Four Rhine Cities… in Four Days..
As we head South along the Rhine and into Germany we see all kinds of river life. This section of the river is urban and industrial where suddenly we find we can bike through four big Rhine cities in four days. Where else can you so easily cycle safely through four cities in four days? And so I take in four cities with my four pedalling companions, each with their own quirks of personality.
Duisberg, the industrial one
Duisberg, town with a frown. Just like Cameron. He has switched to riding in his buggy, his glum face peering out of the net, advertising his tiredness and a dodgy knee gained from swinging around a lamppost too quickly. He looks as tired and wan as his surroundings. No camping for him tonight. We stay in an out of town hostel and he goes straight to sleep. Nothing to entice us back into the grime in the morning, not even Legoland.
Cam is bright again in the morning but chooses to see the world from the cocoon of the buggy as the local heavy industry gears up for another day in paradise, and we pedal on. There is nothing to keep us here.
Four cities in four days with the fab four. Next up Dusseldorf. She is playful and summery, like Hannah. Hannah is riding on the tandem, and pedals away with abandon, loudly singing songs of two little dickybirds. Dusseldorf comes highly recommended in our guidebook, for its architecture and nightlife. In the afternoon sunshine the banks of this relaxed river city are lined with colourful bars, and packed with people supping cocktails and chilled local beer. Like my daughter, everyone is smiling.
Foil, flossies and a budget hotel
We zig zag along a prom that’s like the Med in summer, into the trendy media quarter, past the foil fairy tale building that intrigues us all.
“Look, it’s the flossies,”Matthew shouts, nearly falling off the bike when we pass the giant fluorescent plastic people crawling up the side of a building.
There’s something for everyone in this city, particularly the rich. We are offered a family room in a smart hotel for 430 Euro’s (about 400 pounds).
“We need a really rubbish hotel in the 50 quid range,” I say, diving down a side street.
Hannah sings of rubbish hotels, as chance, or fate takes us to a family run place, where its owner hauls our trailers into the reception, our tandems into her restaurant and our bags into every corner of the ground floor. You can’t move for our stuff. And its fifty quid a room, as requested. What’s not to love in a city like that?
Cologne (or is it Koln)
Four cities in four days with four faithful friends. If everyone is a city then Matthew is Koln. Bigger, edgier, more aware of its’ place in the world than the others. In the fountain outside the biggest cathedral in Germany our children join three punks in the cold water. The kids splash, the punks splash and snog.
We park our bikes in front of a jewellers where a pink watch costs 90,000 euros. We could travel for a lifetime on that. The doorman installed outside the Louis Vuitton shop glares at me through dark glasses. Not welcome here?
Stuart takes the children up the tower of the Dom, Cologne’s Cathedral, while I chill out outside where the relics of the three magi lie in a golden casket. If the kings were to offer me gifts I wonder if I’d choose gold, frankincense and myrrh or the more modern delights of a Louis Vuitton suitcase on wheels with matching cupcake pink jewelled watch.
Cologne is all style until the police arrive
A hundred piece gospel choir sets up in a circle in the square, just in front of the human statues of Charlie Chaplin, the Angel Gabriel and Zorro. As an audience gathers I realise I’m the only one in the square not wearing dark glasses. A doorman comes over from the five star hotel next door and I wonder if I’m about to be moved on. But he just wants to see the tandems and find out our destination. The man from Louis Vuitton tries to earwig, removing his dark glasses and cool image for just a minute. Stuart and the kids return and we glide downhill. It’s German beer o’clock.
A crowd ahead of us starts to shout and run, but not towards the beer kellers. It’s a mini riot. Seven or eight police cars swerve out of a nearby square. I hold up two police cars by jack-knifing the bike as further down the road the first punch is thrown. We divert to the river for pizza, beers and cokes. Before we’re three quarters of the way through an icy bottle of Becks someone tries to relieve us of the bottle to claim the deposit. Two of the punk girls from the fountain jingle past, black tights laddered, tight leopard skin tops still waterlogged. They carry a blue plastic cup and offer kisses in return for money. There are few takers. Time to move on.
Bonn is music to my ears
Four cities in four days with my four tandem riders. Bonn is the home of Beethoven, the cultured one, the grown up one, the former capital, the parent. It’s Stuart, but smarter. It’s in a foul temper too, as we crawl along its banks amidst headwinds and squalls. Time and again we are forced to shelter under a tree, sodden and cold. Until the sun finally comes out. At least briefly.
Something for everyone
We find a rubbish hotel. It’s exactly what the doctor ordered. Stuart goes to watch an organ concert somewhere while we go to Netto to buy cheap chocolate and an even cheaper carton of German wine. Everyone is happy.
Four cities, four personalities but who am I?
Four cities in four days. Four of my favourite people. Perhaps I am the river, flitting around them all, fast flowing and choppy, too busy and focussed on the journey to spend too much time with each. But unlike the Rhein, I can slow down. I declare tomorrow a day off. To relax on the banks, wander the city and explore a museum or two. It’s a popular decision. The sun shines on us all for the first time in four days.