After a week based in Zurich with friends for hiking adventures in the marvelous Swiss alps, I needed to head north again. I can do hard things, yes. But I didn’t have the desire, nor time, for a slow burn to Basel.
Instead, I arrived mid day by train, watching the rain streak the windows as we sped by the towns I rode through just a week ago. Magically, it was dry when I arrived at the station, and just 5 km later I was ringing the bell at Anna and Rolf’s place. They work from home as artists and energy consultants (helping homeowners do the calculations to convert to greener appliances,windows, and heating, etc. and receive tax benefits and grants) and offered me a chance to drop bags. I changed into my Chacos, and pushed off by bike for some city exploration, paper map and some local suggestions in hand.
I rolled through an old city gate, marveled at more narrow streets and cobblestones. I stumbled on the deep red and gold rathaus, still in use as the government building where Rolf later told me that’s where they go to vote in person. I crossed the Rhine on a lovely wide, mostly bike and pedestrian bridge, and pulled into an alcove to peer over the edge. The river had receded so much in a week that people were now hanging out on the banks, the lower walk ways, and one man was swimming. I biked along the other side, heading north towards a container construction hipster zone suggested to me by my hosts. There was some route finding across the tracks and the peninsula that required a small back track and get on the main road. But this was rewarding as it lead me through the pre EU German boarder check-point to the Rhine center, where 3 countries meet. I crossed the drëislanderbrücke hoping for a mark on the ground like at the US four corners of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah, but no, just this sign in the middle of the bridge.
I stopped at the COOP shop on the way back for ride snacks and dessert for our shared meal. We enjoyed Biang Biang–“dinner and an activity all in one.” Anna had made the dough for hand pulled noodles and we all pulled and participated while we talked about cycling, environment, and art. Such kindred folks.
I woke and shared a lovely breakfast with Anna. Walking down the three flights of wooden stairs with my bags in a single trip, I was reminded of the great “be able to carry it all in one go” advice of my bike shop owner, Carolyn. Olive was ready to roll the last of the velostrasse and onto France.
I rode towards Huningue where I had ridden a week ago and then cross the three countries bridge this time from France, now into Germany. The bike paths are well signed and clear, even if gravel and along the road beside port industry before swinging back along the river.
Ah, the Rhine. The river of transport, stories, culture, boarders, connections, and recent international flooding news. In Strasbourg, my guide shared a tale of how Zurich an independent city, and Strasbourg, also independent, made a pact to help each other if needed. To prove that the Swiss would be there in a hurry, they planned to arrive with hot soup. 19 hours later, they arrived in Strasbourg. This was in the 1576 or so, but in 1976 they tried to recreate it. It took 3 days. Dams, locks, and barge traffic delayed the journey.
Today, I’m riding with the direction of the flow, and feel the slight downhill as I spin with ease despite the small gravel. Olive had been a great bike for the adventure and rolls smoothly. The Rhine is swollen but the trail is high and dry, wildflowers line the trail, and often I try to reach out and snatch a bloom. It reminds me of trying to catch the golden ring on the carousel as a kid. Instead, I catch folks in the river. First a group of researchers in a small metal boat marked University of Trier, pulling up a fish net from the bow. I ask them about the study and learn they are measuring chemical content in fish. The second is a group of outdoor school folks in their final briefing before hitting the water. It was both a surprise to see them and to know they were heading in. I watched them carry the paddle rafts to the river, red PFDs unified the motley crew.
There is a bridge out along the Rhine on the cycle route to Neuenburg so I follow a friendly family on bikes into town for the small detour before making it back to the Rhineweg.
It’s warm, sunny, and oh so sticky and humid, as is on any just-a-break-in-the-weather day of a season of summer storms. I’m making good time and take a lunch break on a bench in the shade. I had to shake off that post food coma heat nap reaction. Later I grab a gelato break in another town, so small that the teen ice cream scooper had to write down the price of the small cup of watermelon gelato on a piece of paper so we could communicate the exchange. Then I turned north east, and follow along a road, in a clear wide bike path besides newly tasseled corn, towards Freiburg.
The Germans encouraged me to go to Freiburg on my trip south, but I sided for Colmar at the time. I’m glad I made the trip this north bound section for so many reasons.
One is this serendipitous scene. A man is on the trail pedaling beside me with his boxfeits, his youngest in the box, while his two other children are on their own bikes. With a gentle hand on their back, he pushes one, and then the other. It’s a cute scene and I smile. Later, I hear him speak French to his kids and the next thing I know, in a mix of broken French and English, we are chatting about my trip and he suddenly invites me for coffee, or a cold drink. Just as spontaneous as he asked, I say yes, and follow the family a few blocks off route to their home. His wife is surprised, and I still am too, but even more so to learn we are all teachers. He’s French and teaches chemistry and physics in a French high school. She’s German and teaches Spanish in a German school. The inquisitive 6 year old twins are hanging out, measuring things with a measuring tape and exploring the magnetic properties of the end of the tape on different metals in the kitchen.
I’m full of juice and gratitude, and excuse myself. My hotel is not far, just past the university with a vibe of young intellectuals hanging out in the park, on the artfully designed urban seating, and filling the clearly marked bike lanes.
I could see the church from my hotel window, but I even skipped the shower and headed quickly on foot to the train station to make plans for my rail return to Luxembourg.
I walked the old cobblestone streets, admiring their shape and color, and even design in a way I hadn’t in other towns. So much so that I painted the round, purple, and taupe stones while I waited for dinner. A bubble man entertained more than the children in front of the cathedral, many of whom stopped playing with their wooden boat in the open “sewers ” characteristic of Freiburg’s old town.
The Pils went down easy; the service was slow, and it gave me time to paint, stare, and enjoy the platz scene. I got to stare at the cathedral’s clever waterspouts, listen to the guitarist in the square, and just be here. Moments after I returned to my hotel room, the sky, already appraoching dusk, darkened suddenly, and the thunderstorm began.