As you may or may not know in summer 2011 I went to Lyon by bike. During my trip there I kept a diary.
You have sometimes a good day, and sometimes a bad day. But a VERY bad day would be like this: you sleep 4h30 after having struggled with the report which you eventually couldn't finish and you are destinated to be confronted with your bike in the next 12 hours. Yes, it's a kind of the worst day. What an honour I could experience it by myself.
My fridge depletion led me to this breakfast.
The first 20 km or so was really nice. More precisely, as long as it was Lower Saxony, you can drive just the way you feel like. Besides I knew the streets around Göttingen quite well, as I have already been everywhere when I obtained my driver's license, those days where I was really young and am not able to recall of anymore... about half a year ago.
By the way, the weather. Brits start a conversation by talking about the weather first every time they see someone, since they believe they are fairly polite this way. Germans would not do it, since they find it dishonest (Well, because it is like you talk about something you are scarcely interested in). I'm neither British nor German, so I talk about it suddenly in the middle of the text. Today was exactly the only summer day in Germany this year with never ending blue sky and 29 degrees without any wind. You have certainly seen those who are cycling in the side way of country side rode, with short tight pants and a t-shirt. And my style? Of course, my usual jeans and long sleeved jacket which I survived the winter of Poland in. In these unthinkable conditions I was in the middle of noon trying to climb on the mountain near Kassel believing it is the correct way to go up, which eventually turned out to be false. It seems that from Hahn-Münden you do not follow the way for cars. It namely leads to the autobahn. At least, I learned in the middle of nowhere under the eternally shining sun you shouldn't be thirsty and have only a bottle of wodka in the bag.
So, welcome to the ugliest city in Germany, Kassel. It's even uglier when you arrive there by bike. Well, the problem of Kassel, in contrast to Wuppertal for example (which is also ugly), is that you have to go up an endless climbing if you want to traverse the city, where it also seems to be a general problem in Hesse. Of course there was no way for bikes.
I finally arrived in Marburg some time before 10 p.m. after driving somewhat in the autobahn for about 10 km. (Actually I could hear an announce in the radio, maybe the first time to appear in any type of media.) Anyway, the first day over.
Does 150 g of rice mean something to you? It is a unity in Japan called "go". 1 go doesn't really correspond to one portion as it is a little bit more than that. Then 1200 g of rice? This is what I digested yesterday. The breakfast today was also kind of funny. Besides I made a big lunch box out of what was there. Anyway, here we go.
Today, I'd go to Mannheim, which corresponds to 170 km. Just after departing from the youth hostel I spoke to an old madame to ask how to get to Mannheim, she told me "at the next corner to the right and it's just there". OK, she or I must have understood something in a different way than meant.
Hesse is not only ugly, it's also boring. It's something like Gifu in Japan, and Wyoming in the US, I suppose. In order to moderate this boringness they built e.g. a street only with hotels (well well, you have to know which kind of hotels) In the middle of this street there was also a funny restaurant:
I think you must click on the photo to realize what is written on the board. A Chinese-Thai restaurant called "Bonsai". A kind of cultural mistake I'm meanwhile accustomed to.
After having passed this city, there was another one with somewhat higher buildings and trams. I just thought, well it's a pretty big city. Yes, of course. It was Frankfurt.
Then you see a disaster, which cannot lack in the ugliest state Hesse. When I was in the middle of the city, there was a hardcore cloudburst which turned down the internet, GPS and my radio. Well, I'm travelling with the help of GPS and the internet. I could normally hardly make a step without them. However, I tried to get out of the city with my memory and the compass. I think I don't have to say that I was in the middle of nowhere afterwards...
If one day, you should go to Mannheim from Frankfurt by bike, DON'T trust the signs on the way there, as they are highly rotated by someone or just suddenly missing.
I was so glad when I was not anymore in Hesse, so when I saw my little Mannheim. By the way, it was 22.30. It's been a hard day's night...
The Rhine is beautiful. Even more, if there is a side way running alongside. You don't even need any map or GPS, you can just take the road leading you to the endless horizon.
Yes yes, that's fine, if it works. But you cannot forget about the fact, that I was in the ugliest state Baden-Württemberg. Actually, you can finde some websites where it is explained how to drive along the Rhine and it's said to be quite easy to follow the signs. Probably it is easy if you know where to go in the next 30 km. I think these signs were not meant to be employed by those who have the intention to drive more than 120 km. Therefore you can never find the name of the city you are heading for. The real problem in this case is I think that this rhine cycle route is not uniquely defined (which means it contains two parallel cycle ways in some areas.) i.e. it is quite possible, especially if you have no idea of which places you have to pass and you cannot serve your map at your order.
Anyway, I could again have a sunny day which does not necessarily exist in Germany throughout an year. I didn't really think of the fact that I need to go to the next city sometime in near future.
The real emotion missing until here arose when I was in Karlsruhe. It was already 5 p.m. and I turned on my GPS and Google maps to get to Strasbourg... 75 km.
You know, there are things, which are impossible, possible and theoretically possible. I know that under my best conditions I could cover 20 km/h. And if I'd like to be in Strasbourg until 10 p.m. mathematically it is possible. But who in the world would be would like to be on bike 80 percent of 5 h with his maximal velocity in direction of the fount of Rhine? In fact it doesn't matter anymore if you'd like to do it or not, you must go and the discussion is simply over.
Rhine is not that precipitous. But if it continues 60 km, it looks a little bit different.
At the beginning of dawn I reached the border France-Germany and I had to ask passersby there which way to take to go to Strasbourg. The reaction was constantly fine. "What? You want to go to Strasbourg today? The train station is there." No I'm heading for there by bike. I met even an old man without teeth who spoke three languages. The problem is that if you don't have teeth it is quite hard to understand and if you cannot choose one language it gets even harder. This guy even tried to tell me a story which didn't have anything to do with my trip and believing it was very important I stopped there and listened to him. ditzy...
Have you ever been to the border between France and Germany? It's pretty interesting to see which language they speak. As you probably already know, the Rhine directly defines the border. So I spoke to the passersby on both sides. Actually, on the French side, you see German and vise versa. Are they feeling to be travelling in a foreign country? I'd also be able to be content by going 20 m to feel like an explorer.
There was also an old woman who highly admired my trip and wanted to know where I started:
I'm still wondering if there's any phonetical similarity between "America" and Göttingen & how it was ever possible to think there's a human being coming by bike from another continent which is situated about 5000 km away with the Atlantic in between.
Well, this all didn't have so much meaning at this point. I just had to cycle endlessly to get to the youth hostel as it was supposedly open until 10 p.m. The sky is getting darker and darker. Since this is a kind of relocation the amount (20 kg) of luggage is not negligible, particularly if you are going upwards along a river. It gets even better if you sometimes lose your way. Finally, I arrived in Strasbourg around 11 p.m. The youth hostel was open 24 h a day. Where's my effort.
Of course Strasbourg is in France, but you can better listen to the German radio than French. I hope it isn't a German propaganda... Anyway, it still feels like Germany. A small problem arising was that the streets are not well constructed in France, anyway not beter than in Germany. I think it is normally not necessary to consider but when you'd be cycling all day long, the fatigue at the end of the day is not quite little. I hope my bycicle survives the journey. I thought the weather is always fine in France, or at least the exchange students from France I met in Göttingen told me a story like this. I could hardly affirm it by myself.
There was no internet connection at the youth hostel. I asked the cool guy at the reception where to get a hot spot in France. He told me quite everywhere. At least at all fast food chains found everywhere in France, like McDonalds or Subway. It is not really the case in Germany. It looks like it is better infrastructured in France. At the McDonalds I found directly at the market place in the middle of Strasbourg I got an internet connection, at the cost of being incapable of choosing what to take around 10 min... The old man sitting next to me spoke German as well. Strasbourg is boring in this sense. I left then this city, even if I get out of it exactly from the other side.
I wanted to move a little bit slowlier after arriving in France, so I decided to go to Mulhouse today, which is located about 100 km from Strasbourg.
It didn't start at this very moment, but GPS didn't work so well here. It showed me so many places I could hardly move my bike. Besides, the surface of this nation has proved to be twice as much as that of Japan and the whole population is concentrated in the great capital, Paris, which of course means after leaving one village, the next one can be found after an endless cycling in the middle of nothing. Even if there is a village, it often consists of just 10 houses, which doesn't help so much. Schools for such villages were pretty interesting. They sometimes look like an ancient building from the Soviet Union. I wish nobody from France would ever read this text.
There was not so much to tell today. I arrived in Mulhouse around 8 p.m. The guy at the reception got even cooler. He told me how to get to Besançon tomorrow. Mulhouse was a kind of city German would never be able to realize. I find it is a kind of city which really represents the French aesthetics. The trams and the bikes to rent are something which I hope would someday be realized in major cities.
The nice guy at the reception was not there anymore this morning. The substitution was a really unkind charlady who reluctantly gave me the third bowl of muesli. She looked so reluctant to open the garage in which was my bike.
My body was extremely aching but I think my bike was in even worse conditions at the moment.
By the way, what kind of journey are you actually imaging? You see a endless street with a burning sun in the bluest sky ever? The background can perhaps vary according to your imagination, but I think one thing is common in your head: a concrete street. Certainly, in most of the cases I could fortunately have such an asphalted street, but in reality, since the google maps is yet in beta-version and it is not meant to be used by cyclists, I've got some paths like this:
To be really honest, this landscape (if I would ever call it like this) continues sometimes about 5 km, where it is hardly possible to go forward with 5 km/h. In worse cases there is a straight country road but the way given by google maps avoid it by tracing a C. I wouldn't be surprised if I'd got a malady by a tick.
I don't know why but it's been raining all the time from the beginning of France. It can be overcome but my cellphone is starting to be ruined by the water. I'm wondering if it survives until the end of the tour.
Perhaps it's because I was just near Switzerland, anyway it is not flat anymore. In addition to this condition I have now unasphalted roads in the middle of the rain. I don't know anymore why I wanted to cycle to Lyon...
For those who are not studying physics it's just a sign at the side of a road, but I found a village called Lagrange. Lagrange was the founer of the Lagrangian mechanics from Italy in 18th century. In fact his name was originally Lagrangia but since it was seen as nobler to have a French name he changed his name into a French one. Actually the word "la grange" does exist in French and it means "barn"... Barn mechanics...
Besançon was not a kind of nice city I was expecting (or I was told to be). The buildings were somewhat gray and monotone. I think Berlin was a little bit like this directly after the fall of the wall.
There is no official youth hostel in Besançon but there was an institution belonging to the FUAJ (Fédération unie des auberges de jeunesse) and even if it costs a little bit more, the accomodation was ideal. It was the first time since the beginning of the tour that I had my own room with high speed wi-fi connection. It was rather a hotel than a hostel. 25 euros for this is not bad.
The service of the youth hostel was not bad but perhaps the breakfast could have been a little bit better. It was namely not an all you can eat. Besides the food preparer was quite unkind, even if he wished me a good courage with smiling after the breakfast.
So the final day. It's getting more and more stressful to write this diary but I'd do it as last spurt. Actually, I wanted to go to Bourg-en-Bresse until this morning but this youth hostel didn't have starting time for the breakfast, so it didn't matter when to come to the breakfast unless it is later than 11. Therefore I got up at 6 and departed immediately after the breakfast. The distance is more than 200 km but this is the small rest of the long journey. Bon courage!!
Of course it doesn't end up like this, as it didn't even start, since it was storming outdoor. There were so many French in Göttingen who declared that it never rains in France. I'll condamn you all boys. I didn't have anything like cagoule against the rain and of course I cannot hold an umbrella until Lyon, so I decided to get through, hoping it will stop anywhere on the way.
Actually it stopped raining sporadically but in all it rained almost all the time. This was not really a problem but the real issue was the fact that my cellphone was apparently starting to get invaded by water. Hm, what am I to do.
The disaster arrived about 1 p.m. I was on an ever-accessed cliffy road in the middle of a dark forest in a hard rain. Normally, a cellphone goes into a sleep mode when it is not used, but mine didn't do it anymore. I was just wondering what was going on but I didn't do anything, only to see it having died some minutes later without emitting a peep. No reaction, nothing anymore. Literally in the middle of a large forest, there is of course nobody in the near. The situation was radically different than in Frankfurt. No map no GPS. All I had was my memory and my little compass, both of which I was not really confident in. Actually I passed over a bridge and I saw rails beneath it about an hour before. If I get back there there will certainly be a station in the near. Game over and give up?
You must be exceptionally stupid to think "hm, ok it's perhaps not so important". Yes, I knew it but my intuition told me the direction. At least I am capable of some French. I would perhaps be able to get some information in then next city. With this thought I continued to go forward and saw an extremely beautiful city on a still cliffy mountain. The rain was slightly lessened and you could see a rays of sun from slits of clouds. Alice was certainly not more surprised than I as she was in the wonder land. The village was called "Chateau Chalon". My notion was for sure biased by my depression and resignedness but I found it so beautiful that it was really a pity that my camera didn't work anymore since it is simultaneously my cellphone. At the tourist information I tried to ask where to go to go to Lyon. At this point the distance was not less than 100 km. I was expecting a damnly surprised expression of a nice guy working at this tourist information. "Lyon? Take the main street right there and you'll see it." This was the moment I became acquainted with the real circumstances having been surrounding me.
It turned out later that it is not so hard to go to a city from an other in France if you take the right way. Especially when you take roads beginning with the letter D. I was entirely dependent on GPS resulting becoming completely blind of this fact.
It is still not really flat but I don't need to think of where to go so I just boosted with about 24 km/h on average. Around 6 p.m. I arrived in Bourg-en-Bresse and I immediately went to a McDonald's to check the way to Lyon, ordering two portions of Mc menu. After this break I really got tired but Lyon is right there. Go Ahead!
Midnight revealed itself. I was directly in front of Lyon. My fortune seemed to expire as I couldn't find the way anymore. I called my friend Eduard to ask him for a guide. Scarcely helpful. So I asked some local residents there. In fact, it was a kind of small party and they were somewhat drunk, but at least there was one single person who was still enough reasonable to explain me the way to Lyon and even kindly printed out the description there. While printing the others gave me something to eat and some wine. No, wine comes first when I arrived in Lyon! Besides the reception of the youth hostel would be closed after 1 a.m.
Have you ever been to Hakodate, Hokkaido? Unfortunately I am still Japanese and I cannot explain the landscape otherwise. Anyway I was once there with my family and from the rope way I admired the grand view of Hakodate in the night. This view has been reproduced after tens of years ago here in Lyon in my brain. Lyon, which is so to speak situated in the valley presents a admirable night view. Oh my dear, I'd live here for one year...
After descending the mountain and asking the people there about the location of the youth hostel, I saw 1 a.m. was already passed. Game over, passed in my brain but I called it anyway. It turned out they were nice enough to say me it doesn't matter when I arrive. With little energy remaining in my body I drived to the youth hostel, which was on a slope of about 20 degrees. It was 1:30 a.m.
This was so far the story of my 6-day-trip to Lyon. The very next day of the arrival I could luckily find my new flat and two days later, my dear friend Eduard, who was by the way totally inspired by my trip, declares a trip to Lyon from Angers by bike, only to give up some time later. In fact, in the first 5 days, or especially until the point where my cellphone died, I really thought of giving up not only few times. Nevertheless I continued to go forward and the next morning new vital energy was somewhat there again. The whole trip was actually simply the reiteration of this cycle. In practice, the distance to Lyon was more than written in number and the reality presented a real battle with the power of the will. In the first place, the fact that you don't know what is expecting you after the next corner and you don't know whether you can arrive at your next destination burns you up much more than you think, what especially makes your mental hurdle higher. In this sense, I would like to express my gratitude towards you all and those, who supported me mentally and who helped me on the way without even knowing who I am. Thank you very much.