All posts by David May

Easy Riding

` Friday June 7th

We leave Passau on a bike path alongside a busy road and by midday we arrive at the Schlogen loop. When the river was forming it came up against a hard granite wall which it was unable to erode and so was forced to double back on itself. We stay at the Donauschlinge hotel at the apex of the loop.

River cruise ship at dusk
The ferry serving our Schlogen hotel

Sitting on the hotel’s broad deck one can see all the river traffic approaching, rounding the 90 degree bend and departing. That night I am awoken by a howling east wind and on looking out see one of the longest crocodile-like hotel boats gingerly rounding the loop; they must be difficult to steer under such conditions. The next morning dawns clear and calm as though nothing happened a few hours earlier.

Saturday June 8th

The day starts with a large buffet style breakfast and then a short ferry crossing to the north bank. A kilometer further we take another ferry back to the south bank as we cannot pass through the nature reserve on the north side, and the boat that bypasses it, we learn, won’t leave for an hour and one-half. The only sign of the storm are innumerable small branches littering the path. For the first time on this trip we see a lot of fishermen on the banks. They are well set up with cosy tents equipped with tables, chairs and small stoves. None, though, appear to be catching anything so I suppose its just a pleasant way to spend a weekend. There is a lot more bicycle traffic than we have seen to date. Most people are on Ebikes and there are charging stations at regular intervals. We stop for a coffee break at 10 and to my surprise the table of cyclists next to us are drinking large tankards of beer. I am wobbly enough without consuming alchohol but this lot jump on their bikes with aplomb and peddle off … to the next beer garden I suppose! On our way to Linz we make a detour to visit a Cistercian monastery and church in Wilhering. The Cistercian order is quite austere and the few Cistercian monasteries and churches I have visited in France and Italy were beautiful in their simplicity of Romanesque architecture and lack of ornamentation. David opens the door to the church and I am quite speechless and succumb almost immediately to vertigo! The whole church … walls, ceilings, everywhere are decorated in a rococo Baroque style gone mad. Really I cannot stand it and have to leave. Next to the entrance to the church is a small room with a whitewashed vaulted ceiling and whitewashed walls whose sole ornament is a simple cross. I can only assume the monks come here to recuperate after visiting their church.

Wilhering abbey church
Ceiling of Cistercian church
White chapel in Cistertian church

We arrive in Linz a little later. David has been here 25 years ago and has been quite disparaging about the city but today it is very different, no cars in the center, coffeeshops and young people everywhere and expensive looking shops. We eat wonderfully well in the Crocodil Metro and I am sorry that we haven’t left more time to explore the city.

Linz
Stiegelbräu brew pub, Linz
Family dinner at Krokodil Restaurant, with living plant curtains
Linz cafe with wine bottle chandelier

Sunday June 9th

Early Sunday morning and no traffic in the city … I can actually ride my bike from our hotel, over the bridge and onto the bike path without getting off! It’s a shaded path with wide green areas on either side where walkers are letting their dogs run free and runners, cyclists and roller bladers are on the path … everyone like us taking advantage of the cool morning. Later that morning we reach a town and I dismount as there is a lot of traffic.

Typical town along the Austrian Danube

A German woman cuts in front of me, slide slips on the curb and crashes onto the pavement, landing with her bike on top of her. « Allés ist gut! » she keeps saying as I try to help. She doesn’t look particularly « gut », blood is everywhere, and I am thankful when her husband appears. Rather shaken I join David further up the road, he has ridden through the town, with my policy of dismounting in traffic further enforced. The rest of the ride to Grein, a very pretty town on the banks of the river, is without further incident.

Bikers cafe along the north bank path to Grein
Our waitress in a Grein cafe

Monday 11th June

The morning starts with a ferry crossing to the south bank.

In Grein, bicycle ferry arriving (to go to south bank bike path)
On bicycle ferry, leaving Grein

As we ride along the shaded road twenty or so tractors pass by festooned with ribbons and flags … there must be a tractor festival somewhere. It’s an easy ride, mercifully mostly in shade, and by midday we arrive at Weitenegg where we will spend the night at a gasthaus next to the river. The heat is increasing and I am thankful David decided to stop here and to take a taxi to Melk and its famous monastery on the other bank. This is a must visit place on the river boat hotels’ itinerary and the courtyard is swarming with tourists. Monks no longer live here and the ticket seller tells us that every cent made from the visitors is ploughed back into the upkeep of the monastery and its buildings. Indeed it sparkles, the exhibits in the museum are beautifully displayed and visitors follow a marked route that prevents too much crowding. The church is ornate, but not overly so and not vertigo inducing! Chairs and music stands are being set up and apparently many concerts are held here throughout the year.

Abbey church, Melk
Library, Melk Abbey
I would regret if I had not been here – Maria Theresa 1743
View of Melk from abbey

After the visit to the church we head to the garden and its pavilion for much needed bottles of water.

Pavilion café
Directions how to use the toilet, Melk Abbey Pavilion ladies room

Back at the gasthaus we eat our first schnitzels of the trip washed down by a couple of pints of a local Pilsner. I am not much of a beer drinker but wine is out of the question in this heat.

Tuesday 12th June

At breakfast beside a doorway we notice a series of plaques that show the high water marks of the Danube floods since 1899. The last major flood which comes up to my nose was in 2013. The owner who speaks good English tells us that the gästhaus has been in her family for four generations. »The floods are terrible » she says. « We have to move everything from this floor … all the dining room furniture, all the kitchen stuff, everything! » And looking at how much there is it must have taken a long time to get everything upstairs. She tells us that the walls are painted with a whitewash that does not allow the water to be trapped and thereby causing mold. « We can cope with a flood every ten years, but more frequently … » she shakes her head.

Highly decorated dining room of our Melk guest house
Tessa and the Danube flood levels at our guest house
Before the gästhaus, morning check of bikes

Today’s ride takes us through the picturesque wine country of the Wachau region.

Bike path through a wine village
Vineyard and village, Wachau wine region

We pass the castle in Dürnstein where Richard the Lionhearted was imprisoned for offending Leopold the Virtuous during the Crusades, then pedal through Stein, a lovely medieval town that adjoins Krems. Before attempting to find our hotel we stop at the new Karikatur Museum on the outskirts of the town. It is the only museum in Austria that exhibits satirical art and the work of the featured artist, Manfred Deix, is very powerful.

Karikatur Museum: What might have been.
At the Karikatur Museum, Krems
Karikatur Museum restaurant

Next door is the museum’s restaurant, thankfully air conditioned as today is the hottest day yet, and we enjoy a good lunch and several bottles of water. David was bitten by an insect a few days earlier and his arm is still swollen. He stops at a pharmacy to buy some ointment but the pharmacist suggests that he visit the only doctor in town who is seeing patients that day. So much of our afternoon is spent sitting in a waiting room along with a screaming child, a couple of heavily tattooed overweight young women and several elderly people. When eventually we see the doctor she says the bite is not serious and writes a prescription for an ointment that David was going to buy in the first place! I am more than thankful when we finally get to the gasthaus where we are staying! The evening cools a little and we walk back into the old town to an Austrian restaurant. The couple at the adjoining table strike up a conversation in good English. He is an oncologist specializing in radiation treatment. « In Krems we have the most up to date equipment. It cost several million euros. Would a town of similar size (25,000) in USA have such equipment? I don’t think so! » He says proudly and we have to agree. He is also a cyclist and during the summer months rides everyday. « In winter, » he laments, « I become pregnant as the weather is too bad to ride a bike! » His wife, a high school teacher, is much more interested in music than in cycling and describes how almost every town in the country hosts open-air concerts throughout the summer and how they will frequently spend a weekend in another part of Austria just to attend a particular concert or opera. We return late to our hotel.

The Golden Angel, our guest house in Krems

David writing:

We have arrived in Vienna! A Greek dinner just up the street to celebrate. Bikes are being boxed by a nearby shop. In four days we are in Magagnosc. An air conditioned room, thank God, as the temperatures keep rising! Tessa has a list of museum exhibitions and I will revisit Charlemagne’s regalia, now 1200 years old. We will see the Spanish Riding School’s famous horse show.

If I were writing yesterday, I would have lauded the Austrian bike paths. The German ones were a helter-skelter linkage of local bike paths, often improvised to avoid new construction; in Austria they were perfectly signed everywhere, always well paved, a major tourist attraction. So I would have said yesterday. The last stage was anything but. There was not a single sign for leaving Krems, but with map and questions we eventually. Found the path. Next we had to ride on an entirely torn up 3 km gravel and stone section (presumably to be a new road). Much later the bike path had been entirely rerouted, thankfully with small signs saying Eurovelo 6 “Umleitung” (Detour).

Approaching Tulin by a detour our map was unhelpful, but there were scattered roadside maps with red dots for our locations. Nonetheless we became lost in a park. We waved down an older rider who spoke no English and asked the way to the railway station. (Why, you might wonder, were we taking the train for the last 40 kilometers?: 95 degrees with 20 mph headwinds gusting to 30.) “Which train line?,” he asked. And after no response from my part, “The Franz Joseph Railway?” “Ja”. He indicated “follow me”, and thank goodness again, because it took 15 minutes and we would have taken hours to find it by ourselves. Leaving us at the ticket machine inside a tunnel, he rode off, barely accepting thanks.

Tessa’s summary:

As there were many more sections on gravel paths particularly in Germany the riding was harder. Slightly wider tires would have made me feel more secure. However I enjoyed the first week in Germany enormously; there were fewer cyclists (most tours start from Passau) and the countryside was beautiful. And, as in previous years, everyone we encountered along the way whether we were lost or not was helpful and friendly. I am proud we made it to Vienna without serious incident … it was a long way to cycle in such hot weather!

David’s summary:

Looking back, because of the German climate data and the forecast I carried no summer shirts. We carried extensive rain gear but it never rained. We know now that in June the further east one goes, the hotter and less rainy the weather becomes. And also, while rainy weather brings westerlies, fair weather brings winds from the east or southeast. Thus we faced unexpected headwinds, sometimes light, sometimes heavy, on all but two of our riding days.

This year we rode 729 kilometers and covered 77 more by boat and train, a total of 846 (about 510 miles). Since we set out, three riding years ago, from the Atlantic Ocean, we have covered 2,393 kms (1,426 miles). We are more than half-way from the Atlantic to the Black Sea, but what the future brings remains to be seen. Stay tuned next year.

Bucolic lanes and a hellish highway

Tessa here:

Wednesday June 5th

We have an early breakfast along with numerous businessmen dressed in what appears to be a de rigueur uniform of jeans and and open neck shirts. Only the Asian men are wearing suits. There are many international corporations based in Regensburg most connected with the auto industry as well as a burgeoning hi-tech hub. The first Amazon distribution center in Europe is here. It’s a relief to get back beside the Danube. We stop at a small cafe to buy water and the elderly owner is so delighted to have customers that he joins us. He is even more delighted to notice that David has had a knee operation as he has had two, the last one still causing trouble; in broken English he says his prosthetic is British.

New knees

We leave the river and bike endless kilomètres across open farmland. By midday it is really hot, the forecast predicted temperatures over 90F, so it is with relief in a village we see a small tent-like pavilion in a garden with a sign reading “Fahrrad Oasis” (Bike Oasis). A pleasant lady serves us two much needed bottles of water and a cup of soup each … she must do good business with cyclists and indeed as we leave a large group arrives. Thunderclouds are piling up over the distant hills and I hope that we do not have to cycle in a storm. My tour organizer husband has told me that we are overnighting in a lovely hotel in the country. What he didn’t mention (and didn’t know) was that to reach it we have to cycle along a really busy highway with large trucks whistling by a few inches from my bike. I dismount and push my bike along a narrow grass verge for several kilometers swearing loudly. David has vanished up the road and I manage to run across the dreadful highway onto a lane that I hope leads to the hotel. It does but the “country” hotel is on the same highway I left, and it is near a factory that employs 2000 people making auto parts … I am not exactly happy. Luckily the manager dissipates some of my fury. He is young, very helpful and very proud of his hotel. He apprenticed in hotel management in Regensburg at the same hotel/beer garden we ate at the previous evening. He worked on cruise ships for a while and learnt several languages before returning to manage this hotel in his home village. I ask if he can find us a route that does not involve a hellish highway back to the Danube and to Deggendorf where we will catch a river boat to Passau tomorrow. Later he knocks on the door with a map of a route that takes country roads to rejoin the bike path.

Thursday June 6th

The manager’s route is wonderful … it passes immaculate farms, no junky ploughs and tractors laying around the farmyards here, and neatly cut verges. David had originally calculated 40 kilometers to Deggendorf but thankfully it is only 22 and we are soon at the outskirts of town. Unfortunately between us and the dock is a 2 km path of large loose gravel. Understandably leery of gravel I dismount much to David’s dismay. “Hurry up or we’ll miss the boat!” He shouts. We don’t of course and board along with a hundred 80 year old widows or at least I assume they are widows as there a few men.

Cruising to Passau

Initially there’s little traffic on the river but then we start passing mostly Belgian flagged barges pushing their way against the current. Outside Passau we slow and stop. The lock is catering to upriver traffic. In fact it is catering to one craft; an incredibly long floating river hotel flying a Swiss flag. It resembles a crocodile.

Lock closed
Lock opening

Soon we head into the lock along with two barges and 40 minutes later we are opposite the town and disembarking. Three rivers meet in Passau. The “blue” Danube and the “black” Inn (both definitely muddy green at the moment), and the smaller Ilz. Its a pretty town, the last before Austria, that was rebuilt by master Italian architects after a devastating fire in the 17th century and it has a light and frothy Italian look.

Pigeons at Residenz Square
Saint-Stephan’s cathedral, Passau

Later we walk across the Inn on our way to dinner. The river is racing under the bridge; it more than doubles the water volume of the Danube.

Bridge over the Inn

After an excellent dinner outdoors with a fine view of Passau we head back thankful for hotel umbrellas as large thunderstorm drops of rain are starting to fall.

Passau cheesecake

Vengeful Gods

Tessa here: Its getting hot by the time we finish breakfast and the bike checks so we are late leaving Gunzburg. By the time we enter Dillingen, 30 kms away, it is close to 86F. It is a large town filled with impressive buildings, frothy houses and tall towers but architecture is not as important right now as a big bottle of cold water. A cafe appears and duly refreshed we hit the road again. I’m grousing as apart from the path when we left Ulm we have seen little of the Danube and now David leads us to a main road with a bike path beside it. Fortunately it is easy biking but not what I signed up for! However when we finally reach Donauworth my mood lifts. Its a very attractive small town with the old part on an island in the middle of the Wornitz river just before it reaches the Danube.

Donauworth view

But its SO hot. A beer helps and a late afternoon breeze comes up so by the time we head out for dinner we are feeling cooler. We decide to eat in the Indian restaurant opposite the hotel. I had assumed that in Germany I would have to eat schnitzel everyday but no, in the three days that we’ve been here we’ve eaten in places owned by Greeks and Sicilians and now we are eating at a restaurant owned by Punjabis; and it is one of the best Indian meals we’ve had! Our young Punjabi waiter has arrived in this small town via Italy and is here as a relative owns the restaurant. He is happy, he says, to be earning enough to support his family, his wife has just had a baby, and to be able to rent a small house. He has no ambition to make a lot of money or own a business. The young woman who checks us out of the hotel the next morning has similar sentiments. She had gone to USA, married a person of color as she put it, and returned to Donauwirth, her birthplace, as she found America too expensive. “Here,” she says, “the taxes I pay mean that my children can go to school and eventually university and to the doctor without additional cost. They can run and play in the streets without fear. The townspeople accept us, a mixed race family, without prejudice. I am happy to have returned!”

We know Monday will be a long day, 70 kms, but I am happy as it is mostly, according to David’s map, along unpaved bike paths alongside the Danube. The river flows fast. It is a murky green and appears devoid of life; we have not even seen a fisherman on its banks. But the birdsong and the serenades of the enamoured bull frogs are deafening even if we cannot see them. In fact the only animal I have seen is a large hare lolloping through a hayfield. We leave the river and cycle past fields of ripening barley and rapeseed. Every so often the farmyard smell of silage and manure assail the nostrils but more often it is the fresh and familar scent of new mown hay. Back to the river and the path takes a sharp turn. Two Scots whom we have met along the way suddenly reappear. “There are no signs anywhere!” they say. David goes ahead and by the process of elimination takes a path through a village.

Nesting stork

Bicycle signs reappear and they are pointing up a very steep hill and there has been no mention of hills by my husband. It is hotter than the day before and by the time we push the bikes up for a good twenty minutes and into a wood all four of us are parched. Our water is getting low and we are still heading up. I had noticed a sign in German back by the river and the only words I had understood were “werk” and “polder”; obviously more dykes and wetlands are being constructed and we are on a bypass. We come out of the wood and joy, the path goes down. Our Scottish friends, both younger and faster, disappear. We reach the village at the bottom and after a short pedal along the Danube we arrive in Ingolstadt.

Crossing the bridge at Ingollstadt

Its 1 pm and the schools have just finished for the day. The town is swarming with attractive young people all noticeably skinnier than their American counterparts. They are on bikes, in the cafes, all over the sidewalks, at the bus stops … its impossible to move but then on the opposite side of the road I spy a shaded restaurant. We park the bikes, sit down with relief and a waiter appears … and he is Punjabi! We explain we don’t want much to eat but we do want water, a lot of it. He is quite amazed by our ability to down 3 liters but suggests we should at least try the soup and maybe some samosas. And so we eat Indian food for the second time in less than 24 hours. We buy another two liters for the road and David, after looking at the bill, says its the most expensive water he has ever paid for, €5 a bottle, but without doubt the most worthwhile! There are still another 30 kms to go before we get to Vohburg and our hotel. Back to the Danube and to a direct track that leads there. It is partially shaded by trees and the light headwind cools us as we ride but it is still infernally hot. The path is bumpy and and slow so that it is with relief that we finally see the bridge we have to cross into Vohburg. But the gods see fit to launch one last thunderbolt; coming off the dyke down a short slope covered in gravel David’s bike sideslips and he falls, luckily, into the grass. No damage, just a shock, and it is with much relief that we reach our hotel finally at 6:30. A long cool shower, a not very good pasta at an Italian cafe owned by a Napolitano and finally bed. What a day!

Tuesday June 4th

We manage an early start but the gods are not done with us yet. David has placed my saddle bag a little too far forward and when I mount the bike my foot catches the bag and over the bike goes … luckily I stay upright. This obviously infuriates the gods, as rounding a bend on the gravel path the bike hits a particularly large stone and in an instant my handlebars are at a 90 degree angle to the frame and over I go. Luckily I was not going fast but falling on gravel at any speed is bad news for skin. My elbow is now bereft of a large patch of it and an angry red in colour. It appears that with all the bumping on gravel paths the last few days the screws that secure the handlebars to the frame had loosened so, a note to the bike mechanic, check all screws after riding the Danube dyke paths! But the deities are still not finished. I proceed along the path quite gingerly at first but soon get back to my usual 18 kph. Then, after a couple of hours I slow just as the bottom screw on my water bottle holder loosens and it starts flailing around. A little later going up a ramp I cannot get my foot detached from the pedal just as my seat decides to make a 90 degree swivel! Off I fall again but do no damage.

Hops near bikepath
Danube Gorge, no bike path here

David has planned to catch a train the last 30 km to Regensberg but I had thought to ride it alone but now … no way! I will leave it to David to record the pleasanter aspects of the ride today!

Across for our Goliath Hotel on Goliath Street

Street in Regensburg Old Town
Regensburg Cathedral from Beer Garden

David writing: When I assembled the bicycles in Frankfurt, I tightened Tessa’s handlebar screws as tight as I could. Tessa’s description doesn’t do justice to the many jaring sections of the tracks atop the dikes along the Danube. One really should use broader, cushier (and therefore slower) tires. It is truly lucky that when the handlebar screws became completely loose and her front wheel turned sideways Tessa was riding at a slow speed. Otherwise she would have had a catastrophic accident.

One screw for Tessa’s water bottle is stripped and the other one loosened from the vibration. Tessa’s bike seat was as tight as possible, so it must have suffered a huge force when her bike fell. Lesson: On gravelly, stony bike paths, check the screws frequently!

While Tessa loves the endless Danube, I much prefer the towns. The old town of Regensburg, where we are now, espccially beautiful. Bicycles, mainly carrying students, criss-cross everywhere, far outnumbering cars; We’re in a very comfortable elevator and air conditioning-equipped hotel. Dinner in a beer garden faced the lacy towers of the gothic Regensburg cathedral; Tessa’s lamb chops and my Danube River catfish were both highly delicious.

A few miscellaneous comments: First, the portions of food and drink are enormous everywhere – at least as large as in the USA, and the waistlines and faces of most older Germans show it. Second, the bike route seems to be constantly changed; the “completely up to date” bike maps that I bought a year ago and carry atop my handlebar bag have often been wrong. Third, our water consumption: about a gallon and one-half a day each. And the weather was predicted – a couple of days ahead to be cold and rainy!

The best laid plans

David writing: I think readers know that I plan in December in great detail our yearly bicycle trip – which bank of the Danube to ride on, which maps, (not being in the GPS-guided era), which hotels or b&bs, and so on. Hotels often sell out. Passanger seats and bicycle places on German trains sell out completely.

To test our bikes, in mid-May Tessa and I rode an easy and beautiful path along the Italian River of Flowers. All went well, but a week later I biked to Nice and, while wending my way through crowded streets to the railway station, I noted that I could barely get on and off the bike! I’ve shrunk another inch in the last two years and am also less flexible. I quickly realized that I would never be able to mount and dismount when the bike was fully laden! I needed a lower bike and and this was in 9 days!

In the south of France few people bicycle-tour so to find a touring bike was practically impossible. But I was fortunate! One store in Nice, 45 minutes away, had a bike that might do, but it was too small so the owner, after measuring my arms and legs, ordered one from Germany. Miraculously it arrived on Tuesday; we leave crack of dawn on Friday. I test it on the Promenade des Anglais and buy it. Once home I change tires and tubes, move the trip computer, adjust the saddle bag straps, take the spring clip off the carrier, and try to mount handlebar brackets – except that the handlebars are oversized. No bike store in our area carries clips to mount my handlebar bag.

On Wednesday I remove the handlebars, front fenders, and pedals from both bikes and Tessa helps cut two cartons to size and tape them. Lufthansa will only carry bikes in boxes and the taxi that will take us to the airport can only take small ones. Somehow we squash the bikes in. Amazingly we are now packed and almost ready. In the late afternoon a friend arrives to babysit Kuma, the Schipperke, and Thursday is spent issuing house and dog instructions and packing last minute items.

Friday is May 31. The taxi appears at 5:00 am as planned, but the boxes are an inch too long and the rear seats won’t fold down. Tessa rides to the airport seated on a bike box.

In Frankfurt we deplane and are in the luggage claim at 9:10. Our train to Ülm in the adjacent train station leaves at 11:08. Don’t you think that 2 hours would be enough to assemble bikes and board them on a train? I did.

The luggage belt stops and everyone but us leaves the baggage claim area. Our checked saddle bags aren’t there. A very helpful service lady asks for our baggage checks, but I cannot find them. She goes to see if she can find something in their computer. Meanwhile, having wasted 20 minutes, I start assembling the bicycles. Our saddle bags suddenly appear on the belt! In an hour the bikes are ready and loaded, but now we have only half-an-hour to make our train.

The lady’s directions to the RR station with a bike are confusing, “Go out the door, cross the street, take the elevator up.” We cannot even find the door to take but another helpful person indicates it. We cross several roadways but see no signs for an elevator. We eventually find it in the parking garage. After pushing the “up” button for five minutes (the RR station, confusingly is five floors up) with no results we try the “down” button. Success! An elevator appears and starts up to the 8th floor, stopping to let on others who cannot fit. We now have 10 minutes to train departure. The railway station appears to be far distant down endless corridors. We start running if crab-like jogging guiding a bike is running. We reach the station and find the sign for the track. Three minutes to go. The elevator down to the track is broken!

Ignoring “do not take bikes on escalator” signs I take my bike down the two lengthy ones and Tessa follows. The train is there, leaving in a minute, but we are at car 12 and we must, train officials make clear, board in car 1. We run down the platform. Time runs out. And, guess what, they hold the train for us.

Dripping in sweat (I forgot to mention that the temperature is a record breaking 27C not the 16C forecast) we slump down opposite two older Germans who are heading for a bike tour in the German pre-Alps. After an interesting conversation we part ways in Ulm. At our hotel in the old part of town we find that the new owner no longer accepts bikes. We can’t leave our bikes in the street, we say. Finally, the receptionist agrees to let them stay in hall until morning.

Ülm: Vieew from our hotel breakfast room window

Ülm is a delightful city, but I must ride to a shopping mall in Neu (New) Ülm across the Danube. The bike store there sells clips for handlebar bags. One fits and I ride back to the hotel. Tessa and I, after a Greek dinner, do have a chance to stroll in the twilight along the Danube elevated promenade. Quite a day.

Ülm: View from our room

June 1st, today, a few more problems: Tessa’s brakes are far out of adjustment; my tire bumps with every rotation and I can’t fix it. We face a headwind. Despite maps and signs we get lost; it seems there are signs for different bicycle routes at every crossroad no matter how big or small. At a service station a man with a cell phone gets out of his car and helps us. We ride down an empty country lane and are almost back on our path, having taken a 5 km detour. An elderly couple on bikes sees us looking at our map, and offers to guide us to Gunzburg through the forest close to the Danube. The husband learns that I need a bicycle shop for my bump-bump tire and once in the outskirts of town he asks several people for directions to one. He goes far out of his way to lead us there before it closes at 2pm for the weekend. Once there he makes sure that the bike mechanic can understand English and then he and his wife leave to complete their 70 km loop back to their home.

Our guides in front of Leipheim castle

The bike shop makes three attempts to fix the bumping. The third is successful. We get good directions to our hotel, but twice ride by it. We end the day with a dinner of Argentine beef, perfectly cooked vegetables, and delicious wine in a Scicilian-German restaurant.

Outside our Gunzburg hotel. Once you’ve paid by credit card or cash your key for the front door and room drops into the slot.

Tessa here

A few comments and additions to David’s section of the blog so back to Frankfurt train station. I realised that Car 1 was the bicycle coach as there was a station guard in the distance waving frantically beside it. I reached it first but on looking back saw that David had tried to board a closer coach and had been told to get out and go to coach 1 by an irate guard; in Germany you do everything correctly and we were indeed lucky that no official saw us carrying our bikes down the escalators!

It is satisfying to be starting our next stage from Ulm, indeed from the same hotel we had stayed at two years ago. This area is called Fischer and is part of the medieval town that was not destroyed by Allied bombing in WWII. While David is visiting the bike store I decide to have a beer and lunch at the pub next to the hotel. After looking at the food piled on the plates of other diners I opt for a “sparrow” sized salad which is still too big. The sparrow is Ulm’s symbol. Apparently an enormous beam was needed for the construction of the Minster, Ulm’s magnificent 14th century cathedral, but the builders could not get it through a city gate. They were about to tear the gate down when someone noticed a sparrow with a straw in its beak. To get it into its nest the bird turned the straw from cross-wise to length-wise. The laborers had an “Aha!” moment, and for saving the city gate the sparrow has been celebrated ever since. Sparrow images and carvings are everywhere!

The next morning we rise early to get an early start on what is promising to be a really hot day. Not to be; by the time David finishes all the adjustments and repairs to the bikes it is almost 10:30.

Thankfully our way to Gunzburg is mostly through the woods beside the Danube but the city is hot and the hotel hotter. I am thankful that I threw a couple of extra T shirts into my bags as the forecast I read in France a day before our departure had predicted rain with temperatures below 15C!

Danube
2,537.4 kms to the Black Sea

Off again in June

David writing. Two big operations in the last year: virtually a new back, and a new knee. But indeed we should be off across Europe on June 1. Tessa, as usual, is in great form!

We’ll fly to Frankfurt, assemble our bikes, and hop on the train to Ülm where we ended two years ago. If all goes as planned we’ll arrive in Vienna in two weeks, in time for (another) dressage show at the famed Spanish Riding School for Lipizzan horses.

Vienna – the long-time capital of the Holy Roman Empire and then of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire – the home to Mozart, Hayden, Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert, Bruckner, Shoenberg , Berg, Johann Strauss, Lehar and others – is full of relics, art, coffee houses, and restaurants. A few days cannot do it justice, but we will return there next year to ride to Budapest.

Between Ülm and Vienna, along the bucolic, gently sloping Danube in Germany and Austria, the pedaling should be easy (unless we face headwinds). There are unspoiled towns, ruined castles, wine villages, and astonishingly flamboyant baroque churches and abbeys to visit.

We’ll keep you posted!

Oops! No ride this year (2018)

David writing:  My darn back has again been causing sciatica.  (The previous episode was in 2011.)  So, all of our many  2018 hotel reservations, from Ülm to Vienna, as of this morning,  are cancelled.

Surgery is scheduled in two months, and if past experience is a guide, Tessa and I will be pedaling away next spring.  Expect a post in April.

In the meanwhile, Tessa is riding (a horse) in the mountains of northern Sicily from Cefalu to Etna, and in September we are planning to hike in the Dolomites .

A blog post without a photo?   Completely off topic, here is one  from September 2017 — northern Portugal’s stunning  Douro wine valley .

The Danube Plains, the Blue Pot, and Ülm

Tessa writing:
We have left the gorges and now pedal across farmland with a tail wind which makes reaching speeds of 25 kph effortless. In future I must remember to make an offering to the tail wind gods before setting out. Along the way we see a stork strutting across a hay field. I had noticed unkempt nests on top of chimneys in some of the villages we had cycled through so I am happy to see one of the nest denizens.

A merchant sign … note the stork nest.

We detour to visit the hanging gardens of Neufra. Babylon they are not. They have a pleasant view to the Danube but are unkempt and I think that the lady who has cared for them for many years is maybe past it or even dead.

Abbey of Obermarchtal.

The abbey church.

The ballroom.

Our next stop is at the Abbey of Obermarchtal which according to Wikipedia was a Premonstratensian (an order that accepted men and women) monastery. The Baroque church is huge with every surface caked with plaster bas relief and swirling bronze; its too much. Luckily though we meet the handyman who takes us to see the enormous (everything is large scale) ballroom whose walls and ceiling are adorned with frothy but beautifully rendered frescoes. Today the abbey is a school and no monks or nuns have lived there for 30 years.  We spend the night in a so-called farm inn … it is close by a busy major road.

Washing potatoes at the farm inn.

Net fishing in the Danube.

The deep Blautopf pool.

The weir, mill & tourist café at Blautopf.

An apfelstrudel to be shared

Its the last day of cycling. We opt to take a longer route via Blautopf and then to follow the river Blau into Ulm. Blautopf (Blue Pot) is a 22 meters deep, cerulean blue pool from which the river emanates. There are apparently many legends associated with the pool the best known being about a nymph who rediscovered her laugh on seeing the blue waters. And so, not quite laughing but definitely smiling about completing an 800 km ride, we swoosh gently downhill into Ulm and to our hotel in the Fischerviertal, the Fishermen’s Quarter.

Ulm Cathedral.

The famous spire.

The crooked house around the corner from our hotel.

New houses in an old style.

Schworhaus.

City Hall with its Zodiac clock.

Closeup of Zodiac clock.

Its strawberry & spargle (white asparagus) season. Farmers’ market in front of the cathedral.

The sparrow is the symbol of Ulm … there are sculptures of them (and real ones) everywhere.

Over 80% of the medieval buildings in Ulm were destroyed by Allied bombing raids in WWII but those that remain have been restored and the empty spaces rebuilt with houses that respect the past. Over all, Ulm is a pleasant melange of old and new architecture, open squares, pedestrian and bicycle-only streets, parks and river banks lined with restaurants and gingerbread houses. Its most famous building is the gothic cathedral whose 161 meter high spire is the tallest of any church in Europe. David writes about our departure for Magagnosc from Ulm so I will conclude this part of the blog with a few observations about the trip.

We were blessed with good weather even if a bit hot and humid at times and so felt there was no need to take trains. After last year’s experience of 80 kms days I was relieved that our average for this trip was around 60 km. It meant that we were not “unable to do anything except eat and fall into bed” tired at the end of the day.

I personally loved riding through the varied countryside on bike paths though David could possibly have wished for more urban sights.

I am still very uneasy about riding on busy highways (thankfully only had to do so a few times) and into towns.  I always seemed to get left behind at traffic lights … am a lousy bike rider I suppose!

As I didn’t know what weather to expect I took too many clothes and hauling an extra 15 kilos is too much. Will pack more lightly next year.

Though very happy to get off my bike (and not ride it for a year!) I am looking forward to the 2018 stage along the Danube to Vienna.

David writing

Now lovely Ülm is only a memory; we are back in Magagnosc.  Our return was  tiring: extremely hot weather; literally only 2 minutes to load our bikes and bags on our Ülm train, into a car that was packed with bicycles – one in my reserved  place;  at our reserved seats, no air conditioning and it working only slightly in the next car;  in the Munich train station no signage for Platforms 1 and 2 and hidden elevators that our bikes barely squeezed in; forty minutes of standing room only, holding our bikes upright, on the U-Bahn to the airport; severe air turbulence over the Alps; our bikes the last luggage off the plane.  No big deal.

Looking back, many of the surfaces we rode upon – roads and bike paths – were smooth, high speed, and very enjoyable . These could be tarmac or packed sand.   Other surfaces were unpleasant, rough roads of loose stones, where we were jounced as we rode at one-third our normal speed, as well as gravel-tar-slurry surfaced roads that required a third more pedaling to power the same forward distance.

In France and Switzerland, bike routes are few and far between, but they are almost always well-paved, and are navigable with a racing bike.  The bikes we saw in France were usually day riders, alone or in clubs, but also bikers out for a weekend, carrying one or two light-weight panniers.  By contrast,  German bike paths and routes and are ubiquitous, but frequently rougher. Many Germans are using bikes and bike routes for their everyday tasks, and  are almost always riding hybrids with wide tires or city bikes.  We encountered laden tourers, like us, once or twice an hour, sometimes heading in our direction, sometimes westwards.

We saw many e-bikes.  E-bikers don’t have to work hard or dismount on hills, but e-bikes have practical discouragements:  they’re not easily chargeable at hotels; their range is limited; and they cannot be transported in airplanes.

My trip log shows that we rode more miles this year than last.  We covered some 741 kilometers this year, 678 of them by bicycle (416 miles), and only 63 by train.

Since our Atlantic start last year we’ve covered 1,587 kilometers (986 miles), and of these 1,254 by bicycle (780 miles).

This will be the last post for this year.  With luck, next year we will continue to  Vienna.

From the Rhine to the Danube

Tessa writing

On the bike path beside the Rhine at Schaffhausen.

Next day we start through farm country. It is hay making time and as the tractor-drawn rotors turn over the drying grass and rodents flee, hawks wheel overhead looking for a mouse meal. We ride through forests on rough tracks but mostly stay along the river until we reach Stein and the banks of Lake Constance. Stein am Rhein, a picturesque town of tall buildings whose walls are covered in murals, is full of tourists as is Radolfzell the next town we ride through. It is a relief to reach our destination, a quiet hotel at the end of Bodman on the lake. The restaurant provides a delicious dinner of salmon trout, and we retire early to bed as tomorrow will be a hard ride.

A covered bridge over the Danube on the way to Stein.

Stein am Rhine

One of many trade signs in Stein.

David had warned me that we would be climbing 2,400 feet to reach the Danube but I had not thought much about it. I am now! It is the hottest day yet and I never again wish to push a bike loaded with 30 lbs of stuff up seemingly vertical roads. Somehow we make it and after a picnic at the top of the watershed with a view south to Lake Constance and north to Swabia we swoop down to Tuttlingen on the banks of the Danube.

Low-traffic road climbing through dark forest

View from the summit back to Lake Constance, 30 kilometers distant. In this direction water flows to the North Sea.

Sign explaining the “continental divide”. In the direction of this view, water flows to the Black Sea.

The hotel where we stay in Tuttlingen, on the Danube, is modern and our room too cutting-edge, very small with the shower and washbasin next to the bed. Thankfully the loo has its own room.

Our interesting room in Tuttlingen.

We eat at a wine and steak bar and enjoy a good meal and good conversation with the couple at the next table. They are winemakers, and Carl says that their winery and 30 hectares of vines have been in his family for generations. I had noticed vineyards beside Lake Constance and Carl says that the area has a mild Mediterranean climate perfect not only for vines but also for fruit trees and vegetables. He makes mostly Sauvignon Blanc but also Chardonnay and Pinot. David asks him if he agrees with a winemaker in Burgundy who said that skill was more important for making a great wine than the terroir. Carl shakes his head and says that his grandfather had taught him which areas of his vineyard produced the best varietals and in his opinion the terroir was more important.  As the wine bar is a client he offers us a tasting of the two different Sauvignon Blancs that he makes; they are delicious!

Its Sunday again, the sun is shining and we head for the bike path of the upper Danube. The scenery is spectacular; the river, at this point not much more than a stream,  wends its way through gorges, forests and small meadows. On top of the higher cliffs are ruined castles no doubt built as strongholds during turbulent medaeival times. Hikers and bikers are out en masse, and there are many beer gardens and outdoor places to eat even in seemingly remote places. Our route is hilly and we notice that about 50% of the cyclists are on e.bikes which annoyingly sail up hills while we sweatily push our bikes on foot. Strangely many of the male e.bikers over 60 bare a striking resemblance to Kaiser Wilhelm … all have squarish faces, neat beards and large mustaches. The only difference is that they wear a bicycle helmet instead of a spiked helmet. Its uncanny and slightly disturbing. Though long and tiring I think this has been my favorite day of riding.

Hikers along the bike.trail.

Guardians of the Danube.

Trout hanging in the current of the Danube.

The river is narrow at this stage.

David writing
Tessa does not seem to care for the aesthetics of Stein-am-Rhein (Stein on the Rhine), with its muraled walls and metal hanging signs, but I love them, and I recall with pleasure the long coffee we had there. Stein has the last bridge over the Rhine. The next bridge used to be in Austria, where the Rhine flows into Lake Constance, one-hundred kilometers away in Austria (but the Rhine rises in the Swiss Alps).  (In 1938 a bridge was built across the narrows of the lake at Konstanz.)

 

Hot dog in Lake Constance.

The expansive lake views on the ride beside the lake and a picnic we had therre were for me a lovely change from the constant river and canal views of the previous eight days (and those that would follow). I much enjoyed our little hotel on a quiet branch of the lake, worth the 12 km detour from the direct route.

Dinner by the lake in Boden.

I had hoped that our climb up to the Danube would be gradually spread over the day, but no, it was filled first with steep ups and downs to pass by a famous castle, and brutally concentrated at the end. As Tessa writes, we had to push our bikes endlessly, sometimes through “black” forest, and then through steep open farmland.

School-kids from Romania taking a break after a steep climb.

I was surprised by the difficulty of our first day along the Danube, rough tracks through the forest by the Danube, barely more than a stream, in a narrow valley with constant short steep hills,  with luckily by a few flat paved stretches.  Only that evening did I learn that this area is called the Swabian Alps.

Mulhouse, Basel and the Rhine

Tessa writing
The early drizzle dissipates and the sun appears as we ride back down the national road (mercifully less trafficked today as its Sunday) and are soon on the bike path. We arrive at the yacht basin of Montbéliard and a cyclist, on seeing David looking at a map, asks if he can help. He insists on leading us to our B and B in the old town opposite a large church. Another French Angel!

The self-appointed guide from Montbéliard.

Chateau of the Dukes of Wurttemberg, Montbéliard.

The B and B appears to be an old bank building and, after storing the bikes (mercifully at ground level), we follow our host up to the third floor. Our room, in the large apartment belonging to Claudie and Michel, is delightful and looks out onto the square surrounding the church. Over a cup of tea they explain that one of the biggest Christmas markets in France lasting a month takes place in the square. Their two guest rooms are understandably booked months in advance! The church itself is called the Temple of St. Martin and is the oldest Lutheran church in France. Montbéliard was largely Protestant and during the 17th century the city and its inhabitants suffered greatly at the hands of the Catholics. But that’s all past says Claudie, “Look at us, I’m Catholic and Michel is Protestant and we have no problems!” The next day after a delicious breakfast we say goodbye to this charming couple.

The inedible coypu.

The bike path seems crowded for a Monday; there are many groups of schoolchildren on bikes shepherded by teachers, many more cyclists laden as heavily as we are, walkers, online skaters in formation and the usual cycling speedsters. In addition, the canal banks are lined with fishermen. I see what I think is a large fish but a man who is photographing it tells me that it is not a fish, it is a coypu and one can’t eat it! I hadn’t really wanted to. David says he’s hungry however and, having seen nowhere to eat for kilometers, we round a bend and there is a cafe, “The home of a 100 pastas”, with a multitude of cyclists of all ages sitting at long tables enjoying their carbs. I learn the reason for the crowds; it is Pentecost. Schools, shops and restaurants are closed and we are lucky that our hosts in Mulhouse know that there is one place open to eat. I am confused by its name “Oog” but on arrival there realize it is the French pronunciation of “Hug”!

The B & B (the last we shall stay in on this trip, hotels from now on) is a large house with well proportioned, high ceilinged rooms that are furnished with attractive modern furniture that somehow melds with the original Victorian finish. It belonged to the Dreyfus family and our hostess tells us that a scion of the family visited after they bought it and appeared pleased with the changes in decor that she and her husband have made. After the amazing breakfast David has described below we leave in the rain for an unpleasant slog to Basel. The bike paths are made of hard yellow sand that has been turned into yellow slurry by the rain. We reach the Rhine finally, our bikes and bags covered in yellow sludge, as the sun comes out. To get to Basel we have to cross the Three Nation Bridge so from France to Germany to Switzerland with nary a customs or immigration official in sight.

Our first view of Basel.

David will write about the trams of Basel and I’ll add a couple of observations. Our hotel near the rail station is at the conjunction of many of the tram lines and I worried about noise. Unfounded as it turns out as the trams make a bicycle bell-like chime when they are about to leave and are silent when running save for a pleasant clacking sound on the rails. My long time friend, Luki, joins us for dinner. He is managing a project for a large Agro/Pharma company so is fortuitously in Basel and not in Lucern where he lives. We talk mostly about education as he has two daughters. Tuition costs are not high but standards are. Even in high school there are multiple tests throughout the year but in university (his older daughter is studying at the University of Zurich) the exams become more frequent and if a student fails too often he/she is asked to leave.

We visit the Art Museum the next day and find nothing particularly remarkable save for a portrait of the Virgin Mary with the ugliest Christ child I’ve ever seen; he looks a lot like Boris Johnson the British Foreign Secretary. Art Basel takes place in a week’s time and many of the squares in the city are cordoned off as temporary sculptures are installed; I am sorry that we will miss the art fair.

 

The view from our hotel room.

Installation in the Art Museum.

 

Conversation with a skeleton.

I am happy we decide to take the train to Waldshut, our next destination. The river banks here are lined with the buildings and factories of the Agro/Pharma industry and there is a strong wind blowing; it would have been an unattractive ride. Waldshut is a pretty town on the German side of the Rhine and the next day we bop between Switzerland and Germany so often I can never tell which country I am in unless we happen to buy something. Basel had been expensive; $8 for a small bowl of miso soup in the Asian restaurant where we ate with Luki had seemed exorbitant (the main courses were similarly priced) but the bike shop experience the next day made David apoplectic. My front tire was losing air so we asked if it was possible to change the inner tube (which we supplied). My front wheel was whisked off, returned three minutes later with new tube installed and the bill presented … $30! So note to selves, when in Switzerland try not to buy anything! In fact, because of the expense, we met several people who lived in Germany and worked in Switzerland even if it involved a long commute. Many Swiss also shop in Germany or France for this reason.

Waldshut

Relatives?

The Rhine is very different from the lazy French rivers. Its lively and sparkles its way over the stones on its clean bed; it reminds me of Schubert’s “Trout” concerto. The much touristed Rhine Falls are impressive though the long push up the side of them to Schaffhausen is not. The town though is lovely.

Castle on the Rhine.

David writing

1. Our hostess in Mulhouse reminded me a bit of Sophia Loren; she was a once-classic Italian beauty somehow transposed to an industrial city to cook fabulous refined breakfasts using rare spices. Her broad, dark husband, from Puglia, was only wearing one gold chain, but he looked like he should have many more. They were both retired architects.

An old friend, a glossy magazine creator – writer, editor, advertising salesman and promoter, was visiting from Paris. He was a slight, thin, energetic man who’s hands were always touching someone on the shoulder, arm or back. Parisians speak rapidly but this man spoke doubly fast, cracking jokes and plays on words in every third sentence. We couldn’t follow. We went to the same restaurant as he and our hosts, and joined them for a dessert at his expense. A character beyond my previous experience. BTW, he said that everybody in Paris knows that President Macron is a homosexual and that his wife acts as his mother. (We’d heard this rumor but doubted it.)

2. The amazing trams (streetcars) of Basel run everywhere, every few minutes, chris-crossing each other, and it seems always full. After our previous day’s ordeal in the rain and slurried sand, and to visit the Art Museum and old town, we decided to skip sixty kilometers of cycling. The ticket office in the Swiss train station (there’s also a French one and a German one) is so well staffed that the wait is minimal. Our agent was courteous, helpful, and very knowledgeable.
Swiss trains are relatively slow and expensive, but are comfortable and on time. One of our train’s ticket checkers went out of his way to help us hang up our weighty bikes, and un-hang them. Many passengers were helpful in warning us of our upcoming stations, where we had to change trains, and finding the tracks for our continuations. Many people have also been helpful (in English or in my broken German) in finding our hotels, usually lost in mazes of twisty streets.

3. Do any French, Swiss or Germans work as servers in the bigger restaurants or man the large hotel desks? I would say not! We’ve had three Poles, a Bulgarian, an Austrian, a Filipino, and today a Nepalese tour guide who married a local girl.

4. North of the Rhine, from Basel to Waldhut, where we arrived by train, it’s Germany. But to the east, Switzerland makes incursions across the river, in spots where, at the time of the 16th century religious peace, Protestant princes ruled. Because the Rhine is sinuous, we follow first the south, Swiss, side of the Rhine, and then the north side, alternating between Switzerland and Germany, until we reach the European “Niagara Falls” at Schaffhausen.

Only view of the Alps; on the way to Schaffhausen.

The Rhine Falls

Along the Saone and the Doubs

David writing, 1st day


Our ride starts on my 77th birthday. Somewhat luckily, because my plane to Paris turned back to Dallas from Chicago, and because Tessa spent hours looking for the Dijon car return.

The first five kilometers follow major and minor streets and then we are among the Pinot Noir on a rough vineyard road.   Our hotel in Givrey-Chambertin is only 14 kilometers from Dijon, fortunately; given the rainiest year ever in Portland and my unexpected week-long trip back to the states, I’ve scarcely been in the saddle.

For my Birthday dinner, we go to Chez Lucien. The meal is beyond extraordinary: The burgundy-soaked beef jowl is the best ever, and the restaurant’s own Rosignol-Trapet wine, which was one of the three choices by the glass, was for me, the best wine ever. (I’ve tasted a lot of good wine.). By bike the next morning we rode back to Chez Lucien and ordered six bottles. Hopefully it will ship well.

Les Deux Chevres

Tessa writing, 1st day
The weather has turned tropical, unseasonably hot and humid. I drip my way into Les Deux Chevres in Givrey-Chambertin, a pretty inn clad in pale ochre Burgundy stone with a small parking lot full of Jaguars and Porsches, and wish the friendly girl giving us a tour of the ground floor would hurry up so I can jump into a shower.

The French meteo has been warning of storms the whole week but the next day is blue skied and after an ample breakfast cooked by the inn keeper we start cycling through the vineyards of the Cote d’ Or and the villages of the Grands Crus, Morey St. Denis, Vougeot etc. Its trellis fixing time and the vineyards are full of workers. One merry crew are joshing each other, “He’s a donkey!” shouts one roaring with laughter. I wonder where they are from as they speak English.

Chateau de Vougeot

In Nuits St. Georges we turn east leaving the vineyards.  After a quick visit to the Cistercian Abbey of Citeaux we head towards St. Jean de Losne on the banks of the Saone.  The little town is familiar. In 1972 Bill and I emerged from the Canal du Burgogne in our newly purchased sailboat onto the river on our way south to the Mediterranean. This time I will be heading northeast.

Part of a series of flag stones that describe the history of the Abbey.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Siesta outside the Abbey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

St. Jean de Losne

Our unprofessional waitress in St. Jean de Losne

David writing, 2nd – 5th day
Our itinerary, after the 30 km cross-country from the vineyards, follows rivers upstream to the northeast, first the Saone, a major river that begins far in the north-east of France and joins the Rhone at Lyon. Then, after our second night in St.Jean de Losne, it follows a canal that runs south for twenty kilometers to the Doubs River (pronounced “Doue”) that flows from the east. The river is large, meandering and navigable, since a series of weirs tame each section of the river.  At each weir, the water drops about 10 feet, while an adjacent canal leads to a lock, or at times the canal bypasses a large loop in the river. We passed ten or twenty locks each day, and thus the altitude change from Burgundy to Montbéliard, where I am writing, is from 500 to 1000 feet. As you can see in the photos, the Doubs passes through flat lands, then through mountains, highest near Besancon, and then back to flat lands. Here in flat Montbéliard, Peugot has its headquarters and main factory.

View of bike path along a typical stretch of canal.

Weir with bypass lock on river Doubs.

It has been remarkable how many different types of food and restaurants we have had during these four days. On our second night, the service was the weirdest ever. First our middle-aged waitress, the daughter-in-law of the elderly owner, spilled a lemon covered with salad oil on my only pair of long pants (and laughed it off). Then she made several serving errors at other tables, laughing, then leaned through the window to an interior table to get salt and pepper shakers; then started laughing at and with clients and putting her arm around their shoulders.The third evening, the new owner who recently took over our inn in the tiny town of Ranchot, professionally served me a delicious whole trout, perfectly cooked, though Tessa thought her perch was only fair. After dinner we walked along the narrow canal in the moonlight, watching endless overlapping circles of ripples made by tiny fish feeding on insects.

In Besançon luncheon the next day featured most-everything in pink (and organic): pink water bottles, pink flowers, pink restroom, pink shrimp, pink grapefruit, and carrots galore.

The “pink” meal in Besancon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The waiter at the “pink” restaurant.

That evening we stayed at the only farm-inn (ferme-auberge), see below, on our trip. Everything but the flour and bread came from the couple’s farm and was prepared there, as Tessa details below. The bread came from a local bakery, and like all the bread we consumed for dinner and breakfast, since Dijon, it had a slightly brown flour leavened by a mixture of commercial and wild yeasts; it tasted delicious, and felt soft on the palate.

Montbéliard – well, all the restaurants were closed save one crèperie, mobbed with clients.   The mother cooked, the father washed the dishes, served the wine, and welcomed the clients, the 12 year old son and 8 year old daughter served.  We each had a galette, that is a very thin pancake of serassin wheat, formed into a magazine-sized square, with the rounded parts folded over, and filled in my case with gruyere cheese, ham, and fried egg, while Tessa’s contained Montbéliard sausage, comté cheese, and a special cheese only found in the region.

Tessa writing, 2nd – 5th day
Today we follow waterways on the “impeccable” (a favorite French word) bike paths; smooth tarmac with mown verges and no litter, they are a joy to ride. The Saone is a languid river wending its way through hay meadows, its surface occasionally roiled by large fish (carp?) that splash under the water lilies. The continuous avian opera of loudly trilling sopranos and contraltos is joined by the baritones and bassos of hidden amphibians; no need for iPod music in deep France. We arrive in Dole, a pretty town on a riverside hill dominated by a large cathedral. There is a confluence of waterways here and we have difficulty finding our way which includes crossing a rugby field twice but someone sets us right and we are soon rolling along under a magnificent avenue of sycamores next to the Doubs. This river has a different character to the Saone; cleaner and more urgent aided by the numerous weirs it tumbles over.

Town of Dole

Sculpture in main square of Dole

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The avenue of sycamores outside of Dole.

Dejeuner sur l’herbe on the Doubs.

The next day dawns clear but the air is heavier. We have seen few cyclists but today is Saturday and as we near Besancon the bike path is more crowded, not only with the lean bronzed would-be Tour de France types who whiz by at speed but kids on skateboards and scooters, inline skaters, and walkers. Besancon is large, hot and steep. We sweat our way on foot up a small cobbled mountain only to find the cathedral closed. Overhead thunderheads are gathering so a quick lunch and back to the Doubs. The downpour that ensues a couple of hours later precipitates a large fly hatch and after a couple of them lodge in my throat I make a note to self: keep mouth closed when cycling through a fly hatch. Finally we reach our destination of La Baume les Dames but then David discovers that the Ferme-Auberge where we are staying is 2.7 km up a steep hill off a very busy national highway … I am NOT happy! After an hour of pushing our bikes we arrive, drenched, but a hot shower and a large meal of pork pie, veal chop and compté cheese (this area of France is big on protein) washed down with a pleasant local pinot restores my mood. We both sleep soundly.

On the way to Besancon.

Vauban’s fortress guarding the approaches to Besancon.

The Thoraise canal tunnel built in 1810.

The rain finally caught up with us.