Thursday, July 3, 2008

Lake Constance

If it is one thing that can get my husband sneezing, its freshly mowed grass. And we had two long days of cycling the hills of Bavaria, surrounded by piles of the stuff. Poor guy -- we had a few steep climbs, too, and it only increased his exposure with breathing hard! It was sunny, dry, and it seemed like all the citizens of the land were out with their weed whackers, trimming growth from fence lines and walkways. And everywhere we saw people turning hay, drying it in the first sun in weeks. Some turned by tractor, like in the photo above, but many more were just out there in shorts and sandals and with a pitchfork. Hard, hot, itchy work -- it gives me appreciation for the saying "making hay when the sun shines".

This time of year, when the sun shines, it gets hot. And humid. After a couple of days we were on the shores of Lake Constance, a lake so big it has shorelines in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. We retreated into the confines of a supermarket in the afternoon, and lingered in the frozen food section just to get our operating temperature back down to normal. When we went back outside to load our groceries into our packs, we struck a conversation with a gentleman, curious about our bikes and travels. Bernd is a retired pilot and spoke perfect English, and offered us some assistance with planning our trip north. We followed him to his home, stopping along the way for some picturesque views of the lake (above). We spent a couple of hours sitting on his terrace with his wife Ursula, chugging mineral water and talking about bikes, Germany, skiing, and travel. We left with a portfolio of maps, cheered by German hospitality.

Lake Constance is a magnet for people from all over, but especially for the German people. A dedicated bike trail circles the entire lake, and it is a popular spot for cyclists of any ability since the path is flat. We heard the roads can be choked with traffic during the high summer season. We cycled the north shore on a Sunday, leaving early in the morning. It was quiet until about 11 am, then we saw droves of other cyclists going in both directions. The German people love to swim, and there are public bathing spots set up frequently along the lake, with grassy areas, snack bars, and play grounds. We saw lines of poeople waiting to get in, including families and their various inflatable water toys. By late in the afternoon people were drifting back to their cars for the drive back home...I have not seen so much scorched red skin in a long time.

Leaving Lake Constance we crossed briefly into Switzerland, and accessed the Rheintal, a bike trail that follows the length of the Rhein River. It followed the river, taking us around busy towns and winding along the shore separate from automobile traffic. Only occaisionally did it convert to a dirt path through forest.

Sights along the way include this wooden bridge, with flowers blooming in the window boxes.

We ate lunch overlooking Rheinfall, the largest (in width, not height) falls in Germany. From a distance we could see boatloads of tourists edging up to the base of the falls. In the middle of the river is a rock outcrop, and the boat drops off passengers to walk up stairs on the rock to the top.

The bike routes in Germany are amazing. The routes are all over, well signed, with directions and distances indicated at every intersection. We did not have a detailed map of the route we were following, but it was not difficult to navigate. When the routes intersect roads, drivers will stop to let us cross. And on more than one occasion, when we stopped to read a sign to make sure we were going the right way, people would stop and ask if we needed help.

We are heading to the mountains of the Black Forest, and between the signs and the nice people, we certainly won´t get lost.
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