The morning was exuberant with fresh vineyards. Riesling grapes still budding on the vines. The Rhein is becoming greener too.
My little paintbox made happy colours and manifested this naivety.
Someone had set up the perfect table and chairs on the riverbank just for me. I felt very happy under my number. Would a cruise ship tourist like to bid on 542….? Maybe not.
It was a hot day, and so with a bit of meandering and hanging around painting, I didn’t do more than 30 kilometres. Thought I would be very soft on myself and book a room in advance. On arriving in the village, as a challenge to my searching and finding skills (no map), pedalled up and down looking for nr 43 Rheinhöenstrasse… Lost that round, and had to ask a shopkeeper. She said “Oh that’s right on top of the mountain!! You can’t go up there with the bicycle, it is a very hot day”.
I did go up, thanks to my E…. and have a pleasant room, but the river is nowhere to be seen from here. Tomorrow I’ll whizz down the hill to meet Simon.
Würstsalat has been bugging me since Freiburg. People order the stuff everywhere. At the biergarten in Bingen, today for lunch, a woman next to me ordered it, and so did I.
It was served in a glass jar with a lid.
Rather fun to eat with a fork, a bit like spaghetti, but it didn’t taste remotely like pasta. Other than the vinegar, there are other ingredients involved, all of them unrecognisable to me. I presume the flavour is a mix of the standard salat cream (which may or may not contain diary), and the smokiness of the pink würst…which is in English just fancy polony.
It was rather satisfying to eat, although it must be doing terrible things to my cholesterol levels. I’ve got to stop having all these würsts, schnitzels, and bread with FAT….this evening I was served bread and a little ceramic dish of fat to put on the bread. It is perfectly white with bits of cured meat in it. I just took a tiny scraping….but the guilt was 100x bigger.
This morning in Mainz, which is a lovely city, I found an E-bike shop and asked the nice smartly dressed young salesman, to please check my pedals. He did, and declared them – tight.
I got the feeling that he thought I was just looking for some attention. He wished me well and I whizzed away.
Simon is arriving on Saturday to keep me company for the weekend. I’m very pleased, but rather concerned he will be a bit shocked at my vagabond appearance.
A month of sun and wind every day, has darkened my face to a motley brown (nose in particular) , but my glasses have protected my eye skin, so that’s all white, with pink piggy eyes (allergies). Arms are brown sticks with pronounced muscles, legs are tanned only on the back of the calves, and I still have tan stripes on the white feet. Back of the ankles are a mess from pedal bites. The hand bones seem very pronounced, with a vice grip!
As for my clothes, I wear the same stretch pants every evening, as it gets a bit cool at the terrace restaurants and there are mosquitoes around. The nice little frock I brought with me for the evenings is far too short for the leg tan.
My hair…oh dear! In Italian – “Un casino”
This morning after the church bells gonged and gonged until i woke up at 6 am, I painted a new sign for the handlebar bag. The other one was dull and nobody was talking to me. So I made a very cheerful watercolour, with the Italian flag in one corner and the Norwegian in the other, and wrote Roma – Oslo.
There was instant interest from passersby, and 3 lady cyclists form Amsterdam called after me: “Roma Roma…” so I stopped and we were like a gaggle of geese, getting all the info we could get about one another.
On the ferry crossing over the Rhein once more, a large group of loud men, doing their annual cycling tour, took it upon themselves to include me in their photographs. Then kindly offered ‘ladies first’ when we had to disembark on a steep bank. Haha, I shot up there so fast with my battery on turbo…and heard them all having a laugh.
Only 60 kms today, as I don’t want to go too far as Simon will be coming in at the FR airport…and he will drive to wherever I may end up today.
Here are some pictures of the day.
I am so sorry about the lack of maps, but the hotels have terrible wifi, so I can’t spend time checking how to make them and save them. Maybe next week when things get tough. I ‘ll be off the cycle tracks and navigating every wheel turn of the way.
Thanks to you all, for your encouragement and generous remarks. It gives me so much strength to carry on! Love!
Today the wind came up against me. The tall poplar trees along the river bank clapped their silver leaves, making a high sound like a standing ovation at an opera.
It was a blue sky day, with puffy clouds dotted about. Birds of prey skimmed over the golden bristles of the harvested wheat fields looking for mice.
Getting out of the city of Ludwigshafen was like playing snakes and ladders, but there seems to be something good happening to my bird brain these days, that sends me off in the right direction. On the outskirts of town in the industrial area, under a bridge, I had a hot beverage (coffee) with three old men. They wouldn’t believe I rode from Rome.
I’ve noticed a strange phenomena, a bit too regular to be sheer coincidence. Maybe I’m getting a bit googledy-gook, but if I need something it just comes, like riding through a pop-up story book. Each page swings up at me, whether it be a cool-drink place, or a sign post, or the river, or a place to stay.
I dare not let anxiety pop-up, in case it manifests. But it is very reassuring to know that with proper attention and consideration at every intersection, the journey goes on. This is a selfie in an empty sandpit.
Worms had no redeeming features. I asked a girl near the station: ” Juligung Juligung, where is the centrum, the altstadt…innerstadt??”. She replied “You are in it, this is Worms”.
At the bakery-cafe, three large flies rested on the cheesecake. The cakes looked huge and very delicious, but I went riding around looking for a lovely square somewhere I could sit and eat one. But no luck. The garden down at the river was lovely though.
Later, while sitting at a table under a big green umbrella having a salad on the banks of the Rhein, extraordinary long barges came sailing upstream loaded high with containers or piles of sand. They don’t make much of a wave. When I got up to leave, a large spider landed on my chest, and I did a little jig and beat my chest like Tarzan. I think I damaged it.
Pedalled and pedalled all day, usually along the dykes. There were a handful of other cyclists, and some of them were loaded with panniers for longer trips. I followed a man who looked like he knew where he was going. He had a one-wheeled trailer attached to the back of his bike, loaded with his camping gear. Once we were on a wider section of cycle track, I rode alongside him and said ‘guten Tag”. He told me he had just completed 2000kms, and I said ‘me too’, but he looked at me strangely. I should have said ‘BRAVO’ instead, then he would have chatted longer. Every bit of lone cyclist conversation out here on the dykes is precious.
A river of this magnitude must be harnessed. It’s a pity really. Another natural wild thing, domesticated by humans.
Something that begins with a twinkle on the mountain peak then joins with other twinkles until it becomes powerful flowing force, such magic.
My cousin Ramsey is curious to know what I think about all day on the bike. Well, I’m trying to understand the great mysteries! And think of all my children and family and friends of course, but most of all learning about my silly foibles.
I was fortunate to find a room in a pleasant hotel. The chef was sick, so I was sent to the Sports Bar for a large schnitzel and beer. I was the only happy person there, as I didn’t realise Germany had just been kicked out of the world cup soccer tournament.
Back in wine country this evening, there are hills here, and a microclimate ideal for grapes.
Bitte schön – danke schön…Tchuss (sounds like cheers).
Today, this afternoon, at 16:30, we stopped for ice-cream at Jesolo eis, to celebrate our 2000 km moment. Us, being my bike and I.
A lovely young lady Kira very kindly served a trophy pistachio and fresh kiwi sundae, and took a photograph of my CUBE trekking bike with me behind it eating the eis.
The bike has performed excellently so far. The front tire needed a bit of air once, at a garage in Austria. Having never pumped up a tire before, the hiss of the air hose gave me quite a fright. Other than a bit of oil on the chain, everything is working well. Especially the brakes. They are fancy Shimano disk brakes, which are most necessary on very steep embankments.
I slept until 7 am this morning at Hotel Sonne in Neuberg, and feeling a little guilty, had a quick breakfast and headed out of town. Soon the river came into view and it was glorious rolling along the path with the water twinkling in the morning sun. Forest on my left and river on my right. Later at a large road intersection a lovely cyclist came along. Unfortunately I didn’t get her name, but she is Swiss and did 1000 kms so far. Her birthday is on the Swiss National day and she’ll be 60. She certainly looked a lot younger. You see, biking is good for everything. After a good chat, we had to move in our opposite directions, but we could have talked all day. She is the first and only solo lady cyclist I have come across since Rome.
Made a call to Tyrone to ask him where I should go next. I’m having problems with planning, since I don’t have a paper map. The solo cyclist had a very nice waterproof map book of all the tracks along the Rhein. Google maps helps, but it doesn’t show the velo 15.
Had a long singing ride along the dykes, and found a spot for lunch in the middle of nowhere. Well I had no idea where, but it was somewhere in the middle.
Buffet for Euro 8.60. They do love their polony salad.
Germersheim was nice, the info desk officer showed me about eight different maps for cyclists, but none had enough scope for my day.
I couldn’t find the arch that was printed on all the stuff in the info shop. So, I went on, in a way that Simon would have frowned upon. No map, no plan, just faith.
Speyer is a very interesting place with a long and convoluted history. First there is a technical museum with all sorts of things that mostly boys love, and a giant imax cinema. There wasn’t a show on at that moment, otherwise I would have stayed. A large Lufthansa aircraft on stilts is open to tourists, one can see them go out on the wing.
The old city is beautiful, worth a another visit for sure. Nice and spacious with pretty architecture.
After leaving Speyer, the villages came and went. – Otterstadt – Waldsee – Limbergerhof…. I saw storks and greeted a dalmatian, amongst a myriad other things. A pink frog leapt out of the bush into my path, birds chirped, tractors made dust, and my thoughts were on philosophical matters.
Then my thoughts about the upcoming night began to pester me. So I headed for Ludwigshafen, where I hit the 2000 km mark and had the ice-cream. But that was not all. The kind people sent me on, and I found a hotel at the river with some difficulty. Basically, the hotel staff was convinced the hotel was fully booked, and will send one packing, when in fact Booking.com has reserved a room for last minute people like me. All you need to do is go outside, book it on your phone, then go back in again and embarrass them.
I unwittingly gravitated towards Ludwigshafen, which is the site of BASF, the largest integrated chemical factory in the world.
The receptionist at the hotel said: “I don’t drink the tap water here, but you can if you want to”.
Sneaked off to an Italian restaurant for a little pasta.
It is almost full moon, we left Marino a moonth ago today.
Sunday was a celebration day for us, our precious Elia turned ONE. What a joy it is to have two fabulous grandsons, and a baby on the way!
Now that my feet are firmly in socks and sandals on German soil, I can talk about practical issues without embarrassment.
The question I am asked the most is ‘how is my bum?’
The answer is: fine.
I know that’s hard to believe. Fine doesn’t mean perfect, and after an hour or two of cycling, standing up on the pedals helps to alleviate any discomfort, but I think my lady parts are gonna be ok.
I seem to have a lung issue which I’m not very happy about. Copious amounts of tree pollen and the general road and field dust billow into my lungs all day.
Same applies to eyes and ears. I put allergy drops in my eyes every morning and that seems to keep the sneezing at bay. I cover my mouth with my stretchy scarf thing when riding through swarms of gnats.
Finally my old gloves (which I may have stolen from Megan) fell apart, and when paying for coffee the cashier would throw my change at me as to not come in contact with a tramp. They are now a murky grey with large holes.The old bony hands get a bit tired of holding onto the handlebars, so I bought them a fancy new pair of white gloves, which I don’t like nearly as much. I can’t wipe my nose on them.
One can get a bit blasé after a while, once the actual riding technique has been learned, about paying attention to small things like pavement edges and sand pits, and those small paths around closed booms. Especially pedalling with one hand on a hip at 25 kms per hour. My luggage weighs about 18 kilograms, with computer on board, so one must avoid pointy stones while checking for a speeding car, while watching for the track signs, while looking for photo opportunities.
Today I rode past an army barracks onto a small path, and had a regiment of soldiers running at me in single file. Didn’t get a look as I was doing a wobble to avoid crashing into them.
Crossing the bridge between France and Germany was fine, no cycle track, so cars just had to hang back in a queue behind me. But I have to say this, the smell of cows was waiting!
On the French side – nothing, just fragrant trees, but just half a kilometre across the Rhine… ..phew!
Do the French import their meat from Germany? After that it was chicken schtink, then a farmer spraying his field with pig swill which made me gag.
The Mercedes factory is just south of Rastatt, and a car-carrier truck piled up with brand new Mercedes sedans pulled into the road ahead of another large truck, as it was coming along at German speed. There was a lot of hooting, but no crash.
If you book a hotel on the day, don’t expect to find somebody actually on the premises. One must call at about 5pm, and hope to find somebody there.
I was the only guest at ‘L’Ermitage last night, so had my supper in the room. The owner said she would bring it up on a tray in 30 mins, but after an hour I went down to see if I had misheard. She was having her supper with the chef. She brought it in for me, and I was very pleased. Some leaves and hunks of cheese, slices of ham and a bottle of water. The remains of the day.
Strasbourg is lovely. Avenues of plain trees along the canals.
I bought a little stork, which is symbolic of Strasbourg, hoping it will bring me more grandchildren.
This man was playing the sax so beautifully, I couldn’t move…
Tram way in central Strasbourg.
I stayed in Marienthal last night, it was a bit further off my track than expected, as places to stay around here are hard to find. It was another story getting there…
Today was a green and gritty ride, a long way on the eastern dyke, which is forbidden apparently. I was forced to do some bush-wacking, and scale a strange overpass.
Found this monument to Goethe in Sessenheim. He met his beloved Fiederike there.
Lunch place at Rastatt.
Found a place in Neuberg for tonight, the Sonne hotel. Terribly slow internet, but great Greek food!
Riding a bike along the banks of a river has a profound effect on the rider. The river softly massages away one’s knotty moods, while the bike carries you along at a pace neither fast nor slow…it goes at the exact speed you need to be propelled, so as to see most of the beauty, and avoid most of the ugliness.
You can slow down instantly to watch the black shine of a ravens back as it flaps off your path, or speed up past a sewage processing plant, or swerve and call out to a swan.
The bicycle is the most perfect machine ever invented.
Not only is it virtually harmless to our Earth, it also cures diseases of the body, mind and soul. Better than yoga, better than pills, better even than a glass of wine.
I was happy to roll back to the river, after my little sojourn in Freiburg. Cities are nice for a bit, then all that swarming ant-like behaviour and bad air gets too much.
I muddled along enjoying the various landscapes, thinking if there were no hills then it must be going down to the river. You would imagine that to work if you were lost in a jungle, wouldn’t you?
Yes, I did reach the river at the end of the day, but only after some rather quiet tracks. Surprisingly there was a little ferry motoring across between Germany and France. It was not my intention to cross at this point, but I thought ‘what the heck’, the road had brought me all the way here through fields of maize and wheat, and dark woods, why not!?
Good thing it did, because on the French side, there was an info office where a pleasant lady behind the desk said: ” Everything is full, there are no accommodations around here”, but she saw my expression and so flipped through a brochure, and called ahead and booked me a room for the night. Maybe, because she was putting crosses on the map, my side up, that her cross was put in another town altogether. So after a lot of pedalling to reach the town with the cross on it, and doing a twirl around an industrial zone, my eagerness was baffled.
It is asparagus season here.
I had to resort to google maps to find my hotel, just when I was enjoying the crinkle and flutter of a printed map.
The pretty town of Erstein.
WhallaaaH! The hotel of Erstein. Dinner was delicious, aromatic herbs and Dijon mustards……I was in France!
Except they had no wifi, so this blog was not published when it should have been.
No sign of the famous Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte so far. Maybe the world famous Black Forest Gateau will make an appearance at my next destination, which would be Freiburg, although I doubted I would make it that far in one day.
The journey was not without highs and lows, although the terrain was flat. Steel works, water works, chemical works…
After a good breakfast, I was back to pedalling along thinking abut all the wonderful people I love.
I went up to Basel to see a bit of Switzerland again before diving into the depths of Germany. It looks immaculate and rich. With particular attention to signage. The things one can and cannot do, especially on bikes, are clearly advertised.
Being a bit fuzzy myself, those bright red signs made me happy to traverse the city. The final sign, at the entrance to a roundabout pointed to Freiburg 77 kms. After circling a few times I stopped to ask a policeman which road to take, he said he didn’t know anything about Freiburg.
My chosen road took me to Huningue, which sounded good enough. However, I should have crossed over the river there because I ended up passing through many vacant chic French villages, and then Niffer and Blodelsheim and Fessenheim. None of which had people in them.
At a greenly painted hotel I came across the first rude woman of my trip. She rolled her eyes dramatically when I asked her if she could be so kind as to charge my battery a little bit. I said I would pay. She plugged it in with a dramatic gesture.
There were some very long and lonely stretches here, and I have to admit to performing my first bush-pee. It was not difficult to be seen squatting amongst the sugar beet dressed in luminescent pink.
Lunch consisted of stolen goods from B&B Jasmin. My bike served as a picnic table. Nutella, egg, apple, and a slice of horse food (sour bread). Washed down with a gulp of water.
The photography of the day is dismal due to my speedy urgency to reach Freiburg, which is way off my track. Also, the pictures are not edited because my lightroom has gone on the blink.
The final hours on the bike were divided between a boy on a push scooter colliding with my pannier and then apologising…golly that was a close call. Riding through a large hole which sent my phone flying. I noticed about 2 kms down the road so raced back and found it lying in the middle of the path. A wasp up my sleeve, which stung me repeatedly while I was on the phone trying to book my accommodation.
Do you know that kind of fatigue where pain is just a secondary sensation?
Negotiating the cycling traffic of a higgledy piggledy old university city at 18:00 was a new experience for me. No rules apply. There must surely be a million bikes here!
When choosing appropriate accommodation on the budget list, remember to enquire whether there is a lock up area for your beloved bicycle. Gasthaus Löwen does not, although it’s a very charming old place to eat.
I removed everything possible from the bike, including my whale bell, flower, carriers, lights etc, and pushed her in amongst all the other bikes parked on the street.
The person in charge of the rooms was not available to let me in, so I sat down at the restaurant table with flat hair and smelly clothes. A polite man who retired to Lago Maggiore sat near me. He knew all the Alpine bike tracks. He also said my bike will definitely be stolen, whether chained or not.
According to the restaurant staff, there was a secure bike parking at the train station. So I hastily dragged my bike off for another kilometre, and asked the eyelash girl at the info desk in the station. She said “no, there was no parking for bicycles”. I rode around the corner and there was a large round bike parking station. A young lady helped me figure out the in’s and out’s of the ticketing system, all written very accurately in German.
These photos were taken on my way to pick up my bike in the morning. I was overjoyed to see it, poor thing, all covered in dust. On the way there I had stopped in a shop and bought her a little present of some stickers to brighten her up. (A bicycle is female…biciclettA)
My room looks fine in the picture, but you cannot hear the large extractor fan outside the window which drew up all the cooking fumes from the kitchen. In the morning I looked for another place to stay, which was much more expensive, except the staff wouldn’t allow me in before 15:00. A slightly off-day sitting in the dining hall with my panniers at my feet. I might mention that university students are not into serving shabby old foreign cyclists.
All I managed to do this afternoon, other than sleep, was wash my clothes at a laundromat, with the help of a very-very thin man dressed entirely in black.
As Jane says, no matter how fast you ride, laundry always catches up with you!
The only men I attract by my appearance these days, are those with noisy machines. – mowers, tractors, builders and lorry drivers. Even the rubbish truck man made a comment after a near miss. I don’t think it was complimentary.
But the hoteliers usually always shake my hand when I leave, which is sweet.
My ebike has a little onboard computer which gives me four cycling modes, depending how much battery help needed for the terrain. I have added another mode: “LOST”, which is especially helpful for dizzy blondes.
I wish it had “find the perfect hotel room” mode as well. My industrial park motel room, which I shared with my bicycle, was a bit bleak. When I picked up my panniers off the floor a couple of bed bugs crawled away. EEEK!
Luckily, thanks to a very disturbing fly that buzzed around me the entire night, I had got into my silk sleep sack, which unwittingly had prevented those dreaded bed-bug bites. Now all my clothes need washing. Good thing, as they haven’t seen a washing machine for 4 weeks. The buzzing fly was telling me something more? (Hand washing my clothes every evening is not quite enough. My claws are very tired at the end of the day.)
Whistling along through yet another completely vacant village, I came across a swimming pool. It was the hottest day so far, and there was a blackboard with a fast food menu scribbled on it. The combination of pool and food was too much to resist. A nice round Italian Mama was dragging her crying little boy out of the water, he wanted to stay and swim like all the other little kids….but she whined: “DEVI MANGIARE AMORE!!!”… . (you must eat my love).
I collapsed into the large blue pool of icy water right on the banks of the river. The boy who made the brätwurst couldn’t believe how fast such an old person could eat the thing and wash it down with fanta. Not my standard order, but with a good dose of ketchup and mayo, it was delicious.
Cooling towers, steel works, and other industry to be seen along the Rhine. Quite a contrast to the sweet little old towns.
The bridge from Germany to Switzerland. I didn’t cross it. Switzerland is much more expensive. The Swiss like to swarm over the border to do their shopping, and then get the tax refunded!
At about 15:00 I usually begin to worry about accommodation. Around here there are no obvious places to stay along the route. Even toilets are very hard to find, and being a lady, one cannot just piddle on the side of the road like the men do. This is not Italy where you can find a crowded friendly cafe at the centre of even the tiniest village.
There are long stretches of shady bike tracks, then some streets and intersections which can be a bit complicated, and then the signs direct you along farm roads through cultivated fields. One of the hazards of biking through the fields are the irrigation sprays, which I have learnt to speed past while they turn. A light sprinkling wouldn’t be a problem in this weather, but they are like a waterfall and rather blinding.
Checked my booking.com for a place to stay, and found Pension B&B Jasmin, off track at Karsau. On the way up a steep hill there was an ebike shop. Feeling very happy to have a reason to stop, I asked the huge man for some chain grease. He showed me how to apply some oil. Since then it doesn’t seem to change gear very well, and clatters terribly.
Nobody was at B&B Jasmin, so I plonked myself down at a Pub down the road. Tested out my German a little bit. Very traditional place that smelt of cigarettes and sour beer. I ordered Rinderleber with balsamico, and the man said it was cow heart. It took me some moments of revolted consideration, and I thought, oh well, maybe it’s good for courage, love and emotion. Strangely it tasted exactly like liver and onions, but good enough for the necessary amino acids and iron. Washed down with wine of course.
I was way too tired to write this blog, but please note, I still manage to put on some lipstick once in a while but my hair is a fright.
Early morning ride along the southern shore of lake Constance (Bodensee in German) which forms the border between Switzerland and Germany, was so calm after the turbulent river that feeds it, unlike me who woke up in the night with vertigo!
I was horrified of course, and so worried that I would not be able to ride.
Got up on my bike and off I went, no problems so long as I didn’t look up!
Very quiet little villages along the way, only builders and road workers to be seen. After an hour of looking out for a coffee bar, eventually pedalled up to a little bakery where two ladies and three dogs sat at my table and we chatted for a while. Gulped down a delicious hot croissant with a cappuccino.
Fantastic choice for bike rides here…
The cycling is going well, I’m getting better at ‘handling’ the bike, and can almost always manage a u-turn in a small street without falling over.
Zipped passed the ancient city of Constance, pity to miss the medieval part across the river, but went on to Stein-am-Rhine instead to see the frescoes.
A Chinese tour group were being herded by their guide, he was yelling at them to look at this look at that, and they all had their phones up to their faces taking photos of this and that.
The colour of the Rhine is singularly beautiful here, with its shifting emerald greens and turquoise greys. It mesmerises as it swirls along with surging whirlpools while sighing against its banks.
Such a joy to be riding with this enormously famous waterway. Beats washing windows at home.
After lunch in Schaffhausen (a delicious mango-curry-coco soup), I saw the falls at Neuhausen am Rheinfall… Apparently only eels manage to wiggle their way up these falls.
About the body, two noticeable changes happening now that I’ve reached 1500 kms. My hearing has improved, and my bum has lifted!
Arrived very tired at Waldshut-Tiengen to find my pre-booked motel room in an industrial zone, 3 kms away from any restaurant..
I dropped down from the mountain ice, with the river misting at my side. From Stuben to Bludenz to Nenzing to Feldkirch. My wheels spun fast between the trees, until the land began to plain, and the white stream expanded into a calm turquoise lens.
The tunnel panic wasn’t so bad this time, being Sunday morning, the traffic minimal.
There was an Austrian Oompah band playing in a carnival tent, and around the corner stood this beautiful black horse. I took this shot from the hip.
I’m officially over the hill. There will be no more mountains ranges until I reach Oslo. Quite sad.
Noticed the change in architecture and the cooking smells wafting from the houses.
The Rhine River deserves a mention…Rhenus, Rein, Rhein, le Rhin, Reno, Rijn…. I will be following it for the next 1000 kms, so we’ll get to the whole history and geography of it later.
When the road flattened out, I felt it was finally time to admit I was going to Oslo, so I wrote ROM – OSLO on my front carrier label. This had a magic effect on the people around me. Paolo was the first to approach me to talk about the journey, and from then on everyone has been much more friendly and inquiring. They all say….”going solo” with astonishment.
By now the number of HELLO’S that have been said per day, must be nearing a million. A smile works wonders with passing cyclists, and they generally smile back. I sail along from smile to smile.
103 kms later, in Rorschach, Switzerland, I flopped into a bunk bed in this youth hostel. Felt rather like an old codger, but was very pleased to have the room to myself. It had a fabulous view over the lake and a basin in it where I washed my textiles.
The plugs and the money are different in Switzerland. All my electronic equipment could not be charged. So I went out looking for food, which was a lot of trouble for my legs. Some nice ladies fed me some green asparagus spears with very yellow hollandaise sauce, and a little beer. – €26.00.
The world cup soccer – Switzerland versus Brazil game was on. Shame, they were all so enthusiastic, boys shouting from cars covered in red and white cross flags speeding past. As I left the restaurant the rain came pouring down and I had a soggy barefoot walk all the way back to the hostel. My sandals are very slippery on the inside when wet.
The first thing I look for in a hotel room, is how many plugs there are. The hostel room had one that didn’t work. My ebike battery was critically low on power after 103 km even if it was mostly downhill. Here is a sketch to show you exactly how many electronics I carry with me in my panniers.
Jumped on the bike in the morning, and had 30 kms on the display…of course I could pedal without power, but it’s like going from riding a black stallion to riding a cow.
A cyclist told me yesterday that the weather would be bad today. I have heard that so many times, and it turns out perfectly fine.
Friends come in all shapes and sizes. This little sparrow had coffee and a biscuit with me.
Just tell me how many bike paths do these people have!?! So many choices! I am taking the Eurovelo 15, which runs next to the Rhine, via Basel.
There wasn’t the exact, perfect looking restaurant in Kontanz area, so I took a chance and went on with only 5 kms of power left on my ebike. Suddenly I was out in the countryside with fields as far as the eye could see, but at least it was flat in case my black stallion turned into a cow.
With just 1 km to go, a hotel appeared like a genie from a bottle, and I fizzled into the bike parking space.
The menu was: “Salad, Il Risotto al pomodoro with fried feta…and a banana-berry smoothy. After lunch I asked the waiter if they had a room free, and in a flash I was booked into the hotel, and my cables were all plugged into the walls of my room.
It was the first day of my 3 week trip so far, that I had absolutely no idea where I was going. The thought of a steep pass made me anxious, so I delayed along the way and dabbled with my paint and took leisurely photographs of flowers.
Dilly-dallied all the way along the valley, enjoying the sunshine and thinking about philosophical questions.
As with all things, the time came to confront the monster. I could choose to go by train through the tunnel, a short journey, or should I go over the top?
What do you think?
The first avalanche gallery I came upon was steep and many cars and buses came zooming past. The noise was a tremendous echo which is now on my scary list!
I looked up and saw a bus full of people staring down at me. A big sob came bubbling up and got me in the throat, and I had to make an emergency call to my imaginary team.
They answered: Mom you’re the biggest naff we have ever seen, just pedal! No sympathy at all!
So I went on, and the tunnel ended, and it was bright and beautiful there. The views were amazing.
Stopped for lunch at an Alm in St. Christopher where I sat under a big orange umbrella on a mountain top, eating delicious rösti with a fried egg, a decorated krauti salad, and giant glass of apple juice. That fixed me for bit.
None of the hotels were open for the summer, so I had to go on. My battery was almost empty…and I didn’t relish the thought of another steep climb.
But the road wiggled around some curves and then went down very steeply, with zippy switch-backs. Harley Davidson motor-bikers by the dozen came blasting past.
Stopped along the way to book a room at Stuben, using booking.com on my phone. When I arrived at the Apres Post Hotel it looked way too posh! Maybe I had missed a digit on the price. A mistake like that could easily happen while wearing my sports glasses…they’re polaroid and my phone is really tiny.
However, my happiness level went soaring when it was clear that the price was correct. Golly, how luxurious. To top it all, the staff were all pretty girls dressed in traditional costume (dirndl) and they were friendly and efficient.
The spa was included, so I had a perfectly solitary swim in a very interesting jacuzzi pool made of stainless steel. At first the shadows play games with your imagination, but you get used to it.
Dined very finely, but the internet didn’t work, so the blog is now a day old.
Don’t take the short cut, you might miss something. Like the people in the bus, they never saw the transparent stream far below the road, the cow that talked to me, the weasels, and they didn’t smell the scent of that flowering tree… and of course, feel the panic in a tunnel.
I am also learning that one must deal with what’s right in front of you, then mostly what you think is a bad thing, actually turns out magnificently.
Last word – you can do much more than you think you can.
First of all, the man did not make another appearance.
At Burgusio, where I escaped the man and spent the night, there is the magnificent Marienburg Monastery. We have visited before thanks to Susanne, Simon’s sister. Incredible to see, the highest Benedictine monastery in Europe. The library there has recently been renovated and the book collection is vast. Architecture and technology have come together here in a brilliant way.
A perfectly smooth road, mostly to yourself, that winds downhill through floral meadows and cool forest glades. Heaven?
Miles of cycle track winds down from the lakes of the Reschen Pass, passing over the border into Austria. The villages along the way are perfectly kept, with bright flowers, window decor, and copious roses. I didn’t get pictures today, due to reluctance to stopping on a downhill.
My bike is actually facing the wrong direction in the shot, I turned and came back to take the picture for the sign in the background.
See what I mean, just heavenly!
Then things got crazy. It was all a bit wasted on me being so old, but the youth would absolutely love going down a super twisty road, dropping meters per second into a raging ravine. The beginning of the Inns river. Wild noise!!
The road turned left for St. Moritz and all those fancy Swiss peaks, but I went right through a terrifying ravine, on a road, where the cliffs went directly up into the sky. My fancy new polaroid glasses tend to enlarge things and make them more vivid. Cars travelled at a lot more than 100 kph. In the non-tunnel roofed-road-thing to prevent stones from falling on your head, the noise was extreme.
Maybe I’ve had too much forestry-quiet lately.
I didn’t bother to put on my wide-angle lens for the valley, as photos don’t do it justice.
It’s simply awesome. Not “oh AWESOME!!” …but awesome with your mouth hanging open and your brain doing expansive reorganising to fit the visuals, and your heart skipping beats because the raw power of the universe is present.
You become the little jelly bean you really are, a tiny bag of complexity wrapped in a very fine membrane, creeping along on a bicycle.
The river is this raging torrent of white water that echoes off the cliffs which are balancing blocks of rock that, if even a small one should fall it would turn you into a fossil instantly.
I really admire the people who have lived in these mountains, they are super humans. As for the cows, they all have brass bells around their necks and stand with their sides against the grass the graze. They look like stickers on a green wall.
There are many cyclists on the pass, mostly couples (wives on ebikes) or fleets of racers (mixed gender). Quite a few women day-riding, but always in pairs or more.
I have not seen any solo female bikers doing long distance.
Landeck. Simon made it sound as if it were just around the corner. Thought I might have lunch there. 85kms later @ 17:00 and there I was flat out exhausted again. It was beautiful all the way, and the bike tracks are amazing….but almost 5 hours on the seat….
Found a hotel. Nice big room, with dinner and breakfast included. I was the only one in the dining room at 18:00. The manager is very chatty and knowledgeable, he worked on the QE2. I presume as a chef, as he was very knowledgeable about food.
Usually around mid-afternoon I stop to check (on my phone app) for a room on booking.com. I try to get the cheapest one, but they all begin at around 50 Euro. I prefer the places recommended for their “especially clean rooms”. Most expensive was 80 Euro which was in Trento at the Everest Hotel. All the places I have stayed have lovely new bathrooms, with good showers, and little bottles of fragrant shower gel. Most noticeable after a sweaty day.
I know some people think you just sit on an ebike and go places.
A long shower is a big highlight of the evening, before any fussing with photo downloads. My skin is completely brown on some bits and cream on others, like a giraffe. I would take a picture of my foot stripes, but hehe, maybe tomorrow. My nose is dangerously tanned. My legs are shaping up a bit. I think.
The food has been great. Every evening I’ve been lucky with restaurants or hotels where the food is decent. A little glass of wine is necessary to relax after all the bumping and steering and pedalling. As for choosing, I have noticed that pasta is the easiest thing to digest, and I have no problem gulping down a good crunchy salad. Difficult to finish a whole portion though. Today for lunch I had half a power bar and felt perfect.
The rest of the evening is spent downloading the photos, fixing them a bit and writing this blog. Usually I chat to Simon, my kids or friends on whatsapp, so haven’t felt lonely yet. It has been 3 weeks of cycling and staying at a different place each night.
I am so grateful to Simon for sponsoring me, and for helping me navigate. This trip is a luxury beyond measure!
What a wonderful day, pedalling up through the valley towards the Resia/Reschen pass. A famous and very popular bike track, but people mostly go down hill to Merano, then catch the little train back up to their hotels.
The mountains have white ice toppings. I’m very nervous about going up there.
The emerald idyllic landscape sweeps up to pointy peaks. I saw a giant weeping willow, an apple-packing shed covered with solar panels, apple orchards…the apples are still babies.
Then came my big moment, when I reached 1000 kms, since setting off almost 3 weeks ago.
It happened at the apple store. One helps oneself, and puts a coin in the box.
It was on that spot, while a happy Italian couple were kindly taking this photo of me, that ‘the man’ arrived on his bike. He talked very fast about cycling 800 kms in Siberia. The kindly Italian then told him that I had just completed 1000 kms from Rome.
It came about that the man was also heading north, so he rode along just ahead of me, raving about all his cycling accomplishments and who knows what. Unfortunately, these fancy cycling jersey’s cause some bacterial activity which cannot be helped. So following in his wake was not very pleasant at all. I did my best to overtake and shake him off.
I dashed into a biking bar, and hid my bike amongst a group of others. But that didn’t work and there he was offering me a drink. I plonked down next to a German couple and pretended they were my friends. They understood the situation, and played along. The man vanished.
After lunch, just 1 km down there road, I saw the man again, washing his shirt in the river. He waved at me going passed.
This was a national park, so I was happily cruising along when the man suddenly appeared next to me, saying something about the gravel road: “It’s only another 4 kms”
I overtook him again and went as fast as I could to the next town Prato Allo Stelvio. Thought I’d lost him. It was a bit uphill and he didn’t have an ebike.
After Prato, a very pretty little lake-side cafe beckoned to me, and there I had the most delicious Apple Strudel with hot custard, and coffee. The ducks quacked and fish got hooked. Took a little toddle to get some pictures of the blue water. Chatted with Simon on the phone. Sat on a bench in the sun. Smiled at the children.
When I felt enough time had passed, and the man would be long gone…. guess who was there lying on the grass next to my bike! He jabbered on asking personal questions about whether I have a hotel booked etc. I tried not to be too rude, but answered nothing.
Took a photo of him and sent it to Simon.
I rode off and there he was again, like a fly. My pepper spray and a knife stays in the handle-bar bag. Should I get them out and keep them in my pocket?
This is the Adige River.
The road that I’m taking has a very long ‘super’ history too, it’s called the Via Claudia Augusta, and was built by the Romans in 15 BC. A military road over the Resia pass. You can see all the details on Wikipedia.
The wind came down from the pass and it was quite hard going on the uphills. The man couldn’t keep up.
Arriving in a village, I got a huge fright when the man appeared from a side road, and crossed my path shouting “Ecco La”….there she is!
I pounded away at my pedals, put the bike in turbo and rushed up the steep track. Going as fast as I could, while my battery rapidly lost power. The track led through deep forest, and my little heart was beating at a terrible rate. The next village wasn’t the one I thought it was, and in a panic realised my battery would probably run out before I reached Burgusio where I had booked a room. Horrible thoughts of pushing my bike up the steepest of steep track while the man hunted me down…
I reached the top with 1 km of battery power to go. Switched on the google voice to tell me where my hotel was and got there in a flap. Hopefully the man didn’t watch me.
He will probably appear again today, as he knows I’m going over the pass, and there is only one road.
This is my bedroom window in the tower…
not really, but I would have liked it.
All fine now. This morning there is a strong head wind to negotiate.
71 kms yesterday
The internet here is very slow, and this blog would not upload last night.
This morning some of the Everest Hotel guests vanished with the key to the dungeon where the bicycles are stored overnight, so I had to wait for them to come and open the lock. It was an imperfect start to a few other annoyances that came up first thing. I pedalled out to the river where the cycle track is very well marked along the eastern shore. Happy to be moving again, off I went for about 1 km till it just fizzled out. A very good long look at the map later, I had to return and cross over the bridge. Lesson 1009.
Going along nicely, voicing a red-indian sounding song, when I heard popping noises on my helmet and my glasses turned into kaleidoscopes. The body was doing fine, but the atmosphere was sheer gloom. I would like to thank the government for making us this wonderful cycle track, it is smooth and clean and fast, even in the rain.
But it also nearly broke my heart when I came face to face with some big mower/cutter monsters who came down the track and cut all the beautiful spring flowers for meters on each side, sucked them up into a big bin truck, and left barren green stalks for the next 15 kilometres. In the south they would never do such a dreadful thing, but then they don’t have much cycle track at all.
No more forget-me-nots, butter-cups, lace, poppies…and the river Adige looked grey and bulging.
My bike at rest with the others at the special bike stop restaurant.
Lunch at a small village called Egna Newmarkt, Stop there next time you pass by. I went into a hotel restaurant with wet pants, you know the cushiony lycra type, and sat on the nice cushiony chair. When I got up and saw a big wet patch, it was a bit embarrassing. Then I asked the lady for the toilet…she must have been very cross.
Things went wrong navigationally again. There was a detour which put me off my track. The road was full of puddles and the nasty men go there to drive very fast in splashy cars. Big trucks go thundering past and blast one with dirty road spray. Then, just when the detour ends and we (bike and I) get back on track, it happens to be just passed the turnoff for Meran…no signs of course. All other cyclists either have an iPad affixed to their handle bars with the latest updated version of cycle maps, or a proper GPS. Little Leanne, gaily goes pedalling along, but Simon came to the rescue and told me what to do. Go back a few kms. Turn, gogogogo.
Doing just that, when up came a tunnel. Ummm, especially for bikes! Then another one. Gorgeous countryside unfolded all around as I went huffing up the hill. On and on through wonderful farms and forests. Another nasty surprise was waiting. A big road with signs that had names unrelated to any I should be seeing.
Not just wrong road, but wrong VALLEY!
Another turn around and a fast decent, almost having a face-on collision with a squirrel who happened to be hanging off the end of a branch eating cherries. We came eyeball to eyeball for a fraction of a second and I had to dodge the little beast. Which reminds me of the black velvet mole that nudged my foot in the grass earlier. And a lost duckling which couldn’t see his mom down the road, so I herded it a bit in her direction.
I must end here, as my eyes can’t stay open any longer. There is so much more to tell…
Big day today, a record distance of 108 kms.
61 hours in the saddle since Rome
total 967.15 kms. So tomorrow will be a 1000 km celebration. Whoo hoo.
Lucy Lui gave me breakfast in her back garden, and waved me goodbye. All my hosts and hostesses so far have been truly generous and kind.
Mantova was just waking up when I passed along her northern shores, sneaking along a little path in the woods. A large sticky spider web attached itself to my back, and I had a feeling the spider came with it. There were a swan couple who hissed over their ugly ducklings. Rabbits hopped around. It all seemed a bit too fairy-tail-ish.
A Faraway Tree.
My nonna knees seem to be holding up, and my back is completely better. It’s amazing what biking can do for a gnarly old woman.
Thank you Judith for the energy bars, this one went down very well after a long straight road along the canal. The farmers are turning their hay, clouds of hay-fever dust spread around everywhere.
A pig-swill truck came down the cycle track, and I found it quite easy to vomit off a moving bike. As you go along so the smells change, from star-jasmine in full flower to cow urine, to wet grass, to algae ponds. Lots and lots of water down south of the lake. All of it controlled by very fancy looking pump stations, dykes and cement canals.
Then suddenly a castle ruin on a hilltop surrounded by forest. History is always at your side in Italy.
Stopped a moment in Monte Borghetto to look at the little place and found a Metasequoia tree.
My bike battery had not charged properly the night before, so I was a bit nervous of getting to where I was going. Wherever that would be.
First glimpse of Lago di Garda was at Peschiera, the most southern village. A man in a sailor suit, told me I had missed the boat for Riva today. (northern most town on the lake).
At the info place I asked a tall dark girl with long mauve fingernails. She had been asked that question one too many times. One must ask for second opinions.
The voice in my head said: “don’t panic Leanne, this is a holiday lake, there will be plenty of places to stay”.
But I very gingerly rode 8 kms to the next port to see if there was a boat from there. The ferry ticket man yelled over the loudspeaker in the middle of my question: “Schlange auf der rechten Seite” at which some German ladies giggled. It was shouted in English too: ” Please queue on the right side”. I wasn’t sure which was the right or wrong side, but we all got on board.
It’s not actually cheating, if you want to ride along the edge then you’ve got tunnels and narrow roads to negotiate.
We floated up the long narrow lake, deep into the mountains. Away from the heat and white skies, the ferry criss-crossed the water, picking up and dropping off passengers as it went. The deck was green painted iron, and 3 sailors manned the ropes. It took four and a half hours to go from Sirmione to Riva.
You will see by the sheer number of photographs below, that there was nothing else to do on board. There are many picturesque villages on the way.
Finally arrived in Riva, and my battery clicked off as I reached the door of the Hotello Sport and Relax. It was 20:20.
However, after a shower and a nice chat with Luciana and her beautiful daughter, I managed to put on my usual evening outfit and head down to town for a little supper.
Eating alone is quite an art, you have to pretend not to be listening to other conversations, you’ve got to interact with the staff, and you’ve got to look less lonely than you are. With your one glass of wine, and one candle, and your notebook on the table.
The morning was lovely and cool, thank you.
It’s my Dad’s 81st birthday. Wish he was here.
12 June…going to Trento
Luciana gave me scrambled eggs for breakfast and we did a photo shoot, except my setup failed and we just got our feet in the picture. I’ve shared it anyway.
The ride up the valley was pretty extreme. It started beautifully. Then a steep hill where I overtook a young man on a mountain bike. After that I paid for my snigger, by taking the high road by mistake.
I’m going to skip that part.
After that I found the cycle track and it was an incredible ride! Like a dream come true.
At Sarche, dark clouds came over the mountains and it poured with rain. Some road maintenance men told me to go to the hotel bar, so I did.
From then on it was a bit tricky. It got steep, and there was a complicated system of roads on bridges. In a moment of weakness I tried phoning my team for directions but nobody picked up. So, I went on, checking google maps but not actually finding the way. At one point I got off my bike and just stood there like a silly confused animal. To tell you the truth I would rather have pushed the bike through a forest than go on another ‘high’ road. Eventually I waved down a red car, and a very old granny just stared at me, slowed down, waited a bit, then went on.
I imagined my team all standing there with their bikes, discussing what to do, and they said to me: “Oh Mom, just go up the hill on this road, even though it’s scary, and see what is at the top”.
Turned out that was where the cycle track started again.
Two men were loading giant copper pots into a van. They gave me these verbal directions: “Go here, then two curves further on, take the third track left for a few kilometres until you see a fruit seller on the corner, then don’t take the marked track, take the one that goes to the left, then turn right almost immediately onto a dirt road, it goes up steeply but it’s fine, then at the fourth or fifth track on the right side of the big road, go down and up again, then cross over the highway at the end of that road…….
I did find the fruit seller. He was sitting in his van with the window open. He had one tooth. I asked him which of the four tracks were for Sopramonte. He said the muddy one in the forest, then gave me his apricot sample specimen which had been cut in half to prove to customers that it was ripe. I ate it in two snaps. It tasted like honey.
I didn’t take the forest road.
To finish, the last climb was huge. The going down on the other side was quite sad. Trento lay in the valley, all crusty and full of cars. Tonight in the ‘Everest Hotel’, I will write to you about the sounds of birds, and tall orange cliffs.
Heading for Meran today.
This is the google map for the past 2 days. They don’t have the bike option yet, so I’ve chosen the walking route. Very similar, except the ferry is not available as an option.
I was thrilled to have an egg for breakfast at Pico Hotel. Usually it’s a matter of cornetti with jam and a coffee.
Set off a bit late this morning, due to it being Sunday.
Lesson 3. Don’t sing with your mouth open when riding a bike. Hum, because insects can get in your lung.
You would think cyclists prefer downhills to uphills. But like life, the ups are way more interesting and you get to feel pleased when you reach the top. Whereas the downs, as in life, are mostly just a whizzing blur and then you feel sad that it’s over.
On the flats, however, one tends to focus on the things right in front of you. Yesterday Giorgio said he goes up onto the dykes to see the sunset. It occurred to me that when you live on a level, one doesn’t get to see spectacular stuff like sunsets. There is always stuff to block your view. Like walls and gardens. Just a small up like a dyke can make all the difference.
Today I visited the small town of San Benedetto Po, which boasts a huge monastery founded in 1007. The spaces are incredible, and the people are very nice, but I didn’t go inside.
For most of the way the track Euro velo 7 follows the river Secchia. There are dykes on each side. Along the top of them are the cycle tracks. From up here there are great views of the farms and crops. All the farmers who lost their buildings in the 2012 earthquake have rebuilt particularly fancy sheds. Those whose buildings stayed standing, have to make do with the old ones. There must be a farmer or two amongst them who regrets that his buildings didn’t fall down.
After a sumptuous lunch alfresco: tagliatelle cut in ribbons (serrated edges), with smoked salmon sauce, and some veggies with lots of olive oil. Apparently we are supposed to drink four times the amount of olive oil that we do, so I’m not holding back. (Good marketing strategy for olive oil farmers).
Today the ride was wonderfully peaceful. Lombardy is worth visiting if you can.
Happily rolled into Mantova this afternoon at around 16:00.
48 hours in the saddle since the ride began.
Known for it’s general exquisiteness, Mantova’s weary streets are coated in tourist groups. My phone ran out of battery as usual, just when it was needed, so I drank a fanta in a bar while it energised. Finding a place to stay every night is quite a task on it’s own. Tonight I am sleeping in Industrial street 4.
The day began with astonishing ease.
Walter oiled my chain and I hugged Christina, then I was off. Nobody overtook me for 30 kms along the piste. It was fabulous to ride at a constant pace on the flats of Emilia-Romagna.
Due to the cyclone, the underpasses were flooded. But I just went over the road instead.
Arrived in the centre of Modena. Saw a very pretty bride wearing pink. Drank an excellent cappuccino made by an Italian lady.
Modena is a beautiful old town, full of arty treasures. The streets are cobbled with round river stones and the squares are huge.
The romantic part then took a turn.
Confusion set in, and my map application refused to load. So I did what I’m good at, being a dizzy blonde, I just asked every second person where to go. Every second person has another opinion in Modena. The old man in the black&white picture told me to follow him, (he was going to see his mother…in that direction). So I did.
He waved me on in the general direction…
There were a lot of big roads and intersections which I had to go under and over. A couple shouted to me from the other side of a flooded underpass that it was ok to go through. Once I had splashed my way through, some men told me to go back the way I had come. One large man was most concerned that I should stop at a restaurant to charge my battery and eat something.
Eventually I found myself under a highway, alone, with no options. Then had to retrace my tracks for miles.
I was standing looking blankly at my google map when Giorgio came along and saved the day.
He said to follow him. We went for about 20 kms along the top of a dyke. He’s a photographer and has exhibitions and produces a lot of books. He took me along some small roads, between pear plantations and vineyards. All very flat and well kept. I had no idea where we were, then turned into a farmyard with geese and chickens strutting about, and rode around to the back of the house. At this point, my girlhood safety training was ringing the alarm bells.
His friend Antonella then gave us an amazing lunch fresh from her garden, and homemade Lambrusco wine, which is the famous local stuff. We sat under the trees and munched on fava beans, liver and onions, feta cheese, and proscuitto. Other friends arrived to eat, a large butcher who offered me a train ticket, and a cyclist who gave me the most cutest little round bottle of Balsamic vinegar, aged 35 years. So very generous and kind. You just can’t imagine the genuine concern they have for a lost lady. Sharing everything they have, and especially their time. I am really touched by all the kindness I have been given on this journey.
Giorgio Giliberti. He sent me this picture with a nice addition of a sign, Rome to Oslo. 433 kms to Rome on the highway….650 kms the back route.
Giorgio rode with me almost all the way to Mirandola, which is a bit off my track, but he said I should go there, and I did.
There was a terrible earthquake here a few years ago. One sees many crumbled buildings, with the new structure standing next to a pile of bricks.
All three Churches were damaged, and whole apartment blocks stand empty.
The hotel Pico is hosting me tonight. The nice man at the desk said I should go into town for the “Memory festival”, and I did.
The events were totally packed, so I sat at an outdoor cafe in the central square and drank a Spritz. Culture, food, music, art, cinema, theatre…a good thing for a broken town.
Farmers are selling their cherries along the roads. There are two types called Duroni and Ciliegie. Duroni are red and a bit sour, compared to ciliegie. I bought a some from a lady and her daughter along the road. It would be lovely to come back in the early spring when they’re all flowering.
To reach Modena, I went over the hill to the next valley, via Montese. A village amongst others in the vicinity where people have lived for millennia. There are 9 fresh water springs, some of them salty minerals. According to the information poster in town, the area was considered sacred since antiquity. Farmers would perform rituals at an ancient man-made lake, Lago Bracciano, saying prayers and giving offerings of bronze statuettes in return for protection of their cattle.
There are many hiking trails offered to tourists. Not that I saw any tourists, but I suppose they come up here from Bologna and Modena on the weekends. I did see a very big green snake.
It seems all barista’s on the north side of the Gothic line are of Chinese origin.
At lunch a nice man called Carlo, who had a tiny black puppy in a backpack, told me to go to Rocca di Vignoli, so I did.
A cyclone came through, so I have stayed in a very posh new bed&breakfast&dinner&lunch for two nights. It stormed, and the farmers made a lot of noise shooting projectiles into the clouds to ‘open’ them so it doesn’t hail on the ripening cherries. (so I’m told).
My hosts, Christina and Walter have been so generous and kind. The room is huge with a fancy spa shower. There are bowls of fruit and fresh flowers, drinks and all sorts of nice things. The house is very old, but immaculately renovated and maintained.
When I went down to get something from my bike, a huge black Doberman charged over to bite me, but Walter got in the way with a broom.
Going to Modena tomorrow, and a bit further. The cycle tracks begin and it’s flat, so let’s see how far I get.
Once upon a time, Nonna rode her bicycle up a very steep forest road, to visit her Grandchildren on the other side of the mountain.
Her basket was full of energy bars and other goodies.
The people of the village said there were terrible things in the jungle, and that she should never ever go there. But the happy thought of seeing her precious children again, was so strong that she hopped on her bike and off she went muttering something like “who’s afraid of the big bad wolf…”
It was very-very steep, and she huffed and puffed. Up, she went, up a small winding road, passed wood-cutters and a hunter driving a fast jeep. Up passed the last house for a long long way. Suddenly there was a great loneliness, and mist came down over the tree tops and touched Nonna on her face, very gently.
Near the top of the mountain, where the trees were dark and tall, a “good wolfy-wolfy” moved in the forest and the birds screeched and flapped. So did Nonna.
Nobody came along in a little boxy fiat car. So Nonna pedalled and pedalled with all her might. Her battery was getting very low, and soon she would need to hop off her bike and push it.
But just around the corner the road went down, and she whizzed and zig-zagged at break-neck speed until she heard some bells ringing in the trees. There was a little cottage tucked away in the bushes and somebody was humming a song.
She stopped beside a boxy fiat car at the front door and called out to the singer, but nobody came out, so she got back on her bike and went on.
A small river gurgled along beside her and she felt better. She even began to smile. The sun shone through the trees and the road was smooth.
All morning she rode, waving to fairies and goblins who dashed around like butterflies in the greenery.
Eventually she came to a blue lake in the hills, where she found some people, so stopped for tagliatelle al ragù and a little sip of red wine.
After lunch, Nonna had a very full tummy and was feeling a big sleepy. That’s when she made a mistake and took the low road instead of the high road, because she didn’t want to pedal quite so much. She had no idea where it led, but took it anyway. All the way down the hill to Riola, a little town with two bars but no hotel. A lot of old men sat around playing cards. They all looked up in surprise to see a Nonna on a bike in this place.
It was getting late and her batteries were dangerously low. So she called Tyrone on the phone and asked him to search the web for a place to stay. “Il mio refugio” sounded like just the thing, but it was a few kilometres up a mountainside. So with all the remaining oomph, up she went, higher and higher, into the cherry orchards. Zigzagging up a ridiculous hill, until the last drop of energy was all used up.
It was a very hidden away place which took some extra effort to find, since she had taken the wrong road to get there in the first place. The big gate was chained up and all the shutters were closed.
Lesson 2. Always phone and ask before going there.
Just then my phone ran out of battery, and the bike ran out of battery. I felt a sob welling up.
A man with black teeth and a difficult face came huffing up a road on his bicycle, and he said: “yes, you can go down this road to Marano, there is a bar”… so with huge relief I rolled down… but the bar was closed.
However a lady let me charge up my phone for a short while, and I pedalled back to Riola. This time I went into the old-man bar, and talked to the very exotic looking barmaid. She looked down at me in horrible disdain. My hair was pressed flat and my grey gloves were in tatters. I most likely stank.
She showed me a blackboard full of business cards and pointed out a random few. I called the number and Giuseppe happily offered to fetch me! He arrived with a silver trailer, loaded up my bike and drove me out of town. I had no idea where we were going, but I had photographed his business card, which I sent via whatsapp to Simon and Ty for a background check.
Giuseppe drove me up to the bed & breakfast at the top of another steep hill. He said usually he only has road workers to stay. The shower was ice cold.
He made the bed, and gave me supper in the kitchen. Tortellini soup with grana (Parmiggiano), followed by a plate of different salami and prosciutto, flat breads, cherries, two types of homemade cheese, home grown wine (fizzy)…we talked about Italy and it’s youth, and he drew a map of my route for tomorrow.
It was about 9 pm and I locked myself into my room and flopped into bed, completely exhausted. Just as I was going to sleep a blood curdling scream at my window woke me. I lay for hours trying to relax, but no luck.
This is how it looked in the morning. No sign of blood. I forgot to ask Giuseppe what the noise was. Maybe just as well.
The sun rose and the time came to set off alone. Malo gave me a gift of rescue drops and some good breakfast this morning. She looked so pretty amongst her roses and blossoming olives. She waved me up the gritty road.
Yesterday evening she had kindly driven me some way along my chosen route in her car, to make sure I could get out of there without silly confusion.
I felt rather exhilarated, and tried hard not to think of anything more than the air in my nostrils. The tiny winding roads drew me along, downhill most of the way to Bagno Ripoli. The day was just beginning, but how would it end?
At a sharp curve, I rang my white-whale bell and a farmer turned and waved. Then riding onto the little bridge over the great 6 lane highway, I waved at the traffic below and a truck driver hooted. “This isn’t so bad after all”… I thought.
Brilliant views unfolded as I went along. The sun still shone, and the rescue drops did their work. Everything seemed to be going well.
The Arno, like any big famous river, gives one direction, a geographic marker to show the way. We rolled through Florence together.
I glimpsed Brunelleschi’s dome but did not stop to see Michelangelo’s David. Crossed over the Ponte Vecchio (Golden Bridge) between a mass of tourists and turned left.
The map said to follow the white path along the river, under the bridges. I pedalled furiously along. There were some male individuals skulking along the way. Being my first day alone, I wasn’t yet sure if people under highway bridges , train bridges and on quiet paths were trustworthy types.
The rest of the afternoon was a hot ride through a general blur of asking for directions along the little higgledy-piggledy streets of San Donnino, San Piero di Ponti, Campo Bizenzio, Confini. etc. Sorry there are no photos, but I was concentrating.
By some miracle I reached Prato, where a nice cycle track took me along the river and into town. Made a change to the roaring of huge trucks. A bunch of old men sitting outside a bar said they would watch my bike for me. They asked a lot of questions and couldn’t understand the part ‘da sola’… was I really biking all the way to Oslo alone ? “Accidenti” is the usual retort..which doesn’t translate well.
My phone needed charging, it was getting late and I had no idea where to stay, so I checked on Booking.com and called up the B&B lady…in Montale.
She said it wasn’t far from Prato, and I would be there very shortly. The ‘arriving by bike’ part obviously was lost in translation.
At some point I stopped at another bar to charge the phone a bit. The old men pointed me in the right direction, happening to mention that there was a ‘sotto passaggio” (under passage)… thank goodness, otherwise I would have just sat down and cried when I saw the highway crossing my path.
Lesson 1. Always talk to people.
Mondale is a small place at the foot of a big mountain at the end of the Apennine range.
Lina and Michele Bocchicpchio own the house Belvedere, which had no view at all. What it did have was mosquitoes and a very interested couple who had some trouble believing I intended to go over the mountain tomorrow.
The warnings began with the state of the road, it was “very very bad, Signora, very steep, way too steep for a bicycle, and there are naughty boys who do naughty things up there. Then there are the hunters, who shoot moving things and drive fast jeeps.
And there are wolves.
My knees were jelly from the ride today, but I managed to get myself down to a pizza restaurant. It was closed to the public on opening night, but when they heard my little story they rushed for a chair and offered me a free ‘very special pizza’ which the invited guests all admired. It was a margherita with four basil leaves perfectly arranged. The genuine ingredients have been sourced from all over the country.
I was invited to spend the evening, but my eyes were closing so they put the beautiful pizza in a box and I wobbled back to Belvedere where I scoffed it down in solitude.
My room was huge and spotless. I was told to use the single bed, not the double one, although I was paying the double price. Mosquitoes dotted the ceiling, and I stood on the bed and whacked them with my pillow. Unfortunately, a blood-streak stained the whitest of white ceilings, and in all that pure cleanliness they will notice it first thing. No way could I reach it to wash it off. I feel very sorry about that.
Sleeping wasnt that easy, after all. Maybe I should have taken more rescue drops.
Here is Lina, who made me cake for breakfast. Michele had gone off to do errands.
The evening was lilac with pink roses, from the high terrace of the village called Radda our glasses of red wine held up in the sun, and the moon floated like a white petal between them.
A choir was singing in the church so we sat on a pew and closed our eyes for a while listening to heaven.
Saturday morning saw us pedalling past green vineyards. Little did we know what was coming.
First a very fast downhill. I whizzed down at 58kms per hour, which is a record for me, and I don’t intend going faster than that ever again. Simon went much faster.
But then the really-really steep uphills began.
We rode up and over wineries, olive groves and oak forests.
I stopped to wait for Simon under a tree, a luxury granted me by me electric bike. Luckily for us, a group of very happy people from Treviso stopped there too, for a sip of Prosecco in the shade of an old farmhouse. Corrado came over and invited us to join them.
We had a lovely noisy rest there and exchanged contact details.
When traveling by bike you really notice the ground, how it passes beneath you, changing colours and stones. You feel the wind dragging off the back of your arms like silk scarves. Sometimes you hold your breath when a truck goes past or a ditch of sand pulls you into a sideways skid. I’m getting better at hopping off without hooking my foot on the water bottle.
Insects often collide with your face.
Road things: Lizards, and lizard tails, small sharp white stones and flapping butterflies, 3 snakes (2 squashed), some unfortunate hedgehogs, african hoepoes, cuckoos, motorbikes, tractors, vans, and the scent of olive trees in full blossom.
My camera’s extra-wide-angled lens has an annoying way of flattening the landscape…
This was our last day of riding together, as Simon must to return to work. So we took it slow until lunchtime, when by chance, we found the perfect spot at Casa Nuova
The owners, a very nice Dutch couple, Ulla and Thierry have renovated the villa and made it spectacular. They are good friends of Maló and Guido (with whom I am staying now).
We had been there together for dinner about a year ago and loved it. Not realising it was the same place (night and day difference), we turned in and recognised the garden. Had a long chat and delicious lunch. Ulla has published a cookery book of their own recipes (written in German).
It was time to face the last long uphill to our destination, the magical home of Maló and Guido at Poggio Pratelli (we all share the privilege of grand-parenting Elia, our gorgeous grandson in Oslo).
And so we arrived by way of a gravelly road to find a bottle of excellent Prosecco from the family estate, Torre Degli Alberi, waiting for us in the fridge.
The garden is dripping with roses of all kinds, lavender and blue cornflowers, rosemary and poppies….
Sunday morning sunshine filtered through the vine leaves, dappling the veranda table. Maló makes the most delicious food; salads and wild strawberries picked from the garden and olive oil from her trees.
The four of us “nonni” bragged on about the pure wonderfulness of grandchildren, and made a toast to Elia who was at the same moment enjoying a 1st birthday picnic with parents and friends at the lake in Oslo. And to gorgeous Mikey who had just caught his first Australian fish, aged 2,5 yrs.
Sunny Sunday morning. Simon rode off to the train station. We watched him go, until he was just a speck on a far-off farm road, then he vanished into a forest.
I felt quite bereft.
Simon sent me this picture from the train station. So he did actually reach it in time.
I was very pleased to be invited to go with Maló and Guido to their good friends for supper. This is the view from their home overlooking Florence. We talked a lot about routes and bicycles.
Weather predictions for tomorrow are rain and wind. But I don’t believe it, and will head off at around 9 am. Maló is helping me find the track.
I’m feeling a bit slow in the mornings, but after a good cappuccino at the local café, and a few turns of the pedals, the old joints click together and my brain boots up.
We sit at a pavement table, our bikes standing together like black horses. A fat chef with an apron and tall hat, a ‘Carabinieri’ (fancy policeman) in his black pants with a red stripe down the leg, a road worker dressed in fluorescents like me, stand around chatting with loud gestures. Women sweep and make the coffee.
We spent the night in a little apartment at the end of a long passage.
Apparently King Henry VII died very inconveniently here in Buonconvento, on the way back from his coronation in Rome.
This picture is a slight example of the colours.
Zigzagging up and down the hills, on white farm roads, the tractors and vans leave us in clouds of dust. Sometimes we must take the Cassia road, which is tarred but there is no hard shoulder and it’s very narrow, so trucks have to rumble along behind us until there is a chance to pass safely. Occasionally we come across fellow bikers and shout “Buon giorno” or “Ciao”.
Seems Simon is still having some trouble with my Brooks seat, ouch. I’m using his seat and it’s just fine thanks.
Bumbled into Siena before lunch, by way of the Porta Romana.
Pretty impressive city all round. Bedecked with artistic treasures and gigantic architecture. A cold beer makes everything look even better.
Simon once stayed at a hostel run by nuns for the pilgrims who walk the via Francigena, so we went there and were welcomed in. No cost. A very matter-of-fact Nun showed us to our brown dormitory, which we messed up with battery cables and stinky socks, padded tights and wet towels.
After a shower and short siesta we made our way around the town, by foot, which feels so much harder than riding a bike. Tramp tramp.
With Simon, food is never far from thought. After a delicious glass of Chianti red wine and a platter of cheeses and other yummy morsels on a spectacular terrace overlooking the bricky towers, guess who we bumped into?!
Our lovely friend-almost-daughter Sian, who had also arrived in Siena that day. www.sianowenphotography.com. She came to my rescue in Rome lately and helped me set up this blog. We ran around photographing the golden hour of Siena.
The nuns invited us to join the procession from St. Francis to the Duomo.
It was a mysterious and spirited event, lots of kids in white shifts, and men in black carrying a canopy which is held over the Blessed Sacrament, a blood stain from the same Hostia we saw in Bolsena a couple of days ago. The miracle happened in 1263, then in 1290, the dome in Orvieto was built to house the original piece of stained cloth. The Cardinal in Orvieto wanted to make a scientific analysis of the blood in 1995, but it was forbidden.
The procession lasted late into the evening, and we tootled back to the convent to find our Nun waiting up to let us in. Some pilgrims were asleep in our dormitory, and we earnestly tried not to wake them but the old brass door handle rasped loudly. Sleeping bags were necessary, but we had none, so used the communal blankets. We slept very well. Not sure about the pilgrims though, they were a bit grumpy. Simon and I tend to snore in tandem apparently.
Met a Danish couple at breakfast, they’re riding from Rome to Copenhagen. They slept in the Nun’s office last night, and complained that the roads were very steep.
He had a Brooks saddle too, but says he has some problems with it.
After a quick stop at the bike shop for another bike bag, in which to keep my camera etc. we exited the walls through Porta Camollia, and wobbled around the periphery looking for the track.
A man said he thinks “we can go down that way through the fields”, and so we did.
The German Shepard watched us from the farmhouse, two tasty bikers coming down the hill through the tall green weeds. The dog lay behind a fence, but as we got near we saw the gate was open.
He didn’t move, but we felt the adrenaline.
This photograph shows the only level bit of land we saw for the rest of the day. Simon battled up and down, while I whizzed my pedals – battery on full turbo!
Drivers were very careful to give us a wide berth on the gravel.
Made it to Radda, the centre of the Chianti region, for lunch. And the longer we sat the more we ate, and the more we ate the more we drank, till eventually we flopped into the very same hotel. So here I am writing this from a lovely big bed.
That is not a muffin in the picture, it’s an semifreddo made from almonds. Quite delish.
Total trip distance from Marino … 325 kms
Today 27 kms (haha, due to high hills and too much good wine).
It rained. Not much fun to bike in the rain.
So we only set off at lunch time, in time to stop for lunch.
After a miserable attempt at standing under a tree for cover while large trucks dashed us with road spray.
The salad at Fonte all Vena in San Quirico d’Orcia, is a assortment of leaves, collected by a girl in Pienza.
She roams the countryside picking all sorts of wild things. It was quite exquisite to eat.
Our pilgrim ‘passport’ gets a stamp at every town along the Francigena way. This is the road the Archbishop Sigeric of Canterbury took to reach Rome in 990 AD. Pilgrims follow the same route, in the same way they do for as the Camino di Santiago.
Canterbury to Rome is the way of the heart. I will talk more about it in another blog.