Holiday goes swimmingly

Former Wanaka writer Marjorie Cook employs a bicycle in her search for a swimming pool and some relaxation in Germany.

I discovered just how much Germans love swimming during a two-week cycle tour of the Funf-Flusse Radweg and the Altmuhtal Radweg last year.

I pedalled in a loop from Nuremberg to Munich and back north to Roth, just south of Nuremberg, with two main goals in mind. The most pressing was to finish training for the Challenge Roth triathlon, in which I would swim in a relay team with Wanaka friends Ann Scanlan and Victoria Murray-Orr.

My second, more ambitious, goal was to prepare for a long cycle tour through the alpine regions of Europe, before heading north to the United Kingdom.

As a novice cycle tourer, I wanted to test my bike and associated gear on easier terrain and, should anything go wrong, be within a few hours train trip from friends Martin and Andrea Schlesinger, who live in Roth.

It was an easy and inexpensive holiday. There are signs all over the countryside pointing to freibads (outdoor baths) and hallenbads (indoor baths) and the cycle trails are well-marked and not technically difficult.

Most swimming complexes are next to or within camping grounds, or near sports parks. Some are right in the centre of town.

Even small villages of no more than 3000 people, like Reiden, might have a complex with four pools, including a 50m-long seven-lane sport pool.

I discovered some pools were free to campers and others cost as little as €2 ($NZ3). Rarely did it cost much more than €4 to be able to pace up and down the black line of a 25m or 50m pool.

But ploughing the baths of Bavaria can be a lonely pursuit.

Most of the occupants were matronly woman who employ a non-vigorous breast-stroke, allowing them to talk and keep their hair dry. None had her head down.

My programme began unravelling 500km, eight days and seven swims into my cycle tour when I trundled into Bad Gogging.

The resort's Lime Therme had been recommended by another cycle tourer but I wasn't in the mood for a relaxing soak for €7.

I was more satisfied the next day in Abensberg, where I encountered an outdoor 50m pool with just three matrons in it. It cost €2 to knock out my programme.

I then went to Friedensreich Hundertwasser's colourful Kuchlbauers Bierwell (Beer World) for a coffee and, in my defence, I would like to say that it was still breakfast time, though I agree that doesn't seem to stop some people from drinking early.

A couple of days later I went to Therme Erding, Europe's largest spa/sauna complex of some 145,000 sq m (36 acres).

Again, I felt like a fish out of water in the relaxation zones but was too shy to join in the saucy zumba-style aqua aerobics being led by a flirtatious older gentleman. Nor did I want to drink cocktails in the pretend-Bahamas or wherever I was supposed to be.

So I went on some of the 20 hydroslides.

It did initially cross my mind that it was a bit weird for a 45-year-old woman to be hydrosliding on her own without children as an excuse.

There were other unaccompanied adults on the slides but they were men. The slides are wildly popular and the town wants to build another 10 to preserve its reputation as the largest such complex in Europe.

More than 4000 people visit Therme Erding a day and I had paid €20 for two hours, four-fifths of my daily travelling budget. To stay a whole day costs more than €40 and before I found the hydroslides, I had thought two hours in a relaxation zone would be quite enough.

But two hours can slip away quickly while standing in a long hydroslide queue.

The most memorable ride took place in a dark tube, for which I waited with mounting anticipation. Half-way through, I fell out in into a large bowl but almost immediately tumbled into another black hole, this time in the unapproved sliding manner, headfirst, on my stomach. I managed to right myself before I was spat out at the end, whereupon I thought ''Is that it?'' So I had to have another go.

I have one issue with Erding: there is no camping place with tent sites near the city but motor home users can camp right outside Therme Erding's door.

So I completely busted my budget and stayed in a guest house with the Pfanzelt family in the nearby village of Langengeisling (population 2000; the single room was €40). My hosts were Peregrin and Magdalena Pfanzelt and their adult son, also called Peregrin.

The Pfanzelts' 1846 house was built by their ancestors and is one of just two homes in the district where storks nest on the chimney.

When I was there, the two thriving baby storks were two months old. The storks have been nesting there for about 70 years and assure the household occupants of a good night's sleep, the family explained. Maybe it was the storks, maybe the swimming, but the next day I woke in a relaxed mood to the cheerful voices of villagers setting up a market in the Pfanzelts' yard.

The family hosts a small animal farm market every Sunday, where rabbits and chickens are sold for pets or pots.

Other small beasts and birds, such as mice, hamsters or canaries, were also available.

Local products included potatoes, vegetable plants, fruit, walnuts and honey.

After I finished looking around, I was presented with the most astonishingly huge breakfast, including the Bavarian specialty of weisswurst, which I was told must be eaten before midday.

I am glad I ate it. It took me another five days to complete my 915km bike journey, plus another 18km in the water.

My longest day was 117km on the bike after swimming 2.9km.

But yes, I did relax. The shortest day was 400m - in a pool filled with so many matrons I had no other option but to join in the breast stroke - and 31km on the bike.

That was followed by an accidental six-hour nana nap in the blazing sun on top of a public picnic table beside a river.

There are a million and one other inexpensive things to do along the bike trails apart from swimming.

I also visited breweries and cafes, took a boat trip, visited a monastery, toured the historic city of Regensburg, browsed many town markets and ate countless pastries from the super-cheap supermarkets and bakeries.

When I later caught up with the man who sold me my bicycle, extreme sportsman Hubert Schwarz, I discovered that during the time I had been away he'd taken six days to cycle at least 1200km for a relay team in the Race Across America. On his biggest day, he'd completed 500km.

Now, I'd have to say that is not relaxing.