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.
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.
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.
My bike at rest with the others at the special bike stop restaurant.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Stopped a moment in Monte Borghetto to look at the little place and found a Metasequoia tree.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It’s my Dad’s 81st birthday. Wish he was here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
Today the ride was wonderfully peaceful. Lombardy is worth visiting if you can.
Happily rolled into Mantova this afternoon at around 16:00.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.