Posts Tagged With: Castles

Day 24: Koblenz to Cologne

108km, flat – the biggest climb today is a bridge

We had a problem with the flagging as we left the hotel and ended up going the wrong way, left and right along the river. Eventually we worked out that the flagging was wrong, ignored them, and headed straight, and then turned towards the river and picked it up further down on. We found out later that at least 10 of the other riders had the same problem.

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Crossing the Mosel River at Koblenz

Mostly today the riding was on bike paths, without a lot to see apart from fields, canals and the occasional village.

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Andenach

We went through one town with a lovely waterfront, so we stopped and took a couple of photos.

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Bad Breisig

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Bad Breisig

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Bad Breisig

Coming out of the town we went up and then under a railway pass, there were three young boys sitting on a bench. As we were looking for which way to go next, one of them pointed left. Given the amount of touring riders, he must have had to do that a few times in a short timeframe.

We went past an old house that was built in 3 sections, the earliest in the 1300.

As we went along the Rhine we had one cruise ship “Ms Emily Bronte” keeping up with us. I googled the ship name later and found she has only been sailing since Feb 17. 

Today we only saw a couple of castles, unlike the past two days.

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Boy on his bike on the river bike path.

When we got into Cologne, we found we had to go to another hotel to store our bikes, in Hotel Martin across the road. It was a huge hotel that had shops in the foyer.

The WIFI is hopeless, I can not log on and will probably have to find somewhere to send emails. Probably the number one frustration on a trip is if you can’t get WIFI. First world problem really.

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Arriving in Cologne

Brett and I went to have dinner at El Chango, the number one steak place on trip advisor in Cologne. It was pretty delicious. The steaks came in 200 gram to 500 gram with sauce, baked potatoes and vegetables.

To start we had a beer, which came in the smallest beer glasses I have ever seen. Apparently this is to keep the beer fresh. Then we had a nice Argentinian Malbec red.

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At the Argentinian Steakhouse

We are staying at Hotel Malzmuhle, which is apparently also a brewery but it is shut today. There are photos of Bill Clinton on the wall, apparently he stayed here.

When I got back from dinner thankfully I managed to log onto the internet, which was lucky as the next day there were still people who had not managed to log on.

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Riverside at Benthurm

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Day 23: Mainz to Koblenz

101 km today, all flat

We have stayed in 3 IBIS hotels this trip, and this one has a new rule that you are meant to automatically know about. When you get breakfast, you are meant to use a tray, which most people did as it easier. IBIS is the only place that had trays, but at this IBIS after breakfast you are meant to take your tray to a rack at the side of the restaurant, and place it with the dirty dishes on it. We were unaware of this, and also where the rack was, until Tim tried to leave the restaurant and the waitress blocked his way until he had taken his tray to the rack!

As we have been riding through Germany we have noticed that as you come out of the towns there are lots of little garden allotments with small sheds, growing veggies and sometimes flowers. There are often chairs and children’s toys. These must be for people who live in apartments and have no gardens. Not sure if they buy them, lease them. or go in an allocation draw.

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Small private gardens just on the outskirts of German towns.

About 30k into the ride today, suddenly the cyclists were no longer using the bike lanes and were all over the road riding 3-4 abreast. I was concerned to see a small child aged about three riding at least 300 meters in front of her parents on a main highway. Then I realised the road was closed. I later found out it’s an annual event, the last Sunday in June the road is closed both side of the Rhine for 65 km from Rudesheim and Bingen to Koblenz.

There were hundreds of cyclists on road bikes, mountain bikes, tandems, and trikes with carriages containing children and pets. Skaters, Segway riders, the occasional serious cyclist trying to get in the weekend training, and one lone jogger . There were Grandparents, families, and teens, interspersed with biking tourists.

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Both sides of the Rhein roads closed to traffic for 40km. Great riding with thousands out.

Also on the way into every town they had cake stalls, small markets, and beer stands. A very carnival atmosphere.

 

There were lots of ships going up and down the Rhine, carrying coal, scrap, containers, cruises and small boats. There were a number of the ships carrying scrap and coal pushing another ship carrying the same. In one instance, one was called Bermuda and the other was called Triangle.

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Bermuda / Triangle

The stretch we are riding is the upper middle Rhine river, a 65 km stretch is a UNESCO world heritage site as it has more castles per square mile than anywhere else in the world. Castles were built on the river to get a toll from the passing boats.

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Castle on the river at Stolzenfels

There are 40 hilltop castles and fortresses built over a 1,000 year period in this 65 km stretch, and 65 villages. The steep hillsides have been terraced and growing grapes for 1,000 years. Many are ruins as they were either abandoned, or destroyed, and left as picturesque ruins in the 17th century wars. The 19th century onwards has seen restoration and reconstruction taken place. Even railway tunnels had castle designs on the outside.

On archways into towns there is documentation of previous floods, the worse being 28.11.1882, where the flood nearly reached the top of the archway.

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Rhens town gate showing Rhein flood heights over 200 years.

At the Lunch stop you could see two castles just from where I was sitting.

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Lunch stop at Sankt Goar an der Loreley.

Next to the lunch stop the local fire brigade were doing their part for the local fundraising, and were selling Kaffee and Kuchen (coffee and cake).

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Me and a 🔥 man.

At 61 km, we went past the rocks of Lorelei where legend has it the ghost of a young woman, who leapt to her death in the Rhine, sits and combs her golden hair and sings and lures seamen to their death.

 

One one house on the river bank there was a statue of a stork on the outside with tiny baby clothes hanging next to it, and the date of the arrival of the new baby (Pepe).

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New baby (Pepe) arrival.

We went off the road to one very pretty village called Oberwesel to have a look around, and got talking to couple of self touring riders called Louise and  Brian from Norwich. They started in Switzerland and are finishing in Amsterdam. Brian had two water bottles on his bike, and a wine rack made for bikes from Topeak.

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Louise and Brian from Norwich, UK.

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Town of Oberwesel

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Town of Oberwesel

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The narrows at Oberwesel

We are staying at yet another IBIS, so dinner was at a restaurant not the hotel. As we were walking to dinner, there was a group with man in a wheelchair moving very slowly in front of us. I checked no one was on the adjacent bike path, so we walked out to go around the group. As soon as we did a German couple raced up to us, the woman with her face screwed up like she had just sucked on a lemon, and had a go at us for being on the bike path. I suggested perhaps they could get a life.

At the dinner we were crammed into the corner of an otherwise empty restaurant, but were not allowed to sit at any of the other tables.

We had dinner with John W, Graham, Yvonne, and Scott. Dinner was asparagus soup (we think. If not it was possibly potato soup), hard fried chicken, and a nasty hamburger pattie (I didn’t eat it), and white rice which I also didn’t eat, and chips. Dessert was ice cream. I had sparkling water.

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Riding through Boppard

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Day 20: Schwabisch-Hall to Heidelberg

The original schedule for day 111 km, but now thanks to Gergo’s new cycle path book it is 139 km. It actually ended up being 150km but will get onto that later.

We climbed 864 meters up, it felt way more, and went down 995 meters. To make it worse, Gergo had said after 14 km it’s all downhill and it wasn’t, and we were riding in a heat wave.

Yvonne is still unwell and is going to take the train to Heidelberg, Maureen is going to go with her. It was tempting to join them, and later in the day I regretted that I hadn’t.

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Departing Hotel Goldener Adler

The first 3 km out of town was very steep, then we followed a bike path through field and forest trails for another 11 km, at times a gentle gradient and others steep, but also some downhill.

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Hard climb at the start of the day to Waldenburg

We then had a steep path down to a main road, which we were on for about 5 k then it was back on the bike paths.  At times we would come out onto the road, ride a few metres, go up another bike path and climb up a couple of kilometres, then come back to the same road, not much further than where we had left it!

The paths go all over the place and a lot of time was wasted working out which way to go. The other issue is often they have quite sharp built up edges, and you have to be careful which way you hit them when going from one path to another. I unbalanced a couple of times, but managed to un-click my shoes and put my foot down so I didn’t topple over.

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Feeling puffed!

Once again on the paths we went through a mixture of fields, forests, alongside roads, through forests on all types of surfaces, and through towns. At one stage we were winding through one village and we came along a windy narrow path and went straight through an archway in an old castle.

The villages are so picturesque it’s like being in a Grimm Brother’s fairy tale, and so many castles.

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Hirschhorn

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Neuenstein

At about 70 km, we had to go through a rocky forest track, the surface was unpleasant and I kept jarring my arm. We came out to a clearing where a man dressed in red stopped us and said we couldn’t go past, as they were clearing a dangerous tree. He told us to go back to the town about 6 km away and detour around! We asked how long before we could get past him, and he said an hour and a half!

We sat down to think about it. So frustrating as we were less than 5 minutes behind Cathy and Janice, who had got through ok. The distance we still had to ride, the heat, and the thought of either one and a half hour wait or going back down the horrid rocky road was too much, I cried. Thirty minutes later we decided we were going to do the detour, as there was no guarantee the wait would only be another hour. Just then another couple of other riders, not part of our group, showed up and they decided to wait.

Back down that horrid road, through town, and along the other side of the river. 12 km after we had left we passed the spot we had been stopped on the other side of the river, and we could see the two other riders still sitting there.

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Over the Neckar River at Neckargetach, before the road block!

We stayed on the main road, with a nice 1.5 metre wide shoulder, for about 10 km then managed to recross the river and pick up the planned route again. Looking back I don’t know why we didn’t stay on the main road. Most of the next 25 km was uneven surfaces, and a few spaces were really unpleasant, as I kept jarring my arm. Lots of other bike tourers were coming the other way. We went past a seat on the trail made out of a huge tree.

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At 14 km before Heidelberg, we crossed onto the main road and had 8 km of downhill, then through a village and then on a bike path along the river.

There were some stunning views coming into the city: huge castles, churches, bridges and old buildings. In the city there are bike paths through town, sometimes half of the footpath, and sometimes running along the side of the road. The walkers keep off the bike paths, and traffic gives way! Such a novelty.

We finally got to the hotel at 630pm, tired, hot, and grumpy. We are staying at an IBIS, which would win the prize for the smallest room ever. The shower was so small you could barely fit in it, and the door banged against the toilet. It was a mixture between a small cabin on a ship and a prison cell.

It was also on the outskirts of town, with homeless people living under the bridge next to it. Our view out the window was rail yards.

By the time we had had a shower we just wanted to eat and sleep. But, the hotel had no restaurant! By this time we were full of joys of the day.

Only option was to go out. In the lobby we caught up with Janice and Gregg, who told us that Graham had had a pretty nasty fall at 39 km, had knocked himself out and was in hospital. It was nothing life threatening, but they were going to keep him overnight for observation.

Janice and Gregg were going to an Italian restaurant back in town, but we decided to look for something closer. We walked the other way past a group of drunks on the sidewalk, and there really wasn’t anything. The IBIS is located right by the main train station, so we went in there, but it was all food hall type of food.

There was one restaurant called the Metropolitan near the hotel, which we had discounted when we first saw it, but by now it was 730pm so we decided to go in. The barman bought us a beer, but when we asked about ordering food he said he would send his colleague.

After 15 min Brett went to the bar and was told “Yes the colleague is coming”. Another 15 minutes later I went up to the bar, and he said he would get his colleague to come!

I was getting close to tears for the second time in a day, when the colleague finally came. I was going to order pizza, as I couldn’t face more tough meat, crumbed and covered in sauced. But it turned out the pizza oven was broken! Not wanting to give the colleague the chance to get away and possibly not come back again for another 30 plus minutes, I chose a burger and chips. The barman came over and apologised that his colleague had taken so long to arrive.

Janice and Gregg arrived at the restaurant, the one they were going to go to was full and so were the others they had looked at, so they came back looking for something closer to the hotel. Thankfully the barman, seeing they were with us, decided he could take their order without the assistance of the colleague, and their meal arrived only a couple of minutes after ours. The burger was pretty basic but at least it was food. By this time it was 930pm – time to sleep.
Nekar

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Day 48: Bobbio to Genoa – 97k

3,870km down: 2,355km to go

Everyone woke up a bit jaded due to the lack of sleep! We are all looking forward to it being a rest day tomorrow.

We set off with the knowledge we had a 56k climb before lunch. I was a bit apprehensive but it was actually ok. It was up, up, up, but just when you thought you could not pedal another inch it would go up for another couple of minutes and then you’d get a downhill. I got to lunch ok, and thought it was all downhill from there, but after one downhill we started going up again, a quite steep hill but thankfully this was the last significant up of the day.

Summit of 56k hill before downhill to Genoa

Up until lunch at 58k it was quite quiet, we went through some nice sleepy towns straight after lunch and then we went through a tunnel. When we came out on the other side it was like going into another universe. We came into a town called Galieta, it was chaos. Narrow streets, people having coffee sitting outside shops, vans, cars, dogs, shops, it was very busy – they must have been all getting the shopping done before the siesta.

The houses were perched on the hillside, one house I could see was five stories high but very narrow. In the distance on top of the hills you see old castles. We rode through the small villages also of Moranego, Sella, Villamezana, and Canassolo. Unfortunately my camera was flat so I don’t have any photos.

My speed coming down hills is slowly improving, and I’m getting better at cornering as well. Still to break my record of 56kph though. Some of the turns on the downhill were quite tight, and there were cars and trucks in both directions.

View coming into Genoa

When we got down into Genoa I could not believe all the motorbikes and scooters, they were everywhere and they don’t appear to either know or follow any kind of road rules. Riding a bike through these cities takes a bit of nerve and faith – faith that the drivers will not actually hit you. I have learnt you have to move into the traffic with hand signals but don’t stop to turn and look at the drivers because if you look at them they know you’ve seen them and they won’t give way – even when they should! Coming into a busy intersection and going through without making eye contact is not an action to repeat at home, but it’s the only option here!

Scooters in Genoa

We are staying at the Hermitage Hotel, it’s not as flash as it sounds, but there is air conditioning, no noisy partying families, and a comfortable bed – even if it is single.

I tried to post the box home but guess what – Genoa post offices are shut all Friday afternoon! So my first stop was laundry, then we went out to tea at a nice seaside restaurant, I can’t remember the name – Osterio something!  The Wifi is patchy at the hotel so I am not sure how much I will get done on emails. Yay, we have a sleep-in in the morning.

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Day 39: Rest day in Ljubljana

I was awake before I had to be, of course on a rest day, but was excited as I was planning on Skyping my children at 8:30am. I had breakfast and came back to the room to Skype, we chatted for over an hour, it was good to catch up! I am going to talk to them again soon but probably by phone instead of Skype, depending on what time we get to Venice.

I had arranged to go out straight away afterwards so that I would not get homesick. I met Walli and we headed off to sightsee. We spent ages (about 3 hours) at Ljubljana castle, we visited the museum up there, and went up and down on the funicular railway. We also had lunch up there.

View from Castle Ljubljana

Tourist train Ljubljana

We then went on a boat trip along the canal (or Kanal in Slovenia). There has been just about no rain this summer (usually they get lots of thunderstorms in summer) so everything is dry. The canal is lower than usual and quite stagnant. The highlight for me of the boat trip was seeing a musk rat – also called a nutria – they are really big and look a bit like otters. They can grow up to 10kg but the average is about 4kg. It was swimming along, and then just as we got our cameras ready it dived under the  water into a pipe. (Photos of these rats can be found here).

View from canal trip in Ljublijana

Canal trip Ljubljana

Church in Ljubljana (forgot the name of it)

Afterwards we looked around town, and watched a few street performers and buskers. I had dinner with Daphne, Shirley and Walli. We went to a Pizzeria called Ljubljanski Dvor – it had 102 different kinds of pizza, and we had some nice red wine with it. I had a mixture of sardines, cheese, pepperoni, tomato and onion. It was really nice but even though it was the small one, it was too big for one person.

Then it was back to hotel to pack up again, it is an early day tomorrow, with our bags out by 6am.

I have really enjoyed being in Slovenia, and Ljubljana is a beautiful city. The people are friendly, and the city is not too big and not too expensive. Slovenia has t-shirts and all sorts of other tourist stuff that says “Slovenia the only county with LOVE in its name”. A lot of people from neighbouring countries come here for honeymoons, stag dos and hen parties.

There is a large student population; the total city population is 280,000 of which 60,000 are students. Readers Digest 2008 called this the world’s most honest city. I must look up what that was based on. The national symbol is a dragon (green). Anyway, it is 10:30pm so I better go to bed.

Here are some links:

Dragon Bridge (Zmajski Most)
Old Town
Julian Alps, Slovenia
Butcher’s Bridge
Ljubljana Castle (Grad)
Copyu
Črniče
Landkarte – ÖAI EN

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Day 33: Bratisalva to Hengko – 95k

2,764km down: 3,461km to go.

So I was up early today. I slept badly but had my bags out by the required 6:30am.

Today we were in three countries, amazing. We left Slovakia after 8k and crossed into Austria, and then it was about 60k before crossing the border in Hungary. We left the city in the usual convoy but it did not take long as there were only two sets of lights to get through. Once we got out of the convoy I was enjoying riding, looking at the views.

I went through a town for about 5k into a headwind and was wishing I was going the other way, well you know what they say about being careful what you wish for. Yep, I had missed a turn so I got my wish, cycling 5k back. With the wind behind me it was not so bad, I got up to about 45k an hour on the flat. Thankfully the turn that I had missed went the other direction so even though the wind was not behind me it was not coming straight at me.

Austria, or at least the bit I saw, is quite a pretty country. There were huge wind farms which made ours look like play farms. The houses looked newer and of better quality material than the Slovakian houses.

We spent the whole time in Austria on a bike path (it was often a road but we had 20k that was just bikes). There were an amazing amount of bikers, the most I have ever seen, and whole families as well.

Just after the border into Hungary, in Fertod, there was a castle called Esterhazy Castle, with the most amazing gardens. Here is a link to it: http://www.esterhazy-palace.com/en/media/our_photos.html. There is also a you tube of the castle on the link.

The flags had been removed from 8k onwards to where we were staying, so I had to back track a couple of times checking I was going in the right direction – especially before I went down a large hill.

We are staying at a place called Termal Kemping. Today was meant to be 95k but for me it ended up being 110k. Tomorrow is a very short day only 60k, so will be almost like a rest day, but after that there are four more days until the next rest day and very, very hilly!

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Day 32: Rest day in Bratislava

Haha we had planned a sleep in today and here I was, wide awake at 5am! I had woken up a few times during the night as the Danube River is quite busy with boats going up and down. It is used not just for leisure boats, but also the transport of goods etc so there is a never ending stream of traffic.

Breakast was not until 7am so I mucked around until then. I had organized to go on the usual city tour with Walli, in this town instead of buses or golf carts they had little wagons that look a little bit like small trams (but are not on tracks).

Tram for our city tour

The main points of interest of the tour were:
HRAD Castle
The Church of St Elisabeth – also know as The Blue Church
Presidential Palace
Primatial Palace
The Main Square – Hlavné námestie
Hviezdoslavovo square
The solovak radio building – built like an upside down pyramid
The UFO building – built as part of the construct of the Novy Most (new bridge). It has a restaurant up the top of it plus two mock aliens (green of course) sitting on the outside looking down.

In the Town Square

On the tour we met a couple from Egypt and Denmark, called Mobil and Vicky. They live mostly in Egypt but spend the hottest part of summer in Denmark to escape the heat. They were interesting to talk to. After the tour we said goodbye and then they and Walli and I made our way independently and ended up in the same restaurant for lunch. We had a very nice pizza.

I have been a bit stiff between the shoulders so I booked myself in for a Thai massage and unbelievable, but as I walked out after the massage they were the next customers! By this time I expected to see them walk into the restaurant tonight.

The massage was great. A couple of weeks ago I had a spill off my bike and had jarred my shoulder. Well this must have been something she could feel because she spent ages on this area. At times it was very uncomfortable but she seemed to know what she was doing. Certainly afterwards I have better movement than I had before. I was pummelled and prodded for about an hour including her kneeling on my back and pushing down as hard as she could.

I had a look around the shops, not seriously looking but keeping an eye out for the right gift for any of my children. I found quite a fun toy shop that I spent awhile in.

A sculpture in town

Another sculpture in town

Tonight for dinner Gen, Walli and I went to the HRAD restauracia up by HRAD Castle. We had fantastic views, especially as the city changed from day to night. Gen looks up something called the Travellers Advisor to get the name of the top spots to eat. Certainly it was the nicest meal I have had since I have been away. I had a spicy fish soup and trout. The trout was so tender it melted in your mouth.

View from HRAD Castle

Tomorrow we are on the road again, this time for a six day stretch before the next rest day. We are cycling 95k tomorrow and for the only time on the tour we are going to be in three countries in one day – Slovakia, Austria and Hungary.

Oh, I have just looked at the time – 11:50pm – and we have to have our bags packed and be out by 6:30am, and I have not yet packed. Plus I have to go though my permanent bag to find my spare brake pads.

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Day 23: Smardzewice to Bobolice – 145k

2,057km down: 4,168km to go.

My legs were quite weary today and never really got going well. The morning was much cooler than the day before – only 26 degrees. Once again we set off early to get some riding in before it got too hot. Daphne is still not well so I was riding with Shirley. Lucky for her I was with her as the turn at about 60k was not in our daily notes and Shirley would have totally missed it. I saw the flags, phew. Scott – who is always first – went past it head-down thinking “20k before the next turn” and added 42k to his day. I would have been looking for a taxi!

Although my legs were weary the morning was not too taxing. This resulted in David and Walli deciding to do the whole stretch – they are usually regulars in the truck back to camp after lunch. What no one had told us was the were some significant hills after lunch. Not as bad as Makara but equivalent to the hill up to Johnsonville or the Ngaio Gorge! Shirley is much better at hills than me, although I can go faster than her on the flat. What this means unfortunately is I wait for her on the flats and she drops me on the hills. Anyway, I did not see her again until 20k out from camp!

Half way up a very long hill it levelled out, and I spied a sheltered bus shelter so I went in and had a wee rest on the bench, then headed out there and at it again. At the top of what turned out to be the final significant hill of the day there was a turn to the right which I went past without having a good look at. There was then a great downhill for about 3k. I was halfway down the hill before I thought “Shit! I hope I was not meant to turn back there!”. I kept going, having decided that if I had gone the wrong way there was no way I was going to go back up the hill, I would get to the town, have a beer and find out if there was a taxi service. Failing that I would ring the tour guys and beg. Thankfully coming into town I saw the orange flag at a turn, yay. After that it was 10k mostly downhill to camp.

Once again I managed to get a room shared with Walli, so no camping this stretch. The bugs only get the time I am outside for the riders meeting and during meals to get me. Mind you I guess it is payback as I ride with my mouth open and a few bugs have been harmed on this trip (probably one of my main sources of protein!).

Anyway after dinner I decided I should walk up the road and see the castles, but I only looked at Royal Castle Bobolice not Mirror Castle a couple of kilometres away. Royal Castle Bobolice was in a state of disrepair but has been renovated. The outstanding aspect is it is built on a huge rock. There was an underground tunnnel linking it Mirror Castle but this is shut and Mirror Castle is in a state of disrepair.

Royal Castle of Bobolice (photo from Wikipedia)

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Day Three: Kingisepp to Saka Full Blog

258km down: 5,967km to go

We started off with breakfast at the hotel which was porridge with butter in it, dry bread, no milk, and rock hard boiled eggs? Did my best to wash it down with water.

We crossed the border today into Estonia – I had a moment of panic at the hotel last night as I thought I had lost my departure card, but after tossing my belongings and getting stressed I found it in my passport where border control had put it when I came into the country. Not sure what would have happened if I had not been able to find it, but certainly would not have been straight forward and would no doubt have held me up for hours if not more.

We set off at 7:30am, it was still quite cool at that time of the day. We were riding 75k to Saka, which is in Estonia. It was 20k to the Russian border, when we got there we went through the first gate, then at the second gate the sentry starting pointing and waving his arms, and talking loudly until we figured out that he wanted us to ride down a steep bank, down a path on a detour, then come back just in front of his station – rather than just letting us ride past him on the road (like the Russian cyclists were doing), just because he could I guess.  We got through the border ok, in the 1.5k between the two borders were two amazing old castles/fortresses facing each other (will have to look up what they are called).

Our tour guide Greggo (driving the car) had a bit of trouble at the border as he had gone into Russia the week before with 4 bags and 2 people and was now coming out by himself with 40 plus bags and no people! It still did not take as long as when he went into Russia though – they lined at up at 7:30am, they got one part of the entry stamped but had to wait until 10:30 am before the office that stamped the second part opened. I am sure you will not be surprised by now to learn that the same person stamped the second part at 10:30 that had stamped the document at 7:30!

The change was amazing the moment we got into Estonia, things were brighter, newer, the people were friendlier and the feeling of oppression just went. There was a supermarket that looked like a supermarket as we know it (still no snap lock bags though). We still had to ride along the highway for the first part of the day – another way you knew you were in a different country: the traffic actually stops for you. We found this out by accident when we stopped on the side of the road to check our bearings and suddenly noticed both sides of the traffic had stopped and was waiting patiently to see what we were doing.

The lunch truck stops somewhere around the mid-point each day depending on a suitable place to stop, and we can make sandwiches, eat fruit and fill our water bottles. It also allows the guides to check that everyone is on the right ride. The tour guides alternate the lunch truck and sweep. Sweep is the person who rides at the back behind the slowest rider (so far not me ) and also can help with any bike problems.

After lunch we rode away from the highway through the country side through kilometre after kilometre of canola fields and grain fields with the odd stork nest. Our accommodation in Saka was the first night in a tent, I had a new tent so tried hard to remember the directions from when my son had shown me. I ended up getting a bit of help from Daphne and Shirley. I was more comfortable than I had expected but of course the first night in a tent was also the first night of rain. Of course even though I had checked the tent carefully for bugs and sprayed insect repellent it was clearly not well enough as I still ended up providing a bug buffet during the night.

The place was at the top of the cliff and we walked down many steps to the beach, I was very pleased we did as it was very beautiful. There were trees down to the golden sand, and the water had hardly any salt taste. I could tell however that I was a long way away from home as the Baltic seas stretched for miles with no sign of land islands or otherwise.

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Friday’s sightseeing adventures

Today I went to Peterhof to see the palace and the gardens. I went by hydro boat and went out to the Baltic Sea near the gulf of Finland. It took 30 minutes to get there. When I got there you could only buy tickets to the lower gardens at the first gate. I had a good look around – they go forever: fountains, statues, moats, small amazing buildings, also there is a beach.

Peterhof Lower Gardens, from Stephendanko)

I sat on the beach and rang my daughter Kelly as I was having trouble checking my credit card balance and needed her help. It was pretty amazing sitting on a beach in the sun talking to Kelly in winter in New Zealand. I was lucky enough that Kelly was with two of my other daughters – Tracey and Shellbe – so I got to talk to them quickly as well.

After looking around the gardens I decided to see the palace. The notice in English said “tickets inside” so I joined the line and waited for ages. Every ten or so minutes a women would pop her head outside, have a look, and duck back in. Finally the line started to move, I got near the top and asked the lady at the door if tickets were inside and she pointed that way so I gave my bag to the cloakroom and joined the line. So I get to the entrance and the women starts yelling at me and pointing, and to the Japanese chap behind me. I figure out where I have to get tickets and ask where, at which points she starts screaming in my face. The Japanese man started having a major melt down so I left him to it. It was strange – none of the tourists even blinked an eye at the commotion.

So out I go to find the ticket office, I get to an office that says clearly in English “ticket office open”. There is a queue of confused looking people, and there is a Russian guard moving a crowd control fence backwards and forwards, and lots of people trying to talk to him. I finally get up to him and after 5 minutes of him moving the barrier backwards and forwards he gets frustrated with speaking Russian to me and says in English “tickets are closed, come back at 1600”. I don’t think so, it’s only 11:30am, I will not hang around till then!

I do lurk around for 30 or so minutes visiting the chapel etc and go back past the ticket office just in case. There he is moving the crowd control barrier backwards and forwards, speaking Russian, and there is another crowd of confused people. I wonder to myself why not just lock the door and put “come back at 4pm”?

The Peterhof Palace (from Wikipedia)

So I caught the boat back to the mainland and walked around for a couple of hours taking random photos, watching the crowds, and enjoying the sun – 20 degrees today! I then returned to my mission of finding the third floor at the Hermitage Museum and I do! I am pleased I found the third floor, there were some very nice paintings and statues including some paintings and pots by Picasso. I stayed at the museum for a couple of hours looking at stuff I had not taken in the previous time, and I also found my way back to the Peacock clock. I bought a DVD that has the museum and the clock opening in it.

Peacock Clock (from Wikipedia)

I also saw the hanging garden again which I imagined as different from the reality. There are a number of hanging gardens at the palaces, they are gardens above the ground floor that the rooms open onto like an upstairs courtyard.

I then decided to go back to a restaurant that Igor had taken me to on the first day called Terrassa. It is on a roof top with a nice view so I thought it would be a great place to have a meal and a cold wine. I was pretty pleased I managed to find it! I got shown to a table and there I sat. I got the attention of the wait person a few times but no menu, after 40 minutes of no service I got up and walked out. I did tell the maitre d’ why I was going – clearly the Russians do not like single women in their nice restaurants by themself either.

Instead I went to a place along the Nevsky Prospect and had a cold beer called a Blanc and seabass and vegetables and watched the crowds.

I was walking around with my headphones playing the music on my phone today. I am not sure what I have done but the music is a mix of a continuous one song of the Doors and one of Ludovico Einaudi  and so on.

Thoughts for the day

  • The Russians have lots of coins, they have 10c, 5c, 2c and 1c, and they also have smaller than 1c – one of which says 10. The metro ticket office people get quite excited if you try to use one of those by mistake.
  • When you go to the ticket office at the metro or the museum or anywhere, you can’t actually see the people, there is a gray screen with a slot in the bottom for you to put you money in. It’s quite disconcerting especially if you not really sure what you’re doing. They don’t like you looking up at the screen trying to see in either.
  • In Russia the tourist attractions are set up for Russians,and there is an assumption that if you are not in a tour you can speak Russian.

So please note, that is two days in a row I have not got lost! I am now going with Daphne, Shirley and Wally to have a drink. Tomorrow (Saturday) we meet the other riders and have our riders briefing.

Discover Catherine’s Peacock Clock (skip to 1:16 for the clock)

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