Our Bike Tour: The Jewel in the Crown

The bike tour was definitely the crown jewel of our honeymoon. The entire trip was wonderful, of course, but the bike tour was just heaven. Seven days, six nights, around Lake Constance (or Bodensee, to give it its proper name), and going through three countries (Germany, Switzerland, and Austria), just the two of us – sigh… We can’t wait to do another one!

We booked the Lake Constance tour through TripSite.com after some comparison of locations and prices and providers and so on. We picked this one because it had the option of doing  3- and 4-star hotels, rather than just all 4-star hotels, and thus being a bit less expensive. We don’t really need 4-star hotels, but I have to confess, part of me is now curious as to what those hotels are like, after how nice ours were!  TripSite.com doesn’t organize the tours, just help sell them. They sent us our hotel list a month before our start date, and other basic travel information, but once we arrived, we were biking on a Radweg-Reisen.com tour.

Our first hotel was in Konstanz, Germany, the Hotel Volapuek. Actually, it was in the suburb of Litzelstetten, easily accessible by bus from the Konstanz Hauptbahnhof (main train station); the bus stop was almost directly in front of the hotel. Upon check-in, we received a big packet of information, including gummi bears!  Because I had booked the tour, everything went under my name, so The Mechanic had to be “Mr. Floyd” for the week, which made me giggle.  Because Radweg-Reisen moved our luggage for us every morning, our bags had to be labeled the same, so…. (Having our luggage waiting for us when we got to our hotel each night was pretty heavenly, too!)

 

Picking up our rental bikes couldn’t have been easier, either. One of the buses that passed in front of the hotel ran to the neighborhood of Konstanz where Radweg-Reisen was located. Once there, we gave them our (my) name, and a staff person brought out our red bikes, let us test out saddle height, told us the lock combination, showed us our seat covers, first aid kits, tool kit, panniers and handle bar bags, then waved us good-bye. And that was it! We were biking in Germany.

 

The next day we first headed west from Konstanz, after a morning at Mainau Island, then biked around Reichenau Island before taking a ferry to Oehningen, near Stein am Rhein. We spent the second night there; the third day we headed north and east, to stay the night in Ueberlingen; fourth night in Nonnenhorn; fifth night in Hoechst, Austria; and the last night back in Litzelstetten/Konstanz. All total, we biked 250km, which was a bit more than I expected. It rained the entire day on our way to Ueberlingen, and the morning we left Hoechst, which was a bit of a bummer, but other than that, we didn’t have any problems.

Our route - starting clockwise at the red dot in Konstanz, heading west to Stein am Rhein, then up to Ueberlingen, then to Meersburg, Friedrichshafen, Lindau, Bregenz, Rorschach, ROmanshorn, and returning to Konstanz. 250km in all.

Our route – starting clockwise at the red dot in Konstanz, heading west to Stein am Rhein, then up to Ueberlingen, then to Meersburg, Friedrichshafen, Lindau, Bregenz, Rorschach, ROmanshorn, and returning to Konstanz. 250km in all.

Each day was like something out of the travel brochures (even in the rain). The lake was as gorgeous as the small towns were historic and cute. The flowers were in full bloom and just gorgeous, everything was lush and green, and there were baby ducks and swans in just about every harbor. We hadn’t anticipated the vineyards and orchards, or the wine, and couldn’t take our eyes off the far-away Alps (well, which we could see on the sunny days). We kept stopping to take pictures, admire the scenery,  wander through some picturesque town, or tour a castle. We felt a bit rushed, or maybe that was because we wanted to see everything, and still enjoy our hotels and dinners when we arrived. (Breakfast was included at each hotel, leaving us to find something local along the way. We ate pastries mid-morning, ice cream in the afternoons, and sampled local beer or wine with dinner. Except for the night in Hoechst, Austria, where the only thing that was open after 7pm was the doener kebap place.)

The other thing that we couldn’t get over was the bicycle culture we experienced. It was like nothing either one of us has ever seen – dozens and dozens of people doing the same thing we were doing, along the same trail, some with the same bikes and panniers, some with bikes from other tour companies, about half on electric pedal-assist bikes, and some loaded down with their own gear. Most of the other bicyclists we saw were retirement-age, and they were generally on the nice ped-elec (as they call them) bikes – which we studied as they cruised past us! In addition, or perhaps more importantly, the trail was so well marked that we never needed the provided maps. Every time we started asking, “Where do we turn next?” we would see a sign on a sign post, or painted on the road. We had a specific route symbol to follow, so sometimes that was all we spotted. Other times we found detailed arrows going in every direction, with kms or sometimes number of minutes to the next destination. It was pretty mind-boggling. Here, where we were, it was clearly coordinated for the cycle route, and towns would have the paths clearly marked. Locals were clearly used to bicycle tourists (in fact, probably are bicycle tourists themselves), and we were NEVER honked at. Ever. Then again, we also had clearly define bike lanes and lights and signs, and never felt threatened. How heavenly is that?!

 

I could go on and on and on, but I’ll leave it at some photos. That’s really the best way to explain it all, is to just show you how heavenly it was.

From Zurich to Copenhagen, and Back to Reality

The Mechanic and I are back from our European honeymoon, and a bit jet -lagged. It was such an amazing trip that it’s going to be hard to share everything I want to about it, and may have to give up at some point. I’ll give you some highlights, but first, a quick summary of where we were:

We started off in Zurich, Switzerland then went to Konstanz, Germany, where we started our Bodensee bike tour. Then we headed up to Dortmund, Germany, to visit friends. After almost an entire week there, we stopped in Brussels, Bruges, and Amsterdam, then squeezed in a few hours in Copenhagen, where we changed planes on our way home.

So, the highlights:

1. The bike tour around Bodensee was A-MAY-ZING! It was so well organized by Radweg-Reisen.com that we kept the catalog of their other tours. We booked ours through TripSite.com, but were definitely impressed by Radweg Reisen. We arrived at our first hotel and were given a huge packet of information, then jumped on a conveniently-located bus to the Radweg Reisen headaquarters, where we picked up our bikes. A brief adjustment of the saddles, a quick inventory of what came with the bikes (one pannier each, handlebar bags, seat covers, locks, first aid kits, tool kit), and off we went, just like that. Our luggage was picked up daily and was waiting for us at the next hotel. Although we picked the date we wanted to start our independent, unguided tour, there were plenty of others on the same route with the same branded bikes and panniers, and although we didn’t interact with them, we certainly got to know them. The hotels were all great, as well, and there was way more to see at every corner than we had time for! It did rain on us two of the days of long biking, but even then we still managed to have a great time. The bike paths were so well marked that we really didn’t need the provided maps, and every time we were unsure where to go, lo and behold! There was a sign, or a painted arrow on the road, or something. Biking in this area, and Germany/Switzerland/Austria is huge, so the signs and paths and arrows and detour signs, and everything were prevalent and put anything we have in this country to shame.

 

2. Bike infrastructure everywhere was amazing! I mean – it exists!!! And everywhere, not just in the wealthy neighborhoods. Streets are clearly divided – cars, bikes, people. Sidewalks were signed to show which side the pedestrians walk on, and where the bikes go, and then said streets would have stripes down the middle, or a different color brick bike lane in the sidewalk, or thoroughly painted bike lanes, even and especially through intersections. What?! We biked to Trader Joe’s today – not so much.

3. Germany won the World Cup!!! Woot!!!  That’s my team, and we watched the game from Bruges. We also watching the amazing Germany-Brazil game in Dortmund – that was just unbelievable. All the Germans were going nuts that night as we walked home from the restaurant where we watched the game.

4. Beer and Chocolate. Lots and lots of both. Beer everywhere, and chocolate mostly in Belgium (of course), but the Sprungli chocolates in Zurich were dee-vine!

5. Not as much shopping as I’d hoped, but I did get some bike accessories.

And many, many more things….

We were so sad to leave, and return to urban sprawl, less-than-robust public transportation systems and bus infrastructure, and not getting to practice my German any more. Really, I’m still in denial that I’m back. I’m still organizing my photos (all 2288 of them), and I haven’t even looked that The Mechanic’s yet.  So now is a good time to tell me what you’d like to see more of – bike stuff, hi-tech European stuff, historical buildings, the gorgeous countryside, our bike tour, what?

In front of the Bernina factory in Switzerland

In front of the Bernina factory in Switzerland

Europe! But First, a Mountain Bike

Frantically cleaning house and packing, then repacking, then purging unnecessary items – yep, it’s almost honeymoon time! The Mechanic and I were forced to reevaluate our packing lists when we realized that not only does the weather forecast for Zurich show cooler and rainier weather than we expected, it seems to be the same for all of the Lake Constance region for the next week. So out came the sandals and shorts and skirts, and in went more long pants and oxfords. I’m sure this means that by the last week of our trip, it will be miserably hot. That’s okay, I plan to shop!

High of 61*F and 100% chance of rain on the day we plan to do some hiking.

High of 61*F and 100% chance of rain on the day we plan to do some hiking.

In between cleaning and packing, our betta, Raleigh, has come down with some fishy malaise, and we aren’t really sure what to do about it. So with days to spare, we’ve been obsessively staring at him, trying to determine if there has been any change, no matter how slight, to his health. Our neighbors, who are watching our apartment while we are gone, have been primed to not be surprised if he dies – “It wouldn’t be the first time I flushed a fish,” one said.

Weird spots, swim bladder bulges, and an inability to hold his tail up - luckily there is plenty of greenery for him to drape himself on.

Weird spots, swim bladder bulges, and an inability to hold his tail up – luckily there is plenty of greenery for him to drape himself on.

And while all this has been going on, The Mechanic finished my mountain bike, Sopwith Camel! I’m very excited! I tried it out briefly the other night, before it was put away for a while. It handles so much differently than Fauntleroy, and the straight handle bars and trigger shifters might take some getting used to. I’ll have to do a longer post at some point to show the Start to Finish of the bike, but for now, a few photos will have to do.

 

And now – off to close up the bags! See you later!

I think this is the smallest carry-on I've ever used! Note the BikeArlington water bottle for size comparison.

I think this is the smallest carry-on I’ve ever used! Note the BikeArlington water bottle for size comparison.

All this stuff in one large travel pack!

All this stuff in one large travel pack!

 

British Blog, Wedding Bells, and Elly Blue

It’s hard to keep up with a blog when so much stuff is going on all at the same time! So many things I wanted to share, but don’t have time to create their own post, so I’m cramming three great things into one!

First, I am very pleased that one of my product reviews was published on The Discerning Cyclist! I had read an interview with founders Ste Johnson and Peter Reynolds in Momentum Magazine, which ended with a call for more people reviewing stylish bike fashion. So I sent a link to my website and offered my services. The end result is a custom review of the REI Novara Whittier Bike Dress! Be sure to check out the rest of their website. Their goal, as is mine, is stylish clothes you can bike in. (I just happen to like mine to have hidden reflectivity as well). I’m very excited to share this with you, and hope that it is, in the cliched words of Humphrey Bogart, the beginning of a beautiful friendship! And now I have an excuse to buy more stylish garments that just happen to be bike-friendly or bike-specific. Huzzah!

The Mechanic and I got married this past weekend. Yep, that was a pretty big deal! It was a four-day event, starting when we biked to Gerald Williams, one of the County suggested “civil celebrants” and a celebrity in his own right . We didn’t want a stranger conducting the actual wedding, so we opted to have a civil ceremony before the wedding. Initially we thought we’d make it casual and just bike there, but as it turns out, we had 6 other family members with us to capture it the entire way.

Our wedding took place at the Bavarian Inn, in Shepherdstown, WV, and couldn’t have been more perfect. The weather turned out to be perfect, the reception room looked perfect, the wedding cake was perfect, I loved my dress, and although I cried on and off the entire day, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I am now Mrs. The Mechanic.

And to round out a few weeks of fun, last night I got to chat briefly with Elly Blue, famous bike author of Taking the Lane, who was in Arlington for a Dinner and Bikes event. We didn’t chat very long, but since we’ve communicated via Twitter, I wanted to say hi; she was, after all, in my office. I’ve worked with many celebrities in my life (ask me about my Hugh Jackman story the next time you see me), but I feel like Elly is a real celebrity – she is out there making a difference for everyday people, getting them on bikes, and getting them to think about bikes in different ways. I wish I had time to read all the publications she had with her, but I’ll have to wait until I have more free time.

I’m really still basking in the afterglow of the wedding weekend, and now I’m beginning to pack for the honeymoon, so this could be the last blog post for a while. I will try to blog from Europe but I can’t promise anything. However, I can promise lots of bike-themed blog posts when I get back!  Elizabet3580347

Making the World Our Own

As much as I hate to admit this, Pinterest has been my wedding crutch. Although the ratio of things Pinned to things being used is pretty slim, I did one DIY Pinterest project that I’m actually really excited with. I changed the world.

Our wedding theme is travel, so there are flags and maps and globes throughout out the invitations, program, website, decorations, and so on. When I found this Pin and blog post about a chalkboard globe, I got really excited about what a great sign this could be as part of our reception. However, I already knew how expensive globes are to buy (at least in the DC metro region). “Pick up a cheap globe” must work better in other parts of the country. So until my Matron of Honor mentioned that they inherited an old globe with their new house, I didn’t think I’d be able to do this.

The globe they inherited must be from the early 1990s – Germany is one country, but the USSR still exists. I felt a bit sad about covering up that history, but did it anyway!

Although the author of the blog painted her globe with a paint brush, The Mechanic said that spray paint would be easier and more cost-effective. What would we do with a whole can of chalkboard paint in a rental apartment? Good point. So I bought Rust-Oleum Chalkboard Flat Black Spray and a primer. Then I waited for a weekend when it wasn’t too humid, nor too windy, so I could set up “shop” by our dumpster and do some spray painting.

I was really pleased with the way this project turned out! The globe looks amazing, and the acrylic stand that I initially didn’t like, looks so chic with the black matte globe. Although I had said we could offer it to The Mechanic’s niece, I want to keep it for myself!

You’ll have to wait another week to see it in action, but trust me, it looks really fun. I can’t wait for our wedding guests to see it!

Biking to Ballet

At the end of 2013, I purchased a Living Social deal to Adagio Ballet & Dance School, 10 adult classes for a really good rate. I was very excited about this – although my childhood experiences with tap and ballet classes don’t hold the happiest of memories, I took classes for a while as an adult living in New York, and really enjoyed it. I’m terrible at it, but really like the hour of full concentration, grace and strength (perceived grace on my part), and the fact that ballet is learning something, rather than just lifting weights (which as you all know, I totally love). I envisioned myself strong and graceful at the end of 10 weeks.

How I envision myself after 10 weeks of classes... (image from Wikepdia).

How I envision myself after 10 weeks of classes… (image from Wikepdia).

However…. When I Googled the bike directions from my apartment to Adagio, the route was up Glebe Road, which is not bike friendly at all. Luckily there is a convenient bus route, so I tried that a few times. But between buses either showing up earlier, or not showing up at all, bad winter weather, and work events, I didn’t end up going as often as I’d hoped.

... instead it was me and a bunch of women who had either never taken a class, or, like me, hadn't taken classes in years. (Image from Disney).

… instead it was me and a bunch of women who had either never taken a class, or, like me, hadn’t taken classes in years. (Image from Disney).

As the weather improved, I decided it was time to make more of an effort to go before the deal expired, so I Googled the route one more time. This time, it showed me a way to get there through neighborhoods! No main roads! Huzzah! Although I got lost a few times in North Arlington’s twisty hills, I eventually found an easy way to get to my ballet class in a mere 15 minutes! It was nice to get there already warmed up, and I was pleased to discover that between BodyPump, yoga, and biking, I wasn’t as sore as I initially anticipated I would be. Yes, different muscles are being used, but I’m apparently in much better shape than I thought. I went regularly for a while, although now with wedding chaos about to start and the end of the spring class term, I won’t be back until the fall.

My bike in front of Adagio Ballet Studio - they need a bike rack!

My bike in front of Adagio Ballet Studio – they need a bike rack!

This whole process also proved that for as bikey as I am, I am also the person for whom bike lanes are intended – I don’t want to ride on main roads with no shoulders and cars whizzing angrily by. I want a route that I feel safe on, so that I am encouraged to ride somewhere regularly. I’d love protected bike lanes, ideally, but I’m good with a painted lane. Just something that gives me space and legitimacy. Or at least quiet neighborhood streets where I can enjoy the yards full of flowers, giant trees, the occasional fox running across the road in the dusk, and a car or pedestrian now and again. It makes such a difference!

I volunteered at their Spring recital to help dress baby ballerinas.

I volunteered at their Spring recital to help dress baby ballerinas.

I really hope they do another Living Social deal, but I think that even if they don’t, I will make the investment and get a 10-class package, and start with classes again in September. My instructor did tell me that I should be able to move up to the next level adult class soon, now that I’m recognizing steps and so on. Yay! That is incentive, for sure! I’ll be a ballerina yet.

A Bicyclist Goes for a Walk….

Sounds like a joke, doesn’t it?

Sometimes I prefer walking over biking. But the reason why The Mechanic and I went for a walk this morning, instead of a bike ride, was that we realized we aren’t in walking shape for our upcoming trip! Last weekend we walked around our neighborhood for almost 2 hours, and were exhausted afterwards! 18 miles in one day? No problem! Walk for a few hours? Oh dear.

I ended up biking 18 miles last Wednesday, without planning on it.

I ended up biking 18 miles last Wednesday, without planning on it.

So we went for a walk. It’s absolutely beautiful today! We walked through Lubber Run Park, near-ish to our place. It’s a lovely little valley full of trees, with a small stream running through it. I find it very peaceful. It’s almost ever full of people, although today a large family gathering had taken over a few of the picnic tables and grills, with several little kids playing in the water. That’s a better way to spend Memorial Day weekend, rather than tying up wedding to-dos, and frantically trying to cross things off a very long list.

I always enjoy walking because I get to stop and study things I normally whiz past on my bike. We watched some grackles kicking up the leaves, and saw a blue jay nestled on the ground with it’s wing stretched out oddly. We were concerned it was injured, and watched it for a while, until it suddenly sprang to life and flew off into the trees. We examined places on tree trunks that might be where deer scratched at the bark, or maybe not, and studied the oak leaves growing off a downed tree. These sorts of things are harder to do by bike. I’d have to stop every few feet to do so!

Now I’m back to frantically going over the list of wedding tasks still required. Not much, mind you, but we are 20 days away, and I don’t want to scramble (too much) at the last minute to get things organized and communicated. I prefer to be as prepared as possible….

So a walk through the woods is a welcome respite for this cyclist!

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