Our first week of cycling was very rewarding, the weather was good (although cold), the scenery spectacular and we finally felt free – doing what we set out to do. We both agreed, that if for some reason we had to go home after this week, we would remember it for the rest of our lives.
Our plan was to cycle to Amsterdam, mostly following the Rhine River, to meet up with some good friends who were visiting from Sydney, and to pick up a laptop (yes, a 2nd one….) that they were kindly bringing over from Australia. From doing a bit of research, we found that there was a cycle path that runs the length of the Rhine, from around Rotterdam to Andermatt in the Swiss Alps, so we decided this would form the perfect basis for our route. Coming from two countries that have virtually no cycling infrastructure to speak of, its very impressive to see how cyclists are catered for in Germany and Holland.
The route we rode on is also one of the EuroVelo routes, EuroVelo 15. The EuroVelos are a continent wide network of long distance cycle routes, albeit a work in progress in some cases.
DAY ONE: Cologne to Benrath | 62km
Despite our route taking us along the Rhine river, we still managed to get lost a few times!
As we left Cologne, we rode over the Hohenzollern Bridge, which is fondly known as the ‘bridge of love’. From end to end, along the wire fence lining the train tracks, are thousands and thousands of padlocks. Couples come to this bridge, write or engrave their names on the locks, padlock the locks to the fence and throw the key into the Rhine below…. and of course, so begins everlasting love! I have a picture of this bridge and the padlocks on our bucket list of places to see, and it was a very nice unexpected surprise to come across this. We didn’t even remember that it was in Cologne!
As we rode out of Cologne, the track was extremely busy, being a sunny Sunday and the going was pretty slow. We didn’t mind too much, as there was so much to see. The weather was glorious and there were friends, families and couples everywhere – walking, picnicking, fishing, sleeping – just soaking up the sunshine.
Overall the cycling was good, at one point we had to wheel our bikes up a steep river bank to access the bridge crossing the river. Unused to the weight of the bike, I struggled a little and needed Carl’s help as nearly toppled down the hill under the weight of the leaning bike, felt like such a beginner! As the evening set in we couldn’t find a few of the campsites shown on the map and had to backtrack quite considerably in search of them. By the time we found a campsite, it was completely deserted and with our excellent German reading skills we worked out it was a private motor boat club and not open to the public. Out of pure chance, we spotted the one and only person staying there – he took pity on us, I think, and said we could stay the night – but only just this once!
So, with the sun setting and no facilities of any sort we set up camp, made dinner and climbed in for the night. A little cold, with aching backsides, and perhaps a little dirty, but satisfied that we had conquered this ‘cycling’ thing!
- Private campsite for motor-boat club (not open to public)
DAY TWO: Benrath to Duisburg | 58km
We thoroughly enjoyed the cycle further north. Trees were blossoming everywhere – sometimes if we rode through a avenue of them it felt like it was snowing – with the breeze blowing the delicate petals to the ground. The sun continued to shine, although it was still quite cold.
Düsseldorf was a good looking city, we stopped for a snack in a beautiful park and fed the ducks for a while. The wind was fairly strong, but thankfully for the most part we were protected from it by the trees.
As we neared Duisburg in the afternoon, it was clear to see it was a heavy industrial town. Unrelenting smoke puffed into the air from towering brick smoke-stacks, the buildings became less ‘pretty’ and more ‘practical’.
A large storm blew in, which forced us to take cover in an entry lobby of an apartment building, we went on a few recces each time the rain lessened to try find the ever-elusive campsites listed on our map, but to no avail. Two nights out of two, we started having some qualms about the validity of our plan to cycle and camp through Europe. Calling it quits, we hired a room at a local B&B and were grateful for a warm shower and a roof over our heads. No sooner had we done that, than the sun came out and shone happily down on our new-found shelter!
DAY THREE: Duisburg to Wesel | 50KM
We stopped just outside Duisburg for a mid-morning snack. Huge smoke stacks loomed over a glassy, calm stretch of water next to the Rhine. We sat for a while, watching a father and son play with their tiny puppy, just absorbing the unexpected peace found within the strangely dichotomous landscape.
Our ride continued through farmland and small villages, some consisting of just a few houses. Everywhere was so neat and tidy, with an almost story-book quality to it.
We stopped cycling fairly early in the day and camped at a site called Grav-Insel, a super large camping ground on its own little island just outside Wesel. We were given a site on the river, which was beautiful – the sun was shining, and we managed to get a good deal of washing done (which hung merrily on our little washing line next to the river).
CAMPSITE: Grav-Insel – Wesel
- Very large campsite on an island in the Rhine, predominantly for caravans.
- Good facilities with washing machines and dryers available.
- Restaurant/Bar, kiosk and supermarket on site.
DAY FOUR: Wesel to Emmerich-Elten | 62KM
May Day – a public holiday in Europe. We only worked this out because the paths were super busy with people out cycling and walking. The atmosphere was very festive, with even the local fire-truck driving past with tree blossoms affixed to its windscreen!
We drove through a beautiful town called Rees, which claims to be the oldest ‘city’ on the Neider-Rhein. It had a really historic feel with quaint cobbled streets.
The wind was blowing fairly hard but thankfully we were mostly protected by the dikes along the river, and only felt the full brunt of it when crossing the large bridge into the town of Emmerich. It felt too early to stop and camp, so we decided to head further north. We somehow missed the path we were supposed to be on heading towards Stokkum, and ended up in Höch-Elten instead (as the name intimates, there was a hill to climb to get there)! There were no campsites in the town, so we headed down towards the river where we found a beautifully quiet, grassy spot, run by an old lady. When we asked if she had internet – she just laughed, “I have no phone, no computer, why on earth would I need internet?” she asked…
Once we had set up camp, we rode back up the hill to the ‘Pannenkoeken Huis’, (a sure sign we were nearly in Holland). Had a lovely evening eating delicious pancakes and ice-cream and sipping beer – not entirely a food match I would expect, but it worked for us!
CAMPSITE: Die Wild – Emmerich-Elten
- Tiny, quiet campsite over the river from large permanent campers.
- Basic facilities (they did have hot showers, a fair walk from camp).
DAY FIVE: Emmerich-Elten to Arnhem | 48KM
We tried to find the actual border between Germany and Netherlands to take a picture, but must have sailed merrily through – the only way we could tell we had crossed the border was because the car registration plates had changed!
The cycle system is very impressive in the Netherlands, with a ‘cycle by number’ approach. Simply choose what direction you need to go in, and the maps alongside the cycle paths will show which number routes you need to take. All along the path there are little signs with the corresponding numbers. Now, we had no excuse if we got lost!
We stopped in Zevenaar to have some breakfast – had ‘uitsmijter’ (eggs, cheese and ham on an open sandwich) – which seems to be a Dutch tradition. We were super hungry and the food was scrumptious.
People had warned us about the wind in Netherlands and there it was. No matter what direction we rode in, it seemed to be blowing either to the side of us or in front of us – never at our back…! We rode mainly on the dikes along the river (as the cycle by numbers guided us) and seemed even more exposed to the wind on them.
We arrived in our destination, Arnhem, around lunchtime and spent a while in a cafe at lunch and researching somewhere to sleep the night. Arnhem has a significant WWII history, being the site of the unsuccessful ‘Operation Market Garden’ – the largest airborne operation up to that time.
Found a lovely campsite on the outskirts of Arnhem, where we spent a very pleasant afternoon and night. Oh, and… we discovered Arnhem is hilly – although the Netherlands ‘doesn’t have hills’! We met the first other cycle tourers here. A Dutch family with two small boys on their annual cycling and camping holiday. They had even been cycling in South America!
CAMPSITE: WarNSborn – Arnhem
- High quality, family campsite – with a nice quite area for campers – separate to caravans.
- Small supermarket with fresh bread, alcohol and quite a good selection of groceries.
- Impeccably clean facilities.
- The best campsite in Holland, according to some of the other campers we were chatting to.
The following day we caught the train to Amsterdam (took approximately 1h15). Getting our bikes onto the train wasn’t hard – although you do need to mount a few steps, unlike the German trains where the bike carriages are level with the platform.