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Day 55 to 57 – Gothenburg to Henån to Vassbotten to Moss.

Swimming in a black lake

The mood at breakfast in Gothenburg is jovial. We guzzle most of the buffet. I’m so relieved and happy to have Tyrone here.

Massive mossy granite boulders push up through the oats fields. Trees balance the rocky cracks. These hills are perfectly spaced for cyclists to whizz down for 10 seconds and struggle up the next one for 10 minutes. Up and down like that all day. There are black-blue lakes glinting behind the shaking birch leaves. All day we ride through the leafy wilderness expecting to see a troll. A little fawn leaps away into the forest.

Hotels are few and far between. Stenungsund offers us lunch, and to be on the safe side we ask about future accommodation possibilities on our route. A sweet girl at the info office telephones ahead to Henån. She books the only room available within a day’s ride.

Henån

After a “sundowner” at Henån port (actually up here near the Arctic circle the sun goes down at about 10 pm and it stays light until the wee hours) we find the one and only hotel where the owner gives us a choice between a hotel room and a bed & breakfast room. We choose the bed & breakfast which is cheaper and the word “breakfast” wins us over. But the mistake becomes obvious when the manager shows us to the low ceilinged converted garage pod. The smell is almost unbearable. Seems our fellow guests have cooked something that was killed too long ago.

However, we survived the night and the breakfast served in the hotel section was flavoursome. The manager gave us a winning smile and came out on the doorstep to wave goodbye.

Last day in Sweden

Another day of ups and downs. Tyrone was doing well on his new bike, although he says the saddle is a torture instrument. It’s one of those off road mountain bikes with a not-for-sitting seat. After eight hours perched on it he announces “there are no hotels on the radar.”
Trepidation grows as we ride the narrow tar road between solid spruce trees towards the Norwegian border. Eighty eight kilometers and considering the thought of an exhausting night avoiding the proliferous wolves and moose.

Vassbotten

Around the next corner, up pops a camping ground. There is no such thing as luck and coincidence. It’s called The book of Life unfolding. You get what you need… if you pay proper attention and make the right choices at each intersection. Easy to say, but this is proof. Thank God Tyrone is here, there is no way I would have made it this far without him.

At the camping reception a lady examines her bookings, and finally says “Yes, I do” …’ have a cabin for you!”. She informs us that the restaurant will be closing at 19:00. It is now 17:30 we have time to take a quick swim in the black lake. To be honest, it’s way too cold for me, but Ty takes a swim and I paint in my notebook instead.

Swimming in the lake, Vassbotten, Sweden

At 18:00 we enthusiastically head over to the dining room.

The receptionist has made a mistake. Closing time is at 18:00. Inside there are gaggles of waitresses eating pommes frites. “Sorry we are closed” they say “anyway there was no food left. We had a hectic weekend.”

I beg for a slice of bread for my son.

We all giggle but they say no.

Beer is ok, so we get a beer or three.

The evening did not last long after that. We took our beer-belly grumbles to the narrow bunk-bed of our tiny wooden cabin. Wolves howl.

Marching on to Moss

Sun’s up. We go down to the receptionist with our bikes all packed and ready to go. The lady apologises for the misunderstanding. As compensation she hands us fragrant cinnamon buns straight from the oven with cups of hot coffee. Hunger evaporates and all is forgiven.

The camping ground is on the Swedish side of the Norwegian border. The seventh and final border of the trip. It has been amazing to cross so many countries without a single control check. Freedom to move is one of the greatest gifts the European Union has given us.

4000 kms

I feel happy and surprised to see four thousand kilometers on the clock. There is no real pride in it, after all a solo journey such as this is a wholly selfish endeavour, although I’m pleased to have made it so far. Gratefulness is the only feeling that one can honestly have in this case. The reason why I’m writing to tell you all about this ride is to make sure all the kindness and support experienced along the way is not forgotten.

I’m hoping you might be encouraged to do the same, or something similar. It doesn’t have to be sporty but it should be something you love doing. And remember loving is all about action. Getting around to doing the necessary thing. At the beginning you may fall off, but you’ll learn to shoulder roll and leap up again. You will get into the present moment with such intensely determined focus that you’ll make damn sure you don’t fall.

A spoke in the wheel of life.

Looking back now from the wheat field where Tyrone is capturing the moment on film, I must say the enterprise has been filled with all the emoticons on the list. There were times of euphoria, joy and peace. Balanced with a good dose of humiliation, boredom and feebleness. All of it stirred up with a daily dose of fear, horror and despair. Basically a rainbow of emotions and some I never knew I had.

All day we ride up and down the granite hills under the tall forest trees, along highways and byways, on roads and paths, bridges and ferries until we came to the sea at Moss. The only deviation was an urgent rush for a loo when the lunch in my tummy gurgled dangerously. Three men in green road-work protective clothing sat at a table outside their quarters eating mayonnaise and tomato sandwiches. I rode right up to them in a panic “please – excuse me – hello – can I use your toilet???!!”.

A negative look went around between them like a un-pinned hand grenade. One got the stare from both the others, so he got up and showed me into a dark little shanty room with an unmade bed. The basin was a lot less white than it should have been, but at least there was plenty of loo paper.

Our hotel in Moss has a Rolls Royce parked out front and an elegant seaside garden with a terrace view over the bay. Tyrone is definitely paying for this one!

diary painting

109 kms

Tomorrow we are expected in Oslo!

See map route – Gothenburg – Henån – Vassbotten – Moss.

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Day 54 – Varberg to Gothenburg

Sweden red houses

Swedish bitters

An internet-free day cycling north along the Kattegattleden 1 track towards Gothenburg. The cycle track is well signposted and easy going. This has got to be the most beautiful part of Sweden? Swathes of soft oats and mixed greens blow along the rocky coastline. Shining water dotted with islands, humble harbours and red and yellow wooden summer houses painted in white trim.

Instead of a google map showing up, I had a message from my phone provider to say that I had run out of credit. This released me from a slight dependency on wifi and google, and let me loose on the wild side of the journey. Picture a zoo animal being dropped off in the middle of the serengeti plain.

Not only that, but my credit card maxed out yesterday and has been blocked by the bank. The algorithm might have found my personal data suspiciously full of payments for single rooms in different hotels every night for two months. In fact it blocked my current account as a safety measure so I can’t draw any cash either. My begging calls to the help desk were met with a polite negative every time. That means the breakfast sandwich and water bottle would need to suffice for the day.

No worries at all because Tyrone (youngest son) is coming from Oslo by train (with a bicycle in his luggage) to meet me in Gothenburg. He will be waiting with wifi and money and his beautiful smile. Our roles have swapped and he’s now the sensible responsible one coming to my rescue.

Sunny side

In the meantime the sunny side of the navigational situation is this – the sun should shine on my right side all morning and on my left side all afternoon. If all goes well I should arrive in Gothenburg this evening as planned. The spirits are also on my side because I have already booked a hotel there. Did it this morning using the B&B wifi connection. Normally I never book accommodation a whole day ahead.

The hotel address is a mystery, but from what I remember of the booking map it showed the place to be halfway between two bridges on the northern bank of the Göta river estuary. That should be easy to find.

To tell you the truth I am grateful to be in the grand finale stage of the journey. As beautiful and fantastic and privileged as it may seem, riding alone has been a big challenge. I miss laughing. The road is not that funny when you’re alone. One needs a mammal to laugh with. The only mammal on the bike was myself. As funny as that may seem I feel like a glum reptile.

Sharing a beer with my son will be lovely. I will say a loud CHEERS. It will be fun to enthusiastically discuss the route and have Ty point out the way. You might be thinking ” she could just get on a train and be done with it!” But with so few days left to go and such amazing scenery, taking a train would be a terrible pity.

Philosophy

Like everything in life it is vitally important to finish your mission, regardless of punctures, saddle sores, a broken hand bone, heat stroke, hunger, skin scales, carbonated lungs, pedal bite scabs and loneliness. You pick up some grit along the way, getting fitter while you go. The more ground you cover the stronger you get. There’s a rhythm to it. You develop scales and become one with the bike and the stuff on board. Your wheels become wings.

My cousin asked me “if you have any philosophical thoughts and great wisdom that might spring from being a bicycle hermit?”

The answer is I am too busy watching the details of the road at about six meters in front of me. Any closer and you won’t have time to choreograph your bicycle ballet around loose pavement stones, potholes, ridges, stones, glass, and edges. That’s the distance from which you have time to make the quickest judgement to avoid falling off the bike. Any closer is too close. Six meters is fine for someone my size, and from there your eyes can efficiently glance up to see the scenery and where you’re going in general.

Hearing is a sense which has become honed. Listening intensely for traffic with half-deaf ears has forced me to develop a type of ultrasonic hearing. At home in Marino there is so much loud noise on our street with traffic, carpenter saws, blacksmith hammers, ambulance and fire truck sirens or building works. I wear sound cancelling headphones most days. Now that hearing makes the difference between life and accidental death, it has opened up a whole new world. I am able tell you the distance between bird calls!

Lost

The weather was sweltering south of Kungsbacka. It was there that the sun swapped sides at midday. However, it was at that moment that I ignorantly continued along the coastline thinking how hunky dory this ride is going. Only at a cooldrink stop in Godskar, where I spent my last few krone, did someone point out Gothenburg in the opposite direction. Quite tricky for the brain to reconfigure the inner map. The rest of the day was spent haphazardly navigating in zagzig mode.

Riding into busy Gothenburg, a big city! Got myself on the wrong side of the train tracks and roadworks. Eventually found a way over to the opposite side of the river but needed to make an expensive phone call to ask Tyrone if I should go east or west. He can navigate from anywhere. Actually he has had a complicated journey himself but is finally on the train with an unexpectedly brand new bicycle and will be arriving at our hotel midnight.

The nice hotel Villan was waiting for me when I found it. The restaurant was already closed for the night. I had no money anyway so ordered a room service sandwich hoping that Tyrone would be willing to pay the bill in the morning.

He did arrive safely at midnight. More of that story tomorrow.

125 kms today (some of it in the opposite direction).

See the route map here

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Day 52 and 53 – Ängelholm – Halmstad – Varberg

Sweden west coast watercolour painting by Leanne Talbot Nowell

To my beloved readers. Tomorrow Simon is taking me to Tuscany for a week. So this blog will be on hold until we get back. Apologies for the interruption but be sure there was no such interruption on the actual bike ride. Hope to see you back here soon. In the meantime, I will be painting plein-air in Tuscany. Not so bad! Wishing you all a safe and happy week..

Leanne

Day 52 – Going to Halmstad…

These days in Sweden the citizens are either fighting forest fires or playing on the beach. The drought and heat has followed me all the way up to the far north.

The cycle route is clearly marked – Kattegattleden 1, and highly recommended for any cycling holiday you might be considering for the future. Rust red signs point cyclists in the right direction. Sweden is much brighter than anticipated, I was expecting a sort of Viking-gone-Goth vibe, but the landscape has a comfortable beauty which scoops you along into dreamland.

Until rain splatters down on my luminous jacket, under which are two layers of warm garments. The locals happily continue gardening and carrying ladders, fixing picket fences and chopping wood in short sleeves.

In Båstad, my bike met the new red Tesla model S. Two eco-friendly vehicles parked together for a photograph. The bike is more beautiful. Ok – the model S has prettier handles…maybe.

3500 Kms at Skummestōvsstrand

Halmstad

Halmstad had a nice little centre on the mouth of the Nissan river, where I searched for the most healthy of all the burger menus. There are only burger menus. Made for the thousands of university students who study here. How I wish for one of those Rhine river salads!  The waitress kindly suggests I do away with the bun, and take extra salad instead. When the little brown patty arrives it had two stalks of garnish instead of one.

Pity a poor cyclist who didn’t get to eat the lobster and oysters this coast is famous for.

My big single room at the hostel has one bed and two desks. There were a lot of bikes standing in the yard, but no bike lock-up, so I rolled mine through the foyer, into the lift, up to the second floor, along a passage, through two spring-loaded doors, passed the kitchen, and into the bedroom. No funny looks.

See the route map here


Day 53

The Swedes are having a wonderful summer, mostly half-naked at their summer huts, fixing things and potting around getting everything in Hygge order. Their cottages have mostly been in the family for generations. If you want one you might be lucky to find one, and it’ll cost you a million. The sky breaks into a smile. Children laughing and birds singing type of atmosphere. Magical. Voluptuous pink granite boulders shoulder the west coast, forming about eight thousand islands. Low green bushes line yellow fields and red cottages dot the curvy bays.

There are only three different types of cars in Sweden, all of them Volvo – black, grey and white. Beware of black car drivers, they whip passed at a hair’s width, grey car drivers give you a respectful 2 meters, and white car drivers go over into the oncoming lane, dangerously close to having head-on collisions. That’s just the observation of the day from the saddle of my bike.

Varberg

Whizzed over to the only room available in Varberg. The bed&makeyourownbreakfast man enthusiastically but vaguely points me to the beach, which is actually in another direction entirely. I should have checked the map. 

Embarrassed to expose myself in a swimsuit, a chilly wind nips about my two-tone legs, but nevertheless I picked up the courage to wade into the sea, and wade, and wade. How far out do you need to go before one can actually swim? If Simon was here he would drag me in. Instead I creep into a little wind shelter nest behind a log and snuggle down to relax in the late night sun.

Lodging in this area is fully booked for summer, so you would be forgiven for thinking there must surely be a local restaurant. Apparently not. And you must forgive the other B&B guests for using up all the hot water. When one is sea-salt-sticky and weary after pedalling 124 kms, a cold shower and no supper on a chilly evening is not a lifter-upper. Good thing I paid that extra 100 Krona for breakfast.


There was no soothing whiff of coffee in the morning, just silence. I wait, fully packed and ready, and nothing happens. Grimly reach for the fridge, chop some tomatoes, cucumbers, cheese and pile them up on a slice of bread. Make coffee, eat sandwich. Made an extra big sandwich for a possible further famine and wash up. Leave without further adooo.

Will need to make some value versus cost adjustments now in prep for Scandinavia.

See the approximate route map here

See you soon…keep well and safe.

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Day 51 – Copenhagen to Ängelholm

View from Zealand to Sweden

Morning came blessed in heavenly cloud. A respite from the heat.

I said an early goodbye to my lovely niece Kealena in Copenhagen. My little brother, who is almost 2 m tall, escorted me out of town and north along the flat sandy shores towards Helsingør to catch the ferry over to Sweden. The eastern horizon, a flat streak of dark blue across the greenish sea.

Cycling along the east coast of Zealand into a bright atmospheric mist must be one of the best rides on this planet. Gorgeous Danish homes look out over sand and sea surrounded by the prettiest gardens and trees. One is transported into a fairy-tale world where the roofs are thatched and walls are painted pumpkin yellow, red or black with small pane windows in painted wooden frames. Certainly this stretch of civilization has grown from a long history of respect to the environment and neighbours. Untold wealth without arrogance.

On the way we stopped to see the fascinating home/museum and garden of the multi-talented Danish author, Karen (Dinesen) Blixen, who wrote her memoirs here –  “Out of Africa”  (  Isak Dinesen ). You have probably seen the romantic film starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford. Theme song by John Barry.

Mist turned to rain as we arrived in Helsingør for the ferry. But first dashed over the moat to get a closer look at the incredible Kronborg castle where Shakespeare had Hamlet play out his drama. Eric of Pomerania built it in the 1420’s.

Bruce made the 20 minute trip on the ferry with me and remained on board for the return journey. He waved down to me from the high deck as I reluctantly disembarked.

Sweden

It felt a bit like being dropped off at boarding school after the holidays. I have never been to Sweden, the 7th country on this journey, and a flood of trepidation put me in a spin. Sweden had not been part of my plan…

This time I was first off the ferry with my bike and had to find the way out of the docks while holding up a string of large pantechnicons grating their gears behind me.

Google girl knew better, and I followed her instructions through town and a modest but neat residential area and onto a new cycle track which was all mine for the next 20 kms or so. After that it was back to noisy road riding all afternoon.

So far Sweden seems normal and not at all scary. Different to be on the west coast now looking over towards sunset skies.

Ängelholm looks like a good place for a peaceful night, however there is no available accommodation, absolutely nothing anywhere up or down the coast. The ladies at the info office call around, and eventually find an expensive room in Valhall Park Hotell. I gulp and turn it down, then check my booking dot come app once again, and up pops the same room for almost half the price. So I quickly book it and set off in the rain. My phone instantly runs out of battery, so there is no help from google to find the place, but I had picked up a little city map at the info desk. Arrive by way of a forest and a highway. Feeling soggy and too tired for dinner…. unfortunately. The room is nice, quite posh for a stinky cyclist. They have a secure cage for bikes too. Gnawing on half an energy bar while writing this.

101 kms.

See the approximate route map here

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Day 49 and 50 – Køge to Copenhagen

Kealena in Copenhagen

Creeping up to Copenhagen

Now that I’m in a true bicycle realm, Kealena and Bruce kindly gave me a crash course in cycling, thereby avoiding unnecessary calamity.

Hostels are great for cyclists. But be aware that here in the north you can rent sheets and towels for an extra fee, and you must clean the room before departure. Cleaning materials are usually provided.

We rode north along the coastline from Køge. The island is almost flat, relaxed under a subtle Scandinavian sun. Fuzzy bent grasses along the sandy shores look like brushed fur, caressed by a sea breeze. Even the factories are pretty! Children splash around in transparent water, old people sit on benches looking over the bay, and cows chew their cud in the shade of low trees.

At quaint yacht harbours where we have “Fiskefrikadeller” and smoked herring “Smørrebröd”

Bridges and waterways chequer the landscape. We stop to look at the ARKEN MUSEUM OF MODERN ART, which sits on a sand bank. Intriguing architecture – a stranded ship – hence the name – Ark. A large collection of Damien Hirst, some Ai Weiwei, and  other intriguing artists. Definitely worth a visit. The café hangs like a lifeboat on the side of the building. Our lunch order took so long to come we thought we had been stranded. When it arrived it was a life-saver, and the waitress gave us free coffee as a survival gesture.

On the way into the city is an architectural wonder – a super heater. It uses waste heat from other sources to heat water which circulates through the city homes in winter. Very efficient and clean. Ninety eight percent of Copenhagen’s heating comes from utilising waste heat from power stations or other sources. They also burn straw, wood pellets and similar stuff in these plants, but so efficiently there is hardly any pollution. No need for a boiler in the cellar.

They also have thousands of giant fans to cool the country in the summer. (lol).


Day 50 – Copenhagen city

It was the hottest day of the year. Even so, it’s always a pleasure to be in this amazing city. Danes never boast but will humbly admit to having one of the highest standards of living in the world. From Viking style to the most advanced modern extremes, their architectural styles cleverly fit the environment. Fashion and beauty is a natural extension and you’ll see the most exquisite creatures riding their bicycles along the cobbled streets.

We took the day off and joined the happy citizens and tourists for a cycle to see the sights and scenery.

Bruce and Kealena treated me to an all inclusive personalised tour. Meals, a chat with the little mermaid, and a new lock for my bike. So now I can stay in dodgy places without worry that a goblin may make off with it.

In town there is a power station which has a ski ramp on it, dubbed Copenhill. The chimney puffs out the occasional smoke ring. It also brags the highest artificial climbing wall in the world. Designed by Bjarke Ingels Group……magicians.

A delightful day in one of the most beautiful and vibrant cities in the world ended with street food on the harbour at Reffen. There is so much to say about Copenhagen but this blog is not long enough.

Looks like it have been decided that I will be cycling all the way up the west coast of Sweden after all. Tomorrow Bruce will ride with me to the ferry at Helsingør where the ferry hops over to Helsingborg, where I’ll be on my own again


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Day 48 – Rødbyhavn to Køgel

Denmark sky watercolor by Leanne Talbot Nowell

Part 3

Early morning hangs grey in the Danish sky.

While loading the bike this morning the front door blows shut and cannot be opened again. My panniers are still inside the foyer. I have already put my key into a box at the automatic reception. A man smoking in the carpark says “oh my yes I also forgot my key inside.” So we ring the doorbell a couple of times, knowing full well the automatic reception desk is not a walking robot. Luckily the chef is in the kitchen at the back of the hotel. After some vigorous window tapping he comes to open up.

According to La google, there is a train station nearby, which raises the important question, would it be ok to take a train for a little way? Yesterday’s slow day has put me behind schedule. Funny to have a schedule at all, but my Danish family have made plans to meet me.

The distance from Rødbyhavn to Vordingborg for lunch with Helle at 11am, and then go to Faxe to meet my brother Bruce and niece Kealena and then ride with them to Køge for the night, was beyond my abilities even on a winged ebike.

So, feeling slightly guilty I go in search of the train station. There were some big fences barricading the rusty railway lines, and it’s tricky getting around all the stuff that lies around the back of railway sidings. Weeds and broken up bits of cement. However, after almost giving up and with an extra push of perseverance I find a pathway which takes me around the end of some rails into a square building. A ticket machine pops up with complications. Then we go out on a vacant platform with no signage. After standing for a while, two men in luminous green jackets yell over from the far side of the fence, that I must “come over to that side…the train comes off the ferry and stops over there”.
So I pounce on my bike and scuttle around the little path to the far side of about 5 railway lines. A school group arrives to join me with a teacher who, in a her teachy voice, tells me she knows this is the “right platform and I have done it many times before.”
Just then a little train arrives from the Copenhagen direction on the furthest platform which I had so hurriedly left. There is a large bike symbol printed on the side of the carriage. It hums for a while, then a conductor shouts over to me “come immediately and board the train.”

Much to the astonishment of the school group I leap onto my bike and scuttle back around the end of the rails, and make it in time before he blows his whistle.

One learns in life, that most people are very kind, helpful and full of “hear-say” but it’s best to ask the Conductor of the Train. If you want to really sure of anything at all.

So there is my bike, the first train trip of her 3300 km life, strapped to a seat.
It was a short trip, 24 minutes to be exact, and we were soon gliding along on bike wheels again. The road would still see us do 130 kms before evening.

Vordingborg

I was very happy to meet up with Helle and share an interesting lunch and arty conversation. She is an inspirational artist. Then fast pedalling and swooping along smooth farm roads onwards towards Faxe where Bruce and Kealena were waiting for tea and apple pie at the big white quarry. We rode to Køgel, taking the scenic route through golden fields of ripe wheat, dark green woods, and a soft velvet sea to the west. The clouds vanished and the scenery blazed to life.

Køgel

Dinner this evening at the harbour is an Italian affair of “linguine allo scoglio” (thicker spaghetti noodles sozzled under an array of shellfish) and Chardonnay! Again gulped every scrap on the plate – wild animal me.

The three of us and my bike, shared a small room at a hostel on the edge of town.

See the route map here.

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Day 46 and 47 – Hamburg to Rødby

cycling to the Baltic sea

 Day 46 – Hamburg to Scharbeutz.

It was a sunshine and birdsong day as we joyfully rolled out of town, the three of us on our eeeee-bikes. It took us most of the morning to get going. City exits are complicated. Once you’re out into the lushous countryside cycling is a breeze.

This cycle path was a railway in the past, so an easy level chuffing along the now smoothly tarred surface. My companions are much faster than me with their lightweight overnight bags. We speed along the flashing green tree-lined path.

Instant coffee at a supermarket around mid-afternoon where some caffeine relief had Regina smiling once again. One becomes acutely aware of circadian, nutritional, and sleep rhythms on a long distance journey. I have become a completely different creature compared to my home self. It became obvious now, in the company of other humans, just how the body finds a rhythm and a rut that suits the individual for best success. When travelling in a group one must make compromises to stay together, and that makes a difference to your natural fitness.

In Lübeck we sat down at a busy bar for a celebratory sundowner glass of Prosecco. Surprised to hit my 3000 km mark right here in the center of this delightful town. I’m surprised because I thought I would be in Oslo by now.

We decided to ride a bit further north before calling it a day. There is a tunnel under the Trave estuary which is forbidden to cycle through. In Germany you can be sure there is a solution. Along came a shuttle bus dragging a trailer made especially for bikes. Not only that, there is also a ramp so you don’t need to lift your bike up. You ride on, snap the lock, jump into the bus and off you go through the tunnel.

This evening the three of us tired girlies are sharing a room at the ArtHotel in Scharbeutz. We rode here in the dark along the fabulous promenades. The elite have magnificent houses on this riviera. Regina rubbed deep-heat cream on her legs before hopping into bed because her knees hurt. Unfortunately she’s allergic to it, so she hopped right out again. Her legs turned a fiery red and burned all night while I snored!

106 kms.

See the route map here

Day 47 – Scharbeutz to Rødby.

My brother and niece are in Copenhagen. According to them my plan to ride up to the north of Jutland to catch the boat to Norway is NOT acceptable. That would be cheating. I am to catch a ferry at Puttgarden to Denmark. They will take a train south with their bicycles and meet me halfway. We’ll spend a night somewhere on the coast then ride together into Copenhagen. (May take a ferry directly to Oslo from Copenhagen – but don’t dare mention that). They say “From there you must ride up the west coast of Sweden to Norway. No shortcuts, if you say you’re going to ride to Oslo then you must ride all the way.” –

Slow start on Friday, but fun riding all day towards Puttgarden with my two enthusiastic friends. Crossed over a mighty high and windy bridge. Access via a tiny gate in a security fence. Then we rode like witches on broomsticks to reach the last train of the day at Burg. Waved a sad goodbye to my friends Regina and Zoe, then dashed across to the other side of the island to catch the last ferry. Many huge trucks on the ship and one solitary bicycle.

Forty five minutes later the boat pulled up to Rødby and I staggered into the first hotel called “Stop and Sleep” right in the middle of the truck stop turning circle. Delectable dinner and good clean room.

96 kms

See the route map here

End of part two – Thoughts on bike seat with a view!

I have spent two thirds of this journey tripping across Germany. Two thousand kilometers by bike from the Alps all the way up to the coast of the Baltic Sea. It has been such a privilege to use the vital infrastructure, cycle lanes, paths and safe hotels with bicycle storage. Solid breakfasts and dependable service all put together by generations of hard working, thoughtful people.

In my experience the northerners make little attempt at small talk but they do like to share practical information. They enjoy high levels of education and culture, create logically designed systems, build organised towns, grow pretty forests and control beautiful rivers. There is no time for meaningless chatter.

They’re also good at making never-ending road-works.

The enormous volume of construction and farming is quite overwhelming. Much of the land is being plastered with more roads, more cement and mono crops. The economy is booming to the sound of earth moving machinery, cranes, trucks, bigger ploughing tractors or harvesting machines and factories.

My wish for Europe is more flowering fallow land for the bees, magical wild forests for children, and a ban on bulldozers and cement for everyone. I think we have enough roads, enough car parks and supermarkets. Cities are like scabs on the Earth’s skin, if we stop scratching the ground then cities will heal up and the face of the Earth will look lovely again.

Leanne

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Day 44 – 45 – Zeven to Hamburg

Elbphilharmonie Hamburg, watercolour by Leanne Talbot Nowell

The day began at Zeven.

Cycling happily between perfectly manicured and manured farms. Paved cycle paths travel parallel to the main roads towards Buxtehude.

In town the tranquil pedestrian zone is decorated with copious flower baskets. I make a reconnaissance mission into a shop to buy a lightweight jacket. It’s the first time I’ve been in a shop, other than two brief escapades into an ebike store, since that supermarket when my glasses and hat were stolen. It feels really weird to be in a woman’s dress shop. I feel neither woman nor man, I’m a fusion these days.

From Buxtehude apparently there is a pleasant route directly into Hamburg. Ignorance is NOT bliss. Following the googley girl’s directions turn out to be a noisy road along the edge of the highway to Harburg (har har) and then north into a spaghetti of bridges and intersections where my phone battery expires and leaves me stranded.

At a rough place that sells soda someone told me it is possible to go into town from all directions (?)

One direction will do please. Thank God for church steeples. They have a higher purpose.

Hamburg is a stunning port city with a difficult history of fire, plague and war. But obviously the population is clever and resilient so they have created a splendid city once again.

Not terribly difficult to find the way to Regina and Mica’s place. They have kindly invited me to spend the night at their lovely apartment in the most swish part of town. Regina is an interior decorator and it shows.

She has hired ebikes so she, and her fifteen year old niece Zoe, can ride with me tomorrow. Looking forward to some company. But the clouds have gone berserk and rain is falling in buckets.

Day 45

After an abundant breakfast we decide not to ride out until the rain subsides a bit. I’m happy to have a day of rest to tell you the truth. It has been a solid week of riding all day and my butt is in agony.

Regina drives us around to explore all the most interesting and beautiful sights in Hamburg. She is an expert on all the most secret, best and most enticing places. We visited the sparkling new Elbphilharmonie, a shining architectural crown and took a ferry around the harbour. Then walked along the waterfront looking for milkshakes. Rain didn’t matter.

Finally got to eat a proper Hamburger with sweet potato chips. The day ended with a night walk in the Speicherstadt, a UNESCO world heritage site, where the huge old brick warehouses have now been transformed into luxury estates. Hamburg certainly has a wealth of history. Not short of contemporary wealth as well.

See the map route here

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Buxtehude and surrounds

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Going into Hamburg, on this bridge for bikes
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outskirts of Hamburg
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Regina and Michael
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There is a shortage of photography to the disastrous crash of my hard drive. Hope to have them professionally retrieved soon.

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Day 43 – Neubruchhausen to Zeven – Bremen

Bremen traveling musicians

In our bookcase at home is an original translation of the Grimm’s fairy tales.  Imagined it would be good to type out the true story of the Bremen musicians for you.


The Travelling Musicians – Grimm’s fairy tale.

An honest farmer had once an ass, that had been a faithful servant to him a great many years, but was now growing old and every day more and more unfit for work. His master therefore was tired of keeping him and began to think of putting an end to him : but the ass, who saw that some mischief was in the wind, took himself slyly off, and began his journey towards the great city of Bremen, “for there” thought he, ” I may turn musician.”

After he had travelled a little way, he spied a dog lying by the roadside and panting as if he were very tired. “What makes you pant so, my friend?” said the ass. “Alas!” said the dog, “my master was going to knock me on the head, because I am old and weak, and can no longer make myself useful to him in hunting; so I ran away : but what can I do to earn my livelihood?” “Hark ye!” said the ass, “I am going to the great city to turn musician : suppose you go with me, and try what you can do in the same way?”

The dog said he was willing, and they jogged on together.

They had not gone far before they saw a cat sitting in the middle of the road and making a most rueful face. “Pray, my good lady,” said the ass, “what’s the matter with you? you look quite out of spirits!” “Ah me!” said the cat, “how can one be in good spirits when one’s life is in danger? Because I am beginning to grow old, and had rather lie at my ease by the fire than run about the house after the mice, my mistress laid hold of me, and was going to drown me; and though I have been lucky enough to get away from her, I do not know what I am to live upon.” “O !” said the ass, “by all means go with us to the great city; you are a good night singer, and may make your fortune as a musician.” The cat was pleased with the thought, and joined the party.

Soon afterwards, as they were passing by a farmyard, they saw a cock perched upon a gate, and screaming out with all his might and main. “Bravo!” said the ass; “upon my word you make a famous noise; pray what is all this about?” “Why,” said the cock, “I was just now saying that we should have fine weather for our washing-day, and yet my mistress and the cook don’t thank me for my pains, but threaten to cut off my head to-morrow, and make broth of me for the guests that are coming on Sunday!” “Heaven forbid!” said the ass; “come with us Master Chanticleer; it will be better, at any rate, who knows? If we take care to sing in tune, we may get up some kind of a concert: so come along with us” “With all my heart,” said the cock: so they all four went on jollily together.

They could not, however, reach the great city the first day; so when night came on, they went into a wood to sleep. The ass and the dog laid themselves down under a great tree, and the cat climbed up into the branches; while the cock, thinking that the higher he sat the safer he should be, flew up to the very top of the tree, and then, according to his custom, before he went to sleep, looked out on all sides of him to see that everything was well. In doing this, he saw afar off something bright and shining; and calling to his companions said, “There must be a house no great way off, for I see a light.” “If that be the case,” said the ass, “we had better change our quarters, for our lodging is not the best in the world!” “Besides,” added the dog, “I should not be the worse for a bone or two, or a bit of meat.” So they walked off together towards the spot where Chanticleer had seen the light; and as they drew near, it became larger and brighter, till they at last came close to a house in which a gang of robbers lived.

The ass, being the tallest of the company, marched up to the window and peeped in. “Well, Donkey,” said Chanticleer, “what do you see?” “What do I see?” replied the ass, “why I see a table spread with all kinds of good things, and robbers sitting round it making merry.” “That would be a noble lodging for us,” said the cock. “Yes,” said the ass, “if we could only get in:” so they consulted together how they should contrive to get the robbers out; and at last they hit upon a plan. The ass placed himself upright on his hind-legs, with his fore-feet resting against the window; the dog got upon his back; the cat scrambled up to the dog’s shoulders, and the cock flew up and sat upon the cat’s head. When all was ready, a signal was given, and they began their music. The ass brayed, the dog barked, the cat mewed, and the cock screamed; and then they all broke through the window at once, and came tumbling into the room, amongst the broken glass, with a most hideous clatter!

The robbers, who had been not a little frightened by the opening concert, had now no doubt that some frightful hobgoblin had broken in upon them, and scampered away as fast as they could.

The coast once clear, our travellers soon sat down, and dispatched what the robbers had left, with as much eagerness as if they had not expected to eat again for a month. As soon as they had satisfied themselves, they put out the lights, and each once more sought out a resting-place to his own liking. The donkey laid himself down upon a heap of straw in the yard; the dog stretched himself upon a mat behind the door; the cat rolled herself up on the hearth before the warm ashes; and the cock perched upon a beam on the top of the house; and, as they were all rather tired with their journey, they soon fell asleep.

But about midnight, when the robbers saw from afar that the lights were out and that all seemed quiet, they began to think that they had been in too great a hurry to run away; and one of them, who was bolder than the rest, went to see what was going on. Finding everything still, he marched into the kitchen, and groped about till he found a match in order to light a candle; and then, espying the glittering fiery eyes of the cat, he mistook them for live coals, and held the match to light it. But the cat, not understanding this joke, sprung at this face, and spit and scratched at him. This frightened him dreadfully and away he ran to the back door; but there the dog jumped up and bit him in the leg; and as he was crossing over the yard the ass kicked him; and the cock, who had been awakened by the noise, crowed with all this might. At this the robber ran back as fast as he could to his comrades, and told the captain how a horrid witch had got into the house, and had spit at him and scratched his face with her long bony fingers; how a man with a knife in his hand had hidden himself behind the door, and stabbed him in the leg; how a black monster stood in the yard and struck him with a club, and how the devil sat upon the top of the house and cried out, “Throw the rascal up here!” After this the robbers never dared to go back to the house : but the musicians were so pleased with their quarters, that they took up their abode there; and there they are, I dare say, at this very day.


Today a grey wind came from the side and flattened me and threatened to fly away with my panniers. I struggled along for miles and miles, looking for a lunch place and not finding one.

The only place offering any protection from the wind was a bus stop booth. The stale roll and cheese left over from the day before was surprisingly delicious. A swig of water and back on road with the wind howling in my ears.

Bremen is a good city for cyclists. You can ride right into the center on tracks and do a loop around the squares looking at all the gracious architecture. Excellent coffee and friendly people.

In Zeven, Hotel Central had a big white room with the best pillow ever.

88 kms

See approx route map her

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Day 41 & 42 – Drensteinfurt to Osnabrück to Neubruchhausen

Birgitta looking over the bridge at fish

If you write down all the little details of the day when you’re living in isolation, the page begins to take on a pattern of “I” marks. It is too easy to make this egotistical line when describing a solo bike ride, and eventually it becomes so monotonous it almost makes you cry.  

That’s why it was so lovely to be riding together with Birgitta and Hanns Georg. They did all the navigating and listening. The inner voices shut up for a change.

After about 60 kms, having circumnavigated Münster my cycling companions happily waved me off and turned to make the journey home. This parting of the ways happened at the foot of a range of hills which form the border between North Rhine-Westphalia and lower Saxony.

The sudden feeling of solitude was quite exaggerated. You feel as if you are always on high alert for something great and glorious to happen. Or something quite the opposite.

What actually happens is you develop a kind of humility and deep faith in people. They provide the roads and hotels and prepare the food. Especially grateful to my husband who provides the means with a huge amount of encouragement and moral support, and my kids who cheer me on. And all my interested friends who follow the blog and write encouraging notes. So many components make up the journey.


On a small country road going into the industrial side of Osnabrück city, a rowdy bunch of about twenty young men, shirtless and drunk, tried to block my path. They were probably playing the fool, but the inner voices screamed in unison “ don’t let them kill you!”.

Since the time of Eve, a lone foreign woman confronted by a group of strange bored men in party mode has never been a good thing. Adrenaline propelled me into a speedy zigzag between their outstretched arms. My dikky heart thumped quite hard for the next few kilometers. Shew!

It is wonderful that we have come so far in this world, where a woman can travel alone for thousands of kilometers across cultures. I suppose it’s very much safer for a middle-aged crone like me who attracts very little attention or temptation.

The bed in the hotel opposite the main station at the center of Onsabrück is crispy clean. These days who cares about bed cleanliness when one’s body looks and feels like a female Frankenstein. So long as the bed is soft and horizontal and free of smears and hair that’s fine. From the dizzy height of puffed up pillows looking down at my bird legs, the same sort of hard scaly skin, and reddish colour around the ankles. The fingers stick out in all directions, until they’re forced back into alignment.

The final sounds of the day are a couple of drunks outside the window yelling songs and smashing bottles.

74 km

With thanks to Hanns Georg, here is the route on … google earth pro app.

Day 42 – Osnabrück to Neubruchhausen

Riding out too early into the cold air. No coffee shop open at this hour on a Sunday morning to soothe a sore throat.

After 15 kms of banal misery the cycle path came to a nettle infested end. According to google this is actually the cycle track. A man in a big black coat and a trash bag came out of his gate and told me to go back up the hill and turn left. I did.

In a village with no name, the hot yeasty perfume of baking bread came floating around the corner. A huge frothy cappuccino and a helping of German apple pie in yellow custard brought tears to my eyes. Cuddled into a sunny window nook. That soon sorted out the brown mood of the morning.

From there on the road goes straight. So straight, there was no end to it. Pedalling and pedalling with not a peepee place in sight. Beware of stinging nettles when squatting in the bushes.

Taking a break to paint a straight row of round trees in watercolour.

The afternoon was also pretty straight, but it gave me a chance to clock up 106 kms without too much bother. Incredible how music can heal a person. Normally the phone battery fizzles too quickly so music has been sadly missed on this journey. For the first time in 2600 kms I put in the earbuds and play a song. Suddenly the world changes from sepia to a blast of handlebar tapping and singing out of tune.

Riding into Bassum now, looking around for a place to stay. Something about the weedy pavements sends me back into moody trepidation. One B&B appears on booking dot com. Now standing on the dusty doorstep of the modest looking place ringing the doorbell. No answer. Don’t panic. A very large man comes sweating along the pavement in a green stretchy sports suit and a tiny shiny black dog. It had one blind eye and shows me his teensy white fangs. The big man tells me “ closed, you must go on to next town noi broogh house in. There is Post hotel. Have rooms for sure”. I asked him to repeat the name of the place….”Neubruchhausen”.

On the way there the cycle track fizzles out so the only thing to do is ride on a super fast road. It is forbidden to cycle on the road. Take off my helmet so drivers can see they were dealing with a dizzy blonde and give me some shoulder room to ride on.

Zum Hotel Post is difficult to miss. Good room and supper, no wifi.

See the map route here

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Day 39 & 40 – Duisburg to Datteln to Drensteinfurt

powerhouse

Now in the North Rhine-Westphalia area of Germany, and trying to follow the Industrial heritage route for cyclists. My phone died just twenty minutes after setting out, so I’m on a higgledy-piggledy quest to find the way towards who-knows-where. Real cyclists would have the full kit of maps and apps. They would have done some reading and planning. Instead I fiddle with photos, painting and writing, then collapse into bed by nine.

The 2500 km mark popped up directly in front of a raspberry farm stall. It was a happy moment after a tough, hot and smelly day of riding through industrial parks and road works. I was negotiating yet another “umleitung” which took me off the canal cycle track and through a farm. Britta Jakobi offered me some of her fresh raspberries to taste. Heaven!

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The air there is not good. If you look on the map for Marxloh, Oberhausen, Essen, Bochum, Dortmund…you’ll see a lot of tall factory towers. It took me three hours to ride through. My eyes burned terribly from the chemicals. However the community have built these amazing cycle routes in the area.  Römer-Lippe river
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Coffee stop, recharged phone, but it lasted another twenty minutes and so wandered lonely as a cloud until I found a yacht club where I ordered lunch while it charged again. The waitress pointed me in the direction of Henrichenburg, but I decided to follow the signs in the opposite direction instead. To Henrichenburg.

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Very interesting place, Henrichenburg, where the ships are taken in and out of the water.

Found a nice place to sleep at Datteln.

Odometer: 2516

78 kms

See the map route here.

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Day 40 – Datteln to Drensteinfurt

Grey sky day. I have a super invitation from friends of ours Hans-Georg and Birgitta to overnight with them. They sent me a digital map but I soon took the wrong turn. Thinking it was simply a matter of following the canal I went on for most of the morning but found it was the wrong canal. No wonder there were no people.

A lock,  front and back.
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A long way later, in Lüdinghausen, found out I  was supposed to be Lünen, so had to change plans… but first a visit to a medieval expo at the castle. Fascinating walk and conversations in the park there filled with characters from the past. Well worth the mistake.

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This is the path I frantically took to reach Ascheberg. “Googly girl” told me go through the farms which involved some bushwacking.
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Birgitta kindly came by bike to fetch me in Ascheberg, and we rode together to their hometown Drensteinfurt. I was given a lovely welcome, great food and enjoyed the afternoon and evening in their comfortable company.

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Bike ride_0161.jpgFamous Hans-Georg giant waffles with strawberries and cream.

See the map route here.

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Day 38 – Monheim am Rhein to Duisburg – Goodbye Rhine.

bicycle along the river, watercolour by Leanne Talbot Nowell

The sun gradually dragged the billowing sky down to the smoking chimney stacks. A giant storm growled through dinner, but not a drop of rain fell on my Erdinger sponsored umbrella at the factory food place.

Getting here by cycle track from Monheim am Rhein took me through Düsseldorf, where an enthusiastic young man at the central bike shop sold me a stretchy gadget that looks like a condom with strategic holes. He wrapped the phone onto the handlebars with it, making it possible for me see the screen while riding. You are probably rolling your eyes and wondering why I didn’t get that sorted out at the beginning of the trip. Two reasons would be – I’m a slow organiser and I have a ‘make do’ attitude left over from the war.

Düsseldorf surprised me with it’s simplicity, and I had no problem at all getting into town, and out of it again. Doris, who we met doing the Francigena in Italy, had kindly invited me to stay with her here. At the time I didn’t know exactly where the city of Düsseldorf was. So it is quite surprising I made it here at all. Would be nice to know if she ever reached Rome and what she thought of our complex home city. Unfortunately she’s not in town at the moment.


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North of Düsseldorf, the cycle path takes me into a poem.

So beautiful. Huge old trees line the road, many old people pedal along too, some in wheelchairs, some on roller skates. You can go for miles and miles through the fields without interruption. The wild ancient forests are all gone, but what remains is a stunning hint of what was there before.

A lunch place popped up with tables set out under a dark canopy of trees. Alte Rheinfähre.

The waiter dressed in black and white had a special look about him, he stooped down to get my order, and I nervously pointed at the middle of the menu. The surprise plate was …matjes, with roast potatoes and a creamy dill dressing. Marinated fish, really delicious.

Afternoons on the bike tend to get a bit hot and complicated. Most of it is done standing on the pedals. My right hand is certainly not well. After the googley girl told me to go around the same field twice I switched her off and just road willy-nilly. That’s the nice thing about not knowing where to go is wherever you go is ok.  It’s not wrong at least. I went through many small towns, mostly very quiet. On the skyline begin an ominous line of enormous factory towers and billowing chimneys.


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Flammkuchen is a thin pastry crust with high edges. It is smeared with a thin layer of sour cheese, and usually served with traditional onions and speck sprinkled on top, but I opted for the veggie version with sliced tomatoes and rocket. Eat it fast while it’s hot.


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Losing sight of the Great Emotional River Rhine.

The route will take me slightly eastward and away. It is a moving goodbye. I will miss the scintilla, the dark swirls and reflections. The whole thing rushes into the Netherlands and merges with the sea at Rotterdam.

Thankfully there has been a great effort over the past few years to clean it up. Fish are beginning to return and the stinky chemical slime has moved on. The only trouble is the e-coli from sewage processing plants and the heavy boat traffic but some good people are working on improving that.

A small bottle of water cost me Euro 5 this afternoon. More expensive than beer.

While being lost in the town of Duisburg, I found myself doing a u-turn in front of a police station. It looked approachable, so I went in and declared the theft of my glasses. An officer wrote up the report..

Typing intently on his old clickitty-clacketty computer keyboard at high speed, after about fifteen minutes he printed it out for me and stamped it. Astonishingly he only managed three sentences. Seriously, this report will be sent to the police in Linz am Rhein, where I have declared the thief stole my bug glasses and sun hat. There they will investigate the matter further. I’m sure they will, this is Germany. What a bother.


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Spent the night in a hostel Jugendherberge, Duisberg, Landschaftspark…in a rusty restored Industrial zone.

The girl at the hostel desk has given me their special handicap room, most likely because I’m the oldest guest by far and I look like I could use a walker. It is sparkling clean and comfortable with a chair in the shower, and a red switch next to the bed, which I pressed thinking it was the light switch. It blinked for a while, then I blinked off to sleep.

66 kms.

See the route map here.

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Day 37 – Bad Honnef to Monheim am Rhein

Watercolour painting of Cologne cathedral by Leanne Talbot Nowell

Each turn of the pedals becomes a brush stroke in my miniscule picture-book of experience. Spinning out of the Sankt Goar gorge with all it’s high castles and history (a testament to the terrifying past) and into the modern future. After a good breakfast with good friends of course.

Magnificent riding along the river from Bad Honnef passed Bonn and on to Cologne. Thanks to those who have worked to make the cycle tracks here. Brilliant! The track includes a special ferry man who pulls you and your bike across a green stream on a raft…wearing a sailor cap and a broad smile.

There’s a tranquil bustle in this obviously well organised and prosperous area.

The widening Rhine river surges forward leaving small waves to lick the banks. The tinsley effervescent foam lasts a moment and is gone, much like life. I imagine the universe is much like a great flowing river of which we call time. The energy of that flow probably creates ‘foam’ which fizzes with life. Anyway, the idea is comforting.

After admiring the incredible, tall, blackish cathedral in Cologne, my “Googledy girl” on the maps app tells me to go west. Now, if you are stuck in the middle of an old city maze, how is one to know where west actually is? It’s midday, so the shadows don’t show…. she should tell me go straight ahead, or turn around… Where the heck is West? Humpff.

After a lot of bother, I used pigeon instinct to get out of there. Only to find that my fancy new sunglasses and my hat were not on board anymore. They’ve taken another route. Quite an ugly realisation, as those are prescription glasses had a price tag that took my breath away. As for the hat, it was khaki with a big flap around the back and a sun peak. Not beautiful but I liked it.

I cannot blame Cologne for theft as I never left my bike, not even for a moment. Someone must have stolen the stuff yesterday when I stopped at the supermarket for a green drink. There was a suspicious looking character who watched me there. Or it could have been where I stopped to buy a South African flag to ward off vehicles. Since then I presumed they were packed in my pannier. Those glasses had the effect of a powerful zoom and strange aerodynamics which actually sucked bugs into my eyes instead of repelling them. Is that a thing?

In my dilemma I forgot that Simon had told me to cross the river at Cologne. The bridge didn’t pop up as it should, so I went willy-nilly onwards looking for signs. A man cupped his hands around his mouth and yelled at me in German “DREH UM!!! DREH UM!!!”. It was frightening but I figured it must mean turn around. So I did.

Shortly after that I merged into what must be the biggest industrial park in the world. All that concrete and plastered tar, puffing chimney heat mixed with hard sunshine made the next hours of cycling tough. I intensely dislike concrete. Wound my way passed Ford factories, cooling towers and other enormous sheds for many kilometers. Eventually turned back and magically found my river again. Heartened to see other cyclists flitting by. Crossed over on the ferry. From there on all I could think about was finding a place to stay, which popped up at 17:30 in Monheim am Rhein. Plonked myself down on my lonely ass for an ice cold beer before retiring to the low-ceiling single room above the restaurant.

Odometer: 2371,6

distance today 83.32

See the route map here

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Day 34 – 36 – Loreley

Rheinstein Castle on the Rhine river, watercolour by Leanne Talbot Nowell

Simon left Rome very early in the morning and landed at Frankfurt-Hahn airport, hired a car and drove to meet me at Oberwesel. Happily freewheeled down the hill to find him waiting in the car park.  We wandered through the quaint town and milky coffee and a large slice of romantic cake at the Konditorei-caffè Bonsch.

For the sake of love I let him ride my bike sans-panniers for 17 kms to Boppard while I drove the cumbersome car.  There he surprised me with a booking at the extraordinary Bellevue Rheinhotel. A luxurious room with a river view! Lovely place for some pampering.

No cycling this weekend but as Simon is known to be a no-limits man, we managed to visit five different castles on one day. Including the infamous Loreley rock. “Die Loreley” is a poem written by Heinrich Heine in 1824  which describes a lovely siren sitting on the slate cliff above the Rhine and combing her golden hair. She unwittingly distracted shipmen with her beauty and song causing them to crash on the rocks.

The tour was not without a good number of wine tasting sessions. This is Riesling territory after all.

One cannot escape sampling the German beer as well,  and eating enormous helpings of tasty food under the hanging baskets of geraniums and rose covered pergolas. It was all supremely majestical.

We also took a small boat over to an island to see the customs house. Once the passing ships had to stop to pay taxes here. History on https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pfalzgrafenstein_Castle

Here are loads of photographs which tell the story.

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The horseshoe which belonged to the devil, was embedded in the road when the people rolled a barrel down upon him as he tried to enter the town….

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Day  36 – Boppard to Bad Honnin

Simon had to leave very early on Monday morning to get back to the office in time.

He was not there to see me heading off north down river, hopping from coast to coast by ferry, whenever things looked more interesting on the opposite bank. The track is perfect up until Koblenz where it gets a bit lost in the industrial zone. An older couple stopped me to complain, they thought it was an idyllic riverside tour all the way. It soon became idyllic once again.
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Having got lost and eventually crossed over the train bridge at Ermitz, the path fizzled out, and I found myself struggling along in the grass. But after some panicky moments in a dark wood, up popped a lovely girl with a dog, and said I should persist. Soon a town popped up and I felt much more on the right track. There are many lovely little villages along the way,  but now they are much flatter and more spread out.
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Linz am Rhein.

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Found the super Bacchus garten at Leyscher Hotel in Leutesdorf under giant walnut trees on the river bank for lunch.

The track was closed, so I shot onto the ferry just in time. On the opposite bank was another ferry just ready to go, so hopped onto that one, so zigzagged a bit to avoid the construction works.

Later that afternoon I was happy to accept a very generous invitation to stay with our friends Rolf and Bianca in Bad Honnef. They treated me to a sumptuous BBQ with good Italian wine and a lovely guest room. Fabulous friends.

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88 kms.

See the route map here

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Day 32 – Nackenheim to Assmanshausen to Oberwesel

Cycling along the Rhine dykes

This illustration is slightly imaginative, conjured up from memory. The poplar trees keep me company all along the cycle track on the river dykes. I hope to paint them again plein-air.

Wurstsalat has been the bug on every menu since Freiburg. At the biergarten in Bingen a woman sitting near me ordered it, so I forced myself to give it a try.
It was served in a glass jar with a lid and the contents looked like a nest of worms, but it was satisfyingly delicious! You would think having a German husband would have exposed me to this salad at least once on our many trips to see family in southern Germany. With my elevated cholesterol level I must stop having all these würsts, schnitzels, and bread served with FAT Schweineschmalz. At dinner this evening I was served a basket of bread and a little ceramic dish of fat. A thimble sized serving of pure white fat with bits of cured meat in it. I took a tiny scraping….but the guilt was huge.

This morning in the lovely city of Mainz I found an E-bike shop and asked the nice smartly dressed young salesman to please check my pedals. He tapped them and declared them tight.
I had the feeling he thought I was just looking for some attention.

Simon is coming to visit.

I am so excited that Simon is arriving in two days to keep me company for the weekend. I hope he’s not shocked at my vagabond appearance.

A month of daily sun and wind has darkened my face to a mottled brown (nose in particular). My glasses have protected the eye skin and weepy pink piggy eyes (allergies). Arms are as scaly as branches and my legs have a patchy burn on the back of the calves. The feet stripes are a mix between giraffe and zebra. Backs of the ankles are a mess from pedal bites. The hand tendons are pronounced. When I wake up in the morning they need time to unravel.

As for my clothes, I wear the same stretch pants every evening. It gets a bit cool on the terrace restaurants and there are mosquitoes around. The nice little frock I brought with me for romantic possibilities is hideously short and does nothing to cover the two-tone-tan effect.

My hair…oh dear! In Italian – “Un casino”

This morning when the church bells gonged in Nackenheim and woke me up at six, I painted a new sign for the handlebar bag. The other one was dull. It’s a bright and cheerful watercolour with the Italian flag in one corner and the Norwegian in the other… Roma – Oslo. At this point I’m beginning to believe that I may in fact, finish.

This caused a stir amongst the oncoming cycle traffic. Within minutes three women cyclists from Amsterdam called after me: “Roma!!! Roma!!!…” so I stopped and we gaggled together about our respective tours. A nice Italian man called Marco saw me at the caffe and said he would follow the blog.

On the ferry crossing over the Rhine once more, a large group of loud men doing their annual cycling tour, took it upon themselves to include me in their photographs. They galantly offered ‘ladies first’ when it was time to disembark. They all watched to see how I would negotiate the steep ramp out of the boat and up the river bank. Haha, I shot up there so fast with my battery on turbo…and heard them all having a good laugh.

The hilly slopes are beginning to steepen and are blanketed with vineyards. Beautiful scenery and architecture everywhere you look!

Found a very pleasant hotel at the water edge called Hotel Schön.

Odometer 2144.8
Only 60 kms today, with an average speed of 23 kmph. I don’t want to go too far. Simon and I would like to spend two days together on this stretch of river amongst the castles and vineyards around Loreley. How romantic!

See the map route here

Day 33 – Assmannshausen to Dellhofen

I dreamed I could fly and had a magic blanket that spilled out all manner of exquisite things when I shook it.

Breakfast on the veranda under a flowering trellis at a table dressed in white linen and elegantly battered silver cutlery and coffee pot. It must have been shiny once when my Great-Great Grandmother, Sarah sat at this very table. I have no proof of that, but she lived in Germany for a year… so maybe…

The morning is exuberant with fresh vineyards. Riesling grapes budding on the vines. The Rhein is becoming greener and deeper as it winds into the gorge at Sankt Goar.

Along the comfortable cycle route at the very edge of the water, someone has set up the perfect table and chairs on the riverbank just for me apparently. I painted the scene on the opposite bank from under a large white board with number 542 printed in black ….which I presume is a kilometer sign for boat pilots. It is a tricky section to navigate.

It is a really hot day, and so with a bit of meandering and hanging around painting I didn’t do more than 30 kilometres. On a tall stone was written this poem –

In jeder Planze
ist Mein Herz
spricht die Erde
So nur
fang den Himmel
ich auf

- F.G. Paff

The translation is more or less this – In every plant, is my heart, says the earth, only like this, I catch the sky.

Thought I would be soft on myself and book a room in advance. On arrival in the village of Oberwesel, as a challenge to my searching and finding skills (no map), I nonchalantly pedalled up and down looking for nr 43 Rheinhöhenstraße…  Eventually 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”. That’s the problem with google maps, you can’t see contour lines.

I did go up at great discomfort but thanks to my ebike. The river is nowhere to be seen from up here but Landhotel Zum Kronprinzen is really nice. The name is noble and dinner was served in a lovely private garden next door.

Tomorrow I’ll whizz down the hill to meet Simon.

See the map route here

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Day 31 – Ludwigshafen am Rhein to Nackenheim

Viticulture

Today the wind came up against me. The tall poplar trees along the river bank clapped their leaves. Sounds like a standing ovation – tree applause. Birds of prey skim from the blue sky over the bristling wheat fields searching for mice.

A river of this magnitude begins with a twinkle on a mountain peak then joins with others until it becomes a powerful moving force, such magic. Thinking about the dams, locks, dykes, canals, chemicals, barges, all strangling the loveliness. I ride on the incredible eurovelo 15 cycle path and appreciate it very much of course.

Getting out of the city of Ludwigshafen is a snakes and ladders game.  On the outskirts of town in the industrial area under a bridge there is a kiosk that makes a hot brown beverage. The three old men who shared the stuff with me won’t believe I come from Rome.

I’ve noticed a strange phenomena 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 kiosk, or a sign post, a cycle track, or a place to stay.

I dare not let anxiety pop-up, in case it manifests. But it is very reassuring to know that all you need is proper attention and consideration at every intersection, then the journey goes on.

Worms had no redeeming features. I ask a girl near the station: ” Juligung Juligung, where is the centrum, the altstadt…innerstadt??”. She replies “You are in it, this is Worms”.
At the bakery-cafe, three large flies rest on the cheesecake. The cakes look huge and delicious. I ride around town looking for somewhere I can sit down to eat my slice.

Later at lunch, sitting at a table under a big green umbrella eating salad on the banks of the mighty Rhine, a large spider lands on me and I do a sudden little jig and beat my chest like Tarzan. I hope I didn’t damage it.

Extremely long barges come sailing upstream loaded high with containers or piles of sand. Surprisingly they don’t make much of a wave.

Pedal and pedal all day, usually along the dykes. There are a handful of other cyclists, and some of them are loaded with panniers for longer trips. I follow a man who looks like he knows where he is going. He has a one-wheeled trailer attached to the back of his bike loaded with his camping gear. At a wider section of cycle track, I ride alongside him and say ‘Guten Tag”. He immediately tells me he had just completed 2000 kms, but when I say ‘me too’, he gives me a contemptuous look. I should have just said ‘BRAVO’ then he may have chatted longer. Every bit of solo cyclist conversation out here on the lonesome dykes is precious.

Back in wine country this evening, there are hills here, and a microclimate ideal for viticulture.

Fortunate to find a room at the Landhotel in Nackenheim. Feeling quite knackered myself. I telephone ahead this time but the owner tells me he is fully booked…but wait, yes, there is a single room. A good price at 50 Euros including breakfast. The chef is sick so the hotelier sends me to the Sports Bar for a large schnitzel and beer. The clientele are all dressed in German red, black and yellow. War painted faces sucking on cigarettes. I am the only happy person here. Apparently Germany has just been kicked out of the world cup soccer tournament. What misery.

Bitte schön – danke schön…Tchuss (sounds like cheers).

77 kms

See the route map here

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Day 30 – Neuberg to Ludwigshafen

River Rhine

2000 kms

Jesolo eis happened to be at the 2000 km mark. There a lovely young lady called Kira kindly served me a trophy pistachio and fresh kiwi sundae to celebrate.

This morning I woke up at seven in Hotel Sonne in Neuberg feeling a little guilty at the tardiness. Gulped a quick breakfast and headed out of town. Soon the shimmering river came into view and it felt glorious to be rolling along the path with the water twinkling in the morning sun. Dark forest on my left and bright water on my right.

Later, at a large road intersection, I bumped into a woman cyclist. Unfortunately I didn’t get her name but she’s Swiss and has cycled 1000 kms on her trip 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. Exchanged all that critical information with glee but then had to move in our opposite directions. She is the first and only solo female cyclist I have come across since Rome. She had a very nice waterproof map book of all the tracks along the Rhein. Wonder where I can get that?

After a humming ride along the dykes, I found a spot for lunch in the middle of nowhere. Well I had no idea where, but it was somewhere in the middle. You can’t get totally lost in Europe, you need to go on and somebody will tell you where you are.

People here seem to love ordering what looks like polony salad. It’s shredded pink meat cloaked in a dressing.
Germersheim was nice, the info desk officer showed me about eight different maps for cycle tours in the area, but none had enough scope for my day. That plastic map book needs to be ordered online apparently.
I couldn’t find the arch that was printed on all the stuff in the info shop. Simon would be frowning at me. No map and no plan but one cannot plan an adventure.

Speyer

Speyer is a very interesting place with a long and convoluted history. There is a technical museum full of all sorts of things and a giant imax cinema. There wasn’t a show on at that moment, otherwise I would have stayed and watched it. 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 come and go. – Otterstadt – Waldsee – Limburgerhof…. I saw storks and greeted a dalmatian, amongst other things. A pink frog leapt out of the bush into my path, birds chirped, tractors made dust, and my thoughts bounced around.

Ludwigshafen

Then the thought of a bed tonight began to pester me. So I headed for Ludwigshafen, where I hit the 2000 km mark and had the ice-cream. Those kind people sent me on, and I found a hotel at the river with some difficulty. The B&B Hotel receptionist said they were fully booked like all the others, and sent me packing. After a desperate flip around town looking for another hotel I checked Booking.com again and it showed that B&B had in fact an available room. So I returned and asked a second time. She emphatically denied the fact. So I went outside and booked it on the app on my phone, then went back to receptionist who was quite apologetic. I was so relieved I could have hugged her. My bike stayed in the backyard.

Ludwigshafen is the main site of BASF, the largest integrated chemical factory in the world. I’m not keen on chemical production considering the damage to ecology.

Last word from the receptionist “I don’t drink the tap water here, but you can if you want to”.

It is almost full moon, I left Marino a moonth ago today. Celebrate the 2000 km with a howl at the moon then trot over to the nearest Italian restaurant overlooking the river and order a little pasta dish.

96 kms today.

See the route map here

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Days 28 and 29 – Erstein – Strasbourg – Marienthal

Watercolour by Leanne Talbot Nowell

Today I rode passed an army barracks onto a narrow path in the woods. A regiment of soldiers came jogging at me in single file. Unfortunately I couldn’t get a good look as I was forced to concentrate on the necessary avoidance manoeuvre. Narrow paths can be treacherous with tufts of thorny blackberries and hidden pointy stones.

Paying attention on the real world in present-moment-mode comes at the high cost of daydreaming. Avoiding mishaps is absolutely imperative at my age. A short lapse in concentration could compromise the entire project.

Pedalling at a good speed along the canals, one hand resting on my hip. The handlebars are instruments of torture. Every kilometer or so I stand on my pedals to allow blood to circulate again. Which brings me to thinking about the river. The Rhine must have been a beautiful thing once. Like a large plait with a myriad of small forested islands. There would have been pebbly beaches on those islands and swarms of life living in their nooks. Water would move quicker in some areas and slower in others, making it possible for all sorts of different habitats. I imagine it would have been teeming with fish, insects and flowers on the banks, big old wild trees bending over to dapple the water, and flocks of gorgeous birds.

Now riding along a cement canal parallel to the river which drags on between the dykes. This dead straight configuration lets the water flow faster, so locks and dams are necessary to prevent flooding. The mud at the bottom is toxic with factory waste. I glide along through the paradox of being able to do this ride so easily at the huge sacrifice of such a great and beautiful river. Without the economic farming and industrial network of support, it would be impossible to do this cycle tour. But I would give up this ride in an instant to have a healthy river back again.

Goethe said “things that matter most must never be at the mercy of those things that matter least”

Strasbourg is lovely.

I bought a little stuffed stork, which is symbolic of the Alsace region, hoping it will bring me more grandchildren. There are storks nesting on rooftops and electricity pylons.

A man was playing the sax so beautifully I couldn’t move under the spell.

Apparently the Parc de l’Orangerie is lovely to see, so I make my way under the shadow of the Cathedral and across town. No luck finding the garden, instead my track takes me north through a forest and farmland to Drusenheim where there is no available accommodation.

According to what I could eek out of my app, there is a hostel room in Bischwiller. At the gate stand an American couple who have booked in advance. Nobody answers the bell or the phone. After peeking through the crack between wall and gate I decide that it’s a lucky thing there is no-one at home and I make my escape. At the top of the next hill I check the app again and find a room in Marienthal.

I’m the only guest at Hotel Notre Dame – ‘L’Ermitage tonight. My bike is parked in the company of an Italian Ape (three-wheeled vehicle) in the shed. The owner said she would bring a tray of supper up to my room in 30 mins. It has been an hour now. I go downstairs to see if perhaps we have a misunderstanding. I find her in the kitchen eating dinner with the chef. She apologizes and laughs. Later she brings in a tray of salad leaves and hunks of cheese, slices of ham and a bottle of water. The remains of the day. I am very pleased.

Monument to Goethe at Sessenheim

Breakfast near the monument to Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe in Sessenheim. He met his beloved Frederike around here.

“Love does not dominate, it cultivates” – Goethe

It’s a green and gritty ride today, a long way on the dyke, which is forbidden apparently. Not sure when it happened but I find myself on the river side of an endless fence. Forced to do some bush-whacking, and scale a strange overpass. Perfectly lonely riding, not a soul on this enormous dyke. On and on it goes all morning until at last there is a faulty gate through which I escape.

GERMANY

Goodbye France. Crossed the bridge between France and Germany trailing a queue of cars behind me. The pungent odour of cows was waiting! ..phew!
Soon the smell changed to chicken schtink, then a field sprayed with pigswill made me gag. You wonder how the crops bear it!

The huge Mercedes factory is just south of Rastatt.

Hay-fever is a real thing out here with the farmers tossing hay into the sky. Big spinning mechanical forks fling it up to dry it out. That mixed with road dust, pollen clouds and swarms of gnats makes it impossible to go without a face mask. Nothing fancy, just a stretchy neck scarf which can be easily pulled down when oxygen levels get too low. The wheezing cough persists.

Crossed the river once again, but still in Germany now. Found a place to sleep in Neuberg tonight, at the Sonne hotel.  Terribly slow internet, but great Greek food!

“We should talk less and draw more. Personally I would like to renounce speech altogether, and like organic nature, communicate everything I have to say in sketches”. (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)

See the map route here

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Day 27 – Freiburg to Erstein – Cycling

day 27 Rome to Oslo, watercolour Leanne Talbot Nowell

A bicycle has two sides to it. Not only is cycling a mood altering activity but is virtually harmless to our Earth. It also cures diseases of the body, mind and soul. Better than yoga, better than pills, even better than a glass of wine.

You can pedal elegantly along at thinking speed or beat at the pedals with your foot fists. Either way you leave negative thoughts behind. Go ahead and smile, sob, struggle, sing or scream on a bike, it’s an emotion-balancing instrument. By the time you reach your destination everything will be fine.

You can propel yourself along at a manageable speed, neither too fast nor too slow. Freewheeling down and grinding up the hills. A bike easily becomes an extension of the body and mind. You can slow down to see the black sheen of a raven’s back as it flaps across your path, or speed up to overtake a sewage processing plant. Thereby maximising the amount of beauty you see going by, and minimising the ugly bits.

Freiburg to the river Rhine

This morning there was no dilly-dallying except for a quick stop at a stationary shop where I bought a gift for my bike. Picked out some flower stickers to brighten her up. Half-ran, half-walked with excited expectation to the station to retrieve her and bring her back to the hotel to load up the panniers. Cities are nice for a bit, then all that complicated noise and bad air gets too much.

It has taken me all day to muddle my dizzy way along lonely paths between farmlands and forests to reach the river. The knees joints are the most stressed part of the engine. By kicking my legs out sideways the kneecaps tend to jump back into place. The vertigo seems to be vanishing I’m trying to keep level-headed.

Asparagus

It appears to be asparagus season. Here in Germany the loamy soil is neatly combed in long rows called ‘hillings’. Wispy green plants fringe the lines. Farmers pile the soil over the asparagus rootstock, keeping the new asparagus shoots covered. The darkness prevents them from developing chlorophyll. The season lasts only a few weeks. Harvesting this ‘white gold’ involves much painstaking labour. The soil is carefully brushed away and the ghostly shoots are cut by hand. People buy bags full, fresh from the farmer. Then rush home to cook and peel – or peel and cook (I don’t know) before guzzling them with buttery sauce. In France they prefer them green.

Another white thing to experience on the German side of the river is the salad dressing. They make luscious lettuce salads smothered in a mysterious white sauce. I had to look up the recipe. Ingredients are a blended cream, lemon juice and sugar. French dressing is made from finely chopped shallots, red or white wine vinegar, fine sea salt, Dijon mustard, extra-virgin olive oil, freshly ground black pepper all whisked together in piquant harmony.

At Rust I came upon the Europa Park, a huge amusement park which seems to be closed. After two laps around the fantastical town looking for lunch I finally found a seed bun to eat at a bakery. There a middle-aged ‘Kauz’ spent a while trying to catch my eye and eventually told me he was 70 years old and he rides his bike 50 kms every day and also swims. I thanked him for talking to me.

Like a painting, the subject needs a focal point.

There is a surprise at the end of the road! A little ferry motoring across the water between Germany and France. It’s not my intention to cross at this point, but ‘what the heck’ why not visit France again. That’s the nice thing about this part of the Rhine valley, you can easily flip back and forth between cultures.

On French soil at Rhinau there was a strategically placed tourist information office. It was mid-afternoon and time to look for a place to stay. Like a bee to a flower, I went in for some nectar but the lady behind the desk said “no accommodation”. I looked at her pleadingly with brimming eyes. So she huffed and began flipping through a brochure. To my surprise she called up all the hotels in the book. Not giving up until she had a positive answer. Certainly the spirits had something to do with it because that room was the only one available within cycling range, even though it was far and beyond the track. It would have been a cruel night if I hadn’t been guided into that office. The lady marked the place on a printed map, and off I buzzed to reach the place before dark.

Beware of information desk staff who make random pen marks from across the desk. It leads to much inconvenience and many unnecessary kilometers. Luckily she had written down the name of the hotel.

Eventually I found the place on google maps app, which found me – a blue dot on the screen – and the Googley-girl voice told me where to go. Google maps have a flip side. Technically convenient yes, but one misses the wholesome challenge of deciphering locations on a paper map while it crinkles and flutters in the wind. Today is quite windy, head on of course.

Dinner is delicious at the Hotel des Bords de L’ill in the small town called Erstein. Their chef uses a flourish of aromatic herbs and honey. There is a full complement of Dijon mustards on the table……I am in France!

No wifi in the hotel. Feeling doubly lonesome. The only company I have this evening is that annoying inner voice demanding to know why I’m doing this to myself. I’m lying in a single bed looking out of the square hotel window at the waxing moon. It will be full in a few days. Maybe then I’ll know what I’m searching for.

With no wifi or phone signal I don’t even know where I am exactly, let alone where to go next.

78 kms today. The map is not perfectly accurate due being lost most of the time.

See the map route here

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BUZINESS

Lavender watercolour by Leanne

HELLO everybody,


I have been happily illustrating and writing about the cycle ride for 25 days now. Only a quarter of the way in distance – which gives you an idea of how long the long distance ride was. After some thought I’ve decided the story can be divided into three parts to prevent OVERWHELM. lol.


Part ONE being the ‘Italy and over the Alps’ section, The Rhine river and crossing through Germany to the North Sea will be the second section, and then Scandinavia the third.


So I thought this a good moment to take a little break from the writing. My house is rather neglected and Simon has invited me to go for a bike tour with him next weekend in the Rome region. That means a small interruption in the long distance story, although in reality it was never interrupted.


Thanks for all your dedicated reading, and all the wonderful comments and encouragement. All most appreciated and motivational in getting this story written down.


I will be back on the 3rd June for PART TWO. That’s our official end of quarantine in Italy. An auspicious day to continue with the bike tour. Until then I will be painting and preparing the illustrations. Putting the “Lockdown” blogs into a book, and getting my summer clothes out.


Looking forward to seeing your escapades on facebook and Instagram in the meantime.

Much love


Leanne

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Day 25 and 26 – Karsau, Basel, Freiburg – 114 kms

Frieberg, watercolour by Leanne Talbot Nowell

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 doubt I would make it that far in today. The world famous black forest is looming on my right (north). That’s where they make the Kirschwasser or ‘cherry water’ with a volume of 40% to put in their delectable cake. Apparently the Swiss also add it to fondues.

The journey is not without highs and lows, although the terrain is flat. The river runs into water works! A blockage, necessary to prevent flooding. Everything is under control here except the weather. Sunny and hot.

After a good breakfast, I rejoin the river at the Aluminium works. There are more clean looking manufacturing parks around here. Very important to the economy and to improving our comfort zones. The big mish-mash of pipes and chimneys and blank buildings hum with chemical smells.

Basel

Back to pedalling along the edge of the shining river, along the weed free cycle track, and thinking about all the people I love.

Swerved up to the big city of Basel to see a bit of Switzerland again before diving into the depths of Germany. Basel is immaculate and beautiful, definitely worth a visit. They take great care of their parks, fountains and signage. There are explicit rules for cyclists though, and beware if you don’t follow them. I cruise through town gaping at the amazing architecture.

The lipstick-red signs tell me where to go at every street corner. In a roundabout traffic circle, a sign points to Freiburg 77 kms. Golly, that’s a long way. I follow the arrow but find myself circling a few times in search of further pointers. I stop to ask a policeman which road to take. He replies “I don’t know anything about the way to Freiburg”.

So veer off on a random road which takes me to Huningue. It sounds good enough but I’m horribly lost. The map on the phone screen just cannot figure out where to go next. So I ride on over the border into France and 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 come across the first rude woman of my trip. She rolls her eyes dramatically when I ask if she could be so kind as to charge my battery a little bit. I offer to pay. She climbs up a ladder and plugs it into a hanging cord with an impatient gesture.
There were some very long and lonely stretches here, and I have to admit to performing my first bush-pee. Being open and flat country anyone could see me squatting amongst the sugar beet blushing in my luminescent pink top.

Lunch consisted of stolen goods from B&B Jasmin. My bike served as a picnic table. Nutella, hard boiled egg, apple, and a slice of horse food (sour bread). Washed down with the last gulp of water. There are no water fountains or places to buy water along the this route.

On the way to Freiburg

The photography of the day is dismal due to my speedy urgency to reach Freiburg before dark. My brother said I should definitely go there, it’s his favourite town in Germany. It’s way off my track but I obey my brother as usual.

The final hours on the bike included a few incidents: a side-on collision with a boy on a push scooter … golly that was a close call! He shot off the pavement without looking. Then I hit a large hole which clattered my teeth and sent my phone flying out of the little handlebar pouch. I only noticed it was gone about 2 kms down the road so raced back and found it lying in the middle of the path. Thank heavens! It would be a disaster to lose that. And, I had a wasp up my sleeve which stung me repeatedly while I was on the phone booking my accommodation.

The stings hurt but were nothing compared to the fatigue pain.

Negotiating the chaotic bike traffic in the university city of Freiberg at 18:00. No rules apply. There must surely be a million bikes here!

I forgot to enquire about a lock up area for my beloved bicycle. Gasthaus Löwen does not have a place so after removing everything possible from the bike, including my whale bell, flower, carriers, lights etc, I reluctantly push her in amongst all the other bikes parked on the street and lock her up nicely for the night.

New record distance: 114 kms.

The person in charge of the rooms is not around with the key, so I sit down for dinner with flat hair and smelly clothes. A gentleman who has retired to Lago Maggiore bravely sits next to me. He knows all the Alpine cycle tracks. He tells me that my bike will definitely be stolen, whether chained or not. Thieves will cut the chain in seconds.

According to the restaurant staff, there is a secure bike parking at the train station. So I wearily take my bike downtown to the modern train station in the dark. Rows of bikes are parked under the bridge. To leave it there is more dangerous than being locked outside the hotel! So I ask the eyelashy girl at the info desk in the station building. She says “no, there is no parking for bicycles”. 

There is a large spiral bike parking tower 50 m down the road. A pretty young lady, who is also locking up her bike, helps me figure out the in’s and out’s of the ticketing system. All written in accurate German. One must stand on a sticker spot and then the gates open and close. It’s weird to see bikey stripped bare and caged like a boney zoo animal.

My clothes need washing, so I have decided stay here tomorrow and pick up a bit of culture at the same time.

Leanne's bike legs
Leanne’s bicycle legs in the mirror haha!

DAY 25

Hardly slept last night in the overheated attic room. A large extractor chimney, originating from the kitchen by the smell of it, blasted hot oily air directly into my window. There was no way I could spend another minute in that place, so went out into the morning, staggering under two panniers, battery, handlebar bag, carrier bag, handbag…down the street to somewhere else.

A more expensive place run by university students. They couldn’t allow me to put my bags in the room before 15:00 and they had no place to store them, so I sat in the dining room all day. A shabby looking person like me is the type you move to another table when guests arrive. I was asked to move five times. It was necessary to occupy the kitchen door in order to get my lunch order in.

When the room was finally ready, I dumped my luggage and went out to find a laundromat. A very-very thin man dressed entirely in black helped with the money.

As my friend Jane says “no matter how fast you ride laundry always catches up with you!”

see the route map here

click on the photographs to enlarge them. Unfortunately my editing program is not working, so these are a bit dark.

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Day 24 – Waldshut Tiengen to Karsau – bedbugz.

scenery along the way

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 hit. I don’t think it was complimentary.
But the hoteliers usually always shake my hand when I leave, which is comforting.

My ebike has a little onboard computer which gives me four cycling modes, depending how much help I need for the terrain. I have added a pretend mode: “LOST” which is a boost for dizzy-blonde morale.

There are bedbugs in my industrial park motel room. EEEK!

Luckily I slept in my special silk sleeping sack to protect me from an annoying fly. Thereby unwittingly preventing those dreaded bed-bug bites. You must always travel with one of these silk cocoon bags. Bed bugs can’t get through the tightly woven silk. I saw them this morning clustered around my panniers which are standing on the floor. Now all my clothes need washing. Good thing, as they haven’t seen a washing machine for 4 weeks.  Hand washing my clothes every evening is obviously not quite enough judging by my attracting annoying flies.

Whistling along through yet another vacant village I see a public swimming pool. It is the hottest day so far and there is a blackboard outside with a fast food menu scribbled on it. The combination of pool and food is too much to resist. While guzzling a bratwurst smothered in mayo and ketchup, I watch a nice round Italian Mama dragging her crying little boy out of the water. He wants to play with the German kids….but she bellows “DEVI MANGIARE AMORE!!!”… . (you must eat my love). The water is icy cold and I wallow like a crocodile for a while.

Cooling towers, steel works, and other industry are beginning to pop up around every corner along the Rhine. Cement factories are my worst. Not only ugly and toxic, but the thought of covering the Earth with the deadly stuff is horrible.

A fantastic old covered wooden bridge – Holzbrücke Bad Säckingen – crosses the water between Germany and Switzerland. Switzerland is much more expensive so I ride across and back to the German side again. The Swiss like to shop in Germany because it’s cheaper and they can get the tax refunded.

At about 15:00 it’s time to search for accommodation. I haven’t seen any obvious places to stay along the route today. Even toilets are difficult to find. One cannot just piddle on the side of the road like the men do. Neither is this Italy where you can find a crowded cafe at the centre of even the smallest village. You can use the lavatory for the price of a cool drink and get help with finding accommodation.

Going strong and dizzily along this beautiful landscape. There are long stretches of shady bike tracks here but half the time you’re riding on the streets. Junctions can be a bit complicated, and routes take you along farm roads through cultivated fields. One of the hazards of riding in fields are the irrigation sprays. You must wait for the squirting and then speed passed while they turn the other way. I think a light sprinkling will be nice in this weather so I go pedalling through. Just so you know, it’s like a waterfall and rather blinding. I almost veered off into the maize.

Checked my booking.com for a place to stay, and found Pension B&B Jasmin, off track at Karsau. On the way up there I spot an a ebike shop. Feeling very happy to stop and ask the huge man for some chain grease. He shows me how to apply it. Now my gears don’t change very well, and the chain clatters terribly.

There is nobody at B&B Jasmin, so I plonk myself down at a Pub close by. Testing my German a little bit. A very traditional place that smells of cigarettes and sour beer. I randomly order dinner – Rinderleber with balsamico – for the Italian touch. The waiter brings it to the table and says it’s cow heart. After a few moments of revolted consideration, my reasonable voice says “oh well, maybe it’s good for courage, love and emotion”. Strangely it tastes exactly like liver and onions. Washed down with a freezing glass of white wine.

I am way too tired and my hair is a fright.

Odometer 1573.7

63 kms today.

See the route map here

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Day 22 and 23 – Rorschach to Tägerwilen to Waldshut

Cycling colours

My paper supply has run out so I had to use my colour tester blotting page for the illustration today.

Jumped on the bike at 7:30 this morning to find only 30 kms of battery life on the display…of course I could pedal without power, but it’s going to be like riding a cow instead of a black stallion. With a lumbering 42 kilos of haulage to push along. On the flat shores of lake Constance that should be ok for a while.

A cyclist told me yesterday that the weather will be bad. The Norwegians say there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing. 

Lake Constance or Bodensee in German is a soft tone of Schminke Paynes grey. The fine brushstroke of land on the opposite bank is Germany. Shafts of sunshine beam through the gaps in the clouds.

At an empty lakeside cafè the barista makes me a cup of milky coffee. He doesn’t speak English or Italian, and asking for coffee used up almost all my German words “Kaffee bitte, danke schön”. I have no idea how to ask him if it would be ok to recharge my battery? You would think having a German husband would have forced me to imbibe some phrases, but I seem to have trouble stringing words. Even remembering the words to string.

“He who knows no foreign languages knows nothing of his own.”
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Like languages there are many choices of bike tours in this area, the sign posts hold up dozens of arrows pointing to various routes. I am taking the Eurovelo 15 which runs along the Rhine valley via Basel. Every time I see a 15 at a bivio I’m thrilled. For the first time the route is clear and I don’t need to stop and get my phone out to check the map. The wifi service is not so wonderful. My Italian phone number complicates matters.

There are more tourists riding this route as the day clears up. It’s a beautiful ride among vineyards, apple trees and pretty gardens. The water of the lake changes to a sensational blue. Perfect cycle tracks lead through the fields, and more fields…kilometers of them until there is just 1 km worth of power remaining in the battery and no sign of a village. I resign myself to my fate, but at that moment a restaurant appears like a genie from a bottle and we fizzle into the parking lot.

The highly recommended Swiss menu at Gasthaus Ochsen in Tägerwilen offers a delectable little bowl of sunshine – Il Risotto al pomodoro with fried feta, crunchy mixed salad leaves…and a banana-berry smoothie. Yesterday’s long ride has left me feeling kaput, so instead of charging up my battery in the restaurant, I simply book a room. Power up all my electronics and check the map. Bike stands lonesome in the foyer.

Odometer 1410.4 – only 44 kms today…

Day 22 – Tägerwilen to Waldshut – Emerald River blues

Another early start along the southern shore of Lake Constance, the border between Switzerland and Germany. All so calm unlike me who woke up in the night with vertigo! I am horrified and anxious. Moving my dizzy blonde head up or down is hazardous, the world swoops around, flinging butterflies around my tummy for a minute or two until it slowly stabilizes. Keeping my head as level as possible is difficult when checking for traffic coming up from behind.

Other than that problem 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. Not that the number of u-turns have diminished over time. Getting lost and doing u-turns are a constant challenge. At every corner and every intersection, there’s a choice to make.

Zipped passed the ancient city of Constance and went on to Stein-am-Rhein to see the frescoes.

Video of this area

Very quiet little villages along the way, only builders and road workers to be seen. After an hour of looking out for a coffee shop I eventually stop at a little bakery. Apparently you can sit and drink coffee at bakeries. Not something you can do in Italy, there you go to a bar for ‘un caffè’. Two ladies come in with three dogs and join me at the table. Chatting away as if we are a friend group who do this every week. Good for the vagabond soul. The apple pie is delicious!

At Stein-am-Rhine a Chinese tourist group are being herded by their guide, he’s yelling at them to look at this look at that, and they all had their phones up to their faces taking photos of whatever it is. I’m sure they are not having fun. The frescoes make the main street is a magnificent artwork.

The colour of the Rhine is a mesmerizing swirl of emerald greens, sky blues and turquoise greys. Surging whirlpools sigh against the embankments. You get into a good flow feeling following a powerful river like this. It has a long history worth mentioning but I’m wondering about the pre-history and how fabulous it must have been when it was wild.

 Made it to lunch in Schaffhausen at the corner restaurant on the main square. A delicious mango-curry-coco soup served in a jam-jar, a prawn with herbs and baked yellow mini tomato, all served on an old chopping board. The bottle of water is called ‘Silence’.

The river cascades noisily at Neuhausen am Rheinfall… eels manage to wiggle their way up these spectacular falls. The cycle track is full of people wiggling their way on bicycles. Summer is here and a good way to keep cool is to go for a bike ride. The air cools you as you go.

How is my body status going? It has been noted at the 1500 kms mark. Hearing is tuned in and the bum is as hard as a rock! Unfortunately the allergic sneezing and cough persist. Leaving me with itchy piggy eyes. And there’s the vertigo. Otherwise all good. Oh, and my hands are like two robotic claws that have been badly installed. I need to unhook them from the handlebars.

Arrived very tired at Waldshut-Tiengen to find my pre-booked motel located in an industrial zone, 3 kms away from any food. There is no reception, only a long row of rooms behind a factory parking lot. Room number and code are sent by sms. You need to type the code on a little box outside the door. The room is fine, just big enough to squeeze my bike in with me. After a hot shower and dressed in my dinner outfit I gingerly ride into town and eat alfresco at the pub.

(PS. about the vertigo, it’s not acrophobia which is the fear of heights. I’m taking some sort of medicine the pharmacist gave me. One must sleep on high pillows, never let your head go lower than your body.)

Todays ride – 100kms

Odometer 1510.9

average speed 18 kph.

See map day 21 -Rorschach to Tägerwilen

See map day 22 -Tägerwilen to Waldshut

Click on images to enlarge them.

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Day 21-Stuben to Rorschach-going down

Friesian horse in the forest

Dropping down from the arms of the lovely mountain today, with the Alfenz stream happily cascading at my side. From Stuben to Bludenz to Nenzing to Feldkirch. Dropping as a spider does, black wheels spinning below the Scots Pines. White water widens into a deep teal river and you can see the trout. As the altitude changes so does your attitude, going from high to low at the thought of the complicated web of agriculture and urban crust to negotiate from now on.

Soon there is a tunnel but the panic isn’t so bad this time, a bright spot at the other end is visible, and there is a shoulder to ride on. But I much prefer riding on the gravel forest roads in the mountains.

My tires crunch passed a forest clearing where an Oompah band blows a tune to a crowd in a carnival tent. Everyone is wearing traditional dirndl and lederhosen. To add to my delight around the next corner a beautiful black Friesian stallion bolts out of the bush, his shaggy mane waving over his face. I take a moving shot from the hip. One of my best photographs so far. His rider reins him in with a smile. The heavy camera hangs by a strap around my neck, bouncing off my thigh at every pedal of the way.

I’m officially over the hill.

There will be no more mountains until I reach Oslo. The flat air is strangely full of cooking smells on this side of the Alps. Windows are squarer and the cars are mostly black. Everyone is smart and sober except at the biergarten.

The joyous Alfenz runs dying into the dykes of the Ill which merges with the Rhine River or…Rhenus, Rein, Rhein, le Rhin, Reno, Rijn….This famous river is going to be my travelling companion for the next chapter of the journey. One thousand kilometres or so. But first there is the beautiful lake Constance to circumnavigate.

Feeling highly oxygenated after crossing the Alps. Approximately 450 kilometers on my odometer. I used to think the range was a stretch of two mountains wide with Austria snug in the valley between them. But if you ever fly over in a plane you can see how the snow covered peaks go on and on. The whole range makes an arc of about 800 km long (east to west), and about 200 kms wide as the crow flies.

103 kms later in Rorschach (Switzerland) I flop onto a bunk bed in a modern youth hostel Herberge See, happy to have all the bunks to myself. The room offers a fabulous northern view and one funny looking plug. Swiss plugs and money are unique. None of my electronics can be charged. The receptionist has locked up and gone away, so no chance of borrowing an adapter.

I must go out in search of food which is a lot of trouble for my legs. The closest food places are already closing up so I walk into town. Some nice ladies feed me green asparagus with yellow hollandaise sauce, and a little beer while they close the restaurant. Stacking up chairs around me as I eat. The World Cup soccer tournament – Switzerland versus Brazil game is on. Enthusiastic boys shout from speeding cars covered in Swiss flags. As I leave the restaurant the rain comes gushing down. My plastic sandals are slippery on the inside, so I walk the two kilometers back to the lonely hostel barefoot and bedraggled.

It was a lovely day but I’m buggered and tomorrow is going to be fun with no battery.

See the route map here.

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Day 20 -Landeck to Stuben – the Arlberg pass

Alpine lupins, watercolour by Leanne

The thought of cycling over any Alpine pass makes me nervous, especially this one, so I delay it and dabble with my paint-box instead. Sitting flat on the road in the still sunshine and painting the river bank full of chaotic lupins, dandelions, daisies and the bright water. I’m trying to have poetic thoughts but all I can think of is the upcoming monster.

According to the hotel manager, I must most definitely go by train through the tunnel, but Simon says “Go over the top, you’ll be sorry if you don’t”. It’s true, my goal is to ride all the way to Oslo. Some people suspect me of cheating which is understandable, they probably would in my position, but I really don’t like cheats so why be one.

Almost immediately the road turns up through an avalanche gallery crowded with zooming cars and buses. The booming echo sets off my tunnel panic. I look up and see a bus full of people staring down at me. A big sorry sob comes bubbling up, and I need to make an imaginary emergency call to my backup team.

The answer is immediate “Mom. Just pedal!”

No sympathy at all!

Well, I go through 550 meters and come out the other side where the views are astonishing. Scree slopes at oblique angles, all dotted with Norwegian Spruce. Pointy peaks streaked with white ice. A luminous sky leaning toward the colour of purple lupins.

I plug in my earbuds and play some music to get me up the hill. Not something I do very often because my phone runs out of battery too soon. Today I plan to stop overnight in St. Christoph which is just up the hill. So for once the battery power isn’t my main concern.

Oliver Sacks said “Music can lift us out of depression or move us to tears — it is a remedy, a tonic, orange juice for the ear. But for many of my neurological patients, music is even more — it can provide access, even when no medication can, to movement, to speech, to life. For them, music is not a luxury, but a necessity.”

Avoided a second tunnel by going over it on a service road. Stopped for lunch at an Alm in St. Christoph am Arlberg, where I’m sitting under a bright orange umbrella at a dizzy altitude, eating delicious Tiroler Gröstl. A copper pan filled with roasted potatoes, fried eggs, bacon and onions. A bowl of krauti salad on the side, and an Almdudler to drink. Most satisfactory. Seems as if my appetite is coming back. Good thing because my arms were beginning to look like two brown chopsticks.

I ride around to find a room at one of the hotels. They are all closed for the summer. So I’m forced to ride on. The battery is almost empty…and the thought of another vertical climb puts me in a spin. But the road wiggles along some curves and then gratefully falls, zigzagging steeply. Harley Davidson motor-bikers come up against me, blasting with noise and shining colours.

I stop at a panoramic viewpoint to check the app and book a room at the next village – Stuben. The Après Post Hotel is the only accommodation available and at a reasonable rate. After almost falling down the cliff, I arrive at the hotel and think “oh golly” this is going to be expensive. Way too posh for my budget. These new polaroid glasses of mine probably blurred a zero when I was making the booking.

However, my happiness level soars when the receptionist confirms the price. Golly, how lucky! To top it all, the pretty waitresses dressed in traditional dirndl costumes, help me carry my panniers to the room.

Use of the spa is included in the price, so after a good shower I find myself wallowing in a large whirlpool made of stainless steel. At first the dark shimmering shadows play games with your imagination (jaws) but if you calm down it turns into a fabulous undulating rainbow-flecked reflection of the steely peaks above. There is also a basket swing chair pod to snuggle into, making it really easy to fall asleep and almost miss dinner.

Only 40 kilometres today. Over the Arlberg pass which is 1793 mt high at St. Christoph.

Lessons – avoid shortcuts….. and expect the unexpected.

At the dinner table now thinking about all those people on the tour bus, and how they missed the transparent stream hidden by the barrier rail, missed the cow that talked and the two running weasels. They didn’t catch the scent of that marvellous flowering tree in the fresh air… and they missed having a sob in the tunnel.

see the route map here.