[Wrote this a month ago, and it’s been stressing me out being on my desktop. I wrote other stuff in Tübingen, too, but since that’s on actual paper, there’s no telling whether you’ll ever see it.]

I’m not generally known for my powers of persuasion, but earlier this year, I made a new personal record when I managed to convince Alexandra (who was living in Boston) to come to Tübingen, Germany and participate in a two-week summer semantics institute with me. Somehow this snowballed from “Come for two or three weeks and hang out” to “Come for two or three weeks and hang out, then bike from Germany to Italy, then go work on a farm in Ghana for half a year.” The phrase “go big or go home” takes on new meaning when perceived through Alexandra’s ears. 

She arrived on Thursday with her beautiful touring bike stuffed into a monstrous cardboard box (wider than the sliding door between customs and arrivals, as we learned), padded with an eclectic array of camping supplies. Originally, our plan had been to reassemble the bike outside the airport (that won’t arouse any suspicions…) and ride home, but she admitted upon arrival that she wasn’t sure that she could transport all the camping gear once she opened the box (some of you may be wondering why she brought more gear than she could carry on a bike tour. Keep wondering.) So we took off on foot, carefully and s-l-o-w-l-y, with her box balanced on the crossbar of my bike. By some miracle, we got it home intact. She immediately tore into the box and started scattering bike components and tools across the front yard of my dorm, and we set about learning how to reassemble a bike (she had had some instruction before leaving Boston; I have never done more than change a tube). As you can expect, a lot went wrong. But eventually we got the thing rideable and started preparing to go for a ride when all of a sudden the sun disappeared from the sky, and it began to pour.

We made up for it on Day 2, spending much of the afternoon meandering around the Tiergarten (a hunting reserve cum park in the center of town) and enjoying playgrounds that probably weren’t designed for people our age, but ought to have been. At some point, Alexandra convinced me to accompany her for a short (about a week) bike tour of…well, at this point, we still don’t know. Lake Constance and the Black Forest? Strasbourg and Alsace? Zürich and surrounding areas? [Added later: we opted for the Black Forest, Freiburg, and Alsace, but that decision was made partly based on which route it was easiest to find a bike map for.]


The Tiergarten spreads in all directions from the Victory Column, stopping at the Reichstag (main government building) and the Brandenburg Gate. Once you’re in, you can completely forget that you’re in the middle of the capital of Germany. Except for when sometimes people get murdered in there.

The problems arose when we discovered that, inexplicably, there is no good transport connecting Berlin to Stuttgart or surrounding areas, where we were headed for the conference. Our options were either an 8-hour trip that would cost about 200 euros a head, or a 13-15-hour trip on the regional trains that would cost a tenth of that. It should be obvious which of these two options a grad student and someone in the beginning of a belated gap year would spring for. The catch: the only cheap route that would get us to the university in time to check into our dorm left shortly after midnight, and no leg of the journey lasted longer than 2 hours. Sleep? Who needs it?

We had a variety of errands to run before catching our train southward: run by a friend’s house, buy some fancy cheese for Alexandra’s uncle (with whom we spent a week in their home in the Netherlands last year, and who was planning to visit us at the institute), and so on—nothing to concern you with. That part was easy. Our zen frame of mind only faltered when, on the way to the station (already running 20 minutes late for a number of reasons), one of Alexandra’s racks buckled under the weight of her panniers (turns out it was installed slightly incorrectly—whoops), and we wound up missing the S-Bahn. She repaired it while I got us some much-needed supper (the Döner guy got a look at all the junk we were hauling and offered to let us sleep in the restaurant after it closed), and then we took off, not at all optimistic that we would make the train.

We did.

It wasn’t easy, though, and it was far from pretty. I have exactly no camping gear, so I had grabbed whatever best suited our needs from my dorm furnishings. Alexandra, for her part, had had to pack simultaneously for two weeks of business and academic things, a fall and winter in Alpine climates, and then the first half of next year in western Africa. It would have been a herculean task even if we had had a decent budget. Which we didn’t, of course, because we’re linguists.

Alexandra’s bike was so weighed down under three panniers, a sleeping bag, and a tarp (to keep that fancy bike out of the rain) that there was almost no room for her on it. As for me, I had a fitted sheet and Ikea blanket clipped into my rear rack, a front basket full of provisions for the train trip (we’re both food people, so they had to be varied and nutritious), and a backpack. Oh, and a large cardboard shipping box containing a violin that I mail-order rented in order to practice in Tübingen (and then mail back and cancel my contract before starting the bike tour—one of my cleverer ideas, as long as it survives the trip) [Added later: it did. Brilliant idea]. That didn’t fit anywhere on my bike, so I did the best I could steering and braking with one hand. From the outside, we looked pitiful, tag-teaming our possessions up and down stairs and on and off trains, since we weren’t physically capable of transporting all our stuff at once unless we were on the bikes. But each surmounted obstacle gave us an intoxicating sense of empowerment, so even huddled on a platform bench at five in the morning eating cheese off of a  Swiss army knife that we could hardly see through bleary eyes, we were having a grand time. High fives abounded.

Contrary to all reasonable expectations, we made our first 4 connections without a hitch, and right now we’re in Lower Bavaria, set to arrive in Stuttgart soon. And from there it’s just one more leg to Tübingen.


As you can see, Alexandra is making the most of her chance to soak up the verdant Bavarian scenery.