Part 2: REIMS, NANCY, STRASBOURG and RETURN to ZURICH
Following our visit to Amiens, the Australian National Memorial and Villers-Bretonneux we moved on to Reims, which was just as historic and majestic as Amiens but we were both suffering from sightseeing overload and the heat wasn’t conducive to exploring. Our overnight digs were in the YHA and the following morning we caught the train eastwards to Nancy. In other words…no photographs or stories for Reims.
On the train to Nancy attendants were wearing minimal uniform, no ties, caps or coats, and not only were they checking tickets but handing out bottled water as well. There was also free bottled water at some stations. Rail announcements advised of the projected temperatures so ‘keep hydrated and when on trains watch out for fellow passengers’. Railway lines throughout Europe buckled due to the heat, which meant train delays and cancellations and trains that were travelling were going at snail pace.
In an attempt to reduce rail buckling, authorities in some areas are painting the rail lines white. By chance, I managed to get a photograph of a painted line.
Nancy (population 105 000) is a sophisticated, historic and elegant city and was once the capital where the Dukes of Lorraine resided. By the time we got to Nancy the effects of Stendhal syndrome (sightseeing overload) had worn off and our first port of call was the Place Stanislas.
Gold leaf has long been an integral component of architecture to highlight and protect structures and ornaments. This is gold that has been hammered into thin sheets by beating and is available in a wide variety of carats and shades. The most common is 22-carat yellow gold. The layering of gold leaf over a surface is called gilding and the traditional method of water gilding is the most difficult technique. The technique of applying gold leaf has remained virtually unchanged for hundreds of years. Gold can be beaten to approximately 0.073mm, about the thickness of a human hair. Amazing.
The present statue replaced a bronze one of Louis XV that was destroyed during the French Revolution. The destruction of public statues goes on today as during the 2020 Black Lives Matter demonstrations, statues of notable personalities who fostered slavery have been torn down and confined to the scrap yard!
Stanislaw was the King of Poland and the brother-in-law of King Louis XV. He died in 1766 when his silk robe caught fire from a spark and he died of his wounds, aged 88. He was the longest living Polish King.
The ride to the hotel was basically uphill and at times the smartphone had us going in circles. It was taking us along the supposedly safest route for cyclists (less traffic) but not necessarily the most direct route. Eventually we made it, thanks to Bev and her phone. How she perseveres with getting us to our destination is beyond me.
The night in the hotel at Nancy rates as one of the worst we have had and the contributing fact was the appalling heat. The hotel had no overhead or pedestal fans nor was it airconditioned and because we were allocated a ground floor room we couldn’t open the windows very far. The non-opening windows are a security aspect, thieves can’t come through a ground floor window if it is only partly open. Adding to our discomfort, the room was at the end of a corridor and there was no airflow whatsoever. Sleeping under such duress was like attempting to sleep in a cauldron, something we are not anxious to do again soon.
In the 1980s we experienced a similar night in Penang Malaysia but I was able to improvise and build a temporary air conditioner. Our room was below street level with only a skylight-sized window at footpath level. The night was hot and humid but fortunately there was a ceiling fan so I strung two ropes above the bed from wall to wall and parallel to each other and placed two wet towels horizontally on the ropes. The slowly revolving fan above the towels blew cold air on to us.
Unfortunately, the hotel in Nancy was modern and there was nothing on the walls where ropes could be tied. The best I could do was lie on the bed with a wet towel over me. As the climate warms, hotels in Europe and worldwide are going to have to provide fans and air conditioning for oldies like us who feel the heat to a greater degree than younger folk. At one stage during the night I inspected the hotel courtyard with the idea of sleeping outside under the stars but it was the unofficial smoking area, littered with the remnants of inconsiderate smokers, cigarette butts and associated smokers’ filth.
It was a downhill ride all the way from the Nancy hotel to the railway station and the early morning breeze bucked us up.
Our last stop in France was Strasbourg where we decided to upgrade our accommodation and booked into a hotel with air-conditioning. Temperatures were still high and we were both looking forward to a cool sleep. The Hotel Origami was superb and we spent a comfortable and pleasant two nights there.
On our free day we rode into the city centre and of course were drawn to the cathedral. On this occasion there were many tourists, not doing anything, standing about fanning themselves and dousing themselves under mist sprays erected by the city authorities. Some people were bemused by these mist sprays but they soon got the message and were under them cooling off.
There are going to be many more misting contraptions in city squares as the predicted global warming temperatures rise in the future to 50 degrees Celsius.
The keen eye will note that the cathedral looks different to others we have visited and written about and it’s because it is a different style of architecture, it seems to lack depth. You are looking at an example of mid-13th to 14th century Rayonnant High Gothic style.
The word rayonnant in French means radiating and beaming and in the case of the cathedral it refers to the radiating spokes of the rose windows. Rayonnant came to designate a phase of architecture involving reduced mass and scale.
Victor Hugo, the French poet, novelist and dramatist of the Romantic Movement, described the Strasbourg Cathedral as a ‘gigantic and delicate marvel’.
Our journey back to our base in Switzerland took us to Stuttgart Germany. We stayed with our cycling friend Martin who we met in Tasmania a number of years ago. We also visited him on our last European trip in 2017. Martin has saved his earnings, retired early and is planning on a bicycle trip around the world. As I write, the COVID-19 virus has swept the world and temporarily thrown a spanner in his works. At this time he is in Portugal waiting for flights to return to New Zealand and Australia.
The phrase, ‘throw a spanner in the works’, is a linguistic rarity and was coined in New Zealand! I put this in for Martin’s benefit. Good on you, Martin. Hang in!
Stuttgart is located on the Neckar River, which is a major tributary of the River Rhine. Every year Stuttgart has a dance festival and to get a taste of Colours International Festival go to YouTube and search COLOURS International Dance Festival 2019- Official Trailer. This festival was in full swing when we were there.
Our time in Stuttgart was a rest and recreation time. Our only activity was to ride with Martin in the forests where he showed us WW2 bomb craters that he used to play in when a child. The bomb craters are now full of water and a micro-environment has formed, to the liking of water insects, toads and frogs. No doubt they are also watering points for larger animals such as deer, foxes and wild boar.
To read about Stuttgart and surrounds go to ‘Archives October 2017’ of this blog. It is worthy of a read.
From Stuttgart we trained to Schaffhausen on the Swiss/German border and joined the Eurovelo 15 cycle route along the Rhine. Near Schaffhausen are the Rhine Falls. They are located totally in Switzerland. It was in 1972 when we last visited the Rhine Falls before the days of mass tourism. Today the area is a major tourist attraction.
Lake Toma, approximately one hundred kilometres south east of Bern, is deemed to be the source of the River Rhine. The river flows generally northwest for 1330 kilometres passing through Liechtenstein, Austria, Germany, France and the Netherlands where it discharges into the North Sea at Rotterdam.
The Rhine Falls, although impressive, do not rate in the top ten waterfalls of international fame. As would be expected, there were a number of tourist traps around the falls area and we both had a feeling that it would be best to move on. It is relatively expensive to travel around Switzerland, however we were fortunate to be able to stay with friends near Zurich.
Our final camp was at Flaach on the Swiss side of the Rhine. The camping was a tad expensive, about A$60 for a no frills tent site. But that’s how it is. If you want to save money, best stay at home.
Fortunately, it wasn’t raining, our underfoot carpet was green and we were able to spread out. The following photograph shows a close up of our spread. It’s interesting to look back in years to come and see what we were eating and what we were carrying.
At the Flaach camp there were a number of cyclists. A father and son (9 years) had cycled from Holland to Budapest in Hungary and were returning to Holland. They were heading in the same direction as us and we bumped into them later in the day just after the father had run into a traffic calming construction. But more about this later. The second group at the camping area were a French family cycling along the Danube, also to Budapest.
The Pino semi recumbent bike needs an explanation. Mum rode at the rear of the bike and one of the twins sat forward and pedalled, helping mum. Dad had a similar set-up with the other twin. They also had a nine-year old daughter who rode her own bike.
Information from the Hase Pino web page: When you see a Hase Pino rolling past, your immediate reaction is to stop and stare. What exactly is going on here? How does it work? Is it even a bicycle? But what you think doesn’t concern Pino owners.
If you think you would like one of these machines go to cyclingabout.com and read more.
Switzerland is 42% more expensive compared to Australia. Everything is dearer in Switzerland except beer which is 89% more expensive in Australia, cigarettes 144% more expensive and bottled water 70% more in Australia. In Switzerland as a general rule, you pay more for everything but in return you get good roads such as the one in the above photograph.
When we first arrived in Switzerland on this ‘Observations from the Saddle of a Bike Odyssey’ the sunflowers were emerging from the soil and by the time we completed our journeys they were ready for harvesting. Sunflowers track the sun (heliotropism), although only when immature. Once they reach maturity the flowers always face east. It is a common myth that sunflowers follow the sun throughout their whole growing period.
In a newly published article in Science, researchers say heliotropism relates to the plant’s circadian rhythm tied to an internal clock. Humans have a similar clock.
The father and son riders and the father’s accident: They left the camping area before us, however we caught up with them along a country road. The father waved us down and asked for help. He had hit a gutter and bent the bike front fork backwards. After some thought we decided not pull the fork forward as it could snap and while the tyre was not rubbing on the frame he could carry on and have the fork replaced in Zurich.
The reason the cyclist hit the calming device gutter was simple. He had a Smartphone attached to his handlebars and was engrossed in the phone’s instructions as to the route. To avoid such disasters, it is wise to stop when consulting a map or phone.
Before we departed company I extracted our first aid kit and doctored his wounds. It’s hard to believe that on such a long journey he did not carry a first aid kit.
That’s the end of this post. Bev and I hope you enjoyed it. Please leave a comment and stay tuned as we are not burnt out yet. Stories in future posts include travels in Germany, the Netherlands, Austria and north into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Following are two images to whet your appetite in the hope that you will continue travelling with us.