The best laid plans

David writing: I think readers know that I plan in December in great detail our yearly bicycle trip – which bank of the Danube to ride on, which maps, (not being in the GPS-guided era), which hotels or b&bs, and so on. Hotels often sell out. Passanger seats and bicycle places on German trains sell out completely.

To test our bikes, in mid-May Tessa and I rode an easy and beautiful path along the Italian River of Flowers. All went well, but a week later I biked to Nice and, while wending my way through crowded streets to the railway station, I noted that I could barely get on and off the bike! I’ve shrunk another inch in the last two years and am also less flexible. I quickly realized that I would never be able to mount and dismount when the bike was fully laden! I needed a lower bike and and this was in 9 days!

In the south of France few people bicycle-tour so to find a touring bike was practically impossible. But I was fortunate! One store in Nice, 45 minutes away, had a bike that might do, but it was too small so the owner, after measuring my arms and legs, ordered one from Germany. Miraculously it arrived on Tuesday; we leave crack of dawn on Friday. I test it on the Promenade des Anglais and buy it. Once home I change tires and tubes, move the trip computer, adjust the saddle bag straps, take the spring clip off the carrier, and try to mount handlebar brackets – except that the handlebars are oversized. No bike store in our area carries clips to mount my handlebar bag.

On Wednesday I remove the handlebars, front fenders, and pedals from both bikes and Tessa helps cut two cartons to size and tape them. Lufthansa will only carry bikes in boxes and the taxi that will take us to the airport can only take small ones. Somehow we squash the bikes in. Amazingly we are now packed and almost ready. In the late afternoon a friend arrives to babysit Kuma, the Schipperke, and Thursday is spent issuing house and dog instructions and packing last minute items.

Friday is May 31. The taxi appears at 5:00 am as planned, but the boxes are an inch too long and the rear seats won’t fold down. Tessa rides to the airport seated on a bike box.

In Frankfurt we deplane and are in the luggage claim at 9:10. Our train to Ülm in the adjacent train station leaves at 11:08. Don’t you think that 2 hours would be enough to assemble bikes and board them on a train? I did.

The luggage belt stops and everyone but us leaves the baggage claim area. Our checked saddle bags aren’t there. A very helpful service lady asks for our baggage checks, but I cannot find them. She goes to see if she can find something in their computer. Meanwhile, having wasted 20 minutes, I start assembling the bicycles. Our saddle bags suddenly appear on the belt! In an hour the bikes are ready and loaded, but now we have only half-an-hour to make our train.

The lady’s directions to the RR station with a bike are confusing, “Go out the door, cross the street, take the elevator up.” We cannot even find the door to take but another helpful person indicates it. We cross several roadways but see no signs for an elevator. We eventually find it in the parking garage. After pushing the “up” button for five minutes (the RR station, confusingly is five floors up) with no results we try the “down” button. Success! An elevator appears and starts up to the 8th floor, stopping to let on others who cannot fit. We now have 10 minutes to train departure. The railway station appears to be far distant down endless corridors. We start running if crab-like jogging guiding a bike is running. We reach the station and find the sign for the track. Three minutes to go. The elevator down to the track is broken!

Ignoring “do not take bikes on escalator” signs I take my bike down the two lengthy ones and Tessa follows. The train is there, leaving in a minute, but we are at car 12 and we must, train officials make clear, board in car 1. We run down the platform. Time runs out. And, guess what, they hold the train for us.

Dripping in sweat (I forgot to mention that the temperature is a record breaking 27C not the 16C forecast) we slump down opposite two older Germans who are heading for a bike tour in the German pre-Alps. After an interesting conversation we part ways in Ulm. At our hotel in the old part of town we find that the new owner no longer accepts bikes. We can’t leave our bikes in the street, we say. Finally, the receptionist agrees to let them stay in hall until morning.

Ülm: Vieew from our hotel breakfast room window

Ülm is a delightful city, but I must ride to a shopping mall in Neu (New) Ülm across the Danube. The bike store there sells clips for handlebar bags. One fits and I ride back to the hotel. Tessa and I, after a Greek dinner, do have a chance to stroll in the twilight along the Danube elevated promenade. Quite a day.

Ülm: View from our room

June 1st, today, a few more problems: Tessa’s brakes are far out of adjustment; my tire bumps with every rotation and I can’t fix it. We face a headwind. Despite maps and signs we get lost; it seems there are signs for different bicycle routes at every crossroad no matter how big or small. At a service station a man with a cell phone gets out of his car and helps us. We ride down an empty country lane and are almost back on our path, having taken a 5 km detour. An elderly couple on bikes sees us looking at our map, and offers to guide us to Gunzburg through the forest close to the Danube. The husband learns that I need a bicycle shop for my bump-bump tire and once in the outskirts of town he asks several people for directions to one. He goes far out of his way to lead us there before it closes at 2pm for the weekend. Once there he makes sure that the bike mechanic can understand English and then he and his wife leave to complete their 70 km loop back to their home.

Our guides in front of Leipheim castle

The bike shop makes three attempts to fix the bumping. The third is successful. We get good directions to our hotel, but twice ride by it. We end the day with a dinner of Argentine beef, perfectly cooked vegetables, and delicious wine in a Scicilian-German restaurant.

Outside our Gunzburg hotel. Once you’ve paid by credit card or cash your key for the front door and room drops into the slot.

Tessa here

A few comments and additions to David’s section of the blog so back to Frankfurt train station. I realised that Car 1 was the bicycle coach as there was a station guard in the distance waving frantically beside it. I reached it first but on looking back saw that David had tried to board a closer coach and had been told to get out and go to coach 1 by an irate guard; in Germany you do everything correctly and we were indeed lucky that no official saw us carrying our bikes down the escalators!

It is satisfying to be starting our next stage from Ulm, indeed from the same hotel we had stayed at two years ago. This area is called Fischer and is part of the medieval town that was not destroyed by Allied bombing in WWII. While David is visiting the bike store I decide to have a beer and lunch at the pub next to the hotel. After looking at the food piled on the plates of other diners I opt for a “sparrow” sized salad which is still too big. The sparrow is Ulm’s symbol. Apparently an enormous beam was needed for the construction of the Minster, Ulm’s magnificent 14th century cathedral, but the builders could not get it through a city gate. They were about to tear the gate down when someone noticed a sparrow with a straw in its beak. To get it into its nest the bird turned the straw from cross-wise to length-wise. The laborers had an “Aha!” moment, and for saving the city gate the sparrow has been celebrated ever since. Sparrow images and carvings are everywhere!

The next morning we rise early to get an early start on what is promising to be a really hot day. Not to be; by the time David finishes all the adjustments and repairs to the bikes it is almost 10:30.

Thankfully our way to Gunzburg is mostly through the woods beside the Danube but the city is hot and the hotel hotter. I am thankful that I threw a couple of extra T shirts into my bags as the forecast I read in France a day before our departure had predicted rain with temperatures below 15C!

2,537.4 kms to the Black Sea

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