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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 49 and 50 – Køge to Copenhagen

Kealena in Copenhagen

Creeping up to Copenhagen

Now that I’m in a true bicycle realm, Kealena and Bruce kindly gave me a crash course in cycling, thereby avoiding unnecessary calamity.

Hostels are great for cyclists. But be aware that here in the north you can rent sheets and towels for an extra fee, and you must clean the room before departure. Cleaning materials are usually provided.

We rode north along the coastline from Køge. The island is almost flat, relaxed under a subtle Scandinavian sun. Fuzzy bent grasses along the sandy shores look like brushed fur, caressed by a sea breeze. Even the factories are pretty! Children splash around in transparent water, old people sit on benches looking over the bay, and cows chew their cud in the shade of low trees.

At quaint yacht harbours where we have “Fiskefrikadeller” and smoked herring “Smørrebröd”

Bridges and waterways chequer the landscape. We stop to look at the ARKEN MUSEUM OF MODERN ART, which sits on a sand bank. Intriguing architecture – a stranded ship – hence the name – Ark. A large collection of Damien Hirst, some Ai Weiwei, and  other intriguing artists. Definitely worth a visit. The café hangs like a lifeboat on the side of the building. Our lunch order took so long to come we thought we had been stranded. When it arrived it was a life-saver, and the waitress gave us free coffee as a survival gesture.

On the way into the city is an architectural wonder – a super heater. It uses waste heat from other sources to heat water which circulates through the city homes in winter. Very efficient and clean. Ninety eight percent of Copenhagen’s heating comes from utilising waste heat from power stations or other sources. They also burn straw, wood pellets and similar stuff in these plants, but so efficiently there is hardly any pollution. No need for a boiler in the cellar.

They also have thousands of giant fans to cool the country in the summer. (lol).


Day 50 – Copenhagen city

It was the hottest day of the year. Even so, it’s always a pleasure to be in this amazing city. Danes never boast but will humbly admit to having one of the highest standards of living in the world. From Viking style to the most advanced modern extremes, their architectural styles cleverly fit the environment. Fashion and beauty is a natural extension and you’ll see the most exquisite creatures riding their bicycles along the cobbled streets.

We took the day off and joined the happy citizens and tourists for a cycle to see the sights and scenery.

Bruce and Kealena treated me to an all inclusive personalised tour. Meals, a chat with the little mermaid, and a new lock for my bike. So now I can stay in dodgy places without worry that a goblin may make off with it.

In town there is a power station which has a ski ramp on it, dubbed Copenhill. The chimney puffs out the occasional smoke ring. It also brags the highest artificial climbing wall in the world. Designed by Bjarke Ingels Group……magicians.

A delightful day in one of the most beautiful and vibrant cities in the world ended with street food on the harbour at Reffen. There is so much to say about Copenhagen but this blog is not long enough.

Looks like it have been decided that I will be cycling all the way up the west coast of Sweden after all. Tomorrow Bruce will ride with me to the ferry at Helsingør where the ferry hops over to Helsingborg, where I’ll be on my own again


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Day 27 – Freiburg to Erstein – Cycling

day 27 Rome to Oslo, watercolour Leanne Talbot Nowell

A bicycle has two sides to it. Not only is cycling a mood altering activity but is virtually harmless to our Earth. It also cures diseases of the body, mind and soul. Better than yoga, better than pills, even better than a glass of wine.

You can pedal elegantly along at thinking speed or beat at the pedals with your foot fists. Either way you leave negative thoughts behind. Go ahead and smile, sob, struggle, sing or scream on a bike, it’s an emotion-balancing instrument. By the time you reach your destination everything will be fine.

You can propel yourself along at a manageable speed, neither too fast nor too slow. Freewheeling down and grinding up the hills. A bike easily becomes an extension of the body and mind. You can slow down to see the black sheen of a raven’s back as it flaps across your path, or speed up to overtake a sewage processing plant. Thereby maximising the amount of beauty you see going by, and minimising the ugly bits.

Freiburg to the river Rhine

This morning there was no dilly-dallying except for a quick stop at a stationary shop where I bought a gift for my bike. Picked out some flower stickers to brighten her up. Half-ran, half-walked with excited expectation to the station to retrieve her and bring her back to the hotel to load up the panniers. Cities are nice for a bit, then all that complicated noise and bad air gets too much.

It has taken me all day to muddle my dizzy way along lonely paths between farmlands and forests to reach the river. The knees joints are the most stressed part of the engine. By kicking my legs out sideways the kneecaps tend to jump back into place. The vertigo seems to be vanishing I’m trying to keep level-headed.

Asparagus

It appears to be asparagus season. Here in Germany the loamy soil is neatly combed in long rows called ‘hillings’. Wispy green plants fringe the lines. Farmers pile the soil over the asparagus rootstock, keeping the new asparagus shoots covered. The darkness prevents them from developing chlorophyll. The season lasts only a few weeks. Harvesting this ‘white gold’ involves much painstaking labour. The soil is carefully brushed away and the ghostly shoots are cut by hand. People buy bags full, fresh from the farmer. Then rush home to cook and peel – or peel and cook (I don’t know) before guzzling them with buttery sauce. In France they prefer them green.

Another white thing to experience on the German side of the river is the salad dressing. They make luscious lettuce salads smothered in a mysterious white sauce. I had to look up the recipe. Ingredients are a blended cream, lemon juice and sugar. French dressing is made from finely chopped shallots, red or white wine vinegar, fine sea salt, Dijon mustard, extra-virgin olive oil, freshly ground black pepper all whisked together in piquant harmony.

At Rust I came upon the Europa Park, a huge amusement park which seems to be closed. After two laps around the fantastical town looking for lunch I finally found a seed bun to eat at a bakery. There a middle-aged ‘Kauz’ spent a while trying to catch my eye and eventually told me he was 70 years old and he rides his bike 50 kms every day and also swims. I thanked him for talking to me.

Like a painting, the subject needs a focal point.

There is a surprise at the end of the road! A little ferry motoring across the water between Germany and France. It’s not my intention to cross at this point, but ‘what the heck’ why not visit France again. That’s the nice thing about this part of the Rhine valley, you can easily flip back and forth between cultures.

On French soil at Rhinau there was a strategically placed tourist information office. It was mid-afternoon and time to look for a place to stay. Like a bee to a flower, I went in for some nectar but the lady behind the desk said “no accommodation”. I looked at her pleadingly with brimming eyes. So she huffed and began flipping through a brochure. To my surprise she called up all the hotels in the book. Not giving up until she had a positive answer. Certainly the spirits had something to do with it because that room was the only one available within cycling range, even though it was far and beyond the track. It would have been a cruel night if I hadn’t been guided into that office. The lady marked the place on a printed map, and off I buzzed to reach the place before dark.

Beware of information desk staff who make random pen marks from across the desk. It leads to much inconvenience and many unnecessary kilometers. Luckily she had written down the name of the hotel.

Eventually I found the place on google maps app, which found me – a blue dot on the screen – and the Googley-girl voice told me where to go. Google maps have a flip side. Technically convenient yes, but one misses the wholesome challenge of deciphering locations on a paper map while it crinkles and flutters in the wind. Today is quite windy, head on of course.

Dinner is delicious at the Hotel des Bords de L’ill in the small town called Erstein. Their chef uses a flourish of aromatic herbs and honey. There is a full complement of Dijon mustards on the table……I am in France!

No wifi in the hotel. Feeling doubly lonesome. The only company I have this evening is that annoying inner voice demanding to know why I’m doing this to myself. I’m lying in a single bed looking out of the square hotel window at the waxing moon. It will be full in a few days. Maybe then I’ll know what I’m searching for.

With no wifi or phone signal I don’t even know where I am exactly, let alone where to go next.

78 kms today. The map is not perfectly accurate due being lost most of the time.

See the map route here

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Day 21-Stuben to Rorschach-going down

Friesian horse in the forest

Dropping down from the arms of the lovely mountain today, with the Alfenz stream happily cascading at my side. From Stuben to Bludenz to Nenzing to Feldkirch. Dropping as a spider does, black wheels spinning below the Scots Pines. White water widens into a deep teal river and you can see the trout. As the altitude changes so does your attitude, going from high to low at the thought of the complicated web of agriculture and urban crust to negotiate from now on.

Soon there is a tunnel but the panic isn’t so bad this time, a bright spot at the other end is visible, and there is a shoulder to ride on. But I much prefer riding on the gravel forest roads in the mountains.

My tires crunch passed a forest clearing where an Oompah band blows a tune to a crowd in a carnival tent. Everyone is wearing traditional dirndl and lederhosen. To add to my delight around the next corner a beautiful black Friesian stallion bolts out of the bush, his shaggy mane waving over his face. I take a moving shot from the hip. One of my best photographs so far. His rider reins him in with a smile. The heavy camera hangs by a strap around my neck, bouncing off my thigh at every pedal of the way.

I’m officially over the hill.

There will be no more mountains until I reach Oslo. The flat air is strangely full of cooking smells on this side of the Alps. Windows are squarer and the cars are mostly black. Everyone is smart and sober except at the biergarten.

The joyous Alfenz runs dying into the dykes of the Ill which merges with the Rhine River or…Rhenus, Rein, Rhein, le Rhin, Reno, Rijn….This famous river is going to be my travelling companion for the next chapter of the journey. One thousand kilometres or so. But first there is the beautiful lake Constance to circumnavigate.

Feeling highly oxygenated after crossing the Alps. Approximately 450 kilometers on my odometer. I used to think the range was a stretch of two mountains wide with Austria snug in the valley between them. But if you ever fly over in a plane you can see how the snow covered peaks go on and on. The whole range makes an arc of about 800 km long (east to west), and about 200 kms wide as the crow flies.

103 kms later in Rorschach (Switzerland) I flop onto a bunk bed in a modern youth hostel Herberge See, happy to have all the bunks to myself. The room offers a fabulous northern view and one funny looking plug. Swiss plugs and money are unique. None of my electronics can be charged. The receptionist has locked up and gone away, so no chance of borrowing an adapter.

I must go out in search of food which is a lot of trouble for my legs. The closest food places are already closing up so I walk into town. Some nice ladies feed me green asparagus with yellow hollandaise sauce, and a little beer while they close the restaurant. Stacking up chairs around me as I eat. The World Cup soccer tournament – Switzerland versus Brazil game is on. Enthusiastic boys shout from speeding cars covered in Swiss flags. As I leave the restaurant the rain comes gushing down. My plastic sandals are slippery on the inside, so I walk the two kilometers back to the lonely hostel barefoot and bedraggled.

It was a lovely day but I’m buggered and tomorrow is going to be fun with no battery.

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 1 – Marino to Formello – via Rome.

Leanne Talbot Nowell - Formello

Rome the Eternal city – “Aaah bella Roma” once you are caught in her seductive “La Dolce Vita” embrace, you will become an overly emotional lover who can never leave. At approximately 2800 years old everything from the damp decay of frescoed tombs to her high-flying arches and golden orbs on moonlit domes, from baroque pink skies to the polished marble of palace floors, Roma is glorious. And a bit shabby.

We have done about 35 kms since Marino this morning, to reach Ponte Milvio bridge. The search is on for lunch. A veranda table at a restaurant VOY is available. Soon we are digging into a tasty bowl of paccheri pasta with a rich melanzane (aubergine) sauce topped with fresh mint and sun-dried tomatoes. The restaurateur runs off to the supermarket to fetch us some fruit juice after we declined his wine. Groggy cycling in Rome could prove fatal.

The hot Lazio sun burns our backs all afternoon as we ride out of Rome on zigzag roads into the northern countryside. It is quite challenging to find a bridge over/under the highway. A truck comes speeding around a sharp corner behind us and screeches to a bumpy halt inches from my rear reflector. I feel the heat of the engine surge over my shoulder in a smelly cloud of burning rubber.

I try to pedal standing up on account of the bum pain.

Via Francigena

A well timed SPRITZ dulls the pain in Formello. Simon has booked us in at a nice B&B.

Nonna Loretta shows us to our room and sells us two “pilgrim passports” for five euro each. They’re called “credenziale”, very much like the one you get for the Camino di Santiago. A folded card for pilgrims on their way from Canterbury to Rome. We are going in the opposite direction but we can still collect stamps from holy places along our inverted route. The passport also allows you special access to sleep in certain Convents and Monasteries. There are discounts on pilgrim meals at restaurants too. Make sure you get that when you do the camino di Francigena.

We eat salad at Osteria degli Angeli, the only guests in the dimly lit piazza in Formello. A drag queen unexpectedly appears from the great door of the municipal palace dressed in black lace and a massive wig. She looks down on us from the top of a flight of stairs and proclaims her existence with a gutsy howl “HAAAEEEOOW!!!” The sound echoes around the stone walls and into the dark streets. Frightening off the ghosts of Veii and us.

Back in our room at Nonna Loretta’s the soft bed absorbs the day’s agony like a sponge. Every part of my body is hurting except my feet.

Day 1. Sixty kilometers.

Click this to see the route we took today