Journeying south

On Saturday morning, I prepared my things for travel, and went downstairs to share breakfast with the last ones from the seminar: Anna, Olga, Martina and Patricia.  Most of the others had already departed for home or were continuing their travels elsewhere.   Some of them would be home by the end of the day.  It was a quiet meal, as everyone at the table most likely had thoughts spinning about their upcoming journey, or with anticipation of their arrival home.   When I had finished and said my goodbyes to everyone, I packed a little sandwich to take with me and took my leave of the breakfast room.  Upstairs, I made a quick decision to leave a few items that I could have shipped home, but I didn’t want to make an extra trip to the post office.  Most everything I really needed was already in my head, or I had a photograph or a note of the important details, and I could always do more research later to obtain more materials.  I gathered my things and went downstairs to load up my bicycle and leave Freiburg.

     I had bought two cycling maps in Basel- one for southern Alsace and one for the Jura region of Switzerland.  I knew that I would refer to them, and they proved to be rather indispensable along the way, saving me much time when I came to road signs with the names of small towns between Freiburg and Basel.  I also had figured out a way to secure my hiking boots on top of my bike luggage with a net bag which I had brought along from home, which saved so much room in the panniers that I could fit all of my clothing inside, and only had to carry a few light things in my backpack.  This made it much more comfortable to ride for hours, since the downward weight on my back was lightened.

 

     As I was approaching a small town called Bad Krozingen, I came to a point where the route was ambiguous and I had to choose a path.  The one I chose began to lead up through a vineyard on a hill, and as I saw a town approaching on the left of the hill, I sensed it wasn’t Bad Krozingen, which still lay a few kilometers away, and so continued over the hill and towards the right, rather than descending to the left.  This was the right decision, not only because it did eventually lead to the town on my route, but more importantly because it lead through this enchanting vineyard, the geometry of which fascinated me, as I passed row and row of carefully tended grape vines.  Follow the line of sight, these bright green rows of grapevines diminished in size while retaining their linear quality, and in passing quickly by bicycle, I had the sensation of turning many pages in a book, quickly, one after the other, as the rows of vines flickered past.  The lines rippled out like waves, over the hilly terrain, down into the valley and up over the rise of the hills behind the towns, always a light shade of green, flecked gold in places by sunlight, or darkened by cloud shadows.   And always, the pleasurable rush of wind and scent and color as I descended the slopes in long, curving lines, passing the occasional person, often catching him or her unawares, and whooshing past in a swirl of wheels and gears and the quiet shushing sounds of brake pads against disks and rubber tires on gravel.

 

     Do you know what a field of strawberries smells like?
     Or how very small and green grapes are when they begin, like a cluster of peas?
     Or how to recognize the apple branches and their small, hard, green fruits?
     Or how sugary a handful of small cherries can taste when you’re thirsty and tired?  Even more so when they are plucked from a branch overhanging the road, almost asking to be taken?

 

     I continued along a southeasterly route, always descending in elevation, until I reached the Rhein itself, and followed a rough gravel path through the woods along its grey-green banks.  I passed many other cyclists and hikers along the way, as well as touring cyclists with panniers on the front and back wheels.  When I reached Weil am Rhein, a small town on the outskirts of Basel, I decided to cross the Dreiländereck Bridge into France and from there into Switzerland.   Having been to Basel twice within the last week, and since Basel is rather small, it was easy to find my way to the Hauptbahnhof.  It was at this point about 1:45 in the afternoon.  I could have taken my time, but I was eager to reach Delemont, and I took the first available train.  However, in my haste, it was here that I made a small error.

 

     At 2:14; I stepped onto a ICN train, which is the equivalent of a German ICE, an InterCityExpress.  These trains require a reservation for bicycles, unlike the regional trains, upon which you can simply load your bicycle and take a seat.  I also neglected to buy a half-fare card in addition to my ticket from Basel to Delèmont, which is also required since I was taking my bicycle along.  After the train started moving, I realized my error and considered the fact that it was likely that I would be fined when the official came through.  There was a slight possibility that he would not come before I left the train, since Delemont was only the second stop.  Or perhaps he would not know that I was the cyclist?  Ah, but I was wearing my cycling clothing, and he was perhaps looking for the one who belonged to the bicycle, or perhaps he knew there was no reservation for the bicycle, which was the only one hanging in the stall?  There was likely to be no escape for me.

 

     When he approached me, I handed him my ticket, which he stamped.  Then he looked at me.  Longer than normal, and with a very straight face.  I looked back at him, waiting for the verdict.  “Ist das Ihr Velo?” he asked me.
“Ja, das ist mein Velo.”  I answered.
“Haben Sie eine Velokarte?”
“Ich konnte die Taste nicht am Kiosk finden.”
At this excuse he gave me a distrustful look, and asked further, “Haben Sie eine Reservierung dafür?”
“Nein.  Brauche ich eine?  Ist das keine Regiobahn?”
At this question, I was given a very distrustful look, which conveyed to me something like, “Oh really, young lady, are you putting me on?  Ok, I’ll give you the polite official explanation, but this is ridiculous.”
“Das ist eine ICN Bahn und man braucht eine Reservierung für das Fahrrad und auch eine Fahrradkarte.  Es gibt nur 6 Plätze für Fahrräder.”
“Muss man die Reservierung am Schalter kaufen?”
“Ja.”
“Oh.”
He asked me if I had read the posted information where I had parked my bicycle, which clearly stated the rules, and the fine that I would pay if I had not secured a reservation for my bicycle.  I said I had not.  He asked me to go and read it.  I did.  I asked him if I could pay the fine and for my bicycle ticket there or if I should get off at the next stop.
“Bitte nehmen Sie Platz.”
I took a seat and waited for him to come by and handle things.  Actually, although he seemed distrustful of my feigned ignorance, he was quite polite to me.  He explained the rules about which trains to board with a bicycle but without a reservation, how to obtain the ticket at the kiosk, then took 8 Swiss Franks for the bike ticket and 10 Franks for the fine for having no reservation, punched my tickets, handed them to me and then wished me a good day.  Delèmont was the next stop.  I took my bike and got off the train.
After changing clothes and freshening up a little in the train station WC (which was free, unlike in other train stations), I took a seat on a bench beside an older man and waited for Sebastien.
The man asked me to move my bicycle because it was directly behind him, which I understood, and I told him that I understood only very little French.  He persisted in trying to communicate with me, despite the fact that the only German he knew was the word “nicht” and “Französisch.”  he knew no English, but I was able to gather the following:
1.  His name was Jean Marc.   “Je suis Jean Marc.”
2.  He thought I had a beautiful bicycle.  “Beau Velo!”
3.  He was hanging out in the train station because he was an alcoholic.  “Je suis alcoholique!”
4.  After I was able to communicate to him that I was going to Pleigne, he expressed bewilderment that I was going to Pleigne without understanding  the language.
5.  “Mon Dieu!  M’aider!”  — when he became particularly frustrated with me.
He would have kept on talking with me, I think, but I cut off our exchange and chose another place in the train station to await Sebastien, who arrived promptly at 17:17 and greeted me with a friendly face.  We walked to his car, disassembled my bicycle, put it in the back, and began chatting as we drove away from Delèmont and up the road towards Pleigne.
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