Alsace-Lorraine; cycling from Germany into France; July 21 – Aug 2, 2022

Posted: August 20, 2022 in France trips

There is a guy, Tom Goode, who like me, is from Virginia Beach. He is a retired teacher and a ZZ Top fan. He has been my friend for sixty-three of our sixty-seven years. We have seen each other only intermittently in recent years but have stayed in touch. Tom has lived in the western part of Germany for over thirty years, near where he taught high school at the American military base Ramstein. I had never been to see him in Germany and wanted to see where he lived. He and his wife wanted to cycle with us for part of any bicycle trip. I booked tickets to fly to Frankfurt in late July 2022 and to stay for two weeks.

There is another guy: Lyman Labry, of Austin, TX. He has cycled with me many times. He agreed to go on this expedition.

Tom helped Lyman and me to discover that the Moselle River valley is a superb bike ride. Lyman and I cycled most of a riverside route that stretches over three hundred kilometers from Koblenz, Germany to Nancy, France and beyond. We were blessed with great weather for biking, almost no rain and low humidity, only on the edge of being too hot. Sadly this is a part of a drought that is withering this region.

I had been hesitant to visit Germany because I knew nothing about speaking German. I had learned reasonably good Spanish and had parlayed that into semi-facility with French, Italian, and Portuguese. In Germany I would have to find people who spoke English.

Flying from different cities, Lyman and I landed Frankfurt Airport about the same time on the morning of Thursday July 21. Both of us had Bike Fridays that fit in a suitcase. We had to store the suitcases somewhere during our trip. I resolved this by booking a hotel near the airport for one night two weeks hence and asking the hotel to store the cases for us. We had all sorts of problems finding the hotel after we took a taxi to a Frankfurt suburb, the near-airport town of Kelsterbach. We put the bicycles together on a sidewalk in front of the Kelsterbach train station.

After a Middle Eastern lunch we commenced cycling in the early afternoon. It felt good to be outside and moving around, despite not really having slept much on an overnight flight. We were starting about fifteen kilometers from downtown Frankfurt but heading west, the opposite direction. There is a delightful bike path along the Main River. It would be an easy twenty-six kilometers to the city of Mainz. This is a map of the first three days of cycling, before Tom drove over and picked us up in his car.

cycling along the Main River

The Germans seemed to spare no expense in building this lovely bike path bridge over a canal.

We continued cycling up to the city of Mainz which sits at the junction of the Main and the Rhine Rivers. We had to segue through various bridges and roads to get downtown.

downtown Mainz

Maybe I should have booked a hotel in advance. Downtown rooms in Mainz seemed scarce. Google Maps referred to something called Erbacher Hof, which turned out to be a hotel owned by the Catholic church. We stopped by and asked if they had rooms. They did, sixty-something Euro each per night for single rooms, including breakfast, a very good deal. (Note: during this trip the Euro and the Dollar were essentially equal.). Some Catholic guy on the wall seemed to watch as Lyman checked in.

The rooms were small and spartan and spotlessly clean, with TV’s and balconies. It was part of a modernist church complex that overlooks other churches. In the morning there was a lot of ringing of bells.

hotel courtyard

view from hotel balcony

I had recently stayed in various American hotels in Connecticut, most that included a free breakfast where everything was prepackaged and, in my mind, generally disgusting. The free breakfast here in Mainz made me ashamed to be an American. Here in Germany everything was inviting, fresh bread, real food. Not pictured: excellent muesli and yogurt, even bacon and eggs.

As I was to discover, Germans are quite into Italian food; olive oil and balsamic vinegar, German brands, Italian names

After breakfast we got on the bikes and started cycling south along the Rhine River. Our day’s destination was to be the city of Worms. There was a paved bike path most of the way.

bike path along the Rhine

Lyman cycling through vineyards

We stopped for lunch at a trailer-like snack stand along the highway. What could be more German than bratwurst mit brochen? It was too much meat for me, we split this and then went to another place across the street for ice cream.

Cycling further on, mid-afternoon we stopped at a beer garden along the bike trail. How German.

the author and beer

Next to the beer garden was a house was flying the Confederate flag, from the American Civil War 165 years ago. Hmmm. What does that have to do with Germany? The internet suggests several possibilities, including the fact that Nazi flags are illegal in Germany.

On pulling out by bicycle something disconnected my rear derailleur cable, possibly from contact with the metal bike rack at the beer garden. I could not figure out the problem on my own and had to pedal the final thirteen kilometers to Worms in the largest gear. We stopped at a small bike shop on the outskirts of Worms but the helpful guy did not have the parts to replace the SRAM brand derailleur cable screw. (Why not Shimano, he asked.) He adjusted it so at least I was riding in a more neutral gear. I would have to fix it later.

We found two low cost hotel rooms in central Worms. There was no air conditioning in these attic-like rooms but they seem to air out when we opened the windows. We established a precedent for this trip where every night each of us got his own room, two low cost separate rooms rather than one nicer room. It was hot outside but only one hotel on this entire trip had air conditioning.

Dinner at a Greek restaurant was delightful. There was moussaka. During these still COVID times on this two week trip we ate essentially every restaurant meal outdoors. The weather was almost universally perfect for this.

Greek restaurant in Worms

We had breakfast the next morning at chain-like restaurant.

breakfast on the streets of Worms, Germany

Lyman’s career was as an architect in historic preservation. He always insisted we look inside churches, including this cathedral at Worms.

Outside the Worms cathedral. I do not know who this guy is.

Our biking destination for the day was the smaller city of Speyer, fifty kilometers further south along the Rhine. My friend Tom Goode had said it was a picturesque town and he would drive over and pick us up there. Cycling down the Rhine, the river spreads into marshlands. Quite a lot of the ride was on bike paths through wooded areas.

Some of the ride was through neighborhoods on public roads. Even then the bicycle route was well marked. The Germans have a fascinatingly efficient means of slowing traffic without the need for speed bumps.

This is a two way street. The car in the center is moving. The silver car on the left and the yellow van on the right are parked, as they are apparently encouraged to be. The arrangement forces cars to drive really, really slowly.

The town of Speyer is on the Rhine twenty something kilometers south and west of the larger cities Mannheim and Heidelberg. It was midday Saturday and the streets were full of people, although everyone wanted to sit in the shade of outdoor umbrellas, since it was about ninety degrees (F) outside.

Germans and their focus on Italy, “eis-cafe” becomes “Gelateria Italiana”

Lyman wanted to see inside the Speyer Cathedral. We could bike right up to it.

Lyman and I then biked the half mile downhill to the Rhine to wait for Tom Goode and his wife Jana to arrive in their car. It was great to see them. They live about a hundred kilometers to the west, in a rural area near the village of Horingen and somewhat near the larger city of Kaiserslautern. We would go visit to their house before starting to cycle with them the next day.

On the drive to their house they stopped at a wine store they knew, in a small town, and found out it was having a Saturday afternoon outdoor five Euro unlimited wine tasting. Tom says the Germans are always having “events.” We all had a good time. In addition to all the wine they eventually ordered two flammkuchen, which I learned is NOT pizza, it is a German dish, a local flatbread with cheese or other toppings.

Jana (left) and Tom. She is originally from Slovakia.

Tom and Jana’s home is an impressive abode; a former water mill surrounded by pastures where they can keep their three horses. They posed as American Gothic in front of the house.

Tom Goode
they thoughtfully put the these over the horse’s heads to keep the flies out of their eyes

Tom built this catwalk so his cats could walk into the kitchen window!

The next morning we had a peaceful breakfast on Tom and Jana’s patio. Afterwards, Tom and Jana drove the four of us and our four bicycles about a hundred kilometers further west to the town of Traben-Trarbach, on the Moselle River. They had cycled in this area before and spoke highly of the route. We parked the cars and prepared to cycle. First we had to go out for ice cream. Germans like a big selection of fancy ice cream concoctions.

We started cycling north (downstream) along the Moselle. We had all made reservations to stay that night in the village of Beilstein, sixty kilometers to the north.

Lyman

three old guys

Jana and Tom

German village just before we arrived at another village Beilstein.

In this part of Germany and nearby France, finding villages that were not burned down in one of the two World Wars is difficult. Tom was instrumental in telling us about Beilstein (population 130), we might have missed it even on a bicycle, a historic enclave wedged between mountains and the Moselle River. The town is now a tourist magnet. I only got decent photos of Beilstein at night.

The tiny town is filled with hotels. We all had dinner together at Tom and Jana’s hotel, our best meal in Germany. We sat outside on the terrace overlooking the Moselle River and drank local rieslings. We shared a ceviche appetizer. I had a seafood entree.

The next morning my hotel had an excellent breakfast but at the breakfast bar I found portraits of the hotel owners creepy.

Tom looking out his hotel window

After breakfast the four of us cycled further north to the town of Cochem. We stopped at a bike shop and Tom helpfully convinced them to look at my bicycle that was stuck in one gear. The shop had creative older mechanics and spliced Shimano parts onto the SRAM derailleur. Problem fixed!

Cochem is the home of the Reichsburg Cochem, a thousand year old castle that was colorfully redone in the late nineteenth century. We dragged our bikes up a steep hill.

Jana and Tom in front of Reichsburg Cochem

Tom and Jana could only be out for one night because they had to take care of their animals back home, and we went with them back toward their cars. We started cycling back south, then took a train for much of the way. At a riverside town we had a nice German lunch of schnitzel. A salad was included as first course.

my schnitzel. How German.

the obligatory side of potatoes

After lunch we cycled further south and arrived back at Tom and Jana’s cars. They loaded their bikes and headed home. It had been great to see them. Lyman and I continued south upriver by bicycle. This map shows our ride with Tom and Jana plus the next two days of cycling the Moselle, showing the route as the Moselle sharply winds through hilly countryside.

Lyman and I continued on a lovely bike path.

along the Moselle

We stayed that night in the picturesque town of Bernkastel-Kues. On arriving into town we immediately stopped and ordered beers at a cafe on the sidewalk. We had to decide our next move, including where to sleep that night.

While pondering what to do next, singing sounds came from one block away but we could not see what the singing was about. I walked over to look. (I love public unison singing.) There was a group people with letters that spell out FREIHEIT which I learned (because of Google on my phone) spells FREEDOM. (there were other words being spelled as well, I missed those!) I took it as some kind of right-wing demonstration but I am not sure. Everyone seemed happy and peaceful. I still kick myself for not asking someone what it was about. I guess I will never know.

Around the corner we found low cost hotel rooms at a place owned by and next to a South Asian restaurant. We wanted to eat there but they had only indoor seating. No place looked to be serving German food. The busiest restaurant was Italian. This being Germany, we were worried that they were about to close, as many restaurants in Germany stop taking orders at 8:00 PM. We finally got a table indoors but next to an open window. We each got a soup (cream of tomato and Minestrone) and then split a pizza. With a bottle of wine and coffees, it was only EUR 49.50 for two and delicious; a meal we enjoyed lingering over. Eating out here is definitely lower cost than the USA, even after having been hustled to buy a bottle of overpriced Italian water.

The next morning I walked around town waiting for Lyman to wake up.

in the window of a store that sells German hunting clothing

That day we headed again up the Moselle River as it cut through the otherwise hilly landscape. There was a bike path that threads through river views and vineyards.

Lunch that day was in the town of Trittenheim. Once again the best looking restaurant in this German town advertised itself as Italian; the Ristorante Pinocchio. We had delicious salads accompanied by a bottle of local (German) riesling wine.

We cycled further on to the much larger town of Trier where we spent the night. While being nowhere near Rome this German town has several impressive structures left by the Roman Empire almost two thousand years ago.

Porta Nigra city gate, built by the Romans about 200 AD, Trier, Germany

Aula Palatina, built about 300 AD

part of Roman baths built in 300-400 AD

Highway bridge still in use, built by the Romans in 170 AD, renovated in the 1700’s with new brickwork

Trier also has an impressive cathedral, the oldest one Germany, parts of which date to 300-400 AD but renovated and rebuilt several times. We walked around inside.

I read online that even though German Catholics are going to church less and less, and very few agree with the Church’s social stances, because Germans keep checking a box on their tax returns, the German Catholic Church gets government funding and is consequently among the wealthiest in the world.

We had decided to keep cycling upriver south on the Moselle, at least as far as Nancy, France, which would be two more days cycling. Starting just south of Trier the river forms the border between Germany and Luxembourg, before crossing into France.

our route along the Moselle from Trier, Germany to Nancy, France

Our destination this day would be the town of Perl, Germany. The nice bike path along the Moselle continued. Part of the way we bicycled on the Luxembourg side of the river.

For at least an hour or two we were in Luxembourg. We had salmon tartare at a somewhat snooty Luxembourg restaurant. Europeans seem to include fries with everything.

We cycled further upriver.

That evening the tiny town of Perl, Germany was the opposite of snooty. Less than a mile from the French border our German hotel was low cost and welcoming.

The only real place to eat that night in Perl was a friendly pizza joint around the corner. We enjoyed talking with a young German couple who were also cycling this route. The guy was a big fan of American Football. He said there was an upcoming NFL game to be played in Munich but he could not get tickets. He said the eighty thousand seats sold out in minutes.

pizza with arugula, Perl, Germany

The next morning after the hotel breakfast we cycled downhill into France. There was really no marker at the border, not even a Welcome To France sign.

Germany had been great but it was even better to be in France, I confess. I could communicate better, although still clumsily, and there was a je ne sais quoi feeling, maybe it was a little more relaxed.

The signs on the riverside bike path were less clear than in Germany, the path surface slightly bumpier.

It was past lunchtime when we started seeing the suburbs of Metz (city population 120,000.) We hungrily went into a suburban “outlet mall” (almost just like those America!) looking for a sandwich shop. The sandwiches had better bread than what you would find in America, of course, and we could eat outside on a picnic table.

French Outlet Mall

Back on the bikes, even closer to central Metz, where the bike trail meandered through an agricultural flood plain, we stumbled upon a fascinating outdoor venue, super low tech (the place barely had a bathroom) but with a nice vibe. We had to stop and drink a beer. Most patrons looked to have arrived by bicycle. There were plastic chairs and umbrellas. The guys who were likely the proprietors were two nattily dressed older men in Lacoste shirts.

More than anywhere we had been on this trip, Metz felt like a real city, a special urban place. I looked on TripAdvisor for restaurants in Metz and called for a reservation that night at somewhere called Au Petit Louis. I tried to talk in French but failed. They passed the phone over to somebody who spoke English. Lyman and I walked almost a mile from our downtown hotel to a leafy mid-town neighborhood and took a table outside on the sidewalk.

The meal started with a freebie, an amuse bouche of fresh tomato compote and bite sized terrine tarts, with a slice of strawberry on each.

We shared an appetizer of terrine, which I have learned is a cross between pate and meat loaf. Our main courses were rib eye steak for Lyman; fish for me. Not pictured: a separate cast iron pan of fried potatoes plus lots of French bread.

Coffee and dessert. Why not? We split this plate of fresh fruit covered with what I think was creme fraiche, maybe just whipped cream. Delicious.

The next morning we had breakfast at a bar on the street of central Metz; their breakfast special; coffee (any kind), croissant, and a large orange juice all for three Euro, delivered with a smile, on real plates to your table on the street. Normally I am not a huge fan of orange juice but that rush of sugar this day seemed to hit the spot.

The Metz cathedral is stunning. It has extensive stained glass windows made in various styles over seven hundred years, including twentieth century stylings from artists like Marc Chagall, with cubist and abstract windows complimenting the older styles.

twentieth century abstract windows

Metz is only thirty or forty miles north of the similar size city of Nancy. We again cycled following the Moselle River and canals that parallel it.

All was not perfect. We were in France not Germany. In a swampy region it was not clear which bicycle route was the best. We followed a fine gravel path along a canal until it degenerated into a rough gravel path, then, at a lock on the canal, a fence and a sign stating (in French) to go no further. What to do? A hiker about our age walked up. He sign-languaged us that everybody just walked around this fence. We waited for him to go first, then pushed our bicycles through a tiny opening in the fence.

breaking through the fence

Once through the fence the path degenerated into a rough narrow trail along the canal, lovely but bumpy.

Persistence paid off, and a few miles later the path grew wider, and then devolved into an actual paved road. The bike path along the Moselle somehow had continued!

At a town along the way we found a boulangerie that carried pre-made chicken sandwiches. We had lunch at a random picnic table along the trail.

The bike ride from Metz to Nancy should have been easy but it was more challenging than expected. It was mid afternoon on the hottest day of our entire trip. The bike “path” along the Moselle that we had taken since Germany for hundreds of kilometers was petering out. Signs for the bike route were no longer clear, the path was stopping and starting. We “needed” an ice cream but could not find even a country store. In the working class town of Custines we came upon a bar. Did they maybe have ice cream bars for sale? I opened the door and the place was filled with twenty or thirty middled aged men drinking beer; there were those semi-legal video gambling machines, just like one finds in out of the way places back in North Carolina. I felt uncomfortable. I smiled and left without saying anything.

Farther on we found a gas station that did have ice cream bars. I struggled to find a piece of shade. The only place to sit was the curb.

We refreshed ourselves enough that we got back on the bicycles and finally made it into the city of Nancy. I texted this photo to back home to my friend Nancy Karukas.

Our hotel in Nancy was in the old part of town, had low cost attic level rooms, and an amazing staircase. I had been thinking about the subject of stairways for years; why do commercial and apartment buildings back in the USA not have inviting staircases like those in Europe? The answer, I think, is that in USA fire codes require two exits for buildings, in most of Europe it is only one. I don’t think Europeans are massively burning up in buildings. Many Americans are overweight but we have to go out of our way to walk up stairs in our buildings. In Nancy I did not even consider the elevator.

The next day we stopped cycling along the Moselle and found another route. We had four days left to cycle on our trip, and we chose to stay in France, We would cycle along the Meurthe River, heading southeast of Nancy to Baccarat, then loop back towards Germany. This is the route of the finals days of our trip from Nancy to Saarbrucken, which sits on the German/French border.

We cycled the next morning through Nancy.

Heading out of town we followed a canal for as long as possible.

For the first time on this trip we cycled much of this day on regular highways, which usually were free of significant traffic and generally quite nice.

Halfway to Baccarat we stopped for lunch in the town of Luneville, which was a resort town in the 1700’s. The Chateau of Luneville, completed about 1720, resembles Versaille. There was no fence; you could bicycle right up to the building and its grounds.

Mostly at my insistence, we had tried to only eat at French restaurants in France. We had a nice French lunch in Luneville. Quiche Lorraine is named after this region.

Later that same day, in another smaller town, I noticed the only place to eat on a Saturday afternoon in rural France looked to be a pizza vending machine.

We cycled another twenty-five kilometers to the factory town of Baccarat, famous for being the home of Baccarat crystal. According the Wikipedia the company is owned by an Asian luxury goods consortium.

Baccarat, France

Baccarat crystal factory

In the window of their gift shop; decanter and six glasses, twenty-eight hundred Euro

Baccarat is a small town with only two real restaurants, a French one attached to our hotel and a nice looking Italian one two doors down.

Our hotel was not fancy but had the pretentious name Hotel de la Renaissance. We chose to eat dinner at its restaurant.

Like about every French restaurant we ate at on this trip, we were glad we made reservations, even if only an hour in advance. As in other places, when we sat down at eight o’clock the restaurant was not full but by nine o’clock every table was taken. French restaurants usually have only one seating per meal. None of the restaurants we ate at on this trip were expensive by American standards. Usually a fancy dinner for two cost about a hundred Euro including wine, dessert, and coffee.

One of us got the French version of prime rib, the other steak au poivre. We sat out back outdoors on their terrace as did just about everybody else.

We packed up to leave the next morning. We had both been noticing an odd steeple rising a few blocks distant.

It turned out to be a modernist Catholic Church built in 1954, to replace one destroyed in the War. On our way out of town Lyman quietly ignored the fact that a service was going on and snuck inside to take pictures.

photo by Lyman Labry

photo by Lyman Labry

It was Sunday. We cycled through country roads with little traffic.

There were almost no towns with hotels on this stretch of highway. That morning online I had reserved two motel-like rooms at a marina for boats traveling the canals, on the periphery of a town called Niderviller. In the late afternoon no one was in the office so we had to wait around.

Our hotel rooms were on the second floor of this building

Within walking distance of the marina was one restaurant, the Auberge du Tannenheim. Nothing else was around and almost everything was closed on Sunday. We had to wait until it opened at 6:30 PM so we could get beers. We were lucky we arrived early as we were told that almost all the outdoor tables had been reserved!

We delayed eating for a while as we wanted to just enjoy our beers. Eventually we did order, both of us got big salads followed by pizza. His was salade nicoise, mine advertised as being a salad of this Lorraine region.

Coffee and dessert? Bien sur! Lyman got a banana split.

We stayed until it had gotten dark. A few others lingered as well.

The next morning we cycled a few kilometers into the nearby larger town of Sarrebourg and got breakfast at a cafe.

Sarrebourg, France (population 12,000)

Most of the day was spent cycling on a paved path that for over sixty kilometers follows the Canal des Houllieres de la Sarre. In this remote part of northeastern France we saw other cyclists only occasionally.

We did often see boats on the canal. Almost all looked like pleasure boats, not commercial traffic.

Both of us had tired of eating the rich food offered at restaurants for every meal. I would be nice to do a picnic lunch. The small town of Lorquin had a small locally owned looking supermarket. Both fresh bread and the “deli” section were at the the checkout counter. An older man seemed peeved to have to slice the “prosciutto” for a couple of non-French speaking customers. There was a stinky looking cheese there as well, appropriately covered with a moldy rind. I asked for a big slice. We carried everything for several miles along the canal until we found this picnic table. Really fresh bread, quality cheese, and salty thin sliced ham made a delicious lunch. We had two apples for dessert.

We stayed that night in the town of Sarreguemines (population 21,000.), which sits on the Saar River and is only a few kilometers south of the German border.

Across the river from downtown we ate outdoors at the one restaurant we could find open on a Monday: Le Casino.

I had lamb shank

Dessert looks like ice cream but it is actually chocolate mousse and whipped cream

The scene at an adjoining table. This phrase is from the Ramones song Blitzkrieg Bop, released forty-six years ago. Despite the fact that they did not sell many records, or rarely played in venues larger than clubs, the Ramones influence lives on. Dee Dee!

The next morning we cycled twenty kilometers north along the Saar River, then over the border to the German city of Saarbrucken.

along the Saar canal between Sarreguemines, France and Saarbrucken, Germany

We had flights back to the USA from Frankfurt Airport the following day. We biked to the Saarbrucken train station and took the Deutsche Bahn two hours east to Mainz. We then bicycled the twenty-five kilometers further east to the Frankfurt airport town of Kelsterbach, where we had stored our bicycle suitcases.

Bicycles are permitted on MOST European trains. Generally, the short distance regional trains freely allow bicycles and the high speed TGV trains make it difficult. Beyond that, it gets complicated and you have to ask or look it up. Our regional train made dozens of stops but otherwise was fine; we wheeled the bicycles right onto the train with us.

After arriving in Mainz we got German ice cream sundaes.

We then cycled along the Main River the twenty six kilometers back to Kelsterbach.

at a German stoplight, as we got off the river trail to go into the town of Kelsterbach.

We retrieved our suitcases and folded the Bike Fridays into them, having to unscrew all the attachments. The next morning both of us took the subway-type train five minutes and one stop to the Frankfurt Airport. The train was fine, but the airport was a shit-show of hours long lines but we both made our flights. I had managed to stay COVID free this whole trip but I am convinced the COVID I woke up with back home two days later was acquired in those airport lines. Two weeks later I am still getting over the vestiges of it. Still, no regrets. We had a great trip.

Comments
  1. Gerrie says:

    What a great trip!

  2. Bob Anderson says:

    Paco—this trip was certainly challenging but you hung in there, did your magic, warranting a five star rating. Food description was fun reading, and I am with you on ordering pizza. Can’t go wrong with that choice. We are heading to Munich tomorrow with train travel to Italy. So, your trip report is timely. Your choice of photos and incorporating them strategically throughout has got to make you a little dizzy but it’s critical to hold the reader’s interest— and that you did. Finally, I know of nobody who is as gutsy as you.

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