A Travellerspoint blog

Moutain Dew

semi-overcast 32 °C
View Calais to Chiasso on Tom.Calver's travel map.

Stats and Map, as I could finally upload them

The Alps on the horizon that have been slowly constricting around us since we left Strasbourg are now on our noses, and we've no way to go except up. This day has unfortunately had little to distinguish it; our minds have been focused more on the future hills of Switzerland than the present, and our behaviour today almost seemed to be automatic. It's hardly surprising when it's considered today marks the two week point since we left from Calais. Routine has taken over and only really exceptional circumstances require our full attention.

Colmar was left without too much difficulty and a GPS route which mostly followed main roads was used to arrive at Basel. Terrain would be very much the same whichever route we took and, in lieu of an official cycle path, we followed those which were most direct. John had no problems with his legs which is encouraging, and we were able to eat correctly today so had no problems with energy. Annoyingly for us we ran into the final section of the Rhine route from yesterday to find a "6" in a European circle of stars: the symbol for Eurovelo Route 6, the route we wanted to follow since we first conceptualised cycling Europe yet could find no information, yet here we were, 700miles in and this symbol arrives from nowhere. We followed this to the outskirts of Basel where it promptly disappeared as quickly as it had appeared and were again on our own navigating possibly the largest city we've yet encountered. We're staying in perhaps the only hotel South of the train station (this place is so huge it doesn't seem to have a town centre or commercial road, simply a large train station and a metropolitan sprawl similar to London) to prepare us for our exit tomorrow.

I want to do a large post on Switzerland with terrain maps etc., but I'm unfortunately unable as I have to use the roaming internet which is very costly for uploads. Same goes for the stats/maps and the pictures; I'll have to do it some other time.

We're in German territory now, and my knowledge of German only amounts to what I've learned from WWII shoot-em-'up games, so I'll just have to settle for a traditional closing line of Good Night,

Tom x

Posted by Tom.Calver 12:35 Archived in Switzerland Tagged bicycle Comments (0)

An Alsatian Proposal

all seasons in one day 30 °C
View Calais to Chiasso on Tom.Calver's travel map.

Stats and map for the day; I'd show you the animation of our day if I could, as you'd otherwise have a hard time believing the amount of backtracking we've done.

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.

Gute Nacht,
Tom x

Posted by Tom.Calver 12:48 Archived in France Tagged bicycle Comments (1)

The Silver Lining

sunny 31 °C
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The maps and stats for what will surely be an unassailable distance for all our touring trips forevermore

There's no mistake that it's easier to write on tragedy than success. Tragedy is entertaining; the news reports on tragedies. Comedians satirise what's wrong with society. So when confronted with a day of near perfect cycling conditions, I'm at a loss for what to write.

This section of the trip was supposed to be one of the greatest concern as despite my research, no-one seemed to have cycled across Alsace-Lorraine to Strasbourg. Unlike other areas of the continent there were no reported cycle tracks, just hypotheses and "I haven't tried it, but good luck!" responses. It came as a massive shock to both of us to find the route perfectly navigable, with mostly gentle hills, good surfaces, little traffic, favourable winds and good scenery. Nancy was left relatively easily and we embarked on the preplanned GPS route which followed the canal as closely as possible. As we knew the elevation of the GPS route to be reasonable (see Schengen-Strasbourg, via Saint-Nicolas-de-Port) and we had also been warned of the Vosges mountain range ahead of us we had planned to follow the route religiously, even if we felt we could see better avenues. The first 50miles saw virtually no problems at all - a slight section through a national park which rose and dipped pointlessly for a few miles, but it was no great effort. Before long the Vosges mountains were on the horizon and we held the GPS route close like a priest entering into a group of demons with a crucifix - you know it's supposed to protect you, but could you really be sure?

We reached the fifty mile mark in record time by two in the afternoon before John's legs began causing him extreme pain. This fortunately coincided with the discovery of a cycle path along the canal we were following which, to our total disbelief, followed a gradual decent on excellent paths for 35miles all the way to Strasbourg. I still need to write a letter of commendation to Alsace council for this terrific piece of engineering; I wont forget. So John was able to bear it for as long as the conditions held and we entered Strasbourg for 7.30pm, having clocked a total of one hundred and two miles, an unbelievable distance.

We've took a day off in Strasbourg after medical advice that John's injuries likely came as a result of the incorrect gears on his bike on the difficult hills of earlier days. We intend to leave for Basel tomorrow however along the Rhine, and hope his legs will have improved by Switzerland as we will reach our greatest height yet of 810m, roughly 260m higher than our current maximum altitude. Quite a finale.

Until then,
Tom x

Posted by Tom.Calver 09:19 Archived in France Tagged bicycle Comments (1)

Nancy Boys

storm 30 °C
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No stats this time...

We've been held up in Nancy for the last couple of days waiting on a new bike for John. This really was necessary, as the mechanic Benoît would testify if he could. Among its faults were buckled wheels, destroyed bearings, shredded tires, poor brakes and the grips had come off. Additionally as a modified road bike it really didn't have the gears to cope with the hills or terrain we'd come across, and when combined with cleats it had became dangerous and difficult. The new one arrived around an hour ago but it's locked up at the moment, so I'll get some new photos of it tomorrow.

So, what have we been up to? Aside from the obvious bike repairs, plenty of sightseeing around this really quite nice town and riding out the freak weather conditions that wouldn't have made cycling any easier. We limped into Nancy after the 60-mile ride from Thionville a couple of days ago with both us and our machines feeling the strain of the last week. I had a pain in my left knee and John's right leg had caused him problems all day, while we both suffered from the obligatory sore arses. John's bike seemed to get a puncture every 100yards on the final four miles to Nancy which meant he had to roll in with a flat rear tyre. We had a tough time finding a hotel too which may have been because we looked more desperate than usual, but eventually found a pleasant and slightly quirky All Seasons slightly away from the train station. Since then we've been to Stanislas Square, the main attraction of Nancy, an art and history museum a piece and the Old Town, which I would say was the most pleasant area, as well as some shopping (nothing exotic, just new socks which means we can dispose of the old ones). Give the pictures a look. The weather's been pretty incredible lately as well, switching from thunderstorms to cloudless skies relatively quickly, at one point forcing us to take "sanctuary" in a local Cathedral before having ourselves and others huddled in the doorway ushered out for them to say prayers. It's a shame one of the few unfriendly people we've met has been a priest...oh, we've had an opportunity to clean our clothes properly as well, as opposed to dunking them in the sink (never works in the long term)

Still, there we are. Everything's ready for tomorrow, so it's on to Strasbourg. I'm looking forward to it, we've spent enough time as tourists and now want to get back to being tourers. As we leave the river the industry of Lorraine should disappear entirely, yet other cyclists have warned us of our route as we need to pass through the Vosges mountain range, but as we can see from our GPS plan for Schengen-Strasbourg we should be able to pass through them without too much in way of sharp elevation.

I'd say there's nothing left to do now except pray, but the padré has left a sour taste in my mouth. Lets just say we'll leave it to fate.
Tom x

Posted by Tom.Calver 09:17 Archived in France Tagged bicycle Comments (1)

The Gears of France

sunny 34 °C
View Calais to Chiasso on Tom.Calver's travel map.

The river came into view, its surface calm and bright. It made me want to childishly ignore perspective; to reach out and grab great handfuls of it, to pull it up, to wrap it around myself like a cool cloak. To form it into globes then swallow it in whole mouthfuls.

Our exit from Thionville began with an attempt to return to the river in the hope the cycle path from the day before continued. We spent half an hour following minor roads through housing estates to get as close to the river as possible, but were constantly separated by fences, barbed wire or fields and could see no evidence of a path. As such our journey followed the main roads, which would occassionally meander back to the river and away again, into the wind. It was hot early on and the temperature rose throughout the day.

The road levelled and our pace lagged. The click of the rear wheel's cadence sensor tapped less and less as about us the wind thickened to viscous plasma. My wrists ached. Hives of industry came from the distance, fed with the blood of whining trucks so much larger than our bicycles, monolithic and naked. A mist was on us, and it smelled of malaise.

The first section of our journey to Metz, Lorraine and possibly France's industrial centre, saw a two mile trip over an uncertain decommissioned road which fortunately for us eventually led back to a D-route. It was however unpleasant, due to the constant risk of punctures and poor environment. Evidence of industry was everywhere, from the river to the large volume of traffic to the constant presence of concrete and motorways. One of our lowest points came on cycling through an industrial centre dominated by a large imposing building. It wasn't until we came close and smelled the trucks passing by us we realised it was a colossal abattoir; this certainly wasn't great cycling territory.

This had been predicted however, and as was also expected the industry slowly disappeared after Metz into the French countryside we were more familiar with. We made good enough time for the day, but recognised we'd been doing such long days for too long. John's bike was in pieces (we had to repair three punctures that day),and both of us felt the strain of continuous cycling, often at ten hours at a time , for seven straight days. Now in Nancy, we need to take time off to repair them and will use it to get ourselves back together as well before we head East across country for Strasbourg.

And as I haven't forgotten, the Stats and Map

Bonsoir mes amis,
Tom x

Posted by Tom.Calver 13:06 Archived in France Tagged bicycle Comments (3)

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