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Day 25 and 26 – Karsau, Basel, Freiburg – 114 kms

Frieberg, watercolour by Leanne Talbot Nowell

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 doubt I would make it that far in today. The world famous black forest is looming on my right (north). That’s where they make the Kirschwasser or ‘cherry water’ with a volume of 40% to put in their delectable cake. Apparently the Swiss also add it to fondues.

The journey is not without highs and lows, although the terrain is flat. The river runs into water works! A blockage, necessary to prevent flooding. Everything is under control here except the weather. Sunny and hot.

After a good breakfast, I rejoin the river at the Aluminium works. There are more clean looking manufacturing parks around here. Very important to the economy and to improving our comfort zones. The big mish-mash of pipes and chimneys and blank buildings hum with chemical smells.

Basel

Back to pedalling along the edge of the shining river, along the weed free cycle track, and thinking about all the people I love.

Swerved up to the big city of Basel to see a bit of Switzerland again before diving into the depths of Germany. Basel is immaculate and beautiful, definitely worth a visit. They take great care of their parks, fountains and signage. There are explicit rules for cyclists though, and beware if you don’t follow them. I cruise through town gaping at the amazing architecture.

The lipstick-red signs tell me where to go at every street corner. In a roundabout traffic circle, a sign points to Freiburg 77 kms. Golly, that’s a long way. I follow the arrow but find myself circling a few times in search of further pointers. I stop to ask a policeman which road to take. He replies “I don’t know anything about the way to Freiburg”.

So veer off on a random road which takes me to Huningue. It sounds good enough but I’m horribly lost. The map on the phone screen just cannot figure out where to go next. So I ride on over the border into France and 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 come across the first rude woman of my trip. She rolls her eyes dramatically when I ask if she could be so kind as to charge my battery a little bit. I offer to pay. She climbs up a ladder and plugs it into a hanging cord with an impatient gesture.
There were some very long and lonely stretches here, and I have to admit to performing my first bush-pee. Being open and flat country anyone could see me squatting amongst the sugar beet blushing in my luminescent pink top.

Lunch consisted of stolen goods from B&B Jasmin. My bike served as a picnic table. Nutella, hard boiled egg, apple, and a slice of horse food (sour bread). Washed down with the last gulp of water. There are no water fountains or places to buy water along the this route.

On the way to Freiburg

The photography of the day is dismal due to my speedy urgency to reach Freiburg before dark. My brother said I should definitely go there, it’s his favourite town in Germany. It’s way off my track but I obey my brother as usual.

The final hours on the bike included a few incidents: a side-on collision with a boy on a push scooter … golly that was a close call! He shot off the pavement without looking. Then I hit a large hole which clattered my teeth and sent my phone flying out of the little handlebar pouch. I only noticed it was gone about 2 kms down the road so raced back and found it lying in the middle of the path. Thank heavens! It would be a disaster to lose that. And, I had a wasp up my sleeve which stung me repeatedly while I was on the phone booking my accommodation.

The stings hurt but were nothing compared to the fatigue pain.

Negotiating the chaotic bike traffic in the university city of Freiberg at 18:00. No rules apply. There must surely be a million bikes here!

I forgot to enquire about a lock up area for my beloved bicycle. Gasthaus Löwen does not have a place so after removing everything possible from the bike, including my whale bell, flower, carriers, lights etc, I reluctantly push her in amongst all the other bikes parked on the street and lock her up nicely for the night.

New record distance: 114 kms.

The person in charge of the rooms is not around with the key, so I sit down for dinner with flat hair and smelly clothes. A gentleman who has retired to Lago Maggiore bravely sits next to me. He knows all the Alpine cycle tracks. He tells me that my bike will definitely be stolen, whether chained or not. Thieves will cut the chain in seconds.

According to the restaurant staff, there is a secure bike parking at the train station. So I wearily take my bike downtown to the modern train station in the dark. Rows of bikes are parked under the bridge. To leave it there is more dangerous than being locked outside the hotel! So I ask the eyelashy girl at the info desk in the station building. She says “no, there is no parking for bicycles”. 

There is a large spiral bike parking tower 50 m down the road. A pretty young lady, who is also locking up her bike, helps me figure out the in’s and out’s of the ticketing system. All written in accurate German. One must stand on a sticker spot and then the gates open and close. It’s weird to see bikey stripped bare and caged like a boney zoo animal.

My clothes need washing, so I have decided stay here tomorrow and pick up a bit of culture at the same time.

Leanne's bike legs
Leanne’s bicycle legs in the mirror haha!

DAY 25

Hardly slept last night in the overheated attic room. A large extractor chimney, originating from the kitchen by the smell of it, blasted hot oily air directly into my window. There was no way I could spend another minute in that place, so went out into the morning, staggering under two panniers, battery, handlebar bag, carrier bag, handbag…down the street to somewhere else.

A more expensive place run by university students. They couldn’t allow me to put my bags in the room before 15:00 and they had no place to store them, so I sat in the dining room all day. A shabby looking person like me is the type you move to another table when guests arrive. I was asked to move five times. It was necessary to occupy the kitchen door in order to get my lunch order in.

When the room was finally ready, I dumped my luggage and went out to find a laundromat. A very-very thin man dressed entirely in black helped with the money.

As my friend Jane says “no matter how fast you ride laundry always catches up with you!”

see the route map here

click on the photographs to enlarge them. Unfortunately my editing program is not working, so these are a bit dark.

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Day 10 Florence-First solo day.

Brunelleschi's dome in Florence by Leanne Talbot Nowell

FIRST SOLO DAY

The sun rose and the time came to set off.

Malò gave me a big breakfast and little bottle of rescue drops. I gulped down the rescue drops then read the instructions. Two drops under your tongue to absorb slowly.

She also gave me a bright chrysanthemum which clipped onto my bicycle handlebar before slowly waving me off. She looked so lovely standing against a background of roses and blossoming olives. It was quite a heartfelt goodbye, the two of us under the cloudy Tuscan sky. Then a last smile before turning to face my fate.

Exhilarated anxiety reduced me to thinking nothing more than the air in my nostrils. The highly concentrated present loomed up around me. Each leaf on each bush type of experience.

The quaint winding roads drew me along, unfolding like a pop-up story book as I rode downhill to Bagno Ripoli. The white-whale bell that Megan gave me rang -ting-ting at a farmer who turned to wave. Stopped for a moment on a small ‘farmers’ bridge that crosses over the great A1 highway which runs down the spine of Italy. Found myself waving at the three-lane traffic below and some bored truck drivers tooted in response before vanishing.

“This isn’t so bad after all is it?”

The sun was shining, and the rescue drops did their work.

“I’m having my very own adventure, what fun!”

Checked the directions – Poggio alla Croce, right at pizzeria, follow straight, keep right at houses, keep right at bivio, sharp corner to left, down to intersection, other paths turn right, keep right, at house go left…. And so on, for pages and pages in my moleskin pocket diary.

I realized this style of navigating was not feasible for the long haul. Not even for half a day.

The Arno river like any big famous river is a geographic pointer to show the way. It rushes fresh and clean into Florence but soon accumulates toxic chemicals from the textile and leather works on it’s way to the Mediterranean Sea.

We rolled into Florence together. Glimpsed Brunelleschi’s remarkable dome but kept riding. Crossed over the Ponte Vecchio – Golden Bridge – between a mass of tourists and immediately turned left along the river.  A busy market in the park was a shamble of food and clothing.

My bike crashed down on a marble step.

I was standing next to it munching an energy bar when it happened. The only damage was my precious bell lever snapped off. The inner catastrophist voice told me I was ridiculously irresponsible and I felt sad that one of the most precious things I had was already broken.

The opentopomap that Simon printed out for me shows a path along the river. I followed it under the Viadotto del Ponte all’Indiano, the solid concrete pylons decorated with graffiti. Felt a bit uncomfortable travelling parallel to what seems to be the wrong side of the train tracks. There were solitary men hanging about.

At S. Donnino Badia I popped out of the underpassage and took the wrong road in front of ristorante Angiolino. Lunch would be most welcome at this point. But a bunch of grizzly pirates sat around the door. They all stared at me, one of them was picking his teeth with a knife. My feet made a quick backward pedal in hesitation, but the wheels moved forward and so I regretfully gave lunch a skip.

The remainder of the long hot afternoon was spent crossing over and getting lost amongst the higgledy-piggledy streets of San Donnino – San Piero di Ponti – Campo Bizenzio – Confini – and so on. I felt like crying.

I eventually collapsed into a bar in Prato, grateful to escape the roar of trucks on the busy roads. A motley group of friendly old men sitting outside offered to watch my bike. They asked questions and discussed my plans for the ride, saying “Accidenti” a lot, which doesn’t translate well but means WOW.

Navigating all day using my old cel phone was proving impossible. It needed recharging much more often than anticipated.

Soon the inner voice was nagging about a place to stay. Booking.com app offered me some choices. So while recharging the phone the next bar, I booked a Bed & Breakfast in Montale, suitably close to the Apennine mountain I would need to ascend tomorrow. There was no way around it, I had to go over it.

Lesson 1. Communicate a lot more.

Montale is a suburb of Pistoia languishing at the bottom of a hump in the Apennine mountain range, the upper vertebrae of the spine of Italy. It took me another hour and some wrong turns to reach the immaculately clean B&B Belvedere.

Lina and Michele kindly showed me where to hide my bike around the corner of the house. When I told the elderly couple of my plan to cross over the mountain tomorrow they reacted in complete horror. Mouths open and hands to their cheeks “O no Signora no! no! no! non puoi andare! Ci sono i lupi” – you cannot go –  it is very, very dangerous Signora, very steep, way too steep for a bicycle, and there are naughty boys who do naughty things up there in the forest. There are wolves, and hunters who shoot moving things and drive fast jeeps!

My knees were jelly from the ride but I managed to wobble myself to a nearby pizza restaurant.

It was open but closed to the public – opening night for invited guests only. Not keen to go in search of another place, I blabbed my sorry little story about “riding for eight hours today”. They rushed to fetch a chair for me to sit on while they made “una pizza molto speciale” a very special pizza, which the invited guests all admired. It was a Margherita with four basil leaves perfectly arranged. The lovely owners invited me to stay for the evening, but my eyes are pink and puffy, and I couldn’t think of anything interesting to say. They carefully put the beautiful pizza in a box and handed it over, refusing payment – “it’s a gift”.

I wobbled back to my huge spotless room and wolfed it down.

Leanne Talbot Nowell departure first day solo
departure from Poggio Pratelli on first solo day
Leanne ready to go
Leanne ready to go.
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Day 8 – Radda to Poggio Pratelli

Day 7 Simon at a shrine, watercolour painting by Leanne Talbot Nowell

Saturday morning sees us waving off between lime-green vineyards. Little did we know what was ahead. But first a very fast downhill. I whizz down at the terrific speed of 58 kms per hour. Simon goes much faster. My pannier bags soar up on either side of the bike like wings.


Then the nastiest hills of all but my e-bike propels me swiftly up ahead of Simon, who labours up through the vineyards on his normal contraption. When traveling by bike you notice the ground as it passes beneath you.
The changing colour of soil and road things like lizards and their fallen tails, sharp stones, butterflies, terrified snakes slithering quickly across your path, and the bodies of those who didn’t make it. You see the tragic remains of hedgehogs. You notice the quality of air, and your breath, holding it as a tractor drives too close to your shoulder, or a gasp as a patch of sand pulls you into a sideways skid.


You feel the wind dragging off the back of your arms like a silk scarf.


The buzz and prick of insects colliding with your face, and the strange musty scent of olive orchards. Clusters of tiny creamy yellow flowers hanging between the silvery green leaves.


You notice the tiny roadside shrines, usually made from stone or wood. In the painted niche stands a statue or an icon of Mary Madonna or St. Antonio holding a child. The locals decorate them with vases of flowers, rosary beads and trinkets. They are also comforting to passers by. A reminder that life is sacred.


This was our last day of riding together. Simon must return to Rome tomorrow by train. We take the morning slowly, riding along dappled roads and a camouflage of landscape.


Casanuova Locanda e Fattoria is a Garden of Eden. We make our unexpected way down the driveway to be welcomed by Ulla and Thierry, who were busy preparing the pretty courtyard for a concert that evening.
Ulla has successfully published a cookery book (written in German), obviously inspired by the delicious platters of prosciutto, salami, cheeses, marmalades and crispy homegrown bio salads which she serves. We languish long under the leafy pergola before throwing ourselves back on the road for the last pull up the mountain to the Agriturismo Poggio Pratelli, home of Maló and Guido. We share the heart-expanding privileges of both friendship and co-grandparenting.

Poggio Pratelli


Maló’s garden is absolutely popping with fat pink roses, lavender and blue cornflowers, rosemary, poppies and fruits of all kinds. Bees buzz over the daisy lawn which rolls to the edge of a grand view of the valley and layer upon layer of blue mountains.
We cin-cin our Prosecco glasses full of delicious golden bubbly from their family estate in Lombardy. A most auspicious cin-cin indeed, the news just arrived that our children (Megan and Stefano) are expecting another baby!
Maló conjures up vibrant salads, picked a moment before and sprinkled with intensely perfumed wild strawberries. Her food is perfectly dressed in homegrown green peppery olive oil. What a pleasure to be resting here under a pergola of flowers.


One week of riding so far. Tomorrow I will stay and rest my old body. I avoid thinking of what is coming. The ridiculously scary idea of riding off ALONE…!!! Maybe I’ll change my mind.


One thing is for certain – everything will change.