It was an uneventful journey for us on Air Berlin, from take-off in Saint Petersburg, via Berlin, to Frankfurt. The aircraft were both new B737-800s, with an efficient crew and good cabin service. We had some hours to wait in Berlin for the second flight, but we spent the time drinking beer, chatting to some Austrian people and watching the world go by.
Arrival in the European Union gave us a stamp in our passports, but no computer record or electronic passport control. I guess they thought that if we had been into and out of the Russian Federation, our credentials would be in order.
We happily paid the modest train fare from the Airport into the Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof (main railway station) and reunited ourselves with Zung who had flown in from Brisbane, Singapore and Dubai a few hours earlier. By then it was near midnight and we were all tired from our travels.
Monday morning. Up early for a nice hot shower. Not possible. A small problem with ze hot water, will be fixed in an hour. Have a free breakfast with our compliments. It was not until after lunch time that the hot water came back on. We went exploring whilst unwashed, eventually had a shower, then made the most of the rest of our day in Frankfurt, exploring the old and the not so old parts of the city.
That night we dined at a very old, tourist-oriented restaurant in the heart of the city, the Café Hauptwache. It used to be an old coach house at the city wall, but is now a restaurant and bar, serving mainly German food. The food was OK, the service (?) was haphazard. When the bill came, it had the message TIP IS NOT INCLUDED THANK YOU’ printed in English, at the bottom. The bill was otherwise in German.
We now know that by law in Germany, bar and restaurant prices must include all taxes and service charges, but some greedy operators have gone a step further when serving unsuspecting foreigners. They reason that a tip is not a service charge, and try to extract further payment as a tip from foreigners. We handed over a further Euro5, which seemed to satisfy the waiter, but I will bag the place mercilessly on TripAdvisor to extract my revenge. As they say, ‘Revenge is a dish best served cold…’
On Tuesday 30 May, a short local train journey to Mainz, where our cycle trip down the Rhine River valley was to commence. Mainz is one of those picture postcard German towns, neat as a pin, nothing out of place, everything is most satisfactory there. The hotel was good, our bikes were waiting for us, the luggage pick up was on-time, and the weather was cool and almost moist. (Actually, great cycling weather – not hot, not windy, not raining.)
On Wednesday morning we set off at about 10.00am for Rudesheim, another smaller picture postcard German town etc etc, on the other side of the Rhine, about 35km downstream from Mainz. There was a separate cycle path almost all the way, well signposted, quite flat, with good riding surfaces. Our rented bikes had electric power assistance, as well as gears, so the riding was relatively effortless. The only slightly negative factor was the large numbers of locals out walking, cycling, partying, exercising etc for their May Day public holiday, which made for slow cycling at some points. Rudesheim was packed with tourists, mostly Germans, it seemed, and the town was very oriented towards meeting their needs for food, alcohol and souvenirs (in that order).
The Rhine is a very busy river. There is an almost endless stream of passenger boats, ferries and cargo barges moving both up and down stream. We saw some examples of the cruise boats that cater to Australian travellers. You know the ones, for people on their post-retirement, pre-pension spend up, with all beer, wines and soft drinks included etc. So boring. We saw some of them stopped at a town for 10 minutes, then all back on the boat. The passengers see little and experience even less.
Thursday, on to St Goar, another 35km or so down the river. We passed the famous Lorelei corner, where the siren(s) lured sailors onto the rocks. Our bikes held true to their course.
The hotel in St Goar turned out to be about 3km further downstream and out of the town somewhat. But it was a Wine Hotel, and we had no need to pedal our way (upstream) to the town. It was all very German, including the regular speeding trains on the lines on both sides of the river, all through the night.
On Friday, to Koblenz, the end of our cycle odyssey. The tight-a**e fancy Mercure Hotel did not provide free internet access, and the town itself was almost devoid of free internet too. Wake up, mein Damen und Herren, it’s 2013!! Otherwise Koblenz is another picture postcard German city, located at the junction of the Mosel and Rhine Rivers. It was another day of easy cycling, helped by the electric assistance and slight downhill gradient of the river valley. The day had commenced with the threat of rain, but none happened and we finished our entire cycle trip as dry as a bone.
The cycling tour was a great experience, and cycling is certainly a great way to see the sights of the Rhine valley. On Saturday, to Cologne (Koln), but that is for another blog post.