Looking Back on France
(Ruth) 7th March: from Tobias' elegant house in Baden-Baden, Germany, we had a half day ride to Strasbourg, France. We would then rest up for a day before continuing south through the Alsace towards Basel & Switzerland. It's only a small corner of France but one we really enjoyed.
(Oli) When I think of Alsace I can't help but think of the storks. Over the course of our three weeks on the road certain birds had become constant companions. Kites, herons, jays, buzzards, kestrels, swifts, swallows & magpies, as well as all manner of smaller garden birds, seemed to be accompanying us through western Europe. We even spotted a couple of owls & the odd woodpecker. All of these lovely birds are commonly found back in the U.K. though. The stork is not. And this made the sight of them all the more exciting. We were soon to realise there were lots of them, nesting in trees and on poles all over the Alsace region. Our first sighting of them was like a reconstruction of the opening scenes in Dumbo, pairs of gangly yet graceful birds in huge stick nests dotted throughout the trees in a wetland area near the Rhine.
We're of an age when going away for a year means an entire flock of brand new little people will have landed by the time we get back in 2019. Due to their role as baby-bringers in folklore we began to assign the various birds taking flight from their nests, to the various mothers-to-be amongst our friends.
'That'll be Els' & Tom's little-one on the way then; better give them a heads-up'.
Despite all the stopping & staring at storks we did eventually roll into the city of Strasbourg, & in doing so reach country number four: France.
It's a Friday night when we arrive. We discover there's a little vegan restaurant in our neighbourhood and decide to treat ourselves. Everything is delicious & the meal feels more nutritious than ever after a week of happy-snacking in German bakeries during the daytime. We are due a rest day too so spend 24 hrs enjoying the mixture of French & German influences that make Strasbourg what it is.
Having arrived in the city it didn't take long to realise we're not alone in being enchanted by the storks. Historically it has been an icon of the Alsace region & the gift shops in Strasbourg are full of stork souvenirs & artworks. We picked up a couple of postcards & a gingham apron with a stork motif for Ellen.
After posting the stork based gifts & postcards we grab couple more fancy coffees & then begin our journey south once more. Buzzing slightly from the combination of caffeine and cobbles. We pass through Colmar & head on towards Otmarsheim where our second & final night in France is spent at the amazing home of Thierry & Annie. I recall feeling excited to meet them based on their Warm Showers profile & they certainly didn't disappoint.
As was usual for this point in the trip we arrived in darkness. Despite the low light we were able to make out an incredible looking building behind a line of silver birch. We knew we were in the right place. Annie & Thierry are professors and researchers who live in a solar bioclimatic wooden house that they designed and built themselves over twenty years ago.
We were welcomed at the door & once we'd put the bikes to bed we sat down with our hosts to enjoy a vegetarian feast. It was such a good evening. We sat around a curving low breakfast-bar-come-table in their cosy, warmly lit kitchen. An Arvo Part album was playing quietly in the background, followed later by Debussy, I think, as we definitely ended up talking about Pelléas & Mélisande which is the composer's only opera. One which Thierry greatly loves & I had designed for English Touring Opera a couple of years ago. I showed some production photographs & I was pleased to that, as lovers of the piece, they evidently approved of our creative choices. As the evening went on I found myself thinking how Thierry & Annie were simultaneously inspirational and yet incredibly easy to talk to.
(Ruth) Throughout their careers Annie & Thierry have championed positive change through academia and scientific research. They are passionate about climate change and being kind to the environment. Annie said lots of people say they want to change the world but make little effort in their daily lives to do anything about it. This couple truly live by their principles, down to every little detail in their home.
Annie is a natural teacher and, over breakfast the next morning she encouraged our efforts to speak in French. The couple have a whiteboard on the wall in their kitchen. They leave notes for each other & list points of interest that appear in the news or come up in conversation as a prompt for further research. She wrote out the sounds we struggled to pronounce as we enjoyed great big bowls of fruit & muesli. C'était une petit-déjeuner amusant.
They're a couple we very much hope to see again. Thought-provoking & kind. Thierry packed us a jar of his homemade marmalade for our journey and Annie cycled the first hour out of town with us the next day, pointing us in the direction of Basel & Switzerland.