Posted on Leave a comment

Day 17 – Trento to Merano – rainy day

Merano - watercolour by Leanne Talbot Nowell

Riding along warbling a song when I hear popping noises on my helmet and my glasses turned into kaleidoscopes. It is raining again. The body is doing fine, wrapped in plastic but the atmosphere is sheer gloom. After a couple of wrong turns, it’s now full speed on track.

The government has done well making us this cycle track. Smooth, clean and fast. The fields around blur with wispy asparagus plants. New shoots pushing up out of the mud. Two monster tractor machines are moving down the cycle track towards me, mowing the spring flowers growing along the big banks of the dykes. Long arms, meters wide on each side, cut and suck bees, butterflies, grasshoppers, along with forget-me-nots, poppies, fennel, buttercups and other beauties, all into a big bin truck.

I get off my bike and gesture to the drivers to stop, but they ignore me and continue their devastating job. The resulting scene is a boring mass of chopped-off stalks for the next 15 kilometres. I pedal furiously along the bulging Adige river. She looks grey and devoid of flowers.

What is this coming up? A proper bicycle station, with restaurant and clean toilets! I feel pleased as I park my bike under a little roof with all the other bikes and go inside for a cappuccino. How pleasant to commiserate with fellow cyclists on a rainy day?

But nobody speaks to me. The guests are all athletic men dressed in racing gear. They wouldn’t speak to an eeee-biker I suppose, or could it be that I have taken my unattractive look too far? My face is completely naked – no lipstick – mascara – eyeliner – brow pencil – or concealers. Helmet hair isn’t gorgeous either.

The hot soup at Egna Neumarkt Post restaurant is good. Not realising that the padded bum-bum of my tights retains water just like a nappy, I plonk down on a cushiony couch to look at the newspaper. When I get up to go to the loo, there’s a wet patch on the seat. “Oops, was that me?” The waitress gives me a sour look.

A big yellow detour sign “Deviazione – Umleitung” stops me in my tracks. The alternative route is full of puddles, apparently a practice ground for young men in fast cars. Trucks come thundering passed blasting dirty road spray.

I find myself lost and going into Bolzano by mistake so I phone Simon who is in an important meeting. He says turn around and go back. The umleitung tricked me into missing a pedestrian bridge across the Adige river. This is the junction where the valleys fork. I’m supposed to go left to Merano. The track leads uphill through some barrel-vault stone tunnels, nicely lit for bicycles. Then curve steeply up a mountainside between pretty farms and thick forests until I realise the river is missing.

Wrong VALLEY! This is way the back to Lago di Garda!

Another U-turn and a fast decent back to the river. That mistake cost me an extra ten kilometres, and a serious climb. On the way down I narrowly avoid a face-on collision with a squirrel who happened to be hanging off the end of a branch eating cherries. We come eyeball to eyeball for a fraction of a second and I crick my neck to dodge the little thing. There are other small wild animals here in the mountains – a black velvet mole that nudged my foot in the grass earlier and a lost duckling who couldn’t see his mother duck down the road, so I get off the bike to herd it towards it’s mom.

Happily doing 30 kph along the flat -topped dyke heading straight for Merano. The lovely valley is tranquil and radianting green. The clouds break and the air becomes thin and unearthly.

Merano – South Tyrol

Merano looms up and shows off her beautiful public gardens and thermal baths. I have never seen such gorgeous colour coordinated flower beds. Wine red to candy red, pink to peach to cream to mustard yellow. The spring flower show is spectacular here.

Outside the camping ground is the groovy Bar Erika and a nice man plugs in my flat phone behind the bar counter. For accommodation he points his yellow smoking finger at hotel Isabella down the road.

A sharpish waiter at Forsterbräu Meran Birreria brings me goulash and beer for dinner. My mother-in-law told me beer is poison for the joints. She is right, but how can I avoid beer with goulash? My hands are becoming claws, so sore I find it difficult to hold a knife and fork. At night I flatten them out carefully on either side of me and wait for sleep to overcome the pain. My bum is black and green across the sit-bones. I know this because I took a photo of it (permanently deleted now).

Record distance today 108 kms. The sinews in my legs are beginning to show.
61 hours in the saddle since Rome.

Total 967.15 kms.

See the route map here.

Posted on Leave a comment

Day 4 – Bolsena to Bagni San Filippo

Day 4 cycling the tunnel

Yesterday was a sore day. This morning both my Brooks saddle and the scenery are breathtaking. We set off after a hearty goodbye to our nun, and take the back road up and out of the crater. Stopping to look over our shoulders at Lake Bolsena who winks at us with one blue eye.

Simon always reads information from the first word to the very end. In museums it is not uncommon for us to spend an entire day. He reads travel guides from index to glossary. Now stops to read a mossy inscription on a plaque in the middle of the forest which says “in 1505 the Pope Julius ll, asked the Confederates Superiors Alumnae, to give permission to Canon Peter von Hertenstein to guide two hundred Swiss soldiers and their captain Kaspar von Silenen ” pro custody palati nostri” (look after our palaces). They walked this route to Rome, entering from the north through the Porta Popolo on the afternoon of 22 January 1506. Blessed by the Pope in St. Peter’s Basilica, the guards began their work that same day and still serve in the Apostolic Palace.” (Dressed in their bizarre red and yellow uniforms designed by Michelangelo).

The forest track is badly eroded. It’s hard not to sit on the torture seat. Seems the blisters have deflated, but what remains is not describable.

Fright

The tunnel was unexpected, a frightful 88 meters of velvet darkness and glaring headlights. Suddenly we are in it, together with the enormous boom of unseen motor vehicles.

Dark glasses render me instantly blind, squealing like a bat out of hell when my feet flip off the pedals and flounder around. The echoing of truck engines roar ever closer, louder and louder! Careering on through the dark with pounding heart, I yell for Simon but he is wearing his earphones and calmly proceeds. Eventually a pinpoint of solid light appears ahead. The shining spot grows steadily until we shoot out into the peaceful green. A feeling of being born again into the blue of a sunny spacious heaven. Laughing with relief and making promises to never ride into a tunnel like that again.

Lunch

A thrilling downhill brings us to the dark hall of La Dogana (Customs) on the border between Lazio and Tuscany, we dig into a bowl of delicious black olives, crusty salt-less bread and peppery olive oil while waiting for our green nettle risotto is patiently stirred in a copper pot by a chef in a tall white hat. A log fire burns under a russet brick arch. Galileo Galilei was miserably quarantined here for ten days on his way to Rome. There was an outbreak of the plague. He had been commanded to present himself to the Papal Inquisition. Having been accused of imposing on God the extra burden of a moving planet and judged to “vehemently suspect of heresy”. However, he escaped corporal punishment and was put under house arrest for the remainder of his days.

The place is full of men eating. They tell us they are truck drivers and commercial salesmen. It is a huge advantage as a foreigner to be able to speak some Italian. Almost like being able to see colours in the dark. They gesture as they speak holding little glasses of grappa in their drunken hands. Then they get into heavy vehicles and drive away on roads we plan to share. Simon takes a short siesta on a table under the pergola.

Val d’Orcia

From here a sweeping downhill takes us down into the dreamy Val d’Orcia of southern Tuscany and to Bagni San Filippo, a small characteristic village perched above ravine full of super-hot thermal springs. There is a steep path down to the Balena Bianca (White Whale), a waterfall of what looks like one hundred beluga whales jumping in a heap. Hot water runs down the white limescale formations into many human-sized basins which overflow into a river of chalky blue. A whiff of stinky Sulphur hangs in the air.

52 kilometres today. Rain is coming.

Posted on 1 Comment

The tulips

watercolour painting by Leanne Talbot Nowell

Lockdown day 10 – a beautiful spring day here on my balcony. The tulip I promised to paint for you is a vibrant blazing orange, open now in the early sunshine. We need bold and bright to distract us from the dark news.

The tulip plant shares a pot with the olive tree just meters from my desk. The little olive tree is dripping with black olives. Usually a thrush visits my balcony and gobbles them up. No sign of him this year.

Last night there was loud music and singing from the Carabinieri building. They have balloons and flags flying.

Simon and I are in shock after hearing that a record 475 people died of the coronavirus yesterday. Almost doubled the number from the day before. Long lines of military are taking supplies to the worst hit areas in Lombardy.

Here in Rome we are still ok…. ‘contained’ which actually means there is no collapse of the system. However, the lockdown which is supposed to end on the 3 April, is likely to be extended.

Berlusconi, bless him, has donated 10 million euros to a hospital in Milan. The European Central Bank will donate a massive 750 billion euros to the EU countries to keep the economy going.

I will make some painting videos for my three precious grandchildren today. They are all at home in lockdown Norway and Australia. There is not much more I can do to help.