Monthly Archives: September 2012

It’s sometimes the little things…

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.

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Feeling slightly on edge

FallingAfter a week of catching up with work and another week of intensive examiners’ meetings following our holiday, today I have been taking stock of what I still need to get done this month. And it’s A LOT. Rather more than I’d been bargaining with.

Much of it’s bitty and routine, but the biggest thing on my mind is the seven new book chapters I need to submit by October 1st, and the thirteen I need to revise. By now I know roughly the range of how long it takes me to draft a chapter – anything from about two-thirds of a working day to three working days, depending on the whereabouts / frame of mind of my muse and how familiar with / keen on the content I am. The revisions are more of an unknown quantity as they range from simple rephrasing to moving and / or replacing whole chunks, with the attendant issues of layout to bear in mind. And there’s one chapter that’ll have to go back to the drawing board as I’m too unhappy with it.

Plus I’m going away for a week next Saturday, but hey, that’s what laptops are for, isn’t it? A change is as good as a rest, etc. etc.

I shall endeavour to provide a few updates as (if?) I make progress…

 

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Post-holiday update

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…

Occasional frustrations

  • 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.

Unexpected highlights

  • 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.

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