Back in June I found myself with a weekend free of wedding and nothing planned which is quite an unusual occurrence as if I do get a weekend off in the wedding season I like to make the most of it! Whilst looking at a map of Europe BERLIN jumped out at me, this city of legend, culture and history was one I had never been to before and slowly I developed a cunning plan…. I’d catch the ferry over to Europort and ride over to Berlin and Easyjet it back home again. Looking across the atlas at Northern Europe it looked ideal for a quick trip on the bike.
I plotted a route for the trusty Garmin Etrex as a four day bash over to Berlin. 830 km 520 miles across the Netherlands and Germany to the fabled Prussian Capital.
I took the train painlessly to Hull, which was a surprise considering how anto bike I often find trains! Then had the worse five miles of the entire journey riding out to Hull Ferry Terminal. The Ferry as always is a great way to land in Europe and it was great to see a good quantities of bikes in the Pride of Rotterdam.
After a good meal and a sound night sleep I arrived in Europort to lovely British weather…. 16c and rain…. As luck would have it the rain had more or less stopped by the time I disembarked and apart from one or two light showers that was it for the whole ride.
Day one was a cracking route through one of my favourite countries, the Netherlands. I have toured a few times in the Netherlands and have found it the most friendly country you could ever imagine and the cycling infrastructure is simply superb. 95% of all riding is on cycle paths along the side of canals lined with magnificent houses for a flat country amazing views.
I stopped for lunch in Ultrech and took a lot few photos of people cycling around. It is amazing the amount of cyclists and also the breadth of people cycling. The bike is a way of life in the Netherlands.
The whole country seems to be built around the bike and you just cannot find a road without a cycle path along side it or if the road is shared space is taken from the cars to make the cycling safer. The seems very few overweight people among the Dutch and I think this must be related to the very outdoor lifestyle most people seem to live. Apparently for every man women and child in the Netherlands 2.5km is cycled every day.
From Utrecht I headed ever East through the delightful town of Apeldoorn where I spotted the first sign for Berlin and failed to photograph it before finishing the day in another bustling town of Almelo. As I headed further East the character of the Netherlands changed from the Dykes and canals of the reclaimed land to more forested country more reminiscent of what was to come. I stopped at the stunning Van der Valk Theaterhotel in the town and after a decent day on the bike was glad of a good night rest!
Even the bike was allowed in the bedroom!
Day two was from Almelo in the Netherlands to Schwarmstedt in Germany 227km (142 miles) DIY 200K Audax
I left the hotel and spent the next hour or so heading over to the German border but to be honest I have no idea where I crossed it, I suddenly noticed the cycle path sighs where a different colour and the cars had German number plates. Still loads of cyclist and still excellent cycle paths. The cycle paths deteriorated as I passed into the old East Germany but in the old west apart from in towns I didn’t have to spend any time on a road with cars!
My first impressions of Germany was it wasn’t as Germanic as the Dutch! I don’t think many countries could be as clean and orderly as the Netherlands! Germany is also a lot less on population density and the roads went on a lot longer passing by massive forests and huge agricultural fields. The roads I had chosen also seemed to bypass most villages which was a shame and if I had this day again I would plot a route down more back roads.
It was lovely riding in non touristy parts of Germany and the weather was much finer now – up to the mid 20s on it way to 30c for the rest of the holiday. Cyclist numbers seemed to drop as I got further East. Northern Germany is as flat as Holland just with less water and more forrest! Any hills seemed really gradual and the biggest ones where crossing Autobans!
After a cracking day the Ringhotel in Schwarmstedt was a wonderful place to stay, however I failed to take even one photo of the hotel. Tired…. One thing with Germany very few people I encountered spoke English, a phrase book would of been handy as would menus with pictures…..
Day 3 160 km (100 miles) Schwarmstedt to Arendsee
I had originally planned a three day blast to Berlin and had hopped to meet Debbie there to have a weekend away, alas those plans fell through and I found myself with an extra day to make the ride which was nice so after a lazy start leaving the comfort of the hotel at around 10 am I had as ‘easy’ day to the lovely Spa town of Arendsee. This was a lovely day passing through Saxony and onto Prussia through some amazing village and crossing the old East German border. It was quite noticeable the change in crossing the border the was a lot of old derelict concrete building intermingled with the immaculate German Villages and towns. The weather was also brilliant peaking at over 30c according to the Garmin and feeling rather hot! Cycles paths also diminished but I’m not sure if this is because I had plotted the route along more back roads.
After a shorter day it was nice to arrive at Arendsee in the late afternoon and have time to look around at this Spa resort. The Hotel manager and waiter were the first people I met who spoke excellent English and the food was amazing. The is nothing like a day on the bike to build an appetite.
Day 4 Arendsee to Berlin 170 km (107 miles)
Day four was perfect, 25c as I left the hotel at a lazy 10am for the final push to Berlin and after a few beautiful hours of cycling including some of the worst surfaces I’ve ever experienced, down to the concrete block construction as opposed to uniquely British Potholes I may add I came to the Elba, the mighty river running through the centre of Germany and a ferry crossing. Well it would of been a ferry crossing if it was working…. After waiting a while and talking to a few locals who spoke less English than I spoke German I figured it wouldn’t be working for a long time. An old gentleman out on his bike said 6 km and pointed south. I figured he meant another crossing so followed an old military road along the Elba. This section was so beautiful with the mighty river on one side and miles of wading bird and nature all around. The surface was awful and I think it may of been an old military road. The was still piles of sandbags in places!!
A few kilometers further down I found the crossing the old chap had pointed to and crossed the mighty river at the town of Sandau before heading North again to get back on route and having lunch in the lovely river side town of Havelburg. Sat in the sun eating a massive burger and chips life seemed rather fine! I had crossed the Elba!
The next section of the ride approaching Berlin was in a way quite strange passing through beautiful country side and immaculate villages with hardly a person in site. The villages were also very spread out – I must of rode for 20km without water as I could find no shop!
Closer to Berlin I went past whole communist era towns, factories and civic building in various states of despair. History is very immediate around these parts.
It funny how recent it is that the wall came down yet it is also a different era altogether. Berlin has such a sad history in the second half of the 20th century.
The ride into Berlin was really quite emotional first passing the massive Russian (Soviet) war memorial to the millions who perished to passing under the Brandenburg Gate for a well deserved beer. It had been a brilliant trip to one of Europes leading cities and to arrive by bike just made it that little bit special. Now all I had to do was find a place to stay and worry about Easy Jet bike handling skills……
The bike sharing my hotel room – again! It had been a brilliant ride over to Berlin. I had one more lazy day for a bit of sightseeing and then a ride to the Airport.
My bike all wrapped up for the trip home – the CTC plastic bike bag was took up half my pannier and was the heaviest thing I carried. After a fretful flight wondering if I would still have a bike left it arrived back in at John Lennon Airport without a scratch. Thankyou Easy Jet!
It was a cracking ride my only regret is I didn’t carry on to the Oder and the Polish Border but the is always next time!
Bike was a Sabbath September. Which I’d highly recommended for the long haul!