Brigach und Breg…

bringen die Donau zuweg. All right, this is German, and since you are reading the English blog, I will give some explanation. It translates roughly into Brigach and Breg create the Danube. It is one of these little rhymes they teach the younger kids at school in order to make them more easily remember a certain fact. They teach you this one in Austria anyway, and if you were educated anywhere else in Central or Southeast Europe maybe you heard a similar one in your language. Two little streams, running eastwards out of the Black Forest, namely the Brigach and the Breg converge into one river, and this point is considered the source of the Danube. At 2810 km this is Europe’s second longest river after the Volga. Along its journey to the Black Sea the river changes names 6 times (Donau, Dunaj, Duna, Dunav, Donava, Dunarea, and Danube), crossing (or marking) 9 borders and flows through 4 capital cities.800px-Danubemap

 

The closest human settlement to the spot where Brigach and Breg converge is called Donaueschingen. From there the mighty river starts its journey eastwards, on a map at least. In the real world this is only half the truth. About 30 km downstream as it enters the Jura a curious thing happens. With a gurgling sound the water disappears into the ground. In fact the bottom of the river bed itself falls entirely dry for about half of each year. The water runs under ground through a system of caves in the limestone and eventually surfaces again around 20 km to the south, this time being called the Radolfszeller Aach, a stream which drains into Lake Constance, hence the Rhine. Long, long time ago the Danube drained an area as far west as today’s Rhone. However, over time the Rhone and Rhine both having steeper gradients and more erosive power sliced up the upper Danube catchment piece by piece, redirecting the water into their catchments, and will continue to do so. Since the previous Ice Age an ever increasing amount of water out of the Black Forest is redirected into the catchment of the Rhine underneath the surface. There the water washes out some 70 000 tons of limestone each year making the holes on the bottom of the river bed bigger and bigger. Eventually the surface will collapse and the entire Black Forrest will be within the catchment area of the Rhine. And Brigach and Breg will no longer be the source of the Danube. This said the Danube expands at its other end, the Black Sea. At its ever expanding delta it deposes the sediments which its tributaries erode primarily out of the growing Alps. Consequently the whole river doesn’t become shorter, it actually relocates eastwards.

So far the first mountain range of significance that I encountered, the Black Forest, still separated me from the Danube. Freiburg was another nice and atmospheric place for a stopover. The goal for the day was Donaueschingen, only 70 km away, had my planned route worked out.

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It turned out a bit longer due to a road closure and consequently a detour. Nevertheless it was a beautiful ride through fields, forests, and pretty towns. And it was steep, mind you. This certainly is a proper mountain range, not the way the Alps are, but still. Enough for a rookie. I shouted a few swearwords at the road during the steepest parts but I managed to get across pedalling without significant damage or delay. The views as well as the downhill stretch that followed more than compensated for the pain uphill.

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Donaueschingen I found a bit of a nondescript town, nice enough, but certainly no comparison to all these old towns full of atmosphere I saw on either side of the the Rhine. The next morning I went down to the convergence of the Danube which is a surprisingly unremarkable spot. The only slightly monumental feature there is a set of flags for all the countries the mighty river runs through. The flag for Austria was missing though, much to my disappointment. A woman who had previously travelled to Ukraine showed me photos of the other end of the Danube. I think it could be great fun cycling down the river.

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Exhaustion hit once more and my plan was to gently cycle just another 30 km down the Danube to a town named Tuttlingen and catch a train from there. Given the previous weeks lack of rain several stretches of the Danube were dry, elsewhere it rarely looked like more than a dirty and slow moving stretch of mud.

 

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Some locals convinced me that the most beautiful stretch was only after Tuttlingen, and then, I could catch a train from Beuron as well. They were absolutely right, and into the Jura with its white rocks and the beginning autumn colours the landscape was truly amazing. Less enjoyable was dealing with my exhausted self. Even the tiniest uphill stretch felt like the 38th kilometer in the marathon, and I was torn apart. Half of me was admiring the surroundings and the other half of me was swearing at those idiots who had told me to go further and to that idiot who had listened to them and kept going.

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In Beuron I bought a ticket to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, sort of a shortcut to the Alps. I arrived there around ten in the evening after changing trains three times, including in Munich in the midst of the Oktoberfest craze. I still didn’t feel like cycling the day after and took a train to Brixlegg. On a day trip to Innsbruck I had learned that my professor from uni was about to retire and for this reason there was some sort of academic celebration planned for Thursday. And I was correctly assuming a few beers afterwards with lots of old colleagues. I stayed five days rather than the three planned and attended. It was great fun.

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Friday brought snowfall down to 800 m. Without any proper cold weather clothes in my pannier bags I continued on the train to Salzburg where I still am typing these lines. Now only some really funky tan lines remind me of three weeks cycling across Europe in the bright sunshine, I have been very lucky so far. Now there is another sunny, albeit chilly, day on the road ahead. I plan to cross the Alps next.

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Up the Rhine

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After a hilly but short ride south-westwards I reached the state capital Düsseldorf. I stopped for some photos when a man started asking questions about my loaded bike and where I was going. After some conversation he wanted to buy me a beer what I gratefully accepted. This city is a top notch party place, and by far the latest nights in my life happened there, back in the days, some I remember, some I don’t. It seems that bars and clubs never close, and albeit on several occasions I did not leave before 7 in the morning I had never been asked to do so.

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After the one beer, I had lunch and hit the road again. The goal for the day, Cologne, is only 40 km away. Still, the sun had set by the time I was there. I found a dorm bed at the Youth Hostel. My plan had been to stay for another day and get some shopping done. Thursday morning however, after some sightseeing I was more anxious to keep going.

 

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Not far outside Cologne the Landscape became more hilly and the Rhine flows through a proper valley, a narrow one. Along steep rocks on both sides small towns are nestled, one more atmospheric than the other. Since I was anxious to stick to my plan and reach Koblenz that day I only stopped once for lunch. There would be a lot to explore however.

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Koblenz, my second overnight stop on the Rhine was a bit disappointing. It is a beautiful town, mind you but for some sort of garden show they actually sealed the most interesting part off and charge 2 Euro entry fee. I didn’t pay so to see the remaining sights I had to go around this area back and forth, what produced quite some milage already.

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The scenery didn’t change that day, it even became a bit more dramatic. The Loreley is a well known meander with a beautiful rock formation and one of Germany’s landmark sights. further up the vineyards dominated the slopes. The river is so busy this obvious bottleneck provided the only sight of the River without barges.

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I stopped in Gustavsburg for two days. The town is of no interest whatsoever but very close to Mayence. This is a very beautiful city, with a big historic centre and beautiful architecture. Once more I arrived on market day, and this one was a particularly colourful one. The reason for the two nights was a friend in the area, who is about to move to Brazil. I won’t see him for a long time, and was really keen to meet.

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Upstream of Ludwigshafen the valley becomes wider before it disappears completely into a plain. The landscape changes dramatically as the Rhine has loads of side arms in what seems to be an endless swamp around it. Albeit stopping is no good idea for the mosquitoes it is an extremely beautiful area to cycle through.

Overall, there are remarkably few bridges across the Rhine, but most towns are connected by little ferries sailing back and forth. Cycling here is a mainstream activity, and paths and signposts are excellent.

I stayed the night in Speyer, a world heritage site, mainly for its Cathedral.

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Following the left side of the Rhine I crossed another dotted line on the map the next day, back into France. I had lunch in Lauterbourg, and a man sitting at the same table got really excited about my trip. I had inquired about good places to stay, as I would not make it into a big city on that same day. He sent me to Drusenheim, what was a bit farther away than I wanted but still doable. When I gave him my blog he said he would send me photos of pork roast, sauerkraut and beer further down the road. I will see.

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The path clearly lost scenery as for a long way it lead along a dam which obstructed the view, and I could only assume that the Rhine was on the other side of it. I would lose interest in the views soon anyway. The sun was low already and no town was nearby when I realised that I had my first puncture. Given the limited time until darkness I decided against a roadside repair. I pumped up my tire every 15 minutes or so and raced on. I rolled into Drusenheim just before sunset.

 

To my delight there was a funfair and market that day and I planned to get changed and have a wander around and have some fun. Well, contrary to that I fell onto the bed and dozed off, and when I woke up and got out the funfair was closed and the market gone. Still, I had a very nice Flammkuchen, sort of a Rhenish pizza, outside

 

The path along the Rhine suddenly ended the next day, and together with two other confused cyclists I eventually got back on track. One of them I met a bit later on again, he was from Essen but his trip would finish in Strasbourg. This is where we went together and spent the afternoon in a beer garden. The unplanned overnight stop turned out to be difficult, as the city seemed full. A short term cancellation secured me a nice but little expensive bed right in the city centre. There is no question why those EU officials chose this place for the parliament, it’s really beautiful with a very impressive historic centre.

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It took me some time to find back on the path, the signposting was very poor outside of Strasbourg. The route continues away from the Rhine but along the Rhone to Rhine canal. I got lost again at a place where the path was blocked. Frustrated by poor Alsace signposting I decided to cross the Rhine at the next possibility, maybe it was better on the other side.

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The right side convinced with a path on top of the dam. Further more a northerly wind picked up and once more the tailwind blew me across, and I was racing southwards.

 

For a few minutes I considered changing plans and continue to Basel, but I stuck to my old plan. I lay in the sun for an hour in Breisach where I said good bye to the mighty river which I had followed for a week and turned east towards the Black Forest. Much to my delight the remaining 20 km to Freiburg were still flat.

There are more photos on www.flickr.com/georgisola

 

 

 

Ruhrgebiet for a few days

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I had a very late lunch at the Innenhafen, a remodelled port on the Rhine and one of the more successful urban regeneration projects and a good night sleep in Duisburg. With the exhaustion of the past few days I was not up to much. I was expected for dinner with friends in Bochum so I had the whole day for this stretch of about 30 km. It would be a gentle ride, through known territory.

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The Ruhrgebiet is Germany’s largest and Europe’s fourth largest (after Moscow, Greater London and Ile-de-France) urban agglomeration. There is no one centre as such, it consists of a number of big and moderately big cities bordering each other. I used to call the area home for three and a half years, Essen to be precise. Before the industrial revolution the area wasn’t much except for a few towns and farms. When mankind learned what to do with coal, this changed rapidly. Coal of very high quality is only just below the surface here. In some areas, you virtually dig a hole in your garden and grab it. Very quickly the area developed into a buzzing industrial centre, and with large numbers of immigrants flocking in big cities developed within just one generation. Canals were dug and railway lines built in support of the heavy industry and the coal mining. By the early twentieth century around 300 coal mines were active in the area. During the two world wars the Ruhrgebiet functioned as Germany’s central weapon factory. Consequently during the Second World War the area was levelled, wiping out about 20 % of Germany’s entire industry. The cities were rebuilt in a rush, apparently without anyone bothered to involve the architects. The ‘economic miracle’ of the 1950s and 1960s saw the area as a main beneficiary as it created a high demand of coal and steel. From the early 1970s onwards coal mining became less competitive and the area went through a number of structural crises, known as steel crises. The Ruhrgebiet today is still an extremely large albeit shrinking metropolitan area. There is little beauty to it on face value, but it is a unique place in many ways. Certainly industrial but surprisingly green, crowded but long past its persistent cliche of heavy pollution. Looking at its history and perspective it seems there has always been a future, even if the present has never been that great. Due to its large population and the density of industrial headquarters it remains a political and economic powerhouse. Football is a serious matter here. I has developed into a top notch cultural centre. People are open, almost cheeky, with a strong egalitarian perspective. Albeit grey, the place is far from grim in my memory.

 

I headed for Essen in the morning. Ignorant of where I was going, other than the general direction I turned onto Karl-Lehr-Strae. Here, on 24th July 2010 a stampede at the Love Parade, an electronic music and dance festival caused the death of 21 people and hundreds of injuries. A place between two viaducts is heavily decorated. Besides of mourning a high degree of anger is expressed here, anger at the authorities and organisers. I stopped for some time.

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The centre of Essen is usually very quiet on Sundays. I stopped for a coffee and surfed the internet for a bit, I was still ready for some rest. The remainder of the way to Bochum took me on a nice path along the Ruhr river, through woods and fields.

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When I started cycling around London sticking to the left side of the road was of course something I had to get used to. After three years, other than expected, I didn’t have to get used to go back to the right side. Rather I feel comfortable on the side of the road, regardless whether this is the left or the right one. This is rarely a problem, except when I am forced onto the other side by something other than traffic. If unaware, I caught myself just continuing on that side, until, well, usually other people make me aware of where I am cycling.

Seeing friends is always nice and there is a bunch of especially close ones in the area. And not least a few comfortable and free nights. I had arranged for some drinks at my favourite bar at the time when I lived there on Tuesday. Many friends and former work colleagues showed up and gave me a nice wave off. I had a great night.

The knock on effects of the night before caused a late departure, as I left on Wednesday, headed back to the Rhine.

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There are more photos on www.flickr.com/georgisola

 

 

 

 

 

Die erste Etappe

Mein ursprünglicher Plan war am Sonntag, den 11. September aufzubrechen. Am Freitag bekam ich einen freundlichen Anruf von der Botschaft, mein Pass sei fertig. Mein Pass! Während all der Vorbereitungen in letzter Minute hatte ich meinen Pass vergessen. Nun, ich hatte wohl auch gerade erst so richtig verstanden, dass etwas großes bevorsteht. Und zur Vorfreude kam auch etwas Angst. Am Samstag, als ich fertig gepackt hatte, beschloss ich, meine Reise einen weiteren Tag zu verzögern, was ist schon ein Tag?

 

Montag Früh stand ich um acht vor der Botschaft, nur um festzustellen, da die erst um neun öffnet. Öffnet nach Englischer Manier und schließt nach österreichischer. Ich suchte mir Frühstück und als ich um neun zurück war, hatte sich ein Grüppchen von Damen, deren Pässe gestohlen worden waren, versammelt, die jetzt das Land nicht mehr verlassen durften. Bis alle Formulare ausgefüllt und Fingerabdrücke genommen waren, und ich an der Reihe war, war es zehn. Mit meinem neuen Pass in der Hand war ich zum Aufbruch bereit.

Ich hatte geplant meine Reise am Trafalgar Square zu beginnen, an dem ich dann nur vorbeifuhr. Mein Weg führte vorbei an praktisch allen bekannten Sehenswürdigkeiten Londons. Im Greenwich Park, genau da wo der London Marathon beginnt, machte ich meine erste Pause und zog mich um. Bevor ich meine neuen Fahrradschuhe zum ersten Mal auf der Straße benutzte, wollte ich noch ein bisschen das ein und ausklicken üben. Als ich mich sicher fühlte, und abfahren wollte, fiel ich zum ersten Mal, weil ich schlichtweg vergessen hatte, auszuklicken. Es sollten am gleichen Tag noch vier weitere Stürze folgen. Ich habe buchstäblich auf die harte Tour gelernt.

 

Es dauert ein wenig, bis man aus London draußen ist, mir wurde wieder einmal bewusst, wie groß diese Stadt ist. Kent ist wunderschön, grün mit kleinen Wäldern, und allerdings hügelig, Um etwa 17.00 Uhr erreichte ich Canterbury. Von den unzähligen Hügeln war ich schon einigermaßen erschöpft. Da eine Sturmwarnung bestand, vermutete ich, dass es wohl auch Probleme mit den Fähren über den Ärmelkanal geben würde. Somit legte ich den Rest des Weges bis Dover mit der Bahn zurück.

 

Um 23.00 Uhr war die Fähre fr 20.00 Uhr zum Einsteigen bereit. Ich hatte als Ankunftshafen Dunkirque statt Calais gewählt, das spart mir 30 km Weg. Die Ankunft war dann im Nirgendwo. Ich hatte schon erfahren, dass es noch ungefähr eine Stunde Fahrt vom Hafen bis zu Stadt sein würden, nicht unbedingt etwas worauf ich mich freute, um 2.00 Uhr in der Nacht. Es war warm, kein Verkehr, sternenklar und ich hatte guten Rückenwind. Schlussendlich genoss ich diese Fahrt sehr.

 

Es war nur etwa eine Stunde Fahrt bis zur Grenze und kurz danach führte der Weg entlang der Küste, meistens direkt am Strand. Ein kräftiger Westwind blies mich nur so über die Straße, und neben mir wehte der Sand. Links von mir der Strand und das Meer und von oben strahlender Sonnenschein. Die Küste in Belgien ist fast komplett verbaut, es fühlt sich fast an, als würde man sich durch eine ewig lange Stadt bewegen, komplett mit einer Straßenbahn, die den ganzen Küstenabschnitt entlang fahrt.

 

In Oostende bin ich nach rechts abgebogen Richtung Brügge. Hinter den Dünen beginnen die Felder und ziehen sich wohl über ganz Nordeuropa. Der Mais war mannshoch und streckenweise gab es außer dem Himmel wenig zu sehen. Brügge ist wunderschön, historische Häuser, Türme, Kirchen und Windmühlen, und alles durchzogen von einem Netz von Kanälen.


 

 


 

Es ging weiter durch Felder, immer auf guten Radwegen.

 


Antwerpen kostete mich ein paar weitere Stunden, um, wenn es schon nicht zu besichtigen, so wenigstens ein bißchen an der Oberfläche zu kratzen und ein paar Fotos zu machen.

Mein Eindruck von Belgien ist sehr gut, zumindest für den Teil von Flandern, durch den ich durchgeradelt bin. Es gibt hier wunderschöne Städte, ausgezeichnetes Essen, und Massen von Radfahrern.

 

Die Radwege wurden noch besser in den Niederlanden. Meine einzige Übernachtung war in Eindhoven, einer Stadt, die auf den ersten Blick weniger zum Besichtigen einlud. Zum ersten Mal nahm ich am Freitag die schöne statt der schnellen Route, und die führte durch interessante Sumpflandschaften.

Nach 120 km oder mehr an fünf aufeinanderfolgenden Tagen war ich etwas erschöpft und übernachtete in einem Ort gleich hinter der Deutschen Grenze. Am Samstagvormittag erreichte ich den Rhein in Krefeld, und querte ihn später von Rheinhausen nach Duisburg,wo ich meine erste Etappe als beendet betrachtete.

 

 

The First Leg

My appologies to the London folks who have never been taken out to a send off, or a few drinks anyway. Especially those I promised. My degree of organisation was very limited the days before I headed off, and albeit planned it never happened. There will certainly be other occasions however not necessarily soon…

 

My plan was to head off on Sunday, September 11th. With all my planning, organising, and running around in circles I had completely forgotten about my passport. The gentle remainder came on Friday, as the embassy called to inform me it was ready to collect. I was anxious to get started but what does a delay of one day matter? Only on Saturday it dawned on me that something big was about to happen. And with that the thought of staying another night in the safe confines of my temporary home in Stratford upon Avon was comforting.

 

I left Stratford on Sunday afternoon on the train and stayed the night in London. Just before eight on Monday I arrived at the embassy on my loaded bike only to learn it opens at nine. Well, English opening times and Austrian closing times, I thought. I left again for a coffee and when I came back a group of women had gathered whose passports had been stolen and who were now unable to leave the country. Well, it took only an hour until forms were filled out and fingerprints taken. By ten I grabbed my shiny new passport and off I went.

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I cycled up to Hyde Park corner, and towards Buckingham Palace, then down the Mall. I only passed my chosen start line, Trafalgar Square, and turned into the Strand. Through the City, I rather coincidentally passed my old work, then St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Monument and the Tower. I crossed the Thames at Tower Bridge, then turned onto Boris superhighway towards Greenwich. It was a truly superb ride, and the celebration of my departure.

 

I had a break on the upper end of Greenwich Park, right where the London Marathon starts. I dropped a few clothes there and for the first time in the real world I changed into my new cycle shoes. I practiced to engage and disengage the connectors a few more times and when I felt safe, I went back on, for a few meters, before I had to perform a sudden stop, and made my first uncontrolled acquaintance with the ground. Becoming familiar with the connectors took the whole day, and four more times falling over. I got there eventually…

 

The ride through Kent was beautiful through a hilly, green scenery. I made good progress. It was an exhausting progress however, given the hills. Why had nobody told me before?

 

Astorm warning was out so I checked for the ferries across the Channel. They were running heavy delays. For this reason, and given the unexpected exhaustion from that hilly ride, I took a train from Canterbury to Dover.

 

The eight o’clock ferry boarded round about eleven. The bike queue was just me in shorts shivering and a Czech man on a scooter who had come all the way without luggage to see some family. I had chosen Dunkerque as the destination because this would save me around 30 km of cycling over Calais. The crossing itself is such a straightforward and organised prosess, there was nothing romantic about it.

 

The ferry spat me out in the middle of nowhere, and some locals had told me it would be at least an hour to town. Getting back on the bike at two in the morning didn’t exactly excite me. I headed off into the night. There was no traffic whatsoever, it was warm and clear, and I had a strong tailwind. I had a surprisingly pleasant ride under the stars. I found my bed at about three in the morning.

 

The start on Tuesday was late in the morning. Not long after crossing the border to Belgium I hit the coast. For the most part it is built up and feels like a very long city, even with a tram running all the way. I stuck to the beach for most of the way. It was another sunny enough day and with a strong tailwind I raced along, the beach to my left, clouds of sand blowing along the way. I turned inland in Oostende and the rest of the way towards Brugge was through the never ending fields.

 

Brugge is an old, charming town. The historic centre is bigand very well preserved. Most houses are either half timber or beautifully decorated. There is an extensive network of tree lined canals, with bridges crossing them. It is a truly beautiful place. Albeit anxious to keep going I decided to spend the morning in town, to take a few photos at least.

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The scenery for the rest of the week was never ending fields on perfectly flat ground, with the occasional swamp, and canals cutting through. Easy to cycle but rather dull for the views.

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Antwerpen was another beautiful overnight stop, and worth spending a few hours.

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Belgium was a very nice experience. There is a nice beach, incredibly beautiful towns and cities, the food and the beer is good and there are always good cycle paths. Plenty of cyclists were around, and when asked always helped with directions, or filling up water bottles.

I didn’t mind finding Eindhoven a rather functional city where I had no desire to stay longer than for the night. For the first time though I took the beautiful rather than the short way on Friday.

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Exhausted fromfive days of about 120 km cycling I stopped for the nightat a small country town just after crossing into Germany.

I hit the Rhine in Krefeld on Saturday morning. Later in the day I crossed it into Duisburg where I considered the first leg finished.

 

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There are more photos on www.flickr.com/georgisola