Category Archives: Grand Tour Summer 2014

Zurich to Ripon

It took just over 4 hours by train to get from Zurich to Paris Gare de Lyons station. We were joined at Basel by a lovely young man from Holland and his bike, who had just cycled there from Amsterdam. He offered to lead us out from Gare de Lyons across Paris to Gare du Nord as he was also taking the Eurostar to London. I was very keen to cycle after him, though strangely Andy did not take to that idea. I should have brought him home and introduced him to Pauline, with his impeccable manners, lovely legs, she would have liked him.

Anyway instead we had a beer in the warm Parisian sunshine and then took the final ride of the trip, across Paris. We have done this many times but this was a full adrenaline experience, police cordons, car drivers arguing with each other at junctions, bike paths full of parked cars, dogs, toddlers and glass. I loved it!

The transfer to East Coast train was a bit tight because of a delay on the Eurostar but we made it on time in York where Catherine picked us up in the van. Home before 10pm. And a lovely peaceful sleep, aah.

So the trip is over, my thanks to many kind and friendly people across Europe who were keen to chat, help or just pass the time of day. Thanks also to patient car drivers even in Italy who don’t respond with machismo to the sight of bikes on the road, and made this a pretty safe ride on the whole. Thanks to The Guardian’s sports writers for keeping me updated with transfer news on my lovely new Guardian phone link thing (farewell Torres and welcome back Super Mario, ho ho) and to Paul Mason’s weekly articles for making me think (when the revolution comes we should put him in charge). And thanks to those of you adding posts to our blog, though we did not respond directly they were encouraging and very welcome: it was a long time to be away and I really appreciated you keeping an eye on us.

Favourite place? Padua
Happy but Tearful moment? Getting to the top of the Sesstriere for me, and I think Andy had something in his eyes when we reached Lake Constance (Bodensee).

Track of the day for yesterday:
When I get back to Blighty by Paul Heaton and Jacquie Abbot
Social comment with some mischief from the album I listened to the most on the trip. Includes more on tax avoidance so sorry if any of you are Phil Collins’ fans. Go and listen to the track.

Track for today:
Our Love by Gregory Porter
Look away now as this is just for Andy to thank him for planning, mapping and navigating the trip, and for being the best of companions. If it wasn’t for him I would never set off on a bike anywhere.

Day off in Zurich

This was a deeply relaxed final day. Zurich is one of my favourite places. We spent the middle of the day at the local sauna/wellness complex, where muscles were suitably unknotted and minds switched to reflective mode. (Well, except when the occasional long haul jet passed low overhead on take off from Zurich airport and rattled our brains. Apologies to passengers on flight 248 to New York for an eyeful of us cooling off on the spa roof, outside the sauna!)

The trip has been brilliant! The combination of mountains and northern Italian towns worked really well. Not only did the culture balance the alpine scenery, but the warmer, drier weather of the Po valley was a good antidote to the poor summer in the mountains.

Helen always asks me what I missed from home, and I can never think of anything! I’d be very happy with this as a permanent lifestyle!

One feature that was new this year was the prevalence of heretical electric bikes. Work of the Devil, ridden by smug gits who are going to Hell! Perhaps I should not have shouted that at them quite so loud. Anyway, I am making my theological position clear as a bulwark to future temptation. As Steve Redgrave nearly said “If you see me on an electric bike, shoot me!”

Anyway, I’m signing off now. Helen plans to write some final thoughts tomorrow on the train home. But that’s all from me in a, finally, sunny Zurich.

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Frauenfeld to Zurich

The Falken Inn at Frauenfeld billed itself as a ‘pub’ – which rather helped the readjustment towards home. And the beer was local and excellent. Despite being near the church in the centre of town it was mercifully free of bells in the night. We won’t miss Bavarian church clocks – you never can. On the hour they strike twice, in case you failed to start counting properly, but without the 5 minute gap that is common in Pyrenean villages and the south of France. Instead, the note changes. So, (as they say round here!) at midnight you get 28 consecutive bongs – four for the quarters and 12 twice. A bit much when, as in Rettenberg, your hotel window is meters away.

We packed up for the final time and set off under grey skies. A mixed day’s cycling – rural and urban. To begin with, things felt very autumnal.

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But then the sun came out! This trip has really impressed on us the significance of sunshine for bicycle touring. Cold, grey and sometimes wet cycling is ok – but sunny cycling is the business! So here is a final sunny picnic lunch spot.

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And here is the final sunny forest track.

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The final sunny hill.

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And the first (!) sunny afternoon beer.

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So here we are, back in the hotel that we set out from 9 weeks and 1577 miles ago.

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Tomorrow we plan to hit the sauna in an attempt to undo some of the knots before the train home on Saturday.

Helen’s track of the day:
Suck It and See by Arctic Monkeys.
I was going to choose a blues song called Didn’t It Rain as that has been the subject of many conversations with people in the last 3 weeks but the sun came out today and that did not seem quite right. Instead I have gone, once again, for that Sheffield band. This tune has some fine lines in it and I have hummed it on the route today.

Nonnenburg to Frauenfeld

Yet again the forecast was for sun, but the reality was thick cloud and temperatures in the low teens. Oh well! The 10 miles of cycling along the lake shore to Fredrichshaven were pleasant, flat and fast.

Here we caught the fast catamaran across the Bodensee to Konstanz. I love to work a good ferry into a bike ride! Despite the grey skies, the views were great, but the photos suffered. The mountains above St Gallen looked superb and I hankered to be riding back to Zurich the harder way …..

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We wandered around Konstanz for a while, and then set off on the final leg of riding. The hill leading away from the lake seemed so easy, secure in the knowledge that there aren’t many left!

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Some pleasant countryside led to a bizarre lunch stop. This was a very smart cafe – pale upholstered chairs, walnut tables – where, before admission, we were quizzed in hostile fashion about the state of our lederhosen (was it oily?). Strangely, by the time we left we were being treated like royalty and were given freebies to take with us. It’s the effect we have on people!
Just one day’s riding to go. I can’t believe it’s nearly over.

Helen’s track of the day:
Retrograde by James Blake
The single track I have listened to the most on this trip. It’s beautiful. Not even the cafe woman could ease my chilled out mood and of course using the killer smile and plenty of compliments about the delicious lunch she provided we came away with free cakes and many good wishes for the rest of our trip. Though choir restarts tonight and I think I should be humming Mozart, though that does not arrive so readily in my brain as those of you who sit close to me at previous rehearsals can testify.

Eglofs to Nonnenburg

After several days of light green fields, dark green forest, villages, and rolling bike path – finally a town! And a beautiful lake to look at!

I had first seen the Bodensee (Lake Constance) when I was 16, and always wanted to return. So, 39 years later, here I am, patience personified. Austria, Germany and Switzerland meet here. Surrounded by mountains, this is a most serene spot. And Lindau is a perfect little town, on an island in the lake, connected to the mainland by a bridge and a causeway for the railway. Just like Venice, but no Americans complaining about the windy Plaza.

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We spent the afternoon in Lindau before reluctantly cycling on along the lake shore to a hotel in Nonnenburg. But they gave us free train tickets back to Lindau – so we’ve been back for dinner! And very good Schwabian fare it was too. Oxtail soup and smoked sausages.

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Helen’s track of the day:
Breeze blocks by Alt-J.

At some point I got wifi long enough this week to pull up some different music so found some Mark Knopfler music, one of my favourites, but sounds from Local Hero and a few songs from other familiar albums were just too much, made me homesick. So back to newer stuff, this odd band is growing on me and I found myself humming this track on the ride today.

Rettenberg to Eglofs

From the moment we checked into the hotel in Rettenberg, to the moment we checked out, the rain poured down. 18 hours non stop heavy rain. I am glad we weren’t camping because everywhere is flooded, streams are at full pelt – and they are only just rebuilding the numerous bridges swept away in July’s deluge!

But for today’s cycling – just the occasional icy shower. The scenery was varied, and stunning despite the cloud. Since leaving the tourist honeytrap of Fussen, (blame Neuschwanstein castle) we have seen noone except local Germans for two days. Not even the ubiquitous Dutch motor homes have made it this far. This is the Allgau region, and it feels very remote indeed.

Between the showers we cycled beside the beautiful Alpsee.

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At one point we saw a patch of sunshine on a distant hill – the first sun for days, so I took a photo for the record!

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Lunch was at a fantastic, warm cafe that appeared from nowhere. A chance to warm through and dry out. The only downside being a plague of gnomes.

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Actually, being the only visitors in such cafes can be a relief. In Fussen, two grumpy Americans were (not unreasonably) complaining about the cold and the rain when he came up with the classic line, “Venice next. At least the Plaza is next to the station, so you don’t have to walk. But that Plaza’s so cold and windy”.

After lunch we spent several miles climbing up to a pass at about 850m, in very confused and broken country. There should have been good views south to the Alps, but all covered in cloud.

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We put on all the clothes we had for a cold descent into very different country. We entered a small river valley very like those cutting into the North York Moors. Moments of homesickness! The valley wound gently down, until a final climb brought us to another hotel. Camping holds no attraction in these conditions. Not much of a welcome here, but we were finally admitted to a dry room. Tomorrow we reach the Bodensee, and the end will be very much in sight.

Helen’s track of the day:
Did You Hear the Rain by George Ezra.
He has had a lot of radio play, especially in Italy, during this trip and he came up on the TV last night in between sports reports we were following (more or less) on German TV. I noticed also that he was support act to Bastille on the poster adverts I saw coming out of Verona. So I better put one from his album on the playlist and this track seems fitting given the weather we have had.

Fussen to Rettenberg

More up and down today in the Bavarian Alps, and quite a lot of going round in circles, it felt like, something to do with following the contours, our navigator told me. Anyway, a cool day but big rural landscapes, at times reminiscent of the Scottish uplands. Apparently we climbed 732m in the day and Statto tells me that makes it the 3rd highest climbing day of the trip. Bowls of goulash at an alpine cafe hut helped us along, which was a welcome improvement on our original plan of a picnic lunch which we carried with us, but we just never know whether food will be available en route on Sundays.

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There were two prize winning village names today, one the village of Oy, and the other came up on Andy’s GPS navigation screen as Wank. Lucky it was a village name rather than an instruction, said Andy. Juvenile giggles all round.

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Rettenberg is not much to tell about, but we are beside the Italian restaurant and it opens at 5pm, that is all we are focused on today.

Track of the day:
When the Sun Goes Down, Arctic Monkeys.
Over the last few days we have talked quite a bit about casework we have been involved in over the years following news stories of the Rotherham report that came out this week. I could write a lot here but just to say that reading again of the experience of young girls in Rotherham made me angry. As usual I agreed with the analysis by Suzanne Moore in The Guardian on Thursday though she is dismissive of social work for reasons that I entirely understand. All this is to say that I feel pretty much ready to get back to work, which is good as there is only a week to go. And I like the anger in the track of the day, on related experiences set in a district close to Rotherham at a similar period.

Bad Kohlgrub to Fussen

Not many miles today but we really had to work at it, with a cold and wet start in the mountains adding to the effort required. A lot of the route was through mountain forest – so that meant testing our off-road skills on rough tracks, avoiding boulders, streams and trees to keep moving. Hats off to the wheel builders at Spa Cycles – it’s amazing what these touring bikes can cope with!

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At one point we had to do a river crossing with no bridge available so we waded across in sandals. All part of the mix but it made for slow and wet cycling.

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With no villages either and only bananas in our supply store, lunch did not seem very inviting, but I spied the only cafe for miles around across an open section of fields and sandwiches and hot tea were sorted out for us just after 1pm.

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We arrived in Fussen within an hour or so and saw the famous German castle Neuschwanstein, big and white and a very popular attraction.

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But I was keener on a hot shower and a hotel for the night, which we have managed to find in this very busy spot. We have now done 1340 miles altogether so I think a celebratory pot of tea is next.

Track of the day:
Cloudbusting by Kate Bush

I knew this would happen if I listened to any Kate Bush music- the minute we started cycling this morning I get ‘every time it rains’ in my head from this track. It stayed with me throughout the ride. Incessantly.

Bad Tolz to Bad Kohlgrub

We are doing spa towns today. A great day’s cycling. The sun shone, the cycle route was superb, with long views over pastureland to heavily wooded mountains (that we weren’t climbing over!)

Bavaria is big, green and beautiful, and half a litre of excellent beer is less than a cup of tea! I am never going home!

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Helen’s track of the day:
Everybody Needs Someone To Love by Solomon Burke
If you want to put hats and shades on and pretend you are one of the Blues Brothers that is fine but this is the original version which is not quite so manic. But still very cheery.

Traunstein to Rosenheim

Ok, so a train was involved here! On a beautiful sunny morning we cycled into Salzburg and caught the train to the start of the day’s ride. The idea was to avoid the suburban exit from Salzburg, (airport, railway, motorway), and start, in Germany, close to the Chiemsee.

And this proved every bit as good as billed. The hills were gently rolling (rather than steep), all the farms are covered in geraniums, and the fields are a shade of Irish green that only a really wet summer can produce .

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The bike route round the north shore of the Chiemsee was extremely popular – danger of collisions on the narrow, off-road path. But the views across the lake to the mountains beyond were beautiful.

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We finished the ride at Rosenheim, on the river Inn, and hopped on another train to Bad Tolz. This misses out a section of steep, off-road, climbing in the forest. Bad Tolz has a typical Bavarian high street, very familiar from our ride down the Danube four years ago.

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Helen’s track of the day:
Moving by Kate Bush.
Unlike any other trip and entirely because of my I-phone, I am much more aware of what is going on in the UK than usual, reading the paper online everyday. That has meant trying to keep track of football transfer news and the like till the season started rather then major political or social debate on the whole, though in all seriousness the events in Gaza could not be ignored, so shocking was the impact of war there. Anyway, the major event for some of us this week was the return to live shows by Kate Bush after 35 years. I saw rave reviews and would love to have been there but instead listened to a few of her tracks last night. I have to strictly limit what Kate Bush music I listen to or it sticks in my head for days and really drives me crazy. This was the track that stuck most today, same title as yesterday, but very different sound.