the large trees.

There is also an excellent biergarten 50m down the road. It’s hidden in the back, making it cloistered, which just adds to the ambiance. We had a beer there and tried a new-to-us Bavarian specialty Obazda. It’s a soft Bavarian  cheese mixed with spices and served with bread.

Later, we had supper at the Hofreiter, where I had a huge and tasty chicken and mushroom salad.  NosyNeighbour had the schnitzel.

 

On the way to Landau after applying sunscreen,  hence the blurry cell photo

On the way to Landau after applying sunscreen, hence the blurry cell photo

From Straubing, we cycled 75 km to Landau a. d. Isar. Most of the organized tours had you stay in Deggendorf or Plattling, but we decided to skip them. Let’s just say they seemed quite industrial as we cycled by them.  It was another scorcher of a day, but mostly flat. The best part was the last 10k along the river in the shade.

During our ride we met an oldee4r Belgian man on a fully loaded e-bike. After I had a short German conversation with him, NosyNeighbour finally got to use his French. (That was when we learned he was Belgian.)

Landau isn’t a pretty town, and doesn’t have many hotels. We stayed at the Gasthof zur Post, which is also the town’s German and Croatian restaurant. It didn’t have Internet either, but there was an Internet cafe/casino just down the street, and we were able to pick up some groceries a few blocks away.

First hops siting in Landau

First hops siting in Landau

We had a nice supper in the biergarten until the rain came, and everyone had to run inside with their plates.  NosyNeighbour had the Balkan pork dish with a sausage starter. I had a cheese starter with a pork and Spatzle main course.

After dinner, we went back to the Casino/Internet cafe and surfed a bit. We even played a game of pool.

My legs were a bit burnt or maybe got heat rash with all the heat and sun. But rain is in the forecast starting tomorrow night. And it’s not like I haven’t cycled in the rain before.

The hotel room was good, with  a quasi-balcony, where we dried our clothes. But the shower had some mould issues.

 

On the way to Straubing

On the way to Straubing

After spending two nights in Regensburg, we were ready to set off for Straubing. It was an easy 60km, mostly flat. But it was really stinking hot. We only had to backtrack once at Kiefenholz, where we missed a turn.

The path bypasses many of the towns, so we opted to go into Wörth a. d. Donau. This was about the point where we leapfrogged a couple of Brits on e-bikes. They would pass us on the flats and we would pass them on the hills.

Our hotel in Straubing was central,  but didn’t have Internet. There was no Internet cafe, but we managed to get 30 minutes free at the library. From there we discovered a biergarten by the path. Most biergartens in small towns only open at 5 p.m. If you show up early, it can feel a bit awkward sitting by yourself.

Straubing

Straubing

We ate supper in a small biergarten at the edge of the pedestrian zone. I think it was called Zum Bayerischen Löwen. The biergarten was at the side of the restaurant. It was my first experience with having a dog stare at me while I ate.

As is often the case, we just missed a big festival in Straubing. The town isn’t big, but its main pedestrian zone is quaint, with the obligatory tower in the middle. We weren’t sure what to expect in Straubing and were pleasantly surprised.

 

When planning your cycling holiday, try to get a direct flight. If bringing folding bikes in your suitcase, do not say you are bringing a bike … it’s bike parts if you don’t want an extra charge. We flew direct to Frankfurt, then took a train to Regensburg.  We had pre-booked our tickets and were surprised how quickly our luggage arrived.we needed to transfer in Nuremberg, but it was quite easy. It can be hot and humid in Bavaria. Air conditioning is not common in Europe.

We stayed at the Ibis Regensburg City Hotel and were happy to have air conditioning, albeit non adjustable. It also has an outdoor terrace. And it’s an easy walk from the Hauptbahnhof,once you get your bearings and realize you have to go through the big shopping centre. But ask for a quiet room.

While NosyNeighbour assembled the bikes, I went back to the mall with my shopping list. Kaufland is a big grocery store that also sells a bit of everything. I also liked that it was centrally located and not in the industrial burbs.

We were having some issues fine tuning the bikes and I finally convinced NosyNeighbour to at least try the bike shop recommended by the woman at the front desk. It’s located right beside the Hauptbanhof and they rent bikes too. They fixed my bike for free on the spot, and squeezed in the NosyNeighbour’s bike for way less than it would have cost us back home.  Maybe it’s the sheer volume of bikes there.

Walhalla

Walhalla

With the bikes off the to-do list, we were able to explore the city a bit. We picked up a map of the city’s biergartens, and began our walk. On day one, we got through three: Goldene Ente, Weltenburger am Dom, and Kneitinger Keller. The last one was by far the best. It had the required large chestnut trees, a small river rock yard, Kinder play area, walls to contain it, and good food and bier. We even made friends with the old man at the table next to us.jh

The next day, we took a cruise down the Danube, or Donau as its known in Germany, to Walhalla, a temple commissioned by King Ludwig I to honour the dead. The exterior is based on the Parthenon, and it seems out of place when you see it perched on a hill beside the Danube.

 

 

As you may have guessed, I’m in Germany, where NosyNeighbour and I recently finished another cycling holiday in Bavaria.

As usual, we packed light, bringing only our folding bikes as checked luggage and then maximizing our carry on bags. I had the additional challenge of packing for 40 days. Thankfully it’s summer and much easier to do. It was also made easier because NosyNeighbour took minimal to a new level.

His clothing consisted of the following:   cycling shorts, cycling socks, two pairs smart casual shorts, one travel collared shirt, two sleeveless quick dry tops, one merino wool t-shirt, long-sleeved merino wool top, cycling shoes, helmet, bandana.

In my pannier, I had the following:  2 cycling shorts, 2 cycling socks, 3 merino wool t-shirts, long-sleeved merino wool top, skort, convertible quick dry smart casual pants, two sleeveless dressier tops, 3/4 sleeve quick dry hoodie. (Note: try on everything to make sure that everything works together! )

For transporting our gear, we had 3 panniers, one rack bag and a handle bar bag each. We also carried a tablet, DSLR camera, bike repair parts, first aid kit and a rain poncho each.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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