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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All  they could serve was beer. Which they did.

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

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

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

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

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

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Blowing avenue of trees in the garden.

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25. Strasbourg. (June 25)


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


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

The answer is: fine.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

70 kms

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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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14. Po River flats. (June 10)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

732 km

48 hours in the saddle since the ride began.

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

It’s a flat.

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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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