Monthly Archives: September 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.