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Our first idea of a bike tour in Europe occurred as we visited St. Emillion in Bordeaux and happened to stay in the same hotel where a bike tour had reservations for the evening. We thought this might offer a new perspective for traveling in Europe so we started to research the possibilites. When we mentioned to Conrad Dege that we might be interested in a bike tour, he immediately recommended that we contact Rotalis. Hugh completed his two year assignment to Jubail Saudi Arabia at the end of June 2004. We planned to celebrate the completion of the assignment with a vacation in Europe on bicycle. We made reservations with Rotalis for the seven day tour from St. Gallen Switzerland to Geneva. We met in the Frankfurt Airport two days before the bike tour began; just enough time to pick up our new car at the factory in Sindelfingen and tour Strasbourg. With the help of the car's navigation system we drove from Strasbourg to St. Gallen in time to meet the tour in the afternoon on Saturday July 3rd. All of the group (18 riders and 2 guides) met in the hotel lobby at 4:00 for introductions, instructions and a guided walking tour of the city.
Sunday 04 July 2004
When Rotalis plans a tour route it is designed to provide maximum enjoyment and scenery for the guest with minimum strenuous physical effort. Each days route averages about 45 miles which is either level or downhill. Rotalis provides the bicycle which is an upright 7 speed. The tour package includes all baggage handling, meals, hotels and entrances fees to any special venues. On this first day of the ride, the group met in the hotel lobby and then walked one block to the train station for a 30 minute ride up to Appenzell where the bikes were waiting for us. We each selected a bike and began to make adjustments for a comfortable fit. We changed the pedals to accommodate our cleated bicycle shoes. From the train station we rode through beautiful Swiss farm land on dedicated bicycle trails which had no motorized traffic. About an hour and a half into the ride we came to our first rest stop. There Daniel was waiting with Champagne and fresh strawberries...no doubt we were going to enjoy this trip! The two guides were Austrian students who worked for Rotalis as a summer job. Chris was the ride leader and Daniel was the van driver and lunch chef. Both spoke perfect English; all of the other guest were Germans. Some spoke a little English, others none at all. Fortunately, Hugh speaks enough German to engage them in conversation and extend warm Texas greetings. Now fortified with Champagne, we continued on route that followed the course of the Rhine river into the principality of Liechtenstein to the capital city of Vaduz where we stayed at the hotel Meyerhof. Each evening the goup would meet for dinner and conversation.
On quiet, primarily flatland paths we rode through picturesque vintner villages with lots of southern charm such as Fläsch, Maienfeld and Malans.We took a short break in "Heidedorf" the town which is the home of the author of all of the Heide books. This was our first day to experience a Rotalis picnic lunch. We ate lunch in a gasthof the first day because Daniel was busy with the first day responsibilities. We learned that the picnic was a significant part of the Rotalis experience. Daniel had prepared a beautiful spread featurning local meats, cheeses, breads and wines; beer was also available. There was a fresh garden salad and a selection of pastries and fruits for desert. At each picnic, Daniel would provide a detailed description of all of the items he had purchased that morning for our lunch. In Chur, the oldest city in Switzerland, we toured the old-town and Cathedral. Another hour's ride we stopped for the evening at the "Gartenhotel Sternen".
Tuesday 06 July 2004
We began this day with an a ride on the renowned Glacier Express railway to facilitate the nearly 5,000 vertical ft. climb from Vorderrheintal to Oberalppass. From the train station we had 1 ½ hour hike to the site where Daniel was waiting with the bikes for a descent of 15 bicycle-friendly miles. The hike through the Rhine Gorge was a fantastic nature experience. In the gorge the Rhine river has worn it's way through the site of Europe's largest landslide, creating impressive cliffs. The cogwheel stretch of the Glacier Express began in Disentis, where we visited an interesting baroque church and Benedictine abbey. Before the wonderful descent to the door of our hotel, the "Drei Könige & Post" in Andermatt, Daniel and Chris served up a round of schnapps for everyone to provide warmth and fortification for the fast and cool ride down.
Wednesday 07 July 2004
We began the morning with a bus ride up to the nearly 8,000 ft. Furka Pass, providing a spectacular view of the powerful Rhône Glacier. At the pass, we toured the glacier and made preparation for the fantastic 3,200 vertical foot descent to the alpine valley of Goms. Here we rode through the changing landscape of picture-postcard villages to reach Brig and the Rhône Valley, the warmest and driest region of central Europe measuring less annual precipitation than Sicily. From Visp where the vineyards go as high as 4,000 ft., it was only an hour to Raron where we rode a cable car up 2,000 vertical feet to the Augstbord Region and the Hotel "Alpenhof," in sight of the glaciers of the Lötschentaler Alps.
Thursday 08 July 2004
Our cycling day began with a wonderful descent into the Rhône Valley. We rode through an agricultural region, irrigated by hundreds of small canals called "bisses." Around noon we arrived in Sion, the capital of the canton of Wallis. We toured the town and walked up the city fortress, the Valère where Daniel was waiting with another of his fabulous picnics . We continued on through flatland orchards and vegetable fields with an ever-changing panorama view of vineyard covered mountains. This day proved to be one of the more challenging of the tour because of a common Rhone Valley wind phenomenon. I was riding as second guide for the day which meant I was at the end of the tour to ensure that no stragglers were left behind. The stiff wind was accompanied with a slight drizzle. Three of the ladies elected to ride the van into the hotel rather than fight the wind. The hotel for the evening was the four-star "Porte d'Octodure".
Friday 09 July 2004
Today's ride was mostly along the banks of the Rhone river as it makes its course into Lake Geneva. Our first stop was in St.-Maurice, home of the largest church treasure in Switzerland. In addition to the normal picnic lunch break we managed an extra stop at a riverside pub for what was supposed to be a coffee break, but I can assure you that there was a lot more beer and wine ordered than coffee.. Not long after reaching Lake Geneva we arrived at the Chillon Castle, a medieval construction that is famous for its grafitti from Lord Byron. After touring the castle we boarded the 1910 steam powered side paddle wheeler for a boat ride along the Waadtländer Riviera past Montreux and Vevey to Lausanne. Our last night was at the "Hotel Royal-Savoy", The tour companies have a way of saving the best for last. The final dinner was quite a feast complete with roast and toast to our two Austrian guides.
Saturday 10 July 2004
This was the last day of riding; many of the tour group decided to end their tour in Lausanne and spend the day shopping and site seeing. Six hardy souls decided to continue towards Geneva to complete the ride. Although we had left the Alps, this last ride was the most "mountainous" of the tour. After riding 6 miles along the lakeshore we arrived at the "Côte" and it's famous vineyards. We enjoyed splendid views over the Lake to the Savoy Alps; unfortunately Mont Blanc was hidden in the clouds. Daniel had a special treat at the final picnic; there is an Austrian tradition to drink a shot of schnapps with the bottle cap balanced on your nose. Tradition says that this toast will keep the friendships alive. We continued on little roads through a wonderful vineyard landscape and forest, and arrived at the train staton in Nyon. Here we said our farewells and boarded he train back to St. Gallen where our car was waiting.
Sunday 11 July 2004
Although the bike tour was completed, we still had 5 days to enjoy our new car and visit with the Dege's at their home in Harlingerode. The route took us through Bamberg where we stumbled into a wonderful summer festival. Then we drove on to Harlingerode for a visit with our German friends. We also drove to Hannover to see Volker and Ana and their new baby.
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