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Four Countries, Three Wheels, and the Bells of Cows... Another Adventure in Europe

Mostly Switzerland, a Taste of Germany, an Austrian Interlude, and Lunch in Lichtenstein

September 2006

If you'd prefer to see the pictures and skip the narrative, click here

There's always an element of improv in any trip you take.  Despite your best planning, events can force you to zig when the plan calls for a zag, or maybe even scrap the plan altogether.  Thus the joys of travel.

We've done a number of bike tours in Europe, from fully supported group events to the last two with our Greenspeed tandem tricycle.  The trike tours are more free-form, following a general route but with no pre-set stop points or hotel reservations.  This approach gives us the flexibility to see the sights without the pressure to "be" somewhere on a specific date, or to alter our plans in the event of untoward terrain or events.  This philosophy has served us well, as we learned on our last bike tour to France, when a combination of hills and mechanical failure resulted in a complete revision of our plan.  Little did we know...

Since our Urban Campfires season was set to start on September 16, we chose the 17th as our departure date.  As before, friend Janet and her trusty Jeep provided shuttle service to the airport, and the adventure begins.

Though we've taken the trike to Europe twice, dealing with the airlines continues to be a headache.  Weight allowances have dropped and overweight fees have continued to rise in the post 9/11 world, resulting in a Continental charge of $110 to transport the trike (interestingly though, on the return trip, KLM did not impose any additional fees).

Our plan calls for us to depart San Antonio around 1, get to Houston around 2, catch the 3:30 flight to Amsterdam, then connect on to Zurich, arriving around 11.  We would then take a 2 hour train to Andermatt, be snug in our hotel no later than 4 pm, assemble the trike, and prepare to begin the cycling part of the trip the next morning.

The travel gremlins begin to work their magic.  Our flight from San Antonio is delayed, causing us to miss our scheduled flight to Amsterdam.  We're booked onto a later flight, which is also delayed, causing us to miss our connection in Amsterdam, so we reach Zurich on a later flight.  Luckily, there is regular train service to Andermatt,  and with a bit of huffing and puffing (and giving thanks for the free baggage carts in the airports and train stations), the bike box, large duffel bag, drag bag, hand luggage, and the two of us finally find ourselves at the Andermatt train station just after dark.

Andermatt is a small town.  With a small train station.  No free baggage carts.  No pay baggage carts.  It's 600 meters from the train station to the hotel.  Loaded like pack mules, we start slowly dragging our gear uphill.  We're overtaken by a our first angels, a nice Swiss couple who immediately pitch in and help us haul the gear up to the hotel. Check in is quick, our room is clean, and the hotel restaurant is open.  My travel notes say we had a steak, fries, chicken, beer and wine.  Considering our degree of fatigue, I'm sure it was tasty, if not memorable.

With a good night's sleep (thanks, Ambien!) behind us and an ample breakfast under our belts, we start the final tour prep.  Luckily the weather is cooperative, so the first agenda item is to assemble the trike and arrange shipping of the packing box back to Zurich. By 11, the trike is assembled and loaded, the box consigned to Swiss Post, and we're off on our tour.

To read the day to day diaries and see more photos, click on the links in the box below.

About Jayne and the Cows...

Throughout our first night in Andermatt, we hear a constant ringing of bells, like wind chimes on steroids.  Come morning, we discover the source - it's the cows.  If there are cows, there are cowbells, and their gentle cacophony becomes a regular soundtrack for our biking.

Click here to hear the bells...

Switzerland is famous for its cheese and dairy products, which requires prodigious amounts of milk, thus, thousands of cows.  Virtually wherever we went, with the exception of the larger cities, there were cows.  The predominate breed is the Brown Swiss, and Jayne falls in love with their placid bovinity.  Whenever we pass a herd she greets them with a cheery "Hello Girls".  Of course, they ignore her, since they only speak German.

Many of the cows sport bells, ranging from simple iron models to elaborate bronze clangers that rival the Liberty Bell.  Of course, we have to have a souvenir, and eventually Jayne succeeds in her quest. 

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