After my first rest day in three weeks, I’m eager to continue the cycle east. Basel sleeps in the warm sunshine of a perfect spring day as I cross the Johannite Bridge and within a few minutes, I enter Germany. For a citizen of an ocean-locked country like Australia, it still gives me a thrill to pedal across the border between countries. And when the changes are as prominent as I’ve noticed in leaving France two days ago and now entering Germany, it’s even more thrilling.
Within forty kilometres, I have gone from a country with towns named Le-Mesnil-en-Vallee and St-Firmin-sur-Loire to one with towns named Bad Sackingen and Friedichshafen; from the Hotel de Ville to the Rathaus; from caressing my vowels in saying ‘petit dejeuner’ to spitting them out my nose when I ask for ‘fruhstuck’; from the occasional solar panel to vast arrays of panels on simple farmhouses (one up for the Germans); from wine to beer; from the pastoral to the industrial; from delicate-waisted madames to big-boned frauleins; from steak tartare to schnitzel.
In Rheinfelden, there is a Saturday market with stalls offering giant loaves of hard crusted bread; sausages, eggs and salami; cakes and strudels and lots of fruit and vegetables. I cross the Rhine to the neighbouring Swiss town, where there’s also a market, although not as well-attended as it’s German companion. Most of the Swiss seem to be drinking coffee in outdoor cafes. I continue along the Swiss side, deep into a forest above the Rhine, with extended views up river to a dam, with sluice gates locked, where swans swim close to the bank oblivious to the chimney stacks and chemical plants on the German side. The hills on either bank are heavily forested. The Swiss have red bike markers, the Germans blue, and neither seem to worry too much about telling me I’m on EuroVelo 6. They use their own numbers and as I’m without a map for the first time on the trip, I’m happy just to keep sight of the Rhine.
Downwind of a fertilizer factory, I see my first stork of the season. Such a giant bird with a corresponding size nest, they are highly valued as good luck, meaning no-one disturbs their nest. So the stork builds wherever it damn wants to. I like that. This stork has chosen the top of a disused old chimney. Despite the surrounding smell, I watch the bird sitting proud, surveying her domain.
Bad Sackingen is a gem of a town with the entry from the Swiss side via the longest covered bridge in Europe. I’ve loved covered bridges ever since riding across them in Amish country in Pennsylvania twenty-four years ago. This one is so long it has a slight turn at one end. I ride back and forward a few times before I notice there is a white line painted across the middle of the bridge. I dismount from the bike and put one foot either side of the line. ‘Look, everybody, one foot in Germany, one in...’ sorry, I’m indulging.
I eat lunch opposite the 18th century St Fridolin’s Cathedral where a wedding has just taken place. The bride and groom walk out to cheers and applause. I leave my schnitzel and potatoes to watch the happy scene. Afterwards, I enter the Cathedral. Wow! I have never seen such an overblown confection of a church interior. The ceiling has intricate baroque paintings featuring... well, everything really. Lots of cherubs, some holding grapes, some offering flowers; Cupid shoots his arrow; animals peer down on the parishioners; half-clothed pilgrims reach out wanting to touch God, I imagine. The colour scheme is blinding white, apricot, blue and it’s all so three-dimensional and over the top, I return later in the afternoon for a second look. This time I notice the sculptures of cherubs on the ceiling. On the side walls of the Cathedral are the Stations of the Cross, but these paintings seem mute compared to what’s going on above. The image of a being inside a giant wedding cake comes to mind.
I’m so early to my hotel today that I just drop my bags and go for a cycle up a Category Two mountain just outside of town. It’s a short climb, only four kilometres, but very steep. The scent of pine hangs thick in the air, the huge trees shade the narrow road, keeping me cool. On top of the hill, I have views of the Rhine Valley, it’s forested slopes, acres of farmland and pockets of industry.
I eat in the hotel restaurant. They bring me a little bowl of ‘pork in jelly,’ free from the kitchen. I love that. It always sets up a meal nicely, it doesn’t matter how small the gift is, it’s the thought that counts. The waitress brings a large salad to start, smothered in a creamy dressing, tasty but overwhelming. For my main course, she brings a saucepan full of veal and mushroom stew and a plate-size portion of rosti. She cuts half the rosti and serves half the veal. My large plate is full. She then puts a lid on the saucepan and a cover over the remaining rosti. I finish my plate. The rosti is sensational, crisp and buttery and it soaks up the cream sauce of the veal. The waitress takes my plate and refills it with the remaining rosti and veal from the saucepan. She expects me to eat a second main course. At lunch, I’d noticed the portions were large, but this is heart-attack territory. I eat half the second serve. I can’t move for an hour afterwards. The waitress asks me if I want dessert. I fear my dreams tonight will be of being stuck inside a wedding cake and having to eat my way out.