It has been a whirlwind few days getting from the flatlands of the Netherlands to the mountains of Switzerland. On Friday morning, we loaded the bikes for the first time and rode to the Amsterdam Centraal Train Station.
The day before we had purchased tickets to Andermatt, Switzerland for ourselves and our bikes. Originally we had hoped to take a night train with sleeping bunks to Switzerland, but because we were traveling with bikes and it is the Summer high season, there were no such tickets available for weeks. We ended up with tickets to Andermatt that required an overnight stay in Brussels, Belgium and a total of 5 train changes as we passed through the Netherlands, France, Luxemburg, and Switzerland.
We immediately discovered that train travel was bit more challenging with heavily loaded bicycles! We rolled our heavily loaded bike into the Amsterdam station and discovered that the escalator to the platform was not working. We were faced with hundreds of pounds of bikes and baggage and a long stairway up to the platform. When loaded, our bikes are too heavy to lift. So, getting on the first train in Amsterdam required us to pull the bags off the bikes, and make multiple trips up and down, up and down the long stairs to the platform lugging bags and bikes. Once we had everything up on the platform, we loaded all the bags on the bikes again to get everything down the platform. When the train arrived, there was a mad scramble to find a car that would accomodate the bicycles, and then a rush to get to that car, pull the bags off the bikes, hoist the bikes into the train, and load ourselves and our luggage before the train left the station. This we repeated at each of the five stations where we changed trains, and one where we did not.
Our itinerary had us spending the night in Brussels, so when we arrived we did the strenuous “bicycle train station dance,” loaded our bikes and set out for the hotel Mila had found online. We didn’t have map of brussels (or connections for our phones) so we asked for directions at the hotel across the street from the train station and set off in the horrible early evening traffic of Brussels. We were on a busy main street, so we walked our bikes for quite a while, then, when a bike lane appeared and the traffic calmed a bit, we hopped on our bikes. 15 minutes later we pulled up to Hotel Belleview, found a nice spot to lock up the bikes, checked in, and enjoyed a well-earned shower.
After we cleaned up, we ventured out on foot to dinner at Bij Den Boer, a local seafood restaurant where we sat on the sidewalk patio and enjoyed a nice dinner. The next morning we were up at 5 a.m. packing our bikes for a ride to the train station and the train, or rather, the next 4 trains to Andermatt, Switzerland, very near the source of the Rhine River.
When we left France and stopped at a station in Luxembourg, the staff on the train changed. The new conductors came through, checked tickets and told us in rapid-fire French that our bikes would have to be moved to another car. The stop at the station was only minutes, and much confusion ensued as we made the 6 or 8 trips required to pull all of our stuff – bikes and bags – off the train an onto the platform. Meanwhile, a team of three conductors barked at us in French, often with contradictory instructions and directions. Mila and Jette were hustled down the platform with some of the bags and disappeared. I was hoisting the bikes into a different car with the “help” of one of the conductors. Just as the train was beginning to move, I grabbed our last bag – the huge green duffel bag, and was directed into a one of the cars. I hopped on and walked the length of the car looking for Mila and Jette. They were nowhere to be seen. I knew they must be on the train so I hoisted the heavy duffel over my shoulder so I could fit down the narrow isles, and started walking from car to car looking for them. Ultimately I found them (and a very distressed Mila who thought the train had left me at the station) in a first-class compartment. We had been upgraded. Nice! Luxembourg, we take back all of those curses we hurled at you back at the station.
After what seemed like endless trains, stations, loadings and unloadings, we made it to Andermatt, Switzerland. We loaded the bikes and rode through this beautiful village nestled in among the peaks of the Alps. We cruised through town, then looked for Basecamp Andermatt where we thought we might stay. After half an hour of more of searching for it with no luck we rode across town to the Andermatt Campground which is a beautiful green field on the edge of town. Just a simple patch of grass, but wow, what views!
We pitched our tent, stashed our gear, locked our bikes, and went for a stroll to find dinner. We ate on the sidewalk patio of the local joint that seemed busiest with folks who looked like locals.
Although it was no surprise, it was immediately clear that our bikes and our bodies were not ready for alpine roads. Our simple, heavy three-speeds are gear for flat ground or small hills, not mountain passes. With just a “backpedal” or “coaster” brake, my bike lacks the stopping power for real hills, especially when loaded with 100 lbs. of bags and 220 lbs. of me. I could make it up the hills, but getting back down was a challenge with the lack of braking power. Not to mention the fact that none of us have the “legs” for the real mountain passes. While the narrow two lane mountain highways offer beautiful views, they are too much for us. Plus, they are crowded with surprising number of motorcyclists, trucks, busses, cars, and other cyclists. We’ll take the train to lower altitudes, thank you very much.
So in the morning, we packed up the bikes and rode to the train station for the train to Disentis.
The place we are staying in Disentis is heavenly, but more on that in the next post…