I’ve left the great weight of my panniers in the hotel room and set out on Craig (the name of my bike) with only the great weight of last night’s dinner to lug around. Craig and I both notice the difference, the creaks in his suspension and my knees have disappeared as we cycle past palatial houses with immaculate gardens and expansive views of Lake Constance. Old grapevines tangle up wooden sheds, apple trees bear fruit early in the season in neatly-rowed and netted orchards. Stalls beside the bike path sell buckets of apples and bottles of apple juice.
In Hagnau am Bodensee, the Rathaus has a flowering garden leading down to the shore and we cyclists ride straight under the imposingly wide and regal building through a convenient tunnel. I like a town hall that is so approachable. Next to the path, in the garden, is a small amphitheatre for musical recitals.
Lunch today is taken in a beer garden under the shade of trellised vines, in what looks like a cafe exclusively for cyclists. Everyone eating here, and there are many, appears to have a helmet beside their meal. Families on a leisurely day out, old men riding home from the shop, couples in matching cut-off pants, the lycra-clad brigade. It seems to be impossible to cycle past without being lured into the garden. And I must say the beer is impossibly cheap - a bottle of water costs more than the amber fluid. So, I partake.
At Lindau, with the snow-patched Swiss Alps looming large over the lake, I wobble over the cobblestones and take shaky photos of the harbour with a statue of a lion guarding the entrance. An Austrian boat putters into the safe waters. The border with Austria is a few kilometres south-east of here. And a little further on is Liechtenstein and Switzerland. I could ride into four countries in one day... but I have another beer instead. Tax havens masquerading as Principalities are not my cup of tea, or jug of beer, as it were.
The next day I ride in the opposite direction along the lake towards Uberlingen. The water is jade green and shallow this far up the lake. A man sitting in a giant plastic strawberry catches my attention, as do the luscious red berries he’s selling. I buy a punnet, sit at a bus stop and eat half of them. As I resume my cycle, I’m so lost in the taste of the strawberries that I fail to notice I’ve ridden past the end of the lake. I look back in vain to wave goodbye. As Homer, the great American philosopher and nuclear technician, would say, ‘Yuuummm... strawberries.’
A kind soul has installed bird houses thirty metres up a cliff face. His handiwork is well used judging by all the flapping and squawking and babybird-heads-poking-out! The road climbs gradually for the next hour. I can’t locate the bike path so I alternate between the wide footpath and highway. Trucks are as courteous as pensioners at a bowls club, all waiting their turn, no hurry Dear.
As I don’t have a map, I have no idea where I am, so let’s call this Bodensee Heights Tableland shall we? Acres of wheat fields and cheery orchards, sorry that should read cherry orchards. And then the perfect village, an old church next to a school in a stone building, opposite a cow barn, covered in solar panels, a cow pasture leading down to a bridge over a bubbling stream to a football field, with the nets still attached to both goals. In the backyard of one house, a family eat lunch, the smell of bratworst wafts across the path.
Next stop is Messkirch, where a delicatessen sells warm bratworst on a roll! It’s downhill all the way from here into the valley formed by the Danube River.
When it comes to rivers that have always enchanted me, the Danube is up there with the Mississippi. I’ve ridden beside the Mississippi near the delta at New Orleans and today I ride along the Danube. It’s hardly the Blue Danube up here, near the source. In fact, it’s so shallow and insignificant, I see two children wading in mid-stream. But, it is the Danube, the second-longest river in Europe and a waterway that acts as the border for ten countries. The EuroVelo 6 now follows the Danube all the way to the delta in Romania, two thousand kilometres east.
To celebrate my meeting with the Danube, I eat the last of the strawberries and admire the fish ladders constructed to allow migration upstream. My destination tonight is Sigmaringen, a pretty village with a monster castle. Bleak, overbearing and austere, the medieval Sigmaringen Castle was briefly the seat of the French Vichy Government-in-exile at the end of World War Two. Perhaps that colours it’s appearance for me.
At the foot of this pile of rock, I eat rhubarb strudel and contemplate tomorrow’s waltz along the Danube. Sorry, had to finish with that shocker...