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Tuesday, October 04, 2016

2016 Tour of the Alps: Heiligenberg to Trossingen

It was absolutely pouring rain. We were standing at the train station in Tossingen looking at all our options. "How is it that a town of this size doesn't have any hotels?" I asked. Arturo said, "Look, there's one, Hotel Baren, but it has iffy reviews." "Let's actually read the reviews." "Oh geez, this guy's just complaining about internet in the room." "Well, I don't give a * about that. Let's go!" Now we were hearing thunder. "The sooner we get out of this rain the better!"

We asked the hotel receptionist in Heiligenberg about best possible routes, but she wasn't a cyclist and didn't really help. In the absence of other information, we headed towards Pullendorf.
The morning had brought us blue skies and sun, making us more willing to believe the "German meterologist conspiracy" theory that we had. The bike path towards Pullendorf was complicated and we soon found ourselves off it. Looking at the map, we decided to head over towards Messkirch instead. The terrain wasn't as spectacular as the Alps, but it was still pretty: rolling hills, fields of corn, with the occasional small village or barn to spice things up.
In Buchheim, we stopped to ask a local for directions, and she pointed at the forest path leading out of town. Never one to turn down an adventure, we followed it and found ourselves going at high speed down a fire road. At the bottom of the fire road, we made a left and found ourselves on a segment of the Donau river bike path, which the English-speaking countries call the Danube. Once on the path, we saw more cycle tourists in an hour than we spotted in 2 weeks of touring the Alps.
"I was getting nervous, but then I saw that lady coming towards us, riding without any helmet! She could have been my mother! That gave me a big boost in confidence." Declare Arturo. Most cyclists were carrying large panniers. Some even had 4! In serious touring circles, carrying 4 panniers usually meant that you were camping, but here in Europe, it simply meant that you were on a river bike path tour and was carrying on your bike what you would normally have in your car, which is everything in the universe. Even kids were riding along with panniers attached to their bikes!
In Tuttlingen, we looked at the map again and decided that our best bet was Spaichingen and then Villingen. The idea was to put us on a good train connection to Baden-Baden, but that if the weather turned sour (which it was starting to do, as our blue skies had given way to mostly cloudy skies), we wouldn't be stuck somewhere without a train station.
I forgot which bike path signs we ended up following, but it was again very pleasant, with good climbs though a few midges bugged us in the forested areas. In Spaichingen, we found the train station, but it looked like a run down little town. We set the GPS towards Trossingen, which had a train station, but in a bit of miscommunication, Arturo set his to Villigen instead. We got lost for a bit and then followed the advice of local cyclists to take an unmarked bike path towards Aldingen, which turned out to be a beautiful ride.

Nevertheless, dark clouds had formed and I was starting to feel rain-drops. "20km to go," said Arturo. "Hey wait a minute, what's your destination set to?" "Villingen!" "No. We're going to Trossingen. We're not going to make Villingen!" So he followed me and we flew as quick as we could towards Trossingen. As we rode towards the town center, Arturo noted: "This looks like a college town." Indeed, the cafes and shops looked like a college town, but I didn't notice any universities. But we were faced with a bigger problem: as raindrops grew bigger and bigger, there did not seem to be a tourist information center in town!

"The train station!" I cried. Sometimes, the tourist information center is there. Indeed, when we got there, we saw a town map, but nothing else. No offices. There were trains though! For such a sizeable town, I did not expect to have trouble finding lodging. We debated a bit about Hotel Baren, and then decided to ride for it.

On the way there, we found signs for another hotel closer to the train station, but it was closed! So Hotel Baren it was. When I got there, I asked to inspect the rooms and they looked great, and the price was reasonable though there was no half pension. I took it, parked my bike, and then Arturo showed up. He'd taken a wrong turn and had to flag down a pedestrian and ask about lodging.
Dinner was a cheap affair: Doner Kebab at a local shop. Lots of food and plentiful, and the thunderstorm stopped after that. We walked around and found grocery stores for fruit and some cheap wine that didn't turn out to be very good. Hiking back downtown, we found why the place seemed like a college town: there was a well-known music school. Indeed, we saw what must have been East Asian students walking around --- they didn't look like tourists, but they were very out of place amongst the locals. It turned out that the town was famous for making harmonicas!

We bought a Baden-Wurttemberg partner-tageskarte for the next day at the train station: for 27 Euros, up to 5 people can travel on one ticket as long as they stay on regional express trains. We tried to buy bike tickets as well, but the machine couldn't provide tickets for the next day, so we wasted 5 Euros before realizing our mistake. Well, it's not really a waste, since donating money to Deutsche Bahn to encourage them to provide bike service will never really be wasteful.

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