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Friday 7 August 2009

I follow the yellow brick road

En route

Even if work is sometimes difficult my day is always enjoyable because of the gorgeous ride there and back.

Despite this summer’s wet, stormy days I can still count the times on one hand that I have arrived at my destination wet. And if I am wet it doesn’t matter, it's only water – I won’t shrink and I change my clothes at each end anyway.

As we serious cyclists say, there is never bad weather there is only bad clothing. When I am prepared and properly kitted out, the only bit of me that should get wet is my face.

This summer there have been quite a few surprise openings of the heavens, when the kit was not at hand, but no damage done. In fact with the wetness the ride turns into another new and exciting experience. The only thing that I dislike is cold hands. They can turn white then numb, even in the summer, and their return to life is painful. Thankfully this only happened once this summer in a downpour.

My ride takes roughly thirty-five minutes. Some days like this morning it is a minute or two longer. Sometimes, especially on the way home, it is shorter, sometimes only twenty-seven minutes as it is downhill.

The reasons for the variations in the timing are many

This morning I took a bit longer because I stopped to chat to a leveret who jogged along beside me for a few metres, before hopping into the long grass, I very much hope to meet up with his mum again.
One day last week a whole family of hares hopped along the cycle path between the sweet corn on one side, which grows so fast you can hear it growing, and the lettuces on the other. That was real Beatrice Potter stuff.

If only my camera weren’t broken

I stopped anyway and discovered another hare just inches away from me, lying almost motionless, camouflaged against the soil, unnoticeable except for his quivering. Almost in exactly the same spot a week earlier I had been held up by a mother pheasant and her three babies, who didn’t amble along like the hares did, but were in a tremendous, scatterbrained hurry.

There is also the cuckoo who calls to me to stop and listen, and the four-leafed clovers that I spot and need to pick. Then there are my friends the bulls who I love to watch at their water tanks. On hot days like today I wish that I could join them.

There are other, man-made distractions too

I pass the airport and I love this when the wind is blowing from the east, as it is these days. As well as bringing with it the clear weather it also means that I have aircraft coming into land just above my head. With the runway only five-hundred metres from the road I find it exhilarating and really exciting, and I nearly always duck as I hear a plane coming. They are flying incredibly low at this point.

Nürnberg is a hub for Air Berlin. Between eight and nine in the morning and between seven and eight in the evenings about twenty aircraft take off or land in quick succession. What excitement!

There have also been quiet, almost windless evenings when I have cycled home with planes landing loudly to the south and hot-air balloons floating silently, except for the whoosh of fire now and then, to the north. Enough to make any sort of day wonderful!

Another man-made delay – traffic lights

There are ten sets of these between home and work.

At the larger junctions, of which there are five, if I hit the lights just as they turn red I wait forty-five seconds. At the others, only thirty seconds. If I hit all the sets of lights at red I can add at least five minutes to my ride and get ten opportunities to catch my breath and watch the world!

It is lovely on the rare days when I time it right and hit them all on green, and so have a clear run. No gear-changes, no stopping and enough time for a coffee when I arrive, but of course it also means no rests.

At the junctions in town I enjoy reading the different and sometimes odd signs written on the sides of the many white vans, and I quite like spotting MGs and Minis. Further out there are the fields and the planes, the bulls and the hares to converse with.

Smells and noises on the journey

It takes me about ten minutes to get from home, just beside the city wall to the north of the castle, out to the suburbs and the open country, with quite a lot of smells and noises encountered on route.

In the city I try to ignore the car fumes, unless a Trabi goes past, sadly a very rare occurence these days. Outside the city I am separated on the cycle path from the dual carriageway by a row of trees and hedges, so I don’t get the fumes directly in my face.

Just around the first corner from home is the hospital, so there are always lots of sirens, day and night, and around the next bend is the school where I hear the school bell, which is actually more of a siren too.
Just outside school is one of the huge holes in the ground that gives access to the new section of the U-Bahn which by next year will extend as far as the hospital. It can be noisy here, especially when steel reinforcement rods are being delivered.

Making me hungry

A few metres further on is the Lebkuchen and ice-cream factory. Last week I am sure that they began Lebkuchen-production for Christmas. I could smell the spicy chocolateyness wafting over the wall as I took my usual short cut down an alleyway towards the main road.

On the way home the streets in the city are always full of lovely smells. In the streets in the neighbourhood of my flat there are dozens of restaurants, Greek, Japanese, Thai, Turkish, German, Vietnamese and French. There are also three Italian ice-cream parlours that I can’t actually smell, though on hot days like today they are very attractive none-the-less.

I leave the city behind me at the tram terminal where, despite having to look up, down, right and left to make sure that I don’t get mown down by a tram, a bus or another bike, I manage a quick glance over my left shoulder to check the temperature. The time and temperature are shown on top of an office block on one corner. At the bottom of the block of medical facilities on the opposite corner I take a quick look at the pond full of water-lilys, at the same time as meeting the now off-duty lollipop lady, with whom I exchange a “Good morning”.

Depending what the clock says, and if I have eaten breakfast at home, I may stop to buy a Käse Breze from the friendly lady in the kiosk. It is school holiday so she wasn’t there this morning. As you see every thing stops for summer, except me!

At this same point on the way home, if I am brave enough to take my eyes off the traffic, I get a quick glimpse ahead of one of the castle towers and its flags, something I noticed only yesterday, after I had decided to write this posting.

Smells replaced by fragrances

The further away from the city, the more enjoyable are the smells.

There are probably more than thirty different types of wildflowers beside the cycle path. I tried to name them all today but there are a great many that didn’t grow in England where I was growing up at the time that I learnt all the names that I know. Today I got stuck after about twenty, the nicest of which is the wild thyme that has been in bloom for a couple of weeks and is one of the numerous purple flowers that I see. On birthdays I stop to pick a handful to fill a vase on the breakfast table in the Kindergarten.

The last few days of hot dry weather has seen the coming into full bloom of the gorgeous greeny- pink flowers of the dock. These swathes of tiny seed-head flowers brush against my legs at the narrow points on the path and rustle like the leaves in autumn.

In the spring my eyes stream. There must be something en route that my body doesn’t like. It only lasts a couple of weeks. I ignore it and just hope that I can see enough through the tears to reach my destination in safety.

The fields are planted and harvested in quick succession, I am always amazed at the rate with which things grow. I love observing this progress as much as I love observing the children at work.

I really enjoy the hot days when young lettuces have been planted and I get a soaking from the sprinklers that are watering them in. This afternoon it was particularly welcomed in the 28-degree heat. It won’t be long until these tiny plants are huge and round, like a field of footballs.

With the harvesting come new fragrances, the fennel harvest with its aniseed-like smell being my favourite of all. Also with the harvesting come the tractors and their muddy tyres, which means a muddy bike!

After the tractors, follow the crows and the peewits picking the fields clean. I have to clean my bike myself.

The crops are not only planted outside in the fields, there are also hectares of greenhouses. These and the water tanks provide an outdoor art exhibition. The graffiti artists have been out and about again, as every summer. Some of these artists are extremely talented and some of the farmers do not appear to dislike their efforts, as the pictures remain for the cyclists to admire, or not, according to taste.

The time makes all the difference

The early morning journey is different, depending on which group I am working in and when it starts.

I had six weeks of eight o’clock groups, leaving home just after seven, and I met the same people in the same place each day.

Many young people, many really sporty riders, rushing to work with no time to smile, all except one, a young lady with flowing skirts and hair, cycling fast with a huge smile. As I always make sure that I am cycling with a smile and not a frown, this cyclist and I have become “friends”.

For the past two weeks I have been cycling nearly an hour later and I meet a different generation of cyclists, older managerial types, often wearing a suit with a briefcase strapped on to the carrier instead of a rucksack on the back. They smile but don’t say hello. I also meet the pensioners and young mums with baby trailers on the back, usually in too much of a hurry and distracted to notice who goes past in the opposite direction.

Then there are the two men who appear to have rolled out of their beds and straight on to their bikes, which they ride lying down. Some say that this is an extremely comfortable way to ride but I am sure that I wouldn’t enjoy it, as I would miss what’s going on over on the other side of the hedge, although the hare might hop that bit nearer to me! The other extraordinary sight is the young man who, wherever I meet him, is always riding his bike standing up. That’s a very tiring thing to do over a long distance. Today I actually turned and checked to see whether he has a saddle on his bike. He has.

I least enjoy the days when I meet crowds of schoolchildren on their bikes, riding four-abreast and with absolutely no intention to move aside. It is dangerous in the city and I like to avoid them when possible.

School holidays in Bayern, and Sundays

School holidays mean no school children on bikes, no mums delivering children to school in cars and less cars on the road in general as, with families off on holiday the Dads are not driving to work either. This week has been bliss, especially on the side-streets in the immediate vicinity of my flat.

But my absolute favourite time to make the ride is on the days when I work on a Sunday. There is not a soul on the streets at 7.30am except for the few who like me are enjoying the peace and quiet.

Breaking the record

I have a couple of days next week when I have no work outside the city so I have time to bring my bike to the workshop. It isn’t ill, I have found someone at last who is prepared to fiddle about and adapt a carrier to fix around my disc brakes so that it will take the gorgeous new Ottlieb panniers that I have ordered. Then I will no longer have to carry the heavy rucksack full of bread dough and caterpillar creations, wet-weather gear and photographic equipment, on my back.
The bike has been cleaned especially for this outing.
These changes to the load could possibly mean that the twenty-seven minute record for between work and home has the chance of being broken. Next Friday will be the first chance to try this out.

Writing this posting for my blog has made my ride to work even more special than it already was. I have analysed every minute of it in the same way that I analyse almost every minute of my working day. I notice how every turn of the wheel influences the next and how each day holds something new. Each day gives me experiences, on my bike or at work, that change me. All of it is pulled into the upwards spiral that is my life.

I am already wishing for a less harsh winter, so that my bike doesn’t stay for quite so long this year in the cellar. I don’t want to start using the trams again, however much I may love them.

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