We had spent Thursday evening in Mulhouse in the company of Evelyn and Alexei, before heading off on our bikes for a short 40km ride to the Swiss city of Basel. We lazed in the sunshine for a couple of hours in a small park, relaxing, filling our heads with music and watching the people in the city going about their daily business. I became obsessed with the pigeons (it's actually very therapeutic to watch the way they run and hop and interact with each other!) Whilst their scruffy, British relatives hobble about on twisted feet, with a menacing look in their eyes (if Liam Gallagher were a bird, I think he'd be a pigeon) shouting "Oi Guv'nor, throw us some crumbs!", their Swiss counterparts strut around on their perfectly pedicured feet and politely ask "Would you, perchance, happen to have a few spare morsels of your delicious-looking baguette? Oh and by the way, might I say how dashing you look this afternoon." The Swiss seem to be incredibly good at keeping the streets clean, so perhaps any pigeons that are starting to look a bit unkempt simply get swept away with the rest of the rubbish? In hindsight, it's fortunate that I wasn't evicted from the country, or at least ordered to shave! I think it is quite a strict country, for example: if you fall off your bike, you can expect to be fined for cycling without due care...I'd better watch out for those tram lines then!
We were hosted (in Basel) by the most wonderful Kiwi, Biffy. She greeted us with freshly made banana cake and mugs of warm (English) tea! We chatted about the plans for our trip and were fascinated by her stories of bike and kayak adventures! Dinner was a cycle tourists dream: Apfel-macaroni (a Swiss-dish comprising pasta, cheese, potato, bacon and apple) followed by ice cream and strawberries! Breakfast was equally as exciting: eggs, muesli, bread with jam, fruit and tea! Biffy then cycled a few kilometres with us to help us navigate our way out of the city before sending us on our way with more banana cake and the remains of the Apfel-macaroni without which I'm sure we would have never made it through the day!
After another restful stay with generous people, we cycled with Antti part way to our next destination of Tuttlingen (having now left Switzerland for good). Today's version of Switzerland was much more picturesque than yesterday's, so my lasting memories are positive: clean, quaint, and very cycle-friendly. Once we entered Germany, we were treated to wonderful pine forests, but devilish ascents!
In Tuttlingen we were staying with Marian and his family. We were treated to an amazingly delicious meal (traditional of the region) and were given a selection of locally-produced chocolate eggs to take with us on our journey, which we'll attempt to refrain from eating until Easter Sunday so we can hide them and at least have a partially traditional Easter! Another feast of a breakfast was offered (and willingly devoured) before we set off on our way once again (via the market, where Marian's mum was working as she wanted to give us a few pretzels to take with us on our journey).
When we awoke, it was as if we had been transported back in time: to Christmas! I was very excited to be venturing out on the bikes in a winter wonderland: the photo opportunities, the fun white stuff, the challenge of trying to cycle in a straight line! Ash was more concerned about practical things like slippery road conditions and where we were going to sleep!
Ash has an instinctively practical approach to things and I don't! To be honest, it works really well as we usually compromise somewhere in the middle. I'd be the first person to admit that I probably wouldn't be able to complete this trip without Ash...I'm very easily distracted and am led by my heart rather than my head!
The road conditions around the town were fine, but as we headed along the Danube into the countryside, the conditions deteriorated to a point where we were no longer able to stay on our bikes, pedalling uphill was futile and the downhills were a white knuckle ride! We made just 25km before discovering a wooden shack by the side of the road, and it is from here that I write this blog as we prepare to spend the night in the middle of nowhere. The weather has temporarily halted us in our tracks! While the thought of spending the night in a nice warm hotel with a cooked meal is very appealing, these little moments of unexpectedness are the ones that will last long in our memories and ultimately make this trip more satisfying!
That said, by the time you read this, you can bet you bottom dollar that we will have moved on from our little shack in the forest and checked in to somewhere warm and cosy with unlimited hot water and an Internet connection!
UPDATE: Today is yesterday's tomorrow and we are currently sitting in a nice hotel room drinking red wine, having cycled 70km through some really tough conditions! The main roads were generally fine but the cycle route was at times completely un-cyclable (I don't think that is an actual word!). However, the snow helped to create such a magical setting and for that reason it has been one of my favourite days so far. I also got to grow icicles on my beard which was pretty cool!