We cycle the leisurely 50km to Luzern, and Sandra.
We are welcomed in traditional Swiss fashion. Traditional Swiss birthday follows with traditional consequences. Train to Zurich for traditional Zurich street parade and traditional Swiss hard style. Daniela, Hannes (Part 1), Yannick. Traditional Swiss Sunday of rest and recuperation. Next day traditional hiking in the mountains, traditional sound of cow bell cacophony and traditional lunch of grated potato and cheese. Traditional past times and pleasures fill our days as we allow our buttocks to heal and enjoy the pleasure of Sandra once again.
A damp awakening. One of many. Ginette invites us in for breakfast. Guido returns from his first job of the day, then goes out to buy pastries. They invite us to stay in their garden for as long as we want. Guido gives us a bottle of red to drink and they both depart to work. The weather is drizzly and not wanting to cycle in the rain we stay and start watching “24” in what becomes a surreal situation of open air screening in someone else’s garden. A venture to piss in the pizzeria arouses the suspicions of some suspicious garage workers next door who advance on our location to peer at us with disgruntled countenances. We decide to pre-empt problems and go out to engage which requires more broken Italian but eventually placates them. The big chief finishes his inspection with a point to his eye, then a window, and the word “banditos”. We don’t know if he is referring to himself, or us, our mutual predilections, or some absent third party menace so we nod convincingly and part ways. Feeling awkward we tuck into the wine and enjoy the absurdity of Jack Bauer’s facial expressions and conversational technique. Guido returns for a short time, then later Ginette finishes work and we chat until we must depart. We push on 20km to Olten as the day darkens. The town stretches into Zolfingen and we slip away onto a cycle path and camp by some log sheds.
First experience of a Leaderprice supermarket leaves us nauseous. We arrive in St Louis, the French half of a city split in two. A policeman waves us past a border checkpoint in the middle of a busy residential street and we seamlessly transition to Basel. We drink a beer overlooking the Rhine which is ferocious in its flow. A little boat tries to motor upstream but can not compete and a stalemate ensues of futile thrust on a bed of frantic liquid. The treadmill halts when the plug is pulled and the boat is catapulted upstream as it summons submerged vigour. The Swiss countryside is a postcard of verdant hills decorated in trees, well kept abodes and traditional farmhouses, wooden and well windowed. We stop in the village of Lausen and cook spaghetti on a bench on the main road. A man by the name of Guido stops intrigued by our presence. He invites us to join him and his lady friend later for a beer in a nearby pizzeria. As the sun sets we debate our options, reluctant to leave our bikes unattended outside but salivating for a beer and chance interaction we venture over. Beers and conversation are followed by the offer of a garden as a resting place. We retire to their patio to drink wine which aids the remembrance of Italian to communicate with Ginette. Before we sleep Guido gives us a bottle of champagne to drink on 4th August, Switzerland’s national day. Sleep on a sun lounger is spoilt by rain enforcing retreat under the veranda to be soaked by spray.
Cycled through Fort Briash. Camped in a nature reserve.
Rise to breakfast banquet and hours of conversation; anecdotes, recommendations, warnings, all interspersed with cheeses, cakes, fruits and meats. It is a revelation to speak to people who have travelled the road we will and their words rewrite our schematics. News from a chance encounter with a Chinese cycle tourist (…the women of Iran “they are very beautiful, but you can not touch them.” (said with a Chinese accent and advisory finger waggling.)) outside Koln informed us that a Pakistani tourist visa can only be obtained in our own country, something we can not do. Severed route to India requires a re-plan that swells with Matine’s and Dominique’s stories of travelling through Mongolia to Vladivostok to take the Trans-Siberian express to Moscow, and their final weeks cycling back to their doorstep. We are struck by the sense of completion and satisfaction, and having ourselves never wanted to finish the journey on a plane, we decide to ditch Japan and follow the final stages of their trip. With a real sense of friendship and connection we effusively say goodbye and exit the village. Barely 2km gone and we stop for lunch, boiled eggs and baguette kindly donated to us by our just parted hosts to counter the Sunday Sabbath of silent shops. We sit on a hill overlooking fields and villages and play a game of chess that lasts 3 hours. Queen is lost early but methodical assassination counters until a rogue pawn reaches the promised land and a resurrected queen causes the citadel to crumble. We cruise in the sun, slightly back tracking to join the cycle lane following the Grand Canal de Alsace. We pass through Strasbourg, EU buildings, curb lurking hookers and an angry jogger. We exchange pleasantries and speed off, checking regularly to see if he is chasing us. Struggle to locate a camping spot sees us cycling on the bank of the Rhine, on the edge of a vertical drop, in the dark, while a panoply of insects form a coalition of the willing and temporarily put their disputes aside to assault us, attracted to the beacons that are our bike lights. We camp near Plobhiem, by the side of an isolated canal.
The rubber is hungry for tarmac the tarmac is hungry for erratic French drivers and we balance on the cusp until our mouths shut down to conserve energy. We pass our first summit, a colossal 560m. The downhill is an eddy of obtuse angles. 20km detour due to the popularity of the name “Dominique”. Imposter scrutiny over we track down his inspiration in a small village and staggering off our bikes we enter the world of Martine, and Dominique. We sit in an old, renovated farm house of dark wood and creeks and delay their departure to a family party by summoning the memories of their cycle trip in 2012, one which encompassed a similar route to ours, but with an intriguing edit. They exit leaving us beer, wine, a massive savoury flan and the freedom of their house. Plans to be productive = instantly falling asleep marking this the first time that a gift of a bottle of red has ever been declined. It won’t happen again.
We pass through Saarbrucken, another German city with a hard edge. The landscape is industrial, but often derelict, with vast pipes entwined with vines and foliage and huge factories and buildings abandoned to nature. We cross into France for the first time to be greeted by dirty supermarkets and faded, paint chipped houses. We pass through a village having its summer fete, loud, tinny pop music, rows of wooden tables in the main square, extortionately priced bouncy castle, local girls unimpressed by foreign flirting masquerading as inquires for directions. We camp in an anonymous French field behind a layby.