The hottest week in Europe – ever – it seems, and we chose that one to ride the bike to Heidelberg Germany to fly it to the US. Of course, we had no idea when we made this plan a couple of months ago that this would happen. Even the week before, the weather forecasts didn’t show 45+ Celsius on the thermometer. It seemed to get hotter and hotter the further east we went.
So our original aspirations of seeing some of the key stops had to change. Remaining flexible, not on the destination, but the path we would take. This meant skipping CERN (I really wanted to go there), and Salzburg Austria. But our strategy of staying two days in places we love wasn’t too hard. And it allowed us to recover a bit from a day of hard riding in blistering heat.
This is pretty much what we wish we’d had the entire way. I’d credit the creator but I don’t know who the genius is – but I laughed so hard when Jeff showed it to me I had to include it.
Our final two day layover was in Colmar. It’s a town about an hour south of Strasbourg, on the border of France and Germany in Alsace, and has a perfectly preserved old town center filled with half timbered buildings and Gothic cathedrals dating back to the 13th century. It made us wonder if the set designers for Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley might have paid them a visit while they were conjuring up what those mythical streets might look like.
Canals snake through the town that sits between two rivers – The Rhine and La Lauch. We stayed right on the Little Venice Canal. It’s a lovely area and for 6 euros they’ll take you on a boat ride under bridges, past geranium laden outdoor dining spots that will tempt you for a cool drink after your tippy boat ride.
Walking around town can be a little treacherous, because you find yourself looking up and the cobbles are uneven under your feet. High heeled wedges are not recommended – no matter how cute they look in the window.
We visited the weekly antiques market. I heard an English speaking local tour guide telling his group that these purveyors of local treasures are ‘the real heroes’ with the history on display on their many tables. Chandeliers from old houses, paintings, crockery. I collect blue bottles. It’s just a thing. I buy them in cities we visit and I found a wonderful 19th century blue soda bottle with a sterling silver siphon and had a wonderful conversation with the seller. Most of the stands were run by old men – and luckily for me this one had a granddaughter who could speak Angles.
I love church bells. We hear them every morning and night from our local church in Benimachlet. Colmar is a city with some serious church bells. We were walking by and there was a funeral going on so all the bells in town were ringing. Here is just a taste.
This church had something I had never seen before. Instead of a sun dial, it had an annual dial. This tells the inhabitants what month it is. It’s not like people didn’t know the seasons – especially those living by the planting and harvesting of crops. But for those city dwellers, it put the church further at the center as the keepers of information.
Colmar is so well preserved with pre-French Revolutionary architecture because they failed to do what so many communities did during the revolution. They didn’t burn the town to the ground, taking all the local aristocracy with it. So Colmar survives until today to show us what it was like to live during the Middle Ages.
Museums abound in Colmar, including the birthplace and home of Frederic Auguste Bartoldi – the designer of the Statue of Liberty. Many of his works can be seen in the home where he grew up, that is now a museum celebrating his life’s work. There are arrows in the cobbles for a self guided Colmar tour and they are all emblazoned with the Statue of Liberty.
We made it to Heidelberg as the heat of the day was reaching it crescendo. The bike safely nestled in the arms of our exporter, we spent the day with other riders who were finishing their epic rides. Some who had ridden to NordCap – the furthest point in Europe at the top of Norway. Another who had completed a 4500 mile 5 week journey around all of Eastern Europe. And still another who had just decided two weeks in French wine country was enough of a challenge.
All of us were using the same service – http://www.knopftours.com/Web-Site/Welcome.html to help make our lives easier. Stefan has been leading tours for years, but his services are also ala carte. He’ll just import and export your bike where ever you need, if that’s what you want. He’ll make calls on your behalf for a whole host of add ons. And he leads tours in multiple countries – including the US. His workshop is covered in Turkish carpets – he loves bikes just that much. And he’ll provide all the tools you’ll ever need for repairs. I can’t recommend him highly enough.
His compound in Heidelberg has the feel of a Spanish Albergue. The accommodations are simple and packed with bikes from all over the world. But the feeling of camaraderie between those beginning and ending journey’s is all Pilgrim. There was a group of Kuwaiti guyS who regaled us with stories of their Norwegian adventure. We heard stories of riding through Eastern African from an American guy from LA. And stories from the Silk Road from Mongolia and through the ‘Stans’ and Turkey. I guess ‘Caminos’ mean something different for each of us.
I was a little jealous of Stefen’s wife’s car. Mainly that she has a car at all. But this old original Fiat 500 in cool mint green is pretty sweet.
A dinner at a pretty obscure place nearby – but is a must eat when visiting Stefan.
1000 miles later and we’ve flown away over the Alps we didn’t get to visit on this trip, but it’s just inspired us for the future. Although next time, I think we’ll be driving on four wheels with the AC and the music going. Fully hydrated and ready for adventure.