Friday, April 24, 2009

Rund um Koeln to Amstel Gold and Everything in Between!

My week in Germany during Mark's spring break:

Arrived at Dusseldorf after a very comfortable flight on Lufthansa ( although I slept through most if it).

Mark, Hubert, and Gerlinda were waiting for me. After big hugs we were on our way to Pulheim. We piled into Hubert's Ford minivan and soon after we left the airport Hubert got Flashed (yes photo radar in Germany too)!

We stopped at the village bakery and Girlinda picked up some fresh bread and we enjoyed some nice fresh bread and we arrived at the Festers in time for a light lunch.

After lunch Mark and I hopped on our bikes to ride into Pulheim. I picked up some euros at the ATM and we walked around the Church and adjacent park. A mass was starting (Easter Monday) and Mark introduced me to some of his friends that were hanging around. We continued to the Train station and took the Train to Koeln (Cologne).

Mark broke his arm riding his cruiser bike to the ski village in Austria the week before I arrived. So what little riding we did was on his cruiser bike and a borrowed Cross bike for me. Hubert was looking to get in a few more kilometers so he rode his bike to meet us in Koeln. We linked up at the Cathedral and climbed the stairs (509) to the top of the bell tower. The view was good, it would have been great if not for the fog!

We descended the steps and wandered around Koeln together.

We had a Donner (like a Gyro) pita. Hubert made his way back home and Mark and I went to the finish line of the Rund um Koeln (tour of Cologne bike race). We arrived as the juniors were finishing their circuits.

We found a good spot for the pro race and cheered on the riders. This was a race where the riders rode for their countries. A Dane won the race. We enjoyed the the euro pro cycling vibe, Koelsh brew and fresh pretzels!

We made our way back to the train to Pulheim. We unlocked the bikes and headed back to the Festers.

Gerlinda made a nice dinner meal and we spent the next few hours visiting with the Festers.

We hit the sack in the guest room in the basement near midnight.


Road trip in the Rhineland. We all piled in the minivan and headed for Koblenz. A very nice city where the Rhine and Mosel rivers come together.

There is cool monument there that we climbed up. We had a nice lunch of Donner pitas in the town square.
We headed up the road to Loreley. A place on the Rhine where the cliffs are very high. We viewed an unimpressive museum before we hiked to the cliffs and took the stairs down to the river.

The legend here is of a beautiful maiden that sings beautiful songs and lures the bargemen into the rocks.

Earlier in the day Hubert asked me if I am allowed to drive in Europe with my American license. I told him yes and that I enjoyed driving in France last year. I thought he was just curious. Actually, he and Gerlinda hate to drive. When we were ready to head back to Pulhiem, he "offers" me the keys and says he and Gerlinda would prefer if I drove, so off we go with me behind the wheel.

We arrived home. Dinner will be German BBQ!. Hubert needs to go to work to pick up his computer, so Hubert, Andreas, and I grab the bikes and ride to the RWE control facility. Mark passes on the ride and fires up the grill.

RWE controls the German power grid and the control center for the whole country is in Pulhiem.

Andreas and I took the controls while Hubert conferred with his colleagues. The rumors of brown-outs that night are highly exaggerated!

We returned to the house and enjoyed a great feast that Mark prepared (one-handed). Hubert's neighbors across the street joined us for an 'English' party. Christian had done a foreign exchange in Lexington Kentucky, so he and his wife Annaka joined us after dinner for some Koelsh (local Brew) and some English conversation.


Hubert had a morning meeting in Dortmund (60 km away) so Mark and I decided to tag along. Hubert pressed me into service and I became his chauffeur! We parked the car at the RWE offices and headed for the subway station. We took the subway into the city center and decided to go shopping.

Mark needed a cell phone charger, and as we rushed out of the house, Mark forgot his regular shoes. He was wearing his haus shoen (house shoes) wooden clogs not meant for sight seeing.

So we jumped into a sports store and found some walking around shoes. We toasted our success by having breakfast at a sidewalk cafe. We went to the tourist office and picked up a map of the city to plot our next move. We learned from our tour map that Dortmund is famous for steel production and beer. We spot the Brewery Museum on the map and decide that will be our first stop.

We took the subway to the brewery museum and pretty much had the place to ourselves. We checked for a brewery tour, but none were held that day. We decided to head back to the city center and look for a phone charger. We ended up buying a new prepaid phone since it was cheaper (€19) than a charger. We went back to the square for lunch at a brew haus we spotted during breakfast. We had a huge lunch of schnitzel, blood sausage, potatoes and applesauce. Of course washed down with a local Dortmund brew.

Back to the subway to make our way the Westfallen Park. Its a huge park that reminded us of the Olympic Park in Munich. We rode to the observation tower platform of the TV tower in the park. It was still a bit hazy, but we had great views.

We grabbed an ice cream and wandered back to the RWE offices just as Hubert was leaving. He quickly exited the driver seat and tossed me the keys.

We headed for Oberhausen, to visit a planetarium but arrived just as it closed. So back to the van, and the autobahn to Pulhiem. We arrived back a little after 7. Hubert wanted to show me the country side around the village so we hopped on the bikes and headed out. We visited a transformer station and rode by a new coal fired power plant. We rode back over a hill that was reclaimed strip mine and was already well forested.

We arrived home for a light meal, and another "English" party, this time at Christian's house.


After three late nights in a row, we treated ourselves to a little later wake-up call. We generally just chilled out in the morning. We packed Mark's cross bike (I would take it home with me) and a bunch of winter clothes that Mark no longer needed to lighten his load when the exchange ends.

After lunch, Hubert and the three boys Fabian, Christian, and Andreas, Mark on his road bike, and me on a borrowed cross bike head out for a 50k ride. Hubert and the boys leave first, and Mark and I a little later. We meet up in the next village. The problem for Mark is he cannot get comfortable on his bike and ends up riding one-handed mostly putting pressure on his lower back. He decides to head home.

We press on past the power plant Hubert showed me Wednesday and to all the way to the coal mine. It is an enormous open-pit operation run by RWE. One side they dig out the coal, on the other they restack the dirt and tailings and reforest it. Its like a big moving wound across the landscape. If a village is in the way, no problem. Tear it down and rebuild it outside the mine boundary. We rode through one new village on the way back.

Near Pulheim, RWE has a museum that was very interesting that outline the whole process. It was in a park that included a castle that had been restored.

After dinner, Hubert joins his buds at a local pub for a game of Scot. Mark and I rode over after dinner and had a great time with his friends.


We awoke to heavy rain and water leaking into the basement guest room. The whole family springs into action. Hubert heads up to the roof to find the leak. Girlinda directs us to move/disassemble furniture out of the leaking room. We pull back the carpeting and get most of the furniture out of the way.

Huber finds the cause (clogged gutter) and the kaos abates. Hubert joins Mark and I as we head to the bus stop. We take the bus to the train station, then hop on a DB Regional train to Aachen Germany. Two more buses and we walk into our base camp for the next two nights, the Aachen Holiday Inn!

Our original plan was to cycle to Aachen then spend the next two days on bikes touring Belgium and Holland and catching the Amstel Gold protour bike race. With Mark's broken arm, we adjusted the plan. We will take the train to Aachen, then rent a car Saturday morning, and motor tour.

While Mark and I were disappointed with the change, but both noted how crappy the weather was (raining, cold and misty) and would be through Saturday. The alternative plan was much better than the original.

We checked into the hotel and settled in. We grabbed a Pizza from Hellow Pizza, a couple of cold beverages from the lobby, and retired to the room to watch a movie (Tratior) on Mark's computer. After the movie I headed out to find the Avis location (500m from the hotel) and get some supplies from the Shell Convience Store.


We had a huge meal at the hotel and walked over to Avis to get our car. We decided since I would be lugging the bike back to Dusseldorf, we would check on keeping the car until Monday morning. Good news: No dropoff charge, or addional fees if we got to the airport by 8:30 Monday morning. Bad news: The TomTom GPS navigation system needed to be returned to Aachen, and they closed Saturday afternoon, so we couldn't drop it off. So we left with an Avis map of Germany and our compact Fiat with the Mark Mark navigation system!

First stop Liege. Mark did a great job getting us right to the city center. We went to the tourist office to get a map of the city and inquire about rental bikes (the weather was foggy but improving). No rental bikes in Liege so we wandered around a little and plunked down at a sidewalk cafe for a coffee. We spot another toursist office on the way to a park we thought might be interesting and stop in and check again for bikes. No joy.

We find the trail up to the overlook and it is beautiful. Very green from the rain. We make our way to the top and spend some time looking around and taking pictures. We decide to head back to the city center and descend a huge stairway back down to the city level. We are sure it was famous since a bunch of tour groups were gathered at the bottom.

We headed back toward the car and stop at a cafe looking for pomme frittes (french fries). They only serve them with meals so we pass and try a local brew while we plot our next move. We had found a good Michelin map earlier and decide to head for Bastongne.

As we make our way to Bastongne the weather takes a turn for the worse, and its back to rain, drizzle, and cold. We both agree that today we would rather be touring by Fiat rather than bike. We arrive in Bastongne and follow the signs to the Historical Museum. From the outside it looks a little small and we both think it reminds us of the Gen Patton Museum in Californina. Once inside however, it was awesome.

We grabbed the audio tour (mine in English, Mark selected German) devices and headed in. We spent several hours enjoying the museum and the film documenting the Battle of the Bulge. Outside we climbed the mounument to the Americans how served in the battle. It was very impressive.
Hey, ever been to Luxembourg, no? Well lets go there for dinner. We head out through beautiful countryside to Luxembourg. We stopped twice on the way, once at a memorial to the 90th Infantry that liberated the town of Berel, and then at a park in Kautenback where I spotted a pomme fritte stand. We enjoyed our snack and continued to Luxembourg.

We parked on one side of the river, and made our way to the other on foot checking out the city. We crossed a bridge over a park where the river was several hundred meeters below. We walked into one restuaruant that turned us away (no reservation) and had a great Italian meal at the one next door. We made our way back to Aachen in the dark and plunked into bed at about midnight!


Race day! We chow down and check out of the Holiday Inn and motor to Valkenburg, which is only about 50km away. We found a great parking spot and headed into the city center where workers were erecting the race barriers. The race will come through here three times, finishing at the top of the Cauberg (a very steep hill). We decide to walk the Cauberg and it was hard to walk. The racers will go up it three times. We wander back into town and find a table outside right on the the course. We order coffee and decide this is the place to watch the race from.

We met a couple from Holland and had great converstation. Suddenly, the race publiticy caravan barrels through town and we realize only the finishing lap will go in front of our Cafe. We jump up and move to where there racers will come through.

We are 20 people deep in front of a bar blasting techno music and the crowd is fired up singing to the tunes. The leading group of 5-6 riders come through and the crowd goes crazy. 20 minutes later the rest of the peloton comes through. We retire back to our table thinking the next time they will pass in front of the cafe.

Nope. So we race up the street after the caravan comes through to find a spot where the crowd is thinned out. We do and have a great view of the race going by. Now the gap is down to about 2 minutes.

We decide to head up the Cauberg to watch the finish. We find a spot 600m from the finish and climb up a wall which offered a great spot to sit and watch the race. Also, a bar across the way was playing the race broadcast (alternating in Dutch, German, English, and French) so we could listen to the race action. Finally the leaders (3) with only a 20 second gap flash by. From Road Bike Rider Weekly:

Classics veteran Sergei Ivanov (Katusha) won Holland 's Amstel Gold Race in a 2-up sprint with Karsten Kroon (Saxo Bank). Robert Gesink (Rabobank), who was dropped by the pair on the climb to the line, hung on for third place in the 258-km (160-mile) race as the bunch closed fast. Said 2008 winner Damiano Cunego (Lampre), 5th this year at 8 seconds, "We waited too long to bring them back. Things slowed for a minute and we lost precious seconds." For Russia 's Ivanov, 34, it was "the biggest win of my career. We will celebrate tonight. We will drink vodka."

After the race we head back to our trusty Fiat. We motored back to Pulheim just as Gerlinda was making Hawaiian Open Face sandwiches (bread, ham, pineapple, with cheese melted on top!). As Mark says, "Girlinda gets it done!" Hubert was working the night shift so we chilled out, and I packed up.


Hubert waits up for us to have breakfast together, the boys pack their school bags, and I point the Fiat toward Dusseldorf.

I had not seen Mark since we dropped him off at the Phoenix airport last August, so this trip was even more special. We had an awesome time together.

Click here to check out Marks blog (his Mom makes him update it at allowance time!)