Oozing green in Freiburg

We “landed” at Yvonne’s aunt and uncle’s fabulous farm in Denmark a few days back after our longest cycling days of the trip. Our days have been more relaxed of recent. Our bicycles were sold yesterday and we are off to Iceland this Sunday. Yvonne’s mom Betty joined us at the farm and will travel with us through Iceland. We arrive back in Canada June 21st, in time for Kaia to attend her graduation. Yes, clearly that’s a bit cheeky ūüôā It really does feel like we’re coming home, now. Bittersweet for sure.

You will find what is perhaps my most ambitious blog entry of the year below. If you don’t know me well, you will see below that I am passionate about sustainable energy, transportation and urban planning. That is my excuse for the detailed entry. People have from time to time asked us about the intent of this blog. There are many intents. The driving motivation behind this entry however is to share with anyone who is willing to read, the exceptional leadership shown by Freiburg. We, especially in North America, have SO much to learn from cities like Freiburg if we hope to divest ourselves from fossil fuels as politicians around the world are now (and finally) agreeing with scientists that we must do.
Cam

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For those who follow clean tech (green energy, electric cars, etc) and sustainable urban design, Freiburg Germany is rather iconic.¬† It has entire neighborhoods that are energy producers, and it is home to solar module manufacturing and extensive solar PV research. Cycle and transit use is very high.¬† This was an obvious destination for our cycle tour, and we were pleased to learn that it was beside the Black Forest which we had also been looking forward to visiting.¬† Also enticing was the city’s well known old time charm; it was founded in the year 1120 and boasts numerous walking streets.¬† Although heavily bombed in WWII, the city has rebuilt the downtown core and instead of widening streets for cars, many downtown streets were built just wide enough for trams, bikes and pedestrians.

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A little bit of history is very helpful to understand how this city of 200,000 has progressed so far environmentally.¬† During the 1970s, a nuclear reactor was proposed about 20km outside of the city.¬† Germany, like much of the world in the 1970s, was waking up to the bleak global environmental reality, and¬†in particular to the challenges of nuclear power.¬† A huge public outcry over the reactor took hold in Freiburg and was ultimately successful in stopping it’s construction.¬†

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Images courtesy of the Innovation Academy

Perhaps even more important than the actual prevention of the reactor though was the political coming of age of Freiburg’s citizenry.¬† They had discovered their voice, and there was no turning back.¬† Politicians in Freiburg know now that they must listen to their constituents. Freiburg is what it is because of strong and ongoing grassroots interest.¬† And because of its very progressive Green Party mayor who has been elected to a second 8 year term.¬† Alas, democracy is alive and mostly well in Freiburg.¬† I say this with more than a little envy and resentment after watching just the opposite sort of political (un)accountability unfold in my home town of Peterborough in past years.

The movement away from nuclear energy forced Freiburg residents to answer the “if not nuke then what?” question head-on, and in doing so their commitment to renewable energy¬† and energy efficiency was born.¬† Years later, acid rain in the Black Forest from coal produced electricity production and growing concern about climate change strengthened their resolve.¬† Then along came the national government’s very aggressive green energy policies of the early 2000s and solar power exploded in Freiburg.

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courtesy Innovation Academy

We were very lucky to have connected with some Warm Showers hosts in Freiburg.¬† Upon arrival in town we immediately cycled over to Peter and Sabina’s flat.¬† Peter is a transplanted Brit who has traveled the world many times over as a publisher of English as second language learning resources.¬† His partner Sabina was born in Bremen Germany but grew up in California and now teaches English at the University in Freiburg.¬† They’ve been in Freiburg for about 5 years now, and open their home to passing cycle tourists through the warm showers network.¬† Peter gave us a fantastic walking tour of the nearby neighbourhoods.¬† He understood our particular interest in sustainable urban design so was able to illuminate some fantastic stories that have unfolded in Freiburg.

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This house just down the street was built a few decades ago with a goal of becoming energy neutral. Most solar PV is fixed to rooftops. Some PV panels in fields are mounted on "trackers" that move to follow the sun through the day and the seasons. This house actually rotates to follow the sun! Perhaps it isn't the ultimate solution for residential energy, but certainly is a clear indication of the culture of innovation in Freiburg.
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This "Heliotrope" is a more modern Freiburg version of the house above and is in fact a net energy producer.
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Next to the rotating house is this one - with solar thermal (hot water) and solar PV (electricity). This rooftop was a common sight.

We walked through the district of Vauban which was built in the 1990s on old military barack land.  This area features 3 story blocks of flats that share ample green spaces in lieu of private yards. 

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This shared green space features of all things a wood-fired bread oven!

Cars are not allowed in the neighbourhood. Instead, there are parking garages in the surrounding areas.¬† But because Vauban is directly connected to town with a frequent tram line, and because Freiburg’s cycling infrastructure is so well developed, most Vauban residents (many with families) choose not to purchase cars.¬† In fact, car ownership (per capita) is only half of the German average.

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The tram runs right through the center of Vauban
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Cars from the city's car sharing program (stadtmobile - "citycar") are allowed to park in Vauban and are well used. Proponents of the car share program are aware that a very large portion of a car's carbon footprint stems from the materials and energy from manufacture, so reducing the number of cars being used is important. Members of the carshare program are given free transit passes and half price tickets on intercity trains.
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While Canadian cities are just starting to get their heads around car sharing, Freiburg is promoting their "E-car" sharing program. Ha!
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This is the scene in front of one of the Vauban kindergarten/daycares. I think the parked "vehicles" speak volumes.
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This school bus holds about 6 little kids.
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The local public school. Green roof over a very well used bike/scooter shelter. Not bad!

Many of the rooftops in Vauban were covered with solar panels (thermal and PV) and most of the neighbourhood buildings get their heat and electricity from a biomass-fed combined heat and power plant.¬† This approach of using the “waste” heat from electricity production produces fantastic efficiency results.

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Vauban combined heat and power (electricity) plant. It uses 80% wood chips and 20% natural gas. Heat from the plant is carried underground to the buildings; individual buildings do not have their own furnaces. Photo from the net.

Peter emphasized that Vauban’s sustainable approaches did not happen overnight.¬† Instead the moves forward underwent extensive and rancorous debate and ultimate compromise between different views and interests.¬† But importantly the citizens had a meaningful voice throughout.

Adjacent to Vauban is the “Solar Settlement” and Peter toured us through this neighbourhood too.¬† This community generates more electricity than it uses, and the rooftops in the photos below leave no doubt about how this is accomplished.

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This commercial area is also energy positive. Just as importantly, it demonstrates the compact, mixed us design where residential, retail and commercial land uses are mixed to minimize the need for transportation.

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You can see the commercial/retail (in front) located adjacent the residential (behind). From the net.

One of Peter’s passions is wine.¬† Perhaps the Brits are not well known for their distinguishing tastes of fine wine, but Peter knows his wines and sits as a volunteer advisor on ensuring continued success for local Frieburg vineyards.

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Freiburg's other little claim to fame in Germany is that it boasts the most "urban" vineyards. This one is a stone's throw from Peter and Sabina's flat.

Peter also volunteers with high school youth at risk and had a meeting with them that afternoon so we thanked him for the tour then set off on our own to discover Freiburg’s downtown.¬† Many things struck us about the downtown, but one thing stood out more than any other:

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bicycle share program

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Freiburg’s transportation plan explicitly aims to improve mobility while reducing auto traffic and benefitting the environment.¬† Wow …. a transportation plan that explicitly sets out to reduce automobile traffic!!¬† The plan also clearly prioritizes environmentally and health friendly modes such as walking, cycling and transit.¬† Finally, we had arrived at the city we set to find in our German cycling adventure.¬† Cycling lanes and covered bike parking abounded.¬† Trams and busses were going by at all times in all directions – usually with lots of folks inside.¬† Beautiful walking streets were packed with shoppers, walkers and diners.¬† The city was intentionally planned to be compact so that it was both a) not far from anywhere to anywhere and b) had sufficient density of people to make the investments in transit and cycling infrastructure economical.¬† We would learn the next day of an amazing transit pass, too.¬† We were all smiles as we were surrounded at each intersection by other cyclists.¬† And they were cyclists of all sorts, shapes and dress.¬† Older folks.¬† Kids.¬† Suits, dresses, jeans, chic 30-something get ups, and only a small amount of lycra.¬† Bikes typically were not fancy.¬† Many just 1 speed (Freiburg is pretty flat, though).¬† But almost all had the European styled wrap around handlebars.¬†

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Our straight-bar mountain bikes were certainly not earning any style points against these beauties!

We will have much more to say about cycling cities in later blog entries when we share what we saw and learned in Amsterdam, Groningen and Copenhagen.

The big catholic church downtown was breathtaking.  It mostly survived the WWII bombings.

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These are all wood carvings above the main entrance.

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McDonalds ... really!?
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Doner shops ("donairs" in Canada) are ubiquitous in Germany. That's just fine from our perspective.

Freiburg actually has created a self guided “green tour” so we set off on our bikes to take in a few sights with what remained of our afternoon.

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Solar research institute at the university.
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I am standing in front of 13 stories of "building integrated" solar PV at the train station.

One of the stops we didn’t get to was the large football (soccer) stadium whose roof is literally covered in solar panels.¬† This idea apparently came from the football club itself, and fans who donated money to cover the cost got 1st dibs on (limited) seasons tickets.¬†

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Freiburg football stadium.

Wow.  Similarly, many university roof-tops are covered in panels that were financed through a scheme that allowed profs, staff and students alike to be share holders in the green energy venture. Another innovation in Freiburg is the solarization (is that a word?) of the full (and closed) landfill site.
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In addition to a heavy dose of solar energy, Freiburg draws from six wind turbines. This part of Germany gets more sun and less wind than northern Germany, but the community wanted to increase its renewable portfolio, and these turbines are actually communally owned (citizens invest and receive energy producer dividends).
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With our heads buzzing with inspiration we cycled back to Sabina and Peter’s to find dinner ready to go on their backyard wood BBQ.¬† Drinks, salad and sausages went down so well over some great conversation with these very engaging hosts.

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They have a lovely terrace with a garden shed (that Kaia and Yvonne slept in) above and behind their building.
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Kaia and Jake impressed our hosts with their refined culinary skills ... that is golden brown roasted marshmallows. Sabina understands North American campfire culture and had the marshmallows ready to go.
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This is the heating system for Peter and Sabina's building. It is actually a small scale combined heat and power system. They generate their own electricity (from natural gas) then use the waste heat from the generator to heat the air and water for their building. These small but VERY efficient systems are promoted through Germany's Feed in Tariff program and are becoming increasingly popular in Germany. I had never seen one before.

The next morning brought some pretty awful continuous rain so we enjoyed our comfortable surroundings with our hosts and got caught up on some blogging.¬† We were very relieved to see the weather break because our green tour in the afternoon was on bicycle.¬† We had contacted the “Innovation Academy” the day before because we had learned they knew very well the green ins and outs of Freiburg.¬† I don’t think they had ever been contracted by a family before, but they were more than happy to share their wisdom … for not an insignificant price.¬† The first part of the tour was actually a 40 minute PowerPoint overview of the city’s initiatives and some stats on their successes.

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In this slide Steffen from the Innovation Academy is showing us the exponential growth of solar PV in Freiburg.
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These figures are impressive from a North American point of comparison. Recent stats were just about to be released that had the modal share of cycling even higher, and auto use lower.
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The city's carbon reduction goals are notably more ambitious than national and international levels. And unlike Canada, they actually have reached their interim goal, even though their population grew significantly!

The presentation was actually excellent, and Steffan kindly gave me a pdf copy to use in my teaching.  He touched on energy, transportation, planning and waste management, all of which Freiburg excels at.

We then headed outside to meet our cycling tour guide Luciano.  Luciano is involved in many aspects of sustainability planning and was able to take us to key representative sites around the city to better appreciate the strategies.

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Luciano. Born in Chile he had lived in Luxembourg and now makes his home in Freiburg
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We started at the main transportation center, where tram, train, bus and cycles converge, to allow for easy transfer between these modes. In this photo, bus on left, train tracks on right, and tram runs across above. Huge cycle garage is just out of sight to the right.
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City tram riders connect on these stairs to the regional (commuter) and inter city trains.
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You need to have an electronic access card to get into this secure, dry, and multi story parking garage.
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Yes, this goes right around in a circle ... on two floors!!!
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OK, this one is pretty hard core ....
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Luciano is telling us about the city's transit pass. For about 50 Euro ($60 Cdn) per month, you can travel on any mode of public transit within the city and within a 60km radius of the city, 7 days/week. Equally impressive is that the card is transferable - you can hand it (legally) to your friend or family member to use at any time. Clearly, Freiburg is serious about helping people to get out of their cars!
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This old bridge is adjacent the transportation hub. 1st tram, then car, now VERY busy cycling bridge.
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This very visible counter measures bike traffic across the bridge above and the corresponding amount of CO2 reduced by not driving (some assumptions have been made, obviously). Simple math suggests that there are, averaged for the entire year, 3000 trips/crossings per day!
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The four of us have at times really struggled with our bikes up and down stairs - especially when they are loaded. These simple enhancements made a big difference. Put your tires in and then roll .....
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Cycle route signs are ubiquitous in Freiburg (and most of Germany, for that matter). As tourists they were SO helpful.

Luciano then changed the focus of the transportation story to road design.  Like North American cities, Freiburg’s urban planning catered to cars in the 50s and 60s.  But over the past few decades planners have changed the profile and nature of many of Freiburg’s streets to decenter the cars and provide for safe walking and cycling.

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Notice that ultimately bicycles are being separated from pedestrians (these collisions can be serious too) and that four lanes give way to two, with on-street parking. This model is being used around town, but is not universal or without its critics.
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Many cycling accidents happen at intersections so it is important to clearly delineate bike lanes here. Notice that even in this rather wide street profile, only two lanes are dedicated to auto traffic.
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Here is one street about 50 years ago.
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Here is the same street today. Cars are allowed to drive only up to the same speed as bicycles (30km/hr). Trees were added, and sidewalks widened. Less road space for driving. Traffic has been calmed

When most people think about “greening” the energy system, they think of renewables like solar, wind, hydro and biomas. But the “low hanging fruit” of green energy is not energy production, but energy conservation and efficiency (that is, it is cheaper to save energy than build new generating capacity). Freiburg has been REALLY ambitious in both retrofitting the old building stock and creating very high efficiency standards for all new buildings. Through incentives/subsidies entire neighbourhoods have been insulated, windows upgraded, air leaks sealed etc. The poster child for Freiburg’s retrofitting though is a very nondescript apartment building in the Weingarten district from the 1960s.

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This apartment had become so run down and energy inefficient that it was slated for demolition. But energy specialists stepped in and used it as a demonstration project for efficiency. The building was gutted and heating/cooling systems and windows replaced. Heat from the sun (passive gain) was maximized. The building is now very popular among the lower income tenants of the area because utility costs are so cheap.

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All this listening and cycling was hard work ūüôā Time for Bavaria's best snack - a fresh pretzel! (OK, Jake will no doubt remind me that Freiburg is NOT in Bavaria ... but they still serve up pretzels here)
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This combined heat and power plant (CHP) was built to service the retrofitted apartment building and other neighbourhood buildings.
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Most of these energy standards are national standards. You can see the tightening of expectations through time. But note that Freiburg's standards are now notably tighter than the national average, and that in fact the newest standards have houses producing or otherwise gaining (through glass) as much energy as they consume. Wow.

The final focus of our green tour was urban planning. Progressive cities the word over recognize that it is smart for reasons economical, environmental and quality of life to plan compact cities where people can live, shop, and work without having to get in their cars. Connections to the city center are provided by frequent transit. Sometimes referred to as “New Urbanism”, these medium density neighbourhoods typically feature retail on the ground floor, commercial on the next floor, and then two or three floors of residential. Green spaces are shared. We all had a big but dark chuckle during the initial PowerPoint presentation when Steffen was explaining this concept. To help us understand, his presentation showed international photos of the opposite to compact design, and up came sprawling Toronto! Any of the newer subdivisions in my city of Peterborough could easily be substituted. Steffen then remembered we were Canadian and apologized. That’s OK Steffen … no apologies necessary.

We had visited Vauban earlier with Peter, so with Luciano we went to the newer neighbourhood of Reiselfeld. Whereas Vauban emerged through a rather messy, citizen driven process, Reiselfeld was planned by the city government.

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Note that the tram was constructed at the outset, and that virtually all residents live within 400m of the tram.

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The tram in Reiselfeld. Freiburg (or maybe someone else?) discovered that trams are much quieter when they run over grass. Luciano had us listen to the difference as the tram moved from grass over a road then back onto grass. Wow!!

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Reiselfeld's main intersection. It's a bit hard to see in this photo but there are cafes, restaurants, grocery stores, hardware stores etc etc all along the street level. And of course ... there is a bicycle shop!

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The residents above this large grocery store don't need to worry about borrowing eggs from the neighbour. Food is only steps away.

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Cycling is such a great way to do a city tour. It is so easy to get around, things pass in slow motion, and it is easy to stop and chat along the way.

One of the key aspects of this neighbourhood design is the concept of shared public spaces. Instead of people having their own private yards (discourages interactions), green spaces are shared. There is enough room for being social and for quiet contemplation. Apparently this is one of the main reasons for residents reporting very high levels of quality of life.
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Jake was happy to not have cycle bags on the back of his bike when we discovered this bmx/skateboard park.
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There are fabulous play structures tucked into this playground.

Not surprisingly, residents of Reiselfeld are keen to take advantage of the ample sun in this part of Germany.

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Notice the use of green roofs here. Green roofs dramatically reduce heating and cooling needs, reduce storm runoff and help keep neighbourhoods cool.

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Vacuum tube solar thermal (hot water).

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Unlike Vauban where cars are kept to the outside perimeter, the approach used in Reiselfeld is to have residents share the transportation corridors. Speed limits are kept to 30 km/hr. From our experience of 60 minutes riding around, this approach seemed to work very well. That said, car ownership and use within Reiselfeld is well below national averages.
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This rather innocuous photo has very important symbolic value. Planners in Freiburg recognize that "hard" city limits are needed - to protect forests, wetlands and farm fields, but also to discourage the sort of urban sprawl that is rampant in North American cities. We are on the outside boundary of Reiselfeld, gazing across the city limit. Land on the other side is protected from development. This hard boundary was difficult to negotiate politically, but apparently citizen voices in Freiburg carried the day against low density developers' lobby. Yes, I am envious.

Vending machines in Canada usually sell candy, chips, or soft drinks. We were disappointed to see many cigarette vending machines through much of the rest of Germany. But what is sold out of vending machines in Reiselfeld?

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Yes - bicycle tubes, to keep people on the road. The different colours represent different wheel size and thicknesses. OK ... I am NOT in Canada!

And so ended our green tour with Luciano. He knew his city, knew the environmental story, and was an excellent communicator. It was SUCH a rich 3 hours we spent with our two Innovation Academy hosts.

All four of us were pretty wound up after this tour, and were again buzzing with stories and questions when we arrived back at Peter and Sabina’s to make our Mexican dinner. Freiburg hosts an incredible “density” of sustainable living and if you have managed to read all the way to this point (I doubt it!) you can appreciate that we are now full of ideas and many real examples to share with our Peterborough community and any other that is interested.
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Thanks for your leadership, Freiburg!

Cam

Switzerland and the Black Forest

Back in March, in the Philippines, we met Omar and Tanja from Switzerland. In Donsol, we snorkeled with whale sharks with them. Here’s a picture of us with them in the Philippines.

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Omar is Italian and Tanja is Swiss, and they live in Zurich. We were in Schwangau, Germany, not so far away, and decided to take them up on their invitation and go visit them!
Since we lost a week in Frankfurt, we no longer had the time to cycle our entire planned route. So, we sometimes take trains when the weather gets bad. Well… as the forecast warned us, we woke up to a very gloomy day at our Schwangau campground. We lay in bed for a while trying to coax ourselves to get up. When we finally did, it was the most awful feeling to pack up the tent in the rain. It wasn’t hard for us to make the decision of “ride or train?”.
I didn’t want to get my socks wet during the 7 km ride from our campground to the train station, so I went with bare feet in sandals. Ouch! Cold cold cold!
We only had to make one transfer for the entire journey in Buchloe, where we changed from our 30 minute regional train to a nice intercity express one! It was a beautiful ride, we had a table to blog…

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My dad takes his blog very seriously.
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Jake and my mom take their game of 2048 very seriously.

I knew that crossing borders between European countries was easy, but I didn’t know that it would be that easy! The only thing that made us realize that we had crossed the border was that our German sim card in our phone wasn’t working anymore. Otherwise, there was absolutely no indication.
Our plan was to take the train all the way to Zurich Hauptbahnhof (central station) and then ride our bikes to their place. But as the train was stopped at the Zurich airport, Jake remembered that they had said that they live very close to the airport. We all agreed to get off there instead.

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After taking the elevator up from the platform (we always take elevators in train stations because of our bikes), we realized that we were right in the airport! There were signs to the gates. Duty free shops everywhere. Not a window in sight. We asked a few people how to find the exit, and finally ended up, well…

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If you think this looks funny, imagine my dad going up with his trailer!

We were just laughing at ourselves the whole time. But the funny adventures weren’t over: we still had to find our way to their house.
It was pouring rain. My dad had some idea of how to find their place, but in this case, reality was not as google maps thought it was. Long story short, we ended up on a big 4 lane highway going around roundabouts with huge semis whizzing past. It was scary. Finally, my dad saw the road that we wanted to be on, only it was under us! With no paths connecting the two roads, we had to go through the forest!

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A few more kilometers of riding finally brought us to their house. They live in Tanja’s grandfather’s house, a big, nice old home in the outskirts of Zurich, in a neighbourhood called R√ľmlang. They can be in the city center by a one minute walk and a 12 minute train ride.
It was so great to see them again! It was also great to be dry again! That night, they cooked us an authentic Swiss meal: raclette and fondue. I’m not really a cheese person, but even I really enjoyed that meal.
We caught up with them about our travels after leaving Donsol. They spent some more time in the Philippines before going to Japan. They have also been to Nepal on a previous trip, so we talked about that too.

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We were a bit crunched for time, but had planned for one full day in Switzerland. Omar and Tanja suggested to do the Pilatus mountain circuit. It includes a cog railway and a gondola. And at the top, there are amazing views! It is near the city of Luzern, which is about 40 minutes from Zurich by train.
The cog railway starts in a place called Alpnachstad, so we had to take another train from Luzern. Our ticket said platform 14. Twelve minutes before the departure time, we saw a train parked at our platform. Assuming that it was the one, we got on.
My dad needed to use a bathroom. The ones on the train were all full, so he got off to use the station bathrooms instead. No problem, there were 12 minutes left.
One minute later, the train started moving! Oh no! We quickly realized that we were on the 1:01 PM train, not the 1:13 PM one. This train was, for a few stops, heading towards Alpnachstad, but turning off before that stop. Our general rule on this trip was: if we get separated, we return to the last place we saw each other. That was platform 14 of the Luzern station. We got off our wrong train at the first stop and took the next train back to Luzern. Oh, shoot! Daddy’s not there! We had all of the stuff, money, train tickets, phones, everything. We couldn’t contact him, as he had no phone. Still, we sent an email to his account in case he somehow checked it.
After a while, we finally came to the conclusion that he must have gotten on the right train and was now at Alpnachstad. But we were afraid that if we went there, he would come back to Luzern, and so on. We didn’t budge from platform 14.
Meanwhile, my dad was waiting at Alpnachstad. He was so hungry, and had 1,85 Swiss Franks in his pocket, enough to buy a Bounty bar, but not a Mars bar. When he borrowed a computer to check his email, he saw ours in his inbox. He responded with “come to Alpnachstad – I’m not going back to Luzern – this is where the cog railway starts!”. Finally, we were on the train to meet him.
It was a guessing game. He assumed that we would assume that he had gotten on the right train. We were playing by the rules. Also, we didn’t think that he would get on a train without a ticket! That separation delayed our day by about 2 hours. But that was water under the bridge, once we ate our much needed lunch!

OK, let’s do what we came here to do: go up the Pilatus mountain on the cog railway. A cog railway is different than a usual train, though. It’s specially made to go up very steep slopes. Instead of the power going to the train wheels, like a normal train, the power goes to a big wheel with teeth in the center of the train. The teeth interlock with teeth in the track, and that’s how it goes up.
The Pilatus cog railway is the steepest train in the world! At its steepest, it’s 48% inclination. The train is built “diagonally”, because it only services this mountain! The track is 4,6 km long, and, amazingly it was first opened in 1889, using steam power! Wow!

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It's so steep!
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There were about 4 or 5 tunnels.
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At first, we had some pretty great views!

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But, then as we got up higher, the clouds started rolling in.

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By the time that we were at the top at 2073m above sea level, we were literally inside the cloud.

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We could hardly see the cog railway anymore.

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We didn’t spend too long at the summit, as there was nothing to see.

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Aww... apparently that's what the view looks like on a sunny day!

To get back down, we took the gondola that goes all the way back to Luzern.

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Yay, we're finally getting out of the cloud!

And back in Luzern, we took a short bus ride to the downtown.

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Our favourite thing in Luzern town was the lion monument. Someone told us “follow the tourists to find it!”. And that was good advice.

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It is the saddest carving I’ve ever seen.

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Carved by Lukas Ahorn in 1820, this carving of a mortally wounded lion commemorates all the Swiss guards of the French royalty who died during the French Revolution in 1792.
We also really liked the Luzern church downtown.

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40 minutes later, we were back in central Zurich. We bought some dinnerish things at a grocery store and ate them by the river. I noticed that the grocery store was packed with people on this Saturday night, because everything in Switzerland (and Germany) is closed on Sundays. Somehow, it never occurred to us that maybe we too should stocking up for Sunday. More on that later.
Omar and Tanja had gone out for dinner that night with friends, so we just took the train back to Rmlang and went to bed.

The next morning, my dad made omelettes for all of us! We really enjoyed our short stay in Zurich, but we had to keep going. Thanks, Omar and Tanja for hosting us! It was so much fun to see you again!

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Omar leaving for his soccer game.

To leave Zurich, we went past the airport. It is the 10th busiest one in the world!

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The Emirates plane on the tarmac is an Airbus A380, the biggest in the world!

As I said before, we forgot that on Sunday, everything closes. This is not a new problem for us – I think that we have forgotten about every single Sunday so far! We really do like that idea, though, because it means that families are together on that day. But coming from Canada, where most stores are open 24/7, we aren’t used to it. We had no food for lunch. Luckily, we found a very Swiss little restaurant that was open.

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This is very typical German/Swiss food. Buns, cheese and meat is usually for breakfast, though.

We were right near the German border. Looking across the river from the south side, we saw a lot of solar panels!

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Crossing the border back to Germany was just as easy as it had been the other way around. This time, all we saw was a teeny tiny little sign that said something about “Deutschland” on it.

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Crossing the river.

That evening, we had to eat dinner at one of the few places that’s open on Sundays: McDonalds. Those are pretty similar to the ones in Canada, except that they have a bakery. We got a few slices of black forest cake, as the next day we would be riding through it’s namesake: the black forest.
After dinner, we rode way uphill. It was really steep for a long time. We didn’t need a campground, just a flat spot, but we didn’t have any breakfast for the next morning, because stores were closed. We would have gone further out of a town, but we stopped in Aichen for the night because there is some food there. Actually, there are no grocery stores in Aichen, just a small guesthouse with an attached restaurant where we could go for breakfast. We set up our tent in a parking lot-ish thing at the edge of the tiny village. It was right near the church, which ended up to be very irritating! This church would ring once on the -15 minute mark, twice on the half hour, 3 times on the -45 minute mark, and then whatever time it was on the hour. But the worst part was that it did that all through the night! Yes, we were camped right next to a church that rang once every 15 minutes all night! At 6 AM, there was the big village wakeup call, and it didn’t stop ringing for about 5 minutes. Jake and I actually managed to sleep through most of it, but my parents had a pretty rough night.
For breakfast the next morning at the guesthouse, we were surprised at first because they never came around to show us a menu or take our order. But then we realized that breakfast is breakfast: fresh rolls, cheese and meat. Yum!
When we first came to Germany and did a bit of research about the best places to visit, one thing that stuck out in our minds was the black forest in southwestern Germany. It is the country’s “wildest” place, and the photos on the internet made it look lovely.
On this day leaving Aichen, our plan was to cycle through the black forest and finish in Freiburg, where we had already found some people on the Warm Showers network to stay with.
We use google maps most of the time to get around. When it finds a route for us, it also gives us a profile of ups and downs for the day. For this day, it was: a short but steep down, then a huge up then a huge down.

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The black forest really was lovely! It was so peaceful and quiet. We would go for long periods of time without seeing anybody!
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Oh, no! A big branch fell across the path!
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Should we carry our bikes over?
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Oh, no worries. A man with a chainsaw cut it up for us.

We stopped for lunch beside a big lake.

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In the quaint village of St Blasien for our bakery stop, we saw the most amazing church!

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Paintings on the ceiling.

Wow… such a huge church for such a tiny town. After getting some calories from the bakery, we continued on our big long uphill. All day, we kept thinking “in a few hours, we will be gliding downhill all the way to Freiburg!”. My dad kept saying “it’s all down from here, guys”. Then we would continue going up. “OK, we must be near the top of this hill!”. We just kept going up. At around 6 PM, we got into a bit of a pinch. We were kind of lost, and every route google maps told us about either didn’t exist, or kept climbing up the hill. We made many wrong turns and wasted so much time. Finally, we found a (downhill) trail that we thought would lead us to Freiburg. Yay, finally our downhill that we’ve been looking forward to all day! But at the bottom, an unpleasant surprise awaited us. This bicycle path didn’t go all the way to Freiburg, it simply led to a huge highway that went there! But we weren’t going to ride on this highway: we found out later that every transport truck from Romania to Portugal uses this road. And unlike most other German highways, there was no separated bike lane – not even a shoulder. No thanks!
We phoned our warm showers contact Peter to ask for directions. He told us that our best way to Freiburg would be to go back up the close hill and then keep going uphill for a long time before going back down. Oh. Shoot. Or, we could just go up the hill for a kilometer or two to a place called Hinterzarten where we could catch a train to Freiburg instead. Yes, that sounds better! But it was already quite late, and we were too tired for that. OK, we’ll pitch our tent here and climb the hill and take the train in the morning. We set up camp right under a really cool train trestle. It was a cold night.

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At least Galdis is warm!

The hill we were to climb the next morning was so steep, there was no way we would make it up with our loaded bikes – even pushing them wasn’t an option. But my dad found an innovative solution. He talked to a very nice family that lives halfway up the hill. They agreed to meet us at the lowest car turnaround spot, and put our gear into their car. Then, we could ride up with empty bikes. They would leave our gear at the top near the train station, for us to collect when we made it up. It all worked very smoothly. Three of us made it up empty without pushing our bikes.
We found the train station in the town of Hinterzarten, and caught the 40 minute train into Freiburg. It was the most downhill train I’ve ever been on. That was the downhill that we were hoping to ride the previous day ūüė¶ .

Our time in Switzerland and the black forest had many mishaps or “problems” (in the Zurich airport, lost on Swiss highways in the rain, separation in Luzern, forgetting about the Sunday closings and getting lost in the black forest). Though these problems seemed somewhat big at the time, they really weren’t. And compared to the problems in Nepal or Vanuatu, ours are just laughable tiny inconveniences.
And, we really enjoyed these places! Taking the cog railway up the Pilatus mountain on a 48% incline was very exciting. Seeing Omar and Tanja was so much fun! Forgetting about the Sunday closure gave us an excuse to splurge at restaurants and eat great food. And the black forest was still just as beautiful and peaceful, even though we were going up.
OK, they aren’t mishaps. Neither are they problems. They are just funny stories that improved my blog post.
Kaia

The Beckoning Bavarian Alps

We leave Holland tomorrow, to return to Germany at its northwest corner via ferry. Holland has been an AWESOME ride!

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OK, how many of you knew that Germany had some gorgeous alpine topography?¬† I didn’t.¬† Of course, we know¬† of the Alps in Austria, Switzerland, Italy and France.¬† But Germany has its own little piece of this great feature.¬† We wanted to visit Freiburg in southwest Germany because of its exemplary green infrastructure and planning, and wanted to visit some friends in Zurich, Switzerland (on Germany’s southern border), so decided to head to the south of Germany to see the famed Neuschwanstein castle and to do some hiking.

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We cycled two days from Munich to Schwangau in southern Germany.

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As Jake mentioned, we spent another half day in Munich to take in more of the down town atmosphere.¬† By the time we got back and packed up our stuff at Gotz and Liza’s, it was 3PM which is not an ideal time to start a cycling day.¬† Getting out of a city the size of Munich on bicycles is not much fun, even when there is an OK bike path.¬† So many stop lights, so much traffic, and the path is always jumping between road and sidewalk.¬† It took us the better part of 2 hrs before we were again amongst the green fields that we so enjoy cycling in.¬† I, in particular, also continued my admiration of the extent to which rooftop solar PV had been deployed on homes and barns.¬† I will do a separate blog entry later to explain why and how Germany has made such astounding progress towards a renewable electricity portfolio.

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We saw a few of these bike-mail carriers. Easy for them to stop and get in and out, especially on narrow streets.

A pastry stop (crucial part of our afternoon routine), a few water breaks and 55km later, we found ourselves riding beside the lovely Ammersee (“see” is a lake).¬† The campground we’d set our sights on didn’t accept tenters, so we had to scramble a bit because it was now 8PM.¬† We ride very well in the later afternoon and early evening it seems (fewer distractions and we become more goal focused!) so often find ourselves still going at this time.¬† We ended up finding an outdoor ed. center right on the lake and got permission to camp in their fire pit area.¬† The manager’s son had gone to the teacher of the intermediate level class staying overnight to seek her approval.¬† What a different world.¬† I can’t imagine in Ontario a manager even considering asking for permission.¬† A bunch of strangers camping 100m from the class? Not a chance.

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Kids taking advantage of a few minutes of downtime and a picnic table to blog while Yvonne and I set up the tent and made dinner in the fading light.

Until this point in our cycling we had not really encountered anything like a serious hill.  That was to change the next day.  We use google map cycling routes almost exclusively to find our way, and one of the nice features of these routes is that you can see the elevation profile

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This is the 1.5 day route we followed. Note the 2nd half had us climbing about 300 vertical meters.

Climbing on a bicycle does not need to be unpleasant.  But we have all our gear on our bikes, which changes the picture notably. The kids have full bike paniers (bags on the back rack) plus sleeping bags tied on.  None of our empty bikes are light.  Yvonne has heavier bags and our tent.  And everything else is in my trailer which probably weighs about 50 pounds.  So hill climbing was a challenge.  I was so impressed with how Kaia and Jake did.  Some hills were very steep up for maybe 20 minutes at a time, and nobody got off their bike to walk.  I was flat out in effort at one point, just trying to get the next pedal stroke.

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Hard do see here, but this was actually pretty steep.

A sense of accomplishment was enjoyed and you can imagine how well the post-hills pastry break went down that afternoon!

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Typical lunch stop. Sandwiches are the usual fare.

The ride from the top of the hill in to Schwangau was lovely – flatish, great bike paths, and ever-growing mountain views.

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Kaia's little Orangutan "Galdis" was really enjoying the fading afternoon light.
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This farmer's field turns into a little ski hill.
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We stumbled onto this magnificent 450 yr old church in the tiny settlement of Steingaden. Clearly the congregation must come from the countryside. That said, it was explained to us that the Catholic churches are struggling with declining numbers and are having to close some churches. Every one we stepped into was magnificently ornate and well kept.

Our typical routine approaching dinner would be to look for a supermarket an hour or so before our planned stopping point.¬† We’d buy dinner ingredients and make sure we had enough for breakfast¬† – sort of a “just on time” approach to avoid carrying too much food. Our campsite on the Bannwaldsee was typical of German campsites.¬† It was geared 90% towards long time trailer leases, and 9% towards short term camper/caravan travelers.¬† The last 1% was tenters like us, and there was only 1 other tent among the hundreds of trailers.¬† We really miss not having a picnic table at these campgrounds, but are rather blown away by the other camping amenities.¬† Like in this case the very clean and large bathrooms and showers, laundry room with a drying room, dish washing up room, little store, outdoor patio, huge party/event room (beer hall) and full restaurant.

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Still early in the camping season, most trailer leaseholders had not yet arrived so we poached one of their picnic tables for meals.
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This Bavarian beer tasted like Hell.
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Sunset over the Bannwaldsee.

We had been lamenting since starting cycling that our trailer was too full.  After food shopping, the cover would barely fit on.  So next morning we spread all our things out on the grass and made a pile of what we now knew to be non essential things.

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A trip to the post office was next in line, and about 7kg of stuff was on its way to Canada.
  
Neuschwanstein castle was only 2km away from the village of Schwangau and the approach to the castle is outstanding.¬† This castle is best known for being the inspiration for Walt Disney’s castle.

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The castle was built by Bavarian King Ludwig II starting in 1868.¬† Unlike other Kings of this area/era, he did it with his own (well, mostly borrowed) money – instead of public money.¬† He really was building his “summer house”, after all.¬† Ludwig had travelled widely and incorporated architecture from other European castles, and honoured other religions and world architecture in huge murals inside.¬† Ludwig started staying in the partially finished castle in 1884 but by this time had borrowed huge sums of money and become quite a reclusive King.¬† In 1886 parliament sent a posse to arrest him (he was apparently no longer “fit” to govern, though was later found to be not the case in hindsight), and they brought him back to Munich.¬† The next day his body along with the body of his chief “arrestor” were found dead in a nearby lake.¬† This mystery apparently has never been solved.¬† Sadly, all this after Ludvig spending only 112 nights in the castle that he had poured his pockets, heart and mind into for 2 decades.
Immediately following his death, the Bavarian government finished the castle and opened it up to paying guests and tens of millions of visitors have now been through.  Apparently, during the summer, as many as 6000 go through in a single day!
Even on our day in mid-May, it was busy.¬† You purchase tickets for very specific entry times, and your group is guided through together.¬† Our entry time was 1.5 hours after ticket purchase.¬† That was OK though, as it gave us the necessary time to hike the road up to the castle and to take the walk to “Marienbrucke” which is a bridge over the rather spectacular gorge adjacent the castle.

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Marienbrucke

No photos are allowed inside during the castle tour, as this would make it difficult for the guide to keep people moving.¬† This is unfortunate because the inside of the castle is at least as impressive as the outside.¬† One huge gallery room with a stage is devoted to Richard Wagner whom Ludvig greatly admired.¬† It looks like it was built so the King could be entertained by various musicians; in fact, he would just enter alone and imagine Wagners’ operas being performed.¬† Yes, he was a tad ecentric.
Ludvig II loved this area because he spent his summers as a boy in the neighbouring and equally impressive Hohenschwangau castle.  This castle too is open to visitors.

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From Neuschwanstein, looking towards the sister Hohenschwangau castle.
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Hohenschwangau castle.

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I wasn’t sure what to make of the Neuschwanstein castle before visiting.¬† It had a lot of hype.¬† And the Disney connection didn’t exactly sell it.¬† But I have to say, it was VERY impressive.¬† The setting, the furnishing and the rather dreamlike overall architecture set it apart.

En route back to the campground we came across an outdoor BBQ chicken seller.¬† Our Munich bike tour guide Tony said that the quintessential Bavarian dinner was a half chicken.  And we had no food (Sunday) so …

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When in Rome ...

I noted a poster on a wall for a traditional folk concert at one of the close by churches.  My family wanted to stay put for the evening so I headed off on my bike for a short trip to the church.

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The church has a pretty spectacular setting at the foot of the Alps!

The concert by the MarianSingers was a mix of duets, small ensembles, and my favorite – a group of 8 men doing yodelling harmony.  Brilliant!  Equally impressive was the inside of this catholic church.

The following day we set off for the Bavarian Alps.  They rise  up dramatically from the farming plains, and the access point for a hike up was only 2km from our campsite. 

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Our objective is the top of this mountain. If you look carefully you can see the cable car tower.

I had spoken to a tourist info person the day before and learned that there was a rather dramatic route up the face of the mountain.¬† She said as long as we were strong hikers with very good footwear we ought to be OK.¬† We’d have to hold on carefully to the cables that were strung up.¬† The kids liked the sound of this so away we went.

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The trail got pretty steep pretty fast.

Not too far into the hike we came across some rather disconcerting signs.¬† There were warnings in German with signs of rocks falling on people’s heads (you’re supposed to wear a helmet, apparently) and other pictures showing how to fasten your harness and repelling gear for safe movement up and down cliff faces.¬† We were part way up the mountain already.¬† And I distinctly remembered the tourist info woman saying we could do it.¬† So we pressed on, figuring this was the management’s way of dodging legal problems if someone gets into trouble.

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Look way way up ... and the little dots are hikers further along our trail. At least we knew others were on the trail!
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I zoomed way in to see their trail, and was not pleased to see the ladder.
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The cables were reassuring, and the views were really starting to open up.
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We were camping on the lake on the right.

At one point, which was about half way up the mountain, I looked up not too far and saw a couple of people hanging off their ropes on a large vertical face that had only little iron nails sticking out for hands and feet.¬† Shortly after we came around a corner and saw a ladder that went up vertically for about 20 ft.¬† At this point I figured we had made a big mistake.¬† So I asked a guy hiking behind me “do we have to go up that way?”¬† He assured me that yes, it was the only way.¬† Hmmm.¬† But then a few moments later another guy came up and said that if we continued around the bend the regular path continued – the ladders and cliff face were only for those with climbing equipment. The first guy then apologized and said “sorry, I’ve never done this hike before”.¬† WHAT?¬† You’ve never done the hike before and you assured a family with youngish kids that they’d have to hang off a vertical face?¬† Thanks, buddy!
Phew.  I finally realized that this hike would turn out well.  We were all enjoying the steep trail with the cables.

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This was the last section of trail.

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Most people get to the top of the mountain in this cable car. We'd decided we'd ride it down.

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One last pitch to the top. Most of these hikers were on their way down following a more gentle ski slope.
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View from the top, looking north into Bavaria. At this point we were only a couple of km from the northern Austria border.

We enjoyed lunch at the top.¬† We really felt like we’d earned it (1 vertical km up) and had enjoyed the rather spectacular trail.¬† Good thing there was a restaurant at the top, though. It was a holiday and EVERYTHING is closed on Sundays and holidays in Bavaria.¬† So we couldn’t buy groceries for the day down below.¬†¬† Once again I was amused and rather amazed by the steady stream of 0.5L and 1L¬† beer steins that were being downed by just about every other guy up there.¬† And it was only about 5 or 10 degC and they were all sitting outside!¬†
The view back into the Austrian Alps was fabulous and I was drooling looking at the hiking map with trails galore from peak to peak and hut to hut.  But most of the high mountains were still under snow so going further was not really an option.

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The final part of our hike up, as seen from the cable car.
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A different set of spirally switchbacks. This is the luge/toboggan run set up under the cable car.
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Just had to try it ! Kaia and Jake are being towed up ahead of Yvonne.

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I was pleasantly surprised at how fast you can get going in these things.  Whihoo!

From the cable car base we cycled about 8km into the neighbouring and larger town of Fussen.

Fussen is one of Germany’s oldest towns and dates from the period of the Roman Empire.  Several of the churches date back to the 800s.  It was on the trade route between Italy and the Roman provincial capital now known as Augsburg.  It was a delight to walk around that evening.  Huge, ornate churches abound, and the city has an extensive walking district full of cafes, bakeries and outdoor seating.

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Fussen, courtesy of the net.

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Read the blue lettering on the window carefully. Ha!

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Dinner that night was at the most scrumptious Greek restaurant.  I’m not sure what I liked more – the savory flavours or the medieval town ambience & architecture of the restaurant.
After a very full day we set off on our bikes again to return to our campground.

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I was quite enamored with this firewood holder.
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Speaking of firewood ... rural Germany depends to a very large degree on wood for heating. Almost every farm we saw from bike paths had large wood supplies from their carefully managed forests.

Cam

The sound of Munich

The southeastern part of Germany is known as Bavaria, called Bayern in German.¬† It’s more traditional than other parts of Germany, and most people that live in this part consider themselves Bavarian, not German.¬† The city of Munich, or M√ľnchen in German, is the biggest city in Bavaria, and apparently worth seeing, so we decided to go there.

The weather forecast had been saying all week that a certain day would be very rainy.¬† The morning of that day that we spent in Augsburg was fine, but we had already decided to take a train to Munich instead of riding.¬† It’s pretty easy to take your bike on trains in Germany.¬† And, sure enough, on the train, it rained for a while.

We had heard from a few people that they really liked Munich.  My dad went on the Warm Showers network (people who open their house to cycle tourists) and found some people who let us stay with them in Munich.  He also looked at TripAdvisor reviews for the best things to do there, and one of the activities that got great reviews was a bicycle tour of the city.  So, we contacted a company that runs these tours, and found out where to meet for the tour.  The train from Augsburg arrived at Munich Hauptbahnhof (central train station), and then we rode to Marienplatz, the central square, where we met the rest of the tour group.

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The tour guide was a guy named Tony, from Washington DC.¬† He has loved Munich ever since he moved there 9 years ago, and he’s really fun and enthusiastic about the bike tour.¬† He really brought history to life for me!

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There were 11 people on the tour, including us.  2 were from Scotland, and the rest were all Canadians!  First, Tony told us some general history on Munich, and specifically, on Marienplatz.

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That big church-looking building is actually the town hall, built in Gothic style.

Things have been happening that square for a long time.¬† Munich used to be the “capital” of the old kingdom of Bavaria, so the king held many celebrations in the square.¬† For a royal wedding that happened there, they even held a jousting tournament!¬† You know, when knights on horses run at each other with big lances and try to knock the other guy off his horse.¬† Sounds pretty entertaining!

Then, we walked to the bike tour shop to get bikes.¬† We already had ours, but we left all our paniers and trailer there.¬† Once everyone had a bike, we started the ride around town.¬† We visited another square, with a statue of King Maximilian in the middle.¬† If I remember correctly, his son Ludwig’s wedding got re-celebrated every year, and now it’s known as Oktoberfest.¬† Don’t blame me if I’m wrong though, because I find European monarchs’ names extremely confusing (King Ludwig I, II, III, and so on).

We went to an old government building, with a big courtyard in the middle of it.¬† It looks like all the walls are intricately decorated, but at a second glance, you’ll see that some of it’s just painted on!¬† The reason why is that before Germany started World War II, they knew that their towns would be bombed, so they hid some of their precious artwork (statues, paintings, etc) in lakes and salt mines so that they could be put back after the war.¬† They did start to restore these things after the war, but didn’t have enough money to complete it.¬† You can see that some of the pillars and windows in the government building are real, and others are just painted on.

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Outside the building, there are a few big statues, but before going out to see them, Tony had us “act” out the statues.

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And here’s what the real statue looks like.

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The statues have interesting meanings.¬† The lion on the left (Kaia) has it’s mouth open, facing the government building, and the one on the right (me) has it’s mouth closed, facing a big church.¬† It means that you’re allowed to criticize the government, but not the church!¬† The statue in the middle represents when the kingdom of Bavaria became part of Germany.¬† It means: “Germany can have our flag, they can have our lion (the symbol of Bavaria), but they can’t have the Lady of Bavaria”, or in other words “we’re still Bavarian”.¬† I don’t know what the two soldiers on the sides represent though.¬† I still think the one we did was better!

We had a look inside the theaterin kirche church (the one that you’re not allowed to criticize!)

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This church is huge and beautiful, but it's actually pretty average for a German church.

After touring of the old part of town, we went through a big park called the English Garden, which is bigger than New York Central Park!

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This is the Isar river, flowing down from the Alps.

The bike tour stops at a Biergarten (beer house), but the one it usually goes to was closed, so we went a smaller Biergarten in the park (don’t worry, Kaia and I didn’t have beer!)¬† We chatted with the other people on the tour as we ate wieners and pretzels.¬† My parents were surprised that some others on the tour drank two full litres of beer! My dad had a half litre and Tony said that Bavarians would ask 1/2 L drinkers if they were still in Kindergarten. My dad ordered another half litre. Tony said that people who don’t want to drink all that alcohol get half beer and half lemonade, so it still looks like 1L of beer.

The last stop on the tour was… the surfers!¬† There’s a wave on the Isar river that people can actually surf.

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It’s an unusual wave to surf, because instead of riding with the flow of the water like you do in the ocean, you ride against the flow.¬† It’s certainly much harder than where I’ve surfed on Zancudo beach in Costa Rica and Kuta beach in Indonesia, but the surfers there made it look so easy.

The bike tour was really fun.¬† I think it’s a great way to see a city like Munich.¬† At the end of the tour, we rode back to the bike shop to pick up our stuff, then rode (through pouring rain and hail) to G√∂tz and Liza’s apartment, the people we met through Warm Showers.¬† G√∂tz has cycled through New Zealand staying with Warm Showers people, and now opens his apartment to cycle tourists like us.¬† Their apartment is pretty small, but there was enough floor space for us to sleep on our air mattresses.

We were out all of the next day, but it wasn’t at all as joyful as the bike tour: we visited the Dachau concentration camp which is about 30km out of Munich.

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The words written on the gate say "work sets you free" in German.

It’s a really sad place.¬† Dachau was a concentration camp before and during World War II, but now, it’s set up like a museum.¬† The main building has many informational plaques, and a small theatre showing a video about the camp.¬† I’ll share a bit of what I learned with you.¬† I used to think that concentration camps were only used to imprison Jews, but I learned that there were also Hitler’s political opponents, communists, homosexuals, prisoners of war, and pretty much anyone else the Nazis didn’t like.¬† This particular camp was only for men.¬† It was originally built to hold 6 000 prisoners, but at one point there were more than 60 000 of them.¬† Prisoners were forced to work extremely hard all day, but were hardly given any food.¬† How is someone supposed to work hard without any food in their belly?¬† And the guards treated them so poorly.¬† Twice a day, they had attend “roll call”, where they had to stand straight and motionless for hours as the guards did “attendance”, but mostly just for torture.¬† They were also brutally punished for the slightest thing, like a missing button on a shirt for example.¬† About 49 000 prisoners died there, but not from the “gassing” used in other concentration camps to murder large amounts of people at once.¬† They were either worked to death, starved to death, beaten to death, and many Soviet prisoners of war were brought there, where they were shot.¬† Typhoid outbreaks killed many too. It was finally liberated by the American army in 1945.¬†

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They tore down most of the barracks, but kept two intact.
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This is where the prisoners stood during roll call (I took this picture from the Internet. There were a lot more people when we were there).
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This sculpture is supposed to show the lives of the prisoners at the camp.
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This is where the prisoners slept. I'm sure at least 3 people had to share each little bed.
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This is what the camp looked like from 1933-45.
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This is where the ashes from the crematorium were placed.

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This is inside the crematorium, where they cremated the tens of thousands of dead prisoners.

There was a gas chamber, but it was never actually used for mass murder, like at other concentration camps.  A particularly notorious camp was Auschwitz, in Poland, where thousands upon thousands of people were brought in on trains, then murdered with poisonous gas.

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The prisoners were told that it was a shower room, so that the guards wouldn't have trouble in getting them in the room. The square holes in the wall is where the poison gas comes out.

These next photos were taken from the Internet.¬† They’re from between 1933 and 1945, when the camp was still in use.

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This is how the prisoners slept.
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Just imagine having to pull that thing on an empty stomach, and having to do it all day.
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This picture was taken by the American army when they liberated the camp in 1945.

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The visit to the Dachau concentration camp left me feeling very sorry for all the prisoners who died or spent time there, but also feeling appalled that Hitler could actually do that.  How could someone think that putting people in concentration camps would do any good?  What did those people ever do wrong?  It seems like pure evil to me.

We took the train back to G√∂tz and Liza’s apartment, and went out for Mother’s Day dinner at a lovely restaurant on a walking street.¬† It wasn’t the usual cheery way to spend mother’s day but it was a nice meal in the end.

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We left Munich at mid afternoon the next day, but we went downtown to see a few more things in the morning.

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This is the Asam Kirche. It's one of the most beautiful churches I've ever been in! It's also the first one I've seen that's squished between a row of townhouses.

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We climbed to the top of a church tower near Marienplatz.

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The staircase was cool too!
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This is the view from the top.
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That's the clock tower at City Hall.
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We could see all the way to the Bavarian Alps from the top of the tower.

We also went to the Munich food market.

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We all got stuff we like: olives for my dad, and pretzels for me and Kaia!

And back in Marienplatz, we watched the 12:00 PM glockenspiel, a carousel type of thing on the clock tower that shows a mini jousting match.

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There's the Austrian horse with the red and white coming from the right, and the Bavarian horse with the blue and white coming from the left.

It always has the same outcome: the Bavarian horse always wins!

I think we experienced a lot in and around Munich.¬† The beautiful, the evil, the friendly, and the yummy.¬† It’s a really cool city, and it made great first impressions of Bavaria.¬† Next stop: Neuschwanstein!

Jake

Past meets present in Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Two days ago, we cycled across the border from Germany to Holland. It was day 26 of our cycle tour and we covered 101km that day — a first for me, Kaia, and Jake. We are now “centurions”. If German bike paths are excellent, Holland’s are outstanding! Wide, smooth, and well marked, they even have detour signs when there is a break in the path. Yesterday our total trip distance passed 1000km as we came into Utrecht where we spent the night with dear friend Jelda and family. Jelda was another VSO volunteer in Namibia back in 2009.
We are struggling to keep up with the blogs due to: lack of time,
limited access to electricity to charge the devices, and no tables at the campsites where we stay. Lots more to come!

Our cycling route from Frankfurt down the Main and Tauber Rivers took us past many picturesque old towns with stone walls and towers.¬† Whenever we mentioned to anyone that we were headed for Rothenburg, their eyes lit up and they said something to the effect of, “You mean Rothenburg ob der Tauber?¬† That is a beautiful place — you’re really going to like it!”¬† Then they frowned and said, “But you will have to cycle up a steep hill to get there.”¬† I developed quite high expectations for the place and am happy to report that I was not disappointed.¬† In fact, my expectations were surpassed by this gorgeous, well-preserved medieval city!

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Looking out over Rothenburg from the town hall tower.
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The most photographed view.

Rothenburg has been inhabited for about 1100 years.¬† Its prominent families became wealthy for 3 reasons:¬† the fertile soil, the lucrative textile trade (in sheep’s wool), and the fact that they were well located on both east-west and north-south trade routes.¬† Over 800 years ago, it was incorporated as a city — and not just any kind of city — a “free imperial city”.¬† That meant that it didn’t have to pay taxes to as many layers of people in the power structure and was able to accumulate even more wealth!¬†
A massive stone wall was built around the city at great expense and labour, since large stones were not easy to come by.  Each gate was closed at sundown and guarded throughout the night.  Because of its safe location (up on a ridge) and good protective wall, Rothenburg was not successfully attacked for over 500 years.  Not a bad record! 

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Part of the (rebuilt and restored) wall.
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It is possible to go all the way around the periphery of the wall in a covered walkway (almost 3km).

Of course, life was not easy in a medieval city.¬† Apparently, the stench from human and animal waste was so bad during the summer months that anyone who could afford to would leave for their “summer residences”.¬† And then there was the plague… Rothenburg was hit hard.¬† Among the first to die were the priests, who were exposed to the sick as they gave them their last rites.¬† And without priests, the local people knew they were going straight to hell; a truly horrifying prospect!
We arrived in Rothenburg (after climbing that tough hill) shortly before noon.  One of the first things we witnessed was the chiming of the bells in the main square.  It is coupled with a cute demonstration of some shutters opening and two figures appearing, one of whom is drinking from a large goblet.

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The clock strikes twelve! Each hour, that guy on the right appears to guzzle 3 litres of wine, which is an event that, according to legend, saved the town back in 1631.
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Part of the central square; a bustling place full of cafes.

We went on a walking tour at 2pm (after making a detour to the local laundromat and a bakery), and learned many interesting details about the town.

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The town hall was rebuilt after a fire. The angled windows on the spiral staircase are a dead giveaway of the Renaissance style, we learned.
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Here I am comparing my arm length to Rothenburg's official measure. The others are the foot and the rod. Since each town had its own standards of measure, the distance from Rothenburg to Nuremburg was "different" than the distance from Nuremburg to Rothenburg!
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Our guide, Daniel, is showing an ingenious piece of German engineering that allowed the medieval nuns to give food donations to the poor without ever having to come into contact with the lower tiers of society. This barrel in the convent wall could be filled with goods and then turned and emptied from the outside.
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The largest church in the city had to be enlarged at one point, but there was hardly any space. They had to expand it by building an arch over one of the main streets!
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A typical street.

Rothenburg’s safety record was finally broken in the 1600s (near the end of the 30 years war) when a traveling army chose to spend the winter there.¬† Forty thousand troups were too much for the town of 6000.¬† They defended their town gallantly, but when one of their own townspeople accidentally set off an explosion in the garrison, it blew a hole in the city wall.¬† The 40 000 soldiers plundered the town over a period of several months and left it destitute.¬† Then, for 250 years, nothing much changed.¬† Nobody could afford to upgrade or renovate their homes so everything stayed pretty much as it was — as a medieval city.¬† When artists from the British Isles discovered it and started painting pictures of Rothenburg, people became interested in it for its beauty and historical value.¬† Our tour guide pointed out that those 19th century paintings could be considered as the first “tourist brochures”!¬† A tourism industry began and put Rothenburg back on the map.¬† Now it is once again a wealthy city, receiving over 2 million visitors each year!

We were so bewitched by this charming city that we decided to spend the night in a B&B.  We got the cutest little attic room and a fantastic German breakfast the next morning (fresh bread and lots of great cheeses and meats!)

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Sitting at the breakfast table.

I went on the “Night Watchman’s Tour” and was spellbound by his stories.¬† My favourite one was about how Rothenburg avoided being completely destroyed by bombs during WW2.¬† About 40% of its buildings were in fact destroyed in an allied bomb attack, but only because it was the alternate target in a mission to destroy a fuel supply.¬† These parts were later rebuilt thanks to a major international fundraising effort.¬† Near the end of the war, when a German commander brought his retreating platoon to Rothenburg and announced that they would defend it “to the last man”, it became a military target and was slated to be bombed again.¬† But… someone in a position of power in the US forces had grown up with a painting of Rothenburg in his childhood home.¬† He remembered his mother’s passionate descriptions of her 1914 visit to this beautiful medieval town.¬† This man contacted the American commander and gave the order, “Before you bomb Rothenburg, give them the option to surrender.”¬† Hitler’s generals were under strict orders not to negotiate, but as luck would have it, the #1 leader was out of town, leaving a second in command.¬† And when the option to surrender came, he took the very risky decision to accept it.¬† Obviously, this could have been considered an act of high treason and resulted in severe consequences for him.¬† But perhaps he could see the writing on the wall (it was March 1945), and decided not to sacrifice his men and all the civilians who were living there.¬† In response to the request that he surrender, he said,¬† “We’ll be out by morning.¬† You may have it.”¬† Rothenburg was not bombed, the Americans occupied it for a few weeks, and then the war ended.¬† So, in this way, the combined acts of an American and a German, both of whom had the courage to make independent decisions, saved many lives and a beautiful piece of medieval history.¬† (And the German was not accused of treason.)

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This interesting double-arched bridge was partially destroyed by the Germans themselves to stop advancing American tanks from crossing (before the surrender). Obviously it was rebuilt in the same style.

Rothenburg is now famous for its Christmas market and festival.  There are also some adorable Christmas shops and a museum showing the changing trends in Christmas decorations over time.  Many of our traditions, such as a decorated tree, candles and several Christmas carols originate in Germany.

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Rothenburg's specialty: pastry snowballs!
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Of course we had to try some!

The most spectacular building in the city is St. Jacob’s church.¬†

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St. Jacob's Church -- notice the "new" addition on the left (the roof colour is different).
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The Gothic spires are really impressive.
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This is actually at the back of the church, where they have displayed their most famous artifact: the altarpiece of the Holy Blood. In the past, it was an important destination for pilgrims.
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This unique scene of the Last Supper (with Judas as the central figure) was carved in wood 5 centuries ago by the German master, Tilman Riemenschneider.

An interesting feature of this carving (apart from the amazing detail in the hair and hands) is that the figure of Judas is removable.¬† During Holy Week, it used to be removed.¬† The artist’s purpose was to remind people that each one of us could be Judas.

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Here is a photo of a photo of what it looks like with and without Judas.

We loved exploring the various parts of this well-preserved historical city.

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Some of the defensive towers are in unusual locations since the original city wall had to be moved to accommodate a growing population.
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Old fortifications.
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This shows part of the double-gate defenses. The path from the first to the second gate was not straight so that shots could not be fired directly.
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Enjoying fresh-pressed apple cider in the town square.
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A modern shop in Rothenburg featured bicycles in their chic window display!

Eventually, it was time to leave this fairytale town.  But at least the path was downhill! 

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This was our route.
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We are in the south-west part of Germany, heading into Bavaria.

We rode through beautiful countryside, enjoying the lovely bike paths and seeing lots of evidence of renewable energy production:  solar panels, biogas plants and wind turbines.

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It's not all downhill, though!

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Cam happened to have a shirt that matches his bike -- he looks very colour coordinated!
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The rapeseed fields are bright yellow.
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Very well marked bike paths.
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Biogas facility.
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Rothenburg isn't the only quaint town!
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We "renegade" camped a couple of times. This spot was nest to a small road used by mountain bikers and hunters. Jake is peeking his head out of the hunting hide.
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Here he is working on his blog!
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There is a whole network of guesthouses that cater to cyclists, so it would be very possible to travel without a tent. I'm not too sure what this sign says, but it appears to be cycle-friendly!

One thing that surprised and disappointed us in Germany was the amount of smoking in public places. It’s almost as bad as Indonesia! On caf√© patios, we really had to make an effort to be upwind from the smokers. To avoid them, one has to sit indoors, but that seems like a shame on beautiful warm spring days!

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These cigarette vending machines are a common sight. I was shocked until I noticed that to make a purchase, one must at least swipe an identity card with proof of age.
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Can you believe a cigarette billboard with the slogan "Born that way" ?!? I have never been so tempted to vandalize a sign -- I wanted to cross out 'born' and replace it with 'die'. Anti-smoking legislation is one area where Canada is ahead of Germany.

After 3 full days of cycling, we arrived in Augsburg. Since there was rain in the forecast, we decided to take the train the rest of the way to Munich. A friendly local who saw us with our bicycles at the train station informed us that there was a train strike! But in Germany, that basically means that there will ONLY be 1 train per hour. Imagine! As opposed to the usual train every 20 minutes. He advised us to check out the city and take the train in a couple of hours once all the football fans had left for the big game in Munich.

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Augsburg has a nice walking district with tram service.
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They also have an impressive cathedral. It looks sunny in this photo, but the rain did come!
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We climbed to the top of a tower to get a view of the city.
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The city suffered a lot of damage from bombing in August 1944. It took them years to rebuild.

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And finally, we got on the train with our loaded bikes.

Yvonne

l’Allemagne – c’est chouette √† bicyclette

Nous sommes √† Freiburg dans le sud-ouest de l’Allemagne. C’est peut-√™tre la ville la plus √©cologique au monde. On reste avec Peter et Sabina, en utilisant le r√©seau Warm Showers. Je peut voir les collines en France d’o√Ļ je suis maintenant.
We are in Freiburg in southwestern Germany. It is possibly the most sustainable city in the world. We are staying with Peter and Sabina, through the Warm Showers network. I can see the hills in France from where I am right now.
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C’√©tait le plan depuis le d√©but: d’acheter des bicyclettes √† Frankfurt et de voyager l’Allemagne, le Hollande et le Danemark √† deux roues.¬† On a envoy√© notre √©quipement de v√©lo √† quelqu’un √† Frankfurt, et on a achet√© nos bicyclettes au magasin Stadler.¬† Notre boite avec √©quipement √©tait tr√®s en retard (par une semaine).¬† Alors comme vous pouvez imaginer, on √©tait tr√®s excit√© quand on √©taient finalement pr√™ts √† partir! OK, mon p√®re devait relaxer une autre journ√©e √† cause de sa chirurgie r√©cent sur sa jambe, mais nous trois sommes partis de Frankfurt le premier mai. On a √©t√© l√† pendant 8 jours… √ßa faisait bien de partir.¬† Mon p√®re a dormi chez un hostel au centre-ville, et a prit le train le prochain jour pour nous rejoindre. On a commenc√© par suivre la rivi√®re Main, et apr√®s la rivi√®re Tauber avant d’arriver √† la ville de Rothenburg.
Je vais expliquer comment une journée typique se déroule à tour de vélo.
Nous ne sommes pas tr√®s d√©p√™ch√©s pour nous lever le matin! Peut-√™tre 7h… 8h… 9h… quand on se l√®ve finalement on range nos matelas et nos sacs de couchages. Pour le petit d√©jeuner, ce sont les c√©r√©ales et du lait. Par 10h30, nous sommes habituellement pr√™ts √† partir.
Quand mes parents ont fait des tours de v√©los avant, ils ont dit que c’est pour la plupart sur des routes d’autos. Mais en Allemagne, il y a beaucoup de chemins pour bicyclettes seulement! C’est beaucoup plus relaxe quand on n’est pas concentr√© sur les autos autour de nous… on peut parler, aller un √† cot√© de l’autre, ou juste admirer le paysage autour de nous.¬† Nous voyons vraiment l’Allemagne rurale, et c’est tr√®s sc√©nique. Fermes, forets, petites villages, ciels bleues et panneaux solaires. Je pense qu’au moins 80% de notre cyclisme est sur chemins de v√©los.¬† C’est chouette!

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Moi et Jake sur un chemin de vélo dans une région rurale.
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aww... la pluie! Au moins on descend!
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Mon père tracte la remorque. On vol les drapeaux Allemand et Canadien.
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Puisque c'est le printemps, il y a beaucoup d'agneaux!

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Des panneaux solaires, très communs en Allemagne.
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Encore, des panneaux solaires!

Apr√®s √† peu pr√®s 20 km de cyclisme, on prend une pause pour d√ģner. L’Allemagne est bien-connu pour ses pains, viandes et fromages d√©licieux, alors le d√ģner est un repas super bon! D’habitude, on arr√™te √† un banc dans un champ ou un parc dans une ville. Apr√®s, on continue √† rouler.

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Les pistes de vélo son vraiment excellents!
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Galdis l'orang-outan aime se relaxer dans le panier.

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20 km plus tard, on s’arr√™te dans un village pour notre repos de boulangerie/p√Ętisserie. L’Europe et l’Allemagne en particulier ont les meilleures g√Ęteries au monde! Notre premi√®re journ√©e √† v√©lo, nos yeux √©taient plus grandes que nos estomacs… on a mang√© trop de g√Ęteau… on a appris notre le√ßon. Par contre, puisque nous br√Ľlons beaucoup de calories chaque jour, on ne se sent pas trop coupable de manger plein de sucre et de gras. On adore les g√Ęteaux avec beaucoup de beurre et cr√®me, et les bretzels!

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"Ahh... le pain qui est tombé du ciel!" -Jake Douglas, PhD dans la Philosophie des Bretzels

Une chance qu’on va 50+ km par jour √† v√©lo, sinon nous deviendrions tr√®s gros tr√®s vite!
Après notre repos, on remonte nos bicyclettes et on continue vers notre destination finale. Avant ce tour de vélo, la plus grande distance que Jake ou moi sommes allés était 42 km, mais jours 3 et 4 du tour étaient 67 km chacune!

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Yeah!

√Ä date, notre record est 70 km dans une journ√©e.¬† Notre but est 100 km, et on va essayer de faire √ßa en Hollande, parce que c’est tr√®s plat.
On aime beaucoup bouger √† deux roues, mais nous ne sommes pas tellement enthousiastes s’il pleut!¬† Si la m√©t√©o devient mauvaise, on prend des trains. Le syst√®me de trains en Allemagne (toute l’Europe, vraiment) est excellent. On peut amener nos v√©los sur les trains r√©gionales, mais pas les trains express. Le syst√®me est tellement bon que les Allemands se plaignent quand il y a un d√©lai de 10 minutes, et durant les gr√®ves de train, √ßa veut dire qu’il y a seulement un train par heure, au lieu de 3 ou 4. Mon p√®re a expliqu√© comment le syst√®me de transport fonctionne √† Frankfurt. Quand on essaye d’expliquer au Allemands comment leur syst√®me est 100 fois meilleur que le notre, ils ont de la difficult√© √† comprendre comment un r√©seau de trains peut √™tre si terrible.
En Allemagne, c’est l√©gale de camper n’importe o√Ļ, tant que nous respectons l’environnement et nous ne sommes pas trop proche √† une maison. Alors, nous √©conomisons beaucoup sur l’accommodation en faisant du camping dans des forets ou des champs.

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Quand on veut prendre une douche, on reste chez un terrain de camping. Malheureusement, en Europe, ils sont faites pour des caravanes, pas des cyclistes, alors ils sont sans tables de pique-niques ou places couverts pour cuisiner. Aussi, ils co√Ľtent chers.
Soit s’il pleut ou c’est 19h et pas de places pour camping proches, on reste dans un hostel. Non, c’est pas cheap, mais le prix inclus le d√©jeuner de pain, fromage et viandes.
Quand nous sommes dans une ville pour quelque jours, on ne veut pas rester chez un terrain de camping (d’habitude hors de la ville) ou un hostel (trop cher). Alors, on utilise le r√©seau Warmshowers (douches chaudes). C’est comme “Couch Surfing” pour des cyclistes! C’est un r√©seau de cyclistes qui ouvrent leur maison pour d’autres cyclistes. √Ä date, on a utilis√© Warmshowers deux fois: √† M√ľnich avec G√∂tz et Liza, et √† Freiburg avec Peter et Sabina (o√Ļ nous sommes maintenant). Quand nous retournons au Canada, nous allons ouvrir notre maison √† encore d’autres cyclistes.

On s’amuse beaucoup √† tour de v√©lo. Nos jambes son musculaires et bronz√©es avec la ligne de nos shorts de cyclisme.¬† Puisqu’on a perdu une semaine √† Frankfurt, on va devoir prendre plus de trains qu’on y pensait. C’est dommage, parce que l’Allemagne est tr√®s beau. Par contre, les trains sont presque les seules places o√Ļ on peut bloguer. Voici une carte d’Allemagne avec nos routes de train et cyclisme:

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Le rouge représente ce qu'on a fait à vélo, le mauve à train, et le vert notre route proposée pour le restant du tour.

J’aime bouger √† v√©lo! Et je dois dire que c’est chouette √† bicyclette!
Kaia

Frankfurt was a pain in the butt

I am typing this blog from my seat on the train from F√ľssen in southern Germany to Z√ľrich, Switzerland.¬† I have a table, electricity and a wonderful view out my window (though it’s cold and raining).¬† We’ve cycled about 550km so far – it’s been wonderful.
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Yes, Frankfurt was exactly that Рa pain in the butt.  But through no fault of its own.
We booked the airline tickets for this trip back in July last year.¬† I had been thinking about Germany since then, and in particular thinking about Frankfurt, because that was the only place I knew for sure that we would visit (that’s where our flight from Abu Dhabi landed).¬† I knew we would be there for at least a couple of days, because we needed to buy bicycles for our cycle touring.¬† And we weren’t exactly sure when our parcel from Canada with our cycling gear would arrive, so that might make us wait.¬† We had packed a large box back in August with cycling shorts, shirts, gloves, racks, paniers (bags that attach to racks), lights etc.¬†and left it with friend Javier.¬† We needed an address in Frankfurt for Javier to send the parcel to so used the “warm showers” network to locate someone. Warm Showers is a network of cyclists who open their homes to other cycle tourists passing through their town – for a place to stay, perhaps a meal, shower etc.¬† The expectation is if you use the network for a place to stay, you open up your home in return.¬† Javier mailed our parcel via surface back in early March, so we were hopeful it would be there when we arrived.
First impressions of Frankfurt were excellent.¬† Within moments of arriving at the airport from Abu Dhabi we found ourselves on a bus from the airport to the city center.¬† From there we immediately caught a train north about 10 stops, and walked less than 400m to the city’s one campground and had our tent set up – all in about 90 minutes from the airport.¬† So far, so good.¬† Next day we set out to buy bicycles.¬† We wanted to buy 2nd hand, but there were no 2nd hand shops, and the buy-sell happened on the weekend with hit and miss availability (and apparently these are mostly stolen bikes anyway).¬† So we headed off to “Stadler” bike shop.¬† It was HUGE!

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It was quite overwhelming, I have to admit. There were probably more than 300 bikes in the shop, and an equivalent amount of other cycle paraphernalia.

We were there for about 4 hours but in the end settled on 4 bikes and a large cycle trailer.¬† We were pleased with the purchases – we spent about $350 Cdn (including some missing racks, upgraded tires ..) for each bike, and¬† hopefully will get about $250-300 back for each when we sell them in Copenhagen after 7 weeks of riding.¬† $100 each for 7 weeks transportation …not bad!

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Kaia was pretty happy about her new bike!
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The Stadler shop had a large test track set up, in addition to some large aisles for roaring around on. It made a real difference for getting the feel of different bikes.

We were pretty excited when we left the shop, though we did not take the bikes or trailer with us.¬† They wanted to make sure the bikes were tuned up and needed to put our more narrow (read “faster”) tires on.
Yvonne had been tracking the progress of our cycling gear box and it had arrived in Germany two days before, and was in the Frankfurt area this day.  We were quite excited to pick up the box the next day then head back to the cycle store to do the final setups then hopefully cycle out of town later that afternoon.  HA!
The night before, it dawned on me that our travel insurance that came with our Airtreks ticket purchase had run out when we left the UAE. So that morning Yvonne bought insurance online and we were back in business.¬† Later that day a small irritating pimple at the top of the back of my leg started to become increasingly painful.¬† The trend continued into the next day, and the next, to the point where I knew I needed to see a doctor.¬† Sitting down on both “cheeks” was no longer an option.¬† This had happened twice already this trip, and in both instances some prescribed antibiotics fixed things up nicely.¬† So I figured a quick visit to the hospital to see a doctor, run to the pharmacy and I was good to go.¬† Doc took one look and said it needed to be lanced.¬† He wasn’t kidding when he said it would hurt a bit … no freezing … ouch!¬† Told me to come back the next day to have the dressing changed.¬† Next day, different doctor, takes one look at it and says “surgery”.¬† I figured a local, with some freezing.¬† No … full on, general aesthetic, in 2 hrs time!¬† You gotta be kidding me!¬† I came in yesterday for some pills, now am heading to the O.R.¬† Except I’d just eaten … had to wait 6 hrs.

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Waiting for the operation. My room had a perfect table for the family to blog and play cards on. And Jon Krakauer's "Into Thin Air" (1997 Everest climbing disaster) kept my mind at ease.
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Just about to head to the O.R. This super friendly and nice nurse (I really wish I could remember his name) was from Albania and was asking about nursing in Canada. He was ready for a change, and was fascinated by the thought of a family traveling around for a year.

Surgery went well but they kept me in for that night and the following night.¬† I noted from other conversations that German hospitals do not seem to be in as much of a rush as Canadian hospitals to discharge their patients.¬† Before being discharged the doctor asked me what I’d be doing when I got out.¬† I told him very sheepishly that the plan was to cycle tour.¬† He winced (big open wound, about 1″ from bicycle seat).¬† He told me that I’d be a whole lot better off with at least 4 days of no riding.¬† OK, I will hang around a bit more in Frankfurt while Yvonne and kids set off on the bikes.¬† Then I’ll train to catch up.

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You can imagine how happy I was to see the outside world again.

Through all this time, we had been trying to locate our package from Canada.¬† We couldn’t leave without it.¬† It had arrived at the correct address but because it had my name on it instead of our host’s it was “returned to Canada – recipient does not live at this address”¬† No!!!!!¬† To make a very long and exceedingly frustrating story short, we finally found someone who could put their eyes on it, in a depot about 50km from Frankfurt (on its way back to Canada).¬† He said they could redeliver it.¬† But after about 15 phone calls, emails and a trip to another depot, we’d given up hope with German Post.¬† So Yvonne and the kids took two trains out of town and walked 2km through farm fields to reach a post depot in the middle of nowhere.¬† 15kg parcel on Yvonne’s head and they walked back to the train station (the passing tractor driver did not have room for all three of them and the parcel).

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YEA, we finally have our bike stuff!
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Yvonne recalling skills honed in her time in Mozambique. Actually, it was the only way to carry this box any distance.

Next day back to bike store to pick up bikes and do final outfitting.  Now things were getting exciting!

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Putting pedal cages on Jake's new bike.
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In Frankfurt we noted that bicycles are ubiquitous. Even this young woman in her chic business attire is test riding a new bike.

Now fully outfitted for 6 weeks of cycle touring, Yvonne and the kids headed out to ride back to the campground … and moments later got pummeled with hail, while I rode the train back with my bike.¬† We spent a few hours organizing our stuff … most for the tour, big box ready to mail back to Canada, and another big box with all our backpacks up to the farm near Copenhagen to await our arrival.¬† About to head to post office, then realized it was a holiday and unlike Canada, virtually EVERYTHING closes.¬† So Yvonne and the kids set out with their loaded bikes and I headed downtown with my bike to book into a hostel for the evening.¬† I posted the boxes next day then found a train to catch up to my family who by that time had been riding for two days.

The package and surgery challenges seemed to occupy much of our mental energy and time during our week in Frankfurt, and we felt like we saw virtually none of the city.  We did get to know the WiFi enabled cafes downtown and the cozy ethnic restaurants around the campground quite well (campground had absolutely no cooking facilities Рnot even a table, so we did not ended up using our camp stove). 

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Apart from our street vendor sausages, this was our first authentic German meal. I know it was authentic because we were surrounded by senior citizens eating the same thing. Sauerkraut rolls with potatoes. YUM!

We struggled a bit in our tent at night – it was still April when we arrived and we awoke to frost several mornings.¬† We are traveling with light summer sleeping bags so Yvonne and I had a few relatively sleepless nights (not sure how the kids slept through …?)

That aside, Frankfurt is actually a very charming city, with an extensive walking street section downtown and beautiful bike paths all along both sides of the riverfront.¬† Art, theater and music abound. When the sun even hints at coming out, Frankfurters (sorry … couldn’t resist) flock to the riverside in droves with their picnic blankets, food and especially their beer.

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Walking streets extend for hundreds of meters in both directions and are FULL of people, artists and performers.
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Yes, bicycles everywhere.
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The bicycle taxis are quite high tech and comfortable by the looks of it (better than the "rickshaws" of Kathmandu!)
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What's this store doing in Germany? Well, I guess if they can have Tim Horton's in Dubai ... ?
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We liked this guy's setup - he had a propane tank on his back and a little BBQ hanging in front. We liked even more our first go at German sausages!
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Downtown Frankfurt. Note the walking streets.

Perhaps what impressed us most about the Frankfurt we saw was its public transportation system.  The city proper has a population just a little more than 700,000 but there are 5.5 million in the greater Frankfurt metropolitan area. There are trains coming and going in every direction with multiple transfer stations.  We never waited for more than about 7 minutes for any train, and they accept bicycles.  Trains head way out into the suburbs and neighbouring communities.  Where there are no trains, there are trams.  Where there are no trams, there are buses.  All coordinate beautifully.  For 10 Euro ($12 Cdn) our family could travel all day on any of these modes.  I think the crazy complex spider web of the transit map below gives some sense of how effective it is.

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This transit map shows only trains and trams. Add busses and it gets hard to read!

We drooled over their transit system.¬† Most people admire the Toronto’s TTC.¬† And the GTA’s GO system works for many people. But they still pale in comparison to Frankfurt.¬† Put Frankfurt’s transit system together with the city’s extensive bicycling infrastructure and you understand why we never saw a traffic jam in Frankfurt (I know, we were there only 1 week, and there are no doubt snarls).¬† We were to many places in town and getting there was a breeze.¬† Never even considered a taxi.¬† One of our primary sustainability interests in our Europe segment of this trip is public transit and cycling infrastructure.¬† We’ll have lots more to say about these ideas in later blog entries.

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This tram served the hospital I was in. It reminded us of the ones in downtown Honk Kong.

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The very first house we saw when we left our campground the first morning had solar panels.

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This was indicative of what we’d encounter throughout Germany.¬† Roofs across Frankfurt – on homes, factories, commercial and institutional buildings – are adorned with solar PV.¬† This was no surprise – indeed we decided to come to Germany primarily to see first hand how they have been so successful in rolling out their solar, wind and biogas electrical power.

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This little plug-in electric commuter car was plugged into a solar-sourced charging station downtown.

Our setbacks in Frankfurt were clearly “first world” problems.¬† After all, it was here that we learned of the Nepalese earthquake.¬† But our trip thus far had been so much without hitches, we did feel we were spinning our wheels.¬† Or in this particular case, NOT spinning our wheels.¬† It was great to watch Yvonne and the kids cycle away.¬† And it felt great for me to board the train south the next day to find them.¬† Our 2 days in Frankfurt had stretched into 8 days.¬† And now as I write this two weeks later, we are planning to train some sections we had hoped to cycle as a result.¬† We really enjoy taking the trains here, but we REALLY are enjoying the cycling and don’t want to give that up.

Cam

Abu Dhabi is not too shabby

The rest of my family told me that this blog title was way to cheesy. I used it anyway.
Our second full day in UAE was as full as the first. This day, we went to see the sights of Abu Dhabi, the capital of UAE, a one hour drive from Dubai. Both of our flights in and out of UAE were in the Abu Dhabi airport, but it’s too bad that they were late at night and early in the morning, so we had to¬†make a separate trip to see Abu Dhabi.
Our day started with a swim at the pool on the 30th floor of the building. It was cold because, for some reason, there was a lot of wind up there!

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Ok, now do you know what Tim Horton’s is? If you live in Canada, I can pretty much be sure that you do. For those of you that don’t know what it is, Tim Horton’s is a fast-food restaurant/cafe/bakery that is SUPER popular in Canada. In other words, USA has Starbucks and Canada has Tim Horton’s (a.k.a. Timmy’s). Our city of 80 000 people has 11 of them! There are a few in northern USA, and one at the Canadian military base in Afghanistan, but who knew… we found Tim Horton’s in Dubai! Apparently, the city has many of them. We decided that we just had to go have breakfast there.

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Written in English and Arabic. We were laughing at how they have to write "cafe and bake shop" so that people know what it is!

We had our favourite breakfast sandwiches (similar to an egg McMuffin) for breakfast. So good! It really reminded us of home!

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Wow… I never would have guessed to find Timmy’s in Dubai. It is pretty much exactly the same as back home.
Next, Sunil drove us to Abu Dhabi, one hour away. Along the way, we saw these signs:

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Clearly, the UAE has huge plans for theme parks and tourism. The money is just pouring in!
In Abu Dhabi, our first stop was the Masdar City.

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Masdar City is an innovative sustainable neighbourhood and grad school for MIT in Boston. What makes it unique is that it combines primary research, prototype making, mass production and marketing, all in one place! It isn’t finished yet, but when it is, it will also be a neighbourhood for academics and others to live using 100% renewable energy and some cool transportation.

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Here is a model of what the city will look like.

Okay, “cool transportation” is an understatement. It’s so awesome! It is a network of small, driverless, (renewable) electric cars that use magnets in the ground to navigate around. They’re Personal Rapid Transit (PRT). In the original plan for Masdar city, the PRTs would service the entire city, but they ran short of money and changed the plan, so the PRTs only will service a small area.

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In the model as well

So we decided to take a ride in a PRT!

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It felt very futuristic! It drove itself around and parked itself, all without a driver!
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This is what the PRT looks like from the outside.

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They say that the PRT is a way to combine the advantages of a personal car with those of public transit. For example, you get your own private space like a personal car, but with so few emissions, like public transport! If this was in a city, you would not need to own a car, but you would call up a PRT on your mobile phone, and it would show up.
After our ride in the PRTs, we took a tour of Masdar with a guide. It was short though, and unfortunately we didn’t learn as much s we would have liked to.

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The guide showing us the prototype for the city
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The residencies are made to look like sand dunes. Notice the solar panels on the roof.
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This is a display about an airplane (the Solar Impulse) that is currently flying around the world using only the energy it generates from solar panels on its wings.
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This is a wind cooling tower in the central courtyard. UAE is a very hot place, and this is designed to encourage people to spend more time outside. It works by creating by creating mist at the top of the tower. The mist evaporates and cools the air as it drops through the tower.

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During our two days in UAE, we were struck by the huge environmental inconsistency. When we were there, there were two sustainability conferences happening, there is Masdar city, and Dubai just announced plans to invest 3 billion dollars in solar electricity to reach a capacity of 3 gigawatts. This will help UAE to reach its energy goal of 24% renewable by 2021. On the other hand, today it makes almost all of its energy from oil. It is built in a desert, and can’t support the water needs of the fast growing population, so it has to desalinate.

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One of UAE's main oil powered electricity stations.

After the slightly underwhelming tour of Masdar city, we went to the Yas Mall for some yummy Lebanese food. Then, Sunil drove us to the Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque. It was built between 1998 and 2007, paid for by Sheik Zayed (king of Abu Dhabi). It is the third biggest one in the world, fitting more than 40 000 people inside! They probably would have built a bigger one, but you can’t build one bigger than Mecca, the head Mosque, because Mecca has to stay the biggest. The Sheik Zayed Mosque is built with materials from all over the world, with the purpose of uniting the Islamic world. It’s a beautiful thing to see.

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To enter the Mosque, you need to be dressed in the right way, so¬†my mom, dad and I rented the traditional clothing for our visit (it isn’t necessary for young boys). For my mom and me, we got the Abaya. It’s a long black dress and headscarf. It was sooo hot, and I don’t understand why they chose black, the colour that absorbs the most heat! My Abaya looked quite nice, but my mom looked too much like the grim reaper. Instead of a headscarf, she had a hood, and her dress was so short that her pants stuck out at the bottom!

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That's the grim reaper on the left

For my dad, he wore a long white robe. I think that’s a lot more practical than what we wore!

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We were all dressed appropriately, so we entered the Mosque. There are way too many photos, so scroll through quickly if you want.

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The chandelier from underneath

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Wow… I don’t like to use these words but I have to say that it was spectacular and exquisite! It’s a beautiful Mosque, and worth the drive from Dubai. It’s hard to believe that two days earlier we were looking at beautiful Buddhist temples in Nepal!
On the way back to Dubai, we saw some interesting things:

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Building the new terminal to the Abu Dhabi airport
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This is a coin-shaped building!
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The coin building from the side
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Twisted tower!
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This is the Burj Al Arab, the only 7 star hotel in the world! It is built to look like a ship's sail, and there is a helipad at the top! You could go for high tea, but it costs $70.

When we got back to Dubai, Sunil drove us straight to Downtown Dubai (Burj Khalifa, Dubai Mall and surroundings). We had heard that the fountain show they put on every evening was not to be missed. While waiting for it, we found another Tim Horton’s!

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Then, the show started. It only lasted about five minutes, but it was definitely the best fountain show I’ve ever seen!

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That's Burj Khalifa in the background.

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The Burj Khalifa gets nicely lit up at night.
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The moon looked pretty cool above the fountain show!

We were all pretty tired afterwards, and we used public transport to get back to the apartment. In Dubai, there is a raised train that runs along the main road. Why is it raised? We never figured that out.

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Here's a picture we took earlier in the day of the raised train.
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It was really packed!
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They are driverless trains!

The next morning, Sunil picked us up at the apartment at 5 AM, and we drove to the Abu Dhabi airport for our 8 AM flight to Frankfurt. Having a driver and a very nice apartment sure helped us fit as much as we could into our two day stay in UAE! Thanks, Daniel!
UAE is a very interesting country. I have to say, though, that I wouldn’t want to live there. It’s very barren, dry and sterile. For a girl like me who loves being outdoors, it isn’t exactly paradise! The extreme heat forces you to be in an air conditioned room, and there isn’t much wild nature (except maybe sand dunes).
Having said that, I’m glad that we went there. There is lots to see and do in the area, and we could have easily spent a week! It really is a fascinating place, and two days wasn’t enough.
As our driver Sunil said, “My home country of India has natural beauty. Here, it’s artificial beauty.”
Off to Germany!
Kaia

Sky high in Dubai

Back in July last year, when my parents were booking the flight tickets for this trip, we only had a vague idea of where we wanted to go.¬† A travel agent was on the phone with my dad, and said: “On your way from Nepal to Germany, the plane stops in Abu Dhabi in the UAE (United Arab Emirates), do you want to stay there for a few days?”¬† We thought it would be cool to see the UAE, especially the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, but it would be very expensive and hard to find (cheap) accommodation, so we decided to stay for only 2 days.¬† But as we started looking into stuff to do there, we realized that 2 days is way too short!¬† And on top of that, my mom’s high school friend Heidi emailed us saying “We’ll have a place for you to stay in Dubai”.¬† We later found out that she and her husband Daniel, who live in the US, had invested in an apartment there, and let us stay there for our time in the UAE, and even arranged a driver for us.¬† A driver!¬† We couldn’t believe it!

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After a 5 hour flight from Kathmandu, we walked out of the Abu Dhabi airport and our driver, Sunil, was there to drive us from Abu Dhabi to Dubai.  Sunil is from Agra, in India (where the Taj Mahal is), but lives with his family in Dubai.  The drive between Abu Dhabi and Dubai was on a big highway in the desert, and it took about an hour and a half to get to the apartment.  It was on the 3rd floor of a 39 story building.  It was beautiful!  We looked around, and found stuff like:
“Look, there’s a nice, big kitchen!”
“Look, there’s beer in the fridge!”
“Look, there’s a second floor!”
“Look, there’s a jacuzzi in the bathroom!”
It was really late, so we went right to bed.  Like I said earlier, 2 days is not enough time in Dubai, so we packed as much stuff as we could into our time there.  This blog entry will be about our first day, and Kaia will cover Day 2.  Here was the plan for Day 1:
-go up the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building
-visit Hema, a friend we met in Bali who lives in Dubai
-go to the Dubai museum
-do the desert safari

We got up early, and Sunil brought us to the bottom of the Burj Khalifa.

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We got our tickets at the bottom, and went through the little museum before going up.¬† At 829 metres tall, the Burj Khalifa is the world’s tallest man-made structure.¬† It surpasses the 628 metre tall KVLY-TV mast, a communication tower in Blanchard, North Dakota that used to be the world’s tallest man-made structure, the 550 metre tall CN Tower in Toronto (that we’ve been up before), that used to be the world’s tallest freestanding structure (meaning it doesn’t have any wires holding it up), and the Taipei 101 in Taiwan that used to be the world’s tallest building (meaning it has the most floors).¬† So, the Burj Kalifa beats all 3 of those world records!

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And the Burj Khalifa won’t even hold onto its title for much longer.¬† They’re already building the Kingdom Tower, a building in Jeddah, in Saudi Arabia that will be over 1000 metres tall!

After looking around the museum a bit, we headed for the elevator and went up, up, up…

The Burj Khalifa also breaks the world record for the world’s fastest elevator, at 10 metres per second.¬† It only took about a minute to go up to the 124th floor, at Observation Deck 1.¬† Let me tell you, I would not recommend it for people who are afraid of heights!¬† We were way, way up, and could see all of Dubai.

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This is what the observation deck was like.
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This big pond is where they do the Dubai fountain show.
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This is the Dubai Mall, seen from above.
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This is actually a reflection off the glass on the outside of the building!
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That's a lot of car ramps!
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New skyscrapers are constantly being built in Dubai. Sunil told us over 60% of the world's cranes are in Dubai.

I want make it clear that the reason Dubai has so many tall, expensive buildings is because the country is extremely wealthy, because of its oil reserves.

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Our clothes that day show that we've traveled the world. My mom's shirt and Kaia's pants are from Nepal, and my shirt is from Fiji.
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This building is the Burj al Arab, the world's only 7 star hotel. I wish I could spend a night there!
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The islands off in the distance are man made islands, still being built. They're called the World Islands, because they'll be the shape of the world's continents.
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This is a train for the Dubai transit system. All the trains are driverless, and all the tracks are elevated above the ground. Why? Well, probably because they had enough money to do it! It's a good example of the way of thinking in Dubai: We can build anything we can imagine if we have enough money.
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This is a beautiful mosque!
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One of the men on this billboard (I think the one on the right, but not sure) is Sheik Khalifa, the sheik (king) of the UAE. When the economy tanked in 2008, the company building the Burj Dubai, as it was called back then, didn't have enough money to finish building it. So, Sheik Khalifa gave them money to finish building it, and they named the building after him to thank him.

Dubai is built in a desert, so we were wondering why there’s a big city in such a desolate place, but one of the reasons Dubai became a big city is because half the world’s population is within a 5 hour flight, making it the “business capital of the world”.

After looking around on the observation deck, we walked back inside, where there was, of course, a gift shop, with all those little souvenirs and knickknacks.¬† There was also one of those green screen photo stands, to make it look like you’re hanging on the building and stuff.

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We were considering doing it, until we found out the price.  90 UAE dirhams, equal to about 30 American dollars.  A bit too much for one picture!

There was also the most ridiculous souvenir ever: a stuffy Burj Khalifa!

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It defeats the whole purpose of stuffed animals. In fact, it isn't a stuffed animal, it's a stuffed glass and metal building!

Then, we went back down, down, down to the bottom, and explored around the Dubai mall.

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This is the Star Atrium. You may have noticed the irregular star shape in the photo of thhe mall taken from the tower.

The mall is huge!¬† It’s way bigger than the Toronto Eaton Centre.¬† There are several atriums, and hundreds of stores, but it seemed like most of them sell fancy clothes and cosmetics.¬† It was hard to believe that all those stores can stay in business!¬† It’s not even the only mall in Dubai.

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The stores in the mall are pretty fancy!

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There was even a hockey rink in the mall! As Canadians who missed an entire hockey season, we really wanted to get on and skate!

There was also a huge aquarium in the mall, with lots of fish, sharks and rays.¬† It was beautiful, but nothing compared to the scuba diving we’d done earlier on the trip!

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Then, Sunil picked us up from the mall and brought us to an apartment building where a friend we met in Bali, Hema, lives.¬† You might remember Kaia’s blog entry about Ubud, in Bali, Indonesia.¬† We did a bicycle day tour, and met Hema.¬† She’s from India, but lives in Dubai, since she’s a flight attendant for Emirates airline.¬† When we told her we were coming to Dubai, she invited us to visit her for lunch.¬† At her apartment, we met her and her neighbour, Aditi, also an Emirates flight attendant from India.¬† In fact, all residents in the apartment building are Emirates flight attendants!

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That's Aditi on the left. The red caps and white scarves are part of the outfit for female Emirates flight attendants.
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One of Hema's hobbies is painting, so she had some of her own artwork on the walls of her apartment, like this one of the Buddha.

Lunch was, of course, Indian food!  Nice, soft naan bread with different kinds of curry.  Delicious! 

After lunch, Sunil brought us for a quick visit to the Dubai museum. It was mostly about the life and culture of the Bedouins, the indigenous people of Arabia. It was pretty cool, but we don’t have any photos.

Then, we went on the desert safari, recommended to us by a few people.¬† The guide/driver (I can’t remember his name), originally from Pakistan, drove us out into the desert outside Dubai.

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In Dubai, it can got so hot in the summer (50 degrees Celsius) that all bus stops are air conditioned!
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The Dubai skyline is so distinct, with the Burj Khalifa rising way above everything else.
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The sand blows onto the road!

We got to a place where tire tracks went off the road and into the dunes, and we followed them.

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Our guide letting air out of the tires. Notice the shadow on the car.

None of us expected what followed.¬† It turned out that the desert safari included dune bashing, or in other words, driving up, down and all over sand dunes!¬† This didn’t exactly¬†fit in with our sustainability idea of this trip, but it sure was fun.

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The sand was SO nice, so we got out to play around on a dune for a while.

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Careful, Kaia, your pants will make you blow over!
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Now that's what I call "natural art".

After a while of dune bashing, we got to a setup of huts and a stage, the main part of the desert safari.

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The first thing we did there was ride a camel!

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These are our surprised faces when the camel sat down quite abruptly.

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My dad held a falcon, which I believe is the UAE's national animal.
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My mom got henna art on her hand. When you take the mud off, it leaves an orange mark for several days.

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We watched the sun set over a dune.

After a while, everyone got called in for a buffet dinner.  It was so good!  I filled up my whole plate before even realizing there was a barbecue too.
Once everyone was seated, the show began.¬† It started with an Arabian man dressed in a hard-to-describe outfit.¬† He did an amazing dance, where he kept spinning around and around for almost 20 minutes!¬† We couldn’t believe he didn’t get dizzy!¬† My dad gets dizzy after only one turn.

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He twirled these plate things while he was spinning.
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It got darker while he was dancing, and he lit up little lights attached to his many skirts.

He spun non-stop for his whole performance.  The second other performance was a woman doing a dance with a cane and a cape.

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After the show, we got driven back to the apartment, and slept soundly that night.  Thank you Daniel for paying for the desert safari!  We really enjoyed it.

We packed in a lot of cool stuff into our day in Dubai, and we still had another one left in Abu Dhabi.

Jake

The future is green at Annapurna Eco Village

We went through a time warp and got a glimpse of the future in the hills above Pokhara.¬† We saw sustainable food production, local building materials, and renewable energy use.¬† It was the year 2072!¬† Actually, we celebrated Nepali New Year (which fell on the night of April 13) at this serene haven of eco ideas and education.¬† The Nepali calendar is based on “Bikram Sambat” and is 56.7 years ahead of the common Gregorian calendar.¬† The Nepali calendar (which is based on lunar cycles) was started by the emperor Vikramaditya (somewhere in India) after an important military victory.¬† The new year always falls on the day after the new moon in the month of Chaitra.¬† So, happy new year 2072.¬† Apparently I will be turning 102!

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The "BS" stands for Bikram Sambat.

The Annapurna Eco Village is a family-run enterprise that combines simple comfortable accommodation, great local food, and opportunities to explore meditation, massage, and relaxation in general!¬† It can also provide a window into Nepali village life and is a good starting point for hiking in the Annapurna region.¬† Cam couldn’t cope with too much relaxation (LOL), so he stayed for one night and then set off on his Mardi Himal hike, which he described in the previous blog entry. Actually, he had planned for the one night stay and the ambitious hike before we left Pokhara. Kaia, Jake, and I stayed a second night to soak in the mountains from a distance and from the comfort of a hammock!

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This was our room and view. The weather was a bit cloudy, but the peaks popped out a few times.

On our first day there, the four of us took part in a 90-minute yoga/meditation/relaxation class.  Our instructor, Yubi, was excellent and really explained the reasons for all the various components of the class.  We even did lion roars (because lions represent strength, self-esteem, calmness) and laughter therapy (which Kaia excelled at)!

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Kaia and Jake with Yubi in the meditation studio.

We liked it so much that we went back for more the next day. Our favorite part was when Yubi lead us through the relaxation process step by step. We can still hear his voice saying, “Bring your awareness to the right buttock. Totally, completely relaxed.”

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Here we are in our room, blogging! Whenever we have a free moment we try to get caught up.
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There's Fishtail Mountain, and the unique Nepali flag.
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Beautiful view from the Eco Village.

So, what’s so “eco” about the Eco Village?¬† Well, the owners are committed to environmentally friendly practices; they research extensively and have traveled to India and France to learn about various green technologies and farming practices.¬† One of them gave Cam a tour of the facilities (while the rest of us were chanting “Bodum… Saranum… Ganchaaami” in the meditation room).

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These solar hot water heaters use a thermo-syphon to move water through black tubes on a black background into the storage tank. This simple technology is used around the world.
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Here, Purna is showing how drinking water is filtered through a series of sand and charcoal filters.
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This is a demo of how the filter works.
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This cow provides the milk used in the kitchen. The cow urine is collected in a trough and used to make a natural pesticide.

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Each room has a little solar panel for lighting.

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Here's a new one: a simple way to deposit "humanure"; where it can be utilised in the garden. They plan to build a movable structure around the chair and invite guests to use it if they wish!

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This burner in the kitchen uses biogas as fuel, collected from a digester that is connected to one of the toilets. They can get up to to 2 hours of cooking per day from this fuel source and likely all their cooking if all toilets were hooked up.

For more info about their mission and amenities, visit the eco village website: http://www.ecovillagenepal.com .
We met many interesting people at the eco village, including Claire and her 8-year-old daughter Salome, who are from France.¬† I explained to Claire the gist of our trip and said (as I have said many times over the past 8 months), “We pulled the kids out of school for the year.”¬† And for the first time, the response was , “Oh yeah, so did I.”

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We went for a walk with Claire, Salome, and their guide, Passan, who works for Three Sisters trekking company.
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When we got caught in the rain, we took cover at a nearby house. The woman brought out woven mats for us to sit on.

In the evening we had the chance to “help” milk the cow.

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I just love how the local women dress to do such chores. We watched as she cleaned her hands and feet before milking. Cows are sacred.

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This woman is grinding corn into flour with a stone. It was one of the ingredients in the eco-pancakes that were served for breakfast.

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They grow and process their own organic coffee beans.

Nepali New Year was celebrated in a fairly subdued way:¬† we had a nice meal and then Vishnu and Basantha (sons of the Adhikari family — owners) played the flute and drum while the family and some of the guests danced.

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This terrible photo taken on Kaia's phone shows us dancing to a song that got etched into our brains. (Resham filili, O resham filili...)

You can listen to this popular Nepali folk song here.

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We were given tikkas the next morning.

We had such high hopes for a prosperous new year.¬† Who could have guessed that less than two weeks later, Nepal would suffer its worst earthquake in 80 years?¬† I hope that 2072 sees a lot of healing and maybe the beginning of some type of building code that takes into consideration the likelihood of earthquakes and can protect people in the future from such catastrophes.¬† Nepal is one of the countries we’ve visited this year that I feel I must return to some day. The natural beauty; the people; the culture; the food… all is stunning.

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Farewell to the Himalayan mountains. Until we meet again.

Yvonne

Sustainability. Family. Adventure.