Thursday, August 29, 2013

Montbovon - Lausanne: Back on the Via Francigena

Montbovon - Lausanne 78km no trains no buses just pedalling.

Ruth: Today was all about closing the gap and returning to Lausanne where we stopped last year. It was a 
strange feeling arriving at the lake and heading away from Rome, but we are making sure that we 
complete every kilometre between Canterbury and Rome.  Our ride started high up in the mountains,
passed through the hilltop town of Gruyere (famous for cheese), contoured up and down for a while, 
and then made a screaming descent towards the lake. 

We contoured up above the lake on the #1 national cycle path.  It is both spectacular and 
gruelling, as it goes up and down through terraced vineyards high above the lake shore.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Spiez to Montbovon: They Speak French Here!

Spiez to Montbovon: 82 km 

Ruth: We had a beautiful but long ride today. I decided to take a train over the pass cutting 17 km and 350 meters of steep climbing. We are now relaxing at a beautiful farm that breeds Bernese mountain dogs. One of them has befriended us and I think she is bilingual.

 About 20 km back we entered the Canton of Vaud, which is French, and suddenly we are no longer illiterate and mute. As much as l like the game of charades, it will be nice to talk with people again. Lack of language skills can be an intimidating barrier.  I believe that is the reason that  many of the German pilgrims that we met are stopping at Fribourg, the last German speaking city on the Jacobsweg. 
It was frustrating and embarrassing to travel in Austria and Switzerland with no knowledge of German.  In spite of having German great grandparents on both sides, no ancestral memory gave me any clues to unlocking the language. For instance, what is one supposed to do when faced with a sign that says "Ausfahrt"?  I had to rely instead on  my imagination.  

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Brienzwiler to Spiez: Close Encounters with the Elusive Goat King

Brienzwiler to Spiez: 42 km
This was supposed to be our easy ride, but the Lakes Route 9 chose the very scenic but cliff climbing route rather than the flat side of the lake to Interlaken. 

Legend has it that when the clouds move into the mountains and threaten rain, one might just catch a glimpse of the elusive Goat King. We were warned that during mating season he could be lured out of his den by the scent of sweaty cyclists climbing in the cliffs above. Of course, some deny his existence, but we were fortunate enough to spot the Goat King in his natural environment.

After placating him with mars bars he invited us back to his Goat King lair.




Monday, August 26, 2013

Luzern to Brienzeiler: Over a pass and into the 16th century

We bagged another pass today. The Brunig pass is only 1000 m, but that is 600 m more than where we started the day. Once over the pass we took a secondary road into Brienzwiler, and the 16th century. It seems that this town missed the memo that all quaint towns should embrace tourism. Many of the houses, including the pilgrim hostel, were built in the late 16th century. They are extensively carved and ornamented, but the wood is unpainted and has darkened with age. The orientation of the houses, hunched around narrow winding lanes, recalls the life of a late medieval farming village. And the town of Brienzwiler does all of this without even appearing to be aware of its own beauty.


The pilgrim hostel here was another treat. This place was started by Christian and his wife, who as pilgrims, know exactly what we need after a long hard day. I highly recommend it to anyone on the Jacobsweg in Switzerland.



Saturday, August 24, 2013

Walenstadt - Rapperswil

Walenstadt - Rapperswil 52 km of flat and beautiful cycle paths.


The welcome at the Rapperswil Pilger Herberge was one of the best you will find. This is a gem of a place and a must stay if you are on the Camino in Switzerland.
We really needed the hot showers, because the heavens opened up on us during our last 5 km into town. Everything that we need is here, a cold beer, comfy chairs and my own personal chef Gordo making me a tortellini dinner. Life is good.


Friday, August 23, 2013

Feldkirch, Austria to Walenstadt, Switzerland: Canadian foreign aid


60 km
We tripled our country count today, starting in Austria, passing through most of the length of Liechtenstein, and finishing at the end of a lake, Walensee, in Switzerland.
By virtue of its novelty and a whiff of the exotic, Liechtenstein was the highlight of the day.  It has only 36,000 citizens, but according to Wikipedia they enjoy the highest per capita purchasing power in the world.  It shows, in the numerous luxury autos, the meticulously maintained landscape, and general sense of material well-being.  Some of this affluence no doubt flows from the production of false teeth and sausage casings (Liechtenstein leads the world in the manufacturing of both of these) but the real money spinner is financial services.
While it tries to pass itself off as providing legitimate financial services, Liechtenstein's selling feature is its low personal and corporate tax rates (only Andorra has a lower corporate rate in Europe) and its banking secrecy, and the result has been pure gold.  For example, the Prince of Liechtenstein, the head of state, has an estimated net worth of $5B.  This is like the mayor of Esquimalt being richer than Jim Pattison.  Of course, the downtown of Vaduz, the capital, bears little resemblance to Esquimalt, as there are a shocking number of banks, investment firms and accountants.  More than 70,000 corporations, or about 2 for every citizen, are registered in Liechtenstein.
I like to think that Canada's wealthy have done their bit to ensure that the residents of Liechtenstein are not subject to the vagaries of the false teeth market.  While it is of course impossible to get solid figures regarding the lost tax revenue, I would be willing to bet a Swiss franc, the currency in Liechtenstein, that Canada spends less on foreign aid than it loses through foregone tax revenue in the various foreign tax shelters.  Canada's rich: helping to ensure there is a Lexus in every driveway in Liechtenstein.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Imst-St.Anton-Feldkirk: Two Days over the Arlberg Pass

Imst- St. Anton 50km
St. Anton - Feldkirk  65km
Elevation gained over the Arlberg Pass 1000 m

I did it! I did it!!!!
Yesterday and today were the first real challenges on our ride. 
But people, add this to your bucket list: cycling in Austria is amazing! In 175 km we have only spent 40 km on roads, and they were quiet. The rest of the time we were on magical bike paths winding through the most beautiful valleys.
This morning the grind was very stiff as we climbed 500 m in 8 km, but the rest of the ride was downhill.

It is Gord's birthday today and I can't think of a better celebration than a mountain pass followed by a great pasta dinner. 
The youth hostel where we are staying is much older than the farm manor at Imst. In 1360 documents describe it as an old building. It was a leper colony at that time and later served as a hospital during the recurring bouts of Black Death in the region.   We are hoping both bacteria have died out by now.


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Innsbruck to Imst: First day back on the Camino

Imst, Austria
Innsbruck to Imst 60km all on bike path and flat until last 10km
Romedihof  Backpacker Hostel

This morning we parted company with Innsbruck and our incomparable hosts Kurt and Ilse.  We are very taken with the area and I am sure we will see both the city and our friends again.

Any sadness regarding our departure was quickly eclipsed by the excitement of our first day of cycling.  The cycle route was extraordinary, providing a separate cycle trail, mostly paved, for almost the entire 60 km ride to Imst.  The last 10 km in particular constituted some of the most beautiful cycle touring I have ever experienced, as our 8 foot strip of asphalt snaked through the forest, crossed small bridges over the Inn river, and wandered through villages and farms.  Although we have not actually gained much in elevation, the valley is narrowing and it feels like we are climbing up to the pass. That will be tomorrow's work.
Our accommodation this evening is a hostel located in a former inn constructed in1460.  It has a medieval feeling, with groin vaulted hallways and low stone doorways.  We got into the pilgrim spirit by sharing dinner with Marco, an Italian who is walking a portion of Jakobsweg.


Sunday, August 18, 2013

Tyrolian Food in Innsbruck and suppressing the urge to sing, "The Hills Are Alive."

 Our week in Innsbruck is coming to an end and we will take up our bike pilgrimage on Tuesday heading first  up the Inn river  following the Camino to Santiago or Jakobsweg and then returning to the Via Francegena when we connect with it in Lausanne .

 We have had a wonderful introduction to Austria with  lots of time enjoying the beautiful mountains and sampling  the best of Tyrolean Food. Ilse and Kurt are both fabulous cooks and  each night we discover another fabulous local dish.   We have really enjoyed everything especially the Tyrolean dumpling including Speckknödel (dumplings with pieces of bacon) and Spinatknödel (made of spinach) and another dessert knödel with apricots in the center! I have had so many dumplings that Gord now refers to me affectionately as his little knödel.

I secretly want to sing the Sound of Music songs all the time, but I try to suppress the urge as much as possible, given it is an American movie that most Austrians have never seen. I was overcome at one point today and burst into a Chorus of the yodlelling goatherd song for Ilse and Kurt. As far as my secret research has determined, there are a few Austrian elements in the movie. They are the following:
-The Von Trapps were a real Austrian Family
-Edelweiss is an Austrian song
-Whiskers on kittens
-Brown paper packages ( thanks Beatrice)
-Lonely goats
And the Hills really are alive with the Sound of Music!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Loving Innsbruck after a rough date


Our bikes arrived a day after us, having spent the night on a date that involved some rough play with the American customs officers in Seattle. Gord was able to have a local mechanic repair his brakes and I will buy a new bike computer because the wire to mine was cut. Some poor American beagle is probably still coughing up talcum powder after sniffing through Gordon's other box for what might have looked like cocaine. Damage was luckily minor and the bikes are together and riding well.

We are recovering from our flight in beautiful Innsbruck with our Camino friends Kurt and Ilse. Ilse has given us her attic flat for our stay and it is fantastic, with mountain views in three directions. We may not stay in anything quite so nice as this for the remainder of our trip. If skiing events were on we could watch them from our window. Kurt and Ilse are amazing hosts and we are experiencing the best of the Tyrol by day and sampling the cuisine by night. 

On our first full day we cycled down the Inn river to the restored Medieval village of Hall, where Ilse teaches. For our friend Blair and other lovers of etiology, Innsbruck means bridge over the river Inn, and Hall is middle German for salt which made the town rich in the Middle Ages. The cycle paths along the river are fantastic and we are looking forward to our trip in the other direction.

Since we arrived here Gordon has a special sparkle in his eyes. I have seen it before and it reveals his passion for my only real competitor for his affections... Mountains! Yesterday we went up one side and today we will go up the other side in the gondola.