On July 19th Odette and Jerry flew to Paris and caught a train to Strasbourg. After touring for seven days they took another train from Frieberg to Berlin where they stayed with Will, rode for another six days and then caught a train to Amsterdam for an eventual flight home on August 11th.
At Christmas last year Will offered to get us tickets to Germany using his Delta status so that we could experience business class, lounges, etc. It took us a while to get comfortable with the idea of traveling again but we finally settled on a self-guided tour in Alsace followed by a visit with Will in Berlin. I rode pretty hard (7,000 miles in the first six months of 2022) – not exactly in preparation for travel, but remembering some of our past experience. Odette prepared with extensive duo lingo sessions.
I’ve previously written about my tandem service issues. To make a long story short, I ended up taking the Ibis to The Polka Dot Jersey in Leschi. They did a really good job on the Rholoff – but they took over two weeks longer than promised. While waiting for them to accumulate parts I had them order a new Rolf wheel set for the Rodriguez and then got a complete service and had the new wheels installed. They got me a center lock rotor on the drag brake, the front wheel has a disc hub, and they used regular brake pads instead of short blocks – but the bike worked fine and the creaking/clunking that had me worried went away.
A couple of days before our flight I packed the bike. I found that the 24-hole paired spoke pattern of the new wheels made packing much easier. (Handlebars now fit inside the rim, I put both sets of bars in the same box!) I didn’t have the tool to remove the center lock rotor so I left it on the hub and packed it with spare inner tubes and a roll of paper towels. We were worried about lost/delayed luggage so we didn’t pack our helmets. The flight to Paris was uneventful. Delta business class is a whole lot better than coach. (One could get used to the legroom and the reclining seat.) In a first, customs in Paris was a well-managed line with almost no waiting. We were early enough to catch a train to Strasbourg originating at CDG, but after traipsing all over the terminal (with two big bike cases) we couldn’t figure out how to exchange tickets and decided to take a cab to Gare de l’Est. (The first cabbie didn’t want to go downtown and turned us away because our cases were too big. The second guy, with a smaller car, didn’t hesitate…) We waited there for two or three hours but figuring out which platform and which car was pretty straightforward.
There was no luggage storage rack at the entrance to the car so I managed to jam one case behind the seats there and we took the other one to our seats and fit our legs around it. A couple of stops later we were able to claim a space on the rack at the other end of the car and the rest of the ride was easier. We hailed a cab and checked into a very nice hotel, the Regent Contades. The next morning I put the bike together in front of the hotel and had issues with the tires. First, I was installing brand new Schwalbe Marathon Plus which would be difficult even at home with tools. Second, once I got the tires on the rims I found that our pump was missing a piece of the head and couldn’t connect to the valve stems. Odette went out to a bike store and came back with a Lezyne mini-pump that allowed us to determine I’d put pinch flat like punctures in both tubes. Off came the Marathons and then on again, breaking a tire lever in the process. We couldn’t get enough pressure into the tires with the mini-pump but it was rideable and we went back to the bike store and used a regular floor pump and bought a couple of new tubes. (When I broke the bike down in Freiburg a week later, I realized that the stems on the new tubes were too short for the Rolf wheels – luckily we didn’t have any flat tires on the whole trip.) We rode in circles trying to avoid cobblestones, had lunch, and ended up back at the hotel confident that we had a bike that worked.
That evening we had the customary meeting with the local agent for Discover France. We didn’t realize that the meeting was set for a different hotel until he didn’t show up at the appointed time. We weren’t looking for anything from him and it didn’t take him very long to run through the required warnings so it worked out fine and we still made our dinner reservations on time. There was no discussion about the deposit on our Covid-aborted trip, though.
The next morning we rode to Obernai – about 30 miles. The first part of the ride, through Strasbourg, wasn’t as complicated as Odette had feared. The next section followed a canal and was cool and shady. We saw a lot of farm land and didn’t have any big climbs – we got to Obernai in time for lunch, We stayed at a place called A la Cour d’Alsace which was very nice except that there was a heatwave in process and we were in the part without air conditioning. We ate at their restaurant which was relocated out to the lawn and was quite pleasant. It turns out that there is not a lot to do in Obernai in the summer.
The next day we did a loop out to Mt. St. Odile and back to Obernai – only 21 miles but with a couple of significant climbs. We saw a lot of pretty villages and impressive churches. The monastery / retreat had an interesting back-story and picturesque architecture and the twisty descent was fun. We had lunch in Obernai again and then walked out to a wine store and tasted Alsatian wines. The store was friendly and able to ship wines – although like the wineries in Bordeaux they felt that their wine was too inexpensive to justify the amount of duties and tariffs levied on shipments to the US. We bought a case of wine for shipment to Will in Berlin and the host insisted that we do a birthday / thank you card to put in the box as she couldn’t grasp an unprompted gift. They also sold a variety of eau d’vie and a Ratafia – the first time I’ve been able to find that since my student days.
That evening Odette had a restaurant in mind but couldn’t connect with them on the phone or internet. She got the front desk to call and they weren’t any help either, but a few hours later they called back to say that they had an opening in the hotel restaurant for us. Odette declined (she was holding out for torte flambé) and we ended up at a place with more of a street-food vibe.
On the third day of riding we went to Riquewhir, revisiting several of the villages we’d seen the previous day and navigating a climb on a narrow farm road just before the end of the ride. We stayed at the Hotel du Schoenenbourg – a standard Best Western set down in a medieval village. There was some confusion about the date and time of our reservation but we got a wine tasing at a winery and we were impressed by the wines to the extent that we bought another case and had it shipped to Will. We ate at the hotel and it was surprisingly good.
The next day we rode on to Colmar, noticing (but not visiting) a bunch of Chateau on the way – 21 miles and we took the “long” option. We saw more villages, more farmland, and a lot of wooded edges to the river valley. The hotel, Hotel Turenne, was modern and quite a ways out of the center of town. We ate at a restaurant on the church plaza and were happy with the food. the next day we followed up with a 25 mile loop, retracing the way into town but seeing some different villages and vineyards. Lunch was at the same place as the previous day (Les Tanneurs) and dinner was at a Brasserie in the old part of town – actually just on the other side of the church from the place we’d eaten a day earlier. We found a winery in Colmar, tasted, and shipped another case to Will.
The final day of the planned tour was a 40 mile ride to Freiburg in Germany. The route was neither as complicated nor as hilly as Odette had feared. We started with a long stretch along a canal, and eventually climbed a hill that got me down into the middle ring. The main excitement was when we missed a trailhead on the left of a busy road and discovered that the next crossing didn’t go through – leaving us staring at a vacant lot with knee-high weeds next to a railroad. We backtracked and got across the tracks and the rest was much calmer. We stopped at a Doner place for lunch and an old lady commented on our bike, then on her return pass (with groceries) she told us that her younger self had owned two tandems. We stayed at a very nice place, Hotel Bierhausle, which was a 20 minute tram ride out of the center of town. (We went downtown for lunch the second day and couldn’t find the ticket machine so we rode back out to the hotel without paying.) We ate at the hotel both nights we stayed there. The next morning we rode through the old part of town and out to a ski area. Odette didn’t turn on her cyclometer but it was a 16 mile ride that was impressively alpine in appearance. The bike storage area (which had a full workbench) also had a bunch of snowboard stuff which should have been a clue. After the ride I broke down the bike and packed it into the cases. A guy in a wheelchair watched almost the entire process before he got rolled away. In the morning we got a cab to the train station (back in the middle of town) hoisted our cases up to the second level of the station, and caught a train to Berlin.
We didn’t have any luggage problems on this train segment. We saw a lot of hilly farm country, really quickly. Even so, the train got to Berlin an hour later than scheduled and Will had us get a cab instead of guiding us on the subway. I had a brie & baguette sandwich which is apparently what one eats on German trains.
Will’s place is a conversion of a Berlin Roof on a pre-war East German building. It is big and comfortable and modern – but the new elevator was still under construction so we got to walk five flights of stairs each time we came or went. (When we showed up with the bike cases Will and Ian did the honors.)
I put the bike back together and Will and Ian led us out to Weissensee for lunch. Odette and I spent the next few days on Museum Island. We started with the topography of terror exhibits and then visited the Pergamon, the Bode and the Neues, topped off with the DDR Museum. I was struck by the degree to which the narrative was focused on West German-centric concepts and institutions. I guess that the victors really do write the history…
We followed our museum visits with bike rides to Muggelsee and Potsdam on the R1 (EuroVelo 2) bike route and then with a ride to Oranienberg on the D11 (EuroVelo 7) bike route. Odette and I did a short ride through the Tiergarten (no squirrels) and Will led us on a ride along the Berlin Wall trail and across Templehoff. The bike infrastructure in Berlin is impressive with signaled and well-marked lanes on most big streets and left-turn boxes at every intersection. The downside is a lot of cobblestones and smaller pavers.
We ate out several times, mainly in the Samariter neighborhood (particularly around Boxhagner Platz.) One night at a Japanese place was especially memorable. I spent a lot of time in Will’s egg chair trying to make sense out of the buildings across the street. (I think that most of the apartments in those buildings had four windows making them relatively large.) We walked to a couple of grocery stores and to the Vietnamese market. We bought 9€ all-you-can-ride subway passes.
The trip ended with a cab ride to the central Bahnhof. We fidgeted around until they posted the track and positioning of the train and then got on the wrong car. It didn’t matter, though, since there was no luggage rack by either door. I got rushed and hoisted the cases into the overhead rack instead of trying to fit them under the seats. They were too big for the rack and balanced precariously right over Odette – but they stayed up there all the way to Amsterdam. The dining car was not in operation that day so we subsisted on a bag of vending machine chips. After Hanover the train became a local and our compartment filled up. It was a long day.
We caught a local train to the airport in Amsterdam (we were the only ones in 1st class) and found the Sheraton Hotel a few hundred feet from the platform. Check-in was easy and the front desk agreed to store our cases. Dinner was a buffet but it was surprisingly good. We slept well.
We got up early for a 10:00 flight. The woman at baggage drop off decided our cases were oversize and although she didn’t charge anything she made us take them to the oversize desk which we had trouble finding. The flight back was uneventful and the food was actually quite tasty. We deplaned in the new international terminal in Seattle. Our cases came out right at the start of the flight – at which point we discovered that the line to passport control filled up the mazes and snaked around at least three of the luggage carousals. An hour and a half later we were trying to figure out where the Lyft waiting area had been hidden since it clearly wasn’t where the arrows pointed.
- S&S cases are for checking, not for carry-on. That’s as true for trains as it is for airplanes
- Trains are easier than they were in the mid-’70s but they are still confusing and work a lot better if you can communicate with people
- the 9€ monthly subway pass made it much easier to get around and should be widely copied
- Urban cycling on the tandem is a challenge if you don’t know where you’re going
- If I bring the tandem to Berlin again I need to make sure I comply with the light/reflector rules.
- Berlin is amazingly flat
- It will be interesting to see what Schreinerstrasse looks like five or ten years from now
- You forget how much energy there is in a neighborhood where you can walk to a practically unlimited number of bars and cafes
- Delta business class is nice but you still have to deal with Karens – not sure I’d pay their list price ($12K?) for the upgrade.
- Seattle really needs to fix the customs process for international arrivals