A friend recently emailed me that the Mark’s store on Carling near Churchill was closing. Although the temperature was a bone chilling -27 (and felt like -39 with the wind), I decided to walk over to see if there were any deals to be had.

I didn’t see a single cyclist on the new Churchill bike path. It was nice and clear, but the plows could do a better job at the intersections.  My entire walk was a struggle between keeping my face warm or leaving on the sunglasses to protect my eyes.

When I arrived at the store, I was relieved to be out of the cold. I was also curious about why they were closing. There wasn’t much left in the store. They’d brought out all of their old stock from last summer I think. Eventually I found a few tops to try on and left with an Alfred Sung blouse for $10 including tax.

At the cash, I asked why they were leaving. I had noticed that the mattress store had also vacated its premises and my assumption was that Canadian Tire was expanding downstairs. NosyNeighbour didn’t agree with me.

In fact, it’s true that the Canadian Tire store is taking over the whole building. I hope that the bigger store will be able to absorb some of the employees loosing their jobs. I also hope that they don’t forget about pedestrians and cyclists entering from Carling Avenue. The last day for Mark’s is February 22. If you buy anything there, you get a coupon for the Huntclub store.

The new year arrived with cold weather outside and a nasty head cold inside. I did step out with my camera after the snow/ice storm and captured some of nature’s beauty. But I’ll admit that it took me a while to get outside and see what was new on the street.

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Nestle Tollhouse Cafe

On a walk through Wellington Village, I noticed that Forum seems to have closed. It was the strangely located hipster clothing store beside the bowling alley near Parkdale. And the panini cafe at Parkdale and Wellington has still not opened, in spite of its “opening soon” sign.  I’d also like to say that I’ve really enjoyed the window displays at St. Vincent’s. I’m not alone either because it seems lots of people stop to look at the items. This month’s theme is black and white and includes old Remington typewriters. Oh, have things changed!

Walking towards Westboro, the sign is up for the Nestle Tollhouse Cafe, but no indication on when it will open. Likewise for the new vegetarian option in the former location of Milagro Grill. But the new Barley Mow on Richmond Road has opened. I’ll let you know when we make it down there.

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 12,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

My bad. I’ve heard and seen new things going on and keep forgetting to update you.

So, here goes:

  • Milagro Grill in Westboro closed at the end of September. A new vegetarian restaurant (operated by different owners) is going into its place
  • The Barley Mow will be opening a location near the Piggy Market some time this month.
  • Next summer postal codes K1Y and K1Z will be the first urban areas to lose their home mail delivery service. If you live in these postal codes, expect to receive mail from Canada Post as part of its “consultation” on super mailbox locations.

I’ll try harder to post more often. I promise.

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

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  • 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.

 

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