Ben and Nick's European Vacation

Nick and Ben cycle from Sweden to Switzerland and beyond. Check out our cycling trip to Patagonia.

Ben Heumann
Nick Cowan

Friday, August 05, 2005


I'm adding pictures and updating previous posts with entries from my cycling journal. My intention is that this will form some sort of trip report. It will probably take a few days, I'll post again when its complete. Use the list of postings to see the updated postings now with cycling notes and pictures.

Some stats for the trip:
- Lund, Sweden to Monthey, Switzerland (Nick and Ben) 1604km over 16 days (over 100km/day avg.)
- Zurich, Switzerland to Lund, Sweden (Ben solo) 1003km over 9 days (still over 100km/day avg.)
- Ben's Cycling Total: 2,607km
- 15 Metric Century Rides (100 km)
- 2 Imperial Century Rides (100 miles)
- 7 flat tires for Ben; 3(?) for Nick
- 1 Crash
- 5 countries, 4 currencies, 4 languages

Here's a rough map of where our adventure and my solo return (I don't have the details of Nick trip to Modor...I mean Slovenia).

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

SWEDEN: Day 30

Original Post:
I am back in Lund, Sweden. Cycling in Denmark was beautiful, but very trying. My first day, I set a personal best of 173km. most of this cycling was in the rain along a fairly busy highway unfortunately. At the end of the day, I met up with a nice couple cycle touring from Holland who intorduced me to "naturcamping", a system of rustic camp grounds, mostly run by farmers, for cyclists. The best part is the price: 15 DKK (about 3 USD). This is great compared to the price of a normal campground: $20 USD. The next day proved to be terrible. It was cold and rained almost all day for a total of 35mm. In addition, I got a two flats and I only had one spare tube. I was able to limp my way to the next naturcamping, where the nice owner lent me a patch kit for my tube. Sadly, the patch didn't hold and I was forced to walk 12km to Arhus, the second largest city in Denmark. To add to my problems, it was Sunday, and all the bike shops were closed. Just before it began to storm again (another 30mm), I set up camp in a normal camping ground, right on the shore of the North Sea. I spent the day resting ans reading "Harry Potter" while the weather gods gave out all they had to give. In the morning, the sun was out, but everything was still wet. I walked my bike with two flat tires back to Arhus, found a bike shop, bought 4 inner-tubes, and a new tire. My front tire had 8 pieces of glass in it, and after 5000+ km, I decided it was time for a new one. By the time I made my repairs, it was almost noon. I caught a ferry from Alrus to Odden, on the island os Zeeland. The weather continued to be in my favor with strong tailwinds and sunny conditions, perfect of a ride along the Danish coast. Although I started late, I made it to Helsingborg Sweden by 9:30 p.m. after 115km of cycling and two more ferries. In Helsingborg, I arrived minuted upon the completion of a football game, and crowds of druken Swedish football hooligans were about, as was a strong police presence. I missed the train to Lund and had to wait over an hour for the next one. I arrive shortly before midnight and passed out. Today, I'm doing laundry, drying out my tent, and trying to make sense of my room. Overall, it was a good trip, too much rain, but only the weather gods can hold the blame. If I get the energy, I set out on another trip, although shorter, maybe a week, to explore Southern Sweden and see the Baltic Sea.

Cycling Notes: I stopped writing in my journal at this point, so the original post will have to do.

Day 28: Solo Imperial Century Plus (Altenhof, Germany to Kolding, Denmark) 173km

Day 29: The Gods Make Me Pay (Kolding to Ajstrup Strand, Denmark) 115km

Naturcamping in Denmark

Slugs like peanuts!

Day 30: More Punishment From the Gods (Ajstrup Strand to Arhus) 7km cycling, 8km walking

Day 31: I'm Going Home (Arhus, Denmark to Helsingborg, Sweden; Train Helsingborg to Lund, Sweden) 120km

Wednesday, July 27, 2005


Original Post:

Tonight I camp 100m from where Nick and I ate dinner and made the mistake of following the Mosel River. Now that I have mostly cycled the Rhein from Basel back to Koblentz, we made the right decision. Our route was more beautiful and filled with more adventure than the tame Rhein route. I booked five trains tomorrow, and will probaby catch a 6th in Kiel. Although there is an ICE (inter-city express) to Kiel from Koblentz every hour, only every other takes bikes, and all of the bike reservations are taken; thus I am taking local trains all the way. The amount of time on the train is only slight longer but total travel time due to transfers makes the trip 4 hours longer. This is fine with me since I enjoy train travel and it will allow me to spend the end of my cycling trip in a new part of Denmark rather than part of Germany I have already seen.

Cycling Notes:

Day 26: Dream Cycle (Bergen to Koblentz, Germany) 70km

The Rhein River from the Rheinsburg Ruins, Germany

Castle near Kamp-Bornhofen(?)

Ben at Rheinburg Ruins

Castle and Oblisks near Lahnstein, Germany

Church Tower in Bacharach, Germany(?)

Fotress at Koblentz

Wilhelm IV in Koblentz at the confluence of the Rhein and Mosel Rivers

Day 27: My Railway Bazaar (Train from Koblentz to Gettorf, Germany; Cycling to Altenhof) 20km

Tuesday, July 26, 2005


Original Post:

I´m in Worms, Germany after many challenges fromt he cycling gods including torrential rain, two flat tires and spending hours trying to find an open bike shop in Strasbourg to get tubes (bike shops are closed on mondays in France!?). Today and tomorrow I´m cycling upü the rhein, then train to Denmark, and a couple more days cycling. Solo cycling is a very different experience than cycling with a partner, lots of fun, but sometimes lonely during breaks. Luckily I have a couple good books.

Cycling Notes:

Day 22: Back on the Road Again (Zurich to Basel by train, Basel, Switzerland to Rhinau, France, via Germany) 140km

Day 23: Strasbourg (Rhinau to Strasbourg, France via Germany, again) 60km

Strasbourg (from on top of the Cathedral)

Entrance to the Cathedral

Day 24: Son of a Monkey (Strasbourg, France to Speyer, Germany) 125km

Day 25: Back on Track (Train from Speyer to Worms, Germany; Cycling from Worms to Bingen, Germany) 130km

Worms was happy to see me.

Jewish Cemetary in Worms

Church (not the cathedral) in Worms

Worms Fountain

Tower in the Rhien near Bingen, Germany

Saturday, July 23, 2005

ZURICH: Day 19

Original Post:

Nick and I have arrived in the wonderful city of Zurich to be wined and dined by Nick cousins. We have been treated to great swiss food and foreign wines and local beers, not to mention a personal tour of the city. Thank You Daniel and family. Yesterday, was the parting of the fellowship as Nick left for Slovenia. Today, I start my slow trek back to Sweden by bike and train. Here are a few pictures for your viewing pleasure.

Cycling Notes: Watch out for pedestrians when cycling in Zurich, they don't look before they cross the street!


Nick with his cousins

Zurich from the tower of the Cathedral

Tuesday, July 19, 2005


Original Post:

After cycling through 100+ kph winds on Lac Leman (the news reported maximum winds of 160 kph), we are resting and hiking at the Chalet Moreau near Monthey, Switzerland. During the storm, Nick bombed ahead to a small village and took shelter in a farmer's workshop, while I just stuck in the worst of it and after being blown off my bike from the winds, barely managed to take cover behind a cement pillar. After the storm passed, we cycled 20 km to Monthey over and around fallen branches and trees, then made the 11km, 700m climb up to Vince's. Vince and his family have been wonderful hosts, providing us with great food and comfortable beds. Today, we hiked to one of the near by peaks (elevation 2100 m), just a stone's throw from France. What amazed us was the fact that our entire hike was in cow pasture, even in the alpine zone near the top. Switzerland has a fantastic network of hiking paths through the mountains that are well marked going every direction. Tomorrow, we are going to try and se if we can get well into the Alpine zone and maybe reach some snow. On the 21st we are heading to Zurich.
Cycling and Hiking Notes:

Day 16: The Weathers Gods Get Their Revenge (Laussane to Monthey, Switzerland) 74km.
So we lied. We still had more cycling to do, down to see my friend and former MOCer, Vince. Our route took us along the shore of Lac Leman through Montreux, then up the Rhone River to Monthey. From Monthey, we had a 700m climb over 12km to Vince’s parents’ house. Cycling to Monthey was beautiful, the lake on one side and vineyards on the other. The Montreux Jazz Festival had just finished, and the town was still full of upper class tourists. We seemed a little out of place.
As we left Monthey, the skies over the lake started to darken. Nick and I decided to skip a castle tour at Chillion, and try to beat the rain. 20km later it began to rain. Nick sprinted ahead, I stopped to put on my jacket. Five minutes later, the rain was so heavy, I couldn’t see with my glasses on. Then the wind picked up and blew me off my bike. I tried to pick my bike up and walk, but the wind was too strong and I fell again. The wind whipped the rain against my bare skin like stinging nettles. I grabbed the rest of my rain gear and crawled to a nearby cement pillar about 3 feet high, where I took shelter form the wind and rain. Any attempt to move out from my tiny place of shelter was greeted with stinging rain. After about 10 minutes, the winds dropped down enough that I could barely walk. I grabbed my bike and slowly cycled down the road, to where I saw Nick’s bike leaning against a building. Nick popped out and invited me into a farmers shop, where he had waited out the storm. We sat there until the rain stopped. When we started cycling again, with awesome tailwinds, we could see the damage from the storm all over the road, leaves and branches covered the road. As we made our way up the Rhone, we noticed that a second wave was coming. Despite the down trees across bike path, we pushed hard to stay ahead of the storm. The storm caught up with us, but we were lucky enough to take shelter under a bridge, where we had lunch. After half an hour, the rain lightened up, we cycled into Monthey and up to Vince’s, where we were welcomed with warm showers, laundry, a hot meal, and comfortable beds.

The Storm.

Nick couragously battles a fallen tree (we cycled around it).

Day 17: A Little Hike (no cycling!)
Nick and I took a little hike up to a peak (elevation 2050m). We took Vince’s dog Shoyu, who not only showed us the way, but showed us how slow we were by run back and forth and up and down and around and around during the whole hike. From the top, we could see France and Lac Leman. On the way back, we checked out the little village of Morgain.

Vince and Dalton

Shoyu wondering why Nick and I are stopping for to catch our breathes.

Pretty Mountains

Morgain, Switzerland.

The Fellowship, plus one.

Mountain Man, Ben

Day 18: A Big Hike
On our arrival to Chez Moreau, I mentioned that I wanted to play in the snow. And play in the snow we did. Vince played guide and took us to an awesome valley behind Les Dents de Midi. We cycled 15km each way, losing then gaining 400m each time from Vince’s to the trail head. As for the hike, I can only let the pictures speak. Wow. I would like to mention that the Moreau's extended great hospitality to us, feeding us and giving us beds. Thank You.

View from the Valley

Nick's "stationary" clouds.

Ninjas in the snow (from left: Vince, Nick, Ben).

Nick and Vince cross a snow field.

Alpine Snowfields

Chains and Ladders; This is the last steep climb to the top, where Nick and Vince went. I remained behind to contemplate the earth in peace.


The Big Melt

The view from the top.

Alpine Portraits




Sunday, July 17, 2005


Original Post:

After 14 days of continuous cycling, we have arrived in Switzerland sore and tired. Our total distance to Now from Lund is 1460km, + 100km for Nick who cycled from Copenhagen to Lund. Our last couple days of cycling were the most beautiful and most difficult as we negociated the hills and mountains between France and Switzerland. Yesterday we did 3, 8 km hill climbs, each 600 - 800 m elevation gain. Beautiful valleys and georges. At the Swiss border, we were greeted by an empty customs house and sign indicating that no one may enter Switzerland who doesn't have proper ID and is bringing excessive goods.

After climbing up into Switzerland, we caught a train to Lausanne. Both Nick and I are amazed by the natural beauty of Switzerland, but shocked by the grotesque 70's architecture and outrageous cost of everything. Last night we went out to dinner and spent 30 dollars each on an Indian meal, then had to go to McDonalds to fill our selves (another 10 dollars each). Nick and I are both curious how this inflated cost of living is supprted considereing how easy it is to bring goods over the border. Contrasting Sweden, Germany, France, and Switzerland is interesting from the perspective of a cycle tourist in terms of costs, motorists, access to services like grocery stores, and first impressions by the locals. Lausanne is pretty but seems to have a serious crime problem that we did not expect (our host Jean-Yves tells tales of kids throwing Molotov Cocktails into University Residences and getting jumped but not mugged walking out of a bar).

Tomorrow, Nick and I head for the Alps to vists a friend, Vince and do some hiking. From there we are going to Zurich; Nick will then go to Slovenia, and me back to Germany (where I can afford to continue travelling) to make my way by bike, train, and possibly boat back to Sweden. Sorry there are not any pictures, but I haven't had time to upload them.
Cycling Notes:

Day 14: Oh, The Hills (L’Isle sur le Doubs, France to La Chaux de Fonds, Switzerland) 76km
Its our last day of cycling and my knees can feel it. We have been cycling for 14 days straight. On our only rest day, we did a 30km ride, then walked 8 miles around Koln. Nick estimated that it would be 45km with two sets of hills. It was 76 km with three sets of hills. The first two were 500m climbs over 7km. The last hill was a 650m continuous climb over 10km of cliff-side switchbacks. The worst part was, we only got to go down twice. While I thoroughly enjoyed the steep descents, Nick was very concerned because his rear brakes were still out of commission and his front brakes could not handle the force of a fully loaded bike going down an 8 – 12% grade for several kilometers. Luckily, it was a cool day and we arrived in La Chaux de Fonds before the rain.
The French-Swiss border was at the bottom of the valley before our last hill climb. The border consisted of a bridge, a customs office, and a sign stating that you may not enter unless you have proper ID. If you have customs to declare, the office is open from 14:00 to 16:00. I didn’t even get a lousy stamp in my passport.
From La Chaux de Fonds, we took a local train to Neuchatel, then an intercity express to Lausanne. In Lausanne, we stayed with Nick’s friend, Jean-Yves. While Switzerland is rich in natural beauty, its cities suffer from the fact that Switzerland had an economic boom in the 70’s. Wonderful mountains, ugly buildings. That night, it was Saturday and all of the grocery stores were closed and Nick and I were forced to go out to eat. This is an expensive endeavor in Switzerland. For $30 each, Nick and I had a small Indian meal. We were so hungry afterwards, that we went to McDonalds, which still cost $12 for an extra value meal. So for $40, I ate 3 potatoes. I would like to state for the record that I have not eaten McDonalds in three years, and even in Switzerland it is crappy, but it fills you up.

Across the valley, Switzerland. Just one more hill.

The heavily guarded Swiss border.

Nick cycling into one of the many tunnels that may be rigged with explosives in case of invasion.

Day 15: Beer on the Beach (Lausanne) 0km
Finally, a rest day. Jean-Yves took me and Nick down to the lake shore to a nice little lounge, where we drank beer in the shade and relaxed. Surprisingly, the beer was reasonably priced considering the location, class of the place, and that there was no tip. That night, Nick and I met up with a friend, France, from Montreal, who is living in Switzerland for the fall. Sorry, no pictures, too tired and too much fun!

Friday, July 15, 2005

FRANCE: Day 14

Original Post:

We are in France. Got lost in Germany, ended up on the Mosel River very beautiful, theen cycling ad hoc since trying to avoid qny lqrge hhills. yesterrdqy was fete national, so we took a break from the heat and laid around like everyone else in France (but still did 120+ km). Aiming for Switzerlqnd ttoday, depending on heat, 35+ qnd hills. Thats all I cqn tqke of this french k,eyboaerd which ,qkes no sense.

Cycling Notes:

Day 9: Gong Show (Koln to Koblentz, Germany) 126km
When the going gets easy….Today was a day where nothing could go right. The plan was to cycle south along the Rhein to Koblentz, on the east bank to Bonn, then on the west bank to Koblentz. Not 5km out of Koln, I get a flat tire (front) due to the immense amount of broken glass that covers all ground surfaces in Koln because it’s legal to drink in public. Good idea, but plastic bottles should really be required. After 25km, we stop at a bike shop because I need another spare tube and Nick needs to fix his rear brakes, which at this point don’t work, and a new rear tire. After much poking and prodding, Nick’s brakes are deemed hopefully, and need to be completely replaced. Although we were at a “bike shop”, the owner was a very nice, but not so knowledgeable middle aged women. She gave us apple juice while we worked on our bikes, but sold Nick the wrong brake pads and me the wrong size inner tube (which comes to haunt me later on). So we put on Nick’s new tire and give up on the brakes because, really, who needs back brakes? 100m down the road, Nick gets a flat, probably from my crappy job of replacing his tire. It is now noon and we’ve only cycled 25km in 5 hours.
In Bonn, we switched sides of the river and discovered that once again, pedestrians are idiots. There were many pedestrians on the bike path, making Nick and I doubt our understanding of the road signs. As we approached a particular couple blocking the whole path, we decide to off road it instead of ringing my bell and waiting for them to move. Nick executed this manuvre with perfection while I, well, let’s just say I’m lucky I didn’t break anything. I wiped out with great form, leaving a streak of dirt in the grass where my body slid across. In the end, I only bruised a couple of ribs.
After lunch, cycling seem to go well, the path was straight forward, we had a great tailwind, and there were beautiful sights to be seen, if we ignored the industrial ports along the river. In Lutz, we lost the bike path amongst one of these industrial ports, but using our superior navigational skills, we managed to find the river and bike path again in Koblentz. At this point, I would like to state that we did not verify our position using maps or the guide book here. This is key. After dinner below the fortress and statue of Wilhelm IV, we cycled 15km to a nice wooded place to camp on the banks of the River.

Ben on the Rhein.

Nick and the Millennium Falcon cruising in hyperspace

Industrial Delights on the Rhein.

Nick and our 8th cooling tower so far.

Day 10: The Gong Show Returns (Koblentz to Trarbach; Trier to Saarburg) 110km, 30km
Perhaps the best day of cycling on the whole trip. Early start, beautiful sun, nice bike path, fantastic scenery: meandering river with steep terraced slopes covered in grapes. One problem, we were on the wrong river. There were a number of hints that something had gone wrong. Hint 1: “There are not any bridges along this stretch of the Rhein” stated out guide book. By lunch, we had passed a dozen. Hint 2: The stretch of the Rhein we were supposed to be cycling was relatively straight, but this river was sinuous. Hint 3: None of the towns we passed were in the guidebook. Hint 4: We didn’t pass any of the towns in the guidebook. Hint 5: Significantly fewer old cycle tourists on the path than the day before. Hint 6: We were cycling west/southwest and not south.
Yet despite all of these hints, we didn’t figure out that we were not on the Rhein until we had cycled 100km to Bremm and were handed a guide to Bremm on the Mosel. Yes, we were on the Mosel River (or La Moselle en Francais). How did we miss all of the hints that we were on the wrong river. Well, quite frankly, because we didn’t care. It was a beautiful day and we were cycling in a beautiful river in Europe.
We cycled to Trarbach, where the German Weather Gods blessed us with rain. We took this opportunity to examine our plans and discovered that although we had already cycled 110km, we had only made 50km as the crow flies. We then calculated it would take us two more days to reach France on our current path, and proceeded to catch a train to Trier. At Trier, we cycled to the confluence of the Mosel and Saar Rivers, and decided not to go the Luxemberg, but rather back towards Switzerland by following the Saar to France. We found a nice campground, with hot showers in Saarburg, a quaint town with really steep cobblestone roads that are fun to cycle on.

Stopping for a break along the Rhein….errr, Mosel River.

Ben cycling like its 1744.

Bicycle cam captures Nick cycling towards cool building.

Nick and a cool castle.

Ben cycling along the Mosel River.

Ben cycling along the Mosel River again.

Vineyards and the Mosel Valley.

Village along the Mosel with terrace vineyards.

Nick and Ben take a train – so take that German Weather Gods!

Day 11: Where’s The Bike Path? (Saarburg, Germany to Francaltroff, France) 120km
We followed the Saar to Saarbrucken, where we left the river portion of our adventure for France.As we crossed the border into France, we noticed three things: 1) the French do use a lot of English words compared to the Quebecois, 2) serious industrial yuck (see pictures) and 3) where’s the bike path. The country that hosts the world most famous and prestigious cycling race in the world lacks bike paths. In St. Avoid, we stopped at the tourist information and asked for a map of bike paths in France; we were given a map of the Rhein. It was also scorching hot out, probably 35 degrees C. We made our way south on small rural roads (the motorists were decent, used to road bikes). We stopped in Nowhere rural France at a bar looking for food and drink. In this Quebecois like bar (orange bar, purple captain’s chair stools at the bar, all other seat covered in leopard skin cloth), we got drinks. 20km later, we found a campground with cold showers, and a hole in the floor to take a dump in.

Nick and French Cooling Towers.

Ben and French Industrial Delights.

French Pastoral Landscape.

Day 12: La Fete National (Francaltroff to Destord, France) 120km

We cycled 80km before noon, in hopes of taking a siesta in the afternoon heat (38 degrees). We arrived in Bacaraat, France to find everything closed, except a few restaurants. We inquired as to the state of things and were told that it was La Fete National (France’s National Holiday). This would explain all the fireworks the night before. As saying goes, “When in Rome..”, and we did like everyone else, and relaxed in the park all afternoon, airing out our things, reading, napping, and playing go. At 6, we set off again, on a road closed for construction (we read closed to cars), and stopped at 9 to camp in a peaceful woodlot. Dinner was pizza from a small family restaurant with a wood oven. If all of France was as entrepreneurial as this family (they had a line out the door), well, France wouldn’t be French.

Bacaraat Hotel de Ville.

Church in Bacaraat.

Cemetary at highest point in Bacaraat

“So, is the road like, closed?”

Nick cycling on the road anyway.

Day 13: Avoiding the Hills (Destord to L’Isle sur le Doubs, France) 136km
While waiting for our pizza the night before, I noticed how high the mountains were to the east (1200m). While nick was up for going over the highest pass, I wasn’t so keen on the idea given the heat and my general fatigue. Thus, we spent the day trying to avoid the hills, cycling south-southwest. Around 10 we cycled along La Moselle, once again. By 2, a situation had occurred. We had a choice to make, climb the mountains or climb the hills for we had cycled into a dead-end valley. So up we went over the hills, a 400m, 4km climb. At the top: ice cream and a view of our accomplishment. After our ice cream a 10km long 300m downhill to the town of Lure, then south as far as I could take it, camping along side cattle with bells near L’Isle sur le Doubs.

View from atop our first mountain pass

Is that legal?