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Posted on 07 July 2016
in Stories

From Andorra to Albania - Part 3


Day 14 - All That Jazz

Thanks to a dinner with Lucie's friends, I now have a few places to stay in Switzerland. While eating fondue and chatting about my trip, Marie hooked me up with her brother in Zurich and her friends in Salavaux. While Loïc, Marie's son, put me in contact with his musician friend in Lausanne. So today, despite the rainy weather, I was in a good mood, because I was assured a dry and warm night at the end. 


The ride between Geneva and Lausanne was short by my standards, just 60 km. The route follows the shoreline of Lake Geneva, or as the French call it, le Lac Léman. It’s mostly a dedicated bike path and the way was dotted with cute little towns, some old and some modern. 

As I got in to Lausanne, I received a message from Virgile, my musician host, about a change of plans: he could not host me - bummer; but his brother could - yeah! After a bit of sightseeing, I reached the flat and I brought all my stuff, bike included, to the fourth floor. I was greeted by Basile, Virgile's brother, who happens to be a musician as well. In fact, all three of them, Loïc, Virgile and Basile, used to play jazz together: Loïc on drums, Virgile on contrabass and Basile on saxophone. When I arrived, Basile was arranging a composition he wrote. Later in the evening, we went to la Haute-Ecole De Musique to listen a jazz concert by this year's graduates. Everyone I met there had a beard in one shape or another. Basile, though, had the longest. There were a few beers consumed in between the jazz sessions. So, despite the rain, it was a good day.



Day 15 - Countryside 


Leaving Lausanne I chose Strava's way: longer but easier. I was not in a hurry. Today's destination was Salavaux, a small village en route to Bern, where - thanks to a friend of a friend - I had a place to stay. I had never heard about this place before. 


The ride was mostly nice, passing through a countryside of endless fields of different crops, grapevines and many small villages. It is somewhat surprising to me that in an industrialized country, there is thriving agriculture at such scale. Everything was neatly combed and orderly.


There is a documentary by Michael Moore, "Where to invade next”, where he visits various countries to examine how Europeans view work, education, health care, sex, equality, and other issues, with the intention to steal the good stuff and bring it home. I wish my countrymen would make something similar to get the best of European know-how to Russia. Although, on second thought, a movie with that name might make Europeans think Russians are really going to invade them.


Somewhere in the middle of the ride, I got hit by a nasty patch of heavy rain. I was going downhill and images of cyclists at the Tour de France crashing on a wet, curvy downhill road were passing through my mind. It was a bit unnerving, particularly when a big truck passed and sprayed me with even more water. In a matter of minutes I was drenched. That included my "waterproof shoes". But the rain stopped as abruptly as it started, and rest of the day was mild with periods of sun and clouds.


Today in numbers:

89 km - distance covered 

4h48m - riding time 

1141 km - since the start of the tour, if my gadgets don't lie



Day 16 - Feel the Bern


Today I awoke later than usual and well rested. That was only the beginning of a very nice morning. Jeanne and Jean-Marc, my hosts, prepared breakfast with freshly squeezed juice, an assortment of cheeses, cherries from their garden and a shot of expresso. It was served on a big wooden table on the veranda, under sunny blue skies. We discussed family, kids, religion, Putin, Trump, racism, football, travels, les Îles de la Madeleine, high speed trains... Two hours flew by in no time. It was so nice to spend time with these wonderful people. I didn't really want to leave. Hopefully our path will cross again.


But my next stop was awaiting, Bern was just 40 km away. After I left Salavaux, the avantpost of the French part of the country, it didn't take long to notice the change in architecture as typical German houses sprung up along the road. The weather was looking to worsen so I did a blitzkrieg and less than two hours later I was in Bern's Altstadt, another UNESCO heritage site. The rain was coming and going, so I decided to go to my host’s place. Lena waived me in from the window of her apartment when I almost missed the address. After I changed we went back to the city center, where we watched a concert in support of the refugees. I ate a "biological", as the seller called it, burger. Then there was a football match on a big TV under not-so-blue skies. These days football is unavoidable. I almost went with Lena to a "poesie slam”, some sort of improv competition, the final of which was tonight. However, if I can barely understand spoken French, German is the same as Chinese to me, so I opted out. 


Today in numbers:

39 km - distance covered 

2h1m - riding time 

3.1 kg - I lost since the beginning of the trip

1.50 CHF - average price of one liter of gasoline, or $5.70 a gallon. Luckily I fuel myself with carbohydrates, a cheaper option



Day 17 - Le Misérable


It was raining and raining and raining. I stopped a couple of times under some cover when the rain was too heavy. Soon however, I stopped paying attention to how hard the rain was; I was wet and cold anyway. Around 1pm I received a message from my prospective host : "sorry but not tonight". I had two choices: go to a camp site a couple of hours away or go directly to Zurich where I had a place to stay. Zurich was another five hours away but, as we say in Russia, "100 km is not a detour for a mad dog" and so I headed to Zurich.


About eight hours after I left Bern I arrived at my host's place. I could not feel my feet, and my knees, elbows and wrist were sore, but there was a warm welcome, a hot shower and schnapps. I was right on time for dinner, the sort held weekly with friends. The company was interesting: my host Bernard, a professor of social studies, his wife, an economist, their friends, both lawyers, a québécois, a robotics engineer, a Russian, a computer linguist, and Pakistani refugee Anwar. Everybody knew how to speak Swiss German but me, but luckily they also spoke English... and French, and probably a couple more languages. 

Today in numbers:

129 km - distance covered, the longest ride I ever did

6h30m - riding time 

7h57m - being wet, cold and miserable 

195 bpm - maximum HR, I was really pumping



Day 18 - Forest Gump

Since I spent some extra time on the saddle, I arrived quite late in Zurich yesterday. I was tired and didn't feel like exploring the city. Fortunately my boss let me off the hook and gave me a day off. Oh boy, did he choose the right day! The weather was perfect, sunny and warm but not too hot. Zurich happens to be a very pleasant city, situated on Lake Zurich or Zurichsee. I walked aimlessly on the narrow and winding streets of the old town, snapping pictures here and there. Then I got myself a bratwurst and a beer and sat on the edge of the water at the Blatterwiese park to write these lines, and try to blend my cyclists' tan. 


When Bernard returned from work, we exchanged stories from our lives; Bernard about work and travels in Western Africa, Elizabeth, his wife, about her trip to Moscow during the perestroika, and me about circus life at large. Bernard hooked me up with his friends in Albania, so I should have place to stay when I arrive in less familiar territory. 


Then there was the inevitable football: by the time we turned the TV on, Russia was loosing 2-0.

Despite that disappointment, today was an antipode to yesterday: it was great. As one movie character said: "Life is a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get".


Today in numbers:

20911 - steps around the city of Zurich

15.2 km - distance covered



Day 19 - To see or not to see the Walensee


After I left the house of my generous hosts this morning, I went along the Zurichsee. It was a quiet and easy ride with pleasing views of the lake and small villages on both sides. I decided that I already took enough pictures of the Swiss landscape and just cruised on through. That's until I hit the Walensee, a relatively small lake. The views were astonishing: cliffs coming right out the water and getting lost in the clouds, picturesque villages on the surrounding hills, light green water. I could not stop taking pictures. Every few hundred meters I would find a better view than before. That significantly slowed me down, but I was only happy to do so. 


Approaching Liechtenstein, the second destination on my list of not-yet-seen countries, I rode along of a body of water that looked like a man-made channel. To my surprise, this was the Rhine, the second longest river in Central and Western Europe. I finally crossed the Rhine and entered the Principality of Liechtenstein, a country with the highest GDP per person in the world and with one of the lowest unemployment rates, at 1.5%. In Vaduz, the capital, there is the Prince's castle, the Kunstmuseum, the Landtag and... let me think, ah yes, a cathedral of course.


My host Bolaji is a Nigerian studying informatics at the University of Liechtenstein, and who won the SAP DemoJam competition in Barcelona last year. He assured me he is not one of the infamous "Nigerian princes". Bolaji explained the complexity of the ethnic makeup of Nigeria, with more than 350 ethnic groups with languages that are as different from one another as German and French. He does not have much hope for resolving the differences between those groups, but he is optimistic otherwise. He likes to watch American talk shows and football, of course. And so do I.


Today in numbers:

106 km - distance covered 

4h58m - riding time

19 - days it took me to get to the second country on my never-been list 

5 - countries visited so fa