Back to France...?!?!

Bonjour, tout le monde!  I am writing this post from a tiny campground in the French town of Huningues, right next to the iconic "3 Countries" border where you can walk easily from France into both Switzerland and Germany.  But wait, you're thinking:  i thought they were done with France?  Wasn't the next step to head east into Germany, Austria, etc.?  Yes, that was the original plan... but like all good slow explorers, we have to be flexible and change the plans when necessary!  Read on and you'll find out why...

Monday, July 17:
After our delightful rest day by the shores of Lake Geneva in Cully, Switzerland, it was time to head into the Alps!  (I have to say, by the way, that Lake Geneva is now one of our favorite places ever.  Words cannot capture how gorgeous and relaxing this place is.  However, it is also clearly the playground of the rich -- unless you're staying in tiny campgrounds like we were -- so we may have to wait to come back until after SailOne is very successful :-)  We finished riding around the lake through the attractive tourist destinations of Vevey and Montreux, then rode through the valley between mountains that continued to get successively larger.  One interesting thing that we noticed about the bike path at this point was that it went through very many industrial zones.  Of course we had seen this in France, having passed several dams and nuclear plants, but it seemed to be even more industrial than we had yet seen, and we ate lunch beneath the shade of some sort of recycling plant.

We stayed that night with an absolutely WONDERFUL WarmShowers host family in Saxon, Switzerland, which is apparently an agricultural treasure trove!  The beautiful garden of the Jacquier family featured trees with fresh apricots, cherries, figs (I had never before tasted a fresh fig!), and even quince (which I had also never tasted, but makes delicious jam).  Alain and Jenny, our convivial and fun hosts, served an incredible meal while regaling us with their adorable love story, tales of bike touring through South America and Southeast Asia, and the antics of their awesome kids, Clarissa and Camille.  We felt a connection with them right away and really enjoyed our time together.  Plus, their experience bike touring with young kids was inspiring!  Maybe someday...

Tuesday, July 18
Today started off AWESOME and got progressively more difficult (at least for me!) as the day went on.  We enjoyed Alain and Jenny's amazing homemade jams for breakfast (Adam and I are COMMITTED to making our own jams when we get home.. first, we need to move somewhere where apricots grow!  haha!), and rode an easy 10 miles to the next big town of Sion, where we enjoyed coffee in its picturesque downtown overlooking a hilltop chateau and cathedral.  The waitress at our restaurant served us water directly from the beautiful fountain in the middle of the square!  (Switzerland is wonderful for having delicious, potable water in pretty little fountains EVERYWHERE.)  We also enjoyed a delicious lakeside lunch in the hilariously named Naturpark Pfyn-Finges, right on the linguistic border between Francophone and German-speaking Switzerland.  After three weeks in French-speakng areas, it was bizarre and a little overwhelming to suddenly have NO IDEA what anyone was saying!  Even the small bit of German that Adam knew was difficult to pick out in the Swiss dialect.  This transition really made me appreciate what a gift it is to speak a foreign language, and also how crippling it feels to NOT be able to speak the local language!

After lunch, things got tough.  First of all, there were a lot of long climbs, some of which were on busy roads with only a small shoulder for bikes, and it was pretty hot out there on the asphalt.  Secondly, where the route took bike paths, the paths went through ever-more-industrial areas -- even though we were technically biking through a valley in the Alps, it was hard to take notice when the things in our immediate field of vision were cement plants, construction zones, and (literally) huge piles of manure.  Finally, Charlotte's left pedal, which had had some trouble spinning for a few days, literally stopped spinning -- it was stuck in place, meaning that I could only pedal with my right foot!  We put on some bike lubricant in the shadow of another industrial plant and hightailed it to the nearest town, where they sold me a slightly smaller set of pedals for 30 francs and put them on Charlotte.  By this point, I was in a crummy mood, and even though the pedals were only 1 cm shorter than my old ones, the difference felt magnified in my frustrated mind.

It was a huge relief to arrive at our campground in Brig, yet another town surrounded by majestic mountains, but we had to set up camp in a rush because there was a super intense thunderstorm shortly after we arrived!  We still went to bed with smiles on our faces, though, grateful for one another's support during the challenges of the day.

Wednesday, July 19
Today was easily the most physically demanding day of the entire trip!  We knew that it was going to be tough, because after Brig, the ViaRhona starts climbing up to the glacier that serves as the river's source, but MAN... it was way harder than I had expected!  Early in the day, we had a choice about whether to follow the main road (significantly less steep, but no bike lane to shield us from the cars whizzing by... why?  Also, super hot as the black asphalt baked in the heat) or a side road, which my guidebook had warned us was "for advanced cyclists only".  We definitely considered ourselves advanced cyclists by this point, and the main road did NOT seem appealing, so of course, we took this side road.

O happy fault!  On the "happy" side, the views from this route were tremendous.  We were literally riding through Heidi -- quaint Swiss chalets with beautiful red flowers spilling out from under their windows, happy cows wandering through perfectly green grass (with their cowbells clanging, of course), lovely little crucifixes and tiny chapels around every curve, and incredible vistas of the mountains ahead and the valleys below.  On the "fault" side, I have never had a more difficult bike ride!  The early climb was tough enough for Charlotte and Buddy (each laden down with all the weight of our luggage), though the hairpin switchbacks would totally have been easily manageable on a luggage-free bike.  But then, the switchbacks ended and it just became STEEP.  These short, steep sections are absolutely killer on a weighed-down touring bike, and Charlotte couldn't handle it after a while -- her chain, which (we discovered in Lyon) had had a weak link for a while, broke and I was left literally spinning my wheels on this Swiss mountainside!  Fortunately, this has happened once before on a Cape Cod trip and Adam is now an expert in chain repair, so we enjoyed lunch and a bike maintenance session on this stunning Swiss mountainside and Charlotte was soon good as new (though I do need to buy some spare chain links).  However, more challenges were yet to come, because the asphalt road was suddenly replaced by either loose gravel or even looser dirt, alternately.  If I thought it was hard to ride up the steep sections on asphalt, it was 100% impossible on this loose ground, and we ended up pushing Charlotte and Buddy for a great deal of this section.  (Btw, pushing a fully-laden touring bike straight uphill is no picnic, either!)  There were also some fun but terrifying downhills as we plunged into a gorge, and more impossible uphills as we climbed out of it and (FINALLY!) emerged onto a main road, just in time to coast down the mountain to the nearest town before it began to rain.  This spectacularly eventful detour had only taken us about 8 kilometers closer to our destination of Oberwald, though it took us hours and hours to complete, and with the threat of thunderstorms looming, we had no choice but to take a train that covered the last 30 km.

By the time we reached Oberwald, it was POURING.  Moreover, the train station was clearly not designed with bikes (or even handicaps) in mind, as there was no elevator connecting the middle tracks to the outer edges, so we had to unload the bikes, wheel them down the stairs and then up another set of stairs, and then load them up again.  NOT FUN!

The icing on this cake of a day was that our campground, Holiday-camp.Ch, was this bizarre place where young dog owners did yoga with their dogs on leashes, people slept in strange barrel-shaped one-room dormitories, and campers were literally just sent to the huge field in the back of the camp to find a place to pitch their tent.  We were lucky enough to find a spot on the edge of the forest, where we could keep our tent relatively safe from the rain under the trees.

Looking back on the day, I have no regrets about taking that side path, even though I am pretty sure it was the most physically intense experience of my life.  The views that we had up there were priceless and truly captured the Swiss Alps in all their glory.  However, our experience with the climb made me SUPREMELY nervous for our next day's plan of climbing through a mountain pass, and we were also both disappointed in the lack of bike paths on the main road, which we would have to take through the pass the next day...


Thursday, July 20
We woke up to a COLD day (not surprising, I suppose, since we were 1 km up in the Alps by this point, but still) and a reprise of the previous day's pouring rain.  After huddling in our tent for a good long while, we discussed our plan.  For months, the Furkapass had loomed in our minds as both a terror and a future triumph:  something for which we had jokingly prepared at the gym for months, a magnificent high point of our trip where we would be able to see the Rhone Glacier.  Adam was probably more excited about the climb than I was (ha), but we were still both pretty pumped to enter the ice grotto at the top, and then to enjoy the downhill to Andermatt on the other side!

However, all signs that day pointed to the fact that climbing the Furkapass was not to be (at least not now).  The pouring rain would make us uncomfortable, the dense, low clouds would prevent us from having our top-of-the-world views, and the lack of bike path in this poor weather would endanger us during the climb.  Disappointed, but resigned to the way things were, we boarded a car train that took us through a tunnel under the pass, so that we ended up in Andermatt after only half an hour.

Andermatt was disappointing, too -- namely, the fact that the one-and-only campground in town was literally just a field that is DEFINITELY used as the parking lot for the local ski area in winter.  The bathrooms, which were too few for the number of people camping there, were across the main road from this field, and we paid $30 for one night of sleeping in this field.  (Twice what we paid at Camping des Lacs, underneath La Dent du Chat, which was the most beautiful and pristine campground of our trip!)  It was clear that Andermatt, which is definitely a bustling ski town in the winter, was just a stopover point for various cyclists and motorcyclists climbing the many surrounding passes, and it did not cater much to the needs of this population.

By this point, we were getting sick of Switzerland.  Of course, we were still astounded by the breathtaking views, even from our crummy field of a campsite.  But the prices were really starting to get to us.  In France, we had enjoyed sitting in cafes or occasionally going out to dinner, not only to experience the local cuisine but also to immerse ourselves in the culture of the tows and villages that we visited.  But it was far too expensive to consider eating out in Switzerland, even on our honeymoon, so we had eaten nothing but campfire pasta (which we are damn good at, but still) or ham-cheese-butter-baguette sandwiches since we'd arrived, and it was getting old.  Moreover, the forecast did NOT look good for the successive stages of our trip:  at least a week of rain and cold was forecasted for our remaining time in Switzerland, as well as our upcoming destinations of southern Germany and Austria.  While we don't mind a little rain, endlessly setting up and taking down camp in such conditions is exhausting and just not fun (and COLD rain is really tough for me!).  Finally, after seeing the lack of bike lanes on Alpine roads, and knowing that many more Alpine roads awaited us, we were longing for the beautiful, wide bike paths that we had encountered earlier in our trip...so we came up with a new plan...

Friday, July 21
What was this new plan?  Well, first of all, we wanted to get out of the cold mountain weather -- if it was going to rain, we preferred it to be in the 70s rather than the low 50s!  Secondly, we wanted to get the heck out of Switzerland and head to a place where we could afford to enjoy ourselves and also feel safe on our bikes.  After looking at weather forecasts and EuroVelo routes, we decided on:  returning to France!  Let's face it:  I'm obsessed with this country, and it has been an extremely important place to both me and Adam since we first visited Ile-de-Re together two years ago, and we had had nothing but marvelous, beautiful experiences there during the first half of our trip.  It was calling us back!  So, our new plan is now to ride the EuroVelo 6 west (instead of east, as we were going to do along the Danube).  This path will take us through Alsace, Burgundy, the Loire Valley, and all the way to the Atlantic coast, and we couldn't be more excited!

To execute this new plan, we had to take three trains across Switzerland, out of the Alps, into Basel.  We found a campground just north of Basel in France ($12 total -- YES!) and walked across a pedestrian bridge into Germany for a wiener schnitzel dinner (double YES!).  We were just so happy to be able to afford things again!!  Everything about our new plan just seems so right, and we couldn't be happier.

Today we will start heading west, deeper into France, my adopted homeland.  We look forward to keeping you updated on our continued French adventures!  And, we will be back to Switzerland someday -- maybe just with more money and less bike weight :-)














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Where are we now?

Legend

  • Red = We're going to bike that
  • Purple = We're biking that now
  • Grey = We biked that!
  • Black = We decided not to go that way
  • Yellow = We took a train
  • Magenta = We took a plane

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