Konstance to Amsterdam 2016

Here is the blog written during the 2016 Famous Five Cycle tour along the Rhine from Lake Konstance to Amsterdam 


Day 1 Zurich to Konstance 03/06/16 Friday


We arrived at Birmingham airport at silly o'clock in the morning and unloaded all our bikes and bags - with the exception of one small item left in the back of a car. Trundling our cardboard encased bikes on luggage trolleys we attempted to enter the departure area only to find the bike/ trolley combination wouldn't squeeze through either the rows of bollards outside or the terminal doors. With a lot of heaving we negotiated the way through and readied ourselves for Swiss air's very own check in challenge. We all checked we had what we needed - bike, hold baggage, cabin baggage, boarding pass and passport, at which point literally all the colour drained from the face of one of our number. Who could that be, you are all no doubt wondering! Yes, that's right, the 'one small item' previously referred to was indeed a passport! So one urgent, not to say panicky phone call was made to the wife of the passport's owner who was by now driving back home on the M6. The wife - let us for the sake of convenience say her name is Lin - had to turn round and return to the joy that is Birmingham airports drop and go car park to be greeted by a very relieved and suitably grateful husband - who for the sake of convenience we could call Dave. Drama over, we rearmed to the task of booking in bikes and bags. At the check in desk a nice young Spanish attendant could find absolutely no record of these items being booked on. Oh how we laughed. In fact, Glenn had already booked the bags and bikes and had phoned twice just to check. After several phone calls between the check in desk and Swiss air, it transpired they had been booked but hadn't been paid for. That's because they told me twice that there was no charge, bemoaned Glenn amidst other various comments regarding the myth of famed Swiss efficiency. In the end we had to pay the charges and with bags and bikes duly labelled up - not necessarily matching each bike correctly with its owner - we trundled to the oversized baggage area - interestingly located next to the multi faith prayer room. There is a joke here somewhere but I can't think of one right now. The man at the desk was a gruff but friendly red faced man who checked each bike against the boarding passes and loaded them onto the conveyor. Or rather loaded two of the them onto the conveyor because the other three wouldn't fit - even though they were in the size of box specified by Swiss air. After an agonising wait he advised us to 'just leave them here lads, I'll make sure they get on' which strangely didn't inspire the confidence he intended. Hurrying through security Dave was stopped for no obvious reason and then we ran the gauntlet that is 'perfume alley' being assailed along our way by people wearing too much make up trying to get us to sample the latest 'eu de complete bollocks'. In the departure lounge the screen informed us that boarding would be in five minutes. It did this for the next ten minutes. Rob commented that something was wrong with their arithmetic - even he could do the math. But as Glenn observed, you may be able to do the math but you can't spell! When the gate was eventually announced we arrived at the departure gate where Swiss air yet again could not do the math because they completely failed to provide a number of seats in the waiting area equal to the number of seats on the plane. Or maybe I'm being picky. At least the pilot had managed to park the airplane vaguely near the airport so a short walk (rather than an awful airport buses journey) led us onto the plane. Safely seated we thought about the trip ahead and wondered whether the level set by our somewhat panicky start would be maintained. Roger read the inflight magazine - in German, because he can. Barry snoozed and Glenn began this entry of the blog - or was it the letter of complaint to Swiss air, asked Dave who was reading the inflight magazine, possibly in English, whilst Rob listened to something on his headphones - he's from King's Heath you know.


We arrived in Zurich to be welcomed by a light drizzle - not the sort on a cake, the wet sort, with some degree of apprehension as to whether all five of our bikes had arrived with us. Following the directions of a man in high viz waving two orange table tennis bats, the pilot parked the plane - no where near the airport of course. Wilcommen im Zurich.


Amazingly, all five bikes and all five bags arrived in the baggage reclaim area where we began unpacking and re-assembling the bikes. Rob thought he had finished his and did a test ride around the baggage reclaim area only to find he'd forgotten to re-fit the pedals. Glenn asked if he had a spanner. 'Only my Dad ' he replied. With the bikes re-assembled we pushed them through the airport concourse to the railway station underneath. Failing abysmally to buy tickets at a machine, we queued in the booking office and then waited over 15 minutes to be sold tickets for five people and five bikes. The famed Swiss efficiency not working quite so well again. Trundling our bikes down the escalator to the platform we waited for the train which arrived on time. Then we heaved the bikes up the three steps from platform level and onto the train. An hour and a half later having past through neat and tidy farms, fields, villages and towns with stations frontages overflowing with commuter bikes, we arrived in the lovely German town of Constance - the start of our journey proper. A short cycle from the station we soon found our hotel for the night with the aid of Arabella. Check in was faultless and soon we were wandering by the lake (Bodensee) and caught our first view of the river Rhine as the time approached beer o'clock. Sampling the local brew we realised that the various snippets and phrases in German were flooding - or maybe dribbling - back. And so we all confident that after a few more beers we would be totally fluid in the language.


After a leisurely mooch round the Altstadt we ate in a friendly little restaurant where Baz's commitment to the strictures of his diabetic religious convictions were tested to destruction by apple strudel with vanilla sauce and cream. A stroll back through a little street market brought us back to the hotel where we sat around solving the problems of the world as only the famous five can.


Day 2 Konstance to Shauffhausen, to Waldshut; 04/06/16 108km; 67 miles


Last night's stay was in the Ibis hotel in Constance. Very modern and very Ibis. As you will gather, a certain amount of untroubled and wireless Internet access is required for the blogs of our journey to be broadcast far and wide on the interweb. And so each hotel will be scrutinised on this facility. The Ibis scored 4/5 for not needed in a password; 4/5 for signal strength, and 1/5 for consistency of connection - you had to keep logging back on every five minutes. Total 9/15 which is 60%. Not bad but could be better.


The morning dawned grey but dry. All had had a reasonable sleep and we assembled at 8:00 for breakfast. Frustuck was a very welcome buffet in the busy restaurant. Gradually as people went on their way we were left to focus on the day ahead and wait for the coffee - and in case of Baz (aka Lance), the drugs - to kick in.


Eventually there was no more putting off the inevitable and we left our cosy Ibis to relieve the bikes from the fahrradkeller - a locked storage cage in the underground car park. After a few minutes we were all sorted but Dave couldn't find his gloves and cycle computer. So off he went to check in the room. No luck there. Eventually they were found in the opposite pannier to the one he was looking in - a clear case of 'In the other pannier syndrome' - a complaint we will all suffer from more than once on our journey.


Leaving Constance - which is in Germany, we soon crossed the border into Switzerland and had a team photo taken by a very helpful young student from the university. We pressed on accompanied by the slightly annoying sound of Dave's mudguard rubbing against the tyre. Clearly this could not go on so we stopped on the lakeside cycle path for adjustments to be made. Job done, the various quiet lanes and cycle paths took us along the lakeside parallel to an uncrowded road, an electrified branch line railway with frequent, punctual, shiny new trains, and a dedicated meandering footpath. These Swiss eh, if only they had a proper integrated transport system like ours.


As we will be in and out of Switzerland for the next three days,, there will be more instalments to come on the general theme of 'Why can't the UK be like Switzerland.'


Cycling along on what proved to be far more off road gravel tracks than we'd bargained for, we were looking forward to coffee at Stein am Rhein. But with 2.5km to go Dave had a puncture. The repair took place amidst a chorus of helpful suggestions as you can imagine. Ten metres later it went again so this time both the inner tube and tyre were changed.


So by the time we arrived in the beautiful medieval village of Stein am Rhein, we thought we had better forgo coffee and have lunch which we ate outside in the picturesque town square. But with rain threatening and only 30km done and 70km to go, we pressed on.


On a mixture of forest tracks, cycle trails and quiet roads we made good progress until .... One of us -let's call him Dave - had another puncture. And then another one. What is going on?


Whilst we were waiting for the repair to be made, Glenn wondered about whether Roger's new blue baggy cycle shorts reminded anyone else of a girl guides uniform from days gone by. And what was the girl guide called? Apparently not. Oh well.


As the day was moving on faster than the miles we forgo an afternoon coffee and press on to our stop for the night at Waldshut. More off road and hilly sections were accomplished - made harder by the gravel paths and unexpected nature of the climbs. So not really all downhill to the sea then. At least not yet. With about 12km to go we were all hoping it would go smoothly with no navigational mistakes. So Arabella took over the navigation. Big mistake. More up hill climbs than were strictly necessary slowed the remaining miles even more until finally she directed us over the bridge back into Germany and straight onto half a main road - the other half being dug up. Ignoring all the direction signs we managed to cross the flow of traffic to the hotel. Which was closed. At least it looked close and all the doors were locked. A phone call via the booking. com website resulted in the owner rushing into the courtyard to greet us. After parking the bikes in the garage we had a surreal negotiating experience about what rooms we had booked. With everything eventually resolved we made our way to our rooms and a welcome shower. Except Glenn couldn't get his to work. Until he stopped being a muppet and turned the correct control lever.


Although the restaurant in the hotel was closed, the bar was open. But taking pity on us the lady in charge volunteers to cook a meal for us. When it came it consisted of spicy chicken in coconut milk, beef with potatoes, sezchuan chicken, mange tout with onions and aubergine and rice. Fantastic. Sitting round feeling very full we contemplated the day - a real effort and a challenge made harder by the unexpected terrain and mechanicals. But never mind - things can only get better can't they?


Day 3 Waldshut to Basel to Neuenberg 05/06/16 Sunday; 115km; 71 miles


The day started bright and warm and we hoped to get an early start to the 71 mile stage of the journey today. Breakfast was at 7:30 and was a pretty good - lots of fruits, yogurts, eggs, cheese and meats.


Setting off, we hoped that today's route wouldn't take us off road so much as yesterday. The problems of so much gravel track through woods were that it slowed the pace considerably and perhaps put a strain on Dave's dodgy rear .... tyre. And we could be cycling in Mortimer forest! But back on the roads it was obvious we were on non-UK territory given we are cycling on the the right and there are no pot holes and no litter.


The morning's route to our planned coffee stop was on the northern, German side of the Rhein. Quiet, well surfaced cycle paths and roads led us through tidy sleepy housing estates - all shapes and sizes, well spaced neat and tidy houses. And no litter.


Passing through the cobbled streets of Laudenburg, a lovely medieval town - with no litter - we climbed away from the river only to descend into its flood plane with arable crops well advanced of those back home. These Germans even get their crops to grow faster!


Passing lots of cyclists, runners and dog walkers we encountered a large, pudgy man who would definitely have won an 'I look like my dog' competition.


Cycling on, Glenn found himself abscent mindedly playing 'gute morga/ gute morgen/ blank stare' version of snap. This involves scoring a point for everyone your greeting to passers by is exactly matched in return. Thinking he was doing quite well he was flummoxed when a cyclists response was a minimalist hand gesture at which point he realised there were far too many variables for this to be a sensible way of spending a Sunday morning.


By 10:00am we had covered 27km and stopped for coffee and cake in Bad Sackingen at a nice riverside cafe just downstream from only the fifth hydroelectric power station we had seen in two days. Germans eh. If only they took their investments in renewable energy seriously like we do.


Not long after we left the tarmac and followed gravel tracks for 12km which threatened but failed to provide Dave with his first puncture of the day. By lunchtime, we had taken nearly 3 hours of mainly off road cycling to do the same distance we covered in less than 2 hours on the road. But we were doing ok and back on tarmac entering the outskirts of Basel and heading for lunch. But 6km away one of us - let's call him Roger - found his chain sticking and after a couple of stops found his rear gear changer was slightly bent. Duly straightened with a pedal spanner we were off again.


Passing the Basel FC football ground and more multi sport pitches and facilities you could shake a Swiss franc at - including a beach volleyball pitch with female match in progress (not that Dave noticed) we stopped at a local Spar to buy food for an al fresco lunch on the bank of a tributary of the Rhein. After lunch and a little bit of light sunbathing / snoozing we were back in the saddle with 70km done and 60km to go.


Reaching the confluence with the Rhein we experienced some momentarily difficult navigation as we crossed from Switzerland into France. Glenn nearly had a bit of a wobbler but contained himself well before we headed off on a long straight 12 km slog along gravel path parallel to the Rhin canal to Kembs where we made a small change to our planned route. Obviously didn't take a short cut but instead took a more 'direct' route to hotel. By now Glenn realised that whatever was in the tomato and basil pate he had for lunch was as full of salt as a salty thing on salt appreciation day and spent the rest of the afternoon drinking as much water as possible.


So after Basel, we had bid our farewell to Switzerland. Which brings us to today's instalment of why cant the UK be more like the Swiss?

Well apart from the friendly, helpful bi or multilingual people with virtually no tatoos the country has no litter and one of the highest per capita manufacturing productivity in the world. The U.K. Is 25th. So why can't the British be more like the Swiss Messrs Gove, IDS, Johnson et al. Because of tiny minded anti-state tossers like you lot, that's why.


On our designated 'direct' route along the D52 we had formed a serious peloton with Dave then Rob taking the lead as we purred along until someone's chain came off. Let's call him Barry, who then proceeded to eat something resembling a long thin fir cone - other similes may apply - covered road gravel. Rob asked if it tasted as nice as it looked but Baz was non comital meaning we guess that it didn't look nice and or taste nice either. A bit further along Arabella let it be known we had 42 minutes to go but she hadn't accounted for someone's - let's call him Dave - whose rear .... tyre was going down slowly. Whilst stopping to pump it up she informed us that now we only had 20 minutes to go and she took over the navigation but was soon over-riden because she was trying to take us through a railway marshalling yard. Ignoring her sulks, we finally crossed both the Rhein and its canal and the number 5 autobahn, and we were back in Germany in the neat and tidy town of Neuenberg am Rhein.


To reward ourselves for the rigours of the first two days we each had single rooms and after welcome showers we wandered into town past the local cinema where one of us - let's call him Dave - remembered he'd once watched the film 'Martian' and had fallen asleep, rating it as complete rubbish. Lots of counter opinions ensued until we realised we were missing valuable beer time.


Beer time however was soon taken to new heights as the bar we selected also served a range of desserts the size of Wales. One of us - let's call him Dave - after drooling over the menus finally crumbled and ordered a dish based on fruits of the forest, cream and more cream, and a wafer to make it look vaguely healthy. Pictures on Facebook! Not a pretty sight. Wandering on we decided on a restaurant near the hotel to eat our evening meal proper. Which was wonderful - various variations on pasta with various animal related bits - except for Glenn of course. Followed by coffees and tiramisu - except for Baz of course.


Sitting outside, still in shorts and t shirts at 9:00 pm we looked forward to tomorrow's rather shorter journey to Riquwihr - lovely medieval village in France famed for its wine and hilltop views. Hilltop. The clue is in the word ..... Gute Nacht.


Day 4 Neuenberg to Neuf-Brisach to Riquewihr 06/06/16 Monday 76.5km; 47.5 miles


Breakfast in our arty modern Stadt hotel was another sumptuous buffet taken at a leisurely pace with Roger taking time to read the local German newspaper - because he can. Or at least he would have done if he'd remembered his reading glasses.


By now we had all worked out some sort of system of packing to try to avoid the 'Is in the other pannier' syndrome. Roger has solved this by having his pannier bags of different make, the one being nearly twice the size as the other. This required careful packing and weight distribution otherwise he found himself cycling round in involuntary circles.


The man at the bike repair shop reminded some of us of the guy with the land rover in last of the summer wine - the sort of bloke who had every conceivable spare part in his shed if only he could remember where he left it. Anyway, he did a splendid job on Dave's rear tyre and Rogers rear mech.


Job done, bikes lubricated and panniers loaded we set of at about 10:30. Setting off Glenn followed the 'intuitive direction finding technique' rather than ask Arabella. This was a mistake which promptly took us along the completely wrong road. Thankfully Arabella sorted us out and we crossed the river and back into France.


We kept up a good pace along wonderfully smooth D52 and this meant we covered the 28km to Neuf-Brissac in really good time with the dyke of the Rhin canal a constant companion on our right. But at some point Baz aka Lance broke from the peloton and disappeared ahead probably as his drugs kicked in. But before long the drugs kicked out again and we were all together as we cycled into Neuf-Brissac for coffee.


As mentioned, we are now in France. Riding through different counties is proving something of an intellectual challenge to us all, especially Dave who keeps asking 'are we in France now or what?' But to solve this conundrum we have devised an easy to use system based on roadside litter. If you see one item every hundred metres or so , you're almost certainly in France. If it's one item of litter in one km, you're in Germany. One item per 10km you're in Switzerland. Hopefully that makes it clear to all. We leave you to ponder where our own little England figures on this sliding scale.


Neuf-Brissac proved to be a difficult town to enter as the modern road took us all the way to the other end before a turning let us in. Passing over an amazing double moat - thought by Rob to be Napoleonic - and then through the gap in the otherwise impenetrable town walls, we stopped on the edge of the lovely town square for coffee . We sat outside drinking our cafe au lait in the sunshine playing the 'who will buckle first and have a cake' game. Probably you can guess who gave in first - let's just call him Baz - even though it was an abstinence day according to the tortuously complicated religious calendar of St. Dia the Betic. Then Dave gave in, then Glenn. Rob meanwhile went into local Carrefour and bought us all a banana. Such a nice boy. He's from Kings Heath you know.


After buying provisions for a picnic lunch, Arabella led us out onto the right road and soon we were purring along the D52. Surprisingly busy given this was lunchtime in France and even more surprising as we should have been on the D468. With that minor error corrected, we turned off onto the quiet D3 and then stopped for picnic lunch which featured Orangina - last year's official tour soft drink - and talk of Monet, Manet and something else beginning with M that Dave came up with which you'd better ask him about if you want to know more.


After lunch it was interesting to note our various cycle mounting techniques. Glenn and Dave use a sort of straddle movement to get one leg over the cross bar. Rob, Roger and Baz all use the western roll over the saddle although Roger has been know to use a scissor kick over the handle bars. No one has yet to experiment with a Fosbury Flop. Thankfully.


After this morning's beautiful sunny weather the afternoon continued in the same vein. Now cycling west away from the Rhin towards the ominous - looking Vosgues mountains we past through the lovely villages of Artzenheim and Jebsheim with beautifully pastel painted half timbered houses with the ubiquitous window boxes full of geraniums as only the French know how. Unfortunately we then came across a Route barree sign which led us onto a rather unwelcome 15km detour.


Finally we picked up signs for Riqwihr, our stop for the night. As we left the valley and began climbing so did the temperature - 34.9 degrees C according to Stephanie. A probably more reliable measurement from a roadside pharmacy sign said 32 deg C. Stephanie has been known to exaggerate on more than one occasion. Onwards and upwards through the acres of vines we entered the pretty village of Beblenheim and we passed a friendly couple on E bikes. Baz thought they were a really good idea and Karen should sell the car and definitely have one for her trips into Newport each morning. We all thought she would certainly agree with such an eminently sensible suggestion. Or maybe not.


With only 3km to go, pedalling steeply uphill - probably a 0.6 saf - someone's chain broke. Let's call him Roger, who along with Dave made good a repair while the rest of us waited in the shade eating Snickers. Leaving the village we joined a main road for a few hundred metres before turning off left and uphill on the road to Riqwihr - which had only recently been resurfaced and no one had brushed up the excess chippings, of which there were plenty, most of which crammed themselves into the tiny gap between Dave's new and slightly larger rear tyre and his mudguard - forcing him to a complete halt. So he had to walk the last mile. Or at least that was his excuse. Reaching the village we soon found sumptuous best western hotel with its very welcome air conditioning - even in the bike garage! And no code for the wifi!!! I am so happy!


Showered and refreshed we wandered through the enchanting medieval village with its cobbled, nearly pedestrianised streets (this is France however) and beautifully preserved half timbered buildings. Having taken gazillions of photos, we sat down in a quieter side street for beers - and in Rogers case, a jus de pamplemouse - the first we had found on the journey so far. Moving to a nearby restaurant we sat outside and felt a few drops of rain falling from a perfectly blue sky. Very strange. But the rain soon past and we an excellent meal accompanied by a very good local Pinot noir. Lots of banter followed about the location(s) for our next trip(s). And we haven't finished this one yet!


Wandering back to the hotel it only seemed right that had another beer siting outside on the terrace, each of us studiously ignoring the fact that in less than ten hours time, we would be back in the saddle for another 70 mile day. Bon nuit to all our readers.


Day 5 Riquewihr to Ribeauville to Marckolsheim to Strasbourg to Drusenheim 07/06/16 Tuesday 111km; 69 miles


We woke to a wonderfully warm and sunny day and sat outside waiting for breakfast to begin to be served. This being France the thought of petite déjeuner was a bit worrying - mainly because of the word 'petite'. As it was, it was all good except for the bread rolls - the ones in Germany were fantastic. We ate outside on the terrace and pondered the reason for eating so much more at our breakfasts than we would do at home. Was it to fuel us up for the day's cycling ahead. Or was it a way of stalling the inevitable moment when bum meets saddle!


Heading off through Ribeauville we then headed east and, much to Rob's relief, away from the slopes and hill climbs of the Vosgues mountains. Crossing the motorway along lovely quite roads and yet more picturesque villages we quickly made the 20km to Marckolsheim where we joined the Rhin canal towpath mercifully tarmaced so we kept up a good pace for the 40km to Strasbourg. On the way we had hoped to stop for a morning coffee but no luck. Anywhere. So we crashed on along the towpath stopping only to take photos of huge canal boats and beautiful avenues of plane trees. We also passed a number of pill boxes - a sobering reminder of when, in on this whole area, countless people died in the name of nationalist insanities we thought we thought had gone for good.


Soon we leave the towpath and we are on cycle lanes through the Strasbourg suburbs. All very pleasant - tree lined and orderly not quite the heathen hotbed of federal fanaticism, enemy of democracy, national pride and sovereignty we are oft times led to believe by the editors of certain uk 'newspapers'. Have they ever actually been here?


Strasbourg prides itself as being the city of music and dance but alas not the city of coffee shops. In the end we peel off from the cycle way onto a modern development complete next to a theatre with a restaurant that would do very nicely. Lunch was seafood based and very welcome with the friendly young waiter very willing to fill up our water bottles, we were ready for the afternoon.


So with 70km done and only 30km to go we headed off. The day was getting hotter and Stephanie said it was approaching 33 deg C. However the sign outside a pharmacy we passed said 36 deg C which we all thought was an excessively high assessment. This pleased Stephanie no end.


As per yesterday we had averaged about 21km/hr today. However over the three days the average has been 17km/hr according to Loretta. Still pretty good going considering all the gravel tracks of the first two days.


Continuing ahead on well maintained cycle paths away from the centre of Strasbourg and out through its northern suburbs we entered park and woodland on yet more cycle path, this time along the top of a dyke. Parts of this section are reminiscent of the Silkin Way in Telford. Slightly. Well a bit. Ok, hardly at all.


Heading into open country for a while we soon entered the pretty village of La Wantzenau and from here were were back on the D468 making short shrift of the kilometers to Herrlisheim where we made the turning west on the D9 towards

our stop for the night. Despite some utterly bizarre navigational instructions from Arabella, we eventually found our hotel for the night. It was closed. Thankfully, a local builder doing some work on the site knew the door code and let us in. Our keys were waiting on the reception desks so before long we were in our rooms and in the shower. With rain threatening we decided against a walk into town and assembled for beers and the dinner in the restaurant. All very good including a 'black' beer a bit like a light, slightly sweet Guinness.


After dinner we sat around chatting about the day's highlights although this mainly consisted of what food we had eaten. As time wore on, we all realised just how tired we were - time for an early night. Bon nuit to all our readers.


Day 6 Drusenheim to Munchhausen 08/06/16 Wednesday

Munchhausen to Karlsruhe to Speyer 107km; 66 miles


Route innundee


The hotel we stayed in was in Bischwiller, France - a modern out of town affair frequented by sales and business people and occasions cyclists. It had a room for the bikes. It had a sauna. It was our bedroom.


Petite déjeuner at 7:30. Not as petite as we feared but not as grande as yesterday. One of us was late - let's call him Rob. Poem of the day - the first of the tour - was Mulga Bill by Banjo Paterson



As per one of the hotels last year, one coffee machine option was labelled 'Cafe long' which again referred to how long you had to wait. To entertain you, the machine had a graphic of a coffee cup filling up with coffee from the machine. Alternatively, you could watch the actual coffee cup filling up with coffee from the machine. Is it me?


At breakfast we were all using up tissues as if they were going out of fashion due to the effects of hay fever - all that is except the Heaths who are clearly made of stronger stuff.


We ventured outside to a grey morning. Light drizzle was falling and we took it in turns to administer a lubricant called 'Frilax' to our chains, mechs and other moving parts. On the bikes that is.


Echewing the help of Arabella we retraced our tracks of last evening and found our way back to the D2 with a timely intervention from Rob. The sign said 8km to Drusenheim and then after a couple of km another sign said 8km to Drusenheim. Oh well.


Reaching the D468 we were soon in Drusenheim and easily found the bike shop that Michaela said would be there.


While rob Dave and Baz indulged in a bit of carbon frame bike envy. Roger bought a new chain and link tool and some more lube - this time the more prosaically titled WD40. We found the route out of town and along a long featureless section along the banks of a tributary to the Rhin. Lots of cormorants and swans could be seen along the way.


No long after, we followed the cycle track towards the river only to find a rather large hole was in the way, dug by an enormous earth mover. So we followed to prescribed 'Deviation' through a lovely village which featured rows of neat, tidy and well cared for houses. Almost does your head in. It made you wish you could see something broken, discarded or unkempt to make you feel at home.


The temperature today was cooler - a steady 20 deg C according to Stephanie - but I'm not sure she can be trusted as she's been waving a spanner at me for two days now - for no discernible reason. Passing beautiful poplar trees bedecked with mistletoe, it began to rain which brought out one of Roger's many waterproof jackets and customary shower cap. Roger has various grades of waterproof jackets in the same way that some people have a variety of duvet tog values.


Not long after we saw some huge tubes connecting the water course on our right to the main river some metres above our head. 'Archimedes screws' said Rob. So rumour has it.


We then were forced into another deviation away from the river and through Beinheim village with its bank, school, pharmacy, three restaurants, bakery, Marie, and evidently, enormous pride in their local environment. French eh .... if only they knew how to maintain tight knit, vibrant local communities like we do.


A further detour unfortunately took us away from the largest heronry breeding centre in the Alsace. Instead we have to use the road and make do with the sight of a mating pair on the roof of the Marie in Seltz where we stopped for coffee in a friendly cafe situated next door to a huge modern church with one of ugliest frontages ever. It also had its own incredible ugly concrete bell tower stood in front of the church and to one side which looked gross and out of place. When the bells range out 12 o'clock, even they sounded ugly. Not that I'm on any way biased.


As well as coffee. Rob, Dave and Baz buckled after spending too long drooling at the Miko ice cream freezer. 40km done and 60 or so to go.


Cycling on to Lautetbourg, the most easterly town in France surrounded on three sides by Germany, we headed on to the Neuburg ferry. Or rather the Neuburg flood which was rather on the way of us getting to the ferry. Which was a bit of a problem. So instead of crossing the Rhin on the ferry and heading north east to Karlsruhe we decide to keep on the West Bank and head straight north to Speyer. In fact we've little choice.


Cycle through Hegenbach - strange German town no from gardens. And no restaurants although we did eventually find a Bacherie which did a special offer on Wednesdays of dampfnudel and potato soup. Followed by rhubarb or apple or black current flan. One of us - let's call him Dave - had something more cream based, a roulade with added roulade on the roulade bits.


Given our enforced route change, we tried in vain to stick to cycle paths especially as one or three German car drivers were rather forceful in their verbal abuse of our road cycling habits. But the problem was that many of the routes were closed or simply not easy to follow which was really frustration. The most direct route was on a road that bikes are banned on. So we bit the bullet and handed over the last 20 miles to our hotel in Speyer to Arabella. Who did brilliantly. And so we were soon in the centre of the town outside the hotel Amadeus. Which was closed. But after a few minutes it was opened up, panniers unloaded and bikes stored.


After welcome showers and clothes washing - more on this tomorrow - we wandered into the town complete with interesting architecture, cathedral and towers, and lots of street cafes, one of which took our fancy for a couple of reasons. After beers we ordered food and


After dinner chat focused on modern art in general and Jennie Saville in particular.


Day 7 Speyer to Worms to Mainz 09/06/16 Thursday 102km; 63 miles


It's a sign! ........


Breakfast was effectively a do it yourself cheese, bacon or spam sandwich with melon. And a boiled egg. There was an awful painting of Mozart on the wall in the dining room, the only reference to the name of the hotel -Amedeus- that we could see. There was not much enthusiasm for the painting and there was not much enthusiasm from the famous five for another 100+ km in the saddle in what looked likely to be a hot day.


Although we brought a poetry book with us, we have read most of the bike poems as poems of the day last year. So maybe, in the absence of a poem we should think of a song for the day. Day 2's obvious choice would have to be Crowded House's 1991 classic, 'Four punctures in one day' dedicated to Dave. And day 4's grey and sullen weather could almost be summed up by Lindisfarne's hit from twenty years earlier, 'Fog on the Rhine'.


When we got outside and pumped tyres and lubbed and loaded the bikes it was actually quite cool. We made our way through the pedestrianised main street with people heading to work or school and shops being opened up - sentiments encapsulated in Joni Mitchell's wonderful 'Morning Morgantown'.


Cycling past the vast and imposing cathedral we headed towards the river. And then out through the suburbs. Yesterday distance according to Stephanie was 107km in just over 5 hours of cycling at an average of 19.4km/hr and we hoped we could increase the pace today with hopefully less navigation hold ups. Not to be unfortunately.


Stopping at a junction in the open country two local walkers asked if we needed any help and gave us really good directions to the ferry at Altrip. The bad news was that it may not be working. After 12 km we got another view of Rhein on our right and loads of caravans and mobile homes on lake shore campsites to our left.


At 18km at Altrip we met the Rhein again to a backdrop of seriously huge power station on the Mannheim side. Waiting for the ferry across, a canoeist and then family of geese floated past - rather incongruously.


We crossed on the ferry for the princely sum of €1 each and then passed three power stations on the left and rows of allotments on our right. At a junction where we had stopped to consult with Michaela, a local man on a bike asked if he could help and then was kind enough to guide us slowly but surely through the myriad of paths in Waldpark until we came to the bridges over the Rhein to Ludwighafen. Where we stopped for coffee and cake with 30km done.


On the northern outskirts of Ludwighafen, lies the enormous 10 square km of the BASF factories. Employing 32,000 people it is truer to say that Ludwighafen lies on the outskirts of the BASF factory.


We stopped to take a photo of the main BASF cycle park with its 500+ company bikes. You get the impression that if we had tried to explain the UK's 'bike to work' scheme they'd fall about laughing.


Signposting had been a little confusing throughout the morning and Arabella was of little help as she was asleep. Impressive as the might of the German industry might be, perhaps a decent 3G signal is too much to ask for.


Eventually we left BASF behind and headed into open country, picking up the pace along mostly well surfaced cycle paths. Up ahead there was a pigeon on the path - at a distance Rob and Dave thought it looked like a dog. Pointy beak, wings, complete inability to carry slippers or newspapers. Easy mistake to make.


We followed yet more cycle path signs never entirely sure if the cycle path we were on was the cycle path that would take us to where we wanted to go. There are, it has to be said, rather a lot of cycle paths. And a cycle path sign isn't, by itself that much help. It's like putting a sign up on the A41 saying 'road'. In that circumstance you really want to know if you are on the right road into Wolverhampton, or, more importantly, are you on the right road out. And so in our case, what we would very much like to know is where the cycle path is going to take us. And because this wasn't clear and was often counter-intuitive, a lot of time was taken up - a problem made worse because Arabella was still asleep. Eventually we cycled through a beautiful kilometer long avenue of plane trees which took us into the lovely university town of Worms. As with most towns and cities, the problem isn't getting in, it's getting out. Worms is famed for having a hissy fit with Luther in 1521 - the infamous Edict of Worms. Sometime later their descendants kissed and made up and put up a statue of the outspoken preacher.


Lunch was largely asparagus based with additions of potato, gnocchi, ham, chicken and mushrooms. Just as we were saying how nice a town it was, one of those tourist 'trains' appears - the ones pulled by a tractor trying to look like a steam locomotive and failing very badly. We left the restaurant at 2:30 and would have left sooner but Dave and Baz went to the restaurant loo which was miles away.


As hinted at above, getting out of Worms was a nightmare. 6km in 45 minutes. Eventually we were in open country but getting through the larger villages wasn't easy as they seem determined to take you on all sorts of circuitous deviations. Smaller villages were better as the cycle route took us more or less straight through its centre and one obvious advantage of this was that we could easily find the shops and cafe. Thus in Alsheim, we stopped for coffee, cake and water in the little backerie, served by a local girl who spoke very good transatlantic English as a result of watching American films and tv serials and having an Australian exchange student. After much joshing about how an Australian could possibly help in this matter we paid our bill. But then Dave went back and bought some sweets so he could practice his English.


Onwards we cycled with the heat getting hotter on more cycle paths through more vines - this area known for its Liebfraumilch Riesling and Sylvaner semi sweet white wine. The original spelling of the word is Liebfrauenmilch, given to the wine produced from the vineyards of the Liebfrauenkirche or "Church of Our Lady" in the city of Worms since the eighteenth century. Down to more prosaic matters, and because what goes in just come out, we soon stopped for a pitt stop (think about the spelling) before heading in towards Mainz, our stop for the night.


With 10km to go we encountered 4K stretch of riverside gravel path. A real bum breaker. How we laughed. With 6km to go, Arabella still wouldn't wake up and no amount of 3G signal would load the google map with sufficient detail to locate our hotel. So as we entered the Altstadt and with the help of Roger's German language skills, two passers by and a policeman we finally arrived at the Mainz Gasthouse at 7:30pm.


After quickly checking in and storing the bikes, we were showered and changed and heading into Altstadt where we ate at an Italian restaurant served by rather surly waiter who forgot to bring the water Roger had ordered and then tried to make a joke of it. Remember what you are : waiter or comedian. Try to get good at one or the other before you try doing both at once. After pizzas and a couple of bottles of very passable Chianti Classico we read the day's blog and Dave couldn't stop laughing about the practicing his English joke.


We wandered back to the hotel and a welcome well earned night's rest. Gute nacht Lieber Leser.


Day 8 Mainz to Bacharach to Koblenz 10/06/16 Friday; 98km; 60 miles


You call that a gorge .....


The Mainz Gasthouse was a very modern hotel and each room had an array of light switches marked + or - which made the various lights come on or off in totally unexpected ways.


As with many hotels, each room was equipped with a hand held cycling clothes drying facility that some people also use as a hairdryer. After washing your clothes, you hang it in the shower overnight and then use said implement to finish the drying process. The problem is that said implement is more likely to burn your hand holding the clothing than actually dry it. The alternative is to tie the clothes to your panniers and let them dry as you're going along. The problem here is that they end up covered in dirt from the tracks and paths so at the end of the day you have to wash them again. This is what's known as cyclical washing.


Breakfast was better than expected - granola, musli, and bread roll sandwiches, so suitably fuelled, we set off. Yesterday we averaged only 16.3 km/hr covering 103km in 6 hours 20 minutes. But just as Stephanie imparted this information, she gave up and would not give us any information all day. Arabella on the other hand had recovered from yesterday's tiredness and was eagerly looking forward to getting us to tonight's hotel in Koblenz.


First however, we had to leave Mainz - which proved to be a frustrating time. The signs that did exist bore no relation to what Michaela was saying. Or the other way round. Eventually we stopped at a sign-less junction and yet again a local resident asked if she could help. Taking her advice we followed the riverside pathway from which the signposted route had tried to deviate from as much as possible.


This brings us to the subject of sign writers. Or sign positioners. Or whatever they're called. In an ancient Dr. Who episode there are people who spend all their time making intricate calculations and adjustments to stop chaos from flooding into the universe. Sign writers do the opposite. Clearly they are a secret brethren, much like masons maybe and non of them is ever likely to admit to their calling. One defining feature is their Arbitrary consistency deficiency condition or ACDC. Another defining feature is they very often have less logic than Boris on a good day. I imagine them sitting in their office with a self satisfied, rather evil smug, congratulating themselves on a job half done. So let's call them..... Tossers! Thanks to their fervent half measures after an hour and a half we'd done 19km and were just a little bit frustrated. Especially to those of us - let's call him Glenn - who think that orienteering is the ruination of a good run. So we vented our frustration by stopping for coffee and cakes in the lovely riverside village of Eltville.


Heading off again, we found that the riverside path will be lovely when it's finished but at the moment it isn't either of those things so we head along to Rudesheim on the road.


Rudesheim is a very weird place. For a start it is twinned with Swanage - the only apparent similarity to that Dorset town is the virtual absence of cycle paths. Sticking to the road, Roger spotted the signs for the ferry across the river. Whilst waiting, Michaela informed us that Rudesheim is the second most popular destination for foreign tourist in Germany - for reasons unapparent. But then she also said there was a well signposted cycle route out of Mainz. Rudesheim has innumerable shops selling belts and handbags and towels with your name on it, and a cable car to the higher slopes of the vines. Margate am Rhein.

On the ferry we also read that at just downstream there is tower in the river - we failed to spot it - where a certain Bishop Hatto had met a gory end. Apparently he taxed all the locals in grain and despite their annual protestation, kept increasing the tax. Until one year he invited all the peasants into one of his barns and said there was free grain to be had inside. A bit like the 'free beer tomorrow' signs you sometimes see. When all were in, he locked the door and burned them alive. Lovely Christian act. But then all the mice in the barn escaped and chased said Bishop to his tower and gnawed him to death. Amazing. You couldn't make it up - except somebody did.


On exiting the ferry, we headed down a well made cycle path sandwiched between rail and river because now the Rhein has entered a gorge a bit like Ironbridge. Except the Rhein gorge is wider and 50km long and has castle upon castle perched on its cliffs and rocky outcrops. However, the Rhein and the Severn both share this quirk of non-conformist river behaviour in having a flood plane followed by a gorge followed by a flood plane. See, I was awake in Geography lessons!!


With the river on the right and the railway on our left we made really good time along the well maintained cycle path. In our country, the cycle path would be where the railway used to be. For some bizarre reason they've chosen to keep their railway.


We are passed by two cyclists who are evidently as fit as a butcher's gym instructor. However, they have three advantages over us - no pannier bags, they're a lot younger, and they almost certainly eat less cake.


Which brings us to the subject of sugar free cake. It has been amazing at how many coffee and cake outlets we have stopped in along the way, nearly all have diabetic-friendly cake for Baz to eat. Amazing.


As we pedalled on, almost every five minutes we saw a freight train on our side of the river, or a freight train on the other side of the river, or huge barges carrying shed loads of containers. On the road we saw one lorry in 50km. Germans eh...... If only they had a sustainable environmentally friendly freight transport system like ours.


We stopped for lunch in Bacharach, a lovely medieval town with cobbled streets.

Baz was particularly pleased that we chosen a restaurant frequented by two sets of American tourists. We all winced when one of them asked for tomato ketchup. Lunch was eaten outside and yet again, pretty good and then we set off again at 2:15 with 52km to go.


As we pedal on we see a number of cruisers passing with people sunning themselves and drinking Bacardi or whatever on the sun deck watching these five cyclists. Clearly there's a bit of role envy going on - not from us obviously.


At some points the cycle path and pedestrian footpath become separated for a few tens of meters by flower beds covered in pink and white roses. One if us - let's call him Rob - decides to cycle on the pedestrian side - not just once but lots of times. Clearly a defiant, rule breaking streak in there. Dave says its not from him. But the as we know, Rob is from Kings Heath.


We tank on and cover the next 27km in just over an hour and arrive in Boppard where we pass a hotel called the 'Rheinlust Gasthaus' which probably doesn't survive a literal translation. We stop for cokes, cakes and coffee and Glenn has iced tea. Afterwards, one if us goes to the loo and finds there is no where to put his cycle helmet containing camera, wallet and gloves. So he puts them in the sink. Which has an automatic tap. And things get wet. Let's call him Roger.


We pedal onwards on decent enough cycle path into outskirts of Koblenz although there was an unwelcome 2km stretch of cobble stones to rattle the bones.


Arabella led us through park by river and over the bridge. But because I couldn't hear her instruction we had a small error and Glenn had a tiniest hissy fit. Finding the right route we climbed the circular ramp over a footbridge which led us onto the start of a 250m hill officially a 0.9 saf. At the top we found our hotel of the night, the Berghof Gasthause. Berg = mountain so maybe the clue we all failed to note is in the name. When arrived rooms not ready so we enjoyed a complimentary beer in the bar.


The owner was a very friendly and dry humoured man named Christian who made us feel at home and locked our bikes in a downstairs room. After showers and clean clothes we are downstairs studying the dinner menu which seems to be almost completely based on Argentinian steaks. After much translational discussion about terms like 'rare' and 'medium' Roger is told by the chef that if he wants 'well done' he should eat his shoe. On being informed that Glenn is vegetarian, he asks 'why?' Given that it was all too difficult to explain, Glenn decided on a pizza. We all had a beer and then we had another one, this time a Weiss beer, quite strong and dark. There's a joke in there somewhere but I'm too tired! Bizarrely they are playing Tracey Chapman's 'Fast Car' on the stereo.


When they arrived, the steaks were as thick as a tectonic plate and the pizza was about the size of Wales. Given the chef's attitude to well done steak, we were all a little nervous about asking for things like mayonnaise or pepper. But it was a great meal and we were all as full as very full things on over eating day. We ate everything because we were all slightly frightened of being told off by the chef if we didn't. However we needn't have worried because the chef brought us all a glass on schnapps on the house which we all enjoyed as we listened to his banter with Dave rather shyly joining in as he is wont to do.


Another good day through lovely scenery with some wonderful laughs on the way.


Day 9 Koblenz to Konigswinter to Koln 11/06/16 Saturday; 105km; 65 miles


We can do posh .....


Breakfast was a nice buffet although how anyone could eat anything after last nights feast was beyond me.


Various bits of bike tinkering followed in an attempt to put off the inevitable.


Arabella guided us through the suburbs to avoid the very steep hill we came up last night - no one trusted their brakes. Before long we had the crossed the Rhein and made our way to the Deutsch Ecke - the confluence of the Rhein and Mosel rivers.


Deciding against following the prescribed route as Michaela described it, we let Arabella guide us through the northern suburbs and industrial area of Koln to Kaltenengen. From there it was a straightforward ride along the cycle path adjacent the the river. Unfortunately it was partly flooded in places. German engineering failing just a bit. Or perhaps they thought the river was higher there. But at least we can say we had dipped our wheels in the Rhein, just like we did last year at St.Malo and Nice.


Arrived in Andernack and were greeted by a McDonald's, a Burger King and a Subway. But before long we found the Pedestrianised streets of the Altstadt and waited an age for a coffee, watching various attempts to clean up a tray of food and drinks that had been dropped. Coffee was taken up with the subject of tattoos - given that yo out surprise, there seems to be almost as many people in Germany who have them as back home. What are they for? Why would anyone want one? All of us bar one thought they are an artless, pointless waste of money spent in vain attempts to make someone seem special when all it does is make then look ordinary. And a bit of a dick. Against that view, Rob is a little more conciliatory, perhaps because some of his friends have them. But he is from Kings Heath.


Before we set off again, Stephanie gets a new battery and stops waving a spanner but still refuses to work. Glenn hugely under impressed.


At Bad Breisig we passed lots of terraced eateries. Possibly, it was on the cusp of getting a shop selling belts and tea towels. Onwards we paddled on bike paths at the river side. At one point we stopped to be pathetic watching a dog doing pointless things with a stick. Oh how they laughed. Glenn again under impressed.


We cycle on through alternate areas of industry, quiet residential roads and fields and woodland hugging the river. We reach Remagen. Quite a sophisticated riverside eateries although there was one plastic Donald Duck holding an ice cream.


On to Rolandseck where we have to decide whether to take the ferry over to Konigswinter or stay on the West Bank. Because we can't decide, we go into a pretty posh riverside restaurant where we mistake the starters on the handwritten menu for main courses and end up with quite an expensive meal. It's the sort of place where the waiters and waitresses wear very long black aprons and certainly do not have a tattoo. But the lady seems very accommodating to Glenn's vegetarianism so we sit down on padded wicker chairs under umbrellas. We drink a rhubarb cordial with Italian mineral water over ice - very refreshing - dead cultured us.


As mentioned, the menu is handwritten and almost impossible to decipher but with the help of our host, we make our choices. Everyone has viena snitzel. Glenn has risotto.


By this time we forgo the ferry option and head off towards Cologne. Or as we cultured people call it, Koln. It gets hotter - 29 deg C - the only information Stephanie seems willing to impart.


Arabella does a splendid job of getting us into Koln were we are welcomed by a cycle race and rain. Heading on through the Koln traffic we make it to the hotel via a flight of 20 steps which Arabella probably thought would be funny. The hotel is shut. But that's because we are trying to go through the wrong door. We have a triple and two single rooms booked. By general agreement, Rob always had a single room because he does a bit of snoring. So we draw lots for who has the second single room and Glenn wins. After showers and a brief rest we head out into the Koln Altstadt and locate the Museum Ludwig which we will visit in the morning. We stroll down to an area full of bars and restaurants by the river and are served by a very surly man who nearly makes up in efficiency what he totally lacks in inter-personal skills. Whilst waiting, we see the end of the Wales Slovakia game and then have a laugh at Phil Neville's hairstyle.


After dinner, we all feel we've been processed rather than served so decide to move elsewhere for a drink to avoid giving them any more money. In the end, it's Starbucks - let's hope they pay their taxes here. Coffees and cake based food are consumed and then it's back to the hotel for an early night and - for the first time in the trip - a bit of a lie in!


Day 10 Koln to Dusseldorf 12/06/16 Sunday 52km; 32 miles


We can do Kunst......


We had an ordinary breakfast in weird room - an airport terminal ceiling clashing badly with walls covered in huge Thai / Burmese photographs and a huge fake pink cherry blossom tree. We left our bags and bikes at the hotel and walked into town past the Dom and past photographs of Koln bombed to absolute shit. Seventy bombs hit the Dom which unbelievably remained standing proud, surrounded by a complete flattened city. Profoundly disturbing. We did this.


The cathedral is huge. Another unimaginable thing. The scale of imagination and determination to build and create at extraordinary cost in materials and lives. The contrast to the destruction depicted in the black and white prints could not be more stark. Nor could the similarities.


Dave takes photos of the Dom whilst Rob, Glenn and Baz go inside. Stunning - but surprisingly for Germany's most popular tourist attraction, there is no gift shop. Meanwhile Roger goes into the Bahnhof to check trains to Düsseldorf. This is because after cycling 100 plus km a day for eight days, keeping up that mileage just so we could get to Düsseldorf when it's open, there was a danger we might get there this evening only to find it closed. Also, the journey through the industrial heartland doesn't exactly inspire. Also there is flooding on some paths and we're not sure the ferry at Zons is working. Also we are knackered.


Having bought the tickets, we headed for the museum Ludwig, not quite sure what to expect. Having ascertained the layout, we made complete fools of ourselves by forgetting to pay. Thus we may have inadvertently stumbled across one small thing the UK has stolen a march on over its European neighbours - free museum entry.


The museum was modern and wonderfully laid out - all light and space. Starting at the second floor we soaked in the expressionism and cubism including a August Macke painting that Glenn particularly wanted to see. Duly impressed we moved through the first floor pop art until it was coffee o'clock.


Our coffee was accompanied by the three piece jazz band who played really well. They even tuned the piano before they started! Then we headed back to the hotel to collect bikes and bags and then pushed everything to the station arriving earlier than we had expected so Roger checked the tickets were valid before we heaved the bikes up the steps to the platform and then onto the train - loads of room for the bikes. After speeding past car plants and chemical factories we arrived in Düsseldorf 40 minutes later and heaved the bikes down the steps and onto the street. Arabella did the business and got us to the hotel. Which wasn't there. Or at least it wasn't where booking.com said it would be but 100m down the street. Eventually we found it. It was closed. But a man who was staying there let us in and after a level of bureaucracy so far unencountered on the trip, we got into our first floor spacious rooms. Where the bikes had to go. The staircase was not exactly bike friendly either. But we heaved them up the stairs - a certain pattern developing here. Then we ventured out into the rain to the K20 art gallery just a couple of streets away. By now it was 3:00 in the afternoon and faced with a decision between art and food there was no real contest. So after a good meal in the modern gallery restaurant we whiled away the rest of the afternoon with a further portion of modern art from Picasso to Kandinsky, from Ernst to Klee.


As with other forms of exercise, and after nine days of cycling, we hadn't realised how tired we were until we stopped. Non of us can understand this given the amount of attention we had paid to resting in our training schedules. Some of this training has included structured laziness sessions comprising sets of speed resting and negative split relaxation where you complete two rest sessions in a day, the second one faster than the first.


The streets around the hotel are full of eateries but not of the coffee and cake variety. In the end we stopped for a decent coffee at a restaurant down a side street. All the streets in this area are pedestrianised but even at this early evening hour, some of the pedestrians were doing badly at the walking in a straight line contest. The reason for this is probably the Euros where Turkey we're currently being beaten by Croatia - shown on a Miriam of tv screens in every bar and restaurant around.


And it's Germany v Ukraine at nine o'clock this evening. So a quiet night in store then. Given that we are in Germany on a night their national team begin their Euro 2016 quest, we go to a Spanish restaurant.


The inside has been fitted out with ancient timbers fashioned to make it feel like an old fishing boat. In which case it would sink - the carpenter was more into surrealism than boat building. The boys veered off from their usual steak based diet and had paella while Glenn had tapas - patatas bravas, bell peppers and Abuelo sheep's cheese. Beers are from one of the many Düsseldorf breweries.


Surprisingly Baz declined the dessert as there was no diabetic option, but Roger and Dave cave in to creme brûlée - or at least a smoother version than the traditional French.


After we have eaten we add a further country to our cosmopolitan day by going into an Irish bar to watch the Germany v Ukraine second half. Germany playing a bit like Man U and then a bit like Arsenal but holding on to their 1-0 first half lead - just. Until Ozil and Schweinsteiger do their brilliant stuff. 2-0, job done.


Heading back to the hotel, the streets are full of happy, well behaved even if well oiled people. We settle for the night after a varied cultural and restful day. Gute nacht to art lovers everywhere. Wir können Kunst tun!


Day 11 Dusseldorf to Duisburg to Alpen 13/06/16 Monday; 83km; 51.5 miles


We can do fussball .......


The celebrations from last night's football victory continued long into the early hours in the bars surrounding the hotel - not particularly boisterous but noisy enough to make sleep hard to find. On the other hand waking up was far too easy, courtesy of the lorry collecting glass and bottles at 5:30 in the morning. Thanks.


Unfortunately, they hadn't quite collected all of the glass and Rob's front tyre was able to find a fragment not long after we had set off.


The repair was effected by an impressively cooperative father and son combination, and we set off only for the tyre to deflate again half a mile further on. A careful examination of the tyre found two more embedded glass fragments which Roger delicately extracted using pliers and a knife left over from his girl guide days.


We purred on through the drizzle on yet another flood dyke with good tarmac surface to Kaiserwerth where we stopped for coffee and rolls given that at the hotel there had been keine frustuck. By now the drizzle had stopped and it looked brighter ahead. In the cafe they also had biscuits with German and Ukraine flags and the score 2-0 in coloured icing. Not that they're taking this football business seriously. Oh. And Baz finds a diabetic apple cake - one of his five a day. So that's alright then.


By now it's stopped raining and someone says it looks like clear skies ahead. Let's call him Rob. Unfortunately, this prediction turns out to be a bit of a Boris but we plough on as the rain returns on wonderfully newly tarmaced cycle path. Which they haven't finished - we come to a halt as a construction barriers bars our way. Dragging the bikes up a bank, a local man helps us out and we are soon on the correct path again. Until we meet a junction where someone has taped over the sign indicating to us that the route is barred ahead, but blatantly not indicating to us what we should do instead. Undeterred we guess it's straight ahead which feels right but ends up in a housing estate on the outskirts of Duisburg. From there we need to find a route over one of the three bridges over the Rhur which has its confluence with the Rhein not far downstream. But which bridge? Yet again we put our trust in Arabella - but only when we get a decent 3G signal - who takes us over non of the three road bridges but a railway viaduct with cycle path alongside. The bridge girders are covered in graffiti and Dave and Glenn pass sage comments about tattoos on walls.


Having crossed the Rhur we cycle through industrial parts of Duisburg that remind Dave of cycling through Stoke only safer. A bit further on, the surroundings look like Crewe - without the cycle lanes and extensive tram system.


Passing giant chemical factories with adjoining nature reserves, we head to Rheinberg where we aim to have an early lunch given its a shorter day today, and we've only had one breakfast.


Arabella and Glenn are leading the way but loose the others as they cross a main road to follow a cycle lane instead. Glenn has an itsy bitsy hissy fit.


Reunited further down the road, we soon arrive in Rheinberg and call into a handy bike shop. Which is closed. Moving on, we find the Cafe Wien, a really nice restaurant which also provides meals for the adjoining care home. The waitresses are really helpful and friendly. And we sit outside in the sun. Then we sit outside in the rain. Then we sit outside in the sun again. The boys have a leg of a pig each and Glenn has what their main course eats.


We retrace our tracks and try to find the bike shop we passed on our way in but fail and as the rain is coming down harder, decide to press on. It's not many km to our stop for the night and Arabella takes us on a slightly weird way down a busy main road just for fun. But eventually we get to the hotel. Which is shut. We phone the owner who says he's sent an email we haven't received and then says he'll be here in a quarter of an hour, which he is.


After showing us around, we settle into a leisurely evening in the apartment. There is lots of space which is great but only one bathroom which may not be. We watch the footy for a while - Baz and Dave can do this with their eyes shut - and one by one, get showered and changed. There's is no restaurant but a takeaway delivery service will do just nicely.


The takeaway is duly ordered using Roger's German language skills - pizzas and beers. It arrives an hour later and we tuck in whilst watching the first half of the Italy v Belgium game. Fallani's new hair colour is widely judged to be a mistake but our collective bile overfloweth at his team mate with a Mohican and a rose tattooed on his neck. Don't, know his name. Let's call him dick head. Tired after our meal we head to bed. Our last day in Germany awaits as we'll pass into the Netherlands tomorrow.



Day 12 Alpen to Arnhem 14/06/16 Tuesday 76km; 41.5 miles


From Rhein to Rijn.......


The overnight rain had thankfully cleared by the morning which made loading and sorting the bikes rather easier. Tyres were pumped and chains lubbed. Rob has a problem with his handlebar - the allen bolts on the handle bar stem have shredded their thread meaning he can now go round corners without wanting too.

So a visit to a bike shop seems a priority.


Our plan is to head the 10km to Xanten for a B&B - bike shop and breakfast. Xanten is the only German town beginning with an X. It's probably the only word that rhymes with Lantern. Thought you'd like to know.


Arabella does the biz of navigating us to the bike shop which miraculously opens just as we arrive - half an hour early. The repair person isn't there but as Baz sagely points out, if we just buy a new stem we could fit it ourselves. Which he duly does. Roger buys an inner tube and probably some extra tog value waterproofs and Glenn buys a bright blue shiny water bottle because he lost one of his dull old silver ones a few days ago. More on this later.


Meanwhile Roger hunts for a postbox and a decent cafe. Both of which he finds. We order our breakfast and have a poem for the day about The Man we have been repeatedly seeing on the journey so far, but can't quite understand how he gets where he does.


We all enjoyed our breakfast - egg and chips for Dave, Roger and Glenn. And bockwurst and chips for Baz and Rob. So a big sausage for Rob then. Surprisingly Baz then has a cake - rhubarb and apple - so two of his five a day already sorted. And so does Roger. And we all have another coffee and a reminisce about Carnation condensed milk.


While sorting the bikes to head off Glenn is clearly exercised by a problem of existential proportions - should he go back to the bike shop and buy a second, matching blue water bottle. Of course he should and he toddles off. As Rob remarks, OCD is a terrible thing. He comes back pleased as a pleased thing and notes that Roger is doing something strange with gaffer tape. Namely, he is wrapping it round the toes of his waterproof overshoes. Probably best not to ask.


One leaving Xanten which, by the way is very nice, signs take us across three road crossings instead of one. Phrases like 'three sides of a square'; 'rather a pointless exercise' and 'wtf?' are exclaimed.


Turning away from the road, we cycle on past lakes formed in the flood plane of the Rhein on dyke paths through Wardt and on past Vynen and catch our first true view of the Rhein today. Since Xanten, everything has changed. The houses are of brick, the landscape is flatter, the river is wider and meanders about, the industrial sprawl has given way to fields of crops, sheep and cows. And wallabies.


We approach a barrier across the path but workman wave us through. This happens again without incident or problem.

Clearly, health and safety dictat is not imposed from Brussels. More like made in America, fuelled by litigation, drafted in England yet loathed by daily mail readers every where. Oh and headline news - does anyone want to but any fake pearl earrings?


We cycle on and pass a real old windmill as well lots of modern versions. We meet other cyclists and follow them. Mistake. In the end we realise that the sign to our next point if call - Emmerich - is pointing in entirely the wrong direction. We get back on track and follow a road past nice if rather austere houses until we are back on a cycle way on top of yet another dyke. There are gates along this section to keep sheep hemmed in. At one of them, Dave is pushing on the gate with one hand and leaning over the gate, tries to pull up the catch that would release the gate with the other. Strangely, the harder he pushes on the gate, the more resistant is the catch to opening. We explain that stopping pushing the gate would be a really good idea and low and behold, the catch is free to move and the gate opens. To a round of applause. Rob is less impressed and says 'Squirrels learn faster'. To which we fell about laughing.


The route decides to take us into Greith - a lovely little village and not entirely a necessary part of the itinerary for, after cycling found for ten minutes, we leave 50m further down the road from where we entered.


As is happening a lot, rather than cycle along the road we are urged to follow the adjacent cycle paths. Which in general is a wonderful idea. But then followed 8km of cycle path with occasional flat bits in amongst the brocken tarmac, tree routes and badly executed repairs to the damage caused by tree routes. A pain in the body-saddle interface says Dave. Although not using exactly those words. This, along with the earlier 'cross three roads rather than one' incident remind us that infinitely better does not equal perfect


We cross a huge suspension bridge - the longest in Germany - to get lunch in Emmerich. We pass through a nice square by the church - or it would be nice if they hadn't put a car park there. Then down pedestrianised street they let cars drive down. We stop at a Bacherie and sit inside for coffee, sandwiches, savoury pastries and in Baz's case an apple strudel - because he is trying to eat more fruit. The ladies serving behind the counter take pity on us a give us a plate of cherry cheesecake slices on the house. We eat our fill and Glenn asks if he can have the last one. This leads to an off the cuff comment that 'fat Glenn' could have it and someone else thought that this name should stick. Oh how they laughed.


Somewhere - and we are not at all sure - we crossed the 'border' from Germany into the Nederland. But the difference had been with us for sometime - the place names, the architecture, and the wallabies.


Getting closer and closer to Arnhem, we were beginning to wonder whether it actually existed as non of the direction signs mentioned it. Instead there was a bewildering sequence of cycle route numbering - 30 then 31 the 89 then 91 for no obvious reason. Finally, the numbering settles down as LF3b - something like a Star Wars robot.


In the end we are 15km away and we entrust navigation to our hotel to Arabella. Despite one or two rather annoying mistakes - mostly because google maps doesn't always know which side of a road the cycle path is on - we arrive at the Best Western in Arnhem and face our next challenge. Non of us speak Dutch. Fortunately the receptionist can speak excellent English and everything is sorted wonderfully.

After all the deviations and detours today, we have covered 90km - more than expected.


After showers and a bit of remedial bike parking - we'd put them in the wrong place to start with, muppets that we are - we head off to the Kornmarkt which is stuffed full of restaurants all of rather uninspiring impression. But then we hit on a bustling, wacky and wonderful eatery. So in our first night in the Nederland, we go to a Cuban tapas bar. La Cubanita is fantastic. It's a brilliantly vibrant tapas bar crossed with a bingo hall. You can write on the walls and Roger did! Our waitress, the lovely Ishara, explains a complicated number system where we order what we want on a beer mat and then keep on ordering and keep on eating. Non of us has a clue what to do but are too polite to ask. Except Rob who know seems to know instantly about these sort of things. But he is from Kings Heath. We eat and drink and write more things on beer mats. Then we go the same things in a different order. Everyone tries to order more veggie things for 'fat Glenn' in cruel attempt to create a self fulfilling prophecy. In the end we've all had enough and with great effort heave ourselves out of our seats and give our thanks and sad farewells to incomparable Ishara.


Returning to the hotel, Roger and Squirrel head for an early night whilst Rob, Baz and Glenn head for the bar to watch the second half of the Portugal v Iceland game.


A strange day. A day of changes and perhaps an inevitable contemplation. Three countries done and three days to go. But after Switzerland, France, Germany and now Holland, the famous five do Cuban.


Day 13 Arnhem to Dijkstraat to Schoonhovan 15/06/16 Wednesday; 95.5km; 59 miles


Because we're worth it........


The day dawns bright and clear and we have a good breakfast despite still being full of Cuban tapas. Baz has a problem with his cleat on one shoe - or rather, his cleat now not on one shoe - which needs attention. Various options are explored such as glueing it back in, changing pedals or cycling with one leg.


But the best option seems to be to head to the newly opened Decathlon store about 3km away to get either new shoes or pedals for Baz, and things the rest of us probably don't really need.


In the end Baz managed to effect a repair of the cleat using a combination of advanced staring techniques, gaffer tape and a hair dryer. Don't ask. It's raining as we move off and thankfully we find the route out of Arnhem quite easily and then cycle on paths by the roadside to Oosterbeek. And there is one unexpected feature of these paths which is they're uphill! Are we in the wrong country?!?


We pass a petrol station called Firezone which probably isn't a good idea. The route is taking us away from the Rijn but by now, the river has subdivided so many many times it's hard to keep track.


The route is also taking us up more hills in one day than the whole trip so far. In Holland!


In Renkum the signage goes awol again. Muppets. How hard can it be. Glenn - as you will not by now be be surprised to know - had a bit of a hissy fit. But we follow our noses and head on to Wageningen. By now it's stopped raining but by Rhenen it's started again. We go into cafe for coffee but there are no cake based food items. Then we realise we've more to do than we think. So another 64km to go from here. In the rain.


We crack out 17 of those kilometers very quickly partly cos the surface is good and Arabella is faultlessly guiding us but mostly cos its pissing down. After another 5 or 6km it's brighter but still raining. Then it clears and we have a nice ride into Culemborg and find a very nice place for lunch. We apologise for our complete lack of dutch language but as usual, the lady owner speaks pretty good English. We order coffee which is really good. Dave passes on his compliments to the lady who says she makes it with love! We have the chef's meal of the day which is goats cheese flan, salad and soup - either spiced sweet potato or asparagus. Both delicious. As we finish eating, the rain returns and comes down really hard. It's lovely and warm in the cafe but the famous five have cycling to do. So there is no choice but to make the brave decision - to stay and have another coffee. Obviously, Dave asks if again, he can have his made with love. Baz goes one further and asks of his can be made with passion. Sooooo embarrassing.


On stopping for lunch, Arabella had said we had 35.5km to go to our stop for the night in Schoonhovan. After lunch, she said it was 22 miles. She has been swapping between metric and imperial quite a lot and this is really annoying - sometimes it's kilometres and meters, sometimes it's miles, yards, feet and groats. Continental Europe eh - why can't they use a logical, easy to understand measurement system like ours? This swapping around is either because Arabella is being contrary, or because Glenn has upset her, or because it all depends on whether the dropped pin for the destination is put in via the booking.com website (imperial), or not (metric).


Cycling on along some quite narrow paths that run alongside a lovely canal filled with water lilies, coots and ducks, we make good progress. We pass between avenues of beautifully pollarded willows and are soon in Schoonhovan, cycling over the brick cobbled streets to our hotel. Which is open! We check in and park the bikes in a downstairs ten pin bowling room - the second on the trip so far - and then settle into our rooms with views over the river Lek. The restaurant is a bit on the pricey side but so are the other restaurants nearby. And as it looks like rain we book our table and head for showers, hair dryers - to dry our very wet cycle shoes - and then the bar. But the only beer is 7% Lef Triple. So we had one anyway bearing in mind Rob's advice to sip not drink.


We order our dinner and led to our table in a very posh restaurant. You can tell its posh cos they serve a lime with the fish instead of lemon. But as you know, we can do posh - even though we feel slightly under dressed in shorts and t shirts. The sweet pepper soup is exceptional as is the chicken and duck soup and the carrot and chorizo soup. The wine is a really good Cote de Thongue - in honour of Baz.


Dinner is excellent. Surprisingly Baz wants to see the desert menu but - even more surprisingly - declines. We have coffee and sit around reminiscing about our trip so far, comparisons with last year and thoughts of the last day tomorrow. A fantastic if slightly extravagant evening but - as no doubt you'll all agree - we're worth it!!


Day 14 Schoonhoven to Alsmeer 16/06/16 Thursday; 63km 39 miles.


Penultimate peddling.......


The day started with bright sunshine as we are our breakfast overlooking the Lek river.


Our last full day. A certain hesitation in our mood - is it that we don't want the day to start or that we don't want it to stop?


Cycling along the tops of dead straight dykes separating canals and ditches full of water lilies and coots it is impossible not to marvel at the effort of will that made all this and created so much order out of so much flooded chaos. Houses stand proud and strong like little moated castles with bridges linking them to the road. Ditches and canals are lined with pollarded willow trees. There are small farms, small horses, pigs, geese and friesian cattle. And remarkably, no wallabies.


We soon reach Gouda and stop for coffee and syrup waffle in the pedestrianised square which is bustling with a market and a horse drawn carriage offering tours of the town. Glenn is particularly pleased to see that this aspect of tourism hasn't succumbed to those horrible tractor pulled contraptions dressed up like trains. Come the revolution .....


After coffee, we walk round the market and see people in traditional dress doing a variety of things with large rounds of Gouda cheese. There are rows laid on the ground and people have photos taken with girls dressed in what we assume is traditional cheese making costume. Clogs included.


We leave Gouda alongside a wide canal carrying a variety of leisure and container ships. Bridges are lifted to let them through. We see a cormorant on a lamp post.


Entering open country we pass yet more neat houses including new ones being roofed with thatch.


We go slightly wrong at a complicated system of paths and underpasses. Instead of saying we should retrace our steps, Arabella

chooses this exact moment to offer the next seventeen sets of instructions whilst changing the screen view at least six times. This is a tad annoying. Finally, after much faffing, she says left when pointing right then says right whilst pointing left. Then we cross a busy main road onto a narrow pavement. Arabella says straight on when left or right is the only option. In response, Glenn turns left whilst his bike turns right and promptly falls off. He has a rather large itsy bitsy hissy fit.


We pass through lots of nurseries with acres of potted plants and trees under mesh covers. Then at some point, the landscape suddenly flattens out. It's very, very flat and you can see for miles. Rob thinks he can see Birmingham. The sky is huge.


Entering a small village, the route ahead is blocked so Arabella re-routes us and takes us in an 8 mile detour. Thanks. We stop for coffee, ice cream and apple pie. Baz has banana ice cream so that's two of his five a day done already.


We follow Arabella for the next few miles into Aalsmeer to the hotel. Which isn't there. Searching around we find it is entranced by a side road, somewhat hidden. We park the bikes and check in and shower just in time for the start of the England v Wales game. We watch the turgid first half and then walk to a cash point and buy lunch in a supermarket. And missed the goals in the second half. So we go to a bar and watch the replays and drink beer - or apple juice for Roger.


We read the blog for the day and also the poem of the day, called The Girls.


Whilst reading this the barman comes to see if we want another beer. 'Five large ones?' He says. Which is no way to speak about his customers.


A time is moving on we decide to eat here so spend a fun ten minutes looking at the menu. Tenderloin, crunchy egg or smoked eel anyone?


In the end it was a bacon and cheese burger based meal for the beefy boys, preceded by soup and followed by cheesecake or creme brûlée. Leaving the restaurant there is rain in the air with more on the way for our short trip to the airport in the morning. But worse things happen in a frightening world. Goed slapen lieve lezer en bedankt voor een verblijf bij ons.


The Poem of the day tries to capture our experiences of The River Rhine.


Day 15 Aalsmeer to Airport Schipol 06/17/16 Friday 6km; 3.7 miles


The Cast.....


On the last day, it’s time to introduce you to the famous five. Readers of the blog for last year's St. Malo to Nice epic, will no doubt be facial with the protagonists, but on this journey, roles had altered slightly:


Baz - coffee addict, occasional adherent to the teachings of St Diab the Betic, the only one of us sensible enough to have waterproof pannier bags, has red insulation tape wrapped around his saddle for no apparent reason, occasional drug user.

Glenn 'I checked with them twice' MJ - digital stuff, ticket booker, blog writer, wine critic, token vegetarian.

Dave 'now where did I leave my passport' Heath - hotel, hotel booker, official hill gradient assessor, language consultant (not German, Dutch or French).

Rob - chef, chief 'car up!' warning shouter, French cycling correspondent for the Kings Heath Herald, token 'young' person.

Roger 'Ich sprechan Deutsch' - navigator, Orangina addict, bike lubricator, captain sensible, occasional shower cap wearer.