MAASTRICHT TO MUNICH
From Maastricht, I made my way south east through The Netherlands towards the border with Belgium. Day one was scorching hot, and along the way, I visited the American cemetery near Margraten. It was a sobering sight if ever there was one.
Having crossed into Belgium, I carried on south towards the town of Eupen. I enjoyed the north and east of Belgium with its abundance of forested hills and quaint villages. From Eupen, it was but a short and steep climb up into the Eifel National Park where I found a quite lush forest to lay my head.
On day two, I continued south through the verdant Belgium countryside passing several notable villages en route. Notable that is for their connection to terrible tragedies that occurred towards the end of the second world war; the town of Malmedy being prime example.
I crawled across the Luxembourg border on day 2. I do say crawl as it was seriously hot at this point and hadn't expected it to be like this when I left. The hills of eastern Belgium had also been wearing me down, but I was looking forward to seeing a country I had never visited before. I really hadn't a clue what to expect to be honest.
My second night was spent again in a forest. I woke up at dawn by the sound of gunshots whizzing by, quickly realising folk were using it as a practice ground. I chose not to hang around too long.
Luxembourg to me seemed like a mix bag; on the one hand, the landscape seemed to be lush and green. There seemed to be a nice balance between being manicured and well kept but also overgrown and natural. On the other hand, the villages and towns didn't have the same aesthetics or feel as the ones I had passed through in Belgium. The drivers also seemed to be quite insane.
Having followed cycle paths and old railway lines for the majority of my time in northern Luxembourg, I became quite undone as I neared Luxembourg City itself. I was confronted with walls of traffic, motorways and busy roads.
With its crazy drivers, the thought of heading into the capital itself didn't appeal to me one bit thus I instead headed east across the country to Germany.
Day 4 saw me cross over the river Moselle into Germany. I had seen some forest on the other side that looked like a suitable place to camp and so headed straight there.
Having crossed the bridge just outside Grevenmacher, I was confronted by what can only be described as a stomach churning set of cliffs that I knew had to be climbed somehow.
I did pant and I did puff. I sweated and toiled my way up those cliffs and made it to the top just as the sun was setting on the valley.
With the many vineyards nestled into the surrounding cliffs, the valley looked beautiful in the harsh light but I still had to find somewhere to camp.
Another forest it was then.
I woke up on day four to glorious weather and birdsong ringing out around the forest.I headed out into the surrounding fields to look for a road that would take me south towards Saarburg.
This part of the country really is beautiful with its hills and valleys and scattered villages. From the small town of Saarburg, the road followed the river Moselle again which would lead me into the town of Saarlouis.
As it looked like a town with quite a lot of history, I decided to stay for the night. Actually my reasoning was two fold as it started to pelt it down with rain just as I was cycling through.
On day 5, I cycled from Saarlouis to Saarbrucken where I booked an apartment for the evening. The route took me through the iron works area of Germany which turned out to be a UNESCO World Heritage site; something I didn't realise until the next day.
Headed south from Saarbrucken the next day towards France and onto the Vosges du Nord National Park.
Having cycled through France, I came to the Rhine where I crossed the border into Germany. From Rheinau, I made my way through the stunning Black Forest and onto Switzerland.
I had read many times how beautiful this part of Germany was but nothing could have prepared me for the reality of it. It was simply breathtaking and a little bit of paradise. True, it was all very kept and manicured by humans but it was so utterly drop dead gorgeous that I could easily look past that.
I even enjoyed the endless streams of motorcyclists speeding along.
As I neared Switzerland and the city of Basel, I came across a park of sorts that sat along the Rhine. Having asked a few people if they thought it okay to camp there, I decided it was perfect. I really didn't want to sleep in a forest again if I could help it.
I had been led to believe that Switzerland would be an easy place to cycle, what with the fact that the roads generally tend to follow the many rivers that dot the landscape.
Now this is actually true, but this being the first trip where I actually had a smartphone and thus access to GoogleMaps, this was also the first time I'd follow its directions.
This generally led me over such challenging terrain, gradiently speaking, that it became the toughest few days of the trip thus far.
As I descended into the city of Neuchatel, I got my first glimpse of the Alps in the distance across Lac de Neuchatel. They looked immense and awe-inspiring. It was 35 degrees and I wasn't sure I could actually cycle over them.
I followed the lake along its northern edge and then carried on towards the city of Lausanne where I turned south east along Lake Geneva.
Most of the time, I found great places to camp in Germany and Switzerland, but I would never have found this spot if a local guy I had met in the town of Brig hadn't told me about it.
It seemed to me that there was a clear correlation between how wealthy a country was and how reckless its drivers were. In Luxembourg, there was a lot left to be desired. Here in Switzerland, they drove as if their life depended on it and in Liechtenstein, well that reminded me of my time in Romania.
I was enjoying Switzerland though. The air was fresh, the nature amazing and the weather glorious. There was even fresh water available in every village I visited. Life was very good indeed.
As I made my way through the Rhone valley, the detritus of civilisation gradually crept into view. Every second building was either a car dealership, garage or superstore. It looked terrible to be quite honest, what with the grandiose backdrop.
As I exited the valley, the Switzerland I remember seeing on television and film came into view. The road wound its way through the forested valleys. Mist clung to the tree tops dropping away now and then to reveal another mountain peak or yet another layer of the valley above. Swiss chalets would cling to impossible to reach outcrops high up above the tree-line.
By this point, even the rain that pummelled down so consistently couldn't dampen my mood.
Eventually, I came to the last village before the mountain pass. The walls of the valley looked foreboding now and I was feeling a little apprehensive to say the least.
Switzerland had been a hard slug in parts but it was to get a whole lot tougher today.
The rain never ceased, and what with the humongous climbs, I was drenched both inside and out. Let battle commence!
I spent the next couple of hours slowly making my way up the pass. The gradients were steep as hell at times, and with the constant screams of sports cars flying pass, It was incredibly hard work.
Eventually I came to the village of Gletsch. The sun had come out and the heat was beaming down thus I thought it prudent to take off my rain clothes.
I stood there for a while and looked into the distance. High up above the river that snaked its way through the valley, I saw a road that crept its way up the mountains. I'm not a religious man but I did pray that that was not the road I needed to take.
I set off again, and no sooner had I realised that I did indeed need to take that high alpine road that seemingly went on forever, I decided to sit down and rest. My fuel was spent and I really could go no further.
After forty minutes or so, I set off once again on the long slog uphill.
I was cycling at a snails pace now and I actually began to worry that I might not have this done by the days end.
Back in Gletsch, I checked my phone and found out that I was only at 1760 metres. I couldn't believe it. I had already been climbing all afternoon and yet I still had another 800 meters to go. This was insane I thought!
I continued on. The higher I cycled, the more difficult it became and I began to dream that the next bend would somehow reveal the plateau.
As I passed 2200 metres, my body hit rock bottom. I literally could only manage twenty metres at a time before having to stop.
I realised that I had to get momentum. If I could go on for twenty metres and then somehow manage to continue, it all became somewhat easier.
I tried this for a time but eventually the lactic acid grew too much and my legs gave way. I began to push.
By 17:30, the road ahead generally snaked up in more or less a straight line and that was an encouraging sight. I knew from experience that this meant the road was beginning to flatten out.
I got back on the bike and began to steadily haul my ass further to the top.
At around 18:00 I finally caught sight of a few cars parked up next to a vantage point and the feeling of satisfaction was truly immense.
The surrounding mountains in every direction were shrouded in mist. From time to time, as the wind shifted, the mist would be blown to the side to reveal the snowy mountain peaks in the distance. It really was majestic.
It felt all the more incredible because of the way I had reached the top. I was overwhelmed by satisfaction.
It turned out that the other side of the pass was completely shrouded in a thick mist. So much so that visibility was down to twenty metres or so.
I really did want to enjoy going down the other side thus I elected to sleep at the top hoping the mist would disappear by the morning.
I woke up the next morning and it was bitterly cold. The mist still hung in the air and I began to make my way down ever so carefully at first.
After an hour or so, and having already descended quite a bit, the mist lifted and I sped down the other side with the enthusiasm of a child. Those chicanes were a lot of fun.
I spent the rest of the morning descending through the vivid green valley. At Andermatt, I felt so sufficiently pleased with myself that I stopped at a cafe and treated myself to a EUR 5.50 cappuccino. A rarity for me.
It really is unbelievable, the scale of the infrastructure that is present in Switzerland. Tunnels carve their way through whole mountains, train lines cling precariously to cliff edges and entire villages seem to exist in a strange kind of paradox. Often common sense tells you they shouldn't exist where they are and yet they seem to fit into the landscape perfectly. The country is a joy to cycle through.
From the pass, I headed north towards Lucerne and Zug.
I followed a cycle path most of the way around Lake Zug. It was a truly perfect day with gorgeous weather and, to my utter relief, flat terrain.
The crystal clear water of the lake glistened in the midday sun and mountains rose up majestically in the distance towering over the lake edge and the communities far below.
The following day, I cycled east along Lake Zurich. The scenery here wasn't quite as impressive but this changed as I hit Lake Walensee. Here the road once again carved its way through bare rock which meant an easier ride for me.
I had decided to visit Liechtenstein on the way to Germany. I had always been fascinated by this small country tucked in between Switzerland and Austria and was excited to cross over the Rhine into Vaduz, its sleepy capital.
I had visions of quaint medieval streets where church spires jutted out from behind the buildings but it was anything but this. It was all so sterile and bland.
As evening fast approached, I headed out of town and followed the Rhine north in order to find somewhere to camp.
This was easier said than done however. I had not seen drivers like this since my days in Romania or Georgia. They really were pricks.
Having exited Liechtenstein the evening before, I spent the next day transiting Austria and spent some time in the city of Bregenz.
The remainder of the day was spent hammering through the countryside of Bavaria. Once again, GoogleMaps thought it nice to guide me through farmland where every ascent seemed to have an incline of more than 12%. It was tiring work.
I did however pass through some wonderful Bavarian towns along the way where I stopped off for an ice cold drink.
What with Switzerland being notoriously expensive, I had spent the previous nine nights camping thus I woke up the next day with dreams of Munich and a comfortable bed.
Coincidently, due to my camping each evening, Switzerland had turned out to be one of the cheapest places I had ever visited.
As I was cycling along, the wind absolutely battered me from behind. With the hilly hinterlands behind me, the terrain mostly flattened out and I was truly flying along now. Suddenly, thoughts of reaching Munich today entered my mind. Could I really cycle 140km's in a day?
Towns were flying past me now; Memmingen, Erkheim, Mindelheim and Buchloe. By the time I reached Landsberg, I realised that I really could make it to Munich by the days end.
Even though I wasn't tired, I decided to rest up in Landsberg for an hour or so and enjoyed my time at a cafe in the main square. It was a pretty town.
I left at 15:00, and with the wind still pushing me from behind, I cycled further on. My speedometer hardly ever read less than 25 kmp/h. I was absolutely gushing with anticipation.
60 km's, 40 km's, 30km's, 20km's, the city limits! I had actually made it! I arrived at my hotel at 20:00 with a huge grin across my sweaty face. I had conquered Switzerland and now I had three days to relax in Munich. What a ride that was!