Germany by Ship and Bike

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Repositioning cruises are known to be unique. They are singular events that occur at the end of a season when the cruise lines move their ships to another region to avail themselves of better customer participation. I was attracted to the MSC Poesia that upon conclusion of the winter cruising season in Florida would reposition to Hamburg, Germany. Prices for these types of cruises are very low and it occurred to me that it might be a unique way to take along a bicycle. A quick check with the cruise line confirmed that it was OK, so long as I kept the bike in my cabin. With six months to plan, I had the luxury of time to do an immense amount of dreaming as to how I could avail myself of this forthcoming opportunity,and meld it into an interesting ocean crossing and bicycling adventure that would eventually get me back home. Getting to Germany via ship and taking the bike would not be such a big deal. Planning a bike trip across Germany also is relatively easy. Getting a one way flight back home is another story.

If ever you have tried to get a one way air fare from Europe back to a US destination, you are aware that airlines uniformly stick it to the customer in the form of astronomical fares. However persistence pays when complemented by good luck. One day, weeks after exhausting all possible efforts to find a reasonable one-way flight, I came across a small article in the local newspaper that announced that Condor Airlines, a spin-off of Lufthansa, was initiating service from Frankfurt into Ft. Lauderdale with very attractive fares. Indeed, when I checked, it so happened they would be initiating service in early May of 2010. I jumped at this opportunity and was able to nail a one way fare for $231.00 plus tax. Such a deal! Now I had the necessary final ingredient to create an incredible trip.

To play it safe I double checked with the cruise line to get reassurance that if I booked passage I would be allowed to take my bicycle with me. They agreed in writing so I then booked the cruise, an 18 day odyssey that would depart Ft. Lauderdale on the 27th of April and after cruising up to New York City to pick up more passengers, would make intermediate port calls in the Azores, Spain, Portugal, England and eventually Germany, docking at Hamburg on the morning of May 15th. Now it remained to plan a suitable bicycle route and plot distances, stopovers, book overnight lodgings and arrange long term Germany storage for my bike at the end of my trip, After getting the bike over there for free I certainly didn't want to have to bring it back; also, it would reduce the number of bicycles cluttering up my garage to only three. If possible, I wanted to leave it over there so that the next time the opportunity might arise for a quick and simple round trip by air I would have the bike there, ready and waiting for me.

So to make a long story short, I passed a lot of the Florida winter working out plans to put this all into a complete package. A good friend in Germany agreed to store the bike for me. Next was the process of pouring over guide books, studying cycling maps and investigating numerous routes to work out a cycling schedule that would be ideal for my age and ability and not leave me exhausted at the end. In this regard it was necessary to limit the daily distance and still end up at a location that offered overnight accommodations. Of course the plan needed to make the most of my allotted time over there. As I am writing this introduction prior to my departure it remains to be seen if this will all work out in practice.

Weather is the great unknown and May 15 is a tad early to begin a bike trip in Northern Germany so that is something to be dealt with on the spot. For this I can only appeal to Lady Luck. So far, she has been very kind in helping to put all the pieces of this adventure together. If all goes well, the weather should be moderate indeed, nothing like the 11 degrees forecast for tonight in Satsuma, Florida this cold January evening. Regardless of weather, it will be necessary to keep to my cycling schedule in order to make the pre-booked destinations each evening. Let's face it, there are bound to be some rainy days.

So come along, if you wish, for a vicarious trip across the big pond and across a good portion of Germany by bicycle and enjoy the adventure with me.... You can return periodically to this blog to see what has transpired.

Fast forward: It's now just three weeks until departure and I continue to return to this introductory piece to add tidbits of information regarding the planning. One of the problems is packing the bike for transport. The box that a bike comes in from the factory is quite small and the bike is stuffed inside in many pieces looking much like a Swami contortionist with his heels behind his head and his arms entangled in the maze. I agreed to have the bike packed for boarding the ship but sure didn't want to have to completely disassemble and reassemble. I opted for one of the larger boxes that are obtainable from Amtrak. With this larger box there is much less tinkering required for packing. To fit a bike in these larger boxes, all that's required is to remove the pedals and turn the handlebars sideways. It remains to be seen how the workers at dockside will react to this sized luggage parcel. It barely fits in the back of my van. The method in my madness is that in New York I hope to be able to easily remove the bike from the carton, wheel it off the ship shortly after we dock on the morning of the 30th of April and spend the day riding around the Manhattan Greenway that follows the river shore. Stay tuned. If this fails I will probably opt to rent a bike and do the Greenway nevertheless. Also hopefully, I will be able to do similar biking outings in the Azores, Spain, Portugal and England during our port calls.

It is also my hope to be able to post updates to this blog periodically from my small notebook computer and perhaps post a few pictures. I know from my last trip on the Poesia that their Internet charges are astronomical and the speed of transmission is very slow. So I may opt to post the ocean crossing experiences after my arrival in Germany.

After numerous dry runs at packing to eliminate weight and minimize bulk I think I have my necessary gear pretty well fine tuned. I'm going to lay it all out one last time and brainstorm my conglomeration. Everything for the ocean portion of the trip will be in a backpack which upon arrival in Hamburg I will ship to my end destination in Trier via DHL. From the limited clothing changes I can get in the backpack, I may on completion of the cruise perhaps decide it is best to just "deep six" it into the ocean; that is if my fellow passengers don't deep-six me first.

On the bike I will have two Panniers (saddlebags) and a handlebar bag. The Deutsche Post closes at noon on Saturday (arrival day) so I gotta hopefully get off that ship in time to clear customs and find the Post Office before they close. My prearranged three hour train trip to Marburg (my chosen spot to begin the cycle tour) leaves Hamburg at 2:28 PM that afternoon and by evening I should be spending my first night in a small family run hotel-restaurant called "The Village" in the little town of Sarnau on the Lahn River. This could be the trickiest day as the ship reportedly arrives at 9 AM on Saturday the 15th of May. You can be sure I will be ready and waiting to roll off that ship ASAP, as Hamburg is a very large city and time will be of the essence in making the necessary postal and train connections. I have printed out and memorized maps for getting from ship to post office and post office to train station. I am ever mindful that Murphy's Law is alive and well and ready to strike down the best of plans. Perhaps that's what keeps me humming that old Doris Day tune, "Que sera, sera, whatever will be, will be."

  • Waiting to Board the Poesia
  • Trier, End of the Bike Trip
Trip Start Apr 27, 2010
Trip End May 25, 2010

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