view over Reykjavik in winter
view over Reykjavik in winter
  • All roads lead to somewhere
    • 18/06/2022
Turns out that today I'm on or following the route of the via Claudia Augusta, a Roman road stretching from northern Germany to Verona.

Setting off with thunder approaching, first rain drops falling, a single cuckoo calls out from nearby, mocking.
Donner and blitzen, very exciting, but soon passes and all dried out within no time, back to the baking sun.

Next village has a trail of grass clippings from church to Christ on a cross, brass band ready to go. Is it a wedding tradition or is there a Jun 16th something else? Oh. Its a south Germany public holiday, Corpus Christi. All shops are closed, and the entire population seems to be riding towards me on their electric mountain bikes... Annnd a dodgeball tournament?

Saw a bloke walking down the street with a surfboard the other day, which I thought a bit odd, but now understand why - can surf in rivers by holding onto a rope hanging from a bridge

The river still being the Lech -
Escape the baking sun with a jugenherberge in Augsburg, a city with UNESCO recognition for its use of waterways to power mills for its fabric industry - rather than benign canals, water rushes through the city centre at high speed along a network of channels.

Onward scenery is fairly unremarkable countryside. Pick your own strawberries.
A hare.

Cigarette machines everywhere, and they even sell them at the checkout at lidl

May poles, blue and white stripey everywhere

Storks on pole, storks on roofs, storks in fields, carefully stalking through the crop stalks

New babies announced by huge proclamatory placards outside the houses

Still sunny
Reached Danube. Got in it. Very refreshing

Free campsite by the river, supposed to be just for canoeists and cyclists, but unfortunately the campervan brigade has found out about it.

Bloke with electric bike also heading for Sweden, he has a trailer for luggage with a big 150w solar panel on it to charge the spare bike battery as he goes (while its sunny anyway)

Catalogue of other long distance cyclists met so far: (not including those just following rivers)

Dutch lady bikepacking to venice
Lyon guy on way home
North German on shakedown with too much stuff, belt drive
Munich guy going to Madrid heading for klausenpass
Austrian lady recently set off for 3 months to Baltics and back
German guy also bike packing to Venice

Saturday
Still sunny.
Along the river, with detours to a couple of breweries, and a small boat ride to get down a bit where the Danube goes through a scenic gorge, with people diving in from weathered cliffs and sunbathing on pebbly beaches
  • Over and out (of Austria)
    • 16/06/2022
Today is marked as a big climb, but the last big climb, and a much gentler gradient than the previous. From 650m up to 1770m up into Arlberg and then turning off for the Flexenpass over to Lech. Was a bit concerned looking at the map that the cycle path would run next to the motorway all day, but in fact it was often a treat through tranquil woods - albeit with a couple of steep gravely bits which I had to push up. The main entertainment though came from an a accident blocking the autobahn and forcing all the traffic to sit stationery in the tiny side roads to watch me grind past at a stately 8 kmph.
The final part of the climb was steepest, but still comfortable thanks initially to a series of well planned hairpin bends. The final 2km though was largely up through a tunnel/gallery, where the noise of any approaching vehicle would gradually amplify to jet engine deafening levels, impossible to tell which direction it was coming from. So a great relief to pop out at the top into the cool clear air, and soon after find an altitude signpost at the saddle of the pass, complete with the obligatory stickers from all kinds of clubs and such.
And down to Lech (ski station)

Next day began with an exhilarating fast descent from the heights, until the valley levels out into inhabited farmland and cute alpine villages, the valley of the river Lech, tantalising turquoise waters flanked by meadows of flowers and forests of fir. And a nice signposted path to follow away from the already quiet "main" road.
An easy day in legs then, but eventually the peaks either side start to give way and you can sense that there will be a sudden end to the landscape, and indeed, the country, as the transition marks the border into Germany, and a spate of castles built on the last walls of rock, including the spectacular but entirely ornamental Neuschwanstein.
  • Swiss Rolling
    • 15/06/2022
Well Switzerland is pretty isn't it? Leaving Basel behind, and climbing through rolling hills and villages full of water troughs.
Having the backdrop of snow capped peaks is always nice, then throw in the inviting clear blue lakes, meadows of alpine flowers, farmers making hay, locals playing beach volleyball, quaint old buildings with painted frescos, quite the antidote to the monotonous canals.

Luzern is tourist paradise, with its covered wooden bridges, big lion carving, and panoramic painting of refugee French troops from the Prussian war being the highlights I had time for before taking a ferry part way across the lake. Very pleasant, but mixed feelings as it hard to say it isn't cheating, but I need to save some time for what comes next - well initially skirting the remainder of lake, with a procession of Sunday drivers in porches, Ferraris, classic BMW and Mercedes, a tvr, even a Morgan?
And then the main event, a gruelling 1000m climb over "Prapelpass". Strictly speaking, after the initial foothills, an 885m climb in 11km to reach 1550m. So minimum 8%, but in actuality, much steeper for long sections. I had to stop several times on the way up (2hrs 30) to get my breath back, but all the way had the encouraging ringing of cow bells spurring me on.
At the top, massive relief, but slightly disappointed with the views, and lack of signs with the altitude to pose next to, just "camping ist verboten", so down the other side it is, glorious empty tarmac, and then views do appear, with the last rays of the sun highlighting the cliffs above a deep blue lake, series of waterfalls cascading down. And a campsite, relief. Collapse, eat packets of salt. Leave sweat drenched clothes out on bike overnight. Thunderstorms. In the night, and now in the morning as I write this.
Good test for the tent, which has a somewhat flimsy appearance, but I'm still dry.

Vaduz
Lichtenstein, population 38,000. Highest GDP per person in the world. Fields of cows within its capital "city", where on one street you pass its hardly justifiable FA and Olympic Committee buildings. Essentially it seems to be a family estate that although subject to various vassalages over the centuries, has emerged independent.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Liechtenstein
Anyway, got there just in time to buy a postcard and a loaf of bread before continuing to camp in Austria.
  • Rhine Valley Cycle Superhighway
    • 10/06/2022
Wissembourg, Strasbourg, Colmar

These three towns share a style, with wood framed houses leaning over flower lined waterways, a postcard picture around every corner.
Scenic detours in the Alsace meant a late arrival into Strasbourg, with the only place left to stay a campsite on the German side, in Kehl.
As the Rhine cycle route is massively popular, this resembled a festival, but turned out to be surprisingly quiet.

Late arrival in Colmar meant I missed out on the Bertholi museum (guy who designed statue of liberty) but I did spend a couple of hours at Cite du Train, the French equivalent of York railway museum

The last three days has essentially been all following the river / canals, which has been easy but a bit dull, only punctuated by the passing barge traffic and foreshadowed thunderstorms, lots of herons, and far too many other cyclists with panniers.
Not a fan of that, as I'm used to meeting another long distance cyclist being a rare occurrence, worthy of a stop and a chat to compare notes, and locals looking at you like some weird exotic oddity rather than a "another one of those pesky wide loads"
So I guess I'm looking forward to getting into the hills again? Not sure my legs are though, having seen the upcoming elevation profile, but can't afford any more days off at this point (both logistically and financially)

Basel is baking, and the locals are making use of the Rhine, which has a fair old current - lining the riverbanks with picnics and drinks, sunbathing, racing back and forth in rowing boats, some swimming "on the spot" for exercise, some drifting merrily downstream - what a great commute that would be!
Due to much needed lazy morning lie in, this being my first day off, have had only had time to visit one of the many art galleries here, and chose that of Tinguely, an eccentric bloke who mainly made moving sculptures out of scrap metal.
Apparently my mobile European roaming doesn't extend to Switzerland, so no updates at all for the next 3 days until I reach Lichtenstein.
  • More borderlands
    • 07/06/2022
Guiding Saar
Nipped back to the Europa museum as had to retrace steps from the campsite anyway.
Forecast is rain of doom, and though it did rain a load overnight, bigger problem first thing was the load of ants I seem to have attracted during the night.
Anyways, clouds are threatening but its hot, humid, sunny, windy.
Steady climbs out of the Moselle valley and over to that of the Saar, passing giant with turbines and a sequence of bizarre menhir based sculptures, somehow significant in the context of the old Germany France border.
Great view from up here of the dark clouds gathering, distant rain etc. A nice Luxembourgeuse? Lady I met at the top warns of " impending hurricane - aren't you worried about getting wet?" Well it just kept not happening, a few light drizzles maybe, as I made good time along the flat with a brief stop in Saarlouis. And then I stopped at a service station to buy some bread, and when I came out again 2 minutes later it was like a monsoon had hit.
Had a good chat with a German cyclist (a teacher of physics and engineering) also waiting the rain out under the service station roof, and then when half an hour later, the downpour slowed and blue skies emerged, continued on along the river to Saarbrucken . The riverside path is also unfortunately the motorwayside path for some of the way, but on the other side a mixture of rusting and functioning iron works, graffiti covered freight wagons, forest, massive locks.
After Saarbrucken, uninspiring apart from its river side beergardens, which are mostly not yet open, things get prettier, until I leave the river at Sarreguimines and head into the rolling countryside.
Didn't find a decent campsite so wild camped in a lovely peaceful quiet meadow!


Layers of sound
Quiet hilltop you say?
Crickets
Busy road in the distance
Music floating up from nearby village
church bells
Wind rustling the leaves of nearby trees
Closer by single car on a small road
Owl hoots
Jet plane
Dog woof
Still crickets
Always crickets. Its a white noise after a while. Or is there a rhythm to it, are they all in sync? Or am I imagining it.

After a nice morning packing up and setting off, the rain found me, waiting until I was halfway up hills with no prospect of cover before unleashing sudden heavy showers. Then letting me dry out before repeating the process. Until lunchtime anyway. Lunch being courtesy of Lidl, which is literally the only food shop open today.
Still criss crossing the border so often that have to check the road signs to have any idea which country I'm in.
And then I arrived in Bitche. Yes, with an eponymous citadel to boot, which refused to surrender during the Franco Prussian war, even after the rest of the fighting was over everywhere else. Interesting tour. And then onwards into more steep wooded hills and valleys of the Vosges du Nord / Alsace, and a string of mediaeval castles built on ridiculous precipices.


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