I love to plan trips but every once in a while I love to just go along for the ride when someone else has built the plan. It brings an element of surprise that delivers a bit more excitement for what my otherwise be a routine activity.
Today, this is just what I did. I rolled out of bed at 6 am, brewed some coffee, had a quick breakfast in the courtyard while I took my cat for a stand (cats don’t really walk) and then put the finishing touches on my bike – pumped up the tires and the frame shock. Threw my wallet, a rain coat (it’s Germany you can NEVER trust the forecast) and a banana into my camelback before rolling out of my apartment for the ride to the Düsseldorf HBF (hauptbahnhoff = main train station).
My instructions were to meet my friend (aka epic bicycle tour guide) at Gleis 7 to catch a train for Hamm (supposedly – German trains are notoriously late) departing at 8:47 am. Our plan was to ride a stretch of the Römer-Lippe Route. You can link to the route here.
Römer = Roman and this trail is so named because it is located in one of the territories that was ruled by Rome during their reign in Europe. Later it became, and continues to be, an industrial region fueled by a ready supply of water from the Lippe river. This region was also in the past dominated by coal mining and coal power generation. The coal power plants are now gone, but the remnants of coal mining remain in the form of huge iron structures near the river banks.
I thought this post could be a bit about our actual ride and a bit of an instructional guide about how to travel by bike and train in Germany. It’s not so complicated but could be a bit intimidating for the un-initiated. Also, legal disclosure, I am certain there will be some errors and omissions of rules in this post. Honestly, it’s impossible to know all the rules in Germany! But, what we did today worked so hopefully it would work for you.
The first thing is to buy a ticket. While this may sound easy, it can be very complicated! Fortunately, my friend had a local help with this. What we used was a ticket that was a 24 hour fare for the entire state of Nord Rhein Westfalia. In addition to the ticket for you, you also need a ticket for your bicycle (aka Fahrad). You can try to make these selections online but I highly recommend (I cannot underline this point enough) that you go to the DB office and ask for their help during your first few trips. The people at the counter speak English and are very helpful. These are the tickets we used for our trip.
You will also notice the price on the ticket. This ticket is for up to 5 people because we originally planned to be a group of 3. It was still cheaper than two individual fares though. Be prepared to pay to play on German trains! They are not cheap. If you believe you will ride them often you can purchase discount options. As it turned out, I didn’t ride trains as much as I’d anticipated so I never did buy a discount card. But it’s worth exploring if you plan to be a frequent traveler.
Then when it comes to boarding the train with your bike, you need to look for the bike train car. You’ll see this on the sign board. In NRW the platforms have four sections: A, B, C, D. When you see the details for your train you just need to look for a pictures on the electronic sign board at the platform that has a picture of a bicycle under a letter. It’s often under the letter D. When you board the train have your fingers crossed that it’s not already full of bikes or baby carriages. In that case you’ll need to wait for the next train. Fortunately, we found space for our bikes probably because it was a bit early in the morning. As the train car filled with more bikes we lost our seat in the carriage, locked up the bikes and headed upstairs for the hour ride to Hamm.
Our route was marked with the Roman centurion helmet. It was relatively easy to follow. We quickly left the city center and found the Lippe. I paused to admire a tall corn field that bordered some grain bins.
We paused near some cooling towers for a photo. They were impressive structures! I couldn’t tell if the plant was still active.
About a kilometer later I spotted what looked like a small path to the right so we stopped to check it out. What a surprise when we discovered a herd of cattle called Heckrinder that looked a bit like buffalo. My friend translated the sign for us and we learned that the habitat was a semirestired natural grassland and the herd is an attempt to restore European buffalo. I enjoyed watching the herd move about and we even spotted some calves!
By now we started to get a little hungry and fortunately our lunch stop was nearby. Our plan was to stop at a yacht club in Bergkamen. We passed my favorite bridge of the day and then entered the city.
I knew it was going to be a great lunch destination when a few Harley’s passed us and then we saw a guy in a root beer brown stingray getting an ice cream. Then the place was actually called California! That was too coincidental for me.
Soon we entered Lünen and made a very important observation. Almost everyone was carrying an ice cream! This was certainly a sign. We needed gelato. We paused to snap a photo finish and then made our last refueling stop.
We rolled the final 400 meters to the HBF and boarded the train to Dortmund. Then transferred to a train running to the Düsseldorf HBF. This is where it got interesting… the train was packed! Like, standing room only packed. We were able to cram ourselves and our bikes into the car.
Then, perhaps the most entertaining part of the day happened when I watched a girl grab her bike and walk off the train with a tomato plant, an entire tomato plant (!), peaking out of the top of her rucksack.
Soon we pulled in to the Düsseldorf HBF, lugged our bikes down the stairs from the platform in to the station. I was biking home and my friend needed to catch another train to her home. Happy and sleepy and relaxed we hugged and parted ways. Promising to try to squeeze in one more ride in September before I move back to America. Yes, the clock is ticking down. It’s time to grab hold of every moment. But, when is it not?
Life is short, make it a good ride.