It was a gentle start after some time off and I rolled beside the Rhine through flat fields of maize. I’ d amassed 881 miles getting to Strasbourg and the meter started running again. The farming seemed all small holding with little tractors chugging everywhere. As happens during hot days then it seems everything in the town is deserted and the only movement is from another dog barking at me or perhaps the squeals of delight from some young children in a paddling pool at the rear of a house.
I never could see the river but it’s influence on the terrain was complete. Most towns had the suffix of ‘heim’, which is German for ‘home’. This told the story of its earlier heritage.
The route was flat without so much as a railway bridge to ascend. The legs liked this! The destination was Colmar, which the observant amongst you will recall I visited the day before. However, the objective was to reach a campsite.
This was a bit of a shock in that for the first time since Croatia I came across British tourists. On the road from Croatia I had had come across a handful of British registered cars, motor homes or motorbikes. The latter category had the kindness to acknowledge me. If the real British were here then there were also some pale imitators. As I’m stood there wondering where to place my small tent on a large available patch of ground my neighbour pipes up, in pure Cockney, “put it anywhere you like, it’ll fit!”
So as I’m thinking to ask him if he was born within the sound of Bow Bells and supports West Ham when I establish that he’s actually from Copenhagen and a Dane. Now this isn’t the first time I’ve come across a Dane with an immaculate English, or in her case, American accent. I reckon they would make great spies as a nation. Breaking a habit I didn’t seek out a Dutch hammer but borrowed a Danish one.
The campsite had little charm. This was reinforced with lager at €6 for a pint.
Cycling off the next morning, as always in bright sunshine, the reality about the condition of my legs hit me. They had thought I’d finished the expedition and had in effect returned to York with Anna. So in their ‘absence’ Plan B was to grind the small gears and with the road still brilliantly flat I got back amongst the fields and made it to Mulhouse.
On one of these country lanes I experienced a lot of trucks. It must have been a cut through or was on the route to a factory. On the bike you get used to the steady growl of large engines behind you and I recollect hearing a large beast slow and that awesome large grumble dawdle behind me waiting for an opportunity to pass. When he did he hit his air horn. I nearly lost control of all bodily functions. He either did this to let me know he was there and or he did this because he was France’s longest surviving brain donor in charge of an articulated truck. I now know why Brooks saddles are brown.
Mulhouse is a large town. My reason for visiting was to visit, for the third time, the French National Automobile Museum. In a purpose built setting a large number of mainly French cars from the beginning until the end of the 20th Century are displayed. It has the largest collection of Bugattis in the world at over 70 cars. The collection was owned by the Schlumpf brothers. They amassed the collection whilst running a large textile business in the city. Many thought the collection and refurbishment of cars was their priority as they employed 40 people alone to restore and maintain them.
With global migration of textiles to Asia in the 1970’s the business collapsed, albeit the Schlumpfs had been selling off bits. With bankruptsy looming the Schlumps fled to Switzerland and the workers took over the factories. The Schlumpfs were exiled abroad and the large collection of cars, never previously seen, were put on display.
Eventually the collection was sold and is now part of the museum. I, personally, like the 1960’s designs and the more mundane saloon cars. It is bewildering to think how many manufacturers there were and so disappointing that they eventually closed down. Today we have a handful of manufacturers worldwide.
So after a spin around and some spaghetti I saddle up for a tough afternoon. The heat was unforgiving as was the Sat Nav that made me take a tortuous path to the South West and Belfort. I never actually went in that direction as I seemed to tack and zig zag like a small sailing boat up and down little hills.
Frazzled I got to a campsite that I last visited in, I think, 2011, some cheer was restored as I saw a large chill cabinet selling cans of beer for €2. Normal service was resumed as I reverted to asking the Dutch for a hammer.