June 14, 2015


After yesterday's challenging ride, today was a planned rest day. The local area is keen to promote tourism during the off season (this being ski territory), and so we received passes good for some local bus routes and attractions.

Hiking path along the Rinerhorn toward Sertig, near Davos, Switzerland
Our hosts had something special in mind: reputedly one of the top ten hikes in Switzerland.

Yellow wildflowers with distant snow-capped peaks, viewed from the Rinerhorn near Davos, Switzerland
Gondolas whisked us to the top of the Rinerhorn, where a wonderland of wildflowers awaited.

Four varieties of alpine wildflowers along the Rinerhorn, near Davos, Switzerland
Being rather a fan of wildflowers (and I mean that in the true sense of the word: fanatic), I was enthralled. The meadows were carpeted with flowers, with more variety than I had ever seen. This spawned a friendly guessing game at dinner: “How many pictures of flowers did pep take today?”

Hiking down into the Sertig valley from the Rinerhorn, near Sertig Dörfli, Switzerland
My GPS spontaneously shut down early on the hike, so I have only a partial track to share.

View of the Sertigbach and the Sertig Valley from the ridge above Sertig Dörfli, Switzerland
The view of the Sertig valley was breathtaking. We hiked along the ridge before dropping down to cross the Sertigbach and enjoy lunch on the deck at the Restaurant zum Bergfuhrer in Sertig Dörfli.

Wooden footbridge over the fast-moving waters of the Sertigbach, Sertig Dörfli, Switzerland
Oh, the flowers! The snow-capped peaks! The chalets! The Swiss countryside is like something out of a fairy tale.

Wildflower meadow with snow-dusted peaks in the distance, Sertig Dörfli, Switzerland

I was fascinated by these rigs, sharpened branches criss-crossed just so. I noticed they were frequently hung over windows, and wondered if they were a form of shutter. One of my hosts, expert on local history and traditions, enlightened me. They're racks, used to elevate hay bales in the fields to dry them.

Passing the other car on the Schatzalp funicular above Davos, SwitzerlandThe transportation network here is phenomenal. We boarded a bus that returned us to Davos, where some of our group hoped to view an exhibit at the art museum. We wandered through town; there was no museum in sight. This being a Sunday, virtually everything was closed. I pulled out my smartphone, and (you guessed it) found the museum on a parallel street.

It was closed. A pastry shop was open, though. Our group had winnowed down to three, and I persuaded them to put our passes to good use on the Schatzalp-bahn funicular.

Broad-leaved marsh orchid, Schatzalp, Davos, Switzerland
The skies were dark and the raindrops started falling. My companions had little enthusiasm for lingering at the top. “Just a little farther,” I coaxed, admiring the flowers. Our host explained that this one, in particular, was special: an alpine orchid, the broad-leaved marsh orchid. We had seen a few on the Rinerhorn, and here was a meadow dotted with them.

Not all of my flower photos were keepers, of course; some were blurry, some were repeats. How many unique specimens did I capture? Half of all I shot? One-third? The unexpurgated total (close-up photos, not sweeping vistas): sixty-three.

June 13, 2015

Davos Wolfgang

“Share the road” takes on a different tone here. We figured it was best to yield to farm equipment,

Cyclist yields to farm equipment along a gravel path, Liechtenstein.
though we passed a carriage drawn by four horses (with care).

Cyclists passing a horse-drawn carriage, Liechtenstein.
With a long day ahead, I could have used an earlier start. We would leave Austria, biking some 53 miles from Feldkirch, Austria to Davos, Switzerland. Our hotel awaited at the top of a climb at Davos Wolfgang.

How much of a climb? Mapping websites tend to be generous when estimating elevation gain, but two of them suggested 5,500 feet. (You get the picture: not flat.)

Paved path along the Rhine River, Liechtenstein.
Except that the route was mostly flat for the first 19 miles, and I was counting on making good time there to compensate for my pathetic uphill pace. But the best laid plans ...

Alte Rheinbrücke, wooden bridge spanning the Rhine at Vaduz, Liechtenstein.
Our slow group left a bit later than the rest (not an auspicious start). Our co-host was leading us today on her electric bike, but she was not planning to ride the entire distance. This made for an uncomfortable mismatch in goals. Instead of zipping along the flats, the group was riding at the leisurely conversational pace of 10 mph. Another rider and I took turns at the front in an effort to pick up the pace, but we were repeatedly thwarted by the electric bike, which kept throwing off its chain.

Lietchtenstein/Swiss border inside the Alte Rheinbrücke, Vaduz, Liechetenstein
Our route essentially traversed the length of Liechtenstein, from north to south. We crossed the border twice: first on the Alte Rheinbrücke, which spans the Rhein at Vaduz. We had a rest break at a gas station near a winery set on a hillside, with a building that looked like a castle.

Balzner Winery, Balzers, Liechtenstein
Around mile 19, as expected, the road kicked up for two miles at an average grade of more than 7%. When I saw Sagan painted on the pavement, it confirmed what my legs were telling me: some sections were steeper.

We passed through the region of Maienfeld—Heidi country. Having just re-read the story, I couldn't help but picture her running through the rolling fields of wildflowers, surrounded by goats. Instead of flying down the other side of the hill, I shadowed our leader into a local park to refill my water bottles at the “Heidi Fountain.”

Heidi Fountain, near Maienfeld, Switzerland
At 1:30 p.m., we were a little more than halfway to Davos. It had taken us 5.5 hours to travel the first 32 miles (with 1,860 feet of climbing), including two hours' worth of stopping.

Golden field surrounded by green fields, mountains in the background, Switzerland.
Time for a reality check: I looked at the route profile. I did the math. The rest of the route would be uphill for close to 24 miles, climbing 3500 feet or more—supposedly with some steep sections. Even if I averaged 6 mph, I would need 4 hours. More likely, my average pace would be slower.

I would have to abandon the first real climb of our tour.

Rather than taking the train, our host fit three of us into the car (with our bikes in the trailer) for the trip to the top; the others would continue by bike. With much sadness, I watched the scenery pass by the car windows.

When they finally arrived, we learned that the guys had a bit of an adventure. They did their best to follow the route, but lacking a GPS and an appreciation for the difference between the icons for mountain bike and road bike routes, they ended up on a steep dirt path—and ultimately watched the scenery pass by the windows of a train car.

June 12, 2015


Time to move along, into Austria—my first visit.

Sonnenkönigin ship, Bregenz, Austria
We got a close look at the unusual Sonnenkönigin at the harbor in Bregenz, where we waited for the arrival of our co-host (who chose to shave off some distance by taking a boat from Lindau). She's an expert navigator, with a spiral-bound book of cycling routes, but nonetheless led us a wee bit off course. When I pulled out my phone and pointed to the clear blue dot on the map, I won another convert. “You have to show me how to do that on my phone!”

Colorful bike advertising www.fahrradwettbewerb.at, near Bregenz, Austria
Colorful bikes were planted at each end of a bridge, encouraging cyclists to sign up for some friendly competition, racking up the miles this summer.

View of the distant Alps from a bridge over the river Rhein, Austria
For the most part, our route followed the Rhein, crossing it a couple of times.

Bike racks featuring cigarette ads at a café near Lustenau, Austria
We happened upon a café along the Alter Rhein on the outskirts of Lustenau that really welcomes cyclists. There were few parking spots for cars, but enough racks to accommodate a cycling event. The racks sponsored by a brand of cigarettes were ironic. There was also a standalone building with restrooms, much as you'd find in any of our public parks, with one notable difference: lace curtains on the windows.

I ordered “ein apfelstrudel und ein nusskipfel,” apparently convincingly enough that the server responded in German. (Uh oh.). I kind of got the gist, that it would be a few minutes for my buddy's strudel (probably because they'd warm it).

Biking through the forest, getting closer to the Alps, near Feldkirch, Austria
We made our way south, toward the Alps, reaching our destination early enough to allow for some exploration before dinner.

Katzenturm, Feldkirch, Austria
Feldkirch is a busy city, a curious mix of old and new. Medieval buildings, modern roads with undercrossings for pedestrians and cyclists. A friendly passerby tried to chat with me; we had no language in common, but I understood enough to get that English is taught in school these days, but wasn't during his time.

Schattenburg castle, Feldkirch, Austria
With the opportunity to order tonight's dinner from a menu, I chose a traditional veal schnitzel, with white asparagus and potatoes. For dessert, a luscious Austrian specialty (with a name that rankles modern sensibilities), Mohr im Hemd.

A flat and easy stage today, 33 miles with a mere 520 feet of climbing. Definitely not a calorie-neutral sort of day ...

June 11, 2015


A rest day, at last. Some of the group went to Friedrichshafen to visit the Zeppelin Museum—by bicycle. Some just don't need a rest day.

I, on the other hand, was happy to have a day off the bike. It was a perfect opportunity to explore Lindau, and a beautiful day for it. Equipped with a pamphlet highlighting historic sights, I headed first for the harbor.

View of Lindau, from the Mangturm to the church towers, from the new lighthouse, Lindau, Germany
I climbed to the top of the “new” lighthouse, the perfect place to admire the town. The roof tiles of the 13th-century Mangturm (old lighthouse) glistened in the sunlight.

Frescoes inside the Peterskirche, Lindau, Germany
I found the Peterskirche, more than 1,000 years old and now a war memorial. Another visitor flipped the switch to illuminate the frescoes (aha!), and then I understood he wanted me to switch off the lights when I was done.

Diebsturm (tower), Lindau, Germany
The Diebsturm, nearby, must have been especially punishing when it served as a prison.

Lindavia Fountain, Lindau, Germany
I found the Lindavia Fountain, and admired the interior of the Stephanskirche with its 200-year-old pews.

Pews and stained-glass window panels, Stephanskirche, Lindau, Germany
The bookworm in me was awed by the books on display in the old town hall, including 17th century editions of works by Copernicus and Kepler. Facsimile copies of some books were laid out for anyone to turn the pages. Originals were behind glass, climate-controlled; but what a rare treat to see them!

17th century edition of Kepler's logarithm tables, Lindau, Germany
My route was far from efficient: along the way, I did some shopping and met up with one of the guys from our group for lunch in a Biergarten near the harbor. By the time I was done, my walking tour had covered nearly seven miles.

View of the lion and new lighthouse at entrance to Lindau harbor, Lindau, Germany

June 10, 2015

Wangen im Allgäu

The planned routes for today were, for some reason, cast aside. After studying the map, our leader was more inclined simply to follow his nose. This is part of the charm of these trips; chill, and go with the flow. There need not always be A Plan.

Everyone tried to stick together as we wandered about the German (and Austrian) countryside. If you examine our route, it looks like a well-planned loop. In the mind of our leader, perhaps it was. He wanted to visit Ravensburg, but was talked out of it; wisely so, given the distance.

Small and quiet chapel in the German countryside.
It was a longer day than it needed to be, as we would lose one rider or another along the way. Sometimes they would catch up; sometimes they needed to be found. As we waited at one such point, I relied on Google Translate to good effect. There was a dirt path leading down a hill to a small chapel, marked with a warning sign. It looked like a private chapel, and I expected the sign to say as much. Not so! In effect, the sign warned that you would take the path at your own risk. The sign over the door invited pilgrims to pray in the small and quiet chapel; the interior was as lovely as the exterior was plain.

Ravensburg Gate, Wangen im Allgäu, Germany
Our northernmost point was the town of Wangen im Allgäu, where we found a sprawling open-air market. One rider strolled off and returned eating a tasty sausage, which sent most of us searching for the same vendor. I studied what they had to offer, and of course I had no clue what they were. My eye kept returning to one of them, and so I chose “rote”. Best sausage I had during the entire trip. (And not just because I was hungry).

Open-air market in the town plaza, Wangen im Allgäu, Germany
Not everyone wanted a sausage; the group had settled at a table in front of a bakery that has been in business since the year 1505. There was a basket of fresh bread on the table, untouched. Hungry, and imagining that it would go to waste, I broke off a chunk. Then I learned there is a sort of trick to this: They put out the bread without asking, and if you take some, you leave a euro in the basket. [OK.] As far as I was concerned, it was well worth it. The breads are amazing. I totally understand now why a German friend complains that nothing he's found in the U.S. compares.

Bakery in business since the year 1505, Wangen im Allgäu, Germany
We headed southwest, making our way to the shore of Lake Constance, where we were soon biking along the same route that I followed yesterday to Lindau. Close to town, the route zig-zags along some streets. I was briefly delayed on a short hill by a car; when I turned the corner, the rest of the group was gone.

Really? Earlier in the day I made a point of waiting for a rider who was having mechanical issues and had slipped behind. But no one waited for me.

We were on the outskirts of Lindau; perhaps they assumed I knew the way. The trail was busier today, with lots of slow cyclists cruising along. I joined the flow, and ended up popping out onto the island at the train station, near the harbor. This was the sort of place where the group might congregate, post-ride; but I didn't spot them.

Bicycles parked at the harbor, Lindau, Germany
For the day, 42 miles with 1,880 feet of climbing.

There need not always be a plan.

June 9, 2015


Transition day: we left Ramsen and headed for our next home base, in Lindau, Germany. For this tour, we often have a choice of routes—short or long. As much as I might prefer the longer adventures, my pace dictates the shorter route.

German border on a back road in the rain, near Ramsen, Switzerland
The day started with a light drizzle of rain. The German border was marked on this back road with the traditional yellow and black sign featuring the Bundesadler.

A stork in a marshy field, Germany
“Look at that crane!” a rider called out. There was a giant construction crane in the distance, nothing remarkable about that ... but he was pointing to the nearby field. “Oh, it's a stork!” I explained.

Somehow I didn't get the memo that our leader had dictated yet a third route for today, which our group had marked on their paper map. When we reached a point of uncertainty, I would have continued on the originally planned route, but the others were intent on the new route. Once I was certain it would still lead us to the island of Mainau, I settled in.

Because I was certain that I would visit Mainau—with or without the others. There is a tension for me between being a team player (riding with the group) and fully enjoying the sights.

Roses cascading along a wall at Mainau, Germany
Before we reached the island, I politely mentioned (several times) that if the others didn't want to tour the gardens, I wouldn't mind; I would find my way to Lindau. Solo.

We would need to travel, by boat, across Lake Constance to reach Lindau. Those who preferred an afternoon on the lake to an afternoon on the bike could take the slow boat. Conveniently, we'd been told there were boats leaving directly from Mainau.

Stair-step waterfall bordered by flowers, Mainau, Germany
Inconveniently, we discovered that we could not take our bikes across the bridge to the island. Four people, four bikes, and one lock (mine). I was able to thread the cable through three of the frames so we could all warm up with treats in the café. And, much as I had expected, the others decided to skip the island and continued on their way.

I strolled through the gardens at a leisurely pace, covering about three miles. I never imagined that rose bushes could grow so large.

Children rafting on a playground lake, Mainau, Germany
I watched children rafting around on a playground that would simply not exist in the US. [Can you say, “liability?”] There was also some unexpected history, a memorial for 35 French former prisoners of Dachau who died at a hospital here after being liberated from the concentration camp in 1945.

Floral peacock, freshly planted, Mainau, Germany
The timing for this visit was not optimal; spring flowers were being torn out, and the full effect of the more dramatic features was muted because the plantings were too new. I had a proper lunch, checked the boat schedule and ... uh oh, time to get moving.

Bike tucked into place on the ferry from Konstanz to Meersburg, Germany
I thought the slow boat option might be fun, and it would certainly eliminate the need to navigate alone to Lindau. Unfortunately, the slow boat would be ... really slow. It would take as much time, or more, as I'd need to bike it.

By now I had come to appreciate the ever-present directional signs on the trails. I knew I wasn't far from the harbor, and the arrow toward Konstanz included an icon of a boat.

I didn't know that the sign would lead me to the ferry terminal—the passenger boats docked elsewhere.

Bike route signs, 19 km to Friedrichshafen, Germany
No problem. I could take the ferry to Meersburg and bike it. There would be bike route signs; I'd just need to follow the signs from one town to the next, until I reached Lindau.

Friedrichshafen, 19 km—that's the right direction. (And I could check my progress, and whereabouts, from time to time on my phone.)

After 54 miles and 1,142 feet of climbing, I rounded a corner and stepped off the road upon reaching Lindau Island. Now I could tap my phone to navigate to the hotel ... which, as it happened, was right across the street. [Dumb luck.]

June 8, 2015

Stein am Rhein

The summer sun sets late, this far north. At dinner, one of our hosts proposed a quick excursion to the nearby town of Stein am Rhein. Most of the group had explored the town the day we arrived in Ramsen, but two of us had missed the chance.

View toward the main gate, Stein am Rhein, Switzerland.
One of the guys in our group, when asked, had characterized it as “a cutesy town.” Which (seriously) does not do it justice.

Town Hall, Stein am Rhein, Switzerland.
With the shops closed and tourists dispersed, it was a rare opportunity to have the old town nearly to ourselves.

Building with red beams, white walls, and shutters, Stein am Rhein, Switzerland.
We learned that the deep red hue of the exposed beams in this style of building was originally a consequence of the oxblood used to preserve the wood (nowadays, they're painted).

Cluster of tall, frescoed buildings, Stein am Rhein, Switzerland.
The elaborate frescoes on the buildings depict the trades, or tell stories.

View of Diogenes fresco with plaza fountain, Stein am Rhein, Switzerland.
One could only wonder what inspired the panel showing Diogenes, in his ceramic jar, confronting Alexander the Great.

I would have regretted missing this historic place; I've never seen anything like it. And this visit, though brief, offered some consolation for the day's earlier disappointments.