Logistics

Walking by the homes of the "Venice of the north".
Walking by the homes of the “Venice of the north”.

In the morning, Tom an Ginny took the train to Schiphol Airport where they would purchase super nice heavy-duty cardboard bike boxes for about 25 Euros. The boxes are so nice, you don’t even have to remove the wheels. And they will last several trips if they don’t get wet.

I would bike the 10 miles to the airport hotel and then return by train to fetch my heavy-duty plastic bike box, return to the hotel, drop off the box, and then back to the city. We would all meet at 6:00 at a bar in Amsterdam to watch the USA-Germany game.

I enjoyed a leisurely ride through Amsterdam, all on bike path, of course. I was navigating by feel from a map search I had made earlier and with the Garmin as a compass and road map. It is fun to bike around Amsterdam, called by some the “bicycle capital of the World”. Indeed, there are bikes literally everywhere; whizzing by on dedicated paths next to the side walk, in the streets, on the sidewalk, and piles and piles of bikes at the train station. And being the bike capital of the world, it is also the bike-theft capital of the world. In fact, I could not leave my bike unattended because I only had one lock that was not strong enough to frustrate the thieves.

The canals of Amsterdam radiate out in concentric half circles with intervening arms extending away from the river. Drawbridges, tour boats and house boats abound. I biked through beautiful Vondelpark. Even on a midweek day it was crowded with walkers, joggers, families, and people performing all manners of recreation.

There are many different styles of drawbridges. I never saw one opened.
There are many different styles of drawbridges. I never saw one opened.
I am told house boats are expensive. They all appear to have water and sewer hook ups.
I am told house boats are expensive. They all appear to have water and sewer hook ups.
Bikes, boats, canals and bridges. Toss in some statues and a few museums and that's Amsterdam.
Bikes, boats, canals and bridges. Toss in some statues and a few museums and that’s Amsterdam.
The Amstel Hotel.
The Amstel Hotel.
The downside of a house boat is tourists staring in your windows.
The downside of a house boat is tourists staring in your windows.
The attention to detail of European structures always blows me away.
The attention to detail of European structures always blows me away.
Detail #1.
Detail #1.
Detail #2.
Detail #2.
Park
VondelPark.

I got a little lost but also found some great graffiti under a highway overpass. (I know, I’m in Amsterdam and I’m looking at the graffiti.) I checked into my hotel and took the shuttle bus to the airport, took the train into the city, walked the half mile to Mari’s to get my bike box, and then returned along the same route.

Amsterdam graffiti.
Amsterdam graffiti.

 

Logistics takes time. I realized I was never going to make it for the 6:00 game back in the city. The hotel shuttlebus leaves immediately after stopping and runs a predetermined route. It was already 5:45 and if I took my bike box up to my room, I would have to wait another 30 minutes for the shuttle to return. I ran up to the hotel reception, interrupted the gentleman in front of me and hurriedly explained that I needed to immediately reboard the shuttle and could they hold my bike box for me. As I was trying to explain this the bus pulled away, arcing through the parking lot to get back to the gated exit. I ran through the parking lot and, running alongside the bus, banging on windows. It did not stop. I had to sprint up to the drivers door and knock on that to get his attention. When I boarded I got some strange looks from the passengers.

But I made the second half of the soccer game. The USA was playing for a tie, or even a one goal loss, and that is what they got. They looked like a high school team compared to the Germans. But, based on goal-differential, they have advanced to the final round, leaving Ghana and Portugal behind.

After the game we strolled through the city, past Rembrandt Square, along the canals and narrow streets. In my haste I had left my camera back at the hotel. Too bad, because the evening light was exceptional and the photo opportunities infinite. So I just enjoyed my last night in Europe and it was good. Finally I hugged Tom and Ginny and thanked them for their company. I was lucky to have shared this adventure with them and I learned a lot. I am sure we will cross paths again. Knowing Tom, I am sure it will be “hardcore”, whatever and wherever it is.

Amsterdam graffiti #2.
Amsterdam graffiti #2.

A head wind, two ferries, and a thousand canals

A 's-Hertogenbosch alley.
‘s-Hertogenbosch alley.
I have to look at this photo every time I want to spell it.
I have to look at this photo every time I want to spell it.

After a great night’s sleep in a real bed, and being only 40 miles from Utrecht, we felt pretty confident that we could catch a train from there into Amsterdam for a 4:30 meeting with Ed Lancaster, the Policy Officer for the European Cyclists’ Federation. After all, we had our “ride-by-numbers” code sheet and we were getting on the road by 8:30, and it was flat. What could possibly go wrong?

Polders.

A polder is a portion of land that lies below the water surrounding it, and is surrounded by dikes for obvious reasons. The Netherlands, a small country to begin with, has about 3,000 polders, more than any other country in Europe.  The Dutch are so good at reclaiming land that there is a saying  “God created the world but the Dutch created Netherlands.” In this country, cities have built protected fortresses using the rivers and swamps to make themselves impregnable. They were conquered by diverting the waters, placing the city inside a polder, and then pumping the water out.

We would be biking back and forth all day, through polders and over bridges.

We picked up the trail from where we left off the night before. Possibly we missed a sign, or didn’t go far enough, but we knew something was wrong. We had been inundated with route signs and now we had not seen any for about a mile. Neither Tom or I like to backtrack, and we felt we could turn west and hook up with one of the routes on our sheet. So we did.

I was leading with my Garmin in map mode which shows the roads,  towns and waterways. Once in a while it would have a route number on it, but never one that we needed. I led us up a road to a dike, into a parking lot and a seeming dead-end. Two firefighters were there checking the apartment building. I told them our destination and they told us that there was “a lot of water between us and Utrecht”. But they pointed us in a direction that we thought was reasonable so we continued on, the Garmin slowly agreeing and Ginny’s 4:30 meeting looming.

Tom and I got a little confused a couple of times but with his road map and my Garmin we managed to zig north-west and then north-east into a strong north breeze. Ginny spotted a route sign for “7b” that said it would lead to Utrecht and we stayed on that crooked path for the rest of the day. Twice the road ended at ferry crossings, one so small that it was for bikes and pedestrians only. We crossed cow pastures with gates that needed to be opened, and then shut behind us. At one point Ginny said “I feel like we are going in circles.” It did, but like a sail boat tacking upwind, we slowly made our way north.

The path through the cow field.
The path through the cow field.
One more castle for good measure. There a tourist information office in here but it was closed.
One more castle for good measure. There is a tourist information office here but it was closed.
Waiting for the first ferry.
Waiting for the first ferry.
Once in a while I manage to get out front and get a photograph.
Once in a while I manage to get out front and get a photograph.
The canal in front of these homes is so algae covers that it looks like lawn.
The canal in front of these homes is so algae covered that it looks like lawn.

Eventually we approached the city. We were concerned with time and we still had to find our way through Utrecht to the railroad station.  Big cities are always a challenge and this would be no exception. As we headed up a long ramp to access the bridge to the city proper, I heard a group of English-speaking cyclists arguing about where the bridge access was. They were on a barge/bike tour and needed to get to their boat. We set them on the right path and they reciprocated by showing us a bike trail map of Utrecht. Once Tom gets a visual of a decent map he becomes a juggernaut, unstoppable, and he took us right to the station.

Before too long we were on the train. We would end up having enough time to get to Mari’s small student apartment, splash some water in our faces, and change clothes before the meeting. Close, but we made it.

My second family reunion of the trip.
My second family reunion of the trip; Tom, Ginny, Mari.
. . . and concluding with a successful meeting with Ed Lancaster of the European Cyclist's Federation.
. . . and concluding with a successful meeting with Ed Lancaster of the European Cyclist’s Federation.

Later that night we would meet Mari and her college friend Loren for dinner. Loren plays volleyball on a scholarship at Loyola. She and Mari have become good friends while studying in Amsterdam for a semester. They both think school is harder here than back in the states. Being in the middle of exams they are a little stressed out.

Tom, Ginny, and myself would all sleep on the floor in Mari’s room. (good thing I have an air mattress). The next day I would get a hotel room near the airport and figure out a way to get my bicycle shipping box from Mari’s out to the airport.

Amsterdam graffiti #1.
Amsterdam graffiti #1.
Amsterdam graffiti #2.
Amsterdam graffiti #2.

Ride by numbers

A typical bike path scene in northern Belgium and the Netherlands.
A typical bike path scene in northern Belgium and the Netherlands.
Netherlands country line marker on a tiny back road.
Netherlands country line marker on a tiny back road.

The campground reception sent us back into the small town of Bocholt for groceries. It was where we were the evening before, but only half the distance because we went direct. We love stocking up on food for lunch and sometimes we get a little extra. The campground last night had beer (that’s a plus), a large screen with the World Cup (highly desirable) but no food and nothing within walking distance. We survived on leftovers but were all pretty hungry in the morning. While Tom and Ginny shopped I watched the bikes. A local resident came out with her groceries and struck up a conversation. She had done some bicycle touring with her husband and she asked me what route number we were following. This section of Belgium and all of Netherlands is criss-crossed with spiderwebs of numbered bike routes. She suggested that we stop at the local tourism office and pointed to the building a block away. We would never have seen it otherwise.

This was an excellent suggestion. We were able to purchase a map of the northern Belgium bike routes. A Netherlands map was not available so the two helpful and friendly young men plotted the route on their desktop computer and tried to load it into my Garmin (it may be in there, but I can’t find it).  They then printed out three and a half pages of numbers that we could follow all the way to Utrecht, our destination two night hence.

Tom studies our computer list of route numbers.
Tom studies our computer list of route numbers.

This became a game for us. Tom would shout out the next number. All three of us would scan the intersections. It was fun and halfway through the day I was certain we had to be at least halfway through the long list. We were still on the first page! The bike routes were a joy and varied between smooth, wide, paved, dedicated bike trail, to single track dirt, and everything in between. They were all flat and smooth (there are a few cobblestones) and the variety kept our attention and the multitude of numbers demanded vigilance.

A wide, dedicated bike trail.
A wide, dedicated bike trail.
A two-lane separated bike trail alongside the road.
A two-lane separated bike trail alongside the road.
Wide and smooth and no roads to be seen.
Wide and smooth and no roads to be seen.
A narrow but welcome paved path.
A narrow but welcome paved path.
The bikes get pavement and the cars get the dirt.
The bikes get pavement and the cars get the dirt.
A dirt bike path shared with a dirt road.
A dirt bike path shared with a dirt road.
A designated bike route on a lightly traveled road.
A designated bike route on a lightly traveled road.
Shared road entering a small town.
Shared road entering a small town.
This road is signed and appears to give bicycles the right of way.
This road is signed and appears to give bicycles the right of way.

Then we stumbled upon the holy grail of bicycle-friendly construction: the Hovenring. Opened to cyclists in June 2012, the Hovenring is a suspended circular bridge above the heavily traveled tic-tac-toe of roads below. Tom was in awe, his mouth open, and he fumbled for his camera. We all rode our bikes completely around the ring with a diameter of nearly a football field. It is comforting and inspiring to look below at the busy roads. It must be how a squirrel in a tree feels when a dog is barking at it.

Ginny poses at the Hovenring, near Eindhoven, Veldhoven, and Meerhoven, Netherlands.
Ginny poses at the Hovenring, near Eindhoven, Veldhoven, and Meerhoven, Netherlands.
When the Hovenring first opened, the cables vibrated harmonically in the wind. These are probably the solution.
When the Hovenring first opened, the cables vibrated harmonically in the wind. These are probably the solution.

We continued north and occasionally only one of us would see the route number, and the other two would circle back. We followed the computer list all the way into the impossible-to-pronounce ‘s-Hertogenbosch, Netherlands to complete another century of kilometers for the day.

An evening commuter returns to s'-Hirtogenboash.
An evening commuter returns to ‘s-Hertogenbosch.

The Garmin told us that there was a campground seven miles north of town. Tom asked me if I wanted to lead. I was not thrilled to be risking a wild-goose chase to a campground that had an equal chance of being wonderful or non-existent as it was now after 5:00. It is nice to have the tents as a back-up and economic way to sleep. But we were all thinking of the alluring city that we were in. It seems that at the end of the day, when we find a cafe and get that first beer, we all seem to think clearer and good things happen. Tom led us through town looking for the cafe and we came out on the other side skunked.

How can a town that size not have a cafe, we wondered. I asked the Garmin to find a cafe. It listed several and I followed the general direction arrow back into town, one block over, turned a corner , and we were in cafe heaven. The cafe owner helped us rent an apartment around the corner for the night, right in the middle of the action.

s'-Hirtogenbosch fountain adornment.
‘s-Hertogenbosch fountain adornment.
The cafe owner was a great help in s'-Hirtogenbosch.
The cafe owner was a great help in ‘s-Hertogenbosch.

 

Centuries are easier in kilometers

Because they are only 62 miles.

The morning view from my room at Pierre and David's.
The morning view from my room at Pierre and David’s.
Pierre and David.
Pierre and David.

Pierre and David showed us the sights of Verviers as they led us from Belgium to Maastricht, Netherlands. There they would head to a train station and return home (although we found out they missed the train and ended up cycling home). We would complete a metric century following the instructions that David wrote out for us, using the beautiful and convenient bike paths of Netherlands and then northern Belgium later that afternoon.  (Maastricht is the part of Netherlands that hangs down to the south-east and we were going North-west.)

A statue of the dam builder of Verviers. they were known for textiles, at first wool, thanks to the water.
A statue of the dam builder of Verviers. they were known for textiles, at first wool, thanks to the water.
The communal bath building, no longer used, where the Verviers residents would cleanse themselves a century ago.
The communal bath building, no longer used, where the Verviers residents would cleanse themselves a century ago.
Close up of the bath house facade.
Close up of the bath house facade.
David and Pierre lead us into Maastricht, Netherlands.
David and Pierre lead us into Maastricht, Netherlands.
The Muese River flows the center of Maastricht.
The Meuse River flows through the center of Maastricht.
Like most of  Netherlands, cyclists rule in Maastricht.
Like most of Netherlands, cyclists rule in Maastricht, a university town. Neanderthal remains have been found near here, the Celts  had a settlement, and the Romans built a bridge over the Meuse in the first century.
Bridge detail, Maastricht.
Bridge detail, Maastricht.
We were only in Netherlands for a short time, then crossed back into Belgium.
We were only in Netherlands for a short time, then crossed back into Belgium.
Tom negotiates a canal bridge.
Tom negotiates a canal bridge.

Belgium was rolling terrain, the countryside green with corn and cow pastures. But the further north we rode the flatter it got, until it was just as flat as the Rhine route. We were also on a canal again which we are all getting bored with. We followed the Garmin instructions to a campground and, as expected, I was ready to smash it with a sledge hammer. After cycling 5 kilometers it got us to a campground that was only 2 1/2 kilometers away. (I guess that’s better than not ever finding it at all.) And it put us over a hundred kilometers for the day. And it took us past an ice cream stand that was irresistible. OK,  I won’t smash it yet.

A siren-like song captured us all at the fortuitous ice cream stand.
A siren-like song captured us all at the fortuitous ice cream stand.
The campground entrance looked like Jurassic Park, but the theme was actually trolls.
The campground entrance looked like Jurassic Park, but the theme was actually trolls.

The campground was huge and deserted, with hundreds of camper-vehicles permanently settled, two pools, a pond, several playgrounds, tennis courts, and the list goes on. We were told that vacation season starts next week and it would be packed with families. We shared the bar with a half dozen locals and watched the Netherlands-Chile soccer game. The price for a campsite was right, only 18 euro for the three of us.

Luxembourg, Belgium, Terrain Shock

Arising early, we broke camp and took a quick bicycle tour of the sites of Trier, Germany. Being a Sunday morning, the traffic was nil and the tourists crowds the same (except the crowd of tourists at the birthplace of Karl Marx who were taking as many pictures of us as the house. (The trailers on Tom and Ginny’s bikes always get people staring).

The coliseum was never completed and was converted into a fortification wall.
The coliseum was never completed and was converted into a fortification wall.
The Treir, Germany birthplace of Karl Marx. His first book was about capitalism.
The Trier, Germany birthplace of Karl Marx. His first book was about capitalism.
A staged photo of Tom cycling by Karl's birthplace after the other tourists clears out.
A staged photo of Tom cycling by Karl’s birthplace after the tourists cleared out and before the next hoards coming down the street reached it.

We crossed back over the Mosel and went to the supermarket which, of course, was closed, so we headed soth on the bike path hoping for an open cafe. We would not find one until 1:00 in the afternoon in Luxembourg.

The wide peaceful Mosel in Trier.
The wide peaceful Mosel in Trier.

We were looking to leave the river and strike west toward Luxembourg city. As soon as we crossed country line we turned away from the river and were reintroduced to hill climbing. I had not really worked up a sweat for several days and in 5 minutes I was drenched. We got to the top of the steep but short climb and were at a dead-end. Someone had mis-signed, or even turned, the bike route sign at the bottom of the hill. We zoomed back down and took the correct route.

There are no border controls between countries that we have seen, Sometimes there is not even a sign.
There are no border controls between countries that we have seen, Sometimes there is not even a sign.

It was actually a pleasure to be climbing and descending and we all enjoyed it. We were rewarded with sweeping vistas of farmland. and villages. Route signage was excellent and we followed the signs into the city all the way to the train station. The first section was ultra-modern office buildings: it seemed as if we were on another planet. We then looked down upon the old city as we crossed a towering bridge. We would not have time to explore as we were headed to the train station to catch a train to Leige, Belgium.

Some climbing in Luxumbourg, strange after so much flat riding.
Some climbing in Luxumbourg, strange after so much flat riding.
"I made it!"
“I made it!”
After so many days of riverside riding, the hilltop view seemed strange.
After so many days of riverside riding, the hilltop view seemed strange.
Luxumbourg.
Tom waits for me and Ginny at this more than Stelvio-steep but short hill.
Tom waits for me and Ginny at this more than Stelvio-steep but short hill.
Modern Luxumbourg.
Modern Luxumbourg.
Old Luxumbourg.
Old Luxumbourg.

At the impressive Leige station we took a much shorter train ride to Verviers, Belgium to stay with Pierre and David, former overnight bicycle guests of Tom and Ginny in Missoula. Pierre and Davis live in a large, old home that belongs to Pierre’s grandmother. His brother shares part of the residence. There is a huge garden out front and sheep grazing in the back yard. Pierre and David made salad from the garden and cooked us pasta, then gave us separate bedrooms. They would escort us to Netherlands in the morning.

The amazing Leige train station.
The amazing Leige train station.
Looking east out of the train station.
Looking east out of the train station.
Pierre and David's home in Verveirs, Belgium.
Pierre and David’s home in Verveirs, Belgium.
Some pretty cool digs for road weary cyclists.
Some pretty cool digs for road weary cyclists.

The peaceful, pleasant Mosel

The Mosel gets wider as we go upriver.
The Mosel gets wider as we go upriver.

We broke camp early and I was, surprisingly, not hung over although I think my reflexes were a little slow. The flat riding on the river bike path was welcome and the Mosel changed personality a little as we went upstream. Being a weekend, there were tons of cyclists and walkers, and the river was busy with fisherman from the banks and scullers on the water. The large barges and cruise ships showed up again, but not as many as the Rhine. The vineyards seemed to be on impossibly steep hills and the castles were not as frequent as the previous day.

The villages are close together and attractive.
The villages are close together and attractive.
One of the castles on The Mosel.
One of the castles on the Mosel.
June wedding photos on the Mosel.
June wedding photos on the Mosel.
The vineyards are so steep that we would stop and stare.
The vineyards are so steep that we would stop and stare.
Crossing a bridge on the Mosel.
Crossing a bridge on the Mosel.
Youngsters, a weekend, and the sun is shining.
Youngsters, a weekend, and the sun is shining.
image
Watch your step when harvesting these grapes.

We love this river because it is more relaxing than the Rhine. When we got to Bullay, we jumped on a train to Trier, the oldest city in Germany. The city gate, built by the Romans in the first century, still stands, and is the oldest north of the Alps. We expected an amazing street upon entering the gate but we were inundated with a commercial mish-mosh and a gazillion people.

The Porta Nigra, the Black Gate. It is said that Trier stood on these grounds 1300 years before Rome.
The Porta Nigra, the Black Gate. It is said that Trier stood on these grounds 1,300 years before Rome.
A statue in Trier, Germany.
A statue in Trier, Germany.
Many of the ancient Roman sites charge a fee for viewing.
Many of the ancient Roman sites charge a fee for viewing.

We had no arrangements for lodging but managed to find a campground very close to town that had tent space. Even better, they had a Beer Garden that served food and large screen televisions for viewing the World Cup. We watched the 6:00 game but the crowd really started flowing in for the Germany-Ghana game at 9:00. Because we got there early, we had the best seat in the house. It was a great game, ending in a 2-2 tie, although I don’t think my German friends were very happy; we heard no horn honking after the game.

Watching Germany play while drinking beers in a German beer garden.
Watching Germany play while drinking beers in a German beer garden.

Castles, road angels, and a family reunion

A view of Bacharach from the Rhine river bank.
A view of Bacharach from the Rhine river bank.

Ginny’s travel contacts in Europe have been very kind to us. Claudia, of Romantic Rhine, purchased us a trip on a tour boat down the Rhine from Bacharach to Koblenz. We were a little sad when we could see cyclists on the riverside bike path but we knew we had to make up some time and distance (and we will have to do it again next week). But it is a great way to see the sights. I have not yet grown tired of castles, barges, trains, vineyards, and churches and that pretty much describes our boat trip. The mountains closed in trying to choke the mighty Rhine but the river just got deeper and the current faster.

Castles and vineyards as seen from the tour boat.
Castles and vineyards as seen from the tour boat.
Lorellei Rock, the deepest , narrowest, and swiftest section of the Rhine.
Lorellei Rock, the deepest , narrowest, and swiftest section of the Rhine.
The only castle on the Rhine that was never destroyed. it is home to the German Castle Association.
The only castle on the Rhine that was never destroyed. It is home to the German Castle Association.
One of the other castles.
One of the other castles.

 

This area is famous for their white wines.
This area is famous for their white wines.
Did you vet think the Reislings were organic?
Did you think the Reislings were organic?

In Koblenz we immediately rode the short distance to the confluence of the mighty Rhine and the smaller Mosel. There is a giant statue of Kaiser Wilhelm there, the guy who invented Germany. Then we went looking for a bike shop. The Garmin took us pretty much directly to the closest shop. They did not have time to fix the derailleur on Ginny’s bike. And I had to explain to them the difference between a Schrader valve and a presta valve. Twice. I might not be able to spell it, but I know what the difference is.

The confluence of the Mosel, on the left, with the Rhine.
The confluence of the Mosel, on the left, with the Rhine.
Me and the Kaiser.
Me and the Kaiser.

A little frustrated, we hung out in front of the shop, blocking the sidewalk, while I replaced my slowly leaking rear tube (it was a small sliver of metal, barely visible). A cyclist heard us lamenting and she came across the street and said “Hey, where are you guys from?” Laura Tyson is from New Jersey, married to a German, and living in Koblenz. She would be our road angel today.

Koblenz resident Laura Tyson.
Koblenz resident Laura Tyson.

While I repaired my tire, Ginny and Laura talked. Eventually, Laura led us to a bigger, better, smarter bike shop. Wouldn’t you know that we cycled right by it but couldn’t tell it was a bike shop because every store in Europe has bikes in front of it. I checked my Garmin again, and even it did not know it was a bike shop.

Koblenz bike shop that we cycled right by.
Koblenz bike shop that we cycled right by.

We got the bike fixed and Laura took Ginny to a book store, and then another, and purchased an English version of a Mosel bike route book. I guarded the bikes, ever more vigilant now since our incident at the train station a few days ago. Then I heard the unmistakable Aussie accent. “Hay mate, are you headed up the Rhine?” It was Andrew Gilly and he, his wife, son, and daughter are cycling the entire Rhine, from Rotterdam to Switzerland. Andrew had passed through Koblenz earlier and he had to hitch-hike back to get his wife’s bike repaired. She had stopped to take a picture of a castle (go figure) and the daughter, probably staring at the same castle, plowed into her. No injuries. Andrew was looking for an upriver cyclist to carry a message to his wife that he would be there in a couple of hours.

Australian resident Andrew Gilly crossed our path at the bike shop.
Australian resident Andrew Gilly crossed our path at the bike shop.

Laura showed us the grocery store, we got dinner, snacks and breakfast, and struck out south on the Mosel. I like it. It is not the huge mighty Rhine, but it is pleasant, and the terrain rolls a little bit. The bike path cuts through the small villages which come rapidly. The vineyards hang tenaciously to the hillsides and close to the path. After just a few miles there were no more boats, less vehicle traffic, and less trains.

Tonight we are camping on a small island on the Mosel accessed by a rough cobblestoned causeway. We are surrounded by RV’s and large tents. One huge group has a television set up inside their tent and is watching the Swiss-Italy game and cooking giant sausages on a fire.

The patriarch of the group, Günther (please put the two little dots over the ‘u’, I don’t know how to do it on my iPad) invited us to watch the game. Tom and Ginny were probably wise to go to bed. I sheepishly approached the tent and sat down with the young folks, Marcus, Kai, and Fabienne. Marcus is an electrical engineering student at university. He spoke of the difficulty of learning technical engineering terms in English. Kai is a management apprentice for a large food company and is Fabienne’s boyfriend. I never got to ask Fabienne  what she did, but she was charming, helpful, and inquisitive. Günther (the gentleman who invited us) is Fabienne’s father.

They explained to me that the gathering is a family reunion that they hold every year at the this time. Marcus brought me a Kolsch beer. Then he brought me a shot of anise. He is not a Kolsch fan so we switched to the local beer, Bitburger. And so it went. Eventually the tent was crowded with family and friends. Günther introduced me to his wife, Monica (he referred to her as his wedding present) who was just as fun as he was. She taught me how to lock arms and drink a shot which I had to practice several times and then repeat with the other guests. I can not remember all their names so I hope they post a comment to go with the group photo. Günter and I sat shoulder to shoulder and talked politics and philosophy. He owns an auto repair business in Cologne.

I only know one phrase in German. It was taught to me by my friend Ivan Kapra, who is married to Stephanie, a German citizen. (Ivan and Stephanie lived in Germany for a few years and now reside in Milford, CT). Monica was being funny, and told me she had to go to the bathroom, and would be right back to drink more shots. I explained to her that I knew one German phrase, and everyone in the tent listened closely as I had been murdering spoken German all night. Carefully I stated “See in zee bitter, du hosa und du unterhosa aus” And, luckily, they all began to laugh. The phrase Ivan had taught me was one that would be used by a doctor to a patient and translates as “if you please, the pants and the under pants off.” I really wish Tom and Ginny were there for that moment.

Gunther and Monica.
Günther and Monica, Fabienne below.
Practicing for the Cologne "Carnival".
Pascal and Nadine practicing for the famous Cologne “Carnival”.
Me and Gunther.
Me and Günther.
Gunther's friends and family.
Günther’s friends and family.

I finally extricated myself from the party that would continue for several more hours. When my German friends got their morning coffee, we would be pedaling down the road on the way to Trier, the oldest city in Germany.