Ahhh, a rest day. A lake, a pool, sunshine. About 50 screaming kids. Heat rash. Mozzies and ants’ nests. Dutch cycle-tourists come in their masses to this campsite at Vic-sur-Seille, as it’s on The Green Way; a cycle route written by a Dutch guy; from Holland to the Med. Barry, one of many incredibly friendly chaps on this route, approached us with a friendly smile and said “North or South?”; he was a little bemused to find that we were in fact eastbound. We talked for a while about our respective trips and he warned us of tomorrow’s bad-weather forecast.
In fact… a few drops of rain are coming, and the clouds are closing in. A ladybird’s crawling across the screen.
So now a thunder-storm? Oh well, at least it might soothe our itching skin! We can but hope!
After a rest day at Vic-Sur-Seille, our legs were in fine form and we were ready to attack Les Vosges; the mountain range that stands on the edge of France, before Germany. We were up early (for once) and got a good day in, heading for Saverne (the lowest point to cross the hills, so we’d been told). A stroke of luck, we found a canal, alongside which we rode, through the rain and misty hills all the way to Saverne! Another stroke of luck and we found a lovely organic shop with a nice lady, who I chatted to for a while about where to find aloe vera for our stubborn old heat rash (which persisted even through the rain!), leaving a shivering Joely waiting damp outside. Next stop a bike shop for new handlebars for Arthur. I’ve faffed about for months with his bars and still feel like I haven’t quite got the correct position, giving me sore shoulders and hands. We found a wonderfully knowledgable man in a little shop; who sold me a new pair of butterfly bars; this time fully adjustable by allen key for maximum comfort. (German brand, the French don’t bother trying out anything new- so he says- and just moan and moan about being uncomfortable!) Vorsprung durch Teknik!
A lovely lady in the tourist office had explained to us about when and where to see Bastille day fireworks, the one in Saverne had been cancelled due to the rain, so we decided to get to Strasbourg to catch them there. En route along the canal, I got pretty upset with my new handlebars, and with Arthur generally; the man in the shop had told me that actually my frame was a touch too small, so really, anything I did adjustment-wise would just be making do. I’ve put a lot of love and money into this bike – and to think he was plain and simple too small was a little upsetting (especially when undertaking a mammoth ride such as ours – as don’t want to be doing my body lasting damage!)
Strasbourg was beautiful, and probably appeared more so, given the fact that we stopped for a peachy biscuity snack before navigating our way through the centre to the campsite – we have learned from past low/no-energy city experiences! This meant that we had enough energy to cook, shower, and ride back out into the city to see the sights – what a cathedral!- and await the fireworks. It was a spectacular display, and the crowd were all oohs and aahs. The moon was full and we had little bottles of bière to avoid the hiked-up tourist prices of the city centre. Santé!
The next day we crossed the border, glad to be entering our 3rd country. This was Joel’s first time in Germany, and he was a little unnerved at his lack of understanding. “We should be thankful that at least I can get by,” I said, “’coz soon we’ll be out of languages to speak entirely!” We were given directions by an interested and very enthusiastic man, who told us all about the various sports he could still do at 70-something. We eventually found the path he’d suggested, and Joely spotted some yummy blackberries, so stopped to fill a tupperware. I took the opportunity to phone home and gave my dad the low-down.
The path we’d been shown was a raised one that ran alongside the river, away from the roads. This made it a little tricky to decide if we were on the right track. That, together with my rusty German not quite doing the job, made for a little lost-feeling grumpiness in camp JB. Nay bother, on with the ride, Deutscher-stylee. We made it to Offenburg, where we investigated the possibility of Joel buying himself a Kindle too (maybe it was a good idea after all he conceded: looked like it wasn’t possible even in the huge Media-Mart though, which another kind lady on a bike had lead us to). found a campsite… with a lake! –“Kőnnen wir schwimmen?” -“Ja, natűrlich!” -Looks like the Germans are a little more free to use their initiative than the French campers. Joel was of course delighted and hopped right in; even climbing a big central rock and diving off the board atop it.
While he was swimming I became aware of some exciting new arrivals in the campsite, a man with a long beard dressed all in home-made brown clothes with furs and pelts draped all over him, with a woman, in similar attire; presumably his wife. They were here in a tiny purple tent, and had arrived on foot. I’d spotted him in the town centre and said to Joel “What an interesting-looking guy; I want to talk to him!”, but hadn’t – seeing as we were on a little mission for various bits and rushing about. Unlike our other fellow campers, all flirting school-kids, this couple had me guessing, and I sat there pondering what their story might be. Unlike the kids, who were running about like they owned the place, this couple were both sitting inside their minute little tent, the woman intently looking at something in her hand and rubbing it (turned out to be a little picture of a wave; I guess she was praying). When Joel got back, we shared an “I want to know more” look, just as the man began to gently play a guitar, still from within the tiny tent. The music was enchanting, and we sat there listening intently. He began to sing, and it was the sweetest love-song, now in harmony. Absolutely blissful. I felt impelled to give them something, though I didn’t know what.
After a few songs, I took the opportunity to go over with some of Joely’s blackberries from earlier, and we got chatting. They were German, but spoke perfect English. Their names are David and Shakinah; they are on a mission from God; spreading the message of peace and love, ascetics, wandering the earth without any money. Money just comes to them, they explained. They’d been in Pakistan recently, amongst other countries, and they learnt just one phrase: We love god, we are travelling without money. We need to get to X. Their stories about the kindness of strangers gave us goosebumps, and we talked for hours about the future of humanity and the prophecies from the bible; then eventually David picked up his guitar and they both began to sing again. What beautiful music, from such incredibly kind, enlightened beings.
In the morning we exchanged email addresses and I was sad to be leaving them so soon! How inspiring, their simple living (they like to live on a par with the poorest people of the country they are in, to really feel one with them) really made me think twice about the ridiculous amount of “luxury” items in my panniers (laptop, speakers, ipod, kindle)! All things I realise are highly unnecessary for the trip, but I have chosen to bring them anyway as we intend to be away for such a long time. I imagine they may become more of a burden than a luxury as we enter poorer countries as I won’t want to get any of it out in public. Cross that bridge when we come to it though ey.
We crossed the Black Forest in a couple of days; we’d been expecting big hills, but the first day was completely flat – we followed the Kinzig river right into the heart of the forest, where we stayed at a lovely campsite in Schiltach and sampled some tasty German fayre, and were out the other side the following day, with only one real climb!
We arrived in Donaueschingen, the confluence of rivers which is the start of the Danube, late and asked a few people about the little tent symbol marked on our map. We rode round and round looking for this mysterious campsite, but noone knew anything about it. Eventually we gave up and found a little hidden spot near the river bank to wild camp. That was one of our first wild camp experiences; seeing as campsites thusfar had been so prolific! I love the peace of being just the two of us in the nature, that is, if you don’t count the few gazillion slugs who joined us there (although I must say, they were pretty peaceful sluggys and on the whole kept themselves to themselves). Some of the campsites during the school hols can get pretty raucous! And I don’t know of any campsites that provide kostenlőse PYO raspberries for brekkie!
We were pretty excited about tossing the maps aside and following the Danube for a few thousand kilometres, seeing as we’d spent a fair few hours asking people for directions and it can get pretty frustrating when you don’t have a good quality map. If we were to buy large scale maps for all the regions we crossed…
(later) Sorry – I cut off in the middle of a sentence and left you hanging; i’m sure you can barely contain yourself imagining what might happen if we were to buy large scale maps for all the regions we crossed… so it’s with pleasure that I can reveal the second clause, enjoy:
…we’d have a pannier full of them by now (and we need the space for inessential fancypants technology, remember). Sorry, it wasn’t very exciting after all.
The first day on the Danube proved to be one of the most beautiful; it had Joel declaring that the landscape was the most spectacular he’d ever ridden through. Sheer cliffs and birds of prey. Shame about the rain. Well actually; I think i’m automatically programmed to complain about the weather; but thinking about it, it really was quite refreshing, like a little shower just as you’re feeling all hot and sticky. It’s like a game – do I put my jacket on now, or wait for it to get so heavy that i’m carrying an extra few kilos in water? (and then put the jacket on, sodden on the inside and out!) I imagine we spent a fair percentage of the day stopping and starting as a result. At least we had some pretty scenery to gawp at. We passed dozens of picturesque little wild-camping spots, right by the water, with built-in firepits. We were looking forward to our night by the river. Joel fancied getting 90km or so under our belts so we pushed on to the next town, Sigmaringen. Oh, all the cliffs have suddenly flattened out and now there are people everywhere. Oh well, too tired to continue through the town we glumly pitched up amid a school party in the town campsite. At least we can have a hot shower, we reasoned. No? Oh, it’s ok, you can have a shower – you just need a token from reception. You can have 4 minutes free, or pay extra for more time. Gah, it’s fine, i’m so tired 4 minutes will suffice – Wait, the machine’s swallowed my token and the shower’s not coming on! You’re joking! Ok, just get dressed and go to reception for another. I go. No-one there. I return and awkwardly strip wash in front of the gaggle of school-girls to-ing and fro-ing…
Back at the tent Joel tells me of his lovely hot shower, 4 mins was just the perfect amount of time, he says. I go to bed, feeling grubby and sad.
I call Loren in the morning for a catch up. She’s been having a tough time at home, wishing she was with us on the road. We have a good old gossip and both feel refreshed and better for it. £15 phone call, but you can’t put a price on that kind of rejuvenation. I dash off to reception, acquire myself a token, and wash that negativity right outta my hair.
The next few days passed in a similar manner, no hills to moan about, plenty of rain to. (If that’s what you’re after in a holiday, as indeedy most Brits are!) Met a group of six French cyclists, and four Swiss at Riedlingen Tennis Klub/Kamp, bonded over food/wine sheltering from the storm, and discussed various luxuries cyclists take on tours. The French: a big sack of wine. The Swiss: an espresso maker. Oooh er, did that get us excited, that wet evening under the canopy…
The French were travelling quickly, and we didn’t see them again. We bumped into the Swiss group the following night at Ulm, where us girlies bonded in the communal shower at the Kanuklub.(-I think communal bathing is an asset we’ve lost in the developed world, it’s so nice for women; and probably men, but I haven’t experienced that; to get together, clothes off = guard down, and have a good ole chinwag. We behave differently away from them blokes; **Ja!Ja! Sisterhood!**)
So anyway; they planned to follow the Danube, two of them only for a couple more days and the other two, a couple, had more time and planned to go further into Eastern Europe and then loop back to Switzerland. We bumped into this remaining pair, Roman and Martina, pretty much every night for a week or so! Later in Passau, we showed them our shiny new espresso maker -inspired by themselves, and the boys got to work figuring out a way of suspending it over the flame of our trangia. Meanwhile Martina and I discussed various things from our love of wine, to gender-roles, and those played by our respective men. Joel: happy to do “manly” things for me, such as carrying my bike (I promise I doth protest), and fixing bits on Arthur. ( I allow it as it polarizes him, and makes him feel more manly.) Roman: shows her how, but wants Martina to do things herself -otherwise how will she ever learn? Very practical, but I don’t mind playing helpless girl from time to time, for the greater good, like.