27 Jun 2013

Day 5: Ammerschwihr to Thônes

We woke up at 9am, packed up the panniers and took Laure out for breakfast before heading out in the rain at 11am. We crossed over into Germany for about 5 minutes before reaching the Swiss border where the border police didn't care to see our passports or our mugs under our helmets.

It was interesting how Basel instantly felt old-world with church bells ringing and trams sharing the road with the cars, bicycles and motorbikes. Unfortunately the whole city was under construction and the GPS eventually gave up trying to reroute.

A quick stop in a Swiss industrial zone.

We headed to the motorway and took it for about 5km until we were out of the city and could move back onto the secondary routes through the mountains and villages. The commuter train runs beside the road with only a kerb separating the road from the tracks.

Switzerland is a much more densely populated country than I had imagined with villages and towns only a couple kilometres apart from each other, one after another. The Swiss also drive more aggressively and erratically than the French and like to bully their way into roundabouts without waiting their turn. We nearly got knocked off by a crazy woman who didn't feel like yielding and it was the first use of my horn so far on the trip—in the one country where it's as good as illegal.

A charming Swiss village.

We stopped at a supermarket to grab a few things for lunch and then drove another hour trying to find a decent spot to stop and eat. A car park with some planters ended up sufficing.
Zev makes a new mate...

...but he only spoke filth.

A Swiss army Unimog stopped next to us (I didn't figure I'd been busted for using my horn earlier in the day). There were 5 or 6 young army cadets inside and they quite excited about our journey, as they'd spotted my UK numberplate. To be fair I didn't see any other foreign numberplates at all in these rural areas.

Time was ticking and the going was slow, despite wonderful roads with scenic views. We decided to do an hour on the motorway which would allow us to cover the same distance as we had in the previous 4 hours on the backroads.

Earplugs in, we slabbed it to about 25km from Geneva and then took Route Suisse 1 alongside Lake Geneva the rest of the way.

Vineyards near Geneva.

Heading straight into the rain.

For the last few kilometres before Geneva, the skies opened, compounded by the heavy stop-and-go traffic as people travelled home from work. The roads in Geneva are too tight to filter through the traffic with panniers so eventually I turned down a sideroad to have a break.

A more colourful side to clean-cut Geneva.

Eventually working our way out of Geneva we somehow crossed back into France without so much as a sign. This was peculiar since it is not an open border but I can't even recall seeing any border offices.

We continued on and stopped briefly just outside Pringy near Annecy to fill up. In the evenings most petrol stations are fully automated and there is no option to go inside for a human being to process payment. The French machines are notoriously unfriendly toward non-French cards, and indeed my HSBC debit card was spat out faster than broccoli from a toddler’s mouth, but strangely my Post Office Platinum Mastercard has been accepted without incident at all the automated machines. Note to others living in the UK if you have had this problem.

From Pringy we headed straight to Thônes, an Alpine village I have visited many times in the past, and a real hidden gem. This village is really as good as it gets, unspoilt and full of personality. We checked into the Hôtel du Commerce which boasts one of the best restaurants in the area, and at €14 for an entrée, cheap as chips as well. The hotel staff were kind enough to keep the kitchen open an extra 15 minutes past the usual closing time so we could have dinner.

Our hostess at the hotel was a charming young Irish woman named Zoë (and fellow biker) who has been living in Thônes for the past 3 years. It was an absolute pleasure to meet her.

One thing that has stood out on this holiday is just how pleasant everyone we have come across has been. Perhaps travelling by motorbike is a contributing factor, but I couldn't have asked for anything better anywhere we've been.

After dinner, it was straight to bed, lights out by the time my head hit the pillow.

View from the hotel in Thônes.

Alps 2013 quick links

Day 1: London to Lille
Day 2: Lille to Hagondange
Day 3: Slow road to Ammerschwihr
Day 4: Ammerschwihr
Day 5: Ammerschwihr to Thônes
Day 6: Thônes to.... Thônes
Day 7: Thônes to Ruèras
Day 8: Ruèras to Flachau
Day 9: Flachau
Day 10: Flachau to Wemding
Day 11: Wemding to Urberach
Day 12: Urberach to Antwerp
Day 13: Antwerp to London

The gear and how it held up
The trip in hindsight