MY BICYCLE DIARIES: CYCLING ALSACE FROM NORTH TO SOUTH 1/4
FROM WISSEMBOURG TO STRASBOURG VIA BADEN-BADEN
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
- DAY 1: WISSEMBOURG – BADEN BADEN
- DAY 2 : BADEN BADEN – STRASBOURG
- MY LUGGAGE FOR A WEEK RIDE
- RESOURCES & HELP FOR ITINERARIES BUILDING
Last year, end of September 2019, I cycled around my home region of Alsace (France) for a week. I started in Wissembourg, at the extreme north of the region, and cycled down to Basel in Switzerland. I cycled about 400km in total, on three different Eurovelo routes, I crossed two borders (Germany and Switzerland) and relaxed in three different spas along the way (because why not?) and, obviously, I experienced different weather conditions.
In 2018, I cycled the East Coast of Taiwan for 4 days, and that was something I’ve always thought impossible for someone like me. I’m no workout addict, I like cycling, but I definitely don’t have a lot of muscles in my legs when it comes to cycle uphill. Like when I first started hiking in New Zealand, I was an absolute newbie and I never ever pictured myself as someone up for those kinds of challenges in my previous life. But the truth is, my travels made me try out many different things I had never thought I’d be capable of. And after those 4 days on the roads of Taiwan with my bicycle, I wanted more.
How about discovering my own region? Alsace is worldwide famous for its Wine Route, for its proximity to the mountain Vosges, for its quaint traditional towns looking like fairy tales, for its borders with two countries. I decided to share my experiences, my tips, my notes and my thoughts about this trip. I’m always writing travel journals while travelling and this cycling trip made no exception. I barely edited my notes, which makes these bicycle diaries also very intimate. I hope you’ll enjoy reading them!
DAY ONE: 57KM
STRASBOURG – WISSEMBOURG (BY TRAIN) – LAUTERBOURG – DELTA DE LA SAUER – SELTZ – PLITTERSDORF (GERMANY) Crossing by Ferry Boat – IFFEZHEIM (GERMANY) – BADEN BADEN (GERMANY)
Today is the big day! Yesterday I left Mulhouse by train to go to Strasbourg so I was sure I could arrive in Wissembourg not too late the following morning. I was lucky some people helped me board my bicycle in the local train because my bicycle (named Velociraptor) is quite heavy, not to mention the two rear bags with all the supplies I’d need for my week on the roads. This stop in Strasbourg was a good occasion to spend the night at my friend Christel’s place. She used to work at Virgin Megastore with me, at the music department, which was just in front of the comic books department where I was working. I owe her some of the best musical discoveries of my life! She was laughing and teasing me when she asked if I was her “sexiest plan” for my nights in Strasbourg, but to be honest, I think there’s nothing sexier than meeting up with an old friend and telling each other stories while drinking tea the eve of an adventure.
I arrive in Wissembourg around 10 the next morning. It’s raining a little. I explore the city a little before taking off, and the city feels empty on that Monday morning. Wissembourg is one of the furthest north city of Alsace, in the Bas-Rhin region, and shares a border with the Rheinland-Pfaltz region in Germany. I think it’s pretty with its traditional Alsatian houses and its ramparts! I randomly stumble upon the Maison du Sel (the House of Salt), a remarkable old house which used to be a hospital as well as a salt storage house. Listed as a historic monument, it impresses me with its wavy rooflines on four levels.
I then take the Lauter Valley Cycling Route, which connects Wissembourg to Lauterbourg. The effort is warming me up, but my butt is already hurting. I made the mistake to let my cushioned seat cover on my bicycle yesterday and it rained last night. The cushion is now soaked, so it needs to dry up before I could put it back on my saddle. I’m cycling through forests, corn and wheat fields and there are gigantic snails on the road because of the rain. The routes seem to be pretty well indicated. As for Lauterbourg, it’s the most oriental city of France, right at the German border as well.
I’m now heading South and join the Eurovelo 15, a European cycling route also called Cycling Route of the Rhine River, which is 1 320km long and connects the source of the Rhine in Switzerland with Rotterdam in the Nederlands, right at its estuary with the North Sea. This Eurovelo crosses Alsace along the Rhine River, from Huningue in the South to Lauterbourg in the North.
However, the route from Lauterbourg to Munchausen is a straight line where there’s nothing. I put some music on to cheer me up. I stop close to Mothern to munch some rice cakes with some eggplant spread. As I was trying to pee, I got stung by nettles… I did really lose the habit of outdoor adventures since I came back to France!
I slowly make my way to the Sauer Delta, a zone of forests, swamps, and rainforests. The place is superb. There are a lot of swans, herons, and other water birds. The landscape is a bit unreal, quiet, wild. Verdant under the sun rays. It’s a protected natural reserve, with an important bird and amphibian population.
A little bit further, in Seltz, you can cross the Rhine by ferry. It’s a little boat for pedestrians, bicycles and cars which brings us to the German shore, in Plittersdorf. The crossing is free. The sun has finally made its appearance in the sky while we were crossing. I cycle along the Rhine on the German side, then on the countryside cycling paths before I finally reach my destination: Baden-Baden!
It’s been such a long time that I wanted to go to Baden-Baden! I lived in Strasbourg for 8 years and I’ve always heard them talk about that German city and its fabulous thermal spa but I never set foot there. The road goes uphill to reach the city centre and I cycle along the Oos River… The city unveils itself, one strike of pedal at a time. The buildings are all so pretty, and it reminds me of the thermal town of Karlovy Vary in Czech Republic. They’re both old thermal cities for (very) wealthy residents. I read that Baden-Baden has the highest rate of millionaires in Germany…
Anyway, I’m starving and I can’t afford anything fancy. So, I sit down at the Rivazza terrace right next to the Caracalla spa and order a big pizza. The waiters recognized my accent so they start to talk to me in French. I’m very lucky today because my Couchsurfing host for tonight, Benedikt, works at the thermal facility, and as his shift ends around 22h, I can wait for him… in the baths! For free! He hid a free ticket for me under a table in the entrance hall and I find this hide and seek game very funny.
The Caracalla Spa offers a bubble of relaxation and well being like only German spas can provide. There are jacuzzis, indoor and outdoor hot baths, saunas and hammams, and even outdoor Finnish saunas inside wooden cabins. I spend a lot of time there; I like the atmosphere and the wood smell. These few hours of relaxation are amazing after my first-day cycling. I wait for Benedikt to finish work and we go to his place cycling along the Lichtentaler Allee. We go through a pretty park that I already explored a bit on my arrival, but it’s dark now and I have the bad surprise to discover that my dynamo torch isn’t working… Lucky I brought my headtorch with me!
“I don’t know you super well, but I think you might be the same as me…” (Lorde, Homemade Dynamite)
Benedikt lives in a small house that he shares with the owner family. The garden is very cute, filled with chairs, fountains and a great mountain view that I would discover the next morning. There’s also a forest behind the house. Benedikt is 30 and it feels like we are alike. He travelled a lot, hitchhiked to Georgia, lived in Portugal. He’s looking for a home. It seems that he can’t really count on his family. He’s hosting a lot of Couchsurfers like me, as Baden-Baden is a very touristic city. Some of them left drawings on his kitchen wall. He also has a wall filled with postcards, he’s familiar with Postcrossing too. It makes me very happy to share the story of how I met Noriko and went to Japan for the first time. He tells me he’s been working in Caracalla for 8 months now and he likes it. He finally found a home, a place where he feels good, surrounded with friends and nice co-workers, living in a beautiful city with the forests and the mountains on his doorsteps. When we arrived, he cooked some tasty muesli with yoghurt, fruits, amaranth and a hot tea. We talk and play cards until 1h30 in the morning. I’m exhausted.
Benedikt is a lovely host, a bit shy and introverted, but full of kindness. I would have loved to share more stories with him, and I promised him I would be back to try out the other thermal facility of Friedrichbad (the ancient ones) and spend some time at the Frida Kahlo exhibition at the local museum. Spoiler: Covid-19 happened and I couldn’t go…
DAY 2: 66km
BADEN-BADEN (GERMANY) – SINZHEIM (GERMANY) – SCHIFTUNG (GERMANY) – GREFFERN (GERMANY) – KEHL (GERMANY) – STRASBOURG
This morning, Benedikt cooked an awesome breakfast: yoghurt, muesli, bananas, tahini toasts, black tea. I added “Merci” and “xié xié nī” on his kitchen wall, on top of other words in foreign languages. He insisted on me drawing something on his wall, so I drew mountains… I wanted to leave around 9h but it just felt so nice being there with him, talking, sharing, drawing. He gives me carrots for lunch, and I eventually ride down the Lichtentaler Allee around 10h. I keep on following the German cycling paths, as I do want to stay on this side of the Rhine River today.
I stumble upon a stall selling pumpkins and jams along the road at the entrance of a small village. I buy some jam for my future Couchsurfing host, in Heiligenstein. I then ride through forests and sunflower fields. I’m stealing one flower to put on my bike as a lucky charm. German people don’t really answer me when I happily tell them “Hallo!” or “Guten Tag!”. Maybe I look scary with my tangled hair. Along the cycling paths, there are orchards. Apple trees without fences. I stole an apple but I’m not sure I was allowed to do so.
At some point, I stop for lunch by a lake not far from the Rhine. It’s very quiet, I’m all alone. Except for a swan leering at my bread. I would like to stay here a bit longer, maybe take a nap, but I have to get to Kehl on time to see an old friend… And then the rain starts again! Let’s go, girl!
The route along the Rhine is boring again. As well as rainy and gravely. I have two sore points on my shoulders due to my bent position on my bike, and also because I seem to force a bit too much when I start again and go uphill. This gravel road along the Rhine feels like Hell to my shoulders. During a (way too) long straight line, I’m listening to Demain c’est loin (Tomorrow is far away) from an old French Hip-Hop band. I’ve always loved this song, and it lasts at least ten minutes. The song is accompanying me for more than 4 kilometres. Along the Rhine, there are those kinds of slides for gravels, going from quarries to boats. I greeted a man working on one of the slides when I rode under it.
“Je pense pas à demain, parce que demain c’est loin.” (“I don’t think about tomorrow, because tomorrow is far away.”) (Demain c’est loin, IAM)
As I’m arriving in Kehl, I meet my friend Guido, who used to work with me as well at Virgin. He was also the employee representative. He’s one of our strike team, with whom we started our little revolution. We haven’t seen each other for two or three years, we have so much to talk about! His hair is greyer, time just flies. Before heading back to Strasbourg, I buy some corn cakes and vegetarian spread at D&M. I’m thinking of going to Strasbourg by tram since this famous line crossing the German border was built when I was in Taiwan. But, as I’m helping two German ladies buying their tram tickets, I miss mine! The next one is in twenty minutes… there are some strikes today it seems. I already validated my ticket, so I wait. When the tramway shows up and I hop on, the driver’s voice resonates in the wagon: bicycles are not allowed from 17h to 19h. Crap. I lost my ticket AND my time.
I have no choice but to cycle to Strasbourg and Christel’s place, where the hot shower feels like heaven. Comfort is slowly flooding back in my veins. My friend Valentin is joining us with beers, cheese and chairs. How good it feels to be back with my friends from my Strasbourg’s life! Christel cooked seitan with biryani sauce and rice, there’s chocolate cake, plum compote. I feel so happy while we’re all sharing some old and new stories. I’m so exhausted when I go to bed, but I keep on smiling. Those friends were my home not that long ago. Sometimes I wonder why I decided to leave this home. They most probably asked themselves why the home they were offering me wasn’t enough, didn’t make me stay. If only they knew. They were (and still are) so important to my heart. Some sacrifices are heavier than others when it comes to saving your own life.
I’m swallowing the distances, but I don’t feel that much enlightened. I’m stressed out about my timing, I don’t handle well my ratio time/kilometres, and I sometimes would like so much to stop to enjoy the view… But I don’t. I swallow. I swallow the landscapes, I swallow the concrete roads, I swallow the gravel roads, the towns, and the rivers. But I’m not always enjoying it fully.
Most of my thoughts are busy with kilometres and timing: I’m not free yet, nor chill. Some other thoughts are coming in and out, imaginary conversations, memories I’m the only one to know about. I pay them a visit, they make me smile sometimes. I can’t wait for time to stretch more peacefully. I can’t wait to welcome the essential questions: where the fuck am I going? Where do I go from here? Alsace is a temporary destination, an illusory goal to hide the emptiness. The anxiety of a future I’m not yet ready to draw.
MY LUGGAGE FOR A WEEK RIDE:
In my handlebar bag:
- 1 MP3 Player (I know it seems like I’m coming from another age. Maybe I am.)
- 1 phone
- 1 camera
- 1 phone charger & 1 portable battery
- Credit card & cash
- My ID
- 1 pack of tissues
- 1 pair of bicycle gloves
- 1 scarf
- Some maps with the bicycle paths (from the Alsace à vélo website)
- Train schedules
- 1 flashlight
- 1 Swiss army knife
- 1 pair of sunglasses
- 2 cereal bars
In my rear bag n°1 – the “tool bag”:
- 1 rain pants
- 1 rain jacket
- 1 poncho
- 1 bicycle pump
- 1 pack of tire patches
- 1 head torch
- Some tools
- Some thread
- Some tape
- 1 cloth
- 1 pair of winter gloves
- 1 bottle of water
- 1 air chamber
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 bag of food (with grains, dried fruits, fresh fruits & veggies, corn & rice cakes, vegetarian spreads)
In my rear bag n°2 – the “clothes bag”:
- 1 microfiber towel
- 1 toiletry kit (with 1 solid soap, 1 solid shampoo, 1 hairbrush, 1 toothbrush, 1 toothpaste, Jojoba oil & washable pads)
- 1 pharmacy kit (with Tiger balm, Vaseline, menstrual cup, painkillers & band-aids)
- 1 e-reader full of books
- My travel journal
- Some markers & pens
- 1 pair of glasses
- 3 knickers
- 1 sports bra
- 1 bra
- 1 swimsuit
- 2 tank tops
- 2 leggings
- 1 pair of tights
- 1 short
- 1 skirt
- 1 jumper
- 2 long sleeves t-shirts
- 1 pyjama
- 3 pairs of socks
RESOURCES & HELP FOR ITINERARIES BUILDING:
- The Warmshowers website, a community of cyclists offering free accommodation and hot showers, a kind of Couchsurfing for the ones travelling by bike: https://fr.warmshowers.org/
- The Couchsurfing website, a community of travellers offering help and free accommodation (now the subscription isn’t free anymore, unfortunately): https://www.couchsurfing.com/
- The Alsace à vélo (Cycling in Alsace) website, offering itineraries, maps and cycling ideas for getaways in the Alsace region, as well as transborder routes: https://www.cyclinginalsace.com/en
- The Eurovelo website, offering maps of every Eurovelo routes as well as the points of interest: https://en.eurovelo.com/