We found that biking in Germany is different from biking in France. The French have a huge network of rural roads, open to cars but in most cases little used. There are signs for various villages, but none of them are specific to bicycles. We navigated by using Michelin maps (mostly 1:250,000 regional maps) and picking white roads – little used secondary roads – and following green “scenic” routes wherever possible. That worked out pretty well.
From Strasbourg, we headed across the Rhine river, into Germany. This was the first time that we were biking across a national border – all the other times we crossed the border by train. Since it was entirely within the EU, though, it was pretty boring; there wasn’t even a “Welcome to Germany” sign. We were looking for the route along the Rhine, supposedly signed as EuroVelo 15, that goes all the way from Switzerland to the North Sea. Finding it from the bridge was a bit tricky, but by heading south along the river and looking around, we eventually managed to link up with it; the signs were less clear (often just a green bike on a white background) as opposed to Switzerland where they were Eurovelo logos.
Biking north from Karlsruhe.
Lufthansa 747 on the roof of the Karlsruhe Technology museum.
In 2002, a young Suzanne Christensen Morris, just graduated from UC Davis, headed to France looking for adventure. Keen to be close to her German roots, she chose to move to Strasbourg in Alsace, on the border with Germany. After a few weeks of hard searching for a job and a place to live, she found an amazing apartment in a building owned by a friendly family, and a job as a test-baker for Ancel (now “Dr. Oetker”), which is sort of like the Betty Crocker of continental Europe. She stayed for a year, and the process made a bunch of friends, and developed a deep affection, or perhaps addiction is the better word, for tarte flambée (flammenkuchen in German), a pizza-like concoction with a thinner crust usually garnished with cream, onions, thick-cut bacon, and sometimes cheese. So Strasbourg was a must-stop location for us on this trip.
Switzerland looks like a postcard of Switzerland. Green mountains plunging into crystal blue lakes. Grassy fields as far as the eye can see. Immaculate trains that are on time except when they catch on fire (more on that later). Bike trails that run like a swiss watch, ticking back and forth between countryside and town centers. Cool sunny weather.
Italy, we love you. We can’t help it. Architecture, pasta, gelato… we can’t get enough. You’re not making it easy, though. How about thinning out the throngs of tourists and turning the heat down, oh, twenty degrees or so? That’s really all we ask. Oh, and it would be awesome if the bike compartments in your trains were actually unlocked and available for cyclists, and half the trains were not cancelled because of a strike. But no biggie.
From the Sarlat we took a train to Arles. Arles it was having a music festival, and more importantly, nearby Avignon was having its annual gigantic theatre festival. We stayed in a super nice hotel room in Arles — not on purpose, it just seems to be the last available hotel room in Arles, but we enjoyed it nonetheless. Arles was a nice change from Sarlat. There were some tourist looking at it ancient roman buildings, but the french outnumbered the tourists by a wide margin. The weather is very warm, and the likelihood of rain seems slim.
Street performers at the Festival d’Avignon.
We went to Avignon by train for an afternoon and evening. The streets it worth jammed with people and performers of the various plays hawking their playbills; every available surface in the town was covered in posters advertising for the plays. Joe was able to locate the venue where he had been a part of a play in college over 15 years ago, and we went to see a rendition of Dangerous Liaisons. It was a good performance, but made us both realize that our French is not as good as we sometimes think it is.
We love the culture and people of Bretagne, but the rain day after day got to be a bit much. One very accurate postcard said (in French) “it is beautiful in Bretagne, several times a day.” Most of the time it was in fact quite nice and the weather warm and it what is beautiful weather. But two or three times a day there would be a rainstorm of varying degrees — sometimes just a late missed that wasnt quite rain, but other times outright rainstorms. We started to feel like we were always putting on or taking off rain gear, and always hanging up half of our clothes to dry at night. So we headed south, first to Bordeaux and then from there to Dordogne.
We are in St. Malo, and it is awesome. Suzanne finally got module marinere (mussels), we drank lots of cider, and we took a walk around the city walls, which I have an amazing view of the harbor and surrounding islands. There was also a tall ship show in town and sailors everywhere.
France greeted us in full with abundance: a sunny day, a beautiful landscape, small cute villages and patisseries with pain au chocolate and other delicious baked things.
On our first morning in France we visited and breakfasted with Tifane and Olivier, friends through Suzanne’s job teaching at the Ecole Bilangue in Berkeley, and Olivier’s family. It was an excellent first stop as they were all from Bretagne and gave us pointers on where to go (in short: the coast) and helped us figure out what trains we might take for those parts where we don’t want to bike.
First of many pain au chocolat to be eaten in France.