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Luca's Tour. Days 7 to 14.

Day 7: 23/08/03
From: Minden
To: Hamelm
Dist: 78km
Weather: Cloudy, brightening later

We didn't get started 'til almost 3pm due to me being knackered and us having some stuff to buy in town. On setting off we got straight on to the Weser river bike path before switching to road for an hour to make up for lost time - the Weser river is all twists and turns and so following the path next to it is a very convoluted way of getting from A to B.

Got back on the path at Hamelm (as in The Pied Piper of, apparently) and continued along it for a few km before finding a discreet spot by the river to pitch up. Cooked a first rate pasta dish that included some beautifully sweet fresh spinach picked from nearby.

Day 8: 24/08/03
From: Hamelm
To: Munden
Dist: 136km
Weather: Overcast, chilly

Up and away from our riverside camping spot at about 8. Followed the Weser through Boden Werder and countless other picturesque villages and small towns. This bike path route is definitely a long way round, but much nicer than the road and its pretty clearly marked also. Originally I had planned to rush through Holland and Germany, just getting them out of the way, but Germany in particular is proving to be much nicer for cycling than I'd thought. After talking about what route to take over the next few days, me and Smithy decided not to worry about rushing to get to Prague by the weekend but instead take it easier and enjoy the biking more.

We stopped off for a very German lunch at a pub on the river - all barbequed Bratwurst, frothy beer and even a fat, jolly accordion player. A good thing about this route is that it is well out of the way of any tourist traps. All the people here are locals or other Germans on a Sunday outing.

We pushed on and made it all the way to Munden, where the Weser starts, it being the creation of the Werra and Fulda rivers merging together. Tomorrow we'll be following the Werra towards the Thuringer Wald (forest) and it’s 900m cols for the first serious climbs of the trip.

On a more serious note, I've now run out of the Dutch biscuits that I've managed to get addicted to. (Another thing about bike touring to those of you in the dark. You always need stuff to snack on when on the move and tend to go for small packs of biscuits that fit conveniently in to the back pocket of your jersey.) I've been wolfing down packs of the things each day so far and desperately need to find a German substitute!

Day 9: 25/08/03
From: Munden
To: Frankenrode (near Treffurt)
Dist: 94km
Weather: Slightly cloudy, clearing for bright sunshine

After breakfast in Munden's chilled town square we headed off wanting to keep today "lighter" than yesterday. The villages up the Werra river were all something to behold and we were lucky enough to be passing through them while they were decorated for a large festivity. After a pretty relaxed days cycling we found a riverside spot to stay the night.

The Werra path itself is a mix of tarmac, hardpack and gravel surfaces. It very rarely joins a road and when it does it generally has a separate cycle lane. I'd recommend it to anyone touring in the area.

Despite their unappetising name "Corny Bars" have replaced the afore-mentioned biscuits, especially the chocolate and banana flavoured ones.

Day 10: 26/08/03
From: Frankenrode
To: Brottorode
Distance: 71km
Weather: Hot and sunny

Up early to see a beautiful sunrise through the morning mist. Got on our bikes and blasted to Horschel where the 195 km Rennsteig bike trail begins. This roughly follows an ancient footpath through Thurlinger Wald, a mountainous forested area.

As it runs in the direction we are heading we thought we'd give it a go, though the little we'd read about it described it as being for "very fit mountain bikers"......

After the first brutal climb on rough farm tracks the trail improved to poor quality tarmac and hardpack through thick forest. There were loads of Germans of all ages riding parts of the trail including a few who were 70 if a day. There is a genuine love of "the great outdoors" here that keeps people fit to a ripe old age.

The Rennsteig trail was turning out to be a real delight. There were lots of steep climbs but every one was worth it for the reward of biking through such great terrain. On a few of the white knuckle descents I had to remind myself that I wasn't on my fast and nimble cross country bike but on an ancient thing with touring tyres and 4 heavy bags attatched. The whole forest is full of superb mountainbiking trails and I definitely want to come back here. I reccommend this place to any other mtbers looking for a week somewhere different.

Day 11: 27/08/03
From: Brotterode
To: Neustadt
Dist: 84km
Weather: Sunny, broken cloud

Unfortunately, the heat and dust of yesterday had caused the cyclists worst nightmare for both of us - chaffing. I'll spare those of you that are unfamiliar with the less savoury aspects of long distance biking the details, but to the rest of you I can strongly recommend nappy rash cream as its far superior to the traditional ‘Vaseline’ solution. I can't claim the credit for this discovery. That dubious honour has to go to Smithy.

Moving swiftly on, the Rennsteig and the surrounding scenery continued to amaze us. After climbing to 600m above sea level early on in the day we undulated between this height and a maximum height of 943m on superb trails that dipped, rose and followed contours.

Progressed to Neustadt where we got another twin room for 20 euros each including breakfast (v cheap).

These mountains appear to be more a home to winter resorts, which meant no campsites, but we had no problems showing up somewhere and finding a room.

Day 12: 28/08/03
From: Neustadt
To: Blankenstein
Dist: 91km
Weather: Cloudy, clearing later

Set off at 7.30 as the 90 km or so left of the trail is a fair old whack off road on a fully laden tourer.

A great days riding today, again, always at 600 - 900 m above sea level. More lung busting climbs, super fast descents and great panorama's in between. We stumbled across the old East/West border and had lunch at a mountain hut there. The concrete foundations of the old fence were still there and the 100-metre gap cut through the thick forest was visible literally for miles. Slowly though, the forest is claiming it back.

A sweeping descent took us in to Blankenstein and to the end of the Rennsteig. Booked in to a pension and ate, drank, played cards and crashed out after 195km and 2 1/2 days of superb biking.

Day 13: 29/08/03
From: Blankenstein
To: Karlovy Vary
Dist: 132 km
Weather: Humid, Overcast

From Blankenstein we rolled back over the old border in to what used to be West Germany and picked a route on quiet back roads to Hof. The road dropping down to Joditz offered an amazing view of the Saale valley.

Said goodbye to Smithy at Hof train station - our decision to take a longer route through Germany means he didn’t have the time to make it to Prague with me.

I continued on to the border town of Kingethal and after all of about 20 seconds at the control point was riding in the Czech Republic. From here it was about 50 km to Karlovy Vary, an old spa town and a perfect place to spend my first rest day after 1333km.

Day 14: 30/08/03
Rest day: Karlovy Vary
Weather: Overcast

Poured down last night - apparently 2 weeks of rain has been forecast for the Czech Republic. Great!

Its ok today though so after a wander through the town and a drink of the allegedly curative thermal spring water bubbling up through the town centres many fountains, I went for a swim in a spectacular open air swimming pool cut in to a cliff overlooking the old town - entrance fee a mere 90p.

Sun's out now, so time to leave the internet cafe I'm in. Should get to Prague today or tomorrow.