A watercolour illustrated story for our grandchildren about an imagined visit to Marino. Wishing and waiting for this to come true very soon. Covid lockdowns are taking their toll on grandparents in more ways than one. We miss our kids!
This PDF version can be downloaded and printed at home or viewed on the computer. Best to choose 2 page view, as the illustrations spread over two pages. The text is not poetic or edited, so please forgive me for that. It’s a very personal book but since some of my friends wanted to see it.
Coming soon…a book for everyone!
Rita dwells under our steep travertine marble stairs. The flight descends to the back road where everyone tries to park their cars. There is usually a surprise waiting for us at the bottom. Either Rita hops out of her big wooden door and yells in her husky voice something in Italian about cutting the weeds or whose turn it is to sweep the stairway.
Immaculata, our house keeper, unwittingly walked some dog doo up those steps to our back door on Christmas day. Rita would have noticed it immediately. She is an obsessive compulsive cleaner. The smell probably seeped in through her peep hole.
Last night I went down to switch off the twinkle lights draped along the landing railing and heard the key turn in her lock. Clunk clunky clunk. I dashed back up the dark steps to avoid a midnight confrontation.
Today is La Befana day in Italy. On Epiphany eve (5 January) a witch comes to your house in the darkest hour of the night and leaves something in your stockings. Depending on which way your scale of goodness tips, you’ll either get ‘carbone’ coal or ‘caramelle’ sweets. They say the witch is always smiling. Rita never does, but she did find someone to cut the weeds and put them in a big sack. The last time I saw the sack it was standing at the bottom on the steps waiting for someone like Simon to take it to the dump.
I wouldn’t be surprised if it has magically disappeared today. We must check our stockings for some weed. Happy Befana 2021
Jupiter and Saturn, our family planets, will be close tonight.
Closer than they have been from an Earthling point of view for the past 800 years. Looking up at the night sky on the 21st December brings Christmas into perspective. The light falling into our eyes will have journeyed millions of miles from our sun. Heading out to Jupiter and onwards towards Saturn. Saturn is almost twice as far from Earth as Jupiter.
Apparently it is taking at least 52 minutes from Jupiter and one and a half hours from Saturn to reach Earth. These light waves are tickling our eyeballs as we gaze at the great CONJUNCTION (Christmas star). The light will have left the Sun, travelled millions of kilometers through space, bounced off the planets, and then touch us. According to the wiki, when light reaches our eyeballs, some is absorbed and some is reflected. So after gazing at the Christmas star, how about looking into the eyes the person close to you and exchange some refracted star light? A romantic Christmas gift for your loved one.
Giving gifts has had me reflecting on the effects it has on those who are literally forced to receive them. Unlike a bit of pure sunlight, a gift is a material thing. Whether you like it or not. Simon told me he doesn’t want any more junk. But imagine waking up on Christmas morning to find too much space under the tree. It’s bad enough that a microscopic coil of rna has prevented us from CONJUNCTIONING with all our families this Christmas. At least a little parcel to unwrap? Albeit it should be wrapped in Earth-safe recyclable paper & organic non-cotton ribbon and natural sticky tape. It must also be 100% local, non-toxic useful piece of art which plays nicely with everything else we own.
We are not made only of stardust, but also of starlight.
Being a person who is into planetary conservation and covid avoidance maneuvering, my Christmas shopping has had a light touch. I went to the local pharmacy by e-bike, and bought a bottle of Made in Italy aftershave called CUORE DI PEPE NERO for Simon. Once I got it home I read the extremely long list of mystery ingredients on the sophisticated “packaging from responsible sources”. It doesn’t actually include cuore di pepe nero – heart of black pepper. Good thing! It would most certainly make him sneeze.
Sneezing is the most unacceptable reflex known to man these days. A public sneeze causes instant consternation. I was riding my e-bike in Castel Gandolfo yesterday when someone in my immediate vicinity sneezed. It sent me pedalling off as fast as I could to the next view point. The weather has been sunny and calm, making our pretty lake Albano look like a glassy lenz. I looked down at the fantastic sphere of reflected heaven.
Perhaps tonight we will go to the highest lookout point to see the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in the starry sky. I expect it will be reflected in the water too. Imagine that light travelling from the Sun, bouncing off the planets, reflecting off the water and into our eyes where some of it is absorbed into our brain, and some is reflected on each other, and some will possibly be reflected right back to where it came from…
From dust to dust…ashes to ashes…light to light.
If you look extremely carefully at the reflection of the mountain in the water, you might be able to see the red algae bloom. Forming a swirl in the middle of lake, a micro copy of our galaxy!
Latest discovery by the European Space Agency – Mars express. An angel near the south pole.
Massimo the carpenter
…owns a three grotto workshop on the street below our apartment. He is Renata’s nephew. At this time of year the whole family clean out the man-made caverns and decorate them for Christmas. His sons are good looking enough to feature as Christ in the Marino Easter Procession. They also hang lights on one of the overgrown Christmas trees on the opposite corner, but sadly this doesn’t appear to have happened in 2020. However, their PRESEPE (nativity) is a joy. All lit up with twinkle lights so passers-by like us can peer into a small arched window and delight in the miniature scene. Joseph, Mary and the whole bible of characters. Only the baby is missing. You don’t put the baby in the crib before full term.
Every home, Church, restaurant and shop window features a PRESEPE. Crafters in town (mostly male pensionists) make the figurines and sell them to you straight from the workbench in their garage. Shapely bits of bark and moss are added to make mini hillside backdrops, miniature stone houses surround the sacred wooden stable at the center of the scene. Simon and I marvelled at an exquisite “We three Kings of Orient” elephant statuette the other day.
In the Church a huge Presepe sits on a temporary stage. It needs a coin to light it up. The entire village of Bethlehem comes to life with moving arms and nodding heads. Blacksmiths hammer, waterwheels churn, bread makers kneed, donkeys nod… and so forth. One gapes for as long as the money lasts.
Rome Christmas vibe
We walked around the middle of Rome on Saturday, which is a crazy thing to do considering the virus aerosolling around. It was fabulous nevertheless! The Via Condotti down from the Spanish steps is a swish twinkle of lights and music. But the BIG attraction is in Piazza Venezia where the municipality have paid 140 thousand euros for the most splendid world famous SPELACCHIO 2020. A 23 meter high tree, ablaze with one hundred thousand lights…a record number the Mayor says, to cheer us up. And she is so right, you cannot deny the uplifting effect it has. She’s a left winger from the five star party by the way. The tree is undeniably a pinnacle of brightness and a lighthouse of hope in the dark.
We made it to Piazza Navona in time to see a different type of light show there. A blast of blues and golds 4D projected onto the magnificent Bernini fountains makes everyone stand still and be whisked away to wonderland (via their smartphone screen). Buskers billow the streets with classical music, and it seems everyone, including ourselves are recklessly living in this paradoxical moment. Happy.
Spelacchio 2020, the Christmas tree in Rome inaugurated on 8 December „" Also this year our "Spelacchio" returns, the Christmas tree in Rome now famous all over the world. In this difficult moment for all citizens, we want these lights to keep the hope of a peaceful Christmas lit but above all to give the strength to all of us to resist and overcome together the challenge of the health emergency ", declares the first citizen, Virginia Raggi."
You may be interested in: https://www.romatoday.it/politica/spelacchio-2020-albero-natale-roma.html
To end I should mention we are in quite a strict situation here, no restaurants or bars are open after 6pm and there’s a curfew from 10pm. Over the Christmas holidays we are not allowed to travel at all. There is some discussion about allowing families to move between municipalities. In Italy sixty five thousand people have died from covid-19 this year. Total population is just over 60 million —
Rome is mellowing out.
Quite soggy after days and days of rain. The last of the orange leaves have collapsed onto the streets. We will go into the old city tomorrow for a culture pop-up experience although all museums are shut. But that’s not off-putting because Rome has a street-charm like no other place in the world.
It’s the way the paint peels.
Which brings me to presenting a couple of designs. Every hour or two another one manifests. I’ve taken a moment to write this while the enthusiasm is still bubbling.
That’s another point, living in a bubble can be good for interior design. I was thinking about interiority, the rooms we live in and how we arrange them. A cushion here and vase of flowers there, a mat at the door…it’s a selfscape! Clearly demonstrating your values – (what’s in your bookshelf by the way?) your colours (emotions) – mixed up, matchy-patchy, or plain khaki flannel?
Imagine walking into Caesars Palace and find it coarsely rendered in a sludgy beige crimplene.
Consider the thoughtful parts of your home – how do you place things for maximum meaning? Is there only one way to display a stained glass window or many ways to arrange a cushion. Home is a 3D catalogue of your life. You can be rich or poor, it doesn’t matter at all. Have you seen what can be done with peeling paint?
Think about your interiorscape, including that special room in your heart. Is there a Voltaire’s garden in there? Or is it a train station?
Before I get carried away in a bubble of glee, here is a glimpse of my work today… you can see more designs on my HOME page.
“Living in Rome certainly offers artists an inspiring kick in the pants. One of my favourite things to do is walk around the ancient ‘vincoli’ in search of old walls to photograph.
Especially antique walls that have been painted with ochre clays. Cracks and scratches, patches of crumbling stone and bits of ancient marble create a deep, rich patina.
Combined with dramatic skies and perfect domes, the sight of old Rome is enchanting enough to rock your foundations.
The narrow streets are protected from extreme weather and so the walls have endured longer than those in exposed areas. Unfortunately the patina is fast disappearing under layers of fresh plaster and plastic acrylic paint.
This collection of “Rome old walls” photographs is a precious source of images which I lovingly use as backgrounds for my hand painted designs. Something between street art and fresco merged with hand painted emblems, made to share as a digital print.
Leanne’s MEDITERRANEAN… design series explores the decor styles of local empires over the millennia.
So, with a touch of nostalgia I present these honest, non-toxic, sustainable decor products. Printed designs on recycled fabrics and papers. Now you can surround yourself with guilt-free decor!”
Wishing you a fabulous Christmas holiday.
Life is one vast and intermingled creature!
Flying south from Norway to Rome in a tightly packed aeroplane amid the virus turmoil makes you think about the atmospheric soup we live in. One wades through the airport aeroplankton with bated breath and blinking eyes. The air is loaded with microscopic microbes including viruses, about a thousand species of bacteria, about 40 000 types of fungi and hundreds of species of protists, algae, mosses and liverworts. To be exact “aeroplankton deposits hundreds of millions of airborne viruses and tens of millions of bacteria every day on every square meter around the planet”. So we may as well relax and get on with things.
Back home now in my dusty arthropod-infested studio. Gazing out of the window, paintbrush poised and sky glittering with spider webs. Apparently it is spider “ballooning” time when the little babies set themselves afloat at the end of a long string of their own making. Periculous adventure indeed under black clouds of whirling starling birds. Starlings who perform mesmerising aerobatics in search of floating niblets. They wing-dance their way down into the city to roost in the tops of Rome’s iconic Umbrella Pines. Our beautiful Pines not only support millions of birds but recently a mean alien western conifer seed bug has been imported from Western America. It munches on pine cones so there are no more pine nuts for the delish “Torta della nonna”….a yummy tart Made in Italy by grandma. How sad is that!
This past month went by in whirl of cuteness and adoration. Our children and grandchildren shared their stories, toys and games with us. We took long magical walks in the woods together. Abundant food served at a round table with plenty of hearty chatter. It was an especially difficult goodbye when it came time to leave, the rip and tear was sorely felt, but some comfort gained by a sweet touch of humble pride in our children’s achievements. A blessing is full colour.
Writing to you from a comfy bed in my daughters spare room in Norway.
After the spring lockdown at home in Rome followed by an intensely local summer we took the first edgy opportunity to jet up to the north to visit our children.
Six of them altogether.
Two being grandchildren, two offspring and two partners. So here we are together after a year of separation.
In Norway there has been no strict lockdowns as people are respectful of social distancing. No mask wearing in the shops or restaurants until now. The Covid infection rate is low and tracing efficient. When we arrived at the airport we took a free test which came back negative. Ten days later we came out of quarantine with relief and congratulations from the neighbours.
Three weeks later – Today we would be heading home but we’ve run into another quarantine. News of some children at the banehage “kindergarten” having been tested positive for COVID-19. Classrooms closed and now the working parents are battling through their days teleworking at home with toddlers demanding undivided attention. You should see the mass pushchair patrolling in this neighbourhood.
In the meantime we’re making meal plans and getting into a rhythm which may well become a semi-permanent stay. I’m enjoying the 3 generation family life and learning to cook again. Each of us has a work station in the house, even the tiniest cutie and they know what quarantine means, so they keep away from neighbour friends.
The news from Italy looks scary, thousands of new infections every day! We are going into a dark winter this year. The bright and beautiful light in that bleakness is being together with family this time. Although we’re missing our Australians and South Africans, knowing they’re in the southern summer sunshine is a small comfort.
To all of you on the same planet with Covid lurking nearby, take extreme care of yourselves, max each minute, and keep smiling.
Back to back
The great alpine divide between Italy and Germany is more than an atmospheric barricade. Our motherland, Italia, opens her arms wide toward the sunny Mediterranean peninsula, indulgently allowing her children run off and play. Whereas the northern slopes of the fatherland bend to sit the children firmly on a lederhosen buttoned knee.
The two realms have provided us with a home in each, although the northern home is yet to be fully occupied. We are on the brink of renovating the house and attempting to create a modest garden of Eden.
Having one foot in Rome and a new foot in Allgau (Bavaria) makes an interesting gait. For every two steps taken with our German boots we do one flip-flop in roman sandals.
red sticky tape
Getting things done in Allgau might entail a small piece of red tape here and there. Nothing a short phone call or email can’t instantly snip. So far so good considering the year is 2020.
Recently when renovating the facade of our house in Marino we experienced some unpredictable responses based on jealousy, ancient feuds, boredom and fear of retribution. Bringing to mind all the mystery and drama Shakespeare found intriguing enough to write plays about. His epic tales are simplified versions of the stories presently being carried into the future on the shoulders of our locals.
To illustrate my point let’s start with the most simple thing you can imagine doing in Italy… cooking the spaghetti. Make sure the spaghetti is nr.5, or choose a pack of spaghettini or spaghettoni depending on the richness of your preferred sugo. A spaghetti pot is that size and shape for a very specific reason and the correct amount of water per 100 grams is essential. Coarse salt is added at the precise moment the water begins to boil. Add the pasta after that. Remember the heavier the pasta the richer the sauce. Timing is all important for the perfect ‘al dente’. Serve immediately to the Cin cin of a glass of wine made by a winery you know, then tuck in with a vertical twist of a fork.
Comparable is the cooking of Weiss würst in Allgau. Warm up the white sausages in a pot of hot water, don’t boil or the skin might split. Swallow the skin at your own risk. Serve with a good dollop of mustard and a Weissbier or three. Nobody cares whether you know what the skin is made from, or what is inside that sausage. You will be trained to clunk the base of your beer glass with others at the table (not to crack the rim), then shout PROST and as you do so, please acknowledge them by looking into each others eyes.
As you all know, these things can be difficult. We suspect the renovation will present some Alpine challenges. Not to mention the language barrier. Mark Twain said that he “never knew before what eternity was made for. It is to give some of us a chance to learn German.”
Luckily Simon is the boss and likes to keep tabs. I’ll keep you posted on the project, in the meantime I’m shuffling around in sandals on our sunny terrace in madre Italia watering a potted lemon tree and sipping on a proper cappuccino. Che bello!
“Hello Leanne and Simon. Terrible indeed! Here in Choueir it sounded like a fighter jet broke the sound barrier above the house. The house shook. A window was blown open. If this was the effect in this village, high in the mountains, tucked in a valley shielded from Beirut by a mountain, no wonder that much of Beirut is a disaster zone. Still, we have much to be thankful for. Everybody I know is safe.”
-a message from my cousin in Lebanon this morning. Choueir is located 30 kilometers from Beirut.
The news of the horrific explosion in Beirut feels like an emotional shock wave which is still shaking my heart!
When Simon and I visited two years ago we were amazed by this energetic, complicated city at the feet of Mt. Lebanon. An incredible mountain backdrop to a city stage. Beirut faces west over the Mediterranean, a bright sloping puzzle of apartment buildings with window views of the sea (and the port).
Countless drama have played out on this stage. Yesterday’s explosion being the latest, a tragedy upon tragedy beyond Shakespearean proportions. Who can fathom the beginning or the ending of this epic tale?
A story within a story
My great Grandmother grew up in Lebanon before immigrating to South Africa after she married at sixteen years of age. Her memoirs are recorded and together with the writings of her parents tell a fascinating story. Here is a beautiful description of their home town Choueir, written in the 1890’s by both her mother (Sarah Spurr) and her father Dr. Howie.
Quote from the book
Dr. Howie’s native village, Shweir (Choueir), geographically speaking is situated about twenty miles Northeast of Beirut, about 4000 ft (1200 m) above the Mediterranean. There is a carriage road from the city of Beirut on the coast to the ridge on the western slope of which the village is situated.
In a little sketch called “Passion Week in Mount Lebanon”, Mrs Howie speaks of Shweir as follows:
“The week before Easter is one of the busiest in the whole year, for the spring has begun and young leaves already deck the trees, and those who are going to raise silkworms have a great deal to do by way of preparation. The life of the village at this season can be best observed by ascending a flat roof and looking around for a few minutes.
It is Saturday, April 5th., the day on which the raising of Lazarus is commemorated by the Greek Orthodox Church. The first thing one observes is the beautiful landscape. A magnificent Amphitheatre rising from a great depth to a great height, the several tiers of terraces from top to bottom festooned with green as the tender vines put forth or the mulberry begins to display its thick foliage. Which above all the tall pine, with its evergreen bushy top, stands sentinel, holding aloft and umbrella-like sunshade over the tender flowers beneath.
On one side of the amphitheatre, the village of Shweir clinging to the Mountain side, is decidedly picturesque in its stout ensemble while vis-.-vis the little hamlet of Ain-Sindiany (the fountain of the Oak) is also picturesquely situated, and to crown all, “our Hermon” Mount Sunnin, looks serenely upon us, through an azure haze, with a cooling effect as the snow still clings to the thick folds around his ancient brow.
Beside the twittering of birds and the crowing of cocks, we hear the Druze talking to his oxen, in a language he and they understand, as with difficulty he guides the plough in and out among the mulberry trees on the narrow terraces.
At the fountain, a few paces from our house, some women have been washing last year’s dirt off their wicker trays and are now getting them ready for the approaching silkworm season.
A little further on, I see Um-Khattar washing a four-year old boy in front of her house: he has not a shred on and the early morning air is still cool but I suppose she must take him by the forelock; the grandmother is taking a little girl in hand and washing her head in an equally public manner. Beyond, Um-Selim and Um-Abdallah have turned all their beds, cushions and rugs into the open and the sound of beating carpets or rather straw mats and rugs reaches our ears.
Some of the women have already got their washing out on the line for this is the general wash day and in a short time the whole place will be draped with linen that is to be donned tomorrow. Dress makers are busiest of all, for every woman wants to come in new dress on Easter Sunday.
The village children have a holiday today and their voices at play blend with the multitude of other sounds.
There is no want of animation and yet there is no hurry or bustle. All are about their business in the most orthodox fashion.
The late Dr Howie thus describes “ Our Location. This district, both in the days of Solomon as well as at the time of the rebuilding, furnished workmen and material for the Temple at Jerusalem (I Kings V, 13-14). It lies in the centre of the Promised Land, according to the definitions of Numbers 34 and Josh. 13.5.
It is a mountainous region “stern and wild” the roads are rough and even dangerous.
The population is as heterogeneous as a Haggis and almost too great for the space (that was in 1895). For bread-stuff, our principal food, we depend entirely upon the Hauran (East of Jordan), in Asia Minor, and even on Russia. Our animal food is chiefly mutton and comes from Armenia and Kurdistan. For lighting purposes, the former generation used the native olive oil in old fashioned clay vessels, but we now invest in U.S or Russian paraffin. The main thing which we export is raw silk. Several factories for the spinning of which, have been in this country for generations and have made firewood and every kind of timber scarce and expensive, in the absence of native coal mines.
Strangely, the arabic text I chose to write on the front page of my diary in gold means “overcome”. This was done in 2017. I can’t remember why or how I came to write that on the illustration but it seems appropriate today. On the inside cover I made the little emblem with the words “beautiful things can be made of dust” … another enigma!
To everyone in Lebanon who are suffering either from injuries or from economic difficulties please don’t give up hope. We will build something beautiful from the dust.
As some of you know, I am working on a book about our Lebanese history, with writing and paintings by my Great-great Grandmother Sarah Francis Spurr Howie (Journalist NYT), her sister Gertrude Spurr (a famous Canadian Artist), Canada (my Great Grandmother), Kitty (my Grandmother) and Heather (my Mother and a fabulous artist) and of course, my own illustrations made during the trip.
Hope to have that published by the end of this year. If you have any historical material to contribute to this sublime project please contact me. On the flip side…Khalil Gibran, a Lebanese writer said this…
This island is a safe place to stand -motionless – wearing a straw hat tipped toward the milky way.
The rusty old ferry tub called Carloforte leaves Terracina port at precisely 9 on a summer morning. That means an early start from our house in Marino. We are always happy to catch the slow boat to the little island called Ponza, just 33 kms from the motherland.
L’isola di Ponza is an emotionally ‘suggestivo’ place and we are grateful to have it so close to home. The locals proudly told us there have been no covid cases on the island. But this summer the ferry boats are bringing in hundreds of mainlanders, some of them lucky to have a government ‘holiday voucher’ worth 500 euros to spend on hotels. An attempt to boost the failing tourist economy at the risk of starting another wave.
The locals watch us floating into their pretty pristine port with flags flying, horns blasting, masks hanging from our elbows. Beaches are plastered with young Italian beauties in bikinis. Motorboaters flock over from the mainland like noisy gulls disembarking for lunch in the many restaurants. All tables booked in advance. It’s the schiki mikis who come here and we hope they keep good hygiene.
Large ‘bubbles’ of half-naked young people mingle in the narrow white painted streets between the little chic shops and cafes as if nothing has changed. The occasional senior person hurries by with mask firmly in place. The youngsters will go back to school in September if everything is still under control. Nobody knows, but the future looks as patchy as a watercolour painting.
Thinking about all the virus tsunami spots in the world and worrying in a weirdly helpless way. Comparing outcomes is difficult as the cultures are so different. The Italian nation was not divided by the necessary lockdown rules. Mostly everyone complied, which was quite a feat considering the individualistic attitude here. Now the ‘nation’ are able to go away for tentative holidays…. but we expect there will be a slight second wave.
The city centers are still grimly vacant. One can walk around the Colosseum all by yourself. My South African artist friend who lives in Rome just spent a few beautiful peaceful days in Venice. No noisy cruise liners vomiting their penny-pinching passengers into the delicate city.
When we arrived back from the island it was late and we were hungry, but in Marino the restaurants with outdoor tables were all fully booked. Eventually we found a lucky corner with a view over the lights of Rome. The pizza was delicious. Simple things are the best these days.
My cousin in New Jersey USA, is a professor who teaches immunology (married to a virologist who is studying the covid virus in the lab) told us yesterday that if you get sick you will most likely recover but the damage to your body is lasting. The heart, lungs and brain suffer some permanent damage. This is why it is important to keep your distance, and stay in your bubble!
We all need a safe island to stand on. Tip our straw hats to the universe and be still.
To see the Ponza artwork please go to my account on INSTAGRAM- leanne.nowell
I’m so excited to be riding into Oslo over the finish line today! So thrilled to be seeing my family again.
Bright blues skies and hot. Tyrone navigated the way from Moss, passed his house in Ås, lunch in Ski, and soon we are speeding downhill into Oslo. Megs and Ste are waiting with my one year old grandson Elia in front of the marble white Opera house on the bay. They’ve made a fabulous large paper banner with ROME TO OSLO printed on it, holding it up across the path.
Ty has sped off ahead to be ready photograph the arrival scene. The drama of the moment is slightly diluted by getting caught up in a net of Chinese tourists, however I force my way through them and go blasting through the middle of the banner in a flash, tearing it in half.
I wish I could do it again with more relish this time… both the tearing of the banner and the entire ride.
Angel baby Elia is ok with being handed over to this stinky old cyclist grandma for kisses. I’m quite overwhelmed and lost for words.
After a sprinkling of confetti, a cin cin of Prosecco, a glass of red South African wine with a delicious home cooked meal, the relaxing begins. There’s plenty of fun and games with Elia.
I’m so happy to be back with my family! So much to celebrate together, one of the reasons is Megan has an appointment tomorrow for a pregnancy scan. I am invited to go along and see if we are expecting a boy or a girl !!!
7 points to the north star – zooming out
- Cycling for two months and clocking a grand total of 4180 kilometers. 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. Used Booking dot com and Google maps on an iphone 5.
- Sleeping in 50 different beds which varied from a raw mattress to a bed fit for a queen and everything in between. Searching for accommodation every afternoon caused me some stress, but thankfully was never forced to sleep under a bush. Navigating was the most complicated part of the ride for me.
- Being alone for most of the time left me with the seven “me’s” who were labelled: Dizzy blonde, Stupid-bloody-fool, Guru, Panic-pot, Happy, Sneezy, and Dopey. Guru was the most annoying of all, always shouting “Get up out of that bed immediately and get on your bike” or yelling “PAY ATTENTION ! … STOP…… go go go GOOOO…. take your blinkers off …wait… keep pedalling … get your aaas into gear. Let it be known that we all need to listen to our inner Guru, no matter what your mission happens to be or how brutal that voice is.
- Changing identity and becoming a man; no makeup, no hair brush, a ravenous appetite, strong muscles, navigating by the sun, loving my bike too much, drinking beer, not caring about my ugly face, wearing the same clothes every day and going places where women don’t usually go for example prohibited factory yards, pubs full of pirates, wolf territory. It was liberating. Much to my surprise and relief the body managed to survive the journey. The hands grew a bit claw-like and developed pads on the palms… werewolf symptoms?
- Appreciating the champions – my husband Simon, and my imaginary cycling team (my children who cheered me on), and all my family and friends as the ‘blog-backup support team’ who constantly wrote kind messages to keep me going. Thank you everyone. I would have been miserable without you. Your put wind in my tires and power in my pedals.
- Being teased by those who poopoo my journey because of the eeee bike, once you get your very own ebike you will understand that it’s the best form of transport on the planet. Since the reasons for this tour were not about proving myself, but rather a really exciting way to experience beautiful Europe and actually enjoy the feeling of traveling from one place to another. At the same time I tried to teach myself to be brave so I can handle a personal struggle which has not been discussed in the story.
- Europe is a remarkably safe place for solo women travellers, despite what you see on TV. Even with covid 19 now in circulation, it is quite easy to avoid trouble. People are kind and helpful wherever you go. Especially children. Kids notice a lot of things that adults are too busy to see. So many small gestures from kids gave me huge encouragement to continue.
The answer to the most common question of all is…how sore is your seat?…. It’s a resounding sore!
The edited and printed bike ride book with all the watercolour illustrations will be available soon.
The “lockdown in Marino” illustrations and stories will also be out in print.
pile of paintings since lockdown began in Italy on the 9 March 2020
GIVE ME A DAY OR TWO TO GET THE TUSCANY PAINTINGS INTO MY SHOP.
A SET OF FOUR WATERCOLOURS TO DOWNLOAD AND PRINT FOR PRIVATE USE.
The mood at breakfast in Gothenburg is jovial. We guzzle most of the buffet. I’m so relieved and happy to have Tyrone here.
Massive mossy granite boulders push up through the oats fields. Trees balance the rocky cracks. These hills are perfectly spaced for cyclists to whizz down for 10 seconds and struggle up the next one for 10 minutes. Up and down like that all day. There are black-blue lakes glinting behind the shaking birch leaves. All day we ride through the leafy wilderness expecting to see a troll. A little fawn leaps away into the forest.
Hotels are few and far between. Stenungsund offers us lunch, and to be on the safe side we ask about future accommodation possibilities on our route. A sweet girl at the info office telephones ahead to Henån. She books the only room available within a day’s ride.
After a “sundowner” at Henån port (actually up here near the Arctic circle the sun goes down at about 10 pm and it stays light until the wee hours) we find the one and only hotel where the owner gives us a choice between a hotel room and a bed & breakfast room. We choose the bed & breakfast which is cheaper and the word “breakfast” wins us over. But the mistake becomes obvious when the manager shows us to the low ceilinged converted garage pod. The smell is almost unbearable. Seems our fellow guests have cooked something that was killed too long ago.
However, we survived the night and the breakfast served in the hotel section was flavoursome. The manager gave us a winning smile and came out on the doorstep to wave goodbye.
Last day in Sweden
Another day of ups and downs. Tyrone was doing well on his new bike, although he says the saddle is a torture instrument. It’s one of those off road mountain bikes with a not-for-sitting seat. After eight hours perched on it he announces “there are no hotels on the radar.”
Trepidation grows as we ride the narrow tar road between solid spruce trees towards the Norwegian border. Eighty eight kilometers and considering the thought of an exhausting night avoiding the proliferous wolves and moose.
Around the next corner, up pops a camping ground. There is no such thing as luck and coincidence. It’s called The book of Life unfolding. You get what you need… if you pay proper attention and make the right choices at each intersection. Easy to say, but this is proof. Thank God Tyrone is here, there is no way I would have made it this far without him.
At the camping reception a lady examines her bookings, and finally says “Yes, I do” …’ have a cabin for you!”. She informs us that the restaurant will be closing at 19:00. It is now 17:30 we have time to take a quick swim in the black lake. To be honest, it’s way too cold for me, but Ty takes a swim and I paint in my notebook instead.
At 18:00 we enthusiastically head over to the dining room.
The receptionist has made a mistake. Closing time is at 18:00. Inside there are gaggles of waitresses eating pommes frites. “Sorry we are closed” they say “anyway there was no food left. We had a hectic weekend.”
I beg for a slice of bread for my son.
We all giggle but they say no.
Beer is ok, so we get a beer or three.
The evening did not last long after that. We took our beer-belly grumbles to the narrow bunk-bed of our tiny wooden cabin. Wolves howl.
Marching on to Moss
Sun’s up. We go down to the receptionist with our bikes all packed and ready to go. The lady apologises for the misunderstanding. As compensation she hands us fragrant cinnamon buns straight from the oven with cups of hot coffee. Hunger evaporates and all is forgiven.
The camping ground is on the Swedish side of the Norwegian border. The seventh and final border of the trip. It has been amazing to cross so many countries without a single control check. Freedom to move is one of the greatest gifts the European Union has given us.
I feel happy and surprised to see four thousand kilometers on the clock. There is no real pride in it, after all a solo journey such as this is a wholly selfish endeavour, although I’m pleased to have made it so far. Gratefulness is the only feeling that one can honestly have in this case. The reason why I’m writing to tell you all about this ride is to make sure all the kindness and support experienced along the way is not forgotten.
I’m hoping you might be encouraged to do the same, or something similar. It doesn’t have to be sporty but it should be something you love doing. And remember loving is all about action. Getting around to doing the necessary thing. At the beginning you may fall off, but you’ll learn to shoulder roll and leap up again. You will get into the present moment with such intensely determined focus that you’ll make damn sure you don’t fall.
A spoke in the wheel of life.
Looking back now from the wheat field where Tyrone is capturing the moment on film, I must say the enterprise has been filled with all the emoticons on the list. There were times of euphoria, joy and peace. Balanced with a good dose of humiliation, boredom and feebleness. All of it stirred up with a daily dose of fear, horror and despair. Basically a rainbow of emotions and some I never knew I had.
All day we ride up and down the granite hills under the tall forest trees, along highways and byways, on roads and paths, bridges and ferries until we came to the sea at Moss. The only deviation was an urgent rush for a loo when the lunch in my tummy gurgled dangerously. Three men in green road-work protective clothing sat at a table outside their quarters eating mayonnaise and tomato sandwiches. I rode right up to them in a panic “please – excuse me – hello – can I use your toilet???!!”.
A negative look went around between them like a un-pinned hand grenade. One got the stare from both the others, so he got up and showed me into a dark little shanty room with an unmade bed. The basin was a lot less white than it should have been, but at least there was plenty of loo paper.
Our hotel in Moss has a Rolls Royce parked out front and an elegant seaside garden with a terrace view over the bay. Tyrone is definitely paying for this one!
Tomorrow we are expected in Oslo!
An internet-free day cycling north along the Kattegattleden 1 track towards Gothenburg. The cycle track is well signposted and easy going. This has got to be the most beautiful part of Sweden? Swathes of soft oats and mixed greens blow along the rocky coastline. Shining water dotted with islands, humble harbours and red and yellow wooden summer houses painted in white trim.
Instead of a google map showing up, I had a message from my phone provider to say that I had run out of credit. This released me from a slight dependency on wifi and google, and let me loose on the wild side of the journey. Picture a zoo animal being dropped off in the middle of the serengeti plain.
Not only that, but my credit card maxed out yesterday and has been blocked by the bank. The algorithm might have found my personal data suspiciously full of payments for single rooms in different hotels every night for two months. In fact it blocked my current account as a safety measure so I can’t draw any cash either. My begging calls to the help desk were met with a polite negative every time. That means the breakfast sandwich and water bottle would need to suffice for the day.
No worries at all because Tyrone (youngest son) is coming from Oslo by train (with a bicycle in his luggage) to meet me in Gothenburg. He will be waiting with wifi and money and his beautiful smile. Our roles have swapped and he’s now the sensible responsible one coming to my rescue.
In the meantime the sunny side of the navigational situation is this – the sun should shine on my right side all morning and on my left side all afternoon. If all goes well I should arrive in Gothenburg this evening as planned. The spirits are also on my side because I have already booked a hotel there. Did it this morning using the B&B wifi connection. Normally I never book accommodation a whole day ahead.
The hotel address is a mystery, but from what I remember of the booking map it showed the place to be halfway between two bridges on the northern bank of the Göta river estuary. That should be easy to find.
To tell you the truth I am grateful to be in the grand finale stage of the journey. As beautiful and fantastic and privileged as it may seem, riding alone has been a big challenge. I miss laughing. The road is not that funny when you’re alone. One needs a mammal to laugh with. The only mammal on the bike was myself. As funny as that may seem I feel like a glum reptile.
Sharing a beer with my son will be lovely. I will say a loud CHEERS. It will be fun to enthusiastically discuss the route and have Ty point out the way. You might be thinking ” she could just get on a train and be done with it!” But with so few days left to go and such amazing scenery, taking a train would be a terrible pity.
Like everything in life it is vitally important to finish your mission, regardless of punctures, saddle sores, a broken hand bone, heat stroke, hunger, skin scales, carbonated lungs, pedal bite scabs and loneliness. You pick up some grit along the way, getting fitter while you go. The more ground you cover the stronger you get. There’s a rhythm to it. You develop scales and become one with the bike and the stuff on board. Your wheels become wings.
My cousin asked me “if you have any philosophical thoughts and great wisdom that might spring from being a bicycle hermit?”
The answer is I am too busy watching the details of the road at about six meters in front of me. Any closer and you won’t have time to choreograph your bicycle ballet around loose pavement stones, potholes, ridges, stones, glass, and edges. That’s the distance from which you have time to make the quickest judgement to avoid falling off the bike. Any closer is too close. Six meters is fine for someone my size, and from there your eyes can efficiently glance up to see the scenery and where you’re going in general.
Hearing is a sense which has become honed. Listening intensely for traffic with half-deaf ears has forced me to develop a type of ultrasonic hearing. At home in Marino there is so much loud noise on our street with traffic, carpenter saws, blacksmith hammers, ambulance and fire truck sirens or building works. I wear sound cancelling headphones most days. Now that hearing makes the difference between life and accidental death, it has opened up a whole new world. I am able tell you the distance between bird calls!
The weather was sweltering south of Kungsbacka. It was there that the sun swapped sides at midday. However, it was at that moment that I ignorantly continued along the coastline thinking how hunky dory this ride is going. Only at a cooldrink stop in Godskar, where I spent my last few krone, did someone point out Gothenburg in the opposite direction. Quite tricky for the brain to reconfigure the inner map. The rest of the day was spent haphazardly navigating in zagzig mode.
Riding into busy Gothenburg, a big city! Got myself on the wrong side of the train tracks and roadworks. Eventually found a way over to the opposite side of the river but needed to make an expensive phone call to ask Tyrone if I should go east or west. He can navigate from anywhere. Actually he has had a complicated journey himself but is finally on the train with an unexpectedly brand new bicycle and will be arriving at our hotel midnight.
The nice hotel Villan was waiting for me when I found it. The restaurant was already closed for the night. I had no money anyway so ordered a room service sandwich hoping that Tyrone would be willing to pay the bill in the morning.
He did arrive safely at midnight. More of that story tomorrow.
125 kms today (some of it in the opposite direction).
To my beloved readers. Tomorrow Simon is taking me to Tuscany for a week. So this blog will be on hold until we get back. Apologies for the interruption but be sure there was no such interruption on the actual bike ride. Hope to see you back here soon. In the meantime, I will be painting plein-air in Tuscany. Not so bad! Wishing you all a safe and happy week..Leanne
Day 52 – Going to Halmstad…
These days in Sweden the citizens are either fighting forest fires or playing on the beach. The drought and heat has followed me all the way up to the far north.
The cycle route is clearly marked – Kattegattleden 1, and highly recommended for any cycling holiday you might be considering for the future. Rust red signs point cyclists in the right direction. Sweden is much brighter than anticipated, I was expecting a sort of Viking-gone-Goth vibe, but the landscape has a comfortable beauty which scoops you along into dreamland.
Until rain splatters down on my luminous jacket, under which are two layers of warm garments. The locals happily continue gardening and carrying ladders, fixing picket fences and chopping wood in short sleeves.
In Båstad, my bike met the new red Tesla model S. Two eco-friendly vehicles parked together for a photograph. The bike is more beautiful. Ok – the model S has prettier handles…maybe.
3500 Kms at Skummestōvsstrand
Halmstad had a nice little centre on the mouth of the Nissan river, where I searched for the most healthy of all the burger menus. There are only burger menus. Made for the thousands of university students who study here. How I wish for one of those Rhine river salads! The waitress kindly suggests I do away with the bun, and take extra salad instead. When the little brown patty arrives it had two stalks of garnish instead of one.
Pity a poor cyclist who didn’t get to eat the lobster and oysters this coast is famous for.
My big single room at the hostel has one bed and two desks. There were a lot of bikes standing in the yard, but no bike lock-up, so I rolled mine through the foyer, into the lift, up to the second floor, along a passage, through two spring-loaded doors, passed the kitchen, and into the bedroom. No funny looks.
The Swedes are having a wonderful summer, mostly half-naked at their summer huts, fixing things and potting around getting everything in Hygge order. Their cottages have mostly been in the family for generations. If you want one you might be lucky to find one, and it’ll cost you a million. The sky breaks into a smile. Children laughing and birds singing type of atmosphere. Magical. Voluptuous pink granite boulders shoulder the west coast, forming about eight thousand islands. Low green bushes line yellow fields and red cottages dot the curvy bays.
There are only three different types of cars in Sweden, all of them Volvo – black, grey and white. Beware of black car drivers, they whip passed at a hair’s width, grey car drivers give you a respectful 2 meters, and white car drivers go over into the oncoming lane, dangerously close to having head-on collisions. That’s just the observation of the day from the saddle of my bike.
Whizzed over to the only room available in Varberg. The bed&makeyourownbreakfast man enthusiastically but vaguely points me to the beach, which is actually in another direction entirely. I should have checked the map.
Embarrassed to expose myself in a swimsuit, a chilly wind nips about my two-tone legs, but nevertheless I picked up the courage to wade into the sea, and wade, and wade. How far out do you need to go before one can actually swim? If Simon was here he would drag me in. Instead I creep into a little wind shelter nest behind a log and snuggle down to relax in the late night sun.
Lodging in this area is fully booked for summer, so you would be forgiven for thinking there must surely be a local restaurant. Apparently not. And you must forgive the other B&B guests for using up all the hot water. When one is sea-salt-sticky and weary after pedalling 124 kms, a cold shower and no supper on a chilly evening is not a lifter-upper. Good thing I paid that extra 100 Krona for breakfast.
There was no soothing whiff of coffee in the morning, just silence. I wait, fully packed and ready, and nothing happens. Grimly reach for the fridge, chop some tomatoes, cucumbers, cheese and pile them up on a slice of bread. Make coffee, eat sandwich. Made an extra big sandwich for a possible further famine and wash up. Leave without further adooo.
Will need to make some value versus cost adjustments now in prep for Scandinavia.
See you soon…keep well and safe.
Morning came blessed in heavenly cloud. A respite from the heat.
I said an early goodbye to my lovely niece Kealena in Copenhagen. My little brother, who is almost 2 m tall, escorted me out of town and north along the flat sandy shores towards Helsingør to catch the ferry over to Sweden. The eastern horizon, a flat streak of dark blue across the greenish sea.
Cycling along the east coast of Zealand into a bright atmospheric mist must be one of the best rides on this planet. Gorgeous Danish homes look out over sand and sea surrounded by the prettiest gardens and trees. One is transported into a fairy-tale world where the roofs are thatched and walls are painted pumpkin yellow, red or black with small pane windows in painted wooden frames. Certainly this stretch of civilization has grown from a long history of respect to the environment and neighbours. Untold wealth without arrogance.
On the way we stopped to see the fascinating home/museum and garden of the multi-talented Danish author, Karen (Dinesen) Blixen, who wrote her memoirs here – “Out of Africa” ( Isak Dinesen ). You have probably seen the romantic film starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford. Theme song by John Barry.
Mist turned to rain as we arrived in Helsingør for the ferry. But first dashed over the moat to get a closer look at the incredible Kronborg castle where Shakespeare had Hamlet play out his drama. Eric of Pomerania built it in the 1420’s.
Bruce made the 20 minute trip on the ferry with me and remained on board for the return journey. He waved down to me from the high deck as I reluctantly disembarked.
It felt a bit like being dropped off at boarding school after the holidays. I have never been to Sweden, the 7th country on this journey, and a flood of trepidation put me in a spin. Sweden had not been part of my plan…
This time I was first off the ferry with my bike and had to find the way out of the docks while holding up a string of large pantechnicons grating their gears behind me.
Google girl knew better, and I followed her instructions through town and a modest but neat residential area and onto a new cycle track which was all mine for the next 20 kms or so. After that it was back to noisy road riding all afternoon.
So far Sweden seems normal and not at all scary. Different to be on the west coast now looking over towards sunset skies.
Ängelholm looks like a good place for a peaceful night, however there is no available accommodation, absolutely nothing anywhere up or down the coast. The ladies at the info office call around, and eventually find an expensive room in Valhall Park Hotell. I gulp and turn it down, then check my booking dot come app once again, and up pops the same room for almost half the price. So I quickly book it and set off in the rain. My phone instantly runs out of battery, so there is no help from google to find the place, but I had picked up a little city map at the info desk. Arrive by way of a forest and a highway. Feeling soggy and too tired for dinner…. unfortunately. The room is nice, quite posh for a stinky cyclist. They have a secure cage for bikes too. Gnawing on half an energy bar while writing this.
Creeping up to Copenhagen
Now that I’m in a true bicycle realm, Kealena and Bruce kindly gave me a crash course in cycling, thereby avoiding unnecessary calamity.
Hostels are great for cyclists. But be aware that here in the north you can rent sheets and towels for an extra fee, and you must clean the room before departure. Cleaning materials are usually provided.
We rode north along the coastline from Køge. The island is almost flat, relaxed under a subtle Scandinavian sun. Fuzzy bent grasses along the sandy shores look like brushed fur, caressed by a sea breeze. Even the factories are pretty! Children splash around in transparent water, old people sit on benches looking over the bay, and cows chew their cud in the shade of low trees.
Bridges and waterways chequer the landscape. We stop to look at the ARKEN MUSEUM OF MODERN ART, which sits on a sand bank. Intriguing architecture – a stranded ship – hence the name – Ark. A large collection of Damien Hirst, some Ai Weiwei, and other intriguing artists. Definitely worth a visit. The café hangs like a lifeboat on the side of the building. Our lunch order took so long to come we thought we had been stranded. When it arrived it was a life-saver, and the waitress gave us free coffee as a survival gesture.
On the way into the city is an architectural wonder – a super heater. It uses waste heat from other sources to heat water which circulates through the city homes in winter. Very efficient and clean. Ninety eight percent of Copenhagen’s heating comes from utilising waste heat from power stations or other sources. They also burn straw, wood pellets and similar stuff in these plants, but so efficiently there is hardly any pollution. No need for a boiler in the cellar.
They also have thousands of giant fans to cool the country in the summer. (lol).
Day 50 – Copenhagen city
It was the hottest day of the year. Even so, it’s always a pleasure to be in this amazing city. Danes never boast but will humbly admit to having one of the highest standards of living in the world. From Viking style to the most advanced modern extremes, their architectural styles cleverly fit the environment. Fashion and beauty is a natural extension and you’ll see the most exquisite creatures riding their bicycles along the cobbled streets.
We took the day off and joined the happy citizens and tourists for a cycle to see the sights and scenery.
Bruce and Kealena treated me to an all inclusive personalised tour. Meals, a chat with the little mermaid, and a new lock for my bike. So now I can stay in dodgy places without worry that a goblin may make off with it.
In town there is a power station which has a ski ramp on it, dubbed Copenhill. The chimney puffs out the occasional smoke ring. It also brags the highest artificial climbing wall in the world. Designed by Bjarke Ingels Group……magicians.
A delightful day in one of the most beautiful and vibrant cities in the world ended with street food on the harbour at Reffen. There is so much to say about Copenhagen but this blog is not long enough.
–Looks like it have been decided that I will be cycling all the way up the west coast of Sweden after all. Tomorrow Bruce will ride with me to the ferry at Helsingør where the ferry hops over to Helsingborg, where I’ll be on my own again–
Early morning hangs grey in the Danish sky.
While loading the bike this morning the front door blows shut and cannot be opened again. My panniers are still inside the foyer. I have already put my key into a box at the automatic reception. A man smoking in the carpark says “oh my yes I also forgot my key inside.” So we ring the doorbell a couple of times, knowing full well the automatic reception desk is not a walking robot. Luckily the chef is in the kitchen at the back of the hotel. After some vigorous window tapping he comes to open up.
According to La google, there is a train station nearby, which raises the important question, would it be ok to take a train for a little way? Yesterday’s slow day has put me behind schedule. Funny to have a schedule at all, but my Danish family have made plans to meet me.
The distance from Rødbyhavn to Vordingborg for lunch with Helle at 11am, and then go to Faxe to meet my brother Bruce and niece Kealena and then ride with them to Køge for the night, was beyond my abilities even on a winged ebike.
So, feeling slightly guilty I go in search of the train station. There were some big fences barricading the rusty railway lines, and it’s tricky getting around all the stuff that lies around the back of railway sidings. Weeds and broken up bits of cement. However, after almost giving up and with an extra push of perseverance I find a pathway which takes me around the end of some rails into a square building. A ticket machine pops up with complications. Then we go out on a vacant platform with no signage. After standing for a while, two men in luminous green jackets yell over from the far side of the fence, that I must “come over to that side…the train comes off the ferry and stops over there”.
So I pounce on my bike and scuttle around the little path to the far side of about 5 railway lines. A school group arrives to join me with a teacher who, in a her teachy voice, tells me she knows this is the “right platform and I have done it many times before.”
Just then a little train arrives from the Copenhagen direction on the furthest platform which I had so hurriedly left. There is a large bike symbol printed on the side of the carriage. It hums for a while, then a conductor shouts over to me “come immediately and board the train.”
Much to the astonishment of the school group I leap onto my bike and scuttle back around the end of the rails, and make it in time before he blows his whistle.
One learns in life, that most people are very kind, helpful and full of “hear-say” but it’s best to ask the Conductor of the Train. If you want to really sure of anything at all.
So there is my bike, the first train trip of her 3300 km life, strapped to a seat.
It was a short trip, 24 minutes to be exact, and we were soon gliding along on bike wheels again. The road would still see us do 130 kms before evening.
I was very happy to meet up with Helle and share an interesting lunch and arty conversation. She is an inspirational artist. Then fast pedalling and swooping along smooth farm roads onwards towards Faxe where Bruce and Kealena were waiting for tea and apple pie at the big white quarry. We rode to Køgel, taking the scenic route through golden fields of ripe wheat, dark green woods, and a soft velvet sea to the west. The clouds vanished and the scenery blazed to life.
Dinner this evening at the harbour is an Italian affair of “linguine allo scoglio” (thicker spaghetti noodles sozzled under an array of shellfish) and Chardonnay! Again gulped every scrap on the plate – wild animal me.
The three of us and my bike, shared a small room at a hostel on the edge of town.
Day 46 – Hamburg to Scharbeutz.
It was a sunshine and birdsong day as we joyfully rolled out of town, the three of us on our eeeee-bikes. It took us most of the morning to get going. City exits are complicated. Once you’re out into the lushous countryside cycling is a breeze.
This cycle path was a railway in the past, so an easy level chuffing along the now smoothly tarred surface. My companions are much faster than me with their lightweight overnight bags. We speed along the flashing green tree-lined path.
Instant coffee at a supermarket around mid-afternoon where some caffeine relief had Regina smiling once again. One becomes acutely aware of circadian, nutritional, and sleep rhythms on a long distance journey. I have become a completely different creature compared to my home self. It became obvious now, in the company of other humans, just how the body finds a rhythm and a rut that suits the individual for best success. When travelling in a group one must make compromises to stay together, and that makes a difference to your natural fitness.
In Lübeck we sat down at a busy bar for a celebratory sundowner glass of Prosecco. Surprised to hit my 3000 km mark right here in the center of this delightful town. I’m surprised because I thought I would be in Oslo by now.
We decided to ride a bit further north before calling it a day. There is a tunnel under the Trave estuary which is forbidden to cycle through. In Germany you can be sure there is a solution. Along came a shuttle bus dragging a trailer made especially for bikes. Not only that, there is also a ramp so you don’t need to lift your bike up. You ride on, snap the lock, jump into the bus and off you go through the tunnel.
This evening the three of us tired girlies are sharing a room at the ArtHotel in Scharbeutz. We rode here in the dark along the fabulous promenades. The elite have magnificent houses on this riviera. Regina rubbed deep-heat cream on her legs before hopping into bed because her knees hurt. Unfortunately she’s allergic to it, so she hopped right out again. Her legs turned a fiery red and burned all night while I snored!
Day 47 – Scharbeutz to Rødby.
–My brother and niece are in Copenhagen. According to them my plan to ride up to the north of Jutland to catch the boat to Norway is NOT acceptable. That would be cheating. I am to catch a ferry at Puttgarden to Denmark. They will take a train south with their bicycles and meet me halfway. We’ll spend a night somewhere on the coast then ride together into Copenhagen. (May take a ferry directly to Oslo from Copenhagen – but don’t dare mention that). They say “From there you must ride up the west coast of Sweden to Norway. No shortcuts, if you say you’re going to ride to Oslo then you must ride all the way.” –
Slow start on Friday, but fun riding all day towards Puttgarden with my two enthusiastic friends. Crossed over a mighty high and windy bridge. Access via a tiny gate in a security fence. Then we rode like witches on broomsticks to reach the last train of the day at Burg. Waved a sad goodbye to my friends Regina and Zoe, then dashed across to the other side of the island to catch the last ferry. Many huge trucks on the ship and one solitary bicycle.
Forty five minutes later the boat pulled up to Rødby and I staggered into the first hotel called “Stop and Sleep” right in the middle of the truck stop turning circle. Delectable dinner and good clean room.
End of part two – Thoughts on bike seat with a view!
I have spent two thirds of this journey tripping across Germany. Two thousand kilometers by bike from the Alps all the way up to the coast of the Baltic Sea. It has been such a privilege to use the vital infrastructure, cycle lanes, paths and safe hotels with bicycle storage. Solid breakfasts and dependable service all put together by generations of hard working, thoughtful people.
In my experience the northerners make little attempt at small talk but they do like to share practical information. They enjoy high levels of education and culture, create logically designed systems, build organised towns, grow pretty forests and control beautiful rivers. There is no time for meaningless chatter.
They’re also good at making never-ending road-works.
The enormous volume of construction and farming is quite overwhelming. Much of the land is being plastered with more roads, more cement and mono crops. The economy is booming to the sound of earth moving machinery, cranes, trucks, bigger ploughing tractors or harvesting machines and factories.
My wish for Europe is more flowering fallow land for the bees, magical wild forests for children, and a ban on bulldozers and cement for everyone. I think we have enough roads, enough car parks and supermarkets. Cities are like scabs on the Earth’s skin, if we stop scratching the ground then cities will heal up and the face of the Earth will look lovely again.Leanne
The day began at Zeven.
Cycling happily between perfectly manicured and manured farms. Paved cycle paths travel parallel to the main roads towards Buxtehude.
In town the tranquil pedestrian zone is decorated with copious flower baskets. I make a reconnaissance mission into a shop to buy a lightweight jacket. It’s the first time I’ve been in a shop, other than two brief escapades into an ebike store, since that supermarket when my glasses and hat were stolen. It feels really weird to be in a woman’s dress shop. I feel neither woman nor man, I’m a fusion these days.
From Buxtehude apparently there is a pleasant route directly into Hamburg. Ignorance is NOT bliss. Following the googley girl’s directions turn out to be a noisy road along the edge of the highway to Harburg (har har) and then north into a spaghetti of bridges and intersections where my phone battery expires and leaves me stranded.
At a rough place that sells soda someone told me it is possible to go into town from all directions (?)
One direction will do please. Thank God for church steeples. They have a higher purpose.
Hamburg is a stunning port city with a difficult history of fire, plague and war. But obviously the population is clever and resilient so they have created a splendid city once again.
Not terribly difficult to find the way to Regina and Mica’s place. They have kindly invited me to spend the night at their lovely apartment in the most swish part of town. Regina is an interior decorator and it shows.
She has hired ebikes so she, and her fifteen year old niece Zoe, can ride with me tomorrow. Looking forward to some company. But the clouds have gone berserk and rain is falling in buckets.
After an abundant breakfast we decide not to ride out until the rain subsides a bit. I’m happy to have a day of rest to tell you the truth. It has been a solid week of riding all day and my butt is in agony.
Regina drives us around to explore all the most interesting and beautiful sights in Hamburg. She is an expert on all the most secret, best and most enticing places. We visited the sparkling new Elbphilharmonie, a shining architectural crown and took a ferry around the harbour. Then walked along the waterfront looking for milkshakes. Rain didn’t matter.
Finally got to eat a proper Hamburger with sweet potato chips. The day ended with a night walk in the Speicherstadt, a UNESCO world heritage site, where the huge old brick warehouses have now been transformed into luxury estates. Hamburg certainly has a wealth of history. Not short of contemporary wealth as well.
There is a shortage of photography to the disastrous crash of my hard drive. Hope to have them professionally retrieved soon.
In our bookcase at home is an original translation of the Grimm’s fairy tales. Imagined it would be good to type out the true story of the Bremen musicians for you.
The Travelling Musicians – Grimm’s fairy tale.
An honest farmer had once an ass, that had been a faithful servant to him a great many years, but was now growing old and every day more and more unfit for work. His master therefore was tired of keeping him and began to think of putting an end to him : but the ass, who saw that some mischief was in the wind, took himself slyly off, and began his journey towards the great city of Bremen, “for there” thought he, ” I may turn musician.”
After he had travelled a little way, he spied a dog lying by the roadside and panting as if he were very tired. “What makes you pant so, my friend?” said the ass. “Alas!” said the dog, “my master was going to knock me on the head, because I am old and weak, and can no longer make myself useful to him in hunting; so I ran away : but what can I do to earn my livelihood?” “Hark ye!” said the ass, “I am going to the great city to turn musician : suppose you go with me, and try what you can do in the same way?”
The dog said he was willing, and they jogged on together.
They had not gone far before they saw a cat sitting in the middle of the road and making a most rueful face. “Pray, my good lady,” said the ass, “what’s the matter with you? you look quite out of spirits!” “Ah me!” said the cat, “how can one be in good spirits when one’s life is in danger? Because I am beginning to grow old, and had rather lie at my ease by the fire than run about the house after the mice, my mistress laid hold of me, and was going to drown me; and though I have been lucky enough to get away from her, I do not know what I am to live upon.” “O !” said the ass, “by all means go with us to the great city; you are a good night singer, and may make your fortune as a musician.” The cat was pleased with the thought, and joined the party.
Soon afterwards, as they were passing by a farmyard, they saw a cock perched upon a gate, and screaming out with all his might and main. “Bravo!” said the ass; “upon my word you make a famous noise; pray what is all this about?” “Why,” said the cock, “I was just now saying that we should have fine weather for our washing-day, and yet my mistress and the cook don’t thank me for my pains, but threaten to cut off my head to-morrow, and make broth of me for the guests that are coming on Sunday!” “Heaven forbid!” said the ass; “come with us Master Chanticleer; it will be better, at any rate, who knows? If we take care to sing in tune, we may get up some kind of a concert: so come along with us” “With all my heart,” said the cock: so they all four went on jollily together.
They could not, however, reach the great city the first day; so when night came on, they went into a wood to sleep. The ass and the dog laid themselves down under a great tree, and the cat climbed up into the branches; while the cock, thinking that the higher he sat the safer he should be, flew up to the very top of the tree, and then, according to his custom, before he went to sleep, looked out on all sides of him to see that everything was well. In doing this, he saw afar off something bright and shining; and calling to his companions said, “There must be a house no great way off, for I see a light.” “If that be the case,” said the ass, “we had better change our quarters, for our lodging is not the best in the world!” “Besides,” added the dog, “I should not be the worse for a bone or two, or a bit of meat.” So they walked off together towards the spot where Chanticleer had seen the light; and as they drew near, it became larger and brighter, till they at last came close to a house in which a gang of robbers lived.
The ass, being the tallest of the company, marched up to the window and peeped in. “Well, Donkey,” said Chanticleer, “what do you see?” “What do I see?” replied the ass, “why I see a table spread with all kinds of good things, and robbers sitting round it making merry.” “That would be a noble lodging for us,” said the cock. “Yes,” said the ass, “if we could only get in:” so they consulted together how they should contrive to get the robbers out; and at last they hit upon a plan. The ass placed himself upright on his hind-legs, with his fore-feet resting against the window; the dog got upon his back; the cat scrambled up to the dog’s shoulders, and the cock flew up and sat upon the cat’s head. When all was ready, a signal was given, and they began their music. The ass brayed, the dog barked, the cat mewed, and the cock screamed; and then they all broke through the window at once, and came tumbling into the room, amongst the broken glass, with a most hideous clatter!
The robbers, who had been not a little frightened by the opening concert, had now no doubt that some frightful hobgoblin had broken in upon them, and scampered away as fast as they could.
The coast once clear, our travellers soon sat down, and dispatched what the robbers had left, with as much eagerness as if they had not expected to eat again for a month. As soon as they had satisfied themselves, they put out the lights, and each once more sought out a resting-place to his own liking. The donkey laid himself down upon a heap of straw in the yard; the dog stretched himself upon a mat behind the door; the cat rolled herself up on the hearth before the warm ashes; and the cock perched upon a beam on the top of the house; and, as they were all rather tired with their journey, they soon fell asleep.
But about midnight, when the robbers saw from afar that the lights were out and that all seemed quiet, they began to think that they had been in too great a hurry to run away; and one of them, who was bolder than the rest, went to see what was going on. Finding everything still, he marched into the kitchen, and groped about till he found a match in order to light a candle; and then, espying the glittering fiery eyes of the cat, he mistook them for live coals, and held the match to light it. But the cat, not understanding this joke, sprung at this face, and spit and scratched at him. This frightened him dreadfully and away he ran to the back door; but there the dog jumped up and bit him in the leg; and as he was crossing over the yard the ass kicked him; and the cock, who had been awakened by the noise, crowed with all this might. At this the robber ran back as fast as he could to his comrades, and told the captain how a horrid witch had got into the house, and had spit at him and scratched his face with her long bony fingers; how a man with a knife in his hand had hidden himself behind the door, and stabbed him in the leg; how a black monster stood in the yard and struck him with a club, and how the devil sat upon the top of the house and cried out, “Throw the rascal up here!” After this the robbers never dared to go back to the house : but the musicians were so pleased with their quarters, that they took up their abode there; and there they are, I dare say, at this very day.
Today a grey wind came from the side and flattened me and threatened to fly away with my panniers. I struggled along for miles and miles, looking for a lunch place and not finding one.
The only place offering any protection from the wind was a bus stop booth. The stale roll and cheese left over from the day before was surprisingly delicious. A swig of water and back on road with the wind howling in my ears.
Bremen is a good city for cyclists. You can ride right into the center on tracks and do a loop around the squares looking at all the gracious architecture. Excellent coffee and friendly people.
In Zeven, Hotel Central had a big white room with the best pillow ever.
If you write down all the little details of the day when you’re living in isolation, the page begins to take on a pattern of “I” marks. It is too easy to make this egotistical line when describing a solo bike ride, and eventually it becomes so monotonous it almost makes you cry.
That’s why it was so lovely to be riding together with Birgitta and Hanns Georg. They did all the navigating and listening. The inner voices shut up for a change.
After about 60 kms, having circumnavigated Münster my cycling companions happily waved me off and turned to make the journey home. This parting of the ways happened at the foot of a range of hills which form the border between North Rhine-Westphalia and lower Saxony.
The sudden feeling of solitude was quite exaggerated. You feel as if you are always on high alert for something great and glorious to happen. Or something quite the opposite.
What actually happens is you develop a kind of humility and deep faith in people. They provide the roads and hotels and prepare the food. Especially grateful to my husband who provides the means with a huge amount of encouragement and moral support, and my kids who cheer me on. And all my interested friends who follow the blog and write encouraging notes. So many components make up the journey.
On a small country road going into the industrial side of Osnabrück city, a rowdy bunch of about twenty young men, shirtless and drunk, tried to block my path. They were probably playing the fool, but the inner voices screamed in unison “ don’t let them kill you!”.
Since the time of Eve, a lone foreign woman confronted by a group of strange bored men in party mode has never been a good thing. Adrenaline propelled me into a speedy zigzag between their outstretched arms. My dikky heart thumped quite hard for the next few kilometers. Shew!
It is wonderful that we have come so far in this world, where a woman can travel alone for thousands of kilometers across cultures. I suppose it’s very much safer for a middle-aged crone like me who attracts very little attention or temptation.
The bed in the hotel opposite the main station at the center of Onsabrück is crispy clean. These days who cares about bed cleanliness when one’s body looks and feels like a female Frankenstein. So long as the bed is soft and horizontal and free of smears and hair that’s fine. From the dizzy height of puffed up pillows looking down at my bird legs, the same sort of hard scaly skin, and reddish colour around the ankles. The fingers stick out in all directions, until they’re forced back into alignment.
The final sounds of the day are a couple of drunks outside the window yelling songs and smashing bottles.
Day 42 – Osnabrück to Neubruchhausen
Riding out too early into the cold air. No coffee shop open at this hour on a Sunday morning to soothe a sore throat.
After 15 kms of banal misery the cycle path came to a nettle infested end. According to google this is actually the cycle track. A man in a big black coat and a trash bag came out of his gate and told me to go back up the hill and turn left. I did.
In a village with no name, the hot yeasty perfume of baking bread came floating around the corner. A huge frothy cappuccino and a helping of German apple pie in yellow custard brought tears to my eyes. Cuddled into a sunny window nook. That soon sorted out the brown mood of the morning.
From there on the road goes straight. So straight, there was no end to it. Pedalling and pedalling with not a peepee place in sight. Beware of stinging nettles when squatting in the bushes.
Taking a break to paint a straight row of round trees in watercolour.
The afternoon was also pretty straight, but it gave me a chance to clock up 106 kms without too much bother. Incredible how music can heal a person. Normally the phone battery fizzles too quickly so music has been sadly missed on this journey. For the first time in 2600 kms I put in the earbuds and play a song. Suddenly the world changes from sepia to a blast of handlebar tapping and singing out of tune.
Riding into Bassum now, looking around for a place to stay. Something about the weedy pavements sends me back into moody trepidation. One B&B appears on booking dot com. Now standing on the dusty doorstep of the modest looking place ringing the doorbell. No answer. Don’t panic. A very large man comes sweating along the pavement in a green stretchy sports suit and a tiny shiny black dog. It had one blind eye and shows me his teensy white fangs. The big man tells me “ closed, you must go on to next town noi broogh house in. There is Post hotel. Have rooms for sure”. I asked him to repeat the name of the place….”Neubruchhausen”.
On the way there the cycle track fizzles out so the only thing to do is ride on a super fast road. It is forbidden to cycle on the road. Take off my helmet so drivers can see they were dealing with a dizzy blonde and give me some shoulder room to ride on.
Zum Hotel Post is difficult to miss. Good room and supper, no wifi.
Now in the North Rhine-Westphalia area of Germany, and trying to follow the Industrial heritage route for cyclists. My phone died just twenty minutes after setting out, so I’m on a higgledy-piggledy quest to find the way towards who-knows-where. Real cyclists would have the full kit of maps and apps. They would have done some reading and planning. Instead I fiddle with photos, painting and writing, then collapse into bed by nine.
The 2500 km mark popped up directly in front of a raspberry farm stall. It was a happy moment after a tough, hot and smelly day of riding through industrial parks and road works. I was negotiating yet another “umleitung” which took me off the canal cycle track and through a farm. Britta Jakobi offered me some of her fresh raspberries to taste. Heaven!
The air there is not good. If you look on the map for Marxloh, Oberhausen, Essen, Bochum, Dortmund…you’ll see a lot of tall factory towers. It took me three hours to ride through. My eyes burned terribly from the chemicals. However the community have built these amazing cycle routes in the area. Römer-Lippe river
Coffee stop, recharged phone, but it lasted another twenty minutes and so wandered lonely as a cloud until I found a yacht club where I ordered lunch while it charged again. The waitress pointed me in the direction of Henrichenburg, but I decided to follow the signs in the opposite direction instead. To Henrichenburg.
Very interesting place, Henrichenburg, where the ships are taken in and out of the water.
Found a nice place to sleep at Datteln.
Day 40 – Datteln to Drensteinfurt
Grey sky day. I have a super invitation from friends of ours Hans-Georg and Birgitta to overnight with them. They sent me a digital map but I soon took the wrong turn. Thinking it was simply a matter of following the canal I went on for most of the morning but found it was the wrong canal. No wonder there were no people.
A lock, front and back.
A long way later, in Lüdinghausen, found out I was supposed to be Lünen, so had to change plans… but first a visit to a medieval expo at the castle. Fascinating walk and conversations in the park there filled with characters from the past. Well worth the mistake.
This is the path I frantically took to reach Ascheberg. “Googly girl” told me go through the farms which involved some bushwacking.
Birgitta kindly came by bike to fetch me in Ascheberg, and we rode together to their hometown Drensteinfurt. I was given a lovely welcome, great food and enjoyed the afternoon and evening in their comfortable company.
Famous Hans-Georg giant waffles with strawberries and cream.
The sun gradually dragged the billowing sky down to the smoking chimney stacks. A giant storm growled through dinner, but not a drop of rain fell on my Erdinger sponsored umbrella at the factory food place.
Getting here by cycle track from Monheim am Rhein took me through Düsseldorf, where an enthusiastic young man at the central bike shop sold me a stretchy gadget that looks like a condom with strategic holes. He wrapped the phone onto the handlebars with it, making it possible for me see the screen while riding. You are probably rolling your eyes and wondering why I didn’t get that sorted out at the beginning of the trip. Two reasons would be – I’m a slow organiser and I have a ‘make do’ attitude left over from the war.
Düsseldorf surprised me with it’s simplicity, and I had no problem at all getting into town, and out of it again. Doris, who we met doing the Francigena in Italy, had kindly invited me to stay with her here. At the time I didn’t know exactly where the city of Düsseldorf was. So it is quite surprising I made it here at all. Would be nice to know if she ever reached Rome and what she thought of our complex home city. Unfortunately she’s not in town at the moment.
North of Düsseldorf, the cycle path takes me into a poem.
So beautiful. Huge old trees line the road, many old people pedal along too, some in wheelchairs, some on roller skates. You can go for miles and miles through the fields without interruption. The wild ancient forests are all gone, but what remains is a stunning hint of what was there before.
A lunch place popped up with tables set out under a dark canopy of trees. Alte Rheinfähre.
The waiter dressed in black and white had a special look about him, he stooped down to get my order, and I nervously pointed at the middle of the menu. The surprise plate was …matjes, with roast potatoes and a creamy dill dressing. Marinated fish, really delicious.
Afternoons on the bike tend to get a bit hot and complicated. Most of it is done standing on the pedals. My right hand is certainly not well. After the googley girl told me to go around the same field twice I switched her off and just road willy-nilly. That’s the nice thing about not knowing where to go is wherever you go is ok. It’s not wrong at least. I went through many small towns, mostly very quiet. On the skyline begin an ominous line of enormous factory towers and billowing chimneys.
Flammkuchen is a thin pastry crust with high edges. It is smeared with a thin layer of sour cheese, and usually served with traditional onions and speck sprinkled on top, but I opted for the veggie version with sliced tomatoes and rocket. Eat it fast while it’s hot.
Losing sight of the Great Emotional River Rhine.
The route will take me slightly eastward and away. It is a moving goodbye. I will miss the scintilla, the dark swirls and reflections. The whole thing rushes into the Netherlands and merges with the sea at Rotterdam.
Thankfully there has been a great effort over the past few years to clean it up. Fish are beginning to return and the stinky chemical slime has moved on. The only trouble is the e-coli from sewage processing plants and the heavy boat traffic but some good people are working on improving that.
A small bottle of water cost me Euro 5 this afternoon. More expensive than beer.
While being lost in the town of Duisburg, I found myself doing a u-turn in front of a police station. It looked approachable, so I went in and declared the theft of my glasses. An officer wrote up the report..
Typing intently on his old clickitty-clacketty computer keyboard at high speed, after about fifteen minutes he printed it out for me and stamped it. Astonishingly he only managed three sentences. Seriously, this report will be sent to the police in Linz am Rhein, where I have declared the thief stole my bug glasses and sun hat. There they will investigate the matter further. I’m sure they will, this is Germany. What a bother.
Spent the night in a hostel Jugendherberge, Duisberg, Landschaftspark…in a rusty restored Industrial zone.
The girl at the hostel desk has given me their special handicap room, most likely because I’m the oldest guest by far and I look like I could use a walker. It is sparkling clean and comfortable with a chair in the shower, and a red switch next to the bed, which I pressed thinking it was the light switch. It blinked for a while, then I blinked off to sleep.
Each turn of the pedals becomes a brush stroke in my miniscule picture-book of experience. Spinning out of the Sankt Goar gorge with all it’s high castles and history (a testament to the terrifying past) and into the modern future. After a good breakfast with good friends of course.
Magnificent riding along the river from Bad Honnef passed Bonn and on to Cologne. Thanks to those who have worked to make the cycle tracks here. Brilliant! The track includes a special ferry man who pulls you and your bike across a green stream on a raft…wearing a sailor cap and a broad smile.
There’s a tranquil bustle in this obviously well organised and prosperous area.
The widening Rhine river surges forward leaving small waves to lick the banks. The tinsley effervescent foam lasts a moment and is gone, much like life. I imagine the universe is much like a great flowing river of which we call time. The energy of that flow probably creates ‘foam’ which fizzes with life. Anyway, the idea is comforting.
After admiring the incredible, tall, blackish cathedral in Cologne, my “Googledy girl” on the maps app tells me to go west. Now, if you are stuck in the middle of an old city maze, how is one to know where west actually is? It’s midday, so the shadows don’t show…. she should tell me go straight ahead, or turn around… Where the heck is West? Humpff.
After a lot of bother, I used pigeon instinct to get out of there. Only to find that my fancy new sunglasses and my hat were not on board anymore. They’ve taken another route. Quite an ugly realisation, as those are prescription glasses had a price tag that took my breath away. As for the hat, it was khaki with a big flap around the back and a sun peak. Not beautiful but I liked it.
I cannot blame Cologne for theft as I never left my bike, not even for a moment. Someone must have stolen the stuff yesterday when I stopped at the supermarket for a green drink. There was a suspicious looking character who watched me there. Or it could have been where I stopped to buy a South African flag to ward off vehicles. Since then I presumed they were packed in my pannier. Those glasses had the effect of a powerful zoom and strange aerodynamics which actually sucked bugs into my eyes instead of repelling them. Is that a thing?
In my dilemma I forgot that Simon had told me to cross the river at Cologne. The bridge didn’t pop up as it should, so I went willy-nilly onwards looking for signs. A man cupped his hands around his mouth and yelled at me in German “DREH UM!!! DREH UM!!!”. It was frightening but I figured it must mean turn around. So I did.
Shortly after that I merged into what must be the biggest industrial park in the world. All that concrete and plastered tar, puffing chimney heat mixed with hard sunshine made the next hours of cycling tough. I intensely dislike concrete. Wound my way passed Ford factories, cooling towers and other enormous sheds for many kilometers. Eventually turned back and magically found my river again. Heartened to see other cyclists flitting by. Crossed over on the ferry. From there on all I could think about was finding a place to stay, which popped up at 17:30 in Monheim am Rhein. Plonked myself down on my lonely ass for an ice cold beer before retiring to the low-ceiling single room above the restaurant.
distance today 83.32
Simon left Rome very early in the morning and landed at Frankfurt-Hahn airport, hired a car and drove to meet me at Oberwesel. Happily freewheeled down the hill to find him waiting in the car park. We wandered through the quaint town and milky coffee and a large slice of romantic cake at the Konditorei-caffè Bonsch.
For the sake of love I let him ride my bike sans-panniers for 17 kms to Boppard while I drove the cumbersome car. There he surprised me with a booking at the extraordinary Bellevue Rheinhotel. A luxurious room with a river view! Lovely place for some pampering.
No cycling this weekend but as Simon is known to be a no-limits man, we managed to visit five different castles on one day. Including the infamous Loreley rock. “Die Loreley” is a poem written by Heinrich Heine in 1824 which describes a lovely siren sitting on the slate cliff above the Rhine and combing her golden hair. She unwittingly distracted shipmen with her beauty and song causing them to crash on the rocks.
The tour was not without a good number of wine tasting sessions. This is Riesling territory after all.
One cannot escape sampling the German beer as well, and eating enormous helpings of tasty food under the hanging baskets of geraniums and rose covered pergolas. It was all supremely majestical.
We also took a small boat over to an island to see the customs house. Once the passing ships had to stop to pay taxes here. History on https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pfalzgrafenstein_Castle
Here are loads of photographs which tell the story.
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….
Day 36 – Boppard to Bad Honnin
Simon had to leave very early on Monday morning to get back to the office in time.
He was not there to see me heading off north down river, hopping from coast to coast by ferry, whenever things looked more interesting on the opposite bank. The track is perfect up until Koblenz where it gets a bit lost in the industrial zone. An older couple stopped me to complain, they thought it was an idyllic riverside tour all the way. It soon became idyllic once again.
Having got lost and eventually crossed over the train bridge at Ermitz, the path fizzled out, and I found myself struggling along in the grass. But after some panicky moments in a dark wood, up popped a lovely girl with a dog, and said I should persist. Soon a town popped up and I felt much more on the right track. There are many lovely little villages along the way, but now they are much flatter and more spread out.
Linz am Rhein.
Found the super Bacchus garten at Leyscher Hotel in Leutesdorf under giant walnut trees on the river bank for lunch.
The track was closed, so I shot onto the ferry just in time. On the opposite bank was another ferry just ready to go, so hopped onto that one, so zigzagged a bit to avoid the construction works.
Later that afternoon I was happy to accept a very generous invitation to stay with our friends Rolf and Bianca in Bad Honnef. They treated me to a sumptuous BBQ with good Italian wine and a lovely guest room. Fabulous friends.
This illustration is slightly imaginative, conjured up from memory. The poplar trees keep me company all along the cycle track on the river dykes. I hope to paint them again plein-air.
Wurstsalat has been the bug on every menu since Freiburg. At the biergarten in Bingen a woman sitting near me ordered it, so I forced myself to give it a try.
It was served in a glass jar with a lid and the contents looked like a nest of worms, but it was satisfyingly delicious! You would think having a German husband would have exposed me to this salad at least once on our many trips to see family in southern Germany. With my elevated cholesterol level I must stop having all these würsts, schnitzels, and bread served with FAT Schweineschmalz. At dinner this evening I was served a basket of bread and a little ceramic dish of fat. A thimble sized serving of pure white fat with bits of cured meat in it. I took a tiny scraping….but the guilt was huge.
This morning in the lovely city of Mainz I found an E-bike shop and asked the nice smartly dressed young salesman to please check my pedals. He tapped them and declared them tight.
I had the feeling he thought I was just looking for some attention.
Simon is coming to visit.
I am so excited that Simon is arriving in two days to keep me company for the weekend. I hope he’s not shocked at my vagabond appearance.
A month of daily sun and wind has darkened my face to a mottled brown (nose in particular). My glasses have protected the eye skin and weepy pink piggy eyes (allergies). Arms are as scaly as branches and my legs have a patchy burn on the back of the calves. The feet stripes are a mix between giraffe and zebra. Backs of the ankles are a mess from pedal bites. The hand tendons are pronounced. When I wake up in the morning they need time to unravel.
As for my clothes, I wear the same stretch pants every evening. It gets a bit cool on the terrace restaurants and there are mosquitoes around. The nice little frock I brought with me for romantic possibilities is hideously short and does nothing to cover the two-tone-tan effect.
My hair…oh dear! In Italian – “Un casino”
This morning when the church bells gonged in Nackenheim and woke me up at six, I painted a new sign for the handlebar bag. The other one was dull. It’s a bright and cheerful watercolour with the Italian flag in one corner and the Norwegian in the other… Roma – Oslo. At this point I’m beginning to believe that I may in fact, finish.
This caused a stir amongst the oncoming cycle traffic. Within minutes three women cyclists from Amsterdam called after me: “Roma!!! Roma!!!…” so I stopped and we gaggled together about our respective tours. A nice Italian man called Marco saw me at the caffe and said he would follow the blog.
On the ferry crossing over the Rhine once more, a large group of loud men doing their annual cycling tour, took it upon themselves to include me in their photographs. They galantly offered ‘ladies first’ when it was time to disembark. They all watched to see how I would negotiate the steep ramp out of the boat and up the river bank. Haha, I shot up there so fast with my battery on turbo…and heard them all having a good laugh.
The hilly slopes are beginning to steepen and are blanketed with vineyards. Beautiful scenery and architecture everywhere you look!
Found a very pleasant hotel at the water edge called Hotel Schön.
Only 60 kms today, with an average speed of 23 kmph. I don’t want to go too far. Simon and I would like to spend two days together on this stretch of river amongst the castles and vineyards around Loreley. How romantic!
Day 33 – Assmannshausen to Dellhofen
I dreamed I could fly and had a magic blanket that spilled out all manner of exquisite things when I shook it.
Breakfast on the veranda under a flowering trellis at a table dressed in white linen and elegantly battered silver cutlery and coffee pot. It must have been shiny once when my Great-Great Grandmother, Sarah sat at this very table. I have no proof of that, but she lived in Germany for a year… so maybe…
The morning is exuberant with fresh vineyards. Riesling grapes budding on the vines. The Rhein is becoming greener and deeper as it winds into the gorge at Sankt Goar.
Along the comfortable cycle route at the very edge of the water, someone has set up the perfect table and chairs on the riverbank just for me apparently. I painted the scene on the opposite bank from under a large white board with number 542 printed in black ….which I presume is a kilometer sign for boat pilots. It is a tricky section to navigate.
It is a really hot day, and so with a bit of meandering and hanging around painting I didn’t do more than 30 kilometres. On a tall stone was written this poem –
In jeder Planze ist Mein Herz spricht die Erde So nur fang den Himmel ich auf - F.G. Paff
The translation is more or less this – In every plant, is my heart, says the earth, only like this, I catch the sky.
Thought I would be soft on myself and book a room in advance. On arrival in the village of Oberwesel, as a challenge to my searching and finding skills (no map), I nonchalantly pedalled up and down looking for nr 43 Rheinhöhenstraße… Eventually had to ask a shopkeeper. She said “Oh that’s right on top of the mountain!! You can’t go up there with the bicycle, it is a very hot day”. That’s the problem with google maps, you can’t see contour lines.
I did go up at great discomfort but thanks to my ebike. The river is nowhere to be seen from up here but Landhotel Zum Kronprinzen is really nice. The name is noble and dinner was served in a lovely private garden next door.
Tomorrow I’ll whizz down the hill to meet Simon.
Today the wind came up against me. The tall poplar trees along the river bank clapped their leaves. Sounds like a standing ovation – tree applause. Birds of prey skim from the blue sky over the bristling wheat fields searching for mice.
A river of this magnitude begins with a twinkle on a mountain peak then joins with others until it becomes a powerful moving force, such magic. Thinking about the dams, locks, dykes, canals, chemicals, barges, all strangling the loveliness. I ride on the incredible eurovelo 15 cycle path and appreciate it very much of course.
Getting out of the city of Ludwigshafen is a snakes and ladders game. On the outskirts of town in the industrial area under a bridge there is a kiosk that makes a hot brown beverage. The three old men who shared the stuff with me won’t believe I come from Rome.
I’ve noticed a strange phenomena too regular to be sheer coincidence. Maybe I’m getting a bit googledy-gook, but if I need something it just comes, like riding through a pop-up story book. Each page swings up at me, whether it be a kiosk, or a sign post, a cycle track, or a place to stay.
I dare not let anxiety pop-up, in case it manifests. But it is very reassuring to know that all you need is proper attention and consideration at every intersection, then the journey goes on.
Worms had no redeeming features. I ask a girl near the station: ” Juligung Juligung, where is the centrum, the altstadt…innerstadt??”. She replies “You are in it, this is Worms”.
At the bakery-cafe, three large flies rest on the cheesecake. The cakes look huge and delicious. I ride around town looking for somewhere I can sit down to eat my slice.
Later at lunch, sitting at a table under a big green umbrella eating salad on the banks of the mighty Rhine, a large spider lands on me and I do a sudden little jig and beat my chest like Tarzan. I hope I didn’t damage it.
Extremely long barges come sailing upstream loaded high with containers or piles of sand. Surprisingly they don’t make much of a wave.
Pedal and pedal all day, usually along the dykes. There are a handful of other cyclists, and some of them are loaded with panniers for longer trips. I follow a man who looks like he knows where he is going. He has a one-wheeled trailer attached to the back of his bike loaded with his camping gear. At a wider section of cycle track, I ride alongside him and say ‘Guten Tag”. He immediately tells me he had just completed 2000 kms, but when I say ‘me too’, he gives me a contemptuous look. I should have just said ‘BRAVO’ then he may have chatted longer. Every bit of solo cyclist conversation out here on the lonesome dykes is precious.
Back in wine country this evening, there are hills here, and a microclimate ideal for viticulture.
Fortunate to find a room at the Landhotel in Nackenheim. Feeling quite knackered myself. I telephone ahead this time but the owner tells me he is fully booked…but wait, yes, there is a single room. A good price at 50 Euros including breakfast. The chef is sick so the hotelier sends me to the Sports Bar for a large schnitzel and beer. The clientele are all dressed in German red, black and yellow. War painted faces sucking on cigarettes. I am the only happy person here. Apparently Germany has just been kicked out of the world cup soccer tournament. What misery.
Bitte schön – danke schön…Tchuss (sounds like cheers).
Jesolo eis happened to be at the 2000 km mark. There a lovely young lady called Kira kindly served me a trophy pistachio and fresh kiwi sundae to celebrate.
This morning I woke up at seven in Hotel Sonne in Neuberg feeling a little guilty at the tardiness. Gulped a quick breakfast and headed out of town. Soon the shimmering river came into view and it felt glorious to be rolling along the path with the water twinkling in the morning sun. Dark forest on my left and bright water on my right.
Later, at a large road intersection, I bumped into a woman cyclist. Unfortunately I didn’t get her name but she’s Swiss and has cycled 1000 kms on her trip so far. Her birthday is on the Swiss National day and she’ll be 60. She certainly looked a lot younger. You see, biking is good for everything. Exchanged all that critical information with glee but then had to move in our opposite directions. She is the first and only solo female cyclist I have come across since Rome. She had a very nice waterproof map book of all the tracks along the Rhein. Wonder where I can get that?
After a humming ride along the dykes, I found a spot for lunch in the middle of nowhere. Well I had no idea where, but it was somewhere in the middle. You can’t get totally lost in Europe, you need to go on and somebody will tell you where you are.
People here seem to love ordering what looks like polony salad. It’s shredded pink meat cloaked in a dressing.
Germersheim was nice, the info desk officer showed me about eight different maps for cycle tours in the area, but none had enough scope for my day. That plastic map book needs to be ordered online apparently.
I couldn’t find the arch that was printed on all the stuff in the info shop. Simon would be frowning at me. No map and no plan but one cannot plan an adventure.
Speyer is a very interesting place with a long and convoluted history. There is a technical museum full of all sorts of things and a giant imax cinema. There wasn’t a show on at that moment, otherwise I would have stayed and watched it. A large Lufthansa aircraft on stilts is open to tourists, one can see them go out on the wing.
The old city is beautiful, worth a another visit for sure. Nice and spacious with pretty architecture.
After leaving Speyer, the villages come and go. – Otterstadt – Waldsee – Limburgerhof…. I saw storks and greeted a dalmatian, amongst other things. A pink frog leapt out of the bush into my path, birds chirped, tractors made dust, and my thoughts bounced around.
Then the thought of a bed tonight began to pester me. So I headed for Ludwigshafen, where I hit the 2000 km mark and had the ice-cream. Those kind people sent me on, and I found a hotel at the river with some difficulty. The B&B Hotel receptionist said they were fully booked like all the others, and sent me packing. After a desperate flip around town looking for another hotel I checked Booking.com again and it showed that B&B had in fact an available room. So I returned and asked a second time. She emphatically denied the fact. So I went outside and booked it on the app on my phone, then went back to receptionist who was quite apologetic. I was so relieved I could have hugged her. My bike stayed in the backyard.
Ludwigshafen is the main site of BASF, the largest integrated chemical factory in the world. I’m not keen on chemical production considering the damage to ecology.
Last word from the receptionist “I don’t drink the tap water here, but you can if you want to”.
It is almost full moon, I left Marino a moonth ago today. Celebrate the 2000 km with a howl at the moon then trot over to the nearest Italian restaurant overlooking the river and order a little pasta dish.
96 kms today.
Today I rode passed an army barracks onto a narrow path in the woods. A regiment of soldiers came jogging at me in single file. Unfortunately I couldn’t get a good look as I was forced to concentrate on the necessary avoidance manoeuvre. Narrow paths can be treacherous with tufts of thorny blackberries and hidden pointy stones.
Paying attention on the real world in present-moment-mode comes at the high cost of daydreaming. Avoiding mishaps is absolutely imperative at my age. A short lapse in concentration could compromise the entire project.
Pedalling at a good speed along the canals, one hand resting on my hip. The handlebars are instruments of torture. Every kilometer or so I stand on my pedals to allow blood to circulate again. Which brings me to thinking about the river. The Rhine must have been a beautiful thing once. Like a large plait with a myriad of small forested islands. There would have been pebbly beaches on those islands and swarms of life living in their nooks. Water would move quicker in some areas and slower in others, making it possible for all sorts of different habitats. I imagine it would have been teeming with fish, insects and flowers on the banks, big old wild trees bending over to dapple the water, and flocks of gorgeous birds.
Now riding along a cement canal parallel to the river which drags on between the dykes. This dead straight configuration lets the water flow faster, so locks and dams are necessary to prevent flooding. The mud at the bottom is toxic with factory waste. I glide along through the paradox of being able to do this ride so easily at the huge sacrifice of such a great and beautiful river. Without the economic farming and industrial network of support, it would be impossible to do this cycle tour. But I would give up this ride in an instant to have a healthy river back again.
Goethe said “things that matter most must never be at the mercy of those things that matter least”
Strasbourg is lovely.
I bought a little stuffed stork, which is symbolic of the Alsace region, hoping it will bring me more grandchildren. There are storks nesting on rooftops and electricity pylons.
A man was playing the sax so beautifully I couldn’t move under the spell.
Apparently the Parc de l’Orangerie is lovely to see, so I make my way under the shadow of the Cathedral and across town. No luck finding the garden, instead my track takes me north through a forest and farmland to Drusenheim where there is no available accommodation.
According to what I could eek out of my app, there is a hostel room in Bischwiller. At the gate stand an American couple who have booked in advance. Nobody answers the bell or the phone. After peeking through the crack between wall and gate I decide that it’s a lucky thing there is no-one at home and I make my escape. At the top of the next hill I check the app again and find a room in Marienthal.
I’m the only guest at Hotel Notre Dame – ‘L’Ermitage tonight. My bike is parked in the company of an Italian Ape (three-wheeled vehicle) in the shed. The owner said she would bring a tray of supper up to my room in 30 mins. It has been an hour now. I go downstairs to see if perhaps we have a misunderstanding. I find her in the kitchen eating dinner with the chef. She apologizes and laughs. Later she brings in a tray of salad leaves and hunks of cheese, slices of ham and a bottle of water. The remains of the day. I am very pleased.
Breakfast near the monument to Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe in Sessenheim. He met his beloved Frederike around here.
“Love does not dominate, it cultivates” – Goethe
It’s a green and gritty ride today, a long way on the dyke, which is forbidden apparently. Not sure when it happened but I find myself on the river side of an endless fence. Forced to do some bush-whacking, and scale a strange overpass. Perfectly lonely riding, not a soul on this enormous dyke. On and on it goes all morning until at last there is a faulty gate through which I escape.
Goodbye France. Crossed the bridge between France and Germany trailing a queue of cars behind me. The pungent odour of cows was waiting! ..phew!
Soon the smell changed to chicken schtink, then a field sprayed with pigswill made me gag. You wonder how the crops bear it!
The huge Mercedes factory is just south of Rastatt.
Hay-fever is a real thing out here with the farmers tossing hay into the sky. Big spinning mechanical forks fling it up to dry it out. That mixed with road dust, pollen clouds and swarms of gnats makes it impossible to go without a face mask. Nothing fancy, just a stretchy neck scarf which can be easily pulled down when oxygen levels get too low. The wheezing cough persists.
Crossed the river once again, but still in Germany now. Found a place to sleep in Neuberg tonight, at the Sonne hotel. Terribly slow internet, but great Greek food!
“We should talk less and draw more. Personally I would like to renounce speech altogether, and like organic nature, communicate everything I have to say in sketches”. (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)
A bicycle has two sides to it. Not only is cycling a mood altering activity but is virtually harmless to our Earth. It also cures diseases of the body, mind and soul. Better than yoga, better than pills, even better than a glass of wine.
You can pedal elegantly along at thinking speed or beat at the pedals with your foot fists. Either way you leave negative thoughts behind. Go ahead and smile, sob, struggle, sing or scream on a bike, it’s an emotion-balancing instrument. By the time you reach your destination everything will be fine.
You can propel yourself along at a manageable speed, neither too fast nor too slow. Freewheeling down and grinding up the hills. A bike easily becomes an extension of the body and mind. You can slow down to see the black sheen of a raven’s back as it flaps across your path, or speed up to overtake a sewage processing plant. Thereby maximising the amount of beauty you see going by, and minimising the ugly bits.
Freiburg to the river Rhine
This morning there was no dilly-dallying except for a quick stop at a stationary shop where I bought a gift for my bike. Picked out some flower stickers to brighten her up. Half-ran, half-walked with excited expectation to the station to retrieve her and bring her back to the hotel to load up the panniers. Cities are nice for a bit, then all that complicated noise and bad air gets too much.
It has taken me all day to muddle my dizzy way along lonely paths between farmlands and forests to reach the river. The knees joints are the most stressed part of the engine. By kicking my legs out sideways the kneecaps tend to jump back into place. The vertigo seems to be vanishing I’m trying to keep level-headed.
It appears to be asparagus season. Here in Germany the loamy soil is neatly combed in long rows called ‘hillings’. Wispy green plants fringe the lines. Farmers pile the soil over the asparagus rootstock, keeping the new asparagus shoots covered. The darkness prevents them from developing chlorophyll. The season lasts only a few weeks. Harvesting this ‘white gold’ involves much painstaking labour. The soil is carefully brushed away and the ghostly shoots are cut by hand. People buy bags full, fresh from the farmer. Then rush home to cook and peel – or peel and cook (I don’t know) before guzzling them with buttery sauce. In France they prefer them green.
Another white thing to experience on the German side of the river is the salad dressing. They make luscious lettuce salads smothered in a mysterious white sauce. I had to look up the recipe. Ingredients are a blended cream, lemon juice and sugar. French dressing is made from finely chopped shallots, red or white wine vinegar, fine sea salt, Dijon mustard, extra-virgin olive oil, freshly ground black pepper all whisked together in piquant harmony.
At Rust I came upon the Europa Park, a huge amusement park which seems to be closed. After two laps around the fantastical town looking for lunch I finally found a seed bun to eat at a bakery. There a middle-aged ‘Kauz’ spent a while trying to catch my eye and eventually told me he was 70 years old and he rides his bike 50 kms every day and also swims. I thanked him for talking to me.
Like a painting, the subject needs a focal point.
There is a surprise at the end of the road! A little ferry motoring across the water between Germany and France. It’s not my intention to cross at this point, but ‘what the heck’ why not visit France again. That’s the nice thing about this part of the Rhine valley, you can easily flip back and forth between cultures.
On French soil at Rhinau there was a strategically placed tourist information office. It was mid-afternoon and time to look for a place to stay. Like a bee to a flower, I went in for some nectar but the lady behind the desk said “no accommodation”. I looked at her pleadingly with brimming eyes. So she huffed and began flipping through a brochure. To my surprise she called up all the hotels in the book. Not giving up until she had a positive answer. Certainly the spirits had something to do with it because that room was the only one available within cycling range, even though it was far and beyond the track. It would have been a cruel night if I hadn’t been guided into that office. The lady marked the place on a printed map, and off I buzzed to reach the place before dark.
Beware of information desk staff who make random pen marks from across the desk. It leads to much inconvenience and many unnecessary kilometers. Luckily she had written down the name of the hotel.
Eventually I found the place on google maps app, which found me – a blue dot on the screen – and the Googley-girl voice told me where to go. Google maps have a f