There are things I like and dislike about this country, but cycling infrastructure in the northern Rhine area? Oh baby.
I am so glad to live in an area where cycling is a real alternative to traveling by car, or bus, or train. A trip that would have taken, with a lot of luck and perfect conditions, one hour via car (and a heck of a lot longer by bus!) can be done in something like two and a half hours by bicylce, with a gorgeous landscape all around you and fresh air and sheep and storks and geese and lakes and enough sunlight to sky-rocket your vitamin D levels.
I know, those are the ideal circumstances that can hardly be had all around the year, but still, this is what makes it hard for me not to look insufferably amused when hearing about spinning classes. Although those have their advantages: a description of a beautiful landscape won’t make me stop to take pictures every ten minutes.
Please note: I didn’t fiddle around with colour saturation. 55 klicks of landscape just looked like this, minus a few little townships, and those were pretty, too.
Now, for a moment of shameless gloating:
Please note: that is not a road, as in: for cars. That’s a bicycle lane. Okay, pedestrians can use it, too, but as soon as you’re one or two miles out of the last town, it’s 99% cyclists, some of them towing these around:
(Stock picture; since these guys move fast and aren’t fenced in, they are much harder to capture on camera than sheep.)
It’s perfect for a family outing: mom or dad are getting some extra exercise, the kids can either watch the landscape or doze off, and there are enough benches along the way to stop and have a picknick. And I’ve yet to see a cyclist or car driver rude and insane enough to be careless around one of these. It’s not like they are easy to overlook.
There are limits to what a smartphone camera can do, but watching four storks (please take my word on the fourth one) stork their way through that brook and spear whatever they considered edible – that was a highlight. It’s a long time since I’ve seen storks out in the wild and no surprise: the last time round I was cycling, too.
One town had a planetary path – I didn’t even know that was a thing, but there are dozens of them in Germany alone and a very famous one, the Sweden Solar System, reaches all the way along the swedish coast. This is the first I one I’ve seen:
a model of the planetary system, scaled about 1 million km = 1 meter, with the sun being represented by a bronze ball (a bit less than 5 feet in diameter) in the town’s park. Then 58 meters away from it is Merkur, then the following planets, all the way out to Pluto at 6 km away from the sun, and of course the planets are modeled to scale, too – Earth’s moon is 3 mm in diameter, slightly less than 1/8 of an inch.
Btw, the inscriptions list diameter, orbital period, average distance to the sun, and how long it takes for the sunlight to reach the planet.
Sheep, sheep, no end of sheep. In case you are a city-dwelling life form: they are almost never as clean as this, unless they are part of some Emperesses fake rural village and get shampood, carded and decorated with pretty ribbons daily. These have been shorn a few days / weeks ago; and given the summer heat, they were probably grateful for it. In a few months, they’ll be back to looking like this:
… and they don’t smell any better than they look. Basically as if they’d been wearing the same woolen jumper 24 hours a day, for eleven months, and without being able wipe themselves clean.
Freshly shorn sheep look so different from the shaggy creatures they are the year round: no fleece to create that fluffy look, and they end up looking like somewhat depressed dogs.
Even without all that wool, these guys still seem to feel under the weather, and I can’t blame them. When I got into about 45 minutes of rain on the first half of the trip, I was deeply grateful for it and wouldn’t have minded for it too last longer. I was dried out again half an hour after it stopped.
And then there’s the Rhine…
Doesn’t look like much from this angle, but the river itself is around 400 meters (440 yards) wide at this point, and then a similar span of tidal meadows to the left and right before the embankments which are, in a traditional ( meaning: rainy) summer, the last defense against quite a few sheep, cows, horses and other assorted Germans getting their feet, basements and possibly second story rooms wet.
As a result, if you cross the the river at this bridge, you have a distance of either less or more than 1 kilometer (depending on wich points you define as the starting points) just to get over the bridge. It gives you an idea on why a few thousand years back when the river was still meandering unhindered by embankments, building a bridge over it in 10 days was such a feat – and also why, even after managing that, the Romans finally came to the conclusion that territory beyond this monster just wasn’t worth the trouble. A sensible course of action, given that the southern stretches of the Rhine have some very good wine-growing areas while the northern parts grow mostly cows, sheep and sometimes horses.
But very good cycling roads!