Well, after a long hiatus, it’s time to update this blog. We’re currently on holiday in Wales and about to embark on something a bit different: walking the Pembrokeshire Coast Path.
We’ve been doing some training hikes over the last few months, plus I’ve taken up running. Our latest hike was from Aberystwyth to Llanrhystud, offering some breathtaking views and hopefully a taste of the kind of thing we’ll be seeing over the next week.
Yesterday we travelled down to Carmarthen with my parents, as Dad was booked to give a talk here in the evening (very good it was too – wouldn’t have missed it for the world!). Now, after a hearty breakfast, we’ll shortly be hopping on a train down to Kilgetty and starting today’s walk down to Tenby. A week of walking and B&B accommodation awaits, and we’re very excited!
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!
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.
Postcard stand in Obernai
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.