Posted on 4 Comments

Day 58 – Oslo

Oslo with Megan and Elia, watercolour painting by Leanne Talbot Nowell

I’m so excited to be riding into Oslo over the finish line today! So thrilled to be seeing my family again.

Bright blues skies and hot. Tyrone navigated the way from Moss, passed his house in Ås, lunch in Ski, and soon we are speeding downhill into Oslo. Megs and Ste are waiting with my one year old grandson Elia in front of the marble white Opera house on the bay. They’ve made a fabulous large paper banner with ROME TO OSLO printed on it, holding it up across the path.

Ty has sped off ahead to be ready photograph the arrival scene. The drama of the moment is slightly diluted by getting caught up in a net of Chinese tourists, however I force my way through them and go blasting through the middle of the banner in a flash, tearing it in half.

I wish I could do it again with more relish this time… both the tearing of the banner and the entire ride.

Angel baby Elia is ok with being handed over to this stinky old cyclist grandma for kisses. I’m quite overwhelmed and lost for words.

After a sprinkling of confetti, a cin cin of Prosecco, a glass of red South African wine with a delicious home cooked meal, the relaxing begins. There’s plenty of fun and games with Elia.
I’m so happy to be back with my family! So much to celebrate together, one of the reasons is Megan has an appointment tomorrow for a pregnancy scan. I am invited to go along and see if we are expecting a boy or a girl !!!

7 points to the north star – zooming out

  • Cycling for two months and clocking a grand total of 4180 kilometers. Top speed 59.8 Kph, at which point the panniers would rise up dangerously, like wings opening for take-off. Average speed 18.5 kph. Oiled chain twice and pumped one tire once. Used Booking dot com and Google maps on an iphone 5.

  • Sleeping in 50 different beds which varied from a raw mattress to a bed fit for a queen and everything in between. Searching for accommodation every afternoon caused me some stress, but thankfully was never forced to sleep under a bush. Navigating was the most complicated part of the ride for me.

  • Being alone for most of the time left me with the seven “me’s” who were labelled: Dizzy blonde, Stupid-bloody-fool, Guru, Panic-pot, Happy, Sneezy, and Dopey. Guru was the most annoying of all, always shouting “Get up out of that bed immediately and get on your bike” or yelling “PAY ATTENTION ! … STOP…… go go go GOOOO…. take your blinkers off …wait… keep pedalling … get your aaas into gear. Let it be known that we all need to listen to our inner Guru, no matter what your mission happens to be or how brutal that voice is.

  • Changing identity and becoming a man; no makeup, no hair brush, a ravenous appetite, strong muscles, navigating by the sun, loving my bike too much, drinking beer, not caring about my ugly face, wearing the same clothes every day and going places where women don’t usually go for example prohibited factory yards, pubs full of pirates, wolf territory. It was liberating. Much to my surprise and relief the body managed to survive the journey. The hands grew a bit claw-like and developed pads on the palms… werewolf symptoms?

  • Appreciating the champions – my husband Simon, and my imaginary cycling team (my children who cheered me on), and all my family and friends as the ‘blog-backup support team’ who constantly wrote kind messages to keep me going. Thank you everyone. I would have been miserable without you. Your put wind in my tires and power in my pedals.

  • Being teased by those who poopoo my journey because of the eeee bike, once you get your very own ebike you will understand that it’s the best form of transport on the planet. Since the reasons for this tour were not about proving myself, but rather a really exciting way to experience beautiful Europe and actually enjoy the feeling of traveling from one place to another. At the same time I tried to teach myself to be brave so I can handle a personal struggle which has not been discussed in the story.

  • Europe is a remarkably safe place for solo women travellers, despite what you see on TV. Even with covid 19 now in circulation, it is quite easy to avoid trouble. People are kind and helpful wherever you go. Especially children. Kids notice a lot of things that adults are too busy to see. So many small gestures from kids gave me huge encouragement to continue.

The answer to the most common question of all is…how sore is your seat?…. It’s a resounding sore!

FINISHED…

 

The edited and printed bike ride book with all the watercolour illustrations will be available soon. 

The “lockdown in Marino” illustrations and stories will also be out in print.

pile of paintings since lockdown began in Italy on the 9 March 2020
Tuscany paintings prints by Leanne Talbot Nowell

GIVE ME A DAY OR TWO TO GET THE TUSCANY PAINTINGS INTO MY SHOP.

A SET OF FOUR WATERCOLOURS TO DOWNLOAD AND PRINT FOR PRIVATE USE.

with LOVE 

Posted on Leave a comment

Day 43 – Neubruchhausen to Zeven – Bremen

Bremen traveling musicians

In our bookcase at home is an original translation of the Grimm’s fairy tales.  Imagined it would be good to type out the true story of the Bremen musicians for you.


The Travelling Musicians – Grimm’s fairy tale.

An honest farmer had once an ass, that had been a faithful servant to him a great many years, but was now growing old and every day more and more unfit for work. His master therefore was tired of keeping him and began to think of putting an end to him : but the ass, who saw that some mischief was in the wind, took himself slyly off, and began his journey towards the great city of Bremen, “for there” thought he, ” I may turn musician.”

After he had travelled a little way, he spied a dog lying by the roadside and panting as if he were very tired. “What makes you pant so, my friend?” said the ass. “Alas!” said the dog, “my master was going to knock me on the head, because I am old and weak, and can no longer make myself useful to him in hunting; so I ran away : but what can I do to earn my livelihood?” “Hark ye!” said the ass, “I am going to the great city to turn musician : suppose you go with me, and try what you can do in the same way?”

The dog said he was willing, and they jogged on together.

They had not gone far before they saw a cat sitting in the middle of the road and making a most rueful face. “Pray, my good lady,” said the ass, “what’s the matter with you? you look quite out of spirits!” “Ah me!” said the cat, “how can one be in good spirits when one’s life is in danger? Because I am beginning to grow old, and had rather lie at my ease by the fire than run about the house after the mice, my mistress laid hold of me, and was going to drown me; and though I have been lucky enough to get away from her, I do not know what I am to live upon.” “O !” said the ass, “by all means go with us to the great city; you are a good night singer, and may make your fortune as a musician.” The cat was pleased with the thought, and joined the party.

Soon afterwards, as they were passing by a farmyard, they saw a cock perched upon a gate, and screaming out with all his might and main. “Bravo!” said the ass; “upon my word you make a famous noise; pray what is all this about?” “Why,” said the cock, “I was just now saying that we should have fine weather for our washing-day, and yet my mistress and the cook don’t thank me for my pains, but threaten to cut off my head to-morrow, and make broth of me for the guests that are coming on Sunday!” “Heaven forbid!” said the ass; “come with us Master Chanticleer; it will be better, at any rate, who knows? If we take care to sing in tune, we may get up some kind of a concert: so come along with us” “With all my heart,” said the cock: so they all four went on jollily together.

They could not, however, reach the great city the first day; so when night came on, they went into a wood to sleep. The ass and the dog laid themselves down under a great tree, and the cat climbed up into the branches; while the cock, thinking that the higher he sat the safer he should be, flew up to the very top of the tree, and then, according to his custom, before he went to sleep, looked out on all sides of him to see that everything was well. In doing this, he saw afar off something bright and shining; and calling to his companions said, “There must be a house no great way off, for I see a light.” “If that be the case,” said the ass, “we had better change our quarters, for our lodging is not the best in the world!” “Besides,” added the dog, “I should not be the worse for a bone or two, or a bit of meat.” So they walked off together towards the spot where Chanticleer had seen the light; and as they drew near, it became larger and brighter, till they at last came close to a house in which a gang of robbers lived.

The ass, being the tallest of the company, marched up to the window and peeped in. “Well, Donkey,” said Chanticleer, “what do you see?” “What do I see?” replied the ass, “why I see a table spread with all kinds of good things, and robbers sitting round it making merry.” “That would be a noble lodging for us,” said the cock. “Yes,” said the ass, “if we could only get in:” so they consulted together how they should contrive to get the robbers out; and at last they hit upon a plan. The ass placed himself upright on his hind-legs, with his fore-feet resting against the window; the dog got upon his back; the cat scrambled up to the dog’s shoulders, and the cock flew up and sat upon the cat’s head. When all was ready, a signal was given, and they began their music. The ass brayed, the dog barked, the cat mewed, and the cock screamed; and then they all broke through the window at once, and came tumbling into the room, amongst the broken glass, with a most hideous clatter!

The robbers, who had been not a little frightened by the opening concert, had now no doubt that some frightful hobgoblin had broken in upon them, and scampered away as fast as they could.

The coast once clear, our travellers soon sat down, and dispatched what the robbers had left, with as much eagerness as if they had not expected to eat again for a month. As soon as they had satisfied themselves, they put out the lights, and each once more sought out a resting-place to his own liking. The donkey laid himself down upon a heap of straw in the yard; the dog stretched himself upon a mat behind the door; the cat rolled herself up on the hearth before the warm ashes; and the cock perched upon a beam on the top of the house; and, as they were all rather tired with their journey, they soon fell asleep.

But about midnight, when the robbers saw from afar that the lights were out and that all seemed quiet, they began to think that they had been in too great a hurry to run away; and one of them, who was bolder than the rest, went to see what was going on. Finding everything still, he marched into the kitchen, and groped about till he found a match in order to light a candle; and then, espying the glittering fiery eyes of the cat, he mistook them for live coals, and held the match to light it. But the cat, not understanding this joke, sprung at this face, and spit and scratched at him. This frightened him dreadfully and away he ran to the back door; but there the dog jumped up and bit him in the leg; and as he was crossing over the yard the ass kicked him; and the cock, who had been awakened by the noise, crowed with all this might. At this the robber ran back as fast as he could to his comrades, and told the captain how a horrid witch had got into the house, and had spit at him and scratched his face with her long bony fingers; how a man with a knife in his hand had hidden himself behind the door, and stabbed him in the leg; how a black monster stood in the yard and struck him with a club, and how the devil sat upon the top of the house and cried out, “Throw the rascal up here!” After this the robbers never dared to go back to the house : but the musicians were so pleased with their quarters, that they took up their abode there; and there they are, I dare say, at this very day.


Today a grey wind came from the side and flattened me and threatened to fly away with my panniers. I struggled along for miles and miles, looking for a lunch place and not finding one.

The only place offering any protection from the wind was a bus stop booth. The stale roll and cheese left over from the day before was surprisingly delicious. A swig of water and back on road with the wind howling in my ears.

Bremen is a good city for cyclists. You can ride right into the center on tracks and do a loop around the squares looking at all the gracious architecture. Excellent coffee and friendly people.

In Zeven, Hotel Central had a big white room with the best pillow ever.

88 kms

See approx route map her

Posted on 1 Comment

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

Posted on 2 Comments

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

Posted on Leave a comment

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

Posted on 2 Comments

Day 21-Stuben to Rorschach-going down

Friesian horse in the forest

Dropping down from the arms of the lovely mountain today, with the Alfenz stream happily cascading at my side. From Stuben to Bludenz to Nenzing to Feldkirch. Dropping as a spider does, black wheels spinning below the Scots Pines. White water widens into a deep teal river and you can see the trout. As the altitude changes so does your attitude, going from high to low at the thought of the complicated web of agriculture and urban crust to negotiate from now on.

Soon there is a tunnel but the panic isn’t so bad this time, a bright spot at the other end is visible, and there is a shoulder to ride on. But I much prefer riding on the gravel forest roads in the mountains.

My tires crunch passed a forest clearing where an Oompah band blows a tune to a crowd in a carnival tent. Everyone is wearing traditional dirndl and lederhosen. To add to my delight around the next corner a beautiful black Friesian stallion bolts out of the bush, his shaggy mane waving over his face. I take a moving shot from the hip. One of my best photographs so far. His rider reins him in with a smile. The heavy camera hangs by a strap around my neck, bouncing off my thigh at every pedal of the way.

I’m officially over the hill.

There will be no more mountains until I reach Oslo. The flat air is strangely full of cooking smells on this side of the Alps. Windows are squarer and the cars are mostly black. Everyone is smart and sober except at the biergarten.

The joyous Alfenz runs dying into the dykes of the Ill which merges with the Rhine River or…Rhenus, Rein, Rhein, le Rhin, Reno, Rijn….This famous river is going to be my travelling companion for the next chapter of the journey. One thousand kilometres or so. But first there is the beautiful lake Constance to circumnavigate.

Feeling highly oxygenated after crossing the Alps. Approximately 450 kilometers on my odometer. I used to think the range was a stretch of two mountains wide with Austria snug in the valley between them. But if you ever fly over in a plane you can see how the snow covered peaks go on and on. The whole range makes an arc of about 800 km long (east to west), and about 200 kms wide as the crow flies.

103 kms later in Rorschach (Switzerland) I flop onto a bunk bed in a modern youth hostel Herberge See, happy to have all the bunks to myself. The room offers a fabulous northern view and one funny looking plug. Swiss plugs and money are unique. None of my electronics can be charged. The receptionist has locked up and gone away, so no chance of borrowing an adapter.

I must go out in search of food which is a lot of trouble for my legs. The closest food places are already closing up so I walk into town. Some nice ladies feed me green asparagus with yellow hollandaise sauce, and a little beer while they close the restaurant. Stacking up chairs around me as I eat. The World Cup soccer tournament – Switzerland versus Brazil game is on. Enthusiastic boys shout from speeding cars covered in Swiss flags. As I leave the restaurant the rain comes gushing down. My plastic sandals are slippery on the inside, so I walk the two kilometers back to the lonely hostel barefoot and bedraggled.

It was a lovely day but I’m buggered and tomorrow is going to be fun with no battery.

See the route map here.

Posted on 2 Comments

Day 5 – San Filippo to Buonconvento

Day 5 - Buonconvento - Leanne Talbot Nowell

The sky is dark to the point of purple and rain splatters our faces. Eventually we stop and take some miserable shelter under a tree. Passing trucks dash us with dirty road spray. The sky relents slightly so we make our soggy way to San Quirico d’Orcia in search of lunch.

The exquisite wild salad at the restaurant “Fonte all Vena” was hand-picked by a girl from Pienza. She roams the countryside searching for edible weeds and flowers. I eat the delicate salad with absolute reverence. It is delicious. Reminds me of my mom’s home grown salad.

The convoluted patchwork quilt of Tuscany is pretty gruelling to ride. You work hard pedalling up the round hills, each crowned with it’s quintessential villa. Then grab a quick breath while you freewheel down before the next uphill. I’m not complaining on my ebike of course. But something joyride day-trippers might not realise is the weight of the baggage puts a lot of extra tug on the battery power. Forcing you to ride on the lowest setting to make it last all day. This requires a lot more input from your legs to compensate.

Like the Camino di Santiago in Spain, the Francigena has long and convoluted patchwork history too.

Archbishop Sigeric the Serious, of Canterbury, took this route to Rome in the dark ages. He wrote a diary describing the 80 “mansions” where he stayed along the way. We don’t know his exact path but follow in spirit, searching for holy places to have our credenziale stamped. You must have stamps before you can accrue pilgrim privileges. Reading the stories from the past seem to connect your own story, making it an emotional experience.

Traditional religious culture may be fading, but it is a bitter-sweet goodbye. The grand emotions of soul and spirit, the marvels of epic poetry and ritual music traditions are being lost. The solid old churches are almost empty, but for tourists and a few old ladies or veiled nuns praying in the pews. We push open the wooden swing doors into the cool spicy gloom. The air is thick with the smell of beeswax candles on burnt-out racks.

A solemn Jesus hangs high under his pale crown. When you see him like this it is hard to imagine him walking around or having a good laugh with his friends.

Buonconvento

We have arrived in Buonconvento this evening. A nice girl is allowing us to overnight in her sister’s apartment. She suggests we go to a pizzeria just a short walk away for dinner. Feeling very hungry for pizza, we go directly there. The waitress, with a mouth puffed up like a pie crust, tells us “all the tables are occupied, you must wait 20 minutes!”

From the entrance we can see a couple of empty tables. Nevertheless, we wait.

Forty minutes later we ask another more friendly looking waiter if we can go inside. He says “prego” and instructs the crusty waitress to seat us. She reluctantly shows us to a table next to a long table where a twelve-year-old is celebrating her birthday with fifty shrieking little girlfriends.

Simon politely orders a bottle of water.

An hour passes. No water. The party table noise is deafening. We cannot hold a conversation. Finally, we ask the manager if it would be possible to move to a quieter part of the room.

He says “prego, come with me” and takes us through a door to an almost empty dining room pleasantly decorated with sunflowers.

Eventually the water and pizza arrive and we eat it with gusto. Hoping the pizza hasn’t been negatively modified by an ill feeling waitress.

Holy Roman Emperor, Henry VII of Luxembourg died very inconveniently of smallpox in Buonconvento, on the way back from his coronation in Rome in year 1313.

Morning of day 6.

My body is stiff in the mornings, but after a few turns of the pedals, the old joints click into place and my brain boots up. Kicking my legs out straight help my kneecaps jump back into place.

We are sitting at a pavement cafe with our bikes chained together like two skinny black horses. A fat-faced cook wrapped in a milk-white apron and a tall chef’s hat, a ‘Carabinieri’ policeman in his fine black military uniform with a vivid red stripe down the outside leg, and a road worker dressed in yellow fluorescents sit at the table next to us. They gesture and guffaw over the chances of the national soccer team, the Azzurri (blues) winning the World Cup Football tournament to be held in Russia next week. Betting is hysterically popular in Italy. A woman sweep dust into the fresh breeze with a proper witches stick broom.

(ILLUSTRATION STILL IN PROCESS OF PAINTING)

Posted on Leave a comment

Day 4 – Bolsena to Bagni San Filippo

Day 4 cycling the tunnel

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

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

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

Fright

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

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

Lunch

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

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

Val d’Orcia

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

52 kilometres today. Rain is coming.

Posted on 3 Comments

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.

Posted on Leave a comment

Day 2 – Formello to Vetralla

Day 2 -Campagnano on Francigena pilgrimage

Doris from Bremen introduces herself to us outside the Chapel of the Madonna del Sorba. She is walking the pilgrimage with an Italian guide, north to south like you’re supposed to. We are going contro-signage, so taking the backward facing arrows when we see them. She kindly offered me accommodation when I reach Bremen. I’m not sure where Bremen is exactly.

The story of the Madonna del Sorba

One of the stories of this hilltop chapel, is this… a young swineherd noticed that one of his pigs went off alone every day for a couple of hours, so he decided to follow it and found it sitting on its haunches praying to an icon of the Madonna in the branches of a large Sorbus tree. An apparition of the Madonna appeared to the swineherd and told him to run and tell the villagers in Formello to build a chapel on this high spot.

“If the villagers don’t believe you” she said “I will do a miracle to convince them”.

 He ran to tell the villagers but, as expected, they did not believe him. So he put his mutilated hand into his pocket and pulled it out completely whole. (Early 1400’s). It was a convent for nuns after that.


The priest stamps our credenziali passports for us. Flowers rampage all over the garden, and the Madonna statue stands quietly praying under her rosy arch.

“She is praying for YOU” says the inner voice.

We ride on through a vortex of white butterfly wings, up and down the farm roads. The terrain is steeply forested.

Campagnano di Roma

A little boy of about six years old holds up his small serious hand to stop me in the village piazza of Campagnano. He looks up at me with his clear-brown Italian eyes and asks: “is this a brand new bicicletta?” I nod and he touches it reverently with his small fingers until his mom drags him away.

I feel a pang of nostalgia thinking of my own boy celebrating his thirtieth birthday today so far away in Australia. He also loves bicycles.

The old Borgo of Campagnano was not well signposted. It is perched on a high spur above the valley and we can’t find a way down the northern cliffs. A man sits on a barrel and watches us pouring over the map. A woman comes out of the house with a broom and points to a gap in the walls and a track that vanishes over a ledge.

The inner voice screams “impossible” but my miraculous disk-brakes let me down the cliff track, only to be challenged by sinking sand at the bottom. The sandy road changes to gravel then to cracked tarmac. It takes a lot of concentration to dodge the potholes.

I’m having difficulty with the saddle but remember Rumi who said – If you are irritated by every rub, how will you be polished? A short rest stop at the dreamy Cascata di Monte Gelato (cascades) is worthwhile. The we’re off again at full speed onto a busy road towards Monterosi.

Monterosi

A man on the side of the road sends us to Trattoria da Angelica in Monterosi for lunch. Delicious wormlike “bighetti” pasta on the menu at a table set with starched white cloth and pink serviettes. We’re comfortably sitting on a lovely veranda drinking a glass of cold wine with sweaty hair pressed into a helmet shape. That’s something special in Italy, they almost always set the table properly with wine glasses and clean tablecloths.

Vetralla

Long curly-haired, vibrantly charming Giacomo welcomes us with open arms to his pilgrim hostel in Vetralla. He is one of the top organisers of the Francigena pilgrimage.

He shows us up steep wooden steps to a little attic space squeezed under a simmering hot roof. The mattresses are bare but for a strip of tissue paper down the center. We have left our sleeping bags at home. But it’s clean and there is a big shower off the lobby downstairs. Showering after a day on the dusty road is both necessary and therapeutic.

Giacomo sends us to a pilgrim friendly restaurant nearby where we eat from a special pilgrim menu. Simple food but it tastes divine washed down with a cup of wine. 58 kilometers today not without pain.

The room is a furnace under the eaves. Simon lay down on the bare mattress and covered himself with the tissue paper and is already snoring loudly. Eventually I give up on sleep and climb down to the foyer area where I plop a couple of chair cushions on the cool floor. Gingerly lay down my aching body, arms crossed over my chest and meditate until morning.

see the route here

 

Posted on Leave a comment

Day 1 – Marino to Formello – via Rome.

Leanne Talbot Nowell - Formello

Rome the Eternal city – “Aaah bella Roma” once you are caught in her seductive “La Dolce Vita” embrace, you will become an overly emotional lover who can never leave. At approximately 2800 years old everything from the damp decay of frescoed tombs to her high-flying arches and golden orbs on moonlit domes, from baroque pink skies to the polished marble of palace floors, Roma is glorious. And a bit shabby.

We have done about 35 kms since Marino this morning, to reach Ponte Milvio bridge. The search is on for lunch. A veranda table at a restaurant VOY is available. Soon we are digging into a tasty bowl of paccheri pasta with a rich melanzane (aubergine) sauce topped with fresh mint and sun-dried tomatoes. The restaurateur runs off to the supermarket to fetch us some fruit juice after we declined his wine. Groggy cycling in Rome could prove fatal.

The hot Lazio sun burns our backs all afternoon as we ride out of Rome on zigzag roads into the northern countryside. It is quite challenging to find a bridge over/under the highway. A truck comes speeding around a sharp corner behind us and screeches to a bumpy halt inches from my rear reflector. I feel the heat of the engine surge over my shoulder in a smelly cloud of burning rubber.

I try to pedal standing up on account of the bum pain.

Via Francigena

A well timed SPRITZ dulls the pain in Formello. Simon has booked us in at a nice B&B.

Nonna Loretta shows us to our room and sells us two “pilgrim passports” for five euro each. They’re called “credenziale”, very much like the one you get for the Camino di Santiago. A folded card for pilgrims on their way from Canterbury to Rome. We are going in the opposite direction but we can still collect stamps from holy places along our inverted route. The passport also allows you special access to sleep in certain Convents and Monasteries. There are discounts on pilgrim meals at restaurants too. Make sure you get that when you do the camino di Francigena.

We eat salad at Osteria degli Angeli, the only guests in the dimly lit piazza in Formello. A drag queen unexpectedly appears from the great door of the municipal palace dressed in black lace and a massive wig. She looks down on us from the top of a flight of stairs and proclaims her existence with a gutsy howl “HAAAEEEOOW!!!” The sound echoes around the stone walls and into the dark streets. Frightening off the ghosts of Veii and us.

Back in our room at Nonna Loretta’s the soft bed absorbs the day’s agony like a sponge. Every part of my body is hurting except my feet.

Day 1. Sixty kilometers.

Click this to see the route we took today

Posted on Leave a comment

Andiamo

Andiamo Appia Antica by Leanne Talbot Nowell

Andiamo

Departure day is here with an early start. The sky is a sharp blue. I put on my padded tights trying to “be like water” as Bruce Lee, the karate guru, once advised. He is known to have said “water can flow, but it can also crash”.

Crashing is my biggest concern. Nevertheless, I hoist up my panniers (saddle bags) onto the big black bike. They seem surprisingly heavy, after whittling down my list to the absolute bare minimum.

“Have you checked the tires?” Simon asks.

“Umm, no, I forgot to buy a pump!”

He checks them for me and suggests we go for a cappuccino at the coffee bar just fifty meters from our house. I feel quite annoyed at the thought of stopping for coffee so soon, but he insists. I’m flowing with adrenaline and stopping now would feel like crashing.

The bike is dreadfully heavy to push up our steep cobbled street. According to the guidebook specs it weighs 23 kilograms, and my panniers weigh at least 18 kilograms, possibly more. Added together that is almost as much as my total body weight.

It’s a glum struggle to the caffè. Simon zooms up the hill on his ‘normal’ bike, his panniers gleaming yellow like boosters.

“SURPRISE!” A bunch of friends have come to see us off! All gathered around a table at the far corner of the Wunderkaffe. So good to see their positive smiles. They give me sweet going-away gifts of energy bars and homemade Limoncello, which I squeeze into my panniers.

With a churning tummy full of cappuccino I do my best to set off properly. No crashing to the ground in front of the send-off crowd.

As soon as we get around the corner my body starts to shut down. Teetering terribly I disembark and stand holding up the heavy bicycle at a dangerous angle, feet frozen to the ground like a rabbit. Is this an adrenaline override, or a lack of courage?

Simon circles back to see what has happened and says with exasperation “Come on Sweetie, at least let us get to Rome!”

Sometimes my husband can be quite ruthless.

Appia Antica

We have ridden this route many times, downhill all the way to the Colosseum, along the dead straight Roman road. The ancient Appia Antica or Appian way in English. I should be feeling quite content that my dream is coming true.

This good old road is paved with enormous blue-black basalt flagstones. Many of them have been carried away to build other structures and some have been haphazardly re-implanted which makes the bike buck. “How will you ever reach Oslo on a bike? Silly girl” says an inner voice. The sky glitters on a sorry little tear of self pity.

We melt into a classical landscape, pedalling between the low crumbling stone walls and tombs. Pieces of sculptured marble lie on the verge. The beauty of the campagna around Rome is wholly poetic if you look past the litter and broken fences. Cicada’s trill in the high dark foliage of the Roman Pines. Cyprus trees stand stiffly bottle-green, bushy pink oleanders and swathes of poppies flop over in the heat. The raw smell of wet sheep wafts over us. A shepherd sits with his crook propped against a broken block of marble tomb.

I’m began to feel carried away with the romance of it all. It would be hard to find a more auspicious start to a bike ride. I’m thawing out and beginning to flow like water.

Spring turned to summer in a matter of hours as we ride through the lovely Appia Antica Regional Park. Flowers have gone berserk. Cleopatra, Julius Caesar, St. Peter and St. Paul are just a few of the famous characters who used this road. Which has not needed much maintenance since 312 BC.

Suddenly I’m flying through the air, something has catapulted me sideways. I dive, do my best shoulder roll, jump up onto my feet instantly and look nonchalantly around to see if anyone noticed. Nettles sting me through the lycra. There is a rock in the path, hidden under the stooping grass. My pedal obviously hit down on it and caused the crash. The panniers have fallen off, and it takes me a few minutes of fumbling with shaky hands to clip them back onto the carrier. I do a mad little hop to get back up on the bike and race after Simon. He didn’t notice.

We pass through the catacomb gardens, along a lovely avenue of old Cyprus trees, laurel hedges and the heavy fragrance of grape hyacinths. Gnarled olive trees shimmer a vibrant silvery green.

Roman gelato

Entering Rome via the gate of Saint Sebastian, we go cobbling smack into the overcrowded streets, negotiating right-of-way with bus drivers by giving them a meaningful glance of intention as we weave between them. This is how the city moves – by domination.

Passing a long queue of tourists outside the Bocca della Verità  – Mouth of Truth – which is said to bite off the hands of liars. The story is told in the film ‘A Roman Holiday’ with Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck.

Something we cannot avoid in the city center is a visit to the old Gelateria Giolitti, the world famous ice-cream parlour. Sour cherry ‘viscole’ is Simon’s absolute favourite, never to be deviated from, whereas I deviate between the nut flavours – two balls of Nocciola (hazelnut) or mandorla (almond) with a scoop of café.

There is an art to ordering gelato in Italy, one must pay your money first, then queue, all the while straining your neck over eager shoulders to glimpse the enormous array of choices. When the server claps his eyes on you, hand him your receipt and quickly shout your preferred cup or cone size and flavours. He’ll give you a generous scoop of each and ask if you desire ‘panna’ (cream) on top. Today the answer is yes.

No sitting down at the elegant round tables in the 50’s style salon. That incurs an extra fee, and anyway we can’t leave our fully loaded bikes standing outside. We shuffle out to join the crowd of fellow gelato lickers. We all stand together concentrating on the ambrosial experience.

Then, with a mad little hop, back into the torturous Brooks saddle.

Posted on Leave a comment

Ready steady

Ready steady - Madonna de 'u Sassu

Ready steady….Good news! Simon has changed his plans so he can ride with me for the first week of the tour. At great cost to his reputation. Usually at this time he goes bike riding for a week with his ‘men only’ group (every year for 20 years). They are all horribly cross that he’s chosen to ride with his wife instead. Proof of marital love if there was ever one!

We have decided to leave on Saturday 26th May 2018. Simon will ride with me as far as Florence. From there I will go on towards Oslo by myself. The route begins to show up on the map with a smudge of magic marker. We spend hours at the dinner table discussing plans and options. Tyrone sends me a google-suggested route that measures about 2500 kms. I baulk at the thought!

But it looks super easy doesn’t it – simply follow the compass directly north all the way to Norway.

Panniers are side bags

I wander down the giant aisles of a huge sports equipment store gaping at all the bicycle paraphernalia. Shelves are loaded with confusing metallic and rubbery things that make up a bicycle. Compounded by a variation of each piece according to brand name. I need panniers (side bags) and tools. The sporty young male shop assistants take no notice of me. I guess they are thinking this woman must have wandered out of the pilates area into the bike zone by mistake.

According to the lists from the cycling-gurus websites, clothing needs to be light and durable. Italian cycling sportswear is not at all modest. The racks are filled with flashy lycra tops and tights that look tiny until you stretch them onto your body. These padded tights feel like you’re wearing a big nappy. Strappy push-up brassieres come in luminous green, pink or orange, which gives the impression of paradisal fruits hanging off your chest. For the bust-conscious Italian woman this is exactly the look she wants.

My fruits are more subtropical than paradisal, even so wearing a bright colour could attract the attention of robbers and rapists along the roadside. One should look like a paradox on wheels – blend into the scenery but be visible to drivers. Noticeably unattractive.

Packing

The packing pile grows steadily bigger on the spare-room bed. A watercolour paint box and brushes, camera and lenses, a laptop computer on which to write a blog and edit photographs (under the kind instruction of Sian Owen), a leather-bound journal of hand-made paper to fill with paintings, an old smartphone with charging cable, waterproofs, energy snacks and a mysterious multi-tool gadget.

Two large e-bicycle manuals full of technically instructive information lie on my bedside table unopened. Some of you cyclists will pick on me for riding an electric bike. In defense all I can say is a glad YAY. Simon will be riding his ‘normal’ bike….let’s see how that compares.

Finally all the goodies are neatly packed into zip-lock bags and carefully inserted into the two panniers. A squirt of adrenaline sends my heart flipping like a fish. To calm it down, I go for a tentative practice ride around Marino. At the caffè near the central piazza our friend Roberto who sells porchetta at street-food stand waves me over to ask why I’m riding a bicycle. I tell him and the other characters sitting around under the umbrellas they all laugh and say “che follia” (what craziness).

At the corner next to the post office, is a stone bust of the “Madonna de’u Sassu“. Painted all around in a lovely tropical melon colour. She has been there since 1596 blessing travellers in transit between Rome and Naples.

She gives me a stoney look and asks – “What are you doing Leanne?”

Posted on 1 Comment

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.