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Day 31 – Ludwigshafen am Rhein to Nackenheim

Viticulture

Today the wind came up against me. The tall poplar trees along the river bank clapped their leaves. Sounds like a standing ovation – tree applause. Birds of prey skim from the blue sky over the bristling wheat fields searching for mice.

A river of this magnitude begins with a twinkle on a mountain peak then joins with others until it becomes a powerful moving force, such magic. Thinking about the dams, locks, dykes, canals, chemicals, barges, all strangling the loveliness. I ride on the incredible eurovelo 15 cycle path and appreciate it very much of course.

Getting out of the city of Ludwigshafen is a snakes and ladders game.  On the outskirts of town in the industrial area under a bridge there is a kiosk that makes a hot brown beverage. The three old men who shared the stuff with me won’t believe I come from Rome.

I’ve noticed a strange phenomena too regular to be sheer coincidence. Maybe I’m getting a bit googledy-gook, but if I need something it just comes, like riding through a pop-up story book. Each page swings up at me, whether it be a kiosk, or a sign post, a cycle track, or a place to stay.

I dare not let anxiety pop-up, in case it manifests. But it is very reassuring to know that all you need is proper attention and consideration at every intersection, then the journey goes on.

Worms had no redeeming features. I ask a girl near the station: ” Juligung Juligung, where is the centrum, the altstadt…innerstadt??”. She replies “You are in it, this is Worms”.
At the bakery-cafe, three large flies rest on the cheesecake. The cakes look huge and delicious. I ride around town looking for somewhere I can sit down to eat my slice.

Later at lunch, sitting at a table under a big green umbrella eating salad on the banks of the mighty Rhine, a large spider lands on me and I do a sudden little jig and beat my chest like Tarzan. I hope I didn’t damage it.

Extremely long barges come sailing upstream loaded high with containers or piles of sand. Surprisingly they don’t make much of a wave.

Pedal and pedal all day, usually along the dykes. There are a handful of other cyclists, and some of them are loaded with panniers for longer trips. I follow a man who looks like he knows where he is going. He has a one-wheeled trailer attached to the back of his bike loaded with his camping gear. At a wider section of cycle track, I ride alongside him and say ‘Guten Tag”. He immediately tells me he had just completed 2000 kms, but when I say ‘me too’, he gives me a contemptuous look. I should have just said ‘BRAVO’ then he may have chatted longer. Every bit of solo cyclist conversation out here on the lonesome dykes is precious.

Back in wine country this evening, there are hills here, and a microclimate ideal for viticulture.

Fortunate to find a room at the Landhotel in Nackenheim. Feeling quite knackered myself. I telephone ahead this time but the owner tells me he is fully booked…but wait, yes, there is a single room. A good price at 50 Euros including breakfast. The chef is sick so the hotelier sends me to the Sports Bar for a large schnitzel and beer. The clientele are all dressed in German red, black and yellow. War painted faces sucking on cigarettes. I am the only happy person here. Apparently Germany has just been kicked out of the world cup soccer tournament. What misery.

Bitte schön – danke schön…Tchuss (sounds like cheers).

77 kms

See the route map here

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Day 24 – Waldshut Tiengen to Karsau – bedbugz.

scenery along the way

The only men I attract by my appearance these days, are those with noisy machines. Mowers, tractors, builders and lorry drivers. Even the rubbish truck man made a comment after a near hit. I don’t think it was complimentary.
But the hoteliers usually always shake my hand when I leave, which is comforting.

My ebike has a little onboard computer which gives me four cycling modes, depending how much help I need for the terrain. I have added a pretend mode: “LOST” which is a boost for dizzy-blonde morale.

There are bedbugs in my industrial park motel room. EEEK!

Luckily I slept in my special silk sleeping sack to protect me from an annoying fly. Thereby unwittingly preventing those dreaded bed-bug bites. You must always travel with one of these silk cocoon bags. Bed bugs can’t get through the tightly woven silk. I saw them this morning clustered around my panniers which are standing on the floor. Now all my clothes need washing. Good thing, as they haven’t seen a washing machine for 4 weeks.  Hand washing my clothes every evening is obviously not quite enough judging by my attracting annoying flies.

Whistling along through yet another vacant village I see a public swimming pool. It is the hottest day so far and there is a blackboard outside with a fast food menu scribbled on it. The combination of pool and food is too much to resist. While guzzling a bratwurst smothered in mayo and ketchup, I watch a nice round Italian Mama dragging her crying little boy out of the water. He wants to play with the German kids….but she bellows “DEVI MANGIARE AMORE!!!”… . (you must eat my love). The water is icy cold and I wallow like a crocodile for a while.

Cooling towers, steel works, and other industry are beginning to pop up around every corner along the Rhine. Cement factories are my worst. Not only ugly and toxic, but the thought of covering the Earth with the deadly stuff is horrible.

A fantastic old covered wooden bridge – Holzbrücke Bad Säckingen – crosses the water between Germany and Switzerland. Switzerland is much more expensive so I ride across and back to the German side again. The Swiss like to shop in Germany because it’s cheaper and they can get the tax refunded.

At about 15:00 it’s time to search for accommodation. I haven’t seen any obvious places to stay along the route today. Even toilets are difficult to find. One cannot just piddle on the side of the road like the men do. Neither is this Italy where you can find a crowded cafe at the centre of even the smallest village. You can use the lavatory for the price of a cool drink and get help with finding accommodation.

Going strong and dizzily along this beautiful landscape. There are long stretches of shady bike tracks here but half the time you’re riding on the streets. Junctions can be a bit complicated, and routes take you along farm roads through cultivated fields. One of the hazards of riding in fields are the irrigation sprays. You must wait for the squirting and then speed passed while they turn the other way. I think a light sprinkling will be nice in this weather so I go pedalling through. Just so you know, it’s like a waterfall and rather blinding. I almost veered off into the maize.

Checked my booking.com for a place to stay, and found Pension B&B Jasmin, off track at Karsau. On the way up there I spot an a ebike shop. Feeling very happy to stop and ask the huge man for some chain grease. He shows me how to apply it. Now my gears don’t change very well, and the chain clatters terribly.

There is nobody at B&B Jasmin, so I plonk myself down at a Pub close by. Testing my German a little bit. A very traditional place that smells of cigarettes and sour beer. I randomly order dinner – Rinderleber with balsamico – for the Italian touch. The waiter brings it to the table and says it’s cow heart. After a few moments of revolted consideration, my reasonable voice says “oh well, maybe it’s good for courage, love and emotion”. Strangely it tastes exactly like liver and onions. Washed down with a freezing glass of white wine.

I am way too tired and my hair is a fright.

Odometer 1573.7

63 kms today.

See the route map here

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Day 22 and 23 – Rorschach to Tägerwilen to Waldshut

Cycling colours

My paper supply has run out so I had to use my colour tester blotting page for the illustration today.

Jumped on the bike at 7:30 this morning to find only 30 kms of battery life on the display…of course I could pedal without power, but it’s going to be like riding a cow instead of a black stallion. With a lumbering 42 kilos of haulage to push along. On the flat shores of lake Constance that should be ok for a while.

A cyclist told me yesterday that the weather will be bad. The Norwegians say there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing. 

Lake Constance or Bodensee in German is a soft tone of Schminke Paynes grey. The fine brushstroke of land on the opposite bank is Germany. Shafts of sunshine beam through the gaps in the clouds.

At an empty lakeside cafè the barista makes me a cup of milky coffee. He doesn’t speak English or Italian, and asking for coffee used up almost all my German words “Kaffee bitte, danke schön”. I have no idea how to ask him if it would be ok to recharge my battery? You would think having a German husband would have forced me to imbibe some phrases, but I seem to have trouble stringing words. Even remembering the words to string.

“He who knows no foreign languages knows nothing of his own.”
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Like languages there are many choices of bike tours in this area, the sign posts hold up dozens of arrows pointing to various routes. I am taking the Eurovelo 15 which runs along the Rhine valley via Basel. Every time I see a 15 at a bivio I’m thrilled. For the first time the route is clear and I don’t need to stop and get my phone out to check the map. The wifi service is not so wonderful. My Italian phone number complicates matters.

There are more tourists riding this route as the day clears up. It’s a beautiful ride among vineyards, apple trees and pretty gardens. The water of the lake changes to a sensational blue. Perfect cycle tracks lead through the fields, and more fields…kilometers of them until there is just 1 km worth of power remaining in the battery and no sign of a village. I resign myself to my fate, but at that moment a restaurant appears like a genie from a bottle and we fizzle into the parking lot.

The highly recommended Swiss menu at Gasthaus Ochsen in Tägerwilen offers a delectable little bowl of sunshine – Il Risotto al pomodoro with fried feta, crunchy mixed salad leaves…and a banana-berry smoothie. Yesterday’s long ride has left me feeling kaput, so instead of charging up my battery in the restaurant, I simply book a room. Power up all my electronics and check the map. Bike stands lonesome in the foyer.

Odometer 1410.4 – only 44 kms today…

Day 22 – Tägerwilen to Waldshut – Emerald River blues

Another early start along the southern shore of Lake Constance, the border between Switzerland and Germany. All so calm unlike me who woke up in the night with vertigo! I am horrified and anxious. Moving my dizzy blonde head up or down is hazardous, the world swoops around, flinging butterflies around my tummy for a minute or two until it slowly stabilizes. Keeping my head as level as possible is difficult when checking for traffic coming up from behind.

Other than that problem the cycling is going well, I’m getting better at ‘handling’ the bike, and can almost always manage a u-turn in a small street without falling over. Not that the number of u-turns have diminished over time. Getting lost and doing u-turns are a constant challenge. At every corner and every intersection, there’s a choice to make.

Zipped passed the ancient city of Constance and went on to Stein-am-Rhein to see the frescoes.

Video of this area

Very quiet little villages along the way, only builders and road workers to be seen. After an hour of looking out for a coffee shop I eventually stop at a little bakery. Apparently you can sit and drink coffee at bakeries. Not something you can do in Italy, there you go to a bar for ‘un caffè’. Two ladies come in with three dogs and join me at the table. Chatting away as if we are a friend group who do this every week. Good for the vagabond soul. The apple pie is delicious!

At Stein-am-Rhine a Chinese tourist group are being herded by their guide, he’s yelling at them to look at this look at that, and they all had their phones up to their faces taking photos of whatever it is. I’m sure they are not having fun. The frescoes make the main street is a magnificent artwork.

The colour of the Rhine is a mesmerizing swirl of emerald greens, sky blues and turquoise greys. Surging whirlpools sigh against the embankments. You get into a good flow feeling following a powerful river like this. It has a long history worth mentioning but I’m wondering about the pre-history and how fabulous it must have been when it was wild.

 Made it to lunch in Schaffhausen at the corner restaurant on the main square. A delicious mango-curry-coco soup served in a jam-jar, a prawn with herbs and baked yellow mini tomato, all served on an old chopping board. The bottle of water is called ‘Silence’.

The river cascades noisily at Neuhausen am Rheinfall… eels manage to wiggle their way up these spectacular falls. The cycle track is full of people wiggling their way on bicycles. Summer is here and a good way to keep cool is to go for a bike ride. The air cools you as you go.

How is my body status going? It has been noted at the 1500 kms mark. Hearing is tuned in and the bum is as hard as a rock! Unfortunately the allergic sneezing and cough persist. Leaving me with itchy piggy eyes. And there’s the vertigo. Otherwise all good. Oh, and my hands are like two robotic claws that have been badly installed. I need to unhook them from the handlebars.

Arrived very tired at Waldshut-Tiengen to find my pre-booked motel located in an industrial zone, 3 kms away from any food. There is no reception, only a long row of rooms behind a factory parking lot. Room number and code are sent by sms. You need to type the code on a little box outside the door. The room is fine, just big enough to squeeze my bike in with me. After a hot shower and dressed in my dinner outfit I gingerly ride into town and eat alfresco at the pub.

(PS. about the vertigo, it’s not acrophobia which is the fear of heights. I’m taking some sort of medicine the pharmacist gave me. One must sleep on high pillows, never let your head go lower than your body.)

Todays ride – 100kms

Odometer 1510.9

average speed 18 kph.

See map day 21 -Rorschach to Tägerwilen

See map day 22 -Tägerwilen to Waldshut

Click on images to enlarge them.

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Day 20 -Landeck to Stuben – the Arlberg pass

Alpine lupins, watercolour by Leanne

The thought of cycling over any Alpine pass makes me nervous, especially this one, so I delay it and dabble with my paint-box instead. Sitting flat on the road in the still sunshine and painting the river bank full of chaotic lupins, dandelions, daisies and the bright water. I’m trying to have poetic thoughts but all I can think of is the upcoming monster.

According to the hotel manager, I must most definitely go by train through the tunnel, but Simon says “Go over the top, you’ll be sorry if you don’t”. It’s true, my goal is to ride all the way to Oslo. Some people suspect me of cheating which is understandable, they probably would in my position, but I really don’t like cheats so why be one.

Almost immediately the road turns up through an avalanche gallery crowded with zooming cars and buses. The booming echo sets off my tunnel panic. I look up and see a bus full of people staring down at me. A big sorry sob comes bubbling up, and I need to make an imaginary emergency call to my backup team.

The answer is immediate “Mom. Just pedal!”

No sympathy at all!

Well, I go through 550 meters and come out the other side where the views are astonishing. Scree slopes at oblique angles, all dotted with Norwegian Spruce. Pointy peaks streaked with white ice. A luminous sky leaning toward the colour of purple lupins.

I plug in my earbuds and play some music to get me up the hill. Not something I do very often because my phone runs out of battery too soon. Today I plan to stop overnight in St. Christoph which is just up the hill. So for once the battery power isn’t my main concern.

Oliver Sacks said “Music can lift us out of depression or move us to tears — it is a remedy, a tonic, orange juice for the ear. But for many of my neurological patients, music is even more — it can provide access, even when no medication can, to movement, to speech, to life. For them, music is not a luxury, but a necessity.”

Avoided a second tunnel by going over it on a service road. Stopped for lunch at an Alm in St. Christoph am Arlberg, where I’m sitting under a bright orange umbrella at a dizzy altitude, eating delicious Tiroler Gröstl. A copper pan filled with roasted potatoes, fried eggs, bacon and onions. A bowl of krauti salad on the side, and an Almdudler to drink. Most satisfactory. Seems as if my appetite is coming back. Good thing because my arms were beginning to look like two brown chopsticks.

I ride around to find a room at one of the hotels. They are all closed for the summer. So I’m forced to ride on. The battery is almost empty…and the thought of another vertical climb puts me in a spin. But the road wiggles along some curves and then gratefully falls, zigzagging steeply. Harley Davidson motor-bikers come up against me, blasting with noise and shining colours.

I stop at a panoramic viewpoint to check the app and book a room at the next village – Stuben. The Après Post Hotel is the only accommodation available and at a reasonable rate. After almost falling down the cliff, I arrive at the hotel and think “oh golly” this is going to be expensive. Way too posh for my budget. These new polaroid glasses of mine probably blurred a zero when I was making the booking.

However, my happiness level soars when the receptionist confirms the price. Golly, how lucky! To top it all, the pretty waitresses dressed in traditional dirndl costumes, help me carry my panniers to the room.

Use of the spa is included in the price, so after a good shower I find myself wallowing in a large whirlpool made of stainless steel. At first the dark shimmering shadows play games with your imagination (jaws) but if you calm down it turns into a fabulous undulating rainbow-flecked reflection of the steely peaks above. There is also a basket swing chair pod to snuggle into, making it really easy to fall asleep and almost miss dinner.

Only 40 kilometres today. Over the Arlberg pass which is 1793 mt high at St. Christoph.

Lessons – avoid shortcuts….. and expect the unexpected.

At the dinner table now thinking about all those people on the tour bus, and how they missed the transparent stream hidden by the barrier rail, missed the cow that talked and the two running weasels. They didn’t catch the scent of that marvellous flowering tree in the fresh air… and they missed having a sob in the tunnel.

see the route map here.

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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.

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1 – THE BIKE RIDE

Leanne Talbot Nowell . the bike

This is about a 4200 km ‘solo’ bike ride, from Marino to Oslo in Norway, in the summer of 2018. It will be quoted from my daily diary kept during the trip. It was quite difficult to find enough time to paint along the way, so photographs had to suffice. I did some paintings of course, but now is a good time to go back on that track and fill in the gaps. Many of you have asked to come along for the trip and you’re most welcome. So hop on your virtual bikes and let our bicycle story begin!

Getting the bike…

“È cosi!” – it’s like that! – He throws up his hands, fingers splayed wide in supplication.

We are inside a swish bicycle shop in Rome, the athletic-looking manager shakes his smooth head “You most certainly will NOT be able to have an electric-bike delivered for at least three months Signora! There is a backlog of orders and a grand shortage of electric bikes, so if you want one then you must wait until mid-June… ”.

It’s April already, and to wait two more months for a bike will be way too late in the year to begin a long trip. It will be too hot to cycle through Italy in July and by the time I reach Norway, it will be freezing.

We leave the shop feeling bitterly disappointed. But soon a surge of relief neutralizes that uncomfortable feeling. Our couch is quite comfortable after all. I flop down into my usual position and tell myself “Never mind, there’ll be another opportunity in the future”.

But my intrepid husband Simon won’t accept such an easy defeat. He searches online and after some setbacks and phone calls, finds a CUBE trekking bike. Apparently just the bike for me. Correct frame size, electric, with all the necessary components. I don’t know exactly what components are, but if they are necessary then I had better have them. He immediately orders the bike and has it shipped home.

One week later…

It has arrived in a huge box, and I think Simon is more excited about it than I am. The ‘bicicletta’ (bike) now stands waiting calmly for departure day, glinting with red reflectors in the dark grotto below our apartment. Tall and elegant, her machined proportions as perfectly balanced as a race horse.

1 . THE BIKE RIDE - Leanne Talbot Nowell

But the sight of her makes me quake. After months of dreaming about the ride to Oslo to see my children, enthusiasm seems to be evaporating and my imagination is running wild with dreadful scenarios. I lie awake at night thinking of things that could go wrong, convinced something unimaginable will happen.

Why?

My parents are absolutely horrified: “How silly to risk your life like that, when you can fly to Oslo in a few short hours… what for? Now that you have grandchildren to enjoy?” In contrast, my adult children who are all adventurous themselves – but not reckless mind you – cheer me on with a resounding “Go for it Aunty Mom!” (that’s what they call me to get my attention when I’m being deaf).

My friends roll their eyes and ask “Are you nuts, why do you want to ride all the way to Oslo?” I defensively mention the story of Anne Mustoe, a retired headmistress of a posh English school, who rode a bicycle around the world a couple of times. Her stories of solitary adventures were proof that a woman of my age could journey alone, and so she inspired me to make a pilgrimage of my own. People say “why go alone, why not ride with a friend or a group – go on an organised tour for heaven’s sake!?”

I ask around if someone would like to come with me, but nobody has the time for a two month joyride. Some have offered to join me for a day or two when they can. Life is short at my age and delaying an opportunity for fear of loneliness may lead to regrets later. I want to be outside, feeling the wind, the sun, the joy and amazement of going somewhere new.

The reason for going is certainly not about finding myself. I already have enough of myself in my painting studio, actually too much. I need to escape my ego, get ahead of it and leave myself behind. You will find out the real reason later.

Picking the destination was easy, our daughter and son are living in Oslo, and two of our exquisite grandchildren. To make it sound like a work trip, I will take my art materials and camera along and paint the scenery along the way.

Up here in Marino perched on the edge of a steep volcano, bicycles are rare. According to the locals either you are too poor to afford a car or you are a very sporty type who joins a club and rides out with a fleet of cyclists wearing yellow jerseys. An older woman like me, riding a trekking bike into the far distant northern realms is “no woman of ours”. They probably think this is a disguised attempt to escape my marriage.