A Ride to the Bodensee

October 26, 2013

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Dan had something that he wanted to pick up from Touratech on the other side of Switzerland, so we decided to make a day of it and continue on to Lake Constance (Bodensee) afterwards. Our friend Bob agreed to join us, although after the morning’s weather, I do wonder if he regretted his decision.

I did a bit of research and found a fun little surprise for us to check out once we had reached the lake, but that meant an early start to our day. The weather forecast was in our favor though: mostly sunny and a high of 23C (74F). What a great day for a ride! And I was hoping that the sky would be clear enough to finally see the Alps as they rose south of the Bodensee.

We were on the road by 8:30, heading east under a cold but sunny sky. I figured that half an hour on the road would see the temperatures rise and I didn’t give my heated jacket – sitting at home – a second thought. As we left Basel behind we also left the clear skies behind. The blinding sun, just coming up over the horizon, was soon swallowed up by thick fog. The Rhine was creating its own climate, one that did not fit in with my expectations. But I wasn’t concerned, as most fog banks are very limited in their scope and I expected that we’d ride out of it a few minutes.

Fall colours were at their peak

An hour later we were still in the fog. It obscured my visor, both inside and out, and the cold damp had worked its way through my gear and into my bones. I was cold, while Dan gloated over the Senas how comfortable his Gerbings jacket was. I was leading and could see very little. I kept up with the car in front of me to make following the road easier, but I couldn’t see much else.

Ghostly church tower rising through the fog

This was my view for the first hour and a half

After two hours of cold, damp fog We thankfully rolled into Touratech where we had a chance to warm up. Dan ordered the parts he wanted (the website was misleading when it said that they were “in stock”) and Bob picked up a part that he was missing. We talked to Andreas, who appeared the be the only guy working that day, about the weather and he agreed that it was crap, but it was entirely due to the Rhine and the lake and wouldn’t go away before 3:30 that day. This was not what I had in mind for today’s ride at all. We were at least able to confirm that the ferry we wanted to take across the lake was still running and Andreas was able to recommend a good place for lunch.

The town of Eschenz was just minutes away from the Touratech shop and we were seated by 11am. Andreas highly recommended the pizzas here, but unfortunately for us, no pizzas would be served before noon. We sat by a window and ordered some traditional hearty fare and cleared out the basket of bread while we waited. We watched as one of the employees filled the stone oven full of wood in preparation for the pizzas that we wouldn’t have. It smelled wonderful and we made it a point to come by again some day.

Fantastic place for lunch

The GPS turned us away from the bank of the Rhine at this point and dropped us further inland before swinging back towards the lake. I didn’t really care how we got to Romanshorn, where we’d catch the ferry, but once I realized just what the weather looked like mere minutes from water I was thankful for the re-routing. Sunshine!

An early view of the lake and the alps

We were fully enjoying the clear air and the warming sunshine. The farmers were busy in their fields, harvesting hay, potatoes, grapes and other crops while the sun was shining. The lake was completely buried underneath a bank of fog so thick it looked like the lake itself.

Turning vines and the alps in the distance

It seemed that our suffering in the morning’s ride was being rewarded. The temperature had risen, even if not as high as promised, and the sky was a brilliant blue. I was impressed with the colors that were showing in the hills and agricultural lands. They were better than I ever expected to see outside of the New England states.

We arrived in the town of Romanshorn and the signage took us directly to the ferry dock. We were early so we walked around and found out that tickets could be bought on the ferry once we had loaded our bikes. The sun was still shining on land, but looking out over the lake provided a very limited view.

Another boat leaves the dock just as we arrive

Leaving the dock

The ferry was the same style as the Washington State ferries that I was used to, but a lot smaller. I would guess that this ferry could hold 30-40 cars at the maximum, and the inside seating area upstairs was quite limited in its capacity. Hot food was served and it looked good as the servers bustled past us. Ours were the only three bikes for this crossing, which wasn’t surprising considering the weather conditions. The crossing itself was about 30 minutes and we didn’t see much until we reached the other side. The water surface was almost flat, the winds were so calm, but our 21 knots left quite a wake and made sitting in the seats at the front of the ferry a bit chilly.

We finally reach Freidrichshafen – welcome to Germany!

Our destination: the Zeppelin Museum

The Zeppelin Museum includes a vast collection of Zeppelin memorabilia, parts, historical photos and just about everything else you could imagine, including a re-creation of part of an actual airship. We meandered through the museum and took it all in. This was easily the most interactive museum I’ve ever been in, with many exhibits encouraging a hand-on approach.

Yes, I’m in a Zeppelin museum and the first picture I take is of a car

Thank you for the German/English translation

Life-size re-creation of a section of an actual airship

Playground outside the museum

It was late by the time we exited the museum and I knew that we’d have a hard time making it back to Basel before sunset (6:25, if you want to know). We dallied long enough to buy some beverages and snacks before hitting the road. The original plan was to continue south around the lake and come home through the St Gallen region, but our morning experiences with the lake were enough – we’d get away from it as soon as possible.

We headed northeast along the lake shore, the sun shining, albeit a tad lower in the horizon than I would have liked. The colors were fantastic and the views across the lake were beautiful. Still not a crisp view of the mountains that I wanted to see, but it was better than I’d seen so far. There were a few sailboats on the water and the leaves were still giving off quite a show.

Fresh hay in the fields

In my desire to get home quickly but still not commit to major motorways, I took a likely-looking turn off from the road we were on. It was – directionally – a mistake, but it was a beautiful mistake. There were some of the best views of the day along this short stretch that took us back down to the lake side.

The lake shore was a continuation of pleasant views and we enjoyed it until we reached the town of Schaffhausen. There we ran into the many other people who also wanted to cross the border back into Switzerland. We sat in the stopped traffic, debating on our options, and decided to “get out of Dodge”, so to speak, and stay in Germany for a little longer. We eventually hooked back up with the main motorway across Germany and made really good time; the fastest I’ve hit yet on the Transalp, in fact. Sadly, it was only 146kph (90mph) and I was being passed by cars like I was sitting still. Welcome to Germany, for sure!

While we continued along through the German countryside, I dreaded the next major crossing point at Rhinefelden and the traffic that we would be sure to see there. I poked around on the GPS and saw another option: Laufenburg. We pulled into town and cruised right through the border – not a border guard in sight and barely any other vehicles.

Along the Bodensee

Smooth stone cliff face

We essentially retraced our steps from the morning’s ride, but it was completely different this time. It was amazing how much better the ride felt when I could actually see the landscape around me. It was beautiful! So many tree-covered hills, freshly harvested orchards and – much to my delight – massive piles of potatoes waiting to be brought in from the fields. We pulled into Basel just after sunset, but the twilight glow still lit the sky and gave us a nice ride in. It had been a full day, even though it wasn’t exactly what I had been expecting.

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