Once again it feels like it has been ages since I have written a post but I guess that must be a good sign that we are having a ball!
We last left you as we were heading inland for Switzerland. As Sam mentioned in his last post, we spent a short time on the French coast sweating like pigs and sitting under trees for extended periods of time.
Our riding through inland France was.. well.. a mixed bag. We had some great times in some beautiful villages, like the stunning Saint Michel Mont Mercure below.
This stunning little village had the most incredible chapel with a spire that you would not believe. Sam and I spent a good 10 minutes laughing our way up, in somewhat disbelief about how high up we were getting.
Another highlight was the town of Parthenay. It is an ancient fortified town from around the 11th century. This place was a real surprise for us as we had known nothing about if before we arrived (although this is not uncommon for our somewhat relaxed style of route planning!).
Since we had been in France I was most upset that even with all the incredible bread, wine and cheese I had not had one decent classic French meal! That all changed when we walked through the doors of Le Fin Gourmet. This place lived up to all my wildest French cuisine dreams! I wont bore you with the extensive menu breakdown but needless to say our 6 course degustation was délicieux!
Onwards from Parthenay the landscape became increasingly grim. Endless miles of flat, scorching hot maize fields and stinking factory farms. Sam and I were needless to say getting pretty over the unchanging view, so we decided to change it!
We booked ourselves on the next train to Lyon and that was that! The next evening we arrived in Lyon and were pretty happy to be there! Lyon is a great city so we decided to book ourselves a hotel for a couple of nights and take in the sights (thanks for the tips Sian!).
Leaving Lyon we decided to follow the Rhone river which turned out to be one of our best decisions yet! The Rhone has a long history as being one of Europe’s most important trade routes before the advent of highways and rail lines. It originates in the Swiss alps and flows all the way out to the Mediterranean sea meaning that it pretty much formed a perfect path to take us into Switzerland. The Rhone gave us endless swims in beautiful clean and clear mountain water (which was a blessing after days of 30 plus degrees heat!).
However our quaint life on the road was about to get thrown on its head. A good friend Jason sent through a message asking if we were free to fly back to the UK in three days to help him out at Festival n.o. 6 in Wales for the week. Naturally after a very swift reply to confirm that yes, we would be able to squeeze that into our hectic schedules, we were back on the bikes and peddling like mad for Geneva!
After a very uneventful crossing into Switzerland (we didn’t even know we had crossed the border!) we arrived in Geneva the evening before we were due to fly out. Thankfully we had managed to organise a Warm Showers host to look after our bikes and gear while we were gone (thanks Noémie!) however they actually lived just over the border back in France! With the gear storage all sorted we set to the next task of trying to figure out where we were going to sleep before our early flight to Birmingham! Although the idea of sleeping in the airport was super appealing, we managed to hook up with some friends of our good friend Rory (thanks so much for connecting us!). Trev and Calfy* (as they like to be called) have been living in Geneva for a few years now and very kindly put us up for the night, as well as taking us out for a lovely evening picnic and swim on the lake. Perfect!
After arriving back in the UK (and swiftly undoing all the 1000’a of kms we have ridden AWAY from the UK!) Jase and Ash took us to a cafe so we could eat something that was not bread, cheese or wine (hard life I know!). After a quick stop by Tescos to stock up for the week (and replenish our Marmite stocks) we spent the rest of the day getting ready for our drive to Portmerion, Wales for For festival n.o. 6!
I had the pleasure of driving ‘The Bus’ through tiny winding Welsh country lanes and over mountain passes through the Snowdonia national park. I must say after seeing what was in store for what I assumed would be a very fatigued drive home, I was not so excited! However the drive was beautiful and I did not drive off a mountain so I would call that a win!
Portmerion was a stunning place to have a festival. The pictures we took do not do it justice. It is a colourful little village cut right into the rocky Welsh coastline. We arrived on the Tuesday and spend the time leading up the festival building the Ice Shed, stocking the fridges, eating spicy mozzarella stuffed meatballs with the other traders and drinking high quality gin. I could get used to this!
On the Thursday all the other crew arrived and the carnage began! I can’t put into words what an epic week Sam and I both had, but we want to thank each and every one of you for making it such an EPIC experience! The crew we had was unreal, and I really hope our paths cross again some stage soon (did somebody say new years in Bulgaria?!). From getting lost in the magical forest, singing our hearts out Bastille to crew graveyard shifts in the shed. I couldn’t have picked a better motley crew to party with!
Needless to say, it rained. A lot. Mud was an obvious byproduct and man, was it muddy! The sheer physical exertion needed to actually move your feet whilst dancing became too much so we were resigned to a weird kind or stationary rocking movement (think Mr Bean).
After a very painful two days of pack down in the rain and rising mud, we were headed back to the land of sun! However not before a very stressful airport experience in which they did not want to let me back into Europe as I could not prove I was going to leave! Although we explained to them numerous times that we were traveling by bike, sleeping on the side of the road and made little to no plans, they weren’t sold. The UK border control reluctantly let me on the plane, stating that I was likely to get turned around and flown back. Needless to say that did not happen. Silly UK bureaucracy.
A HUGE thanks to Jason and Ash for having us over to lend a hand, we had a wildly good time (and Ash, sorry for stealing your home for the week!).
Back on the road again we found ourselves cruising up the shore of lake Geneva, the perfect recovery after days of bodily abuse! We hit another milestone too we have ‘officially’ ridden 1000km (although we did not have a cycle computer for the UK section so technically its closer to 2500km).
We continued heading north, making our way up one of the many valleys in Switzerland. The hills grew taller and eventually turned into massive mountains. There are vineyards dotted all over the hills in the lowers hills of Switzerland which was surprising as we knew little about Swiss wine!
Whilst on the road we have been utilising a couch surfing style website called ‘Warm Showers’. It has been a great way to connect with the locals and have some unique experiences that we otherwise would have ridden right past. We had the pleasure of being hosted by the lovely Céline and Armand. They took us up one of the local cable cars for a spectacular sunset and epic decent down the infamous winding Swiss roads. They cooked us a beautiful dinner and we shared many good chats. Thank you so much for having us, and when you make it to New Zealand be sure to get in touch!
We had the recommendation from both Céline, Armand and another of our WS hosts, Marc, that we should really go to Europes largest glacier that was just 30km up the road. Man are we glad we took this advice. We got a cable car up to one of the lower villages (as we would be doing more than enough climbing on the upcoming Furka pass!) and then rode for a little while, traversing some of the high alpine villages along the way. From there we walked up the beautiful hills and as we crested over the ridge, We were greeted with truly one of the most beautiful scenes we have seen yet!
That evening we found a wild camp just over the ridge from the glacier. Sam made a delicious dinner of pizzas with copious amounts of Swiss cheese. The perfect end to a magical day!
Further up the valley, things were getting narrow and we were about to hit a dead-end. The only way being UP! Sam and I had been very excited about tackling the Furka pass whilst in Switzerland. The Furka pass is one of the higher passes in the country at a respectable 2436m in elevation. We had some bad weather rolling in and we were getting a bit antsy to get up and over before the weather window passed us by.
It was a long brutal, cold and sweaty day but man was it worth is! I honestly don’t think I have even been pushed that hard. Ever. We were however kept pretty well distracted from the pain by stunning views, freezing cold decent, fuzzy little cows and consuming our body weight in gummy bears. After the first pass, I was feeling pretty happy with myself. Now we only had one ‘little’ pass to tackle before we were on the down hill for a long time! Sam assured me that it would only be about 200m elevation gain, oh how wrong he was. What ensued was a lot of grunting, Marmite and bread consuming and private thoughts of doubt about if i would make it off this pass without going into cardiac arrest. None the less, we made it (as Sam told me I would). Sadly the weather was brutally cold and raining at the top so we layered up the clothes and I burned my breaks all the way down to the bottom.
Whew, what a mammoth blog post! If you have made it to the bottom, congratulations!
We are now recovering in a beautiful little campground at the bottom of the Oberal pass next to our next river, the Rhine.
Lots of love to you all, and thanks again to ALL those great human who have been making this trip truly amazing.
Anna and Sam xx