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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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41. Copenhagen magic (July 19)

It was the hottest day of the year.

Even so, it’s always a pleasure to be in this city.

We spent the day rolling around enjoying the scenery.

 

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Bruce and Kealena treated me to an all insclusive 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 will make off with it.
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If you’re in Copenhagen then get over to the other side, and partake in the street food fest. A freshly grilled Mackerel wrapped up with salt and pepper? Wash it down with a Tuborg or Carlsberg, both locally made beer.
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This building is a power station which has a ski ramp on it, dubbed Copenhill. The chimney puffs out smoke rings. It also brags the highest artificial climbing wall in the world. Designed by Bjarke Ingels Group……magicians.


Morning came cloaked in soft grey blanket of cloud. Thank heavens.

I said goodbye to my lovely niece and Bruce escorted me out of town and north along the flat sandy shores towards Helsingør to catch the ferry over to Sweden. On the way we stopped to see the charming museum dedicated to a fellow Africa lover and multitalented author, Karin Blixen, who wrote “Out of Africa”.  (  Isak Dinesen ).
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This is her house in Kenya, which looks very like my own G.Grandmothers home.

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It began to rain, so we dashed over the moat to look at Kronborg castle, where Shakespeare had Hamlet play out his drama.

Eric of Pomerania, (don’t you love that name), built the place in the 1420’s. You can look up the facts on wiki. It’s a lot bigger than it looks in my photograph.
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Bruce very generously did the round trip on the ferry, just to make sure I got to Sweden.

I felt a bit like I used to feel, when I had to go back to boarding school. I have never been to Sweden, my 7th country on this trip, and there was a very long way to go, starting with Helsingborg. This time I was first off the ferry on my bike and had to find the way out of the docks, with some very large pantechnicons grating their gears behind me. This time, google girl knew better, and I followed her through a modest but neat residential area. A very new giant cycle track was all mine for the next 20 kms or so, then it was road riding once again. All the way there was a minipanic going on in my head, but it became clear that Swedish people are kind, and things are going to be ok.

Ängelholm sounded like a good place for a peaceful night, however there was no available accommodation at all, anywhere up or down the coast. The ladies at the info office called around, and found a rather expensive room in a conference park out of town. I turned it down, then checked on my phone once again, and there was that same room for almost half the price on booking dot com. So, I quickly booked it and set off in the rain. My phone ran out of battery, so no directions from google, but I had picked up a map at the info place. Arrived by way of a forest and a highway, a bit soggy and too tired for dinner…. but gnawed on an energy bar and half a hot dog from the ferry, then went to sleep.

101 kms.
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39. Bridging the Baltic Sea (July 17)

The great crossing began with a blue sun.

Our posh hotel elevator, being slightly too short for a bike body, had the girls doing a circus trick by balancing the front wheels up on the golden hand rail. It was a frizzling hot day, so we had ice-cream at the beach and a large Döner Kebab between fast biking sprints along the top of dykes along the coast.

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Regina was slightly shocked at my ability to eat with such ravenous gusto. What with my wiry arms and brown lizard skin, it wouldn’t be far off to call me a wild animal. Mentally and physically.

I hope I don’t scare off my grandchildren.

It was mid-afternoon before we reached the tunnel that goes under the river. Being Germany, and very organised, a shuttle bus pulled up at a cement ramp where we could wheel our bikes onto a bus sized bike-trailer. Special green ‘hands’ are positioned to grip the seats, and off we roared into the gloom.

When we got off, a nice man, who had just booked tickets for Johannesburg, told us to go one way, and the bus driver told us to go the other. So we went the way the bus driver pointed, and arrived at the Fehmarn bridge over the sound to the island, at Großebode.

A small dangling gate, a bit like Alice in Wonderland, was a surprising entrance to a very narrow path leads you up onto the bridge 22 meters above the sea, and the wind whips you all the way.Bike-ride_0189.jpgBike-ride_0190.jpgBike-ride_0191.jpgBike-ride_0192.jpg

Having said goodbye to my two ladies, I spun my wheels for the ship. Time to cross over to Denmark. My battery was running dangerously low, however I made a mistake and went down a long road, only to be told by a boy in a ticket box, that ‘you need to ride all the way back to the main road and take the next left’. A tall fence prevented any sort of short cuts. I sped along as fast as I could, but missed the boat.

Being very early for the next ferry, I stood with my bike in lane 1 of 10 empty lanes for 30 mins, until they began to fill up with cars and trucks. All were allowed to embark, except me, the last. I was also the last to disembark 45 minutes later but very pleased to put my tires on Danish turf.
It was late, so I booked into the hotel which stands between four roads, with a bunch of tired truck drivers. My room was nice, I took a much needed shower, and went to the dining room for dinner. Two men run the place, and the food was gourmet.

The morning was grey everywhere. I pushed my dusty bike out of it’s cozy foyer space and the front door snapped shut. My key had already been put in the box. A man was sitting on a bench smoking, and I asked him if he would mind opening the door for me, since my bags where on the inside. He said he had forgotten his key in his room. So we went around to the kitchen and tapped on the chefs window until he noticed and came to open up.

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According to La google, a train station was nearby, which raised the important question, would it be ok to take a train for 24 minutes if it was for a very good reason?

I realised that the distance to be ridden from Rødby, to meet up with Helle at Vordinborg at 11am, and still go on to meet Bruce and Kealena at Faxe, and still ride to Køge for the night, was beyond my abilities, even on an ebike.

So, with greyness all around, I attempted half-heartedly, to find the train. There were some big fences along some rusty railway lines, and you know all the stuff that lies around the back of railway sidings, weeds and broken up bits of cement. However, with some perseverance I found a little pathway around the end of some rails, and reached a place that looked like a public office. A ticket machine popped up, so I bought one for my bike and one for me. Then we went out on a very vacant platform with no words or numbers. After standing there feeling like a silly blonde for a while, two men in luminous green jackets yelled over from the far side of the fence, that I was to “come to that side…the train comes off the ferry and stops over here”.
So I pounced on my bike and scuttled around the little path to the far side of about 5 railway lines. A school group arrived with a teacher, who, in a very teachery voice, told me that was the right place as she has done it before and they were also going. “I know” she said, “I have done it before”.
Just then a little train arrived from the Copenhagen direction on the platform that I had so hurriedly left. There was a very large bike symbol on the side. It hummed and haaad for a while, then a conductor shouted over, that I should come immediately that side, as this was the train. So I leapt onto my bike and scuttled back around the rails, and just made it before he blew his whistle.
The school group and teacher stood and stared.
One learns that people are very kind and helpful, but it’s always best to ask the conductor of the train itself. He is the only one who really knows.

So there was 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 the road again. The road would still see us do 130 kms before evening.

I was very happy to see Helle and share a quick lunch and lovely conversation. Then pedalling onwards to Faxe where Bruce and Kealena were waiting with 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 smooth sea to the west. Dinner at the harbour was an Italian affair of linguine allo scoglio and Chardonnay! Again, wild animal me, gulped every scrap on the plate.

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36. Hamburger sophistication (July 11)

What do you order for dinner in Hamburg?

Sweet-potato chips.

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But ask any Hamburger citizen and they will tell you with pride that the food here is highly sophisticated and exquisite. From rich and savoury to spicy and sweet, luscious meats, delightful veggies, free range biofriendly everything under the sun and rain.


I began the day at Zeven. A nice little town 86 kilometres by bike from my destination in the city.

The farms are perfectly manicured and manured, judging by the scents. I rode along adjacent to the main roads until Buxtehude, where I was supposed to head north (via the pretty part), sometimes ignorance is not bliss. Instead I  followed the googley girl’s shortest route which was along the edge of the highway to Harburg and then north into a melange of bridges and intersections, where my phone battery expired and left me stranded.

Fringe people don’t really speak English, but they understand enough, and I don’t really speak German, but I understand enough. Thereby communicating quite efficiently. However, the people I asked said it was possible to go into town from all directions. I just needed one. Thank Goodness for church steeples.

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Buxtehude is lovely, the old centre is perfectly preserved and interesting. I sat down there and ate my breakfast bun.
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Hamburg is a port city with an incredibly difficult history of fire, plague and war. But obviously the population is clever and resilient, so they have created a splendid city once again.
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A whole bridge for my bike and I… crossing into the city in style!
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Last night Regina and Michael, with their pretty niece Zoe, kindly hosted me. Regina hired ebikes so she and Zoe could ride with me tomorrow, but the clouds came up and the rain came down in buckets.

After an abundant breakfast we decided not ride out until the rain subsides a bit. I’m happy to have a day of rest in their lovely home.
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28. Würstsalat. (June 29)

Würstsalat has been bugging me since Freiburg. People order the stuff everywhere. At the biergarten in Bingen, today for lunch, a woman next to me ordered it, and so did I.
It was served in a glass jar with a lid.

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Rather fun to eat with a fork, a bit like spaghetti, but it didn’t taste remotely like pasta. Other than the vinegar, there are other ingredients involved, all of them unrecognisable to me. I presume the flavour is a mix of the standard salat cream (which may or may not contain diary), and the smokiness of the pink würst…which is in English just fancy polony.

It was rather satisfying to eat, although it must be doing terrible things to my cholesterol levels. I’ve got to stop having all these würsts, schnitzels, and bread with FAT….this evening I was served bread and a little ceramic dish of fat to put on the bread. It is perfectly white with bits of cured meat in it. I just took a tiny scraping….but the guilt was 100x bigger.

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This morning in Mainz, which is a lovely city, I found an E-bike shop and asked the nice smartly dressed young salesman, to please check my pedals. He did, and declared them – tight.
I got the feeling that he thought I was just looking for some attention. He wished me well and I whizzed away.Bike-ride_0085.jpg

Simon is arriving on Saturday to keep me company for the weekend. I’m very pleased, but rather concerned he will be a bit shocked at my vagabond appearance.

A month of sun and wind every day, has darkened my face to a motley brown (nose in particular) , but my glasses have protected my eye skin, so that’s all white, with pink piggy eyes (allergies). Arms are brown sticks with pronounced muscles, legs are tanned only on the back of the calves, and I still have tan stripes on the white feet. Back of the ankles are a mess from pedal bites. The hand bones seem very pronounced, with a vice grip!

As for my clothes, I wear the same stretch pants every evening, as it gets a bit cool at the terrace restaurants and there are mosquitoes around. The nice little frock I brought with me for the evenings is far too short for the leg tan.

My hair…oh dear! In Italian – “Un casino”

This morning after the church bells gonged and gonged until i woke up at 6 am, I painted a new sign for the handlebar bag. The other one was dull and nobody was talking to me. So I made a very cheerful watercolour, with the Italian flag in one corner and the Norwegian in the other, and wrote Roma – Oslo.

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There was instant interest from passersby, and 3 lady cyclists form Amsterdam called after me: “Roma Roma…” so I stopped and we were like a gaggle of geese, getting all the info we could get about one another.

On the ferry crossing over the Rhein once more, a large group of loud men, doing their annual cycling tour, took it upon themselves to include me in their photographs. Then kindly offered ‘ladies first’ when we had to disembark on a steep bank. Haha, I shot up there so fast with my battery on turbo…and heard them all having a laugh.

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Odometer 2144.8
Only 60 kms today, as I don’t want to go too far as Simon will be coming in at the FR airport…and he will drive to wherever I may end up today.

Here are some pictures of the day.
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I am so sorry about the lack of maps, but the hotels have terrible wifi, so I can’t spend time checking how to make them and save them. Maybe next week when things get tough. I ‘ll be off the cycle tracks and navigating every wheel turn of the way.

Thanks to you all, for your encouragement and generous remarks. It gives me so much strength to carry on! Love!

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16. Truck spray. (June 13)

This morning some of the Everest Hotel guests vanished with the key to the dungeon where the bicycles are stored overnight, so I had to wait for them to come and open the lock. It was an imperfect start to a few other annoyances that came up first thing. I pedalled out to the river where the cycle track is very well marked along the eastern shore. Happy to be moving again, off I went for about 1 km till it just fizzled out. A very good long look at the map later, I had to return and cross over the bridge. Lesson 1009.

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Going along nicely, voicing a red-indian sounding song, when I heard popping noises on my helmet and my glasses turned into kaleidoscopes. The body was doing fine, but the atmosphere was sheer gloom. I would like to thank the government for making us this wonderful cycle track, it is smooth and clean and fast, even in the rain.
But it also nearly broke my heart when I came face to face with some big mower/cutter monsters who came down the track and cut all the beautiful spring flowers for meters on each side, sucked them up into a big bin truck, and left barren green stalks for the next 15 kilometres. In the south they would never do such a dreadful thing, but then they don’t have much cycle track at all.
No more forget-me-nots, butter-cups, lace, poppies…and the river Adige looked grey and bulging.

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My bike at rest with the others at the special bike stop restaurant.

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Lunch at a small village called Egna Newmarkt, Stop there next time you pass by. I went into a hotel restaurant with wet pants, you know the cushiony  lycra type, and sat on the nice cushiony chair. When I got up and saw a big wet patch, it was a bit embarrassing. Then I asked the lady for the toilet…she must have been very cross.

Things went wrong navigationally again. There was a detour which put me off my track. The road was full of puddles and the nasty men go there to drive very fast in splashy cars. Big trucks go thundering past and blast one with dirty road spray. Then, just when the detour ends and we (bike and I) get back on track, it happens to be just passed the turnoff for Meran…no signs of course. All other cyclists either have an iPad affixed to their handle bars with the latest updated version of cycle maps, or a proper GPS. Little Leanne, gaily goes pedalling along, but Simon came to the rescue and told me what to do. Go back a few kms. Turn, gogogogo.

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Doing just that, when up came a tunnel. Ummm, especially for bikes! Then another one. Gorgeous countryside unfolded all around as I went huffing up the hill. On and on through wonderful farms and forests. Another nasty surprise was waiting. A big road with signs that had names unrelated to any I should be seeing.
Not just wrong road, but wrong VALLEY!
Another turn around and a fast decent, almost having a face-on collision with a squirrel who happened to be hanging off the end of a branch eating cherries. We came eyeball to eyeball for a fraction of a second and I had to dodge the little beast. Which reminds me of the black velvet mole that nudged my foot in the grass earlier. And a lost duckling which couldn’t see his mom down the road, so I herded it a bit in her direction.

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I must end here, as my eyes can’t stay open any longer. There is so much more to tell…

Big day today, a record distance of 108 kms.
61 hours in the saddle since Rome
total 967.15 kms. So tomorrow will be a 1000 km celebration. Whoo hoo.

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15. Going into the Alps. (June 13)

Lucy Lui gave me breakfast in her back garden, and waved me goodbye. All my hosts and hostesses so far have been truly generous and kind.

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Mantova was just waking up when I passed along her northern shores, sneaking along a little path in the woods. A large sticky spider web attached itself to my back, and I had a feeling the spider came with it. There were a swan couple who hissed over their ugly ducklings. Rabbits hopped around. It all seemed a bit too fairy-tail-ish.

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A Faraway Tree.

My nonna knees seem to be holding up, and my back is completely better. It’s amazing what biking can do for a gnarly old woman.

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Thank you Judith for the energy bars, this one went down very well after a long straight road along the canal. The farmers are turning their hay, clouds of hay-fever dust spread around everywhere.

A pig-swill truck came down the cycle track, and I found it quite easy to vomit off a moving bike. As you go along so the smells change, from star-jasmine in full flower to cow urine, to wet grass, to algae ponds. Lots and lots of water down south of the lake. All of it controlled by very fancy looking pump stations, dykes and cement canals.

Then suddenly a castle ruin on a hilltop surrounded by forest. History is always at your side in Italy.
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Stopped a moment in Monte Borghetto to look at the little place and found a Metasequoia tree.
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My bike battery had not charged properly the night before, so I was a bit nervous of getting to where I was going. Wherever that would be.

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First glimpse of Lago di Garda was at Peschiera, the most southern village. A man in a sailor suit, told me I had missed the boat for Riva today. (northern most town on the lake).

At the info place I asked a tall dark girl with long mauve fingernails. She had been asked that question one too many times. One must ask for second opinions.
The voice in my head said: “don’t panic Leanne, this is a holiday lake, there will be plenty of places to stay”.

But I very gingerly rode 8 kms to the next port to see if there was a boat from there. The ferry ticket man yelled over the loudspeaker in the middle of my question: “Schlange auf der rechten Seite” at which some German ladies giggled. It was shouted in English too: ” Please queue on the right side”. I wasn’t sure which was the right or wrong side, but we all got on board.

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It’s not actually cheating, if you want to ride along the edge then you’ve got tunnels and narrow roads to negotiate.

We floated up the long narrow lake, deep into the mountains. Away from the heat and white skies, the ferry criss-crossed the water, picking up and dropping off passengers as it went. The deck was green painted iron, and 3 sailors manned the ropes. It took four and a half hours to go from Sirmione to Riva.

You will see by the sheer number of photographs below, that there was nothing else to do on board. There are many picturesque villages on the way.

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and more…

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Finally arrived in Riva, and my battery clicked off as I reached the door of the Hotello Sport and Relax. It was 20:20.
However, after a shower and a nice chat with Luciana and her beautiful daughter, I managed to put on my usual evening outfit and head down to town for a little supper.

Eating alone is quite an art, you have to pretend not to be listening to other conversations, you’ve got to interact with the staff, and you’ve got to look less lonely than you are. With your one glass of wine, and one candle, and your notebook on the table.

The morning was lovely and cool, thank you.

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It’s my Dad’s 81st birthday. Wish he was here.

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12 June…going to Trento

Luciana gave me scrambled eggs for breakfast and we did a photo shoot, except my setup failed and we just got our feet in the picture. I’ve shared it anyway.
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The ride up the valley was pretty extreme. It started  beautifully. Then a steep hill where I overtook a young man on a mountain bike. After that I paid for my snigger, by taking the high road by mistake.

I’m going to skip that part.

After that I found the cycle track and it was an incredible ride! Like a dream come true.

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At Sarche, dark clouds came over the mountains and it poured with rain. Some road maintenance men told me to go to the hotel bar, so I did.
From then on it was a bit tricky. It got steep, and there was a complicated system of roads on bridges. In a moment of weakness I tried phoning my team for directions but nobody picked up. So, I went on, checking google maps but not actually finding the way. At one point I got off my bike and just stood there like a silly confused animal. To tell you the truth I would rather have pushed the bike through a forest than go on another ‘high’ road. Eventually I waved down a red car, and a very old granny just stared at me, slowed down, waited a bit, then went on.

I imagined my team all standing there with their bikes, discussing what to do, and they said to me: “Oh Mom, just go up the hill on this road, even though it’s scary, and see what is at the top”.

Turned out that was where the cycle track started again.

Two men were loading giant copper pots into a van. They gave me these verbal directions: “Go here, then two curves further on, take the third track left for a few kilometres until you see a fruit seller on the corner, then don’t take the marked track, take the one that goes to the left, then turn right almost immediately onto a dirt road, it goes up steeply but it’s fine, then at the fourth or fifth track on the right side of the big road, go down and up again, then cross over the highway at the end of that road…….

I did find the fruit seller. He was sitting in his van with the window open. He had one tooth. I asked him which of the four tracks were for Sopramonte. He said the muddy one in the forest, then gave me his apricot sample specimen which had been cut in half to prove to customers that it was ripe. I ate it in two snaps. It tasted like honey.

I didn’t take the forest road.

To finish, the last climb was huge. The going down on the other side was quite sad. Trento lay in the valley, all crusty and full of cars. Tonight in the ‘Everest Hotel’, I will write to you about the sounds of birds, and tall orange cliffs.

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Heading for Meran today.

https://goo.gl/maps/nFEos25EmcQ2

This is the google map for the past 2 days. They don’t have the bike option yet, so I’ve chosen the walking route. Very similar, except the ferry is not available as an option.

Trip distance so far 858.67 Kms.

Time in the saddle 55:32 hrs.

Happiness level: Very high.

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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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