It’s our second visit to Nördlingen, the first was six years ago on our broken collarbone trip (me, 3 days into a 3 week trip), on that trip we were taking trains and had left our bikes in München. This time we biked to this walled town which is situated in a much larger crater left by a meteorite millions of years ago. The wall is a huge draw for us. It’s a very unique and cozy attraction. We spent two nights here this time.
Between the wall and its history, and a local train museum, we had plenty to do on our rest day.
So where have you likely seen this charming town? In the movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, 1971, the Wonkavator flies above the town in the final scene as it crashes out of the factory roof – remember?
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 continued to relax and recoup in the beautiful Vallée Verte by setting out and exploring by foot from our home base, soaking in the endless connected footpaths, trails, and rural roads of France. Our goal yesterday was Mont Forchant, a 1500m peak at the head of the valley known for steep approaches and rewarding views.
We could have driven to a trailhead and and made an easy two hour peak bag, but what fun is that? So we walked about 10 miles up into the wooded paths with over 2,000 feet of climbing! By walking, we got to stroll through two small villages and lots of rural pleasantness.
So we were hopeful of promised views on Mont Blanc in the distance, but alas, the clouds were still thick on this typical summer day. But it at least cleared enough to see down the valley, and the the clouds made for cooler hiking.
And this being France in August, there was plenty of company at the summit, all enjoying their leisurely picnic lunches. We relished the background buzz of French around us, as it seems this was a locals only place today, along with two very happy Americans.
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!
So the last week had been intense, with so many goodbyes and experiences in our great little neighborhood of Broderick Street in the heart of San Francisco. But the primary focus on has been getting our final items to storage, clearing out every last thing out of the flat…and oh yeah, packing for a (hopefully) long international adventure!
The last day had one more trip to storage, a trip to drop our luggage at friends in Redwood City, and finally putting the last items out on the curb and closing our door to our beloved flat for the last time 🥲.
But then off to Redwood City by bike and train 😀 it felt so appropriate for our lives in SF
So it’s all hard to believe that all the prep of the past 18 months finally starting to pay off and we are actually on our way to Europe! We’re at SFO now and ready to board our flights to Geneva via Lisbon! The haze of the pandemic still doesn’t make this feel real. Will Europe still be there? Can we enjoy the high points of travel during a pandemic? This has not been easy my friends, but we are doing it: and we’re glad that we can share it all with our great friends….some even in person.
Next Time – the logistics – getting by with a lot of help from our friends!
So one of the first questions everyone asks us about embarking on on vagabond life is “So what’s your plan?” Well, if the past 18 months have taught us anything, it’s that making “plans” is a fools errand in the ongoing pandemic world. So we don’t really have plans, but we’ve done a lot of research on places we’d like to go, but know that most of them are not possible right now, or may not be possible in two weeks….or tomorrow!
So we’ve taken a playbook from the Architects and have a “kit of parts” or travel widgets if you will. Individual ideas that can be implemented based on COVID, floods, fires, locusts, or whatever our unstable planet throws at us. And of course, one scenario is certainly coming back to USA as needed, anytime.
For example, one scenario is to walk the Camino Del Norte in Northern Spain. I had done some pretty detailed planning for this from pre-COVID “plans”, but now is not the time to go to Spain (hot weather + COVID)…so maybe in October or November…or maybe this waits until Spring 2022.
But we do want to get out there and start supporting the businesses that depend on travel and tourism now, so we are determined to move forward with a viable scenario. Currently, a strong scenario for the start of our travels is to cycle tour from our base in eastern France across Switzerland via one of the many national and local bike routes..maybe continuing to Germany, Czech republic, and Austria. (Currently low COVID) And yes, Switzerland has an amazing national and local bike network with interactive maps . (By the way, you may have already figured out that I LOVE MAPS, especially interactive maps 😊)
Another driver of our scenarios are the fact that our Schengen “Visa” allows us to be in the 26 country Schengen zone only 90 days out of any 180 day period, so we need to get out of dodge for awhile as the late fall approaches….possible scenarios…..Morocco/Tunisia, UK/Ireland, Balkans, Romania/Bulgaria, Turkey, and hopefully in 2022, more places in Asia and Africa will be safe enough for responsible travel. For now, we have to watch people suffer through Delta prior to widespread vaccine availability in much of the world, and hope that great organizations that we support such as Medecins Sans Frontieres can help reduce the suffering.
So go forth all into the world with your passion and travel scenarios ready! Just don’t make any plans.