08 September, 2017

A Four Countries Tour

by Igor

Nothing could prepare us for the beauty of the countryside, Swiss Alps, and lakefront cities that were going to join us on our journey through Switzerland, Lichtenstein, Austria, and Germany before making our way to Eurobike.

After assembling and loading up the bikes at the Zurich airport, we eagerly set off for Zug. Exploring Zurich would have to wait until our return at the end of the tour.

The floaty, wide tires we selected were quickly looking like good decisions right off the bat. We started out by circuitously winding through unpaved and paved trails around downtown Zurich, sometimes while being egged on by bell-clad, grazing sheep.

Our first day out, the sun beat down heavily upon us with very high humidity. Luckily, there are lots of fountains with potable water. In Switzerland, fountains are safe to drink from unless it explicitly says "Kein Trinkwasser".

Once off the main road, our route became more of the same mix of gravel and paved surfaces. Since the rollerblading culture in Switzerland is alive and thriving, the paved sections were exceptionally smooth and could even be connected to traverse the country. Seriously, they have separate, labeled rollerblading routes through the country. Why did we ever stop blading in the States?!

We were only a few kilometers away from our destination in Zug, when a storm quickly approached off our starboard. It seems like racing storm clouds and sunsets are a requisite of every multi-day tour.

Luckily this storm passed quickly, and after catching golden hour, a Jazz and American Folk Music Festival, and the city's aviary we headed out to Lucerne the next morning. Single track, b-roads, and cobbles would greet us as the tarmac of the day.

The city of Lucerne was a marvel. The winding cobbled streets lead to medieval structures and bridges dating back to the 1400s. Markets lined the Reuss River during the day and restaurants opened their doors through the night. Nothing could beat sitting on a bench with a Vermicelle dessert and enjoying the sounds of the river running through the city.

The Swiss Museum of Transportation in Lucerne is absolutely amazing. Specifically, their automotive collection is one of the best I have ever seen. There is a small auditorium and upon request, the system will bring a car down from the wall and talk about it's design, history, and impact on the world of cars.

And you know we did the chocolate tour.

Our next destination would be St. Gallen by train. Train travel through Europe is a breeze, with stations in the majority of cities. No need to Rinko or disassemble your bike. Most regional and intercontinental (ICE) trains have a bike car, so you simply secure your bike and have a seat in the passenger area. We used a hair tie to secure the brakes, to keep our bikes in place during travel.

On a ferry, but same idea!

St. Gallen, amongst other things, is known for its meticulously maintained ancient abbey and library with literature dating to the 9th century (sorry, photos were not allowed), the university, and ridiculously good local bratwursts. The abbey's library is said to have the most perfect mix of dimensions and wood tones to be optimally warm and comforting - I'd agree. For the brats, they must be consumed with a crusty roll lest you look like a tourist. Oh, don't even think about asking for mustard, you'll get kicked out of the city.

From St. Gallen, we opted to go straight to Vaduz, Lichtenstein. The trail was mixed media galore. Large and small-stone gravel, a bit of double track, and more rollerblading routes led us towards the border crossing - a covered wooden bridge with simple markings showing which country you're crossing into.

While in Lichtenstein, we left the bikes at camp and opted to go hiking. The chairlift from Malbun took us up to the trailhead for the hike to the top of Saeris. The experience was a symphony for the senses. Fresh Alpine air, grasping rocks for scrambles, bells on livestock clanging from the valley below, clouds pouring over the mountain tops, and tasty Swiss snacks. It was basically a granola bar commercial.

Leaving Lichtenstein (fairly quickly as it is only 25km long), we doubled back and continued our journey to Friedrichschafen, Germany which would be the home of Eurobike in a couple days time. We crossed back into Switzerland, stopped in Bregenz, Austria for lunch, and finally to Friedrichschafen. Four countries in one day!

Yes, they were delicious
Our time in Friedrichschafen would only be temporary as we promptly hopped back on a train for 24 hours in Munich. I had no idea that the surfing scene in Munich would be so good!

After four busy and perpetually wet days at Eurobike we headed back to Zurich for some city exploration and final packing of our bikes and gear. Keep an eye out on the blog for more details about Eurobike and project progress.

Every time we get back from trips like these, we are always astounded by the lack of public infrastructure within our great country, the US of A. Train travel between cities is frequently prohibitively expensive if routes even exist, cohesive bicycle and public transportation infrastructure is non-existent outside of metropolitan cities, and cycling is frequently seen as an inconvenience to others.

More recently, I hear of cities in the US trying out a revamp of their city centers by preventing automobile traffic through combined blocks. Often times, these concepts are met by anger and disapproval from local business owners saying that the reduced traffic will harm their livelihood. Unsurprisingly, when it is actually tested out, opinions are turned on their heads. These areas are highly trafficked by locals and visitors. People get to experience a cityscape louder in conversation rather than tailpipes.

Here in Annapolis, we have "Dinner Under the Stars". One day a week during summer months, a portion of road on West Street gets shut down and restaurants put tables out. It really is exceptionally pleasant - especially knowing that in the morning, cars and trucks will be whizzing by on the same stretch. Many love the experience and would prefer it to be like this year-round.

I wonder if these concepts and experiments could be the beginnings of awareness and promotion of city interconnectivity, where otherwise people just drive from place to place. What does it take for this to happen? Drastically increased car taxes, gas prices going up, city center driving taxes?


Anonymous said...

Waiting patiently for the full specs and prices of the new poly4valent

Joe Rose said...

What a fantastic write up on an amazing tour! I want to hear more on the performance of my future frameset, too.
The final paragraphs are topics I think on frequently. I live in rural West and our state senator wants to tax BICYCLES because "they use the road, too..." ��
I love my country but i feel like our culture continues to be a "leave me alone I leave you alone" culture. Which is a tragedy. When I bought a new house and went to introduce ourselves to the neighbors they just stared like, ok...your not going to be knocking all the time are you?
And that isn't even to start on cycling!! Bikes can save the world and I would love to help it happen.
Anyhow really enjoyed this post and sharing your journey.

Anonymous said...

Sounds bucket list-worthy. Might do it myself some day, after I've seen America.

Ray Kintzley said...

Spectacular, yet super accurate accounting of European friendliness to bikes and tourists. America is a beautiful land, diverse and huge. But Europe is extremely beautiful and diverse as well, and certainly more friendly to the bicycle by a long ways. Bikes are the way to go, and places like Colorado and Oregon prove it...and we got to stop this silly taxing bike rubbish that is being proposed in both States.
Great crisp write-up on the European bike journey.

Eric said...

@Ray, actually, I support a small tax on bikes, anything that gives a bike some response to the "they don't pay taxes" morons.

Anonymous said...

I am in Oregon and work in the world of planning civil engineering. The planners here certainly know how to talk the talk, and had many years to figure things out, but transportation issues across the board (all modes) are getting worse by the day. Many here will attest to that. Throwing more money in the form of taxes is not solving anything -- it just encourages more wasteful spending habits and less creative problem solving. This is happening because too many who are executing the programs are not necessarily working for the common good but rather are activists with a skewed and one-sided view of the matter. We can have a mutually beneficial and efficient transportation system if we only frame the questions better and change from our wasteful habits.

I'm multi-modal (including bikes) and I vote.

GS in OR

Mike said...

Igor and Adrian!! Thanks for writing this. Im so glad you had a good time, and your trip looks super fun, and enlightening. Although I bet your Doggie missed you...

"Every time we get back from trips like these, we are always astounded by the lack of public infrastructure within our great country, the US of A. Train travel between cities is frequently prohibitively expensive if routes even exist, cohesive bicycle and public transportation infrastructure is non-existent outside of metropolitan cities, and cycling is frequently seen as an inconvenience to others."

The USA was a good try...cant win 'em all.

Ted Town said...

Mid-way through a Calabria to Holland bicycle tour, my riding partner and I visited these four countries in a single day, just to feel superior by telling folks how fit we were. (I don't think we told them it was probably less than 60 miles.) That was more than 30 years ago, I'm riding the same bike and would like to believe I could get some of that stamina back if I only tried.

Lovely write-up.

Victoria said...