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Day 52 and 53 – Ängelholm – Halmstad – Varberg

Sweden west coast watercolour painting by Leanne Talbot Nowell

To my beloved readers. Tomorrow Simon is taking me to Tuscany for a week. So this blog will be on hold until we get back. Apologies for the interruption but be sure there was no such interruption on the actual bike ride. Hope to see you back here soon. In the meantime, I will be painting plein-air in Tuscany. Not so bad! Wishing you all a safe and happy week..

Leanne

Day 52 – Going to Halmstad…

These days in Sweden the citizens are either fighting forest fires or playing on the beach. The drought and heat has followed me all the way up to the far north.

The cycle route is clearly marked – Kattegattleden 1, and highly recommended for any cycling holiday you might be considering for the future. Rust red signs point cyclists in the right direction. Sweden is much brighter than anticipated, I was expecting a sort of Viking-gone-Goth vibe, but the landscape has a comfortable beauty which scoops you along into dreamland.

Until rain splatters down on my luminous jacket, under which are two layers of warm garments. The locals happily continue gardening and carrying ladders, fixing picket fences and chopping wood in short sleeves.

In Båstad, my bike met the new red Tesla model S. Two eco-friendly vehicles parked together for a photograph. The bike is more beautiful. Ok – the model S has prettier handles…maybe.

3500 Kms at Skummestōvsstrand

Halmstad

Halmstad had a nice little centre on the mouth of the Nissan river, where I searched for the most healthy of all the burger menus. There are only burger menus. Made for the thousands of university students who study here. How I wish for one of those Rhine river salads!  The waitress kindly suggests I do away with the bun, and take extra salad instead. When the little brown patty arrives it had two stalks of garnish instead of one.

Pity a poor cyclist who didn’t get to eat the lobster and oysters this coast is famous for.

My big single room at the hostel has one bed and two desks. There were a lot of bikes standing in the yard, but no bike lock-up, so I rolled mine through the foyer, into the lift, up to the second floor, along a passage, through two spring-loaded doors, passed the kitchen, and into the bedroom. No funny looks.

See the route map here


Day 53

The Swedes are having a wonderful summer, mostly half-naked at their summer huts, fixing things and potting around getting everything in Hygge order. Their cottages have mostly been in the family for generations. If you want one you might be lucky to find one, and it’ll cost you a million. The sky breaks into a smile. Children laughing and birds singing type of atmosphere. Magical. Voluptuous pink granite boulders shoulder the west coast, forming about eight thousand islands. Low green bushes line yellow fields and red cottages dot the curvy bays.

There are only three different types of cars in Sweden, all of them Volvo – black, grey and white. Beware of black car drivers, they whip passed at a hair’s width, grey car drivers give you a respectful 2 meters, and white car drivers go over into the oncoming lane, dangerously close to having head-on collisions. That’s just the observation of the day from the saddle of my bike.

Varberg

Whizzed over to the only room available in Varberg. The bed&makeyourownbreakfast man enthusiastically but vaguely points me to the beach, which is actually in another direction entirely. I should have checked the map. 

Embarrassed to expose myself in a swimsuit, a chilly wind nips about my two-tone legs, but nevertheless I picked up the courage to wade into the sea, and wade, and wade. How far out do you need to go before one can actually swim? If Simon was here he would drag me in. Instead I creep into a little wind shelter nest behind a log and snuggle down to relax in the late night sun.

Lodging in this area is fully booked for summer, so you would be forgiven for thinking there must surely be a local restaurant. Apparently not. And you must forgive the other B&B guests for using up all the hot water. When one is sea-salt-sticky and weary after pedalling 124 kms, a cold shower and no supper on a chilly evening is not a lifter-upper. Good thing I paid that extra 100 Krona for breakfast.


There was no soothing whiff of coffee in the morning, just silence. I wait, fully packed and ready, and nothing happens. Grimly reach for the fridge, chop some tomatoes, cucumbers, cheese and pile them up on a slice of bread. Make coffee, eat sandwich. Made an extra big sandwich for a possible further famine and wash up. Leave without further adooo.

Will need to make some value versus cost adjustments now in prep for Scandinavia.

See the approximate route map here

See you soon…keep well and safe.

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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 48 – Rødbyhavn to Køgel

Denmark sky watercolor by Leanne Talbot Nowell

Part 3

Early morning hangs grey in the Danish sky.

While loading the bike this morning the front door blows shut and cannot be opened again. My panniers are still inside the foyer. I have already put my key into a box at the automatic reception. A man smoking in the carpark says “oh my yes I also forgot my key inside.” So we ring the doorbell a couple of times, knowing full well the automatic reception desk is not a walking robot. Luckily the chef is in the kitchen at the back of the hotel. After some vigorous window tapping he comes to open up.

According to La google, there is a train station nearby, which raises the important question, would it be ok to take a train for a little way? Yesterday’s slow day has put me behind schedule. Funny to have a schedule at all, but my Danish family have made plans to meet me.

The distance from Rødbyhavn to Vordingborg for lunch with Helle at 11am, and then go to Faxe to meet my brother Bruce and niece Kealena and then ride with them to Køge for the night, was beyond my abilities even on a winged ebike.

So, feeling slightly guilty I go in search of the train station. There were some big fences barricading the rusty railway lines, and it’s tricky getting around all the stuff that lies around the back of railway sidings. Weeds and broken up bits of cement. However, after almost giving up and with an extra push of perseverance I find a pathway which takes me around the end of some rails into a square building. A ticket machine pops up with complications. Then we go out on a vacant platform with no signage. After standing for a while, two men in luminous green jackets yell over from the far side of the fence, that I must “come over to that side…the train comes off the ferry and stops over there”.
So I pounce on my bike and scuttle around the little path to the far side of about 5 railway lines. A school group arrives to join me with a teacher who, in a her teachy voice, tells me she knows this is the “right platform and I have done it many times before.”
Just then a little train arrives from the Copenhagen direction on the furthest platform which I had so hurriedly left. There is a large bike symbol printed on the side of the carriage. It hums for a while, then a conductor shouts over to me “come immediately and board the train.”

Much to the astonishment of the school group I leap onto my bike and scuttle back around the end of the rails, and make it in time before he blows his whistle.

One learns in life, that most people are very kind, helpful and full of “hear-say” but it’s best to ask the Conductor of the Train. If you want to really sure of anything at all.

So there is 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 on bike wheels again. The road would still see us do 130 kms before evening.

Vordingborg

I was very happy to meet up with Helle and share an interesting lunch and arty conversation. She is an inspirational artist. Then fast pedalling and swooping along smooth farm roads onwards towards Faxe where Bruce and Kealena were waiting for 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 velvet sea to the west. The clouds vanished and the scenery blazed to life.

Køgel

Dinner this evening at the harbour is an Italian affair of “linguine allo scoglio” (thicker spaghetti noodles sozzled under an array of shellfish) and Chardonnay! Again gulped every scrap on the plate – wild animal me.

The three of us and my bike, shared a small room at a hostel on the edge of town.

See the route map here.

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Day 46 and 47 – Hamburg to Rødby

cycling to the Baltic sea

 Day 46 – Hamburg to Scharbeutz.

It was a sunshine and birdsong day as we joyfully rolled out of town, the three of us on our eeeee-bikes. It took us most of the morning to get going. City exits are complicated. Once you’re out into the lushous countryside cycling is a breeze.

This cycle path was a railway in the past, so an easy level chuffing along the now smoothly tarred surface. My companions are much faster than me with their lightweight overnight bags. We speed along the flashing green tree-lined path.

Instant coffee at a supermarket around mid-afternoon where some caffeine relief had Regina smiling once again. One becomes acutely aware of circadian, nutritional, and sleep rhythms on a long distance journey. I have become a completely different creature compared to my home self. It became obvious now, in the company of other humans, just how the body finds a rhythm and a rut that suits the individual for best success. When travelling in a group one must make compromises to stay together, and that makes a difference to your natural fitness.

In Lübeck we sat down at a busy bar for a celebratory sundowner glass of Prosecco. Surprised to hit my 3000 km mark right here in the center of this delightful town. I’m surprised because I thought I would be in Oslo by now.

We decided to ride a bit further north before calling it a day. There is a tunnel under the Trave estuary which is forbidden to cycle through. In Germany you can be sure there is a solution. Along came a shuttle bus dragging a trailer made especially for bikes. Not only that, there is also a ramp so you don’t need to lift your bike up. You ride on, snap the lock, jump into the bus and off you go through the tunnel.

This evening the three of us tired girlies are sharing a room at the ArtHotel in Scharbeutz. We rode here in the dark along the fabulous promenades. The elite have magnificent houses on this riviera. Regina rubbed deep-heat cream on her legs before hopping into bed because her knees hurt. Unfortunately she’s allergic to it, so she hopped right out again. Her legs turned a fiery red and burned all night while I snored!

106 kms.

See the route map here

Day 47 – Scharbeutz to Rødby.

My brother and niece are in Copenhagen. According to them my plan to ride up to the north of Jutland to catch the boat to Norway is NOT acceptable. That would be cheating. I am to catch a ferry at Puttgarden to Denmark. They will take a train south with their bicycles and meet me halfway. We’ll spend a night somewhere on the coast then ride together into Copenhagen. (May take a ferry directly to Oslo from Copenhagen – but don’t dare mention that). They say “From there you must ride up the west coast of Sweden to Norway. No shortcuts, if you say you’re going to ride to Oslo then you must ride all the way.” –

Slow start on Friday, but fun riding all day towards Puttgarden with my two enthusiastic friends. Crossed over a mighty high and windy bridge. Access via a tiny gate in a security fence. Then we rode like witches on broomsticks to reach the last train of the day at Burg. Waved a sad goodbye to my friends Regina and Zoe, then dashed across to the other side of the island to catch the last ferry. Many huge trucks on the ship and one solitary bicycle.

Forty five minutes later the boat pulled up to Rødby and I staggered into the first hotel called “Stop and Sleep” right in the middle of the truck stop turning circle. Delectable dinner and good clean room.

96 kms

See the route map here

End of part two – Thoughts on bike seat with a view!

I have spent two thirds of this journey tripping across Germany. Two thousand kilometers by bike from the Alps all the way up to the coast of the Baltic Sea. It has been such a privilege to use the vital infrastructure, cycle lanes, paths and safe hotels with bicycle storage. Solid breakfasts and dependable service all put together by generations of hard working, thoughtful people.

In my experience the northerners make little attempt at small talk but they do like to share practical information. They enjoy high levels of education and culture, create logically designed systems, build organised towns, grow pretty forests and control beautiful rivers. There is no time for meaningless chatter.

They’re also good at making never-ending road-works.

The enormous volume of construction and farming is quite overwhelming. Much of the land is being plastered with more roads, more cement and mono crops. The economy is booming to the sound of earth moving machinery, cranes, trucks, bigger ploughing tractors or harvesting machines and factories.

My wish for Europe is more flowering fallow land for the bees, magical wild forests for children, and a ban on bulldozers and cement for everyone. I think we have enough roads, enough car parks and supermarkets. Cities are like scabs on the Earth’s skin, if we stop scratching the ground then cities will heal up and the face of the Earth will look lovely again.

Leanne

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Day 37 – Bad Honnef to Monheim am Rhein

Watercolour painting of Cologne cathedral by Leanne Talbot Nowell

Each turn of the pedals becomes a brush stroke in my miniscule picture-book of experience. Spinning out of the Sankt Goar gorge with all it’s high castles and history (a testament to the terrifying past) and into the modern future. After a good breakfast with good friends of course.

Magnificent riding along the river from Bad Honnef passed Bonn and on to Cologne. Thanks to those who have worked to make the cycle tracks here. Brilliant! The track includes a special ferry man who pulls you and your bike across a green stream on a raft…wearing a sailor cap and a broad smile.

There’s a tranquil bustle in this obviously well organised and prosperous area.

The widening Rhine river surges forward leaving small waves to lick the banks. The tinsley effervescent foam lasts a moment and is gone, much like life. I imagine the universe is much like a great flowing river of which we call time. The energy of that flow probably creates ‘foam’ which fizzes with life. Anyway, the idea is comforting.

After admiring the incredible, tall, blackish cathedral in Cologne, my “Googledy girl” on the maps app tells me to go west. Now, if you are stuck in the middle of an old city maze, how is one to know where west actually is? It’s midday, so the shadows don’t show…. she should tell me go straight ahead, or turn around… Where the heck is West? Humpff.

After a lot of bother, I used pigeon instinct to get out of there. Only to find that my fancy new sunglasses and my hat were not on board anymore. They’ve taken another route. Quite an ugly realisation, as those are prescription glasses had a price tag that took my breath away. As for the hat, it was khaki with a big flap around the back and a sun peak. Not beautiful but I liked it.

I cannot blame Cologne for theft as I never left my bike, not even for a moment. Someone must have stolen the stuff yesterday when I stopped at the supermarket for a green drink. There was a suspicious looking character who watched me there. Or it could have been where I stopped to buy a South African flag to ward off vehicles. Since then I presumed they were packed in my pannier. Those glasses had the effect of a powerful zoom and strange aerodynamics which actually sucked bugs into my eyes instead of repelling them. Is that a thing?

In my dilemma I forgot that Simon had told me to cross the river at Cologne. The bridge didn’t pop up as it should, so I went willy-nilly onwards looking for signs. A man cupped his hands around his mouth and yelled at me in German “DREH UM!!! DREH UM!!!”. It was frightening but I figured it must mean turn around. So I did.

Shortly after that I merged into what must be the biggest industrial park in the world. All that concrete and plastered tar, puffing chimney heat mixed with hard sunshine made the next hours of cycling tough. I intensely dislike concrete. Wound my way passed Ford factories, cooling towers and other enormous sheds for many kilometers. Eventually turned back and magically found my river again. Heartened to see other cyclists flitting by. Crossed over on the ferry. From there on all I could think about was finding a place to stay, which popped up at 17:30 in Monheim am Rhein. Plonked myself down on my lonely ass for an ice cold beer before retiring to the low-ceiling single room above the restaurant.

Odometer: 2371,6

distance today 83.32

See the route map here

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Days 28 and 29 – Erstein – Strasbourg – Marienthal

Watercolour by Leanne Talbot Nowell

Today I rode passed an army barracks onto a narrow path in the woods. A regiment of soldiers came jogging at me in single file. Unfortunately I couldn’t get a good look as I was forced to concentrate on the necessary avoidance manoeuvre. Narrow paths can be treacherous with tufts of thorny blackberries and hidden pointy stones.

Paying attention on the real world in present-moment-mode comes at the high cost of daydreaming. Avoiding mishaps is absolutely imperative at my age. A short lapse in concentration could compromise the entire project.

Pedalling at a good speed along the canals, one hand resting on my hip. The handlebars are instruments of torture. Every kilometer or so I stand on my pedals to allow blood to circulate again. Which brings me to thinking about the river. The Rhine must have been a beautiful thing once. Like a large plait with a myriad of small forested islands. There would have been pebbly beaches on those islands and swarms of life living in their nooks. Water would move quicker in some areas and slower in others, making it possible for all sorts of different habitats. I imagine it would have been teeming with fish, insects and flowers on the banks, big old wild trees bending over to dapple the water, and flocks of gorgeous birds.

Now riding along a cement canal parallel to the river which drags on between the dykes. This dead straight configuration lets the water flow faster, so locks and dams are necessary to prevent flooding. The mud at the bottom is toxic with factory waste. I glide along through the paradox of being able to do this ride so easily at the huge sacrifice of such a great and beautiful river. Without the economic farming and industrial network of support, it would be impossible to do this cycle tour. But I would give up this ride in an instant to have a healthy river back again.

Goethe said “things that matter most must never be at the mercy of those things that matter least”

Strasbourg is lovely.

I bought a little stuffed stork, which is symbolic of the Alsace region, hoping it will bring me more grandchildren. There are storks nesting on rooftops and electricity pylons.

A man was playing the sax so beautifully I couldn’t move under the spell.

Apparently the Parc de l’Orangerie is lovely to see, so I make my way under the shadow of the Cathedral and across town. No luck finding the garden, instead my track takes me north through a forest and farmland to Drusenheim where there is no available accommodation.

According to what I could eek out of my app, there is a hostel room in Bischwiller. At the gate stand an American couple who have booked in advance. Nobody answers the bell or the phone. After peeking through the crack between wall and gate I decide that it’s a lucky thing there is no-one at home and I make my escape. At the top of the next hill I check the app again and find a room in Marienthal.

I’m the only guest at Hotel Notre Dame – ‘L’Ermitage tonight. My bike is parked in the company of an Italian Ape (three-wheeled vehicle) in the shed. The owner said she would bring a tray of supper up to my room in 30 mins. It has been an hour now. I go downstairs to see if perhaps we have a misunderstanding. I find her in the kitchen eating dinner with the chef. She apologizes and laughs. Later she brings in a tray of salad leaves and hunks of cheese, slices of ham and a bottle of water. The remains of the day. I am very pleased.

Monument to Goethe at Sessenheim

Breakfast near the monument to Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe in Sessenheim. He met his beloved Frederike around here.

“Love does not dominate, it cultivates” – Goethe

It’s a green and gritty ride today, a long way on the dyke, which is forbidden apparently. Not sure when it happened but I find myself on the river side of an endless fence. Forced to do some bush-whacking, and scale a strange overpass. Perfectly lonely riding, not a soul on this enormous dyke. On and on it goes all morning until at last there is a faulty gate through which I escape.

GERMANY

Goodbye France. Crossed the bridge between France and Germany trailing a queue of cars behind me. The pungent odour of cows was waiting! ..phew!
Soon the smell changed to chicken schtink, then a field sprayed with pigswill made me gag. You wonder how the crops bear it!

The huge Mercedes factory is just south of Rastatt.

Hay-fever is a real thing out here with the farmers tossing hay into the sky. Big spinning mechanical forks fling it up to dry it out. That mixed with road dust, pollen clouds and swarms of gnats makes it impossible to go without a face mask. Nothing fancy, just a stretchy neck scarf which can be easily pulled down when oxygen levels get too low. The wheezing cough persists.

Crossed the river once again, but still in Germany now. Found a place to sleep in Neuberg tonight, at the Sonne hotel.  Terribly slow internet, but great Greek food!

“We should talk less and draw more. Personally I would like to renounce speech altogether, and like organic nature, communicate everything I have to say in sketches”. (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)

See the map route here

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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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BUZINESS

Lavender watercolour by Leanne

HELLO everybody,


I have been happily illustrating and writing about the cycle ride for 25 days now. Only a quarter of the way in distance – which gives you an idea of how long the long distance ride was. After some thought I’ve decided the story can be divided into three parts to prevent OVERWHELM. lol.


Part ONE being the ‘Italy and over the Alps’ section, The Rhine river and crossing through Germany to the North Sea will be the second section, and then Scandinavia the third.


So I thought this a good moment to take a little break from the writing. My house is rather neglected and Simon has invited me to go for a bike tour with him next weekend in the Rome region. That means a small interruption in the long distance story, although in reality it was never interrupted.


Thanks for all your dedicated reading, and all the wonderful comments and encouragement. All most appreciated and motivational in getting this story written down.


I will be back on the 3rd June for PART TWO. That’s our official end of quarantine in Italy. An auspicious day to continue with the bike tour. Until then I will be painting and preparing the illustrations. Putting the “Lockdown” blogs into a book, and getting my summer clothes out.


Looking forward to seeing your escapades on facebook and Instagram in the meantime.

Much love


Leanne

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

Frieberg, watercolour by Leanne Talbot Nowell

No sign of the famous Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte so far. Maybe the world-famous Black Forest Gateau will make an appearance at my next destination, which would be Freiburg, although I doubt I would make it that far in today. The world famous black forest is looming on my right (north). That’s where they make the Kirschwasser or ‘cherry water’ with a volume of 40% to put in their delectable cake. Apparently the Swiss also add it to fondues.

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

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

Basel

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

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

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

So veer off on a random road which takes me to Huningue. It sounds good enough but I’m horribly lost. The map on the phone screen just cannot figure out where to go next. So I ride on over the border into France and through many vacant chic French villages, and then Niffer and Blodelsheim and Fessenheim. None of which had people in them.

At a greenly painted hotel I come across the first rude woman of my trip. She rolls her eyes dramatically when I ask if she could be so kind as to charge my battery a little bit. I offer to pay. She climbs up a ladder and plugs it into a hanging cord with an impatient gesture.
There were some very long and lonely stretches here, and I have to admit to performing my first bush-pee. Being open and flat country anyone could see me squatting amongst the sugar beet blushing in my luminescent pink top.

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

On the way to Freiburg

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

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

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

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

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

New record distance: 114 kms.

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

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

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

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

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

DAY 25

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

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

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

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

see the route map here

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

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Day 15 – Mantua to Riva del Garda – a boat ride.

Day 14 Lago di Garda by Leanne Talbot Nowell

I’m sneaking through the bushes along a little path in the woods this morning at Mantua. A large sticky spider web attaches itself to my back, and I take its owner for a short ride before swatting and swerving crazily. A couple of swans hiss at me over their goslings. Rabbits hop about. The fairytale continues.

Surprisingly, my knees seem to be holding up, and my back is unusually pain-free. It’s amazing what biking can do for a granny as gnarly as me. A nice lady points the way to the cycle track which leads out of Mantua towards Lago di Garda, and soon I’m cruising between wheat fields once again. I’m so happy to have a cycle track to follow, instead of those truck-infested roads.

This is the lowest point, geographically speaking. of my route across the valley. From now on the road will begin to rise up onto the foothills of the Alps. The catastrophic inner voice has been forbidden to speak of the Alps.

Farmers are turning hay, throwing up great clouds of hayfever-provoking dust. I hold my breath when a cloud billows my way. Tiny bits of wheat stalk stick all over me. A niggly dry cough hacks away at my energy, and my fingernails are black as they collect dust and carbon from scratching my itchy face.

A pig-swill truck swerves onto the cycle track, and the stink is so horrific it makes me gag. On a bike one is bombarded by the full buffet of smells, from star-jasmine to cow urine, to wet grass, to algae ponds. Water is everywhere. Gushing, chalky blue, over weirs, rushing along canals, fiery green in ditches or dripping invisibly off trees. I’m astonished at the number of pumping stations, locks, dykes and concrete walls. Whatever have we done to our beautiful natural rivers!?

An obsolete castle on a hilltop surrounded by a little forest brings history into perspective. I stop for a moment in Monte Borghetto to look at the charming Medieval village and a Metasequoia tree. Also known as a Dawn Redwood, they were initially only found in fossil form, but a few living trees were recently discovered in China, and have been brought back from the very brink of extinction. 

The quaint medieval village is festooned with pots of scarlet geraniums, gay splashes of colour against the mossy stone walls. A softly cascading river curls through the ruins of an old tower.

For some unknown reason, the bike battery, although plugged in all of last night, has not fully charged, so I am a bit anxious about how far and where to go next.

The catastrophic voice asks: “How will you ever ride over those mountains my girl? Don’t you think it’s time to go home!”. But my feet continue pedalling in answer, while my brain runs amok with anxiety. It will be bit like paddling a canoe over a tsunami.

Lago di Garda

The first glimpse of Lago di Garda is reached at Peschiera, the most southern village of this long lake. The road around the lake is too narrow and dangerous for a bicycle, so I’ve decided to cross it by ferry.

A man in a sailor suit standing alone on the pier tells me: “You have missed the boat. There are no more today”. At the information office I ask a tall dark girl with impressively long mauve fingernails. She points at the timetable, the nails clicking as they touch the card. I ask if there is another ferry today.  Judging by her reaction she has been asked that question way too many times. The answer is a definite no.

I pedal gingerly west along the southern shore, using as little battery power as possible. My loaded bike is impossible to pedal without it. At the ferry port of Sirmione, a man sitting in a small white ticket box interrupts me while I’m asking him about the next ferry, shouting repeatedly over the loudspeaker: “Schlange auf der rechten Seite”.

A group of German ladies giggle each time he yells. I ask which is the furthest jumping off point and he replies “Riva”, so I buy a ticket for there. The boat leaves at 15:30, just enough time to taste a peachy ice cream at the elegant Grande Cafe italia. My bike parked at the table with me.

He yells again: “Please queue on the right side”. About fifty of us stand in a hot line until the ferry arrives and my bike is safely wheeled on board and tied to a pipe. What a relief to sit down and travel on a flat chair. The cough sounds tight and wheezy. I realise the only thing I’ve lost since Florence is my appetite.

We chug over the rocking water reflecting late afternoon light and shadows up onto the ferry ceiling. Heavy fumes trailing behind us, away from the flat white-hot sky and coming storm. All around the lake, the green-blue mountains of the Alps surge up into the sky.

Heading north we cross from coast to coast, village to village, picking up and dropping off passengers. The deck is made of iron and painted apple green. Three young sailors man the ropes, shouting to the harbour hands to set the gangplank. When they’re not throwing ropes, they sit behind the bar and laugh into their phones.

I scuttle around the deck photographing the astonishing views. Italy radiates unearthly light. The sky turns to apricot, the mountains glow gold, and the dark water shimmers with bright reflections of crayon-box houses along the shore.

We pull up to Limone del Garda, clinging vertically to a towering cliff. Her fantastically terraced “limonaia” orchards are now beginning to be renovated after a total collapse since World War II. The ruins of old stone pillars half-stand in honour of the greatness of her lemony past. Thankfully, tourism has brought new life to the town of Limone.

The colours of sunset sink slowly into the lake as we drift up to the darkening pier of Riva del Garda.

Riva del Garda

My battery expires outside the nicer-than-expected Hotello dello Sport. Luciana gives me a warm handshake and shows me the dungeon where I’m to store my bike. She helps me carry all my things upstairs and shows me to a lovely, newly decorated room with a balcony and a delicious shower. I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and – Ugh! a big piece of grey spider web is attached to the back of my arm. It must have hung off there all day. No wonder nobody spoke to me on the ferry. They probably shuddered at the sight of me. As if I had leprosy or something.

I plug in my battery and put on my one evening outfit – black knitwear pants and a white sleeveless non-crease blouse, and head into town for a little supper. A solo eater at “Al Vaticano” restaurant is a noticeable rarity.

In Italy one tries never to eat dinner alone. I’m a bit embarrassed to be within hearing distance of neighbouring conversations. A young couple nearby are having a quiet fight, full of hisses and groans.

The staff make an effort to pep me up with small jokes, as if they are almost ashamed of my loneliness – “With her one glass of wine and lonely candle.” They would be shocked to know I’m not alone at all, but having a conversation with a throng of internal voices. They’re discussing the mountain pass for tomorrow. And Catastrophic is furious that I haven’t checked my tires once in 800 kms.

See the route. From Mantua to Sirmione. The boat ride from Sirmione to Riva del Garda is not included.

Lucy Liu
Lucy Liu at the breakfast table in her garden.

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Day 14 – Mirandola to Mantova – the Po River.

Po River snake Day 13 by Leanne Talbot Nowell

Known for her exquisite beauty, Mantova of Lombardy is yet another World Heritage site.  Virgil was born nearby, and Shakespeare’s Romeo was banished here after seducing Juliet.

Finding a place to stay every night is challenging.  It is midsummer and certainly a dream to cycle through this fairy landscape, but there are floods of tourists gobbling up all the accommodation. Sleeping alfresco would be a nightmare.

“You’re such a softy” Simon says on the phone.  And another thing, this painful saddle has not improved and neither have my knees. And my wrists are feeling it too.

I left my comfy hotel room in Mirandola after an egg breakfast this Sunday morning. It’s one of those mustard and blue Van Gogh days with ripe wheat all over the place. There seem to be a variety of grains growing here. People prefer the ancient grains for making their daily dose of pasta. Not only are they more nutritious but also much less damaging to the environment than the hybrid types. Poplar trees rustle with heat along the Secchia river. I’m back on the dyke again today.

On the flats one tends to focus on the things right in front of you. Yesterday Giorgio said he usually goes up onto the dykes to see the sunset. It occurred to me that when you live on level ground, one doesn’t get to see much of the sunset. Going up to dyke height can make all the difference. But is also good to focus on what is right in front of you. Namely stones, holes, sharp objects, glass, snakes and anything that could make you fall down.

You’d think cyclists would prefer downhills to uphill’s. But like life, the ups are way more interesting, and you get a great sense of pleasure when you reach the top. Whereas the downs, as in life, are mostly just a whizzing blur and then you feel a little sad that it’s over so soon.

On my way I quickly visited the small town of San Benedetto Po, centred around a spellbinding monastery founded in 1007, the Abbey of Polirone. I popped my head into the great door of the Basilica. The air was impregnated with incense and candles glowed in the spicy darkness. I couldn’t leave my bike alone, so rested under the enormous cloisters and chatted with a family from France.

I’m very excited to reach the Po river, the longest, biggest river in Italy. This is the second day of cycling in this enormous catchment area, known for the great cities of Turin, Milan and Venice.  Over millennia, the Po has been the life blood of a large part of Italy. Water tests have shown shockingly high levels of cocaine. Four kilograms per one thousand people to be exact. Until 2002 all of Milan’s poop flowed directly into the river without treatment.

At last I caught a glimpse of the dark Po. Wide, green and calm. It lapped at the feet of a restaurant where waiters served me a plate of serrated tagliatelle with smoked salmon (no cream), and plenty of roasted vegetables drowning in olive oil. The outdoor dining area is closed to the river with plastic curtains. Views are not a high priority. Understandably the Great Outdoors is full of dangers, this spot in particular must have seen many marauding tribes, maybe a Goth or a Gaul, or even Obelix himself making a crossing. A long green snake crossed over my path, poor thing wiggled as fast as it could beneath the wheels.

I rolled into Mantova this afternoon at around 16:00. People strolled along banks of three lakes, which are actually moats built to protect the town.

732 km from Rome.

48 hours in that …. saddle since the ride began.

Finding a place to stay

Tonight, I am going to Industrial street nr.4. A B&B “Un passo da.” Translation: “A step away from.”

Industrial street 4 is an address with connotations. The place happens to be on the other side of the lake and not in the quaint centre of town. After I cross the bridge, my heart sinks a little when the Google voice directs me into a cement suburb. I only switch to voice guidance on Google maps when a recharge is imminent. Zigzagging along grey streets, my heart sinks again when the road takes me onto a highway. Big trucks threaten to smear me along the barrier rails. Soon I careen into a circle which brings me to a fly-off, and fly off I do, onto a smaller road which leads to the house over the railway and behind some factories. 

Two lovely ladies, Lucy Liu and her sister-in-law Stefania, are most surprised to see me on a bicycle. They greet me warmly and help me in with the panniers. Lucy Liu offers to drive me to a local restaurant for pizza, then pick me up again much later. She has another engagement to attend to. I decline and take a shower, spending the evening painting in my diary before collapsing in a hungry heap on the bed, pizza-less.

See the route.

Mantua - photo by Leanne Talbot Nowell
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Day 3 – Vetralla to Bolsena

Italian poppies

Day 3 – Flying along on the bike this morning. Legs pump away the back pain, but the saddle, oooh the saddle. I try to be stoic. My bum blisters have ballooned. One on each cheek. I haven’t seen them yet, but they feel like incorporated gel cushions.

At the coffee bar in Vetralla, a jolly well-dressed “Signore” orders a ‘whiskey corretto’. Normally people ask for a cafè coretto, which is a dash of alcohol in a shot of espresso. There are a myriad ways Italians prefer their dose of caffeine. We order cappuccino – hot – no sugar.

There are long queues of traffic waiting to get passed the road works. Trucks blast us with acrid black fumes as we weave our bikes between them. Gasping through his neck scarf, Simon shouts his slogan: “FOLLOW ME”. He is not afraid of traffic and holds the road. This is something seasoned cyclists know how to do – hold the road. It means to ride your bike in the middle of it, so that vehicles cannot overtake. Italian drivers are patient and road rage towards cyclists is quite rare. It goes against everything I’ve learnt about survival.

We stick to the pilgrim route as much as we can, preferring the white gravel farm roads.

Recent spring storms have washed gullies into the surface. My bike has rather narrow tires and I do my best not to get stuck in a rut. But ruts are inevitable on these roads, as in life itself. The thing is to not panic, be dexterous and hold on tight. Gravel roads are better than tar, not only are there fewer potholes, but I’m happier knowing that insects and animals have a better chance of crossing over to continue their livelihood activities on the opposite side.

We shout ‘Buon Camino’ to oncoming pilgrims tramping along under their hot backpacks. Poppies dot the verges and turn the fields red.

Signage, what there is of it, faces the opposite direction. We must rely on the cell phone and google maps. Simon is navigating, which leaves me free to learn how to operate my bike properly. I am beginning to like my trekking bike very much, particularly the boosting battery. It’s still cumbersome, and staying onboard while skidding on rolling pebbles is becoming my speciality.

With a lot of help from my booster I keep up with Simon as we cruise into the ancient city of Viterbo. Her grandiose architecture and rich history are as enticing as her boiling thermal baths. It is too warm to think of submerging ourselves in hot water, so we go directly to the bike shop for a spare tube in case of a puncture. Can’t believe I didn’t think of bringing one. Fixing a puncture features low on my skills list. The thought of a puncture gives me the shudders, especially if it happens in the countryside where large white maremmano-abruzzese sheepdogs find cyclists threatening. You don’t want to be hunching down with a tire when a dog shows up.

The town of Montefiascone is located high on the rim of a volcano with a fantastic view over the crater lake of Bolsena. Getting up this small back-road is so steep I worry about flipping over backwards! I am leaning forward, chest on the cross bar and zigzagging desperately trying to lesson the gradient. All I can say is ‘thank you’ to turbo battery power. Simon pushes his bike slowly up the near vertical slope.

There is absolutely no way I could do this ride without my e-bike assistant. We eventually reach the sweaty summit in time for a 3pm panino at Milioni il Caffè. Quaffing icy cold pineapple juice for the anti-inflammatory effects before flying downhill through the old oak forest into the crater. My speedometer records a top speed of 59,8 kph. My knees shake as I disembark in front of the convent in Bolsena.

The ancient town of Bolsena is on the shore of a huge round lake. Mother Superior makes us sit down in her reception room and tells us she is 90 years old, followed by a long story about the history of the Church in Bolsena. I’m not sure if her sense of smell still functions well, after a day of sweaty riding we must smell rather pungent. However, in perfect prose she explains the story of “Il miracolo” (the miracle).

“A priest from Bohemia, named Peter, passed by this place on his return from Rome to Prague in 1200, but he was having doubts about the bread and wine, what we call the Eucharist.

“Is it truly the body of Christ?” he wanted to know.

The following day as a visiting priest, he celebrated Mass in the Church. When he broke the Host (consecrated bread) blood fell from the bread onto his hands, on the cloth, and dripped down the altar to the marble floor below.

That expelled all doubt and Catholics have performed the Corpus Christie ever since”.

Our Mother Superior graciously showed us to our immaculate bedroom with a vaulted ceiling and windows overlooking the Church and piazza. We embalm our sunburned faces with scented moisturizer and sleep deeply, wrapped in crispy clean sheets. In the morning Mother stamps our credenziali before we fetch our bikes from the little shed at the end of a purple flowering pergola.

A statue of Madonna stands praying for us under an arch of blood red roses.