Adventures with Gretel

I finally decided to make the trip out of Cologne I’ve been planning for ages. I didn’t go far, but being raised in the country has left me with a tendency to feel somewhat bereft if I spend too long in the absence of fields, trees and other “natural” things. I don’t have a map, and my mobile telephone is notoriously unreliable when it comes to accessing maps on the move, so I decided to rely on my intuition. Bearing in mind where this has got me before, I decided to follow the road I live on until it exits the city, and just see how far the outskirts of the biggest cities in the industrial Rhineland go.

A quick glance at Google maps showed what looked like a lake, so I thought it best to aim for it.

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Upon cycling out, however, after the normal car park that you’d associate with a natural-ish thing just outside of city limits, I found what amounted to a filled-in quarry, complete with signs telling me not to swim, as if it had looked particularly inviting beforehand. Even in the thirty degree Rhineland sunshine, diving in there would have taken a bravery that I think crosses the line into stupidity. I was disappointed about the lack of natural-ness, but not deterred. I passed what looked like still-working quarry equipment, and continued on my way, wondering how much Gretel (my dutch bicycle) could handle as the rocks on the dusty road seemed to grow in size the farther I got from the main road.

I passed a stables, and found myself on a farm track leading through a wheat field. At last, I thought, here I am in The Country. If I pretend not to see the cooling towers and the massive power lines, this almost feels like a very flat, very warm Lowlands. I felt at home. For one thing, past the stables, I didn’t encounter a single soul, and couldn’t hear a single car. This, living in Ehrenfeld as I do, home to boy racers and wandering drunks by the pubload, was a welcome relief.


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Actually, more than anything else, I was reminded of trips into the English countryside during my six years of living in the home counties (those posh bits around Lahndahn where you’re judged on the amount by which your house increased in value, and the ways on which you hold forth upon this topic at Come-Dine-With-Me-style dinner parties) and it was altogether pleasant. Thirty degrees of sunshine and (I cannot stress this enough) no bloody people made for a fantastic lunchtime ride.

I was struck once again with a nice bit of luck as I rounded the corner at the end  of the track above. Squinting through the haze, I could just about see the top of the highest building in Cologne, the fantastically ugly Colonius tower. Fantastically ugly it may be, but it marks my home district, and meant that despite seeing nothing but fields and trees around me, I could orient myself without compass or map, and find my way home.

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It was approaching twelve, and it is the beginning of July, so a break at the copse in the middle of the wheat field was in order. I’d been prepared enough to bring two litres of water, for which I was very grateful to my former self, however I had not thought to buying anything for lunch, full up as I was upon my leaving with tea, toast and Marmite. I’m still on the Namibian supply of that stuff, and need to head to the English Shop (no joke folks) soon to get some more. Nonetheless, I was in a field, and a handful of heads of wheat rolled in between your hands frees up a surprising amount of grain. Along with the water and a bit of shade, it did nicely. I also found what I thought might be a badger set, unless anyone reading this knows otherwise.

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Rested, refreshed and with the faint taste of grass and flour in my mouth, I made back for Colonius along a new farm track, glad I could make something of a round trip of it, and feeling like I’d done a bit of exploring to boot. I weaved back and forth between fields and bits of woodland, noticing even here that the cycle paths were not only present, but signposted with distances in kilometres to the next town. I must say, the Rhineland cycle infrastructure has impressed me. Apart from some token efforts in parks and cities, my homeland seems rather far behind in this regard. We can only blame the hills for so long, countrymen! What is more, I encountered a couple of my first serious hills on Gretel, and she handled them magnificently.

I did find a lake in the end, along with some blackberries that will be an excellent dessert for the Rhineland hunter-gatherer in about a month.

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Alas, they were still too green. The lake was nice though:

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Distinctly industrial-machinery-free, for which I am grateful. All in all, I think a rather successful trip. I feel like the city isn’t the entire world, which is a bonus, and I found out that Gretel can handle (or should that be Hansel?) quite a lot more than I gave her credit for as a city-trundler. I may make that epic Europe bicycle trip yet. I’ll be careful, though. I might cycle everywhere now, but that can’t have been more than thirty kilometres, and my legs are already complaining. Looks like I have some work to do.

For now, Tschuß!

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