Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Bike Barge Tour of Germany and Holland

This is our second bike-barge charter with Cycletours.  The first was aboard the Wending and had us biking from Amsterdam to Bruge.  This one is aboard the Sailing Home, a slightly larger and more nicely appointed barge. The Sailing Home is a former freight barge that started a new life in 2001 as a luxury passenger motor barge. Twenty-six of us would bicycle from Cologne to Amsterdam following the Rhine valley downstream. We would meet the barge at our daily destination.  Twenty-two of us would arrive from the United States the week of the trip.  Three people had already been in Europe for several weeks/months.  We planned this trip 2 years prior and were excited when the date finally arrived.


Tony and I traveled to Cologne via Hamburg on Friday before the barge trip would begin on Saturday. Our day started in Hamburg (see Hamburg blog).  After a hearty breakfast at the Reichshof hotel, we crossed the street to the train station to catch the 8:45AM train to Cologne.  Our friend Tim had advised us to reserve seats for the ($160) 4 hour train ride but Tony wanted to try to get a table in the dining car (Bord Bistro).  He located the train map and found the Bord Bistro car was the 3rd car, so we stood near that entrance to the train.  When it pulled in, we jumped on, walked through the First Class car and got our own table.


We ate, drank and played cards during the ride.  Soon, we were pulling into Cologne (Koln HBF).

Our hotel, the Cologne Hilton which we had booked using points (Thank you Citi Hilton HHonors Visa) was just around the corner from the train station. We dropped our bags and set out to find our friends. They had sent us a message that they were at the Bitburger Pils bar, but Google didn't know where that was.  (Later we found out that Bitburger Pils was not the name of the bar, but they type of beer they served at the bar).  We ran into Pat & Steve on their way back to the hotel to check-in.

They wanted to cool off a bit, so we kept walking.  It was swelteringly hot in Cologne so we looked for a place to sit in the shade.  We found Cafe Reichard with a shady courtyard just in front of the Cathedral.  We sat down to enjoy a Kolsh and were soon joined by Terry, Helena, Sandy, Mark, Kevin, Pat and Steve.

We talked about everyone's traveling adventures.  Terry and Helena had been involved in a tram incident that left them a little bruised and shaken up.

We admired the Cathedral as we walked toward the Rhine, hoping it would be cooler there.

We found the place everyone was calling the Bitburger Pils bar.  The name of it was actually Em Krutzche. We sat down to have a bier and some snacks.  We ordered a cheese plate which had some delicious soft cheeses.  Two large creamy white slabs of cheese in the middle of the plate turned out to be butter.  The plate didn't come with bread so we weren't sure how one was supposed to eat a slab of butter.  We had some pretzels in our backpack, so we smeared the butter on them.  We also had some little sausages and sauerkraut. Our server suggested we tour Old Town and then make our way back up the Rhine.

We walked through Old Town and remembered our last trip here in 1998 when we unknowingly came during Gay Pride week and enjoyed watching a colorful parade!

We ducked into a little alley and found a courtyard with a little Tapas Restaurant (Rosendorn).  All of the tables had reserved signs on them, but they said we could sit there if we didn't stay long.  We ordered a plate of Tapas and a bottle of wine.

We found Joyce & Mark near the Rhine.

We wandered back toward the train station to find Tammy and Jennifer.  We missed them at the station so we thought we would find them at the hotel.

When we passed the Excelsior Joyce and Mark wanted to go inside to look for a fellow they had met on their bicycle trip through Ireland. I went with them and we had a very expensive drink in the bar where we felt very underdressed!  Their friend was not working that day.

Joyce & Mark went out in search of something for dinner and I headed back toward our hotel.  I found Tony in the Ice Bar which actually had a bar made of ice!  It was so hot outside, I just wanted to put my face on the ice bar!  Pat, Steve, Tammy and Jennifer joined us for a drink.


Tammy and Jennifer told us their traveling tale of woe. They had taken a delay out of Ft. Myers and missed their connection to Amsterdam so they decided to fly to Paris instead. Their luggage got lost (NEVER CHECK A BAG!) so they were in Paris for a day with no luggage before finally making their way to Cologne.

We found a little pizza place called Parmigiano for dinner and then headed back to the hotel.  Tony, Tammy & Jennifer went for a night cap at the Ice Bar but the rest of us were too pooped to pop!

(Biked 10Km, 6.1miles)

We were full from our late night pizza dinner so Tony decided to skip breakfast. I met Pat and Steve in the restaurant.  I was just going to have coffee but the bacon and eggs smelled so good, I had to partake.  I think the scrambled eggs may be mostly butter, but they are really good!

After breakfast, we packed up and set out to find the barge. It was about a half hour walk from our hotel along the Rhine.  We found the Sailing Home and were quite surprised to see the narrow steps leading to it. It was a bit frightening to carry one's luggage down the steps.

We met the crew and were told to leave our things in the salon and go explore the town.  As we were walking back toward the outdoor cafe at the Chocolate Museum, we ran into part of our group so BJ walked with them back to the barge.

Some of the group arrived by taxi (they found a taxi van that brought 8 people and their luggage for 20 Euro.

BJ and the gang found Tony, Joyce and Mark trying to stay cool under the green umbrellas in the Biergarten Hafenterrasse am Schokoladenmuseum next to the Chocolate Museum. We stayed there until it was time to go back to the barge.

BJ went first so she could distribute the gel bike seats she had brought for everyone.

The bedrooms were nicely appointed and welcomingly COOL after our 90+ degree days in Cologne.

We had a little orientation from Captain Bert and met the crew.


Then Hugo took us on a short ride to check out the bikes.  The bikes had to be carried up the narrow stairs to the street level.  It was a hot sweaty job for the crew.

Three of our group had already been bicycling in Europe since May (see their blog) so they had their own bicycles, a single and a tandem.

Tony volunteered to be the "sweeper" for the trip, making sure the group stayed together, a daunting task with a group this size!


On our ride, we passed a huge party behind a fence and several of the partiers wanted to slap our hands as we passed.  Some of the hand slaps were a bit too enthusiastic and almost pulled some of the riders from their bikes.

We rode about 10 kilometers and then returned to the boat for a champagne toast.

The crew loaded the bikes back onto the boat while the passengers relaxed on the back deck with a cocktail before dinner.

Dinner was an appetizer of crostini and an entree of Chicken Surprise.


Dessert was a birthday cake for Sandy.

The crew gave Sandy a neat drawing of the barge.

Hugo took a few folks on a brief walking tour of Cologne while the rest of us stayed on board and played cards.



(Biked 43Km, 26 miles)

We cruised out of Cologne so we could start our bike ride a little closer to Dusseldorf.  We enjoyed seeing the beautiful scenery while we drank our coffee on the back deck.


Breakfast was served and we made our lunches for the ride.

The barge let us off in Zons. The gate at the top of the ramp was locked so the bikes had to be lifted over.

Once the bikes and riders were off, the barge set out for Dusseldorf as we mounted our bikes and headed out.


We made several stops in the medieval Village of Zons.

Our ride took us past lots of interesting things, like these bronze pigs surrounding a fountain that supposedly commemorates a disagreement between the archbishop and the population of Zons.

We left the village of Zons through the city gates.


It was another hot day, but we found some beautiful shady tree-lined paths to stay cool.

Our timing for the ferry was impeccable!  It was waiting for us as we rounded the corner and we thought it was amazing that our long line of riders could all get to the ferry before it sailed!


The paths that Hugo chose for us to ride on weren't just for bikes!  We encountered horses, walkers, runners, bikers, scooters and sometimes cars!

As we rode past the numerous corn fields, we were tempted to pick some corn for Markus to cook for us back on the barge.

We stopped to take a break beside this beautiful building from 1900.


We rode past this building with an interesting mural.

At one point, we cut across a ridge with narrow ruts for our bike tires.  We had a head wind and it was difficult riding.  Several folks took a tumble but no one was hurt.

Lunchtime found us at a fairground with a tent and picnic tables where we could eat our lunch.


We sampled the local Alt bier and some folks even refreshed themselves in the river after our hot morning ride!

Leaving the fair, we cycled past a horse & buggy.  The horses must be used to cyclists because they didn't startle as we rode past.

Our afternoon rest stop was at a botanical gardens where we saw a variety of plants.

Some folks skipped the gardens in favor of a short nap in the grass!

There was some impressive graffiti under one of the bridges!


We had a few flat tires during the trip but Hugo was able to repair them all very quickly.

There was some interesting architecture around Dusseldorf.


When we got to Dusseldorf, we had to get off of our bikes and walk because of the large crowds.

They were celebrating the 70th anniversary of Rheinland.

We found the Schumacher tent in the middle of a large square (perhaps relatives of Joyce and Mark?)

We enjoyed another Alt Bier (or 2).


On our way back to our bikes, we cut through a courtyard and saw some just-revealed artifacts from the Napoleanic period.

A short ride out of Dusseldorf took us back to the Sailing Home!


Hugo was planning to lead an evening ride back into Dusseldorf for a brief tour.  Not everyone was keen on riding back through the crowded city after dark. We had to be careful to load the bikes of those wishing to do the evening ride so that they could get to their bikes off.

Dinner was a puff pastry stuffed with goat cheese followed by trout with fennel, vegetables and tomato rice. Dessert was ice cream.


Between courses, the crew introduced themselves.  The captain, Bert, had retired from an unrelated career and was enjoying driving the ferry.  He was happy that he could travel with his wife Rina, a mate on the ship.

Solomon was a German captain. Captain Bert was not licensed to sail in Germany so Solomon stayed with us until we got into Holland. Els was another mate on the ship. She had previously been a bike guide so this was her first time as a mate.  Markus was the chef.

He was a stern German sort who treated us all like we were kids at camp and he was the counselor.  He answered most questions that we asked him with a frown and a stare, but he was a good chef.

Hugo took a few of the adventurous riders back to see Dusseldorf after dark.

The rest of us stayed on the boat, enjoyed a beautiful sunset and then played cards until time for bed.

(Biked 52Km, 32 miles)

Rina rang the bell and we all gathered for breakfast. We packed our lunches for the ride while we ate.


The prediction called for rain so we all packed our raincoats into our saddlebags before starting out.

We took another little spin through Dusseldorf past the Kunstpalast Museum.


And then another glance at the amazing architecture.

Riding out of Dusseldorf was our first time to be in real traffic and some folks came frighteningly close to being hit by a bus!


Once we got out of town, we had to stop to catch our breath and let our hearts stop racing!

We took our first break near a public swimming pool area just as it started to rain.  The nice lady at the pool let us use the restrooms and then we put on our raincoats and started out again.

We got totally drenched for about an hour.


We found the little town of Meersbusch and sat down at the Eis Cafe Italia 90 for a cup of coffee.  The owner of the shop gave Hugo a trash bag to wear as a raincoat.

The rain slacked off and we passed a beautiful old castle.


Our lunch stop was at Am Marktplatz in Krefeld.  We enjoyed our lunch with a bier from the Markt-Cafe.

We rode on to the Mississippi Queen for our afternoon bier break.

We found the Sailing Home in Ruhrort along Dammstrasse near Pegelhaus.

Dinner was Lemongrass Ginger Soup, Pickled pork with Saurkraut and for dessert, an elegant cheese souffle.

After dinner, Hugo gave a talk about the area and introduced us to some local songs.


(Biked 50Km, 31 miles)

We had left our bikes on the dock so we could ride the next day, but there was a mix up about the dock permit and when a larger cruise ship came to dock, our barge had to move quickly and leave the bikes on the dock.  We had to wait until the other ship moved to get our bikes so we had a relaxing morning aboard the barge.

We had breakfast and played cards while we waited for the other boat to move away from the dock.

By the time we got the bikes, Hugo decided we should sail part of the way and then ride the rest. So we had a very pleasant morning cruise to our new starting point of Stadt Rhenberg Orsoy.

There was quite a climb to get to the path from the boat.

Once we got to the top of the hill, we made sure we had everything we would need for the day. We counted the bikes to make sure we hadn't unloaded any extras before we let the barge leave.

We had a beautiful cloudless morning ride through the countryside.

We stopped for a late morning coffee (and potty) break in the bustling little town of Rheinburg.

We continued on along paths through the countryside.

Tony did a great job as "sweeper", bringing up the rear.  Hugo would stop periodically and look for Tony's bright yellow shirt to make sure the group was all together. The only confusing issue for the sweeper was the three riders who had brought their own bicycles.  They did not have the same yellow panniers as the group and could sometimes slip behind the sweeper.  


We passed the Wesel Railway bridge that was blown up during World War II enabling the allies to take Wesel in 1945.

Hugo bought us some local plums that were for sale using the honor system at an unmanned umbrella covered table along the path.

We stopped for lunch under a tree near the Zur Rheinfahre. The restaurant was kind enough to let us use their restrooms before resuming our ride.


Our next cultural stop was at the beautiful St. Victor's Cathedral in Xanten.


There was a poster showing how it was badly bombed during WWII and later restored.

We lost Tony for a few minutes when the chain came off of his bike, but he caught up.

A short ride from the church in Zanten was the Roman village of Colonia Ulpia Traiana with an arena that could seat 10000 people anxious to watch bloody battles between gladiators.

A typical day of attractions in the arena included animal fights in the morning, executions, athletic contests or comedy acts at midday and gladiatorial contests in the afternoon.


Parts of he Harbour temple had been reconstructed.


We were able to walk across platforms over the remains of the old bath house of Colonia Ulpia Traiana. We could see where bathing pools, fireplaces and heating ducts had been.

There was a scale model of what the village had looked like 2000 years ago.

We mounted our bikes and said goodbye to the village.

We had our first (and thankfully only) mishap on the way back to the boat.  We watched in horror as Pat did a belly flop on the pavement.  She took most of the impact on her cheek and chin and we were all relieved to see that she wasn't missing any teeth.  Thankfully we had 2 doctors and 2 nurses in our group so she was well cared for.


We considered alternatives, but in the end, Pat was able to ride her bike to the barge (20 minutes away). We were glad to see the barge when we got to Rees.

Dinner was an appetizer of Artichoke & Stuffed Grape Leaves, an entree of salmon on a bed of fennel and Lemon Sorbet with Cherries for dessert.


Since we would be leaving Germany the following day, we would be saying goodbye to our German Captain Solomon.  We took a few minutes to thank him between courses.

On our evening walk in Rees we saw a Jewish cemetery and an observatory, and then enjoyed a stroll through a statue park.  We had lots of fun posing with statues!


Meanwhile, back on the boat, an intense game of 3-13 was taking place.

(Biked 41.5Km, 25 miles)

Wednesday morning, we cruised out of Rees planning to begin our ride in Emmerich.  It was a beautiful morning for a cruise!

We arrived in Emmerich and unloaded our bicycles.  We waved goodbye to Solomon for the last time as the Sailing Home cruised away.

We only bicycled a few hundred yards to our first stop at the Rhein Museum, perhaps the best bargain of the trip (1 Euro).

It was an interesting museum with lots of marine related artifacts including this one man submarine from WWII.

As we biked out of Emmerich, we passed a field with goats whose fur color was divided at the waist between black and white.

We stopped for a break in Tolkamer. There were several waterfront restaurants with welcoming umbrellas. We selected the Kade 7 for a bier.


Once again, we timed the ferry crossing perfectly on the Doornenburg-Pannerden Ferry.

When we got off the ferry, Terry's chain came off of his bike.  It seems the Morris boys can't keep their chains on their bikes! We waited at the top of the hill until they got it fixed.

We took our lunchtime break on the grounds of the Doornenbug Castle.

Hugo had arranged a tour of the castle for us.  The tour was informative but a bit long for our weary travelers. The tour was conducted in Dutch by a costumed maiden and then translated into English for us by Hugo.  This picture shows Hugo demonstrating the use of the castle's toilet which was really just a hole in the side of the building allowing the excrement to drop into the moat.

The highlight of the tour was when Charlie donned the chainmail costume!

As we yawned our way into the second hour of the tour, we looked out the window and saw Tony, Terri and Eddie relaxing in the shade of an umbrella in the courtyard below.

In a field near the castle, there were some "Oreo Cows". I later learned that this breed is called "Belted Galloway".  I never figured out the breed for the half-black, half-white goats.

In the afternoon, we rode past numerous apple and pear orchards.

Our path toward Arnhem took us across a narrow strip of land where we had to dodge cows in our path.


We stopped when we got past the cows to let out the breath we'd been holding as we passed them!

Arnhem was a busy little town. We passed a giant pink Aardvark on our way into town.

The Sailing Home was docked right next to a beach restaurant.  We were close enough to use their wi-fi (very welcome since the ship's wi-fi was very limited).

We had a little time before dinner so, after a refreshing Margarita at Cantina, we did a little shopping for wine at the local grocery store.

Dinner was delicious mussels.  Markus instructed us to use the shell from our first mussel as tweezers for the next one.  It was hard to stop eating them!

The entree was a chicken breast with leek sauce, penne pasta and asparagus. Dessert was plum pie with ice cream.


Captain Bert toasted us with a shot of the local liquor.

Hugo took a small group for an evening walk through Arnhem.


(Biked 50.3Km, 31.5 miles)

Leaving Arnhem, we had to negotiate a number of traffic lights.  Usually about half of the group would make it through the intersection and the rest would have to wait for the next light.


We passed a tent that appeared to be made of life jackets from Lesbos in Sonsbeek Park.

Our route for the day took us through the National Park De Hoge, home of the "White Bikes", a HUGE free bike sharing program in the park.

The heather was in bloom in the park; field after field, as far as the eye could see.


We rode on to the Kröller-Müller Museum where members of the group saw works by Vincent Van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Auguste Renior, Paul Gauguin, Claude Monet and others. Tony and I made our way through the statue park to the "Taste of Van Gogh" tent with Ann & Gary.  We had just sat down when BJ said, "It would be really neat if it rained on this big tent." Lo and behold, the skies opened up and rain beat down on the tent for about 30 minutes!

When we got back to the main building, there were lots of bikers (not from our group) in the restroom drying their clothes on the hand dryer.  We were thankful we had not been on our bikes during the rain.  We got back to the bikes and I discovered that I had left my handlebar bag open so a few things had gotten wet, but no harm done.

We rode over to the Visitor's Center & Museonder to have lunch and browse the museum and shop.


When we got ready to leave, Eddie was nowhere to be found, so we all packed up and hid behind the building.  Eddie came out & saw that we were gone so he rushed to find us.

Our last stop for the afternoon was at the Natuurcentrum Veluwe, Ede, Netherlands.  There was a display of stuffed animals from the area inside and a garden with a bee house outside.

We were disappointed that there was no beer at this stop so Hugo bought us a bottle of the local Veluwe Zwienenbitter liquor to share.

We found the boat docked at Wageningen.

We quickly loaded our bicycles and quickly sailed away, so quickly, in fact, that we almost left Kevin on the dock.  He lost his flip-flop when he jumped from the dock to the moving barge.  Captain Burt gave him a hook to fish the shoe out of the water.

It was so nice to enjoy time together off of the bikes!


Hugo even entertained us with some songs!


The table was set beautifully for dinner with napkins folded into the shape of the Sydney Opera House courtesy of Terri and Helena.

Dinner started with a tomato mozzarella salad followed by "must-go".  There were so many choices I didn't make a note of all of them!


Dessert was Ice Cream With Star Fruit & Cactus Pear.

While we were finishing our meal, we docked in Wijk bij Duurstede.

Hugo led us on a walk through Wijk bij Duurstede.

The walk ended at a bar where a bunch of ladies were having their monthly song fest.  Our group joined in the fun!

(Biked 40.3Km, 25 miles)

The final morning of the cruise, the boat was supposed to leave the dock at 6:30AM while we were still sleeping. When we met for breakfast around 8, we were surprised to see that we were still at the dock in Wijk bij Duurstede.

We learned that there was a problem with the starter on the boat.  The crew had to make a new plan.  Instead of sailing to Breukelen and then cycling to Amsterdam, the new "loose" plan would have us cycling from Wijk bij Duurstede to some unknown location where we could meet the (hopefully repaired) barge. Then some people could board the barge and the rest could ride on to Amsterdam if they wanted.

We unloaded our bikes and got ready to cycle.

We rode through the countryside and passed through Werkhoven. I guess Hugo didn't have stops picked out for our new route because he stopped us in the middle of the woods and announced that this was our bathroom stop.  I grabbed my tissues and bravely marched off into the woods unaware of the stinging nettles I was walking through on my way to my secluded spot.

Twenty minutes later, we came in to Utrecht.  Had I known, I could have waited twenty minutes and avoided the stinging nettles!

Utrecht was a cute little town with lots of bars, restaurants and shops along the canals. We noted that it might be a place to spend some time the next time we find ourselves nearby with nothing to do!

We enjoyed some biers at Graaf Floris Utrecht while some people shopped and others toured the town.  Hugo pointed out that many of the shops are on street level and restaurants have location on the canal level below.

On our way out of Utrecht, we passed 35-40 boarded up houseboats that we later learned was the redlight district that had been closed down by the mayor.

Hugo wanted us to stop for lunch on the grounds at the castle Slot Zuylen in Oud-Zuilen but they were holding a wedding on the grounds so we weren't able to go in.

We found a beautiful little park nearby to have our picnic lunch!


We passed this bunker and Hugo told us it was from WWII.  This man indignantly came to the fence to correct Hugo to say that it was from the Prussian War in the 1870s.


Just past the bunker, we came upon this water windmill.

Hugo had a flat, our third of the trip, I think. He's obviously done this before since it only took about 5 minutes to be back on the road (even with amateur help).

We were ambling our way throught the countryside when Hugo got a call from the Sailing Home instructing us to hurry to Breukelen to meet the barge.  Our plan B had to be revised again. We would all have to board the barge and sail to Amsterdam.  This was fine since it had been a pretty long ride already.

We had to walk our bikes through the crowded market to get to where the boat was docked.

We hurried to get our bikes on board and then learned the reason for the big hurry.

The starter repair had thrown the barge off schedule and the fuel station was supposed to close at 4:30PM.  Captain Bert called ahead and they agreed to wait for us.  We got to the fuel station at 5:15PM.

The dinner table was set with cloth linens and napkins and rose petals spread around to commemorate our last dinner.  The napkins were folded into suit jackets for the men & flowers for the ladies.

Markus handed out a "Best Eater" award.  Of course it went to Jennifer who always pleased Markus by asking for seconds (and sometimes thirds)!

The meal began with smoked trout followed by Osso Bucco and ending with a Bleeding Heart Cake to show how much we would all miss our time on the Sailing Home.


After dinner, it was time to settle our bar bills and hand out tips. Once that was done, we could take our last evening walk with Hugo.



Our first stop was at the Public Library where we had the most amazing view of Amsterdam.  Some of us elected to enjoy a glass of wine from the Library Restaurant and skip the rest of the walk.

The rest were rewarded with a beautiful moonlit walk through Amsterdam.

We spent our last night on the boat and awoke to another beautiful day in Amsterdam.


We packed our bags and had a final breakfast together. Before we said goodbye, we gathered for a group photo of the 26 of us and the 4 member crew.

Hugs and goodbyes ensued. Pat, Steve, Susan, John and Mark headed for the airport to catch the 1PM flight while the rest of us headed for our hotels.


Tony and I found our hotel (The Crowne Plaza) and dropped our bags. We noticed Joyce and Mark's hotel was just across the street so we wandered over and found them getting their bikes situated and getting checked in.  We had a snack of bitterballen and a bier at Five Bells, then Mark went to look at some museums.  Joyce went with us to do some sightseeing.

We had a bier and did some people watching at Café De Zwart.

And of course, we had to share some delicious stroopwafels at De Koffie Salon!

We took one last look at Amsterdam from the top of the library, and then headed back to our hotel to check in since our room was finally ready!

We got an upgrade to a really nice room and some drink coupons.  (Thank You IHG Rewards Club Mastercard!)  We invited Joyce and Mark to join us for drinks at the hotel bar, New Dorrius.

Charlie and Skye surprised us by treating us to dinner at Ava Tomas Italian restaurant.   We said our goodbyes and turned in early.


We woke up at 4:30AM so we could catch an early train to the airport.  What we didn't anticipate is that the train station doesn't wake up quite that early.  The online schedule said there were trains to the airport at that time, but none of the ticket machines would take our credit card, the schedule boards weren't working and there wasn't a human around to help us!  We finally found a train that seemed to be heading to the airport and got on it!

Tony, Ann, Kevin and I were standing by for the 8:30AM flight to Atlanta.  Kevin got up front, Tony, Ann and I were in the back.  It was a pleasant flight though and we were able to connect with a flight to Jacksonville so we could get to Fernandina Beach where our pets were staying at our condo with my sister.

It was a really, really fun trip!  We biked 287.1Km (176.6 miles) over seven days. Tony is already scheming about our next bicycling adventure.  Stay tuned!