Sunday, 17 August 2008

Tuesday 22nd July - Frieburg im Briesgeau to Basel

Today has been one of the most enjoyable days cycling so far. Ok, so it wasn't very sunny and I didn't get to ride through any UNESCO World Heritage sites or anything, but it just seemed that every kilometer was a real treat.. Strangely this was the result of the usually all too irritating and common knack I have of getting lost. There were plenty of hills which, masochistic as it sounds I really enjoy, as all of the best bits in cycling are born of the 'pain-pleasure' payoff rather than coasting down a flat riverside for weeks. When you've seen one field by the Rhine you've pretty much seen them all, but the hills and lowlands of the Schwarzwald are a constant array of gorgeous unpolluted rivers, woods and old rural villages. Today I saw a 6 year old boy driving a tractor through the fields, followed later by a septuagenarian woman waiting calmly on one at the traffic lights in town. I got happy hellos from everybody I passed, got thoroughly lost and ended up at the top of an enormous hillside vineyard and feel I am finally getting in to this cycle touring thing. My fitness has rocketed and I always wake up feeling lean, energetic and motivated. I only wonder how good it must feel to do this around the world...

So it didn't take me very long to finish the remainder of my German leg. Coming into Switzerland was like a soft velvety slap in the face; it was only 10 seconds after I whizzed downhill past a little hut and checkpoint that I realised it was the Swiss border crossing. Suddenly the signs had changed and I knew that the vague ability of comprehending German I had picked up in the last week would be next to useless for I was now in Swiss German territory, a language it is often said can only be learnt at your mother's knee. I have gained a thorough vocabulary of German in the most esoteric things, particularly bike parts, but menus are still a mystery to me here; as is the way in which an entire nation's diet can consist only of the letters s, z, g and w. I still generally just have to point and ask in restaurants, although on the bright side, I'll never be quite as bad as the woman who asked me if I spoke 'American' in the bar yesterday.

My host in Basel was Manuel, slightly shy and eccentric, but absolutely great fun and a brilliantly accomplished cycle tourist himself. When I turned up at 6 he was a little confused about my arrival, thinking that I was an Italian cyclist called Marco also supposed to be arriving that day. Eventually Marco turned up around 8, pedalling his way north from Southern Italy to Iceland, which basically meant that along with Manuel's flatmate Arienne the whole place was heaving with bicycle-obsessed eccentrics for the evening. Manuel told us many stories of his 16 months of two-wheeled expeditions across South America and the Tierra del Fuego; covering the continent top to bottom, over desert, tundra and rainforest. Amazingly, he had also hand built his own bicycle for the trip, ordering the tubing direct from Dedaccai and Reynolds and welding it together himself. Needless to say, he was a rich source of information and a very inspirational person to stay with. In comparison this trip really does feel quite pathetic, but he motivated me to ditch the plan of cutting across to Venice for the ferry and instead to cycle the bulk of the Italian peninsula, even lending me the maps to do it. What a guy.

I spent two nights with Manuel, using the next day to have a good look around Basel and vainly attempting to update this blog. All I knew about the city is that it recently hosted a fair chunk of Euro 2008 and that it was Carl Jung's beloved hometown, hence the reason I've wanted to see it since I read his biography years ago. Basel is an attractive place, with long tall buildings clustering by the water and a pleasant justified sense of satisfied self-importance. Switzerland is an expensive place however, and I don't think I'll be able to stick around here long, four days at the most. That means going to Luzern tomorrow, with a day or two to cross the Alps and the Italian part down to Como. Better get cracking.

19.4 Av., 50 Max., 80.60 Dist., 3.18.34 Time

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