27.07.2009 - 27.07.2009 30 °C
I write this from a very atmospheric corner of Europe; a comfortable, picturesque, seventeenth-century hotel on the way to Switzerland, in a small town characterised by Germanic half-timbered houses with slanted roofs. Outside the building is lashed by thunderstorms, while I have tea in front of the fire and no sound except the rain and the mumbling of the changeover staff in German, French and English. The proprietress has said the area is very popular in the winter when it snows, and I could certainly picture it in a grotto scene. It is a cosy place, yet one unfortunately at odds with the turbulence of the day; that has more in common with the freak weather outside than the order of this lobby.
It began in the wrong vein. The reportedly excellent cycle tracks of Strasbourg ironically made traversing the city almost more complicated than if they were without, as they consisted of a web of lines and instructions transposed onto pavements and roads which left them straddled between vehicles and pedestrians. Our first effort was to find the Rhine as my research has found a track known as the Rhine cycle route, which we fairly sensibly understood to be a path which followed the Rhine itself. After eventually reaching the "Welcome to Germany" placard and scopuring the river however we saw no evidence for its existence at all, and efforts to search for it on the bank were equally fruitless. John pulled out the Michelin map, something I had been wary of since our 4mile backtrack in Luxembourg (see What's a few more miles between family?), and noticed a cycle track which followed the Canal de la Rhone au Rhine roughly 8miles south of our position. So, we set off along the river in the hope of rejoining the track, yet quickly found this section of the trip to be amongst the most horrible we had encountered. We ran into another industrial sector and, unbelievably, another abattoir, this one even larger than the one on the way to Metz (see The Gears of France) with an unbelievable stench that followed us all the way to the canal and sometime beyond. I ate vegetarian that night, maybe as some gesture of solidarity, but most likely from sheer repulsion.
This entire section wasted around 15miles and we recognised our chances of reaching Basel that day were slim. When we arrived on the canal the surfaces were good for roughly twenty miles, yet were slightly uphill and into a strong wind which lowered our expected speed significantly. We wasted yet more time trying to follow the canal after the route had ended, and discovered on our return the cycling figure on a bicycle with wheels made from the EU symbol of the circle of stars to represent the route of the Rhine; namely the one we had intended to follow from the start. Confusingly, the Rhine route didn't follow the Rhine at all, but was instead a rough collation of road routes between villages, sparsely sign posted, and which meandered South with little to recommend it to anyone trying to make serious distance. We followed these until John's legs became difficult for him again and, after finally finding a supermarket to buy food in, headed to the town of Colmar to spend the night. The French practice for closing for the afternoon made our journey all the more difficult, as we could find nowhere to eat or, in the case of a rural hotel we came across, stay, as the reception was closed until 5pm. We now find ourselves nestled in a horseshoe of mountains, in what looks like an enormous area carved by some ancient glacier. The scenery is dramatic and the weather unlike any I have ever experienced; it alternates hot and cold by the second as the wind changes from the mountains to the continent, and rain clouds tumble over the hills in the distance with remarkable speed.
So, tomorrow we intend to make Switzerland, and there we'll see how to continue. John may not be able to make the terrain with enough pace and, if this turns out to be the case, we shall have to organise an alternative, most likely involving me cycling by myself and him meeting me ahead. We'll see.