Starting out - top of Oberalppasse
The Trike Tour
September 19: Andermatt to Ilanz (35 miles)
Trike assembled, box shipped, it's down to the Andermatt train station for a short ride up the mountain to the top of Oberalppass. We had the option of cycling the 6 km (with several hundred meters of climbing) to the top of the pass, but figured discretion the better part of valor and opted for the train.
The route from the pass to Ilanz is essentially all downhill, and not just gentle downhills. In places, the road folds back upon itself while taking an angle only slightly less steep than a roller coaster. As we descend, I try to keep our speed under 35 mph by alternating the trike's front brakes - hold the brake in a white knuckle grasp until the pads smoke, then grab the opposite brake till it smokes. Hopefully, by then the first brake has cooled enough to have some effect. Within a few miles, the brake pads have crazed and make a horrendous howling noise when the brakes are applied. So we descend the mountain, trying to admire the scenery, scared of the precipitous drops at each turn, praying that the brakes hold. We blow through several small villages, hoping the local polezi are not running a speed trap, as we're well above the speed limit. At one point, a bolt holding the right disc loosens, requiring a stop to retorque the disc.
After several miles, we pull to a squealing stop at a small village cafe and have a snack to calm our nerves. Jayne would like a ham and cheese sandwich, but is informed that she can have a ham sandwich or a cheese sandwich, but no combos. Apparently, there's a customer service disconnect here in Switzerland.
We resume the descent and in the next village, as the road flattens out, we begin to have shifting problems with the rear hub. As we pull into a combination gas station, sporting goods shop, the proprietor, Hans lends a hand and helps adjust the gearing. Soon, we're on the way again, but within a few miles, more problems. The trike is very slow. We make a short stop outside Ilanz and discover one problem - the rear wheel is loose. Wheel tightened, I decide to add a bit of air all around and while adding air to a front tire, the tube develops a leak. While changing the tube, I discover 3 broken spokes - luckily, I brought spares. Eventually, we make it to Ilanz - at least the trike is running better now. Our hotel caters to bikers, with secure parking for the trike and a comfy room for us. After walking around the city a bit, we elect to have dinner at the hotel restaurant. I have weinerschnitzel and Jayne has a local specialty, dumplings wrapped in chard and ham.
Despite the mechanical problems and scary descent, the views are spectacular. Wow, it looks just like Switzerland! At one point, we have to stop to allow a farmer to herd his cattle across the road to a lower pasture. Jayne continues her love affair with Swiss milk cows.
September 20 - Ilanz to Bad Ragaz (37.5 miles)
A climbing day.
The trike's in better shape today. Before we start out, I change the brake pads (always helps to carry spares), so braking is quieter and surer. We depart Ilanz to constant climbing for several miles, usually at less than 3 mph, which does give us plenty of time to admire the views once the morning haze burns off. At times we pass through short tunnels and cuts as the road climbs its way through the mountains. The weather is perfect, sunny and near 70.
We make a lunch stop in Chur, and the ride changes from climbing to gentle downhills, so our average speed finally increases. The route follows the fast-moving Rhine, which at this point is the color of an old Coke bottle.
We're following Swiss cycle route #2, the Rhine route, but signage is sometimes lacking. Luckily, we run into another cycle tourist who helps us navigate the outskirts of Chur.
Bad Ragaz is full of public art of all types, with a predominance of sculpture, some pretty unusual.
Jayne even finds a yarn store and gets to talk knitting.
September 21 - Bad Ragaz to Hard, Austria (57.5 miles)
Our day starts at 6 am, but not by choice. It seems that the church next door to our hotel has a very aggressive bell ringer. The cacophony lasts long enough to disturb even the soundest sleeper, then there are milk deliveries to the cheese factory next door. Oh well, we wanted to get up anyway. We have a bit of breakfast, and head for the river.
We'll visit 3 countries today, and cover a lot of miles. Luckily we'll be tracking the Rhine, so there's much less climbing.
Our first stop is Lichtenstein . Since we don't have any money to place in one of the private banks and aren't stamp collectors, Lichtenstein's primary appeal is as a lunch stop, so after a bit of refreshment, we cross a neat covered bridge over the Rhine and continue on our way.
Sometimes language issues get to us. At an afternoon refreshment stop, our waitress suggests we try a local dessert specialty. It's very unusual - ice cream covered with some sort of noodle made from chestnuts, topped with whipped cream.
Our target city is Bregenz, but as the miles pile up, we decide to stop in Hard. Our first try at a guesthouse fails due to a problem with language, but we luck out at the next stop. Our accommodations are a bungalow - it's relatively cheap and clean. While scouting dinner options, we stop at a small bar for a beer and meet a nice local named Sandy. She's visited several parts of the states, including San Antonio, and we have a good chat. We take her suggestion for a local restaurant and have a nice dinner (Jayne has another dumpling variation while I have some tasty pork, though the accompanying fried potatoes are cold inside).
September 22 - Hard to Friedrichshafen, Germany (33 miles)
It's another beautiful day, no clouds, and high's in the 70's. Where's that cold, rainy weather we were expecting?
Since breakfast is not offered at our bungalow, we make a quick run into town for a croissant and hard roll. Since we've lost one of the rear rack mounting bolts, a stop at the local bike shop is in order. A new bolt is obtained, installed, and now we're ready to roll.
Hard is a hard town to get out of. Bike route signage is very poor, but eventually we find the right route and cross the Rhine to Bregenz (so far we've crossed the Rhine a couple of times per day). At Bregenz, we get our first good look at the Bodensee, a large lake supplied by the Rhine that acts as a natural border between Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. Because Switzerland is so darned expensive, we opt to follow the northern border of the lake, figuring that Austria and Germany will be marginally less expensive.
The Bodensee (also known as Lake Constence), is a major resort for a lot of folks, mostly Germans, who flock to it's shores to swim, boat, cycle, hike, and generally enjoy the outdoors. The towns around the lake follow the same general plan: a long promenade along the lake bordered by multitudes of cafes selling pizza and souvenir shops selling Swiss Army knives, even in Germany.
Because Friedrichshafen and the surrounding area were centers for aircraft production during WWII and were heavily bombed, there are fewer old buildings standing. Lindau, our lunch stop today, does feature a number of old buildings with painted facades that did survive the war.
Friedrichshafen's biggest claim to fame is the Zeppelin. Home of the famous Hindenberg, the city has incorporated the airship into it's total marketing program. As we cycle towards the city, we can see the successor to the Hindenberg, the Zeppelin NT cruising over the lake. (I considered booking a sightseeing flight on the NT, but the 375 euro ticket price was a bit steep for my budget.)
We secure a room in another cycling hotel, then head out for a laundry run. Luckily, there's a laundromat nearby, and by dinner time we have clean clothes and an appetite. As we waited for our clothes to dry, we peruse the tourist brochures and discover that there's a Mexican restaurant in town, so of course, we have to give it a try, as it's our mission to try each country's attempt to interpret the taco. We have to report that the quality of Mexican food in Friedrichshafen is only slightly better than that of our worst experience (the lemon-juice margarita's in Melbourne).
September 24 - Friedrichshafen to Meersburg (12 miles)
It's a hazy morning when we head down to the promenade to visit the Zeppelin Museum. The promenade is packed with people visiting a large flea market, while a regatta is going on out on the lake (in conjunction with the ongoing Interboat show). The museum is interesting, and features a 100 meter long reproduction of a portion of the Hindenberg, models and parts from other zeppelins, and various memorabilia (though it's a bit disconcerting to see swastikas on some of the later Hindenberg memorabilia).
The ride to Meersburg is easy, mostly on dedicated bike paths. Road traffic is pretty busy - it seems like everybody is on their way to the boat show. Meersburg is another town that caters to the tourist trade, with a lower town with square and lakeside promenade, and an older upper town. Of course, the tourist information office is in the upper town. Jayne makes the climb up to the office, only to discover that it closed at 2 pm (it's 2:30). Considering that it's Saturday, there are a lot of tourists, and we're already seeing No Vacancy signs on the hotels, we make accommodations our first priority. Luckily, a lakeside hotel has one room left, at a decent price because it doesn't have a view of the lake.
After a walk through the upper town, where we see the sights, hear a man in a tower play the trombone, and see a Zeppelin fly overhead, we decide to take a cruise (there are numerous ferries that serve towns all around the lake). When we return to the hotel, there's a dance band (ok, two synthesizers and a bass) playing all the oldies - from the Beatles to polka - and a large group of talented dancers. Even after we retire to our room, we're treated to the musical stylings of the band.
September 25 - Meersburg to Stein am Rhine (32 miles)
There's an ample breakfast laid out this morning, and we meet a nice couple and their young son who are also doing a cycling tour of the lake.
The ferry dock is only a few hundred meters from the hotel, and our timing is impeccable - just as we pull up, loading begins. The fare is 2 euro for us, and 3 1/2 euro for the trike, and after a short trip we're on shore in Konstanz. Since it's Sunday morning, Konstanz is quiet, with virtually no traffic. Most of the route is on a dirt cycle path, with a few short climbs. We make a lunch stop at a yacht club, then continue on into Stein am Rhine, arriving around 3.
Stein am Rhine is pretty, but full of tourists. There are neat old buildings with painted fronts and a large central plaza. We pick a hotel on the plaza near the Rathouse - it's a bit more expensive than we'd planned, but the room is nice, there's a locked garage for the trike, and the clerk says they have a nice breakfast.
We have fondue for dinner, paired with a local reisling. Both are pretty tasty. As we're leaving, we meet 2 girls from Austin, one of whom works in Zurich.
September 26 - Stein am Rhine to somewhere near Basel (37 miles), then Zurich by train
We awake to a cloudy morning and a note under our door explaining that since it's Monday, there will be no breakfast, but here a vouchers for breakfast at the bakery across the square, and, just leave your key at the desk if you leave before 10.
As we head down to breakfast around 8, the hotel is deserted. No clerk, no staff, no key to the garage, so no trike. We'd planned to get an early start, but now it looks like we may be stuck for a while. Oh well, at least there's breakfast.
The bakery has a nice assortment of rolls, and two nice clerks, one who spent a year in Austin. When we explain our predicament, the girls try calling our hotel but only get the answering machine. One of the clerks takes Jayne back over to our hotel and ferrets out someone who can get the key to the garage. Crisis avoided!
En route to Rhinefalls, we start off right along the Rhine, past picturesque villages, then the cyclepath shifts from pavement to dirt, and begins a series of climbs through forests and descents to fields, meandering across the Swiss/German border. On the final steep climb to Rhinefalls, the rear chain breaks. After a short repair stop, we complete the climb and reach the Rhinefalls visitor center.
Called the "Niagara Falls of Europe", Rhinefalls marks the northernmost navigable point on the Rhine. For one franc, you can descend a series of staircases attached to the river bank, affording great views of the falls. The very adventurous can take a boat to the base of the falls and climb up onto a large rock for an up close and personal panorama. As it's starting to rain, we defer the boat trip, throw the rain covers on the panniers and us, and continue on.
The first hour or so is not too bad, despite the rain - a lot of gentle downhills and pretty scenery. After a lunch stop in a small village, we're back on the bike. The rain has picked up, so we put on full rain suits, and immediately start another series of long climbs and descents, first on small roads, then onto dirt, and finally, back onto roads.
About 1/2 kilometer outside of Stein, our luck runs out. With a series of cracks and lurches, the 3 speed hub's internal components disintegrate. The failure is almost identical to the failure we experienced on our Bordeaux trip, and we realize that the triking portion of our trip is over.
Though Basel is closer, we know that Zurich's train station has a left luggage office and good train connections to all parts of the country, so that will be our destination. We'll store the bike and duffel bag, pack essentials into our panniers (the Arkel RT60 panniers worked well for us, but I did regret not buying the optional shoulder straps), and continue our travels by train.
It's raining and dreary when we arrive in Zurich. Because the train has no bike car, we have to stand in the open area by the doors, holding the halves of the bike. The closer we get to Zurich, the more packed the train. People give us odd looks - still dripping wet from the rain, holding these odd bike-shaped parts. As we're trying to unload the bike and gear at the Zurich station, one elderly man helps out, while loudly singing the Queen song Bicycle ("I'd like to ride my bicycle, I love to ride my bike..."). We grab a couple of baggage carts and set out in search of the left luggage office. One nice train station employee helps us, and continuously tells us that he thinks Bill Clinton is the best president. Obviously, a Democrat.
We stash the bike, then sort through our clothes, packing non-essential items into the waterproof duffel, that we also check a left luggage (7 francs/day per piece). For the rest of our trip, the panniers will serve as our only luggage.
The information office finds a nearby hotel for us. Though it's supposed to be within walking distance, the combination of rain, darkness, and fatigue sends us to the cab line. The cabbie can't believe that we want to ride to the hotel, but after hearing the threat in Jayne's voice, puts the car in gear.
Our hotel is nothing special, but any port in a storm. While I complete the registration, Jayne runs over to Kebab King and picks up a couple of kebabs (kind of like a gyro). The room overlooks a busy street, so our lullaby is the constant roar of traffic.
The trike's trashed, our plans wrecked. What will we do?