I know, I should have called this story “Cycling Lake Constance”, but I thought the alliteration of ‘Biking the Bodensee’ sounded so much better. Some readers have corrected me when I use the term ‘biking’ or ‘bikers’ . . . an entirely different world . . . one which I tried many years ago . . . but . . .that’s another story.
The Bodensee is a lovely lake in Germany/Austria/Switzerland that North Americans generally refer to as Lake Constance. ‘Constance’ come from the city of Konstanz on the west end of the lake. I’ve always called it by its European name of Bodensee. Basically, it’s just a wide spot for the Rhine river, flowing down from the Alps, heading for the North Sea. Your first German lesson for the day is “See”, the German word for Lake. Your second lesson is “Radfahren”, which means cycling. Just think ‘radial’ for wheel, and ‘fahren’ which comes from the same roots as ‘ferry’, meaning to travel.
Back to the Bodensee . . . over 300 kilometres of flat (it’s around a lake), safe, well maintained bicycle paths through some of the prettiest country you’ll ever see. With guest houses, B&B’s, hotels, mini-markets, restaurants or fast food places every few kilometres, it is an ideal route for either a solo ride, or the whole family.
It was a few years ago, while traveling with our daughter Colleen that we tested this route . . . just a short part of it, but enough to make us wish we could do the entire route. We were staying at the ‘Hotel Bodensee’ in Bregenz, Austria.
At that time the hotel was run by the lovely Hanni Güttler. The hotel was celebrating their fortieth anniversary of operation.. After she retired, her family took over. We were treated with a large suite for Diana and I, and our daughter was just down the hall in a tiny single room with all the facilities. Hanni also told us that it was “Volksmusiktage”, or Folk Music Day, when a lot of local musicians wander from place ot place, bar to bar, restaurant to restaurant. The three of us took a short walk around town and enjoyed some of the festivities, as well as some free schnapps they wee passing out. An extra feature of the hotel was they supplied bicycles to the guests in case you wanted to try out the lovely bicycle paths around the Bodensee.
We decided to do this one day, had a lunch packed up, and headed off on those delightful European bicycles which have multiple gears/speeds, but still have coaster brakes as well as hand brakes. Before long, we had crossed the border into Germany, just a few kilometres down the path. There is no border hassle any more in Europe, so you scarcely know when you have arrived in another country. The first village we came to was delightful Lindau, with its beautiful little harbour, complete with a 33 metre high lighthouse and 6 metre statue of a Bavarian Lion guarding the entrance, both dating from 1856.
Not long past Lindau, we decided we’d stop for a bite of lunch . . . and of course, this meant a picnic overlooking Lindau harbour. Luckily, we found a picnic table right next to the entrance to the harbour, and true to form, Diana pulled out her checkered table-cloth and napkins, and set up our dining area. Our lunch, if I remember it, consisted (as usual) of bread or Brötchen, which are buns, or ‘little breads’ some cheese, fruit and of course (in Germany) some kind of sausage, or Würst. To top all this off, I opened a bottle of wine, most likely a chilled Riesling, perfect for a picnic like this.
As we enjoyed our little repast, we noticed that some of the cyclists passing by were stopping and taking pictures of our little tableau. Some made comments, and wondered if we were part of some deluxe tour, because of our fancy wine glasses and checkered tablecloth. Wine glasses . . . yes, real glass ones! Years ago, on one of our early trips, we decide we wanted to drink our wine from real glasses, not paper cups or plastic, so I built special mail-tube holders for our glasses, which we always carry with us for just this reason. I have also made several of these holders for friends and family. (See travel tale “A Touch of Glass”, from one of our first trips on the KD ferry on the Rhine).
Once lunch was finished, we carried on for several kilometres, enjoying the flat, well maintained bicycle path, completely separate from automobile traffic, and sometimes even separated from bicycles traveling in the opposite direction. We noticed mini-markets and even a campsite for recreational vehicles, complete with all the facilities.
Although we did not go far on this trip, we have visited many other places by car and ferry around the Bodensee, places that are delightful, amazing, or just plain beautiful. A little further down the path, in the village of Meersburg, you could take a little ferry over to Mainau Island, a Swedish owned Botanical 110 acre masterpiece. It is a ‘Flower Island’ completely covered with magical gardens filled with magnificent plant specimens from all over the world, a definite ‘must see’, whether its by bicycle or by car. We have visited the place three times, once by driving, and twice by ferry from Lindau, which is another delightful way to go.
Another fascinating site near the village of Unteruhldingen is called Pfalbau (Pile Dwellimgs) Museum, a recreation of a prehistoric village that people built on stilts out into the lake thousands of years ago. They have built a very interesting tourist attraction which is very popular not only with tourists, but schools and archaeological enthusiasts.
Even further along, is the famous Rhinefall, a ‘mini-Niagara’ about 150 metres wide, with a drop of 23 metres, which during the summer carries over 600,000 litres of water per second. It is an interesting sight, as you are seeing almost the entire Rhine River roaring over the falls.
I won’t get into the many other villages and picturesque towns around the lake. I suggest you ask Mr. Google or some other source for some information on places like Konstanz, the fantastic medieval Stein am Rhine. Or, check out the Zeppelin Museum in Friedrichshafen. For the adventuresome types, you can even book a Zeppelin Flight, for a short excursion flight or even for a few days if you have the money (It’s a lot safer these days than the LZ 129 Hindenburg)
In closing, I just have to say, if you are even close to this part of the world, treat yourself and check out the Bodensee, or if you prefer, Lake Constance.
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