Sunday, 29 July 2007

Cycling Cologne, part 2

broken bike
Wherever you go in Cologne you will see stationary bikes. Sometimes in ordered in racks, sometimes chained to posts, or sometimes just left neglected in heaps. neglected and abused

There are actually quite a lot of bikes piled up on street corners, with bent wheels or rusting and it’s a mystery to me, as an outsider, how they end up like that. Who owns them? Did the owners just decide to leave them on the roadside one day in a case of bike abuse? Someone should start a charity…

bikes for hireHowever, I have a theory that some of these bikes may have once been part of a bike sharing scheme: Cologne has several initiatives where banks of bikes are locked up around town. You can text a bike’s number to the initiative’s HQ and they send you a code to unlock the bike and charge you a small fee. You can then ride the bike around and leave it at another bank in a different part of the city.

The people of Cologne rely on their bikes so much that you’ll see them adapted in many different ways, to suit individual needs. For example, you can buy compact three wheeled trailers which hitch up to the back of your bike for carrying small children. Or, you can go crazy and make your bike into a beer wagon, as previously discussed, for if you have a special need for beer.

Read Cycling Cologne, part 1

Sunday, 22 July 2007

odd sign
Went for a little walk the other day. Came across this sign by a pathway. Germans are, according to stereotype, sticklers for rules, but this seems pretty strict even by their standards. Now, my reading of the sign suggests that no people, no cars, no footballing children and absolutely NO HOUSES are allowed to walk down this path.

Thursday, 19 July 2007

Home sweet home

We’ve all just arrived back from a very pleasant visit to England. We visited as many family and friends as we could squeeze into a week and a half. April met lots of people for the first time and (thankfully) for the most part wore her happy face.

We took the car, traversing the Channel by ferry. Always one to favour luxury, I booked us into the ferry's ‘VIP Lounge’ for an extra few pounds each way. It was well worth the money. On the way there we shared the vast lounge with just two other people and on the way back it was just us. We had acres of space, privacy (great when you have a hassled baby) and free refreshments. We were very pleased to find that there were complimentary small bottles of wine. Obviously we couldn’t drink and drive, but we stowed some away in my baby changing bag (personal allowances only, obviously, but it’s best to hide it where no one would suspect, just in case…) for when we got home.

April holds forth on business affairs and politicsAs you can see, April suits being a VIP. Here she is in the business zone of the VIP lounge, enjoying the paper. We’re probably going to regret giving her the best, so early. It'll be our fault if she grows into a toddler who just MUST travel VIP class everywhere..

I was very excited on arrival at Dover. However, April, on landing, was less than impressed with her first view of Blighty. She vented her disappointment by crying pretty much all the way from Dover to Norwich, where we were staying with our families. That kid has a lot to learn about gratitude.

The holiday was a great chance to meet many, many relatives and friends. We were lucky enough to be offered some baby sitting by the grandparents too, which meant we even squeezed in an evening out, just the two of us.

On our holiday we munched our way through many traditional English meals – roast dinner, fish and chips, sausage and mash – and some more modern English cuisine – Thai, Chinese, Indian and French!

I got my fix of English shops. Great to go shopping in a country where you know the language - so much more relaxing. Even though I am probably technically too old for them now, I still get a thrill when visiting Topshop and Miss Selfridge. I just have to go when there aren’t too many young ’uns around, otherwise I might get an age complex.

April made great strides while we were in England. She began sucking her thumb, said more baby sounds, rolled herself over for the first time and, greatest of all, actually went to bed in the evenings. We are hoping this last development wasn't just show for the grandparents, but the start of a routine, which would give us evening time together alone! I think all these leaps forward were helped along by all of the attention she received from our relatives and friends.

Better go as the little VIP has just awakened from her nap and is demanding her mother's full attention…

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Cycling Cologne, part 1

stack of bikes
Cologne is very bicycle-friendly. All the main roads have bike lanes and there is a 200km bike lane along the banks of the Rhine. Cyclists are also permitted to ride on the pavement in places where there is no cycle lane.

In fact it seems that cyclists are more important than pedestrians, when it comes to the way the roads are laid out. The bike lanes run adjacent to the pavement and are differentiated by red paving stones and painted bike icons.

cycle lane icon
When a pedestrian wants to cross the road they must cross the cycle lane first and must give way to any oncoming bikes. If they don’t they’ll hear a little bell go ding-a-ling in protest from the annoyed cyclist. Of course, I didn’t know these rules when I arrived and ended up jumping out of the way of a fair few irritated cyclists (I refer you back to English to the core).

Cyclists it seems, are able to get away with cycling up a one-way street. Our street is one-way and a cyclist will often come zooming along in the wrong direction – and it’s annoying as it’s harder to dodge out of the way if you’re crossing the road with a pram. I always take the precaution of looking both ways these days. (It’s best anyway, as my brain is still slightly confused by the whole driving on the right of the road thing. I don’t want to be run over so I am extra cautious!)

Me? I don’t cycle. I hold the opinion that it’s okay for other people and is environmentally friendly but it’s not for me. I’d need therapy before I’d get on a bike again: I lost many of my milk teeth in a spectacular head-over-steering-wheel accident I had on a toddler’s wheeled vehicle aged about 6. I’d rather the reassuring feel of tarmac below my feet than two plastic pedals.

To be continued...