Part 3: Valleys, Villages And The Swiss

Greetings from the Black Forest. We’ve journeyed out of agricultural France in little under three days, all the way to Germany’s darkest forest. Today we climbed just shy of 900m to the towns of St Peter and St Margen.

As I write we are camped deep in the woods of the Black Forest. We have set up camp early tonight, around 7pm to guarantee that we have enough light to cook our pasta and take some time out to write, relax and enjoy a glass of local wine. This morning we started out from the popular town of Herbolzheim. We treated ourselves to a day off yesterday since we’ve completed the first stage of our odyssey. We originally were going to complete the stage at Strasbourg, however we didn’t need to go to Strasbourg and quite liked the idea of crossing the Rhein sooner than later, so we did that instead. So here we are in Germany. In the forest.

We crossed the Rhein on the quickest ferry ever, we barely had time to take a photograph of ourselves looking smug. And splash, we’re in Germany, cycling rapidly towards an unknown destination. We soon come to a stop, realising that we haven’t really thought about where we’re going beyond the Rhein. We take a good look at the map, scanning for the next town, place of other interest, hang on, what’s this, Europa Park, signified with a black diamond on the map. Black diamond? We check the key on the map, black diamond: place of other interest. Oh. Could be an industrial estate? Maybe a caravan park? A water park perhaps? Let’s have a look, it’s only a few kilometres away.

Welcome to Europa Park, Germany’s biggest theme park. Crikey. There’s a rollercoaster crossing the road in the middle of this tiny town. Brilliant. There are Gasthof’s (guesthouses) everywhere, restaurants too. We stop for a beer. Two doppelbock’s and a conversation with a Swiss couple later, we check out the camping at Europa Park. Welcome to Tipi Dorf. Welcome to the ‘Wild West’. We pitch our tent between the rows of mid sized mobile homes. In our new neighbours parkingplatz. They’re Swiss too. They’re cool with us nicking their parking space for our tent. Phew! We head to the Park entrance, but alas, its 10pm and the fun is over for today. We eat. We sleep.

One of the things I enjoy most about being somewhere different everyday is the contrast between each place. On Tuesday night we stayed in a town called Dabo, at the Chapelle de Leon, 664m above sea level. This is for me the most beautiful and impressive place so far. The sun shining, the climb to the top spirals like a giant helter skelter. The effort to reach the summit is considerable, the reward, truly breathtaking. Three hundred and sixty degree panoramic views, stretching out across valleys and villages for many miles.

It’s hard to describe the intensity of each day in a few hundred words here, if you can take what you read as a fraction of one percent of what we actually see in a days cycling, then you will perhaps get some idea of just how much there is to take in. And we’re not just talking about the sights, there are the people, the tastes, the feel of the places, its a sensory overload at times.

Yesterday we woke up in the forest, met a Swiss John Cleese called Thomas, climbed Kalvariengerhohe, complete with stations of the cross, saw the biggest waterfall in Europe and slept within a stones throw from the Rhein. Not bad for a days cycling. Thomas, thank you for the directions – we crossed the border as you suggested. It was MAG – NI – FI – CENT.

So here we are in Switzerland. Yes, I have written this in two parts, that is why I appear to be in two countries simultaneously. Country number seven on our hit list. Its a unique place and since we’ve only been here for a day its hard to draw too many conclusions. All I can say is that the Swiss are a proud nation. Square red flags bearing the perfectly symmetrical white cross at its centre line the streets, hang from every house, decorate the town halls, and in some cases adorn are t-shirts, light fittings and car stickers. Even some bicycles have been painted up in full red and white colours. A very proud nation indeed. Or they’re all closet Stoke fans…

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For the route click here

[slickr-flickr tag=J2 France Switzerland]