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Just over the border from France I found myself in Freiburg, the entrance to the Black Forest. To me, there are two distinctive things. The colour of the buildings, from the local stone, and the small open-air sewers that are visible on most streets. I also learnt that it is the German centre of renewable energy, with even more solar panels on show than in other places. Apparently as a way of making money, you can lease out your roof space to a company who will pay for installation and then pay you a monthly fee depending on production. The only downside is that the contract is 10-20 years, not great if you’re planning on moving anytime soon.

My host Stefan was a wonderfully quirky character, and keeping with my Sunday tradition we had a late breakfast with his friends. Such a lovely way to start the day. His friends that came over included a couple where the husband (Martin) didn’t speak much English, but it turned out they had lived in Brazil for a few years. Apparently he had been worried that I would think he was reserved, as soon as he learnt that I spoke Portuguese that was definitely not a concern as we didn’t stop talking until I had to leave to ride with Stefan and his friend Ursula. Before that happened, he found out that I was heading to Konstanz, where he was born, and so called his brother who of course was happy for me to stay. It was like being back in Brazil.

Stefan and Ursula had managed to find me a good way to get up to Hausas, where Brigitte & Marcus lived – Edith’s sister and brother-in-law. It’s just a little town, but there’s plenty of beautiful opportunities for hiking nearby. Brigitte takes an active part in the local community and has helped develop a wildlife trail to provide somewhere to walk, both for the local kids and also for people to walk their dogs. Being such a small place also was great for getting myself in the paper. The journalist who came over to the house is a family friend – one knows everyone else living in Hausach – and was more than happy to interview me even though she hadn’t had confirmation that it’d go in the paper. There’s nothing really new, but the article is available here. The lady did a fine job considering the interview was in English, and she said she didn’t really understand much before we started.

Other than the cake, the most famous thing in the Black Forest is the cuckoo clocks. The world’s largest cuckoo clock can be found there, and you can even go inside – if you’re that way inclined. The area is quite a lovely place to cycle with the main downside being that some of the inevitable climbs are a bit steep. I’d have dawdled around it a bit more, but my offer of a place in Konstanz was dependent on me getting there by Friday afternoon, so onwards it was. I passed through the town of Donaueschingen, on the edge of the Black Forest and the start of the Danube. It was such a let down. To me, a river starts very small when it comes out of a mountain, or a spring. The Danube/Donau doesn’t. It has, to me, a very artificial start point when two random rivers (the Brigach and the Breg) merge and is then called the Danube. Considering the importance of the river, the only big river that flows from west to east across Europe, it was a bit disappointing.

I rode along it for a short while, but as with most river riding it went through some fields and that was about it. Apparently the best part was further east, but I had to head south to get to Konstanz. I raced to arrive there by 2pm on the Friday, because I had been told that Martin and his brother Claudius would be heading out by 3pm. I was allowed to stay at their place, but they wouldn’t be there. They were going to spend 4 nights in a cabin in Austria, relaxing and hiking, but that was no problem as far as me staying at their place went. I met Claudius for about an hour, long enough for him to give me a detailed tour around his apartment, located about 100m from Lake Konstanz, and make sure I knew I could help myself to anything I found there. There was also a printout of a set of directions for how to ride to the cabin in the mountains, in case I fancied a ride up there. How do you get nicer than that? Mention to someone over breakfast that you’re going somewhere, and then get given a place to stay there with his brother as well as an alternate place in case I wanted to hang out in the mountains.

I did think a lot about riding up to the mountains, but the problem was that the pass over to Switzerland was covered in snow and so I’d have had to U-turn if I went up. Even without snow it would have been a hard slog, probably having to porter my bike over some very rocky terrain, but I both refused to U-turn and wanted to go to Liechtenstein so instead of Austria it would be straight to Switzerland after a few days relaxing in Konstanz.

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