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Cycling in Salento

It’s really hard to beat a cycle ride along the coast of Salento

The back-roads roll through shady olive groves, and then to the coast-road which is quiet after the holiday makers have all gone home. We saw breathtaking views of the Adriatic rocky coastline, the ‘energetic’ easterly side of Italy’s boot heel. According to Franco, an interesting character we met in Gagliano, the western coast is for sleepy people. They wake up late in the morning and sit around all day waiting for their spritz at sundown. Whereas the sunrise people are bright eyed and getting lots of fun stuff done.

How to make a decorative border on an image using Paperbrush –

I took the photo at the top of this page in Gallipoli with my iphone, then uploaded it to my Photoshop program before adding the olive leaves. These are available on Paperbrush graphics shop for anyone to download and use. Once you have saved the files on your computer ( takes about 5 mins) open them in your editing program. Select and drag them around until you’re happy with the arrangement. For beginners it might be tricky, but check out the tutorials. If you can’t afford Photoshop, then download any of the free editing program options on the internet.

For the text effect there are a few extra steps, but it’s not hard. You need to have Photoshop or a similar program that has a clipping mask option. To make that wobbly watercolour effect on the text, you need to use one of the watercolour splashes that comes with the set of Italian olive leaf watercolour clipart. Clever tricks! There are plenty of tutorials online which show you how to do it.

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one of the watercolour paintings available in the set of Paperbrush clipart ‘italian Olive leaf’

Back to cycling, there are some tour companies in Salento that offer you guided rides, with ebikes, racing bikes, whatever your prefer. We usually like to do our own thing and bring our own bikes, a flexible schedule is necessary for painting stops, lunch stops, wine stops, photo opportunities etc. However, I may organize a painting tour if anyone is interested?

Cycling and painting has got to be one of the most heavenly activities on Earth. As the locals say “Sole, mare, vento, Salento” (Sun, sea, wind, Salento) and beautiful vistas everywhere. Luckily we had no wind, wind isn’t fun on a bike. But at least the roads are mostly flat.

However, it’s so easy to jump off your bike and paint, no parking problems! You can go almost anywhere, but beware of farm dogs. We were chased for a about 2 kms but a pair of long-legged hounds. That’s quite a distance on a rocky road at maximum bicycle speed. Hearts pumping madly. Haha.

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Watercolour or Watercolor?

Since getting back from the big long bike ride, I have been busy painting watercolours and setting up a little online shop that will hopefully be up and running very soon. Juggling the erratic internet available here in the village of Marino reminds me of the day riding over the Apennine mountain range…lost.

However, for those who have clicked their way to my webpage expecting to see clipart, only to find it under construction, please come back and look very soon. In the meantime, I had better get back to work…

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1. Before leaving Rome (April 22)

“All roads lead to Rome”  – to be more precise… the Via Appia Antica will lead us into Rome and the Via Francigena will lead us straight out again. Very, very far out this time.

I am preparing to ride my bike from our home town, Marino Laziale, which is situated on the slops of a volcano at the southern edge of the eternal city of Rome, and head north to Oslo, capital of Norway.

Departure date is planned for May 26th, early morning, when the moon will be at her fullest. Which I hope will have some beneficial effects.

Below is a very nice image, thanks to Copernicus (Sentinel 3) where you can see a cloudless Europe…just point at mid-Italy, and go north!

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There is a secret feature on my bike……a battery!

It’s an e-bike you see …. a very smart CUBE bicycle. It arrived in a giant box with an operating manual almost as heavy as the bike itself: “General Operating Instructions Pedelec”.

Some say I’m cheating. And I admit there is a paradox involved.

I am doing this because I can only do it with the help of a battery – but sneer if they must.  Little pushes from my battery will certainly help to keep the grinding-grit out of my nonna knees.

The 80 page Bicycle User Manual is also a long read. Then there are the instructions for my onboard computer, and I need to download the smart phone map-apps, and setup a tablet to write this blog. This ‘over the hill’ grandmother is quite boggled by tech.. TBH.

(TBH means ‘to be honest’, for you other ‘over-the-hillers’.)

Simon will accompany me for the first week of the adventure, but then he has to get back to work, leaving me to figure things out as I go! Going solo is quite a scary challenge I must admit, I am a bit of a Simon follower when exploring unknown realms. Usually Simon takes care of the responsible stuff, and I dawdle behind with my camera, and paint box.

Mostly I have generous encouragement from Simon, my family and friends.  But my parents have, in their wisdom given me stern warning of the dangers.  So it’s a toss-up between lounging on my couch, or lunging around in the traffic seated precariously on a metal instrument, most probably lost. Certainly not overly safe, but I will do my utmost to avoid a dramatic end.

When one reaches what is commonly known as ‘a midlife crisis’, it is obvious a red sports car is not the way to go anymore, what with the environmental hazards it provokes. The new and revolutionary way to travel is by e-bike, going gracefully green is key to surviving difficult accusations from the grandchildren. Such as: why did you muck up our planet ? and: What did you do to stop global warming?

Midlife crisis is not the real reason I’m going on this trip… really. In case you thought it was. Actually there are other reasons, those being… I like riding my bike and going places. Something to do with my nomadic roots I suppose.

Alone on my bike in the forest, I might meet animals, or feel how the birds fly and know the slow opening of the yellow flowers in the morning.

 

Picture of my bike in Marino. (Snazzy seat cover and bell – gifts from Megan.)fullsizeoutput_188c

“May the force be with you”

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Cycling through olive groves

Autumn has brought black and green olives to the the olive trees, and dark red leaves to the vines here in Salento (southern Puglia, Italy). We are cycling for a week along the coast from Cisternino to Gallipoli, mostly through olive groves on the rocky slopes. Blue sky, blue sea, rusty soil and red leaves. Today as we rode our bicycles through the groves a sea breeze knocked ripe black olives down onto the waiting nets. I love the white rocky outcrops and crumbling stone walls that run between the trees. It’s an ancient landscape that makes me think of old bones. Earth bones.

I stopped to draw some olive leaves just as the sun was sinking, sitting on the ancient knuckles of the tree. “Suggestivo” is the Italian expression for these type of dramatic but calm moments.

Some of my painted olive leaves are available here as graphics which you can use for your own projects.

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46. Cycling Route map and city list – Marino to Oslo

Leanne's bike route map

  1. Marino (home)
  2. Rome
  3. Formello
  4. Vetralla
  5. Viterbo
  6. Montefiascone
  7. Bolsena
  8. Acquapendente
  9. Bagni San Filippo
  10. San Quirico D’Orca
  11. Buonconvento
  12. Siena
  13. Radda in Chianti
  14. Greve in chianti
  15. Poggio Pratelli
  16. Florence
  17. Prato
  18. Montale
  19. Fognano
  20. Tobbiana
  21. Badi
  22. Suviana
  23. Riola
  24. Pietracolora
  25. Montese
  26. Vignola
  27. Modena
  28. Mirandola
  29. Mantua
  30. Peschiera del Garda
  31. Sirmeone
  32. Riva del Garda
  33. Arco
  34. Vezzano
  35. Trento
  36. Bolzano
  37. Merano
  38. Latsch
  39. Burgusio
  40. Graun Im Vinschgau
  41. Curon Venosta
  42. Nauders
  43. Landek
  44. Stuben
  45. Bludenz
  46. Feldkirch
  47. Rorschach
  48. Romanshorn
  49. Tägerwilen
  50. Stein am Rhein
  51. Schaffhausen
  52. Neuhausen am Rheinfall
  53. Koblenz
  54. Waldshut-Teingen
  55. Laufenburg
  56. Rheinfelden
  57. Basel
  58. Freiburg
  59. Erstein
  60. Strasbourg
  61. Offendorf
  62. Mariensthal
  63. Wörth am Rhein
  64. Speyer
  65. Ludwigshafen
  66. Worms
  67. Nackenheim
  68. Mainz
  69. Assmannshausen
  70. Boppard
  71. Koblenz
  72. Bad Honneff
  73. Bonn
  74. Cologne
  75. Düsseldorf
  76. Duisburg
  77. Oberhausen
  78. Datteln
  79. Lüdinghausen
  80. Ascheberg
  81. Drensteinfurt
  82. Osnabrück
  83. Bruchhausen
  84. Bremen
  85. Zeven
  86. Buxtehude
  87. Hamburg
  88. Lübeck
  89. Scharbeutz
  90. Puttgarden
  91. Rødbyhavn
  92. Vordingsborg
  93. Faxe
  94. Køge
  95. Copenhagen
  96. Helsingborg
  97. Ångelholme
  98. Halmstad
  99. Varberg
  100. Gothenburg
  101. Stenungsund
  102. Henån
  103. Vassbotten
  104. Halden
  105. Moss
  106. Ås
  107. Oslo

 

The pink towns are the places I spent the night, the rest are places along the way that were interesting.

Rivers and lakes which I encountered:

  1. Lago Albano (Marino)
  2. Tiber River (Rome)
  3. Lago Bracciano 
  4. Lago Bolsena (Bolsena)
  5. Arno River (Florence)
  6. Reno River (Riola)
  7. Panaro River (Vignola)
  8. Secchia canal (Modena to the Po)
  9. Po River (before Mantova)
  10. Mincio (Mantova)
  11. Largo di Garda (near Verona)
  12. Adige River (Trento to Burgusio)
  13. Bad Inn River (Austria)
  14. Inn River (Landek)
  15. Alpenz River
  16. Lake Constance (Switzerland- Germany)
  17. Rhein River (Switzerland-German-France)
  18. Lippe River (Datteln)
  19. Werse River (Drensteinfurt)
  20. Dummer Lake (after Osnabrück)
  21. Weser River (Bremen)
  22. Elbe (Hamburg)
  23. Trave (Lübeck)
  24. Baltic Sea (Puttgarden)
  25. Lagen River (Ångelholme)
  26. Nissan River (Halmstad)
  27. Atran River
  28. Viskan River
  29. Canal (Gothenburg)
  30. Idefijonden 
  31. Glomma
  32. Many island fjords and inlets all the way to Oslo.

 


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45. Last whirl of the wheel. (July 31)

It has taken me a week to get around to writing to you, because baby Elia and I have been so busy catching up and playing.

This is a last look at the stats after finishing…

55 sunny days of pedalling from morning till night + 2 days of heavy rain when I stopped + 5 days of rest. Grand total 62 days journey over 4180 kms. Top speed 59.8 Kph, at which point the panniers would rise up dangerously, like wings opening for take-off. Average speed 18.5 kph. Oiled chain twice and pumped one tire once. Gratefully shared some riding days with Simon (8 days),  Georgio (0.5 day), Birgitta and Hans-George (1 day), Regina and Zoe (2 days), Bruce and Kealena (3 days), Tyrone (4 days).

I slept in 50 different beds which varied from a raw mattress to a bed fit for a queen and everything in between. Showers were always good. My booking app was very useful, and so was the Googley girl app.

 

Being alone for much of the time, led to the upwelling of seven “me’s” who I labelled: Dizzy blonde, Stupid-bloody-fool, Guru, Panic-pot, Happy, Sneezy, and Dopey.

All my personalities suffered moments of despair and exhilaration. Guru had the most arduous job of all, and only stopped nagging when I arrived in Oslo.

It would yell: “Get up out of that bed immediately and get on your bike” or it would shout: “PAY ATTENTION ! … stop…… go go go GO…. take your blinkers off, wait here, do this, do that blah blah blah.

Listen carefully and trust that voice. Act instantly. It saves your life.

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There was also the very much appreciated daily input from Simon, and the imaginary team (the voices of my kids who cheered me on), and my family and friends as the ‘blog-backup support team’ who wrote wonderful messages which kept me going. Thank you everyone for your kind words. I would have been miserable without you. Your good wishes put wind in my tires, and your comments put power in my pedals.

I became a man; no makeup, no hair brush, a ravenous appetite, strong muscles, navigating by the sun, loving my bike, drinking beer, not caring how ugly I looked, and going places where no women dare to go;  prohibited factory yards, pubs full of scary men, dark forest paths with wolves, that kind of thing. It was fantastic to be liberated of that fussy feminine stuff.

 

Europe is a remarkably safe place, despite the TV news. Chances of being led astray are extremely rare for someone my age. People are especially kind and they help you when asked. Just smiling and being pleasant.

Children are particularly interested, many a moment when feeling fatigued a bus full of kids would wave at me going past. Nothing gets you going like a little child looking you in the eye and asking a question. Like the little boy who traced the bike symbol on my pannier with his tiny fingers and asked if the bike was all new. Kids notice a lot of things that adults are too busy to see.


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Italians generally love to chat, discuss solutions, and give one really good food. Although cycling is yet to become a really popular thing to do, hence the lack of cycle paths. Everybody I met along the way became my friend and kept in touch.

Austrians are generally well organised and care about cyclists. Everyone is treated with equal respect, smokers and non-smokers alike. There are so many Harley-Davidson groups, cycle groups, and tourists from every part of the world, that they have become really good at hosting all types without getting too involved.

The Swiss work hard to make better food than the Italians and the French put together. Their properties are cultivated, their shops are expensive, and everything is run like a beautiful clock.

Germans are very busy doing everything properly. People are doers, movers and makers. Hotels are good, food is good, beer is good. Everything works. Maintenance and construction is continuous from south to north. The people are friendly, and it’s gemütlich.

The French are naturally confident, and they like to please who they choose. The villages along the Rhine are smartly renovated but everybody goes away at work somewhere. There are no facilities for Eurovelo 7 cycle route users yet, although there were a lot of nice french cyclists going past.

Danes are discreet, everything looks pretty, even the biggest factory is super stylish versatile and safe to be near. There is a certain wealth, but it’s softly tailored with humility. Cyclists everywhere, commuting on the thousands of well controlled cycle roads.

Swedish are similar to Danes, they also have nice wooden cottages at the seaside. Everyone speaks perfect English, and they’re nice to strangers. They have made a spectacular cycle track from Gothenburg.

Norwegians are similar to Swedes, they also have nice cottages at the seaside or in the woods. My children live here so I’m happy that Norwegians are happy people. They care a lot about children too.

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Last word…

Much to my surprise and relief the body managed to survive the journey with no sickness, or delays due to health problems.

The hands grew a bit claw-like and developed pads on the palms, painful at night…. werewolf symptoms?

Some short episodes of vertigo were annoying, it is caused by crystals in the inner ear detaching and moving. This has been an issue for almost three years now, so no fault of the cycling. It only occurs when I lie down or sit, so it did not prevent me from riding. However it is better now.

Allergies were a nuisance for about 2500 kms, dust and pollen blew around in clouds. No allergies since.

Finally, the answer to the most asked question…how is the seat?

The answer…UNCOMFORTABLE! But no damage done.

CMHZ1540

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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44. Grande Finale Day – OSLO ! (July 24)

Suddenly Oslo popped up, and my family were waiting for me at the finish line! .

Bike-ride_0291.jpgMy first hugs in a long time! and 4138 kms since I left home.
Photos still to come, but most of you have seen the video on Instagram or Facebook. It was a very happy moment, although it feels like a dream. About 56 days of riding, is enough to become a habit, so tomorrow I may wake up to the usual feeling of ‘get up, get going”. But Elia will be awake before me I suspect, and bring me back to another reality.


Tyrone navigated the way to Oslo after a sumptuous breakfast at the rather posh old hotel on the beach in Moss. It was hot, and we rode in a very determined mode, along good cycle tracks past Ås, and Ski and onwards.
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Finishing with a long speedy downhill into the city, and arriving in front of the marble Opera House. Megs and Stefano had made a banner with ROME TO OSLO written very large on it, and a finish line tape.

Ty had sped off ahead to photograph the scene, but I got caught up in a large crowd of pedestrians at the traffic light, who I overtook and went blasting through the middle of the banner in a flash, tearing it in half.

I wish I could do it again more slowly…. (tearing the banner I mean).

Exquisite Baby Elia was ok with being given to a stinky old cyclist for kisses.

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All the wonderful messages from friends came popping up on my phone as soon as the video was shared. Everyone has been incredibly generous with words of congratulations, and I am so glad that you were pleased to see me finish.
After a sprinkling of confetti, delicious Proseco, deep red South African wine, and a fabulous meal, it is time for rest.
I will write again tomorrow….

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43. A Rolling stone gathers no moss for 4000 kms (July 23)

The terrain rose up and became beautifully hilly. Massive piles of mossy granite boulders pushed up through the oats fields while balancing trees on their heads. These hills are perfectly spaced to allow cyclists to whizz down a steep slope for 10 seconds before starting up the next for 10 minutes. Up and down like that for hours. There were black-blue lakes there, shimmering behind the shaking birch leaves. All day we rode through the wilderness, with only one little fawn leaping away into the bushes.

It became clear at some time after lunch that hotels were far too few. Stenungsund offered us lunch, and a chance to ask for accommodation at the info office. A sweet girl telephoned ahead to the Hotel in Henån, the Henån Hotel, where we were able to choose between a hotel room and a bed & breakfast room. We chose the bed & breakfast, which was cheaper, and had a better chance of breakfast. But the situation was rather not up to our usual standards. Mostly due to the smell. Breakfast was nice and the manager gave us a winning smile. She came out on the doorstep to wave goodbye.

Another day of ups and downs. Tyrone was doing well on his new bike, although the seat was uncomfortable. Mine is too but not as punishing. After many, many hours perched on those seats, we realised there were no more hotels on the map.
We were in limbo between Sweden and Norway.
That “oh dear’ feeling was getting stronger the further we went into the forest. The feeling reached “Uh Oh!!! after 88 kms….”

But in the nick of time, up popped a camping ground.

With rejoicing we rode up to the reception, and found a lady who examined her bookings, and finally said: “Yes, I do” …’ have a hut for you”. She also told us the restaurant (food place) would be closing at 19:00. So we disembarked our paraphernalia and took a swim in the blue-black lake. Well, Ty took a swim, but i found it a bit cool, so painted something in my notebook instead. We needed tokens for the public showers, which were surprisingly good. By 18:00 we were puffed and perfumed, ravenous for a delicious dinner.

The husband of the receptionist watched us walk past the office window with straight legs, then he telephoned ahead to the restaurant to warn them we were coming and please would they give us something to eat. But they would not. The receptionist had made a mistake. Closing time was at 18:00. I told my sob story to the waitresses while they stuffed pomme frites in their mouths, but they said there was no food left over, the had a “hectic weekend”. I asked in my begging voice if they could spare a slice of bread?

All  they could serve was beer. Which they did.

The evening did not last long after that. We took our beer belly grumbles to bunk-bed in a tiny wooden room. I dreamed somebody stole my army boots which was very upsetting.

Sun up, so we went down to the receptionist, bikes all packed and ready to go. She and her husband had fragrant cinnamon buns in the oven, and hot coffee at the ready. So all was forgiven.

Soon it was time for my mileage meter to reach 4000 kms. I felt very happy, I suppose. Although it is a staggering thought that the whole ride has been rather a selfish endeavour, yet you are pleased that I made it. There were times of discomforting euphoria, peaceful joy, some humiliation and fearsome miracles, boredom, distraught feebleness, confident delight, and all the emoticons on the list. But I’ll tell you about that another time. There were times when I thought my mother was thinking about me, and an eagle would fly overhead. The perfume of a strawberry field would bring thoughts of Megan. I thought a lot about my children and their children, who are actually mine….

All day, we rode, up and down the granite hills under the forest trees, along highways and byways, on roads and paths, 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. Three men in green road-working suits sat at a table outside their quarters eating lunch. I rode right up to them with panic on my face. “please excuse me, but can I use your toilet???!!”. The look went around between them, and the one who got the look from both of the others, got up and showed me into a dark little room with an unmade bed. The basin was less white than it should have been, but at least there was plenty of loo paper.

Pictures of Sweden blending with Norway. We rode 109 kms today, so it’s time for bed.

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Blowing avenue of trees in the garden.

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42. Swedish bitters (July 21)

Apologies to the Swedish for putting these dull pictures on the blog, it was the only cloudy day they’ve had in a long time. Most days they are either fighting fires or lying on the beaches.

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After a very pleasant rest near Ängelholme, I made my wiggly way up the coast. The cycle route was clearly marked – called Kattegattleden 1, which is highly recommended for anybody going that way. Brownish red signs show exactly where to go. Rain splattered down on my luminous jacket, under which were two layers of warm garments, but the locals were happy with sleeveless T-shirts and carried on their holidays quite happily.

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This photo was taken the next day, in the sun.
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In Båstad, my bike posed with a red Tesla model S. Both eco friendly, but mine a million times more. Ok so the model S has nicer handles…maybe. But my bike completed 3500 Kms at Skummestōvsstrand.

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Halmstad had a nice little centre along the river, where I searched for the most healthy burger menu. How I wish for one of those Rhine river Salads!  The waitress kindly suggested I do away with the bun, and take extra salad. HUMff…you mean two extra stalks in the garnish?

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


The morning sky broke into a smile.

The Swedes are having a wonderful summer, mostly half-naked at their holiday cottages, fixing things and potting around in their gardens. Children laughing, birds singing type of atmosphere.

Here are some banal photos of the general scenery of the day.
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What is “Nordic camping”? Is it different to Normal camping?
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This is the tourist office. Inside is a very nice map of the area.
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I realised as I pedalled along, that there are only three different types of cars in Sweden, all of them Volvo’s; black, grey and white. Beware of black car drivers, they don’t give you much room, grey car drivers give you 2 meters, and white cars drivers go completely over into the oncoming lane, dangerously close to on-coming traffic.

The bed&makeyourownbreakfast man at Varberg enthusiastically pointed me to the beach, which was actually in another direction. I should have checked the map. I put on my swim-suit and found the wind to be nipping about my legs, but nevertheless waded into the sea, and waded, and waded. How far out do you need to go before one can actually swim?

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I was so grateful to find a nicely decorated b&b with a polite gentleman to take my credit card. Paid an extra 100 for breakfast. Lodging in the area was completely full. All was fine except there was no restaurant, and there was only one shower for ten people. The boiler was smaller than me and I wasn’t the first to shower. One thing that a long distance weary rider needs, is a very good hot shower at the end of 124 kms.

There was no whiff of coffee in the morning, just silence. I waited, fully packed, and nothing happened, so I grimly opened the fridge and took out some tomatoes, cucumbers, cheese and bread. Made coffee, ate sandwich. Went.

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A watercolour view of the beach between singing trees in the wind.


GETTING TO GOTHENBURG

If you would like to ride your bike, go to Gothenburg and ride south along the Kattegattleden 1 track. You will see beautiful homes, stunning seascapes, wonderful woods, and interesting people.

Again a marathon day of 124 kms, (strangely enough), but this time staying in a 4 star hotel which cost less than the pay-then-makeyourownbreakfast place. I was very enthusiastic about getting there because Tyrone was coming from Oslo to meet me and to ride with me to Oslo.
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At Kungsbäcker, the Kattegattleden led me south, and since my phone had given up the ghost, I was forced to follow along. Good thing I did because at Gottskar two kind people let me charge my battery and sold me a giant Kebab, even I could not finish. They wrapped the remaining half in foil and I ate it in the hotel later that night.
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41. Copenhagen magic (July 19)

It was the hottest day of the year.

Even so, it’s always a pleasure to be in this city.

We spent the day rolling around enjoying the scenery.

 

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Bruce and Kealena treated me to an all insclusive 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 will make off with it.
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If you’re in Copenhagen then get over to the other side, and partake in the street food fest. A freshly grilled Mackerel wrapped up with salt and pepper? Wash it down with a Tuborg or Carlsberg, both locally made beer.
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This building is a power station which has a ski ramp on it, dubbed Copenhill. The chimney puffs out smoke rings. It also brags the highest artificial climbing wall in the world. Designed by Bjarke Ingels Group……magicians.


Morning came cloaked in soft grey blanket of cloud. Thank heavens.

I said goodbye to my lovely niece and Bruce escorted me out of town and north along the flat sandy shores towards Helsingør to catch the ferry over to Sweden. On the way we stopped to see the charming museum dedicated to a fellow Africa lover and multitalented author, Karin Blixen, who wrote “Out of Africa”.  (  Isak Dinesen ).
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This is her house in Kenya, which looks very like my own G.Grandmothers home.

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It began to rain, so we dashed over the moat to look at Kronborg castle, where Shakespeare had Hamlet play out his drama.

Eric of Pomerania, (don’t you love that name), built the place in the 1420’s. You can look up the facts on wiki. It’s a lot bigger than it looks in my photograph.
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Bruce very generously did the round trip on the ferry, just to make sure I got to Sweden.

I felt a bit like I used to feel, when I had to go back to boarding school. I have never been to Sweden, my 7th country on this trip, and there was a very long way to go, starting with Helsingborg. This time I was first off the ferry on my bike and had to find the way out of the docks, with some very large pantechnicons grating their gears behind me. This time, google girl knew better, and I followed her through a modest but neat residential area. A very new giant cycle track was all mine for the next 20 kms or so, then it was road riding once again. All the way there was a minipanic going on in my head, but it became clear that Swedish people are kind, and things are going to be ok.

Ängelholm sounded like a good place for a peaceful night, however there was no available accommodation at all, anywhere up or down the coast. The ladies at the info office called around, and found a rather expensive room in a conference park out of town. I turned it down, then checked on my phone once again, and there was that same room for almost half the price on booking dot com. So, I quickly booked it and set off in the rain. My phone ran out of battery, so no directions from google, but I had picked up a map at the info place. Arrived by way of a forest and a highway, a bit soggy and too tired for dinner…. but gnawed on an energy bar and half a hot dog from the ferry, then went to sleep.

101 kms.
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40. Sneaking up to Copenhagen (July 18)

There are two respectful ways to enter Copenhagen, one is sailing in, and the other is rolling softly in on a bike. One should take a full day to do it.

When cycling in these realms, one needs a particular set of skills. Kealena and Bruce kindly gave me a crash course, thereby avoiding unecessary calamity.

We rode north along the coastline from Køge, which was very pretty. Even the factories were pretty! Children splashed around in the sea, old people sat on benches looking over the bay, and cows slept in the shade of trees. Quaint yacht harbours, bridges and waterways chequer the landscape.

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Stopped to look at the ARKEN MUSEUM OF MODERN ART, which sits on a sand bank. Intriguing architecture – a stranded ship. A large collection of Damien Hirst, some Ai Weiwei, and  other important artists. Definitely worth a visit. The café hangs like a lifeboat on the side of the building. The lunch order took so long to come we thought we had been stranded. When it arrived, it was delicious, and the waitress gave us free coffee as a survival gesture.

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This is a super heater, it uses waste heat from other sources, to heat water which circulates through the homes in winter. Very efficient and clean. 98% 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 no pollution. No more boiler in the cellar.

At least they have these big fans to cool the country in the summer. Although they make it very windy.

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So happy to be in Scandinavia, the last section. At the same time, I’m a bit afraid of that long haul up the coast of Sweden. More than 600kms still to do, with all the mystery and the fatigue.

It’s not over till the Grandchildren sing, which I’m looking forward to very much.

 

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39. Bridging the Baltic Sea (July 17)

The great crossing began with a blue sun.

Our posh hotel elevator, being slightly too short for a bike body, had the girls doing a circus trick by balancing the front wheels up on the golden hand rail. It was a frizzling hot day, so we had ice-cream at the beach and a large Döner Kebab between fast biking sprints along the top of dykes along the coast.

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Regina was slightly shocked at my ability to eat with such ravenous gusto. What with my wiry arms and brown lizard skin, it wouldn’t be far off to call me a wild animal. Mentally and physically.

I hope I don’t scare off my grandchildren.

It was mid-afternoon before we reached the tunnel that goes under the river. Being Germany, and very organised, a shuttle bus pulled up at a cement ramp where we could wheel our bikes onto a bus sized bike-trailer. Special green ‘hands’ are positioned to grip the seats, and off we roared into the gloom.

When we got off, a nice man, who had just booked tickets for Johannesburg, told us to go one way, and the bus driver told us to go the other. So we went the way the bus driver pointed, and arrived at the Fehmarn bridge over the sound to the island, at Großebode.

A small dangling gate, a bit like Alice in Wonderland, was a surprising entrance to a very narrow path leads you up onto the bridge 22 meters above the sea, and the wind whips you all the way.Bike-ride_0189.jpgBike-ride_0190.jpgBike-ride_0191.jpgBike-ride_0192.jpg

Having said goodbye to my two ladies, I spun my wheels for the ship. Time to cross over to Denmark. My battery was running dangerously low, however I made a mistake and went down a long road, only to be told by a boy in a ticket box, that ‘you need to ride all the way back to the main road and take the next left’. A tall fence prevented any sort of short cuts. I sped along as fast as I could, but missed the boat.

Being very early for the next ferry, I stood with my bike in lane 1 of 10 empty lanes for 30 mins, until they began to fill up with cars and trucks. All were allowed to embark, except me, the last. I was also the last to disembark 45 minutes later but very pleased to put my tires on Danish turf.
It was late, so I booked into the hotel which stands between four roads, with a bunch of tired truck drivers. My room was nice, I took a much needed shower, and went to the dining room for dinner. Two men run the place, and the food was gourmet.

The morning was grey everywhere. I pushed my dusty bike out of it’s cozy foyer space and the front door snapped shut. My key had already been put in the box. A man was sitting on a bench smoking, and I asked him if he would mind opening the door for me, since my bags where on the inside. He said he had forgotten his key in his room. So we went around to the kitchen and tapped on the chefs window until he noticed and came to open up.

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According to La google, a train station was nearby, which raised the important question, would it be ok to take a train for 24 minutes if it was for a very good reason?

I realised that the distance to be ridden from Rødby, to meet up with Helle at Vordinborg at 11am, and still go on to meet Bruce and Kealena at Faxe, and still ride to Køge for the night, was beyond my abilities, even on an ebike.

So, with greyness all around, I attempted half-heartedly, to find the train. There were some big fences along some rusty railway lines, and you know all the stuff that lies around the back of railway sidings, weeds and broken up bits of cement. However, with some perseverance I found a little pathway around the end of some rails, and reached a place that looked like a public office. A ticket machine popped up, so I bought one for my bike and one for me. Then we went out on a very vacant platform with no words or numbers. After standing there feeling like a silly blonde for a while, two men in luminous green jackets yelled over from the far side of the fence, that I was to “come to that side…the train comes off the ferry and stops over here”.
So I pounced on my bike and scuttled around the little path to the far side of about 5 railway lines. A school group arrived with a teacher, who, in a very teachery voice, told me that was the right place as she has done it before and they were also going. “I know” she said, “I have done it before”.
Just then a little train arrived from the Copenhagen direction on the platform that I had so hurriedly left. There was a very large bike symbol on the side. It hummed and haaad for a while, then a conductor shouted over, that I should come immediately that side, as this was the train. So I leapt onto my bike and scuttled back around the rails, and just made it before he blew his whistle.
The school group and teacher stood and stared.
One learns that people are very kind and helpful, but it’s always best to ask the conductor of the train itself. He is the only one who really knows.

So there was 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 the road again. The road would still see us do 130 kms before evening.

I was very happy to see Helle and share a quick lunch and lovely conversation. Then pedalling onwards to Faxe where Bruce and Kealena were waiting with 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 smooth sea to the west. Dinner at the harbour was an Italian affair of linguine allo scoglio and Chardonnay! Again, wild animal me, gulped every scrap on the plate.

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38. Coasting along! (July 16)

Moments in Hamburg that I couldn’t resist sharing, even under sprinkling grey skies we were happy to explore.

 

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It was a sunshine and birdsong day as we rolled out of town, eventually, the three of us on our eeeee-bikes. It took us most of the morning to get going, city exits are always a bit complicated. Once you’re into the countryside it’s a breeze.

The cycle path we chose was once a railway, so it was very pleasant chuffing along the smooth, tarred surface.

Finding a coffee stop was not easy, nothing open for about 40 kms. We eventually reached a supermarket, mid-afternoon, where some caffeine relief was found, and Regina smiled once again. One becomes aware of circadian, nutritional, and sleep needs on a long journey such as this. I could write a very long blog about it, but I’ll spare you all that for now.

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These are the pictures missing from my previous blog of Lübeck…. a lovely old city, where I reached 3000kms and we celebrated with a glass of Proseco.
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Finally arrived at our Arthotel just before midnight. It was dark as we rode along the perfectly planned and pretty esplanade, which was lined with fabulous homes. Checked into our hotel at an ‘automated desk’, and flopped into white beds.  Regina put a bit of muscle cream on her sore knees which caused a rash and kept hopping for a few hours, poor lady. But she is always enthusiastic, so the morning saw us pedalling northwards along the coast to Puttgarden.

 

 

 

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37. Beautiful Baltic (July 14)

It has been 3 days since I wrote to you last. No time for blogging or photo uploading when I’m with friends. It is 6 am, and today is going to be a marathon ride. Off to breakfast now.

It rained on Wednesday, so Regina showed me around Hamburg, and I had a comfortable and dry day off. Photos to follow.

We rode together to Lübeck on Thursday, where we had a glass of Proseco to celebrate the big 3000km mark, right in the old centre. That evening we slept at the ArtHotel in Scharbeutz. Beautiful Baltic coast, lined with fancy homes and swish restaurants. Magical riding along there!

106 kms.

Slow start on Friday, but nice riding all the way up north towards Puttgarden. Said goodbye to Regina and Zoe at Burg, and dashed across to the ferry. Many huge trucks on the ship and one little bicycle.

Arrived in Rødby and took the first hotel…”Stop and Sleep”.

96 kms

 

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36. Hamburger sophistication (July 11)

What do you order for dinner in Hamburg?

Sweet-potato chips.

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But ask any Hamburger citizen and they will tell you with pride that the food here is highly sophisticated and exquisite. From rich and savoury to spicy and sweet, luscious meats, delightful veggies, free range biofriendly everything under the sun and rain.


I began the day at Zeven. A nice little town 86 kilometres by bike from my destination in the city.

The farms are perfectly manicured and manured, judging by the scents. I rode along adjacent to the main roads until Buxtehude, where I was supposed to head north (via the pretty part), sometimes ignorance is not bliss. Instead I  followed the googley girl’s shortest route which was along the edge of the highway to Harburg and then north into a melange of bridges and intersections, where my phone battery expired and left me stranded.

Fringe people don’t really speak English, but they understand enough, and I don’t really speak German, but I understand enough. Thereby communicating quite efficiently. However, the people I asked said it was possible to go into town from all directions. I just needed one. Thank Goodness for church steeples.

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Buxtehude is lovely, the old centre is perfectly preserved and interesting. I sat down there and ate my breakfast bun.
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Hamburg is a port city with an incredibly difficult history of fire, plague and war. But obviously the population is clever and resilient, so they have created a splendid city once again.
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A whole bridge for my bike and I… crossing into the city in style!
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Last night Regina and Michael, with their pretty niece Zoe, kindly hosted me. Regina hired ebikes so she and Zoe could ride with me tomorrow, but the clouds came up and the rain came down in buckets.

After an abundant breakfast we decided not ride out until the rain subsides a bit. I’m happy to have a day of rest in their lovely home.
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35. Grimm’s Bremen story (July 9)

Lucky find, the hotel in Neubruchausen, it was pleasant. I especially liked the knitted bunny incubating my breakfast egg.

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The scene changed dramatically when I went out of the door. WHAT THE grey sky!

The cycle path was mine all the way from Neubruchausen to Bremen, about 35 kilometres.

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Here are some pictures of random things I stopped to photograph along the way.

The camera is looking weary, and the strap has blackened my neck. It has done thousands of kilometres dangling under my arm without a lens cap.
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My heels dug into the pedals, because I don’t enjoy riding through the fringe of big cities. But Bremen has it all sorted out, and now you can go all the way in, on dedicated cycle tracks.
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Just a quick recap:  “The farm animals were old and mistreated, so they travelled to Bremen to become musicians. On the way they looked into the window of a little cottage and saw some burglars admiring their loot, so they made an altogether hideous noise, and the robbers ran away….but the robbers came back later that night. The animals kicked, bit, scratched and screamed at them, so they ran away and never came back, and the animals lived there forever”. Or happily ever after at least…
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Storks are bringing babies!
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The true Grimm story is about the wind. It came from the side and tried to flatten me and fly away with my panniers (bags). I struggled along for miles and miles, looking for a lunch place and not finding one.

Eventually I stopped at a bus stop booth for wind protection, and ate the half roll and cheese left over from the other day. It was surprisingly delicious. A swig of water and I was on my way with the wind howling in my ears.
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Just when the clouds hung darkly low I rode past an irrigation sprayer and heard pops on my helmet. I thought  “Oh no, now I’ll have to put on those plastic trousers”. But I didn’t.

When I arrived in Zeven, the first thing to do was circle around for a hotel. There was a fancy blue place with ‘restaurant’ written very large in gold. The lady said she didn’t have a room for me.

My luck was up, because the only other hotel in town, Hotel Central, did have a room for me, a very nice big room with beds covered in starched white sheets and duvets, and a soft white pillow….

88 kms

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34. Biking on. (July 8)

Riding together with Birgitta and Hanns Georg was fantastic, they knew where to go, so I didn’t need to navigate, and could just pedal along in bliss, babbling on. We had a delicious lunch in a big garden.

They let me go after about 60 kms. I had to go on over the hills. I felt suddenly quite alone after waving goodbye. Not knowing where I was going to go, so I could get to where I would end up. But that’s the story…

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There is a kind of faith involved, as long as there are roads and intersections and people, everything will be ok.

On a small country road near the industrial side of Osnabrück city, a group of about 20 young men, shirtless and shouting drunk, tried to block my way. They were playing, but the ancestral voices spoke to me. They screamed: “*&£$@”

I imagine that since the time of Eve, a lone foreign woman confronted by a group of young men in party mode, has never been a good thing. I powered my way between them and after a few seconds felt the old heart kick.

It is wonderful that we have come so far in this world, where a woman can travel more than 3000 kms across various countries and be safe. I suppose it’s very much safer to be an old crone like me who poses very little temptation to men.

My bed in the hotel opposite the station was clean. These days, I flop down without a second look. I walk around the room barefoot, so I may get a viruca, but that’s curable.

My slinky bike outfit gets a hand wash in the basin every evening. The water is always brown.

I’ve noticed my ostrich legs, the same sort of hardness, scaly skin, and redish colour near the ankles.

The sun goes down so late up north, it’s quite disturbing. I had the choice of closing the window against the noise and putting on the air-conditioning, or getting a steady supply of oxygen with noise. I chose the air-conditioning which was wrong. I woke up very early with a terrible thirst and a sore throat.

Nothing that a good ride couldn’t cure.

Riding out too early can be depressing. Cold air and no coffee.

After 15 kms of misery, I came across a path that was totally overgrown with nettles. It was the google cycle track. A kind man who was taking out his trash told me to go back up the hill and turn left. I did.

The perfume of baking bread came around the corner before I did. Real joy filled my stomach. I ordered the large coffee with milch, and a large piece of apple pie, then sat in a sunny window and gulped it down.

From there the road was all up, then straight. So straight, there was hardly an end. Pedalling and pedalling with not a peepee place in sight. Eventually I gave up on the idea of a nice biergarten, and took a small farm road. That was perfect, although one must be aware of stray stinging nettles when squatting.

I painted a little sketch, and ate my last power bar.

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The afternoon was also pretty straight, but it gave me a chance to clock up 106 kms without too much bother. Incredible how much power music has on the soul, I put on my iPod and earPods, and suddenly the world changed from sepia to a blast of handlebar tapping and singing out of tune.

I’m not going to tell you about the pig sty stinks, and the super loud tires of German cars that zoom past at 140 kms per hour.

So to finish up, I rode into Bassum, looking for a place to stay. Something about the weedy pavements put me in moody trepidation. After ringing the bell of a house which had appeared on booking dot com, and standing forlornly looking at the dwindling bit of ebike battery power, a very large man came sweating by with his tiny shiny black dog. It had one blind eye, and found my bike very scary. The big kind man said: “ You should go on to the next town, there is a Post hotel, they will have rooms for you”. I asked him to repeat the name of the place….”Neubruchausen”.

On the way there the cycle track fizzled out, so I broke the law and rode as fast as I could on a fast road. I took my helmet off, so the drivers could see they were dealing with a dizzy blonde, and so gave me a lot of space.

One usually prefers to take the cycle track next to the road. A very common bit of infrastructure up here in the north. Riding a bike on a main road is very annoying to the general driving population.

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106 kms

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33. 2500 km raspberry-pop shop. (July 7)

The 2500 km mark popped up directly in front of a raspberry farm stall. It was a happy moment after a day of riding through industrial parks and road works. I was negotiating yet another “umlietung” which took me off canal and through a farm. It had been a tough, hot, smelly day of riding through industrial parks, when Britta Jakobi, offered me some of her fresh raspberries to taste, and took my photograph.
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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 large area of crusty looking industry. It took me three hours to ride through it. My eyes burned terribly.
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Coffee stop, recharged phone, but it lasted only 20 minutes and so wandered lonely as a cloud until I found a yacht club where I had lunch and charged it again. The waitress pointed the direction of Heinrichenburg, but I decided to follow the signs instead.
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Very interesting place, Henrichenburg, where the ships get taken in and out of the water.

Found a nice place to sleep at Datteln.

Odometer: 2516

78kms

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Grey sky day. I had a nice invitation from Hans-Georg and Birgitta to stay with them. They sent me maps but I soon took the wrong turn, and thinking it was simply a ride along the river, didn’t bother to check on my google map.

A lock, from front and back.
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A long way later, in Lüdinghausen, found it was supposed to be Lünen, so had to change plans… but first a visit to a medieval expo at the castle.
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This is the path I frantically took to reach Ascheberg. Googley girl made me go through the farms.
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Birgitta kindly came by bike and met me in Acheberg, and we rode together to their home town Drensteinfurt. I was given a lovely welcome, and enjoyed the afternoon and evening in their company.

 

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Bike ride_0161.jpgFamous Haggi waffles with strawberries and cream.

 

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32. Goodbye my friend, Rhine. (July 5)

This is yesterday’s post. Hotel’s and hostels offer very poor wifi, so the blog cannot be shared when it should be, it has to wait for the next stop, just like many things in life.

The sun is dragging his billowing sky down to the smoking chimney stacks. A giant storm growled through dinner, but not a drop of rain fell on the canvas Erdinger umbrella.

Flammkuchen is a thin pastry crust with high edges. It is smeared with a thin layer of sour cheese, and usually one would have the traditional onions and speck sprinkled on top, but I chose sliced tomatoes and rocket. Eat it while it’s hot.

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Getting here from Monheim am Rhein, took me through Düsseldorf, where an enthusiastic young man at the bike shop sold me a gadget to attach the phone to the handlebars, so now I can see the map while I ride.

Düsseldorf surprised me with it’s simplicity, and I had no problem at all getting into town, and out of it again.

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From there the cycle path took me into a daydream, it was so so beautiful. Large old trees line the road, many old people pedal along too, some in wheelchairs, some on roller skates. You can just go for miles and miles through the fields without interruption.

A lunch place popped up on the edge of the river, tables set out under a dark green canopy of trees. “Poeusgeu”, rather fancy, to be found on the Alte Rheinfäre.

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

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Afternoons on the bike tend to get a bit hot and complicated, and after going around the same wheat field twice, I told Googlely-girl to take a break. I rode alone through many small towns, mostly very quiet, on the edge of a skyline of factory towers and billowing chimneys.

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On one of my unplanned reconnaissance missions around Duisburg, I found myself braking 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 in German.

Typing ferociously on his old clickitty-clacketty keyboard at high speed, I was astonished that he only managed three sentences. Seriously, this report will be sent to the police in Linz am Rhein, where I said I suspect the thief stole the things. There they will investigate the matter further. I hope I’m right about the location. What a bother.

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I’m losing sight of the Great River Rhine (english name). My route will take me eastward and away. It is a sad goodbye. Moving with the fast flow of a big river every day for so long has been incredible. We became friends, I got to know the scintilla, caught glimpses of the dark beneath, felt the heave and the power, and sang with the ancient.

Knowing that it goes on is a great comfort, from mountain to sea to sky to mountain.

Unfortunately we have heaved up dykes of stone and soil to contain it, plastered the banks with cement walls, hemmed it in, and blocked it up with locks. We dump vast amounts of chemical waste into it. We motor our cruise ships and barges up and down without rest, blasting it with fumes and a huge din of vibrations that resonate underwater.

A small bottle of water cost me Euro 5 this afternoon.

 

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Spent the night in a hostel Jugendherberge, Duisberg, Landschaftspark…in a rusty old Industrial zone, which was very interesting. Good preparation for the day to come…a day of Industrial parks.

The girl at the desk gave me their special handicap room, most likely because I looked like I needed help. It was very 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.

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31. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. (July 4)

Mostly very very good, a little bad and a tiny bit of Ugly.

Magnificent riding along the Rhein from Bad Honnef to Cologne. Thanks to those who have worked to make the cycle tracks there. Brilliant! There is also a ferry man that pulls you across a stream on a raft…wearing a sailor cap and a broad smile.

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signsAfter admiring the great cathedral in Cologne, my “Googledy girl” on the maps app told me to go west. Now, if you are stuck in the middle of an old city with a mish-mash of roads, how is one to know where WEST actually is? It was midday, so the shadows didn’t show…. couldn’t she just say go straight ahead, or turn around…?cathedral

After a lot of bother, I used my pigeon instinct and got out there. Only to realise 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 with a price tag that takes your breath away. As for my hat, it was brown, with a big flap around the back and a sun peak. Not beautiful but I liked it.

I cannot blame Cologne for that.  Someone must have made a grab for those the day before when I stopped at the supermarket for a green drink. I had presumed they were packed in my panniers.

Shortly after that I merged with the biggest industrial park in the world. All that concrete and tar and puffing chimney heat, mixed with hard sunshine, made the next hours of cycling slightly tougher. However, I finally found the river again, and crossed over on the ferry. From there on all I could think about was finding a place to stay, which I found at 17:30, and plonked down for an ice cold beer. A bit lonely.

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Odometer: 2371,6

distance today 83.32

 

 

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30. Loreley. (July 3)

Simon came to see me at the Loreley section of the Rhein for the weekend. A short relaxing break from riding my bike. We visited 5 castles on Sunday morning.

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The Bellevue Rheinhotel, a historic place to stay, if you’re looking for a bit of pampering.

 

Riesling wine tasting and gourmet cuisine. I think these two days made up for any lack of nutrition.
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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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We also took a small boat over to an island to see the customs house. Here the ships had to stop and pay taxes. History on https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pfalzgrafenstein_Castle
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Monday morning saw me dashing down river, hopping by ferry from side to side, whenever things looked more interesting there. The track is perfect up until Koblenz where it gets a bit lost in the industrial zone. An older couple complained, they thought it was an idyllic riverside tour all the way. It soon became idyllic once again.
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Having crossed over at Ermitz, the path fizzled out, and I found myself struggling along in the grass. But after some negative thinking up popped a lovely girl with a dog, and said I should persist. Soon to be in another small town. 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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I was happy to accept a very generous invitation to stay with Rolf and Bianca in Bad Honnef. They treated me to a sumptuous BBQ and good Italian wine. So good to see friends again! Loreley1 - 4

88 kms.

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29. Painting at the riverside. (June 29)

 

The morning was exuberant with fresh vineyards. Riesling grapes still budding on the vines. The Rhein is becoming greener too.

My little paintbox made happy colours and manifested this naivety.

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Someone had set up the perfect table and chairs on the riverbank just for me. I felt very happy under my number. Would a cruise ship tourist like to bid on 542….? Maybe not.

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It was a hot day, and so with a bit of meandering and hanging around painting, I didn’t do more than 30 kilometres. Thought I would be very soft on myself and book a room in advance. On arriving in the village, as a challenge to my searching and finding skills (no map), pedalled up and down looking for nr 43 Rheinhöenstrasse…  Lost that round, and had to ask a shopkeeper. She said “Oh that’s right on top of the mountain!! You can’t go up there with the bicycle, it is a very hot day”.

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I did go up, thanks to my E…. and have a pleasant room, but the river is nowhere to be seen from here. Tomorrow I’ll whizz down the hill to meet Simon.

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28. Würstsalat. (June 29)

Würstsalat has been bugging me since Freiburg. People order the stuff everywhere. At the biergarten in Bingen, today for lunch, a woman next to me ordered it, and so did I.
It was served in a glass jar with a lid.

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Rather fun to eat with a fork, a bit like spaghetti, but it didn’t taste remotely like pasta. Other than the vinegar, there are other ingredients involved, all of them unrecognisable to me. I presume the flavour is a mix of the standard salat cream (which may or may not contain diary), and the smokiness of the pink würst…which is in English just fancy polony.

It was rather satisfying to eat, although it must be doing terrible things to my cholesterol levels. I’ve got to stop having all these würsts, schnitzels, and bread with FAT….this evening I was served bread and a little ceramic dish of fat to put on the bread. It is perfectly white with bits of cured meat in it. I just took a tiny scraping….but the guilt was 100x bigger.

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This morning in Mainz, which is a lovely city, I found an E-bike shop and asked the nice smartly dressed young salesman, to please check my pedals. He did, and declared them – tight.
I got the feeling that he thought I was just looking for some attention. He wished me well and I whizzed away.Bike-ride_0085.jpg

Simon is arriving on Saturday to keep me company for the weekend. I’m very pleased, but rather concerned he will be a bit shocked at my vagabond appearance.

A month of sun and wind every day, has darkened my face to a motley brown (nose in particular) , but my glasses have protected my eye skin, so that’s all white, with pink piggy eyes (allergies). Arms are brown sticks with pronounced muscles, legs are tanned only on the back of the calves, and I still have tan stripes on the white feet. Back of the ankles are a mess from pedal bites. The hand bones seem very pronounced, with a vice grip!

As for my clothes, I wear the same stretch pants every evening, as it gets a bit cool at the terrace restaurants and there are mosquitoes around. The nice little frock I brought with me for the evenings is far too short for the leg tan.

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

This morning after the church bells gonged and gonged until i woke up at 6 am, I painted a new sign for the handlebar bag. The other one was dull and nobody was talking to me. So I made a very cheerful watercolour, with the Italian flag in one corner and the Norwegian in the other, and wrote Roma – Oslo.

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There was instant interest from passersby, and 3 lady cyclists form Amsterdam called after me: “Roma Roma…” so I stopped and we were like a gaggle of geese, getting all the info we could get about one another.

On the ferry crossing over the Rhein once more, a large group of loud men, doing their annual cycling tour, took it upon themselves to include me in their photographs. Then kindly offered ‘ladies first’ when we had to disembark on a steep bank. Haha, I shot up there so fast with my battery on turbo…and heard them all having a laugh.

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Odometer 2144.8
Only 60 kms today, as I don’t want to go too far as Simon will be coming in at the FR airport…and he will drive to wherever I may end up today.

Here are some pictures of the day.
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I am so sorry about the lack of maps, but the hotels have terrible wifi, so I can’t spend time checking how to make them and save them. Maybe next week when things get tough. I ‘ll be off the cycle tracks and navigating every wheel turn of the way.

Thanks to you all, for your encouragement and generous remarks. It gives me so much strength to carry on! Love!

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27. Big Green Umbrella. (June 28)

Today the wind came up against me. The tall poplar trees along the river bank clapped their silver leaves, making a high sound like a standing ovation at an opera.
It was a blue sky day, with puffy clouds dotted about. Birds of prey skimmed over the golden bristles of the harvested wheat fields looking for mice.

Getting out of the city of Ludwigshafen was like playing snakes and ladders, but there seems to be something good happening to my bird brain these days, that sends me off in the right direction.  On the outskirts of town in the industrial area, under a bridge, I had a hot beverage (coffee) with three old men. They wouldn’t believe I rode from Rome.

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I’ve noticed a strange phenomena, a bit too regular to be sheer coincidence. Maybe I’m getting a bit googledy-gook, but if I need something it just comes, like riding through a pop-up story book. Each page swings up at me, whether it be a cool-drink place, or a sign post, or the river, or a place to stay.

Bike ride_0077.jpgI dare not let anxiety pop-up, in case it manifests. But it is very reassuring to know that with proper attention and consideration at every intersection, the journey goes on. This is a selfie in an empty sandpit.

Worms had no redeeming features. I asked a girl near the station: ” Juligung Juligung, where is the centrum, the altstadt…innerstadt??”. She replied “You are in it, this is Worms”.
At the bakery-cafe, three large flies rested on the cheesecake. The cakes looked huge and very delicious, but I went riding around looking for a lovely square somewhere I could sit and eat one. But no luck. The garden down at the river was lovely though.

Bike ride_0078.jpgLater, while sitting at a table under a big green umbrella having a salad on the banks of the Rhein, extraordinary long barges came sailing upstream loaded high with containers or piles of sand. They don’t make much of a wave. When I got up to leave, a large spider landed on my chest, and I did a little jig and beat my chest like Tarzan. I think I damaged it.Bike ride_0079.jpg

Pedalled and pedalled all day, usually along the dykes. There were a handful of other cyclists, and some of them were loaded with panniers for longer trips. I followed a man who looked like he knew where he was going. He had a one-wheeled trailer attached to the back of his bike, loaded with his camping gear. Once we were on a wider section of cycle track, I rode alongside him and said ‘guten Tag”. He told me he had just completed 2000kms, and I said ‘me too’, but he looked at me strangely. I should have said ‘BRAVO’ instead, then he would have chatted longer. Every bit of lone cyclist conversation out here on the dykes is precious.

Bike-ride_0080.jpgA river of this magnitude must be harnessed. It’s a pity really. Another natural wild thing, domesticated by humans.
Something that begins with a twinkle on the mountain peak then joins with other twinkles until it becomes powerful flowing force, such magic.

My cousin Ramsey is curious to know what I think about all day on the bike. Well, I’m trying to understand the great mysteries! And think of all my children and family and friends of course, but most of all learning about my silly foibles.

I was fortunate to find a room in a pleasant hotel. The chef was sick, so I was sent to the Sports Bar for a large schnitzel and beer. I was the only happy person there, as I didn’t realise Germany had just been kicked out of the world cup soccer tournament.

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

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

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26. 2000 km Jube-jubelation. (June 27)

Today, this afternoon, at 16:30, we stopped for ice-cream at Jesolo eis, to celebrate our 2000 km moment. Us, being my bike and I.
A lovely young lady Kira very kindly served a trophy pistachio and fresh kiwi sundae, and took a photograph of my CUBE trekking bike with me behind it eating the eis.

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The bike has performed excellently so far. The front tire needed a bit of air once, at a garage in Austria. Having never pumped up a tire before, the hiss of the air hose gave me quite a fright. Other than a bit of oil on the chain, everything is working well. Especially the brakes. They are fancy Shimano disk brakes, which are most necessary on very steep embankments.

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I slept until 7 am this morning at Hotel Sonne in Neuberg, and feeling a little guilty, had a quick breakfast and headed out of town. Soon the river came into view and it was glorious rolling along the path with the water twinkling in the morning sun. Forest on my left and river on my right. Later at a large road intersection a lovely cyclist came along. Unfortunately I didn’t get her name, but she is Swiss and did 1000 kms so far. Her birthday is on the Swiss National day and she’ll be 60. She certainly looked a lot younger. You see, biking is good for everything. After a good chat, we had to move in our opposite directions, but we could have talked all day. She is the first and only solo lady cyclist I have come across since Rome.

Made a call to Tyrone to ask him where I should go next. I’m having problems with planning, since I don’t have a paper map. The solo cyclist had a very nice waterproof map book of all the tracks along the Rhein. Google maps helps, but it doesn’t show the velo 15.

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Had a long singing ride along the dykes, and found a spot for lunch in the middle of nowhere. Well I had no idea where, but it was somewhere in the middle.

Buffet for Euro 8.60. They do love their polony salad.
Germersheim was nice, the info desk officer showed me about eight different maps for cyclists, but none had enough scope for my day.
I couldn’t find the arch that was printed on all the stuff in the info shop. So, I went on, in a way that Simon would have frowned upon. No map, no plan, just faith.

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Speyer is a very interesting place with a long and convoluted history. First there is a technical museum with all sorts of things that mostly boys love, and a giant imax cinema. There wasn’t a show on at that moment, otherwise I would have stayed. A large Lufthansa aircraft on stilts is open to tourists, one can see them go out on the wing.

The old city is beautiful, worth a another visit for sure. Nice and spacious with pretty architecture.

After leaving Speyer, the villages came and went. – Otterstadt – Waldsee – Limbergerhof…. I saw storks and greeted a dalmatian, amongst a myriad other things. A pink frog leapt out of the bush into my path, birds chirped, tractors made dust, and my thoughts were on philosophical matters.
Then my thoughts about the upcoming night began to pester me. So I headed for Ludwigshafen, where I hit the 2000 km mark and had the ice-cream. But that was not all. The kind people sent me on, and I found a hotel at the river with some difficulty. Basically, the hotel staff was convinced the hotel was fully booked, and will send one packing, when in fact Booking.com has reserved a room for last minute people like me. All you need to do is go outside, book it on your phone, then go back in again and embarrass them.

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I unwittingly gravitated towards Ludwigshafen, which is the site of BASF, the largest integrated chemical factory in the world.
The receptionist at the hotel said: “I don’t drink the tap water here, but you can if you want to”.

Sneaked off to an Italian restaurant for a little pasta.

It is almost full moon, we left Marino a moonth ago today.

96 kms

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25. Strasbourg. (June 25)


Sunday was a celebration day for us, our precious Elia turned ONE.
What a joy it is to have two fabulous grandsons, and a baby on the way!


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Now that my feet are firmly in socks and sandals on German soil, I can talk about practical issues without embarrassment.
The question I am asked the most is ‘how is my bum?’

The answer is: fine.

I know that’s hard to believe. Fine doesn’t mean perfect, and after an hour or two of cycling, standing up on the pedals helps to alleviate any discomfort, but I think my lady parts are gonna be ok.

I seem to have a lung issue which I’m not very happy about. Copious amounts of tree pollen and the general road and field dust billow into my lungs all day.
Same applies to eyes and ears. I put allergy drops in my eyes every morning and that seems to keep the sneezing at bay. I cover my mouth with my stretchy scarf thing when riding through swarms of gnats.

Finally my old gloves (which I may have stolen from Megan) fell apart, and when paying for coffee the cashier would throw my change at me as to not come in contact with a tramp. They are now a murky grey with large holes.The old bony hands get a bit tired of holding onto the handlebars, so I bought them a fancy new pair of white gloves, which I don’t like nearly as much. I can’t wipe my nose on them.

One can get a bit blasé after a while, once the actual riding technique has been learned, about paying attention to small things like pavement edges and sand pits, and those small paths around closed booms. Especially pedalling with one hand on a hip at 25 kms per hour. My luggage weighs about 18 kilograms, with computer on board, so one must avoid pointy stones while checking for a speeding car, while watching for the track signs, while looking for photo opportunities.

Today I rode past an army barracks onto a small path, and had a regiment of soldiers running at me in single file. Didn’t get a look as I was doing a wobble to avoid crashing into them.

Crossing the bridge between France and Germany was fine, no cycle track, so cars just had to hang back in a queue behind me. But I have to say this, the smell of cows was waiting!

On the French side – nothing, just fragrant trees, but just half a kilometre across the Rhine… ..phew!
Do the French import their meat from Germany? After that it was chicken schtink, then a farmer spraying his field with pig swill which made me gag.

The Mercedes factory is just south of Rastatt, and a car-carrier truck piled up with brand new Mercedes sedans pulled into the road ahead of another large truck, as it was coming along at German speed. There was a lot of hooting, but no crash.

If you book a hotel on the day, don’t expect to find somebody actually on the premises. One must call at about 5pm, and hope to find somebody there.
I was the only guest at ‘L’Ermitage last night, so had my supper in the room. The owner said she would bring it up on a tray in 30 mins, but after an hour I went down to see if I had misheard. She was having her supper with the chef. She brought it in for me, and I was very pleased. Some leaves and hunks of cheese, slices of ham and a bottle of water. The remains of the day.

Strasbourg is lovely. Avenues of plain trees along the canals.

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I bought a little stork, which is symbolic of Strasbourg, hoping it will bring me more grandchildren.

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This man was playing the sax so beautifully, I couldn’t move…

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Tram way in central Strasbourg.
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I stayed in Marienthal last night, it was a bit further off my track than expected, as places to stay around here are hard to find. It was another story getting there…

Today was a green and gritty ride, a long way on the eastern dyke, which is forbidden apparently. I was forced to do some bush-wacking, and scale a strange overpass.
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Found this monument to Goethe in Sessenheim. He met his beloved Fiederike there.

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Lunch place at Rastatt.
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Found a place in Neuberg for tonight, the Sonne hotel.  Terribly slow internet, but great Greek food!

70 kms

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24. A Bicycle is a marvellous machine (June 24)

Riding a bike along the banks of a river has a profound effect on the rider. The river softly massages away one’s knotty moods, while the bike carries you along at a pace neither fast nor slow…it goes at the exact speed you need to be propelled, so as to see most of the beauty, and avoid most of the ugliness.

You can slow down instantly to watch the black shine of a ravens back as it flaps off your path, or speed up past a sewage processing plant, or swerve and call out to a swan.

The bicycle is the most perfect machine ever invented.

Not only is it virtually harmless to our Earth, it also cures diseases of the body, mind and soul. Better than yoga, better than pills, better even than a glass of wine.

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I was happy to roll back to the river, after my little sojourn in Freiburg. Cities are nice for a bit, then all that swarming ant-like behaviour and bad air gets too much.

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I muddled along enjoying the various landscapes, thinking if there were no hills then it must be going down to the river. You would imagine that to work if you were lost in a jungle, wouldn’t you?

Yes, I did reach the river at the end of the day, but only after some rather quiet tracks. Surprisingly there was a little ferry motoring across between Germany and France. It was not my intention to cross at this point, but I thought ‘what the heck’, the road had brought me all the way here through fields of maize and wheat, and dark woods, why not!?

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Good thing it did, because on the French side, there was an info office where a pleasant lady behind the desk said: ” Everything is full, there are no accommodations around here”, but she saw my expression and so flipped through a brochure, and called ahead and booked me a room for the night. Maybe, because she was putting crosses on the map, my side up, that her cross was put in another town altogether. So after a lot of pedalling to reach the town with the cross on it, and doing a twirl around an industrial zone, my eagerness was baffled.

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It is asparagus season here.

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I had to resort to google maps to find my hotel, just when I was enjoying the crinkle and flutter of a printed map.

The pretty town of Erstein.
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WhallaaaH! The hotel of Erstein. Dinner was delicious, aromatic herbs and Dijon mustards……I was in France!
Except they had no wifi, so this blog was not published when it should have been.

79kms

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23. Black Forest Gateau. (June 22)

No sign of the famous Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte so far. Maybe the world famous Black Forest Gateau will make an appearance at my next destination, which would be Freiburg, although I doubted I would make it that far in one day.

2018-06-22_0001.jpgThe journey was not without highs and lows, although the terrain was flat. Steel works, water works, chemical works…
After a good breakfast, I was back to pedalling along thinking abut all the wonderful people I love.

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I went up to Basel to see a bit of Switzerland again before diving into the depths of Germany. It looks immaculate and rich. With particular attention to signage. The things one can and cannot do, especially on bikes, are clearly advertised.

Being a bit fuzzy myself, those bright red signs made me happy to traverse the city. The final sign, at the entrance to a roundabout pointed to Freiburg 77 kms. After circling a few times I stopped to ask a policeman which road to take, he said he didn’t know anything about Freiburg.

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2018-06-22_0005.jpgMy chosen road took me to Huningue, which sounded good enough. However, I should have crossed over the river there because I ended up passing through many vacant chic French villages, and then Niffer and Blodelsheim and Fessenheim. None of which had people in them.

At a greenly painted hotel I came across the first rude woman of my trip. She rolled her eyes dramatically when I asked her if she could be so kind as to charge my battery a little bit. I said I would pay. She plugged it in with a dramatic gesture.
There were some very long and lonely stretches here, and I have to admit to performing my first bush-pee. It was not difficult to be seen squatting amongst the sugar beet dressed in luminescent pink.

Lunch consisted of stolen goods from B&B Jasmin. My bike served as a picnic table. Nutella, egg, apple, and a slice of horse food (sour bread). Washed down with a gulp of water.

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The photography of the day is dismal due to my speedy urgency to reach Freiburg, which is way off my track. Also, the pictures are not edited because my lightroom has gone on the blink.

The final hours on the bike were divided between a boy on a push scooter colliding with my pannier and then apologising…golly that was a close call. Riding through a large hole which sent my phone flying. I noticed about 2 kms down the road so raced back and found it lying in the middle of the path. A wasp up my sleeve, which stung me repeatedly while I was on the phone trying to book my accommodation.

Do you know that  kind of fatigue where pain is just a secondary sensation?

Negotiating the cycling traffic of a higgledy piggledy old university city at 18:00 was a new experience for me. No rules apply. There must surely be a million bikes here!

When choosing appropriate accommodation on the budget list, remember to enquire whether there is a lock up area for your beloved bicycle. Gasthaus Löwen does not, although it’s a very charming old place to eat.

I removed everything possible from the bike, including my whale bell, flower, carriers, lights etc, and pushed her in amongst all the other bikes parked on the street.

The person in charge of the rooms was not available to let me in, so I sat down at the restaurant table with flat hair and smelly clothes. A polite man who retired to Lago Maggiore sat near me. He knew all the Alpine bike tracks. He also said my bike will definitely be stolen, whether chained or not.

According to the restaurant staff, there was a secure bike parking at the train station. So I hastily dragged my bike off for another kilometre, and asked the eyelash girl at the info desk in the station. She said “no, there was no parking for bicycles”.  I rode around the corner and there was a large round bike parking station. A young lady helped me figure out the in’s and out’s of the ticketing system, all written very accurately in German.

These photos were taken on my way to pick up my bike in the morning. I was overjoyed to see it, poor thing, all covered in dust. On the way there I had stopped in a shop and bought her a little present of some stickers to brighten her up. (A bicycle is female…biciclettA)
2018-06-22_0010.jpgMy room looks fine in the picture, but you cannot hear the large extractor fan outside the window which drew up all the cooking fumes from the kitchen. In the morning I looked for another place to stay, which was much more expensive, except the staff wouldn’t allow me in before 15:00. A slightly off-day sitting in the dining hall with my panniers at my feet. I might mention that university students are not into serving shabby old foreign cyclists.
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All I managed to do this afternoon, other than sleep, was wash my clothes at a laundromat, with the help of a very-very thin man dressed entirely in black.

As Jane says, no matter how fast you ride, laundry always catches up with you!

New record distance:

114 kms.

 

 

 

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22. Bed bugzzzi. (June 22)

The only men I attract by my appearance these days, are those with noisy machines. – mowers, tractors, builders and lorry drivers. Even the rubbish truck man made a comment after a near miss. I don’t think it was complimentary.
But the hoteliers usually always shake my hand when I leave, which is sweet.

My ebike has a little onboard computer which gives me four cycling modes, depending how much battery help needed for the terrain. I have added another mode: “LOST”, which is especially helpful for dizzy blondes.

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I wish it had “find the perfect hotel room” mode as well. My industrial park motel room, which I shared with my bicycle, was a bit bleak. When I picked up my panniers off the floor a couple of bed bugs crawled away. EEEK!

Luckily, thanks to a very disturbing fly that buzzed around me the entire night, I had got into my silk sleep sack, which unwittingly had prevented those dreaded bed-bug bites. Now all my clothes need washing. Good thing, as they haven’t seen a washing machine for 4 weeks.  The buzzing fly was telling me something more? (Hand washing my clothes every evening is not quite enough. My claws are very tired at the end of the day.)

Whistling along through yet another completely vacant village, I came across a swimming pool. It was the hottest day so far, and there was a blackboard with a fast food menu scribbled on it. The combination of pool and food was too much to resist. A nice round Italian Mama was dragging her crying little boy out of the water, he wanted to stay and swim like all the other little kids….but she whined: “DEVI MANGIARE AMORE!!!”… . (you must eat my love).

I collapsed into the large blue pool of icy water right on the banks of the river. The boy who made the brätwurst couldn’t believe how fast such an old person could eat the thing and wash it down with fanta. Not my standard order, but with a good dose of ketchup and mayo, it was delicious.

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Cooling towers, steel works, and other industry to be seen along the Rhine. Quite a contrast to the sweet little old towns.

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The bridge from Germany to Switzerland. I didn’t cross it. Switzerland is much more expensive. The Swiss like to swarm over the border to do their shopping, and then get the tax refunded!

At about 15:00 I usually begin to worry about accommodation. Around here there are no obvious places to stay along the route. Even toilets are very hard to find, and being a lady, one cannot just piddle on the side of the road like the men do. This is not Italy where you can find a crowded  friendly cafe at the centre of even the tiniest village.

There are long stretches of shady bike tracks, then some streets and intersections which can be a bit complicated, and then the signs direct you along farm roads through cultivated fields. One of the hazards of biking through the fields are the irrigation sprays, which I have learnt to speed past while they turn. A light sprinkling wouldn’t be a problem in this weather, but they are like a waterfall and rather blinding.

Checked my booking.com for a place to stay, and found Pension B&B Jasmin, off track at Karsau. On the way up a steep hill there was an ebike shop. Feeling very happy to have a reason to stop, I asked the huge man for some chain grease. He showed me how to apply some oil. Since then it doesn’t seem to change gear very well, and clatters terribly.

Nobody was at B&B Jasmin, so I plonked myself down at a Pub down the road. Tested out my German a little bit. Very traditional place that smelt of cigarettes and sour beer. I ordered Rinderleber with balsamico, and the man said it was cow heart. It took me some moments of revolted consideration, and I thought, oh well, maybe it’s good for courage, love and emotion. Strangely it tasted exactly like liver and onions, but good enough for the necessary amino acids and iron. Washed down with wine of course.

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What the doctor ordered

I was way too tired to write this blog, but please note, I still manage to put on some  lipstick once in a while but my hair is a fright.

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63 kms today, not too many but it was really hot.

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21. Emerald River blues. (June 19-21)

19 June 2018.

Early morning ride along the southern shore of lake Constance (Bodensee in German) which forms the border between Switzerland and Germany, was so calm after the turbulent river that feeds it, unlike me who woke up in the night with vertigo!

I was horrified of course, and so worried that I would not be able to ride.

Got up on my bike and off I went, no problems so long as I didn’t look up!

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Very quiet little villages along the way, only builders and road workers to be seen. After an hour of looking out for a coffee bar, eventually pedalled up to a little bakery where two ladies and three dogs sat at my table and we chatted for a while. Gulped down a delicious hot croissant with a cappuccino.

Fantastic choice for bike rides here…

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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.
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Zipped passed the ancient city of Constance, pity to miss the medieval part across the river, but went on to Stein-am-Rhine instead to see the frescoes.

A Chinese tour group were being herded by their guide, he was yelling at them to look at this look at that, and they all had their phones up to their faces taking photos of this and that.

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The colour of the Rhine is singularly beautiful here, with its shifting emerald greens and turquoise greys. It mesmerises as it swirls along with surging whirlpools while sighing against its banks.

Such a joy to be riding with this enormously famous waterway. Beats washing windows at home.
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After lunch in Schaffhausen (a delicious mango-curry-coco soup), I saw the falls at Neuhausen am Rheinfall… Apparently only eels manage to wiggle their way up these falls.
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About the body, two noticeable changes happening now that I’ve reached 1500 kms. My hearing has improved, and my bum has lifted!
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Arrived very tired at Waldshut-Tiengen to find my pre-booked motel room in an industrial zone, 3 kms away from any restaurant..

Todays ride – 100kms

Odometer 1510.9

average speed 18kph.

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20. Singing down to the Bodensee. (June 18)

I dropped down from the mountain ice, with the river misting at my side. From Stuben to Bludenz to Nenzing to Feldkirch. My wheels spun fast between the trees, until the land began to plain, and the white stream expanded into a calm turquoise lens.
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The tunnel panic wasn’t so bad this time, being Sunday morning, the traffic minimal.

There was an Austrian Oompah band playing in a carnival tent, and around the corner stood this beautiful black horse. I took this shot from the hip.

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I’m officially over the hill. There will be no more mountains ranges until I reach Oslo. Quite sad.

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Noticed the change in architecture and the cooking smells wafting from the houses.

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The Rhine River deserves a mention…Rhenus, Rein, Rhein, le Rhin, Reno, Rijn…. I will be following it for the next 1000 kms, so we’ll get to the whole history and geography of it later.

When the road flattened out, I felt it was finally time to admit I was going to Oslo, so I wrote ROM – OSLO on my front carrier label. This had a magic effect on the people around me. Paolo was the first to approach me to talk about the journey, and from then on everyone has been much more friendly and inquiring. They all say….”going solo” with astonishment.

By now the number of HELLO’S that have been said per day, must be nearing a million. A smile works wonders with passing cyclists, and they generally smile back. I sail along from smile to smile.

103 kms later, in Rorschach, Switzerland, I flopped into a bunk bed in this youth hostel. Felt rather like an old codger, but was very pleased to have the room to myself. It had a fabulous view over the lake and a basin in it where I washed my textiles.
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The plugs and the money are different in Switzerland. All my electronic equipment could not be charged. So I went out looking for food, which was a lot of trouble for my legs. Some nice ladies fed me some green asparagus spears with very yellow hollandaise sauce, and a little beer. – €26.00.

The world cup soccer – Switzerland versus Brazil game was on. Shame, they were all so enthusiastic, boys shouting from cars covered in red and white cross flags speeding past. As I left the restaurant the rain came pouring down and I had a soggy barefoot walk all the way back to the hostel. My sandals are very slippery on the inside when wet.

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The first thing I look for in a hotel room, is how many plugs there are. The hostel room had one that didn’t work. My ebike battery was critically low on power after 103 km even if it was mostly downhill. Here is a sketch to show you exactly how many electronics I carry with me in my panniers.


Jumped on the bike in the morning, and had 30 kms on the display…of course I could pedal without power, but it’s like going from riding a black stallion to riding a cow.

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A cyclist told me yesterday that the weather would be bad today. I have heard that so many times, and it turns out perfectly fine.
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Friends come in all shapes and sizes. This little sparrow had coffee and a biscuit with me.
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Just tell me how many bike paths do these people have!?!  So many choices! I am taking the Eurovelo 15, which runs next to the Rhine, via Basel.

There wasn’t the exact, perfect looking restaurant in Kontanz area, so I took a chance and went on with only 5 kms of power left on my ebike. Suddenly I was out in the countryside with fields as far as the eye could see, but at least it was flat in case my black stallion turned into a cow.

With just 1 km to go, a hotel appeared like a genie from a bottle, and I fizzled into the bike parking space.

The menu was: “Salad, Il Risotto al pomodoro with fried feta…and a banana-berry smoothy.   After lunch I asked the waiter if they had a room free, and in a flash I was booked into the hotel, and my cables were all plugged into the walls of my room.
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Little bowl of sunshine.
if you get lost
Sunday 17, Odometer: 1366.3 – today ‘s trip distance 103 kms, average speed 18.6 kph. Monday 18. Odometer 1410.4 – today 44 kms…

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19. Arlberg Pass to Stuben (June 17)

It was the first day of my 3 week trip so far, that I had absolutely no idea where I was going. The thought of a steep pass made me anxious, so I delayed along the way and dabbled with my paint and took leisurely photographs of flowers.
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Dilly-dallied all the way along the valley, enjoying the sunshine and thinking about philosophical questions.

As with all things, the time came to confront the monster. I could choose to go by train through the tunnel, a short journey, or should I go over the top?

What do you think?

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The first avalanche gallery I came upon was steep and many cars and buses came zooming past. The noise was a tremendous echo which is now on my scary list!
I looked up and saw a bus full of people staring down at me. A big sob came bubbling up and got me in the throat, and I had to make an emergency call to my imaginary team.
They answered: Mom you’re the biggest naff we have ever seen, just pedal! No sympathy at all!
So I went on, and the tunnel ended, and it was bright and beautiful there. The views were amazing.

Stopped for lunch at an Alm in St. Christopher where I sat under a big orange umbrella on a mountain top, eating delicious rösti with a fried egg, a decorated  krauti salad, and giant glass of apple juice. That fixed me for bit.

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None of the hotels were open for the summer, so I had to go on. My battery was almost empty…and I didn’t relish the thought of another steep climb.
But the road wiggled around some curves and then went down very steeply, with zippy switch-backs. Harley Davidson motor-bikers by the dozen came blasting past.

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Stopped along the way to book a room at Stuben, using booking.com on my phone. When I arrived at the Apres Post Hotel it looked way too posh! Maybe I had missed a digit on the price. A mistake like that could easily happen while wearing my sports glasses…they’re polaroid and my phone is really tiny.

However, my happiness level went soaring when it was clear that the price was correct. Golly, how luxurious. To top it all, the staff were all pretty girls dressed in traditional costume (dirndl) and they were friendly and efficient.

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The spa was included, so I had a perfectly solitary swim in a very interesting jacuzzi pool made of stainless steel. At first the shadows play games with your imagination, but you get used to it.

Dined very finely, but the internet didn’t work, so the blog is now a day old.


Don’t take the short cut, you might miss something. Like the people in the bus, they never saw the transparent stream far below the road, the cow that talked to me, the weasels, and they didn’t smell the scent of that flowering tree… and of course, feel the panic in a tunnel.

I am also learning that one must deal with what’s right in front of you, then mostly what you think is a bad thing, actually turns out magnificently.

Last word – you can do much more than you think you can.

 

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18. How to ride in heaven. (June 15)

First of all, the man did not make another appearance.

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At Burgusio, where I escaped the man and spent the night, there is the magnificent Marienburg Monastery. We have visited before thanks to Susanne, Simon’s sister. Incredible to see, the highest Benedictine monastery in Europe. The library there has recently been renovated and the book collection is vast. Architecture and technology have come together here in a brilliant way.

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A perfectly smooth road, mostly to yourself, that winds downhill through floral meadows and cool forest glades. Heaven?

 

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Miles of cycle track winds down from the lakes of the Reschen Pass, passing over the border into Austria. The villages along the way are perfectly kept, with bright flowers, window decor, and copious roses. I didn’t get pictures today, due to reluctance to stopping on a downhill.
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My bike is actually facing the wrong direction in the shot, I turned and came back to take the picture for the sign in the background.

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See what I mean, just heavenly!
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Then things got crazy. It was all a bit wasted on me being so old, but the youth would absolutely love going down a super twisty road, dropping meters per second into a raging ravine. The beginning of the Inns river. Wild noise!!

The road turned left for St. Moritz and all those fancy Swiss peaks, but I went right through a terrifying ravine, on a road, where the cliffs went directly up into the sky. My fancy new polaroid glasses tend to enlarge things and make them more vivid. Cars travelled at a lot more than 100 kph. In the non-tunnel roofed-road-thing to prevent stones from falling on your head, the noise was extreme.

Maybe I’ve had too much forestry-quiet lately.

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I didn’t bother to put on my wide-angle lens for the valley,  as photos don’t do it justice.

It’s simply awesome. Not “oh AWESOME!!” …but awesome with your mouth hanging open and your brain doing expansive reorganising to fit the visuals, and your heart skipping beats because the raw power of the universe is present.

You become the little jelly bean you really are, a tiny bag of complexity wrapped in a very fine membrane, creeping along on a bicycle.

The river is this raging torrent of white water that echoes off the cliffs which are balancing blocks of rock that, if even a small one should fall it would turn you into a fossil instantly.

I really admire the people who have lived in these mountains, they are super humans. As for the cows, they all have brass bells around their necks and stand with their sides against the grass the graze. They look like stickers on a green wall.
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There are many cyclists on the pass, mostly couples (wives on ebikes) or fleets of racers (mixed gender). Quite a few women day-riding, but always in pairs or more.

I have not seen any solo female bikers doing long distance.
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Landeck. Simon made it sound as if it were just around the corner. Thought I might have lunch there. 85kms later @ 17:00 and there I was flat out exhausted again. It was beautiful all the way, and the bike tracks are amazing….but almost 5 hours on the seat….

Found a hotel. Nice big room, with dinner and breakfast included. I was the only one in the dining room at 18:00. The manager is very chatty and knowledgeable, he worked on the QE2. I presume as a chef, as he was very knowledgeable about food.

Usually around mid-afternoon I stop to check (on my phone app) for a room on booking.com. I try to get the cheapest one, but they all begin at around 50 Euro. I prefer the places recommended for their “especially clean rooms”. Most expensive was 80 Euro which was in Trento at the Everest Hotel. All the places I have stayed have lovely new bathrooms, with good showers, and little bottles of fragrant shower gel. Most noticeable after a sweaty day.

I know some people think you just sit on an ebike and go places.

A long shower is a big highlight of the evening, before any fussing with photo downloads. My skin is completely brown on some bits and cream on others, like a giraffe. I would take a picture of my foot stripes, but hehe, maybe tomorrow. My nose is dangerously tanned. My legs are shaping up a bit. I think.

The food has been great. Every evening I’ve been lucky with restaurants or hotels where the food is decent. A little glass of wine is necessary to relax after all the bumping and steering and pedalling. As for choosing, I have noticed that pasta is the easiest thing to digest, and I have no problem gulping down a good crunchy salad. Difficult to finish a whole portion though. Today for lunch I had half a power bar and felt perfect.

The rest of the evening is spent downloading the photos, fixing them a bit and writing this blog. Usually I chat to Simon, my kids or friends on whatsapp, so haven’t felt lonely yet. It has been 3 weeks of cycling and staying at a different place each night.

I am so grateful to Simon for sponsoring me, and for helping me navigate. This trip is a luxury beyond measure!

 

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17. Val Venoster. (June 15)

What a wonderful day, pedalling up through the valley towards the Resia/Reschen pass. A famous and very popular bike track, but people mostly go down hill to Merano, then catch the little train back up to their hotels.

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The mountains have white ice toppings. I’m very nervous about going up there.

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The emerald idyllic landscape sweeps up to pointy peaks. I saw a giant weeping willow, an apple-packing shed covered with solar panels, apple orchards…the apples are still babies.
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Then came my big moment, when I reached 1000 kms, since setting off almost 3 weeks ago.
It happened at the apple store. One helps oneself, and puts a coin in the box.

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It was on that spot, while a happy Italian couple were kindly taking this photo of me, that ‘the man’ arrived on his bike. He talked very fast about cycling 800 kms in Siberia. The kindly Italian then told him that I had just completed 1000 kms from Rome.

It came about that the man was also heading north, so he rode along just ahead of me, raving about all his cycling accomplishments and who knows what. Unfortunately, these fancy cycling jersey’s cause some bacterial activity which cannot be helped. So following in his wake was not very pleasant at all. I did my best to overtake and shake him off.
I dashed into a biking bar, and hid my bike amongst a group of others. But that didn’t work and there he was offering me a drink. I plonked down next to a German couple and pretended they were my friends. They understood the situation, and played along. The man vanished.

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After lunch, just 1 km down there road, I saw the man again, washing his shirt in the river. He waved at me going passed.
This was a national park, so I was happily cruising along when the man suddenly appeared next to me, saying something about the gravel road: “It’s only another 4 kms”

I overtook him again and went as fast as I could to the next town Prato Allo Stelvio. Thought I’d lost him. It was a bit uphill and he didn’t have an ebike.

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After Prato, a very pretty little lake-side cafe beckoned to me, and there I had the most delicious Apple Strudel with hot custard, and coffee. The ducks quacked and fish got hooked. Took a little toddle to get some pictures of the blue water. Chatted with Simon on the phone. Sat on a bench in the sun. Smiled at the children.

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When I felt enough time had passed, and the man would be long gone…. guess who was there lying on the grass next to my bike! He jabbered on asking personal questions about whether I have a hotel booked etc. I tried not to be too rude, but answered nothing.
Took a photo of him and sent it to Simon.

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I rode off and there he was again, like a fly.  My pepper spray and a knife stays in the handle-bar bag. Should I get them out and keep them in my pocket?

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This is the Adige River.

The road that I’m taking has a very long ‘super’ history too, it’s called the Via Claudia Augusta, and was built by the Romans in 15 BC. A military road over the Resia pass. You can see all the details on Wikipedia.

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The wind came down from the pass and it was quite hard going on the uphills. The man couldn’t keep up.

Arriving in a village, I got a huge fright when the man appeared from a side road, and crossed my path shouting “Ecco La”….there she is!

I pounded away at my pedals, put the bike in turbo and rushed up the steep track. Going as fast as I could, while my battery rapidly lost power. The track led through deep forest, and my little heart was beating at a terrible rate. The next village wasn’t the one I thought it was, and in a panic realised my battery would probably run out before I reached Burgusio where I had booked a room. Horrible thoughts of pushing my bike up the steepest of steep track while the man hunted me down…

I reached the top with 1 km of battery power to go. Switched on the google voice to tell me where my hotel was and got there in a flap. Hopefully the man didn’t watch me.

He will probably appear again today, as he knows I’m going over the pass, and there is only one road.

This is my bedroom window in the tower…
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not really, but I would have liked it.

All fine now. This morning there is a strong head wind to negotiate.

71 kms yesterday

The internet here is very slow, and this blog would not upload last night.

Have a great day everyone!

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16. Truck spray. (June 13)

This morning some of the Everest Hotel guests vanished with the key to the dungeon where the bicycles are stored overnight, so I had to wait for them to come and open the lock. It was an imperfect start to a few other annoyances that came up first thing. I pedalled out to the river where the cycle track is very well marked along the eastern shore. Happy to be moving again, off I went for about 1 km till it just fizzled out. A very good long look at the map later, I had to return and cross over the bridge. Lesson 1009.

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Going along nicely, voicing a red-indian sounding song, when I heard popping noises on my helmet and my glasses turned into kaleidoscopes. The body was doing fine, but the atmosphere was sheer gloom. I would like to thank the government for making us this wonderful cycle track, it is smooth and clean and fast, even in the rain.
But it also nearly broke my heart when I came face to face with some big mower/cutter monsters who came down the track and cut all the beautiful spring flowers for meters on each side, sucked them up into a big bin truck, and left barren green stalks for the next 15 kilometres. In the south they would never do such a dreadful thing, but then they don’t have much cycle track at all.
No more forget-me-nots, butter-cups, lace, poppies…and the river Adige looked grey and bulging.

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My bike at rest with the others at the special bike stop restaurant.

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Lunch at a small village called Egna Newmarkt, Stop there next time you pass by. I went into a hotel restaurant with wet pants, you know the cushiony  lycra type, and sat on the nice cushiony chair. When I got up and saw a big wet patch, it was a bit embarrassing. Then I asked the lady for the toilet…she must have been very cross.

Things went wrong navigationally again. There was a detour which put me off my track. The road was full of puddles and the nasty men go there to drive very fast in splashy cars. Big trucks go thundering past and blast one with dirty road spray. Then, just when the detour ends and we (bike and I) get back on track, it happens to be just passed the turnoff for Meran…no signs of course. All other cyclists either have an iPad affixed to their handle bars with the latest updated version of cycle maps, or a proper GPS. Little Leanne, gaily goes pedalling along, but Simon came to the rescue and told me what to do. Go back a few kms. Turn, gogogogo.

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Doing just that, when up came a tunnel. Ummm, especially for bikes! Then another one. Gorgeous countryside unfolded all around as I went huffing up the hill. On and on through wonderful farms and forests. Another nasty surprise was waiting. A big road with signs that had names unrelated to any I should be seeing.
Not just wrong road, but wrong VALLEY!
Another turn around and a fast decent, almost having a face-on collision with a squirrel who happened to be hanging off the end of a branch eating cherries. We came eyeball to eyeball for a fraction of a second and I had to dodge the little beast. Which reminds me of the black velvet mole that nudged my foot in the grass earlier. And a lost duckling which couldn’t see his mom down the road, so I herded it a bit in her direction.

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I must end here, as my eyes can’t stay open any longer. There is so much more to tell…

Big day today, a record distance of 108 kms.
61 hours in the saddle since Rome
total 967.15 kms. So tomorrow will be a 1000 km celebration. Whoo hoo.

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15. Going into the Alps. (June 13)

Lucy Lui gave me breakfast in her back garden, and waved me goodbye. All my hosts and hostesses so far have been truly generous and kind.

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Mantova was just waking up when I passed along her northern shores, sneaking along a little path in the woods. A large sticky spider web attached itself to my back, and I had a feeling the spider came with it. There were a swan couple who hissed over their ugly ducklings. Rabbits hopped around. It all seemed a bit too fairy-tail-ish.

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A Faraway Tree.

My nonna knees seem to be holding up, and my back is completely better. It’s amazing what biking can do for a gnarly old woman.

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Thank you Judith for the energy bars, this one went down very well after a long straight road along the canal. The farmers are turning their hay, clouds of hay-fever dust spread around everywhere.

A pig-swill truck came down the cycle track, and I found it quite easy to vomit off a moving bike. As you go along so the smells change, from star-jasmine in full flower to cow urine, to wet grass, to algae ponds. Lots and lots of water down south of the lake. All of it controlled by very fancy looking pump stations, dykes and cement canals.

Then suddenly a castle ruin on a hilltop surrounded by forest. History is always at your side in Italy.
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Stopped a moment in Monte Borghetto to look at the little place and found a Metasequoia tree.
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My bike battery had not charged properly the night before, so I was a bit nervous of getting to where I was going. Wherever that would be.

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First glimpse of Lago di Garda was at Peschiera, the most southern village. A man in a sailor suit, told me I had missed the boat for Riva today. (northern most town on the lake).

At the info place I asked a tall dark girl with long mauve fingernails. She had been asked that question one too many times. One must ask for second opinions.
The voice in my head said: “don’t panic Leanne, this is a holiday lake, there will be plenty of places to stay”.

But I very gingerly rode 8 kms to the next port to see if there was a boat from there. The ferry ticket man yelled over the loudspeaker in the middle of my question: “Schlange auf der rechten Seite” at which some German ladies giggled. It was shouted in English too: ” Please queue on the right side”. I wasn’t sure which was the right or wrong side, but we all got on board.

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It’s not actually cheating, if you want to ride along the edge then you’ve got tunnels and narrow roads to negotiate.

We floated up the long narrow lake, deep into the mountains. Away from the heat and white skies, the ferry criss-crossed the water, picking up and dropping off passengers as it went. The deck was green painted iron, and 3 sailors manned the ropes. It took four and a half hours to go from Sirmione to Riva.

You will see by the sheer number of photographs below, that there was nothing else to do on board. There are many picturesque villages on the way.

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and more…

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Finally arrived in Riva, and my battery clicked off as I reached the door of the Hotello Sport and Relax. It was 20:20.
However, after a shower and a nice chat with Luciana and her beautiful daughter, I managed to put on my usual evening outfit and head down to town for a little supper.

Eating alone is quite an art, you have to pretend not to be listening to other conversations, you’ve got to interact with the staff, and you’ve got to look less lonely than you are. With your one glass of wine, and one candle, and your notebook on the table.

The morning was lovely and cool, thank you.

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It’s my Dad’s 81st birthday. Wish he was here.

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12 June…going to Trento

Luciana gave me scrambled eggs for breakfast and we did a photo shoot, except my setup failed and we just got our feet in the picture. I’ve shared it anyway.
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The ride up the valley was pretty extreme. It started  beautifully. Then a steep hill where I overtook a young man on a mountain bike. After that I paid for my snigger, by taking the high road by mistake.

I’m going to skip that part.

After that I found the cycle track and it was an incredible ride! Like a dream come true.

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At Sarche, dark clouds came over the mountains and it poured with rain. Some road maintenance men told me to go to the hotel bar, so I did.
From then on it was a bit tricky. It got steep, and there was a complicated system of roads on bridges. In a moment of weakness I tried phoning my team for directions but nobody picked up. So, I went on, checking google maps but not actually finding the way. At one point I got off my bike and just stood there like a silly confused animal. To tell you the truth I would rather have pushed the bike through a forest than go on another ‘high’ road. Eventually I waved down a red car, and a very old granny just stared at me, slowed down, waited a bit, then went on.

I imagined my team all standing there with their bikes, discussing what to do, and they said to me: “Oh Mom, just go up the hill on this road, even though it’s scary, and see what is at the top”.

Turned out that was where the cycle track started again.

Two men were loading giant copper pots into a van. They gave me these verbal directions: “Go here, then two curves further on, take the third track left for a few kilometres until you see a fruit seller on the corner, then don’t take the marked track, take the one that goes to the left, then turn right almost immediately onto a dirt road, it goes up steeply but it’s fine, then at the fourth or fifth track on the right side of the big road, go down and up again, then cross over the highway at the end of that road…….

I did find the fruit seller. He was sitting in his van with the window open. He had one tooth. I asked him which of the four tracks were for Sopramonte. He said the muddy one in the forest, then gave me his apricot sample specimen which had been cut in half to prove to customers that it was ripe. I ate it in two snaps. It tasted like honey.

I didn’t take the forest road.

To finish, the last climb was huge. The going down on the other side was quite sad. Trento lay in the valley, all crusty and full of cars. Tonight in the ‘Everest Hotel’, I will write to you about the sounds of birds, and tall orange cliffs.

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Heading for Meran today.

https://goo.gl/maps/nFEos25EmcQ2

This is the google map for the past 2 days. They don’t have the bike option yet, so I’ve chosen the walking route. Very similar, except the ferry is not available as an option.

Trip distance so far 858.67 Kms.

Time in the saddle 55:32 hrs.

Happiness level: Very high.

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14. Po River flats. (June 10)

I was thrilled to have an egg for breakfast at Pico Hotel. Usually it’s a matter of cornetti with jam and a coffee.

Set off a bit late this morning, due to it being Sunday.

Lesson 3. Don’t sing with your mouth open when riding a bike. Hum, because insects can get in your lung.

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You would think cyclists prefer downhills to uphills. But like life, the ups are way more interesting and you get to feel pleased when you reach the top. Whereas the downs, as in life, are mostly just a whizzing blur and then you feel sad that it’s over.

On the flats, however, one tends to focus on the things right in front of you. Yesterday Giorgio said he goes up onto the dykes to see the sunset. It occurred to me that when you live on a level, one doesn’t get to see spectacular stuff like sunsets. There is always stuff to block your view. Like walls and gardens. Just a small up like a dyke can make all the difference.

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Today I visited the small town of San Benedetto Po, which boasts a huge monastery founded in 1007. The spaces are incredible, and the people are very nice, but I didn’t go inside.

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For most of the way the track Euro velo 7 follows the river Secchia. There are dykes on each side. Along the top of them are the cycle tracks. From up here there are great views of the farms and crops. All the farmers who lost their buildings in the 2012 earthquake have rebuilt particularly fancy sheds. Those whose buildings stayed standing, have to make do with the old ones. There must be a farmer or two amongst them who regrets that his buildings didn’t fall down.

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After a sumptuous lunch alfresco: tagliatelle cut in ribbons (serrated edges), with smoked salmon sauce, and some veggies with lots of olive oil. Apparently we are supposed to drink four times the amount of olive oil that we do, so I’m not holding back. (Good marketing strategy for olive oil farmers).

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Today the ride was wonderfully peaceful. Lombardy is worth visiting if you can.

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Happily rolled into Mantova this afternoon at around 16:00.

732 km

48 hours in the saddle since the ride began.

Known for it’s general exquisiteness, Mantova’s weary streets are coated in tourist groups. My phone ran out of battery as usual, just when it was needed, so I drank a fanta in a bar while it energised. Finding a place to stay every night is quite a task on it’s own. Tonight I am sleeping in Industrial street 4.

It’s a flat.

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13. Lost. (June 10)

The day began with astonishing ease.
Walter oiled my chain and I hugged Christina, then I was off. Nobody overtook me for 30 kms along the piste. It was fabulous to ride at a constant pace on the flats of Emilia-Romagna.

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Due to the cyclone, the underpasses were flooded. But I just went over the road instead.

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Arrived in the centre of Modena. Saw a very pretty bride wearing pink. Drank an excellent cappuccino made by an Italian lady.

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Modena is a beautiful old town, full of arty treasures. The streets are cobbled with round river stones and the squares are huge.

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The romantic part then took a turn.
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Confusion set in, and my map application refused to load. So I did what I’m good at, being a dizzy blonde, I just asked every second person where to go. Every second person has another opinion in Modena. The old man in the black&white picture told me to follow him, (he was going to see his mother…in that direction). So I did.

He waved me on in the general direction…

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There were a lot of big roads and intersections which I had to go under and over. A couple shouted to me from the other side of a flooded underpass that it was ok to go through. Once I had splashed my way through, some men told me to go back the way I had come. One large man was most concerned that I should stop at a restaurant to charge my battery and eat something.
Eventually I found myself under a highway, alone, with no options. Then had to retrace my tracks for miles.

I was standing looking blankly at my google map when Giorgio came along and saved the day.
He said to follow him. We went for about 20 kms along the top of a dyke. He’s a photographer and has exhibitions and produces a lot of books. He took me along some small roads, between pear plantations and vineyards. All very flat and well kept.  I had no idea where we were, then turned into a farmyard with geese and chickens strutting about, and rode around to the back of the house. At this point, my girlhood safety training was ringing the alarm bells.

His friend Antonella then gave us an amazing lunch fresh from her garden, and homemade Lambrusco wine, which is the famous local stuff. We sat under the trees and munched on fava beans, liver and onions, feta cheese, and proscuitto. Other friends arrived to eat, a large butcher who offered me a train ticket, and a cyclist who gave me the most cutest little round bottle of Balsamic vinegar, aged 35 years. So very generous and kind. You just can’t imagine the genuine concern they have for a lost lady.  Sharing everything they have, and especially their time. I am really touched by all the kindness I have been given on this journey.

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Giorgio Giliberti. He sent me this picture with a nice addition of a sign, Rome to Oslo. 433 kms to Rome on the highway….650 kms the back route.

LeanneRomaOslo

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Golden wheat.

Giorgio rode with me almost all the way to Mirandola, which is a bit off my track, but he said I should go there, and I did.

There was a terrible earthquake here a few years ago. One sees many crumbled buildings, with the new structure standing next to a pile of bricks.
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All three Churches were damaged, and whole apartment blocks stand empty.
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The hotel Pico is hosting me tonight. The nice man at the desk said I should go into town for the “Memory festival”, and I did.
The events were totally packed, so I sat at an outdoor cafe in the central square and drank a Spritz. Culture, food, music, art, cinema, theatre…a good thing for a broken town.

The people are all lovely!

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12. Cherry time. (June 8)

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Farmers are selling their cherries along the roads. There are two types called Duroni and Ciliegie. Duroni are red and a bit sour, compared to ciliegie. I bought a some from a lady and her daughter along the road. It would be lovely to come back in the early spring when they’re all flowering.

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To reach Modena, I went over the hill to the next valley, via Montese. A village amongst others in the vicinity where people have lived for millennia. There are 9 fresh water springs, some of them salty minerals. According to the information poster in town, the area was considered sacred since antiquity. Farmers would perform rituals at an ancient man-made lake, Lago Bracciano, saying prayers and giving offerings of bronze statuettes in return for protection of their cattle.

2018-06-08_0016.jpgThere are many hiking trails offered to tourists. Not that I saw any tourists, but I suppose they come up here from Bologna and Modena on the weekends. I did see a very big green snake.

It seems all barista’s on the north side of the Gothic line are of Chinese origin.

At lunch a nice man called Carlo, who had a tiny black puppy in a backpack, told me to go to Rocca di Vignoli, so I did.

A cyclone came through, so I have stayed in a very posh new bed&breakfast&dinner&lunch for two nights. It stormed, and the farmers made a lot of noise shooting projectiles into the clouds to ‘open’ them so it doesn’t hail on the ripening cherries. (so I’m told).

My hosts, Christina and Walter have been so generous and kind. The room is huge with a fancy spa shower. There are bowls of fruit and fresh flowers, drinks and all sorts of nice things. The house is very old, but immaculately renovated and maintained.

When I went down to get something from my bike, a huge black Doberman charged over to bite me, but Walter got in the way with a broom.

Going to Modena tomorrow, and a bit further. The cycle tracks begin and it’s flat, so let’s see how far I get.

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11. Little Red Riding. (June 8)

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Once upon a time, Nonna rode her bicycle up a very steep forest road, to visit her Grandchildren on the other side of the mountain.
Her basket was full of energy bars and other goodies.
The people of the village said there were terrible things in the jungle, and that she should never ever go there. But the happy thought of seeing her precious children again, was so strong that she hopped on her bike and off she went muttering something like “who’s afraid of the big bad wolf…”

It was very-very steep, and she huffed and puffed. Up, she went, up a small winding road, passed wood-cutters and a hunter driving a fast jeep. Up passed the last house for a long long way. Suddenly there was a great loneliness, and mist came down over the tree tops and touched Nonna on her face, very gently.

Near the top of the mountain, where the trees were dark and tall, a “good wolfy-wolfy” moved in the forest and the birds screeched and flapped. So did Nonna.

Nobody came along in a little boxy fiat car. So Nonna pedalled and pedalled with all her might. Her battery was getting very low, and soon she would need to hop off her bike and push it.

But just around the corner the road went down, and she whizzed and zig-zagged at break-neck speed until she heard some bells ringing in the trees. There was a little cottage tucked away in the bushes and somebody was humming a song.

 

She stopped beside a boxy fiat car at the front door and called out to the singer, but nobody came out, so she got back on her bike and went on.
A small river gurgled along beside her and she felt better. She even began to smile. The sun shone through the trees and the road was smooth.
All morning she rode, waving to fairies and goblins who dashed around like butterflies in the greenery.

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Eventually she came to a blue lake in the hills, where she found some people, so stopped for tagliatelle al ragù and a little sip of red wine.

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After lunch, Nonna had a very full tummy and was feeling a big sleepy. That’s when she made a mistake and took the low road instead of the high road, because she didn’t want to pedal quite so much. She had no idea where it led, but took it anyway. All the way down the hill to Riola, a little town with two bars but no hotel. A lot of old men sat around playing cards. They all looked up in surprise to see a Nonna on a bike in this place.

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It was getting late and her batteries were dangerously low. So she called Tyrone on the phone and asked him to search the web for a place to stay. “Il mio refugio” sounded like just the thing, but it was a few kilometres up a mountainside. So with all the remaining oomph, up she went, higher and higher, into the cherry orchards. Zigzagging up a ridiculous hill, until the last drop of energy was all used up.

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It was a very hidden away place which took some extra effort to find, since she had taken the wrong road to get there in the first place. The big gate was chained up and all the shutters were closed.

Lesson 2.  Always phone and ask before going there.

Just then my phone ran out of battery, and the bike ran out of battery. I felt a sob welling up.

A man with black teeth and a difficult face came huffing up a road on his bicycle, and he said: “yes, you can go down this road to Marano, there is a bar”… so with huge relief I rolled down… but the bar was closed.

However a lady let me charge up my phone for a short while, and I pedalled back to Riola. This time I went into the old-man bar, and talked to the very exotic looking barmaid. She looked down at me in horrible disdain. My hair was pressed flat and my grey gloves were in tatters. I most likely stank.

She showed me a blackboard full of business cards and pointed out a random few. I called the number and Giuseppe happily offered to fetch me! He arrived with a silver trailer, loaded up my bike and drove me out of town. I had no idea where we were going, but I had photographed his business card, which I sent via whatsapp to Simon and Ty for a background check.
Giuseppe drove me up to the bed & breakfast at the top of another steep hill. He said usually he only has road workers to stay. The shower was ice cold.

He made the bed, and gave me supper in the kitchen. Tortellini soup with grana (Parmiggiano), followed by a plate of different salami and prosciutto, flat breads, cherries, two types of homemade cheese, home grown wine (fizzy)…we talked about Italy and it’s youth, and he drew a map of my route for tomorrow.

It was about 9 pm and I locked myself into my room and flopped into bed, completely exhausted. Just as I was going to sleep a blood curdling scream at my window woke me. I lay for hours trying to relax, but no luck.

This is how it looked in the morning. No sign of  blood. I forgot to ask Giuseppe what the noise was. Maybe just as well.

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10. The Big not-knowing… (June 7)

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The sun rose and the time came to set off alone. Malo gave me a gift of rescue drops and some good breakfast this morning. She looked so pretty amongst her roses and blossoming olives. She waved me up the gritty road.

Yesterday evening she had kindly driven me some way along my chosen route in her car, to make sure I could get out of there without silly confusion.

I felt rather exhilarated, and tried hard not to think of anything more than the air in my nostrils. The tiny winding roads drew me along, downhill most of the way to Bagno Ripoli. The day was just beginning, but how would it end?
At a sharp curve, I rang my white-whale bell and a farmer turned and waved. Then riding onto the little bridge over the great 6 lane highway, I waved at the traffic below and a truck driver hooted. “This isn’t so bad after all”… I thought.
Brilliant views unfolded as I went along. The sun still shone, and the rescue drops did their work. Everything seemed to be going well.

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The Arno, like any big famous river, gives one direction, a geographic marker to show the way. We rolled through Florence together.

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I glimpsed Brunelleschi’s dome but did not stop to see Michelangelo’s David. Crossed over the Ponte Vecchio (Golden Bridge) between a mass of tourists and turned left.

The map said to follow the white path along the river, under the bridges. I pedalled furiously along. There were some male individuals skulking along the way. Being my first day alone, I wasn’t yet sure if people under highway bridges , train bridges and on quiet paths were trustworthy types.

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The rest of the afternoon was a hot ride through a general blur of asking for directions along the little higgledy-piggledy streets of San Donnino, San Piero di Ponti, Campo Bizenzio, Confini. etc. Sorry there are no photos, but I was concentrating.

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By some miracle I reached Prato, where a nice cycle track took me along the river and into town. Made a change to the roaring of huge trucks. A bunch of old men sitting outside a bar said they would watch my bike for me. They asked a lot of questions and couldn’t understand the part ‘da sola’… was I really biking all the way to Oslo alone ? “Accidenti” is the usual retort..which doesn’t translate well.
My phone needed charging, it was getting late and I had no idea where to stay, so I checked on Booking.com and called up the B&B lady…in Montale.
She said it wasn’t far from Prato, and I would be there very shortly. The ‘arriving by bike’ part obviously was lost in translation.
At some point I stopped at another bar to charge the phone a bit. The old men pointed me in the right direction, happening to mention that there was a ‘sotto passaggio” (under passage)… thank goodness, otherwise I would have just sat down and cried when I saw the highway crossing my path.

Lesson 1. Always talk to people.

Mondale is a small place at the foot of a big mountain at the end of the Apennine range.

Lina and Michele Bocchicpchio own the house Belvedere, which had no view at all. What it did have was mosquitoes and a very interested couple who had some trouble believing I intended to go over the mountain tomorrow.

The warnings began with the state of the road, it was “very very bad, Signora, very steep, way too steep for a bicycle, and there are naughty boys who do naughty things up there. Then there are the hunters, who shoot moving things and drive fast jeeps.

And there are wolves.

My knees were jelly from the ride today, but I managed to get myself down to a pizza restaurant. It was closed to the public on opening night, but when they heard my little story they rushed for a chair and offered me a free ‘very special pizza’ which the invited guests all admired. It was a margherita with four basil leaves perfectly arranged. The genuine ingredients have been sourced from all over the country.

I was invited to spend the evening, but my eyes were closing so they put the beautiful pizza in a box and I wobbled back to Belvedere where I scoffed it down in solitude.

My room was huge and spotless. I was told to use the single bed, not the double one, although I was paying the double price. Mosquitoes dotted the ceiling, and I stood on the bed and whacked them with my pillow. Unfortunately, a blood-streak stained the whitest of white ceilings, and in all that pure cleanliness they will notice it first thing. No way could I reach it to wash it off. I feel very sorry about that.

Sleeping wasnt that easy, after all. Maybe I should have taken more rescue drops.
Here is Lina, who made me cake for breakfast. Michele had gone off to do errands.
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