Browsed by
Tag: Germany

A short ride around an inland sea

A short ride around an inland sea

Our original plan had been to ride all the way around the Bodensee (or Loch Constance as we took to calling it). However, time and circumstances conspired against us and we end up with half a day for our ride, so inevitably we weren’t going to get all the way around. For me this made no difference, as it was a ride to be enjoyed, it wasn’t a training ride, it wasn’t about the distance, it was about enjoying riding through three countries in a day.

Riding a bicycle on the mainland of Europe is different to riding in the UK, it is not that you are on the wrong side of the road. No, the difference is that you are doing something completely normal, there is space provided for people to ride bicycles as a normal form of transport. We set off from Lochau along the loch shore, which is a popular place to promenade, but instead of there being one mixed use path the way there would be in Britain (on which cyclists are barely tolerated), here there are separate cycling and walking paths.

Cycle path in Lochau

In some places there were footways on either side of the path, with zebra crossings to show that pedestrians have the right to cross. People of all types use bicycles as a way of getting about, it is completely normal and it shows. This means that you have plenty of time to look around and see, you know, the every day sort of things, like oh look there is a floating opera stage, or is that a Zeppelin flying past. Well these are everyday sights when you are living next to the Obersee (the upper loch) or even if you are just a visitor.

Looking across to the opera stage in Bregenz

Zeppelin flying

The sight of the distant opera stage intrigued me, so we once we had ridden round to Bregenz, we turned off the path and made a detour of all of 200m to go and take a closer look. The Seebühne (or floating stage) is there for the Bregenzer Festspiele (Bregenz Festival), an arts festival held every July and August. The stage sets changes every couple of years, currently it is set up for Mozart’s Magic Flute. Back in 2008 when they were staging Puccini’s Tosca, scenes for the Bond movie Quantum of Solace where filmed there. As there are no performances at this time of year, people are free to wander in and look about as they please.

The opera stage in Bregenz

Photos taken, it was time to get back to Bodensee-Radweg, which gave me the opportunity to observe how they do things differently here. As this is a particularly busy section of the route, cycles and pedestrians are clearly separated, only where traffic is light are they mixed. This takes away the sort of conflict that occurs in the UK, where pedestrians resent there being people riding bicycles in motor traffic free areas. In Switzerland there were additional signs for inline skaters, mixing them with cyclists or pedestrians according to surface. However, there were no such instructions for users of skateboards or kick scooters, presumably they are free to decide which group to move with. It is notable that, on the Continent, inline skates, skateboards and kick scooters are all regarded as legitimate means of active transport rather than merely toys, but then the Continentals are more grown up about these things that the infantilised British.

Traffic separation

Beyond Bregenz we approached the Rhine delta, the amount of sediment carried into the loch by the river Rhine is remarkable and can clearly be seen from above (i.e. from view points on the surrounding hills and mountains). However, when you come to cross the river it rather disappointing, as it is heavily canalised and looks just like a wide ditch. Much of the farm land around is reclaimed from the loch and therefore below the level of the loch.

As we rode along we were not alone, even though it was a weekday outwith the main holiday period there were plenty of other people about, some just going from A to B, some taking leisure trips. This gave me the opportunity to observe Continental cyclists on their home ground, most were wearing just ordinary cloths, there were a few in Lycra out for training rides. I only saw two riders with Hi-viz jackets, but they were speaking with strong English accents and not locals. Helmets were few, mostly worn by the serious cyclists out on training rides, or tourists who had rented all the gear (easy to spot by the identical sets of bikes and helmets). Also notable was that children weren’t wearing helmets when riding bikes, here cycling is normal and not something to be feared.

Which way now?

Way finding was easy with plenty of signage to show you where the paths go to, also local businesses adding their own to attract passing trade. Stopping for lunch, it was clear that cycling has quite an impact on the local economy, with generous cycle parking available. Following lunch we headed for the Swiss border. This was rather fun, instead of going through the customs post with the motor traffic, the cycle path crosses the road in front of the customs post then crosses the Alter Rhein (the Old Rhine) and therefore the Swiss/Austrian border on a small wooden bridge.

Customs post on the Swiss border

The first thing that tells you that you have just crossed an international border is that the direction signs change colours. Not far beyond the border, the cycle route skirts round a small airfield, whose main purpose seems to be to provide air taxi services to Vienna and the Swiss cities, for the opera fans going to the Bregenzer Festspiele.

At Rohrschach we came across the MV Sonnenkönigin (Sun Queen), estimated to have cost some €13m to build, she is the largest and most expensive vessel on the Bodensee. The Sonnenkönigin is an extraordinary looking vessel and with a daily charter rate of around €12,000 (just of the vessel and four man crew) she is the ultimate gin palace. Conservative opponents of the project don’t like the modern design, complaining that it looks like a gigantic shiny iron. We hadn’t expected to see her along side in Rohrschach, as her home port is Bregenz.

The MV Sonnenkönigin

It was in Rohrschach that I almost landed a SF150 fine for cycling in a pedestrianised area, the Swiss are very keen on minor rules and equally keen on enforcing fines if you breach them. It was also in Rohrschach that we started to ride on the road with traffic for the first time. The interesting thing about this was that the speed limit was 30 Km/h (18 mph) and the riding was very much more relaxed that on an equally busy road in the UK. Before long we were directed to an offroad route once again, and the Bodensee-Radweg carried on as a mix of offroad paths and quiet roads. It was notable that on the few occasions where the Radweg was on a busier road, that the speed limit was not above 30 Km/h.

We arrived at the outskirts of Romanshorn just in time to see the ferry setting off for Friedrichshafen. We had decided in advance that this was a sightseeing ride and we weren’t going to have time to go all the way around Bodensee, this was the ferry route we were going to use. Seeing the ferry heading off, we knew that we had an hour for a bit of sightseeing. During the 45 minute ferry crossing of the third largest freshwater body in Europe, we had a chance to do a wee bit of yacht spotting. When the Swiss first entered the America’s Cup to challenge for the Auld Mug, there were a lot of voices asking what do the Swiss know about sailing. The Swiss’ answered this by winning said Auld Mug. Looking at these yachts drifting along in light airs, you start to realise what skilled sailors they are, after all anyone can go fast in a fresh breeze, but to make the most of light airs requires real skills.

Yachts in international waters in Central Europe (Bodensee)

Yachts in international waters in Central Europe (Bodensee)

Arriving on the German side of the pond, we rolled off the ferry in Friedrichshafen and left the motorists to go through the customs post, while pedestrians and cyclists dispersed into the town. I had hoped to meet a twitter friend here, but as it was a week day she was busy elsewhere. We drifted into town looking for coffee and cake, and found a café just across from the Zeppelin Museum. We decided to give the museum a miss as we had agreed to be back in time to go out for dinner in Bregenz.

Finding our way back onto the Bodensee Radwag was easy, just go back to the port and look for the signs. Of course we were now in the third country of the day, so the colour and style of the signs was a wee bit different but that wasn’t really a problem. Riding through Germany we came across more unmetalled off road paths than we had experienced earlier in the day, however, they had a smoother surface than some roads back home in Edinburgh, and way better than most similar Sustrans paths I have come across, so this wasn’t a problem on a road bike.

Cycle way in Germany

Another thing which was notable in residential areas were the 20 Km/h speed limits. Coming from somewhere where 20 mph speed limits, that is 12 mph, are still a controversial idea, this was a real eye opener. It was great riding down these roads, absolutely no hassle. Why can’t Scotland have roads like these? As we were keen to get back to Bregenz, we didn’t have a lot of time to stop and take photos or to visit the island of Lindau (but we did visit Lindau a couple of days later by bicycle).

May tree in Langenargen

 

Route 2,348,070 – powered by www.bikemap.net

Once more onto Freiburg

Once more onto Freiburg

If you’ll indulge me, dear reader, there are a few photos of Freiburg and a couple of tales I would like to add to this blog. I have to admit to rather liking Freiburg, as you might have gathered from my earlier notes on a short tour on the mainland of Europe, so I thought I would revisit it again in this post. If you venture into the old part of the city you will come across the Freiburger Münster, after all a church with a 116-meter tower is pretty hard to miss (well fortunately the RAF did miss it in 1944, but that is another story). This building is worth a visit just to look at the carvings, those in the entrance way are amazing, although difficult to photograph due to the pigeon netting.

Carvings in the entrance to Freiburg Münster

Carvings in the entrance to Freiburg Münster

Carvings in the entrance to Freiburg Münster

Carvings in the entrance to Freiburg Münster

On the outside of the Münster the carvings are also impressive, one of the most notable is a waterspout …

Carvings on Freiburg Münster

Waterspout on Freiburg Münster

… there is a story that the bishop was a mean and unpleasant man, who upset the masons building the Münster. To show how they felt about him they added this waterspout, which points across the square towards his residence. I don’t know how true this is, but it makes a good story.

The other thing to watch out for (literally) are the Bächle. Freiburg has an unusual system of gutters, called Bächle, which run through the medieval centre of the city. The original function of these Bächle was to supply water to the citizens and for fighting fires. They were not used as sewers, indeed in the Middle Ages there were harsh penalties for anyone caught doing so.

There is a local legend that should you accidentally step in a Bächle you will marry a Freiburger, or ‘Bobbele’. These days the Bächle are a popular places for children to play and sail wee boats.

Bächle in Freiburg

Bächle in Freiburg

I am sure that Freiburg is a place I will visit again, but I won’t be falling into a Bächle…

A short walk on the Emperor’s Chair

A short walk on the Emperor’s Chair

Der Kaiserstuhl, literally the Emperor’s Chair, a range of hills in south west Germany, is the remains of an extinct volcano rising out of the Upper Rhine Plain like an island, and a fine place to go for a walk. The place got its name from Otto III who held a court nearby in 994. At this time he was merely King of Germany and the hills were given the name Königsstuhl, the King’s Chair. Some time after Otto had himself made ruler of the Holy Roman Empire in 996, the name was changed to Kaiserstuhl, although it is not clear if this happened before his death in 1002 (the change in name may not have occurred until the 13th century).

Walking up the Kaiserstuhl

Late summer shadows on the Kaiserstuhl

The hills today are a fascinating mix of vineyards, woodland and high hay meadows, with a near Mediterranean climate. This leads to it having an interesting flora and fauna, a number of the species living here have disjunct distributions, meaning that they are away from their normal areas. One such species is the European green lizard (Lacerta viridis) which normally only found east of the Alps, sadly we didn’t get to see any. The Kaiserstuhl is also famous for its orchid flora with over 30 different species having been recorded there. However, as we were visiting in September, we didn’t see any of these either. We did get to see a range of invertebrates, including Praying Mantis (Mantis religiosa) for which the Kaiserstuhl is well known, and a range of other bugs and butterflies.

Praying Mantis (Mantis religiosa)

Praying Mantis (Mantis religiosa)
Praying Mantis (Mantis religiosa)

Streifenwanze or Minstrel Bug (Graphosoma lineatum) on the Kaiserstuhl
Streifenwanze or Minstrel Bug (Graphosoma lineatum)

Chalkhill Blue (Polyommatus coridon) on the Kaiserstuhl
Chalkhill Blue (Polyommatus coridon)

Knappe (Lygaeus saxatilis)
Knappe (Lygaeus saxatilis)

Berger's Clouded Yellow (Colias alfacariensis)
Berger’s Clouded Yellow (Colias alfacariensis)

Euplagia quadripunctaria
Russischer Bär or Jersey Tiger (Euplagia quadripunctaria)

There where also a number of snails (as yet unidentified) hanging from grass stalks, I am told they do this to avoid the midday heat.

Snail on grass

Snail on grass

shades of autumn

The floral highlight we did come across was Autumn Crocus (Colchicum autumnale).
Autumn Crocus (Colchicum autumnale) on the Kaiserstuhl

After the hay cut

Given that this is a wine producing area, after the walk you might suppose that we repaired to a hostelry to sample the local produce, but we didn’t. I once asked a German friend (who harks from the Mosel region) and who is something of a connoisseur to recommend a good German wine. His reply was that there was no such thing and that I should stick with French, Italian and Austrian wines, advice I have followed since (when in Germany). So instead we adjourned to sample the café culture of Freiburg, a visit I touched on in the last post, but I feel that is for yet another post.

Notes on a short tour on the mainland of Europe

Notes on a short tour on the mainland of Europe

This September Ulli and I took a well deserved holiday on the mainland of Europe. We took up the invitation to visit France, Germany, Switzerland and Austria. Here are a few things I noticed on my travels. First off, arriving at EuroAirport (Basel Mulhouse Freiburg), you clear passport control to enter the Schengen area, collect you bags and then have a choice of two exits through customs, you can either clear Swiss customs or EU customs to enter France/Germany. The airport consists of two separate parts, a French part and a Swiss part, and you can pass between the two parts without a ticket (but you must carry a passport or ID card, in case you are asked to show it). This caused us some confusion as we weren’t sure which side our host was waiting for us, also we didn’t know at that time you could just walk across the border within the airport.

Having exited into the Eurozone, we wandered out into the late summer heat of the Alsace, looking at views across the Black Forest to the northeast (more of which later). We were staying in a small French village with views (on a clear day) to the high mountains of the Bernese Alps halfway across Switzerland, ~140 Km away.

On a clear day you can see the high mountains of the Bernese Alps

Driving though small French towns to get there, I noticed there were zebra crossings everywhere, they seemed to be every 100m. Also where there were cycle lanes, they were separated from motor traffic with just solid lines, nowhere did I see a car parked on a cycle lane, or for that matter on the pavement (Footway).

Although we were staying in France, we spent most of our days out in Germany, visiting Staufen im Breisgau whose most famous resident was one Dr Faust who died there in 1539, having allegedly sold his soul to the Devil. The other thing the town is famous for is geothermal drilling controversy. Back in 2007 there was a plan to utilise geothermal energy from the depth of the Rhine valley for heating and cooling purposes. However, things didn’t work out as planned, in 2008 it was noticed that the centre of the town had sunk by about 8mm. This is thought to have been caused by disruption of the water table, as a result drilling was stopped. But this wasn’t the end of the story. In 2009 it was noticed that parts of the town had started to rise and by September 2010 some parts of the town had risen by up to 30cm. This uplift has been caused by water seeping into a layer of anhydrite, so causing it to convert into gypsum which swells when wetted. All the geological activities have caused massive cracks to appear in many of the buildings, some of which now have stickers which read “Staufen must not break”.

“Staufen must not break”

There is also a ruined castle on hill above Staufen which was burned down by the Swedish army in 1632 during the 30 years war. These days it is a pleasant to walk up to the castle though the vineyards.

Castle Staufen

The following day we went for a walk in a range of hills called the Kaiserstuhl (literally: “Emperor’s Chair”) in Baden-Württemberg in southwest Germany, but I think that deserves another blog post. After our walk we visited Freiburg, which gave me more opportunities to observe the urban environment and particularly the cycling infrastructure. Freiburg is a cycling city. That said, the first thing that caught my eye after we left the underground car park next to the station was the display of air pollution data.

Air pollution monitoring station in Freiburg

Coming from a country where the powers that be prefer to ignore the issue of air pollution rather than facing up to it and taking real action to tackle the problem, this openness is surprising. But then maybe there is a reason, back in the 1980’s people started to notice that large numbers of trees in the Black Forest were dying. People started to put a visit to the Black Forest on their bucket list, to see the Black Forest before it died. The Black Forest wasn’t the only forest to suffer such damage but it was the most iconic, seeing so many trees in so much trouble caused waves of protest across Europe which resulted in EU directives to reduce air pollution. As a result the levels of long range pollutants were massively reduced and the Black Forest recovered. . Of course it isn’t just trees that are damaged by exposure to air pollution, people are, too, and local air pollution in cities can be very damaging. Maybe it was the experience of seeing the Black Forest dying that has made the people of Freiburg more aware of the issue of air pollution. Certainly they have chosen to do something about it, there is an extensive tram network in the city (powered by renewable energy) and active travel is encouraged, this is, as I have already said, a cycling city.

In the UK we are told that our roads are too narrow to accommodate separate space for cycling, here they just take the space away from the more polluting means of transport. It works!

Who says bicycles and trams don't mix?

Cycle lane in Freiburg

Who says bicycles and trams don't mix?

Streets of Freiburg

It’s not just in the city that you see lots of people on bicycles, you see them up in the mountains of the Black Forest, too, although the older folk sometimes need some extra assistance.

E-bikes are getting more popular with older cyclists
E-bikes are getting more popular with older cyclists

Following our trips to the Black Forest, we set off on the next stage of our tour, moving to the Austrian end of The Bodensee (or Loch Constance as we took to calling it). We were based in Lochau for a few days, the original plan had been to head off and cycle all the way around Bodensee. However we found we didn’t have the time to go all the way round (as we had been warned not to try it on a weekend because the paths get very busy), so we just went part way and took a ferry as a short cut. I think to do this ride justice, it needs to have a blog post of its own. Needless to say, cycling through three countries in one day (or rather half a day) was easy, as the infrastructure was seamless and the signage easy to follow.

On an Austrian cycle path, turn left for Germany, turn right for Switzerland.
On an Austrian cycle path, turn left for Germany, turn right for Switzerland.

A trip across the Arlberg (a famous pass) showed that going up hill was considered no barrier to cycling either, no matter what your age. Ten years ago, Vorarlberg was the federal state (Land) which had the highest cycling modal share in Austria. Since then, it has been overtaken by the states of Tirol and Salzburg, partly as these states have latched on to the economic benefits of getting people to ride bicycles for transport and/or leisure.

The next stop on our multi centre holiday (I mean tour) was the Tirol (or Tyrol if you insist). To get there we took the scenic route over the Arlberg pass rather than taking the tunnel. After all, once you have seen the inside of one alpine tunnel, you have seen them all, and the Arlberg tunnel is 14 Km (9 miles) long which is rather dull. You miss out on the views from the top and the chance to look for blaeberries (Vaccinium myrtilis) which are also called Arlenbushes, and there is a theory that the pass thought the mountains is named after them.

Of course, those who chose to travel by bicycle, have either to cycle over the pass or take the train, as they are not allowed to use the Arlberg tunnel (not that you’d want to). We passed a dozen or so cyclists on the way up the 1,793 m pass, even though it was mid September, outwith the main tourist season.

Having arrived in the Tirol, the weather then proceeded to change which rather limited our opportunities for more cycle trips (lack of mudguards). However, we did manage to get a couple in, including one from Ötztal to Absam along part of the Inn Radwag (the Inn cycle route), but I think that is also best covered in a blog post of its own, as this one is getting rather long.

A few final observations, in all four of the countries we visited, the bicycle was used by all sections of society as a way of getting about. Cycling on the mainland of Europe is normal, most people don’t wear helmets, I don’t think I saw a single child wearing a helmet. Most of those who were wearing helmets were adults engaged in serious sports, also the Austrian mountain bikers only wear their helmets for going down hill, when riding up hill or along the roads their helmet is mounted on the handle bars.

During the three weeks we were away, we crossed international borders over 20 times, although we carried our passports with us, we were only required to show them when entering the Schengen area at EuroAirport, and when leaving it again from Munich Airport and to get back into Scotland at Edinburgh Airport.

Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!
%d bloggers like this: