Thursday, May 3, 2012

A Fleeting Trip to Germany

I had originally planned on leaving Garda earlier and heading to Munich to visit my friend Bene. I had met Bene while he was on excange in NZ and studying in Palmerston North... I had given him a lift out to a mountain bike race... I've learned in my years of mountain biking that whenever you have the opportunity to help someone out, you jump at that opportunity... There's no price you could put on doing someone a small favour to be graced with their presence. Isn't it amazing that something so simple can create such amazing friends in all corners of the earth? Anyway, as it turned out, I stayed in Garda much longer than I had planned and ended up with two nights and a single full day in Munich before catching a flight to Athens, Greece.

The morming I was leaving Hotel Santoni was actually pretty sad. Lara, Fabio, Aldo and the breakfast crew (not to mention the guys at Garda on Bike) had become a bit of a family for me over the last couple of weeks. It actually made me a little bit homesick to be leaving them! The plan had been to catch a bus to Rovereto and then a train to Munich. To be honest, it wasn't veryh appealing hauling my bike box on and off public transport and I was stoked the evening before I left to find out that Aldo had lined up someone to give me a lift to Munich! Perfecto! I didn't get the chance to meet Wolfgang until just before we left. I wasn't sure what time we were leaving, so I had all my stuff packed and just hung in the hotel chill space until he arrived back in the afternoon ready to leave. It was good to get the chance to relax after the race the day before and catch up on some blogging and reading. Traffic from the bike festival made the start of the drive slow work, but once we were on the Autobahn, we were flying along at 140km/hr. Wolfgang is a professional photographer and videographer and he must have thought it was a joke when I pulled out my little camera and started taking photos of the amazing countryside through the windscreen! The Alps loomed ahead of us on the road of a good portion of the drive, and were capped with very unseasonal snow.

One thing I have had to get used to when travelling is that if you don't speak the language fluently, it can make for some very awkward silence in social situations. Wolfgang and I spoke a little about work and bikes (of course), but, unlike my small grasp on Italian, I spoke absolutely no German. To be honest, I felt a bit embarrassed by the fact and wished I had at least learned a few phrases to get some respect from people. I guess I had to be content that my ignorance would only last a day and a bit until I moved on to Greece (where I also didn't speak much of the language!). I did, however, find it was always a good icebreaker to crack a joke about how much of a tourist my photographic habits make me! One other thing I found highly amusing (but kept to myself) was that there were signs everywhere that seemed to have the suffix "fahrt"... As highly immature as it sounds, when I saw a sign that said "AUSFAHRT" I couldn't help but translate it to "this is where Australians go to fart"... I took a photo of that sign for my Dad. I knew he would appreciate it. I also found it strange that throughout the trip, I had no idea when we crossed into another country. We went from Italy, across Austria and into Germany, and the only thing that gave me any idea we were in another country was that the names of the places on the signs changed. No "YOU ARE NOW IN GERMANY" signs, and no passport control!

I was astonished by how expensive the Autobahn was to travel on... A stretch of about 100km was concluded with a fee of 13 euros ($20 NZD!) and then there were also two other toll points. I think all up, there was about 30 euro worth of tolls, and with petrol at over 2 euro a litre, it's no wonder people are forced to resort to public transport and bicycles. As we neared Munich, we tried to figure out how we would get me to my final destination at Bene's, whose house was in the opposite direction to where Wolfgang was going. We got Bene and Wolfgang on the phone to each other and not long after, I was dropped off at a small service station on the outskirts of Munich with my luggage. Bene picked me up only a couple of minutes later. It was great to see him, and he seemed really stoked to have me there in Germany. We had an invitation to a BBQ and a party that night, so we headed off to the supermarket, dropped my stuff off at Bene's, and after a shower, headed to his friends house for said BBQ. His mates were really lovely people. They all spoke excellent English, which was a relief... It is funny, though, how you can often make out what is being said in a conversation without actually understanding the words. After some dinner and a cocktail (that absolutely floored me! I am such a cheap drunk!), I told Bene that they should head off to the party without me and I would go back to Bene's. I am way too old for this party business! (lucky I didn't go, because Bene got home at 4am!). When I arrived back at his house, his Mum was home. She spoke a little English and she was absolutely lovely and made me feel totally at home.

I only had one day in Munich, and we had planned on going out for a ride. When Bene didn't wake up until 10am, I was kind of half hoping that he may not feel like a ride... It would save me putting my bike together just for one day of riding! But he was still keen, and, truth be told, I needed to get my legs moving again after Sundays race, so I unpacked and assembled my bike in my pyjamas. I was so glad I did because the day was an absolute stunner... Blue skies and sun all the way!

We set out through the city towards the local trails. I was blown away by how many people were out and about. You could barely move in amongst the crowds. The cycleway represented a mini Autobahn, and you attempted to enter, exit, or cross it at your own peril. People were camped out along the banks of the river (at the "beach") as far as the eye could see, working on their suntans, having BBQs, playing games or riding bikes... EVERYONE seemed to be on a bike. There were bikes everywhere... In fact, I reckon more bikes than I had ever seen in one place before. It was a think of beauty, but this bicycle "autobahn" was terrifyig to ride on... Everyone was weaving in and out of other riders, walkers and runners, with a range of precarious manouvers, slamming on brakes when we came up too close to someone in front going too slow. It was a nightmare, and I was so stoked when Bene turned off the path onto a hidden piece of singletrack to the left... All of a sudden, we were alone.

The singletrack wove it's way through this beautiful green forest. It was mainly flowy with some nice rooty sections. Occasionally, the trail joined back up with the highway, but before long, we would be back on the trail again. It was lovely and peaceful, and incredibly flat... Probably for the best after Sundays race. The small pinches we came across made my legs burn. After about 15km of trails, and a banana break along the river banks, we popped out into civilisation at a small, but absolutely packed Bavarian restaurant along the river for a traditional Bavarian meal. I was stoked to have Bene to translate for me, because the only thing I was able to translate from the menu was the noodle soup. I ended up with the Schweinsbraten, a pork dish with some weird potato dumpling thing and a sauerkraut salad on the side.

It tasted bloody good, but geez it was filling, and my full belly didn't take well to my desire to imitate roadside signs that required use of my abdominal muscles. It also didn't take well to the hill climb straight afterwards... I'm sure Bene recommended the meal to slow me down a bit!

After crossing the river, we made our way back down the other side on more lovely trails, back along the bicycle autobahn and then back to Bene's house for some bike love, packing the Ninja back into her box and an amazing meal cooked up by Bene's mum! It was totally worth getting the Ninja out of her box and put together for the day... It also meant I got a day on the bike in between transit days, which is always a good thing!

I have this habit of booking flights at the worst times (coincidentally, these flights are also generally the cheapest), so my 7am flight out of Munich meant we were up at 4am for a 4.30am train to the airport. Massive thanks to Bene for hosting me for a couple of nights and then driving me to the station at that ungodly hour! It was great to see him and I wish I could have hung around a bit longer, but I have a 7 day bike tour in Greece to attend! The early morning was actually well worth it when I got to see the sun rise over the runway at Munich airport before jumping on a plane to Athens.

1 comment:

  1. Loved having you over here! Next time, when you don't come straight from a race and the snow has melted, we will hit the alps for some more stunning (and not so flat) trails :-))