Using booking.com, which has proved easy and effective in finding good lodging for us, we identified a family-run inn just outside Norden in the village of Hage that looked promising, the Parkhotel Phoenix. After a warm welcome from the owners and one look at the spacious bedroom with rhododendrons blooming out the back window, we knew we would be staying longer than the two nights we had booked. We ended doubling that.
On the 7 km ride from the Norden train station we had already been impressed by the quality bike and pedestrian paths that took us door to door. We stopped at a bike shop and paid €6.50 for a detailed bike map of the area. That had seemed like a bit of change for a bike map, but it was money well spent as it led us to quiet roads and interesting bike paths that made the next four days a cyclist's paradise.
The map had icons for historic windmills, and without much effort we went by about a dozen. Here are just a few.
This area is quite flat and gets some strong winds off the North Sea, and we cycled past a few hundred more modern windmills on those same days.
Next to one ancient windmill was the 130-year-old home for the miller's assistant and his family. A member of the local organization that keeps it up saw us peering through the windows and came over to give us a personal tour. He pointed out that the left side of the home had a thatch roof to let out the animal aromas (and those from the privy in the far corner). The miller's assistant and his wife got one of those cubbies for their bed, and their 8 kids somehow fit into the second cubby on the left!
We did not unfortunately take any photos to illustrate it, but we were astounded at the universal attractiveness of the homes and countryside in East Friesland. The houses are extremely similar in size, with no "McMansions" and very little architectural showing-off, but uniformly brick, well-maintained, and surrounded by flower gardens. We never saw a weed-filled yard or pile of trash anywhere. The busier roads almost without fail had bike paths alongside them, often separated by a strip of grass or trees, but there were also miles and miles of quiet country roads where we encountered more cyclists than cars. All in all, it was a cycling paradise. We're not throwing away that €6.50 cycling map!
We did baggage-free rides for three days, and the best ride was one we took to see the North Sea. We reached a trail that ran just behind the main dike for eight miles, then came to a spot where we could cross the dike with our tandem and ride on the dike itself for another eight or so. As you can see, they never have to mow the dikes, they just bring in a flock of sheep. Every few kilometers we came to a fence line with a sheep-proof gate, so they can get each section grazed to the correct amount.
Over the weekend, Jeff began to get some tooth pain, especially when biting down. Neither innkeeper spoke English, but Jeff's German was good enough to understand that an emergency dentist was available if it got much worse before Monday morning. It was annoying but did not worsen, so on Monday our innkeeper got Jeff an early appointment with a dentist a few blocks away. It was an interesting experience.
It started with a medical history questionnaire. Jeff was pleased that he could answer 37 of the 40 questions, such as whether he had diabetes or liver disease, or had ever had a stroke. With some prep the night before using a German-English dictionary app on our mini iPad, he was able to say to the dental assistant "Es schmerz mich im Oberkiefer, auf der rechten Seite, besonders wenn ich beisse" ('I have pain in my upper right jaw, particularly when I bite down'). The dental assistant took a look, didn't see anything, so suggested an x-ray ("Roentgen"). "Ja, eine ausgezeichnete Idee," said Jeff. Five minutes later she showed Jeff that there were no problems with his teeth or their roots, but that there was some periodontal inflammation. She cleaned the area, applied some medication, and told Jeff to return the next day if it didn't feel better. The bill for everything: €21.78, or less than $30! And not only did Jeff's mouth feel better (and stay that way), but he also felt surprised and pleased with himself that his two years of German in high school and one semester in college, almost fifty years ago, had sunk in far more than he had ever imagined it had.
After three days of dental care, haircuts (we won't need another for quite a while . . .) and bike rides to the east, north and west, it was time to say goodbye to our charming innkeepers at the Parkhotel Phoenix, put the panniers back on our bike, and head south to get around the Dollard Bay that divides Gemany from Holland along the North Sea. From there we would turn westward into the Netherlands. Our terrific bike map got us 2/3 of the way, 2 km of it on a dike path, to a ferry that holds two cars or about a hundred bikes or pedestrians.
The last part of the journey was off the good map, but we just learned how to create "screen shots" on the iPad, so we had Google Maps in bicycling view to get us the last few kilometers, even though we were "offline," aided by excellent signage for cyclists.
And so it was that we entered the Netherlands on a traditional Dutch drawbridge at Bad Nieuweschans. Our plan to bike "From Hungary to Holland" was now, officially, to bike "Mainly in Hungary and Holland." We'll give you our first impressions of cycling there in our next blog post.