Tag Archives: Niederrhein

6 Wheels In Germany – December 2016 (Month 33)

The end of the year!

Cycling this month

Despite the rather chilly December we have experienced in the Niederrhein region, I did manage almost 900km.

ascent-statistics

And this is where I went this month. You can see the long ride back from Oliebollentocht, which is a separate blog post.

december-wheel

And Veloviewer also produced a graphic for the year which is rather interesting.

veloviewer-summary-2016

And from Strava, a short video of my year.
My Year in Sport from Strava

And click here for my Strava Heatmap which shows the routes I have travelled the most over the year.

My Metric Century A Month challenge was completed this month – not only did I manage to ride a metric century every month this year, I also managed an Imperial Century (100 miles or 162km) in February, March, August (twice), October and December.

I also achieved my cycling goal of 12,000km for the year. I had initially set the goal at 10,000 but realised in about August I was quite ahead so increased the target to make it harder.

It is interesting to compare my yearly distances and average speeds since I have been riding my recumbents/velomobiles:

2008 – 4082 km at 18.9 km/h
2009 – 19,450 km at 18.77 km/h
2010 – 12,885 km at 16.89 km/h
2011 – 8,170 km at 16.45 km/h
2012 – 12,922 km at 17.64 km/h
2013 – 13,304 km at 18.28 km/h
2014 – 10,203 km at 17.6 km/h
2015 – 10,096 km at 16.86 km/h
2016 – 12,151 km at 20.62 km/h

Total cycling distance 103,267km at an average speed of 17.98 km/h. That’s 3,110 rides.

And for this year, I have ridden more in company with other people than on my own.

My main riding partner has of course been Klaus, with whom I have cycled 6,231.75km in 99 rides.

I have also ridden with the following people:

Andreas – 50km
Claudia – 694km
Dirk – 171km
Frank – 233km
Gudula – 205km
Hartmut – 1029km
Herbert – 179km
Jochen – 1070km
Kajsa Tylén – 109km (she managed over 50,000km this year for her Guinness World Record!)
Olaf – 142km
Petra – 433km
Uli – 553km

Rather amusingly, on 19 December Klaus noticed that we were both on the same mileage for the year to date, a shade under 12,000km. You can see the side-by-side Strava comparator here (Klaus is the first column, I am the second).

strava-ride-comparator

What is rather noticeable is that Klaus had achieved his rides in a slightly shorter time. The additional 300 metres that I had ridden had taken me 72 hours 5 minutes!!!

By the end of the year Klaus had smashed all his previous records, having achieved a fantastic total of 12,514km. Well done!

I also featured in the Niederrhein Tourismus Magazine Auszeit am Niederrhein. They interviewed me before I bought Millie and we also had two photoshoots. The results are here:

auszeit-magazine-helen-article_page_1

auszeit-magazine-helen-article_page_2

auszeit-magazine-helen-article_page_3

auszeit-magazine-helen-article_page_4

All in all, it was a very good year for cycling, although I would have liked to do a bit more overnight touring. I have plans for next year!

Cycle rides this month

Liegeradtreff Duisburg

The Velomobilforum has lots of local groups who arrange rides for recumbents and velomobiles and there is one such group that meets once every two months in Duisburg. I’ve been once before, but one Sunday Jochen said he was going so I decided to come along too, as did Klaus at the last minute. They met outside my house, wrapped up against the cold.

jochen-and-klaus

We rode first to Duisburg along a route that I have ridden many times when heading towards Mülheim. However, we were making good time and Klaus was feeling a bit peckish so we detoured for a slice of cake and a coffee in Moers-Kapellen. We weren’t actually sure if anyone would be at the Treff anyway, but in the end we arrived there pretty much dead on 11am. And were the only ones there – except for the pedestrians wandering around the Christmas Market.

endeavour-and-millie-1

It was cold and a bit rainy so we put the bikes under an overhanging shop front and then some other people started to arrive, including Tom on his ICE Sprint who I have met several times at various events.

We stood around and chatted, causing a significant interest amongst the Duisburgers who came and chatted to us a lot.

As you can see from the pictures, Millie was also sporting some new tail decals. I had an idea what I wanted but everything was very expensive, and then I saw these decals for a Mini and thought they would fit. They were very cheap (£20 the pair) so I went ahead and fitted them. The quality of the vinyl is rather poor and the colours seem likely to run a bit, but as a test they are working well. And I like them! They were very useful for Oliebollentocht too, with 209 Velomobiles it is useful to be able to stand out!

endeavour-and-millie-2

endeavour-and-millie-3

Anyway, this Treff usually involves a group cycle ride. Jochen, Klaus and I decided that rather than riding straight home we would detour to Kaiserswerth to make it a bit more interesting, not that any of us had a route there. Tom gave me some waypoints and I put them in my Garmin ready to head off. A final check of Millie – oh! she had a front puncture!

This was a relatively quick tyre change (maximum 10 minutes I think), and it was helpful to be able to use Klaus’s track pump. I was not too surprised about the puncture as there was a fair bit of glass around on the paths.

As we set off one of the other Liegerad chaps, forum name Hirsch, on a 3-wheeler Hase Lepus said he would come with us a little way.

This is the track for my route for the day.

liegeradtreff-track

We headed south from Duisburg along some rather grotty streets until we reached a long canoeing lake that Tom had told us about – with a cycle path beside it. This was very good and nice to ride away from the traffic for a bit. We started looking for food as we approached Kaiserswerth but didn’t have much success, the one restaurant we stopped at was ridiculously expensive (9 Euro for soup!) so we carried on, ending up in the café in the centre of Kaiserswerth for cake. I have eaten there before. It was right next to a Christmas Market with plenty of people walking around so leaving the velomobiles unattended and out of our sight wasn’t ideal but we couldn’t do much about it.

After a nice lunch of quiche and soup and sandwiches we said goodbye to Hirsch who rode home and we went for the Rhein ferry, crossing back to ‘our’ side of the Rhein.

We returned on the route that skirts to the south of Krefeld, ending up at Jochen’s house. Our original plan was to do some bike maintenance but we ended up a bit late so just had a cup of tea at his house instead. I liked the row of Velomobile bags in his hall… and you can see we have walkie talkies to communicate with each other too!

velomobile-bags-1

Klaus went straight home but I decided to do a slight extra ride rather than going directly home as I wanted to get my 100km for the month, so I did a minor detour towards Grefrath with Jochen for company before heading home again, ending up with 100.3km at an average speed of 20.3km/h. It was fun to ride with the other two although I obviously slow them down a lot, but cycling in company brings lots of other benefits and it was good to meet up with the Duisburg lot, although I have no particular desire to ride in Duisburg again as I always get a puncture there!

The ADFC Nikolaus Tour

Hartmut organises the Fit Durch den Winter series each winter and the December one of these rides was also the Nikolaus tour where we were to dress up and to decorate our bikes too. I stuck some Christmas lights onto Millie, and Jochen wore a most fetching hat!

jochen-and-hat

Hartmut was towing Santa’s sleigh:

nikolaus-tour-1

Klaus was able to ride before the tour so we met in Grefrath and rode to Wachtendonk, discovering that the coffee machine at the bakery there was out of order so we headed straight back to Kempen to wait for the others, fortifying ourselves with cake and tea/coffee in Kempen. By the time 11am arrived there were quite a lot of people in Kempen, standing in front of the Christmas Market with the nativity scene in the background (including a dromedary camel!)

nikolaus-tour-people

Of course, three Velomobiles standing in a busy pedestrian zone means lots of people are talking to you and we hadn’t quite realised Hartmut was setting off until the group of people began to shrink. We got in the velomobiles and set off but the others were out of sight and we didn’t know what route they were taking (although we did know that they were heading to Hülser Berg, although on a scenic route). Trying to phone Hartmut failed, the radio with Uli wasn’t great either, so in the end the three velomobiles and upright cyclist Ralf had to give up and make our own way to Hülser Berg.

Here is our track for the day.

nikolaus-tour-track

Klaus, Jochen, Ralf and I went the fairly direct route to Hülser Berg. Poor Ralf, riding a very nice upright bike, found the difficulty of maintaining pace with velomobiles as our speed profiles are so different. They all whizzed up the Hülser Berg (which is a very steep mountain!) and I climbed my way up slowly, pleased to discover that my Schlumpf Mountain Drive was working perfectly!

We parked our bikes at the top. You can see Millie’s Christmas light chain on the photo below except I had turned the lights off before taking the photo.

nikolaus-tour-jochen-and-hat

Klaus headed off back home again and the rest of us went inside the restaurant at the top of Hülser Berg. The owner is a very keen cyclist and always comes to chat with us. Although there were lots of heaters I started to feel rather cold. After about half an hour the rest of the tour arrived and we all enjoyed some lunch (currywurst and chips in my case). I was getting very cold so was glad when we all set off, although I took the direct route home (well, nearly direct – I took the Siebenhäuser route as the road is so much nicer and it’s only a couple of extra kilometres).

The ride total for me was 65km and it was good fun to have my Christmas lights on Millie but I took them off the next day – there are some blue lights on there and the police might not take very kindly to that if they saw me!

A visit to a bicycle exhibition

One chilly Sunday morning I visited a bike exhibition which traced the history of cycling in Germany.

bikes-old-and-new

The exhibition wasn’t just about bike frames, although there were many of those, it was also about bicycle accessories, such as this rather wonderful speedo (and clock?) from the company VDO who still make bike computers today.

early-vdo-bike-computers

The same bicycle also experimented with indicators, which periodically get reinvented in IndieGoGo or other Crowdfunding sites – although their value on a normal bike is very debatable!

bicycle-indicators

The Germans also experimented with three-wheelers quite early on, this was a Penny Farthing Trike.

penny-farthing-three-wheeler

A Düsseldorf company designed the SNOB Bike Engine – not a brand that works so well in English!

snob-bike-motor

Although small, the exhibition was interesting and I had a long chat with one of the staff there as they had an exploded diagram of a Rohloff hub, as well as various other old-fashioned front lights. The first English lights had red and green lights on each side – presumably Port and Starboard!

Other events this month

Doggy training

Gudula my landlady had the idea to train Poppy as a hospital or Old People’s Home visiting dog. Previously I had a labrador who visited a hospital in Tunbridge Wells every week with me for about two years – it’s a very rewarding thing to do as people appreciate so much having a chance to pat or cuddle a dog when they are separated from their own pets.

For Ben the labrador to qualify as a Pets as Therapy dog he had to visit a vet for a health check and be assessed by someone from the charity who checked him over for about half an hour and then he was deemed suitable. We joined the charity which provided the liability insurance and then were able to visit the hospital. Now I am in Germany things are a trifle different. First of all Poppy had to go to a course for 1.5 hours once a week for four weeks, just to see if she would be suitable. This cost 90 Euros. At the end of this course she was deemed suitable, and we were informed she would have to do the Hundeführerschein (Dog Driving Licence!) which includes a written test (which I am guessing the owner, rather than the dog, completes). After this she would need an additional test to be a visiting dog. Estimated time nine months, estimated cost 600 Euros. This seemed a crazy amount so we are still thinking about it, and have found another option in Krefeld which may mean we can finish earlier and is much cheaper. I was a bit unsure of the value of a lot of the training and the cost was very high. But someone who definitely enjoyed the first four weeks was Poppy – here she is with Gudula sitting nicely awaiting a treat.

doggy-training

So perhaps in the New Year Poppy will start her Hundeführerschein… but we will see. To do voluntary work it seems like rather a lot of barriers (financial and time), but we both think Poppy would make an excellent visiting dog and would really enjoy it herself.

The Bonn English Singers Carol Service

Last year I went to the Bonn English Singers 9 Lessons and Carols service with Christine and it was wonderful. This year there were several different concerts by the Bonn English Singers but Christine and I, joined by Gudula, went to the one in Beuel again. It was so lovely to sing English Christmas Carols – people were singing with great gusto and the choir were excellent again.

After the concert there was tea and mince pies… and I noticed they were selling packets of Tetley Teabags, 4 Euros for 80 teabags. I had already placed an order with my Mum for two packs of 280 teabags so didn’t need to avail myself of this offer.

bonn-carol-service

Christmas in England

christmas-in-witnesham

This year’s Christmas would undoubtedly have its sad moments as it would be the first Christmas following the death of my father. But in the event it was a joyful and peaceful occasion and it was good to see family and also to go to the midnight service at my church in Colchester and see old friends again.

On Christmas Day Mum and I travelled with her friend Stephanie to visit some other friends in Norfolk in a village where Mum and Dad had a holiday cottage. Hans and Hilda had a 95-year-old neighbour with them too and she was wonderful – full of interesting stories and totally ‘with it’.

Hans used to be a chef and he and Hilda provided a wonderful meal.

For the non-Brits who read my blog, here is an example of a UK Christmas Dinner (on the 25 December, of course).

A herring salad starter (not so usual for the UK)

christmas-starter

Roast turkey with all the trimmings

christmas-main-course

A cake with cream etc.

christmas-dessert

Christmas Pudding and Christmas Cake are traditional but not everyone likes them (including me!) so it was nice to have something else for a change.

Hans had also made some Swedish Biscuits with God Jul on them.

god-jul-biscuits

Their dog Kasper enjoyed lying in front of the fire and watching in a vain hope that we might drop some food for him. It was too tasty to give to a dog!

kasper-and-fire

The next day my sister, her husband and two of her daughters came, bringing their Christmas leftovers so we had Christmas Dinner Mark 2, which was also lovely! Anna had made the traditional Swiss Roll Yule Log which she has always made – a real reminder of my childhood!

yule-log

Her daughter Ceri and I fought for possession of the piece with the flake in it and I was awarded this as flake’s aren’t available in Germany. Bonus!

yule-log-2

Oh, and earlier in the month I had seen a Facebook recipe for Nutella Christmas Trees and I made a few and gave them to colleagues at work. Here’s one of them – they look nicer than they tasted!

nutella-christmas-tree

I headed back to Germany on the evening of Boxing Day, ready for Oliebollentocht two days later. It was lovely to spend time with my Mum and sister and her family, it’s great to visit England again although the roads all seem so narrow and hilly!

Visting England now is a bit strange as my roots are being pulled up. James and I were divorced in November and he is now engaged to a new lady, someone we both knew at University. Our house is in the process of being sold, we are just going through the paperwork with the buyer, and then I will no longer have a home in Colchester. My life has very much transferred over to Germany and I feel that this is now my home, but it is always lovely to catch up with old friends in the UK and events such as the Bonn Carol Service give me a lovely warm feeling as it is the remembrance of decades of Christmases in the UK.

New Year’s Eve

I am writing this at 10pm on New Year’s Eve. I went to our next door neighbour’s New Year’s Eve party with Frank and Gudula – when Frank was invited he said we could come for an hour or so but then had another invitation – and we were most surprised when the front door opened that our neighbour was in a wedding dress. They had got married at 11am this morning and the New Year’s Eve party was actually a wedding party! This was a real surprise to us but it was lovely to be part of their special day and to meet some of their friends and family. We came away after an hour and a half as Frank and Gudula went to their other party and I stayed at home to look after Poppy who is not that keen on fireworks.

So the year is almost ended – I am writing this at ten o’clock so two hours to go. My third New Year’s Eve in Germany. Next year, 2017, is in a way a blank sheet – I can make of my life what I will. I have already planned to do a cycle ride from Rostock to Copenhagen and back to Kiel with some ladies from the Velomobilforum and will also be joining a new Gospel Choir in Wachtendonk now that I am not part of the Süchteln one. I will also be singing Mendelssohn-Bartholdy’s “Paulus” with the Willicher Musikprojekt and Anja and I plan to resurrect our piano/flute duets. There is plenty to look forward to, not least more cycling and hopefully increasing my range and decreasing my belly a bit! However, the Cake Montage will probably continue.

cake-montage

2016 has had some difficulties and the political situation with Brexit and Trump fills me with gloom, but there are always positive things to be thankful for and I hope that we will all start 2017 with hope and looking forward to the good times. I wish all my readers a Happy New Year!

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Filed under Cycling in Germany, Millie the Milan GT Carbon, Penelope the Velomobile, Six Wheels In Germany, Trikes & Velomobiles

Six Wheels In Germany – October 2016 (Month 31)

October was a mixture of warm, sunny weather and definite autumnal/winter days.

However, this month’s blog is decidedly not a mixture… it is almost entirely bicycle-related (with just my cake collage at the end) so if velomobiles and trikes aren’t your thing I suggest you give it a miss this month.

What can I learn from this? Perhaps I need to diversify in my interests a bit! However November’s blog should contain a bit more variety as the choir I sing in will be performing the Messiah in Anrath and Krefeld.

Cycling this month

Cycling statistics this month

Another good month in terms of distance, just a touch shy of 1500km, but that is due to the speed increase with the Milan. I am probably riding the same amount of time per month, just getting there more quickly!

october-statistics

And here is the ‘wheel’ to show where I have ridden this month. It also shows I managed four metric centuries, and indeed one ride over 200km.

october-wheel

Metric Century per month challenge

Since the advent of Millie the Milan GT Carbon velomobile, distances have been rather easier to come by! When the average speed increases from 22km/h to 30km/h, that means in a four hour ride you can do 120km instead of under 90km. It also means that a 100km ride is only an investment of just over three hours’ riding time.

Anyway, the challenge to cycle 100km at least once per month continues.

For October’s I started rather well.

On the 2nd October I did a 62km cycle ride but decided as the next day was a bank holiday and I had nothing planned I would try for a longer ride.

I decided to have another go at my ride to Kleve and Nijmegen that I did in Penelope a few months back, this time avoiding the two mountains I had to haul myself over. This involved a detour of about 12km but it was definitely worth it to avoid those mega hills.

Klaus was able to ride with me for a short while in the morning so he came to meet me at my house and we headed straight off north on our regular Sunday morning ride into Kreis Kleve.

nijmegen-track

We set off at a medium pace as my legs weren’t feeling brilliant and it was also a bit chilly and rainy but soon got into the groove and were approaching Geldern. Klaus asked if I wanted to stop here; I had planned to ride a bit further than 18km before my first stop but he didn’t really have time to ride further so I agreed we would stop in Geldern in the café we often visit in the market square.

We parked our velomobiles… of course they caused quite a stir.

millie-and-celeste-in-geldern

AFter some tasty cake I headed off northwards and Klaus went for a detour on his way home via Neukirchen Vluyn.

The cake had given my legs a bit more energy and I enjoyed my speedy ride northwards towards Uedem. However, just before I reached Uedem there was a ‘Road Closed’ sign. Never mind, I thought, as the cycle route was still free – I would ride on the road until the proper closure and then hop on the cycle path.

This worked OK except the cycle path was horribly bumpy when I got onto it and the Milan has much harder suspension than the Versatile. I was zooming along when I saw something ahead and slammed on the brakes. A good thing too, as I was faced with a sudden cessation of Radweg…

road-closed-1

Because Millie is so low I couldn’t ride up this bump so had to get out.

road-closed-2

Getting in and out is a faff so this was annoying. I then had to push Millie along the road until I could find proper tarmac again. It was a short walk of about 100 metres but annoying nonetheless. When you see road closures in Germany it is not usually clear whether the cycle path is also closed.

However, once I had negotiated this obstacle I continued on, glad to have walked about a bit to warm up my toes.

I had made three different tracks for the day, one which was 178km and went to Nijmegen but two shorter ones which turned back sooner if I wasn’t feeling so energetic. I wasn’t sure which I would do, and in fact was still deciding as I reached Bedburg-Hau where one of my tracks headed west to NL. But in the end I decided to continue on to Kleve.

I didn’t actually go into Kleve this time (that’s one of the evil hills) but instead skirted around to the east, getting nearer to the Rhine. I then followed part of the Rhein flood plain towards Nijmegen (very close to Millingen aan de Rijn) which involved small country lanes which were often quite mucky with tractor mud.

At one point I felt a regular bump-bump-bump in one wheel and thought “oh no! A front puncture!” So I stopped and got out – but both front wheels (and also the back) were fully inflated. I guess it was a bit of mud but it was another chance to move my feet around and drink some water. I was wearing some brand new shoes I had bought from Rose and had done them up a bit tight to start with so my left ankle was complaining; having loosened them off things were improving but I did think such a long ride with new shoes was perhaps a little unwise. But the challenge of the open road and fast Velomobile overcomes such sensible thoughts!

After a five minute break I carried on, and started to recognise the bit of dike I was cycling on… I had been on this route on the trike tour at the beginning of August.

nijmegen-bridge

Very soon I was passing the boat where we had spent the night in Nijmegen and riding along the waterfront looking for somewhere to eat some lunch. I found a lot of cafés and parked outside.

parked-at-nijmegen

This was a tasty burger but I was only able to eat half of it – this can be a problem when riding long distances, your stomach doesn’t really want to have to do too much!

burger

After more water (the day had got warmer and cycling at speed means the wind whips away a lot of moisture) it was time to carry on.

My previous route from Nijmegen involved a ferry crossing at Cuijk and then down the west side of the Maas to Arcen. As I wasn’t sure how easy it would be to ride Millie onto these ferries (very steep!) I decided to stick to the east bank of the Maas and ride via Gennep.

What I didn’t know, and neither did my route planning software, was that the nice fast road around Gennep is not allowed for bicycles, so I had to do some on-the-hoof rerouting and ended up riding through the middle of the town. This was of course slower but more interesting.

The roads weren’t as quiet as the roads the other side of the Maas so I expect I won’t do this sector again, although once I was a fair way south of Gennep it improved a lot.

I had a waypoint on my Garmin counting down to Bergen which is somewhere I seem to regularly cycle through and feels like it is quite close to home (although it is 45km away), and soon enough I arrived… except the road was blocked with a circus. Of course there wasn’t room to turn around in the velomobile so I had to get out again… very irritating. The circus people were chatting to me in a mixture of Dutch, German and English, asking about Millie.

Once I had turned round I rode off again, arriving in Bergen a few minutes later after the small detour and going to the bakery for some nice rice cake and a cuppa.

rice-cake-in-bergen

I was feeling pretty good still and wondered about going for a double century. Another 22km over my plan would be eminently doable. So I headed off, feeling that I still had plenty of energy, back on roads I know very well which are fast and have almost no traffic. Although there was in fact more than I was expecting as this was not a public holiday in the Netherlands.

Anyway, I zoomed back to Arcen, to Straelen and then decided to do a detour up to Geldern to get my extra kilometres. Once in Geldern I realised I needed a few more… and knowing that Klaus had been to Neukirken Vluyn today I decided to also go there. So I did, via Kamp Lintfort.

My plan was to avoid the annoying hill by the spoil heap at Eyller Berg but of course I miscalculated my route and ended up riding up there. Oh well, it’s much less hard work in a Milan than a Versatile. Coming down the other side was nice!

The 200km was in sight, but I then thought about my longest ever ride. 201km, back from Dronten. Yes, I could beat that… but what was the next challenge after that? What was Klaus’s longest ride? Fortunately with the marvels of Strava I could see that his longest ride was 213km. Hmmmmmm, only another 12km after my personal record….

So I continued stretching out my route, doing a detour around Siebenhäuser (a lovely bit of road!), then going past St Hubert and heading south to Kempen. I decided I didn’t fancy the mountain over the railway bridge on the way to St Tönis so turned off just before that which involved a rather bumpy road and also a brief moment of sheltering under a tree because of unexpected hail! It was at this point that I had a message from Klaus who realised I was not yet home and therefore must be extending my ride (I had sent him a message when I was near Straelen). “Are you going for the 200km?” he asked. Oh no, old bean, I am going for your record!! (I didn’t actually send this).

I rode back through the outskirts of Kempen, watching the kilometres tick over on my Garmin. Because sometimes there are discrepancies between the Garmin track and what Strava gives me I knew I had to do a bit extra – it would be gutting to be 100 metres short! So when I finally rolled up outside my house I had done 215.1 kilometres. Moving time was 8 hours 4 minutes so the average speed was 26.7 km/h. Not bad at all!

Klaus soon saw on Strava that I had exceeded his longest ride so undoubtedly he will be overtaking me again soon. But a bit of a challenge is good for us, it encourages longer rides and exploring new places. But it is a great feeling to have done such a long ride, and such a huge contrast to the 201km I did in Penelope which nearly finished me off (and took 11 hours 43 minutes).

The route apart from the Gennep bit was good so I will try it again sometime, probably in the Spring/Summer, as now the nights are drawing in the long rides aren’t quite as appealing. But I am pleased with myself, with how well Millie rolled, and that I burned enough calories for both slices of cake (officially I burned 4,212 calories, average heart rate 147, maximum 185).

7 Schlösser und eine Burg

or, in English, 7 castles and a castle.

A week after my 215km ride it was time for another longer ride and this time Klaus had a bit of a brainwave that we could visit Düsseldorf and take in some castles on the way.

We ended up passing 7 castles and I also passed the castle in Kempen. I was talking today to friend Babs about the difference in meaning between Schloss and Burg but we couldn’t really work out the specific variation except that Burg is more of a stronghold/fortress and Schloss, although also a castle, is also a bit like a palace or a giant country house. Maybe.

Anyway, the ride took in the following castles: Schloss Neersen; Schloss Myllendonk; Schloss Rheydt; Schloss Dyck; Schloss Hülchrath; Schloss Benrath; Schloss Mickeln; Burg Kempen.

And here was my route:

castles-track

It was a fairly chilly day and I set off with buffs and hat on. The plan was to meet Klaus somewhere near Neersen and we ended up meeting in Anrath. I was a bit slower than I had expected to get there as it was cold and I tend to be slower in the morning.

From Anrath we headed south towards Mönchengladbach, passing Schloss Neersen of course, and also fairly quickly Schloss Myllendonk. Shortly after Mönchengladbach we passed Schloss Rheydt where I have occasionally partaken of a pizza!

As we headed towards Schloss Dyck we had a brief section riding straight towards Garzweiler, one of the huge holes in the ground where Brown coal is extracted. Klaus was whizzing far ahead here, as you can see from the photo – with the chimneys spouting smoke from the power stations that feed on the coal.

towards-garzweiler

We arrived at Schloss Dyck and stopped briefly. I said to Klaus I was feeling a bit pooped – I decided I was rather hungry (hadn’t had much breakfast). He said he thought about riding to Schloss Benrath – perhaps we could eat there. We weren’t sure how far away it was, perhaps an hour, so I thought it would be OK to carry on.

Klaus had sent me the track but it arrived after I had switched off my computer so I didn’t have a chance to load it on my Garmin and was just following him without really knowing where we were going, but it was a great and varied route, passing through towns I had never even heard of.

Klaus is good at route planning but no ride is complete without a spot of off-road!

off-road

I was now beginning to feel a bit rubbish, definitely low on food. My heart rate was also very low which is unusual for me. I kept a beady eye out for bakeries but saw nothing. There was a café next to Schloss Hülchrath but they were closed for a holiday.

On we went, I was going slower and slower. Memories of the long ride back from Dronten where I just lost all energy! And then hallelujah, in Nievenheim we found a very nice café! They had cakes but no warm food, so a cake and filled roll were just the thing. A hot cup of tea helped to restore some of my energy. It had come just in time as I was definitely heading into what is called the cyclist’s bonk.

I felt lots better after my food and we headed off again, with me feeling that I had much more power. Interestingly my heart rate was now way higher as my body worked to digest the food.

It was a short distance from Nievenheim to Zons, and then it was the Zons ferry. We did this ferry on the SPEZI tour last year with Simon and Joyce; it was good to be in Zons again!

ferry-at-zons

From Zons it was a short ride up past Schloss Benrath and then past Schloss Mickeln to Düsseldorf. I asked Klaus if we could detour to the Medienhafen to photograph Millie in the mirrored building… so we did.

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lots-of-millies-2

lots-of-millies

Then it was heading through the Altstadt north and further to a crossing of the Rhein. We took the Helter Skelter Bridge, as I call it, but on the way down the other side there was a steep curb so Klaus pushed me back up the slope a bit – hard work for him! But Millie’s very wide turning circle means it takes forever to turn round in a narrow area.

As we were cycling north along the Deich we saw another velomobile, a cream or white DF, going over a bridge. We wondered if he had seen us (it turned out he hadn’t!)

We rode back through Meerbusch and went our separate ways near St Tönis. I ensured I cycled past Burg Kempen on the way home so I definitely bagged that one too!

It was a very enjoyable ride although my lack of food in the morning had shown me that I do really need to prepare properly for longer rides! 140km for me at an average speed of 24.8 km/h.

Liegeradtreff Düsseldorf und Umland

The Velomobileforum has various groups for local cyclists and I had seen that there was going to be a meeting for the Düsseldorf people and also the Duisburg people in Kaiserswerth. As Kaiserswerth (north of Düsseldorf) isn’t so far away from me, I thought I would go along. It was the day after my 7 Schlösser Tour but I felt energetic enough for another 100km ride.

The plan was to meet in Büttgen where one of the forum members lives, have a cuppa there and then ride together to Kaiserswerth. Sounded good!

The meeting time was 11am which was eminently easy. I told Klaus I was planning to go to that and he said he would like to ride a bit with me in the morning (he had to be back at midday) so we decided to ride together to Uerdingen for cake and then I would go on to Büttgen which is near Kaarst, so the Neuss area (left hand side of the Rhein).

Here is my track for the day:

liegeradtreff

So Klaus came to my house and we set off together on familiar roads, except were almost immediately caught out by the closure of the B9 road – we wanted to go to Siebenhäuser but the road was closed. There was nothing for it, we had to cycle up the mega hill to Tönisberg.

We got to the top and then took the nice road down that leads to Siebenhäuser but this time we headed to Niep and from there towards Uerdingen. These are roads we have ridden several times and it’s a good route.

Once we got to Uerdingen I assumed we would ride onward but Klaus was happy to stop for cake, although our usual café wasn’t yet open. We found another though and enjoyed some tea and cake.

He said he would ride with me to Kaarst and then go home from there, so after our cake we zoomed off on empty roads and great speeds. I hadn’t realised how fast we were going but for a 10km section our average speed was 33 km/h. This in Millie is fairly easy as long as you don’t have to keep stopping but for Celeste it was harder work – she presents a larger area to the wind and probably has a little more rolling resistance too with her tyres. Klaus was working quite hard to keep up (this is a real role reversal as it’s always previously been the other way round!).

We were making excellent time so he said he would come with me to Büttgen to say hello to the others, it was only a detour of 3km. Unfortunately my planning for this section was sub-optimal and we had a kilometre off road. This provoked a barrage of complaints from my riding partner, but I pointed out we had been off-road yesterday on his track. But apparently that was less off-roady or something.

Anyway, we arrived in Büttgen without punctures or anything falling off the Velomobiles and all our teeth still in place… and after a brief hiatus when I missed the road and couldn’t find where we were supposed to be, followed by me being nearly crashed into by a car who decided to ignore my left-signalling indicator… we arrived. And Celeste met her new cousin the DF belonging to Podbiker (Stefan).

df-and-celeste-1

df-and-celeste-2

I had cycled with Stefan and his DF before to Kevelaer but that was in Penelope. It will be fun to ride with him when I am in Millie – it won’t be so slow!

As you can see from this photo, there was a real colour scheme going on – Celeste or white-and-red.

df-and-celeste-3

More velomobiles arrived, including Düssel (who we often see) in his Mango this time (he also has a WAW) and he had a quick go in Millie. There were also a few trikes. The wife of Norbert had made us some snacks to keep us going.

nibbles-1

nibbles-2

Klaus had headed off home at this point and it was then that I discovered an ingenious seat raising device a fellow rider used for his Mango…

seat-dictionary

Not only is his seat the right height, if he has an urgent need for an English word it is at his fingertips!!

After eating the food, drinking tea and coffee and peering at each others’ velomobiles, it was time to head off in our group of 11, following Norbert on his trike. The pace was very relaxed as Norbert has an electric trike due to disability but we certainly provided great entertainment for those we passed. So many weird bikes!

Some of the riders zoomed ahead and then took some photos. Here am I wafting past…

helen-passing

Here we are riding over a motorway bridge

velomobiles-crossing-bridge

And enjoying the scenery as we head for the Rhine.

milan-unterwegs

Crossing the Rhine bridge.

crossing-rhine-bridge

We arrived in Kaiserswerth and the group from Duisburg were already there.

vms-kaiserswerth-1

vms-kaiserswerth

I saw someone with a white DF – indeed he had been the chap Klaus and I saw yesterday, although he hadn’t seen us.

cream-df

There were also lots of trikes.

kaiserswerth-trikes

We were providing great entertainment for all the people at Kaiserswerth and lots of people were asking us questions. It looked as though it would take a long time to get served food so Düssel suggested we decamped to a place he knew with a large garden area for the trikes. So we followed him for a few kilometres and reached the café. Their garden was indeed full of bikes!

vms-in-pub-parking-area-1

vms-in-pub-parking-area-2

vms-in-pub-parking-area-3

And we almost all managed to squeeze on one table!

liegerad-group-eating

After some tea and cake we decided to head back. I thought I would use the Kaiserswerth Ferry back to my side of the Rhein, although I wasn’t sure how well it would work with the low ground clearance of Millie. In the end it was fine, and a group of four of us in velomobiles made the crossing before heading off in different directions on the other side.

I then rode home alone, ending up with 104km on the clock at an average speed of 22.5 km/h. It was a really enjoyable day and great to meet so many other velomobile riders.

It also meant that this week I ride 641.7 kilometres which is pretty good going! Three rides over 100km and one over 200km. I love riding my velomobile!

A speedy trip to Xanten

One Sunday morning when I had nothing to do I decided to try for a speedy ride and see if I could maintain a reasonable speed for a longer time.

xanten-track

This was the track I rode, going via Geldern on the way (so the western side) and then returning via Alpen and Kamp-Lintfort.

My ride to Xanten was completed with an average speed of 31 km/h so I was very happy with that. I made my way to the nice café in the central market place and had a cake.

Millie was definitely an item of interest for the passers-by.

millie-in-xanten

My route back was initially great, going via the Bisslicher Insel which is a nature reserve. I zoomed along decent asphalted surfaces with very little motor traffic. I then turned away from the Rhine and towards Alpen, having forgotten about the big hill I would have to go over. Not fun but I managed it!

However, the downhill the other side was wonderful! I could only pedal up to 40 km/h (I have a very slow cadence and cannot spin the pedals fast) but Millie keeps on and on and on accelerating, even when you are no longer pedalling. It was a long, straight downhill on a smooth bit of road and saw 61.9 km/h on my Garmin’s speedo. This was great fun!

There was a further hill at Rheurdt but soon I was home, although annoyingly under 100km. However, I checked my emails and saw a message from Hartmut; he was on his way to Wachtendonk, having called in at my house fifteen minutes before to deliver a velomobile bag he had picked up for me from Dronten. So I rang him and we agreed to meet in Wachtendonk. I whizzed over there, found him at the Ice Cream Café and we swapped bags and money, and of course had an ice cream. I returned home and then ended up with 106.73km for the day, at an average speed of 30.6 km/h.

This metric century lark is easy with a fast velomobile!

Fit Durch Den Winter

Last year Hartmut instigated a new bike tour series, ‘Fit Durch Den Winter’ (fit through the winter) which was a 40-45km ride once per month from Kempen. I participated in several of these.

On the last Sunday in October he had scheduled the first of this season’s rides and sent an email to some of us asking for recommendations of where to go. I suggested Straelen and got the response “great, you are the ride leader”.

So at 11am on Sunday morning (having had an extra hour in bed due to the clocks changing) various people gathered in Buttermarkt in Kempen by the fountain. There were lots of people I didn’t recognise, who I think had read about it in the Rad am Niederhein magazine which is widely distributed.

Jochen arrived in Endeavour, sporting some new scratches; the velomobile was caught by the wind when parked at his workplace and blown across the car park into a van! Fortunately the marks weren’t that obvious.

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millie-endeavour-2

millie-endeavour-3

Here is the track for the day.

fit-durch-den-winter-track

We eventually set off at about 11:10 after some last-minute faffing.

We rode the route clockwise, heading towards Vinkrath and were met by Uli at Abtei Mariendonk. We continued westwards and I had a couple of messages from Klaus who was riding on his own and had been at Straelen for cake; he decided to try and intercept us on his way back and indeed we saw him whizzing towards us as we headed towards the Blaue Lagune. He and Jochen rode together for a short way before Klaus peeled off for home (he ended up having ridden 104km and had planned to just pop out for a short ride first thing…)

Part of the route had been planned by me without knowing whether I had ever actually ridden the roads. It became clear, when there was an off-road section, that I hadn’t – and this section was not suitable for Velomobiles. Jochen and I agreed to meet the rest of the group at the other side of a road crossing (they were going over a small bridge). We would go the long way round on the main road.

As I was winching myself up a hill with Jochen behind he announced to me that my back tyre looked flat. Oh no!!! So when I got to the top of the hill I stopped and had a look – it was indeed very spongy although not completely flat.

To fix a puncture in the rear tyre on Millie takes about half an hour so I thought it was best to pump it up and maybe do the repair when we got to Straelen, only about 6km away. So Jochen produced his lightweight track pump and added some air – perhaps not to the 8 bar (120psi) that my tyre needs, but a real improvement.

We rode on and the tyre stayed up. This got me thinking… I had pumped all three tyres up four days before (they were down to 5.5 bar), and perhaps I hadn’t done the valve up properly. I had also noticed over the last two days that the steering felt a bit imprecise at speed, that I had to continually make small corrections. Perhaps this was due to the soft rear tyre? And perhaps this explains why my ride the day before to choir seemed such hard work. Once the tyre was pumped up again then the squirmy steering feel went away.

I made it to Straelen with the tyre still up and we stopped at Café Krone for some food – I had Kaiserschmarrn which is excellent cyclist food.

kaiserschmarrn

After we had all enjoyed cake and hot drinks we headed off back again to Kempen, this time via Wachtendonk. My tyre was still inflated which was good, but as we were nearing Wachtendonk there was a loud bang and Frank’s rear tyre definitely wasn’t!

puncture-repair

Frank, Hartmut, Jochen and a few others fettled his bike. There was a very impressive tear in the inner tube!

split-tube

Fortuitously the puncture had occurred near a bench overlooking a field so the rest of us stood around enjoying the warm autumn sunshine.

waiting-for-puncture-repair-1

waiting-for-puncture-repair-2

We carried on and where the track diverts to Kempen Frank and I headed off home and the rest continued on.

The ride was 45.1km for me and with an average speed of 16.6km/h which has rather affected my statistics for Millie!

Later that day several of us met in a restaurant to celebrate Hartmut’s birthday. And at this point we also shared my icing velomobile which had been in my deep freeze since my birthday. This was a velomobile model which was on my birthday cake – I had saved it for when I received my QuattroVelo. Seeing as I now had Millie and would not be having a QuattroVelo, and that everyone who had bought me the cake was at Hartmut’s do, I borrowed a knife from the restaurant and divvied up the mini QuattroVelo.

cake-qv-1

helen-cutting-cake

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Here it is in two pieces – we now know it is entirely fondant icing.

in-two-pieces

We shared it around and there were just these small pieces left… which soon disappeared.

remnants-of-qv

So this was kind of a christening for Millie!

Thanks to Uli, Hartmut, Jochen, Herbert etc for the birthday cake and the Velomobile 🙂

Millie the Milan GT Carbon

As mentioned once or twice already, Millie is fast!

Bear in mind that she has the same engine as Penelope and Alfie, i.e. me. But the speeds are very much quicker. It just goes to prove, it is about the bike!

You can see a small example here from a Strava Segment Comparator. I rode this segment in Penelope and then more recently in Millie. The speed difference is rather noticeable!

segment-comparator

When I bought Millie from Ludwig in Ostfriesland I decided I didn’t want the Haube (complete head covering) that he had which was very narrow (it was a racing one), so instead he got me the red Lukendeckel (flap thingie) and gave me a price reduction.

Of course, after two weeks I realised that I would also want to ride Millie in the rain and that a Haube would probably be a good idea.

Räderwerk sell a Haube you can add to the existing Lukendeckel which is a bit more roomy inside than the racing one that Ludwig had. They occasionally come up for sale second hand so I decided to put a request out on the Velomobilforum to see if anyone had one for sale – and I struck lucky immediately. Friend Tim who lives near Bodensee had one that he never used and was happy to sell it to me at a very decent price. Not only that, it was red!

In due course it arrived and I fitted it, after first having to reassemble it.

haube-ready-to-be-screwed-together

Unfortunately the red isn’t quite the same shade as the Lukendeckel red, but if I cycle fast enough no-one should notice!

haube-1

When riding with the Haube on I have about an extra 2.5km/h average. So more speed. In fact, on my first test ride with the Haube I did a 31.93km round trip and up until the last 3km when I had several red traffic lights and a traffic jam I was averaging over 35km/h. In the end my average was 34.3 which is still rather good!

Millie attracts attention just like Penelope, and various velomobile friends have had a go. Here’s a Mango owner who lives south of Kempen and invited me for some home-made Pufferkes…

rowjoh-in-milan

My reward was to enjoy a couple of these very tasty pufferkes. Yum!

pufferkes-1

pufferkes-2

Millie gets a Schlumpf Mountain Drive

When I test-rode Millie she had a 65 tooth chainring at the front. This meant that she had lovely high top gears but her lowest gear was rather high to start off on a slope or indeed to climb a hill. Ludwig seemed to have no problem with it but I was concerned. There was a second smaller chainring at the front but he said he used that only for emergency hill climbing.

Ludwig suggested that he changed the chainrings for me to a 53 and 43 so that I had more lower gears that worked better for me overall. He said I would be able to pedal up to 50 km/h no problems. So we went ahead with the swap.

It became clear to me fairly quickly that my low cadence means that I can’t really pedal over 40km/h without wobbling all over the place. My legs just don’t go that fast, and after 100,000km in recumbent trikes and velomobiles (yes, I passed that milestone this month!) it isn’t likely to change. I am comfortable in high gears, cruising with medium power. My knees generally are OK with this plan.

I could of course have changed the front chainring for a larger one but then I would have the same problem with starting in low gears. I had already discovered that my weak arm made it extremely difficult to use the grip shift for the front chainring; changing down to the small ring was OK but changing back up again almost impossible. Ludwig suggested I got someone to fit a trigger shifter or bar-end shifter (although that would mean my indicator button would have to move) but I wasn’t sure.

I had been thinking for a little while about a Schlumpf Mountain Drive and decided to do a bit of research on this. The Schlumpf range have several drives (speed, high speed, mountain) and it is a small internal gearing system that lives in the bottom bracket (pedals/cranks). It is effectively like switching chainrings at the front, and involves no cabling (you hit a button with your heel and that changes the gear).

The Speed Drive and High Speed Drive have their normal mode in low gears and then you can click up to a higher gear but that is using the innards of the drive so a bit lossy. The Mountain Drive is the other way round, the ‘neutral’ gears with direct drive are the high gears but you can knock it down by 2.5x for lower gears if you need them. This sounded very suitable for me!

My local recumbent shop is Liegeradbau Schumacher in Willich. I had visited them several years before and found them to be knowledgeable and with a large amount of stock. I decided to give them a ring and find out if they fitted the Schlumpf – yes they did, so I said I would pop round the next day and have a chat.

I did pop round and we talked about it. It sounded like a great option – until I heard the price. These things are expensive! Especially as I would need shorter cranks (not much room in the nose of Millie) and the larger chainring. The price was just too high for me to justify for some emergency low gears.

We talked a bit more about anything else I might be able to do (new shifters for my existing gear) and then the chap talking to me had a bit of an idea and went to talk to a colleague. It turned out they had a second hand Mountain Drive in stock and they made me a price offer for that, the cranks and chainring and fitting, which was very good and I decided to take them up on it.

They ordered the chainring and pedals and a couple of weeks later we had an appointment for them to do the fitting, hopefully while I waited.

I arrived and met Mr Schumacher (senior) for the first time. We ended up having a lovely time chatting together – the trike world is small and the velomobile world smaller and we had several acquaintances in common. He’s been in the world of recumbents for 30 years so has a vast amount of experience. It was really interesting talking to him.

First of all they showed me my new chainring – a real pizza plate!

pizza-chainring

Apparently when it had arrived Mr Schumacher assumed it was for some super-fit young man, and was clearly a bit surprised to see a middle-aged overweight woman who needed it! But the velomobile’s speed makes all the difference.

Christian Schumacher, his son, would do the fitting and the first plan was to get Millie onto a fork lift so that he could work through the foot hole.

millie-on-forklift

Mr Schumacher Senior and I held Millie steady whilst Christian removed the bottom bracket from the boom. Here it is coming out – and was surprisingly heavy. The Schlumpf Mountain Drive with pedals and chainring actually weighed less.

old-chainrings-come-out

Millie was lowered back down to the floor whilst Christian fitted the mountain drive to the bottom bracket, which involved some work on the aluminium holder. You can see the bits of metalwork that hold the boom in place on the floor in front of Millie’s nose.

boom-bits-on-floor

And the view inside – a boom leading to… nothing!

inside-no-chainrings-or-pedals

Now Christian spent some time removing the old pedals and bottom bracket and fitting the Schlumpf, which involves some metalwork I believe.

They let me see and test it when he had finished, turning the pedals with one finger and then pressing the button and seeing the speed change.

mountain-drive-in-bottom-bracket

mountain-drive-in-bottom-bracket-2

Christian cleaned up my pedals and fitted them to the cranks, then we were ready to fit the new part into Millie.

with-pedals-and-ready-to-fit

Here we all are working on Millie – Christian drew the short straw and had to lie on his back with 28kg of carbon fibre balancing inches from his nose!

three-people-working-on-millie

And here it is fitted!

fitted

We removed the cabling for the front gear changer – another minor weight saving (20 grammes?) – which you could see in the photo above.

Then it was time for a short test ride…

Generally it was great, except my toe was now rubbing against the side of Millie. I had occasionally had this before when really pushing hard but it happened the whole time. It seems that the Mountain Drive pedal area is wider than the previous chainrings arrangement (Theo at Velomobiel.nl had talked to me on the phone about Mountain Drives and said I needed to have the narrow one; I had asked Schumacher if that was what they had and they said yes, but I do slightly wonder now). Anyway, Christian came to the rescue again with a very simple solution – moving the cleats on my cycling shoes so my feet were more inward.

The second test ride and it was fine, only very occasional brushing of my shoe on Millie’s side, certainly to an acceptable level.

The fitting had taken three hours which was longer than expected but they had clearly done an excellent job and it was interesting to see everything in action. I rode home, very quickly getting used to the new drive and finding the gear changing buttons very simple to operate.

And after a week…

I am enjoying riding with the Mountain Drive.

I am definitely benefitting from the larger chainring. I find it more comfortable to ride at speed. I am able to pull away in first gear most of the time without problems, unless it’s on a slight uphill, at which point I use the Mountain Drive to step down from what is a 4.6 metre gear to a 1.5 metre (that means I travel 4.6 metres along the ground per pedal revolution). Also on some steeper hills I switch into Mountain Drive mode.

As was mentioned by many commentators, the Mountain Drive does give a spongy feel when using the stepped down gears. It is noticeable but as I am only riding in this gear arrangement for a short time it is no problem. Also because of the wide range in gearing it’s quite a big jump back into the higher gears but, again, because you know it’s coming you can adjust accordingly. I like the simplicity of the system and find it easy to do with my heels, even wearing cleats.

With regard to the cleat position, after Christian had adjusted one shoe I obviously had to adjust the other. I then thought about moving the cleats even further and tried that – and found I had unusual foot pain. I suppose after 100,000km with my cleats always on one position the ball of my foot didn’t like the change! So I moved the cleats back to a middle position where my foot only brushes the side of the velomobile when really pushing but the cleats are comfortable.

I have now done 1,900km in Millie since I bought her in mid-September and am really happy with my choice. There are a few drawbacks with the Milan (such as the turning circle, low freeboard so you can scrape when going up kerbs) but they also confer advantages (more speed, more speed) so it’s a choice. I still use Penelope for my commuting but Millie for all social rides.

I have ordered some Union Jack decals to go on her tail. They are on their way from the UK and once they arrive I will have to find the best place to fit them. This might be a challenge but it should be a deterrent to thieves if she is British Flagged!

Cakes this month

cake-collage-october

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Filed under Cycling in Germany, Six Wheels In Germany, Trikes & Velomobiles

Six Wheels In Germany – Month 12

March 2015

Cycling Statistics This Month

Here is the summary of rides I did this month – as you can see, not very many, only 224km!

Screen shot 2015-03-31 at 22.01.11

And this is where I rode – not very far afield at all!

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As mentioned in last month’s blog post I was hit rather badly with the flu in February/March which seriously curtailed my cycling and meant I dropped behind my year target (10,000km again), having been on track for January and the first half of February. But the summer is coming and that will make it much easier to crank out more miles!

Once I started feeling better in mid-March it was time to get riding again, slowly as a three week layoff means you lose some fitness (although I also lost 5kg in weight with the flu which was a bonus!)

I started with a very gentle ride with Klaus, Claudia and Lara. Claudia seems to be enjoying using my old Trice Q. Here are all three recumbents ready for the off.

Trikes ready to ride

I attended the monthly Fahrrad Stammtisch again (my first longer cycle ride since the flu, riding there with Klaus). There had been a bike exhibition in Essen recently and two people had visited the ADFC stand and found out about the Stammtisch so we had some more faces.

Clockwise from top left: Jochen, new chap, Uli, Hartmut, me, Klaus, new lady

Clockwise from top left: Jochen, new chap, Uli, Hartmut, me, Klaus, new lady

I have enjoyed riding Penelope with her cool new lighting – which gets an awful lot of attention. I also seem to ride faster with the LED striplights on!

Anyway, when I arrived at the VHS the other day I noticed a slight issue…

One-eyed Penelope

This means that Penelope was now technically legal in Germany (you’re only supposed to have one light) but clearly something was amiss. I sent the photo to Klaus and he suggested I pop round on the way back from the VHS and he’d have a look (he lives just 2km away on my route home). So I appeared at his door at nine at night and he quickly identified the problem – in the tangle of wiring beyond my feet a plug had come undone. He sorted it within a minute and commented “we’ll need to change this for a better connector”. I had had a bumpy ride to Viersen along a rutted cycle path so perhaps that’s why.

Anyway, the next day I rode to the Süchteln choir and when I arrived…

One-eyed Penelope 2

But this time, as I knew what the problem was, I was able to fix it – although I wouldn’t have minded arms about a foot longer to assist with scrabbling around in Penelope’s nose.

Two-eyed Penelope

My goals for my year in Germany

If you’ve been reading this blog from the beginning of the ‘Six Wheels In Germany’ time you may remember I set myself some goals for this year in Germany (which has now extended, of course). But did I achieve them?

Here is the list:

(a) Increase my skill in German from B2 to C1 (Common European Framework of Reference for Languages)
(b) Cycle to all the churches in Kreis Viersen
(c) Join a choir
(d) Get involved in some kind of cycling group in the area

With regard to item 1, the VHS did offer for me to go up to the C1 course after my first semester of B2.2 but the course was on a Wednesday evening (when I have my Süchteln choir) so I decided to stay on in B2.2 as I am still learning plenty at that level. So I think (a) has been achieved.
(b) Is still a work in progress but I have only about fifteen churches to go now.
(c) I have joined two.
(d) I joined the ADFC and ride with them, plus the Fahrrad Stammtisch and also lots of rides with Klaus. So I guess I have achieved that too. Hurrah!

And after a year in Germany, what is my general impression about the Germans – are the stereotypes correct?

Well, as you’d expect, the answer is ‘yes and no’. Some stereotypes are correct, such as the significant bureaucracy in Germany compared to the UK (you have to get your chimney swept every year, for example. This is recommended in the UK but not mandatory). I have also found that German people are generally punctual (which is good as I am too), and they eat a lot of pork and pork products.

What has been quite different than I expected is the friendliness of Germans – even those I haven’t known long. The fact I speak some German clearly helps but I have been overwhelmed by how friendly and hospitable people have been. When ill with the flu I realised I had at least eight different people whom I could have phoned to asked to do things for me such as do some shopping, although this was not necessary as my landlady sorted me out, but it was very encouraging to know I had made such good friendships in a relatively short time.

Having read a lot on Toytown (English-speaking expats forum) I had heard a lot about petty nitpicking from neighbours, strict adherence to pointless rules etc, but I have seen none of that here. Everyone seems laid back, helpful, understanding and not too fussed by the rules (such as not mowing lawns on a Sunday, etc, not that I have to do any lawn mowing).

All in all this has been a fantastic experience of living in another country and culture, improving my skills in another language and getting to know a diverse group of people among whom I count some really close friends now. In fact, as I said to my mother the other day (and I had a bit of an epiphany moment whilst saying it), it’s probably been the best year of my life so far.

People I’ve seen/Things I’ve done

Rose Biketown

I’m leading a cycle tour to SPEZI Radmesse over the last two weeks of April. It will be a group of five trikes (me, Klaus, Simon and Joyce from the UK and also Nigel, a very experienced long-distance triker). That will be four ICE Trikes and one Steintrikes.

Anyway, Klaus doesn’t have any proper cycling waterproofs (being German he used to just leave his trike in the garage over winter; I have now trained him better) so he thought for a two week tour he really ought to get some.

We live an hour from Rose Biketown, a huge German cycling shop with masses of stuff (although the clothing seems rather expensive). Anyway, Klaus decided he would go along and see what he could find and I asked to tag along.

This was on one of the days when I was still recovering from the flu so I was rather weak but I managed to help Klaus choose a set of very smart waterproofs (jacket and trousers), some overshoes and some socks, with occasional sit-downs in the shoes department to recover. Me, I managed to buy some socks and a waterproof bag for my tools – 15€ spent by me, Klaus spent rather more!

Here’s a view of Rose’s clothing section.

Rose Biketown

Interestingly, if you want waterproof jackets your colour choice now seems to be black, red, green or high-vis. Klaus went for black as the jacket he liked the best only came in that colour.

A Concert in Wiesbaden

I’m a big fan of Andreas Scholl the German countertenor and have been for seven or eight years. Usually I go to four or five concerts per year, a couple in the UK and the rest in Germany (combining the concert with a short holiday). Anyway, having been in Germany for a year I hadn’t been to any concerts but discovered he was singing in the St John Passion by Bach in Wiesbaden this month. Wiesbaden is about two and a half hours’ drive away so I thought it worth the trip.

I bought two tickets (I was sure I could find someone to go with me). The Alto voice only actually sings two Arias in the St John Passion, one of which I don’t really like, but I knew I enjoyed the whole Passion with the Chorales etc so it was worth the trip for me, even if there is only a very small contribution by Andreas Scholl.

I was all set to drive there but a couple of weeks before, when Claudia found out I had a spare ticket, she suggested Klaus might like to come along (and drive me there). She would have really loved to come as well but was entertaining her brother as it was his birthday and they wanted some brother/sister time together. Klaus, being rather a third wheel, was offered as a taxi service, which I gladly took up (I am not very used to long distance driving now).

So we duly set off southwards with the traditional boring Autobahn view for most of the way…

On the way to Wiesbaden

However the journey was a bit quicker than I was expecting as Klaus is not afraid to put the pedal to the metal.

Slow German drivers

We arrived with plenty of time to have a cuppa (I eschewed the lovely-looking cheesecakes due to Lent) and a quick evening meal before going into the concert.

Our tickets were in the ‘Orgelempore’ which turned out to be a balcony with an excellent view.

Schiersteiner Kantorei

The acoustics were not so great up here at times and the wooden seats a nightmare for the back and backside but the concert was absolutely wonderful. I have heard the Schiersteiner Kantorei before but this time they were even better. All the soloists sang well but I was particularly impressed by the Evangelist, Andreas Weller.

All in all it was an excellent evening although with the uncomfy chairs I was looking forward to the interval… which didn’t come! They played the full two hours straight though.

We had a quick cup of tea before returning back to Viersen – also a chance to use the loo in the café.

It was the first time Klaus had heard Andreas Scholl sing live and was not the best acoustics for it but he said that he was ‘begeistert’ by the whole thing. It is always great to go to a live concert and we were also very amused to see a chap playing a Bassono grosso, a giant bassoon/Fagott that looks like this:


(This photo is actually taken from the Schiersteiner Kantorei website but I’m not sure if it’s the same chap playing it).

And here’s a report from the local Wiesbaden newspaper: http://www.wiesbadener-kurier.de/lokales/kultur/lokale-kultur/schiersteiner-kantorei-solisten-und-barockorchester-la-corona-glaenzen-mit-bachs-johannes-passion-in-der-marktkirche_15106097.htm

Visit to England

Every three months I visit England to see my husband, family, friends and to also have a day in the office in Eastbourne for our Sales Meeting.

I have got into a routine for this now – I get a list of English things my German friends want (cider, various moisturisers, teabags, Horlicks Light, Kettle Chips etc) before I leave and when I am in Eastbourne for work I go to the Morrisons Supermarket next door to the office and get everything.

I also make my once-per-quarter visit to the Griesson de Beukelaer chocolate factory (any more frequent is dangerous for my waistline) and get supplies to share with friends at church, work and others. I did well this time!

Chocolate supplies

As usual I had booked the overnight ferry so spent the day with friends and headed off from the Niederrhein to Hoek van Holland at 17:30. My car decided to give me some disco party lights (low oil warning light, then low brake pad warning light) but I pressed on, wanting to get to the ferry.

The Dutch are still redoing the roads around HvH so we had the diversion that takes the lorry route but I know where to go and it was fine. I arrived with an hour and a quarter before I planned to board the ferry (I like to leave it late so that Poppy has a chance for a final loo stop as late as possible) so I went to the Torpedoloos (Torpedo Lounge) again for a cuppa. And then decided on a waffle as I was a bit peckish!

After a relaxing hour Poppy and I boarded. Here she is in the car boot.

And here is my cabin – small but comfortable for the night’s crossing.

I arrived back at my house in the UK at 7am. Poppy was delighted to see James of course. I had to go through all my post (three months’ worth) and this included my new YACF jersey that I bought second hand… which will undoubtedly be appearing in photos in this blog on the SPEZI tour which starts in 25 days.

Just two hours after my return it was time to head off to church. We drove to Colchester and parked just down the road from the ruins of St Botolph’s Priory.

We arrived very early as I needed to attend the choir practice. This is the interior of our church – it’s just 25 years old, built over some shops in Lion Walk Shopping Precinct.

Although I am quite clearly in England in Colchester there are a few reminders of Germany – such as this Bockwurst stand in the precinct.

When we got back from church (where I had distributed lots of Griesson de Beukelaer chocolates) we discovered Poppy had found the sunniest spot in the house.

I take lots of photos of the beautiful skies around Niederrhein each month but Great Bromley also has some impressive sunsets – I was treated to this one on my first day back.

On Sunday evening we had some friends round for a Chinese take-away. I have not yet found a decent Chinese restaurant in Germany (and have really given up looking) so it was a definite must for this short visit back to England!

And of course, to finish we also had a cuppa. And just to prove that I am a proper Brit at times, I made it in a teapot.

It was good for Poppy to have a chance to revisit some of her favourite walks. I took her for a walk along the Stour River in Manningtree on what turned out to be a rather nice morning.

We then walked into Manningtree to visit the card shop for some birthday cards for friends. I’ve included this clock in this blog before – can you spot the mistake?

I liked this advertising board outside a pub in Manningtree.

As usual I had to visit Eastbourne for work as part of my UK trip so on Monday afternoon I headed off on the two and a half hour drive to the south coast and, with the reps and the boss and his wife, went out for another evening Curry at the Ganges Restaurant in Sovereign Harbour (where we used to keep our boats).

And of course the following morning it was a Full English Breakfast at the Camelot Lodge Hotel again!

The Sales Meeting at work went well and then it was time to head back to Colchester, stopping off in Tonbridge on the way back to see my in-laws and also my friend Charlotte whose birthday had been the day before. We went to Pizza Express which was nice but very pricey compared to German prices for Italian meals.

It is interesting how quickly Poppy settles down when back in England and gets into her routines – here she is resting her weary head after a day of sleeping on the bed.

I went for lunch with my parents, sister and niece at the Wheelhouse in Woolverstone Marina, Suffolk, overlooking the river Orwell. You can see the impressive Orwell Bridge in the background.

There was a very good selection of food for lunch, which included as starters calamari…

Goat’s cheese with chutney

And main courses chicken with a mushroom sauce

And Anna’s very healthy lentil and squash meal

Desserts included Sticky Toffee Pudding with custard

And a three-chocolate option

Here we all are after our meal. This photo was taken by my niece Gwenllian and is my sister Anna with me and our parents

And here are Anna and Gwenllian

It was great to see everyone and as a bonus my Mum and Dad have given me their old Dyson hoover (which they no longer use) as I can’t get on with the vacuum I have in my Wohnung.

My last day in England was a day for routine appointments – yes, I had the excitement (and expense) of a trip to the dentist, the optician and the vets (for Poppy’s rabies booster). Which involved visits to Brightlingsea, Manningtree and Colchester too!

Poppy of course realised that I was packing that morning when I put a few things in my bag and started to get a bit perturbed.

Poppy halfway down the stair

I went off to the dentist in the morning and parted with £75 for the pleasure. In the afternoon James came along to walk Poppy at Manningtree whilst I had my short (and only £26) visit to the optician.

Manningtree

Manningtree 2

When I got back from Manningtree I had an hour for a cuppa before it was time to go to my third appointment of the day – this time to the vet.

This was to update Poppy’s rabies booster. The reason being that several weeks ago I had noticed on her passport the original rabies stamp had “Authorised Veterinarian” as the title for the column

Rabies vaccination

Whereas for the worming treatment it just says ‘Veterinarian’.
Bandwurmbehandlung

I suddenly wondered if that meant that a normal vet can’t do the Rabies booster. So I emailed the government website to asked them and hadn’t had a response for several weeks until two days before I was due to return home and I got this message:

Yes a vet in Germany can administer the rabies booster provided that they are approved by the authorities in Germany. In GB we class them as Official vets in other EU countries they are referred to Authorised vets. You do not have to return to GB to have this booster.

Any vet who is licensed in the country of treatment can administer and record the tapeworm treatment in the pet passport.

A bit of googling showed this did not help much as I didn’t know what an ‘Authorised Vet’ would be in German and I couldn’t get anywhere with searching. So I quickly rang up my UK vet and fortunately they were able to book Poppy in for her booster, so she had it three months early but at least it was done by an ‘Authorised Veterinarian’.

After that it was time to cook dinner for my husband (toad in the hole, as we were in England) and then I packed up the car ready to head off for the ferry at 9pm.

Car packed

When I booked this crossing months ago I hadn’t realised it would be the first evening of the Easter Holidays and consequently there were long queues for the ferry check-in

Queue at Harwich

And the ferry itself was full. I just went to bed as usual.

The next morning I woke up early so went to the lounge area (wifi wasn’t working in the cabins as they are redoing it) and decided to have some breakfast. I purchased what has got to have been the driest roll in the Netherlands…

Breakfast on the ferry

Then it was the two-and-a-quarter hour drive home and I arrived back in Kempen at 11am. Poppy gave everyone in my house a rapturous welcome and I was delighted to confirm that indeed the central heating and hot water were now working, hurrah!

Poppy immediately returned to her usual German lifestyle of having a snooze during the day to recover from a tiring night’s sleeping…

Poppy asleep on chair

If a pillow is unavailable use a toy donkey.

Poppy with donkey pillow

The German Healthcare System

As mentioned, I’ve had the flu.

Normally I wouldn’t go to the doctor’s for flu but interestingly the German websites about flu all said “go to your doctor as soon as possible” (whereas the NHS sites say “stay at home”). So I did the NHS option but after two weeks when I was still very weak several (German) friends recommended I visited the doctor. So in the end I caved in.

Thus I was introduced to the German healthcare system.

As a Brit I am used to the NHS “free at the point of need”. What this means (for those not familiar with it) is that you don’t pay any money to see the doctor, have no insurance or anything. You just register with a GP (Hausarzt) and go and see them if you have a problem. They may refer you on to a hospital if you have something more serious but your first contact is always with the GP (unless it’s an emergency and you go straight to the local hospital Accident & Emergency department). You don’t pay any money for ambulances, hospital treatment, doctor’s visits. You may pay a charge for a prescription (medicine) but this is capped at £9 per item and most people don’t have to pay (if you have particular long-term health conditions you don’t pay, if you’re over a certain age or out of work, etc etc).

This is a fantastic safety net as you just don’t have to worry about healthcare costs. The money for the NHS comes from general taxation.

There have been lots of media stories about long waiting lists and things like that, which can be true in some cases (if you have a non-urgent situation such as a need for a knee replacement, for example) but my experiences of the NHS have been almost universally positive, as have those of my husband and parents. We love the NHS.

It is possible in the UK to have private health insurance as well but this is not something that most people seem to go for.

Anyway, the German system is somewhat different. By law you MUST have health insurance, either private or public. I would have qualified for the public insurance (as I have come from the EU and have ‘paid in’ to the NHS for years) but unfortunately the way they work out my contribution, as a freelancer, made it rather pricey – 350€ per month. That’s a lot.

However it is also possible to get an Expat International Travel Insurance policy which fulfils the German insurance rules requirements, and this is what I did (at £111 per month). It’s an AXA-PPP policy and is based in Tunbridge Wells in the UK (near where I used to live, in fact). I had been paying my £111 per month since I arrived in Germany.

So now it was time to see if this policy would work – although I have a £300 excess per year so it seemed unlikely that I would actually end up claiming.

So anyway I was ill. St Hubert has three doctors, which should I visit?

I asked the Roddays and my friend Anja and had mixed advice. Lara said not to go to the lady doctor as she always gives out the same tablets that don’t work; Anja thought she would suit me well. I looked at her website and she was clearly into homeopathy (the pointless pills) so I discounted her immediately.

The next two options, two male GPs, were in the same road so I decided to go to whichever one of those I could find. Lara came with me the first time to help out with translations if necessary.

I arrived first at Bernhard Heithoff’s practice which looked new and clean. I went in and handed over my insurance card and they had a look at it and told me to go and sit in the waiting room. There were another nine people already there – in Germany you don’t have appointments, it’s just turn up and pot luck when you get seen (although you are seen in order). As there was a huge flu plague sweeping Germany I wasn’t surprised the waiting room was full of people. And, typical for Germany, everyone says “Guten Morgen” and then when you leave they say “Auf Wiedersehen” or “Tschüß”, none of this unfriendly ignoring British behaviour.

After an hour and a half I was seen. The doctor was very nice and spoke absolutely brilliant English, which was great. I explained about having the flu and said that I felt my heart rate was rather high. He tested my blood pressure (very low – not a surprise as I had fainted in the shower a few days before and woken up lying on the floor very inelegantly) and my pulse rate was 150 which was very high as I was sitting down. So he said they would do an ECG (EKG) on me straight away – and lo and behold I was taken into the next room and the lady I thought was a receptionist (although she turned out to actually be a nurse, but in normal clothes) did the ECG. She took my blood pressure and said it was high but the ECG was borderline a bit high at 130, so better than five minutes before.

I saw the doctor again and he suggested I came back the next day for blood tests and for another ECG.

So the next day I went back (on my own) and had blood drawn. I declined the ECG as I’d been wearing my cycling heart rate monitor the previous afternoon and my readings were generally OK. I suffer from White Coat Syndrome (getting very nervous at the doctors) so readings taken there aren’t really very accurate. Also I had been informed by a German friend that EKGs cost about 80 Euros a pop – and I would be paying for this!!

They took the blood, did not seem to mind about the ECG and told me to come back the next day.

So the next day I arrived again, this time at 11am (when they said the results would be back) and saw the doctor after a wait of just half an hour. He looked a bit serious as he said a couple of values in my blood test, relating to liver function, were clearly very off. One reading (I didn’t get what it was) should be a maximum of 47 and mine was 1,620. He said he would do an ultrasound of my liver and lo and behold had a little room with an ultrasound machine and did it instantly. This was very reassuring as he said there was nothing obviously wrong with my liver, no gall stones or anything or liver tumour, but my spleen was a bit enlarged (not too surprising).

He suggested doing some more involved blood tests the following week to find out if I had some kind of hepatitis, and not to drink alcohol in the meantime (I am a lifelong teetotaller so that was not a hardship).

This was a Wednesday and the following Monday I went in to have the extra blood tests. In the meantime some of my symptoms for liver problems (related to what you might see in the toilet bowl!) had clearly improved a great deal and it looked like my liver was working pretty well again, plus I now felt much, much better. But the blood was taken and I then had the frustration of waiting for the results which took way, way longer than I expected (nearly two weeks – I thought they would be there the next day). In the end the receptionist rang up the laboratory and asked for them to send whatever results they had as I was going on holiday so they faxed through most of the results (which were all OK, according to the doctor).

In the meantime I had no idea how much this was all costing but had contacted my insurance company who sent me a form for the doctor to fill in and also gave me a ‘claim number’ so this illness was officially registered on their system. So far so good. Because I have only had the policy 11 months they had to ensure this was not a pre-existing condition (pre-existing conditions aren’t covered until you’ve had the policy for two years) but it isn’t so that was OK.

The bill for the first (simple) blood test came and it was 55€ so I paid that before my trip to England. On my return from England I had the bill for the Hepatitis blood tests – get a load of this!!

Impressive blood test bill

I’ll have two more at 55€ to come, as well as the bill from the doctor, so the total is looking around 800€. It’s interesting to see how much healthcare costs – God Bless the NHS!

Cakes this month

Somewhat bizarrely, the flu made me go off cakes. And once I was better I realised I’d had three weeks of the six week period of lent (Fastzeit) without cake so perhaps I could try to go for the full Lenten experience. Well, technically I did have cakes (two of ’em at the Tortenschlemmen) on Ash Wednesday but I decided to let that one slide.

So anyway, March was a cake-free month for me. Wow.

However, my friends still had cakes – and one was rather interesting. It was called a ‘Herman Cake‘ and was made with some kind of special sourdough which you pass along to two other friends in a kind of chain letter thing. It takes a week to make and seemed unnecessarily complicated. Claudia made one and offered me part of the mixture but we realised I would be in England for some of the time things needed to be done so that wouldn’t work, but Gudula had a go. Here it is partway through the procedure…

Herman cake

Anyway, this was the resulting cake that Claudia made – I didn’t try it (Lent) but it looked rather dry to me!

Herman cake

And here is Gudula’s finished cake…

At work in England we had lunch all together and a colleague had made a chocolate fudge cake but, due to Lent, I didn’t have a piece. A miracle!!

As Sunday is Easter Day and normal cake-eating service will be resumed you can expect to see some more photos of the great German cakes in my next ‘Six Wheels In Germany’ post, but I’ll be writing daily blog posts during my SPEZI tour (from 20 April till 1 May) so there should be more to read in my blog before then.

I’m writing this at ten in the evening on the 31st March – exactly a year ago I was boarding the ferry heading off for the start of this adventure. Long may it continue!

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Filed under Alfie the Trike, Penelope the Velomobile, Six Wheels In Germany, Trikes & Velomobiles

Six Wheels In Germany – Month 11

My original plan was to spend a year in Germany – what I good thing I decided to extend that a long time ago as a year would have been nowhere near long enough!

February has been a bit of an odd month as will be explained below. But the first hint can be gathered by my cycling statistics for this month.

Cycling Statistics for February 2015

Screen shot 2015-03-10 at 14.44.50

As you can see, I didn’t ride very far at all this month – and my last ride was on the 19th of February. And here’s where I went.

Screen shot 2015-03-10 at 14.45.10

The reason I did so few miles is that I came down with the flu rather badly and it completely wiped me out for two weeks (and it’s now the third week and I’m still recovering and not back to full bike riding). It also did something odd to my liver so I’ve been seeing the doctor about that although things look like they are improving (more about the German healthcare system in the report for next month).

Doubly-unfortunately the flu came in the two weeks I had set aside (with few engagements) to get a good lot of work done. Needless to say I spent the time instead in bed reading, listening to podcasts and getting very bored. I was slightly saved by the chance to listen to the ‘Germany: Memories Of A Nation’ podcasts from Neil McGregor of the British Museum. These were on Radio 4 in the UK some months ago and several people had recommended that I listen so I downloaded the podcasts and waited for the right time (which came this month). I had also requested the book for Christmas so was able to read extracts of that as well (and see the pictures that he is describing as well).

I did manage some good rides earlier in the month though, including some more church-bagging (I’ve got very behind with writing those visits up, I’ve done about another twenty now). It seems that my regular cycling companion Klaus doesn’t find visiting churches quite as interesting as I do.

Lazy Klaus

We also had a trike maintenance day. I needed to replace the brake cables on Alfie (spot the smart new red ones!) and also checked my brake pads, which ended up with a rather unexpected complete disassembly of a BB7 brake. It took Klaus and I about an hour and a half to put it back together again so we won’t be doing that again in a hurry.

Bike maintenance day

We had to do a fair bit of brake adjustment on both trikes after a lot of winter riding. Disc brakes do seem to need a lot more attention than the drums that I have on the Trice Q but I do like how positive the discs are.

Klaus added some inner tube to the rack on his trike to make his smart new Vaude panniers fit a bit better. I also changed the tyres on the Trice Q that Claudia is borrowing to some old Marathons (they had Marathon Plus on) but had trouble getting the tyres to sit properly, which involved another attempt a couple of weeks later. Perhaps when the tyres get old they become cantankerous.

I also ordered online a few more bike tools as I was getting fed up with having to swap my one bike toolkit between the two bikes – and the risk is that I would forget the kit (which I have done twice before). A puncture then would be a disaster!

The pump that I use (for one-handed people) is rather expensive at 40 Euros so I decided instead to try a CO2 pump. That was pretty good value (assuming it works) although the cartridges are 2,50€ if you buy them individually (bulk is way cheaper but I don’t know how often I will use them).

New bike toolkit

New bike toolkit 2

The plan is to have the real pump in Penelope and the CO2 pump in Alfie (because if it doesn’t work for some reason I have many more options for rescue with a bike that fits easily in a car). I am also often riding in company with Alfie and that company is likely to have a pump too. But it’s nice to not have to remember to get the toolkit out of the other bike each time I swap – and it was a good chance also to rationalise the things I am carrying around with me. The toolkits seem to rather grow in content!

Karneval

Karneval is the gift that keeps on giving throughout the winter – there’s always another event to visit if you have the fortitude. There are also various unusual sights available… such as this man walking in a pink bunny onesie in Escheln at midday on a Wednesday.

Man in bunny suit

As I had clearly developed a reputation as a hardy Karneval-goer I was invited to a double-event by Claudia at which Lara was performing. Two “Auftritt” (performances) with a bit of a gap in the middle (I was offered the inducement of cake). So of course I thought it would be nice to go. This was all in the run up to the last Karneval weekend (the whole thing finishes the day before Ash Wednesday).

Claudia said something about the first event being in Deutsche Bank in Viersen. I assumed she meant outside but once again my powers of imagination were lacking as it was indeed inside the bank. I went and got some money out surrounded by people in uniforms with swords.

Karneval DB 1

When Lara processed in for the start of her dance we followed her into the main banking are and it was full of people dressed as cowboys and indians with copious amounts of beer flowing. There were a surprising number of drunk people in a bank at 2 in the afternoon.

Karneval DB 2

Karneval DB 3

Lara’s dance was rudely curtailed by dust on the CD which meant it kept skipping but the cowboys and indians didn’t really seem to notice. She was rather disappointed though.

Karneval DB 4

Lara went off with the other dancers after this and Claudia and I went for our cake. I had something called a ‘Windbeuteltorte’ although it didn’t taste very Windbeutely.

windbeuteltorte

We ended up with about an hour and a half before the next event, which was Lara’s other performance (singing a duet dressed as a gipsy). This would be outside the Rathaus (town hall) so a walk of about 20 metres from the café. A real hardship.

There were lots of different performances (several of which I have now already seen) but this time in the open air with the Mayor of Viersen on the balcony being included in the event. There were lots of football jokes which rather passed me by.

Unfortunately the MC completely forgot about Lara’s Gipsy dance and so announced the ‘final item’ (which was a group of chaps dressed in French military uniforms from the 18th century doing some dances). Lara and her co-dancer went over to the MC and so they had their moment of glory at the very end – except they weren’t given microphones.

Gipsy dance 2

Fortunately the crowd realised and started shouting “they’re singing!” so the music was stopped and the MC (who only had the one microphone) turned himself into a microphone stand and they did their routine, this time singing audibly.

Gipsy dance

I was very impressed at how they coped with the several hiccups during today’s performances. Well done!

However the final Karneval event that I attended was perhaps, for my hosts, a slight disappointment in that their regular attempts to discombobulate the Brit failed. As we have this kind of thing in the UK (processions through the streets with people on various different floats). So this felt more ‘normal’ than all the rest of it, although the throwing of food to spectators isn’t something you get in the UK. This was a Karneval Umzug and all the roads were closed for several hours.

Claudia had decided where we would be and we met up with some more of their friends as we walked to our spot. I had hoped to be able to take the trike (to have somewhere to sit – the event was apparently going to be three hours long) but was told there would not be room. In the end there would have been room, but we were only there for an hour and a half anyway so my back survived standing up that long!

The Umzug is lots of floats from various Karneval organisations around (including one Dutch one), mostly pulled by tractors. In fact the variety of tractors was really rather interesting to see!

Here is a small selection of the floats.

Float 1

Float 2

Float 3

Spot the weird local dialect on this float!

Float 4

Float 5

These marionettes were very cool if slightly perturbing.

Float 6

And here was the float of the Roahser Jonges Prinzenpaar – the group that Lara was involved with. She was on the wagon throwing out goodies (but the other side from where I was standing).

Float 7

Float 8

The final float was the Viersen Prince and Princess, preceded by their Guard on horseback.

Float 9

At this point all the spectators disappeared off. We had an hour to wait for Lara (as she had another thing afterwards) and so headed to Claudia’s favourite café for cake, only to discover that it was closed. Disaster!!!!

We decided in the end to go back to their house and that Claudia would come back to collect Lara later.

On our walk along the route the ever-efficient Germans were already out cleaning the streets from all the mess following the procession.

Street sweeping 1

Street sweeping 2

Friends and events

Once again it was great to meet up with Gabi and Rolf (other velomobile riders) in Schwalmtal.

Here is Gabi’s Quest (with new race cap) and Penelope.

Penelope and Quest 1

Penelope and Quest 2

As always it was lovely to sit and chat with them both – and to hear Rolf’s plans of buying himself a Quest velomobile instead of his Mango. Exciting stuff!

Gabi had once again cycled up from Bonn (and she brought a wonderful home-made lemon cheesecake, with lemon from her own lemon trees!) and although it was a very cold day (about -1 degrees) we both enjoyed our rides in the velomobiles, staying very warm. I needed a hat and buff to keep my face warm (no racecap) but Gabi was always toasty warm.

Helen in Penelope

I was also pleased to see friend Babs again on Ash Wednesday when we went for the Tortenschlemmen (all you can eat cake) at my local cafe. Once again I only managed two cakes. But they were tasty!

Tortenschlemmen 1

Tortenschlemmen 2

And the next morning (which happened to be the day I came down with the flu) I felt a bit rough but struggled out on Penelope to meet with Hartmut and Jochen (of the ADFC) for a photo shoot about the new Knotenpunkte that have appeared in Kreis Viersen this year. A photographer from the Westdeutsche Zeitung was coming along to take a picture of us next to one of the special points (with a numbering system you can use to navigate easily).

I rode over there in Penelope feeling pretty rough, and when I got to the agreed point Hartmut was already there. Jochen soon arrived and had his first sit in Penelope.

Jochen in Penelope

After about ten minutes the photographer turned up – by bike!!! He took a picture (I stupidly forgot to put Penelope’s bling lights on) and it appeared in the paper a week later.

WZ Article 1

WZ Article 2

By this point I was really in the grip of the flu, bedridden and bored out of my mind. Poppy and I did have occasional light relief though – watching Top Gear for example.

Poppy watches Top Gear

Randomness

One Sunday morning as I headed out to my car I spotted this!

Under my car wheel 1

Under my car wheel 2

It paid for a nice selection of bread and cakes to take to my friends’ house that morning for Brunch.

Pancake day (Shrove Tuesday) arrived and I was concerned that I didn’t have any eggs. I went round to visit a neighbour (who works as a translator into English and indeed her English is incredibly good) and fortunately she has hens and gave me a half dozen eggs. So I had a few pancakes myself and also made one for Poppy.

Pancake day

Poppy pancake

Poppy and I were out for a walk and we saw what seemed to be a rather over-engineered way of pollarding some trees. I wasn’t sure why they didn’t just do it from the other side of the ditch…

Tree pollarding

It seemed to be the month for tree removal as our next door neighbour decided to remove the large tree at the front of his house. Frank and Lara helped, and it was obviously quite an involved procedure!

Next door's tree removal 1

Next door's tree removal 2

There was an awful lot of tree on the ground at the end – Frank spent a couple of days chainsawing it up and it will be running the woodburner next year I suppose!

Next door's tree removal 3

Poppy the dog loves her life here in Germany – particularly as there are lots of other people to hang out with if I am out of the house. Lara who lives upstairs has a huge beanbag that Poppy finds most comfortable.

Popster keeping an eye on things

Popster tired

However she is less impressed with my haircutting skills – when doing it on my own it’s quite tricky so I hit upon the idea of standing her on the wheelie bin. She was not impressed but it stopped her running away!

Dog haircut

My mission to spot ridiculously-long German words in the wild continues and I had some success with the German Velomobile forum. How about this for a word (made up, of course)!
FullSizeRender

It’s worth noting that in my time here in Germany I’ve found several words commonly used which I didn’t learn at school and hadn’t really seen written down either (they seem to be mainly spoken rather than used in the written language). They are:
kriegen – to get (pronounced krichen)
gucken – to look
heftig – difficult

Equally, I have been asked by several different Germans what is the English for Brötchen (rolls). They also tend not to have heard of a duvet and also have little understanding of the difference between a town and city. Germans have said to me (in English) “the city of Kempen” (and it is most certainly too small to be a city).

I’ve missed two sessions of the VHS because of my flu but am looking forward to continuing my German studies. My interactions with Klaus’s family, almost entirely in German, seem to be the most helpful thing in improving my language skills though. I hope that they, too, are learning some English from me.

I took a look at some of the info on this blog about referrals (how people arrive here) and discovered I have been mentioned in a few new places. Here’s a small selection (the black page is friend Oliver the Mango velomobile rider).

Blog reference 1

Blog reference 2

Blog reference 3

And, a final bizarre bit of randomness… Before my flu hit Claudia decided we ought to do something more interesting one Saturday evening (as Lara would be away). Perhaps visit the theatre or cinema. Unfortunately the eight local cinemas were all only showing ‘Fifty Shades Of Grey’ which none of us wanted to see. There was nothing on at the theatre. So I resorted to googling… and got this option:

What to do in Viersen on a Saturday night

We decided regenerative cryotherapy wasn’t really our thing either, and in the end I was stuck in bed with the flu. But it just goes to show there is always something new to experience in Germany, even in the sleepy Niederrhein!

Scenery

The wonderful Niederrhein scenery continues to take my breath away at times.

Sunset 1

Sunset 2

Sun on fields

Sunshine over St Hubert Escheln

Sunset over Escheln

Misty morning

Cakes this month

Karneval Berliner

cheesecake from Gudula

Cheesecake 2

Choc cake 1

Gabi's lemon cake

cream doughnut

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Six Wheels In Germany – Month 8

November 2014

Cycling Statistics for this month

This month I passed two reasonable milestones – the first was 9000km for the year (target is 10,000 so I was ahead) and the second was 80,000km since I took up recumbent tricyling six years ago. And, as you can see from the information below, I’m only 261km off my yearly target by the end of November. So that ought to be easily achievable!

Screen shot 2014-12-01 at 14.51.50

Here are all the rides I have done this month.

Screen shot 2014-12-01 at 14.52.13

I tend to regularly ride to Süchteln and Viersen (for Choir and VHS) so have not been travelling so far afield regularly. However I have a plan to cycle to Köln for the Christmas Market in a week or so’s time and either get the train back or cycle back, which should be fun.

People I’ve seen this month

Occasionally I spot recumbent tricyclists while I am out and about in the car or with the dog, and at the beginning of November I saw a chap on an orange Scorpion whilst Poppy and I were walking to St Hubert – so I stopped him for a chat. He realised who I was (he had seen me in Penelope before) and we had a nice chat about some of the cycling routes around here. He introduced himself as Mr Schneider.

Schneider

I was also invited by a couple at church for tea and cake with them one afternoon which was very pleasant. We had a good chat and they made me feel very welcome – with cake of course.

I’ve also been doing a fair bit of riding with Klaus’s family as well, taking Lara and Claudia out for longer rides (to bakeries or cafés, of course) as well as encouraging them to try riding in the dark. I tried to get some photos one day in my mirror – it partially worked. Here are all three of them in Alfie’s mirror.

im Spiegel 1

Sankt Martin celebrations

The month of November has been surprisingly busy in terms of festival/celebration events.

I was surprised to discover that I rather missed having Guy Fawkes’ Night with the bonfires, fireworks and sparklers. However Niederrhein presented a very similar event a week later, part of the festival of St Martin.

Here’s a bit of info from Wiki about St Martin:

November 11 is the feast day of St. Martin of Tours, who started out as a Roman soldier. He was baptized as an adult and became a monk. It is understood that he was a kind man who led a quiet and simple life. The most famous legend of his life is that he once cut his cloak in half to share with a beggar during a snowstorm, to save the beggar from dying from the cold. That night he dreamed that Jesus was wearing the half-cloak. Martin heard Jesus say to the angels: “Here is Martin, the Roman soldier who is not baptised; he has clothed me.”

(From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Martin%27s_Day)

In all the local towns and villages schoolchildren take part in a St Martin’s Parade where they make lanterns and walk in a big procession through the towns singing songs. Apparently Kempen’s Parade is the best-known in the region so of course I had to go along.

The Wikipedia article says this about St Martin’s Day in Germany:

A widespread custom in Germany is bonfires on St. Martin’s eve, called “Martinsfeuer.” In recent years, the processions that accompany those fires have been spread over almost a fortnight before Martinmas. At one time, the Rhine River valley would be lined with fires on the eve of Martinmas. In the Rhineland region, Martin’s day is celebrated traditionally with a get-together during which a roasted suckling pig is shared with the neighbours.

The nights before and on the night of Nov. 11, children walk in processions carrying lanterns, which they made in school, and sing Martin songs. Usually, the walk starts at a church and goes to a public square. A man on horseback dressed like St. Martin accompanies the children. When they reach the square, Martin’s bonfire is lit and Martin’s pretzels are distributed.

In some regions of Germany (e.g. Rhineland or Bergisches Land) in a separate procession the children also go from house to house with their lanterns, sing songs and get candy in return.

The origin of the procession of lanterns is unclear. To some, it is a substitute for the St. Martin bonfire, which is still lit in a few cities and villages throughout Europe. It formerly symbolized the light that holiness brings to the darkness, just as St. Martin brought hope to the poor through his good deeds. Even though the tradition of the large, crackling fire is gradually being lost, the procession of lanterns is still practised.

In some regions of Germany, the traditional sweet of Martinmas is “Martinshörnchen”, a pastry shaped in the form of a croissant, which recalls both the hooves of St. Martin’s horse and, by being the half of a pretzel, the parting of his mantle. In parts of western Germany these pastries are shaped like gingerbread men (Stutenkerl).

What seemed to be in the local shops wasn’t the Croissant or Stutenkerl but something called a Weckmännchen – of course I had to buy one to try it. They also come with currants (which I am not too keen on).

Weckmaennchen

Anyway, Carole and her daughter Coralie (who I provide English tuition for) offered for me to come to the St Martin’s Parade in Kempen with them, so I was pleased to agree. I also brought Gudula and Lara with me from home.

Heading off to Sankt Martin Parade

We went by bike of course – here we all are heading through St Hubert towards Kempen.

Heading off to Sankt Martin Parade 2

We parked our bikes behind the Post Office in Kempen town centre and took up our positions opposite the castle (where the fireworks are set). We arrived about 5pm so would have a fairly long wait until it all started but we had an excellent vantage point.

Sankt Martin Parade ideal spot

The Fire Brigade were just along the road from us – with a telescopic platform on the end of which was a cameraman from WDR (the German television station) who would broadcast the procession live.

WDR Up A Ladder

The darkness came and the castle’s windows were illuminated with red light… as the procession started to come through.

Sankt Martin Parade 1

These lanterns are all made at school with different themes and they were all wonderful!

Sankt Martin Parade 2

Sankt Martin Parade 3

Sankt Martin Parade 4

This section of the procession had a large boat at the front!

Sankt Martin Parade 5

Sankt Martin Parade 6

Sankt Martin Parade 7

And then the procession stopped, and the musicians (there were lots of brass bands) also stopped. Because… now it was time for fireworks!!

Sankt Martin Fireworks 1

Sankt Martin Fireworks 4

Sankt Martin Fireworks 5

It was a fantastic sight from where we were standing and lasted about twenty minutes.

After the fireworks were over the procession continued, with banners telling you which school the students were from. It was lovely and colourful and friendly and there were huge crowds watching it. Apparently lots of Dutch people drive over to visit, for example.

Anyway, I very much enjoyed it, despite finding it a bit chilly to stand out in the open so long (I had originally thought I might sit in Penelope somewhere but there wouldn’t have been space with all the crowds).

We cycled home, moving with the mass of other visitors on foot, with just a few cars trying to pass. That’s what I like about this bit of Germany – people use feet or bikes as transport methods.

I had also seen another smaller parade in Viersen when out on a cycle ride the week before – these parades seem to span a couple of weeks. They are great fun though.

St Martin Parade Viersen

Remembrance Sunday

Remembrance Sunday in the UK is the Sunday before 11 November and this is a church service that I always like to attend. It felt strange to miss it this year – but I listened on the radio to the broadcast from the Cenotaph. My parents had sent me a poppy through the post as I hadn’t remembered to bring one, so that was good.

I explained to several friends here about poppies and Remembrance Sunday and the two minutes’ silence which they didn’t know about. I also showed several people photos of the amazing poppies installation at the Tower of London.

Karneval Proklamation

Every so often, when you think you are getting familiar with a country, something happens that makes you realise you are still able to be utterly bemused. And the Karneval Proklamation was one of these things!

Klaus and Claudia invited me along to the ‘Proklamation’ as their daughter Lara was doing a dance in it. I was pleased to say yes as it would be interesting I thought – and boy was I right!!!!

I didn’t know what to expect – I suppose I thought we would be walking along the street (like the St Martin’s Parade) or something. I made some comment about how long it would take and was told that the event was three hours. Three hours!!! And that it was indoors.

Anyway, in due course I drove to Klaus and Claudia’s house to meet them. Lara was all ready for the event – dressed in a special outfit with white skirt, red waistcoat and red cape. The red and white theme was to be regularly seen in the event, as I discovered.

We walked up the road to the big community hall in Rahser (the northern part of Viersen) and it was decorated with lots of red hangings, flags and banners. And, rather surprisingly, there were lots of grown men and children in different uniforms. Very unusual!

We sat down at long tables with various goodies on (as well as a price list for beer – no tea was available unfortunately) as people started to arrive. Lara disappeared with her friends and I took the time to look around – lots of new sights and sounds to these British eyes.

And then the event started.

Klaus explained some of what was going on. It was the investiture for the new Prince and Princess (of the Karneval) but first we had the ceremony for the outgoing Prince and Princess.

At the beginning all the kids were up on stage.

Kids on stage 1

And then we had the ceremony for the outgoing Prince and Princess, Anton I and Jana I. But first they processed up the centre of the room to the stage. And Klaus said to me “watch out!” and I couldn’t work out what he was talking about – until small chocolate bars started raining down on me. The Prince and Princess (and their helpers) throw armfuls of goodies (mostly chocolates but also bags of crisps) to the audience. These land on tables with drinks and other stuff so it was quite an interesting thing in terms of health and safety.

This was my collection by the time the Prince and Princess had made it to the stage.

Pile of goodies 1

The prince and princess had a troupe of guards with them (young lads) who sat at tables at the back and seemed to just eat sweeties the whole time rather than keeping an eye on their charges!

Photo from www.roahser-jonges.de

The stage was full of people wearing read as the hand-over ceremony started.

Outgoing Prince and Princess

The Prince had to wear these rather unusual red shoes!

Photo from www.roahser-jonges.de

The prince had to give back his mace and special hat (with feathers on). Apparently this can be a very emotional time for the prince and princesses (although these two kept reasonably stiff upper lips).

Outgoing Prince and Princess 2

They had been Prince and Princess for a year and had been involved in lots of community occasions, apparently. They also had to get sponsorship for the cost of the year – as they are always having to throw these goodies around wherever they go, plus they have to buy the (expensive) clothing. Apparently if you want to be the Prince or Princess in Köln your budget is between half a million and a million Euros. Crazy!!

Throughout all this there was a chap being a kind of Master of Ceremonies and occasionally he would say words and the audience (except me!) would shout back. Claudia had told me something about this on the way there but I couldn’t work out what she was talking about at the time. Anyway, the chap shouts “ram” and we shout “di bam” back, three times, waving our arms in the air whilst a keyboard player played some crashing chords. Also he would shout “Viersen” and we had to reply “Helau” (three times), with fist waving too. There were some other calls and responses too. It was very peculiar.

We were also told to do something to do with a rocket (Rakete), I didn’t quite catch it, which was drumming our hands on the table three times (with a gap in the middle) as a prelude to the next set of people processing down to the stage. Apparently we are pretending to be a three-stage rocket or something – but I only found this out afterwards.

We also had some singing – the song in the video below was partly in the local dialect which Klaus said he couldn’t really understand.

And then the former Prince and Princess processed off the stage and there was a short hiatus (a chance to eat some of the goodies) before the next instruction to stand and cheer the next procession.

Which was the procession of the incoming Prince and Princess (Max I and Selina I) and they, too, threw lots of goodies.

This time my haul was some wine gums, a blue rubber duck, three roses and various more chocolates and cereal bars.

Pile of goodies 2

The mini chocolates (small kitkat-type things) provided a great opportunity to play Jenga – with a rubber duck on the top.

Pile of goodies 3

The new Prince and Princess were then officially welcomed/consecrated/investituted (no idea what the verb should be). The Prince was given his feathered hat and his mace by the local Catholic Priest.

Photo from http://roahser-jonges.de

The Princess was a really sweet-looking girl who was always smiling and twinkly-eyed.

Photo from www.roahser-jonges.de

She is the third in her family to do this, apparently (one brother was a Prince and her older sister a Princess) so the family clearly know what they have to do.

They then recited some speeches, did a glove-puppet mini-sketch and the Prince also played his drums a bit.

New Prince And Princess

Then there was a long series of ceremonial bits where other Princes and Princesses (young and also grown-ups) from other areas came to give gifts to the new Prince and Princess. They were always given a Karnevalsorden, a kind of medal on a ribbon (and gave one in return), so by the end of these ceremonies (probably about 8 different areas’ Princes and Princesses) they must have been really weighed down by all the enamel medals hanging round their necks. Apparently these are no plastic but properly made. Here they are with the adult Princess of Viersen.

Photo from www.roahser-jonges.de

The Prince and Princess had to kiss the cheeks three times of all the various people that they were honouring. I felt a bit sorry for this lovely sweet Princess who had to kiss 40-or-so middle aged men dressed in weird uniforms. But she was very good at her job – I was impressed by her! The Prince looked a little more ill-at-ease but still did a creditable job.

The local Bürgermeister (Mayor) and two of the local Catholic Priests also were involved in part of the ceremony, it’s obviously something quite integrated within the local community.

The chaps around them were dressed rather like French soldiers to my mind. Anyway, they processed out and I took a little film of it.

After all these ceremonial bits the Prince and Princess got to sit on their thrones.

Photo from www.roahser-jonges.de

We had some entertainment which was a series of dance groups which were great fun. These girls were very good at high kicks!

Dancing Girls 1

Photo from www.roahser-jonges.de

And this is the group of dancers which Lara was part of.

Lara's Dancing Group

There was also a little sketch done by a young child (he can’t have been much more than five years old. And he was utterly, utterly brilliant. I reckon he has a promising career on the stage.

Photo from www.roahser-jonges.de

And some more dancing girls, this time from Lobberich.

Photo from www.roahser-jonges.de

At the end all the children came back up onto the stage.

All the children on stage at the end

These were really sweet!

Photo from www.roahser-jonges.de

This whole Carnival group started in 1936 (not such an auspicious year really!) so it’s a long-time thing in the area. I wasn’t able to work out if the people took it seriously or saw it as a bit of lighthearted fun but they certainly got into the spirit of it.

Photo from www.roahser-jonges.de

I cannot think of anything similar that happens in the UK except for Morris Dancing… and that doesn’t last three hours!

But I really enjoyed being at this evening – it was great fun, always good-natured, noisy and colourful. And there’s another thing on the 18th of January that the children are involved in too… so the Karneval continues (until Ash Wednesday, in fact, so nearly four months).

Here’s the official report of the event: http://roahser-jonges.de/dnn/Proklamation_2014/tabid/298/Default.aspx In German of course.

Weihnachtsmarkt at Schloss Dyck

Claudia and Klaus invited me to come with them to visit the Weihnachtsmarkt at Schloss Dyck on the first Sunday in Advent, 30th November. So we duly all headed off in my car to Jüchen (my car as Klaus wanted some Glühwein and German drink-driving laws are extremely strict – and I am teetotal), discovering along the way that my Satnav was having a bad afternoon and we had to use Google’s satnav instead. But we found it – I had cycled there a month or so ago but the car route is very different.

Anyway, we arrived, paid the rather high entrance fee (12 Euros) and started to have a look around.

It’s a wonderful backdrop for the market, as you can see from these photos.

Schloss Dyck 1

Schloss Dyck 2

Schloss Dyck 3

We had a good wander round, enjoying the ambience and a few edible items, as well as buying a few little Christmas bits and bobs. We also stumbled across the British Fudge Shop stand (this is a shop in Mönchengladbach) so I bought some fudge. The people selling it to me had great London-area accents so it was fun to exchange just a few words with them. Lara looked most bemused by my sudden descent into super-fast English.

This month’s music

Beethoven Messe in C

The 31st October was the Bach concert at the Auferstehungskirche in Willich, which was a dry run for the concert in Willich Sankt Katharina church, the Beethoven Messe in C. Practices for this started in January but I joined in April (when I arrived in Germany). It’s been a challenge – partly because the music is pitched very high for an alto but also because it’s a big group of people of varying skills.

Here we are during our full-day practice the Saturday before.

Choir practising

But finally it was time for the concert – after some very long practices!

The evening before the concert we had a practice in St Katharina.

Inside St Katharina Willich

The orchestra were there and it was completely different playing with them, particularly in the strange acoustic.

Orchestra 1

Orchestra 2

The practice didn’t go all that well. It’s hard to get used to a completely new acoustic and there were lots of mistakes. Plus we were sitting in very different positions to normal – I was in the front row! I really hoped the actual concert would be better.

Fortunately the next night for the official concert we did a better job. Here we all are in the vestry waiting to go in.

Waiting to go on stage 1

Waiting to go on stage 2

It was an enjoyable experience singing in such a beautiful church and the audience seemed to enjoy it – we did an encore of Die Himmel erzählen die Ehre Gottes from Die Schöpfung (the Creation) by Haydn. And, as you can see, we were all very relieved when it was over – the expression on the faces of two of my friends from this choir says it all!

Martina and

Overall I think it was a reasonably successful event and the good acoustics in the church covered up some of our hesitancy I hope!

The only review I was able to find online was certainly very positive: http://www.wz-newsline.de/lokales/kreis-viersen/willich/viel-applaus-fuer-tolle-beethoven-messe-1.1795127

Totensonntag

Anja and I have been playing flute and piano together for several months, practising for a number of events, the first of which was us playing together in the church service for Totensonntag, which is the Sunday before the first Sunday in Advent and is when people in the church who have died that year are remembered.

We played three pieces – two Handel pieces and also a piece by Santo Lapis. We played at the beginning of the service, at the end and after the names of the dead had been read out and people were thinking quietly. It went well which was a relief and we had several comments about how much people had enjoyed it.

Ready to play flute

Anja at the organ

Kempen Music Evening

A long time ago Anja had invited me also to play at a music evening that takes place under the auspices of the Evangelical church in Kempen, the Thomaskirche. This event was to be on 28 November and we had practiced various bits of music, deciding eventually on a piece by Santo Lapis.

When I arrived at the church I was amazed to see how many people were there. There were 24 different performances listed in the programme and there was a heavy bias towards flutes (probably half of the things included a least one flute) but it was a very enjoyable evening with a range of different ages and levels of expertise. There was a lady playing the flute who was 85 years old, apparently.

It was good to attend this and to see the skill with which some of the young people were able to play their instruments. I also saw, for the first time, a bass recorder – an amazing-looking thing that was taller than me!

Niederrhein scenery

This part of the world is providing the most wonderful views as I cycle off to my evening events. Each day is a different sunset with incredible colours in the sky. The iPhone does not do it justice but hopefully this gives you an idea of some of the beauty around here.

St Hubert Windmill

New windmills under construction

Sunset towards Anrath

Amazing pink sky

Sunset behind St Hubert Windmill

Autumnal trees

Sunset 3

Sunset 2

Flaming sky 1

Sunset 1

Sunset 5

Flaming sky 2

Penelope sunset

Sunset 6

The view from my window one afternoon.
View From My Window 1

I made a special trip to the Krickenbecker See at sunset to take this photo as it is such a wonderful spot. There is a handy bench where you can sit and watch the sun go down – from where I took this photograph. Magical!

Krickenbecker See Sunset 29 Nov

Cakes this month

Here are some of the cakes that I or my companions have enjoyed!

Lara's Kaesekuchen

Straelen Apfel Kuchen

Rice cake

Cheesecake by Gudula

Cake in Waldniel

Coralie's birthday cake

Bienenstich und Apfelstrudel in Rahser

Rice cake in Born

Cherry victoria sponge

Stinges cakes

Black Forest Gateau

Lotsa cakes

A lady and her husband from the St Hubert church invited me for cake one afternoon and provided me with this nice plum cake

Fachner cake 1

And also some Stollen.

Fachner cake 2

My banoffee pie

Banoffee Pie

Most Brits have probably tried Banoffee Pie – it’s a fantastic dessert, sweet and caramely, with the added bonus that you can cause an explosion in making it that requires you to redecorate your entire kitchen. I hadn’t made it for years (partly because we had an expensive new kitchen in our previous house and I didn’t want to spend days removing exploded condensed milk from the ceiling and cupboards).

Anyway, Klaus and Claudia had invited me several times for dinner and I felt that I was well overdue to provide something to eat for them on my next visit. So I decided to make a Banoffee Pie.

Here’s an English recipe (which assumes your condensed milk is already boiled into dulce de leche) http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/banoffeepie_89031

For Germans who don’t know about this, there is a good recipe here (in German): http://www.chefkoch.de/rezepte/125001053614007/Banoffee-Pie.html

I hadn’t seen this recipe (in German) before making my pie. But that was OK as I could get all the ingredients in Germany.

Or so I thought.

Banoffee Pie is fairly simple. A biscuit base (mixed with butter), a layer of dulce de leche (condensed milk which is boiled in the tin for 2-3 hours until it becomes brown caramel – or explodes), a layer of bananas and then a layer of whipped cream. Simple.

The first issue I had is that I didn’t have the right dish for it. Never mind, my pyrex lasagne dish would do at a pinch (I had tried and failed to find disposable foil pie dishes – they don’t seem to be available in Germany. But then neither are pies!)

The second issue is that the normal base of digestive biscuits would be tricky as there don’t seem to be any digestive biscuits in Germany. Never mind, I bought some normal Butterkeks and crushed them up, mixed them with the melted butter and pressed them into the lasagne dish. It all then went into the fridge to harden.

The Dulce de leche is the big issue with Banoffee Pie. Fortunately one thing the Germans do have is condensed milk – and the tin looked about the same size as the normal tin I used in the UK. They even had smaller tins. So I bought a mixture (four altogether) so I could boil everything up in one go – it can be stored in the tin after boiling no problems.

I have a pressure cooker in my Wohnung so decided to use that. It has the advantage that if the tin explodes it is contained, and the second advantage that it apparently cooks it much quicker – in just an hour rather than 2-3. So I put the tins in the cooker and set them off to boil.

After an hour (with no explosions) I turned the heat off and let it all cool.

I was going out in a couple of hours so after everything had cooled I thought I’d check the tin. I lifted it out of the water, shook it – and heard stuff sloshing around inside. It clearly hadn’t set so couldn’t have turned into dulce de leche. Maybe the pressure cooker wasn’t working properly (it had been slightly leaking water from the lid join). So just to be sure I boiled everything again for another hour and a quarter. I turned the heat off and went out for my evening engagement, hoping that when I got home it would be OK.

So when I got home several hours later to four cooled tins, I fished them out of the water and shook them – still liquid. Argh!!!

Plan B was called for, which is the option you use if you don’t want to risk explosions by boiling the tins whole. You take the milk out and add it to butter and sugar and heat it up until it thickens. So I attempted this… and it didn’t thicken. For half an hour I was stirring this to no avail. Right, this was a disaster. I left it to cool, feeling very irritated that it wasn’t working.

I happened to go back into the kitchen half an hour later and saw that it had slightly set now it was was cooling so I decided rather than waste all the work I would pour the mix onto the biscuit base and see what it was like when chilled in the fridge.

The next morning the banoffee mix was slightly tacky so I decided it would do, and sliced the bananas on top. Then it was time to whip up the cream.

I didn’t have an electric whisk so I did this job by hand. And boy did it take a long time. The cream eventually started to stiffen but it was more liquid than I wanted and then… suddenly… it went flat and started turning into butter. Argh!!!!

So I covered the pie with foil (it had sliced bananas on it) and on my way to my dinner engagement I stopped off at Aldi, bought some more cream and used Claudia’s electric whisk to whip it up. I lost my nerve a bit soon so it was rather more runny than it should have been – as you can see from the photo above. There was very little of the banoffee caramel taste but my friends seemed happy enough to eat it. I have promised them a PROPER banoffee pie after I return from England next month and have a chance to get the correct ingredients.

A bit of research afterwards showed me that normal German condensed milk has a lot lower sugar content than English, it is more like evaporated milk. The German banoffee recipe above calls for ‘sweetened condensed milk’ rather than the normal. So I imagine that explains the not-turning-into-toffee issue. We live and learn.

Christmas is Coming

Yesterday, 30 November, was the first Sunday in Advent. Today as I finalise this blog post it is 1 December and Christmas is just around the corner.

I am having three friends visiting from England tomorrow for four days, I’ll be back in England for the third week of December and then will be returning here for Christmas with my husband and his parents, James’s brother and his wife and their three children. So it will be a really interesting and different Christmas, attending church in Germany, experiencing some of the different customs and hopefully having a relaxing and peaceful time.

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Filed under Alfie the Trike, Cycling in Germany, Penelope the Velomobile, Six Wheels In Germany

Six Wheels In Germany – Month 7

October 2014

Cycling this month

This month I missed my target of 1000km by less than 1km. This was because I had two days off the bike feeling slightly under the weather and didn’t have a chance to make up the rides as it was at the end of the month because I thought the target gap was too big – but actually I had failed to record a ride earlier in the month (which I realised just now) which was 27.27km… so I was so near but not quite enough!

Anyway, I still managed a good distance and I am really enjoying cycling in the fantastically beautiful autumn scenery around this part of Niederrhein.

Screen shot 2014-11-02 at 17.16.22

Anyway, here are the ride statistics for this month.

Screen shot 2014-11-02 at 17.20.09

People I’ve seen this month

Morten from Hamburg

Long-time readers of this blog will be familiar with Morten, the surprisingly-tall (2.04 metres) recumbent bicyclist who I met on the LEL Audax, visited in Hamburg last December and saw again on the HBK Audax.

Anyway, Morten decided to come and visit me for the bank holiday weekend of Tag der deutschen Einheit which was great news! Especially as there was a Tour des Monats cycle ride planned for the Friday when he would arrive, a nice chance to show him around some of the breweries in Kreis Viersen (apparently).

I collected Morten from the station and we rode back to my house for him to drop his bags off before heading almost straight away to St Tönis for the Tour des Monats, led again this month by cycling chum Hartmut.

There was a good group of cyclists collected in St Tönis. As I was in Penelope the Velomobile it seemed best to ride at the back (this always works better in a group) so I pootled along behind everyone, chatting to Morten and continually being amazed at how he could continue riding a recumbent bicycle at extremely slow speeds. Those things are difficult to balance!

We had another visit to the un-asphalted Bahnradweg from Tönisvorst which is no fun on a three-wheeler and even less fun in a velomobile.

TdM with Morten

As usual for routes planned by Hartmut it was a good mixture of sights and pretty much all on quiet roads or cycle paths. Hartmut gave occasional bits of information relating to the brewery theme but it was really just a chance to cycle to particular places, we didn’t see any beer!

We stopped in Anrath for lunch at which point Morten and I shared a veggie breakfast.

Breakfast in Anrath

I misheard Hartmut’s comment about what time we were leaving so ordered a cup of tea just as people were heading off. As I had the track I said I’d catch them up (I had to pay for this tea so I was going to drink it, although it was too hot initially). Morten waited with me and we set off about five minutes after the rest of them had disappeared.

As we raced to catch them up I felt a bit odd – the tea was swishing around rather unpleasantly in my stomach – and by the time we did catch up with everyone I felt a bit sick. We decided not to ride with them all the way back to St Tönis but instead left the group at Kehn and did the short cut back to St Hubert.

When we got back I put Penelope away, walked into my flat and felt appalling – I went straight to bed. Poor Morten found himself on his own for the rest of the day – he had a bit of a snooze (he’d had a very early train from Hamburg) but ended up having to cook his own dinner as I didn’t feel like food at all and couldn’t stand up for more than a minute or two. It was some mystery lurgy but came at a rather unfortunate time. Morten was a very gracious guest, though, considering his host was so rubbish!

The next morning I felt a bit more human and we decided to take a trip to Kempen. In the car (I didn’t think I could cycle 5km), which meant I had to learn where the car parks are (not something I really know). But we found a space and set off on a very slow walk around the town walls with lots of stops on benches for me to gather my energy again.

Kempen is a beautiful town and the walk around the walls is always worthwhile – and only about 2km.

Kempen tower

We stopped for some cake – Morten chose two different things.

Morten's cake

I had a nut/muesli option.

My cake

In the evening we had the opportunity to meet friend Gabriele and her husband Achim who were riding their velomobiles back from Dronten in the Netherlands to Bonn (a heck of a long way). Gabi rang us to say we could meet in Oedt at 7:15pm so we headed off (again by car) and found them outside a take-away pizzeria (the Italian restaurant we had planned to meet at was now closed).

Quest and Strada

We had an enjoyable meal chatting with them as always and then it was time for them to continue their journey on to Bonn. Good thing they are both very fast cyclists as that’s a long, long way in one day.

Velomobiles in the dark

The next morning I was feeling human enough to get back on a bike – which was a good thing as I had no breakfast food for Morten as I had planned for us to eat breakfast at Hofcafé Alt Bruch (fortunately Lara had delivered some rolls for breakfast for Saturday morning as I was too poorly). Klaus was going to meet us on the way to the Hofcafé and I also asked Lara along. Five minutes before we set off her friend Gereon appeared at the front door so he came along too.

This is the little group of random people heading 20km for breakfast…

Heading for breakfast

We met Klaus at the start of the Bahnradweg in Grefrath where we also stopped to do a small amount of maintenance on Morten’s Alfine-11 hub gear (in his front wheel – he has a front wheel drive recumbent). Once the cable was slightly adjusted (he was suffering from the neutral gears issue you get when the cable length is wrong) we headed off along the fast Bahnradweg to the Hofcafé.

I hadn’t booked a place for us, assuming this was unnecessary, but it turned out that the café was full! There were no spare tables but there was a large table with just two ladies on it so we asked to join them and they said that was fine. They may have regretted it later when the fragrance of cyclist wafted across to them.

These ladies turned out to be British so we had a bit of a chat with them and they took a photo of us halfway through our breakfast.

Breakfast at Hofcafe Alt Bruch

It’s an ‘eat as much as you like’ buffet breakfast and we were there for a couple of hours so managed to eat a fair bit. Klaus and I were asking Morten about longer distance cycling – he is an audaxer after all – and what recommendations he could give for longer rides.

In due course the café started emptying and it was time for us to head back. We waved goodbye to Klaus in Grefrath and continued on back to Kempen.

Here’s Morten underway.

Morten riding

Being chased down by Gereon and Lara.

Gereon Lara Morten

And Lara took this picture of me trying to catch up with everyone after doing my photography.

Helen cycling

When we got back we had the next task – repairing Morten’s bike wiring. He’d had to separate his bike into two pieces on the train which involves disconnecting the electrics. He has the same connectors as Penelope has and had discovered the same problem with them – they aren’t really designed for this kind of thing and the connector had pulled out of the plastic housing slightly. It needed a bit of TLC – he would need his lights when he got back to Hamburg to cycle home.

Frank and Gudula were out which was unfortunate as Frank seems to have all the tools one might need – but I didn’t know where.

First of all Morten had to ease the little metal connectors (that have metal backward-pointing hooks to keep them in place) out of the plastic connector mounting. A selection of screwdrivers and allen keys were offered from my toolkit and he found something suitable.

Morten repair 1

Clearly it needed to be soldered in place – but I didn’t have a soldering iron and didn’t know where Frank kept his. Fortunately Lara came back home at this point and she let us into the treasure trove of Frank’s tool room (which I didn’t know existed!) and we played hunt-the-soldering-iron.

Looking for a soldering iron

We couldn’t find one although I had previously seen Frank with one, plus we found some reels of solder, so one must exist somewhere. But we did find a giant similar version and Morten thought it would probably do.

The world's biggest soldering iron 2

So he set to work and did manage to solder the connector to the wire.

The world's biggest soldering iron

Success!

job done

He tested the lights and they were working – hurrah! I have plans to change these connectors on Penelope as I have also had trouble with them; Morten says he is interested to know what I choose instead as he may also change the connectors on his bike. But it’s probably a winter job.

Morten then tried out Penelope – he really isn’t the right size for a Versatile.

Morten tries out Penelope

Although the lid almost closed (not quite) he was entirely unable to turn the pedals as his knees touched the top.

Morten tries out Penelope 2

And Alfie wasn’t any better.

Morten tries out Alfie

We changed the tyres on Alfie (I thought I might as well make use of having a chap about) and as a reward we had some scones with the last of the clotted cream I had brought back from England.

scones

And then it was another quick ride to Kempen railway station to wave Morten off on his train. Our bikes created quite a stir.

Morten at Kempen station

It was great to have a visit from another cycling chum. A lady I have met here said “You seem to know more people in Germany than I do” and she maybe has a point – I have got to know lots of people all over Germany in the last ten years and it’s great to have these links and to visit the people and have them visit me.

Gabi, Achim and Rolf again

We seem to have got a regular routine of meeting at Rolf’s house for cake – me cycling from Kempen (30km), Gabi and Achim cycling from Bonn (somewhat further). Rolf extended another invitation so again we all met – this time for homemade soup by Rolf (which was wonderful) and this time I came by car as I had another engagement straight afterwards.

Once again it was good to see everyone and to have a chance to chat about all things Velomobile.

Hartmut’s birthday meal

I’ve mentioned Hartmut a few times in this blog – he’s one of the movers and shakers in the local ADFC (German cycling group) and leads a lot of cycle tours, including some very long charity ones. He is also incredibly knowledgeable about a lot of the history of this area and always has great information when you’re out riding with him.

It was his birthday this month and he invited a group of his cycling friends to a Portuguese restaurant in Krefeld – and I was included!

The thing we all have in common (apart from the cycling) is that we all have bikes with Rohloff hubs. So I decided I would ride Penelope to Krefeld although I am usually less keen on riding her there because of the terror of the tram tracks.

Anyway I set off in plenty of time and had a leisurely ride, taking a new route which is longer but much less within the city. It turned out to be a huge improvement – I was on fast Radwege beside Landstraßen right up to three kilometres before my destination (I usually cycle all the way through Hüls which is about 8km of town riding).

I pulled up outside the restaurant and could see through the window Hartmut and the other sitting around the table with several beer bottles in front of them. But I was ten minutes early!

No I wasn’t, I was almost an hour late. I had misread the time, like a numpty, thinking we were meeting at 7pm when actually it was 6pm. Very embarrassing!

Anyway, they were all very polite about it.

Hartmut's Birthday 3

Here am I looking a bit embarrassed after my late arrival!

Hartmut's Birthday 1

Hartmut had ordered a selection of starters which were all very tasty (his wife is Portuguese so he visits there often and is very familiar with all the food). The different main courses that people ordered arrived and were great.

Hartmuts birthday 2

I was extremely impressed at the amount of beer and wine my companions were putting away and remaining apparently sober. We enjoyed some good discussions and it was great to see Hartmut, Jochen, Uli and Herbert again, and to meet for the first time Andreas and Michael.

A group of (I think) Portuguese people came into the restaurant a bit later and they had a birthday cake and sang happy birthday to one of the group. We mentioned that it was Hartmut’s birthday too and they incredibly kindly shared the birthday cake with our group! So friendly.

Hartmut's birthday chocolate cake

It was a great evening and I also discovered that in Germany if someone invites you for a meal like this then they pay, which was incredibly generous.

Michael and the Düsseldorf ADFC

Through the magic of the internet (well, actually Google Plus, it turns out someone DOES use it!) a man named Michael contacted Klaus to say that he had a recumbent trike and was in the Düsseldorf area and perhaps they would bump into each other one day. He then added that the Düsseldorf ADFC were doing a ride on Saturday from Düsseldorf to Kempen and would Klaus like to join as it wasn’t far from where he lived. Klaus had no spare time but he forwarded the message to me and I decided to ride their route backwards (they had supplied a GPS track of the route) and meet them halfwayish, then ride back with them to Kempen (where they were having lunch at Gut Heimendahl).

It was a very windy day although fairly warm so I dithered about which bike to take (Alfie good for heat, Penelope good for wind) and in the end decided on Penelope because it’s after all such a cool-looking machine.

So I set off following the track from Kempen towards Düsseldorf, finding myself on a few roads that were previously unknown to me.

I hadn’t intercepted the group by the time I reached Höxhöfe and was beginning to worry that they might have been following the GPS track the other way round (so I would never intercept them) but then I decided that the strong wind might be slowing them down (even thought it was a tailwind) so I decided to press on.

And then finally I saw a group of cyclists in the distance – including a recumbent trike. So that was probably them – and indeed it was!

ADFC ride from Duesseldorf

We stopped and had a bit of a chat – and Michael had a go in Penelope.

This is his trike, an Azub folding trike which was also reasonably lightweight (once he had removed his bags).

Azub trike

Azub trike and Penelope

It has a veltop fairing which looked interesting (not that I need a trike fairing as I have a velomobile, but I think it can make quite a difference in winter if you suffer from cold feet).

Azub trike with Veltop

There was a group of about 15 of us pootling along the country lanes – very enjoyable!

ADFC ride from Duesseldorf 2

The 20km journey back to Gut Heimendahl passed fairly quickly as I was chatting with Michael and then we arrived at our destination and stopped for lunch (except I had cake). I had a good chat with Michael and it was good to get to know him. Here he is on his trike.

Michael on his trike 1

He asked a passer-by to take a photo of us both.

Helen and Michael at Gut Heimendahl

I left the rest of them at Gut Heimendahl and headed straight home as Poppy the dog had been left for quite a while, but it was great to meet Michael and I am sure we will ride together again soon in the near future.

Babs

Friend Babs has been mentioned on this blog many times as she has been brilliant – giving me helpful advice and friendship! When I was back in England last month I got a few supplies for her and we fixed a convenient time for me to drop them off to her and see her new flat in Krefeld.

The idea was for me to come in Alfie (as we didn’t think Penelope would fit in her apartment lobby) but the weather was definitely velomobile weather so I decided to take Penelope and just park her outside if necessary. So I cycled to Krefeld and when I arrived at Babs’s apartment we thought we’d see if we could get her into the lobby.

The answer was yes – sort-of.

Penelope in Krefeld

We stuck a notice on her nose in case anyone came in and needed to get into the room behind where she was parked (which Babs said was extremely unlikely).

Penelope in Babs's Flat

It was great to see Babs again and to have a good old chinwag. And it’s really handy that she now lives a lot nearer to me – just a 40 minute cycle ride!

Life in Germany

Food again

When I returned from England last month I brought back one of the Tefal Multi-cookers that does excellent rice. This is to go with all the curries I make so I’ve been enjoying them.

One of the things that I had been unable to find in Germany except for in the huge Real supermarket (in a tin) was hummus. The fresh stuff that is ubiquitous in British supermarkets was just not available.

Imagine my surprise this week when I found this in Aldi:

Hummus 1

And then three days later in the REWE in Kempen:

Hummus 2

It’s a miracle! Obviously a winter-only food in Germany.

Real has also extended its range of Wilkins & Sons Jam from Tiptree.

Real jams

The Edeka in St Hubert also had some wag who did an amusing sign for the bananas.

Single bananas

Breakfast with Anja

Anja, with whom I do various musical things, invited me for a light brunch after one of our practices. Which was most kind of her – and another example of the excellent German attitude towards breakfast (you eat a lot and take a long time over it, rather than a quick bowl of cereal).

Breakfast with Anja

I also noticed this rather excellent tin of tea in her kitchen – there are lots of fake British brands in Germany and I think this is another of them!

Sir Winston tea

Seen on cycle rides

You really know you’re in Germany where there is a field with piles of red and white cabbage leaves.

Cabbage Leaves on fields

Poppy the dog

Unfortunately this month Poppy the dog caught kennel cough. This is Zwingerhusten in German and is apparently rife around here – whether or not your dog stays in kennels. Anyway, she duly got it and started coughing so a quick trip to the vets and some antibiotics was called for.

She got over it pretty quickly (about a week) but the visit to the vet showed that she has actually put on weight – from 7.5kg to 8.25kg which is quite an increase! So Poppy now has a bit of a reduced food/increased exercise fitness regime which has included several rides with Frank (he cycles, she runs) and also today’s run to the supermarket with me, a 4km round trip for Poppy.

Poppy running by bike

Other wildlife

I’ve been doing loads of cycling at dusk, going to my various choir practices and the VHS in the evenings. I’ve seen bats and owls and all sorts of running mousy-type things. One morning we woke up and saw that Mr Mole had been very busy around the patio area.

Mr Mole very neat

Cycle rides this month

Because of my remarkably busy schedule, with things on three to four evenings per week, I’ve been doing loads of cycling in the dusk/dark where you can’t see as much. But I’ve also continued riding about once per week with Klaus and we tend to set off a bit earlier so it’s been a chance to make the most of the fantastic scenery here at this time of year.

Here’s a flavour of some of the sights we’ve seen as we trike around Kreis Viersen.

Sunset over Hinsbeck

Autumn Leaves

Hinsbecker Bruch

Gorgeous sunset on bike

I also visited a couple of interesting places with Klaus, one of which is less than 10km from my house here but I had not previously found it (it required a short detour up a grassy track and I tend to avoid these). It is a rather special crossing of the river Niers.

Self-service ferry

As usual for Germany there is a helpful information board about this self-service ferry.

Aiwa info

And of course another information board with the rules for using it!

German rules for ferry

Basically it’s a floating pontoon with a wheel which pulls you along a chain. There’s also a wheel at either riverbank to haul the ferry to you.

Ferry wheel

There was just about room for two trikes and two people.

Self-service ferry with trikes

This was great fun!

And then 200 metres or so further we reached the confluence point of the Niers and the Nette rivers – both pretty small really, but significant enough that they put a special little plaque on the ground.

Nette trifft Niers

And here are the rivers meeting.

Confluence of Niers and Nette

Of the 75,000ish kilometres I’ve ridden over the last six years, probably 85-90% of these have been on my own. Although cycling on your own is still fun, it can be much more enjoyable riding with someone else – and there can also be other benefits. As discovered on a trip Klaus and I did to bag three castles in the Mönchengladbach area.

We were riding along a radweg beside a main road when there was a huge BANG from my tyre and it instantly deflated. It was not exactly a challenge to identify the problem.

Sliced kojak

For the last 75,000km I have carried a tyre boot in my bag of tools (a boot is a cut-off piece of old tyre that you can use to patch large holes like this). So for the first time ever I actually used it!!!

And this is where the cycling companion comes in useful. You can pretend that you are too weak and feeble to pump up a tyre.

Helpful cycling companion

Here’s the repaired Kojak.

Reasonably tyre repair

It managed another 100km before I got round to changing it so the repair was reasonable. But I didn’t want to risk it any further – plus with the seasons changing my usual tyre choice of Marathons is more sensible.

Here’s one of the three castles we visited – which is now a Golf course (Schloss Myllendonk).

Golf castle

And later on we found ourselves heading for an amusingly-named town.

On the way to Damnation

More music

The longer I am in Germany, the more time I seem to spend making music. Which is great – it makes all the money my parents spent on flute lessons for me more worthwhile!!!

Anyway, as mentioned above, Anja and I play together – I play the flute and she accompanies me on the piano or organ. We’ll be playing together in the church service on Totensonntag which is at the end of November, as well as on Christmas Eve at the morning church service and Christmas Day at a social musical evening in Kempen.

I mentioned last month that I had also joined another choir – this one is in Süchteln and it’s a gospel choir. I’m really enjoying singing with this choir and it has the advantage that it’s a 45km round trip as well so a great excuse to cycle! Lara who lives here came with me to one of the practices which was the last before the choir would sing in a church service to welcome the new minister to Süchteln Evangelische Kirche.

So on Sunday 26 October we headed in the car (dressed smartly!) to the Johanniskirche in Süchteln (which is a Catholic church but which the Evangelische Kirche borrow when they need a lot of space as their church is quite small) for the service. The service went well, the singing was good but the acoustics in the choir area were a disaster for me (and I had forgotten to bring my hearing aid) so I couldn’t follow any of the rest of it really.

After the service we were invited back to the Gemeindezentrum (church hall) for cake. Well this seemed like a great plan and my car passengers (Lara and also her parents who had come along) agreed so we followed a friendly lady who knew where there was some parking and then went into the centre (which is where we practice our singing). It looked really different with various partition walls opened and tables groaning with food and cakes. Lots of cakes!

Suechteln Choir Meal

It was interesting being at such an event – there were lots of speeches and some music and we sat with Claudia and Lara (Klaus’s wife and daughter) and enjoyed the cakes and drinks. German people seem very good at generously bringing lots of food for social events and I seem to regularly benefit from this!!

Cakes this month

Here are some of the cakes that I or my companions have enjoyed this month in Germany.

Donauwelle at Gut Heimendahl

Apfelstreusel 2

Gudula's cherry cake

Posh Apfelstrudel

Scones with Morten

Dougnhut

Donauwelle in Wachtendonk

Apfel Streusel in Wachtendonk

Doughnut in Neersen

Gudula's chocolate cake

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Alfie goes to the Maas River

The weather in Germany has turned hot.

Anything much over 22 degrees and it’s too hot for the Velomobile (at least for someone with as much personal insulation as I have).

So Alfie has been getting a few more rides recently, mostly in company with his new friend the Steintrikes Wild One (which seems, unfathomably, to not have a name).

A few exchanges of SMS yesterday morning with fellow-triker Klaus and a cycle ride was arranged for the late afternoon – with the Netherlands as our destination.

Once again I drove Alfie to Klaus’s house (he lives 20km away) so we could ride from there. It makes more sense than meeting up somewhere underway, especially as Alfie easily fits into my Honda Jazz with the back seats down. I have now also improved my skills at handling him when folding and didn’t end up covered in oil this time!

trike in car

Last Thursday evening I also rode with Klaus and on that occasion when I unfolded Alfie he had a few minor problems – partly related to his advanced mileage I think. This time, with my improved skills in lifting him folded, after I reassembled him he seemed unscathed. Which was good as this ride would also see him cross the 20,000 mile mark.

Klaus had plotted a route for me which is one he rides occasionally.

Screen shot 2014-07-18 at 12.58.53

What I hadn’t noticed initially is that it goes up a pretty steep hill almost straight away. And boy was I slow – it was 29 degrees, I had spent all day at my desk working before heading out, and I am rubbish up hills anyway.

Screen shot 2014-07-18 at 13.01.31

This was cycling across the Süchtelner Höhen, this very inconvenient moraine that is in the way if you want to go west from Viersen. There are lots of different routes across it of various steepness but Klaus sent us the Höher Busch route which is through some woodland so not asphalted. He took a wrong turn and we started going down a nettley path so had to turn round again – recumbent trikes and nettles and other similar vegetation do not mix well.

Anyway I was slow going up the hill – this is not news but previously I have blamed the fact that it is because I am on a recumbent trike (known for being slow up hills). When I am cycling with someone else on a recumbent trike and they are whizzing off into the distance when going up hills this rather shows that my slowness might be down to the rider rather than the machine!

However I am quicker downhill than Klaus. We had discovered this on a previous ride, that I freewheel downhill much faster, and had discussed a little whether this was because of differences between the trikes or maybe that the Wild One’s tracking wasn’t perfect. I had a great idea to do a test by swapping machines before a downhill and seeing if the ICE Sprint was still quicker.

The answer was no, with me riding the Wild One it went much faster down the hill after we crossed the A61 Motorway. The obvious reason would be that I have greater mass (= heavier) than Klaus but this would clearly be embarrassing for a lady so instead we have been trying to work out other reasons for this speed differential. We are currently working on the hypothesis that I am way more aerodynamic than him. I like to try to fool myself from time to time!

Anyway, having struggled up the side of the Süchtelner Höhen (and seen two other recumbent trikes going past but they didn’t stop for a chat) and had our race down the other side, we were now on flat territory rolling through Bistard, Boisheim and the unfortunately-named Schaag. There is a church in Schaag that I haven’t yet visited as part of my Churches in Kreis Viersen challenge but as we had 70km to ride and had only left Viersen at 5:15pm I thought it best not to delay us by stopping to photograph it.

I learned a few useful bits of information from my riding partner today when discussing the different roads. In the UK we have motorways, A Roads and B Roads (do we have C roads? I think not, I think they are just ‘unclassified’). Anyway, in Germany I have seen A roads, B, L and K but didn’t know exactly how these were specified. It turns out to be quite simple – A = Autobahn (I did know that), which is motorway. B = Bundestraße which is a national road. L is a Landesstraße which are the major main roads within a country and K are something to do with Kreis (district), I didn’t pick up the exact word. So the B, L and K roads are all of the quality and speed we would call an A road in the UK, but I guess different departments pay for maintenance/upkeep. Or something.

From Schaag we headed out into some very flat farmland towards Bracht which I have visited a few times (but from a different direction).

Whilst we were trundling along beside a road I suddenly realised that Alfie must have crossed over his magic 20,000 mile mark (unfortunately the mounting point for my bike computer wheel magnet thingie had snapped a few days ago so the trike’s trip computer wasn’t working, I only had my Garmin). So I stopped to take a photo of Alfie after his 20k miles – he doesn’t look too bad for having travelled that far in three years, all weathers.

Alfie at 20,000 miles

I’ll be writing a blog post about the 20,000 miles in due course.

Klaus made the mistake of saying to me that he doesn’t like riding in groups normally because it’s tricky to ride safely with other different bikes (a well known problem for recumbenteers – exacerbated by the fact that all you see in front of you are people’s backsides) but that he found it much easier to cycle with me. As we were riding side-by-side at that time I did a quick swerve towards him to see how he reacted. The answer was quickly, and nearly steered himself into a ditch. Oops! I wouldn’t have hit his trike (I am too sensible for that!) but clearly caught him out. Later in the ride he tried to do the same to me but I didn’t budge – I am made of sterner stuff (or more trusting?). Either that or I am now immune to this as yesterday I was cycling with an upright bike whilst I was in Penelope and there was a braking issue and the cyclist crashed into the side of Penelope. No harm done but after that I was feeling fairly invincible as of course I was entirely protected within the shell of Penelope. But the basic situation is indeed that two trikes riding together find it much easier than a trike with an upright bike (or even recumbent two-wheeler) as the speed and braking profiles/performances are much more similar.

From Bracht we crossed under the B221 and then headed through the hamlet of Heidhausen before entering the Brachter Wald. I feared we might find lots of mosquitoes but there weren’t any – it was probably too hot for them! The journey through the Brachter Wald is a long, slow downhill which gets steeper at the end until the border with NL where you have to do a 90 degree right turn through some traffic calming. I decided to see how fast Alfie would roll downhill with me on board – we managed to hit 47.9 km/h which was a bit disappointing (I did 60km/h when going down a short hill back in England a couple of weeks ago). I think it just isn’t hilly enough in Niederrhein to really get going. Which is actually a relief.

We crossed the border into the Netherlands at the De Witte Stein pub where we had been with the Trike Treffen group. There’s nothing obvious to make you realise you are in NL until you travel a bit further and come through the towns where you see different road signs and also slightly different designs in buildings.

I was now in a phone blackout though (I don’t use data when roaming) which meant all went very quiet on my phone – my husband is currently doing a sailing challenge of going round the British Isles (well, halfway round). He has just joined the boat in Oban in Scotland and they are making their way down the west coast. He’s been sending lots of iMessages to update his location and send photos of the amazing scenery – but once I crossed into the Dutch phone area it all went quiet. Which felt quite odd really.

We rode through Reuver and were soon at the Maas river, where we had to wait for a minute for the ferry.

Maas Ferry at Reuver

It is worth noting at this point that there was an ice cream van selling ice creams near the ferry point but I said nothing. Klaus’s last blog post suggested I kept whinging about lack of cake on our rides so I had resolved to be quiet about the fact he seems to ignore the need to refuel whilst underway. Which was mostly successful, in that I didn’t whinge, but an ice cream at that point would have been fab!

We rolled onto the ferry and the chap who came to take our 60 cents for the crossing had a good chat with us in multiple languages (a mixture of English and German, we couldn’t quite fix on what language we were going to speak).

Here are the trikes on the ferry as we have almost reached the other side. It was a chain ferry and the river is probably less than 100 metres wide at that point.

Trikes on Maas Ferry

We got off the ferry (I had an unexpected bit of heel strike due to the steep ramp, which might explain why the heels of my cycling sandals seem to be coming unglued) and then headed into the little village. There were several cafés and Klaus asked if I wanted to stop for a drink. I said no as we weren’t yet halfway round the tour and then checked on my Garmin – it said 25km to go, and we’d already done 29, so I changed my mind. Halfway point is a good time to stop.

Trikes at tea stop

We found a nice café with some shade (it was still really hot) and stopped. I ordered a cup of Teewasser/hot water for tea with milk and miracle of miracles, that is actually what I got! In Germany I usually don’t get any milk, despite specifically asking for it, and then have to wait for ages for them to remember. But I had my tea and then a glass of water and enjoyed a bit of a break from the sun.

It was time to get going again so we headed off on the road alongside the Maas. It’s not just a cycle path, there were some cars and quite a few mopeds whizzing along. There were also loads of roadie cyclists in packs. We weren’t overtaken that often though because we were riding at a decent pace. At one point I heard a nasty grinding noise from the back of my trike when rounding a corner – only to discover that I still had my parking brake on. It’s not a very effective parking brake but it does make you work harder if you ride for two kilometres with it on!

What was annoying was I could see that my light was flickering (I have a front light permanently burning on Alfie as it’s from the dynohub). I couldn’t tell if the fault was from the dynohub, the cabling or within the light itself but a bit of fiddling suggested that it might be the on/off/senseo switch which might possibly have experienced some water ingress in the last three years. It seemed to sort itself out after another 10km but it’s something I need to watch as I didn’t have a backup light with me – I will need to start carrying a torch as well in case something happens to the light.

The other thing I noticed was that my Garmin was counting up with the ‘distance to destination’ field. This is because we were doing the track the reverse way round than normal and I hadn’t realised this. So when we stopped with 25km to go that was actually false – we had another 35km to go. Well at least I had enjoyed my cuppa by the Maas.

I didn’t actually know where I was a lot of the time – just following someone else makes for very easy routefinding (unless they lose you!) but meant I kept asking where we were. This roundabout had a useful series of signs on it so I could tell roughly where I was.

Roundabout in NL somewhere

The section cycling along the Maas seemed to go really quickly for some reason – perhaps because it was a fairly fast, wide track. The views across the river were very nice and there were even some hills in evidence.

The plan was to cross the river again in Venlo on the motorway bridge (the A73). This is a shared motorway/bike bridge and is quite impressive.

Bridge crossing at Venlo

You feel well separated from the traffic which is good.

Trikes and traffic crossing Venlo bridge

From there Klaus wended a route through Venlo to the east and I was completely lost. I kept thinking I recognised sections but then was in unfamiliar territory again. I assumed we were heading to the Glider Airfield which is the route I always take out of Venlo but no, we were going by Leuth instead. We crossed back into Germany, passed another as-yet-unvisited church in Leuth and then headed towards the De-Witt-See, joining the Bahnradweg (which I cycle at least once a week) to head back.

This is such a great bit of cycle track – smooth, straight, wide enough for two trikes side-by-side (mostly) and not very busy at 9pm at night. We whizzed along, passing Sassenfeld where I had a week’s holiday in August 2012, then the top edge of Lobberich before heading towards Grefrath. Because our final destination was Viersen rather than Kempen we left the Bahnradweg before Grefrath and had to go up a bit of a hill – which seemed unexpectedly hard! – before heading to Hagenbroich, around Vorst and then to Süchteln on the Nordkanal route before arriving back at Klaus’s place. As usual he sped up for the last few miles (presumably thinking about home cooking and cups of tea and things like that) so it was all I could do to hang on. A booster rocket would be useful to help me keep up in these situations.

Alfie was packed away into the car in no time at all but I needed a few minutes’ breather before heading off as I felt really tired after the last few miles. I’d run out of water which probably didn’t help. By the time I had driven home I felt back to normal fortunately and had a very good feeling after such a good cycling workout.

Just under 70km for me and I burned over 2000 calories which was a bonus – and only had a cup of tea on the ride!

Klaus records his track with an iPhone App and I have here the two data files side-by-side when imported into my cycling software. The calories figure is wrong for Klaus’s side (the right hand side) – somehow my software is reading the wrong thing. His software gave him 1800 calories for the ride.

Distsance Data combined

And here is the elevation information – the iPhone app does not record this very well as you can see! (Again, my info is on the left, Klaus’s on the right)

elevation data

I was back at the car at 10pm so we were less than five hours on the road which wasn’t bad for a ride of this length and with a fairly good stop. Klaus usually rides these distances without stopping but I like having a loo break and a cup of tea if possible. I am still slightly amazed that I yet again didn’t manage to have a cake though!

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Filed under Alfie the Trike, Cycling in Germany, Six Wheels In Germany

Penelope goes to Venlo

Today Penelope returned to her home country of the Netherlands.

Today is 1st May and in Germany it’s a public holiday – thus most of the shops are shut. So it seemed like a good day to visit the Netherlands (I had already checked and that was still open).

Yesterday I happened to pass the chocolate factory in Kempen and so wandered in to get a few things…

Choc Factory Visit 1

That lot cost me about £8 (9,70€)

I had to fit it all into the velomobile which already had lots of tools, a spare tyre, a large casserole dish, some maps, a water bottle, a heavy lock, some Gü Chocolate Cheesecake dessert Pots, a couple of bread rolls, an Apfeltasche pastry, a loaf of sliced bread and some other stuff too.

Choc Factory Visit 2

You can fit a lot of stuff in a Velomobile although I found the large free blue bucket that I was given by Self (a DIY shop) didn’t fit very well and I had to put it under my chin.

Anyway, 1st May seemed like a good day to take Penelope to Venlo, except I had to do some repairs first. Last night, when cycling back from choir in the dark, I realised that the lights weren’t working properly. A previous owner, Wilfred, had arranged it so I have two front light settings – Bright and Brighter. There’s also the option of flashing the front lights using a button on the handlebars. Last night it became clear that the Bright setting wasn’t working, nor was the flashing, although if I switched on the second front light switch (for Brighter) then there was some light, although not enough to cycle fast on unlit lanes.

Not only that, my car had been off the road for the last six days – the flat battery before I went to SPEZI was still not sorted. Frank (the landlord) had charged up my battery but it wasn’t working so he had brought a replacement from work today.

First things first, a dog walk.

As I stepped out of the house I noticed that the tree outside was decorated with streamers.

Decorated tree

It turns out that this is a May 1 tradition. As friend Olaf explained to me:

It’s a “Maibaum”, erected by young men courting a girl. http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maibaum Have a look at “Liebesmaien”.

“In einigen Teilen Deutschlands, zum Beispiel im Rheinland, …. ist es üblich, dass männliche Jugendliche und junge Männer am Haus der Freundin oder Angebeteten einen Baum anbringen. Üblich sind vor allem mit buntem Krepp-Papier geschmückte Birken, wobei die Farbe der Bänder ursprünglich eine Bedeutung hatte. Am Baum wird ein sogenanntes Maiherz aus Holz oder festem Karton angebracht, in das der Name der Angebeteten eingraviert und in der Regel auch ein Spruch als Zuneigungsbekundung geschrieben wird.”

Clearly it was for Lara (or possibly for Penelope?) but Lara is, as yet, none the wiser as to the secret admirer. Rather fun!

Anyway, Pops and I went out for a good walk in the early morning sunshine. She took her stick with her.

Morning dogwalk

This is a view of Escheln, the hamlet where I live. Idyllic!

Morning view of Escheln

And here is the asparagus growing in the local Spargelhof (where I also get fresh strawberries most days).

Spargel growing

So back to the electric repairs on velomobile and car… with my electronic engineer husband in another country.

Last night Alex, Penelope’s former owner, had told me that it was probably just a plug that had come out through vibration and it’s a pretty easy fix. So I stuck my head in to look – sure enough, the black box which should have had two plugs in it only had one – and the other one was dangling in mid air.

Here’s a photo so you can see what I mean – a photo that was taken on 22 April, so over a week ago. Shows how observant I am that the light wasn’t working!

Penelope unplugged

This is all right in the footwell beyond the pedals so I had to go head-first into the velomobile in a rather inelegant fashion but I plugged the plug in and lo and behold the lights now worked!!

Success!

Buoyed by this, it was time to tackle the car (with Frank’s help).

Dead car

Frank put the new battery in and turned the key.

The engine seemed to turn over OK but it didn’t start.

Oh dear.

Frank then disappeared into the garage and returned with a selection of tools. He proceeded to remove the spark plugs from the car and had a good look at them. With them out he then tried to turn the car on again for a bit – it was all a bit smelly but of course it didn’t start. He then put the spark plugs back in again (he told me the German for them – something Kerzen (candles)), turned the key and lo and behold the car started!

Frank’s diagnosis – because the car had been sitting for a couple of weeks, some unburnt fuel which had been there had settled and got a bit mucky. He suggested I take the car for a 10 minute drive to clear out the pipes and that I would need to use it once a week to keep this from happening again. He said he would also recharge the original battery, put it back in and see if it’s OK.

So I drove my car up towards Stenden and then back again. It was good to have had a successful morning of mechanical repair (although Frank gets all the credit for the car fix). Whilst we were doing the car Gudula took Poppy for a walk. As my Dad said to me earlier, I’ve really fallen on my feet in this household with dog walkers, car menders and more. I’m going to take the family out for a meal in due course to say thankyou for the car fixing.

By the time I was ready to head out in Penelope it was 11:30. Gudula was in the front garden doing some pruning with Poppy helping so I asked her to hold on to Poppy as I headed off else Poppy would try to come with me. So Gudula picked Poppy up and talked to her while I headed off, following my Garmin’s route, towards the Netherlands.

After about half a mile I heard a weird noise – weird, but familiar. The sound of running paws. Sure enough Poppy had just caught up with me. I stopped, opened the lid of Penelope and Poppy jumped onto my lap. I turned round and headed back to Escheln, seeing Gudula coming round the corner in hot pursuit. She said Poppy had gone first one way, then the correct one, trying to catch up with me, the little rotter! Poppy was panting after all her running and probably glad to be carried back to the house.

I carried on another 200 metres or so and then stopped and waited for five minutes to check that Poppy didn’t reappear (she didn’t). Then it was full steam ahead to Venlo.

I had plotted different routes there and back, the route to Venlo would be the most direct one and the route back a scenic option, if I felt energetic enough to do it.

Today's TrackThe northernmost track is my outward journey, through Wachtendonk, Wankum and Herongen.

This is the elevation profile for the day as well – when the Garmin was switched off in Venlo for lunch it got its elevation a bit confused but it gives a general idea.

Elevation ProfileI headed on the familiar route to Wachtendonk which goes under the A61 motorway on some farm tracks. However, today being 1 May there were more unusual things to see – not just the decorated tree. You can just see ahead in this photograph a tractor towing a sort of caravan thing decorated with tree boughs. This caravan thing was full of young Germans shouting and being generally noisy (probably with beer in their hands) and every time it passed a house the tractor sounded its horn at length. People then came out to see what was going on.

Wachtendonk tractorA closer view – various arms were hanging out of the back window just before the branches at some points.

Wachtendonk tractor 2Eventually the tractor pulled over and a mini queue of cars (two, and of course me) went past. I was rather surprised to note that the tractor driver was a young girl – she can’t have been older than 20! It was all good fun and good natured.

After Wachtendonk I ignored all the cycle route signs (I’ve done this trip enough times now) and took the main road to Wankum. Couldn’t resist photographing this bus stop sign.

Bus stop near WachtendonkFrom Wankum (which was up a bit of a hill – was quite hard work) I headed to Herongen. Some young lady in Herongen also had an admirer!

Decorated tree in HerongenHerongen is right on the border with the Netherlands and I soon arrived at this sign, 1km to go to the border. There were two ladies taking photographs of themselves by the sign so I offered to take some photos of them together (which they were pleased about) and they then took this pic of me in return.

Almost in NLHere are the ladies who were out on a random ride from Krefeld just to see where they got to. They said they do quite a lot of inline skating in the general area of Krefeld so I might see them about now and again.

My new friends from KrefeldWhilst talking to this lady I noticed my Union Jack jersey was fantastically reflected in her glasses – unfortunately it hasn’t come out very well on the photo.

Lady with glassesAfter a ten minute chat we headed off towards Venlo. Here is Penelope being welcomed back into her country of birth.

Welcome to VenloIt was an easy ride along some reasonably main roads to the centre of Venlo. I was impressed by these bins for bicycle riders though – you could just chuck your litter into them.

Waste bin for cyclists 1

Waste Bin for cyclists 2Less impressive were the buttons for the traffic light crossings – they tended to be difficult for me to reach from the velomobile (the ones in Germany seem to be in a slightly easier position).

My original plan was to find some poffertjes (the little mini Dutch pancakes which I love) but I had failed to find them in Venlo twice before. However, this time I was a bit more successful in finding the pedestrian centre of Venlo, through which I cycled at least twice. No obvious poffertjes cafés. There was one café that said it did pannenkoeken but I asked the lady if they did pofferjes and she said no.

At one point two policemen were walking past so I stopped them and asked if they knew of anywhere that served poffertjes. They said no but looked at me as if I was bonkers – clearly you don’t ask policemen for directions in NL like you can in the UK.

In the end I gave up on the poffertjes quest (again!) and decided to just pick a random café to have lunch. As it happened I moved from the first one as the prices were really steep. I have noticed that in NL the cafés and restaurants don’t seem to have to display their menus outside so you don’t know what’s available until they bring you a menu. In Germany by law they have to display the menu outside the door of the building so you can check what’s what before you go in or sit down outside.

The second place I stopped at seemed nice and I had a good view of Penelope – she had already garnered huge attention as I rode very slowly through the pedestrian area, now she was parked up people constantly peered in or photographed her.

Busy Venlo pedestrian area

Checking out Penelope 1

Checking out Penelope 2I ordered onion soup and hot water for my tea as the other meals were quite expensive (relative to German prices). The onion soup came with a side dish of extra onions 🙂

Onion soupService was a bit slow but I wasn’t in a hurry particularly.

I was interested to note that almost everyone around me was German. I barely heard any Dutch spoken. I suppose it was a normal working day for Dutch people whereas it was a day off for Germans but it was amusing. I did all my ordering and talking with the waitress in German – seemed easier.

Another thing I noticed is that there seemed to be more fat people than I normally see in Germany (although they were probably Germans so perhaps they just don’t hang out in the Niederrhein area generally). It was also very noticeable, whilst sitting outside, that there are lots more smokers than in the UK. I kept getting smoke wafting past me – I don’t like it very much.

After an hour of lazing around with my food and generally people-watching it was time to head back.

I set my Garmin for my alternative route back (the longer, more scenic version) as my legs still felt reasonable.

I found myself passing an unexpected dinosaur.

Unexpected dinosaurAnd shortly after I was at Venlo station – I waved goodbye to James here three weeks ago.

Venlo stationThe route out of Venlo when heading for the Hinsbeck area (rather than Herongen) is quite a steep climb. I’ve done it several times before (I visited Venlo a few times when holidaying in Nettetal a couple of years ago) and I got it wrong most times. This time I had what I thought was a good route plotted but lo and behold a cut-through between two roads (which cuts out a longer stretch of road) was clearly not velomobile-friendly.

Cycle route goes off-roadSo I stuck to the main road and probably had an extra kilometre or so to ride – not a problem.

I was slow up the hill out of Venlo but not appallingly so. I think I’m getting slightly more accustomed to the weight of the Versatile – I am certainly spinning the pedals more (which is good). Wilfred, who owned Penelope before Alex, reckons I could gear her down a bit more with changing the sprocket on the rear wheel, maybe to increase it by two teeth, and still be within the allowed range of the Rohloff. It’s not necessary for this bit of Germany but if I take Penelope back to England then I will probably have to do this, or something similar, otherwise I’ll conk out on some of our impressive hills.

Anyway, I made it up the hill out of Venlo, riding on quiet residential roads so I wasn’t annoying any vehicular traffic.

I was soon going past the glider airfield – very familiar territory for me. And then it was time to take the traditional photo of the Grenzgänger bicycle…

I took this picture a couple of years ago of Alfie with a foot in both countries:

And here is Penelope in the same location:

Penelope on the border

And from the other side (better lighting).

Penelope as GrenzgängerHer front wheels are in Germany, the rear wheel is in the Netherlands.

This route is really familiar to me and I whizzed onward through the crowds of cyclists (they were everywhere – to be expected on a bank holiday I suppose!) It’s all asphalted track with no cars so is a great route for cycling.

I saw this lady with a sausage dog in a basket on the back and asked if I could take a photo (she said yes). Photo was taken whilst I was cycling at about 25kph…

Dog in large basketNow the route that I took was a bit weird – you may have noticed that if you looked at the map at the top of this blog post. Here it is again as a reminder:

Today's Track

You can see that once I cross into Germany I do a bit of a detour to the south when there looks like a much shorter route through Hinsbeck. The reason for this is highlighted below:

HillYes, my big detour was to avoid a hill. aren’t I lazy! I probably added about 5km to the distance to avoid going up and over Hinsbeck but I enjoyed the quiet cycle lanes and joined the Bahnradweg pretty much at its start and followed it right through to Kempen.

Not without stopping at Secretis, a restaurant/Eiscafé near Sassenfeld which I have visited before. It was a really warm day so time for an ice cream and, miracle of miracles, they provided me with real milk for my tea!

Ice Cream at SecretisAs I was heading off to leave after enjoying my ice cream the waitress and another customer came to talk to me about Penelope for ages. I have had lots of people asking me about her today, the most frequent question being whether she has electric assist. “Nur Muskelkraft” I reply.

I still tend to ride faster than everyone else around (despite being a pretty slow recumbenteer/velomobiler). I think that Germans tend to use their bikes for utility cycling and they often have big, heavy, slow bikes that just keep going. Well, half of them are also dealing with the weight of electric assist too. There were a few racers out today I noticed but they tended to be on the roads not cycle paths and didn’t acknowledge me, even if I grinned at them (I can’t wave as my hands aren’t visible).

The stretch from Lobberich back home is one I’ve done five or six times since I’ve been here so it’s becoming very familiar, and familiarity makes it seem a lot shorter. I whizzed back, although with so many people on the Bahnradweg I had to keep the speed down (only had a short stretch at 40kph). I used my useless hooter a fair bit and people didn’t hear it or realise what it was so I was reduced to shouting ‘Achtung!’ or ‘Vorsicht!’ instead which was marginally more successful.

Rather than doing the little ring road around Kempen I went through the centre so that I could stop at a bakery which always seems to be open. And it was! I bought myself a cake and provided some entertainment to all the people sitting at cafés in Kempen as I sailed past.

Healthy cakeWhen I got back Poppy was safely in the apartment (and hadn’t run halfway to Venlo) and I was pleased to see that my lights on Penelope were still working well. All in all a very enjoyable day’s ride but I still didn’t get any poffertjes!!

The figures for today’s ride as as follows:

Distance: 35.51 miles/57.14km
Time taken: 3 hours 15 minutes
Average heart rate: 133
Maximum heart rate: 186
Maximum speed: 25.6mph/41.2kph
Calories burned: 1,677
Moving average: 10.9mph/17.5kph

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Filed under Cycling in Germany, Penelope the Velomobile, Six Wheels In Germany

Six Wheels In Germany – Month 1

So I have now been here in Germany for one month.

I thought it would be good to offer a quick summary of life for a British person in Germany as I have experienced it. Did it live up to my expectations? Were the stereotypes of life in Germany accurate?

Short answers – YES and NO.

Did it live up to my expectations?

Yes. I’m having a brilliant time, I’ve settled in really well and kept very busy. I’ve also managed to keep up to date with my work which is good – the Internet connection here is reasonable for remote working.

Are stereotypes of life in Germany accurate?

There are certain ideas that people have about the German nation which are pretty familiar to most Brits – Germans aren’t very friendly, they are all law abiding, they are always on time, they drink lots of beer etc. So how did this pan out?

“Germans aren’t very friendly”

This is complete and utter rubbish. And always has been, in my experience.

I have so far (in my one month) only met one German person who was unfriendly (a lady with a dog outside a bakery). Everyone else has been nice, cheerful, helpful etc. And my landlord and landlady and their daughter have been incredibly friendly, making me feel very at home and including me in their social events, plying me with food, sharing sheet music with me in the choirs, lending me their car and more. People have offered me lifts and refused to accept petrol money, taken me out for meals, brought me along with them to events, made me feel at home, bought me cake… the list is endless.

“Germans are all law-abiding”

Although this is generally true, it turns out that some of the things I had been told before I came here weren’t quite accurate. I had heard from many sources as Sunday is a special day there are masses of things you can’t do on Sunday – such as vacuuming, mowing the lawn etc. That isn’t true here in Escheln, as I discovered in the first couple of weeks. My landlady says that the mowing thing isn’t very helpful if you work a full week and then are out all Saturday – maybe Sunday is your only option. Clearly in this little hamlet it’s considered OK. Apart from this I haven’t seen any obvious examples of rule-breaking, although when I gave Lara a lift in the car she commented (afterwards) that at a STOP sign I didn’t let all four wheels come to a complete halt so the German police might have told me off for that (fortunately there were none around at 6am!).

“Germans are always punctual”

This is a tricky one. My experience is that most people I have met are punctual (although this is also generally the case in the UK). However, friend Morten was impressively late for a lunch meetup at the SPEZI Radmesse cycle exhibition. We arranged to meet at midday; at 12:45 when I finally got through to him on the phone, he said he was just leaving the exhibition hall and would be with us in ten minutes. He may be the exception though! And he’s such a nice chap he can be forgiven a slight unpunctuality.

“Germans drink lots of beer”

Probably, although possibly not here in this part of Germany (Bavaria, on the other hand…) On the few occasions I’ve been with German people and they’ve been drinking beer they seem to have chosen non-alcoholic. Fizzy water on the other hand – there’s gallons of that in evidence wherever you go. My request for tap water is usually met with a look of incredulity. The tap water is fine though!

 

So what has life been like here?

Before I moved to Germany I had obviously visited loads of times, lived here for one month twice and done masses of reading. The forum for English-speaking expats in Germany, ToyTown, was extremely useful. I read  lot about people saying “where do I buy…” and asking for English or American food. I wanted to try to immerse myself a bit more and try to make do with all German food (except for teabags – there was no way I was drinking German tea for a year), but I discovered fairly early on that I am more entrenched in British food than I thought. And there are other things that it’s surprisingly hard to get hold of, such as:

• potato peelers (that are good)
• towelling bathrobes (not available in any of the normal shops)
• casserole dishes that go in the oven, not just on the hob
• bank accounts

 

The Potato Peeler Crisis

I like eating potatoes and was pleased to see two peelers in the drawer in my apartment. But, lo and behold, I seemed entirely unable to peel with them. Then I remembered! Previously in Germany I have also been unable to use their peelers (Sparschäler). I visited several large homewares shops and looked at the selection of peelers – usually five or six different ones – but they were all ‘wrong’, the blades seemed to be at the wrong angle. I did manage to peel a couple of potatoes (eventually) with one of the peelers in my drawer but it was a real mess.

Lara, the daughter of the house, was heading off to England for a week’s holiday so I mentioned the potato peeler crisis to her just as a general bit of chit-chat. Then I received a text from her when she was there – did I want her to get me a peeler? She sent me a link to a peeler on tesco.com which was rather overpriced and not quite the type I like. I sent her a link to the ones I liked and said if she happened to see one, could she get it.

That day I was meeting up with a friend Olaf, a German chap who lives in London. He’d cycled over from Hoek van Holland and we met up for lunch in Orsoy/Walsum on the Rhein. I’d made some quip about peelers to him on Facebook about three hours before he set off for Germany. And, lo and behold…

 

Potato peeler hurrahSo, as Olaf said, the Potato Peeler Crisis was now over. It was from John Lewis’s too!

I texted Lara to say that she didn’t have to find me one now (and found it rather amusing that I had two opportunities to get a potato peeler within such a short time).

When I got back we collected together all the peelers in the house.

Potato PeelersMy new one is on the bottom right, Gudula (the landlady) uses the one on the bottom left and has done for 20 years, Lara likes the red and blue-handled ones. We plan to have a potato or carrot peeling competition in due course.

You can see that the angles of the blades are wrong on all of them except for the John Lewis’s one. Unless you are German.

Food differences

I’ve eaten lots of food in Germany of course (and one or two cakes!) but haven’t really had a long period of catering just for me and I’ve found myself struggling at times to eat the variety of dishes that are available in the UK. The oven here is a bit slow and it appears Germans tend to cook most things on the hob (no casserole dishes in the apartment, for example, and they seem almost impossible to buy as well at a sensible price). There’s an absence of things like Chicken Tonight (which is very useful for a quick meal) and also the choice of curry sauces was extremely thin and pricey – 3€ for a jar that would be £1 in the UK. On my next trip to the UK I expect to bring back some jars of sauces and also some naan breads as I haven’t found any yet (though I did manage some poppadums).

Rather than glass jars of sauces as we have the Germans tend to use packet mixes (apart from pasta sauces which are in jars). I’ve bought a couple which I will try in due course but I’ll be cooking 3-4 portions and freezing the remainder for another day.

Another noticeable difference is that there is fresh lasagne in the supermarket but only frozen pizzas, not fresh ones (or very rarely anyway), even in places like Aldi that sell them in the UK. But there are zillions of frozen pizzas, freezers full of ’em. I like pizza though so that’s good!

I like to eat fresh baguette or rolls rather than sliced bread so that’s OK. There is some sliced bread in Germany (that they call Toast Brot) which is alright for toast but not very nice for sandwiches. It also seems to last a remarkably long time without going mouldy – I have no idea what’s in it. I have only eaten two loaves in the month. The other unusual thing is that you don’t get the two crust ends on the bread.

The selection of cakes and chocolate is of course marvellous. The cereal selection has improved (I have got weetabix, bran flakes, crunchy nut cornflakes, shreddies and some nice muesli). Crisps are still mostly paprika-flavoured but we shouldn’t eat so many packets of those anyway. Vegetables seem generally the same although we’re in the middle of Spargelzeit (Asaparagus season) at the moment so asparagus is everywhere – mostly the white version. And there are fresh strawberries available from the farm shop 100 metres from my door – yummy!

Somehow I don’t think I’ll starve.

Paperwork

As might have been expected, Germans are keen on their paperwork. And their civil servants have special protection in the law against you insulting them etc. There are lots of things that you have to do (or that you are strongly advised to do) that aren’t necessary in the UK, which is why I did so much planning and checking.

When I arrived I had to register my address within a week – called Anmelden. This I did and was given a special bit of paper (an Anmeldebestätigung) which is vital for lots of things.

I had to get a tax number (Einkommensteuernummer) which is mine for life. This came from the Kempen Finanzamt after I filled in a complicated form.

I had to get a freelance tax number (Steuernummer, different from the above) which I have to use on all my freelance work invoices.

I also had to get health insurance as this isn’t part of taxation in Germany and is mandatory.

I also got Privathaftpflichtversicherung: sort-of like public liability insurance (very, very important here)

I also got Tierhalterhaftpflichtversicherung: liability insurance for the dog (also very important, and slightly more expensive than for me)

I also paid the Hundesteuer (dog tax) and Poppy got her tax disc:

I also tried to open a second bank account (I already had one from Deutsche Bank which I had had since 2007) but was refused. It turns out I don’t yet have much of a credit rating in Germany. Probably in a month or two the Deutsche Bank credit history will be part of their system (called SHUFA) and I might have more luck, but in the meantime Deutsche Bank have relented and given me a debit card which makes it much easier to buy things in shops. Amazon.de have also given me a credit card, not that these are used much in Germany except for online shopping.

I think I’m there with the paperwork now. Well, I could get the special green disk for the car that allows me to drive in Köln or Krefeld but as I’m not expecting to drive to either of those I doubt it’s necessary (it’s only 5€ so not a major deal).

Electric sockets

Before I came to Germany we bought a couple of UK multiway adapters and James put German plugs on them. This meant I didn’t need adapters for my 3 pin plug chargers/computer etc but could just run them from an extension lead. And this is working fine.

I also, of course, have some items with German plugs like bedside lights, standard lamps, iPhone charger etc.

And I have discovered that I really don’t like the German sockets without the on/off switches. If you want to unplug your television, for example, or the DVD player, you have to physically pull the plug out of the socket. And it’s usually hiding behind something or low down to the ground.

Fortunately in the second week I was Aldi did some socket switches for 1.79€ so I bought several.

Adapter Stecker

And here is one I use for the lamp in my work area. Much easier to just flick this switch than pull the plug out or slide the sliding slider thingie for the lamp’s brightness to ‘off”.

Socket with switchI think this is just a hangover from our British socket system with switches on the socket. We’re really good at turning them off at home and I don’t like to think of things drawing current (however minor) when not needed.

Friendly postman

Our postman in the UK (Roy) is extremely friendly and helpful. Lo and behold the postman for Escheln is also friendly and helpful.

Now that I have officially registered as living in Germany I am able to get a Maestro card (debit card) and also a German credit card. The Credit Card was arranged through Amazon.de and they sent it to me but they also have to do this proof-of-address procedure which usually involves me going to a post office with my passport and Meldebescheinigung, a proof of registration in Germany (a very important document that lots of people want to see). But it turned out that the Amazon card uses the postman – when he delivers the card he checks the details.

I wasn’t sure when it would arrive so I left my passport and Meldebescheinigung where the family below could get them if the postman arrived whilst I was out. And, after several days, he did.

He checked all the details, filled in the form – but needed my signature. And I wasn’t there. So he delivered the credit card anyway and left the form with a note for me to sign it and stick it half in/half out of our letterbox; when he came past the next day he’d collect it. Which he duly did.

Note from Postman

The local community

I live in the hamlet of Escheln (probably 150 houses) which is one mile from the large village/small town of St Hubert, which is two miles from the main town of Kempen. All the addresses round here (whether Escheln, St Hubert or Kempen) have the same postcode and say Kempen as the post town. However St Hubert seems to function pretty well on its own as a town.

My landlady seems to know most people in Escheln and the neighbours all seem very friendly. I thought there might be issues with my car being parked outside someone else’s house but it all seems OK. I’ve met several people out on dogwalks and they generally chat for a little while. I think I’m fairly well known now because of the velomobile.

St Hubert is a lovely little town with five bakeries, an Aldi and another supermarket (Edeka), a couple of clothes shops, key cutters, bank, travel agent, chemist and most of the other things you’d need. There also seems to be a fair amount of local pride in the town – lots of the local cars have a sticker saying “I like living here” so I have bought one to affix when I get an opportunity.

St Hubert Car StickerI’ve also seen a similar sticker for Kempen so I will see if I can get one. This one came from the chemist’s shop.

St Hubert has a large catholic church as its main feature which can be seen from quite a way away. I gather that most of the people in the town are catholic (at least nominally) and the local evangelical (Lutheran) church that I have started attending has far fewer people.

Escheln is on one of the cycle routes that cross Nordrhein-Westfalen and bikes are a very common site – not, generally, cycle tourers but just people going about their everyday lives. Lara has several friends who often come to visit and they all come by bike.

St Hubert has also recently invested in some electric bike charging points which are situated right outside the very nice café/konditorei.

Elec Charging Point 2

Elec Charging Point

The place is generally very dog-friendly too with dogs allowed in a lot of places that they would be excluded from in the UK (although not in bakeries and supermarkets – Poppy has got used to being tied up outside whilst I go and do my grocery shopping).

The choirs

I have joined two choirs since I arrived.

The first is the local Da Capo choir, affiliated with the evangelical church in St Hubert. It’s a group of friendly people who sing together mainly for enjoyment but who occasionally contribute to a church service. We sang on Easter Sunday, will sing this Sunday at a confirmation service and also at the wedding of the son of one of the choir members in August. They sing a mixture of music including Taizé music, well-known folk songs and more. They’re more into enjoyment than technical skill and there was no audition which means all levels and abilities are included.

The Willicher MusikProjekt Chor sings more traditional music (Beethoven, Haydn etc) and I had a short audition for that. It’s a four-part harmony choir which practises a couple  of times per month in one of the three churches affiliated with the Emmaus-Kirchengemeinde Willich. The director, Klaus-Peter Pfeifer (who has his own Wikipedia page), is also an organist and one of those all-round musical chaps who are always impressive to know.

I’ve been to a couple of practices of each of these and am enjoying them in their different styles.

Cycling groups

This is where I’ve so far been rather unsuccessful. There is a cycling group in Lobberich (with whom I cycled once last year) but it’s short distance and slow, for pensioners. There are possibly some fast cycling groups for MAMILs in this part of the world but I am too slow for that. The sort of groups that are often around in England – 10mph average rides of 20 miles or less including a cake stop – don’t seem to be available round here. I have been given several cycling magazines by friend Anja, some of which are more local-based, so I need to check those more thoroughly, but it looks as though I may have to make my own cycle rides. Which is OK but it’s fun to meet with other people, even though it’s hard to ride alongside an upright bike if you’re in a velomobile or trike as the speed profiles are so different.

There is a German velomobile forum which I am a member of and I’ve already met one member of that forum for tea and cake. There are a few other trike riders in the general area of Viersen so I might be able to meet up with them in due course. There is a bit trike gathering in Schwalmtal over the Pfingsten weekend at the end of May so I will be attending the bits of that that I can (as the dog will probably be left behind) which should be good.

 

So after a month here I’ve settled in, I’ve kept up with my work, met lots of nice people and taken doggy on lots of walks. The landlady and her husband and daughter have also taken Poppy out walking and cycling so she’s having a brilliant time. Just last night I went to the cinema with them in Kempen to watch the Nelson Mandela film; we went by car and were able to park, free of charge, about a 2 minute walk from the cinema which is right in the centre of town opposite the Town Hall. I can’t imagine that in the UK!

So I’m looking forward to the next months and longer here and to doing some longer cycle rides as I get more used to Penelope the velomobile. And, of course, meeting more people and sampling more cake!

 

 

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Penelope goes to Hinsbeck

My ride today was actually one of the rides where I am visiting different churches in Kreis Viersen (I am trying to bag all 112 churches this year), but it turned out to be such an enjoyable ride I thought I’d do a short write-up now rather than adding lots of extra info to the page on the churches (which is still under construction).

Today is Easter Monday and, being Germany, shops are shut – but cafés aren’t. The weather was reasonable – about 18 degrees and hazy cloud but no sign of rain. The wind wasn’t too strong either.

So after walking the dog and doing some work this morning I decided, at 11:30, to head out on Penelope and just follow my nose.

For a change my nose took me due west towards the Netherlands. However I decided to try to bag a few churches on my list and so set my Garmin GPS to take me to Abtei Mariendonk, a monastery/cloister that I have visited several times before but not since I’ve moved to Kempen.

Here’s my track for the day:

Monday 21 April Track

I had a very enjoyable fast (downwind!) cycle to Mariendonk which is just four miles away or so.

A few days ago a German chap contacted me through my blog as he lives locally (in Viersen) and rides a recumbent trike and realised that we will probably cross paths. I had a look at his blog (http://3-rad.blogspot.de/) and noticed that he cycled to Straelen just a few days before I went there – and on his way he visited Mariendonk.

This is what he said about it:

Hinter Grefrath liegt das Kloster Mariendonk. Von Ferne sieht das Gebäude sehr schön aus, es entpuppt sich aber dann als ein von funktionalen Gebäuden umgebenen Klosterbau… naja doch nicht so der Hingucker. Eindrücke und Informationen gibt es hier www.mariendonk.de.

In other words… it looks nice from a long way away but is surrounded by rather functional buildings as part of the monastery.

Here are my photos:

Abtei Mariendonk 1

And here are the functional buildings where I parked.

Abtei Mariendonk 2

It all seemed very quiet and closed (although on a previous visit I spotted several nuns cycling out of one of the buildings) so I carried on.

The initial plan was to head for another Church Waypoint on my Garmin at Vinkrath but I saw some signs to Hinsbeck, which I had visited previously and was a bit further away, and I thought that would be a nicer trip today.

Hinsbeck is on a hill which is gentle one side and steep the other. Fortunately I was cycling up the gentle side so my speed didn’t drop much below 13kph.

As I got almost to the top of the hill I looked across at Hinsbeck. It has two church spires – the Catholic Church is clearly winning the Tallest Spire race though!

Approaching Hinsbeck

The spire of the Protestant church is just about visible in the trees on the left.

And here is the elevation profile so you can see the hill:

Monday 21 April Elevation Profile

The two churches in Hinsbeck are just a stone’s throw away from each other but it looked as though the route was easiest to go to the protestant church first so I headed that way.

Hinsbeck Evangelische Kirchegemeinde

It was yet another modern building and yet another that I didn’t find particularly pleasing to the eye (not that it matters when you’re inside, of course). My (limited so far) experience of visiting churches in Niederrhein is that the catholics have good all the attractive tall buildings and the Protestants have concrete buildings that look mostly less than fifty years old and are generally tucked away in residential streets rather than being in the centre of town. I shall obviously research this a bit more as part of my Churches Challenge.

Here is Penelope outside the church.

Penelope at Hinsbeck Evangelische Kirche

This is the church noticeboard which gives an idea about what’s going on in Hinsbeck

Noticeboard for Hinsbeck Evangelische Kirche

And here am I with Penelope.

Helen and Penelope outside Hinsbeck Evangelische Kirche

Clearly I didn’t take that photo myself – I accosted a passing couple and asked them to take the picture. Which they did. And then we ended up having a great chat for about three quarters of an hour. I was telling them about my Churches Challenge and about living in Germany and cycling Penelope, they were talking a lot about some of the beautiful churches to visit around here, a little bit about the history and more. It was really good to talk to Herr und Frau Herrmann, and they let me take a picture of them at the end.

Herr und Frau Herrmann

Time was marching on now and I was rather hungry, it being 13:30. I quickly popped to the Catholic Church a few hundred metres away which was also shut/locked.

Hinsbeck Catholic Church

There didn’t seem to be any cafés or similar open in the centre of Hinsbeck so I decided to start heading back and to get something in Grefrath.

There is a quick route to Grefrath along a main road from Hinsbeck but I decided to take the Bahnradweg (disused railway line cycle path) instead which starts in Lobberich, at the bottom of the hill from Hinsbeck. So I whizzed down the hill, rode into Lobberich on a fast road, and found the beginning of the Bahnradweg.

I spent ten days staying a mile from the centre of Lobberich (Nettetal) so am pretty familiar with this bit of the route – it was good to visit again!

I joined the Bahnradweg which is generally a lovely smooth tarmac which allows a velomobile to go nice and fast!

This is looking back at Hinsbeck with the Catholic church spire very visible again.

Looking back at Hinsbeck hill

So I now started zooming along the Bahnradweg. I could get up a pretty good speed between the road crossings – at one point I was cruising at 45kph (that’s 30mph-ish). It felt good! I was also pleased to note that the fallen tree that had caused me an issue had been cleared away.

One thing I did discover is that my hooter/horn thing, which is a very high-pitched squeal, is useless for warning people that I am coming. Most people don’t seem to notice it. I like to make some noise so they know I am passing and don’t get too surprised when the Purple Peril passes them. I need to investigate an alternative hooter – it looks like various things are available on Ebay for not too much. Perhaps I will find something at SPEZI Radmesse on Saturday (a bike exhibition for weird bikes and their various accessories).

Anyway, I was getting hungry now and wondering if I would find anywhere open in Grefrath when, rather fortuitously, I passed a sign for a café which was open on Easter Monday, right beside the cycle path. So I turned off and parked Penelope and went for some food.

Here’s the café.

Cafe on the Bahnradweg

Here’s the food.

Easter Monday cake

I actually fancied some soup or something but it was just a cake café so I forced myself…

Then it was back on the Bahnradweg, past this piece of Easter Artwork which was on a television.

Happy Easter Artwork

After Grefrath the Bahnradweg isn’t as good – the route is more twisty (presumably the railway was rather more dismantled) and there are some ruts in the tarmac because of tree roots, but it was still a very enjoyable ride despite being into wind.

I arrived in Kempen and decided to ride straight through the middle again – on the cobbles, of course. I stopped for a bit to chat to several people who all asked me about the velomobile – they all seem to assume I must have an electric motor in there. I have to show them it’s just my legs and they are all amazed. The next question is ‘how fast do you go’ and when I said I went at 45kph today (and that was on the flat) they are very surprised. When I say my average is 18kph (as it was today) they still seem to think that’s fast. In the UK that would not be considered fast at all!

I decided to do a slightly different route out from Kempen rather than just running along the cycle path on the main road so I took a cross-country path. Which, it turned out, had a railway crossing. The barriers are always down – you have to press a button to request it to be raised. But, of course, the button was too high for me.

Railway Crossing Call Box

So I got out, pressed the button and a real man answered and said something unintelligible and then the barrier raised and I cycled through. I went into St Hubert in the hopes of finding Café Poeth open so I could buy some bread but it was shut so I went home empty handed (but had some emergency french stick in the freezer, fortunately).

Today’s ride was 2 hours six minutes for 24.14 miles at an average of 11.5mph. Calories burned were 1,072 so the reduction in calorie burning of the velomobile (compared to Alfie the trike) continues. With a velomobile you’re always nice and warm, don’t get rained on, go faster… what’s not to like? The burning fewer calories seems to be the only downside so far!

I have decided that I’ll only bag a maximum of three churches per ride so I don’t get to them all before the end of the year. It’s a great excuse to visit all the different parts of Kreis Viersen and hopefully I’ll find a few that are open that I can visit soon.

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Filed under Cycling in Germany, Penelope the Velomobile, Six Wheels In Germany, Trikes & Velomobiles