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KONSTANZ TO BASEL
The youth hostel was pretty empty, so again we got a room to ourselves. All our clothes needed to either get a good wash, or be given time to dry out, so we decided to stay in Konstanz for two nights. Denis asked the affable young man on reception duty if Mr Bendall or Mr Young had booked in. No, they hadn't. Denis told him that we were concerned about our fiends who were lost somewhere in Europe. "Don't worry," said the receptionist," Europe is not such a big place. You will find them".
We hadn't passed through any retail area between the wharf and the hostel, so we didn't know which direction to take the bus into town. Again I was pushed across the road to ask a couple of gentlemen who were taking an evening stroll. The bus wasn't due for about 20 minutes, and as we huddled in the bus shelter, trying to work out the correct fare into town, the older of the two men returned. He was very chatty, and had obviously decided we were in definite need of his assistance. He took hold of my arm (the better to channel his questions and answers?) and tried to explain the ins and outs of the Konstanz transport system. He very solemnly tore bus tickets out of his own book and handed them round, then when the bus came, he climbed aboard too! He rode with us in to town and was still holding my arm when we got off the bus. I was a bit afraid he was under the impression we had invited him to tea! But no, he just wanted to show me where to catch the bus back to the hostel, and to make sure I remembered to get in the front door of the bus after 10 pm, not the middle door.
The next day was still rather miserable, so we were glad we weren't riding. We all decided to split up and do our own thing, so Denis and I walked in to town and wandered round the back streets a bit. It was Sunday, and also happened to be First Holy Communion day at the cathedral, so we didn't go in. We decided instead to catch the bus out to Insel Mainau, the private property of the Swedish Prince Lennart von Bernadotte. The island is famous for its gardens, and you can wander around to your heart's content once you've paid the entrance fee. As well as the expansive gardens there is a world class butterfly house, and an exotic orchid collection set up in a glasshouse decked out like a tropical island.
We then caught an excursion (read: very expensive) ferry over to Meersburg, to have a decent look around. We took the steps to the upper town and came out near the altes schloss, so we paid our money and wandered on through. Looking back afterwards, it was the best medieval castle/fortress we saw on the whole trip. The first building on the site was begun in 400 AD; it is generally unrestored and is very sparsely furnished, but you can wander through on you own, just follow the 'Rundgang" signs. You can stop and romanticise for as long as you like, sitting in a window embrasure, looking out on to the rose garden. And I was almost beside myself when I discovered the oubliette! The place even has an escape tunnel, running from the centre of the castle down to the lake shore below, what bliss!
That night Denis and I decided to search for local colour, and popped in to a little bar we had both noticed on the way up from the ferry. We ordered two large beers and a mixed platter of meat, bread and pickles. The regular customers were really friendly, and we soon started chatting to an elderly couple who were sharing the (only) table with us. We now have an invitation to stay at their place, around the corner, next time we are in Konstanz. They were even kind enough to say they thought we were on our honeymoon, which was really sweet, given that we will celebrate our 25th anniversary this year!
Day 12 broke clear but cold. It was time to move on, and at least now our route was covered by the next map, which we had with us. We were, by now, concerned about R and K. Even if they had ridden the southern shore of Lake Constance they should have met up with us in Konstanz. If we could find no trace of them soon we would have to ring the Australian Embassy.
We crossed back in to Switzerland at Kreuzlingen, where we had our one and only brush with a border guard. We slowed down when we saw two armed guards at the border post, but another cyclist called us through as she passed, saying they didn't need to check our papers. One of the guards took great exception to this, told her in no uncertain terms that he was the one to decide whose papers got checked and whose didn't, and she should stop immediately while he checked all our papers! His gun was nearly as big as he was, so we obeyed, yessir. He just nodded and grunted and waved us through one by one after checking our passports. If we were under suspicion of running guns or drugs you'd think he would have at least had a peek in our panniers!
Our goal today was Schaffhausen, with a lunch stop in Stein am Rhein. We stopped to take a photo at Ermatingen, where I managed to drop our (borrowed) map into the water. It was too far down to reach, and too far in from the water's edge. We'd just about abandoned hope of retrieving it when Denis spied some long sticks on the jetty; I don't know what their real purpose was, but one of them made a perfect soggy map fisher-outer.
Grazing cows on the way to Stein am Rhein
A little old man who was strolling on the wharf started up a conversation and told us about the lake freezing over, and people skating from the southern shore to the northern; and about the monks on Reichenau, poor things, who used to be rationed to 5 litres of wine per day :-(
Denis put the map through the top straps of his pannier to dry out, and we continued navigating by the simple method of following the river bank. We passed through several villages that were practically deserted - Monday was probably their "Ruhetag" (rest day). We arrived in Stein am Rhein just on 12.00, as everything was closing for lunch, but we had bought ours at a supermarket along the way, so we sat in the Rathausplatz and dined in solitary splendour. The sun was shining and the buildings protected us from the wind. The murals in Rathausplatz are unbelievably ornate, and the gilt fountain is stunning. Walking around the shops later our Australian accents were noticed by another Aussie who was visiting with his wife and daughter. Little did we know the significance of this man!
Rathausplatz, Stein am Rhein
We left Stein am Rhein and continued on the right river bank, only to be told by a local cyclist a little further up that we should cross to the left bank, as it was more scenic. We backtracked a little, crossed over the river, and rode on the left bank all the way to Schaffhausen, even though the cycle maps show the path to be on the right.
As usual, when we reached Schaffhausen we found it difficult to find the youth hostel. We headed straight for the Hauptbahnhof, where you would usually find a map of the town showing important places of interest - the local youth hostel usually warranted a mention. Denis went down to the station to find the map, but was very vague with his instructions when he rejoined the group. We asked a lady who was riding by, and by luck she was headed in that direction. We just tagged along behind her until she gave us the signal to turn off.
We were too early to book in, but we were allowed to lock up our bikes and stow our panniers inside. We then walked down to the Rhine Falls, were suitably impressed, and caught a bus back to the hostel. We arrived back to a rather unwelcoming notice on the reception window: "Reception closed until 19.00. Staff are having their tea". It would have been nice if the lady who wouldn't let us in had told us what time to be back. We had no idea which direction to take in our search for food, or even if there was any food available nearby. We headed north through a rather affluent suburb and stumbled across a new pizza restaurant. The clientele was very sparse, and I think six for dinner probably trebled their average Monday takings.
The pizza was tasty, but expensive and not very filling. The owner/chef was very friendly though, and wanted us all to come and stay in his "very large house just outside town". We could stay as long as we wanted. We politely declined his offer.
Back at the hostel, reception was finally open. Immediately after we checked in we asked the manager if two other Australians had been there recently. He told us there were some there now - a family of three. Just then the fellow we had spoken to at Stein am Rhein walked in the door. "More Aussie cyclists", he said. "More?" we said. "Yeah,"he replied," there were two blokes here last night. They left this morning. They said they had got separated from the rest of their party, but expected to catch up with them in Basel in two days time." We checked the register just to make sure, and there they were Bendall and Young - at least we knew they were alive and kicking. Boy, would we give them what for when we got to Basel!
The Schaffhausen youth hostel is an attractive old manor house set in a large farm-like garden. The building and surroundings are very pleasant, it's a pity the reception is so disorganised.
We decided to catch the train to Basel so that we would be sure to meet up with the other two before they moved on again. As Schaffhausen is in a bulge of Swiss territory surrounded by Germany, we had the option of travelling with either the German or Swiss railways. As the Swiss option involved changing trains at Zurich, we decided to go German. The German trains are different from the Swiss ones when it comes to carrying bikes. In the German trains the guard opens the door to the baggage car, you load the bike yourself (with or without panniers, your choice), bungy it to something immovable, then move through into the second class carriages via the interconnecting door. When validating your ticket the guard asks where you are getting off so that he can come along and unlock the door again. In Switzerland you need to show your bicycle ticket, duly punched. In Germany you get a stick-on slip of paper that forms a ring around, say, your top tube. The guard can see at a glance if the bike is valid.
It didn't sink in until we arrived at Basel Bad Bahnhof that the German trains stopped a couple of kilometres from the city centre. We just hopped on our bikes and headed in a southerly direction. I had photocopied any appropriate diagrams (you can't call them maps!) from the Hostelling International guide, so we knew the approximate location of the Basel hostel.
On the way to the hostel we tried to cut through a park on the northern river bank, but a very adamant gardener insisted that the park was for "eating and drinking, not for bicycles". He wouldn't even allow us to walk our bikes through! We found the hostel fairly easily and were lucky that we had arrived early - the place was filling up fast and there weren't many beds left (we hadn't felt the need to book ahead as all the previous hostels had been easy to get into - we had only pre-booked Zurich and Interlaken as that was over Easter; and Chur, as that was not a hostel). Denis and I got a very pleasant "double" room, so we were happy ;-)
Roy and Kim arrived about 17.00 and still managed to get in, although, at first, they were told the place was full. They were very pleased to see our bikes chained to the rail (no secure parking) when they arrived. We were very pleased to see their bikes chained to the rail when we returned from sightseeing.
Roy, Mary, Denis and I went out for tea that night. We chose an Italian restaurant not far from the hostel. Italian is one of the official languages of Switzerland, right? And we were in an Italian restaurant, right? And the menu was labelled in Italian, with German descriptions, OK? So, as a side dish I ordered "Insalata verde" (green salad), a pretty normal order in an Italian restaurant. The waiter looked at me strangely, so I repeated it. "I don't speak English", he said. "It's not English, it's Italian", I replied. "I'm not Italian", he retorted. So I ordered a "grüne Salat" (green salad) instead ;-D
There was lots to see in Basel so we stayed a second day and night. We were actually still on schedule at that stage, as catching the train had saved us a day.