I love passing this colourful fountain up in the woods between Freiburg and Günterstal – you may be out for a leisurely Sunday walk in a hilly, landlocked area so far from the sea, but if you carried on far enough along the path, you could end up in Santiago de Compostela. It makes you think differently about distance, purpose and effort!
Category Archives: Out & about
Yesterday I made one of my periodic journeys from Germany to Wales. It was largely a dull and uneventful affair – which I’m not complaining about, incidentally, having had a few that were eventful in a less-than-good way – but a few unexpected moments made me smile.
• The ticket guy on the ICE down to Basel: I’d only just managed to retrieve my ticket from my bag when he appeared, and was rummaging to find my purse containing my railcard (which you have to show to validate a ticket of the kind I had). He said “You’ve got your card, haven’t you? Don’t bother getting it out, I believe you”. Maybe stuff like this happens in some countries all the time, but it was a first for me in Germany and left me rather amused.
• The elderly lady on the plane: I really don’t know what I did, but when I passed her seat as I was boarding the plane, she gave me the most radiant smile I’ve seen in years. I spent the whole flight wishing I’d been put to sit next to her.
• Little Angus and his mum: Over in Merrie Englande and on the chugalug train I was destined to spend three and a half hours on, a young mum asked me rather apologetically if I’d mind “awfully” if she and her child sat next to me. “He’s a bit loud,” she added, rolling her eyes. Actually Angus, aged about three, turned out to be a complete sweetie and his mum was just brilliant at keeping him occupied. We didn’t get into conversation as I was reading, but I was left full of admiration for them and almost wish I’d said something to that effect.
Well, we’re back from Alsace after a whirlwind tour lasting some eleven days, and my memories and images are in some ways a bit of a jumble, rather like the postcards shown in the picture. I’m grateful for the old-skool pen-and-paper logbook I kept on a daily basis – that and the (not very many, admittedly) photos I took should help me to piece it all back together in due course.
This year’s tour was in some ways more arduous than previous ones. For one thing, I was a lot less fit when we started, my time in recent months having been rather occupied with non-saddle-related sedentary activities. A further factor was that we had planned almost exclusively to spend only one night at each camping site, which meant that we had the daily task of putting up and packing up our camping gear and were travelling with full luggage (him: a largish rucksack and trailer with ~20kg of gear; me: a small rucksack, two large saddle bags and the tent) almost all the time. On the other hand, experience has taught us how to pack effectively and efficiently, so we didn’t actually encounter any problems with the bikes or what we were transporting on them (with the exception of some saddle-soreness that I’ll spare you the details of – the moral of the tale being that you shouldn’t do a long tour with a new saddle until you are completely sure that you have broken it in…).
Our overnight stops were: Gieswasser – Cernay (2 nights) – Eguisheim – Scherwiller – Erstein – Kehl (2 nights) – Obernai – Rhinau. We cycled about 500km in all, an average of 50km a day for the ten days we were actually cycling; our main tours (but not smaller-scale local pootling about) are recorded here, in case anyone’s interested. We met lots of other touring cyclists, some of whom travelled a whole lot further on a daily basis, but we wanted to strike a balance between the cycling and the more relaxing holiday elements such as sightseeing and sitting around in the sun (or the shade: for the first few days the temperature was around 35 degrees) in front of the tent.
There’ll be a few pictures to follow on Flickr, in due course [update 3 September: a few are already up!], but I’m not going to attempt a full-blown account of everything I did. Just a couple of quick summaries…
- The rubbish corkscrew on my (el cheapo imitation) Swiss army knife was beyond frustrating and provided unwanted extra roughage in our wine on more than one occasion. We bought a new one in the end.
- Once again, I failed to speak as much French as I could have.
- Eguisheim, which I’d been really looking forward to looking around, was completely overrun with tourists – we’d coincided with the annual wine festival.
- Also in Eguisheim, the plot I’d determinedly selected as “perfect” for us to pitch our tent had such hard ground that we wasted an hour trying to get the tent pegs in, only to have to admit defeat and move it ultimately (the silver lining to this, however, was that we ended up with neighbours that couldn’t have been nicer, and a quieter spot).
- We got awfully lost in both Colmar and Strasbourg, despite good maps and GPS. In Colmar it was because a large logistics company had plonked its new plant right where our map said there was a cycle route, while in Strasbourg I have to confess that it was our fault for choosing unsuitable roads in an attempt to cut corners.
- The storks wandering around the camping site in Cernay, completely unperturbed by anything else that was going on.
- A bottle of local white wine provided by the lady at the camping site in Scherwiller, after we arrived soaking wet and bedraggled.
- Showers with temperature control AND without either a timer or coin-operation in Rhinau.
- The stained-glass windows in Strasbourg cathedral – some of the finest I’ve seen.
- Grapes on the vine ready for harvest right outside our tent in two of the places we stayed.
- I managed to hit on exactly the right (minimalist) combination of clothing for the tour – didn’t run out of anything or return with unworn items.
- I already knew that tent-pegs were called Heringe (herrings) in German, but I was highly amused to discover that the French call them sardines.
- The infrastructure of cycling paths and lanes in Alsace is a million times better than what we encountered further south on our previous tours.
- On two occasions we experienced the deep satisfaction of getting the tent pitched before the thunderstorm begins, and we managed entirely to avoid having to either pitch or pack up the tent in the rain.
- Chocolate eclairs – not unexpected as such, but amazingly good from every bakery we got them from.
There was a time when going on holiday – or even on a day trip – meant packing my photo rucksack full of as many lenses, filters and other bits and bobs as I could carry.
Times have changed. I now have one saddle bag for all my clothes, and another that needs to accommodate my sleeping bag, cooking equipment and camera stuff. This ist smallest camera bag, and it fits inside a cycling helmet with room to spare (I’m just showing you this for scale – it’s not how I’m planning to transport it!).
Yes, I could get a teeny tiny camera or just use the one on my phone, but I do want to be flexible and (maybe) experimental in the pictures I take, so a DSLR it is. It’s my old, smaller one (Canon 300D), simply because it’s light, not worth much now and a little battered as it is. I’ve got my two smallest, lightest lenses (though one has some zoom), one polarizing filter, two batteries, three memory cards. It’ll be enough, I think.
Here it is, my trusty Shanks’ pony, wire donkey or whatever you want to call it. I’ve had this bike almost 14 years now, and I think it’s benefited a lot from having always been kept inside. It’s also been excellently maintained in recent years (though I have to give the credit for that largely to someone else…).
Today I did my first longish tour on it since it received a new saddle and various other bits, plus a general overhaul. I’m a bit saddle sore, as I think the saddle needs to be tipped forward a bit more than it is, plus the chain came off when I had to do some radical gear-changing going up a steep hill.
Still, I have now reported back to the Chief Mechanic and he’ll have it sorted by Tuesday, at which time we hope to try it out again…
This summer’s bike holiday is going to be another French one, but rather closer to home. We’re planning to tour around Alsace, as it’s practically on our doorstep but an area I know woefully little of, apart from the stretches between Neuf-Brisach and Colmar that we’ve cycled numerous times. I don’t know the exact route yet – M is busy planning that and we still need to get one more item of map material – but it’ll be a combination of nature sightseeing, some city stops (Colmar, Strasbourg), a bit of hill climbing (eek!) and exploring some of the picturesque villages and wine-growing areas (yum! No drinking of wine until we’ve finished cycling for the day, though ).
This is our third such summer tour and by now we’ve got almost all the equipment we need, but there are a few things I musn’t forget to check, do or get…
- Some basic food supplies: We’ll be camping, which means there’s quite a lot of clobber we need to take as it is, so clearly we’re not going to be lugging a ton of heavy foodstuffs all the way from here to there. Even so, we’ve found a couple of things to be excellent in terms of light-weight provisions. One is sweetened condensed milk in a tube, which M can put in his coffee, meaning we don’t need to carry milk and sugar separately. Another is that thick, sticky balsamic dressing you get in a squeezy bottle – it’s great for whipping up a quick salad dressing and also goes well with cheese, ham, bread etc.
- Bike bits: my bike’s in good working order and has recently had a new saddle, brake pads and chain, and it’s been taken to bits and fully cleaned. I definitely need to get new tyres, though, as certainly one of mine is looking quite worn. I always procrastinate this step for some reason, but good tyres are an absolute must. The Schwalbe Durano range is really good (though I need to remind myself exactly which model it is I’ve had previously) and – touch wood – I’ve rarely had a puncture since having them. Which reminds me: check the puncture repair kit in case anything is missing. We encountered a forlorn looking cyclist somewhere in the middle of nowhere recently – he’d suffered a puncture, DID have a full repair kit with him, but the glue had dried up.
- Suitable clothing: The hardest bit is deciding which clothes to take, because again, we have to travel really light. The main thing, I think, is to have enough comfortable cycling gear. I’ve just bought a new pair of (3/4 length) cycling shorts as a duplicate to my favourite pair, so I think I’m pretty well covered here. We’ve encountered a range of different weather – everything from hot and sunny to hailstorms – on previous tours, so it’s anyone’s guess as to what it’ll be like this time round. The least rain, the better, in my mind.
- Stocktake the other equipment, bits and pieces: It’s all tidily boxed on shelves in the cellar, so there shouldn’t be any problems finding things. Nevertheless, having heard tales of other people’s equipment having rotted, gone mouldy or rusted, it all needs to be checked carefully.
- Re-stock the medicines bag: We’re extremely fortunate that neither of us has to take prescription medicines, so the medicines’ bag is pretty light. Obviously the basics must be there, though, so I need to check what has run out / expired or gone funny. We’ve been told that anti-mosquito stuff should be VERY high on our list of priorities this year…
Now that I’ve written all that down, it seems a bit less daunting. But although we still have time before we’re actually due to leave, I need to be organized in advance, as we have a visitor from Paris coming this week and I also have another very full work schedule…
We’re also still collecting information and tips on where in Alsace to go, so do please leave a comment if you know the area and have some suggestions.
As a lazy kind of experiment, I thought I’d take a look through my Flickr stream to see if I could find any shots taken on exactly this day (15 July) one, two, three, four, five or six years ago. I had a sinking feeling when 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008 and 2007 in turn all yielded absolutely nothing, but to my great relief there were six of them (and mercifully, not too shabby, either) for 15 July 2006, back when I was new to photography and couldn’t get enough of it.
This was my clear favourite – in fact it’s a picture that’s always made me smile and one that I should really print out and frame one of these days. A pretty mundane, non-picturesque site by the side of a country road (I think, though I don’t remember the precise location) is transformed into a sight of wonderful, belly-laugh audacity by that funky orange monstrosity (which in its heyday must have been a great piece of furniture!). I love the fact that someone had obviously made the effort to place it absolutely neatly in line with the sign and the edge of the verge, so that it almost looks as though it belongs there.
I’m a notorious one for missed opportunities when it comes to taking pictures, but this is a chance capture that makes up for so many of those. I wonder who left the sofa there, and what became of it…
Following on from this post a couple of months back, this week I am continuing my occasional series of posting a picture I took some time ago and including a few comments on it.
This picture was taken way back in 2006, when I’d just started getting into photography. If I took the same picture today, I might go for a quirkier composition with the subject more off-centre, or introduce some stronger contrasts in the processing. However, I’m happy with it the way it is overall, with the diagonal slant and the colours that come out in the cobbles. What’s more, it’s a picture that sums up quite a bit about Freiburg.
These cobbled streets are a feature of the entire city centre – you’ll find them in the market place, and many of the streets have these built-in (and also constructed out of cobblestones) water channels – a hazard to tourists but – I am reliably told by M – something that born-and-bred Freiburgers can successfully negotiate without calamity. My entire walk to work is along cobbled streets, including some other quite impressive examples of decorative work and colour. It’s amazing to watch the artisans as they create a new one or replace an old one after street repairs and to explore the older patterns in the pavement that reveal, by means of e.g. a pretzel-shaped design in the cobbles, that today’s anonymous, one-size-fits-all mobile phone shop was once a bakery. There can be a tinge of sadness at this realization, but the pleasure that something historical has been preserved is normally the stronger feeling.
Bikes are another thing you can’t fail to miss in Freiburg, though even locals find it hard at times to avoid (near) collisions and accidents given the challenges posed by narrow cobbled streets, tram-lines, sometimes not-very-visible water channels, exceptions to the one-way system for cyclists, and stand-offs with groups of tourists, delivery trucks, stray (mostly out-of-town) motorists and less roadworthy occasional cyclists in the pedestrian zone (where it is mostly OK to ride a bike, but there needs to be some foresight and care shown by everyone using the area). I always breathe a sigh of relief when I’ve successfully got beyond the urban ring road on my bike and have left behind the juddering, shuddering cobbles, motorized and two-legged (or occasionally four-legged) obstacles and the general noisy, seething mass of moving objects.
Dangers aside, we’re actually jolly lucky to live in a city which is within easy striking distance of an elaborate mesh of purpose-built or dedicated cycle paths, and I rather wish I’d properly discovered the joys of cycling in the area rather earlier. Still, I’m enjoying it now, and long may that last. My only slight qualm is that it’s hard to impossible to take pictures while cycling, but I find solace in the fact that cycling is perhaps healthier than photography.
Yesterday two friends and I made our first foray this year into France by bike, travelling the by now well-worn route that goes from Freiburg-Umkirch-Bötzingen-Wasenweiler-Ihringen-Breisach and on into Alsace over the Rhine. It was the first really warm day we’d had for weeks, following a period when it rained A LOT; not surprisingly, the arable fields, meadows, orchards, vineyards, riverbanks and woods we passed (through) were looking in fine form, extremely green and lush – all in all, a great advert for nature’s astounding range of fertility, which I have enthused about before here.
Most of the route was in Germany – our actual destination, a supermarket near Neuf-Brisach, may be 35km from Freiburg, but it’s only about 5-6km beyond the Rhine border. You always do notice quite profoundly that you’ve crossed into another country – quite apart from that fluvially based feeling of crossing over to the other side (via several bridges, I might add), the road markings, signs and cycle paths immediately take on a different quality, and the style of building is also rather different.
What bowled me over on this occasion, though – and I suspect this means that we haven’t done this tour at exactly this time of year before – was the sheer variety of wild flowers to be seen in the waysides and verges on the French side of the border. Yes, just as much land (if not even more) is given over to organized agriculture over there, but they obviously don’t trim the edges as assiduously (at least in Alsace – I don’t know whether this is “départemental” policy or a general French thing) as the Germans (or, I would venture to say, the British) do. And it really does make a difference. On the German side, my heart did soar when I saw the poppies dotted among the barley fields – clearly no farmer is going to go through an arable field removing them summarily and selectively – but THIS explosion of hip-high random colour and variety west of the Rhine was beyond compare.
I’m a little sorry to say that we didn’t take the time to stop and actually examine the flowers, but I did look as carefully as I could and spotted cornflowers (in blue, pink and dark red), dog daisies, something (white and frothy) akin to meadowsweet or cow parsley (I will probably never learn the difference), calendula (orange and yellow), not just red poppies but orange and yellow ones two, and a proliferation of other pink flowers that my flower book suggests were probably crown vetch (I’d never seen this flower before so didn’t recognize it at first). If anyone recognizes any of the other varieties that can be seen in the picture I’ve used here, please let me know so that I can look out for them next time…
The whole experience has left me feeling rather thoughtful. I had rather come to assume that floral displays of this kind were largely the preserve of the past, childhood memories, old photos, kitschy films, far-away places, idyllic hidden oases, or of cottage gardens sown with “mixed meadow flower” seeds from a pack to make them look quaint and rustic. The discovery that they are there to be seen in such natural abundance so close to here fills me with wonder and gratitude on the one hand, but on the other hand with disappointment that this biodiversity has been so widely suppressed by policies of orderliness or environmental “control” in so many areas that would not so very long ago also have boasted such a rich variety of native flora.
I’m not about to express surprise at the fact that it’s cold in winter. By the standards of a LOT of people I can think of, the temperatures we’re facing this week – an average of about -7°C during the day – are temperate, mild, even balmy by comparison with quite extensive other parts of the world.
But what never ceases to amaze me in Southern Germany is just how dry cold can be. Having spent my formative years in the insular climate of lowland areas of the UK, especially on the coast, I’m used to cold being accompanied by wet. I expect a daytime thaw even when there’s snow on the ground, and so the fact of the snow just staying the same for days on end, simply because it remains frozen and can’t go anywhere or change its consistency, is quite weird. It strikes me as eerily Groundhog-Day-like, so maybe it’s appropriate that I’m writing this post today of all days!
What’s struck me particularly today is that even though there is absolutely no snow or visible patches of ice on the streets here in the middle of the city (the picture above is of the North-facing roof of the house), the street surfaces nevertheless have an odd look to them, a pale, dusty, almost mildewed-looking grey. It’s like a thin salt crust or sprinkling of talcum, very dull and matte, and not in the least slippery. I’m guessing the tiny moisture droplets in the air are simply freezing on contact with the frozen ground and causing this strange effect. It’s definitely not salt as it darkens and then disappears if you warm it.
It’s odd how little details of a place’s climate can astonish you even after many years of living there, but at the same time it’s pleasing to be able to marvel at something that must strike many other people as ordinary or insignificant.
Postscript: Following on from a discussion of this with Rolf on Twitter, I have now been reminded that this phenomenon is called deposition or desublimation – in this case the direct transformation of water vapour (i.e. gas, not droplets) into ice in sub-freezing conditions. Thanks Rolf!