Furstenberg – Waren: More lakes

Cobbles. Every town and village has laid fiendish cobbles in its central area; not sure whether this is for aesthetic reasons or as a traffic calming measure. It doesn’t calm us, it enrages us every time. Caroline is convinced that she risks brain damage in riding over the cobbles, so we often get off and walk, even through the rather large town of Waren this evening.

We are on the shore of lake Tiefwaren, about 3km north of Waren town. The hotel is quite plush but slightly odd; it doesn’t seem to have any customers. There is renovation going on and they may have closed the hotel but forgotten to tell us. Anyhow the duvet’s nice and there is free WiFi. And the lake this evening looked ravishing as the evening sun fell on it.

Hard to think of anything new to say about our ride through the land of 1000 lakes. Paul is very slightly cronky after a knock to his derailleur, so when Caroline dropped her chain on a climb, and arrived at the top, walking and surrounded by a swarm of flies attracted to her vivid lime jersey, she had a minor breakdown. But all was well after administering some of the emergency banana cake I have been carrying for such moments.

Oranienburg – Furstenberg: Into Lakeland

A lovely day’s cycling. Late start. We lingered over excellent breakfast at the Turkish cafe then faffed at Gesundbrunnen station. Took a one stop hop to Oranienburg on a very crowded train going from Wittenberg to Rostock and thought about how few our experiences would have been if we had whizzed between those two places in a few hours instead of pedaling for 6 days.

Oranienburg was familiar. We came here on our previous trip to Berlin in order to visit the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. An Australian tour guide was giving his introductory speech on the platform today.

The weather was warm and sunny by the time we finally rode away at around 11:30. Smooth tarmac trails through the woods and alongside the Havel; a canalised river with pleasure boats chugging up and down. They call this the German Lake District but it’s really the Norfolk Broads. Holiday villages and small towns could be Hunstanton or Potter Heigham.

We are staying in F├╝rstenberg / Havel (two towns are really one, divided by the river) in an extraordinary place called Coeur de Berlin (Google it) run by Frank and Rosemarie. It’s like a gigantic family home with standard bedrooms but an enormous ballroom-sized lounge, more like a ballroom really, with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. They bought the house dilapidated five years ago and restored it, only finding out later it had been a hotel in the early 20th century.

F├╝rstenberg has a very 1920s resort feel, although the main square is surrounded by older buildings on three sides: the Rathaus (town hall), an early 19th century church, an old hotel and on the fourth side a big Netto supermarket, where we bought tomorrow’s breakfast!

Weather is looking good for the next few days as we ride deeper into the Mecklenburg lakes.

Borkheide-Berlin taking in Potsdam Palaces

Ascension Day: it turns out the tradition in Germany is to decorate your bike with balloons, foliage and windmills, wear a silly hat, form up in gangs and ride around getting pissed. We saw literally thousands of cyclists today. Some groups, like the extended family of Zander, who explained the ritual to us, were delightful. Others were a bit of a menace, careering all over the cycle path and chucking broken bottles around.

We rolled into Potsdam with the gangs, and did a bit of conventional tourism, exploring the Potsdam Palaces for an hour or two. This was the seat of Frederick the Great, king of Prussia, built in the mid 18th century. Reminiscent of Versailles, but bigger, the allied leaders met here post-WW2 to negotiate the peace.

After a bit of lunch in Potsdam, we set off for Berlin, rolling through the undulating Grunewald, and finally the long straight ride down Bismarkstrasse past the landmarks of Charlottenburg, the Siegessaule and at last the Brandenburg Gate. With a spot of help from Deutsche Bahn we’ve made it from Prague to Berlin. Now sights are set on Copenhagen.

Pretzsch to Borkheide: wet wet wet

So today was wet. Very wet. It could have been miserable but strangely not so.

We made good time before lunch into Lutherstadt Wittenberg, where in 1517, Martin Luther nailed his Protestant treatise – known as (cue schoolboy sniggers) the Diet of Worms – to the Cathedral door. Said door was the only visible bit of cathedral, the rest being shrouded in scaffold and cladding. And when we poked our heads in the door, a work man yelled what we took to be German for “can’t you read the f-ing signs, no entry!” Nein danke.

Lunch at an Indian restaurant in Wittenberg, we dried out and warmed up a bit.

Progress after lunch was painfully slow, as we peeled off the Elbe cycle way, which has provided great surfaces, and picked up cycle way R3, with frequent stretches of sludgy gravel. Impatient with this, we clicked the “take us to the next hotel by road” button on the GPS. Progress quickly improved and we rolled into Borkheide sodden but cheerful. Best of all, we were greeted by a charming young man who spoke beautiful English and showed us to the cycle garage.

Just as last year’s Danube trip, our visit has coincided with the annual Asparagus (in German, Spargel) season, which is a National obsession. At the Hotel Fleigerheim, they are having a Spargel festival. “Would you like some dinner? Maybe some Spargel? We have ham and Spargel, fish and Spargel, or just Spargel.” I chose a Spargel Ragout, and Caroline chose Zander fillet and Spargel. Guess what was the complimentary starter, yes, Spargel salad!

Tomorrow Potsdam and Berlin.

Riesa – Pretzsch: infinite fens

Look at the map and you will find there is not much between Dresden and Berlin. Villages are tiny, few and far between. We had some trouble finding accommodation, given constraints of route and distance, indeed spent so long browsing German web sites that Google decided I was German. But eventually settled on Pretzsch as our destination.

The landscape is infinite fenland and to be frank: boring. But the bird life was rich. We had great views of black kites, saw black redstart, some kind of osprey, green woodpecker (or may have been grey-headed), and a stork standing on its nest pole.

Early in the day we chanced upon the Frisch Markt, a travelling grocery van, which was lucky, because I don’t think we saw another shop all day. Frisch Markt yielded cheese rolls and apricots, which we ate at a picnic table in a church yard in Wessnig (the Jon Smith school of cycle touring).

The promised thunder storm held off and we rolled into Pretzsch tired but hopeful. The Park Hotel is not a branch of the well known chain, but a local establishment with plenty to learn in the hospitality stakes. Looking pitiful and trying “English?” just got a stern “Nicht” and I was handed a key to the room and lengthy instructions to find the bike garage. The garage was nowhere to be found even after going back for a second round of instructions and searching for best part of an hour, so poor Bob and Paul are outside in a terrible rainstorm chained to a fence. Neither could we find the promised door to the wing containing our room, which is so far from the lobby that the WiFi signal fades in and out according to wind direction.

Not impressed with the Park Hotel, we searched Pretzsch for anywhere else to eat but found nothing but stares from local, not altogether surprising as we trudged around town in heavy rain wearing Indian cotton yoga pants and sandals (light to carry you see). Hence threw ourselves back on the mercy of the Park Hotel for dinner looking like drowned rats. We are now the renowned cycling lunatics of Lower Saxony.

Bumbling through Bohemia

Today’s cycleways were as good as yesterday’s were bad. We made great progress, although the prevailing north wind is building (we fear it will hit us hard next week on the east coast of Denmark).

Approaching Decin at around 10.30, a tall German student, with panniers, pedalled up beside us. Let’s call him Hans. He knocked our trip into a cocked hat. He had come this morning from Prague (yes, the whole trip we did yesterday, and 20km more, he had completed between 5am and 10.30). Hans had started out in Istanbul, intending to hitch back to Berlin. But he “got bored”, so bought a bike and panniers at a hostel in Belgrade, and proceeded to ride back.

As we passed imperceptibly from the Czech Republic into Germany we cheered Europe’s open borders. 70 years ago there was genocide in these parts. 30 years ago the iron fist of Communism. OK, so we may crave a bit more democracy from our EU commissioners but let’s not turn back the clock.

Dresden is a mix of brutalist tenements and Baroque monuments. The lady who checked us in to our hostel was shocked and disappointed that we didn’t even have full day for sightseeing, but luckily Caroline’s idea of tourism matches mine. A two mile walk to a fantastic bike superstore, a wild goose chase to two veggie restaurants, both closed, and a locally-brewed beer drunk at a biergarten with a view of the 18th century river front, were all we needed to to take in this splendid City.

Kralupy-Usti: 60 miles of bad road

“I’m worried about day 3: Prague to Usti. It’s 101k on bad surfaces. We start cycling at 10.15 (assuming we can get breakfast in time to catch that train) and there are two ferry crossings. We are not going to make it.”

It was every bit as tough as Caroline predicted but we did make it.

The train to Kralupy was to avoid the Prague suburbs and shorten the day to a manageable distance. Buying a ticket speaking no Czech was quite a comedy. Despite holding up two fingers as in “two people, two bikes” the ticket was unfeasibly cheap. Google goggles on the ticket didn’t help much, except some advice about unhitching horse from wagon before boarding the train. I went back to the ticket office with pictograms: 2 (Stick man pic) 2 (dodgy looking bike pic). Reassuringly expensive ticket resulted.

It wasn’t long before we hit our first stretch of rutted muddy forest track. And that was the pattern for the day. We’d have some miles of perfect tarmac and then just when it seemed it would last: loose gravel. Fearful cobbles. Piles of old broken bricks.

No surprise; I got a puncture. No surprise; first fix didn’t hold so I had to do it all again. Still no time lost because C had gone ahead and was dragging her bike through mud, and called back to say “take by pass by road” and I recovered 45 minutes of puncture fixing time.

On the bright side, the sun shone, the ferries were prompt, the scenery nice and contrary to worst fears, we made it. Only 8 and a half hours on the road.

Hoek of Holland to Amsterdam

Forgot to start Strava so missed the first bit. Speeding along under milky sun, fettling odd bits of Bob Jackson that weren’t quite right: saddle height, bar end plug, pannier fixings, gear adjustments. It’s all good now!

Lunch in Leiden then more fast flat silky cycle paths before the slightly hectic last few km into Amsterdam. 3 hours to wait before overnight train to Prague.