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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

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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.

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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?”