September 08, 2015Riding in France: Arriving in Amiens
Friday 26 June 2015: The Rhine Delta to Konstanz
The day is stunning and summery as I ride along the Rhine Delta toward Lake Constance (or the Bodensee as it’s called locally).
I turn onto a small road marked by a sign promising Erdbeere and soon find myself resting on a bench, a diminishing punnet of perfect June strawberries resting on my knee. They are all I could want: firm, full, juicy, sweet but with a fresh bit of tang as well. As I sit,eating one after another, the farmer drives past – his tractor loaded with trays of berries just picked. And in the distance the farm workers are coming in from the field for their lunch break.
Here in the delta, with the mountains fading behind me, hawks circle, circle, circle on warm currents above the fields. I shield my eyes to watch as one dives for a bit of prey then climbs again into a pale summer-blue sky scored with jet-trails. Far far up, at cruising altitude, are tiny aeroplanes. I think of my flight from London to Milan, of my looking out the window at the Alps – one of those wee planes may well be today’s BA 576.
The Swiss border is signaled by a supermarket, cafe and post office in a spot which is, otherwise, the middle of nowhere. The Swiss cross to Austria for lower prices. My crossing is made at a bridge over a wee creek where the style of the bicycle signage changes and I spy a Swiss flag dancing languidly.
I meet the pale blue, almost aquamarine Lake and follow it the rest of the day. I pass through towns, industrial areas and holiday communities. At my lunch stop in Romanshorn I meet a mature-aged group of men on a weekend cycle. I exchange a few words with the English speakers and they smile approvingly of my coffee making.
My destination is Konstanz – a lovely German university town thumping with summer visitors. So close is Konstanz to Switzerland, and otherwise surrounded by water, that the city left its lights on during World War II. Allied bombers, not wanting to risk attacking the neutral Swiss, spared the city. At the border I am greeted by a faded Bundesrepublik Deutschland sign and a pair of seemingly-abandoned guardhouses. And, just like that, I am in Germany.
I am staying with Sara – a WarmShowers host, artist and art therapy teacher who lives on the top-floor of a narrow old apartment building near the city centre. We sit on her deck having elderflower cordial and apricots while overlooking a spreading oval of similar buildings with similar decks and, down below, a shared patch of green.
In the evening we meet up with some friends of her’s for dinner at the African Festival on the main square in the old town and later walk to the lake to listen to an Afro-Cuban jazz band playing in a park as the setting sun leaves the mountains ethereal in the distance.
Was this what I expected from Germany? I wasn’t surprised but, no, probably not.
Outside Sara’s place I saw my first Stolperstein (literally “stumbling stone”) –a cobblestone-sized brass plate set in the footpath informing me that a Jehovah’s Witness who had resided here before World War II, had been detained by the state and then murdered. That was more of what I expected, really.
Saturday 27 June: Konstanz to Flaach
I make a leisurely start of it today, lingering over coffee and chatting with Sara. I stop to collect supplies from the Saturday-busy local supermarket and then pedal from town and back into Switzerland.
The day’s riding is a mix of on-road and off, pavement and gravel, through towns, villages and farms, along the river and away from it, in the forest. The route weaves back and forth over borders and I often have no idea which country I am in.
Stein am Rhine is a surprising delight because I had no foreknowledge. I knew the route went though the town but I had no idea what to expect so when I roll into the medieval town square I giggle with delight. I’m not entirely sure which country I’m in until I choose a postcard to buy and everything in the shop is Swiss.
Not far beyond Stein am Rhine I am rolling past meadows full of wild flowers and then climbing a gravel road into the Black Forest. At a bend I find an ambulance, a group of cyclists standing aside and the paramedics tending to an older rider who has come off his bicycle. It doesn’t look good but nor does it look terrible. It is a reminder to be cautious.Stein am Rhine
The forest is dark, beautiful and full of birdsong. That I am in the Black Forest also makes me chuckle – it’s a name I would use as a generic place I might be when talking of this trip before coming away. Like, “I’ll look forward to using my e-reader while camped in the Black Forest.” So it was funny to actually be here. And it is beautiful. And the birds are amazing.
Just as I stop for a late lunch in a swimming park next to the river the sky darkens and rain hammers down accompanied by thunder and lightning. Parents scoop wee children and run them to cover. Teenagers linger in the rain until lifeguards, dressed in familiar yellow and red uniforms, hustle them out of the water. An eave of the ablution block offers me all the shelter I need – I lunch, make a coffee and watch the rain fall. It doesn’t last long and soon I am packing up and the swimmers are back in the river.
Fearing the rumours I’d long heard of the expense of Switzerland I am hoping to avoid spending money there as much as possible, and when I do, to limit the damage. Somewhere in the afternoon I miss my chance to cross back into Germany. The route on the Swiss side is longer and come 6 pm I am nearing 80 kilometres on the day when I spot a campground on my map. Whatever the cost it will have to do. I passed some places I might have wild camped but I lack the confidence to do that – at least on my own and in a place where I don’t speak the language.
The cost of my patch of grass, access to the ablution block, use of a small campers’ kitchen and a swimming pool: 24f or about A$35* – the most expensive camping pitch I’ve ever used. I think about getting food in their restaurant but cheapest main was 18f and a bowl of chips was 9f (A$17.30 and A$8.66). So I cook up some pasta with reluctant acceptance that it is what it is – I’ve ended up in Switzerland on a night I’d hoped not to and paid the price.
I have 90km to cover tomorrow to get to Basel where I’ve a booking at a hostel. Ninety kilometres is a big day for me under any circumstances – that I am anticipating 90km means there’s a good chance it will be closer to 100 km. All I can do is try.
I do something very unusual for me on this trip – I set an alarm for 6 am in hopes of getting away early enough to give me every chance of getting to Basel.
*24 Swiss Francs or about 35 Australian dollars.