Day 1 – Basel to Biel/Bienne – 95 km
Aside from the difficulties I had exiting Basel, this segment was lovely – just the right amount of hills, scenery, and old stone buildings. The weather was a bit on the cool side making it perfect for cycling.
Exiting Basel was difficult for me because I wanted to avoid the mountain biking Route 3 (with the brown marker) as well as the very hilly, more isolated Route 7 along the French border. Basically, I was trying to find an exit out of town on Route 3 (the North South Route with the Blue Marker) until it eventually intersected with the popular Route 5 (The Middle-land route).
To be honest, I had no idea where I really was between Listal and Balsthal but the scenery was great and the roads not-too-steep. I love Swiss highway engineering with wide, sweeping, hairpin turns at 2 – 3% grades. (At least up to this point…)
After resting in Solothurn, enjoying an ice cream cone, and finally finding a blue route marker for Route 5, I knew I had the energy to cycle on to my destination, Biel/Bienne, located at the northeastern tip of the Bieler See.
I stayed in a great old hotel. Although the rooms were dated, the beds were new and comfortable, the wifi worked well, and the shower was hot. The owner and his daughter were quite helpful and welcoming thus making me glad I chose to eat dinner at the hotel. And after dinner walk around town helped stretch out my sore legs and gave me time to explore the sights.
Day 2 – Bile/Bienne to Yverdan-les-bains – 92 km.
The good thing about my staying in a tiny hotel room in a small, sleepy town is that it gets me on the road early. I love the mornings before everyone wakes up – just me and the swans and the purr of my just-oiled chain – cycling along the lake.
The peacefulness did not last long as today’s route took me along the main highway to Neuchâtel- (love the name “new castle” for an 14th century relic).
I stopped by the Tourist Information Center to find the “must-see’s” in town. The very friendly guy at the help desk gave me more information than I needed but, more importantly, he gave me a free postage-paid post card. I sat down right then and there to write and mail it.
Sitting next to me was a very elderly (turns out 97 years as he later told me) man wearing all white – kind of a brave color choice, if you ask me, for someone that old. On his head was a straw hat reminiscent of the 1920s He eager to talk. We started in French, but then after he told me he sold real-estate in Australia for 40 years, has 3 children, ? grandchildren, 29 great grandchildren, 3 advocates (lawyers?) etc, I asked if he spoke English. We switched to English and I learned that he returned to Switzerland because it’s better for older people (Remember my 100% handicap-accessible hotel?)
He also told me that I speak really good English. I thanked him and wondered just where he thought I was from considering he hand’t picked up on my poor French accent.
After about four good-byes, I made my way towards the “Centre-ville” by following the throngs of tourists. Once there I decided I wasn’t up to the crowds at the Neuchâtel castle so I checked the ferry time-table for the earliest escape. Forty minutes gave me just enough time to grab a spinach and mushroom crepe before the ferry ride across Lac Neuchâtelto Portalban.
The remainder of the day was easy riding through the walled city of Estavayer de lac, on a surprisingly rough and narrow wooded trail and into the town of Yverdon-les-Bains.
It turns out Yverdan has ancient Roman ruins and baths (hence the “les-bains” attached to its name). It’s lovely resort town located on the southwestern tip of the Lac de’ Neuchatel.
Here’s where patience and lack of internet and phone service paid off. It wasn’t until I got to Yverdon around 3:30 pm that I started looking for a hotel room. Because I’m a booking.com “Genius” which just means I’ve booked a LOT of hotel rooms, I got a great deal (seriously!) on a beautiful 4-star resort complete with a spa: sauna, steam room, jacuzzi for the price of a youth hostel. I changed my typical after cycling sightseeing routine and locked myself in the spa until dinner time. It was a real “Calgon – Take Me Away” afternoon.
Day 3 – Yverdon-les Bains to Geneva – 96 km.
I woke up like I usually do after a spa visit – with lead legs. The first few kilometers were tough.
The scenery was industrial sprinkled with recently-harvested, brown farm acres. I followed Route 5 to the town of La Sarraz where I promptly lost the trail.
So, I went to “compass mode.” As long as the road was taking me in the general direction of southwest, I cycled it. This seemed to work although I think I found a few more hills than necessary.
About 20 kilometers later I came to an intersection with a Bicycle Route Sign putting me back on track.
Chateaus, vineyards, cabbages, walled cities and a delicious poisson au citron (fish with lemon sauce) made the middle of the day delightful!
A long, steep, windy downhill finally brought me near the edge of Lac Le’mon (Lac de Geneve).
I was hoping for some beautiful lake views but huge old mansions probably from the managers of Rolex, Bulgari, and other fancy watch brands whose headquarters I’d cycled past, had gobbled up all the water front property relegating the cycle path to a trail along the railroad tracks and behind industrial warehouses.
But always one to “make lemon aid out of lemons” I was delighted to find the headquarters of Movenpick. Ice cream!…I thought.
I did find a tiny cup of Swiss chocoate, but what I really learned was that Movenpick is an importer and distributor of wines (among other fancy things) around the world. Walking through the “cellar” I found Chateau St. Michelle and Columbia Crest from Washington. And, the cashier told me she’d tasted Kung Foo Girl riesling from Washington. Small world!
About 15 kilometers from Geneva I “hit the wall.” That is, I got really tired, needed water, and focused only on my sore butt. It was time for a break.
That’s what I love about Europe! Things are close and no sooner did I think “stop” than a fountain and tiny village with an open restaurant appeared.
Because EVERYONE has told me the water in the fountains is safe to drink, I filled both of my bottles. I took a big sip and topped the water bottle off again, just in case.
Of course with all that water I then needed “une toilette” which meant also buying “un cafe.”
Just as I sat down to sip my coffee a lady with a big, black, hot-because-his-owner-made-him-go-for-a-walk, black lab approached the water fountain. She was urging him to take a sip from the pool at the bottom of the fountain. But I know labs and I know they LOVE water – not just sipping water but swimming in water, splashing in water, jumping in water, sitting in water and then taking a gulp to make the “water experience” complete.
I was hoping that Swiss labs would be more refined than American labs with 1500 years or more of training in the local castles. Mais NON! They both share the same I-love-water gene.The life-saving, dehydration-preventing water I had just hastily gulped (albeit mine came from the spigot) had now become the swimming/play pool for the neighborhood black lab.
I’m typing this several days later so I guess I’m OK.
Arriving in Geneva was a mixtures of emotions: happiness that I’d found Geneva, sadness, joy and relief that my “solo tour” was coming to and end, and excitement that our son and his friend would be arriving in 2 days for a cycle tour together.