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5,1 24.01.2018 | Stephen M. Rhine Bike Path by Bike + Boat

Wonderful Biking and Boating

Overall:
An excellent tour.

This route is a good complement to the Köln-Mainz tour on the same boat, with which it can be combined, if you choose your weeks carefully. On that tour, you’re on a German part of the Rhine, cycling along the river or very close by; here there are pockets of cycling in countryside a little removed from the river; occasionally you’ll be in France; it’s towns rather than castles as the points of interest along the way and you’ll encounter a “Schloss” or two for good measure.

Highlights

  • Cycling through beautiful countryside
  • Heidelberg
  • Speyer
  • Rastatt
  • Strasbourg at night
  • Breisach
  • Freiburg
  • A welcoming and inclusive group of Canadians with whom I sat for meals. One evening, they introduced me to their “Card Game” (and I think may even have waived the EUR 1 gambling debt I accumulated!)

Niggles:

  • Some cycling deadlines on this tour, where it’s necessary to be at the destination by a given time because this is not the overnight mooring place and the boat needs to set sail.
  • There are kilometre distance markers all the way along the Rhine, increasing from its notional source, providing a ready-made and permanent positioning system. However no use was made of this in briefings or any of the supplied materials.
  • Route directions somewhat lacking in detail

Regrets:

  • Did not spend long enough in Heidelberg
  • Did not visit Schloss Schwetzingen
  • Rather too willing to pay an outrageous taxi-fare to Basel Airport, when much cheaper options were available.

Date of my Tour: 2017-09-23/30 (7 nights / 8 days)

Options Chosen:

  • Single Cabin, on the Main Deck
  • Travel documents in English
  • Bike without a coaster brake (ie no “back-pedal” brake).
  • Walking tour of Speyer (optional extra — recommended)
  • Coach and walking tour of Strasbourg (optional extra — over-priced, but recommended)

Materials Supplied
A few weeks prior to the tour, I received documents from Rad & Reisen:

  • Travel Information booklet
  • City Maps of Mainz and Basel
  • Receipts.

In my cabin on arrival:

  • Route Booklet.
  • Map Booklet.

In the daily briefings, maps of main towns to be visited that day were distributed.

Transfers:
At the start of the tour, I was already in Mainz, having been on the previous week’s tour, from Köln to Mainz. However, had I been coming directly to Mainz, I would have used much the same plan as for Köln: fly to Frankfurt (M) Airport (code FRA), get across to Terminal 1, which has the train station, and take a train to Mainz.

At the end of the tour, I was flying from Basel airport (which is actually in France and takes upon itself the grandiose title “EuroAirport Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg” — the code shown on my ticket was BSL, but it also uses codes EAP and MLH). The boat was moored in the Klybeck district of Basel, which was only about a 12-minute taxi ride from the airport; the journey cost me EUR 40, which, frankly, is a rip-off. Three Australians were much more savvy than I: they trundled their cases round to the nearby tram station (Kleinhüningen), then took tram 8 to Basel Bahnhof SBB Railway Station (ie the Swiss railway station, not the German one), then bus 50 to the airport. The entire journey is covered by a single ticket, costing around EUR 5, which can be purchased from the multi-lingual, dual-currency (CHF, EUR) ticket machine at Kleinhüningen tram station.

2018 Changes
The 2017 tour which I did has been substantially changed for the 2018 season, when it will travel as far as Strasbourg but no further, with stopping-off points at Worms, Heidelberg (on the River Neckar) and Karlsruhe. I have mixed-feelings about the changes: because of its historical significance, I had wanted to stop-off at Worms on the River Neckar/River Rhine (Bad Wimpfen/Koblenz) tour in 2016, but German people have told me it’s now a modern city, so I feel less inclined to visit it. Heidelberg was a possible passing-through point on the 2017 tour (an option I took) and is directly on the route of the River Neckar/River Rhine (Bad Wimpfen/Koblenz) tour, so the main benefit of the 2018 tour would seem to be Karlsruhe and, possibly, more time in Strasbourg. Conversely, the 2018 tour omits the visit to Breisach, the day tours from there (either to Freiburg or Colmar) and the day travelling from Breisach to Basel. I think these are losses for the new itinerary, though I saw little of Basel itself and it was expensive to travel from there, so I don’t think the 2018 version loses-out for omitting Basel itself. Anyone wishing to make good the losses resulting from the 2018 changes might look at any of the following Rad & Reisen tours:
Pearls of the Alsace Wine Route - 121
Alsace/Colmar home-base tour - 122
South Alsace Roundtrip - 123
Alsace - vineyards and villages - 124

The boat
For the 2017 season, the route was operated by MS Andante (From 2018, a larger boat, MS Lale Andersen has been booked instead.) Originally built in 1959, Andante has been substantially modified for tourism. There are three decks to which passengers have access, with the reception being located on the middle of these, the “Promenade Deck”. The boat is equipped with a lift, so anyone not able to climb the rather steep stairs has access to all three decks. In the reception area, there’s a noticeboard showing maps of the region, weather forecasts for the coming days, and a schedule of events for the day. A display cabinet exhibits items which may be purchased in Reception. From Reception, a door forwards leads to the Salon, used for daily briefings and for serving afternoon drinks and cakes; it is equipped with a bar, and various board games are available for people to use. Leading back from Reception is a corridor off which a number of cabins are located. From this corridor, on the left of the boat, a staircase down leads to the Main Deck cabins underneath these. A separate staircase from Reception leads down to the Main Deck cabins at the front of the boat (underneath the Salon). A third staircase from Reception leads up to the Sun Deck. The dining room is located on the Promenade Deck, at the back of the boat, right at the end of the corridor from Reception and past all the cabins on this deck.

In his welcome briefing the captain described escape routes from each of these areas, making the whimsical remarks that the life jackets have never got wet and that the Rhine is typically 2.5-3.5 metres deep, but the boat 6.5 metres high, so, even if the boat does sink, the Sun Deck will still be above water (not sure about if it capsizes). In the previous week’s tour, the captain spoke about the water on board, stating it is drinkable because the water is never in the tanks for more than a couple of days; however, for this week, the tour guide covered this subject, asserting the water should not be drunk because it comes from a tank. Later, I overheard the Australians questioning the guide about this, because they are used to drinking water which has been stored in a tank for weeks and both I and some Canadians who had been on the boat the previous week were able to reassure them about the water on board.

Cabins are small, as is typical in these boats. On entering mine, a door to one side led to the tiny bathroom and beyond this was a small space to hang a few clothes, then the bed, which took up about a quarter of the floor area. Coming across to the opposite wall were an air-conditioning unit, a wall safe and a desk/dressing table with a stool. A hair drier was provided and the room also had a TV, which, after I re-scanned the channels, gave one English-language service, Sky News (a well-regarded, UK-based 24-hour rolling news service).

Life on Board
For this week, the proportion of English speakers slightly exceeded the German speakers, depite the departure of a group of 26 Canadians who had been on board the previous week. They were replaced by some of their compatriots and, additionally, we had some Americans, some Australians and couples from South Africa, Ireland and Scotland. These native English speakers were further bolstered by a group of Belgians, some Italians and a Swedish couple, all of whom were adopting English for the “briefing” sessions.

On this tour, after some initial confusion caused by the tour guide, the daily schedule was pretty much standard from one day to the next, with coffee available for early risers from 06:00; the buffet breakfast from 07:00; afternoon tea and cakes from 16:00 to 17:00 and the evening meal from 18:30. The bar (in the Salon) remained open in the evening until the last guest left. The system for buying drinks is the same as often used on these tour boats: you sign a form for the drink and settle your account (cash only, in euro) on the last morning.

For meals, you are assigned to a particular table and, most mornings at breakfast, there’d be a form on the table enabling menu choices to be made for the evening meal (hence, imperative that you sit at the same table in the evening), giving three options for the salad starter; meat, fish or vegetarian main course and two different desserts. There was also a soup course, but no choice was offered here.

The system for indicating your whereabouts (are you on or off the boat?) is also a common one: in the Reception area, there’s a board on which you hang your cabin key whenever you leave the boat. On return, the first thing you’re supposed to do is take your key from the board. (I suppose, if one person of a couple goes off the boat, the key should, by rights, be placed on the board to indicate not everyone’s on board, but this probably only matters late at night to alert the night watchman someone might suddenly appear at the door, or if the boat is to make an imminent departure.) The crew use this system to determine whether everyone’s on board, so if you don’t want the boat to depart without you, adhere to it!

This system raises the question of security. Essentially, it means it’s very weak, because anyone could take your key while you’re off the boat, with only a small risk of being seen (Reception is not always manned), and an even smaller risk of being questioned why they’ve taken that key. But the fact is, your fellow-passengers are not the kind of people who are after the few trinkets they would find (in my cabin, anyway). Most people religiously locked their cabins (when on board they would retain the key anyway), but I didn’t bother locking my cabin at all, except when we were alongside other boats, requiring their passengers to come across our boat to reach theirs, because, as well as legitimate passengers (from any of the boats), this also allows anyone to come aboard and I didn’t want to fall victim to an opportunist ducking down a corridor when no one was looking, trying his luck on the doors.

Bike
My booking had included an option for a standard bicycle without a coaster brake (“back-pedal” brake) and this was honoured; the two hand-operated brakes worked effectively.

Gearing was provided by a Shimano Nexus 7-speed internal gear hub (in other words, high quality and very reliable) with a twist-grip shifter, which, typically for this type of gear, operated motor-bike style (rotating forwards goes down the gears, rotating backwards goes up). Unlike a derailleur gear system, hub gears can be changed even when the bike is stationary, so it doesn’s matter if you come to a halt in a high gear, you don’t have to struggle to get started again, just shift down to a low gear and start off easily. The range of gears available was quite sufficient for this route.

Unusually, for German bikes, it was not fitted with dynamo lighting (battery-operated lights, were fitted, however; I never used them). A cage for a water bottle was not present, nor were bosses to attach one, so the bottle cage I had brought with me stayed in my cabin and the bottle went in the rear pannier bag. (For next season, I will bring a cage with a seat-tube clamp.) Everyone was supplied wih a handlebar bag and pannier bag (both good quality, completely waterproof). The handlebar bracket was the Klickfix type, to which handlebar bags from numerous manufacturers will fit (if you insist on using your own); crucially for me, I could clip an extension bar to it to carry my GPS.

Navigating the Daily Routes
EuroVelo cycle route 15 (EV15), known in Germany as route D8 (“Rheinradweg”) follows the course of the Rhine, thereby giving four different aids for navigation:

  • The Route Book.
  • The Map booklet
  • The EV15 / D8 and other cycle path signs
  • Town maps, distributed in the daily briefing.

Additionally, I had my own GPS (which I used mainly for recording my track, resorting to it for navigation only once).

Cycle Clothing
Experience of cycling in Austria in late September meant that I knew the weather could be quite cool first thing in the morning, but could warm up nicely from around 11:00, getting quite hot in the afternoon sunshine. I found a short-sleeved baselayer, a short-sleeved cycle jersey plus armwarmers and a wind/water-proof jacket for first thing was ideal. If you have room to pack both shorts and tights, then you can prepare to strip-off a layer in the warm afternoons. (I took plenty of tights of varying thicknesses, but somehow contrived to leave all but one pair of shorts at home...)

The Tour Guides: Frank and Norbert
I had met Frank before this tour: in 2016 he was one of two guides on MS Florentina, for the Prague bike and boat tour. This time, he was the lead tour guide and, to be forthright about it, I found much of his guidance frustrating. This started right at the outset, with the wrong information about the water on the boat, then continued the first evening we had our cycle briefing, where we were told dinner the following evening would be at 19:00 and the English briefing an hour before this, at 18:00. Those of us who had been on the boat the previous week knew evening meals had been at 18:30 pretty consistently throughout. Also, no town-plan maps of Mannheim, Heidelberg or Speyer were distributed in the briefings; afterwards, I found them on a shelf and asked Frank about them. He put them out in Reception, hoping people would find them before departing the next day. So, arriving back from the ride the following day, I discovered dinner was, indeed, at 18:30 and the English briefing at 17:30. Very few of us were present at the briefing, and when we emerged, at around 18:00, we discovered a whole load of English speakers outside the Salon expecting the briefing was about to begin. Apart from information about the following day’s cycling, they had missed details about booking for the optional tours, of Speyer and Strasbourg.

The second tour guide, Norbert, did not give briefings, but was always carrying and using a serious-looking Sony camera, so we had several conversations about photography. Somehow, we also got on to politics; possibly because I asked him what he thought of the outcome of the German election, which had just taken place, the significance of AfD’s presence in the Bundestag; possibly because he asked me what I thought of Britain leaving the EU. Anyway, despite it being a subject which should never be discussed in polite company, we actually had engaging conversations from time to time. Norbert also volunteered to copy the photographs he took onto a memory card I gave him, on the understanding they were for personal use only, and I know he did the same for other people.

Day 1 (Saturday): Mainz, sailing to Mannheim in the evening
Having arrived in Mainz on the previous week’ (Köln to Mainz), I’d had a full day of sight-seeing in the city, but, with the boat scheduled to sail to Mannheim in the evening, I did wonder how much of Mainz most people would actually see.

Day 2 (Sunday): Mannheim to Speyer
Two cycling options were available: either to cycle to Speyer directly along the Rhine (approx 25 km) or to cross over to the Neckar river and follow this to Heidelberg, then to take a non-riverside route to Speyer. I chose the latter.

On leaving the boat, I found we were moored at a rather nondescript built-up area. It was immediately apparent I could not cycle in the direction indicated in the map booklet (directly perpendicular to the river) because a row of quayside buildings prevented it. The Canadian couple (Sonia and Ken), who had been on the boat the previous week, and the South Africans (Andre and Diana) were also preparing their bikes and were as bewildered as I was concerning the route. Fortunately, tour guide Frank was at hand to point us in the right direction, on a road which passed under an elevated highway and then led into a park, but almost immediately the path split and it wasn’t clear which way to go. So it was a case of trying things out and seeing where they took us. From the Mannheim town plan, we could see we needed to get across the other side of a busy road and then we’d be into the grid system. Luckily, our path from the park had an underpass which took us across. After a few minutes further cycling, I could see three tower blocks ahead, which, from the tour I’d done in 2016 (Bad Wimpfen to Koblenz on MS Patria), I knew to be on the opposite bank of the River Neckar, so we were heading in the right direction. We crossed another main road and then took a ramp down to the riverside cycle path.

The route to Heidelberg was now relatively straightforward. There was one thing which didn’t make sense in the route booklets, however: in 2016, cycling from Heidelberg to Mannheim, we had crossed the river using a bridge, close to the town of Ladenberg. According to our current route, we would use a ferry to cross over at pretty much the same point. After about an hour of cycling, we were reaching this point. There’s a barrier in the pathway and then the path bears left and upwards. About a hundred metres further on, there are two signs to Heidelberg, one going on directly (taking you over the bridge), the other bearing off to the right, keeping you on this same bank of the Neckar and leading along to the ferry. The distance indications for each path show the bridge route to be 1 km longer than the ferry route. I was adamant that I was taking the bridge, because I wanted to visit Ladenberg, having omitted to do so in 2016, and other members of our party wanted coffee or to buy water, so I assured them they should come with me. They found a coffee house while I explored the village and, having seen it, convinced them to do the same.

Returning to the riverside cycle path, we soon found ourselves cycling in the middle of a marathon run, which slowed progress slightly. On the outskirts of Heidelberg there was a few moments of uncertainty about which direction to take, but our instinct, to turn towrds the river and then left, proved good and we could see Heidelberg on the other side. The question then was which bridge was the one the instructions told us to take (Old Town Bridge, Theodor-Heuss-Brücke)? Regardless of this, I wanted to take the old pedestrianised bridge (which Google Maps calls the Alte Brücke Heidelberg and Carl Theodor Old Bridge), which leads directly to Heiliggeistkirche and the Market Place and the rest of the party agreed to this.

I was hoping to have a bit of time to explore, but Sonia and Ken were keen to have just a brief lunch stop and then press on. Our instructions were then to pick up the Kurpfalz Route, heading initailly to Eppelheim and we were lucky enough to find signs for this relatively quickly. We were making good progress until, suddenly, we could see no more direction signs and were looking round for some indication of which way to go when a local cyclist arrived, telling us to follow him, for he was travelling to our next town, Schwetzingen.

The route proved to be one we would probably have found very difficult to make out from the instructions we had been given (which, from Eppelheim told us “over fields and pass Plankstadt until you reach Schwetzingen”). At Schwetzingen, the castle and its grounds had been pointed out as a “must-see” location, but the admission fee was seen as prohibative considering the short time we would spend there. A great pity, as it was said to be spectacular. We drowned our sorrows with a beer in one of the many places just outside.

Picking up the Kurpfalz Route again, it wasn’t long before, once again, we found our instructions to be lacking. The map showed a road alongside the Rhine, leading round to the bridge which would take us across to Speyer and we decided this would be the simplest way to our destination. We arrived at the boat hours before “abendessen”, meaning we could have spent longer at Heidelberg or Schwetzingen. The consolation was it meant there was time to explore Speyer.

Day 3 (Monday): Speyer to Germersheim, then sailing to Plittersdorf
The day’s cycling amounted to only about 20-25 km, although it was a “deadline day”, when it was necessary to be at the destination in time to sail to the overnight mooring place. In the briefing, Frank advised us we could not mistake the pick-up place in Germersheim because it was the only docking point in the town.

Thus, there’s plenty of time in the morning for the excellent walking tour of Speyer. Those people not choosing to do this could either explore the town independently or take in some of its attractions — there was some sort of Richard the Lionheart (“Richard Löwenherz”) festival going on (I don’t know his connection with the town), with a Robin Hood one starting shortly, and there’s also a “Technology Museum” (which actually seems to focus on travel/transport/exploration, with numerous aircraft and even a submarine visible in its grounds) on the cycle route.

So, the walking tour over, it was back to the boat to collect cycle gear and to set off, passing by the Technology Museum on the way out of town, with its very prominent Jumbo Jet. Very soon, it became a countryside ride and I enjoyed it, stopping here and there to take photos. Coming upon an empty campsite, I thought a bench I saw there offered a convenient place for lunch. On entering the site, I saw a group of people had had a similar idea, with bikes standing by a lakeside.

On entering Germersheim, I decided to head into the town centre to look around. On first appearance, the town square was disappointing, seeming rather low-key, with the church at one end and just a few shops and houses, but I began to warm to it. Another cyclist, whom I’d passed several times on the route, arrived and we had a little chat. She introduced herself as Barbara and, in conversation, it emerged she was from Dusseldorf, on the lower part of the Rhine.

I returned to the route and then it became difficult to see where we were supposed to cycle to find our way to the Rhine. Several groups were asking directions and cycling off in diverse directions. It was a few minutes cycling to reach the destination, where the tour guides were already waiting, the boat yet to arrive. I spotted a recumbent cyclist go past and set off in hot pursuit, hoping to find out about his bike, yells of ”You’re already at the right place!” coming after me. I caught the cyclist, and had hardly started conversing before we encountered other cyclists from the boat, asking if I knew where the mooring point was. So I had to stop to tell them, and promised I’d go on a bit further to find some other people they told me had been in front of them.

So, we all found our way to the mooring, where across the other side I could see a very clear distance marker recording the position as 384 km down the Rhine. In the evening I spoke to Frank and suggested to him that, on future tours, he should tell everyone the mooring point is at the 384 marker. Incredibly, having told us there was only one mooring point in Germersheim, his reply was that the boat might have been told to moor at a different place! (If so, Frank, this, too, will have a position somewhere on the river; SE Tours should find out what these position(s) are, put them in the notes and then the tour guides can brief people on whichever position is relevant. Can that be so difficult?)

The recumbent cyclist I had chased after had asked me where I’d been travelling and I told him I’d been from Köln through to Mainz (the previous week) and now on to Basel. “You’ve been through the best part of the Rhine, then” he told me, to which I exclaimed, “You’re not supposed to tell me that! That the best is over! And this is not so good!” Anyway, I came to disagree with this assessment: the afternoon’s cycling through the countryside had been different from the riverside cycling of the first week and did not deserve to be dismissed. And, little did I know at the time, the cycling was to get even better, day by day.

Day 4 (Tuesday): Plittersdorf to Gambsheim, then sailing to Strasbourg
In the briefing for this ride, Frank had explained that both the map booklet and route guide were inadequate for finding the boat at the end of the ride. He went to great lengths to explain that we would need to cycle up onto a lock along a road connecting Germany and France and we must not allow the traffic to deter us from doing so. He displayed an aerial picture of the lock showing the route up the left side of the road (I did question that), then crossing the road to take a path with a U-bend down to the boat, which would be moored on an “island” in the river.

Departing the boat in the morning, we had our first view of our mooring place in what had been called Plittersdorf (Google Maps calls it “Schiffsanlegestelle Rastatt”). It was a quiet, rural spot, with trees close by the river and plenty of yellow/orange autumnal leaves over the ground, but no sign of any habitation. A short distance away a road led directly from the waterside (it’s an approach road to a ferry, apparently) and this was the road we were to take. After some distance along this road, we were to turn off to take a scenic route into the town of Rastatt (even though the road continued on to the town anyway). I enjoyed this detour alongside what the route booklet called the old Rhine.

The town Rastatt was a revelation. A market was in progress in the town square, which had a church at one end and the town hall opposite. Further along the road by which we had arrived was a very imposing mansion house.

At the critical end of the ride, we were getting into difficulties with navigation. Someone resorted to his GPS and, after he had led us a little way and decided it was not good, I started using mine, the others by now having left. It took me onto a cycle path on a dyke along the Rhine which led, through a gate — mercifully open — in a metal fence alongside the approach road onto the lock. Here I found a group of other people, with Barbara at their head, were making their way, on the right-hand side, not the left as shown in Frank’s picture. I was now wondering if we’d have to cross the road after all. As we approached the top, we saw a piece of cloth had been tied up — an SE Tours flag, someone realised — in the shape of a triangle, pointing across to the other side of the road, where there was a turning off. So we took this, round the U-bend and along to the boat, where we found Frank and Norbert clearly relieved that people were beginning to show up.

Needless to say, a good number of people had still not arrived by the time the boat was supposed to have departed, and Frank was taking a lot of phone calls from people reporting they were lost. Eventually everyone was on board and the boat could depart. It had been a nerve-wracking time for our guides and at dinner, free drink coupons were handed out to everyone, courtesy of Frank, as a token of his thanks that we had all made it to the boat in reasonable time.

I questioned Frank about his picture, which had certainly confused me when the reality on the ground was not in accord with his picture from the air. He told me it was the only one he had been able to find, which I certainly believed, but it was taken pointing the wrong way, so what I think he had done was to show us coming along the road from the French side. The picture showed the important point that you have to come up onto the lock, Frank explained, going on to assert that I was dealing with detail which did not matter because no one notices it... Except, of course, that it had been enough to confuse me!

The optional tour of Strasbourg took place after an earlier-than-usual dinner on the boat, by which time it was dark. After introductions in both German and English, a commentary, almost exclusively in English, was given as the coach passed through the streets (I don’t know what the German speakers must have made of this neglect). This was the least successful part of the tour. It was only when we left the coach and started walking through lively districts that it really took off. It was good to see the city at night, but ideally, a day-time tour was needed as well, which, of course, was not possible because the boat was departing during breakfast. (Perhaps the 2018 itinerary facilitates this.)

Day 5 (Wednesday): Sailing from Strasbourg to Rhinau, then cycling to Breisach
Two options for cycling had been described in the briefing: a longer route, passing through a nature reserve, Taubergießen, or a shorter, more direct route. The boat was due to moor at a lock on an island and those taking the longer route had to cycle across the lock to the French side and then take “the main road, D20” to a (free) ferry across to the German side. This talk of a main road put a lot of people off this route, but the map clearly showed it was a “D” road (Departmental), so hardly a busy road at all; basically, a good cycling road — in fact, probably no more than 2 cars passed by the entire time I was cycling on it, and French drivers are very courteous to cyclists, giving a good passing distance.

So, the boat moored at the lock on the island in the Rhine, but instead of mooring after passing through the lock as had been shown in the briefing, it was just before reaching it. Of course, this did not confuse those taking the longer route, because they knew they had to cycle over the lock itself, but, as we were waiting for our bikes to be taken off the boat, I saw a number of others set off in the wrong direction, cycling back down the Rhine instead of up, heading to the wrong end of the island, where, possibly they wouldn’s be able to get across. In the evening, I did hear stories of people on the shorter route complaining of having to lift bikes over boulders, but I’ve no idea if this was a consequence of heading off the wrong way.

Those of us taking the longer route reached the D road at a roundabout (not mentioned and not visible on the map), where we had to take the right (ie first) exit to put ourselves on the road to the ferry, which could soon be seen in the distance. On disembarking the ferry, it’s necessary to make a 180° turn to the right, round a barrier, to get on to the cycle path alongside the river and, very soon afterwards, comes the most enchanting nature-cycling of the week. Bliss!

After emerging from the nature reserve, the route goes on to the village of Weisweil, where the cycle signs indicate you can go in two entitirely opposite directions! Weisweill had been mentioned as a stopping-point and I happened to take the right way to reach it, which was lucky as a few other people started following...

The day’s destination, Breisach, turned out to be an attractive town, with a church, Stephansmünster, on a rock high above. In the evening, I ventured out to find my way up to it. As can be imagined, the view from the top is terrific. In the church yard there’s a somewhat strange statue, a stylised Europa riding Zeus who has taken the form of a bull.

Day 6 (Thursday): Breisach to Freiburg and back
In effect, this was a free day, because the boat stayed put all day. Two different cycling options were described, one to the French town of Colmar (the impression is this was the preferred option), the other a circular route with the German town Freiburg as the main destination. I chose the latter.

The briefing had said that, very soon after going into central Breisach, the cycling signs for Freiburg would be seen, so I started following these. Presently, I detected a mismatch between the places I was passing through and the route map in front of me. Flipping a few pages in the route map, I saw I was approaching Freiburg on the route I was supposed to use for the return! So, I decided to stick with the signs I was following, and just go round the wrong way. All was well until, very close to Freiburg, the signs stopped showing any reference to “Freiburg’! I must have had a mental meltdown at the time, for afterwards I realised that, although they weren’t using the familiar terms “Zentrum” or “Stadtmitte”, the pointer to “Innenstadt” meant the same thing, not some town I couldn’t find on my map!

Despite this stupidity, I did find my way to the inner city, and found it to be a considerable metropolis, very busy, with people, traffic and trams bustling about all over the place. After a few hours exploring, during which I bumped into some people from the boat who had come to the city by train, I decided it was time to match up the city plan with the route map so I could find my way out on something at least close to the route I should have taken in, to continue on my “wrong-way-round” tour.

I returned to Breisach in good time to take a look around town and make another visit to Stephansmünster to explore in its vicinity and take in the view during daylight.

Day 7 (Friday): Breisach to Basel
For this day, people were expected to stay on the boat and enjoy a cruise along the river to Basel, although cycling was offered as an alternative, supposedly for early risers and in good lighting conditions (both of these conditions something of a mystery). I chose to cycle.

Because of flood defence work, there were several diversions along the route, one of which we were informed about in the briefing and which we negotiated easily, turning off just afterwards to find a refreshment stop in the nearby town. This took rather longer than expected, causing some of our party to give up and head off along the route. We would have been well-advised to do the same, for, although we found a nice café, had we continued, we would have come across a coffee place adjacent to the route, without having to spend time searching.

We had not been forewarned of a second rather major flood defence diversion. A map at the start of the diversion showed the route we needed to take, and it did go on for several kilometres before turning back towards the river — well into the zone when you’re thinking you must have gone on too far. However, when it came, the turning off the road was well-marked and no one was left with any doubt that we had been going the right way. A few hundred metres further on and we were back alongside the river.

The final section of the day’s ride, into Basel itself, is rather industrial, with lots of dockside cranes and the like. As we approached, I thought we were at the border post, where we had been told we just might have to show our passports. According to a conversation I overheard that evening (assuming they were talking about the same place!) it was just a tram station (a tram had, in fact, been just ahead of us). Consulting Google maps later, though, did confirm the border was at this point.

I asked Frank if, during the farewell session, he was going to discuss the options for reaching the various points of departure from the city and was assured he was. In the event this turned out to be a mere mention that telephone numbers for several taxi companies had been put up in Reception, together with estimated fares (all of which looked astronomical to me).

Day 8 (Saturday): Departure from Basel
My flight was in the morning, so there was time for a leisurely departure, but no sight-seeing.

Photographs
During the walking section of the night-time tour of Strasbourg I couldn’t resist trying to take hand-held photographs, more from hope than any expectation of worthwhile results. I was very pleasantly surprised, so one of these has to be among my choices.

For the second photograph, a very difficult decision is necessary; Heidelberg? Speyer? the surprising Rastatt? Breisach? Freiburg? All of these fully deserve at least one of my alotted photographs. However, as my first photograph is from a town, I decided the second one should be a nature shot, so I’ve chosen a picture in the Taubergießen Nature Reserve from day 5. (Actually, it’s two photographs “stitched” together — I hope you can’t see the join!)

  • Overall satisfaction 6
    Travel documents 5
    Information at the beginning of the tour 5
    Accomodation 5
    Board 5
    Route description 4
    On-site assistance 4
    Route-character 6
    Bicycle + equipment 6
    Price-performance ratio 5
  • Comment of your RAD+REISEN-Eurocycle-Team

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