Monday, 26 November 2012


We have camped in among the long grasses on the Austrian shore of Bodensee (or Lake Konstanz if you're Swiss) by a boat mooring.  I get up, put the water on to boil and go to perform my ablutions.  From very close by there are two sudden gunshots.  I sprawl on the ground.  Surely they don't shoot people for wild camping??  Gayle seems unperturbed.  We had heard ducks last night.  There are voices in the grass and the splash of waders.  I dust myself off and get on with brewing up.

When we cycle over a little wooden bridge into Switzerland we are greeted by a local map of bike paths.  We set off towards Zurich with the plan to stay with Warm Showers hosts along the way.  The day is foggy and cold but the cycling keeps us warm.  The route goes up and down and up again.  At one point we have to push.  By lunchtime we realise there's no way we'll get to Pamela's (our host to be).  We e-mail her to apologise and at the end of the day find a nice little spot to camp in some woods.  We then spend an hour or so trying to cook without scaring the runners and walkers who pass close by in the dark.  In the morning there are more passersby, but at least they can see our bikes.  In daylight we don't look suspicious. We ride on to Zurich sticking to minor roads that all turn out to have a bike path alongside.  
Zurich Old Town
This makes for easy riding and we arrive mid-afternoon in the financial heart of Switzerland.  As we push our bikes along one of the many pedestrianised streets a man starts chatting to us.  Where are you going? To Japan. In that case you need to take the next left, he replies without missing a beat.  We are then accosted by a woman we have never met.  Are you English? Are you Gayle and John?  This is a bit freaky.  She introduces herself as Pamela - the woman who was willing to host us the previous night.  Pure chance, we finally meet.  She tells us her daughter was most upset we didn't arrive, as she'd been practising her English all day.

We are staying with Alice and Daniele in Zurich.  We had met at a beach place in Malaysia back in 2009.  Now back in the Real World they have a lively young daughter in Lea to keep them busy.  We have a good rest with them,  are introduced to raclette, the national dish, and also are invited to their pre-emptive Christmas dinner with friends because they'll be away in warmer sunnier climes at Christmas time.  We have a great time and everyone comfortably speaks English for our benefit - something that we are in danger of taking for granted on our way across Europe.
the mountains appear across Lake Zurich
Zurich is another bike-friendly city and the old town streets are a nice place to wander.  We have been feeling a little tired with the cycling - probably because of the colder weather and the long nights in the tent - and we have a restorative day or two doing very little.  We are also contemplating our onward journey.  As the weather is becoming harsher we feel less inclined to cycle and camp.  Alice finds us some discounted train fares to help us on our way to Lausanne from where we can cycle easily to Geneva in two days.  Once again we are saying goodbye to friends who have generously sheltered and fed us and let us into their lives.  I'm not sure we can ever express our appreciation enough to all of our friends.
our orchard campsite along Lake Geneva
The day we arrive in Geneva it's raining.  We are staying a couple of nights with Jorn, our Warm Showers host, and for the whole time we are in Geneva it doesn't stop raining.  Okay, November's not a good time to visit, we know this, so we make the most of it with recommendations from Jorn.  We wonder what he thinks of us when we explain that we're not true cyclists.  It seems to us that he is, but when he describes his tour of the Nordic countries, Russia and the Baltic Sea coastline, despite being proud at managing 950 km a week he also acknowledges that by cycling so far so quickly one also loses out on the travel experience.  This has occurred to us when we met cyclists in Norway hurtling up to Nordkapp.  There's a danger of only thinking about how far you will ride in a day, of watching the clock, counting the kilometres.  It starts to become a job. On this journey we have sometimes thought we were going too fast.  We are ready for a break.  Jorn asks us what we do when we go so slowly on our travels.  We pause for a moment.  How to explain that doing nothing can also be important?  To throw away the clock, be free of time.  Oh, er, are we getting all new-age hippy???

The forecast is not good for the next few days so we don't hesitate to catch another train - into France to Grenoble.  We have been invited to stay with our new cycling friends Magali and Jean-Baptiste in the mountains.  The offer is irresistible.

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