Preparation for the tour consisted of buying panniers, a few spares, some bidons and (some weeks earlier) a couple of books detailing the nine "Veloland Schweiz" routes through Switzerland. There are three volumes, each detailing three routes; the books are available (in German and French only at the time, maybe in other languages by now) from Werd Verlag. Their Web site doesn't have a search facility (!), so try the "Ausflugsführer" link.
Each route in the books is described with detailed maps and a page per map with some of the highlights. Each map page covers about 30km of the route. In Lis' case, preparation also included buying a shiny new blue bicycle, optimistically branded a "Power Bike".
We'd decided to take Route 5, the "Mittelland Route" along the three big central lakes of Switzerland, because the distance was doable and because it's about the flattest of the nine. The route actually starts on the Bodensee (Lake Constance) at Romanshorn, but it seemed silly to go to Romanshorn just to arrive back at Zürich after a day or so, so we decided to start from Zürich.
Packing the panniers was a laugh - we did it immediately before we left (always a mistake) and the process was characterised by a merciless discarding of anything that wouldn't fit. A bit too merciless as it turned out - I managed to not pack my spare tube and the tyre I had so painstakingly purchased, as well as the tyre repair kit and sundry tools!
The real problem was Lis' camera; she didn't trust the ockie straps to hold it safely enough, so we ended up tying it onto my rack AND pulling the ockie straps over it. As it turned out, it was safe and relatively easy to get to. She has a really well-padded camera case, and in spite of some pretty serious rigours, the camera survived very well.
We kicked off about 3pm on Saturday the 22nd of August. The first leg was totally open - we had no idea how far we'd get, and were really just treating the day as a chance to get to know our bikes and see how it all went. The route actually headed north out of Zürich; we managed to get lost well within the first ten kilometres. Well within the first four actually, making a bit of a detour through some of the hillier suburbs of Zürich before we located ourselves again. If we hadn't got lost again a bit further out we would have missed the beautiful village of Rümlang - cowbells ringing through the misty rain, orchards loaded with the season's first apples and fields of lettuce, cabbage, sunflowers and ripening corn.
Well, actually we did miss Rümlang itself - the bikeways mostly bypass settlements in the interests of keeping off the open road. Not that we missed much, because the gentle drizzle that started about an hour after we set off turned into gentle rain around Rümlang! It came and went, but the general theme was "damp".
We went past Affoltern, Watt, Dällikon and Buchs along a little stream called the Furtbach. Once we got well out of Zürich, a good portion of the path was dirt - well-kept dirt, but still dirt. I was a bit worried about my tyres - I'd have been more worried if I'd known that my spares and repair kit were still on the kitchen table at home, but luckily ignorance was bliss at this point. I pulled my newly-purchased waterproof overpants on the way through Seebach - they were a really good buy as it turned out, and Lis bought some too later, though a bit late.
Lis' tyres had nothing to worry about at all. She bought her new bike a few days earlier, with "half-slick" tyres - smooth in the middle for street riding, knobbly at the edges for better grip on dirt.
As the day wore on, so did our bottoms. They started sending ever more strident messages wanting to stop. From past experience I know that the first two days are the worst, then everything is alright, but my bottom was doing its level best to convince me otherwise after only about three hours in the saddle. Lis' bottom, totally unprepared for the assault being perpetrated upon it, had an even rougher time.
To make life more uncomfortable, the gentle rain stopped being gentle and started being soaking. It wasn't too cold - almost warm in fact - but we decided to aim for Baden and stop. Coming into Baden, crossing a road, Lis had a fall. Trying to mount a low granite kerb at a slight angle, her front wheel slid along the kerb and she fell - luckily forwards, onto the pavement, rather than to one side or backwards into the road. I didn't see this, being somewhat ahead of her, taking a different route across the road. I turned to see Lis lying face down on the pavement, not moving, her bike still on the edge of the road. It was a very long moment before I saw her move - she had been counting fingers and toes. A passing driver called out his window to see if she was OK, she replied yes and was standing up before I got to her. Her forehead, protected by her helmet, had hit the pavement hard enough to compress the foam in the helmet and crack the outer shell.
She had a headache for a while, and couple of bruises and scrapes, but was basically OK. Anyone who rides without a helmet is a damn fool, IMNSHO. We stood around for ten minutes calming down and generally getting ourselves back together before we made our way into Baden. The whole thing was made up for when Lis saw her first grey squirrel. Since I didn't see it, there is a distinct possibility that it was the effects of the bump on the head, but it is squirrel country so let's give her the benefit of the doubt :-)
Baden is called Baden because it's a "Kurort" with warm springs to bath in - "baden" is the German word for "to bathe" and also means "baths" as in the plural of "bath". The warm springs run into the Limmat river. We picked a hotel out, the Hotel Schweizerhof, and made our way there. We considered the youth hostel (which, for future reference, should you happen to need cheap accommodation in Baden, looks really nice) but we were so wet we really wanted somewhere that was guaranteed to have the comforts of home.
Didn't really see much of Baden on the way in - it was very wet, we were very wet, and a lot of wet kept falling out of the sky, so we just wanted to stop. We booked in looking like drowned rats, the porter helped us stow our bikes in a shed nearby, then we went to our room and headed straight for the spa bath in the basement. Funny how warm, bathy wet is so much better than cold, rainy wet. The water in the spas comes straight from the hot springs - we lay in it for a good forty-five minutes before going out to dinner around the corner at, of all things, a Spanish restaurant. We both had grilled calamari, and a very good meal it was too. Then back to the hotel, into bed and out like lights.
We breakfasted in the morning in a lovely sunny breakfast room, looking out over the Limmat, which was starting to run a bit fuller and faster from all the rain, and feeling absolutely 100% again :-)
We checked our bikes out of the shed and walked across a footbridge "into town". On the approach to the bridge we overtook an elderly lady, who was moving extremely slowly on sticks; she was no doubt there for the curative powers of the waters. We passed her with some care, and on foot - it was a narrow spot, and our bikes were wide. We stopped in the middle of the bridge to look at the Limmat; she eventually made her way to where we were and we had a brief conversation with her. It was nice to be approached like that, and she told us that in spite of the (now) very high waters of the Limmat, only the day before there had been concerns about too little water! Hard to imagine in Switzerland, somehow.
After the bridge we started back up the hill to the railway station, where we wanted to meet up with Route 5 again. The weather had cleared up nicely, and we headed off for Brugg.
Brugg's name (literally: bridge) was rather unimaginatively given it many, many moons ago when it was a bridge town; the bridge across the Aare river allowed taxes to be levied as far back as Roman times. About three or four kilometres northwest of Brugg is the confluence of the rivers Aare, Limmat (the river Zürich is on) and Reuss. Cycling into Brugg was a delight - a lovely sunny period, rather autumnal :-) with the bike paths well off the road, spinning along past lots of greenery - very nice. We had lunch at a pub, sitting at an outside table with a full view of the bike route and fellow cyclists riding past.
Our next destination was Aarau, 20k upriver. The name literally means "the valley of the Aare". The bike paths were less nice for that stretch - lots of dirt, and personally I didn't find it very appealing, even though the river was right alongside. Lots of other cyclists around though, which was a plus, although there didn't seem to be much cameraderie going on. We did see a few interesting things - I didn't realise, for example, that there was so much hydroelectric power generated from the Aare, but we saw several weirs with power-generation equipment.
When we got to Aarau we had a drink at the "Mr Pickwick" pub (it's a chain). We were approached after a little while by a chap who'd been sitting near us, a talkative Irish lad called (of all things) McGuinness. He was swift to reassure us he was no relation to the IRA weapons procurer of that name! After one day in Switzerland he was desperate to talk English to someone. He opened proceedings by asking if we were English... I said nope, Australian :-) After our drink we wandered off to locate a hotel, and chose a neat but rather impersonal little place called the Golden Apple.
The hotel was nothing much to write home about but the Altstadt was cute. Aarau in years past was a classic walled town, and we followed the wall around, more or less. The old tower on the wall, under which the gate into the original town is set, is the highest town tower (as against church tower) in Switzerland. It's very dark; the sundial clock on its lower half seems like a grim joke. We read that the cells under the tower, five metres below ground level, were still in use until the late 19th century.
The bells in the tower were donated to the town by the Rüetschi bellmaking company on the occasion of their - wait for it - 600th birthday!
The small streets within the old town have lots of overhanging gables, painted underneath with various designs, mostly in pretty good repair. It was very relaxing wandering through the narrow streets. Dinner was unspectacular; we had pizza in a little Italian restaurant near the tower, but I forgot that "Peperoni" means capsicum. I was expecting a nice hot, meaty pizza and got an insipid vegetarian thing :-(
The next day it was raining but we set out towards Olten anyway :-). We went thoroughly wrong after Aarau. We were getting really sick of bumpy dirt track, our wrists were hurting (not to mention our bums) and the weather looked very dicey, so we decided to take an alternative route to avoid about 8km of dirt. This involved a stretch running from Stüsslingen down to Winznau - it's even shown on the map, but we still managed to blow it. We somehow missed getting onto the right path after Stüsslingen and headed almost due South on windy (albeit sealed) roads, with the rain getting worse. The new route was very steep in parts, but Lis did see her second squirrel.
We popped out somewhere and asked at a petrol station - they said we were in Niedergössgen, about halfway to Winzau, right on the original path, and with 6km of dirt road ahead! Argh! So we plugged on. Oh, did I mention that Niedergössgen is host to one of Switzerland's five nuclear power plants?
The dirt road to Winznau ran dead flat for much of its length, along a sort of levee to the right of the river, built up to contain a canal to the right of the levee. It had been built out of some sort of whitish gravel, which made for whitish dirt, so I got a regular skunk stripe up my back. My whole bike was covered with the stuff. In spite of a generous coating of this stuff, Lis' camera case did its duty proud - the camera stayed clean and dry. Unlike us.
After Winznau a blessed four or five kilometres of sealed road, raining ever harder, then a steep, steep, steep descent into Olten. Olten is where Sarah Windler lives, a colleague of mine at work. She'd said we should drop in, so we determined to do so, sodden though we were. First a stop at the Railway Station though; we wanted to get clean (a relative concept), I wanted to go to the loo, and we needed to phone Sarah first anyway. Outside the railway station was a fountain, where we filled our drink bottles several times, using the spouts to spray off the layer of muck - mostly my layer, because Lis, you will recall, had mudguards! Oddly, even though we were filling drink bottles from a fountain clearly labeled "non potable" and numerous people saw us doing it, not a soul saw fit to warn us. Hmm.
While we were washing ourselves down, a chap asked Lis where we were headed. She said "Geneva". He wished us luck. This was a common exchange :-)
Off to Sarah's place, a five minute walk from the station. I think we presented a pretty dismal, and certainly very wet, sight - we were ordered to take our wet things off (well, the outer layers anyway, which we hung in the cellar to drip) and sat down for a large plate of extremely hearty vegetable soup, with bread and followed by a cup of coffee. Mmmmmmmmmmmmmm. Then back on with the wet things (putting on my shoes felt like pulling on socks made of wet sponge) and off on the bikes again. We made a real effort, but after only three kilometers we reached Aarburg, and there was no way, no way at all we were going further, even though it was only early afternoon.
We checked into the Gasthof zum Bären; they were mentioned in the guide we had as being "bicycle friendly", and they had a nice dry shed for our bikes, so we roped our steeds up there, took off the panniers and headed up to our room. The room was a long, narrow one, very oddly shaped, with a large bathroom and two windows overlooking the town square. It was a very nice room, especially after we decorated every available protrusion with damp clothes, but the water-saver shower head provided very little water indeed, and that in nasty sharp needly form. We weren't too fussed though - it was hot water at least :-)
Below our room was a lovely round fountain, about three metres in diameter, with boxes of red geraniums arranged around a central pillar. Across the road was the facade of the Rathaus, with flowerboxes and painted shutters. Even the rain couldn't make it all look less than classically European. The pub itself, with various names (though it now bears the original name again) has been on the same site since the sixteenth century.
First things first, we both had hot showers and put on clean dry clothes. Lis had brought a spare pair of shoes (I will too, next time!), so she went out and shopped for some food, while I borrowed a hairdryer from the hotel and started drying my sneakers. Not a good way to treat a hairdryer, so to avoid melting it (not to mention the plastic bits of my shoes) I heated my shoes for five minutes then gave the shoes and the dryer a rest for another five, reading the local rag the while :-)
Lis returned in short order and we wolfed down rolls, ham, cheese and grapes. What with eating and drying and reading and talking, time wore on until about five-ish, when the rain stopped, so we decided to have a wander. My shoes were dry enough to wear too, and very pleasantly warm!
Aarburg is built around a very steep spur, around which the Aare does a dogleg. Right on the corner of the dogleg a small but fastflowing river, the Tych, runs into the Aare. The result of all this - the dogleg and the Tych - is that the water widens, slows, and develops huge swirls as it flows under the bridge across the Aare which leads into Aarburg. We watched the water for a while; it was well up from all the rain, and we saw the odd branch sweeping downriver. Then we walked up to the castle, built by the Hapsburgs, which gives the town its name.
It is still in use as a reformatory; we couldn't go in, but we could go around and marvel at the massive construction and the extraordinary vantage point it must have been in times past. The local geography is amazing, with a sort of natural sawtooth effect forming fifty metre high almost sheer cliffs; the castle is built on the junction of two. Looking at the walls you can see how the builders took the natural stone and extended it. You can also see the layers where successive generations of builders extended the walls here and there. We wondered on our way down again whether the plentiful stinging nettles along the bases of the walls were deliberately planted as a first line of defense against potential invaders.
Back in town, Lis got a set of overpants, to be properly ready for the next downpour. We had a tasty meal at the hotel that evening and slept like logs again. We saddled up at the fountain and filled our waterbottles; I wanted to oil our chains after all that riding in the wet and it was only when I couldn't locate my oilbottle that I realised I hadn't packed my repair kits and stuff. Well, all I really knew was that they weren't there any more, so I was just hoping I hadn't left them somewhere silly. We needed to get Lis a new helmet - after a knock, a cycle helmet has to be discarded, as the foam is compressed and can no longer protect in an impact. We dropped into the local cycle shop Biri Bikes and got a new helmet. I took the opportunity to get some lubricant and a new repair kit.
So, all set for the day, we walked back over the bridge and set off in the general direction of Solothurn. A sunny day! Things were looking up for Day Three.
Spirits very much boosted by lots of sunshine, we left Aarburg headed for Solothurn. We had a bit of an idea how much we could manage in a day, so we thought we could get a goodly way past Solothurn. The bike path to Solothurn took us in several large loops away from, then towards and over the river - we crossed the river three times between Aarburg and Wangen.
Just before Wangen, at Walliswil, we stopped for a Coupe Romanoff (Lis) and a Coupe Dänemark (me). Either one would have been enough for both of us, they were enormous! Icecream was sorely needed though, the weather was sunny and we were hot. While we waited for our coupes, unaware of the challenge they would pose, we watched a boy of about ten with a bicycle and a dog trying to figure out how to ride the bike while keeping control of the dog. Describing it would be laborious, but try to imagine a young (though large) dog, a short choke chain and a length of nondescript rope. Tying the rope to the choke chain and then to his bike, the intrepid young adventurer vanished from sight. Since the dog was very rambunctious, there was a long moment while we waited for a shout, a bark and a crash, but they didn't come. When we rode off a half hour later we didn't pass any wreckage, so I guess the unlikely ensemble escaped (this time).
Oh - directly to the north of Walliswil, about three kilometres or so as the crow flies, are the towns of Niederbipp and Oberbipp. Wonder what a "Bipp" is (or was)? Anyway, definitely Lis' favourite town-names :-)
We got to Solothurn around lunchtime, with the weather holding out magnificently. We didn't do justice to the town at all - apart from a cursory look at the inner city while we had lunch, we basically just passed through. From what we saw though, the town ("capital" of Kanton Solothurn) is well worth another look someday. For reasons we never did find out, the town was garlanded with watering cans, and every statue had one of two signs hung around its neck - either "Mine is an unstable head" or "Mine is a stable head". Hm - we may never know...
After Solothurn we travelled through a long, flat valley. The bike path followed the river in places, but turned away from it frequently, sometimes sealed and sometimes not. The valley is a natural place for an airport, and as we rode we saw numerous small planes taking off and landing, gliders swooping, paragliders floating down and so on.
Around Staad (four kilometres or so south-south-east of Grenchen) we met a tanned man, probably mid-sixties, wearing only shorts and a mountain bike. He more or less stopped us, and after enquiring as to our marital status, whether we had kids, where we were going, where we had come from and so on, he proceeded to tell us all about the area, a discourse liberally spiced with awful dirty jokes and a rain of fragments from the carrot he was munching. How big does a bed have to be? Big enough for two to lie down and one to stand. Boom boom.
He told us that the first thing he did when he retired was throw away his watch, a device of the devil that has killed more good men than all the wars combined. He mentioned that he did have a wonderful wife, apparently (said with a slightly melancholy air) she still keeps excellent time.
The valley, according to Antonio (that was his name), had actually been reclaimed from swampland by taming and redirecting the Aare into canals, thus dropping the water table a good three metres or so. Apparently this was a wartime effort when external food supplies were threatening to dry up. The area was originally used as extra arable land for food crops, still its main use. Later the airport took advantage of the long flat area with steady prevailing winds. Now an autobahn is to be run through there; because of the high water table, anchoring the road is something of an engineering problem, but since work has clearly begun, obviously Those Who Matter have decided it can be done.
Farewelling Antonio, we followed the path back to the riverbank, which we followed all the way to Büren. Antonio had said we must check out the bridge in Büren, so I walked across it in his honour. It's been rebuilt a couple of times; while it still looks the same as the original, sadly the latest reconstruction was not true to the old construction methods. The rebuilders used laminated beams instead of massive trunks, and welded steel joints rather than the complex and beautiful dovetailing of the original. Still, with a squint one could imagine how it must have been. According to Antonio, the bridge was burned down by separatist Jura rebels from the hills, demanding independence! Closest thing Switzerland has had to a civil war, by the sound of it.
Much of the remaining trip for the day followed the main canal in fact, between Büren and Nidau. We didn't actually go into Nidau, stopping instead in Port, a few kilometres east. Just before we got to Port, we saw a roadside (well, pathside) stall selling fruit and vegies, so we made an impromptu stop and looked over the canal for a while while we dealt with a couple of apples and a tomato or two.
Then into Port. After a brief confusion, we headed up the hill away from the canal to another of the hotels mentioned in the guide, the Hotel zum Löwen. Somehow Port hadn't been very welcoming - nothing specific, it just seemed very concrete and asphalt and "ordinary" compared to the beautiful little towns we'd been seeing. The Hotel zum Löwen was extremely unprepossessing architecturally, but it was that or keep cycling and we wanted to stop, so we booked in and were shown to our room.
I misunderstood the arrangements, and booked a room with its own shower, more expensive than a room with a shared shower. A measure of our tiredness and irritability, and our vague disappointment that we weren't staying in a nicer place, is that we sniped at each other for ten minutes about the additional expense of thirty franks. Over the past three nights we'd started a sort of microtradition, having a piece of chocolate when we stopped for the night, so after a tense and grumpy ten minutes we looked at each other, broke out the chocolate and everything was alright.
We tidied ourselves up and tootled back down to the river, to a restaurant we'd passed coming in. It was nearly dusk, and we sat outside on the terrace overlooking the river and ordered a meal. And Port made up for many of its shortcomings by being the place where I discovered Eglifilet! Grilled fillets of perch with steamed potatoes, a squeeze of lemon and tatare sauce. Utterly simple, utterly delicious. The fish fillets are quite small - about two inches long, and a serving seems to be about eight to ten fillets. The Zürers seem to prefer doing them in a beer batter, but grilled is definitely best. Yum.
Tactical mistake - that terrace got really cool after the sun set, darkness started properly falling, and I hadn't brought a jumper. The meal was thus a somewhat chilly affair.
We got back to the hotel and went to bed. At about two o'clock we were woken by a mighty bang and the whole hotel seemed to rock! More or less simultaneously we both asked "what the f... was that!?!". Then Lis noticed that her side of the bed seemed to have dropped somewhat. Upon further investigation (lifting the mattress), we saw that the sides of the bed were bowed outwards, leaving the bit that supports the mattress supported itself only by a few centimetres of wood at the very ends of the bed. Whether by us or by other tenants of the room, those supports had been bent down, and the mattress support had simply fallen through! Even after I pulled the matress support back up it was clear that the bed was stuffed. Lis expressed a definitive unwillingness to sleep on "this deathtrap", so we spent the rest of the night on the floor, not sleeping (as was otherwise our wont) like logs.
In the morning we packed our kit and traipsed down to breakfast. We were NOT in a good mood. I met a lady outside the door into the restaurant part of the hotel who asked me had I slept well. "Well, no actually, the bed collapsed. Are you the appropriate person to talk to about this?". Frank disbelief on her face as I spoke, she said she would have to talk to the boss, who asked me what had happened.
The boss listened impassively to the story then disappeared for a few minutes, obviously checking our room for signs of extreme debauchery. When he returned he said yes, clearly there was a problem. He put it down to military guests being rambunctious or possibly past occupants being involved in overenthusiastic "marital exercise". My sharp look failed to reveal anything on his face that might suggest he was levelling this accusation at us, so I let it pass. We ended up paying half price - we had had breakfast and half a good night's sleep, so it was fair enough, though if I'd been in his shoes I'd have said "on the house!".
Lovely weather again boosted our mood nicely as we set off down the hill to rejoin the bike path, then headed off down the southern coast of the Bielersee (Lake Biel) towards Erlach. We went past some pike-breeding dams, empty at the time. In the season, they are basically manmade swamps; the water comes from the river, but they are constructed to keep the little pike protected inside. The weather was holding steady - sunny and warm, but not a scorcher, and plenty of random cloud. Barely any wind too, which was nice.
We went a bit astray around Lattrigen and ended up following the main road along the railway line into Täuffelen, before a steep downhill (coincidentally following a section of another bike route, Route 8) led us back to Route 5.
What with this being the time of year for such things, lots of places sell flowers. They make most of their money selling in bulk to flowershops and the like, but a lot of places have "Self-Pick" signs up; you toddle in, build your own bouquet, and pay as you leave. Often there is just a jar for the money, which I find very endearing in a country otherwise so full of formality. Sunflowers are a big crop in this region, and became more so as we headed south and the country opened up. With their bright, bright yellow petals and heavy heads following the sun, they are quite beautiful, and more so en masse.
Also starting to become evident were signs in German and French; we were starting to hear French more often, too. But every time we thought we were in "Bon Jour!" territory we'd get "Grüezi!" back - and vice versa. After a while I just stuck with "Grüezi" :-)
Lis had been talking about this place called Murten, saying she'd visited it briefly back in 1987 and wanted another look. Murten is quite a way off the route we were following, but a look at the route beyond Erlach showed that a lot of it was on unfinished (dirt) paths. Lis suggested that we strike out off the planned route, book a bed-and-breakfast somewhere along the way, and then do a rail trip to Murten before returning to our booked B&B. From there we could then head roughly west to rejoin the bike trail at Witzwil. What a good idea - we did just that.
After buying something to eat in Erlach and munching it down by the town fountain, we looked through our B&B book. The first place we rang was already booked, but they put us onto another place which had a double room free. They said they'd be out potato-harvesting, so not to turn up before five. Suited us perfectly!
So off we headed to Ins. We passed the bed-and-breakfast place we'd booked about kilometer before Ins; noting the spot for future reference, we trundled into town and located the railway station. The station seemed to be in the process of being refurbished or rebuilt - scaffolding and temporary fencing everywhere. The ticket office was in a sort of workers' hut, which I walked around twice looking for the place to buy tickets - there didn't seem to be any way in! The third time was the charm, and I managed to plonk down the cash and get our tickets a couple of minutes before the train arrived.
This was the very first time we'd put our bikes on a train. Doing so involved hurrying to a car with freight doors and hooks, and hanging our bikes from these hooks by their front wheels. It doesn't look good, but it doesn't seem to harm the bikes and it works. We sat in the next carriage as the train whizzed the eight or so kilometres to Murten. We leapt out of the train with our bikes and made a beeline straight to a phone box to ring Chris (Scarvell) for his birthday. What with one thing and another we hadn't quite managed it on the actual day, but he seemed to weather the disappointment well, and it was great hearing his voice.
Murten was pretty as a picture, with a well-kept and in parts well-restored town wall, which we were able to wander along. The wooden walkways along the ramparts were in good condition, though I doubt they were still the originals. Lots of lovely ancient buildings - the town was somehow old and new at the same time, touristy without being unpleasant. I guess being a little off the beaten track helps.
What we'd had to eat in Erlach hadn't been much, so we wandered into a restaurant just near the town gate. I promptly ordered Eglifilet :-) but we were too late for hot food, so I settled for a Bauernteller ("farmer's plate"), which arrived positively heaped with cut meats, cheeses, olives, pickled vegies... it was quite a job putting it away.
After a bit of a walk around Murten, we headed back to the station and took the train back to Ins. We got some grapes and something to eat for dinner at the supermarket in Ins - we weren't sure about the dinner arrangements at the B&B. A quick pedal out of Ins brought us to the Binggeli's place, a modern homestead on a hill, surrounded by cropland. We were greeted by Mrs Binggeli, a wiry woman in her early fifties, presumably just back from her potato picking. She ushered us into a large sunny room looking south-west, directly towards Lake Neuchatel. We could see the lake, according to Lis, but I just remember green slopes with yellow sun disappearing into the haze of distance as the sun set.
After getting ourselves together we sat outside on the lawn eating grapes and cheese and rolls and watching the Binggeli's pet tortoise wander around; after a while Mrs Binggeli and two of her three daughters joined us, and we chatted for half an hour before it got a bit too cool for comfort. Then we moved inside and talked for about an hour over coffee and biscuits before hitting the sack. They seemed to have quite an interest in Australia - the eldest daughter had spent a year there on exchange, the second had done at least one trip and the youngest (a trainee florist) was busy planning a trip in January/February 1999. And the parents were planning a holiday which was to include Australia.
We gave the youngest daughter, Doris, your address - you'll like her if she turns up, she's very personable. She collects heart-shaped potatoes! Well, not really, but she does pick out the odd ones as she harvests. The potatoes are for chipping, so odd-shapped ones aren't acceptable, apparently. We found a postcard with a picture of a heart-shaped potato on it when we visited Zug later, and sent it off to them immediately :-)
We hardly saw Mr Binggeli at all; he arrived just as we went to bed, but we did get the chance to see him a bit over breakfast the next day. He seemed a nice fellow, very much a farmer! They all headed off for the next day's potato harvesting, while we got our stuff together ready to head off for Witzwil and places further on. Just as we were leaving, the first load of potatoes arrived, Doris running to the door to put her "catch" of oddities on the step. And the weather was glorious!
After our adventuresome and thoroughly enjoyable day in Murten the day before, and faced with some seriously nice weather, we were feeling very keen as we set off.
After Witzwil was a stretch of about two kilometres of really open road, with traffic whizzing past at high speed, a bit nerveracking after so many miles of peaceful riding. In hindsight it was peaceful country road, but the contrast made it feel much worse. At the end of the sealed bit we came to a bridge over the Canal de la Broye - the legendary "Röstigraben", where German-speaking Switzerland stops, and French-speaking Switzerland begins. It's also the border of Kanton Vaud, where all the numberplates have the unprepossessing prefix "VD"! We photographed ourselves pointing at the cantonal marker stone, with the name of the locality (La Sauge) in the background, and finished off the last of our grapes.
While Erlach is on the south-west tip of the Bielersee, Witzwil is on the north-east tip of the Neuburgersee (Lake Neuchatel), so we'd crossed the dividing strip of land between the two lakes. There is a canal between them, and the bikepath (had we followed it out of Erlach) would have taken us along this canal almost its whole length. After Witzwil, we were following the southern shore of the Neuburgersee, more or less.
A plan developed as we rode - we'd make our way to a likely looking spot on the lake, then take a ferry ride down to the end of the lake. We'd both really enjoyed our previous ferry trips on the Genfersee (Lake Geneva) with Marie and Co, and on the Bodensee when we'd visited Friedrichshafen. Sliding gently past little towns nestling into the lake with their tiny castles and green vineyards as backdrops would make a pleasant change from cycling, we thought.
By the way, I have a correction to make! I said earlier that we had no wind, but starting around Solothurn, we DID have wind - quite a steady companion it was too. It was going with us, not against us though. The effect when cycling with a tailwind is that everything gets easier, but one tends to forget that it is actually there. Then one rides behind some obstacle or other that masks the wind, and suddenly the bike feels heavier, the hills seem steeper... :-)
I don't remember many specifics from the stretch down the coast to Estavayer-le-Lac; it was a very sunny day though, and the climate seemed perfect for the tobacco crops along the way. Apart from a few very brief bits of forest, a swampy patch or to where the path veered lakewards and the odd town (Chabrey, Portalban, Chevroux) the whole trip was through very open country, with the lake ever-present to our right.
The run into Estavayer-le-Lac was very nice - long and flat with the wind behind us through croplands. Along the way, we decided on Estavayer-le-Lac as the point at which we'd start our ferry ride. The choice was made partly because progress on the day made it a likely spot, and partly because the path after Estavayer-le-Lac looked a bit dicey on the map. The path along the coast was still under construction, and our experiences with paths thus shown had been less than satisfactory. The alternative took us inland a ways and quite some distance upwards, so Lis wanted to avoid it at all costs :-)
We lunched near the marina in Estavayer-le-Lac - I had Eglifilet, what else? Grilled, mmmm. Lis had chicken, ptooie. The ferry was due to leave at about 3pm, so we had a bit of time up our sleeves. Our guidebook told of a Heimatmuseum (folk museum) which had - wait for it - a display of stuffed frogs "posed in witty scenes"! The whole idea was totally irresistible, so we tootled back into town (the actual town is set back almost a kilometre from the coast) and set off for the Heimatmuseum.
The town is quite sweet - a very small town, but big enough to have a few winding cobbled streets to get almost lost in :-) The streets of the town proper were beautifully cobbled, quite steep in places where the land slopes up out of the lake basin, and there were lots of very old buildings. The really old ones have very thick walls at the base, sometimes extending a metre or more out from the vertical line of the wall further up. Mechanically it's a buttress, but also needed because the houses were often not built from solid stone, but instead from junky rock and very dicey mortar.
Under the Heimatmuseum was a passageway, and in the passageway were two fantastic old engines; I use the word in the sense of "siege engine". One was a grindstone, one a walnut press. Almost entirely of wood, both used metal only for absolutely crucial pivots. The grindstone was very simple. The base was a horizontal stone circle, about one and a half metres in diameter, with a vertical axle sticking up out of it. The stone circle didn't turn though, the axle did. Sticking though the vertical axle at right angles was a second axle, with a stone wheel on it. Turning the vertical axle rolled the wheel around and around on the stone circle. Toss some grain onto the stone circle, drive the central axle with a horse (or water or wind or people), and there's your stone ground flour. From the look of the wooden cog (pegs driven into the perimeter of a wooden wheel atop the vertical axis) the thing was designed to be driven by water or wind power. Over time, the two stones had ground each other into a perfect fit.
The other engine, the walnut press, was a monster! Built out of entire tree trunks, roughly squared. One trunk formed the base, the other was pivoted at one end, so that the full weight of the trunk lay over a block that was resting, piston-like, in a barrel. At the other end were two cogs made out of wood, arranged so that turning on one cog would gear the resultant force down roughly four or five times on the other. A rope around the innermost axle of that arrangement pulled down on the free end of the upper beam, so that the whole deal looked (and worked) like an enormous nutcracker, with the barrel and it's piston as the nut. I've no idea what was used to turn the cogs, but what with the gearing and the weight of the top beam, I sure wouldn't like to have been a walnut in that barrel.
When the Heimatmuseum opened after lunch we wandered up the steps and went in, where we were greeted by a very businesslike lady, who offered us programs in several languages, took our four franks each, and exhorted us to check out the art exhibition in a neighboring room before we went. OK...
The first room was mostly military stuff, old weapons, pikes, halberds and guns from flintlocks to bolt-action from (I'd guess) just pre-WWII. And armour, and letters from soldiers, and postcards, and bits of clothing - a real mishmash. There were several small cannon, even, and one or two swords that reminded me how strong the swordsmen of old must have been. None of yer namby-pamby rapier stuff and dancin' about with these items, oh no!
Into the next room, it seemed to be mostly portraits and paper; zillions of little bits of paper. Books, letters, old playing cards, stamps, banknotes, childrens games, models. And more clothing, and sundry household items.
Down some stairs to a cellar-like room, absolutely filled with railway memorabilia! Lamps, lights, warning signs, train plaques, shields, booms, identification plates, train fittings, station signs, station clocks, watchmens' uniforms, enginedrivers' uniforms, caps, coats, boots, watches, licences, timetables, train furniture. Given time and a bit of luck, I reckon you could just about have set up your own rail company from the bits.
Then, the big moment. Into the room with the frogs. Three tall glass cabinets, each with a frozen scene inside it, all populated by stuffed frogs. A school scene was on loan to some other museum, but we saw the hunters out bagging game, the gamblers around their card table, a banquet in progress, a frog riding a squirrel(!). Beautifully executed little models, the to-scale props like cards, tableware, furniture all works of great skill in their own right. The models are all a century old or more, and each figure is a perfectly preserved stuffed frog. Utterly bizarre. I believe Lis has a piccy or two, I hope they do justice to the subject.
The "art" we'd been exhorted to check out was appalling. 'Nuff said.
After the Heimatmusem we made our way back to the harbour to wait for our ferry. The weather, sunny but breezy as we ate lunch, had become decidedly cool as the wind sprang up; the lake was visibly choppy, and the wind quite strong. Time to don warm stuff, so into the panners we dove.
Over the lake we could see Neuburg (Neuchatel), and up in the sky over the lake we could see several aircraft practicing aerobatics. We heard later from Marie that there'd been an airshow the following day. This was the first time we'd tried to take bikes on a ferry; the sign said that space for bikes was limited, so we made sure we were up the front of the queue. As it turned out we needn't have worried, although there was an anxious moment when a horde of school children arrived - the 15:10 ferry was obviously the one taking a lot of them home after school! Thankfully none of them had bikes and almost all of them took the ferry to Neuburg rather than "ours".
After boarding, the stewards asked us to take the bikes upstairs - there's not a lot of room downstairs. So we and our bikes went up to the open upper deck and started to enjoy the day from a lake-faring perspective. The wind out on the lake and on the upper deck was determined to be as entertaining as possible, so we were virtually alone up there; noone else on the top deck and only a few people downstairs inside. To give you a idea of the scale, the ferry was quite small - probably thirty metres long or so, with a closed in middle deck and an open half-deck behind the wheelhouse.
The trip took us across the lake to drop in on a couple of small towns on the Neuburg side, including one called Grandson, which I thought was very funny at the time. The Jura mountain range, which had been very visible the whole trip, since the range runs more or less along the north-western side of the lake chain we were following, gave us a wonderful cloud show. A huge, long, roil of cloud came up from behind the Jura, leaned over the range as though it would descend like a flood into the lake basin, but then retreated instead. It looked like the show was probably a daily ocurrence.
The ride was everything we'd hoped it would be - relaxing, a chance to cool off, stretch out and watch the world glide by. After Grandson (snicker) our course curved back and the ferry deposited us at the very bottom tip of the lake, in a town called Yverdon-les-Bains.
First stop was somewhere for a hot coffee! We cycled into the centre of town and walked our bikes along more wonderful cobbled roads to the Place Pestalozzi, where hot chocolate and Espresso was gratefully received. Heinrich Pestalozzi is (well, was) Switzerland's most renowned do-gooder, who set up an orphanage and school. The castle forming one side of the Place Pestalozzi was actually his home and the orphanage for over twenty years in the early 19th century.
We walked around the castle - I can't get enough of castles, they take me back in my head to when things weren't so virtual as now; when you could trust stone and iron and earth to keep you safe.
Lis wandered off to find some film, after which we phoned a B&B in Ependes, about six kilometres out of town. The lady there said that she wouldn't be able to receive us until 8pm - not too bad, since it is still more or less light at that time during August.
The room safely booked and with time to see a sight or two, we cycled to the edge of town, back along the route we'd have come in on had we taken the path instead of the ferry, to a clearing at a place called Clendy. Standing in this clearing are a set of some 45 menhirs (remember Obelix, from the Asterix books? He made and sold menhirs). These menhirs are just standing there, arranged as they were 5000 years ago by the archeologists who found and restored them. It's a most peaceful place, though it would be easy to work up a prickle at the back of the neck contemplating the time that has passed since they meant something to someone.
I wonder what they did mean. I looked at them for a while, but I couldn't make them mean anything to me - and that gave them a most peculiar sort of abstract beauty.
Back to town for a sitdown pizza at an outside table in the main street of the old town, a few hundred metres from the Place Pestalozzi. The street glowed gold as the sun was setting, the pizza was great and the restaurant seemed to be the site of a party for a bunch of boys finishing their military service. We set off just ahead of dusk, heading south to cover the few kilometres to Ependes and our bed for the night.
The first order of the evening was to find the place; we ended up deciding it had to be the enormous house (well, chateau really) just near the railway station. It had a huge barking dog woofing through the fence at us in a most ferocious manner. It went behind the house for a bit and Lis, demonstrating that famous Shelley pluck, dove in and rang the doorbell.
A charming lady, Frau Hochuli, answered the door, and we collected our stuff and trooped in. The stone-tiled hall alone was as big as the entire lower floor area of our apartment in Zürich. A couple of hunting rifles and an animal head or two adorned the walls, doors led off in several directions, and a stone staircase swept up to the next floor. The dog, Tatja, turned out to be a total sook without a fence to protect her :-)
Our hostess showed us to the visitors' room, a large, woodlined room with a couple of tall bookcases, a big table, a telly and other accoutrements of civilisation. We arranged to have breakfast at 9am, and were shown up to our room.
The room was well over half the size of the hall, a huge square room with tall windows looking out over the farm buildings next to the chateau. We arrived at the door to our room by walking down a corridor that had several doors, presumably leading to rooms just as big as ours. The room had a basin and running water in one corner; across the corridor was the bathroom.
The bathroom was huge to match our room. It was four good paces from the door to the loo in the opposite corner, and had a high ceiling. It rates as the largest bathroom I've ever seen.
Both room and bathroom were very nicely fitted out; the fittings and furniture matched the chateau, somehow, but without being quite as old :-) All in all, we felt in the lap of luxury. We had a shower and went down to the visitors' room to have a pre-bed read of the paper, ate one of the local apples, talked to Tatja (a huge shaggy thing and a perfect "dog of the manor"), then went up the great stone stairway, along the wooden floored corridor, into the great high room that was ours for the night and climbed into our huge wooden beds and slept.
In the morning we took our time getting up and wandered down to the visitors' room for breakfast. What a repast! Several kinds of bread, all locally baked, four different local cheeses, an egg each, coffee, and homemade quince jelly and raspberry jam. Although the sun wasn't shining directly through the windows, I remember our room (especially the room we had breakfast in) as very airy and light.
Frau Hochuli came in as we were eating and we got to talking; apparently the farm is one of the largest farms (second largest, even, I think) in Switzerland, at 140 hectares. The family living in the chateau doesn't actually own it, they manage it for one of the big Swiss sugar combines (mostly sugarbeet, not cane of course). They do lots of other things too; survival as a farm in Switzerland means lots of diversification. They grow their own raspberries, for example, and we were eating jam made therefrom!
After telling us about the raspberries, Frau Hochuli suddenly disappeared, to reappear with a heaped bowl of fresh raspberries for each of us - they were sweet as sweet, too.
Frau Hochuli used to be a nurse, apparently, but changed careers to become a "Bauerin" a few years ago, taking on management of the farm with her husband. She has even attended "farming school", and is still attending various courses and getting more qualifications. They have two boys, one of whom spent a while working in Australia - sounded like a real wanderer, since he's now oddjobbing through Cambodia with his girlfriend on his way "around the world".
We learned a bit about the chateau, too. Apparently it's quite old, built in 1722 for the Dutch engineer who was the driving force behind the Helvetican Canal. This was a grand plan to link the Rhone and Rhine rivers, and thus Marsaille and Amsterdam, via the lake chain and a series of canals. The plan as a whole never came to fruition, but it was serious enough that several bits of it got built. Railway and steam put paid to it in the end.
We also learned that several sets of Australians had been through the chateau in the past; the strongest impression they had left was of the amount of beer they drank and their indicriminate timing of same - such as pressing a beer on the hostess as she was doing the ironing :-)
What with the breakfast and the chatting, we weren't on the road until nearly 11! We both found Frau Hochuli very pleasant and the chateau was definitely a high point; we'd spent an evening and a morning in good company and in the lap of luxury. Here's a link to the details.
So off we pedalled, due South, heading straight for Lake Geneva. The day was clear, the wind still behind us, and we thought we'd probably make it all the way to Nyon that day - or rather to Gland (just outside Nyon) where our friends David and Marie Petraitis live.
The country around us got a little hillier as we made our way away from one lake (Neuburgersee/Lake Neuchatel) and towards the next (Genfersee/Lake Geneva), but still wasn't the least bit difficult. Our course followed the railway line very precisely until Bavois, then veered off towards Pompaples while the railway line proceeded through the hills. At this point we thought we'd see if we could find the end of a dream - the stump of the canal works marking the end of the third (and probably finally final) attempt in the late 1950s to build the Rhine-to-Rhone canal system. The plans, according to our guidebook, were only finally discarded in the 1980s! We set off past a farmhouse along a path that allegedly led to this endpoint, but perhaps we weren't determined enough, perhaps we took the wrong one of the two (unsignposted) paths, but we gave up after a while walking through the forest and turned back. The walk was nice though.
On the way back we stopped to look at a Roman milestone which informed us that we were 40,000 paces from Murten, good to know.
A little further along the road we came across the first of several "Votez Non" haystacks. The local farmers were voicing their opinion about a national referendum on whether they would have to join cooperatives to continue getting their (large) subsidies. In general they prefer their subsidies without annoyuing strings (like having to produce anything), so they had come up with a variety of interesting ways in which to amusingly and grassily put their point of view across in haystack form. Some square haystacks were stacked to spell out the letters NON, some round haystacks were stacked in the shape of a person with a smily face and the word NON written on the front.
At La Sarraz we stopped for a bite to eat, and decided we would strike off the track again and see if we could find a little waterfall called La Tine de Conflens, at the confluence of the Le Veyron and La Venoge rivers, which proceed together as the Tine. Finding our way there was a bit tricky. Our map had a huge arrow indicating the location but the arrow handily obscured the bit of the map that showed how to get there. So a few wrong paths were taken, then after a rather steep climb of about half a kilometer we span down into the deep valley where the waterfall was.
Leaving our bikes tied to trees (with feedbags - no, just Lis being silly) we went on from a small parking area by foot, not another soul around. We followed some strategically placed signs through gullies, around spurs, up and over crests and finally down to the actual confluence, to look into a hidden world. And there was another soul, a gentleman reading his newspaper peacefully on a little patch of sand in the sun filtering down through the trees. The whole place was filled with the white noise of rushing, falling water, so he didn't note our arrival until a few minutes had passed, and we didn't announce ourselves - it seemed a shame to spoil his peace. After he did notice us though he looked rather embarrassed and started to pack up - we just waved and made gestures equivalent to "non, non, pas de problem" (our waving meant more than our broken French).
We wandered around the little grotto for a while feeling very caught in its magic. Not much water was flowing when we were there, but I can imagine it would be pretty spectacular in Spring!
We retraced our path back past La Sarraz along a road (no bike path), and I (blush) led Lis astray just the other side of a teensy village called Eclepens by turning left when the actual path proceeded straight ahead. The road up the hill looked so inviting. Lis was not of the same opinion, but couldn't catch up with me until the top, by which time it was all academic ;-> We'd arranged a code - one ding of a bicycle bell meant "I'm OK, carry on" and two dings meant "whoa!". Lis met me with the wounded remark "I've been dinging and dinging, but you didn't stop!" I hadn't heard anything, the crosswind was fairly strong.
The push up the hill was, however, rewarded amply by the long downhill stretch through Villars-Lussery and Lussery. The ride, apart from being downhill, took us through a delightful stretch of rolling land as well as the two small farming villages - narrow streets, cobbles and a tiny school that reminded me of Sutton Grange (the stone bits, not the pre-fabs!). It was a bit bigger than Sutton Grange, though. Crop lands to either side all the way. The only hint of the twentieth century was the traffic - which included a HUGE yellow tractor which we (naturally) met on hairpin bend.
We met up with the planned route again just after Lussery. After a couple more kilometres, our map showed a steep stretch - the decision was made to try a stretch of "in progress" path. This was not, on the whole, a success.
We did locate the start of the stretch after one false start; the first few hundred metres made us pretty optimistic, since there was at least a path of sorts, even if it did have a lot of forest litter on it. Then, at the corner of a small clearing, the path petered out. It seemed to run along the top of the clearing, but the farmer had put a rather cryptic sign there that seemed to be requesting us to go around the bottom of the clearing, along the river. This was simply impossible, so in the end we turned back and went, not along the bike route but to the east of it, through a town called Vufflens-la-Ville. I don't know about you, but that town's name always makes me think of a villainess in a Disney movie :-)
At about this time we were starting to get glimpses of the Genfersee (Lac Leman in French, Lake Geneva in English. Lis prefers the French). The road started getting a little hilly - no steep climbs, just a lot of ups and downs, and some forests. After some four kilometres of forest trails (a delight, with the afternoon sun filtering down through the trees) we popped out into the open and started sharing the road to the lake with cars and other traffic.
Around Prevereuges we turned right to follow the lake shoreline into Morges, though at a bit of a distance from the actual water. We were now on Route 1, the "Rhone Route" from Andermatt to Geneva. After Morges we would be in uncharted territory, but we figured we couldn't get lost between there and Nyon :-)
Because of the traffic we didn't get anything but the vaguest of impressions of the lake as we headed into Morges. As we got to within about a kilometre of the town the road widened and sprouted a bike path - well, a section of road on the right marked off with a yellow line and dedicated (at least in the road rules) to cyclists. The road was all downhill into Morges, so we were rested when we arrived at the edge of the town proper to seek out a telephone box from which to call Marie.
Marie was expecting us the next day (Saturday), so Lis suggested that we carry on to St Prex for the night, which we did. The road was pretty awful most of the way - we were riding on the side of the road, though some of the way was marked for bikes. The wind was still with us, still blustery and wearing.
The planned hotel in St Prex was a tiny affair in a small two-story building, a bit like the pubs one sees in Western movies, only made of stone. It stood beside a sweet little town square where everyone appeared to be setting up for some sort of fete - tables and chairs were being set out, wined and cheeses and musicians were being positioned, and people were organising things. Across the way was a very nice-looking restaurant. It was something of a disappointment when Lis came down from reception with the news that the hotel was booked out and we'd have to find somewhere else.
The wizened lady at the hotel in St Prex said that there weren't any other hotels in St Prex, and kindly recommended another hotel, the Hotel la Pecherie in another town called Etoy. She even lent Lis her mobile phone (about the only thing in the place that postdated the 19th century) for her to call and book a room there.
The other hotel was a bit more expensive than we would have liked, but it was now late afternoon and getting cool - we really wanted to get settled. Sadly the directions to this hotel proved less than adequate. It was supposed to be only two or three kilometres out of town, but it was a good five. To make matters worse, the instructions led us way up a hill into a town called Etoy - that's where this hotel was alleged to be. The name of the hotel was also proving problematical, we thought it was called "la Pecherie", but we now suspect that was a thing nearby, for we did pass a peach canning factory on our laborious way up into Etoy. Our suspicions that the name was wrong were confirmed in Etoy, when the barperson at a pub there didn't know of any hotel by that name. Luckily Lis had the phone number of the place still, so we phoned and were told that the hotel we sought was way downhill on the main road - back down the hill we had toiled so far up!
So it was back on the bikes and back down to the highway. Another half-kilometre or so from the Etoy railway station we found our goal, the "Hotel la Perche". A stolid, peeling white concrete structure, it squats just off the main highway to Geneva. Imagine "Fruitorama" meets "Baghdad Cafe".
We were greeted by a very small, limping, elderly woman, pickled by decades of cigarette smoke, with candy pink fingernails, whose smile was not unduly friendly. "Have some free fruit" she offered. We said maybe we would, regarding the dusty, ancient, bruised and rotting peaches in the indicated basket without too much enthusiasm.
We stashed the bikes in a shed and went up to our room. Our spirits were not lifted on the way by the decor - sad pot plants (well, actually, plant pots), faded childrens' drawings by children now (I suspect) adult if not dead, very worn rag rugs covering even more worn carpeting. Turning into our room, we found a decorator's nightmare, over which I will draw a veil. Think early seventies laminate el cheapo and overall lighting wattage of about 15, provided by four (4) tiny lamps, all of which were askew, and which had left burn marks in the shades and you'll get the general idea.
Our distress at the room was instantly compounded when we closed the door and read the sign on the inside, which informed us that tax was NOT included in the room prices, so we were now paying over 90 franks for this crappy accommodation. I went out onto the balcony, saw the only saving grace of this dump, namely the view over the commercial orchard behind the hotel, and ate some fresh grapes off the vine on the balcony and felt a bit better. Not much though.
Then we looked at the bathroom.
Turning on the light in the bathroom instantly made everything harder to see; what I could see through the murk made me decide that I would wait until Nyon to shower. Lis bravely showered, putting her feet on a plastic bag to keep them off the shower floor. The toilet ran after flushing, though a few well-placed thumps and jiggling the button did seem to help. The grouting was mouldy, and some transparent towels were provided. For 90 franks. Argh! It was at this point that Lis began to suspect that the St Prex hotel probably received a nice little commission for every person they sent out here.
We decided we'd see if the attached restaurant was any good - it had looked alright though the door as we checked in, and anyway, there was nowhere else. The pizzas we ate were OK, though nothing special, and the service was friendly, so that cheered us up somewhat. We climbed into our beds with not a little trepidation, but they seemed quite clean and we were very tired. Lis muttered something about bedbugs, but I think it was just her sunburn itching. I certainly had no problems sleeping, and no strange marks when I awoke the next morning.
It was a subdued and distinctly irritated pair that ate a minimal breakfast next morning, paid their bill though gritted teeth behind civilised smiles, and left that accursed hotel behind them, cycling towards Nyon into another perfect, sunny day.
We'd arranged to turn up at our friends' the Petraitises on Saturday afternoon. Since it was now Saturday Morning and the ride from Etoy to Gland is all of about 20 kilometres, we decided to take it very easy indeed, especially as we'd left our lodgings uncommonly early for us :-)
The planned first stop was Rolle, almost exactly halfway to Gland. Rolle has a wonderful promenade running along the lake edge, and a harp-shaped island just offshore called (naturally enough) Harp Island. The main street is very much a main street, shops on either side, tall and narrow, with covered alleyways leading off the main street towards the lake. Many of the coffee shops had areas inside behind windows on the main street, and areas outside, reachable through the shop, with a view of the lake only fifty metres or so away.
Coming into Rolle we stopped at the post office to post a couple of cards; a young chap came up to me as I waited for Lis (who'd gone inside) and said something unintelligible (well, I guess it was intelligible to a French speaker :-). I said "I'm sorry, I only speak English or German" and repeated myself in German. To which he replied, proudly, "That's OK, I speak English. And American!" Then he asked how much it would cost to send the parcel he was holding. I said I was sorry, but I had no idea. He went inside, and I realised his body had obscured from my sight a mailbox, on which all the prices were neatly printed. And he was a local.
First stop after the post office was the main street; we parked our bikes near a large park. From there we could see out over the lake and we could see the castle, centrepiece of the town. The castle is actually in use as office space, and isn't open to the public! Amazing. It looks so interesting too.
Wandering down the main street we stopped at a butcher's and got some paté and some sliced meats; over the road to a bakery for some fresh rolls and something to drink, then back to the bikes. Pushing our bikes we meandered along the promenade and sat down for a picnic of sorts, looking out at Harp Island. As we sat, the ferry came past, between the island and us - a dramatic manoeuvre. The day was very sunny, but there was quite a wind along the shoreline; sitting in the sun was a hot affair, sitting in the shade a very chilly one. We tried to find a dappled compromise, but the promenade and the weather were having none of that - and all the benches and seats were naturally placed for full and complete sunlight.
After meandering some more we stopped at the other end of the promenade to the castle; I read the paper and munched the last of the sliced meats, Lis fed the birds. Of birds there was an absolute plethora - swans (white ones) and signets of course, and very classic ducks (the ones where the drakes have that a white neckband and flash of dark green on the neck). Seagulls too - not the ones we have, a slim, white sailing bird, but a stumpier, blackfaced variety with a shorter beak. Amongst the big ducks there's a smaller bird with a very small head, pointed beak, but a swimmer - don't know what it's called, but it has a most amusing way of getting about. It manages to dive absolutely without warning, which makes it look for all the world as if it's been pulled under by something.
We took the bikes back to the main street and "parked" then went into one of the coffee shops I mentioned, walking through to the open area out the back. We sipped coffee for a while, basically killing time, then decided we really couldn't waste any more, the road awaited us.
At a T-intersection on the main street there's a fountain. Rather than cross the road and mount, I rode a little way off the main street and turned around in a carpark before heading back down to the main street as "traffic". I often do this sort of thing - one of my pet hates is cyclists who swap from being pedestrians to being traffic with no warning. I always try to be definitively one of the other. Anyway, as I was turning around, a party of firefighters had gathered at this little intersection for traffic-directing training.
This is something I've never seen in Australia, but I've seen it a couple of times in Switzerland; a group of firefighters or police getting training on how to direct traffic will take over a (usually pretty inoffensive) intersection and gaily take turns directing traffic. It must be quite an art form selecting an intersection with enough traffic to be interesting, not so many complications as to be dangerous, and not so critical as to be an irritation.
Anyway, I arrived at the intersection just as the first chap, looking a bit selfconscious, stepped up to his wicket. The boss had him raise his hand. Since he was facing me, I stopped, waiting for him to give me (or indeed anyone) the go-ahead. He was, however, concentrating on his boss, who with an exaggerated gesture indicated the "traffic" that was waiting for directions. With a start he waved me through, first with one hand, then the other, then with both, amusedly confused with himself. I pedalled past him down the road, hearing a general rumble of amusement from his companions, but no embarrassing sounds of scrunching metal :-).
The ride to Gland was one of the nicest parts of the trip for me. We passed through cornfields, orchards, through little patches of forest, and to our right, a kilometre of so away, the green vine slopes rising out of the lake basin, punctuated with little stone walls, stone houses and churches. Much of the last few kilometres was familiar territory, as we'd walked it once before in the opposite direction, when we'd gone picnicking with David, Marie and the kids.
Pedalling along beside an orchard, we came across a group of lads sitting at the end of a row of trees, feasting on ripening apples. They stepped out to wave me down (I was some way ahead of Lis). After the usual calibration of languages (I think they spoke Spanish, but they had a very few words of English), I realised they were trying to ask where the boss was, they wanted work picking. I wondered privately if chowing down on saleable product was the right way to begin a wonderful friendship with a hoped-for employer :-) Then they figured out the panniers, started muttering "touristas" amongst themselves and lost all interest in me. Bloody foreigners :-)
Coming into Gland we visited the local Coop supermarket and got some champagne, some Smarties for the girls, and some nice cheese, then we descended on the Petraitis family. First order of play was a nice hot shower (especially for me!), then David cooked up some HUGE rump steaks, an inch thick at least. As they cooked we spooned down some delicious gazpacho and typewritered our way through a corn cob or two, then we got into the serious business of demolishing those steaks. They were scrumptious, the best steaks we've had since we got here.
We watched a video after tea, "Heat" a superb but very long "krimi" with Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. After the ride, the sun and the shower the movie was the last straw and we slept like the dead.
We woke to a pancake breakfast, and spent a lovely morning doing nothing much before packing our bikes for the last time and riding into Nyon to catch the train back to Zürich. As it happened we had the whole compartment to ourselves the whole way, and we watched the landscape slide by in three hours, that had taken us the last seven days to cover by bike. It was nice seeing places and sights again from a different perspective.
Personally I feel much closer to Switzerland as a result of our week on bikes; travelling back to Geneva for a meeting a few weeks ago and watching Switzerland flash by my carriage window I kept noticing a patch of forest, a certain hillside, a particular church tower or advertising hoarding that I'd last seen from my bicycle saddle. It's a nice feeling, seeing something and realising it is in some small way familiar. And we discovered many places we shall go back to one day.
We got back to Zürich about 4pm. The End :-)