Îl de Ré

There were many surprises on Îl de Ré and they started right from the time we crossed the bridge from La Rochelle. The toll was a nasty €16! Next surprise was our accommodation. The streets were like a rabbit warren and once we found where we were staying things continued to surprise us. From the outside it looked basic but inside our room with ensuite and mini courtyard garden were charming. As it wasn’t quite time to eat dinner we went for a short walk through St Marie de Ré past a few shops and cafés and down to the beach.

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On our return to the cafe area we came to the Bistrot du Bar à Quai which had quite a few people in the courtyard bar drinking and several more in the restaurant section. We had a drink once we had placed our orders. I had a nice local beer from La Rochelle. The waiter certainly scurried around showing people to tables, taking orders and bringing out food. Sadly the food didn’t match his industriousness. Karen’s chicken club sandwich was pretty average and my fish was barely cooked. Underwhelming is a word that comes to mind. As it turned out the beer was the best part.

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The next morning when we went for breakfast in our hosts’ dining area there was an even bigger secret garden! Plus two other guests from Belgium spoke a bit of English so we had a lovely time chatting in a mixture of English and French.

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Marie, our host informed us that a nearby village, La Flotte, had a Saturday market. She suggested taking their spare bikes and cycling over as car parking would be difficult and the well maintained bike paths were mostly flat. So off we rode across the island to the north. Lots of vineyards either side of us as we rode. It didn’t take long to reach La Flotte, about 45 minutes. We parked our bikes in a row at the edge of the shopping/market area and off we went.

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The patisserie looked tempting but as we had eaten a very big breakfast we kept moving.

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The array on offer was impressive for such a small village. From spices to seasonal fruit and vegetables, fish, saussisons, local wine, cheeses and other deli goods.

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Stallholders were keen for business and that was good for the customers as many free samples were being offered.

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Personally we found the strawberries too good to pass up.

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Again we fell to temptation, this time in the bakery.

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Having had a good look around we decided to join the many others on bikes and continue our ride. Firstly past the marina at La Flotte.

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Next we followed the bike path along the foreshore,

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even passing some white bathing boxes, smaller and less colourful than those we have at home,

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towards St Martin de Ré, the biggest town on the island.

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After looking around there we made our way back to St Marie de Ré. This was the longest leg of the triangle we rode and we tired as we went. Every now and then we stopped to admire the scenery, mostly vineyards but there was even a windmill at one point.

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Once we were back at our little room we prepared lunch from our purchases and sat and ate it in the courtyard garden, happy with our little bike riding adventure.

 

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Warburton Rail Trail

Last year Karen and some of her teacher friends decided to complete the Oxfam 100Km in 48 hours walk. As part of the preparation a group of non participants including myself joined in and walked sections of the Oxfam walk in the Dandenong Ranges National Park.

This year we decided to walk another section. This part was along the Warburton Rail Trail. So one sunny afternoon we drove to the carpark at Launching Place where three of us were dropped off. We intended to walk the 10.6 kilometres to Warburton.

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At first the trail followed the Warburton Highway. It was quite flat and the weather was sunny. After a couple of kilometres we were in Yarra Junction which was formerly a major timber town. As we walked through a lovely market was just finishing up. Too bad we hadn’t started a bit earlier.

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Along the trail seating and the odd picnic table could be found for those walking further than us. I just loved the beautiful white barked eucalypts along the edge of the trail.

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The section between Yarra Junction and Millgrove saw us come into contact with the Little Yarra River as we walked along the edge of the floodplain.

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Good weather had brought out lots of other walkers. Some were clearly preparing for the 2015 Oxfam Walk with maps in hand. Others were just out for a pleasant day’s walk. Walkers share the trail with cyclists too. Those coming towards us were easy to spot but avoiding those from behind was tricky at times. Fortunately most tinkled their bells to give us warning. In spots the trail was bridged over the floodplain.

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The trail continue along the edge of farmland. We had good views out to the mountains of the Yarra Ranges National park as we walked.

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Nearer to Warburton the trail was tarred and at times we could hear the Little Yarra bubbling along. We were met by Brendan who’d dropped us off back at Launching Place and had walked from Warburton, where he’d left the car, to meet up with us.

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Once we arrived in Warburton we walked through the town, past many cafes and arty crafty shops to where our car was parked. We stopped at a seat on the banks of the Little Yarra River resting after our walk. Perhaps we’ll walk another section another time or if we get really energetic may bring our bikes and cycle the whole 39kms. Lots of good possibilities to consider.

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Reflections on travelling in Germany

In the Germany we loved –
Dresden, what an amazing skyline and so much to explore.

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The Elbe River valley.
Cycling and walking in the Elbe River valley.

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Saxon Switzerland National Park.

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Quedlinburg – with all those wonderful framework buildings it’s no wonder it has a UNESCO listing.

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Freiburg with its wonderful student atmosphere.
The mountains, valleys and lakes in Bavaria.

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The Bodensee (Lake Constance) area.

Favourite meals –
Kingfish at Café Bar Lounge Sol Y Mar in Leipzig
Schnitzel at Feierling Brewery in Freiburg

Favourite drink –
Beer

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Great places to stay –
The apartments at Haus Königsbrücker in Dresden
Quedlinburg, Rothenburg ob der Tauber or any other small town or village.

Great places to eat or drink –
Café Bar Lounge Sol Y Mar in Leipzig, sit at a table or lounge on a couch and eat and drink from a low table, this place has a wonderful Moorish atmosphere.
Planwirkshaft in Dresden. Décor is reminiscent of the old east Germany but excellent food sourced from local suppliers.
Café Mezzo at Lister Meile 4 in Hanover. One of many excellent cafes in this part of Hanover.
The restaurant at Feierling Brewery in Freiburg, just across the road from the huge beer garden.
Lüdde Brauhaus in Quedlinburg. Excellent beer and a broad menu of traditional and modern meals to choose from.

Unexpected highlights –
Meeting some great people whilst sharing tables at cafes, breweries and restaurants.
The sensational but super expensive porcelain in Meissen.

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The massive Hohentwiel fortress at Singen.

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Saxon Switzerland National Park.
Travelling on the ICE trains with our First Class Eurail Passes.

What you must do when you travel to Germany –
Check out the museums and galleries in Berlin and Dresden.
Get out into the countryside and visit a National Park to walk or cycle.
Visit Cologne or Ulm cathedrals and climb their steeples.

Ulm cathedral (Munster)
Ulm cathedral (Munster)

Visit Berlin – we have twice before so didn’t go there this time.
Travel on a very fast ICE train.
Take a boat trip on the Rhine.
Visit the Zugspitze by cable car.

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Stay with a local – couchsurf, use Airbnb or if you’re lucky enough, stay with a relative to get a better perspective on daily life in Germany.

What you should avoid doing –
Riding over glass on a bike. Really stuffs up your day’s cycling.
Staying in Munich during the Octoberfest.

What you need to be prepared for –
A train to actually run late. It doesn’t happen often but when it does!!!!

Reflections on travelling in the Czech Republic

In the Czech Republic we loved –
The old town in Prague, even if it is swarming with lots of tourists!

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The towns and villages of the Vltava and Elbe River valleys.
The cycling paths along the Vltava and Elbe Rivers.

The beautiful Bohemian Swiss National Park.
The beautiful Bohemian Swiss National Park.

Bohemian Switzerland National Park.
The helpful people working in the Tourist Information Centres.

 

Favourite meals –

Meatlovers are well fed!
Meatlovers are well catered for!

Pork spare ribs at the Restaurace Hastalsky dedek in Prague.
Karen enjoyed the garden salad at Restaurant U Císaře in Mělnik and the chicken salad at Restaurace U Mostu in Děčín.

Favourite drink –
Definitely the beer, especially when it is cheaper than bottled water or Coke to drink.
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Great places to stay –
Hotel Česká Koruna in Děčín, right on the market square.

An excellent market right outside the Hotel Česká Koruna in Děčín
An excellent market right outside the Hotel Česká Koruna in Děčín

Great places to eat –
Restaurace Hastalsky dedek at Hastaska 20 in Prague. Big meals and Krusovice is a lovely beer.
Restaurant U Císaře in Mělnik for lovely food, especially their desserts.
Restaurace U Mostu in Děčín, (apart from the smoke) the food was excellent.

Restaurace U Mostu in Děčín
Restaurace U Mostu in Děčín

Unexpected highlights –
Meeting some great people on the bike paths.
Cheap but enjoyable meals.

What you must do when you travel to the Czech Republic –
Walk through the old town in Prague and over Charles Bridge at night. The illuminations of St Giles cathedral and the castle are superb.

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Drink pils in Plzen. The Brewery tour is worth doing.

Visit Cesky Krumlov. We were there in 2008 and loved it.

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Cesky Krumlov

 

What you should avoid doing –
Eating in a very touristy restaurant in Prague’s old town. There are some excellent places a bit further away in the smaller side streets.

What you need to be prepared for –
Rain, even in summer.

Uneven walking surfaces, lots of different size cobblestones mean good shoes/boots are a must!

Punctures from glass on cycling trails!

Wet weather gear is needed!
Wet weather gear may be needed!

Prague to Dresden – our Czech-German Cycling Challenge

Starting on Sunday 31st August we have had a big adventure! Firstly thanks to Nazar from Praha Bike for guiding us out on the first day. We had hardly started riding when a misty rain began. Nazar led us as we wove our way off the cobblestones of the inner city and onto the first of many cycle paths that linked together to see us move away from the city, through the suburbs and to the edge of Praha. By now wet weather gear had been put on. Sadly we hadn’t brought our wet weather overpants we had purchased

Melnik, our first stop.
Melnik, our first stop.

in Nepal. Nazar chatted with us as we pedalled along. After a couple of hours we left the river and climbed up to a small village. The last part Karen and I pushed our bikes. We had run out of gears and energy. Nazar showed us the next section in our map book and left us to return to Praha. We continued up the hill to a bus stop. We sat there and ate an early lunch of rolls we had prepared. We rode along the paths and then roads from Klecany to Vodochody then back towards the river. Near Dolánky I had a fall on the muddy track trying to avoid the increasingly deeper puddles we were encountering. It is amazing how slow motion works in your mind! Crash! I was okay apart from a cut on my right leg. The drizzly rain continued until about 14:30 that day. We continued to Kralupy and crossed the river on the bridge. Whilst taking a brief rest we see two other cyclists on a disused railway platform eating lunch. We have a brief chat. They are from Berlin. When we reach Hled’sebe we found the bridge washed away from some time ago. So we made a (bad) decision to continue through Podhorany and Nové Ouholice but at Nová Ves had to ask the Police to show us the way. They spoke no English so awful German on both sides of the conversation plus ‘hand and foot’ directions saw us on our way again. We ended up going over a very big hill, dodging cars through to Mlēchvosty then Vranany, Luzec nad Vltava, Zelcin, Vrbno and Horin before finally reaching Mēlnik about 17:40.

The Hotel Jaro was a welcome sight and very nice. The shower and bed were good and they recommended us to a restaurant with very good food. We were sore on the backside but pleased we had made it and slept well. The food was sensational. After an excellent main course we even indulged in dessert of pancakes and cheesecake. The extra carbs would surely help us tomorrow!

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Monday 1st September
The next day the weather started out not so bad, just a bit of drizzle. Initially we descended back down from the hilltop town of Melnik and back over the river. After about an hour we were near Krvenice when Karen had a flat tyre. It appeared to be a slow leak so I pumped it up and we continued several times for a kilometre at a time before it was flat again. I was unable to repair it as there were no tyre levers in the repair kit. A passing group of three German women and a man travelling together stopped and offered to help. They had hard plastic tyre levers but I could barely get them under the rim of the tyre so we thanked them and off they went. I pumped up the tyre again and off we rode furiously. After a few kilometres we came to a small village which clearly had people waiting at the train station. So we checked the timetable and joined them in waiting at the train station at Horni Počaply. We encountered an officious but helpful lady train conductor who helped us with tickets and instructions of where to rest our bikes.We took that train and another train to Litomerice. On the second cute little regional train the conductor was impressed we had come all the way from Australia and chatted away keenly in English to us. In Litomerice we made our way to the main town square and stopped for a light lunch. After the drama of the morning, food and drink came first, the bike would be second! We took the bike to the bike repair shop and got it repaired. The town square was very nice there and the Tourist Information Centre was in a very impressive tower building. After we had a map and directions we set off up a hilly street to our hotel. Our hotel Labe was okay. The room was small and had a decidedly communist 60s era look to it but later on we found the bed was good and so was breakfast the next morning. The great view over the town was an added bonus. After a shower and rest we walked back into the old city and looked around. We found a nice enough restaurant, Restaurace Robo, for dinner. The meals were okay but didn’t come up to the previous night’s standards.

Litomerice
Litomerice

Tuesday 2nd September
The third day we continued to Dečin but again Karen has a flat tyre! This time it was not a slow leak so again we were forced to take a train, this time from Libochovany to Usti nad Labem. We made our way to the Tourist Info office. The very helpful English speaking manager at the tourist information centre, Frankie, took us to a bike repair shop and spoke in Czech to the man there who replaced the tube for a small fee only. He then insisted on showing us the way back to the bike path. That’s customer service for you!

Our Usti lifesaver, Tourist Information Centre manager, Frankie.
Our Usti lifesaver, Tourist Information Centre manager, Frankie.

We rode from Usti to Velke Brezno where we stopped for lunch at a Restaurace Adonis. We ordered a pizza to share. Given we were behind schedule we became a little concerned at the long cooking time. But when it arrived it proved to be worth the wait. We continued on excellent bike paths through Techlovice,squashing many fat slugs as we rode, until we finally came to Dečin. Our hotel Czesko Koruna was very nice, right on the main old town square with a spacious room. It was definitely the best so far and worth far more than the roughly $80 we were paying. We put our bikes into their bike storage room. Clearly many cyclists were staying here. (We later discovered that the two groups of cyclists we kept bumping into were all staying there.) After a shower and a rest we made use of the wifi and checked the TV. We even had BBC news so we could find out what was happening around the world in English. We then headed back to the river to see the illuminated buildings and castles. We walked over to the other side and ate at Restaurace U Mostu, a traditional Czech restaurant that, we discover from looking at the old photos on the wall, had previously been a guesthouse when the town was German. It was a bit smoky inside but the waitress opened up the side door for more air. We enjoyed excellent meals of egg salad and pork steak. Again the beer I drank was cheaper than Karen’s soft drink! After another eventful day we slept soundly.

Dečin
Dečin

Wednesday 4th September
The fourth day we rode towards Bad Schandau. Lots of huge slugs again risking life to cross our paths! We stopped at the Czech/German border at Hrensko for a photo. When we started again Karen has another flat tyre!

Karen at the German border.
Karen at the German border.

 

We cannot believe it! It appears to be a slow leak and each time I pump it up we can ride for a while. Amazingly the couple we had met from Berlin pass us and stop for a chat and try to help to no avail. When we make it to Bad Schandau we go to the bike shop but he is closed for another hour until 15:00 for lunch. There are many cafés around the town square so we choose one and order soup and rolls. Simply delicious. A hot chocolate for Karen and an apple crumble slice for me completes a lovely lunch. The bicycle repairman found glass in the tyre and the tube. So we used the second tube in the repair kit and also bought a new tyre. We found out repair prices are dearer in Germany than the Czech Republic! Our hotel zum Roten Haus is nice. It is a beautifully preserved 1800s building, proud of surviving several floods. The latest in 2002 is marked by a line about 2 metres up from ground level. Our room is on the second floor and is very spacious but the angled ceiling in the bathroom makes it a challenge to not bump your head. After a shower and rest we go for a look around the town on foot. At a cafe and ice creamery we run into the four cyclists we had met way back on the second day. We stop and talk. They had seen us riding along to Dečin from a train they’d had taken when they’d had needed a rest day! Later on we discover the food in our hotel’s restaurant is excellent. Karen has a massive chicken and potato salad. I eat an equally satisfying schnitzel.

Hrensko, at the edge of the Saxon Switzerland National Park.
Hrensko, at the edge of the Saxon Switzerland National Park.

 

Thursday 5th September
A lovely buffet breakfast kicks the day off nicely. However when we collected our bikes from their garage we discovered my bike had a flat tyre!! On close inspection I found a small hole in the tyre so we returned to the bike shop. He found a second, bigger gash in the tyre. It was kaput! So we bought another new tyre and tube. While the bike was being repaired we went for a walk in the local gardens and again we run into the four cyclists. The man comes from Hamburg and his three female companions are from Basel. We exchange stories and wish each other well. They too are going to Dresden but we doubt we will bump into them again in such a big city. We left Bad Schandau later and poorer than we had hoped. Very soon we came to a section of the path that is on the road which has roadworks. We are diverted around to another way. Unfortunately we ended up heading in the wrong direction and lost our way and ended up going up a big hill which ended in Porschdorf. We were clearly not in the right place! So after consulting a local information map we came back down to Prossen and back along the riverside bike path to where we crossed the river to Konigstein. We followed the trail around to Pötzscha opposite Stadt Wehlen. The scenery here is very nice. Lots of interesting rock formations rising up from the river.

The rock formations near Stadt Wehlen.
The rock formations near Stadt Wehlen.

We stopped at a gasthaus/restaurant by the river for lunch. Firstly we relaxed with a drink. A local wheat beer quenches me whilst Karen had a soft drink. Lunch was soup. According to the menu it is ‘grandma’s recipe’. It was very tasty.

 

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From there we rode to Pirna. It was mostly downhill, with the occasional steep rise that we certainly handled better than we did at the start of our trip. At this point it was obvious we would take a lot longer to get to Dresden so we decided to take the train from Pirna to Dresden. The carriage we enter is popular. There are five other cyclists and their bikes to dodge before we settled in for the short journey to Dresden. We got out at Dresden Mitte. It takes us a bit of investigating and asking to find the correct way to where we are staying. There are lots of locals on the bike paths which are right alongside the roads so it is a bit challenging. We cross the river along the way and have a view of the amazing skyline of old buildings, palaces and cathedrals.

Dresden's impressive skyline.
Dresden’s impressive skyline.

 

When we arrive at number 74 Königsbrücker Straße I ring the phone number. The man tells us he will remotely open the main door and we should go up to the fifth floor. We leave our bikes locked up and take our gear up the stair as the lift isn’t working! On the fifth floor none of the apartments has a name on the door so I ring the bell of one where we can hear noise. A lady answers. We are in the wrong place! She shows us back down to the first floor and introduces us to a man in the reception apartment office. He checks our booking and informs us we are a day early! I’ve miscounted the days. Fortunately the apartment we will be staying in is free and also on the first floor. It is very modern and roomy but furnished scarcely. Our luggage has arrived the previous day so we unpack and shower. The wifi is excellent here so we check email before heading out to La Casina Rosa, a delightful but small Italian restaurant, recommended in Lonely Planet. Pizza and pasta recharge us nicely. Back at our apartment we update ourselves on world news and sport. Our TV has over 30 channels, two are in English. There is quite a bit of traffic noise as our apartment is near an intersection and just next to tram tracks but we soon nod off.

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Our cycling trip has been a challenge but we have made it from Prague to Dresden. We were unlucky with the weather except for today which was ideal for cycling. We cannot believe the high number of puncture problems we have had. These extra expenses are annoying. It also meant we have not seen all the places along the way because time was taken up getting repairs done. Perhaps we should have allowed some extra days to rest and make the journey less pressured. We have met a lot of nice people along the way who stopped to offer help or just chat and exchange conversation. The scenery was very nice, especially when the weather was good. A day trip or two back to the Saxon-Switzerland National Park area is definitely on the agenda. Maybe the weather will be kinder when we walk rather ride bikes there. It’s another experience to add to those we’ve had in the last five days.