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July 2008
St. Gallen - Schaffhausen - Solothurn - Neuchatel - Lausanne (Switzerland) - Evian-les-Bains - Cluses - Grenobles - Arles - Camargue - Avignon (France)

 
SWITZERLAND
   

It was a perfect day to start out on a 3-week-cycle trip. 26 degrees, blue skies and quiet bicycle trails through the orchards of Thurgau down to Lake Constance. Magnificent views of the snow-capped Alps to our rear and Germany on the opposite shore were appreciated by the many cyclists we met on route.

   
Lake Constance
   

We followed the lake westwards to its end and then continued along the River Rhine, skirting in and out of Germany on the bike path. Of course, we went in for a dip or two to cool off in the mid-day heat.

Stein-am-Rhein and
Schaffhausen, with their beautiful historic facade paintings depicting battles and victories, are certainly not to be missed.


Stein-am-Rhein

   


Stein-am-Rhein

   

Just outside Schaffhausen, Europe's largest waterfall, the Rheinfall, was in full swing pumping out Rhine water like no man's business.


The Rhine falls

   













Along the River Aare

When the weather looked bleak ahead, we headed south along the Aare river and enjoyed pleasant cycling through quiet towns with a couple of quaint, wooden bridges.

   

Then there was the little village of Altreu where every house had at least one or two white storks nesting on their roof, as part of a successful conservation project to save this endangered species in Europe.


Stork nesting on barn

   


Barn accommodation

With camping sites low on the ground, we were happy with the  schlaf im stroh options (sleeping on straw) and lager accommodation in barns (dormitory style).

   

Further south west we enjoyed Seeland or Switzerland's lake land,  following Bielersee and Lac de Neuchâtel with its vineyards, picturesque towns and romantic francais.

Once we hit Lake Geneva at Lausanne, we hopped on a ferry, crossed the lake... and were in France!


Neuchâtel

   


Vineyards of Neuchatel

   

Yverdon-les-bains

   
FRANCE
   


Thierry, Tatiana (back), Francis & Cathy

As it happened, our good friend Tatiana from Colombia was over on holidays in France as we were pedalling through. We had a thoroughly enjoyable evening with her partner, Thierry's family and were treated to a delicious Fondue Chinoise at Francis' and Cathy's, while a ferocious thunder storm roared outside.

   

Kurt, Francis, Cathy, Tatiana, Thierry & Ingrid
   

Once the storm had passed we were on the bikes again, Grenoble bound. This time we weren't alone! Soon we were joined by Bernie (Liechtenstein), Isabelle and J. Philippe (Grenoble) and Michel (the French Alps).


Cycling en masse

   


Bernie, Isabelle, Michel & J. Philippe

While the ladies were exchanging stories of sore bums and effective remedies, the lads were discussing quiet routes ahead. Darina was highly amused with the French secret to avoid a raw, red nappy-rash. Simply a thin slice of uncooked veal meat! That's right! Into the cycling shorts with the meat, and you're laughing! That is until all the dogs in the neighbourhood sniff you out!

   

Grenoble... what a town! It boasts the grandeur of Barcelona, but in a manageable size. Arriving on July 4th we had brass bands and parades giving us a magnificent welcome.


Grenoble from above

   

The grandeur of Grenoble
   


Reminiscent of Guatemala

Short out of Grenoble, we had flashbacks to Guatemala with the volcanic peaks ahead.

   

On a long hot climb to Col de la Croix Haute, Michel from Lyons cruised past on his home-made recumbent. We did catch up to inspect his ingenious vehicle.


Michel

   


We made it!

   

France still remains our number one camping destination. With well-kept municipal campgrounds in every small town in summer, you can camp for a little as 8 Euros (2 adults plus tent) with a hot shower and often a swimming pool. Sometimes they even organise the delivery of fresh croissants for breakfast!


Washing day

   


Canard a l'orange

Local produce is hard to beat and we sampled all sorts including cold cuts, cheeses, duck and lamb with couscous and potato salads, quickly and easily prepared at the campground with a simple burner.

   

Johann and Rick (England) were chasing the Tour-de-France when our paths crossed in Provence and, needless to say, we spent the evening talking... bikes!


Johann and Rick

   


Amphitheatre in Arles

Ah Provence! With endless fields of sunflowers and lavender, colourful markets, fragrant herbal hedgerows, imposing castles, Roman ruins and exquisite local cuisine... this is most certainly the spot!

   
Endless fields of sunflowers and lavender
   













Olive trees and karst scenery


Colourful provencal textiles 

   

We happened upon the Tour de France on the Nîmes - Digne-Les-Bains stage and set up camp on the roadside to see them whizz up the only climb in the area. Nonetheless, our shutter speed was just quick enough to catch the top three. Fair play to Thomas for his expert identification skills!

   


Bernhard Kohl centre blue (3rd overall), directly behind him is Carlos Sastre (1st)


Cadel Evans in yellow (2nd overall)
 

   


Camargue

Having deposited our luggage in Arles we completed our journey down through the Camargue National Park, where the River Rhône forms a delta before entering the Mediterranean Sea. There we cycled through salt flats and were entertained by wild horses and flamingos. Darina had a little splash in the Mediterranean and sent a few animated waves to her friends in Barcelona!

   

"Wild" horses of the Camargue


Flamingos

   

Salar de Uyuni revisited


A splash in the Mediterranean

   

Kurt, Pam, Paul and Darina

In Marseilles, we had a lovely reunion with Pam (Scotland) and Paul (Australia) who were colleagues of Darina's at Ayer's Rock, Australia some 12 years ago.

   
Paul decided to be the tour guide for the day and marched us onto the little toy train that shuttled us up the hill to the magnificent Notre Dame Basilica.


Paul's idea of showing us Marseilles

   

Notre Dame
This breath-taking Neo-Byzantine Bascilica, overlooking the old port of Marseilles, has magnificent mosaics and murals between grand marble pillars and arches. A must-see when you're in town!
   

Beaucaire castle
   

Bull running
Bull running is not confined to Pamplona in Spain. In Tarascon, we skirted a whole town tearing in front of some 5 or 6 seriously wild young bulls. Some of the locals were colourfully decked out on horseback, others were on push bikes... but the majority were frantically legging it as the bulls gallopped through the streets at full speed. The spectators were quick to clarify that the bulls are not killed, but let back out to graze after the fun and frolicks!
   
Avignon, an impressive fortified town, seat of the Pope in the 14th and 15th centuries, and famous for it's half bridge, comes to life in July for a 3-week  festival. Most of the streets are closed to traffic and filled with arts and theatre in every shape and form.


The bridge at Avignon

   

Riverdance at Avignon
Just as we arrived in Avignon, jigs and reels filled the air and a local rendition of Riverdance welcomed us to this happening festival.
   

Antics at Avignon's festival

   
We indulged big-time in Avignon and had everything from snails to scallops to round off our summer vacation.


Fancy a snail?

   

Fit for a king!
   
For a relaxed three-week cycling trip, this route is quite manageable. Beyond the odd Mistral encounter, cycling was pleasant and the region has a lot to offer historically and gastronomically.

Avignon was a convenient place to end the trip, as it is a very straight-forward return journey on regional trains from there, with just a change in Lyons and Geneva.

   

A rough idea of the route we took
(ref: www.worldatlas.com)
 

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