Observations from the saddle of a bike: Canal cycling France: Basel to Mulhouse


 DAY 1 & 2 BADEN to MULHOUSE.   25/26 October 2017.

Glorious autumn colours—a taste of things to come along the EuroVelo 6.

When we left Zurich in September our friends Rolf & Erika suggested that if at any time we wanted to return to Zurich during our southern European ride we should do so. At this suggestion we decided to return to Zurich from San Remo on the Italian Riviera and change our return flight home to Australia. Our return date was set for 9th November which meant we had 10 days to spare so we decided to use them to the fullest and ride part of the EuroVelo 6, which runs from the west coast of France to the Black Sea in Romania, a distance of 3653 kilometres. Following is a map showing the route of the Eurovelo 6 (velo is French for bicycle).

The EuroVelo 6 from the Atlantic Ocean to the Black Sea, 3653 kilometres.

Our ride was to be only a short portion of the Velo 6 from Basel in Switzerland to Besancon in France, a little over two hundred kilometres. In retrospect, perhaps we should not have gone to northern Italy but concentrated our Observations from the Saddle of a Bike along the Velo 6 as it was impressive, mostly traffic free and being at the end of the season we had the path to ourselves. The only disadvantage we encountered was accommodation was hard to find at times because some hostels and hotels close until next summer.

The Basel Minster (standing in Switzerland), Ferris wheel and the River Rhine.

People swim in the River Rhine even though there are still traces of dangerous pollutants following a chemical spill in 1986 when a fire at the nearby Sandoz chemical plant resulted in 30 tonnes of chemicals, including mercury, to leach into the river. Regardless, each summer the ‘Basel Swim’ is organised by a lifesaving club which watches over up to 5000 people who drift down the river. Knowing the Swiss who are almost paranoid about public liability I doubt if there is any danger to the swimmers’ health. Boats are stopped during the event for reasons of safety.

The River Rhine at Basel. Many cruise vessels such as this one ply the tranquil river which passes through Basel.

Our starting point was in Basel Switzerland and we followed the Rhine for a way then turned northwest along the Canal du Rhone au Rhin. Construction of the canal commenced in 1783 and its aim was to connect the upper reaches of the River Rhine with the River Rhone enabling the passage of goods by barge from anywhere along both rivers. The Rhone rises near Lyon France and discharges into the Mediterranean Sea at the Rhone Fan, Camargue. The Rhine source is the Rheinwaldhom Glacier in the Swiss Alps and flows into the Black Sea at Constanta, Romania.

Wikipedia map of the Rhone to Rhine Canal. Image credit: David-waterways via Wikipedia.

Orientating ourselves in Basel was not easy as there is a point where Switzerland, Germany and France come together and it’s hard for the casual visitor such as us to know what country we are in. Following is a map to clarify the situation.

Our ride for Day 1, Basel (Switzerland) to Mulhouse (France), thirty kilometres.

This is the map you need. It shows the portion of the Velo 6 we rode.

Basel has a tranquil air about it but this has not always been the case as the city, like most European cities, has seen its share of trauma and destruction. Two major events that Basel experienced was the 1356 earthquake and the arrival of the plague in 1349 which, was responsible for 25 million deaths in Europe between 1346 and 1665.

The Plague: Guild members of Basel blamed the Jewish community for the plague. Several Jews were tortured and although innocent they confessed under torture and were subsequently executed. The events that followed became known as the Basel Massacre where six hundred Jewish people were rounded up and in shackles were taken to an island in the Rhine, placed in a barn and burnt to death. Young orphan survivors were taken from the carnage and forcibly converted to Christianity. Today the risk of developing the plague is very low, only 3248 reported cases and 584 deaths were reported in 2013 in Africa.

The 1356 earthquake event: This event was just as dramatic as the plague. It is believed to be the most significant seismological event in European history, measuring between 6.0 and 7.1 on the Richter scale. Earthquake damage was not confined to the Basel area, severe damage to city and town buildings extended to France and Germany.

Basel coming down during the earthquake. Image credit: In the public domain via Wikipedia.

Leaving thoughts of the plague and the earthquake behind we set off to find the start of the EuroVelo 6 bike path. It was a little confusing as we were told it was easy to find, ‘directly outside the railway station exit’. Our informant didn’t tell us which station…there are three, French, German and Swiss. After asking a local we found the path and we rode on to France.

The Swiss French border.

Fermeture possible sans preavis pour raisons de securite = possible closure without prior notice for safety reasons.

At the beginning of the track I had a flat tyre which is a simple fix on an ordinary bike without an Add-e electric motor but when one has to consider the motor adjustment and the hub gear adjustment it becomes a little time consuming, something we didn’t have a lot of on this day. From Basel to Mulhouse is approximately thirty kilometres and in light of us starting late it was going to be close to dark by the time we rolled into Mulhouse.

Soon after leaving Basel we joined the canal that links the Rhine and Rhone Rivers together.

Mulhouse is a very historic town so we decided to stay two nights. It was a delightful town to explore and the following photographs show what we found. Life in Mulhouse revolves around the Temple Saint-Etienne and the Mulhouse Market. The market has a very North African influence and this, combined with the French influence, makes for some very interesting culinary delights.

Le Marche, Mulhouse.

Goodness as far as the eye can see.

Huge apples, about 100mm in diameter. The water bottle is dwarfed by these beauties.

Products of Morocco, bringing back memories of a past trip.

Temple Saint-Etienne and the open-air café with heavily pollarded olive trees.

Sitting in the main square soaking up the warm sun and indulging in the local fare is a morning we will remember. What made this experience such a memorable event was the lack of tourists.

Intricate crocket decoration on the Temple Saint-Etienne.

The towers of Temple Saint-Etienne and the complementary nearby town hall.

The building on the right of Temple Saint-Etienne in the above image is the town hall, the hotel de ville, and its detail is worth sharing.

The Hotel de Ville, the town hall.

Main entrance to the town hall. Handpainted to create an illusion. Are the windows painted on the wall or are they real?

More decorative walls in Mulhouse.
This mural is a modern rendition of similar works by American artist Norman Rockwell (1894-1978).

The detail.

Another creative wall follows. I do not understand the significance of the workers on stilts but whatever it means it is effective and eyecatching. If the workers were not on stilts there would be no shadows and it’s the shadows that brings the mural to life.

One needs to look closely at the detail in this image, for example the drapes and the shadows.

Manoeuvering the plaque into position. Look at the sky through the wall.

There is one street in Mulhouse frequented by many travellers and that’s Rue Guillaume Tell / William Tell Gass. To the Swiss, even though Mulhouse is in France and not Switzerland, William Tell (Wilhelm / Guillaume) is the Swiss National Hero of Liberty. Tell’s rebellious actions against the ruling class led to the formation of the Swiss Confederation. His head profile can be seen on the Swiss five franc coin (largest of the Swiss coins), although officially the head is that of a shepherd, which in fact was what William Tell was portrayed to be.

Enamel sign commemorating Wilhelm Tell.

Wilhelm Tell and son Robert.

During my readings of the Tell story it came to light that there is a belief that Tell may have never existed, it’s all a matter of legend. However it’s the story that counts and it involves a magical marksman coming to the aid of suppressed people under the sway of a tyrant. The story we all know is of the man who successfully shot an apple from a child’s head saving his and his child’s life. There are similar historical stories in Norse, England and Denmark.

Rue Guillaume Tell. William Tell and his son are attached to the building at first floor level on the left.

In 1307, Tell visited Altdorf (in the country we now know as Switzerland) with his young son. Gessler was the ruler of the country and he placed his hat on top of a tall pole in the public square and gave orders that every man who entered the town should bow down before it. In an act of defiance Tell refused to nod at the hat, was arrested and Gessler ordered him and his son be executed. However Tell could redeem his life by shooting an apple off the head of his son Robert.

William Tell, father and marksman.

Son Robert Tell.

After the successful splitting of the apple Gessler noticed that Tell had removed two arrows from his quiver and when asked why Tell replied, ‘This arrow was for your heart if I had hurt my child’. The story continued with Tell being arrested but his consequent escape and actions led to the formation of the Swiss Confederation. If the reader is interested there is much written about the event, you may or may not believe it to be true but bear in mind the story of Wilhelm Tell was written 250 years after the event. The passing of time does have a habit of falsifying the truth. Shooting an apple or object from a child’s head is known as a William Tell feat.

On day three and after two nights in Mulhouse we set off towards Dannemarie but before doing so I had to have a wheel balance or, should I say, an eccentricity check. The inner tube I inserted into my bike when leaving Basel ran eccentric so the plan was to get the problem fixed.

Taking the wheel off for an eccentricity check at the Mulhouse bike shop.

Tools and parts add significant weight to the cycling kit and need to be carried as it is not always possible or convenient to find a bike shop. One of the most important items to include in a kit is a set of surgical gloves and a piece of rag as removing greasy chains can be a dirty operation.

That’s the end of this post, it is the 195th since we started our travels in 2012. We trust you enjoyed the ride along the Euro Velo 6. The next post takes us to the town of Dannemarie where we stayed in an olde worlde pension, nothing flash but homely and comfortable.

Remember if you want to follow our Observations from the Saddle of a Bike along the Velo 6 click on follow and if you wish make a comment please do so.


About tbeartravels

It's been said that I know a little bit about a lot of things and a lot about little things. I hope I can share some of this knowledge with you as we travel.
This entry was posted in Odyssey #5 2017: Cycling in Europe. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Observations from the saddle of a bike: Canal cycling France: Basel to Mulhouse

  1. Kevin and Sue Dewar says:

    Hi Guys,
    Another great read and great photos, loved the Town Hall and the mural walls in Mulhouse.
    Looking forward to the next blog.
    Love Kevin and Sue

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