Day 4: Oldenburg to Hamburg

  • Distance: 168km 🙂 — A shorter day.
  • Climbing: 601m 😀 — All the climbing was at the end when I was knackered
  • Undercarriage: ☹️ — I think everything has gone numb.
  • Route: 🙂 — More of the same really.
  • Hands: 😔 - Appear to have lost feeling in my little fingers.
  • Bike: 🙂 — Ok.

It was time to do more of this.

This is different.  The bike path is on the right

But before that, it was time to load up on the buffet.

Mmmm Food.

The buffet was cheap but fine: a typical German buffet breakfast.  Copious bread, cheese and ham.  All you really need before what was intended to be a shorter and slightly easier day.

It was truly lovely first thing.  Oldenburg looked very pretty on a quiet sunny Sunday morning.  

Normally, the first 5km getting out of a town is a bit sketchy.  You have to find the Garmin route — which, of course, I had neglected to start at the hotel — and navigate a lot of confusing signs and traffic lights.  Meanwhile you’re coping with your feet, hands, legs and…soft tissues… complaining madly about having to get back on the bike again.  Nevertheless, it was actually a lot of fun today with the quaint old streets and the sun shining down.

Once I got out of Oldenburg, it was effectively just the same as yesterday.  A rather good bike path alongside a very straight road.  We started off on the right hand side of the road which felt like an outrageous innovation.  Unfortunately my sense of wonder and excitement on realising that one could cycle on the right hand side of a road soon dimmed and I broke out the podcasts.  After 10km…. 

I stopped early for the first coffee of the day.  Next to the road, there was a bakery which sold coffee and, although it was less than the traditional 50km I thought I’d better get a coffee on board in case Germany was shut on Sunday — which it often is.  I was served by a cheery old lady who looked almost exactly like Toby Jones.  Maybe she supplements her baking income appearing at parties as a Toby Jones lookalike.  Or maybe not.

As I cycled off, I noticed the roads getting busier, industrial parks shouldering up to the road, buses and trams starting to appear.  That’s strange I thought what could be going on?  Well, I hadn’t noticed on my route but it turned out I was going to be going through Bremen.  This is a bit like unexpectedly going through Manchester in terms of size and complexity.  I needn’t have bought a coffee from Toby Jones, I was soon surrounded by Turkish coffee shops, German Coffee shops, endless Starbucks…. I really don’t know how I missed the fact that I was going to ride through one of the major cities in Germany.


There are bridges and overpasses and, despite a good attempt at cycling infrastructure, some pretty hairy junctions to navigate.  My particular favourite was the central tram station in Bremen which is not only hugely busy with pedestrians but there isn’t a square metre of pavement which doesn’t have two or three intersecting tram rails on it.  Each one whispering “just put your front wheel in here…who needs front teeth anyway?”.

Beck’s is brewed in Bremen and I cycled past the factory.  The photo below is all I could fit in of the absolutely gigantic outdoor staging area for beer. 
There’s more than 2,000,000 bottle of beer in this photo alone

Eventually, after about 20km of managing Bremen, I got back onto the road and sent the required messages down to my legs:  time to put the hammer down and make up a bit of time. My legs laughed back hollowly and we continued at exactly the same pace.  The scenery changed dramatically

It’s like seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time.

Just when I thought it couldn’t get any more exciting, there was a dramatic shift.

There’s no road!!

Yes, the road had gone somewhere else.  I shouldn’t be quite as snotty about this to be honest.  Despite going through a lot of almost uninhabited countryside and also two huge cities, there is almost nowhere that I felt unsafe cycling in Germany.  I know it’s a bit boring cycling on a nice cycling path beside a road for the best part of 120km but compared to dicing with death on the Cambridgeshire roads, it’s a joy.

I continued to grind along and the road started to almost imperceptibly tilt upwards.  Everything got slower and more difficult and then…it started raining.  Just a little bit so I put on my hi-viz jacket string-vest and as the clouds burst, I cursed a lot of things but mostly the stupid hi-viz jacket.  

Part of the point of doing this trip in July/August is it’s supposed to be summer in the Northern Hemisphere.  Even Northern Germany shouldn’t be too wet.

Live action misery

Once the rain had stopped being torrential, I left the bus shelter and grimly shivered my way along the, now treacherously slippery bike path.  It was 44km to Hamburg and it felt like it was going to be a big trial.   I managed to get a Twix and a coffee from a garage — not in this case run by a Toby Jones look-alike but it was still a long way to go even fuelled up with the rocket fuel that is a Twix.  The rain cleared, the sun came out and, after I had crested the final hill with 20km to go, I felt like I was on the home straight.  

Of course, Hamburg is a big industrial town but I didn’t realise quite how big.  It’s got a population of 1.8m people and is the largest non-capital city in Europe.  A city this size starts about 20km from the centre and navigating in is not easy.  Especially when it starts raining again and this time the rain is whipped into your face with a gale force wind.  I passed through miles of wet port buildings, wet harbours, wet docks, wet big box stores and wet industrial parks.  I fitted right in.

The going was slow and I was going slower.  I really thought I was in a Zeno’s paradox situation.  As I got closer to the hotel, I got slower.  Maybe I would never actually get there.  Unexpected roadworks just added to the rolling omnishambles.

Look at that blue sky.  5 minutes later it was pissing down

Hamburg had one final surprise for me — or maybe the Garmin routing system had a surprise for me.  My route took me under the sea… Yes, the route went through the St Pauli Elbe Tunnel.  You go down in an elevator, cycle through the tunnel and then back up in an elevator.  It would have been quite cool but I was shivering a lot and rather scaring the families who were on a day out to walk through the tunnel.

Pretty cool I think.

On the other side of the tunnel, I was in the centre of Hamburg proper.  This type of cycling requires maximum concentration and focus.  Imagine cycling through London after 8 hours on a bike, tired, wet and confused.  There are the traditional pedestrians, taxi drivers and buses to take care of but because it’s a big city, everybody is either angry or distracted.  Hamburg was also taking the opportunity to completely change its traffic system which had closed some roads and made others one way.  It was not an easy 30 minutes.

My hotel is…boutiquey.  I suppose it should be given the price.  I’ve managed to negotiate another night in my room and so tomorrow is a rest day.  The hotel also has a laundrette so I can not only wash my cycle gear but, come Tuesday morning, I will not be heading off north to Denmark with moist clothing.  #winning.

The hotel pointed me to a street about 15 minutes away where there are lots of restaurants.  In the end, I chose a hamburger joint.  It felt appropriate.