Today was a short 23 km from Basel to Kembs, France.
First thing this morning I found a bike shop and got the broken spoke on my rear wheel replaced. The shop, Cenci Velo, was kind enough to do the work while I waited. Thanks guys!
While I was out getting my spoke replaced, Jette and Mila packed our bags at the hotel. When I returned, we checked out, left our luggage at the hotel and had a quick breakfast. Then we hopped on our unloaded bikes (wow, they sure felt light!) and explored the Old City of Basel.
Exploring old Basel
Fountain in the Old City of Basel
We then went down one of the main shopping streets. I went into a fantastic book store and bought a couple of books. Mila and Jette went into a pharmacy to get some gauze and ointment for her scraped knee. Instead, the pharmacist dressed the wound for Jette and wrapped it with an elastic bandage.
Getting treated in a pharmacy
We all popped back into the bookstore so Jette could get a new mechanical pencil and eraser to replace her broken/lost set.
A new mechanical pencil and eraser
After that it was back to the hotel to pick up our bags and pack the bikes, then we hit the road. We rode out of Basel on the Rhine Route past the massive Novartis corporate/industrial campus. It is like a city unto itself.
Passing the massive Novartis campus on the edge of Basel
A little further on and we came to the intersection of the Rhine and Rhone au Rhin Canal.
The start of the Rhone au Rhin Canal
The rest of the day’s cycling would be along the canal path.
Along the canal path
Along the canal
Lunch and the canal
Yummy bread and butter
Canal path and field
Planetary distance and scale
More canal trail
We stopped to learn about the fish that live in the canal. There are 12 main species of fish today. In the 1980’s pollution in the Rhine killed off many of the fish and had a big impact on the biodiversity of the canal. In recent years the pollution has lessened and the fish have made a comeback, with a different species mix.
Learning about the fish in the canal
Looking from France into Germany
Village left, canal right
As we came into Kembs we saw people along the canal banks looking at something in the water. As we closer we thought they were beavers, but they were not…
Swamp rats? Otters? Who knows?
Can you tell what they are?
Who are these guys?
They are coypu a.k.a “river rats.” Whatever they are when Jette saw them she said, “Awww…they’re adorable!” and fed them an apple she found on the ground.
Jette and the swimming rodents
Meanwhile I tried swapped SIM cards in my phone, trying to find one that would work. The German card wouldn’t, even though I could throw a rock into Germany. With the Swiss one, I got a text message suggesting that I upgrade to a roaming data package for France, but when I clicked on the link in the message I got an error saying that I didn’t have a roaming data plan! It was a Swisscomm catch-22.
I was hoping for access to Google Maps so I could search for campgrounds close by. Jette was tired and we were all ready for a shorter rest day. A man came out of the house we were parked in front of and in my rusty French I asked him if there was any camping nearby. He said that he wasn’t aware of anything but that we could pitch our tent in his yard if we wanted. It was very kind, but I thanked him profusely and declined. I did’t say it to him, but we were as interested in the potential of a shower and internet connection as much as we were a place to pitch the tent.
I found a spot where apparently the phone “thought” I was close enough to Germany and got a connection. The closest campgrounds were too far and there were no hotels in Kembs. Jette and I rode back to an information map and sign we had passed and found a listing of local B&B’s. There were three, all on the same street. We turned off the canal path and rode into town. Compared to most of of the towns and villages we’ve been thorough on this trip it seemed a bit plain and even rough around the edges.
Kembs – a rather plain village
We quickly found the street we were looking for and two of the B&B’s. The first was a gasthaus style pub-hotel. There was a note taped to the door saying that it was closed until next week. The next one looked more promising, but it too had a note taped to the door. It said that there were two rooms available and gave a phone number to call. The door was locked. I tried my phone, but couldn’t get service with any of the the three SIM cards (German, Swiss, Dutch). I was hoping that one of them would let me buy a roaming package, but no luck. So, we got on our bikes and went in search of the third B&B which was supposedly on the same street. We rode down to where we thought we should find it based on the house number, but there was a roundabout and the street changed names. So, it was back to the second one. We knocked on the door. No answer. There was a restaurant across the street so Jette and I went in and asked if they had a phone we could use. Somehow they understood my French and kindly obliged. I stumbled through a conversation with the man on the other end of the line and a few minutes later we were back across the street and entering the magical oasis of Au Relais de la Pose aux Chevaux.
Au Relais de la Pose aux Chevaux – B&B in Kembs
The driveway entrance
Built in 1739 the building used to be a mail relay station (thus the name Relay of the Mail by Horses). We were warmly greeted by the owner and shown into the beautiful garden and then into the home.
The driveway and shed
Mila with a portrait of Jette
An interior wall showing the original construction methods from 1739.
Hundreds of years of wear and character
As you can see, it is a beautiful, charming place and a fine setting for handstands and cartwheels.
It is almost midnight, so I am off to bed. Goodnight.
Yesterday we rode 45.19km from Bad Sackingen, Germany to Basel, Switzerland.
There were fewer hills than previous days so the distance felt shorter. Mila and Jette both held up well, but I think we are all a bit fatigued after 7 days on the road with no rest. It felt like a long slow day, as we made lots of stops. I had one mechanical issue and Jette took a tumble.
The plan was to pass through Basel and find a campground in France, but we decided, quite wisely I think, to find a hotel in Basel. We found a nice one in the middle of town with a comfortable bed and fast internet. Both are well-appreciated luxuries, and two hotel nights in a row is quite a treat!
I’ve dowloaded photos and videos from the cameras, and will try to get some posts written for the days that we have missed. When I do, I will back date the posts so they are published on the blog on the date they might actually have been if we had had the power/internet/time/energy, and they will appear in the blog in the “proper” order. Here’s the first one: Night Train to Lindau.
So, we began our day yesterday in Bad Sackingen with a huge breakfast at the hotel. Our hotel was a nice one in the middle of town and on the river. We had a fantastic view of the famous covered bridge, which happens to be the longest wooden covered bridge in Europe. It was built in 1272! It was destroyed and rebuilt a number of times and the current version dates from 1700.
Our hotel in Bad Sackingen
The famous covered bridge
View from the hotel balcony
The night before we enjoyed a stroll around town and dinner on the old plaza just in front of our hotel.
Dinner in Bad Sackingen
ice cream cone
Great old window
Pasta of course
Pretty old town
Loaded and ready to roll
So with full tummies, we said goodbye to Bad Sackingen and hit the road. We crossed back into Stein on the South side of the river and followed the D8 route in Switzerland. the route had us on a busy two lane highway as we came out of Stein, so it was a pleasant relief when got out of town and into the forests.
Since the beginning of the trip, we’ve been noting and discussing the changing nature of the landscape, the river, settlement patterns, agriculture, land use and culture. Somehow it seems easier to see these changes as we travel on bikes. The landscape around is is not a motion picture blur like it is on a train or in an automobile. We see it passing slowly and feel the mountains and hills, smell the fresh plowed fields, feel the cool shade of the forests and even taste it in the water.
The route from Bad Sackingen was decidedly less picturesque than days before. The beautiful mountain scenery is past. The terraced hillsides of fruit orchards and vineyards have been replaced with industrial agriculture and more livestock. That’s not to say it is ugly or unpleasant, it’s just different. We did enjoy many shady forest trails.
Interesting rural architecture
More corn fields
Fun in the forest
Through the forest
Enjoying the shade of the forest
Forest road between Bad Sackingen and Basel
On one of the forest trails, I made a u-turn to the left, then looped back a bit to the right to straighten out. The right turn was too acute and trailer tow bar hit my rear wheel. The trailer is quite heavy and the force of the bump knocked by rear wheel out of alignment, with the tire touching the chainstay of the frame.
Rear wheel touching the chainstay
I grabbed a few tools from the trailer, and in about 5 minutes had the wheel re-centered and we were back on our way.
We stopped at a great playground at a park beside the river for a little fun. There was a zombie attack and Jette had to escape to the tower.
Shortly afterwards we stopped in ancient Rome and had lunch in a 2,000 year old theater. Really.
We were in Augusta Raurica, the Roman settlement built around 15 B.C.
2,000 years old!
Augusta Raurica Theater
Cartwheels on stage
Lunch in the Roman theater
The steps and seats of the theater
The theater has been excavated and the remaining, original structures preserved. Modern stone replaces what was lost to time, and the theater is still in use. It is a beautiful spot!
On the outskirts of Basel we decided that we would find a hotel in Basel. It was getting late and we were too tired to make it on to France and a campground.
Taking a break on the outskirts of Basel
After so many days in the quiet countryside, coming into the city felt like culture shock. We found a hotel in center city, but not before Jette caught her front wheel in a crack between the bike lane and gutter pan of the curb and took a tumble. Scraped knee.
Jette took a tumble
We made our way through town and to a very nice hotel. Showered, found a grocery store, munched on dinner in our room, and crashed. We were tired!
Up the hill in Basel
Bike parking at the hotel
Hotel room window
View from our hotel room
Walking to the grocery store
Basel at night
Another night shot
OK, Im’m out of time. Have to get out bags packed and on the bikes for today!
We are alive and well (and having tons of fun)!
It’s been more than a week since our last post, and SO much has happened. The challenge has been finding the time/power/internet to write about it! We are cycling the Rhine and camping along the way, so our days have been very, very full with little time for anything other than “doing” the trip itself. We’ve been spending about 7 hours a day on the bikes. On top of that we have the time it takes to unpack bikes, unpack bags, set up tent/camp, shower, laundry, eat, sleep, break down tent and camp, pack bags, pack bikes, ride!
Here’s a super quick outline of our progress:
- August 27-28: Night train from Amsterdam to Ulm, Germany. Train from Ulm to Lindau.
- August 28: Explored Lindau and set up camp.
- August 29: Rode along the North coast of the Bodensee (Lake Constance) from Lindau to Friedrichshafen (28.6 km)
- August 30: Rode from Friedrichshafen to Meersburg, took the Ferry across the lake to Konstanz and rode on to Mammern, Switzerland (45.5 km)
- August 31: Rode from Mammern to Rhineau (40 km)
- September 1: Rode from Rhineau to Bad Zurzach (47.2 km)
- September 2: Rode from Bad Zurzach to Bad Sackingen (42.5 km)
That puts us at Today.
It is 9 am and I’m sitting in a hotel room. We opted for a hotel instead of the tent last night so we could have a place to charge all of our batteries (phone, cameras, computers, etc.) and have an internet connection to do this blog post! As soon as this is posted, we’ll pack up the bags and the bikes and hit the road. When time/power/internet allow, we’ll do real posts about our ride, so stay tuned!
The plan for today is to cross back into Switzerland and head to Basel and probably beyond. There are bike routes along the Rhine on both the German and the Swiss sides of the river. We’ve been crossing back and forth and using both. Today, we’ll likely be on the Swiss side.
We’re trying to cover more ground each day that we originally planned, as Mila’s injury and recovery period took a chunk out of the time we have in Europe. Our visas expire at the end of the month and we have a flight out on the 27th. More on that later…
Here are some random photos. Hope to have a connection that allows me to post more and some videos soon.
Cartwheels in Bad Sackingen
Up the hill again
On the road
The road ahead
That sweet Swiss water
Dinner and hotel in Rhineau
Castle at Rhinefall
Taking a break
Ice cream on the ferry
Love those delicious Swiss water fountains
Stopping for refreshments. Hey, it’s only a liter.
Doggy airbrush tattoo
Riding out of Lindau
Arriving in Lindau
Bikes and trains
Our first views of Lake Constance Bodensee
Here’s a video update we recorded back on the 14th when we were at Camping Disentis, before we did the zip line, and before we went to Chur where Mila broke her arm.
Obviously our plans changed a little bit after we recorded this. We would have posted this when we recorded it or soon after, but we didn’t have a good internet connection until we landed here in the Amsterdam apartment a few days ago.
So, in the spirit of better late than never, here it is
Another post about our time in Disentis a couple weeks ago… Still playing catch up on blog posts!
Sometime around the beginning of the trip Jette said that she wanted to go on a zip line for her birthday. As luck would have it, we noticed that there was a clip of a zip line in the Camping Disentis promotional video:
We enquired about it, the owner of the campground made a phone call, and we had a zip line session booked. It was 10 days before her birthday, but hey, for a random zip line discovery in a foreign country, you can’t get much closer than that, right?!
To get there we were told (at least as best we could understand with our limited German) to exit the camp, turn left and go up the mountain through four tunnels. At the exit of the 4th tunnel, on the right side we would see some stairs…
So we hopped on our bikes and rode/walked up, up, up… It was all uphill and it was endless. Up the mountain on the narrow, winding mountain highway and through the tunnels. We rode a little, but mostly walked our bikes along the edge of the narrow mountain road.
Hey mister! Please don’t fall to your death.
One of the tunnels was under construction. The girders you can see in the photo above are on the edge of a cliff and below there is a sheer drop. It would be the end for anyone who lost their footing. None of the workers wore safety harnesses or were attached to lines. These guys are human mountain goats.
In the tunnel
Thankfully, a sidewalk
One of the tunnels was 500 meters long! Just getting there was a challenge for us.
Sure enough, at the end of the 4th tunnel, we were greeted by Kim, a muscular man with sun bleached hair and a friendly, weathered smile standing by the edge of the road. It was quite a surprise and seemed quite random as there were no buildings, just a little sidewalk area off to the side of the road at the tunnel entrance. If you were going to cast a mountaineer for a movie, you could find no better person thank Kim.
Note the rope bridge in the background of the photo above. This is one of the bridges that you had to cross to get back after doing the zip line. The zip line itself runs from the upper left of the photo to well below the lower right of the photo. To access the climbing and zip line areas you must climb the rock face in front of our bikes.
We were given harnesses and helmets and joined a group of Swiss Scouts (boys and girls, age 12 to maybe 16) for a brief orientation.
Each harness had a tether with two carabiners. Wherever there were lines marked red and white, we were to clip in using both carabiners, each clipped onto the line in opposing directions. There were iron rods, bent into “”U” shapes and hammered into the stone to act as steps. Lines indicating that you should clip in were marked with red and white tape. We clipped in and climbed the steps. When our progress was blocked by an anchor on the line, we unclipped and reclipped, first one carabiner and then the other – so we were always secured by at least one of the carabiners at the end our our harness tether. After the orientation, each person, regardless of age, was responsible for his or her own safety and that of their climbing mates. There were two staff members in the area, but generally speaking, after orientation, you were on your own.
None of our photos even begin to do it justice or suggest the scale of the scene, but the zip line ran at a steep angle across a rocky gorge with a river at it’s base. There were a variety of cable bridges spanning the gorge at various heights and angles – these were the only way to get back once you had crossed on the zip line. None of them had stable footing. Steps were fashioned from pieces of wood hung from cables with no horizontal support, so they swung in the wind and underfoot. Crossing them was like stepping from one crooked swing to another. We were clipped in to a cable above, so a fall would not be a fatal fall of 20 or 50 or 100 feet to the rocks of the river below. A misstep and a fall would leave you dangling by your harness tether and require that you pull yourself up the cable, regain your place on the bridge, and finish the crossing.
The easiest cable bridge and the roadway
The zip line and some of the bridges
The end of the zip line and the easy bridge back
In the photo above, the small blue pad on the face of the cliff is the only thing between you and splat should the zip line equipment or its operator fail. The wooden platform where the two people in white shirts are standing is the place where, after your zip line session, you can elevate yourself to unclip from the zip line. After that you are on your own getting back. You can scale the rocks to the right and cross the “easy” bridge, or climb the rocks and a series of wooden structures and iron steps in the cliff face to get to other more difficult bridges.
Another view of the zip line
Our intrepid zip liners getting ready for the plunge!
Before we did the zip line across the gorge, we did a little rock climbing.
Jette begins her ascent
Getting close to the top.
Then it was time for the zip line. I went first, followed by Jette and then Mila. The scariest part is the initial jump off the cliff at the beginning. There is 6 or 8 feet of shallow drop before the sheer drop of the cliff face and there was enough give in the cable and length to the tether that my feet dragged ground momentarily before I was fully over the edge, giving strength to the question, “Is this thing going to hold?!”
Jette was next and she was all smiles on the way down.
Made it! At the bottom of the zip line.
Heading up to the easy bridge.
Clipping in at the foot of the bridge
Another view of the easy bridge. It looks low from this angle, but in some places it is quite a long drop to the river below.
The end of the easy bridge and the beginning of the wall climb.
We don’t have any photos that really capture it, but the bridge crossings and climbs back up were challenging. It can be a bit nerve wracking watching your almost-ten-year-old un-clip and re-clip to get around an anchor bolt on a vertical rock wall 100 feet above a stone filled, rushing river!
The videos make the bridge crossings look easy. They were harder than they looked!
Jette is amazing. She met the physical challenges as well as the physiological ones. Even as we ran out of energy, she was very careful with each of the dozens clip-outs and clip-ins as we climbed and traversed the bridges. As we climbed, we talked about how fatigue can lead to mistakes. She consistently mindful and made no mistakes. I on the other hand had to re-clip twice after failing to get one of my carabiners properly secured on a cable.
After riding/walking up the mountain, two zip line sessions, bridge crossings, and climbs back up, we were totally exhausted.
Yawn! We’re worn out.
Thank goodness camp was down the mountain…and they served ice cream!
Not a bad early birthday celebration.
So much has happened that we haven’t had time (or power/internet) to blog about, so before it is lost to the mists of time, let me tell you about our time in Disentis-Sedrun. After Andermatt, we took the train to Disentis.
Looking back at Andermatt from the train to Disentis
Arriving in Disentis
We rode our bikes through town and down the steep hills to Camping Disentis where we pitched our tent. This place turned out to be something of a paradise, especially for kids. The European campgrounds we’ve experienced have been very nice, with excellent facilities. Camping Disentis puts them all to shame. All the basic facilities – showers, bathrooms, etc. were very, very nice, and super clean. They had a nice restaurant with a patio facing a lawn with a bounce house for kids.
The cafe at Camping Disentis
It is just out of frame, but there was an ice cream stand and a small shop selling all sorts of goodies. You could also place orders for fresh bread, delivered each morning. The Rhine River ran along the edge of the camp. Because we were still so close to its source, the Rhine here is often called the “Young” Rhine. The waters are still crystal clear and cold, and known for hiding gold! Many of you may know Richard Wagner’s famous opera The Rhinegold. We didn’t see any Rhinemaidens, but we did see lots of people panning for gold!
Panning for gold in the Rhine at Camping Disentis
Rhine on the right tents on the left
Jette in the Rhine, not far from its source
The clear, cold waters of the Rhine in Disentis
Jette in the Rhine, not far from its source
Jette loved wading through the river and jumping from stone to stone
We spent hours exploring the shallow rapids of the river, panning for gold, and just having fun. We even had a favorite spot for having our meals in the river. We had boulders for seats and the cold water of the river to chill our feet and our drinks.
At camp, there were clear streams and springs feeding a beautiful swimming hole, with a raft that the kids can pull across like a ferry.
Swimming hole at Camping Disentis
The ferry docks
Swimming at Camping Disentis
The clear water of the swimming hole.
There were hundreds of kids and families staying in RV’s and tents, but surprisingly it never seemed too busy. We learned a little bit about Swiss culture in our stay here. The camp was crowded, but it was never noisy. There was no music, much less loud music playing anywhere, ever. There was constant conversation, but no one was loud. In the mornings, when we awoke, we could hear the birds sining and the rushing sounds of the river, but not our neighbors, even if they were in the tent just feet from ours. The Swiss campers all seemed to adhere to the same routine. Most had breakfast at their tent or RV. Breakfast was fresh bread with jam and butter, muesli, or yoghurt. On to the daily outdoor activities. In the late afternoon a sweet treat, perhaps ice cream around 3:30 or 4:00.
Late afternoon everyone headed to the shower to clean up, followed by dinner. After dinner there were three main activities: badminton, cards, and reading. Many of the kids quietly played cards or badminton, some sat quietly and read books. Yes, actual paper books. No one had electronic devices. No cameras, no phones, no iPods, no computers. Compared to home, it was shocking how many people actually read books! What a nice surprise. It was also interesting to see how virtually everyone was on the same schedule. I guess that’s a function of Switzerland being a small, homogenous country. It was nice.
Cozy in our tent