Sunday, May 30, 2010

May 4, Tuesday, The Wicked Wind of the North (Sea)

Today our goal was simply to "get north of Basel". We got through Basel in 1.5 hours with minimal frustration.

Skies were clearing following the rain of the prior two days. It was quite cool, however. We had a good breakfast and warm jackets to keep us.

Once north of Basel, the bike path along the Rhine was under construction. We did a little cyclocross and then decided to head back over to the road route north. The road route was pleasant despite the howling winds. We headed through a small town called Efingen-Kirchen. It was cute and cozy. It was about 11:30 am, and we decided to do the 20km to Schleingen before stopping for lunch, as we were not quite hungry yet.

As we turned out of Efingen-Kirchen, we pointed straight uphill at ~15% for the next 6-7 miles, rambling through vineyards, apple and cherry orchards. It was a mix of dirt and very narrow paved roads - Germany national route #13. We were pointing straight into a north wind, which made the hills even more demoralizing. At some point, it started blowing rain, too. So, we decided to eat lunch and call it a day when we got to Schleingen. We lunched at a cafe called Heitzman. We'd seen a couple of them along the way. It was a reasonable 10 Euro for 2 large coffees, 2 sandwiches and a pastry.

We spotted a hotel/restaurant "Gasthaus Sonne", which looked nice. No one was around, however, so we stopped in the parking lot to asses our options. We had a young boy yell down at us. He then came down to help us. He was the son of the owners. We arranged to take their one available room for 73 Euros including breakfast.  We also arranged to stay for dinner at 7:00.

Dinner was fantastic! Frau Grimm came and introduced herself and chatted a bit. We told her that her son had done quite well with his English skills. We had a 1/2 liter of a local rose wine, which was good. We also had the "Menu 1" feast with pork loin topped in mushroom gravy, white asparagus, tomatoes, beans, broccoli, cauliflower, spetzel noodles and croquettes (fried potato goodness). It was the best German-style meal I've had.

Gasthous Sonne was another good find in a small town - highly recommended if you are in the area.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

May 3, Monday - "Automowers" and Gas Station Bistros

I had a long winter's nap from 8:30 pm until 6:30 am. There's nothing like 10 hours sleep to beat the jet lag. We had breakfast at 7:00 - an AMAZING breakfast (it should have been at 25 CHF per person!).

I had croissant, danish, apricot preserves, raw honey, orange and passion fruit juice, eggs, yogurt, fresh fruit, muesli and coffee. By 9:00 we were off on the bikes!

We thought it might be hard to navigate ot of town. But, it was very easy to get to Rumlang and then Oberglatt, which had a cool, modern bell tower on the church. Then, we picked up Swiss national bike route 29, which was easy to follow.  It was cold in the morning, but the sun peeked out here and there.

We intersected route 60 and joined that north-westward. The off-road (meaning paved, but separated from the cars) cycling infrastructure was amazing. We only had a couple blind crossings at roundabouts, but started to get used to it.

Lunch was in Koblenz (the Swiss version), where we stopped at a pizza/pasta place. We had bruschetta and pesto pasta - yum! We joined route 2 heading directly west and almost completely off the road and rambled through the rolling mustard fields and vineyards. We enjoyed several varieties of lilacs in bloom - all with their sweet fragrance. We also enjoyed the regular billboards advertising the "Automower". Apparently, it is like a Roomba for your lawn. Seems like there might be a market for that here in the USA, no? Of course, it might supplant the driving mower market, which is dominated by John Deere.

We decided Rhinefelden was about far enough for the day (nearing 100k, or 60 miles). We tried a hotel right on the Rhine in a cute town center. It was 195 Euro, so we decided to push on. In a small suburb, Herten, we found a business/industrial hotel for 90 Euro and decided to call it a day (as rain was starting to fall lightly). We only had 23 Euro in cash that I had scammed off my dad before we left. And, we weren't sure what the dining scene or ATM scene was within walking distance. And, the hotel restaurant was not open. So, we hit the "Bistro" attached to the gas station next to the hotel. We were just hoping we could A) purchase dinner for less than 23 Euro, or B) pay with credit card. It turned out A was the only option. So, we had to be strategic. We both had the baked lasagne at 5.70 each and a small beer at 2.30 each, meaning we came in just below our Euro threshold - probably could have had a salad, too. Phew! And, much to my surprise, the gas station bistro wasn't all that bad...the lasagne was, in fact, tasty with 60+ miles in my legs.

We took a short walk after dinner and located the ATM machine in town, at which point we loaded up on enough cash to not put ourselves in that situation again. Upon returning to the hotel, we resisted the urge to buy WeiB Wein or Rot Wein from the vending machine near our room. 

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Day 1 - May 1, 2010, Saturday/May 2, 2010, Sunday

3:00 am wake up call (half way to resetting our clocks!)

4:00 am departure for SFO.

Had boarding passes and got in the short checkin line. No charge for the bike bags...hooray!

We had a relatively short flight to Atlanta (~4:30) and had just enough time to grab a quick healthy-like lunch a "Nature's Bounty". I had a half Greek salad/half lentil salad, which seemed good at the time. Unfortunately, I think the lentils were doused with MSG, which gave me a headache.

At 4:30 EDT, we boarded the 9 hour flight to Zurich. We watched "Leap Year" and "Crazy Heart" on the plane, read a bit, and dozed a bit. We arrived at 7:50 am in Zurich on May 2. We walked out of the airport to find a "Park Inn Zurich" shuttle waiting. Fantastic! It was pouring rain. Bummer! A 10 minute drive had us to the hotel. They checked us in right away - huge customer service points! We put together the bikes and had a shower.

Around 1:00 pm, we took the train to downtown Zurich. It was 12 CHF (~$10.50) per person to ride the train. Kinda steep given it was only about 10km. We emerged from the ginormous, 3-level train station and walked around downtown in the constant, but fairly light rain. We got some Francs from the ATM and stopped for lunch at a falafel joint (the only thing that seemed to have reasonable prices). We struck up a conversation with a guy from Benicia, who happened to be the IT director from Pixar, who was there on business. He recommended we check out two of the churches in town. The first was a church built in the 1100-1200s - in remarkable condition - probably because Switzerland has stayed neutral through the big wars. The 2nd church had a chapel with all the stained glass done by Chagal. That was pretty cool.

We stopped at the local Starbucks for some caffeine (didn't work). It was quite the hopping place on a Sunday afternoon - with lots of students there studying and others enjoying good company. It was hard to even find a place to sit. It was 12 CHF for 2 coffees - yikes!

After our short stop in downtown, we were pretty beat. The staying awake thing wasn't going so well. So, we headed back to the hotel around 4:30. I quickly dozed off into a little nap. At 5:30, my parents called, and we were both so out of it, it took a while to notice it was the phone ringing. They asked a simple question like "have you done anything today?", and I remember not being able to come up with words to complete a simple answer. Yes, I was that tired and out of it. Eventually, I woke up enough to have a perfunctory conversation with them.

Then, we headed down to eat at the hotel restaurant at 6:30. It was either the high-zoot lounge at the hotel or the adjoining McDonald's. So, high-zoot lounge, it was. I had a nice corn and clam chowder with french fries and a nice Swiss wine. We joked that they had gone over to McDonald's to get the fries. But, they were much too good for that. Dinner was 43 CHF.  At 8:30, we finally gave into our jet lag and went to bed. In the future, we will try to get flights that arrive in the early afternoon. It's too hard to stay up from 7:00 am all the way until night.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Cool things about Deutschland

I've finally emerged a bit from my jet lag and flu - enough to finish up my trip journal and ponder all the cool things we experienced on our trip. Here are a few of my favorite things:

1. "Spargel" season. It was asparagus season in full force while we were there, and every menu featured a section dedicated to the hallowed white asparagus of the region.

2. "Spargeltoast". If you have not had this decadent creation, then you have not fully lived. I could feel my arteries crying out as the plate got put in front of me. Buttered, browned bread topped with a row of white asparagus, a slice of ham or pork chop, and a cheesy, melty mixture with Hollandaise sauce poured all over the top. A side of pommes frites and a glass of Badischer wine, and you are good to go for dinner (and your first heart attack).

3. Community gardens. I hadn't quite realized that Germans were so into their fresh produce. Every big city and small village had green space dedicated to community gardens. Each family had a shed and a pretty large plot of land - some even had "winter gardens", or little green-houses on their plots.

4. An unparalleled, separated cycling infrastructure. Both Germany and northern Switzerland have this. Full signed routes (with separate road or mountain bike signage at every intersection). Every fast road - those with 35 mph or higher speeds had a completely separated side path in the greenbelt that was paved. Other routes took us on very small roads with very little traffic. A detailed map is needed to navigate the routes, however, since the villages mentioned on the signs are generally quite small. In the big cities, there was a completely separated cycling infrastructure, as well, with cycling given first-class citizenship, often at the expense of motor vehicle space. Cycling paths were also distinct from walking paths. The routes through cities were not fast for cycling, but very safe and efficient. Of course, German drivers were somewhat less laid-back then their French counterparts - quick to point out a side path if you'd happened to miss it - as they herded you through a roundabout. :)

5. All roads built for speed. Note the thing above about German drivers. They LOVE their speed. This means all the steep mountain roads are perfectly paved, banked, and s-curved. This also means that and adventurous cyclist could easily go well over 50 mph if so desired (I did not, due to the bouncing load of luggage behind my seat), but I had to sit on my brakes HARD to keep it under 40.

6. Red Reisling - who knew it was a red grape? Very tasty.

7. Dunkel weizen - Rick introduced me to this tasty beer variant - by the .5 liter glass, of course.

8. "Real" sauerkraut - who knew that pickled cabbage could be so tasty?!

9. "Real" Schninken (Black Forest Ham) - like a very smoky version of prosciutto. Not at all like what they call "Black Forest Ham" at the supermarket here.

10. The Schwarzwald - what a lovely place! Renamed to "Sarah's Schwarzwald World" for the duration of the trip.

11. Pommes frites - they're just better in Euroland. "Freedom fries" are mostly crap. Or, for some additional fun, try the German-style "croquettes" very tasty fried potato goodness.

12. The "B" that is pronounced as a double-"ss". So weird.

13. Thermalbads (hot springs) - so needed in the cold weather.

14. Apfel struesel (and other tasty bakery creations!)

15. A winter-wonderland in May - inconvenient, but lovely.

16. The cute, gingerbread houses everywhere.

17. Seeing storks and swans in the wild and hearing the "cuku" coming from the forest.

18. Inexpensive, Turkish "pizza and doner (schwarma) places where you can get a hearty lunch.

19. Strong coffee served with real cream.

20. Cheese, lots and lots of cheese - I don't know all the varieties I had, but they were all good.

21. Pork with mushroom gravy and pork topped with cherries. The Germans really know how to do up their pork in 100 different and interesting ways.