Updated by Nina. Covers up to Basel, Switzerland.
At the custom gates at Perly, there was torrential rain. I had spotted lightening strike the next building through our hotel window back in France, so I knew there would be rain ahead across the border into Switzerland. But we really have had a awful lot of weather throughout this trip! Hurricane in Agen, Lightening in Geneva, Hail in Basel (in July well honestly), and then we have gone onto 40C in Mannheim. Fortunately a bed and a roof and a fan have coincided with all of these.
The rain did not dampen our spirits, as we sang the Chicken Song, shouted at red traffic lights, and giggled when I screeched to halt and my camping cooker fell out of my pannier bag. The Swiss man in the street looked at it as if a nuclear bomb had just landed- there were peace flags, and mind the hedgehog posters, everywhere. Geneva was a funny place, and when my dad had written that the old illuminations along the lake were just like any at home, he may well have meant they were unremarkable and dare I say it boring?
We hunted out the youth hostel, having the relaxed luxury of being a day ahead of the 1953 lads. We hung our bikes up in the underground carpark, and went to the ridiculous trouble of locking them (how un Swiss). We wandered around and soon found the red light district and an Ethiopian restaurant. We had only cycled ten miles that day, and so for once the meal of spicy meat with pancakes truly saited us. We are so used to constantly thinking of our next meal, and whether it will be baguette with cheese, or salami for a change!
Swiss drivers did not tend to beep as readily as the French, but given their national sport is not cycling, they tended to give us less room. Fortunately there were cycle paths everywhere, and we made good progress along the north bank of the Lake Leman. I had expected there to be more of a commaraderie between cyclists, but after 1500 miles through France, we had been accustomed to little. The bike is now nearly two hundred years old, so perhaps less of a novelty for someone to own? Anyway, here I had two of the warmest smiles, and even a bingbing, from the cyclists in Switzerland. Nice.
We fell asleep in the sun on the grass in the Morges, and were inspected by a passer by. Were we drunk I suppose he thought? Strawberry ices cost an almighty £1.75 here yet cigarettes were cheaper than all the other countries we are to cycle through. I did not pay for nearly quite enough but I believe the cost of alcohol is also not taxed in proportion to at home. Was everything back to front? The blue road signs at home as in France, mean major motorways; here they meant simply a minor road, which confused me as the navigator.
The sun came down on the hills in the church spired red brick town of Orbe, and I fighted to find out in French (and not English) at the chemists that the youth hostel no longer existed. We decided that the local campsite had nothing but hard ground and noisy children to offer us, so we slept in a field full of sunflowers which was also hard, true, but had none of the noisy children. We slept very well and I concluded that the only merit of a divan is that a pillow and duvet muffle out sound.
Past Neuchatel, we were crossing the French-German language border now, which I could swear had moved southwards from my fathers day. Guten Abend I said to a man walking along the canal, but Bon Soir he replied. Perhaps I was wrong. Language in this country is just a game- people are just agents through which words flow through- no one country or person owns rights to them. That night I ate black grapes from my bedside and woke in the morning to fix a puncture.
The Jura mountains loomed, but were quite managable. And weren't they green. Goats here with bells on their necks were performing surprising acts and the houses were all wooden. We were bombing ahead, with the motivation of good friends, a bbq, and a party to cycle towards. Charming but possibly provincial Basel soon arrived. As we sat on the tram, our first motorised transport in four weeks, we realised that goodness we had not socialised properly with other folk since northern France- and we would soon prove to have certainly forgotton the knife and fork etiquette.
John and his equally hospitable fiancee Tamara greeted us with sausages and potatoes- well they greeted us with three kisses each actually- see I told you we were always thinking about our stomachs! We sat and chatted on the balcony before moving to a bar and drinking beer, coffee, grappa and other poisons watching the hail. John had another guest from England, Damien, staying and we wanted some suggestions of things to do together the next day. How about floating down the river Rhine for a while? sounded great.
We double checked this was not a wind-up with the receptionist at the old youth hostel Simon and I were staying in by the river. She cooly showed Damien on the map that most days it would be suitable to float from this bridge, and probably around about an hour later we may as well float down and get off on to the bank about four bridges away if we felt so inclined. Just mind out for the bridges and the boats she said. Before long we were in our swimming costumes, with our dry clothes in an orange waterproof bag, testing out the warm water with our toes.
We got in and the current lifted us slowly along at about three miles an hour. What fun! People on the bridge waved occasionally but most people did not bat an eyelid. We floated past precarious seven storey old houses, the ornate city church chiming, and riverside cafes with people laughing, all whilst avoiding the occasional tankerboat. This was incredible! Soon we past the fourth bridge and headed to the shore. Well headed. But missed. Oh Shit.
Soon we were floating past a vast container storage park and by the industrial area on the other shore. We stared at outlet pipes and barnacles and watched leaves, twigs, and paper items of suspect sources float by. The attractive cafe and its pier that we had wanted to stop at was way behind us now. Even the sun had been hidden by the huge crane whose shadow we were in. Aww no.
Damien was a stronger swimmer, especially given that he was unladen by the ridiculous plastic bags that we others had to tow. There was a place without brambles and barnacles to stop over there! We pulled ourselves up on the concrete shore, and dried off. I was jubilant that I was still alive and had not been speared by a container ship or something. Lets get some overdue lunch we decided (as we had not wanted to risk getting cramp earlier).
We pulled out the map and examined our geographical position. We had floated all the way to France. Gawd. No passports. No ID. Only Swiss Money. Wait- Damien had some so we blew his Euros on a lovely meal in a French cafe, before holding our breathe as we passed the border back into Switzerland. Thank God they were about to celebrate Swiss National Day and the staff were having the day off.
That night we trammed our way across the city and then back through the masses to watch the fireworks being lit from the river. They were lovely and impossible to describe, especially so given the plumes of smoke blowing into our eyes that hid half of them. Our group later sat on a wooden bench drinking beer and eating sausages watching the goings on on the river. Some of us continued on, but I cannot say I was disapointed that the nightclub in the shopping precinct was shut, as the bar playing Genesis was much better. We left at six am.