9 Trains, 5 Days, 4 countries, 2 bicycles

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On the heels of the TMV, we had planned to ride a brief section of pavement to connect with the Grand Traversee du Jura, which begins less than a day away by bicycle.  The Jura Mountains straddle the French/Swiss border, and both countries claim a mountain bike touring route (French route here, Swiss route here).  Our research led us to find the better of the two routes.  Deep in the details of both routes, we discovered a missing enthusiasm for the upcoming riding.  Of course, the camping would be great; the riding would be very nice; and we could continue the remainder of the summer on similar routes in southern France, the Pyrennees, and Spain.  However, the thought of resigning the rest of the summer to culturally familiar living, and pleasant riding and camping received unenthusiastic votes at best.  “Sounds nice”, we both agreed.  But something was lingering beneath, or behind, those words.  

Then, my inbox peeped.  Joe Cruz will be along the Danube this week, southern Czech this weekend, Prague next week, then Munich.  Chasing Joe Cruz, like Carmen Sandiego, is a serious pursuit– that man is everywhere. We’ve meet twice before– Alaska in March and New Mexico in October.  Prague in July sounds like it fits the pattern. 

Ukraine is still one of those places I need to visit.  My grandparents lived there, until they fled during WWII via Germany and other places unknown to me.  I have spent too many years listening and learning in Ukrainian not to be curious, even though few cycletourists put Ukraine on their wish list.  If we don’t prioritize travel towards Ukraine, even though we keep saying it will happen sometime later in the summer–sometime– it may never happen.  France will always be there.  

And, all those places in between here and there sound fascinating, mostly because we know very little about them.  Slovakia sounds awesome.

Our superbrainstorn begat more than a few lightning strikes of good and bad ideas.  Eventually, the best idea struck.  Let’s go east.  Let’s run into Joe Cruz.  Let’s stop in Konstanz to visit Andi.  We can ride some of the EuroVelo6 route along the Rhine, which we have encountered before in the Loire Valley; we can take some trains if we need to meet Joe’s rigorous travel schedule; and after visiting with Joe and Margaret, we will already be in ‘the East’, and we can settle into our normal pace again in a very different world.  Much of the distance we covered in two months of riding from Amsterdam to Alsace, we will pass in the next week.  The pace is frighteningly mad to us, but the result is exciting.  

A short ride out of the Vosges Mountains, we stop in for a visit with some friends in Mulhouse.  Julian’s new Renault camping van, much like the popular VW vans, strikes a chord with us.  Lael is adamant that she will never own or drive a car.  It is blue, just like her bike, and she likes that.  

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Riding out of Mulhouse on the EuroVelo6, to connect with the Rhine River to Basel, Switzerland.  Signage and surfaces are varied, but consistently reliable.

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Basel is situated at the junction between Switzerland, Germany, and France.  The Rhine River takes a turn, and innumerable bike paths complicate navigation.  We successfully exit France, but find ourselves between Germany and Switzerland several times.  Finally, we stop to pick up some food at a small grocery.  Signage is in German.  The prices are similar to prices in Euros, or even Dollars, although something is not quite right.  It is not until we receive change from a 50€ bill, that we discover for certain that we are in Switzerland.  It is nice enough here, although now we have a bunch of strange currency for a country we do not plan to spend much time in, for a country that is notoriously expensive.  

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We figure we can exchange the paper bills at the border.  We blow the rest of the money on some baked goods, a super cheap bottle of Swiss wine, and the only item we could find that cost less than one Swiss franc– some explosive ‘poppers’.  We enrage dogs and frighten old ladies on the way to the German border with the paper-wrapped ‘cherry bombs’.  In fact, as all of these countries are part of the Schengen Zone, none of the border crossings exist with active border patrol.  Disused customs facilties still exist, with minimal monitoring.  Even though Switzerland is not in the EU, time spent in Switzerland still counts toward the 90 day tourist visa allowed to US visitors.

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Exchange the rest of the money in an automated machine.

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Both Switzerland and Germany feature excellent bicycle facilities, included posted maps and signage.  The Swiss system is particularly efficient.

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Germany is incredibly cheap, and most European discount stores are originally German, such as Aldi and Lidl.  Typical grocery stores in Germany are filled with all kinds of junk, in addition to common German fare.  The American section is embarrassing, especially considering a store full of quality German sausage.  We enjoy spätzle, sausage and sauerkraut.

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Riding and swimming along the Rhine, along EuroVelo6, is a best case scenario when not riding in the mountains.

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Swiss signage is extremely efficient.  They condense multiple routes onto one placard, including signed routes for walking, cycling, mountain biking, canoeing, and rollerskating or blading.  Rollerblading remains popular in Europe.  Long-distance bladepacking anyone?  Rollerskate upstream and packraft downstream?  A simple inner tube may suffice for a S24O roller-packrafting trip.

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For a while, we are stuck on the south side of the river in Switzerland.  Unwilling to get roped into their currency once again, we fast until crossing back into Germany.

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Switzerland is famous for its junk, presumably because they have been able to afford nice things for a long time.  I found a gold-plated wine key for Lael.  She loves gold things.  We paid in Euro.  It cost 0.50€

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To reach Konstanz by that evening, we jump on a Swiss train.  The train is efficient, clean, and at least a little futuristic.  We couldn’t figure out how to get into the bathroom without assistance from a local.

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Although only 60 miles away, we connect 4 local trains to reach Konstanz.

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Lake Constance is the largest natural lake in Germany, and a great place to kill a day in July, especially in the company of Ricky and Andi.

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Deciding to keep at our current pace to reach Prague in time, we purchase an all-day ticket on the German rail, which costs only 25€ per person, and another 5€ for the bike.  The pass is limited to regional normal-speed trains.

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Five trains and eight hours later later, we are near the end of the line and near the Czech border as the clock strikes 11:58PM.  We get off at the second-to-last stop to ensure a reasonable chance at finding camping.  We don’t have a map of the area, so instincts are in charge.

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Deboarding the train, our hopes are rewarded by a dirt-road crossroads and only two houses within sight.  As short ride away we find a forest, and a dirt service road.

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The only challenge is to find some flat ground.  We awake in view of the Czech Republic, and a low range of mountains that serve as the border.

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A few snapshots at the tourist office gives us some direction for a dirt route over the border.

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And this life-sized topographic relief map also helps.

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A geniune draft beer in Gemany is also a necessity.  Dampf, as in this pint from the local Dampfbierbrauerei, is the German word for steam.  I also purchased a new Schwalbe Hans Dampf tire before leaving Germany, which is considerably less expensive than it is in the US.  Hans ‘Steam’ is a jack-of-all-trades– he is good at everything.  Andi also suggests that the colloquial Hans Dampf character is a lady killer.  Sounds like a good tire.  Until my current tire wears completely, the 29×2.35″ Hans Dampf serves to take a lot of space in my saddlebag.

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Headed for the hills, and the Czech Republic.

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Getting close.

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At last, we escape to the Czech Republic over a small wooden bridge over a stream.  First impressions suggest great things.

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14 thoughts on “9 Trains, 5 Days, 4 countries, 2 bicycles

  1. I’ll be heading towards Ukraine next week on my Pugs. Starting in Poland and following the Carpathians Arch to Romania – hope to arrive on the UA border mid-August for my birthday. Who knows maybe we’ll bump into each other 🙂

  2. I did a similar forest crossing from Bavaria into the Czech some years ago…Bohemia is great for cycling. Enjoy the pivo! It’s cheap!

    Matt Pierle (Jane’s cousin)

  3. What an adventure. Love following along. Riding GAPCO in September pales in comparison, though I’m no less looking forward to this trip. Thanks for all your luscious photos.

    • Annie, The GAP/CO is one of my favorite rides anywhere. I’ve now ridden the whole route, or parts of it, on four separate occasions– in March, July, October, and November. It is a beautiful ride in any season. Take your time to enjoy.

  4. You know, you’re wasted as a blogger. You could be the Colin Fletcher of bikepacking with big glossy photos instead of line drawings. I’d buy that book.

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