MY BICYCLE DIARIES - CYCLING THE ALSACE REGION 3/4


MY BICYCLE DIARIES: CYCLING ALSACE FROM NORTH TO SOUTH 3/4

FROM SÉLESTAT TO ALGOLSHEIM VIA SIGOLSHEIM


TABLE OF CONTENTS:

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 the first episode, I told you about my journey from Wissembourg to Strasbourg via the thermal baths of Baden-Baden in Germany. In the previous episode, I spent my first two days on the Wine Route, with this feeling that Alsace was definitely a region of tales and legends with its pretty little coloured houses, Gertwiller’s gingerbread house and Andlau’s witch tower. However, I ended up spending the night in a hotel in Sélestat, completely lost and down after my Couchsurfing host stood me up…

(Lis cet article en Français, bébé!)




DAY 5: 29 KM

SÉLESTAT – ORSCWHILLER – RIBEAUVILLÉ – HUNAWIHR – RIQUEWIHR – KIENTZHEIM – SIGOLSHEIM




In the end, my night was very relaxing. The hotel’s bed was as comfy as a fluffy cloud and the ladies at the reception desk made me smile this morning with their cheering. They seemed genuinely admirative of my journey and it feels good sometimes to remember why I got on my bike to travel Alsace (because 1. Why not? And because 2. I feel like doing quite a few little crazy things in my life before I die). I ate as much as I could at the hotel’s breakfast buffet and even put a few snacks in my pockets for lunch. I feel definitely more serene and energetic this morning to go back on the road.



Today the weather alternates between sunny and rainy, and I’m really glad I brought my rain jacket with me (which is way more comfortable than my poncho) and that I borrowed my friend Kumi’s rain pants. This is again a day filled with ups and downs the vineyard’s hills and I had to push my bike a few times, especially between Ribeauvillé and Riquewihr, as my legs seemed incapable of carrying us, Vélociraptor, my luggage and me. The downhills are incredible though, I sometimes laugh out loud, feeling like flying through the vineyards! It feels almost as good as a rollercoaster!

After Orschwiller, the village below the famous Haut-Koenigsbourg medieval castle, I cross the border between the Bas-Rhin and Haut-Rhin departments. I sometimes stray from the Eurovelo 5 route because I miss the signs and find myself on roads with cars. I don’t feel so safe then, and the muffler’s smoke on my face is unbearable.



I then arrive at Ribeauvillé under the rain, right after getting my tires inflated at the cycle shop Ribocycles (that I highly recommend since the guys working there are super nice and helpful!) ad when I reach downtown… WOW! That place is so damn pretty with the narrow cobbled streets, the coloured houses, the flowers, the medieval towers, and the coloured tiles on the church’s rooftop drawing an elaborated mosaic… I now understand why this place is so touristic! There are many little shops, a medieval bakery with giant loaves of bread, and a local cheese factory where I’m buying some Ribeaupierre and Fenugrec (those are local cheese) to share with my friend Laure who will be hosting me tonight. Since I started cycling on the Wine Route, I encounter many cats, in the vineyards, in the cobbled streets, at the timbered houses’ windows, and Ribeauvillé is no exception: there are cats everywhere!



I keep on cycling until Hunawihr, a small winemaker’s village located on a gentle slope and I take lunch in the vineyard nearby between two rainfalls. As I stole some cheese from this morning buffet at the hotel, my lunch is amazing! I see many foreigners and tourists hiking or cycling around here, the place is indeed charming. The vineyard is also inviting to laziness and I can’t help but take a nap before it starts raining again.



There’s a little forest just before the town of Riquewihr, and the road winds down a slope through the trees, I do feel like flying… And then, right after the forest, there are the ramparts of Riquewihr: WOW (bis)! Riquewihr is a medieval town surrounded by ramparts, it’s a little jewel full of tourists and cameras… There are many touristic shops and restaurants, coffee shops way too expensive for my travel budget. Luckily, there are also small workshops and wine cellars in the small streets around the main street. I do treat myself with some “vin nouveau” (the new wine, just before it’s fermented), it’s the first time I taste some and find it delicious! I’m tempted to take another glass, but I’d better avoid being drunk on my bicycle – especially if I’m riding slopes.



I then reach the charming little town with ramparts of Kientzheim, and right after I reach my friend Laure’s town, Sigolsheim. We spend a lovely evening together, wine tasting in her favourite cellar, then chilling in the bubble baths of the Ribeauvillé Spa (Yes, I obviously decided to make this cycling adventure a bubbly adventure as well!) Since I have some sore spots on my shoulders and legs, the heavy water jets feel like heaven. It’s even possible to get a face scrub in the hammam and there’s ice to cool down and close the skin pores. We bath until 21h30 then come back to her home for a nice dinner: a salad with a fried egg, the cheese I brought back and the mooncake I especially bought for the occasion. It was the Mid-Autumn Festival in the Chinese diaspora not so long ago, and Laure came to visit me in Taiwan for two weeks back in 2017 and since she enjoyed the food there almost as much as me, I wanted to make her discover those traditional sweets.


“I drink too much coffee and think of you often, In a city where reality has long been forgotten, And are you afraid? ‘Cause I’m terrified, But you remind me that it’s such a wonderful thing to love…” (Patricia, Florence + the Machine)


This evening is so soothing and perfect. I know Laure since University, we were both studying French Literature back then. However, we haven’t been as close as the past few years! Some travels made us grow closer (we travelled in Spain, Croatia and Denmark together), and her coming to Taiwan was such an important pillar in the building of our friendship. I felt like she fell in love with that little island as much as I did, and I was delighted to welcome her into my nomadic life. Over there, we opened ourselves up to each other, with a lot of honesty and authenticity, et a good amount of laughs. Knowing that she’s here with me, right now, is comforting. Her cheering and advice are very precious to me.



DAY 6: 34 KM

SIGOLSHEIM – COLMAR – NEUF BRISACH – ALGOLSHEIM



I took a very long breakfast with Laure this morning! We chatted for a while, we took our time, enjoyed our time together… I ended up leaving around 10h30, reluctantly. Lucky for me, I’m not supposed to cycle too much today, I’m leaving the Wine Route. I cross orchards -all fenced- until Colmar.



I see my friend Guido again, at his workplace this time: he settled his office in his parent’s basement. As he’s a Playmobil retailer, there are toys boxes from the ground to the ceiling! We chat about the good old days when we used to work at Virgin when he was manager of the DVD department. We talk about movies, as we’re both ultimate fans of science fiction and fantasy movies. In the city centre of Colmar, I pay a visit to my friend Quentin, who’s working in a travel agency. We used to be classmates in Colmar in 2014-2015 when I went back to school after my redundancy at Virgin to learn how to be a travel agent. Along with Quentin and other classmates, we still meet from time to time to talk about travels and party in Wine Festivals. I love hanging out with them and how silly and funny it always is. I take my lunch on a bench in front of his travel agency while he tells me about his heartbreak and work issues…

Before leaving Colmar, I make a quick detour to see the Little Venice (La Petite Venise), a very emblematic and touristic place, which you can see on every postcard. It’s called that way because the traditional colourful houses seem to be built on the canal. It’s picturesque, it’s flowery, it’s pretty, I love this place! But now is the time to start cycling to Neuf-Brisach.



I would have been willing to stay on the beautiful Wine Route, but I was curious to see Neuf-Brisach. It’s a star-shaped fortified city, listed as UNESCO World Heritage, built by Vauban. All around the fortifications, there are some art installations, and since 2018, there’s even a Street Art Museum settled inside the fortifications. International renowned artists painted on this city historical walls, in an ancient German hospital. The artworks are displayed in gigantic rooms, the museum is colourful, original, innovative… It’s unusual and peculiar. I linger there for a good hour, first with the guided tour led by a young kid, maybe the son of the owners, who know every room, every artist who painted there and every story by heart. Then, I stroll around the museum on my own, taking my time to check on every detail of those monumental artworks.



“Finally, his language touches me because he talks to that part of us which insists on drawing profiles on prison walls. In that moment, poetry will be made by everyone…” (West Rider Silver Bullet, Kasabian)



It makes me arrive a bit late in Algolsheim, at my Warmshowers host’s place (Warmshowers is like Couchsurfing but for people travelling by bicycle), Mario, a thirty-year-old German. I receive a cold reception, he seems quite angry about my late arrival, even though I sent him a message to notice him about it. He laughs at me when I confess I’m vegetarian, he tells me it’s too bad because he wanted to eat sausages for dinner… Except that, me being vegetarian shouldn’t prevent him from eating whatever he wants to, I tell him, and I can cook for myself if needed. This first encounter is completely killing my good mood, and I start to feel rather uncomfortable by his welcome. I even start listing my getting-the-hell-out-of-here options in case the evening would get worse (I always have some running away options, since I already had bad experiences with Couchsurfing hosts).



He leaves for grocery shopping, his face still looking upset and annoyed. I take a shower while he’s away, and I finally end up making him smile when he comes back, and I start cooking with him. The atmosphere gets lighter, bit by bit, veggie after veggie, while I’m helping him cooking the dinner and start talking and get to know him better. I even manage to make him laugh with some of my backpacking stories! He comes from the South of Berlin and used to work in the Lorraine region, in France, then he went back to work in Germany, close to the border, as an engineer. He makes a good living with his job, the house where he hosts me is his and it’s filled with all the stuff and furniture anyone could dream of (except for me, maybe?!) We eat a pumpkin gratin with bechamel sauce for dinner, and I realize that Mario is a very skilled cook! He’s also a bicycle aficionado, and he crossed a few countries in Central America with his bicycle. He tells me some of his travel stories as well. He goes cycling with his friend every week, and as a matter of fact, he’ll go cycling again the next day. In the room where I will be sleeping, there are a few photo albums of his adventures. We spend a very good evening talking, and in the end, we get along so well that a few months later I would invite him to my place for dinner. It seems that sometimes the first impressions aren’t the good ones. It actually takes a bit of time to grasp someone else’s personality and story. Sometimes we have to get through shells and fences.



As I’m going to bed that night in Mario’s big house, I realize it’s already been 6 days that I’m hitting the road with Velociraptor! Almost a full week. Two more days than when I cycled the East Coast of Taiwan. I already surpassed myself. I still have two more days to cycle, from Algolsheim to Huningue, then to my home, in Mulhouse.

8 days seems like nothing. 8 days feels like an eternity. Time stretches differently while travelling, for sure. And time elapses in another different way when cycling. Sometimes, time’s running out, the kilometres aren’t unfolding quickly enough to get to the night stop. There’s stress, the adrenalin, the roads that we eat ferociously like the breakfast buffet of the hotel Ibis in Sélestat. And some other times… the end of afternoon light seems to dance in slow motion with the vineyard… The brain stops in its haste, in its doubts, in its obsessions. It takes a break to breathe. To watch. Because beauty is fulfilling.

And isn’t why we’re always so eager to hit the road (again)? For those suspended moments, out of time, where we exist so little, but where we feel so alive?




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 routeshttps://www.cyclinginalsace.com/en
  • The Eurovelo website, offering maps of every Eurovelo routes as well as the points of interest: https://en.eurovelo.com/
  • The Street Art Museum Musée Mausa Vauban website, to prepare your visit: https://mausa.fr

MY BICYCLE DIARIES - CYCLING THE ALSACE REGION 3/4
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