Swan song upon crossing the Rhine

Today, I did one of my last school visits, observing an English lesson taught by a student of mine. The school is in Marthalen, about 20 km from my own neck of the woods, and hard to reach by public transport.
So I decided to journey there on my bike. Yes, the one I'd used to cycle from Scotland to Turkey and from Norway to Romania. It's still running strong while me, myself and I: less so, on this first outing this spring. I had calculated a good hour, but it took me a bit longer because (hark, hark, an excuse is coming up) I often had to stop and marvel at the wondrous spring morning and its sights and sounds.
I crossed the Rhine on the one-lane bridge between Rüdlingen and Flaach, and the River Thur shortly afterwards. Marthalen is the most picturesque village of the area, but the remarkable thing was the spotless behaviour of the pupils in this large secondary school class, quite a contrast from their peers in the city of two days ago. If anything, they were a bit too cowed for my taste.
On my way back I took the shortcut through Germany, via the tiny hamlet of Nack. To reach it, I had to take a ferry. It was one of those contraptions hanging on to a rope across the river and using only the current and a rudder. I guess it's the physics of friction.
In Ellikon, at the ferry head, I observed too swans in a synchronized mating dance. Elegant though it looked, I was a little shocked when the male grasped his partner around the neck with his beak and submerged her for quite a few seconds. It didn't look like consensual sex, and the fleeting question ran through my head if swans could also twitter #metoo. 

The back country of the river

Here's another take from a less august corner of the (modern) town: The fancy contraption stands in front of a hairdresser's. The wind must have ruffled it, and one of the letters got blown away. So what was once "Verwandle dich!" (loosely translated: get a make-over!) now says something about a whale. This is perhaps interpretable as "change into a whale", or "awhale yourself of a new hairstyle".

The whole of the Basel suburb of Augst could in fact benefit from a makeover. As soon as you wander away from the river, you'll find yourself in the midst of 60's blocks of flats, used-car dealers and abandoned playgrounds. I was wondering if I should have a second go at my walk on the southern bank, or take the canoe again.

A tentative start to my Rhine tour

On a dreary Good Friday afternoon, I visited the remains of what was once the splendid Roman town of Augusta Raurica. I was accompanied by my old friend Roberto, with whom I had studied Latin and Ancient Greek more than 40 years ago. I felt somewhat guilty for having drawn him out of his warm Basel flat in this weather, and on such a sad holy day. And yes, the museum was closed. 

The ruins didn't instill the exact same awe and inspiration as the temple at Vassae, in Greece, where I dimly remember us embracing the columns in the moonlight. Oh, yes, antiquity loses some of its attraction if you yourself feel a bit like an antique.

The site is close enough to the Rhine to count as one of the monuments that shaped the history of this river. However, we managed to miss the Roman baths, where, according to the tourist brochure "people not only bathed but also discussed the latest news, played games, applied ointments and had massages".

The two of us did much of the discussing later on the day (not the latest news, but life, its perils and passions), and some of the massaging (well, imbibing plenty of wine amounts to a massage of the soul). We gave up our promenade along the murky river soon after the power station as gusts of wind threatened to lift our umbrellas up, up and away. 

The bar of the Hotel Euler, with its Armenian-Kasakh-Russian lady pianist, proved to be a soothing resting place. Resting, did you say? I was reminded of the day, 30 January 1934, when one of the protagonists of my novel "Das Heft in die Hand", Prof. Fritz Haber, died in a room in this very hotel.

Despite the aborted walk, it was a good Friday, this 30 March 2018, but a sombre note permeated the hours. 

The end? A new beginning?

This picture shows my slightly tired self at the end of my bicycle tour "Around Europe in 80 languages", hunkered on the bank of the Garonne, in the Pyrenees. The blog is now archived at  www.80languages.wordpress.com. My multimedia iBook is out now (the iBook/iTunes store), but I might actually add a coda to the 15'000 km trip this year, by cycling from Timisoara in Romania to Gagausia, an autonomous region in Moldova. This has always been my hoped-for final destination, because of the Gagausian language, as you can read in this quote from my final blog entry.

"Didn’t I write in my very first blog entry that 'I’ll try to make it to Gagausia'? One of last year’s trips led me and Reto as far as Timisoara. It’s less than 1000 km from this Romanian city to Comrat. If you’re starting to wonder what on earth Gagausia and the Gagauz language are, come back here later, say in August, to check if I have taken up the challenge. I’m not sure if I will, though, it’s a rough land out east."