Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Off to an icy start

For those who were wondering where I was during the European winter, I used a free return ticket to see family and friends back in South Africa. The rough-cut plan was to return to Germany in February 2013 to continue my trip through Europe, but the prolonged winter delayed my plans until March. Just as well, as it gave me more time in sunny South Africa, and to accept a fantastic opportunity to join the Birdlife South Africa ‘Flock at Sea’ cruise ( in early March. This was an incredible trip; meeting with old friends, making new ones, and seeing some stunning Southern African pelagic bird species again. Nothing above the water beats a soaring albatross! 

I finally arrived in Hamburg on 18 March, and took a few days to get my bike serviced. I was pleased to meet up with a German couple from Hamburg, whom I had met only weeks earlier in the hot and dry Cederberg in South Africa. We exchanged many recent South African experiences while they gave me a tour of some of Hamburg’s finest architectural heritage sites. My stay in Hamburg was, however, very brief and I departed on 23 March with the idea of cycling from Hamburg to Berlin along the Elbe River. Snow and ice was still abundant when I started off, but fortunately the roads were ice-free. Some cycle paths along the river dyke still had icy surfaces, but careful navigation ensured no falls. There were a number of other touring cyclists on the road too, so I was not alone. I met two cyclists on the first day, and even a family of four on the second day - I was happy to know that I was still sane! The daily temperature was about zero Degrees Celsius (great for cycling by the way!), considerably lower than the 20 degrees experienced last year at the same time.

View over the Elbe River west of Hitzacker, Germany.

Snow landscape next to the Elbe River.

The birding highlights along the Elbe River were undoubtedly the daily encounters with Red Kites and Greater White-fronted Geese. While the kites were seen singly, the geese numbered in their hundreds across the snow-covered fields. Others species regularly seen along the river included Mallard, Greylag Goose, Goldeneye, Common Buzzard, White-tailed Eagle, Great Egret, and Lapwing. An Osprey also made an appearance while a small flock of Bean Goose was a surprise. Unfortunately I had my telephoto lens packed too deeply in my luggage, and thus never got around to any serious bird photography. A terrible excuse, I know!

Mallards were common along the Elbe River.

I passed through some really quaint German towns, such as Hitzacker and Havelberg. The architectural style of many of the buildings was something to behold. Then of course the roofs were also graced by the returning White Storks, busy repairing their nests for the approaching summer breeding season. 

White Stork depicted on electrical infrastructure. Not the real thing but close enough.

The Havel River, which flows into the Elbe.

I reached Berlin in five days after managing around 80 kilometers a day – I could feel I had not been touring for a while! Upon arrival I was kindly hosted by Stefan, who is a regular summer visitor to my home region on the West Coast of South Africa. I took a day to revisit some sites in central Berlin, such as the old Tempelhof airport. For Easter, I was fortunate to meet up with friend Ute and her family, who ensured a memorable weekend for which I am most grateful. After five fantastic days in Berlin it was time to take to the road again. I was now heading for Eastern Europe; only days after more snow had fallen over Poland.

The Berlin Tempelhof, previously the city's airport and site of the Berlin Airlift.

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