Cycling from Germany's Financial Hub...
I am still not sure why I went to Frankfurt as the city is not somewhere that people would necessarily choose when deciding to go on a European short break. My previous visit to the city was for work reasons (like the majority of visitors) on my placement year whilst at university. It was also the city where my colleague sped down the Autobahn at 155 mph in an open-top Mercedes convertible, but that's another story!
Frankfurt is Germany's business capital, one of the main financial centres of the world and is currently vying with London to be Europe's main banking hub post-Brexit. Due to the concentrated number of skyscrapers in the city, Frankfurt is often referred to as 'Mainhattan' or 'Bankfurt'. As an observation, I did notice that London has had more new high rises go up in the ten years since my last visit a decade ago.
Ryanair to Frankfurt International...
After flying with Ryanair to Frankfurt International as opposed to their famously distant Frankfurt-Hahn base from Manchester, I was firstly pleased to see that my flight was not one of those affected by the spate of cancellations on the Ryanair network but later was not surprised to see that the plane parked up on the furthest possible point away from the terminal.
The gate transfer bus took around 15 minutes to drive around the airport perimeter to the terminal. We might as well have landed at the military airport in Wiesbaden!
I can't imagine Lufthansa is too happy with Ryanair flying daily to their main German hub and offering £15 fares compared to the £150 charged by the incumbent. That said, longer transfer times to a cheaper landing spot is a small price to pay compared to paying a small fortune for a flight.
I stayed at the national 'DJH' youth hostel on the River Main for the bargain price of €24 per night and for a central location in a business city, this was great value. I hadn't done much research about the area and was pleased to see that the suburb where the hostel was located - Sachsenhausen was a lively area with plenty of local bars, supermarkets and places to eat, yet very close to Central Frankfurt just over the bridge.
Breaking unofficial hostel rules...
Annoyingly, the hostel was quite noisy and my first night was spent in the company of two Koreans travelling around Europe who left very early to catch a train and a slightly odd chap travelling around Europe selling mobile phone accessories. Both annoyingly broke the unwritten hostel rule of not loudly rustling plastic bags when other people are sleeping in dorm rooms!
The next day, I hired a bike from a local company called 'Frankfurt Bike Tours' close to the hostel and paid €19 for day hire of a hybrid touring bike. I was pleased by the quality of the rental bike and the sturdiness of the frame, excellent gearing and comfortable riding position.
My plan was fairly simple. I was going to follow the Main Radweg along the river for much of the way before stopping off at the spa town of Wiesbaden before ending the day in Mainz on the River Rhine. Ending here was symbolic as I was only riding along the Rhine Cycle Path a few weeks ago meandering through Alsace and Switzerland!
One thing that struck me as I set off from Frankfurt early in the morning was just how peaceful the city seemed. Despite being a Tuesday, only a couple of days after the German elections and a major hub of commerce, Frankfurt was calm, relaxed and orderly compared to the bustling city of London or Canary Wharf. I started cycling from the hostel, took some photos of the impressive skyline and rode out to Germany's largest city forest called the 'Stadtwald'.
Commerzbank Arena and Eintracht Frankfurt...
My first stop was at the Commerzbank Arena in the forested area and home to the local football team - Eintracht Frankfurt. Despite being the dominant club in the region of Hesse and one of the best-supported teams in the Bundesliga with an impressive stadium to match, Eintracht have never been that successful in winning trophies. Incredibly their last league title was back in 1959!
After riding past the numerous head offices and European headquarters of major multinational companies as I journeyed through the suburbs, I rejoined the cycle path and continued to follow this route for approximately 20 kilometres. I rode through sites of heavy industry, a vast chemical works for gas and pharmaceutical companies, the giant Opel car factory in Russelsheim and numerous distribution centres.
I'd love to say that this was an enjoyable ride out of Frankfurt, but it really felt like I was riding through Germany's engine and was a real show of German industrial might. There was also a great moment riding under the flight path of Frankfurt airport watching the large 747s and A380s coming into land every few minutes from all corners of the globe.
Due to a detour and closure of the Main cycle path, I unexpectedly rode through a vineyard close to the small town of Hochheim that looked magnificent in the sun. However, my eye was drawn to the unique juxtaposition of three concrete housing blocks behind the vineyards jutting out of the landscape.
I reached the centre of Hochheim and after experiencing some of the best in German cycle path signage for most of the way, I found myself going around in circles trying to get to Mainz or Wiesbaden from the old town.
This was one of those strange moments that you get when riding in Germany when the cycle signs will tell you that there are 50 km to ride to a town further down the route, but do not tell you how to get to the next town only a few kilometres away!
Sometimes riding in Germany can be a frustrating experience because it is generally not a good idea to cycle on main roads. Following a road sign as you would in Britain can easily take you on the Autobahn and this could have been the case in Hochheim!
Meeting Jan from Wiesbaden...
As I reached the outskirts of the town, I flagged down a local cyclist called Jan for help with directions and to help me break the circle I found myself in. Amazingly he offered to guide me all the way to Wiesbaden about 20 kilometres away.
Part of the beauty of riding a bike is that you can easily meet different people on the road and the bike immediately creates a mutual connection. Jan and I discussed all kinds of issues notably about the controversial German election result, the differences between the UK and Germany and the strange coincidence of his son living and working in Manchester not far from where I used to live!
As we parted in Wiesbaden and said our goodbyes, I tried to go to the famous sauna complex located in the centre of the city called the Kaiser-Freidrich-Therme. Annoyingly, it was ladies only day and my chance to take to the waters in one of Germany's premier spa towns was quashed.
Wiesbaden is a busy city with lots of traditional German architecture and home to a large USA military presence. The city centre reminded me of Harrogate in northern England and there were clear similarities between the two places.
I rode around the city for an hour or so, bought a frikadellen burger from the local Rewe supermarket and decided to press on to Mainz.
I left the pretty city behind me as I made the short journey of approximately 10 km to the neighbouring city of Mainz. I had to cycle along a very busy and fast road that unusually for Germany was not segregated or offered an alternative route along a named cycle path.
Onwards to Mainz...
After riding past numerous car dealerships, identikit budget supermarkets and several seedy-looking establishments on small industrial estates, I found myself on the cycle path running directly parallel to one of Germany's busiest motorway sections. This was completely unexpected and the first time I have experienced this kind of busy, urban cycling on German soil.
Shortly before reaching the Rhine, I found a route to pick up the cycle route that I had been riding on for most of the day and was at last on a quieter approach to Mainz. Crossing over the river was an uplifting experience as reaching the river meant that I had completed all of my goals for the day.
To Mainz and back to Frankfurt...
I had no real plans to explore and see the city in detail, so decided to head out to the brand new Opel Arena and home to the local Bundesliga side FC Mainz 05. Frustratingly, this stadium was right on the outskirts of the city and a fair distance from the main train station.
After riding back through the large university campus in Mainz and suburbs, I caught the train with my bike back to the impressive and vast Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof that is one of Europe's most important transport interchanges. As I left the station, there was just enough time to ride along the River Main before having to return the bike to the hire shop to see the spectacular sunset behind the skyscrapers and cathedral.
A fitting ending to an excellent day exploring the Hessen region by bike...