Friday, 16 September 2011

Last day in Switzerland

Final day in Switzerland. Had a great meal out last night of weidstubli rosti, and well fed for walk today to Schwarzhorn. Avoided another night of expensive camp site fees by parking for a fraction in Grindelwald. Then took the gondola up to First, the best cable car journey in the area. You don't have to share with other people, and it's lovely and quiet for the whole of the 30min journey. Fantastic. The steep climb up to Schwarzhorn, and scramble near the top was a bit difficult, but rewarded by the stunning views all the way down, of the sharp outline of the Eiger, the Wetterhorn, Geschpaltenhorn and a whole other chain of snowy mountains and glaciers. A very hot day, about 24deg.
It seems the weather is going to change dramatically, dropping from an average of 20deg to an unbelievable 9deg and rain on Sunday. Unbelievable. I'd kept saying to Ian that the weather was much warmer than I remembered. Anyway we're off north later today.
Back to the van and off to Kaysersberg, in the Alsace region. A slow journey down the road was dictated by herds of cows being processed through the streets, with their horns and heads beautifully decorated with flowers and ribbons! Only in Switzerland!
Pretty cows in Wilderswil
We overnighted on an extremely busy Aire at Kaysersberg, complete with a dozen vans on a "stork rally" , setting up camp in numbers! An extremely gentilhomme moved his van so that we could squeeze in behind him, and a lovely young German family came over to say we could squeeze in in front of him! I don't think that would have happened if we'd have been a bigger van!
After a busy night and morning of comings and goings, during which it seemed we left our second doormat behind, I had a lovely stroll around this breath-takingly beautiful medieval town, with its painted, timber-framed houses decorated with red geraniums, with its storks perched high on the church steeple. I love this place.
A long journey north to a little village on the famous Somme, and we camped for the night at Seraucourt Le Grand, near to a cemetery for the war dead.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Sore bum / sore feet

Sore bum/sore feet - tough choice!

Jungfrau from Winteregg
Decided to give our feet a rest and get back on the bikes. Ian opted for a tough route, which we'd done before, up Grosse Scheidegg, and then on to Meiringen, before the tour of Lake Brienz. I opted for missing out the gruelling first part, and cycled downhill all the wY to Wilderswil, across the railroad, and then anti-clockwise around the lake, which we've done before. It's a brilliant fast road all the way back to Interlaken, with stunning views of the cool, green lake and mountains. A final cycle back up to Lauterbrunnen, and 40miles exactly. Really hot today, about 23deg, but heavy downpour this evening, and thunderstorms.
The following day was bright and misty, as we set off along the valley floor up to Stechelberg. Mist swirling around the huge mountain tops gave way to blue sky and warm sunshine. We climbed up to Gimmelwald, through forests and crossing waterfalls, and then on to Murren, and the lovely balcony path, which skirts around to Grutschalp, with the best views of the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau. We caught the cable car back down to Lauterbrunnen. Great day!
Only way to walk!

Jungfrau Marathon

Jungfrau Marathon

Finish at Kleine Scheidegg
Arrived here the evening before the 19th Jungfrau Marathon, so it was a good job we'd booked as the site at Lauterbrunnen was filling up. A beautiful, sunny day, and a shame that we'd spent most of it travelling. Both of us still missing Provence, and talking about the things still left to do at Bourg d'Oisans, another trip up Alpe dHuez, the balcony route around to the Col de Sarenne, cycle to Oulles, which was the last village to get electricity in the 60s.
With customary Swiss efficiency we were in situ within minutes of arrival and planning tomorrow's walk. Our plans have been slightly affected by the poor exchange rate and, consequently high cost of, well just about everything. Good job we still had quite a few frozen meals I'd made earlier at home!
The following day we set off early and caught the 9am train to Wengen. From there, we walked up to Kleine Scheidegg, taking about 2hours, and after a hearty rosti lunch, we were up towards Eigergletscher, in time to see the first marathon finisher, running to the finish in just over 3 hours. 26miles from Interlaken, road running gradually uphill to Lauterbrunnen, then on steeply upwards to Wengen and following the track we'd just taken on to Kleine Scheidegg. An amazing feat in 3hours. As we walked down the same route as the runners, we passed them in varying states of distress, clumped around a pacemaker with a 5 hour sign, and then later another carrying a 6hour sign! All ages and nationalities. So we smiled sympathetically and uttered words of encouragement, and were so glad not to be accompanying them! Train back to Lauterbrunnen and that was enough for the first day. Not used to walking now and have got sensitive, soft feet! Never mind, will toughen them up by the end of the week. Planning a cycle ride around Lake Brienz tomorrow. Good practice for the New Forest Sportive at the end of this month.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Deja Vu / Alpe dHuez

Deja Vu/ Alpe d'Huez

Arty photo for Andrew
Chilly start up to Alpe d'Huez, and we'd both forgotten how hard the first few kilometres are, when you wonder what on earth you're doing this for. Then, as it starts to get a little easier on the hairpins and going through the little villages, with views over the mountains, now bereft of snow, you realise why you keep doing this!
Ian reached the top in an amazing 1hr 04mins, getting closer to that magic under the hour, just keeping ahead of a Dutch cohort, and I was very pleased with 1hr 38mins, 15mins faster than last time. So chuffed that now my aspirations have changed from aiming to reach the top without stopping, to improving on my last time.
A bit cloudy today but still warm. With some energy in reserve, we decided to return via the mountain top village of Villard-Reculas, along a narrow road which hugs the mountain side. Then a long descent into the outskirts of Allemont, and the fast cycle back, averaging 17mph, all the way to Bourg d'Oisans. 27 miles in total and 3600ft of ascent.
Kate should be coming to the end of her first year exams now, and she'll no doubt when it's all over, and she can get her life back! We hope they've gone well.

Gorges de Nesque and Mt Ventoux again!

Climbing the Gorge de Nesque
Forecast for further north, Grenoble and Switzerland, was rain and unsettled for the next few days. Here heavy downpours today and then sunny thereafter. Glad we decided to come this far south. After lolling about all day, as the rain poured down, the evening was dry and allowed us to Skype the family in LA, just recently increased by two, with Laura and Emma just having arrived. Laura had changed her first nappy when we caught up with them, but not managed to pin Lily down long enough to put another on, so caught glimpses of her chubby bottom as she wriggles in Laura's arms, and stood up for her dad. It's just great to feel so close to them, but I keep wanting to squeeze her through the computer screen! Among other presents, like a Burnley kit, Laura had bought her a special, little Miffy (Laura's favourite when she was little and big), but Lily does n't know what to make of it yet. She crawls right up to the screen and presses her nose on it!

The following day was as promised-lovely and sunny, but cool. We cycled off to the Gorge de la Nesque. The Nesque being the river, and the gorge cuts through for about 10 miles or so. This has to be one of the best cycles we've ever done. The high level road enters the gorge and contours around climbing at a gentle gradient, with great road surface, extremely quiet at this time of year, with stunning views deep down into the gorge, and the road ahead weaving around every pine-clad, hilly bend. Absolutely breath-taking! On leaving the gorge, we aimed for the hill-top village of Sault, famous for its hundreds of acres of lavender fields. Unfortunately at this time of year, they'd all been harvested, so no beautiful, purple fields, but the fragrance of lavender in the air. Ham sandwich and juice in Sault, where we could have had lavender cordial, lavender honey and lavender tea, and then we were on the return leg. Unless we returned the way we came, the most logical, if not sensible way back was over le Mont Ventoux, for the second time in three days. But Ian told me that the way up Sault was known for being the easiest of the three celebrated ascents, from Bedouin, Malaucene, and Sault. The climb up from Sault is quite easy, with gradients of 3% and 4%, and you emerge at the Chalet Reynard, with 4 miles left to the top of Ventoux, which you don't have to do, if you don't want. But I'd have been mad to miss it, on this sunny, clear day, with views for miles around. After a brief stop on the way down at the memorial to Tom Simpson, which I'd passed the last time, it was quick hot coffee at the Chalet, to warm up, before the speedy, and easy descent into Bedouin and home. Ian had been back a while, not having stopped for photos and savouring the moment! Just less than 60miles and 6000ft ascent, but more importantly one of the best day's cycling I think I've ever had!

I took the following morning as a rest day, in preparation for Alpert d'Huez, and Ian went off on his own to explore another interesting geological site, les Dentelles of Montmirail, limestone pinnacles not far from Malaucene, about 10miles from here. Then we're away and working our way back, via Bourg d'Oisan, one of our favourite stop-overs, and MOT areas! We'll definitely be back in this area again, as long as we avoid the fiercely hot months of July and August. It's still warm enough to cycle in short sleeves in September, which is a real bonus, after the cool August we've just had!

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Le Mont Ventoux

Its steep near the summit!
The weather had scuppered the plans again! Rain forecast for the foreseeable future in the Lauterbrunnen area of Switzerland, so we changed our minds about going there first, and decided to head further south than originally planned- a lot further south! The weather in Provence was unsettled for a few days and then sunny. So Provence it would be. There was lots to explore, and I'd bought a French magazine about the Vaucluse, Vercors and Ardeche areas, giving loads of walks and places to see, and we'd passed Mont Ventoux a number of times and promised ourselves we'd give it an airing. After all the cycling we'd done this summer, now seemed as good a time as any!
After an overnight at Beaune just off the motorway, north of Lyons, in the Burgundy region, we made Bedouin, at the foot of Mont Ventoux, late afternoon, and even had time to stretch our legs on a brief cycle along the first section of the route up the mountain. On the way, we met Roland Hurtecant, who said he too was climbing the mountain tomorrow. He was 72, and it would be the 156th ascent on the bike. He was one of the pioneers, who encouraged a return to the love of cycling up this mountain, after a lull of six years following the death of Tom Simpson, during the Tour de France, when people shied away from attempting the climb. In recognition of his enthusiastic efforts to revive interest, he explained that there is a monument to all those ordinary humans who cycle the mountain, and he and several others names are listed on the monument. It seems he is also known as Monsieur Mont Ventoux! An extremely nice Belgian man! We said our farewells and hoped to see him tomorrow.
Back to the van for a pasta fill, but a rubbish night's sleep, with French disco music blaring from the site snack bar until 1am, to be followed by the local mutts barking loudly and setting each other off!

Le Mont Ventoux
With thunderstorms and heavy rain forecast from about 2pm, an early start was required! By 8.30am I was on the bike and cycling up through vineyards and villages steadily climbing up through the pine forests which cover the bottom three quarters of the mountain. It's a lovely route with the smells of pines and warm tarmac! Our Dutch neighbours had warned us that there would be 500 or so of his nation joining us today from about 10am onwards, but with any luck we'd be up and down the other side, before the throng arrived. However there was also a walking event up the mountain, expecting to arrive at the summit at about the same time as the cyclists, and as I made my way up the first few miles, I passed big groups of walkers all dressed in the same cycling gear, which seemed a bit curious as they were walking. They were so friendly, cheering us all on! By now, Ian had passed me and was striking off with a good pace. I'd "picked up" a friendly French guy, who was going at the same speed as me, and I benefitted form all the support he was getting from his family members, who were following him up by car. After a pleasant start, the gradient builds up to 9% for a relentless 10k, and then there is a pit stop at Chalet Reynard, for those of a nervous disposition! My French companion was disappointed when I dropped off for a coke and a stretch at this point, cos he'd expected me to stay on his wheel to the top. It was tempting, but I thought I needed a break and had arranged to meet Ian at the Chalet. He'd been to the summit and come back down for me! I was glad of the break. Although the next few kilometres after the chalet aren't too steep, the last two are stinkers, but I was pleased with how I climbed, even managing to overtake a few in the final stages, partly thanks to an energy tablet handed to me by a lovely Dutch support member! The French guy in front of me was "too cool" to accept, but I was grateful!
The weather had been perfect so far, warm, cloudy, and still, with even a helpful wind near the top. Then the bad weather was on it's way, with cold mist swirling around the lunar landscape and weather station, emblematic of this mountain. Right near the top, a steep section right into a stiff wind, but then that was it- the summit, and it was brilliant. Just one stop at Chalet Reynard all the way up the 23k climb, and I'd felt great, finally starting to see what this cycling thing is all about! Ian ascended in an excellent 1hour47mins, with me nearly one hour later! Next time, no stopping at the Chalet! But that's for next year, Then a chilly cycle down to Malaucene on the far side of Ventoux, and a delightful climb through vineyards, peach orchards and almond groves, to the top of Col de Madeleine, and then all the way down to Bedouin. An absolutely stunning journey off, ending with a pizza and a couple of beers in a bar in the village. 36 miles, 6000ft ish ascent, 4hrs 25mins in the saddle, and a stiff back! But well worth it!
By mid afternoon, the weather had deteriorated to a full-blown thunderstorm and heavy rain, so time for a rest!