Epic European Cycle

2015-06-09 : Rhine Route / EV 15 to Guntersblum
Today we rode up a 52km hill made of wind. We left Mannheim and used the ferry to cross a tributary of the Rhine about 10km north of town. It was a very small ferry - similar to the Bleriot Ferry - it's just a flat-deck that runs back and forth on a chain. The tributary was small, but the ferry moved so slowly that it took about 15 minutes to cross. We arrived just as it was leaving with a solitary cyclist. Dang. If we'd been 10 minutes earlier... but, instead we enjoyed second breakfast on the dock and waited while the ferry crossed, then the captain did... something for about 15 minutes, then crossed back over to get us. It was slow going, but still better than the long detour around to avoid the ferry. After the ferry, we continued north to Rosengarten where we crossed back over to the west side of the river at Worms. At worms, we left EV15 and used a side route a little further west, which would take us through several towns before arriving in our destination for the night. We went through Herrnsheim, Osthofen, Mettenheim and Alsheim (although Brent says he's already forgotten that one) before arriving at Guntersblum, at the top of our 52km hill for the day. The route was mostly flat, and 52km should have been easy, but that crazy relentless wind made it a pretty tough slog.
Since having a couple of bad experiences on our first couple of days in Germany, we have met so many friendly, helpful, sweet people that I feel bad for ever saying that the Germans aren't as great as the French. Every time we turn around, someone is greeting us, helping us with directions (even when they don't speak English, and we already know where we're going). It's fantastic.

Today was the best so far. We got to Guntersblum, and I wasn't sure how we'd find our Pension. The address didn't seem to come up properly in Google Maps, and the town looked to be another little labyrinth town. One of the first things we spotted was a sort of a tourist information office. I went in and waited for a lady to help me, and I showed her the name of the Pension and asked if she could direct me to it. She got the "deer in the headlights" look and started to ask her colleague for help when the lady behind me jumped in. She told me, in some English and some German, where the Pension was, and it seemed like it would be fairly straight-forward. I returned to Brent who was poking an automated "information/help" machine in the lobby. He poked it a little more, and we discussed, and just as we were about to leave, the lady (the other customer) came out and offered to escort us up the road to the Pension. We followed her over in her car. How freakin' awesome is that!
We're staying in our first-ever Pension tonight and man is it ever NICE! I can see why they are so popular. We'll try to do more!

2015-06-10 : Rhine Route / EV 15 to Mainz
The best thing about camping is meeting people. When you stay in a hotel, or even in a B&B, it's difficult to connect with anyone, but at a campground, everyone is just right out there, and often ready to talk. As always, our Canadian flags offer an invitation to folks to strike up a conversation with us. Tonight we met Simon from Manchester, and then Tim and Anna from Germany. We laughed our asses off with Simon, who is riding his 2.3L Triumph Rocket 3 from his place in Manchester (he lives on a boat... how cool is that) down to visit a friend in Italy. Then we shared travel stories and adventure ideas with Tim and Anna, who invited us to visit at their campsite specifically because of the flags. They're both physiotherapists in Mainz for a seminar and camping because the weather is nice. What a great night. Probably my favorite one so far on this trip. Yay!

2015-06-11 : Main Radweg Cycle Route to Frankfurt
Today is the first day of "taking care of business" in Frankfurt. First, we had to ride from Mainz to Frankfurt, which took us under the flight path of all the aircraft landing in Frankfurt. That was pretty cool. We were due to meet our hostess, Jessica, at 5:30, and we arrived in Frankfurt early enough to set up our bike storage at My Place, which worked out great. Now I'm getting a head start on our other Frankfurt chores. Brent has secured us accommodation right at Trinity College in Dublin for our first three nights in Ireland. COOL!
Brent and I are a really great "getting places" team. Today was the second time that we used Google Maps, in our own ways, making our own notes, to find our way to where we're meeting our B&B hostess for the night. In spite of Frankfurt being a typical European city (really stinkin' hard to find your way around in), we found our way all the way to the Metro station we were meeting Jessica at. When we were one station away, we stopped at an Esso and bought a Frankfurt street map, which we'll use for other errands while we're here, but we managed to find our way all the way in just with a few scribbles on a couple pieces of paper, a couple of snapshots from Google Maps, and what was in our brains.
Today was our 29th day cycling since leaving Canada. For the first time, our leg muscles didn't whinge when we set out after a break. We've finally reached the zone, and now we're done for five weeks. Brent says we're just going to let ourselves get out of shape again so that Laura and Gabi can catch up when we meet for the Danube Cycle Trail. We just give and give that way.
Boy oh boy... cycle touring is stinky business. My cycle gloves have been foul, and even though I just washed them a few days ago, today I ended up with Molly Hands again. Brent told me that years ago he had a female co-worker (named Molly) who used rubber gloves to protect her hands while doing her job, which involved working in sand in the rain. Apparently her hands got to stink so badly that it took two days for them to stop stinking after she stopped wearing the gloves.

2015-06-12 : Metro Chores Day in Frankfurt
Buy backpacks, do laundry, mail stuff out.
I just got some messages from Ian regarding Ryan Air to alert us that Ryan doesn't fly out of Frankfurt airport. They fly out of Frankfurt Hahn, which I didn't know was a separate thing. Frankfurt Hahn is over 100km away from Frankfurt! OMFG! We've booked a train with The Train Line to get us there. It will be an early early morning....
Our first stop this morning was the main train station in Frankfurt. We wanted to go to the Tourist Info office there, and also scout out where we'll go to catch our train early on Sunday morning. We wandered around and around, looking and contemplating. We didn't see any information about trains going to Frankfurt Hahn airport. The Tourist Info office was closed briefly when we got there, and when it opened, we went and asked the lady about it. She said it's not a train - it's a bus, and handed us a sheet of paper for where to catch it. Ian was right again... bus, not train. I'm so glad we looked into it today! 5AM on Sunday when you have a "train" to catch is NOT the time to be figuring out that you've missed the "bus" you were booked on.
After sorting out our Sunday morning bus, we did a laundry at the nearby Waschsalon, had some Curry Wurst mit bier, then went in search of backpacks. The Tourist Info lady had suggested a couple of places to look, and where we ended up was at an enormous department store called Galleria. Brent and I contemplated the backpacks on offer, and decided on a couple of 35L + 8L ones. What on earth was I thinking? I don't have compression sacks along for my sleeping bag, nor my clothing. 35L? Where did I think I was going to put everything!? The Galleria turned out to be on the same subway line as where we're staying, so we had a quick ride back to "our place" where we tried to figure out how to make our woefully inadequate backpacks work to carry everything we want to take to the UK. Backpacks (and camping) weren't even part of our original plan for the UK, but now that we've decided on it, we want to be able to do it. I was pretty done already at that point and ready to pack it in, but Brent suggested at least going back to Galleria and trying to exchange the packs. We had discarded the price tags off of them, but there was a spare one stuffed in one, plus we had my credit card receipt. So, back down the U-6 we went to Galleria. Exchanging the packs turned out to be amazingly painless... no questions asked... badda bing. We traded the 35L ones in for 65L ones. If those don't work, well... we probably shouldn't be traveling.

2015-06-13 : Bike Chores Day in Frankfurt
Wash bikes, ride the Airport-Train route to ensure it is acceptable before Laura arrives in July.
Today I got a note from a good friend which read: "I'm amazed at the skill with which you handle the incredible variety of new experiences that come at you each and every day. Every single day you are dealing with something completely different. I think I'd have been longing for the familiar routines of home long ago."

Oh, I am longing... sometimes all I want is to be at home, and I'm definitely dreaming of an all-inclusive vacation in Mexico where I don't have to deal with a steady stream of... whatever decides to show up.

Another thing that showed up is my vehicle registration. I got a notice from AMA that my registration is due this month. No one is using Nemo while we're gone, but if he needs to be moved out onto the street for any reason, it's best that he have current tags on. To renew my registration online, I need a number of pieces of information, for example, my current insurance information... plus the "bar code" from the renewal notice from the Government of Alberta. I e-mailed Ian and asked him for the information, but I never received a notice from AB Govt in Edmonton, so... no bar code. I contacted them to see about getting it, and they refuse to give it out over the phone. I e-mailed Saeed to see if it may have shown up in Calgary instead, but it's not there either. Another option would be for me to fill out an authorization form for Ian to do it for me. Problem is, I would need to download a PDF form (can't read it on my Surface), fill it out, and FAX it to the AMA office (I don't have access to a FAX). Finally, in desperation, I e-mailed four women that I know in Alberta who manage registry offices (I did some software work for them years ago) asking for their help. Three of them are in Calgary, and one is near Edmonton. The one near Edmonton provided a great solution, so with her help, and Ian's help, Nemo will get registered today.
We dropped the bikes into storage first thing this morning, then mailed off some things to Janet and Joanne. We returned to Jessica's to collect our things and off we went down to the airport. From the airport, we took a shuttle bus to our hotel nearby, dropped off our backpacks, then walked BACK to the airport... and BACK to the hotel, to scout out a cycle route for when we're back here to meet up with Laura. Frankfurt is so amazing with their cycling infrastructure. It is a seriously liveable city for a cyclist.
Before we left Canada, I could find almost no information regarding bikes allowed on trains in Europe. So, I went with the cautious approach and assumed that bikes couldn't go on trains... period. What we've found since we arrived here is the following:
- Bikes are pretty much not allowed on "bullet trains"
- Bikes are not allowed on the Paris Metro
- Bikes ARE allowed on the France regional trains (RER), which goes through Paris
- Bikes ARE allowed on a lot of SNCF (France) trips - you just have to choose carefully
- Bikes ARE allowed on the Frankfurt Metro (U-line)
- Bikes ARE allowe3d on the Frankfurt regional trains (S-lines)

2015-06-14 : Fly to Dublin
We are waiting for our flight from Frankfurt-Hahn to Dublin. Everything this morning went smoothly, all things considered. I can't believe the fiasco that Ian saved us from. If the Multiverse exists, there is at least one "me" in at least one other Universe who recently arrived at the Frankfurt airport and is probably still in the process of discovering that we've missed our flight because I chose the wrong airport to fly from. In this Universe, Brent and I used Talixo taxi to go from our hotel (near the Frankfurt airport) to the train station at 4:45 this morning, then took a "shuttle bus" 130km west to "practically Luxemburg" to catch our Ryanair flight.

Talixo is an amazingly efficient operation, although, considering it's German, maybe that's not so amazing. I booked them online and entered my payment information. Before our taxi arrived, they texted us a PIN number to give our driver. Our driver arrived spot-on-time and took us to the train station. We gave him the PIN and I was automatically charged for the ride per the info I put into their web site. Boy, we if we could get taxi service like that in Calgary life would be sweet.

While we were waiting for our shuttle bus, we spoke to a young Minnesotan who is doing the "post-College grad Europe backpack" trip who was waiting for a bus to Luxembourg. His bus was supposed to leave at 5:30 as well, but no other bus showed up. It wasn't until after we departed, and I said we were enroute to "practically Luxemburg" that we surmised that he probably should have been on our bus with us. I guess he will have more of a story to tell about today than I do.

Once our shuttle bus was underway, we left the Frankfurt main train station proceeding to Frankfurt Hahn airport... via Frankfurt airport RIGHT PAST OUR HOTEL. We could have caught the bus at the Frankfurt airport (Terminal 2). D'oh!

Contemplating our map of Europe, it looks like the Frankfurt-Hahn airport is neither in nor near either Frankfurt OR Hahn. I normally search for flights based on airport code (ie. YEG, YYC). I will have to be sure to do that rather than just searching on a city from now on. Wow. Pay enough attention, Rhonda.
We reached Dublin, and I think the universe is trying to apologize to us for the whole Ryanair thing or something. Everything went amazingly smoothly. Arrival. Baggage. Customs. Shuttle bus to Trinity College. Checking in. Settling in. Finding food. Meeting up with Sandie and her mom. Finding a grocery store. Bing, bing, bing, bing. Much better, Universe... much much better...

2015-06-15 : Dublin
We got to meet Chris today (Mike's sister who arranged our stay at Trinity College). We went for coffee and then she comp'ed us in to The Book of Kells. That was extremely interesting, and equally interesting was the Old Library of Trinity College. It was mind-boggling to see all the old old books... some of them over 1500 years old.
We did a bunch of planning today for the remainder of our time in Ireland. It's hard to plan when there are just sooooo many great options, but we've come up with a plan. We're keeping it loose, though, and not booking anything too far in advance. We do have a B&B booked in Clones for the 24th to make sure Brent gets to spend some time there.

2015-06-16 : Dublin
OMG I can't believe the hospitality Brent and I received in Dublin. On Brent's last day of work in Edmonton before we left, he went for after-work beers at the Irish Club with his co-workers. I joined them a little later. Brent's old boss, Mike, turned up and we had a good chat and got some advice about what to do in Ireland. He suggested that we contact his sister to arrange to stay at Trinity College while in Dublin, so a few days before we left Germany, Brent gave the sister, Chris, a shout. Chris arranged for us to stay at Trinity, got us vouchers for breakfast at The Buttery (on campus), met us for coffee, got us complementary entrance to see the Book of Kells and the Old Library, and then took us out for an amazing walk to The Sugar Loaf in Wicklow. I sure hope we can reciprocate one day - we had such a great time.

2015-06-17 : Train to Killarney
We left Dublin and it was raining... it was kind of raining everywhere today, even though it wasn't really supposed to be. The train ride was uneventful (except for Brent's backpack falling off the storage rack and only a woman sitting across the aisle... eep). We had been planning on going to a campground, but since it was raining, we grabbed some brochures at tourist info and went to the pub across the street to ponder our options. It was there that we met up with Donal, the town "mooch". We had a good yak with him and bought him a couple of beers. I popped across the street to use the WiFi at tourist info to book us into a hostel. I booked us into Paddy's Palace, the only place available for the night. Turned out Donal was staying there as well, so we bought more beers and he made us spaghetti.
From Brent: "After 3 nights in Dublin we headed for the west coast and Killarney. The train trip took a good deal of the day and was a bit stressful at our one transfer. We had only 7 minutes to get off the first train, find and get onto the second train. And the trains here run on time. No waiting. There were a lot of people transferring at Mallow so we basically followed the crowd and turned out fine. I shoved my pack into the overhear shelf and we got underway. I didn't do a very good job and a few minutes down the track my pack fell out and landed square on my head, it rolled off and brushed the arm of the lady across the isle on its way to the floor. From her reaction you would have thought that she had been shot. She kept on checking herself for damage. "

2015-06-18 : Gap of Dunloe
When we got up this morning, it looked like the weather was going to be pretty good for the day, so we booked ourselves into a tour of Gap of Dunloe. The tour included bus from Killarney to Ross Castle, then a boat from Ross Castle into Killarney National Park (about a 1.5 hour boat ride). Most people opted to pay extra to ride the Gap in a horse-drawn carriage. Brent and I chose the option to walk the Gap instead. It's about 12km, up over the Gap with a gain of about 170m. They drop you off at the start at about 12:30, and the carriages come to pick folks up at about 1:30 (after lunch). Brent and I snarfed lunch to get a head start on our walk back, as the bus returns to pick you up at the far end, departing at 4PM. We got on the road at 1:00, so we had three hours to walk the 12km. I hoofed it the whole way because 3 hours is fairly aggressive for me to do 12km. We ended up making it in 2.5 hours, which is the projected time allotment. Yay me! The weather was absolutely glorious. Dare I hope for more of the same tomorrow so we can do a bus tour of Ring of Kerry?
I bought a lovely new green merino sweater from Quills in Killarney. Said thanks and so long to the nasty old sweater.
From Brent: "The first National Park (Killarney) in Ireland butts up against the town. We took a day trip through it on our first day. Bus to Ross Castle (the last castle to fall to the British in the war of colonization), boat across 3 lakes, then hike through The gap of Dunloe (7 miles) to a pub where we got picked up for a bus trip back to town. The scenery was great with Rhododendrons blooming on the hills and assorted stone ruins on some of the lake islands. There are supposed to be deer in the park but we didn't see any. We did see a pair of wild goats while walking The Gap, a sight that we hadn't been told to watch for. The whole thing was about 7 hours and though we were told to be prepared for rain at any time it was sunny all day and I got a bit of a burn."

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