Friday, 9 August 2013

WiFi on a Rainy Day

Say what you might about Starbucks, but on foreign travels they have (nearly) universal free toilets, a place to get out of the rain, yummy cinnamon buns without raisins (in Germany... Curse the evil British raisin fetish!) and free WiFi. I'm having a rest day today in Munich, staying with Mike and his absolutely lovely (and English speaking) mother. I've just about lost track of when I left, just over a week ago. Had a slightly epic train trip across Europe with Carlos, which included pushing my bike across Paris in nearly 100 degree heat. I have to say, Paris's when it is very hot just smells like pee. I suppose it probably always smells like pee, but it is just more noticeable when it is hot. Oui oui... Had to disassemble the bike in Paris for the train to Zurich, which is always a delight. Put it back together at the Zurich train station. 15 minutes to disassemble, 25 to reassemble. A new world record. Zurich was also boiling hot. That seemed somehow wrong. We met with Avi, walked around, had the very traditional Swiss dinner of kebabs, watched quite a lot of fireworks go off for Swiss National Day and had a drink at a slightly sad gay bar called Cranberry.

Next morning... Gym (it was free with the hotel), then met up with David and Robin, who had taken the early train from Munich. Robin was very sensibly dressed in lederhosen shorts, with suspenders, that he could just about shimmy his ass into. When I queried this slightly odd clothing choice, he said that it wasn't unusual for people to wear this sort of thing in Bavaria. I did pont out that we weren't in Bavaria. And, in fact, as I sit here and type this, in Bavaria, not a single person has come into this Starbucks wearing lederhosen. Clearly I chose the wrong Starbucks. No matter. We walked around boiling hot Zurich, stopping at various Starbucks (do I detect a theme?) then caught the late afternoon train to Goschenen, a pretty seriously dinkydoo town way up in the Alps.

In Goschenen, we had rented out a 3 bedroom apartment, conveniently next to the very prominently placed Catholic church. The church had a big tower with a big bell that proclaimed the glory of God every 15 minutes, most especially at 7am, when there was quite a lot of glory. Glory is very interruptive to those of us when are light sleepers. Anyway, Ben and Justin were staying at the hotel down the street. We all met up for a very expensive and very mediocre dinner, followed by a fair amount of sometimes boisterous alcohol consumption and my 2nd bday cake (a Swiss roll) in our living room. I do hope our neighbours in that very small and very quiet town where you could hear the person down the street sneezing enjoyed that as much as we did.

The following day, Kathleen travelled over from Bern and we spent the day hiking up the valley to a reservoir with a stupendous view of glaciers. Or, rather, some hiked and some wandered. There were interesting plants, rocks, photo opps, any number of reasons to dawdle. One person, who shall remain nameless, showed up to walk with a Tesco bag, this being his first time. And you know what, it was fantastic. We made it to the top, marvelled at the industrious Swiss people cutting hay on the dam and had cake and coffee (or beer) at the restaurant by the bus stop at the top of the climb. Switzerland is great, if slightly weird and rigged to explode in case of invasion.

The following day was a hike I organised, meaning straight up to the top of a mountain. We took two trains up a very inclined track to Oberalp  Pass and from there set off up the side of a mountain. There may have been some minor whining about this, but I think all were pleased by the view from the top. Ben and I continued the rest of the way to the tippy top. It was there and needed to be climbed. We were rewarded for our efforts by a magnificent view, a lot of sheep shit and a hikers' cabin. Dinner that night was back down the hill in Andermatt, followed by packing and general hanging out.

I set off the next day on my big bike adventure, late and a little reluctantly. It felt kind of weird setting off on my own when I had just spent the past few days surrounded by people. I'd never actually felt that before, setting off on my bike. So I pedalled off. Up and up and up, back to Oberalp and then a screaming descent down the other side, into Romansh speaking country. Gorgeous scenery, too much traffic and too much heat. After another very long climb and flying descent, I ended up in German speaking Chur, a pleasant small city on one of the main transport routes through the Alps.

The following day, gym followed by a search for a USB connector dingus followed by lunch followed by cycling. It was very hot again and I started late. I followed the valley north, passing through cornfields walled in on both sides by mountain walls. Sort of like heading towards Palm Springs from LA except with trees and corn. And heat. God was it hot. I passed the border fortifications protecting Switzerland from invasion by Liechtenstein, and spent about two hours cycling the length of that very small and fairly boring little country. I did stop for ice cream in Vaduz. It was yummy. Then Austria and east, back into the mountains. Insanely beautiful and full of, well, Austrian stuff mostly. I was particularly grateful for the very traditional Spar supermarket, where I could fill up on the traditional fare of water and Powerade and salami and junk food. I had to stop about 10 miles short that night, in Fontenella. It was getting dark, there was a big thunderstorm brewing and it was still 3 miles to the pass. Not good. That has been the only time so far I actually felt afraid. First hotel. Nothing. Second hotel. Nothing. Finally, a b and b run by a little old lady who spoke no English, occupied entirely by older, German speaking couples. A tiny little short bed, shared bathroom and €28 cash. Perfect. Traditional Austrian pizza dinner at the only restaurant in town. Also perfect.

The next day. Cooler. A three mike climb. A seven mile screaming descent. An 11 mile climb. Oh God. Another screaming descent. Then gradually down, down, down, through a deep, flat bottomed glacial valley lined with pretty  towns and fields. Ice cream and coffee. More down. Reminds me a lot of the area around Banff, except with farms. The forest changes. Spruce to fir to pine to hardwood. Smooth gorgeous roads. Why can't Britain have smooth gorgeous roads? Honestly! Buenvenidos a Deutschland (or something in German). I stay in a cheap little hotel with a balcony and an amazing view up to Neuschwanstein castle, the slightly OTT inspiration for Hogwarts and Disneyland. Dinner is goulash and pork and dumpling and sauerkraut. Moo.

Next day. Obligatory touristing around the castle (but not in, too crowded) with most of the population of Japan. Bus pulls up. Crowd pours out. Click click click click! They are a strange bunch. Bratwurst on a roll for my morning snack. A late start again. Supermarket for provisions. Then it's adios Alps. Off into the rolling farm country of Bavaria. And traffic. Good God was there a lot of traffic! An evening slog in the failing light into the rather functional looking suburbs of Munich. Oh was I glad to get here and glad for a break. Happy to see Mike and to meet his mother. And now I'm here. The rain has eased a bit and I have to pee. Until the next WiFi...

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