After seven months of backpack travel we’re reunited with our touring bikes. Izmir, Turkey to Geneva, Switzerland was another one of those dislocating travel days. We’re super lucky to have a place to land in France, very good and generous friends who allow us to leave our bikes and extra bags at their place, so the switch from Turkey to a mountain side French village was a known and comforting destination.
The lush green views were a big change from the blue waters and Mediterranean climate of Turkey as well. We hit peak spring in France. So green. Flowers blooming, bees buzzing, ants crawling. We dusted off our bikes and went for a ride up the valley to make sure everything still worked, both on the bikes and our bodies.
Then the tougher part. Where to next? Our original plan had been to ride the Baltic Coast but the war in Ukraine made us decide that getting around Kaliningrad was a bit too difficult for the time frame we have. So we’ll save that for another year.
After a fantastic week in France we headed to the Geneva train station to catch a train. It’s nice to start off with a lovely long downhill ride.
But where? You’re still asking. Where are you going?
The first train took us to Basel, Switzerland. We had a nice evening and morning walking around and enjoying the city and then a second train took us to Mainz, Germany.
The worst train boarding is when you don’t know where the bike storage space is. This is when you find yourself trotting down the platform wheeling your bike in a bit of a panic. Thankfully German and Swiss train apps let you know where the bike storage is. So, the only scramble is getting the bikes and bags on the train. Rich does the bike lifting and I do the bag lifting. One final count of bags every time we get on or off a train, and we settle in.
From Mainz we’re riding East/Northeast towards Dresden and towards the German Polish border. That’s the scenario for now. As we all know, plans are never set in stone. I always need a few days cycling to convince myself I can still do this. Get on the loaded bike day after day and turn the pedals over, cranking out the miles. The first day’s euphoria turns into the second day’s tiredness, and the third day’s exhaustion.
But with my best travel companion in front of me (I draft behind him shamelessly), I push through the tired cranky afternoons and know that the pedaling legs will come back. More fun cycle touring to come.
1) Habére-Poche, France. Where we are so lucky to have wonderful friends.
2) Évian-les-Bains, France. Where we shockingly saw people buying bottled water, and had to eat take out pizza on our balcony since our CA COVID QRs didn’t work and you needed them even to eat outdoors at a restaurant.
3) Montreaux, Switzerland, 2 nights. Where our fancy hotel (it was our Anniversary) had fire alarms going off our second night. I felt like Bill Murray in a Wes Anderson film standing on the street at 2am in my fluffy hotel bathrobe. (Sadly no photos…)
4) Sallion, Switzerland. In the wine area of the Rhône valley. We kept looking around thinking we were in Italy because it’s a dry valley.
5) Eischoll, Switzerland. Which we had to take a train and cable car to since we could not find a hotel in Sion – totally booked – but which ended up being a joy up in the mountains with a long long decent the next day.
6) Brigerbad, Switzerland. Where we visited the Thermalquellen Bridgerbad – outdoor pools still filled with vacationing Swiss and French, and 2 lone Americans who enjoyed themselves very much (again, no photos allowed.)
7) Zermatt, Switzerland. 2 nights. Yay, a lovely train ride up to the largely car free town with a view of the Matterhorn always near, clouds willing.
8) Feisch, Switzerland. Where we started debating whether or not to ride over the Furkapass. We decided on a train boost after the next town, but had a lovely gondola ride up the mountain.
9) Obergoms, Switzerland. Where, after riding up its valley for days we got to peep at the source of the Rhône river! (Almost, not quite the glacier but it’s pretty tiny here, that mighty river.) And we got our train hop to the top of Oberalppass. And rode down. Feeling a bit sheepish seeing all the cyclists coming UP the pass, but it was great fun that downhill.
10) Disentis, Switzerland. Another town, another gondola. You generally get a free or discounted pass to the gondola – we just made it on the last ride up and had to be sure not to miss the last ride down.
11) Ilanz, Switzerland. 2 nights. Where we swam in a stainless steel swimming pool, took a day trip to Chur and decided to head to Germany.
12) Wangen im Allgäu, Germany. Our first stop in Germany after a crowded ride along and away from Bodensee holiday bike traffic.
13) Memmingen, Germany. On the ride here we continued to be amazed by the number of solar panels on rooftops and had to seek shade for our picnic lunch.
14) Landsberg am Lech, Germany. First proper Biergärten, odd fun fact: Johnny Cash was stationed here during WW2. He was a Staff Sargent and a crack Morse code operator.
15) Augsburg, Germany. 2 nights. Wandered the old town enjoying the canals, and got Rich’s bike fixed! No easy feat with bike shop repair demand and an older touring bike chainring failure.
We’re in Zermatt, Switzerland, which is famous for skiing, being car free, and the Matterhorn. OK, that car free part might only be relevant to some for its fame, but it was a big reason why we came here.
Who reads in room magazines at their hotel? Me! Zermatt Magazine has a super interesting article about the first woman to go up, and summit the Matterhorn – get ready, it’s earlier than you might think. And, like much of women’s history, kind of sort of ignored a bit.
Per the excellent hotel magazine article (I’m a big fan of airline magazines too.), an 18 year old Italian woman, Félicité Carrel was the first woman to attempt to summit but had to turn back 100 meters from the summit as the wind came up, caught her wide skirts, and almost blew her off the mountain. Take a moment and imagine that, climbing in skirts- big skirts.
Did I care about mountain climbing women before reading this article? No. Had I even thought about when women started mountaineering in the Alps? No again. But I made a point of going to find the plaques on the street and visiting the Zermatt museum because of the article.
The museum is trying to address the fact that women have been left out of so much cataloging of history. These orange signs were a new addition, reminding visitors that there were women and they were not included in the official accounts.
Oh yes, the excellent article by Thomas Rieder also points out that that the woman from Liverpool, Ms Lucy Walker, summited the Matterhorn only six years after the first ascent by Edward Whymper and team. Read that and think about Mt. Everest which took 22 years for a woman, Junko Tabei from Japan, to follow the first summit of Hillary/Norgay in 1953.
I get overwhelmed just looking at that mountain and imagining climbing it. But I am so grateful to this excellent opportunity to add meaning to our visit here. Hotel room magazines for the win. Museums for the win, and adding women back into history as a goal.
And we’re off on our touring bikes at last. After watching so many bike touring vlogs during the pandemic we’ve been itching to ride. We spent our first night at Evian-les-Bains, after a moderate climb to col de Moises followed by a long long long downhill to Lac Léman.
The ride from Evian-les-Bains was lovely in parts, and needing improvements in parts. A few stretches you would not recommend for a novice cyclist, although the French drivers are very good around bikes.
Our second stop is Montreaux- we’re spending two nights here, yes, it’s a rest day already. And it’s our 24th wedding anniversary. This a perfect lovely romantic place to spend two nights. We’ve walked the promenade, we took a train up into the hills behind town and walked down to find the most atmospheric restaurant ever for lunch.
A lot of good travel advice starts with “walk away from the tourist areas…” We did, and had a great but steep walk back down towards town.
The route took us by perhaps the cutest, most atmospheric restaurant ever. It was lunch time. We were hungry.
As we sat waiting for lunch we wondered if the water was potable? We’ve seen a number of taps in villages and mountain trails labeled as non potable, but this one had no label. Well, potable or not, still one of the cutest restaurants ever, we agreed.
Next on our agenda today is a swim in the lake and then tomorrow we’re off up the Rhone Valley, EuroVelo Route 17. There will be wineries.
We arrived in France to the best welcome any traveler can have: friends meeting you at the airport. With all of our bags and two boxed bikes in tow we arrived to a lovely meal, wonderful friends to catch up with, and finally sleep. Thank you so much Erik and Hannah.
We have been following our own tried and true jet lag recovery strategy; no naps, power through on local time, and most importantly, get out in the sunshine and exercise. It helps reset your internal clock.
We went to Geneva so Rich could visit a dentist (all is well), and a friend of a friend took us on a fantastic walk – thank you Jenny! How wonderful it is to have a local show you around. She skipped the tourist spots and took us down the river. We eventually had a lovely lunch with her and her husband, another Richard, also a tall cyclist. Hearing him talk about cycling made Rich wish he had his road bike here.
The next day a stroll to a local bakery turned into a longer walk and lunch out. It feels so refreshing to be walking and seeing new things. We certainly love San Francisco and it is a unique and wonderful city, but after pandemic lockdown and shelter in place it’s great to be somewhere new.
Since we walked further than planned we stopped for lunch out. our first meal out in France. We were shocked and delighted that the vaccine QR code issued by the State of California worked for the French QR code reader. You must be vaccinated to eat at restaurants. We had our vaccine cards ready but happily didn’t need them. What joy when systems work!