Neuf Brisach – Strasbourg

Neuf Brisach is a pretty interesting little town, built at the beginning of the 18th century on a distinct plan specifically to keep the Germans out. It’s reminiscent of a Roman fort, with gates at the centre of each of four edges, and earthworks outside. It’s nearly perfectly preserved and oh so French.

It was a short day’s ride, only about 45 miles, because we wanted time to explore Strasbourg. And 45 dead straight and flat miles, alongside the Rhone-Rhine canal and its backwaters. But surprisingly interesting, looking for wildlife: a lizard crawled across the path, skinny and fat fish in the water, wagtails, a possible crane. Human life occasionally diverting, like the office boat trip where the staff were all made to wear silly paper sailor’s hats and each given the name of one of the seven dwarves. Go figure!

Before we knew it we were approaching Strasbourg, first with out of town kitchen showrooms and storage rental, but then, on crossing the river into the old town, a superb mediaeval centre. We are staying more or less next to the cathedral, and climbed the 332 steps to the viewing platform with views to the Vosges mountains and Black Forest.

Bad Sackingen – Neuf Brisach

Given the forecast, we were congratulating ourselves on making it through Basel with only one brief downpour. But when we passed into France, making good progress along a canal-side cycle path, all hell broke loose. Thunder, lightning, shards of ice flying out of the sky, dinking on helmets and stinging bare legs, branches falling from trees, rain forming deep puddles in seconds, visibility down to feet. Ahead, a bloke in a vest was having an even harder time of it. He sheltered under the next bridge, which would have been a good option if it wasn’t already ankle deep in water.

The good thing is, after this experience we are immune to ordinary rain, so a little drenching doesn’t bother us.

We’ve been dodging between Switzerland and Germany so much we don’t know what day it is, so when the lady in the coffee shop said ‘Prego?’ I thought we’d taken a serious wrong turn. But I think she was just impressed by my elegant cycling attire.

Arriving finally in Alsace, that part of France that, judging by place names and family names, ought really still to be in Germany (apols French friends), Caroline declared it “like East Anglia but with better cycle paths”. It’s true, since entering France the off-road sections have become harder and smoother; we had come to dread the bumpy, broken Swiss forest tracks.

Stein am Rhein – Bad Sackingen

RheinfallHot, hilly and headwind, the miles came hard today, especially as the scenic passes of the Rhine banks took us on a lot of rough off-road trails.

Outstanding breakfast at Nelly and Roman’s B&B in Stein. The area seems to be some kind of new age enclave, N&B weren’t the only ones whose house is decorated with Buddha, crystals and wind chimes.

20 CHFAt Schaffhausen, I exchanged a 20 SFR note I had saved since 1995, a type out of circulation since 2000, but still exchangeable at a small number of agencies of the Swiss National Bank. Just as well we got the ‘free’ 20 SFR because we felt exploited when we had to pay 5 SFR each for a view of the Rheinfall, the biggest waterfall in Europe by volume of water.

All this faffing made us quite late so we just had to trundle in with a short break to eat the sandwiches we made with Nelly’s bread and blessings. Reached Bad Sackingen at 1830.

Bregenz – Stein am Rhein

Crossing BodenseeThree countries, two coffee stops and one ferry. Firstly let’s celebrate a warm evening in Bregenz enjoying the rather surreal ending of the Bregenz jazz festival. After the headliners (including Flook) had departed, there was a junior talent show, with pre-teens Front Page picking up the honours for their note-perfect My Sharona. Monday dawned bright and sunny and we quickly left Austria for Germany. Coffee in Friedrichshafen, opposite the Zeppelin museum as it was starting to get hot. More elegant resort towns along the banks of Bodensee, then a real live Zeppelin hovering over the mediaeval centre of Unterstadt. With good timing, we rode straight on to the ferry at Meersburg and enjoyed a pleasant 15 minutes crossing the breadth of the lake. Second coffee stop at a bakery in Konstanz, where C used her best Duolingo German to charm the bakery lady. She is also basking in the glow of her profound tweet “yesterday’s snow melt is tomorrow’s river” going viral. 7 likes and 5 retweets and climbing! Speaking of climbing, back in Switzerland, a tiny boy on a tiny bike staged an attack on a short, steep climb in Mammern, but C simply snorted “See you in Rotterdam, sonny”.

Chur – Bregenz

IMG_20160605_100958361_HDRRiding at the foot of mountains and alongside the Rhine in spate for a drizzly morning. Rob took a detour to test the depth of a ford. Answer: about 3 feet. Gritty trails and lubeless chain made for a noisy day. Long straight lanes through Swiss dairy farms. Sundays in Switzerland are quiet, and half-expected to find no lunch, but after enquiring at the British Biker Pub in Ruthi (that’s Norton and Triumph, not Raleigh and Claud Butler) we were directed to a lively village restaurant in Oberriet with veg/vegan options. After lunch the sun came out and we were soon in Austria, which seemed breezier than Switzerland. But I kindly broke wind for Caroline. Last time here I said Lake Konstanz was like Windermere, this time it’s like Windermere with the Radio 1 roadshow in town. Threaded our way through the pedestrians on the bike path in Bregenz to reach our charming Pension and applied much-needed chain oil.

Rheinradweg: Oberalppass to Chur

20160603120005-COLLAGEHairpin descent from Oberalppass down to Disentis (this is Caroline’s track – the even more cautious descender – because I forgot to start Strava). Curiously-painted and wooden buildings in villages along the way. Highway 19 became quite busy as we approached Ilanz so we took the off road route and then stopped for coffee. Then a biggish climb where I punctured and fixed at second attempt. Promised rain started up, though not the heavy thunderstorms we feared. Fell in with David and Judith, fellow Rheinradwegers from Norfolk, heavily-laden with camping gear. Great views over ‘our’ Vorderrhein, now cutting a great gorge, and then merging with the Hinterrhein at Reichenau, in a swirling vortex. Rolled down to the big city of Chur and our trickling snow melt is already a hefty river, less than 100km from its source. Chur was having a festival of street theatre, regrettably no Circus Fudge.