For those following our do-it-yourself (DIY) cycling trip in Germany/France you’ll know that things have gone very smoothly. We managed to find fantastic last minute accommodations and arrive in towns just in time for local wine festivals; we never got lost and didn’t have even the slightest too-much-travel-time-together-blowup. Well, that all changed just as we entered France (not the country’s fault). The roughly 100 km stretch between the lovely cites of Wissembourg and Strasbourg had us struggling to find the cycle path and a place to sleep. There were tears and angry outbursts—not our finest hours. In the end, all turned out OK. It taught us some lessons and reinforced that the kindness of strangers is alive and well.
Lesson #1: Go to tourist information before lingering over tarte flambée
From the Deutsche Weinstrasse, where we had spent the previous evening partying at a wine festival in Oberotterbach, we cycle a mere 10 km before stopping in Wissembourg, a pretty Alsatian town just across the French border. It’s Saturday and the weekend market is in full swing. We buy fruit, we sip coffee in the sunshine, we wander along the flower-lined canals, we eat tarte flambée (a marvellous pizza-like concoction made with crème fraîche) and we lose track of time. When we go to tourist information, just after 2 pm to inquire about cycle routes and maps for this leg of the trip, it has closed for the day.
Lesson #2: You’re on the same team—play nice
Our plan is to ride about halfway to Strasbourg. How difficult could it be? We ride off looking for signs. I want to go one way, Mike wants to go the other way. We’re both on edge now, realizing we’ve started out late and have nothing booked for the night. We argue and second guess ourselves and each other; it’s not a pretty scene. We ask people for directions. They’re all very kind and try to be helpful with “make a rechts (right) here, a links (left) there,” but they don’t sound confident. I’m feeling the pressure of being the German speaker who has to remember the convoluted instructions while Mike just stands there. Thankfully, many folks speak German in this part of France. None of the instructions pan out, or I choose not to follow them, which irks Mike to no end.
Lesson #3: Trust the Lycra-clad guy, he knows the bike routes
We spot a guy in Lycra bike garb. Surely he’d know. Finally, after an hour of false starts, we ride out of Wissembourg, east to Lauterbourg and onto the EuroVelo 15, a long-distance, mostly car-free cycle route along the Rhine River Valley. We have no photos of this part of the journey. We are still cranky, and the scenery, while pleasant enough is not inspiring me.
Lesson #4: Know the local holidays and prebook if you want a room in the inn
The bike path travels through flat, agricultural land; towns are small and few. We decide to veer up to regional road D468 where there might be more accommodations. We ride from one sleepy town to the next. They all looked deserted but every guesthouse we stop at is completely booked. By 6:30 we’re really panicy. In the village of Roppenheim we stop at a cute-looking auberge/restaurant that is packed to the rafters and smells divine. They have no vacancy but the owner tells us to try two neighbouring places. I’m already getting excited about returning for dinner.
Nathalie, the owner of Hotel La Boheme, just across the street from the yummy smelling restaurant, sees the stress on my face. She explains that Saturday night is always busy and especially today when German visitors are taking extra vacation time around the German Reunification Day holiday (October 3). She kindly offers to phone a few places for us. I’m so grateful. She strikes out at three places in neighbouring villages. Finally, on the fifth call, she finds one available room in the town of Sessenheim, about 10 km away. I’m elated and gush out mercis, danke schönes and thank yous.
Lesson #5: All is forgotten and forgiven over tarte flambée (and more riesling)
We arrive at the Hotel Croix d’Or after dark. A menacing German Shepard on a thick metal chain bounds toward us as we try and park our bikes. The human reception is more friendly and we’re ushered up an old staircase to a room that is in dire need of an update—but who cares, we’re happy just to have a bed. The whole place looks worn out so it’s a shock when we open the door to the attached restaurant. The bright, cavernous room is packed and buzzing with energy. Locals and visitors are here for tarte flambée night (the only thing on the Saturday menu). The owner has kindly set aside a small table for us. It’s not a hardship having tarte flambée twice in a day. The kitchen is cranking them out at dizzying speeds—there’s plain, ham, mushroom and even a dessert variety with apples and cinnamon. It’s amazing how quickly our stress disappears.
Lesson #6: Take photos when things don’t go smoothly—it will improve your blog post
The morning gets off to a poor start when Mike and I have an argument about the best route to Strasbourg. Clearly, yesterday’s lesson #2 has not sunk in. Mike wants to use an app he’s downloaded, I want to follow the main road and the hotel owner is giving us another set of directions to get back on EuroVelo15. To keep the peace, I grudgingly agree to follow the app. It takes us on quiet roads below the Rhine dykes (we rarely see the river). All is well until there’s a fence. The app tells us to keep going. We haul our bikes up an embankment and through a break in the fence. Things are well again until the road changes to rough gravel. The app tells us to keep going. We rattle our way across the challenging surface. I’m not amused but I take solace in knowing that with the Rhine to our left we’re still going the right direction. Thinking back at it, the whole thing was pretty funny. Why didn’t I take photos!? Finally, we reconnect with the EuroVelo 15 and have a pleasant ride the remainder of the way to Strasbourg. We have made reservations there. At least we’ve learned something!
Strasbourg is glorious. I love it. It’s going to get a post of its own.
PS: Don’t let this post scare you off cycling the EuroVelo 15. The majority of people don’t have any route finding difficulties. One post I read stated, “it’s almost impossible to get lost.” That’s embarrassing. I think we’ll just blame it on the complacency instilled by our luck and ease in the previous three weeks, and perhaps a wee bit too much wine.
Posts on previous cycling segments: