Our Cycle Ride Along the River Rhine
Day Fifteen: Wednesday 10 August 2016
Rheinfelden to Basel - about 25 km.
Today has been a struggle - especially for JP. Despite limiting his swimming time to not much more than an hour, JP has found it hard to keep going today - hence the short distance covered.
We rode into Rheinfelden and found this to be quite an interesting place. We went in to a local bakery and, as is so often the case, bought some food and milk and sat out side the shop tucking into our picnic. I can down a litre of milk in one sitting, especially when it's hot. In terms of weather, it is often cold one day and roasting hot the next.
After Rheinfelden, we pressed on to Basle where we paid a quick visit to the cathedral before finding some food.
We then set out to find a campsite a few kilometres outside the city. By this time we were rather cold and the weather wasn't encouraging. We dashed over the bridge into Germany to visit the supermarket to buy food and brought it back to the campsite to eat.
The wind picked up whilst we were eating yet another picnic, so we escaped into the tent where there was some chance of being a little warmer.
It was at this site that we met John and Cheryl. Cheryl was originally from The Netherlands and John from Sydney, but they now lived in London. They went off to see a movie at the local primary school so we didn't see them again until the following day.
Day Sixteen: Thursday 11 August 2016
Basel to Brisach - about 65 km. Our longest ride so far.
John and Cheryl got away some time before us. As usual, we're not fast movers when it comes to striking camp and loading our bicycles.
We eventually got going and shortly afterwards we met John and Cheryl, who'd just got going again after stopping for coffee and croissants. The temperature was quite pleasant for a change following the early morning chill. This was the first day we'd had where it wasn't either freezing or roasting. We also found out the this particular route was largely devoid of places to buy refreshments or obtain drinking water from public fountains. It was a long haul too.
Much of the route was alongside the Canal du Rhone au Rhin so the going was easy. We hadn't been going all that long when I found my front tyre was running flat. Another puncture. Once again, I repaired the tube with a patch, reassembled everything and then found the tyre had gone flat again. Loyally, John and Cheryl and stayed with us whilst all this was going on. I used the last of the two tubes I'd brought from England and off we went again. Or rather, not quite. My sleeping mat had fallen off and headed for the canal. Some water plants had stopped it going into the water but it was out of range of my limbs - without me going into the water too. Some ingenuity was required for this. With one hand I held one of our longest bungee cords and the other hand was holding onto Cheryl's outstretched hand. I dangled the bungee cord over the cord of the stuff sack that contained the mat and somehow managed to hook it in such a way that would have made a top class fisherman envious.
All packed, and off we went again. The path led us for some kilometres along the towing path of the canal. We cracked on at quite a pace and extremely fortuitously stopped for a break underneath a bridge where there was some shade. Much to our astonishment, John and Cheryl and nothing at all by way of food and drink. JP and I shared what we had with them. We gave them a bottle of juice whilst we drank a bottle of milk. We shared our apple sponge cake and ate our pate filled roll.
The bridge marked the scene of the battle that took place at Pont du Bouc in November 1944.
We left the towing path at this point (or Pont), headed across the bridge and into a forest for some 18 km. If we'd had another puncture it would have been a serious problem. After getting safely through, we eventually came to a village where we were able to replenish supplies and eat another meal.
The French must really love eggs, as outside the shop was a vending machine where eggs could be purchased 24 hours / day!
We cycled on and eventually crossed the French / German border into Brisach. John and Cheryl went to a nearby campsite whilst JP and I waited (and waited and waited) for our friend Brigitte to come and find us and whisk us off to Frieburg (or so we thought).
Day Seventeen: Friday 12 August 2016
At Brigitte's holiday home in the Vosges Mountains
We were picked up by Brigitte in her car quite late in the evening after she'd had problems communicating with us because of her telephone being problematic.
Instead of going to Frieburg, as expected, we were driven quite a long way into the Vosges Mountains where the family has a holiday home with a magnificent view.
Brigitte's beautiful holiday home had some VERY low door frames and, true to form, my head made contact with one of them. It really was a terrible blow.
This morning we were treated to fresh French bread and a super breakfast, followed by a wonderful rendition of 'The Swan' from Saint-Saens 'Carnival of the Animals. I should explain here that Brigitte and her husband, Nick are both professional musicians. Brigitte played her magnificent grand piano accompanying Nick on his cello. I videoed the performance and it is now on our website: The Swan - by Saint Saens. Played by Brigitte and Nick Schwarting
Neuf-Brisach to Colmar
Brigitte took us back to Neuf-Brisach in the early afternoon. This is the French part of the area called Brisach. We had originally met her in the German part. Neuf-Brisach is a fortified town by Vauban.
We spent ages looking for a bicycle shop and eventually ended up in a Tabac - to buy bicycle inner tubes! Having used both of our spares because of punctures and the failures of the patches, it was necessary to buy more spares as riding in some of the remoter areas, where we are prone to punctures, would mean a long walk if we had more punctures with no spares. I bought two Michelin tubes and off we went to the start of the ride. We would never have found the 'tube shop' without Brigitte as it was in such an obscure place and my non-existent French means that I understand very little of what people might try and tell me.
We got going on our ride, much of which was though fields of maize / sweet corn
or alongside the Canal du Rhone au Rhin.
In the canal, we saw an Otter (we think!) scaring some Mallards.
I was following JP at one point and as I caught him up I found he was chatting to a very friendly French Girl - named France.
She rode her bicycle alongside us for a few minutes and seemed to enjoy our company. After she turned off, we continued towards Colmar. We turned off the canal side path and went in search of the campsite. Imagine our horror to find that it was full booked and we were turned away. The receptionist was very helpful and gave us directions and a map indicating where the next site was - about 7 km away. As we rode on, JP said he was too tired and could we stay in a hotel. That wasn't such a bad idea as there was every chance that the next camp site would also be fully booked. We found a budget IBIS hotel and staked our claim on the last remaining room. Bliss! A comfortable bed and hot shower.
Day Nineteen: Sunday 14 August 2016
Camp to Strasbourg - About 50 kilometres.
Today it is 3 months since Annelise went to Heaven. She seems to still be with us in many ways. We talk about her a lot.
A somewhat better day today, as far as riding and travelling are concerned. It was extremely hot on the road today. After we'd run out of water we cycled on until we found a few houses. I banged on the door of one and a young man filled our water bottles and gave us a full, new bottle of mineral water. So kind of him and a great help to us. JP says his legs are getting stronger but his energy levels are getting lower. However, he kept pedalling all day and did well. He did fall off once in the late afternoon, probably because he was so tired.
At some stage we came across the a canal where we stopped for a snack. I give quite a lot of the food preparation tasks to JP which he seems to enjoy. We hadn't bothered with breakfast so we ate some of the surplus from yesterday - old baguette with old ham and very, very soft Camembert cheese. No cutlery was available so it was a matter of fingers and teeth.
As we sat by the lock, we could see a barge approaching. Once in the lock, we found that the Topaz had British owners whom we chatted with. They lived on their boat throughout the summer and cruised all over Europe with it.
At about lunchtime, we found a rather nice restaurant by the side of the road in Krafft. We made our way in looking like a couple of scruffy, sweaty tramps. We enjoyed our meal - and the apricot juice.
In the late afternoon we arrived in Strasbourg. After finding a small shop open, unusual in much of Europe on a Sunday, we bought some basic supplies and found a park where we could sit ant eat. A crowd of youngsters came by and I told them about our adventure. They were amazed! and clapped us and said 'Salut'. Great kids.
We then went to an IBIS STYLE hotel and found they were rather too expensive for us. We got back on our bicycles and after stopping to chat to a couple of hikers, we came to a Formula 1 Hotel. A pretty dire sort of hotel but it was cheaper than the IBIS. We have just had a picnic in our room. And that's another day over.
Day Eighteen: Saturday 13 August 2016
Colmar to Who knows where?
Not a good day.
We've had a series of issues with various bolts coming loose (some falling out) of various parts of our bicycles. Today, it was JP's turn to lose a critical bolt securing his pannier rack. This was quite late in the afternoon in an area infested with mosquitoes. Not a fun place to be crawling around trying to fix something mechanical - spitting mosquitoes out as you work. They were driving JP mad! I just ignored them, except to spit them out.
We also had huge navigational problems and at some point we found ourselves less than 20 km from where Brigitte had dropped us off the day before! We seemed to be going round in circles all day. Very frustrating. We probably shouldn't have gone to Colmar at all as we got mixed up between the Colmar Canal and the Canal du Rhone au Rhin.
We found a campsite by the side of a lake - not a good place. The whole area was infested with mosquitoes and ants and, as JP had ripped a hole in the tent during the first week of our travels, they had access to us all night. JP is now covered in bites. He stood in the tent doing a war dance trying to get rid of them whilst I just ignored them.
I sent JP off to find some food and her returned with double-cheeseburgers and chips for each of us. The last time I ate a burger in France, I got a dose of food poisoning. I hoped for the best and chewed on.
Day Twenty: Monday 15 August 2016
Strasbourg to Gambsheim – about 22 kilometres
JP decided we'd hit the road instead of sightseeing in Strasbourg, so off into the unknown we went. Getting out of a city is always more difficult than getting in. After a minor error in our navigation we asked a family of cyclists for some directions, remembering that not all directions we receive are correct. We pedalled along the Route du Petit Rhin and across the bridge.
We started off in the right direction but that wasn't to last very long as we got somewhat confused around the Chateau de Pourtales where we entered a forest. We rode along quite happily until we came to a 'T' junction with no signs of which way to go. For a change, we weren't the only people who were confused by this either. However, the good thing we did see which we'd have otherwise missed was a memorial board dedicated to the crew of a RAF NZ Lancaster Bomber crew who ,presumably had come down in the place during World War II in 1944.
We asked some other folk for directions but they were just as lost as we were.
We stopped a young lady on a bike – usually a good bet – she didn't know either but came up with a reasonable suggestion; turning right. We all cycled off together and we found that our new guide was Laura (27) who was looking for a waterfall nearby.
We soon joined the correct path on top of a flood-dyke and after a short time found the waterfall that Laura was seeking – more like a small weir than a waterfall. JP said he wanted a break and headed for the water, as usual. We could see fish swimming in the clear water. Laura and I chatted about the better opportunities there are nowadays for people to travel compared to when I was a young person of her age. I told her that when I was born both our countries were trying to recover from the devastation caused by World War II and there were no home computers or internet that are standard in almost all homes now.
We got going again, having taken some time to persuade JP to leave the water. Laura accompanied us to the next village where she put us on the right road. She warned us that it was a public holiday in Alsace celebrating Mary, the mother of Jesus and that almost everywhere would be closed so it would be difficult to buy food. JP and I got going and soon got lost, as usual.
We arrived at a railway station as did a group of 'proper' cyclists who were also mystified by the route; the signs not being at all helpful. They consulted their maps and off we went in a not altogether correct direction. We eventually found our way out of the maze and pedalled onwards.
Arriving at Gambsheim, we saw a sign for a campsite and made for it. It was a bit 'touch and go' as to whether or not we would be found a pitch but the kind lady receptionist found a space for us just a few yards from the lake. JP went off to buy us some ice lollies as it was such a hot day and the nearby young lady wearing a skimpy bikini did nothing at all to lower the temperature! JP headed for the lake to cool down, leaving me in the nearby company of the bikini clad young lady. Grace called me just then so I explained the problem with the temperature and she laughed with me at the scenario.
After his first swim, JP returned and I sent him off for more ice lollies. Later we had a meal in the campsite snack bar – various processed meats with salad and bread; and we bought some chips too. We returned to the tent and JP headed back to the water. Can't keep him away from water for very long.
Day Twenty One: Tuesday 16 August 2016
Gambsheim to Campsite Freizeitparadies, between Plittersdorf and Ottersdorf – about 40 kilometres
Breakfast comprised, for me, battered banana slices on a piece for bread saved from last evening's meal. For JP, chocolate biscuits on another piece of bread.
We left the campsite at 0900 hrs. very early for us. Fortunately, the receptionist gave me a map or we'd probably be still wandering round the village like a pair of lost sheep. As it was, although we managed to get out of the village it wasn't quite in the right direction, although it was roughly the right way but we failed to see much of what was described in the guide book.
We stopped for a Pan au Chocolate and a battered banana which we carried with us. Our stopping place was by a slipway into the River Rhine where JP had a paddle. JP refused to leave the water so I got on my bicycle and pedalled off without him. That got him moving!
Somehow or other we managed to get to the Drusenheim ferry after riding about 11 km, where we stopped at quite a posh restaurant where we lowered the tone considerably; looking like a pair of tramps. We had some ice cream served in unusually shaped glass dishes. The waitress also filled our drinking bottles with ice cold water and a few ice cubes. We'd need all that and more on this hot day with few places to refresh ourselves en-route.
As usual, our navigation caused us some problems, although nowhere near as much as when we were in the Colmar area. In France, signposting wasn't as good as in Germany, let alone in Switzerland. Either that, or we were so far off track that they would have been irrelevant anyway. The guide book wasn't much help either, again, probably because of my poor navigation – and we didn't have a map.
We arrived at the Seltz Ferry and instead of by passing it as instructed by the guide book, JP decided he'd prefer to camp on the German side of the River Rhine instead of the French side. We crossed the river by the ferry which was connected by a long steel cable to another stretched across the river and supported by two pylons.
On arriving at the German side of the river, we paid a visit to a mobile canteen where we bought a couple of sausages in rolls – like giant hot dogs and some cold drinks.
By now it was 1500 hrs. and we'd had enough time in the saddle. It took some time to find the campsite as we seemed to fully encircle the place before we found the entrance – via a golf club where we stopped to ask for directions. Guess where JP headed? The lake, of course. After a struggle, I managed to persuade the washing machine to come to life and got some washing done. Once again, I rigged a clothes line and hung them to dry.