The Ecotrips were started by Olli Kuusisto and the Finnish HPV Club. Ecotrip 2002 Switzerland was the first Ecotrip held outside Finland. Here is some some information about earlier Ecotrips, including links to the Finnish sites. If you're interested in coming along on a future Ecotrip, check out the Ecotrip page.
Here is the original description of the ride. I did a preliminary solo run along a similar route, the pictures of that ride might also be interesting.
The group turned out smaller than expected, seven riders in all. Two people
cancelled at very short notice, but the small group turned out to be very
pleasant, and allowed us a certain spontaneity.
Everyone except the two Swiss participants decided to come on the optional one-day tour around the Greifensee. The two Swiss had seen it all before :-) So everyone turned up the evening before at our place in Bassersdorf. We'd scraped together enough mattresses for everyone to have a soft spot for the night, and the next morning we set off around nine-ish for the Greifensee.
The route follows the Altbach creek out of Brüttisellen into
Dübendorf, where it joins the Glatt River. The Glatt flows out of
the Greifensee (the other end flows into the Rhine River just west of
Eglisau), so we followed the Glatt all the way in. The path is
mostly dirt, but fairly smooth for the most part, and it was a very
leisurely ride to the Greifensee.
Riding more or less in a southerly direction, we had the morning sun tilting through the trees towards us, onto to the path and the river. In places the water looked like a carpet of moving diamonds, and sometimes the trees seemed to be glowing. The weather had been very kind to us - just the day before it had still been raining heavily, and for weeks before that; much of central Europe had been inundated. But Saint Peter, as the Swiss would say, was on our side now.
|Shortly after turning left to begin our clockwise circumnavigation of the lake, we stopped at a jetty to look out over the lake. At this point the reeds are thirty metres deep or more, and the whole area is alive with birdlife. There was an amateur wildlife photographer trying to capture some of them on film.|
|From the jetty we stayed close to the lake as far as the town of Greifensee, where we stopped to look at the huge number of ducks swimming about in the harbour amongst the boats.|
Greifensee is a very small town, or at least the old part of it is, the
part on the lake shore. Further out, towards Nänikon, it has plenty of
ugly apartment blocks :-( but in the old town (Altstadt) they've kept the
peaceful, almost sleepy feel of a few centuries ago. Well maybe not so
sleepy - on the wall of the local castle, Schloss Greifen, there's a plaque
commemorating the plucky resistance offered by the castle defenders before
they were overrun and beheaded by the invading Austrians. Hm.
By this stage it was still only about 11am - way too early for lunch, so the fateful decision was taken that we would find somewhere else along the way. Fateful, because there turned out to be very few other places! The place I'd been thinking of stopping at turned out to be closed on Wednesdays :-(
After Greifensee the path turns a little away from the lake, and becomes asphalt for pretty much the whole way around the lake. Shortly after Greifensee, the smooth asphalt let Marco notice a "bump" in his front tyre. Closer inspection showed that the tyre had a slight twist, due to being not quite correctly seated in the rim. Prevention being better than cure, we took time out to reset the tyre, then headed on around the lake.
|Somewhere around the halfway point hunger was setting in, so the search for a spot to eat began. When we finally reached Maur, we were ready to take pretty much anything, and went into the Schifflände Restaurant, which I think none of us would recommend. The vegetarian option was basically a mixed salad, but the non-vegetarian dishes weren't much good either. However, it was enough to keep body and soul together.|
Taking a digestive stroll about the harbour in Maur we saw a small yacht
capsize, and watched bemused as the captain tried, for a long time, to
right the craft. Eventually he was taken in to tow by a couple in a
rowboat, who slowly brought him back to shore. When we left, he still
hadn't got the boat back up.
Oh, and we got to see a chicken putting recycling principles in to practice at the tray return.
|Further into the day there were more people on the path, which is quite popular because it is generally flat, nice and wide, and not too long. And the scenery is great, of course. So we found ourselves rolling amongst lots of rollerbladers, pedestrians and other cyclists. Unlike on the urban routes, a cheery call was enough to get by, or the occasional "ding-ding" of a cycle bell. As the picture shows, there are very few nasty people, and the authorities give plenty of warning about him.|
|The landscape at the south-east end of the Greifensee is much more open and flat than at the northern end, but by a couple of kilometres out of Maur we were back in rolling, gently hilly country - nothing remotely difficult, but not flat.|
Shortly after Fällenden we were back on the Glatt, heading back the
way we'd come in the morning. As we'd made pretty good time, we stopped by
the Altbach at a nice grassy spot, and chatted for a while before moving
off back to Bassersdorf.
Lis, who was "catering" to the group, had prepared some truly fine food, and after a great meal and some more talking, everybody retired to their mattresses to rest up for the first day of the tour proper.
The original plan had been to head West, towards Baden and Brugg and to
follow the Aare River down to the Rhine. This would have made the trip a
little too long for the time available, so the first leg was replanned,
and we headed almost due North towards Eglisau on the Rhine.
My route took us on the official bike paths, but Daniel had a better idea and showed us the "Panzerpiste" - the tank training road just north of Kloten, military, for the use of. This wide strip of asphalt, several kilometres long, made for fantastic riding. Since we were riding on Thursday, we had it virtually to ourselves, but on weekends it apparently comes alive with hundreds of rollerbladers, cyclists, and skateboarders, all of whom, like we did, choose to ignore the "no vehicles, military use only, this means YOU" signs at each end :-)
As we spun along we saw the occasional group of recruits training at this or that, and once a staff car overtook us bearing a grumpy looking officer. The track runs through rolling hills and has been planted with various tall trees on either side, so the ride was through one long avenue. The day had turned out fine and sunny, so we were warming up gently as we rode.
At a big roundabout just before the more-or-less downhill run into Eglisau
I was stopped by some motorists, Italians. "Which way to Italy?" they
wanted to know. They were, at time of asking, heading straight for the
Swiss/German border. Thinking "only in Europe..." I suggested they turn
back, head for Zurich and either watch the signs or buy a map. I hope they
got home alright.
Eglisau being on the Rhine River, there is a long, fast downhill run into the town, a run which we all thoroughly enjoyed. We headed straight over the bridge and turned right down towards the Old Town and back to the river.
|There is a grassed bathing area there, and after cooling down a little, the combination of warm sun and calm water was too much, and Saskia led the way into the water. Which was bloody freezing.|
|After our swim, we went and lunched at the Hotel Krone. It turned into a long, relaxed lunch - way too long as it turned out, as we left Eglisau much too late. Marco and Johannes took the high road with Daniel, and rode to Flaach through the steep country on the north side of the Rhine, while Saskia, Erik and I took the low road out via Tössegg.|
Tössegg means, literally, "Töss Corner", and it is the spot
where the Töss River meets the Rhine. It's a very pretty place, with
the water wide and slow, and lots of places to sit and contemplate
things. Since we were running so late, we only took a little time for a
photo, and pressed on.
The hill out of Tössegg is pretty steep, though relatively short, and it was a bit of a struggle for the Flevo and the ACE, with their front wheel drives. Saskia took the opportunity to try out my trike - the big advantage of a trike on hills being that it doesn't tip over no matter how slow you go!
As we slowly pulled up the hill, I noticed a farmhouse on the left flying the Australian flag. I wonder what the story is there?
|The worst of the hill is over after less than a kilometre; after a bit of a respite through Teufen, the road heads up again for about three kilometres tilting down for a couple of kilometres, through Berg am Irchel and into Flaach. The last bit is quite fast and curvy, with a T-intersection at the end, so not quite ideal, but fun nonetheless! In spite of our slowness, we made it to Flaach before Daniel's group, so we waited at the fountain outside the Hotel Stern, enjoying the fresh water and shade of the trees around it.|
|I should point out that the route Daniel, Marco and Johannes took was very steep, through Rüdlingen and Buchberg. They showed up after ten minutes or so, and we discussed whether to take the planned route along the Rhine and Thur Rivers. The rain in the past two weeks had caused extensive flooding in the region, and although the rains had stopped, there was a lot of evidence of the floods - mud on the tree trunks and so on. We decided to take the more direct route; apart from anything else, our languid lunch in Eglisau had put us way behind schedule if we were still to see the Rheinfall.|
Somewhere after Rheinau, Saskia had a flat. There were complications, and
by the time we were rolling again, we'd lost another hour. Johannes, Daniel
and I were riding somewhat ahead of the Dutch contingent; we waited a
while under a tree by the side of the road, then I went back to see if
there was a serious problem. I found the others tucked in amongst the grape
vines, wrapping up the repairs.
We made it to Schloss Laufen and the Rheinfall pretty late. Basically we could either make it in time for dinner at the Youth Hostel in Schaffhausen or we could see the Rheinfall. After a brief discussion, we decided to press on to Schaffhausen and return the next morning to see the Rheinfall.
|So on to Schaffhausen we rode. It was only a short hop - about five kilometres. The (dirt) path loops relatively steeply down from Schloss Laufen to run directly alongside the Rhine for a kilometre or so. At that time of day the angle of the sun lights the whole river up. At the edge of Schaffhausen we crossed a narrow bridge to the other side of the Rhine, and followed the river all the way into Schaffhausen proper. The views of the Rhine along this section were excellent, also the views of Schaffhausen as we approached.|
It seems to be a law of nature that youth hostels are positioned at the very
tops of long steep hills. Other research of mine shows that scout halls
follow the same principle. Anyway, it was another long haul up to "Belair",
the Schaffhausen Youth Hostel, made longer by Johannes taking a wrong
turning, me following him, and everyone else following me! Oops. But we
made it just in time for dinner, which turned out to be good and plentiful,
just what the doctor ordered! And the vegetarian meal was reportedly
The youth hostel is a converted villa, with several floors. A spiral stone staircase leads up to delightful woodlined rooms. The beds are all double bunks. The turret at the corner of the building provided room for a small, hexagonal "sitting room". The grounds are quite extensive; horses are stabled in a nearby building. The staff were very friendly, and we ended up paying less than expected.
Saskia crashed straight after dinner; the rest of us headed into town to look around. The ride back down the hill into town was fast and most enjoyable; night was just falling, and the air had that lovely summer warmth to it. We left the bikes on the edge of the pedestrian zone and wandered about doing some window shopping, then headed up to the castle that dominates the town. It's a circular fortress; closed by the time we got there, but still impressive in the half light. Which was no light very soon after we got there, so we did a few scientific experiments with Johannes' nifty digital camera before heading back down to the bikes and slogging up that hill again to a good night's sleep.
|After breakfasting in the youth hostel dining room, we headed back the way we'd come from the Rheinfall. Saskia didn't feel like reriding the route, so we hatched a plan that ended up with Lis and Saskia taking the support vehicle, meeting us in Rheinfall, then heading back by car to meet us again in Schaffhausen. As it turned out, Lis and Saskia ended up on the wrong side of the Rheinfall, but it's pretty spectacular from the other side too :-) Back in Schaffhausen, the group waited by the river while I rode back to the railway station to pick up Theresia and Saskia.|
|Theresia? Who? Unable to be with us on weekdays, Theresia joined us for the weekend, starting in Schaffhausen. Lis met her at the station with me so that she could take Theresia's luggage off her hands, and Theresia was with the group until late Sunday, when she headed off to her home town of Elgg, north of Winterthur.|
|Rejoining the group a while later, we left Schaffhausen and proceeded along the German side of the Rhine towards Stein am Rhein. The first stop was at Diessenhofen, site of the last wooden bridge still crossing the Rhine. The view of the town across the river is charming, with the old building and churchtowers dominating the view.|
|There's a signpost there fairly bristling with directions, so we asked one of the customs guys there to photograph us underneath it, which he most obligingly did.|
|Then it was on to Stein am Rhein. The plan was to lunch in Stein am Rhein itself, but Daniel suggested a pizza place just outside town, which turned out to be exactly right. The vegetarians amongst us were amused to note that anchovies are apparently not animals :-) But there was still something for everybody, and we ate well. I took the opportunity to ring the solar ferry people in Mannenbach, and arranged our booking for 16:00.|
After lunch it was a very short hop into Stein am Rhein itself. We wandered
about the town for a while, enjoying the very well kept main square and the
wide, lively esplanade alongside the river. There was an accordion player
on rollerskates - definitely the oddest busking style I've seen so far. We
ventured into the dim, cool stone rooms of the adjoining monastery, looking
at the huge presses and casks there.
Trying to get us out of town, I nearly took us all to Berlin, but realised my mistake in time to turn back through town and over the Rhine again into the rolling farmland that accompanies the Rhine all the way to Lake Constance (Bodensee). On the way, Erik noticed that one pedal was loose on the crankshaft, so we sought out a garage that could lend him a suitable implement to tighten the requisite nut. We found one, I think in Steckborn.
We got to Mannenbach with oodles of time to spare, and waited over half an
hour for "our" ferry to arrive. The ferry was to carry us over to the
island of Reichenau in Germany. The ferry is one of two solar ferries
plying the Bodensee; there is one large one and one small one. The small
one does the Mannenbach-Reichenau route, the larger one does the much
longer route to Gaienhofen.
We were a bit dubious when we saw it, but the very cheerful Captain made short work of all our bikes and trikes, and even managed to fit two extra people on board! The ferry operates on batteries which are charged by a bank of solar panels on the roof. The batteries power two motors which can propel the small craft at quite a respectable speed, so we seemed to be in Reichenau in no time at all.
I'd planned this part of the trip spectacularly poorly, so had no idea what
we should actually do on the island. We ended up
almost circumnavigating it, weaving amongst the market gardens and
greenhouses. There are several churches and a small castle on the island,
and those were definitely worth seeing, but it would have been nice to have
had the time to have a coffee somewhere and properly enjoy the place.
The island is connected to the mainland on the German side by a long, thin land bridge. Thin, but still wide enough for two lanes of traffic and a wide bike path. At the end of the land bridge we turned right for a few fairly fast but ugly kilometres into Konstanz. The path was wide and well-kept, but it ran alongside some very busy roads. Eventually a long spiral bike path took us up onto a big bridge over the Rhine; another spiral led down off the bridge. To my great relief, Daniel seemed to know his way about, and led us very confidently through and out of Konstanz towards Bottighofen.
Coming to the Bottighofen railway station, we turned inland; a brief wrong turning took us into the suburbs for a few minutes, but a quick mental recalibration soon saw us on the hill out of Bottighofen, heading up to the Rütihof, dinner and a night in the straw.
When we arrived, Lis was hard at work preparing our meal. We'd been warned
that the hot water situation was a bit precarious, so people started having
their showers as soon as we got there, to spread the load a bit. This, plus
some logistical problems and a misunderstanding or two meant that we hadn't
finished our meal until about ten o'clock, but the food was great (stuffed
capsicums, various salads and fresh bread, all washed down with fruit
juices and mineral water).
Our "beds" were, um, unpretentious in the extreme, but proved very comfortable indeed, and everyone slept well. This was the first time I'd ever tried "Schlaf im Stroh", and I was somewhat in trepidation that it might turn out to be terribly uncomfortable. However, I'm pleased to report that sleeping in straw is very comfy indeed, though you do need some sort of blanket or groundsheet to keep the straw from tickling.
My morning started with a terrible jolt as Saskia tried to wake me "gently".
The recovery from this shock was not helped by the very disappointing
breakfast we were offered - stale bread and jam. Lis managed to sneak a
honey melon on to the table to save breakfast from being a complete
catastrophe, but it was not a good start to the day.
The swift roll back down to the lakeshore helped make up for breakfast (a bit), and we whizzed off towards Romanshorn, the lake to our left.
The day was (again) warm and sunny, and thoughts turned to swimming.
Theresia knew of a swimming area just outside Uttwil, so we parked the
bikes there and wandered through a camping ground to the lake. Large signs
said we had to pay the camping ground to use the lake. Well bugger that, we
thought, and wandered a little further, to just outside the purview of the
camping ground, where the swimming was free, thank you very much.
Our original plan had been to lunch at Schloss Hagenwil, but discussions determined that that was too extravagant, so we cancelled our booking there and decided to find somewhere to eat in Bischofszell. That in turn changed the timing, so rather than swing down through Arbon as planned we headed inland from Romanshorn.
A couple of steepish bits took us out of the lake basin and into rolling
farmland. Schloss Hagenwil was visible as we crested a hill and we spent
an enjoyable half hour there looking at the ducks and the geese, and the
fish in the moat. The moat had a real drawbridge over it. We noticed a bike
parked outside with a trailer made out of stainless steel! It must have
weighed a ton.
The way into Hagenwil had been short and steep - the way out was the same, then more rolling countryside. Lots of fruit trees in evidence; this region specialises in tall fruit trees, not pruned down to a stumpy mushroom shape as most are, so the orchards had a nicer look to them that the usual regiments of shrubs. The little farming villages were much in evidence, with their flowerboxes and fountains.
Just before Zihlschlacht the road turns off through Riet, Wüle and Lütschwil, with a very steep downhill ending at a bridge over the Sitter River. From there, the route goes on through Eberswil to Bischofszell.
Just after the bridge we noticed a sign pointing to a "Gartenrestaurant",
so we decided on the spur of the moment to eat there rather than in
Bischofszell. A kilometre down the road we realised we had no idea how far
away this restaurant might be, so Marco and I went to reconnoitre. We
found the eatery another couple of kilometres down the road, but our plan
to call the others on a mobile phone was foiled by a total lack of network
coverage! So Marco held the fort at the restaurant while I went back to
collect the others - who had in any case got bored and had set off to find
us, so we met halfway. Lunch was most enjoyable, seated at tables
outside a farm shed, eating simple, good food accompanied by lots of the
Refueled, we headed back to the route. After only a few hundred metres I realised that my right crank was loose on the crankshaft - very loose! Somehow it had gone from firm to loose in the space of a kilometre or less; very strange. We didn't have the tools to tighten it properly, but Marco produced a large cable-tie, and we bound the crank-arm tightly to the chainwheel. This fix proved very effective, as it took all play out of the join. In fact, it was so effective that I kept riding it that way for about two weeks after the trip before I got around to fixing it properly!
|After the short pause for repairs, we were spinnning into Bischofszell in no time. There is a very nice, very old stone bridge at the junction of the Sitter and Thur rivers that we wanted to take a look at. After a false start, we found the right bridge, and a beautiful thing it is too. It's curvy in three dimensions, curving up over the river on several wide arches, but also snaking left and right as it does so. The stones held the day's warmth for us as we looked down on the clear water of the Sitter River.|
|Taking what we thought was the bike path, we found ourselves on a narrow, bumpy levee between a canal and the Thur River. It ended after a kilometre or so and we found ourselves back on the right route, rolling through a seemingly endless dappled glade, the Thur to our right. The water was just too inviting - we found a spot with a little "beach" of river stones and sand, left our bikes up on the path, and went down to the river for a swim. Need I report that it was bloody cold? But enjoyable - we had full sunlight out on the water, and a big boulder provided a resting place against the current, which was quite strong in the centre of the stream.|
Theresia found a most interesting rock; sedimentary stone had built up
around a few igneous rocks, and had then been worn by the water. Once the
igneous rocks became exposed, the water had carved out a space around them,
and they had begun moving in that space; this movement wore them down as
well as widened the space. The result was several rounded rocks, trapped
marbles in a sandstone cage. In spite of the thing weighing at least a
kilo, Theresia took it with her :-)
While we swam, Erik's Dutch blood took over, and he began building a dyke out from the bank. By the time we'd finished our swim, it was quite a large construction, and the first houses upstream had begun being evacuated. :-)
As we set off on our way again, I rang the place in Oberuzwil where we would be staying the night, to let them know that we'd be in by about seven. Rather than ride directly there, we decided to ride almost all the way into Wil, then back out again to Oberuzwil. On my ride a few weeks before, checking out the route, I'd found a section of the official path into Wil that was nigh impassable, so we turned off to the left just before that section, and found the road back out to Oberuzwil without too much difficulty. However, the instructions for locating the actual lodgings were a bit dodgy, so we had to cast about a bit before we found the right farmhouse.
As we rode in, we were greeted effusively by our hostess, several dogs,
some goats, and several other guests. One of our hostess' sons took a spin
on my trike and pronounced it Good. A boy of about nine, one of the
other guests, managed to reach the pedals and also had a good time,
perhaps a future follower of the Way of the Trike?
Dinner was served right on seven, as arranged, and was excellent; lots of everything, and a huge cheese pie for the vegetarians amongst us.
After the meal we played Rummikub a bit, then hit the sack well after dark, at around 10pm. The straw was clean and very warm and comfortable, but the smell in the barn was a bit off-putting, and the place seemed filled with mosquitoes. It may have been because the light had been on, as our hostess suggested the next morning, but I feel it was much more likely to be because of the large amount of standing water about, ideal breeding grounds for the little blighters.
There was a family there with several children (possibly not all from the same family), and the kids had a whale of a time. There were a few odd events in the night, ranging from the plaintive "Mama...?" to inexplicable flash photography at 3am, but it was more fun than it was disturbing.
Breakfast was MUCH better than the previous morning - fresh bread and jams,
cut meats and cheeses, plenty of fruit juice.
We took our hostess' advice on the route back, and ended up more or less bypassing Wil, getting back onto the planned path around Gloote and leaving the Thur River behind us.
We stopped at the Bichelsee for another swim. The Bichelsee is a very
small, very picturesque lake about 10 kilometres out of Wil, on the way
down into the Töss valley. There is a small bathing establishment
on one end of it, where icecreams and suchlike were purchased, before once
again Saskia led the charge.
Theresia went her own way from the Bichelsee, heading North for her home town of Elgg, while we continued on to Turbenthal.
|The path from Bichelsee onwards is very pleasant, lots of long downhills, and the countryside is really picturebook Switzerland. Once the path meets the Töss, it stays very close to the river all the way to Sennhof, so the cycling is very easy and enjoyable, and it's possible to really appreciate the beauties of the river valley and the many small towns along it.|
At Sennhof, Daniel and Marco decided to try the climb up to Kyburg; the
plan was that Johannes, Saskia, Erik and I would take the low road along
the Töss, then turn up to Rossberg, where we would meet the others
coming down from Kyburg. Then we would all lunch together at the Restaurant
Following the Töss further down, as far as the Autobahn to Winterthur, was very easy, all downhill, though somewhat rough dirt path in parts. The climb up to Rossberg was not so easy, as by this time it was the middle of the day and very warm indeed. The Flevo and the ACE were a bit overgeared, but we finally made it into the leafy, shaded outdoor garden restaurant for a very nice, if rather expensive lunch. The others joined us shortly afterwards.
|The restaurant is pretty much all there is at Rossberg, which consists of only about ten buildings altogether. It can be reached by car (of course) but also by bike or by foot along the many trails and paths that run through the region around Kyburg. In Rossberg, you can almost imagine that all of Switzerland is quiet and rural. We took a group photo with a local donkey :-)|
|Daniel led the way out of Rossberg, down to and through Effretikon, then on up to Tagelswangen and thence to Bassersdorf. Lis served up another fantastic evening meal, more Rummikub was played (I think I'm getting the hang of it now), then the discussions went on late into the night. Marco and Johannes had (separately) planned to continue riding in Switzerland for a couple of weeks, and there was much exchanging of information. Somewhere around 9 or 10pm Daniel headed off to his home in Zurich, and as I had to be at work in the morning, I took my leave early.|
And that was that for the 2002 Swiss Ecotrip. During the trip there had been much tentative talk of a Dutch Ecotrip in 2003, to be organised by Erik. By the end of the ride, everyone except Erik was talking about it as if it was a firm decision! Was it the pressure? Whatever the reasons, Erik has indeed decided to organise a Dutch Ecotrip for 2003, so I look forward to seeing some of the 2002 participants again in Holland.