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It’s 07:30 on a Sunday morning. I’m supposed to be half way to France but instead I’ve overslept and now I’m fretting. I’ve fretted about my toolkit (checked, all there) my pump (checked), the post C-19 border situation (Checked: open apparently) and now I’m randomly fretting about my saddle and if it will suddenly become uncomfortable halfway through the journey.

Decide I’m being silly and set off, a cold breeze sets me off worrying that I should have packed an extra fleece.

The village is silent. This is because Germany closes down on a Sunday and only really stirs at midday. The cycleway is inhabited by dog walkers and other early morning cyclists. At a road island, cross the entrance of an industrial estate; nothing is moving inside.

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Up and over the main Karlsruhe-Basel Autobahn. Three cars trundle along it. Another cyclist, an older gent on a sit up and beg bike wakes me up with a hearty “Gute Morge” and utterly indecipherable comment in the local dialect.

Pass joggers who smile and wave, and a large group of large storks prowling through a freshly cut cornfield. A bird siting in the middle of the road turns out to be a Kestrel eating breakfast. He flies off to an electric pole and scowls.

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There are villages every few kilometres; they are built on the same theme of enclosed courtyards with high walls and big gates facing the road. A group of teenagers waiting for a Freiburg bound train chase each other along the station platform.

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I’m winding between willow trees and fields but a hundred metres north the extinct volcano of the Kaiserstühl rears out of the plain, draped in vineyards.

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Breisach minster is visible from several kilometres away. Unfortunately at this exact point the cycleway is blocked by a spiderweb of temporary fences and diversion signs to prevent people using about 200m of entirely open road.

Of course I follow all the diversion and don’t squeeze through the fence. Honest…

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On the approach to Breisach the wall of hills turns north and the road crosses a wide open plain. There are fishermen by the lakes, and increasing numbers of cyclists and joggers. In the last kilometre to Breisach I receive my first “Bonjour”.

Pass the Mother of All Wineries, a massive concrete block that would rival a nuclear power station. Outside is a pickup truck with a sign offering an “Emergency wine delivery service”.

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Breisach itself has a pretty, old town centre with old walls and a minster which would make it famous in the UK. It is built on a hill, and when the Rhine flooded, which was a lot of the time, it would frequently find itself an Island in the middle of the river.

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Being the only high point for miles and on a natural boundary it obviously was fought over quite a lot and at various points was occupied by most of the local powers. At one point it even belonged to Austria because… reasons.

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One of these days I’ll stop making excuses and actually go up that hill to see the view.

Follow a cycleway around the hill to the bridge, tailed by a courier van that ignored the signs and promptly gets stuck. This route comes out above the bridge over the Rhine, and as it comes into view there’s a steady stream of cars and pedestrians in both directions, and not a policeman in sight, so I guess I’m allowed to go to France. The Cycleway goes under the main road and between casinos and cafes in the old customs building and a row of trucks from different countries with their cab curtains drawn, drivers resting ready for tomorrows journey. One has a satellite dish hanging off the mirror.

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Then there’s a sign saying “France, 400m” and a short climb to the bridge. The first French road sign I encounter says “Chausee deforrmee” and it isn’t joking. The Chausee is very deformee and to make it worse the sign was right on the first deformee on a downhill section.

On the other hand, I’ve made it I’m in France. There are French signs and people speaking French, although to be fair the buildings are largely the same and there’s a lot of German being spoken. There are even German murals painted onto houses showing that the culture on both sides of the river is largely the same.

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After celebrating this universal humanity by fulfilling a universal human need in some trees, follow a sign to “UNESCO Heritage site, Neuf-Brisach”. On the first corner there’s an irrigation machine doing to the road what I so recently did to a bush but Le scale grand. It dumps a torrent of water in front of a cyclist whose comment is instantly understandable in any language. After a few minutes waiting for the thing to spray in the direction of the field it is theoretically irrigating there’s quite a group of cyclists at the edge of the damp bit of road, and as soon as it turns we all race across damp section like an ecologically conscious invading horde.

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I’ve been riding through the outer fortifications of Neuf-Bresach for a while before I realise. The town was built after the Treaty of Ryswick in 1697. This brought an end to the Nine Years War between France and just about everyone else, although as was usually the case in Europe at the time, it was basically a ceasefire because everyone had run out of weapons.

Part of the treaty said the French should give up Breisach so they retreated in Le huff magnifique and built Neuf-Brisach a few kilometres away to be much bigger, better and more star shaped.

Three hundred years later they are still calling it “New” Brisach. It is a Vauban fortress; a massive construction big enough to contain a town, designed to withstand attacks by the new fangled cannon and with a complex maze of bastions, revetments and trenches to swallow entire battalions without trace. The gates, when I finally found them, were long cuttings through the walls which gave way to a grid of streets centred around a perfect square with a church. This being France on a Sunday, the square was hosting a flea market, and it was packed. I decided not catching any nasty bugs was more important than investigating this piece of French culture and headed west.

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The next destination was Wolfganzten, west of Neuf-Brisach and where the cycleway meets the road to Colmar and the Voges mountains, which are a future goal. I find all of these fairly easily, but unfortunately the local farmers had inconsiderately planted maize all around the village & I couldn’t get a clear image of the Voges, so here’s a picture of the church instead.

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This done It was time to return to Neuf-Brisach and do battle with the traffic in the central square; if France has a 2m passing rule French drivers don’t observe it.

At the border all the flags on the bridge are pointing south and stretched by the wind. Decide to scratch plans to ride north around the hills. There’s still a headwind on the other side of Breisach, but I convince myself I’ll be sheltered once I go behind the hills.

I’m wrong.

The highlight of the return turns out not to be beavers. Something very beaver like nearly becomes an ex-non beaver when it runs across the road, and I nearly drive into the ditch watching a second. When I see the third I actually have the sense to stop and we watch each other for a bit before he gets bored and wanders into the undergrowth. His tail isn’t the flat beaver tail though and I’m later informed they are Coypu, an invasive species from S. America. “Coypu” being a south American term for “Rat that evolved to look like a beaver so dumb Europeans will leave it alone”

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Wiggle back from village to village; pass churches, farms, wine merchants, and a very large gentleman on a tiny purple motor scooter. Cross the Autobahn again and see our local church tower ahead. I ran out of energy a few kilometres back so I persuade my legs to keep going over the last bit with the promise of a late lunch. At the edge of the village I cut through the gap onto my road.

There’s a paper in the letterbox and chickens all over the garden.

Time for some toast…