MY BICYCLE DIARIES: CYCLING ALSACE FROM NORTH TO SOUTH 4/4
FROM ALGOLSHEIM TO MULHOUSE VIA HUNINGUE & BASEL
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
- READ THE FIRST EPISODE – DAYS 1 & 2 – FROM WISSEMBOURG TO STRASBOURG
- READ THE SECOND EPISODE – DAYS 3 & 4 – FROM STRASBOURG TO SÉLESTAT
- READ THE THIRD EPISODE – DAYS 5 & 6 – FROM SÉLESTAT TO ALGOLSHEIM
- DAY 7 : ALGOLSHEIM – HUNINGUE
- DAY 8 : HUNINGUE – MULHOUSE
- 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 the first episode, I told you about my journey from Wissembourg to Strasbourg via the thermal baths of Baden-Baden in Germany. In the second episode, I spent my first two days on the Wine Route, with this feeling that Alsace was definitely a region of tales and legends. In the previous episode, I kept riding through the Alsacian vineyards and ended up at the Street Art Museum of Neuf Brisach and then was hosted by a surprising German guy… In this last episode, I’m close to the finish line, even though I still have more than 100 km to cycle.
DAY 7: 57 KM
ALGOLSHEIM – OTTMARSHEIM – NIFFER – PETITE CAMARGUE ALSACIENNE – HUNINGUE – DREILAND BRÜCKE
I leave Algolsheim around 9 in the morning. Mario left me his keys so I could get ready at my own pace. On this sunny Sunday, he woke up early to go cycling with his friends. The view from his house is quite amazing in the morning, I enjoy one last cup of tea before hitting the road again. I have a bunch of kilometers to cycle today to reach my next stop, Huningue, a little city located in the south of Alsace, right at the borders with Switzerland and Germany.
The road from Algolsheim to Niffer is pretty boring: a succession of charmless villages. But what’s really annoying me is the wind. I’m cycling right against it, and it’s hard and exhausting. The road is finally flat though -I’m back on Eurovelo 15- but with that wind on my face… it feels like I’m riding 2km/h. I’m barely moving forward. My rear wheel seems bent, it keeps on getting stuck, especially when I’m passing on sidewalks. I have to stop very often to kick the wheel to put it right again! While doing so I even stuck my foot inside the wheel… Outch. I also came across the dead body of a barn owl this morning. I couldn’t see any injuries, maybe was it hit by a car? I stayed there, beside the body, for a few minutes. Both fascinated and startled. Its plumage is so pretty. I have never seen an owl up close.
This part of the Southern Alsace, not far from the Rhine, is very agricultural: I’m riding along the corn fields, wheat fields, soy fields. And I discover that the soy pods are very hairy! In those moments, I realize how little I know about rural life. I’m such a city girl in the end. It doesn’t matter much whether I’m a town girl or a country girl, nothing is making me happier than a nice landscape. Like the one I’m finally finding around the little town of Niffer, where I’m getting reunited with my old friend the Rhine River. This stroll is way more bucolic than the one I did a few days ago in the Northern part of Alsace.
Then, I ride through La Petite Camargue Alsacienne, along the Huningue Canal. I’ve had heard about this place so many times before but never got the occasion to go. It’s a national nature reserve, the first protected natural reserve of Alsace, since 1982. This reserve is protecting a wide range of natural habitats (swamps, forests, wet grasslands, dry grass, etc.) for many plants and animals (dragonflies, snakes, birds, fish, etc.) There’s a photo exhibition along the canal displaying beautiful pictures of the local fauna. I’m really enjoying this place, it’s a great sunny ride, peaceful, even though, as it’s Sunday today, it’s a bit crowded. Reaching the town of Huningue, the canal becomes the Parc des Eaux Vives (the Whitewater Park), with some rapids for kayaking or canoeing. I watch the people playing in the water, with a rising feeling of envy. The weather is so great that I would love to remove all my sweaty clothes and dive into the water!
And then, here I am! I’m at the Three Borders, right at the borders between France, Germany, and Switzerland! I’m too exhausted to go exploring Basel, so I decide to take a nap in a park just along the Rhine, on the German side. Here, you just have to cross the Three Borders Bridge (Dreilanderbrücke) to change country. That’s what I always liked in my native region, this proximity with borders, other countries, cultures, languages, and culinary experiences. By dint of living in Alsace, I often didn’t measure my chance. It was normal for me to take the bus from Strasbourg to Kehl in Germany just to buy cigarettes, eat ice creams or go grocery shopping. As a kid, it didn’t feel extraordinary to go to Basel’s zoo in Switzerland and spend entire days in the Baden-Württemberg’s swimming pools. There was nothing unusual for me, my friends, and my family in spending a few summer days having fun in Europa Park (a huge attraction park, located in Rust, Germany). But when I casually mentioned these stories to my friends from Japan, New Zealand, and Taiwan, it was always fascinating for them, this easiness to cross borders, to go to another country. For islanders, there would always be boats, planes, and journeys to go abroad. Since I came back, I tend to be more grateful for those border-crossing experiences, and I expect to make the most of it! (Spoiler: Since then, Covid-19 happened and it’s not that easy to cross borders anymore…)
I soak up the German sun, waiting for my friend Anthony to come back from his Sunday lunch at his father’s. He’s also a former travel agent student, like Quentin, and every time we meet, we’re getting wraps with falafels. It’s like a tradition for us, and the ones in Huningue are both delicious and cheap. He’s the one hosting me tonight.
Unfortunately, the restaurant is closed on Sundays so I’m going for a vegetarian pizza instead. I’m so hungry after this day wrestling against the wind! The waiter serves me free pieces of pizza while I’m waiting, which is adorable and taming my roaring belly. In the end, Anthony and his girlfriend won’t eat with me because they spent the day eating at Anthony’s father (that’s usually how it goes in family reunions in France!) We play some card games, where we have to find as many words as possible for a specific theme. We’re doing good when it comes to finding countries and capital cities names as we are all into traveling. Anthony and Cindy are actually preparing a big journey in Latin America for the end of the year!
The other reason why I wanted to reach Huningue that day (besides catching up with Anthony and eating wraps with falafels of course) was because I had to go to a gig in Basel that night. I’m working for the Cultures Sauvages radio show and I’m on air every month, telling a chronicle about my travels. My friend Antoine, who’s also one of the founders of the organization, picks me up to go to the Renée’s Bar to see The Third Sound playing their last album live, All Tomorrow’s Shadows. He’s going to interview the band for his music chronicle, and he needs me to translate his questions to the lead singer, an Icelandic guy living in Berlin. The singer is quite shy, vague in his replies, but I’m happy to meet him and listen to his vision about music. He’s more expressive when he sings, though! I enjoyed their music so much: it was so atmospheric! I feel high, and maybe it’s because I’m so exhausted that the glass I drunk made me tipsy right away. Anyway, I’m feeling great and happy in this alternative pub: an entire wall is decorated with peacock feathers. Basel feels a bit like Berlin sometimes. I dance and I feel light as a feather, I don’t feel my sore muscles anymore, I go with the music flow. I’m at the eve of the last day of my journey and I start to feel this specific euphoria of the finish line slowly rising in my spine.
You can listen to Hákon Aðalsteinsson’s interview right here (as well as my lovely English accent) right here:
DAY 8: 49,1 KM
HUNINGUE – BASEL – SAINT LOUIS – PETITE CAMARGUE – NIFFER – MULHOUSE
Hello last day! I leave Huningue at the same time as Cindy and Anthony this morning, around 8h45. They both work in Basel, for a car rental company. I left them some Couchsurfing goodies and a few origamis on the living room table. Before heading back to Mulhouse, I feel like cycling to Basel, along the Rhine first, then in the old town. There’s a great view from the Cathedral, to see all the old houses aligned along the Rhine. When in Basel I like to spot the Basilic statues, half rooster – half snake. This mythical creature is part of Basel’s coat of arms, gate, and water keeper. They used to be more than thirty fountains with Basilic statues, created by the Swiss architect Wilhelm Bubeck in the 1880s. They are all directed towards the Rhine. As years went by, some of them were donated to foreign cities, especially in Alsace and Germany. We have a beautiful one in Mulhouse, not far from the city centre that I like to greet some days, especially when it’s snowing.
I like strolling around Basel. The architecture, the atmosphere are so different from Mulhouse or even Strasbourg. There are a lot of museums here (like the Guggenheim or the Tinguely museum), some awesome parks (the Merian Garten is stunning!), and some crazy parties and concerts! Unfortunately, life in Switzerland is way too expensive for me (a Bretzel is almost double priced) so with Anthony and our friends, we sometimes put our own drinks in our backpacks before going to a party in Basel.
I come back to France and cycle through Saint-Louis before returning to the Petite Camargue Alsacienne where I take my time to wander in the forest. There are some pedestrian tracks here that I would like to explore but I couldn’t go far with Velociraptor as some parts of the tracks were flooded. I have to turn around when the track turns into a narrow wooden plank across a big puddle. I’m still leaving the place with an impression of an enchanted forest that doesn’t allow you to uncover it that easily.
I then turn to reach the Eurovelo 6, a 4 450km cycling path that links the Atlantic Ocean and the Black Sea, from France to Romania. In Alsace, it’s passing through Huningue and Mulhouse, then crossing the Sundgau region (South of Alsace) towards Belfort. Around Niffer, the Huningue Canal turns into the Rhône to Rhine canal, a canal joining the two rivers together. This portion of the path is already familiar to me since I already cycled this road some afternoons when I was exploring the cycling paths around Mulhouse. This familiarity is making my come-back to Mulhouse even more tangible. I’m postponing the arrival. I take a break by the water, in Rixheim, really close to Mulhouse, really close to the city, really close to my home. I put the music on. I try to relax my muscles. I read. I’m not yet ready to come back home.
I’m not ready to be asked for, solicited, and productive. My phone was off most of the time, I only used it as a GPS and to get in touch with the people who were hosting me and to reassure a pair of friends about my trip. I put my e-mails, messages, work, studies, organizations on hold, and this journey allowed me to focus (mostly) on the present, the road, and manage my time more or less the way I wanted to. Last night, Antoine was telling me about our next radio shows, the chronicles I should write, the conference with the French author Jeanne Benameur at the bookshop I used to work at, and for which I accepted to make a public reading. And while he was telling me about this work and these events I once felt so delighted to do, I found myself feeling far, so far away… I know that back home my courses to study how to be a French teacher are awaiting me. As well as the preparation of my Taiwan stall for the Working Holiday Visa Salon in Paris coming up soon, as well as the events for the organization against aggressive advertising in public spaces. I love each one of these activities, I want to commit fully to each one of them with all my heart, but frankly, I have trouble handling all those things I’d like to do. Right now, there’s nothing I’d like more than staying quiet, idle, outside, with some music and a great book. I’d like to live one thing at a time without having to think about my next steps.
Back to Mulhouse, back to the fear. The fear of the void, of tomorrow, of the future. Fear of not doing enough, not being enough. During this week’s cycling, I could be just me. Me, my bicycle, my luggage, my itinerary guiding me across unknown roads, taking up most of the room in my mind. On the road, people were advising me, sharing with me, sometimes they even were admiring me, even though my hair was dirty and tangled, while my hands were greasy, my shoulders sore and my legs like Jell-O. On the road, I was just passing by, furtive, in their lives and I hope I brought them some joy, hope, laughs, and nice moments. On the road, I could be a version of myself easier to love, I could help, be useful, make people smile, and travel. Can I only be a good and lovable person during ephemeral moments? If we dug more, here are the old dirty damaging demons: my fear, my anxiety, my anger, my excessive emotions… On the road, my underworld is less visible, it’s tamed, alleviated, soothed. I’m still postponing the arrival. I don’t feel strong enough to slay the demons. However, it’s more than time to find another way than the road to coexist with my underworld.
“My mother told me I had a chameleon soul, no moral compass pointing due north, no fixed personality. Just an inner indecisiveness that was as wide and as wavering as the ocean. And if I said I didn’t plan for it to turn out this way I’d be lying.
Because I was born to be the other woman. Who belonged to no one, who belonged to everyone. Who had nothing, who wanted everything, with a fire for every experience and an obsession for freedom that terrified me to the point that I couldn’t even talk about it, and pushed me to a nomadic point of madness that both dazzled and dizzied me […]
And when I’m at war with myself, I ride. I just ride.” (Lana Del Rey, Ride)
Maybe I found some courage after all, or maybe I was just craving for a hot shower and a cuddle with the cat. Anyway, when reaching Mulhouse, I had ridden almost 400km since my departure from Wissembourg! And I keep on thinking it’s quite amazing! I hold on dearly to the feeling of pride and accomplishment, right before being engulfed by my routine again. On that night, I’m attending a workshop about cyclo-tourism with Nathalie, who has this beautiful project of opening a hostel in Mulhouse: I now have an interesting experience about cyclists’ needs to share with her.
A few days later, I got a reply from the woman who was supposed to host me in Sélestat. She was away and completely forgot about me and didn’t look at her e-mails… She offered to refund my hotel night, but I turn down her offer. After all, experiences are also built with these uncomfortable situations.
This whole week of cycling comforts me about my abilities. After four days cycling the Taiwanese East Coast, eight days cycling Alsace, maybe next time I could ride the entire length of a Eurovelo route? I obviously need a better bicycle, and maybe even a tent, to be more independent in my journey. This adventure also comforts me in what I already knew: I don’t necessarily have to go far away to experience and discover new things. Adventure awaits next door too. I’m still craving to learn about other countries, cultures, and languages; however, I can’t deny that I live in a freaking splendid region. Alsace, I love you, and how I had missed you, my dear!
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/