There is something about using the word bitte in a sentence asking for a beer that makes my brain want to actually ask for a bitter. The above sentence hasn’t yet popped out of my mouth but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time, intentionally or otherwise.
Its been a slightly frustrating couple of days. From a campsite on the Dutch / German border, I’ve spent two days now heading south into industrial Germany. The landscape is still agricultural outside the cities but as the route is on the Rhine proper now, the industrial aspect that brings is becoming more apparent.
Maybe the last few weeks are catching up with me but I’ve been sleeping in more in the morning and with my legs tired after the first few days have only covered 40 miles a day since then. With a fair amount of my clothes wet and proving difficult to dry in my little tent with it still raining on and off, and being out of fresh food I thought a night in a hostel and possibly a day off might be in order to sort myself out, shop, wash and dry clothes etc. I had images of arriving at the quaint little youth hostel in Xanten for a tasty local steak and a large washing machine but was slightly surprised to be confronted with a modern building a few miles out of town, looking not dissimilar to a business park. This would have been forgiven had it not also been full. Cue another few miles cycling to find a campsite recommend by the youth hostel and marketing itself as ‘camping in the wild’ which was in fact a posh german equivalent of a trailer park. With roads, front gardens and the German equivalent of gnomes (sculpted animals). Very strange. I was tempted in, however, by the sign for a Gasthaus offering a hearty half a chicken and chips. The owners resembled something like the characters from Shameless and seemed to spend their time chain-smoking inside the tiny reception hut but did redeem themselves when they offered to fetch some milk and bread for me (probably in response to the disappointed look on my face when they told me the Gasthaus was closed on Mondays!)
Heading south the next day mostly along the tops of the dikes alongside the river, I had a choice of stopping short again in Duisburg where there definitely was a youth hostel or pushing on another 20 miles to Dusseldorf, where things were less certain and probably more confusing due to the size of the place. Duisburg won. Once again, dreaming of a lovely steak and a big washing machine, the reality of Duisburg’s poor excuse for a youth hostel was disappointingly different!
Internally resembling something like the mental hospital from ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’, it has no clothes washing or drying facilities, no kitchen available to guests and is a few miles from the town centre with the only local restaurant being the least authentic Italian restaurant I’ve ever had the misfortune to visit. Perhaps I’ve been spoilt in the past with the British and overseas youth hostels I’ve stayed in that were geared around outdoor activities, though I guess not many of them were in industrial cities. A German family, also cycling, said that it gets much better as you head south – more campsites and places more geared up for people travelling through.
Two hours of vigorous hand washing later left my clothes smelling a little better, but as I write this, a full 24 hours after that, some are still not dry due to the lack of warmth and any sunlight in my room. The irony is that today was actually sunny and had I been camping, they would not now be at risk of being packed wet again tomorrow!
Duisburg doesn’t appear to have a huge amount to recommend it really although I’ve only just passed through. Its clearly based on a huge industrial river port, with only a few nice bits of the historical old town remaining.
The nicest experience today was a deli owner selling me a carton of tomato passata from her own kitchen as there was a distinct lack of anything resembling a supermarket in the area and all the lovely sauces she stocked in her shop came in heavy glass jars, not that practical for the bike.
So far then, Holland was stylish, friendly, neat, organised and pleasant whilst Germany initially seems much harder work. This may in part be due to everyone’s willingness to speak English in the Netherlands. I’m now struggling to bring my three years of schoolboy German (some twenty years ago – how did THAT happen?) which was already confused with better French and now more recent Spanish from the dregs of my memory.
Anyway, back to the hostel for a nights sleep before heading south again. Hoping to pass Dusseldorf around lunchtime and head further south to camp. The snoring from the room on one side, and the screaming baby from the room on the other are making me yearn for my tent…
Some more photos of the past few days: