Travel StoriesFrance, Germany And Belgium 2012 - By Ren Withnell
France, Germany And Belgium 2012 - Lebach To Cochem
I wake slightly later than usual, when I fumble round between the jacket, pants, bags and clothes I finally find my phone and it's as late as 0600! The campsite is rough, but the toilets are perfect and it's very quiet here, except for the usual dawn chorus. Why is it, wherever I travel, there's an effing wood pigeon. "Ho Hooo ho...Ho Hooo ho" all the time. every time. I swear to god it sounds exactly the same. I thought it would at least have had a German accent. I decide there's just one wood pigeon that follows me, wherever I travel.
I decide I'm hungry, and in no rush. If I am to go to Cochem then I have only a short trip ahead of me. This makes me feel much more relaxed. I feel I can get lost and not worry about the trip taking all day. I feel I can stop and look rather than press on. I feel that this could be the solution. Oh there'll be people that would call me a wimp and not a real biker if I'm not covering 500 miles per day. I am who I am though. I want to see this place, I want to stop and take in the sights, good and bad. I've also realised that I'm not interested in just the things I should see, but the everyday things. The scruffy industrial estates, the high rise apartments, the vandalised underpasses and oil filled ponds.
My tiny tent. Notice the condition of the caravans in the background.
Don't get me wrong, I love a vast mountain range or an impressive cathedral just like the next man. That said, if all you ever see of a country are the tourist attractions and the areas of outstanding natural beauty then you get the wrong idea of a place. Take this campsite. If I'd only ever gone to pristine sites with manicured lawns then I would think Germany's perfect and my own country's a run down dive. Here I realise that some of the aging German population live in bedraggled caravans with ramshackle shelters. Lebach has shown me that some Germans live in row after row of replicated boxes that bear no character or passion for design, not chocolate box cottages in quaint rural villages. Still, bring on the quaint rural villages now please.
I heat up and prepare the instant noodles I purchased last night. I wish I had not. I really do wish I had not. They're gopping. I like super noodles back home, quick, easy and mindless. These are not quick and taste like rubber, plastic and spice. I've gone to the effort of making them so I struggle on until I'm half way through, then give up. That was nasty. I brush my teeth, again, to get rid of the taste. Dammit, I was hoping they'd be nice and I would buy some more.
Disappointed I pack up and head off. I hope the campsite tonight will be more friendly, more welcoming and less residential than the one I'm leaving. Today is a new day however and each new day is full of possibilities. The possibilities include a certainty of getting lost, which I do, promptly. I really don't care today! I'm happy to be lost down the small and twisty lanes, the country villages and the undulating countryside. The sun is shining, I'm warm, I've not got far to go and according to the sun I'm heading North-ish so I'll not be far wrong. As I pass through a village I spot a "Backerie" which I figure is a bakery.
I pull in and enter the bakery. As I glance at the produce behind the glass counter I make a mental note to play it safe after yesterday's curious encounter of the boulangerie kind. I notice too that there's a couple of stools and a small counter to sit at, great!. I apologise in German about my lack of German and point to a croissant and grab a carton of apple juice from a fridge. The large joyful lady behind the counter serves me and tries a little English to ask for payment.
The street outside the bakery, quite a typical Germanic town.
I grab a stool and sit to eat and notice a large, strong looking mature German gentleman watching our exchange from a stool behind a pillar. The conversation, as I'm getting used to, involves German, English, sign language and charades. I mention Manchester, he mentions Manchester United, I mention "Motoradd", motorbike, he tells me of his Norton 650 in years gone by. The counter lady joins in from time to time when she hears where I've been and where I'm heading. I love this. I love practising my German with Germans, meeting people who I'll never meet again and just taking in a tiny taste of life in this place.
For once I'm on the right road then I spot a sign for Reichenbach. Could this be THE Reichenbach, as in Reichenbach Falls, where Moriarty and Holmes meet their demise? Probably not, but it's still only mid morning and I've got all day, so it's got to be worth a look. Reichenbach turns out to be a tiny village, clean and smart amidst rolling countryside and sun filled woods. There's no sign of a river let alone a raging waterfall so I doubt this is the famous Reichenbach, but it's pretty and worth the detour. I pass through the quiet town of Nohen and try to find my way to somewhere that's actually on my map, to get my bearings again.
It's Reichenbach for sure, just not the Famous Reichenbach.
I'm off-course a little as I follow signs into Idar Oberstein. I come down a steep hill and as I'm keeping to the limits as best I can there's a woman in an Audi right up my backside. This is a long broad main road but it's very twisty. At each bend I relish feeling the bike tip over, grip the road and ride the curve, and she falls back. On each straight, still limited to 70kph (45mph) she's back up my behind again. This carries on for a few more bends then a sharper one comes up. I'm down to maybe 50kph (30mph) as I peel in, and in, and in. The bend carries on and on, I lean farther and farther until my toes are scraping the tarmac. Awesome! As I straighten I look in my mirror, I've lost her.
As I look about for signs and directions I look up and spot something quite impressive. It seems there's something in the rock face towering above the town. My eyes scan rapidly for somewhere to stop and I pull off the wrong way into a one way street. Being on a bike on this fortunately quiet road I just park up on the kerb and walk a few paces to get a better view. From beneath a concrete overpass I can see there's a church in the rocks, built into the rock face. As I take pictures the bell chimes and the warm sun makes me sweat inside the bike gear.
The church appears to have been built into the rock face. Most impressive.
Further down the road, hopefully in the right direction, I'm ready for a decent rest. As I pass through the farmland filled with green shoots of unknown produce I'm getting a little frustrated with these foreign speed limits. Back home a country road is typically 60mph. There will be signs warning of junctions, bends and other hazards. In Germany, and France, and even Luxemburg it's much the same, save for one extra dimension. The speed limit will drop from 100kph (90kph in France and Luxemburg) to typically 70kph, 45mph, past the hazard. I can be happily wheeling along at 60 when I'm required to drop to 45 to simply pass a basic open junction. I'll never complain about the British big brother attitude back home, here it's 10 times worse.
On one such countryside road I see a large gravel parking area and a building declaring "Rasthaus Panzweiler", I guess "Rasthaus" is rest house, some sort of a stop. I pull in, park up and dismount. Inside is a smart clean café with a handful of clients. A large firm looking lady babbles something incomprehensible to my ear so I apologise and by smiling and speaking my German slowly I manage to order a cup of tea. Tea in a glass cup never looks right, and here no matter how much I squeeze I can't get any tea out of the tea bag it seems, and I like my tea weak. Never mind, I'm sat here resting, sipping hot water with milk and sugar and the sun is shining across the farmland and over the large gravel car park. More importantly I've eaten, mixed as best I can with some of the locals and I can't be too far from my final destination. It's alright this travelling thing isn't it.
The car park at the Rasthaus Panzweiler. Vast open countryside and plenty of wind turbines.
Although the day is good and my mood is up, it does come as some relief when I spot signs for Cochem. Not far now, it's still mid afternoon and I ought to be there in good time. I'd noticed on the map the road wiggles alongside the river Mosel for quite some distance, which seems a bit pointless. When I arrive though I learn why. The Mosel is a big broad river, big enough for large daytrip boats and possibly even a small cruise ship. It flows between steep hills covered in vines on the sunny side and forest on the opposite side. All along the route are small to medium sized towns full of tourist facilities such as hotels, campervan parks, the odd campsite and shops aplenty. It's all very picturesque and quite pretty, much as I'd hoped Germany to be. The vineyards must be impossible to maintain, such is the steepness of the slopes they follow.
The road twists and turns, slowly. Here the traffic is busy, full of coaches, campervans, caravans and cars filled with bedding and bicycles on roofracks. Alongside the river for many a mile is a broad cycleway, separate and safe from the road and much in use with both cyclists and walkers. I consider if it may be a good holiday here to cycle the Mosel. My ass is a little numb and I shuffle in the seat as ever before Cochem itself comes into view.
Cochem is pretty, no doubt about that, but it's main business is that of tourism. 3 and 4 storey hotels line the road with cafes and eateries spilling out onto the broad footpaths which is common on the continent. I spot an area under a bridge full of motorcycles and I turn round in town to venture to park there. I've been riding here for 4 days now and although I'm starting to adjust to everyone driving on the wrong side of the road I still find it awkward to make the left turn and join the other motorcycles.
One of the few bridges over the Mosel.
Looking at the bike registration plates I notice most are German or from the Netherlands. I've seen a lot of Dutch "NL" plates so far on this trip, I guess most of Holland must be empty. As I look I notice a couple of UK registrations, one from Barnsley, North Yorkshire. As I roll myself a smoke the owner returns and I walk over and say "Hi". It's a small world. Both riders are from Wigan, just down the road from myself and one of them works in my home town of Horwich. Much as I love to try and speak a foreign language it's good to talk in English, with my best local accent still being understood. We chat for a short while, they're here on holiday like myself but have crossed from Hull to Rotterdam and are using hotels. I bid them good trip as they leave.
A group of Dutch bikers return from with the town, I ask in German if they know where the campsite is. The look quizzically at me then one replies, in perfect English "There's one up ze road, around the back of town". I'm given cursory directions but they seem much more interested in getting ready to leave and depart shortly after. The campsite may be 2 km out of town, I had been hoping it would be closer so I could walk back in and take a proper look around in comfort, without the bike gear.
The campsite is indeed a fair walk out of town, up a steep slope behind a hotel behind the town centre. It's also small. There's nothing more than a gravel track, a small toilet block and a long strip of grass. As I look for a reception a working type man in a vest approaches me with a purposeful walk, I almost expect him to tell me to get lost. I ask in German if I can camp, obviously quite poorly judging by the look on his face. He replies "Speak English" so I ask again in my own tongue. I'm directed to camp anywhere, leave the bike on the tarmac outside the toilet block and I pay at the hotel, in the morning, all in good English. After that he disappears into the hotel and I'm left to work the rest out for myself.
The toilet and shower block at the campsite in Cocham.
I pitch opposite the toilet block, for convenience and to keep an eye on the bike. It's hot and I'm thankful to remove the bike gear. Dammit, the showers are token operated, where the hell do I get a token from? A younger woman approaches with her arms full of washing and bids me a warm "Hello". I try to ask in German about the "Douche", showers and again she looks at me, bewildered. My German really must be poor. She replies, in good English, that I can have a shower and I learn they don't need tokens, you just use them, "it's good, yes?".
It's embarrassing, how well everyone speaks English yet I can only apologise for my German or French. A couple of aging ladies hear us talking and interject to enquire where I'm from, in English. They're Dutch as is almost everyone else on the site. I'm told the Dutch speak good English as no-one speaks Dutch, or Flemish, or whatever.
I take a long hot shower and wash todays clothes with soap and plenty of water. I arrange these on the bike to dry and dress myself. I know it's a fair walk but I feel so fresh and clean I venture to walk into town. I just hope my poor feet can cope. I stow everything in the tent, ensure my valuables are about my person and set off. It's all downhill, past a small metal workshop, past white painted houses, alongside a babbling brook and finally into town.
I guess this is a modern house along the road into Cocham, but it fits in nicely with it's surroundings.
When I arrive I spot a small mini market and make a note to return later to buy food for breakfast. Cochem is bustling with tourists sitting outside cafes and restaurants, cars and coaches passing on the main road and shops selling post cards and ice creams. I wonder whether to dine in a café but the prices and the full tables put me off. I settle on a Bratwurst and Chips from small concession underneath the main bridge. Bratwurst and Chips indeed, Sausage and Chips more like. It's lovely, proper food at last.
I wander around the town, it's all much the same. Behind the main drag with the cafes and restaurants is a small bazaar other than that not much else. I return to the mini market to acquire breakfast but it's closed, dammit. I walk back to the bazaar and purchase a bread roll from a bakery and a tin of tomato soup from a stall. That should do the trick just fine.
There is a castle in Cochem. It's all very picturesque and fairytale. Bah...humbug...
I make the long walk back to the campsite and I'm thankful the sun is dipping behind the trees in places, it's a bit sticky in the sun. The walk trudges on and on, uphill all the way and my tired feet are starting to grumble. By the time I get to the metalwork shop they're getting on my nerves but I make it back to the site before they give up. The walk trudges on and on, uphill all the way and my tired feet are starting to grumble.
There's little to do at the site. I spot a stack of plastic garden chairs and cheekily I grab one and sit on it. Wow. What a difference a chair makes! I can sit in comfort in the setting sun, reading my book and having a smoke. No wriggling about on squidgy airbeds, no fighting with piles of clothes and bike gear. Just a chair, a plain simple plastic chair, makes the whole evening seem so much more...civilised. Perhaps I should get a chair, but where would I put it?
It's a simple thing a chair, yet it can make all the difference.
After reading and relishing the chair for an hour I get up and walk towards the other campers, to see what's what. Mostly everyone's in campervans and motor homes, except for the two mature Dutch ladies who have a large tent. I say "Hello" and start to talk, at which point I'm invited to sit with them on a spare stool. I learn in their excellent English that they've travelled all the Scottish Highlands by bicycle and on foot, they've camped and covered most of Europe and they love nothing more than travelling. They tell me how generous the people of Scotland are and the more remote a place is, the more helpful the people. They've used bicycles and hitch-hiked, walked and driven, camped and hostelled and yet they look so gentle and timid. It makes me feel like I'm just playing at being a traveler, these seemingly ordinary ladies are the real deal.
Thankful for the company I bid them goodnight when the sun finally drops below the treeline. I wriggle and wrestle and squeeze my way into the sleeping bag and curse my stupidity yet again for bringing the small tent...and no chair. This is the fourth night, only four more nights to go.
France, Germany And Belgium 2012 - Prologue
France, Germany And Belgium 2012 - The Chunnel and Wimeraux, France.
France, Germany And Belgium 2012 - Wimeraux to Epernay, The Long Way
France, Germany And Belgium 2012 - Epernay to Lebach
France, Germany And Belgium 2012 - Lebach To Cochem
The scenery is improving as well as the weather. Ren is moving upmarket and into the beautiful town of Cochem.
France, Germany And Belgium 2012 - Cochem to Bastogne
France, Germany And Belgium 2012 - Bastogne to Le Nouvion-en-Thiérache
France, Germany And Belgium 2012 - Le Nouvion-en-Thiérache to Ambleteuse
France, Germany And Belgium 2012 - A Day In Ambleteuse
France, Germany And Belgium 2012 - Going Home Through The Channel Tunnel
France, Germany And Belgium 2012 - Epilogue and More Pictures
France, Germany And Belgium 2012 - Even More Pictures
More images or Ren's European trip that will hopefully bring the story to life.
France, Germany And Belgium 2012 - Even More Pictures Again
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Travel StoriesFrance, Germany And Belgium 2012 - By Ren Withnell