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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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On one of my unplanned reconnaissance missions around Duisburg, I found myself braking in front of a police station. It looked approachable, so I went in and declared the theft of my glasses. An officer wrote up the report in German.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

The girl at the desk gave me their special handicap room, most likely because I looked like I needed help. It was very clean and comfortable with a chair in the shower, and a red switch next to the bed, which I pressed thinking it was the light switch. It blinked for a while, then I blinked off to sleep.

66 kms.

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

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

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

The bicycle is the most perfect machine ever invented.

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

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

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

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

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

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It is asparagus season here.

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

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

79kms

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23. Black Forest Gateau. (June 22)

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

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After a good breakfast, I was back to pedalling along thinking abut all the wonderful people I love.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These photos were taken on my way to pick up my bike in the morning. I was overjoyed to see it, poor thing, all covered in dust. On the way there I had stopped in a shop and bought her a little present of some stickers to brighten her up. (A bicycle is female…biciclettA)
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All I managed to do this afternoon, other than sleep, was wash my clothes at a laundromat, with the help of a very-very thin man dressed entirely in black.

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

New record distance:

114 kms.

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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19. Arlberg Pass to Stuben (June 17)

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

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

What do you think?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

 

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16. Truck spray. (June 13)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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11. Little Red Riding. (June 8)

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Lesson 2.  Always phone and ask before going there.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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