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Day 51 – Copenhagen to Ängelholm

View from Zealand to Sweden

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sweden

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

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

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

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

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

101 kms.

See the approximate route map here

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Day 48 – Rødbyhavn to Køgel

Denmark sky watercolor by Leanne Talbot Nowell

Part 3

Early morning hangs grey in the Danish sky.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vordingborg

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

Køgel

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

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

See the route map here.

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Day 11 Montale to Riola. The Forest.

forest ride by Leanne Talbot Nowell

Lina gave me cake and cappuccino for breakfast. My stomach was in a knot. She reminded me not to attempt the ride over the mountain: “Non devi farlo Signora, per favore!” – You are not to do it, please – They stood behind their gate and waved feebly as I rode off.

On the google map I see two small towns clinging to the slopes, Fognano and Tobbiana. Beyond that there is nothing but forest for the next thirty kilometres at least. That sounds okay, I can do thirty kilometres. Yesterday I did a lot more. The dwindling road became steadily steeper. Switchback after switchback took me up through the small villages.

The city of Florence, a bright urban carpet lay far off to the south. Soon the road became a forest track, patchy tar and gravel. According to Google maps it is a twenty-one hour walk to cross over the mountain range. There is no bike option. The map showed a big green area, a regional park, with a couple of faint roads dotted here and there.

The mountainside was so steep I used battery “turbo” assist to go up the switchbacks. As I ascended, so the battery life descended. It is the most powerful Bosch battery made for e-bikes so far, so I didn’t worry too much.

My goal was to reach the “visitors centre” marked on the map where I could recharge my battery.

Two men with axes stopped hacking a tree to greet me.

There were no further signs of human activity for the next two hours of the journey. Heavy clouds came down and touched the bristling Spruce trees. Patches of mist cooled my face. Maybe I should have taken the road instead of a forest track.

The battery had another 10 kilometres of life left in it.

I phoned Simon who said“Sweetie, you can always turn around and freewheel back down”.

Suddenly I sensed a movement in the trees. There it was again. I saw something flash in the corner of my eye.

Instant reaction, I gulped down the energy bar and jumped on my bike, pedalling wildly onwards. The battery showed one kilometre of life remaining. Catastrophist voice yelled “wolves-wolves and bears!!!”

I turned off the turbo, and used the “eco” setting, standing up on my pedals and panting heavily for another forty minutes. Suddenly the road flipped downward, like a roller coaster, down I went – whizzing and blasting over mossy roots. The sooner I get over this mountain the better.

Over the sound of my gasping breath was the small sound of tinkling goat-bells which brought me to a quaint house squatting under the trees. Relief flooded over me. The visitor centre? There was no phone signal here, so I couldn’t check the map. The place looked a bit shabby, more like a farmhouse. I disembarked and knocked on the door – nothing. I called out – nobody answered – I knocked again – nothing – I yelled – nothing.

This couldn’t be the visitors center so I went on and on, the road was better, a smoother surface and bit wider. Still no phone signal so there was no way to find out where I was.

“What is this looming up now? Please not another mountain?”

“…oh YES MAM!” blurts the catastrophist.

There was nothing to do but go for it. No way to turn back now after that long downhill rush. I was trapped between mountains. Eventually signs for the visitor centre appeared. I started to hum, feeling strangely ecstatic, breathing huge puffs of the oxygen rich air.

“When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”

The visitors centre was closed. Not a soul. No battery, no phone, no lunch.

Why didn’t I listen to my hosts Lina and Michele, they are locals and know these things. If the wolves get me, at least my fluorescent green jacket might be visible from a helicopter. What use are maps when you don’t know where you are to begin with.

The road gradually began to descend into a beautiful valley. It followed a cascading stream under the trees. After crossing the border between Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna a blue lake appeared far below in the widening valley at Suviano. I whizzed down to the water’s edge, happy to see people again, and pulling up to a kiosk with tables under the pines. The lady behind the counter allowed me plug in.

I ordered a large plate of pasta and a cup of wine.

The other guests watched me eating alone. Every time I looked up from my plate, they are all looking straight at me. Eventually someone came over and asked the question, and I replied ” yes, I cycled the forest alone”.

There was a little titter among the onlookers when she reported back.

I ordered desert.

Maybe it was the heat or the wine, but I made a decision which would change everything. I took the low road instead of the high road. It went a long way down the valley and at 17:00 I rode into Riola, a small village with no hotel. A lot of old men sat around at the bar playing briscola, a popular card game.

There are no rooms available in Riola, so I called Tyrone to help me search google for a B&B nearby. He suggested “Il mio refugio” a tranquil place with a spa. But there was a snag. The location was five kilometres up a sixty-degree mountainside.

With the little remaining oomph, I went zigzagging up the incredible slope, stopping to pick fresh cherries and catch my breath. Not realizing all the while that this is the wrong road, but nevertheless, after some confusion and a breakneck forest track I found “Il Mio Refugio”.

The big gate was chained shut and all the shutters were closed.

Lesson 2. Call before you go there.

I phoned the number written on the gate and a lady said “no, sorry, we are closed, you should have called.”

At that very moment both my phone battery died, and the bike battery followed with a final peep. A sob of exhausted despair made my throat tight. Two horses stood with their heads hanging over the fence, nodding at me. The catastrophist hissed “Don’t cry in front of the horses!”

A man with black teeth and a difficult face came huffing around the corner on his bicycle.

He said “you can go down this road to Marano, there is a bar where you can charge your batteries” … so with huge relief I let the wind blast my hair as I freewheeled down the mountain … but in Marano the bar was closed.

Luckily the owner arrived at that moment and allowed me charge up the phone for a short while. She told me “there is no hotel in this place, you must go back to Riola but there is no hotel there either. Someone may offer you a room. Go to the bar and ask the waitress”. It was a laborious pedal back to Riola town (Province of Pistoia).

I went into the card-players bar, and talked to an exotic looking, short skirted, scarlet-lipped barmaid. She looked down at me from her stiletto heels in disgust. Her nostrils flared.

“Do I stink that badly?”

The barmaid took me across the room to a pin-up board full of business cards and pointed out a random few. Feeling rather frantic, I chose the first one I saw, and called the number. Giuseppe answered, and happily offered to fetch me!

“But I have a heavy e-bike, and no way to ride it to your B&B!”

He sang “no problemo Signora, I am well organized, you will see!”

I took a photograph of his business card with my phone and sent it to Simon and Tyrone for a background check. Giuseppe soon arrived in his pickup towing a mega-trailer made to carry bicycles and hoisted the bike up singlehandedly. The bike with panniers weighs more than forty kilograms. Giuseppe drove me out of town and up yet another incredibly steep hill to the bed & breakfast. He says I’m lucky there are no road-workers staying there tonight.

He cooked a yummy Tortellini brodo especially for me, topped with grated cheese called Padano, the equivalent of Parmigiana Reggiano in this area. Plates of different salami and finely sliced prosciutto were laid out on the table, flat breads, ripe cherries, two plates of homemade cheeses, and his own Lambrusco fizzy wine. He sat across the table and watched me eat, pushing the platters of food closer when he noticed a gap on my plate, and refilled my cup when the wine level was low.

We talked about Italy and her many troubles, especially those facing the new generation. When he was satisfied that I had eaten enough, he drew a map of the road to take tomorrow and wished me goodnight, locking the main door behind him as he left.

There was no phone signal or WIFI. There was no hot water for my shower. There was no moon, just total blackness outside the window. I locked myself in the big bedroom and flopped into bed, completely exhausted after 10 hours of cycling. As I was dozing off, there was a sudden blood-curdling scream. I lay stok-still listening, not sure whether the scream came from inside the room or outside.

(Rode 50 km today, up 1000 m in one hour – to a height of 2500m )

See the map on google

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Day 7 – cycling from Siena to Radda

Olive tree - watercolour by Leanne Talbot Nowell

Siena

Jolly greetings fly around the breakfast room at the convent in Siena. A friendly Danish couple cycling from Rome to Copenhagen mention the steep narrow roads. There are no dedicated cycle tracks, only the white gravel farm roads. We are now in L’Eroica country. “The Hero” is an annual vintage bike race that takes place in October. South Africa and other countries are now hosting their own version of the L’Eroica.

On our way out of town this morning, we see a small traditional bike shop. It is still too early to be open so we peer into the curved glass window with hands cupped around our faces. I am looking for a bag to attach to the top of my carrier where I can store random things like maps and snacks.

A figure appears from behind the dark counter at the back of the shop and came to unbolt the door. “Posso aiutarti?” – can I help you? -. Without much ado a square black waterproof bag with Velcro straps is promptly attached to my carrier and off we go. Ask and you shall receive!

We exit the walls of Siena through Porta Camollia and circle the periphery looking for the Francigena pathway shown on the map. 

A man walking his dog says he thinks “we can go down that way through the fields” and so we do.

He gave us no warning about the river. The dirt track was completely overgrown with weeds. Although a struggle to negotiate, I like weeds. Suddenly we find ourselves on the wrong side of a stream.

Simon says “follow me” and pedals through it.

The water was a lot deeper than expected and his shoes go down into the water. What a thrill, slipping and sliding over rocks and digging through mud.

The track takes us over a small hill. From the top we can see a big German shepherd dog watching us from the farmhouse in the valley. This is a private farm with no obvious thoroughfare. The road is on the far side of the farmhouse. The dog lies in the yard surrounded by a high fence. As we get closer we see with trepidation that the gate stands wide open. There is no choice but move bravely forward, feeling the sharp spike of adrenaline as we push the bikes quickly past the open gate and onto the road. The dog doesn’t move. A mad little hop onto the bike, and we pedal off.

Revelling in one of the most charming landscapes in the world, this is the famous wine growing region of Chianti. The hills are steep, extraordinarily steep. Simon struggles bravely on his normal bike. At the top of a particularly steep slope, he collapses with his arms around a statue of the Madonna. The hillsides are covered with pale green vineyards, gnarly olive trees and rambling roses. Drivers are very careful to give us a wide berth on the gravel. Except for one who doesn’t. Luckily no harm done, just a gritty mouthful of dust.

A fun group of Italians from Padua share Prosecco with us in the shade of a rose bush.

Radda

Arrive in Radda, the capital of the Chianti region, by lunchtime. Swerving to a stop at “La Perla del Palazzo”. The longer we sit and eat, the more we eat, the more we drink, finishing on a high note of delightful almond milk semifreddo. After a bottle of Chianti the idea of getting back on the bike is rather bleak. A mid-afternoon siesta is necessary. It is getting late anyway, and the road is difficult you know. The waiter calls the hotel and we magically find ourselves in a room fit for a king and queen.

A room with a view …so poetic… from the lofty terrace of Radda – our glasses of ruby wine held up to the sunset – and the moon floats like a white petal between them.

Total trip distance so far from Marino … 325 kilometres.
Today we managed only 27 kilometres. I’m never going to reach Oslo at this pace.

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1 – THE BIKE RIDE

Leanne Talbot Nowell . the bike

This is about a 4200 km ‘solo’ bike ride, from Marino to Oslo in Norway, in the summer of 2018. It will be quoted from my daily diary kept during the trip. It was quite difficult to find enough time to paint along the way, so photographs had to suffice. I did some paintings of course, but now is a good time to go back on that track and fill in the gaps. Many of you have asked to come along for the trip and you’re most welcome. So hop on your virtual bikes and let our bicycle story begin!

Getting the bike…

“È cosi!” – it’s like that! – He throws up his hands, fingers splayed wide in supplication.

We are inside a swish bicycle shop in Rome, the athletic-looking manager shakes his smooth head “You most certainly will NOT be able to have an electric-bike delivered for at least three months Signora! There is a backlog of orders and a grand shortage of electric bikes, so if you want one then you must wait until mid-June… ”.

It’s April already, and to wait two more months for a bike will be way too late in the year to begin a long trip. It will be too hot to cycle through Italy in July and by the time I reach Norway, it will be freezing.

We leave the shop feeling bitterly disappointed. But soon a surge of relief neutralizes that uncomfortable feeling. Our couch is quite comfortable after all. I flop down into my usual position and tell myself “Never mind, there’ll be another opportunity in the future”.

But my intrepid husband Simon won’t accept such an easy defeat. He searches online and after some setbacks and phone calls, finds a CUBE trekking bike. Apparently just the bike for me. Correct frame size, electric, with all the necessary components. I don’t know exactly what components are, but if they are necessary then I had better have them. He immediately orders the bike and has it shipped home.

One week later…

It has arrived in a huge box, and I think Simon is more excited about it than I am. The ‘bicicletta’ (bike) now stands waiting calmly for departure day, glinting with red reflectors in the dark grotto below our apartment. Tall and elegant, her machined proportions as perfectly balanced as a race horse.

1 . THE BIKE RIDE - Leanne Talbot Nowell

But the sight of her makes me quake. After months of dreaming about the ride to Oslo to see my children, enthusiasm seems to be evaporating and my imagination is running wild with dreadful scenarios. I lie awake at night thinking of things that could go wrong, convinced something unimaginable will happen.

Why?

My parents are absolutely horrified: “How silly to risk your life like that, when you can fly to Oslo in a few short hours… what for? Now that you have grandchildren to enjoy?” In contrast, my adult children who are all adventurous themselves – but not reckless mind you – cheer me on with a resounding “Go for it Aunty Mom!” (that’s what they call me to get my attention when I’m being deaf).

My friends roll their eyes and ask “Are you nuts, why do you want to ride all the way to Oslo?” I defensively mention the story of Anne Mustoe, a retired headmistress of a posh English school, who rode a bicycle around the world a couple of times. Her stories of solitary adventures were proof that a woman of my age could journey alone, and so she inspired me to make a pilgrimage of my own. People say “why go alone, why not ride with a friend or a group – go on an organised tour for heaven’s sake!?”

I ask around if someone would like to come with me, but nobody has the time for a two month joyride. Some have offered to join me for a day or two when they can. Life is short at my age and delaying an opportunity for fear of loneliness may lead to regrets later. I want to be outside, feeling the wind, the sun, the joy and amazement of going somewhere new.

The reason for going is certainly not about finding myself. I already have enough of myself in my painting studio, actually too much. I need to escape my ego, get ahead of it and leave myself behind. You will find out the real reason later.

Picking the destination was easy, our daughter and son are living in Oslo, and two of our exquisite grandchildren. To make it sound like a work trip, I will take my art materials and camera along and paint the scenery along the way.

Up here in Marino perched on the edge of a steep volcano, bicycles are rare. According to the locals either you are too poor to afford a car or you are a very sporty type who joins a club and rides out with a fleet of cyclists wearing yellow jerseys. An older woman like me, riding a trekking bike into the far distant northern realms is “no woman of ours”. They probably think this is a disguised attempt to escape my marriage.