Everything's going very well! I have deemed myself enough ahead of schedule (~350km to go, five days until I need to be in Heidelberg) that I am taking a rest day. So I have been wandering round Köln (Cologne) for most of the day. It is really nice.
I got here last night about 8:15pm after literally the longest ride of my life! 145km or something by the end of it, but it was really good weather and I kind of had my heart set on reaching Köln so I went for it. On the map, the whole area I cycled through yesterday just looks like a grey splodge of metropolis and industry, but it was so much better than I was expecting. Lot's of lorries and factories and that sort of thing in the major centres but no pollution and the countryside in between was really nice and unspoilt - I saw more rabbits yesterday than I had in the entirety of the previous year I think.
I stopped around 4:30pm in the Düsseldorf. I know nothing about Düsseldorf except for a smattering of Kraftwerk/Neu! mythology but it is such a beautiful city! I had a late lunch of Bismarkherring (delicious) and Düsseldorf Altbier ('Old Beer') which I could get used to.
Once I arrived in Köln I checked into the Youth Hostel. Ok, why are youth hostels now 30€ a night and populated by balding middle-aged people? My roomate systematically went through every television programme he could think of and complained about them, except for Thunderbirds and Nightrider, and John Cleese from Monty Python (pronounced the German way, 'Monty Pitton'), quite unprovoked. Anyway, once I got a word in edgeways I excused myself to go and look for some food. He was about 45 by the way.
By this time it was about 10pm, so the helpful lady at the desk suggested I head into the centre of town. So I headed for the U-Bahn (underground). I got off after 4 stops. Germany's relaxed attitude towards giving beer to kids created a pretty warm atmosphere even as I stepped off the train. Heading up the escalator, I emerged in the glass building of Cologne's main station; and looked through the windows to my left, and saw the cathedral.
Somewhere in the back of my mind there were vague, cobweb-encrusted traces of a reading exercise from Year 8 about the 'Dom' in Cologne, but it is absolutely amazing! I was really taken aback by it. Spotlit in the night time, and with the element of surprise, it is up there with Il Duomo in Florence. It took them the best part of 800 years to build and it is marvelously tall and when you stand next to it and look up it properly looks like it goes on forever. I liked it.
So I walked around the building, basking in an 'I biked here' pool of smugness for a while. Then I walked around looking for some food. Found the medieval marketplace which is lined with eateries and drinkeries of various sorts - there's an abundance of Irish pubs; Köln is twinned with Kilkenny.
I decided to go for a Döner Kebap. Yes, that is really the German version of the Doner Kebab, but the umlaut and the 'p' are far less significant differences than the fact that döner, as opposed to doner, (a) is delicious, (b) is filling, (c) tastes like meat not cardboard, (d) is meat not cardboard, and (e) doesn't trigger a viscious war of attrition between the various components of your digestive tract the following morning. I washed it down with a couple of bottles of Kölsch - the adjective derived from Köln, seemingly applied exclusively to the rich, nut-coloured beer they brew here: another thing I could get used to.
Dawdling along the Rhine promenade, I began to feel tired. I hopped back on the U-Bahn and headed home to bed.
I'll be doing a fairly liesurely 75km or so a day from now on I think, heading South through Bonn, Koblenz, Mainz, Worms and a few other places, hopefully reaching Heidelberg on Saturday evening.
They whacked an article about my trip in the Halifax Courier yesterday: http://www.halifaxcourier.co.uk/news/local/james_is_cycling_600_miles_to_university_in_germany_1_3613049
Also, keep up the donating, getting very near my target, thanks everyone! http://www.charitygiving.co.uk/jameshutton