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CHUR TO KONSTANZ
The "bike highway" we were now on consists of a large embankment either side of the Rhine with a wide asphalted path running along the top. It starts about 20k from Chur and goes all the way to Lake Constance (the Bodensee). It's a breeze to ride, no cars, no corners, few pedestrians, so we really pushed along hard. It was no problem to sit on 26-28 kph. We noticed the mountains getting lower as they dropped towards Lake Constance, and Liechtenstein appeared in next to no time. We reached the youth hostel at Schaan-Vaduz at 16.30, half an hour before opening time!
After checking in I reluctantly agreed to join Louise, Elaine, Denis, and Mary on a ride up to the castle. Like I said in the introduction, I'm not an inveterate cyclist, I was there mainly because it was my best opportunity to see some of Europe. Half way up the mountain we noticed a hotel with a set of bells attached to the wall, next to a large clock - it was fairly obvious that the bells rang a tune on the hour. I had a small tape recorder with me, so, as it was 17.55 pm, I waited for the bells. At 18.05 Mary went in and asked when they rang. The answer? - We don't turn them on until the first of May!
We noticed some oddly dressed young men at the hostel, and we saw them again in a bar where we were having a well-earned beer. They were dressed in heavy black woollen suits with bell-bottomed trousers. Their jackets were open to reveal a black waistcoat with 8 flat mother-of-pearl buttons down the front. They both wore white shirts with narrow black ties, and their hats were on the table, one a black tophat, the other a hat similar to the ones the Amish wear. The waitress told me that they were Zimmermänner (carpenters), and they were on their traditional journey (true 'journeymen'). After finishing their apprenticeship they leave home for three years to find work wherever they can, and pick up skills from many different master tradesmen. They often learn traditional methods, which means the old ways won't die out. Unfortunately it is rare for young fellows to take up this option these days.
When we saw them again at breakfast the next morning I asked if they would mind being photographed, and they were only too pleased to pose for us. We had quite a good conversation with them, as one had been out to Australia on his journey. He had had to abandon his black suit in Cairns, however, as the weather was too hot.
That morning (4 April) it was raining as we set out, so we donned our wet weather gear, gritted our teeth, and mounted up. Roy and Kim had both visited Liechtenstein previously, so they went on ahead (with the map, big mistake), while the rest of us went to get our passports stamped. We were supposed to meet up with them again for lunch in a town called Mäder, about 25 k down the "highway".
The weather worsened as we left Liechtenstein - more rain, wind, and the temperature dropped considerably - it was fairly hard going on the exposed embankment. Then it happened, Louise noticed her back (of course) tyre was flattening rapidly. By this time the weather had developed into snow flurries. Luckily there was an off-ramp underpass nearby, so we dived in there for shelter. Off came the panniers, over went the bike, off came the wheel. To try and save a bit of time Denis suggested she use her spare tube instead of trying to patch the damaged one. Louise very carefully examined the tyre for glass, but couldn't find any.
Falling snow, flat tyre, freezing
We continued down the 'bike highway' to Bangs, where we turned in, so that we could get an Austrian stamp in our passports. The border guard tried to wave us through, indicating that we didn't need to stop. It took a few minutes to convince him that we wanted to stop, and we wanted our passports stamped. It took him a while to find the stamp, and then we waited for him to adjust it to the right date, but we finally all got stamped.
The weather had cleared a bit, and the temperature had risen to around 4 degrees C, so we carried on towards Mäder. Just after we left the border post we heard Louise groan - her back tyre was flat again. This time there was no choice but to patch the original tube. Louise checked the tyre again and found a minute sliver of glass - it must have been the culprit both times.
By the time we reached Mäder we were three hours late for our rendezvous with Roy and Kim and we didn't really expect them to be still waiting, given the rotten weather. They weren't. We were confident they had ridden on to the youth hostel in Bregenz, our overnight stop. So we went in to Mäder ourselves, ate some lunch in a lovely, warm, dry, bakery, then continued our masochistic journey.
About five minutes out of town our hearts sank. We all heard Louise mutter, "I don't believe it!" You guessed it, that same back tyre. This time the problem was that the temperature had been too cold for the patch glue to "go off" properly, the patch had moved and had reexposed the hole. It took ages for the second coat of glue to reach the right consistency, and we all crossed our fingers and prayed that three flat tyres was the maximum allocation for any one person on any given day! There were no more flats, but the weather closed in again, and before too long the hailstones were making life more than a little uncomfortable. That only lasted about half an hour, then it settled down to simple rain.
Because we had no map we followed the river to its outflow into Lake Constance, then followed the lake shore to Bregenz. We met a few dead ends and pedestrian-only paths along the way, but we finally got there. The next problem was how to find the youth hostel? We had no idea what part of town it was in. We seemed to have passed a lot of Bregenz, with no familiar 'house and tree' signs anywhere, so I stopped an old man in a yellow raincape who was riding along another path just near us.
He gave me some instructions, in German, of course, but I couldn't remember where to go after we passed the sports field. We asked directions from some young guys who were there at soccer practice, but they had no idea. I was starting to stress when I noticed a yellow raincape out of the corner of my eye The old man had been riding in the same direction on a different path and could see we needed help. "Kommen Sie mit" (Come with me) he called, so then we followed him up the station platform, across the tracks, through the square, and up the hill. I reckon that vindicated me not remembering the directions! He stopped at a kiosk to ask for the youth hostel, the lady there sent us further up the hill, then another man directed us to turn around and go about half way down again. When our guide left us at the base of the hostel driveway we gave him a koala souvenir in gratitude. He was reluctant to take it, said he had just been going for a wander on his bike and the exercise was thanks enough!
We couldn't see Roy and Kim's bikes at the hostel, and were a bit surprised they hadn't yet arrived, so six of us checked in to a room for eight, in the expectation they would turn up at any moment. They didn't come that night. That's OK, we thought, they probably decided to push on a bit, and they'll be waiting for us in Konstanz tomorrow night.
It was still overcast next morning (5/4), but it looked like it would clear. We found a bike shop to buy some Mr. Tuffys (or similar) for Louise, but they hadn't heard of the concept. We looked around town a bit then set off for Konstanz via Lindau and Friederichshafen.
Lindau was another unforgettable experience. It is an island village off the eastern shore of Lake Constance. Although it is only a few kilometres from Bregenz, it is in the German state of Bavaria - so, our fourth country already: Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, Germany! Saturday is market day on Lindau, and we had a lovely time choosing our lunch supplies from all the fresh, pickled, and dried produce stalls. Denis and I dined on fresh bread, dolmades, Greek salad, and green olives stuffed with whole garlic cloves - now why wouldn't anyone talk to us that afternoon?
Lindau is a tourist magnet, so be prepared to share your space with hundreds of other people. The island has a wonderful, ancient look and feel with crooked alleyways, cobbled streets and many mysterious nooks and crannies. The main streets are full of expensive shops and restaurants, but after turning a few corners we left the crowd behind (almost). The old Rathaus is covered in magnificent murals, and the entrance to the harbour is most impressive, with the lion monument on one side and the lighthouse on the other. It would have been nice to stay a little longer on Lindau (:-) ), but we needed to push on to Friederichshafen to have a look at the Zeppelin museum before continuing on to Konstanz where we expected to meet up with our two errant companions.
The weather was turning pretty nasty again - 2 degrees C and raining, but we gritted our teeth for the 20k ride to Friedrichshafen. Only Denis and Russell went through the museum, once we found it - it's down on the waterfront, near the ferry wharves. The entrance fee is a bit steep unless you are a real enthusiast, so the four women stayed outside and made coffee from our thermoses while the 2 guys went inside. We knew we would have to catch a ferry to get from Meersburg to Konstanz, so we idly checked out the conveniently located ferry timetable. Horror of horrors! - we only had 2 1/2 hours to make the 20k to Meersburg and the last ferry to Konstanz - and Denis and Russell were still wandering around inside the museum, blissfully unaware of our predicament. You might think 2 1/2 hours is ample time to ride 20k, but the weather had slowed us down to an average 8k/h, and we didn't know what obstacles we would encounter along the way.
The guys finally emerged and we took off for Meersburg with a two hour deadline. The first problem occurred as we were leaving Friedrichshafen. The signpost to Meersburg pointed in two directions - the cyclepath following the road straight ahead (uphill and paved) and the cyclepath following the lake shore (flat but unpaved). Louise and Elaine took the lake path, Denis, Mary, Russell and I took the road. We rode as if the hounds of Hell were after us. Like I have said, I'm not an accomplished rider, but when the adrenalin is pumping I believe an Olympic road racing medal would not be out of the question ;-)
We made Meersburg in about 1 1/4 hours. I've no idea which way we went, we just turned where the signs told us. My trousers were soaked, not from rain, but from the perspiration generated by my waterproof overpants! Mary and Denis were exhausted as they were both in the throes of the 'flu - Mary picked it up on the flight over then generously passed it on to everyone (except me)- and Russell had had to stop to adjust something or other and was lagging a bit behind.
We screamed down the hill from the 'ober' (upper) town to the 'unter' (lower) town and the ferry to find that - wouldn't you know, there is a vehicular ferry service that runs continually between Meersburg and Konstanz, leaving every 25 minutes, 24 hours a day. The timetable we had seen was for the (expensive) sightseeing tourist cruise boat. But we had plenty of time to cool off - Louise and Elaine had not arrived yet. We felt inwardly smug as we congratulated ourselves on our choice of route - they were the 'fast' riders and we had beaten them!
We had cooled right down after about ten minutes, were getting downright chilly after twenty, and were starting to freeze over after thirty. It wasn't until the cruise boat hove into sight, heading for another wharf closer to town that I realised something terrible - by coming round the lake, E & L would have encountered that wharf without even seeing the one where we were waiting, and here was the ferry, and they would get on, and we'd be down to a group of four!
There were lots of people strolling about the bars and restaurants on the quayside, so I thrust my bike into Denis' hands and ran as fast as I could (in rainjacket and overpants) towards the cruiser wharf. I scanned the crowd as I ran, but couldn't see them waiting to board. I reached the wharf simultaneously with the cruise boat, and then saw Louise riding furiously towards me, alone. Elaine had blown a tyre about 2 k back and was walking in. She intended get a Zimmer in Meersburg that night and join us in Konstanz the next day. By this time Denis had joined us on his bike, so he went off to tell Elaine about the other ferry. We waited for them to rejoin us then sailed over to Konstanz.