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27. Big Green Umbrella. (June 28)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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9. Poggio Pratelli. (June 4)

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The evening was lilac with pink roses, from the high terrace of the village called Radda our glasses of red wine held up in the sun, and the moon floated like a white petal between them.

A choir was singing in the church so we sat on a pew and closed our eyes for a while listening to heaven.

 

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Saturday morning saw us pedalling past green vineyards. Little did we know what was coming.

First a very fast downhill. I whizzed down at 58kms per hour, which is a record for me, and I don’t intend going faster than that ever again. Simon went much faster.

But then the really-really steep uphills began.

We rode up and over wineries, olive groves and oak forests.

I stopped to wait for Simon under a tree, a luxury granted me by me electric bike. Luckily for us, a group of very happy people from Treviso stopped there too, for a sip of Prosecco in the shade of an old farmhouse. Corrado came over and invited us to join them.
We had a lovely noisy rest there and exchanged contact details.
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When traveling by bike you really notice the ground, how it passes beneath you, changing colours and stones. You feel the wind dragging off the back of your arms like silk scarves. Sometimes you hold your breath when a truck goes past or a ditch of sand pulls you into a sideways skid. I’m getting better at hopping off without hooking my foot on the water bottle.

Insects often collide with your face.

Road things: Lizards, and lizard tails, small sharp white stones and flapping butterflies, 3 snakes (2 squashed), some unfortunate hedgehogs, african hoepoes, cuckoos, motorbikes, tractors, vans, and the scent of olive trees in full blossom.

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My camera’s extra-wide-angled lens has an annoying way of flattening the landscape…

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This was our last day of riding together, as Simon must to return to work. So we took it slow until lunchtime, when by chance, we found the perfect spot at Casa Nuova

The owners, a very nice Dutch couple, Ulla and Thierry have renovated the villa and made it spectacular. They are good friends of Maló and Guido (with whom I am staying now).

We had been there together for dinner about a year ago and loved it. Not realising it was the same place (night and day difference), we turned in and recognised the garden. Had a long chat and delicious lunch. Ulla has published a cookery book of their own recipes (written in German).

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It was time to face the last long uphill to our destination, the magical home of Maló and Guido at Poggio Pratelli (we all share the privilege of grand-parenting Elia, our gorgeous grandson in Oslo).

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And so we arrived by way of a gravelly road to find a bottle of excellent Prosecco from the family estate, Torre Degli Alberi, waiting for us in the fridge.

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The garden is dripping with roses of all kinds, lavender and blue cornflowers, rosemary and poppies….

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Iceberg rose…
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Sunday morning sunshine filtered through the vine leaves, dappling the veranda table. Maló makes the most delicious food; salads and wild strawberries picked from the garden and olive oil from her trees.

The four of us “nonni” bragged on about the pure wonderfulness of grandchildren, and made a toast to Elia who was at the same moment enjoying a 1st birthday picnic with parents and friends at the lake in Oslo. And to gorgeous Mikey who had just caught his first Australian fish, aged 2,5 yrs.

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Sunny Sunday morning. Simon rode off to the train station. We watched him go, until he was just a speck on a far-off farm road, then he vanished into a forest.

I felt quite bereft.

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Simon sent me this picture from the train station. So he did actually reach it in time.

I was very pleased to be invited to go with Maló and Guido to their good friends for supper. This is the view from their home overlooking Florence. We talked a lot about routes and bicycles.

2018-06-04_0001.jpgWeather predictions for tomorrow are rain and wind. But I don’t believe it, and will head off at around 9 am. Maló is helping me find the track.

Florence tomorrow…

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1. Before leaving Rome (April 22)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

“May the force be with you”