Category Archives: Paris-Romania 2010: 4 Zurich to Ulm

Ulm

I have looked forward to reaching Ulm, looking at its position on the map for months and wondering if it was really possible for me to get there on a bicycle. It has been a good rest day destination for Andy and I, a small city with an interesting history but a contemporary culture that includes plenty of drinking, chatting and watching the world go by. The citizens of Ulm decided to redesign the centre of the city a few years ago, and a 4 line road through the centre now has an art gallery and pedestrian priority sections in the way, so car drivers now have to go VERY slowly. And there are cyclists everywhere. Not many Brits, in fact just us and the guy we met 2 days ago on a coffee stop. And not many coach loads of tourists from other parts either, so the city has a pretty authentic feel, unlike Lausanne for example. The early food market outside on the plaza today was full of locals gathering their veg, cheeses and bread for lunches. I had a lovely time doing the same thing, sampling the cheeses and gesticulating a lot. We explored the minster and admired the choir stalls in particular, with really skilled wood carving. It reminded us of Ripon cathedral alot and found it interesting how close the design was to those at home. The exception was in the depiction of individual characters in wood, like Pythagoras and Virgil with very detailed work and expressions on their faces. Of course I enjoyed the carvings of fed up faces, and the man who was blowing a raspberry. Good to see German sense of humour there from the 15th century.

The Munster with the entire 161 m high spire
The Munster with the entire 161 m high spire

Andy went off for a sauna in the afternoon and I wandered down to the river for a walk and some book reading. Before crossing the river in the solar boat I had a chat with my new friend Gunter sitting next to me on the public bench. He was a Polish man of 72 who came to Ulm with his family after the war. It was interesting that he was still grateful to Britain for the ‘war effort’ even though he has lived in Germany all these years. If you are impressed by my conversational skills, it was helped greatly by a young woman from the local cafe who was having her break, and she translated for us! Perhaps a German born person of a Gunter’s age would not have been so complimentary, given what happened to Ulm in the war.

The solar powered ferry
The solar powered ferry

 

Ulm from the south bank of the Danube
Ulm from the south bank of the Danube

Our evening plan involves a local creperie, as appetites are not enormous today, well not including the large gateau and all the tea I had this afternoon. I have no idea if I have lost weight in these 4 weeks, though I think a bit, but I do seem to be wearing some one else’s legs, which must be how I managed to cycle so far. So far…

Helen’s track of the day: Martin Simpson, When a Knight Won His Spurs. This came to mind when wandering in the minster, as I have hit on a period of listening to folk music and heard MS playing this – a memory of singing this when 8 years old in choir practice. And all that wonderful choral music I COULD have chosen…

Obermarchtal to Ulm

We didn’t wake until 8 this morning – after 11 hours solid sleep. It could have been something to do with the 49 miles yesterday in cool and sometimes rainy weather. But the accommodation and food last night were excellent and this morning we were refreshed. First stop was Munderkingen – a small town on the Danube with a sense of humour, as evidenced by the giant plastic white storks that were on every corner.

A stork in Munderkingen
A stork in Munderkingen

We cycled on to Ehingen, where we took an alternative route up a side valley and over a low pass to join the river Blau. (Helen threatened to kill me if it turned out to be anything other than ‘the lowest pass in the known universe’ – as advertised by me. Luckily it was – and I survived). The reason for the diversion was that the Blau is one of those rivers that emerge, fully formed, from the bottom of a limestone cliff. In this case it was known as the Blautopf – the Blue Pool – and it was a lovely, tranquil place to stop for a drink.

The Blue Pool
The Blue Pool

Cave divers have explored the river underground for about 4 miles, and there is a parallel, dry system of cave passages too. For those who prefer their entertainment to be less challenging there was a large teddy bear on the wall, blowing bubbles.

Bubbles the Teddy
Bubbles the Teddy

Another 10 miles or so down the winding Blau valley brought us to Ulm, and the end of another leg of the trip. Entering large conurbations by bike can be tricky. But the bike route into Ulm was beautiful and landed us right next to the Minster and our hotel. Oddly it reminded me of the Taff Trail in/out of Cardiff (though that lands you beside the Arms Park, which isn’t quite the same). We’ll have a rest day here tomorrow.

Ulm Minster - the famous 'tallest spire in the world' didn't fit in the shot
Ulm Minster – the famous ‘tallest spire in the world’ didn’t fit in the shot

Helen’s track of the day: Springsteen, Born To Run, playing at our lunch stop today with an American woman as proprietor of a very retro pub. Not my favourite Springsteen song but this is not a favourites list, just what comes up during the trip.

Beuron to Obermarchtal

Somehow we ended up cycling 49 miles today – which I think is a record. We had stopped a few miles short of our intended campsite last night because of the rain, so it was always going to be a longer day – but it turned into quite a test at the end as the supposedly riverside route left the river and turned hilly, and huge thunderstorms forced us to stop and shelter.

Part of the problem was that the first 10 miles or more were so beautiful and we made a slow start. The path continued to wind (look at the loops on our GPS track) through the limestone gorge with ‘wows’ at every turn. Wildenstein castle was particularly spectacular.

Wildenstein Castle
Wildenstein Castle

You will notice the absence of photos of the view back down from the castle. Somehow the urge to cycle up there for it just didn’t seem to be there. But I am sure it is very good. Back in the valley, the off road trail through the forest was just perfect – if rather slow.

The forest trail
The forest trail

And the tiny hamlets were equally idyllic, so that out coffee stop was a real treat.

Coffee stop
Coffee stop

By lunchtime we had emerged from the gorge and entered a wider section of the valley – back to sharing it with road and railway. The riding here was not so spectacular, but at least we had a tailwind. But this particular tailwind had a sting in it, as it was driving thunderstorms in from the west. We sat one out under a huge concrete road bridge that crossed the Danube on piers and tried to chat to locals who were also sheltering. Neither of us was keen on camping – given the conditions – so, after some false starts and extra miles we found a modern and welcoming guest house in Obermarchtal.

One of the many tell-tale signs of the keen cyclist is an imprint of the large chain ring, in oil, on the back of the calf. Here is a perfect example of the genre – if I say so myself. I am seriously considering getting it tattooed there permanently.

 

Chain ring
Chain ring

Helen’s track of the day: Supertramp – Dreamer, because we hear a lot of Supertramp in Germany and every holiday playlist should have some Supertramp.

Donauschingen to Beuron

As I got up this morning ….. I could see the rain clouds gathering again in the west. But you can’t change the weather – so we packed the tent and off we went towards the Danube. (And yes- Pauline – it is for real – though we have to keep pinching ourselves!).

Our morning tent packing routine
Our morning tent packing routine

Having missed the official start of the trail yesterday we stopped as soon as we reached the river for our own photo.

(Almost) the source of the Danube
(Almost) the source of the Danube

We had breakfast sitting outside a bakery beside the bridge. Our first white storks flew overhead – so we knew we really heading east. The rain held off until our coffee stop – where we met our first British cyclist on a very similar route to ours. For the first time we are on a recognised (and very popular) cycle route and not on one that I made up. I hope we can adjust to the crowds! We have noticed already that most seem to be middle aged couples. What do the youngsters do?

Lunch was in rainy Tuttlingen, where we came across a bookshop with an English section – much to Helen’s delight because a parcel from the UK had not reached Zurich before we did (either we are fast cyclists or the post is slow). Four days with nothing to read and only me to talk to.

The rest of the day held all the scenic treasures. The river enters a limestone gorge, of a similar depth and width to Monsal Dale in Derbyshire, but about 20 miles long. There are limestone cliffs, caves and towers – as in Dove Dale – and fairytale castles on the cliff tops – unlike Dove Dale.

The Danube Gorge
The Danube Gorge

One strange feature is that about 80% of the water from the Danube/Donau disappears underground into sinks that re-emerge about 15 km to the south on the other side of the watershed. Here the water flows down to the Bodensee and thence the Rhine and the North Sea! But we followed the reduced river Donau heading for the Black Sea (eventually).

More of the Danube Gorge
More of the Danube Gorge

The gorge is too narrow for road or railway so it was beautifully peaceful as we cycled the unpaved track.

 

And again!
And again!

We decided that it is now officially too wet to camp – so we have checked in to the Pelikan hotel in Beuron – still in the heart of the gorge. Once rested there is a monastery to explore.

Helen’s track of the day: Tavener, The Lamb, in keeping with the spiritual calm from the monastery across the road from our guesthouse.

The Rhine Falls to Donauschingen

This was a top day’s cycling, but hard, with a lot of climbing. The payoff was that almost all of it was on tiny lanes (some unpaved) and miles off the beaten track, in the edge of the Black Forest, no cars and just huge birds of prey (eagles?) and the deer for company. Brilliant! Food was almost a problem though – having spent our last Swiss francs in Schaffhausen on breakfast we had to get to Germany before we could buy lunch in Euros!

Here is the view back from the first hairpin on the first climb of the day, which turned out to be 300 m high!

Hemmental village from above
Hemmental village from above

At the top there was a dirt road along the ridge at 850m with superb views to the south. Sadly there was cloud over the Alps, which would otherwise have been clearly visible. But at least it wasn’t raining!

Off road again!
Off road again!

After a couple more small climbs we reached the German border. Not that you’d have noticed, given the lack of officialdom.

Germany - our 3rd country
Germany – our 3rd country

Germany should have meant lunch – but the first village was entirely closed up. So on we went – to be rewarded with a great pub restaurant in a tiny village. Beer, pork and pepper sauce, chips and salad. We flew up the final climb of the day – and possibly the most beautiful – to arrive on this high plateau at 780 m, where the Danube rises. Unfortunately we were tired and not thinking straight and cycled right past the ‘official’ source of the Danube, thus missing the photo op, but we have found a nice camp site just a few miles down the Danube bike track.

It is officially ALL DOWNHILL all the way down the Danube from here to Budapest! Think of that!

Helen’s track of the day: Amy Winehouse, Valerie. There was no apparent reason for this arriving in my head after lunch but it kept me going for a while.

Zurich to the Rhine Falls

The hotel in Zurich had been lovely, so it was a wrench to leave – particularly since it was raining again as we packed up. But it relented and we made good dry progress out of Zurich on suburban roads for the first part of the morning. After coffee we did a short climb and descended a valley to enter different country altogether. This was deeply wooded and rural.

We joined the Rhine valley in a wooded gorge – where repairs to this very small road had resulted in its closure to traffic but, because this was a significant bike route, a fully signposted cyclists diversion through the woods!

I love this country. Diversions just for cyclists! And even the smallest place has urinals that flush as you step back. (When I first came here, aged 16, my mate told me that the sensors also photographed your willy and that the police kept the photos for solving sex crimes. My mate was clearly ahead of his time – but luckily he didn’t go on to become a Labour Home Secretary.)

A diversion through the forest
A diversion through the forest

Just after lunch we reached the Rhine Falls – 120 m wide and 26 m high – allegedly the largest waterfall in Europe (by flow). This was a sight that I had wanted to see for years (sad man!). I took some video but haven’t been able to upload it yet. So here is a photo. The rock in the middle was under siege from people landing from the flotilla of tourist boats.

Now we are camping at Schaffhausen and surviving thunderstorms and more prolonged and heavy rain. Oh well. Tomorrow Germany!

 

The Rhine Falls
The Rhine Falls

Helen’s track of the day: The Hot 8 Brass Band, What’s My Name? After an hour of listening to Louis Armstrong tracks in the Italian pizza place tonight I needed to listen to something loud and a bit more contemporary. Thanks to Daniel for putting this on my playlist.