Flanders by boat and bike Part 1 Bruges to Ghent

This was one of the most enjoyable holiday trips we have had. We bought the week long trip from Rad & Reisen and it involved travelling from Bruges to Brussels by bike and staying overnight on board the Quo Vadis (Latin for ‘where are you going’). We cycled around 220 kms in 6 days of cycling and took in the countryside and many picturesque Flanders towns and cities. The food on board was superb, the company friendly and relaxed, and the weather was mostly excellent for cycling and sightseeing.

We joined the boat in Belgium, after using trains from home to London, Eurostar to Brussels and another train to Bruges. It was an early start for us, up at just after 4, but all connections worked perfectly and we had time on arrival at the boat to drop our luggage and take a tour around Bruges before our on-board tour briefing. There were 24 guests: us two Brits, two from the USA and the rest from Germany. So all briefings were first in German followed by an English version. Our tour guide Gunter had excellent English, as did the boat crew: four Dutch people. This support party is pictured below.

Captain RJ in white shirt with guide Gunter on the far right

Our pre-dinner walk around Bruges took us to the market square, very busy on a lovely weekend afternoon

Bruges market square with the Provincial Court

Also in the Market square is the Belfry. Often mistaken for a church tower, it is actually a medieval bell tower.

Bruges Belfry (Belfort van Brugge in Dutch)

My father brought home from the second world war a painting of a canal with a tower, the dead spit of this Belfry in the background. I was really chuffed to find the spot where the painter must have been seated to paint my picture. Up until then I was never sure that the picture was of Bruges. Now, I am sure it is and I know precisely where it was painted.

Returning to the boat we had a welcome drink followed by a delicious dinner (salad, beef with veg and ice cream, melon and sponge) and a briefing, first in German then in English from our guide. The boat remained in Bruges overnight so an evening excursion around the city was possible but we had done ours that afternoon so we stayed on board.

Next day there was a substantial breakfast bar and the chef Franco was offering fried eggs to order. We were invited to make our own packed lunches from the food on the buffet.

Soon after breakfast we were away around the old Bruges City walls and out by the side of a canal to the small town of Damme, passing by a couple of windmills including this one

Windmill by the side of the Bruges-Damm canal

which was open and looked as though it could, at any time, start working. Shortly afterwards we crossed the canal and came to Damme town square. 

Most of us were very grateful that the Tourist Office had public toilets. We stayed in Damme just long enough to hear the musical church clock strike eleven then set off along the canal again.

Our next destination was Blankenberge. We travelled through farmland and our guide pointed out the speciality cows of the region the Bleublanc, known in English as the Belgian Blue. It is very distinctive in appearance with “short legs and a large arse” (a description courtesy of our guide). They are also a breed that routinely has to be calved using Caesarean section. We had a slight panic when we lost a member of the cycling team then lost our guide, but we managed to reconverge at Lisseweg where we encountered hundreds of walkers. On the way to Lisseweg we rode by the side of one of the largest canals we found all week and big canals demand big bridges and this is one of the largest I have seen. It seems to be for a duel carriageway motorway crossing the canal.

Subsequently, I discovered that all the walkers were part of an International 2-day walking festival. Certainly a major event with military support, refreshment tents and even musical accompaniment

Military Band at Lisseweg

At Lisseweg we had our only problem with signage. In general the cycle ways are extremely well signposted and the guidebook we were given was excellen. But in this one case someone had reversed the sign which caused a deal of puzzlement.

We decided to go solo, without the guide, from Lisseweg to Blankenberge. Faced with hundreds of hikers coming the other way we had quite a few indignant stares as we sounded our bells to avoid collision, since many of the walkers were staring at the ground or talking continuously with colleagues. The day had turned quite chilly and with a raw breeze coming off the sea Blankenberge was probably not at its best. When we arrived we rode along the prom looked at the empty beach huts and the pier

and quickly looked for a place to get in the warm and have a hot drink. Later, we met our guide and agreed to travel back to Bruges independently. Before we left Blankenberge we decided to ride along to the Marina, a vast new area where we found a shelter and had our lunch. On our way back to Bruges we, once again, met dozens of walkers going the other way, but soon we left them behind and eventually arrived at our boat in Bruges.

Back at the boat we had time for a hot drink and cake then just time to clean up before a steak dinner and an optional evening excursion into Bruges to see buildings floodlit and have a chance to try some ridiculously strong Belgian beers.

Lovely old building on the Burg in Bruges

Next day was overcast and during breakfast the boat travelled to Moerbrugge where we started our bike ride. We set off in fine rain that increased later but dried up in the afternoon. We stopped for a coffee in Aalter by which time we were all quite wet. The ground was wet and slippery and my partner had a fall as we stopped. We all crowded into the cafe and guide, Gunter, produced some cream good for bruises, while we had a coffee and cake.

There was no stop for lunch as we aimed to get to Ghent in time for a look round. We did stop for a strange bike museum though, where we had an opportunity to try out some very unusual bicycle creations like a side by side tandem, a tandem with no pedals that you propelled by bouncing up and down on the saddles (when one was up the other was down). It was a fun interlude.

A short while later our boat passed us while we were cycling alongside the Ghent- Bruges Canal. We encountered quite an unusual and airy toilet on our way into Ghent.

We arrived in Ghent about 2pm and congregated by St Baaf’s Cathedral where we were able to leave our bikes and look around on foot. We went round St Baaf’s and saw the Rubens paintings and the carved altar. It was quite chilly and we were pleased to find a cafe where we had a type of self made hot chocolate, hot milk in a cup and a bowl of chocolate chips to add to taste. There were masses of photogenic buildings but the only one I took was of the Ghent Belfry.

Gent or Ghent Belfry right by hot chocolate stop

We were all back to our bikes in good time for our final ride to rejoin the boat for a warm shower and another excellent dinner. There was an optional night time ride into and around Ghent but we declined the offer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A jaunt on the South West Coast Path

Recently we joined some friends at Exmouth for a couple of days walk along the South West Coast Path. They were doing the whole lot in short chunks, due to finish the whole path later this year. Leaving from Weymouth we exercised our  bus passes, firstly to Lyme Regis, then to Exeter and then to Lympstone and we walked the final bit into Exmouth. Our bus was about half an hour late leaving Weymouth but luckily made up the time by Lyme so we caught our bus for Exeter with a few minutes to spare, enough for a toilet visit, anyway. At Exeter bus station the bus for Exmouth was standing there waiting. We alighted at the Saddlers Arms (more work for the Apostrophe Protection Society here, perhaps though in researching this blog I find the pub is now marketing itself simply as Saddlers) and took a break in the pub so my partner could recover from a fall caused by sharp bus braking. After, we walked towards the Exe Estuary and joined the very pleasant and well appointed East Devon Way cycle and footpath. The East Devon Way footpath goes between Exmouth and Lyme Regis it follows an inland route for 38 miles and touches the South West Coast path at both ends.

On our way we saw a sign to the National Trust property A la Ronde a shortish distance off the path. We were not pressed for time and took the detour. The new tarmaced path passed close to the very impressive Lympstone Manor which I have now discovered is a “country house hotel”. It looks to be very smart and quite expensive, the cheapest rooms are over 10 times our overnight cost that night. A la Ronde was well worth the detour, even though the distance was rather more than the signpost on the Way path had advertised. It is a very unusual 18th century house built with 16 sides. There are 20 rooms inside, many of which are quite tiny. I was very taken by the unusual style, the clever use of space in its design and the unconventionally shaped windows. 

We rejoined the bridleway and walked into Exmouth where we had an overnight stop before joining our friends and starting the walk proper. We stayed that night at the Ash Hotel right on the waterfront.

Ash Hotel – quite adequate and reasonably priced for B&B

Our room was clean but I do wonder where it is possible to buy boxes of tissues that are just about empty; every B&B seems to have them. We walked around Exmouth that evening and found a pub for dinner that had rope with knot-tying instructions on each place setting; an excellent idea. I learnt how to tie a bowline. The sun was still out when we walked back to our hotel and we sat out for a while before retiring.

Next day after a good breakfast we met our friends on the SW Coast Path close by where the ferry lands after crossing the Exe. It was excellent walking weather – mostly sunny and dry – so dry, that for the later part of the day we watched as plumes of smoke arose inland from a very large heathland fire on Woodbury Common. We passed some quite gigantic caravan parks.

Devon Cliffs Holiday Park just outside Exmouth

Many of the hedges were crowded with what appeared to be spiders web type cocoons alive with caterpillars emerging and dispersing. The South West Coast Path goes along the front and by the side of the beach at Exmouth before climbing steeply and providing a great view back along the beach.

Exmouth beach looking westwards

We had a lunch stop in Budleigh Salterton then walked inland a bit to take a bridge over the River Otter. Shortly after there was a good view ahead and down to Coal Beach.

Coal Beach beneath eroding cliffs

The red cliffs continued into Ladram Bay with another large holiday park and intriguing rock outcrops in the sea. (The Holiday Park website has this aerial photo giving a good impression of the size of the Park https://www.ladrambay.co.uk/ )

Ladram Bay

After a short stop in Ladram it was about an hour into Sidmouth and the end of that day’s walk; just over 20km.

Approach to Sidmouth

We entered Sidmouth going down a path by the side of the road

Our Bed and Breakfast in Sidmouth

We had started walking around 09.30 and arrived at about 5 pm. After a less than satisfying shower, maybe due to low water pressure upstairs, we ventured back down into Sidmouth and ate at The Anchor; acceptable food and great Deuchars (pronounced Dewkers) IPA beer. Our B&B was, I thought, a tad expensive for what it offered. The fact that the landlord possibly attended the Basil Fawlty school of landlording provided a good deal of diverting banter but did not really compensate for the price.

Next day is described by the SW Coast Path website as “severe to strenuous”. So after a quick stop at Tesco for lunch material we were “on the path” by 09.30. Much of the day was best described as woodland rather than coast with masses of ramsons and bluebells. There were lots of ascents and descents with towering views down into combes. On leaving Sidmouth it was well worth stopping and looking back for views of yesterday’s walk.

Leaving Sidmouth

Leaving Sidmouth with view back to Ladram Bay

Weston and Branscombe

Weston Combe beach from the Sidmouth side

The major descent and climb at Weston Mouth went right down to beach level.

Weston Mouth at beach level in National Trust land

Then after a climb up and a reasonable level walk it was time to tackle Branscombe. At first the village was clearly visible in the valley as we maintained height in a woodland belvedere. Then the view across and down was quite spectacular with a brightly painted boat pulled up on the beach (scarcely visible in this picture).

From Branscombe Mouth to Beer Point there is a meandering undercliff walk with precious few views of either the sea or the cliffs. (To be fair there is an alternative footpath that goes across the top of the cliffs). Despite the lack of views I found this part quite appealing; the atmosphere was so distinct, the terrain varied and the occasional views were more precious because of their scarcity. The walk ends with a sharp and a little exposed climb just beyond Hookum Cliffs.

Hookum Cliffs from the undercliff footpath

From Beer point there is a pleasant, undemanding walk into Beer, where we rewarded ourselves with a drink and a piece of delicious orange and lemon sponge cake. From here there was a final up and down into Seaton.

Looking down into Seaton just before road closure detour

Unfortunately, a major cliff fall caused another detour. This time it was not simply a footpath but a road that had been affected and closed.

We met up with our walking buddies on the prom at Seaton, and soon found our hotel, the Eyre Court, under new management.

This hotel was very comfortable, quite spacious, served good and reasonable food with good beer. What is not to like? It had a big advantage that we had no need to wander after what the online guide describes as a “severe day” just over 16km. Needless to say we did not wander out at all that evening.

Next day, another great breakfast and another trip to Tesco for lunch stuff. This time we also took a look around the Victorian Electric tramway, which unfortunately did not start operation until 10am, too late for our walk schedule. The route took us along the coast and over the river Sid with pleasant views upstream and out to sea.

Looking inland from bridge over River Sid

The Sid estuary

After the bridge there is an inland climb and out into farmland where a sign announces that the next section is 3.5 to 4 hours long with no escape routes, no access to the coast and rough underfoot, or words to similar effect. This part of the route essentially went almost all the way to Lyme Regis, our destination for that day. It might sound rather dull, but once again I found it an interesting undercliff meander. The path was quite overgrown, with lots of twists and turns, and ups and downs and just a rare glimpse of sea or cliffs above. Nearer to Lyme, after about 4 hours, we joined a tarmaced section of path which became more open with views down into Lyme with glimpses of the Cobb (not very clear in this photo, but there – honest)

In Lyme Regis after a walk along the prom we found a coffee shop for our “rewards” one of which was entirely missing a short sharp shower that passed by while we were refreshing ourselves. The others were cake and some cream scones. Thence we walked up out of the town to locate our overnight B&B, the Nag’s Head (with a very correct apostrophe!). The Nag’s Head is a real pub with no pub grub in the evening, so we took a pleasant stroll down into town and along the front to the Cobb and dined in the bustling Cobb Arms. The food and beer were excellent and reasonably priced, which explained why it was so busy.

Breakfast at the Nag’s Head was excellent but this signalled a parting of the ways. Our friends stuck rigidly to their plans and took the Coast Path with its many diversions to West Bay, while we decided to take a walk around Lyme, miss out on the Path detours and catch a bus back to Weymouth. We could always come back and repeat the Path when more of it is open.

 

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Two weeks in Chamonix valley

2016/17 has not been a typical winter for me nor, I think, for the Chamonix valley. The valley has had a pretty poor ski season and I have not been skiing as frequently as previously. Partly, the two reasons are related. I was there in January for just over a week and did not bother to venture out with skis because there was a grave lack of snow in the resorts. However, I was there for two weeks roundabout the middle of March and had some excellent skiing and some lovely walks. There had been a decent snowfall as we arrived and this was followed by a solid week of bright sunny weather; a little warm for the best skiing but it gave an overwhelming feeling of Spring’s arrival. Google created a couple of great panoramic photos, without me asking, and it is these I would like to share in this post.

The first is taken from the top of the Princess lift in the Megeve ski area. It was taken in the afternoon of the 13th March. In the foreground is some of the ski area in the St Gervais sector and the background is Mont Blanc, the very top hidden by cloud.

The next was taken a few days later from the end of Lac Passy on a lovely afternoon, warm enough to encourage young paddlers.

 

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A bike ride round Lake Constance 5 Rorschach and return to Konstanz

We were told breakfast at Hotel Mozart started at 07.00. We were there at about 7.30. This was our last day cycling and it was our shortest day, so we were in no hurry. There was the most limited buffet we had seen on our trip. In part this might have been because as we were leaving at about 8 o’clock a greater selection of food was just being brought out. Well, I guess we had had sufficient but still…

We were quite prepared to give Rorschach another chance as we cycled away. We looked for interesting things but it continued to disappoint. The two things that did attract me were the sand sculpture statue remaining after a sand sculpture festival

Sun worshippers sand sculpture

Sun worshippers sand sculpture

and the wooden bathing house built in 1924 and still in use.img_20160924_175030808_hdr

A real pleasant surprise of this day was finding and exploring the town or Arbon. As we approached the town we noticed the number and range of water birds, teal, mallards and loads of heron.

Coming into Arbon along cycle path

Coming into Arbon along cycle path

Arbon was very attractive both in terms of the well kept gardens, municipal and private, and in terms of the old streets and houses.img_20160925_093604832 img_20160925_092124294

After Arbon we once again cycled through orchards dripping with bright coloured apples. The scale of production was brought home to us when we passed a packing station near Egnach. img_20160925_100557812Our next stop was Romanshorn, a bustling industrial port. It has a railway museum in the large shunting yards and the port has ferry boats leaving frequently.

Romanshorn harbour

Romanshorn harbour

We stopped by the harbour and watched our co-cycling Icelanders cycle past and the other bustle of the port. It was Switzerland so I was not to surprised when we were charged 10 Euros for 2 coffees; we did not have any Swiss francs left.

At Utwil we were lucky to see a steam train waiting at the station.img_20160925_113219888_hdr

Just before we crossed the border into Germany at Konstanz we rode through the town of Kreuzlingen. It was a sunny Sunday so everyone was out in the air and the lakeside gardens were busy.img_20160925_134032707

We were now only a few hundred metres from the German border and Hotel Barbarossa, the same one we stayed in at the start of our tour. We arrived at the hotel about 14.00 and they kindly let us leave our things in our room and gave us a bottle of wine gift from our travel company. We travelled with only hand baggage so had to consume it before we left; big problem NOT and we drank it with our meal that night!

The rest of the afternoon and next morning we spent more time looking round Konstanz. But first we went to the Rosgarten Museum, we had an entrance ticket as part of our tour. It is an excellent place to get a view of the long history of the town and the way it was in times past. After that we went down to the gardens by the harbour, to have a celebratory beer and watch the wide variety of boats jostling around in the water, in and just outside the harbour. Noisy, fast, hooting ferries mixed with sedate elegant yachts of many different designs, tiny motorboats on hire and even pedalos all doing their own thing.

Konstanz has a long history and this is one of the old entrance gates

Schnetztor

Schnetztor

Probably the most striking building in Konstanz is the Munster. I took a trip up the tower all 300 steps or so. Magnificent views from the top and of the bells on the way up. I was just passing them at 11 o clock!img_20160925_171256487

But the real attraction of Konstanz, in my view is the lakeimg_20160925_173819179 and the bridge over the Rhine.img_20160925_173829431

In summary we cycled 232 km in the 5 days. It was easy terrain so this distance was no great exertion. We were lucky with the weather; dry throughout and mostly sunny and warm. The views were spectacular and it was a great mix of history, culture, nature, exercise and comfort in the hotels. I would recommend it highly as an unforgettable and thoroughly enjoyable experience.

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A bike ride round Lake Constance 4 Wasserburg to Rorschach

This was the fifth day of our tour and we started it with a full breakfast, as usual. And we set off around 08.30, also as usual. The day was misty to start with but it later cleared up and became pleasantly warm; warm enough for me to take a swim in the lake at Bregenz, off a wooden bathing pier. Being mid-September all of the special bathing areas, lidos, around the lake were closed for the season. This was probably the day with the widest variety of scenery and we cycled through 3 countries in one day.

Our first stop was in nearby Wasserburg with its church

Parish church of St George in Wasserburg

Parish church of St George in Wasserburg

and collection of strange metal sculptures.

One of many hand and body part sculptures

One of many hand and body part sculptures

We then travelled through more orchards heavy with fruit and soon came to Lindau island. We rode out over a bridge parallel to the railway. Once on the island we lost our path and ended up in a yard full of garden statues and other bric a brac with no through route. We doubled back, crossed the railway and reached the harbour with its much photographed harbour entrance and lighthouse.

Lindau Island harbour entrance

Lindau Island harbour entrance

This was a Saturday morning and the place was packed so we did not stay there long but headed for the main street Maximillian Strasse. There were plenty of delightful old houses along this street but the highlight was the old town hall.

Old Town hall in Lindau

Old Town hall in Lindau dating back to 1422

We meet the Icelandic cycling group at the market and exchanged ideas on how to get off the island, amongst other things. While we bought some apples, they cycled off. We followed later and crossed back to the mainland via the road bridge.

We soon found the ubiquitous bike route signssignand continued our journey. The path from Lindau to Bregenz is just about all along the edge of the lake on a fine tarmac path which we shared, this being Saturday morning, with every Karl, Klaus and Hans. It was very busy but also pleasantly warm. I could not resist taking a photo back towards Lindauimg_20160924_110756551

and ahead towards Bregenz and across the end of the lake. The dark smudge in the sky is the Alps but we did not get any clearer view later in the day.img_20160924_110825834

The water looks inviting even now and shortly after this I took a swim.

In Bregenz there is a cable car to a high viewing point but we decided it was not worth it because visibility was not good. Instead, we had a coffee nearby the Seebuhne, the festival floating stage, and watched people for a while.

Leaving Bregenz was a little confusing cycling through car parks, sports fields and nature reserves. Eventually we crossed river Bregenzerachimg_20160924_124245669_hdr

and rode around the town of Hard. After Hard we reached and rode alongside the Lustenauer Canal for a couple of kms,

Canal path

Canal path

looking down on houses and factories that must have been quite exposed to flood risks. Shortly after crossing that we crossed the river Rhine.

img_20160924_132939892

Rhine flowing towards Lake Constance

We were still in Austria but, after crossing the wide flat Rhine delta land, we arrived in Switzerland. After the bridge we had two possible paths and we chose the one that was closest to the lake and took us through the flat rich agricultural land of the river delta. We must have passed almost every type of crop ranging from Christmas trees to strawberries. There was also a fair variety of wildlife. I saw a snake, deer, and storks as well as the usual suspects.

Just after we arrived in Switzerland our guide book drew our attention to a market hall in Altenrhein designed by Hundertwasser (full name  Friedensreich Regentag Dunkelbunt Hundertwasser), an Austrian architect renown for his distaste of straight lines.img_20160924_152418467

Our hotel was in Rorschach – the Hotel Mozart.

Hotel Mozart

Hotel Mozart

We were not very impressed by Rorschach or by our hotel. The hotel was comfortable enough but was right next to the railway track and the service was quite indifferent and the town had little to offer. After arrival we took a look around the town looking for a place to eat but found nowhere suitable at all. And apart from attractive lakeside parks there was little to see. So, we had a beer by the lake and ate in our hotel. The food was okay but pricey for what it was; but this is Switzerland.

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A bike ride round Lake Constance 3 Uberlingen to Wasserburg

A misty morning that turned into a sunny pleasant day. There was a definite feeling of autumn in the air, leaves turning colour and wet grass first thing from a dew fall. We started with an extensive buffet breakfast. I had muesli with yoghurt, bacon and egg, chocolate pain, fruit and bread and jam. Despite this ample meal we still managed to be on our bikes by about 8.30.

We rode through Uberlingen and stopped by the rather grotesque fountain in the centre of the town. It was completed in 1995 and is by Peter Lenk a local artist who also produced the large statue of Imperia that we had seen on the harbour at Konstanz.

Bodenseereiter by Peter Lenk featuring several aged creatures

Bodenseereiter by Peter Lenk featuring several aged creatures

We were close by the lake almost all day although it was often hidden behind bushes or trees. The mist never really cleared completely so although we passed many houses with names that implied views of the Alps we never caught a glimpse of them. Much of the route took us alongside a railway track often with narrow allotment plots between us and the railtrack. As always with allotments there was a wide variety of crops and a diversity of garden sheds and “summer houses”. The wild autumn crocus flowers growing in fields and by the side of the path were also quite splendid.

We passed below the impressive pilgrimage church of Birnau soon after leaving Uberlingen.

Basilika Birnau

Basilika Birnau with vineyards

Soon after this church, and wending our way through more vineyards, we arrived at Meersburg, which had a busy port with strangely-shaped car ferries arriving to dock at  great speed.

Ferry at Meersburg

Ferry at Meersburg

Meersburg is an attractive old town built into a steep hillside. The lower town, the only one we investigated, has a pedestrian only shopping road with many old buildings; an obvious touristic highlight. Several small lanes lead onto a lakeside promenade lined with pollarded plane trees.

Main entrance to the lower town through the old town walls

Main medieval entrance to the lower town through the old town walls

Leaving the town we had to crane our necks to see the Keithof and another unidentified enormous building above more vineyards.img_20160923_100442829_hdr

Our next main town was Hagnau. Like other towns it had a mixture of very old houses like this one claiming to be from 1578 img_20160923_105642089with other distinctly modernistic Bauhaus designs and some few that were crumbling neglected wooden constructions.

Our guidebook warned us that between Immenstaad and Friedrichshafen the cycle track was a 10km stretch beside a motorway and that this could be easily avoided by taking a ferry between the two. We took the recommended avoidance action. In Immenstaad we nearly missed the ferry terminal and had to turn back on ourselves. We then had a wait of just over an hour on the quayside which we spent taking a coffee, a bite to eat and a small bike tour of the town.

A view of the jetty and ferry at Innenstaad from along the coast

A view of the jetty and ferry at Immenstaad from along the coast

The ferry ride was very comfortable and it was nice to get views from out on the lake. Friedrichshafen was very busy and a bit of a disappointment. One of the “attractions” in our guidebook was the Zeppelin Museum. We were not enticed there but over the coming weekend we spotted Zeppelins doing tourist flights over the lake on many occasions. We had sailed past the castle on our way into the harbour so did not fancy a detour to visit that, and in the absence of other attractions we simply “saddled up and rode out of town”.

We stopped to look at the harbour and castle in Langenargen and ate an ice cream while watching wedding guests assemble.

Schloss Monfort built in 1866

Schloss Monfort at Langenargen built in 1866

Leaving Langenargen we cycled past a rather extravagant maypole-like structure. It was difficult to see exactly but the dangling figures seemed to be in different occupations.img_20160923_143117476

Later we saw the oldest suspension bridge in Germany, built in 1897. It is said to be the model for the George Washington bridge in New York.img_20160923_144426656

Our destination that day was a hamlet called Hege, near the town of Wasserburg. Approaching the Hotel Gierer we were surprised to see lots of white towelling-clad elderly people wandering to and fro across the road in flip flops. It looked to me as though we might have strayed into some kind of asylum. Not so! It was our hotel which had apartments on one side of the road and spa facilities in the hotel on the other, and people were moving between the two. img_20160923_181032525_hdrOur room was quite comfortable but there were no toweling gowns. We took a swim and, because the hotel was out of town, booked a table to eat there that evening; it was Friday night and very busy so booking seemed a good idea. We had our best meal of the trip that evening, tomato soup, salad, rosti, veal in mushroom sauce followed by pineapple ice cream with cream and a bottle of local wine – terrific and 30 Euro each with a tip for the waiter.

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A bike ride round Lake Constance 1 Konstanz to Stein am Rhein

We booked this tour through Rad & Reisen, a tour company we had been with before and always found  to give excellent service. This tour was no exception. They organise accomodation. In this case we had half board, luggage transfer, bike hire and tour information with maps etc included in the tour price. All the logistics worked perfectly.

Our tour started in Konstanz, a German town on the lake just over the border from Switzerland. We flew from Luton to Zurich and took a train to Konstanz, the train station is under Zurich airport and there are frequent trains direct to Konstanz so it was an easy transfer. When we checked into our hotel we found all our briefing material waiting for us. Hotel Barbarossa is in the old town of Konstanz and reputedly dates back to the 14th century. It is full of character and very comfortable; we had a four poster bed. The old town has many impressive buildings and remains of old town walls and evidence of occupation going back to Roman times. We arrived late afternoon and did not have that much time to look around before seeking out a German burger restaurant for supper.

Next day, there was a superb breakfast bar including eggs and bacon so we ate well then left for a short bus ride to pick up our bikes and set off round the lake. The bike pick up point was at a sizable warehouse with what must have been hundreds of bikes in racks. Ours were ready for us, correctly adjusted to our height and with panniers attached. We had a quick ride around the yard to check all was OK then had a brief talk about where to go, how to operate the bike and odometer, and how to get help if needed. There was a group of ladies in team blue track suits also being briefed. We later met them on several occasions and discovered they were from Iceland. And there was another quartet, just leaving, who we also kept meeting on the tour. We later discovered they were Germans from Ulm.

To start with, the bike track was alongside the railway, leaving Konstanz in a northerly direction towards the Island of Reichenau. The English spelling of the German name of the town Konstanz is Constance but the German name for Lake Constance is Bodensee; a little curious. The lake is the third largest lake in western Europe; it is about 60km long and 15km wide, its average depth is 12m and its deepest part is 250m.

In general terms, land to the north of the lake is Germany, land to the south east is Austria, and that to the south west is Switzerland as seen below

Just before we reached Reichenau we crossed the railway line and took a good cycle path more or less parallel to a road. At this stage we had only distant views of the lake but soon the views opened outimg_20160921_101028193 and we could see Reichenau Island across reed beds. Later we passed pretty villages like Allenbach

Allenbach

Allenbach

and had wider views across the full width of the lake. We arrived at the top of this arm of the lake at Rudolfzell around lunch time. We took a stroll around the market place close by the Munster

Münster Unserer Lieben Frau - Rudolfzell

Münster Unserer Lieben Frau – Rudolfzell

We then crossed the railway line and went down to the lakeside and took a coffee. It was very peaceful. The water, throughout our visit, was notable for its clarity.img_20160920_231306630

After our rest we continued on round the lake and through a tree-lined path alongside a road.

Cycle path by the side of the road just out of Rudolfzell

Cycle path by the side of the road just out of Rudolfzell

We were soon at Moos where we watched as a crane lifted a very smart wooden boat out of the water, ready for winter storage.

View from Moos Marina looking back to Rudolfzell

View from Moos Marina looking back to Rudolfzell

The next section of the route was more agricultural through vineyards and orchards before passing through a park like area at Horn. From Horn the water became slowly more like a river than a lake, you could sense the steady flow of the river Rhine as the banks gradually converged.

Small marina at Gaienhofen

Small marina at Gaienhofen

We passed through more small villages and the odd marina. This was one of the few places on the trip with hills of any significance but they were fairly short. Just before we arrived at our destination for the day, Stein am Rhein, we crossed the border into Switzerland but we were not sure precisely where this happened. There did not seem to be any marker.

Our Hotel in Stein was 4 star Hotel Chlosterhof.

Hotel Chlosterhof

Hotel Chlosterhof

Extremely comfortable, our room had a balcony with a river view and there was a swimming pool and sauna etc. We arrived just before 4 so had a chance to take a good look around before nightfall; just as well because it has a beautifully preserved old town.

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We were lucky to get into the Burgersyl just before it closed for the day. The main building is medieval, renovated to an extremely high standard. It was built in the 14th century and had a wide variety of uses in its past, most notably a poor house and hospital. After this we visited St Georges Abbey. an old Bendictine building first established in Roman times.

St George's Abbey Stein um Rhein

St George’s Abbey Stein um Rhein

The lake becomes a river at Stein and while we quaffed a beer by the ferry landing we watched the crowds of tourists and cyclists pass by, including our fellow German and Icelandic cycling groups. The path along the river offers pleasant views.

Looking back down the river at Stein am Rhein

Looking back down the river at Stein am Rhein

Since this was Switzerland everything seemed pretty expensive and we chose to eat in town at a restaurant bar in the Market square after we had swam in our hotel pool.

 

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