Down the Rhine, Part II – Mainz to Zurich

29 07 2007

11th – 15th June, 2007

Mainz to Speyer

Another fine day of green river-side riding. Managed to get a little confused going through a big park-type thing, and wound up asking a local lady and her kids which way to head for Speyer (which we pronounced similar to ‘spare’) . After a brief debate over what we could possibly be talking about, one of the kids piped up with ‘Oh… Mainz, Shpy-er’, and we were all smiles. It turns out we were still on track, and not long after we rolled into said Shpy-er, which was quite a spectacular place. After briefly consulting the hotel database in my handy little GPS, we tracked down a rather nice place to stay, right next to the town’s cathedral.

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After stowing the bikes and getting cleaned up, we headed out for a bite to eat and a wander around this beautiful old town. The main strip was in amazing condition, and Gerry got very excited at discovering a statue of a pilgrim in front of a church – something to do with the Compostella de Santiago pilgrimage he and his wife had previously travelled. The guy in the statue didn’t look too excited…

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I also came across this funky inner-tube vending machine – the first and only one I’ve seen in my life. A great idea, but hopefully not an omen of things to come… 20070611-speyer_tubes.jpg

Speyer to Kehl

More clear skies and tailwinds – very lucky indeed. Got going mid-morning (Gerry being very patient with me) and rolled through fields of wheat and asparagus until noon or so.

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Gerry got excited again as it became apparent we would be crossing into France for a short while, so we decided to wait a bit and have lunch there. Apparently the French don’t like heavy vehicles, or cars that explode (though they have been known to build both…)

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After a passing glance at Strasbourg, we crossed back over the border into Germany to pitch tent in Kehl. The pace was starting to take its toll… 20070612-kehl03.jpg

Kehl to Mullheim

Up and rolling in the sunshine again, headed due south towards Switzerland. At one point we crossed over a narrow bridge on the ‘cycling path’ that had stairs at either end. Quite an ordeal to get my heavy beast on the planks, but preferable to attempting a ‘Dukes of Hazard’-style crossing. Sort of.

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The sports-grip gel sunscreen I’ve been using is very effective, but rather sticky… the bugs love it! 20070612-mullhelm02.jpg

We passed a trio of trucks, each toting a blade from one of the enormous windmills that we’ve seen dotted all over north-west Europe. Very streamlined and organic-looking – like some species of giant racing dolphin.

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We also came across the first of many bright-blue painted bicycles, chained to a pole on the side of the road. Not quite sure what they represent, but they get full marks for ultra-blueness.

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The day ended at a campsite in Mullhelm, Germany. Nothing remarkable, other than the beer, which was excellent as always in this great country.

Mullheim to Laufenburg

Yet another gorgeous sunny morning, and we were on the road again with an air of excitement and anticipation – we were due to cross over into Switzerland today!

My bicycle, caught lying down on the job, while Gerry’s pulls double-duty:

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This excitement soon faded somewhat, however, as Gerry started turning green in the saddle. He was feeling quite poorly for reasons unknown – perhaps something we ate, or the water at the campsite, but whatever it was, it took the shine off his morning.

We came across an interesting cliff-side church-thing around 11:30am, complete with picnic tables and shady trees, so we took an extended break.

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Gerry managed a short nap on one of the benches while I munched a muesli bar, enjoying the cool breeze and peaceful surrounds. When he hopped off the bench about 40 minutes later, he was much improved and ready to roll – so off we shot for the border.

Gerry ready for a multi-point diagnostics check:

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More ‘bike culture’ along the way:

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We rolled into Basel about 1:00pm, after negotiating a rather weird border crossing. We decided to try and avoid the congested toll-road leading over the border, while wondering whether we would need to show our passports to someone (Switzerland not being part of the EU).

After riding down a narrow back-lane for a while, then under a freeway bridge and through a parking lot, I spied a small concrete tunnel, which we both took to be mouth of a storm drain. But a little sign showing a bicycle with an arrow pointed to the drain, so in we went, and when we emerged on the other side we were in Switzerland! Definitely the strangest border crossing so far. The bike lane was clearly marked on the Swiss side, and so on we pedaled… 20070614-laufenburg05.jpg

A brief lunch-stop in Basel, then on to Laufenburg for the night, finding a hotel just as the rain started. The hotel was next to some kind of castle relic, which we had a nice view of through our window. They were even good enough to light it up for us at night!

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Laufenburg to Zurich

Our spell of fine weather over, we got rolling under a heavy sky and periodic drizzle, following the (quite excellent) cycling signposts through NW Switzerland toward Zurich. Not many photos today, other than of a nuclear power station that we passed surprisingly close to:

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…and of a great sign warning of tram tracks:

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As we approached Zurich, we had one long, curving climb to do before we could free-wheel all the way down into town. With perfect timing, the heavens opened up in earnest as we started the ascent, and absolutely bucketed down the whole way up and over the hill. We got utterly, hilariously soaked, and somehow avoided crashing as we sloshed our way down to the edge of the city. Again relying on the GPS hotel-finding function, we quickly made for the closest ‘cheap-sounding’ hotel, and were soon in the lobby of the Ibis City West.

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A shower and some dry clothes, and I decided to give my friend Alexandra a call. She’s a native Zuricher, whom I’d met in Tokyo some years earlier (along with her friend Erika), and had mentioned I should give her a shout when we rolled into town. Within an hour, Gerry & I were sitting in a trendy bar somewhere in central Zurich, sipping beer and having a chat with Alex, her boyfriend Valentine, and a few of her friends. Bright sparks, all of them, and right in the thick of their final exams. I don’t recall being remotely calm, composed or coherent in my exam days, but these guys certainly were. Outclassed yet warmly welcomed, we had a great time!

Gerry didn’t depart until the following day, but this is in fact the last photo with him in it, so I thought I’d post it:

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Nice riding with you buddy.

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