Now in the North Rhine-Westphalia area of Germany, and trying to follow the Industrial heritage route for cyclists. My phone died just twenty minutes after setting out, so I’m on a higgledy-piggledy quest to find the way towards who-knows-where. Real cyclists would have the full kit of maps and apps. They would have done some reading and planning. Instead I fiddle with photos, painting and writing, then collapse into bed by nine.
The 2500 km mark popped up directly in front of a raspberry farm stall. It was a happy moment after a tough, hot and smelly day of riding through industrial parks and road works. I was negotiating yet another “umleitung” which took me off the canal cycle track and through a farm. Britta Jakobi offered me some of her fresh raspberries to taste. Heaven!
The air there is not good. If you look on the map for Marxloh, Oberhausen, Essen, Bochum, Dortmund…you’ll see a lot of tall factory towers. It took me three hours to ride through. My eyes burned terribly from the chemicals. However the community have built these amazing cycle routes in the area. Römer-Lippe river
Coffee stop, recharged phone, but it lasted another twenty minutes and so wandered lonely as a cloud until I found a yacht club where I ordered lunch while it charged again. The waitress pointed me in the direction of Henrichenburg, but I decided to follow the signs in the opposite direction instead. To Henrichenburg.
Very interesting place, Henrichenburg, where the ships are taken in and out of the water.
Grey sky day. I have a super invitation from friends of ours Hans-Georg and Birgitta to overnight with them. They sent me a digital map but I soon took the wrong turn. Thinking it was simply a matter of following the canal I went on for most of the morning but found it was the wrong canal. No wonder there were no people.
A lock, front and back.
A long way later, in Lüdinghausen, found out I was supposed to be Lünen, so had to change plans… but first a visit to a medieval expo at the castle. Fascinating walk and conversations in the park there filled with characters from the past. Well worth the mistake.
This is the path I frantically took to reach Ascheberg. “Googly girl” told me go through the farms which involved some bushwacking.
Birgitta kindly came by bike to fetch me in Ascheberg, and we rode together to their hometown Drensteinfurt. I was given a lovely welcome, great food and enjoyed the afternoon and evening in their comfortable company.
Famous Hans-Georg giant waffles with strawberries and cream.
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).
The room has no frills. A small writing table and chair. Eleven electric plugs in the space of three square meters to charge up all my appliances. Other than the battery, there is the phone, the camera, the laptop, two extra lights, and a little recharger for the phone.
Up the slope from Burgusio is the magnificent Marienburg Monastery. Incredible to see, the highest (altitude) Benedictine monastery in Europe. The library there has recently been rebuilt for the valuable book collection. Architecture and technology have come together here in a brilliant way, well worth a visit.
After a good German-style breakfast I set off … warily checking for the man.
The sky is royal blue but there is a strong head wind blasting over from Austria.
Lago del Muta Haidersee passes to my right. Then I cross over the wall of the next lake Reschensee. The water is all blustery with rows of white waves. The famous old church tower stands in the water. When the authorities built the hydroelectric dam, they were compelled to drown a large area including a couple of villages. They dismantled the church but left the tower which stands a forlorn memory to the past.
My smoothly tarred cycle track winds up to the high point of the Reschen/Resia pass at 1500 meters and then down into Austria. I’m quite sad to leave Italy. There are European Union flags proudly declaring peace and co-operation on either side of the hill. But also a Republik Österreich flag painted in red and white. A group of motorcyclists are taking selfies. The lovely track swoops down through curved meadows of flowers. Small groups of houses and farmsteads huddle fresh and white with darkly weathered wooden gables and steep slate roofs. Bright flowers hang in baskets below patterned window frames. Their facades a-swirl with painted scenes and figures. Roses spill over picket fences.
The exhilaration of swiftly going down the other side of a pass is incredible. You grow wings.
Then things get crazy. My kids would absolutely love going down a switchback road like this, dropping meters per second into a crack in the Earth excavated by the Inns river. Wild noise!!
At the bottom of the ravine, sheer cliffs on either side rise up so high you can’t see the tops. I cross over the bridge to the Swiss side of the river. My second international border of the day. A sign points left to “St. Moritz” but I follow the water. These fancy new polaroid glasses tend to enlarge things and make them more vivid, adding an astronautical dimension to the scene. Quite an overwhelming feeling of becoming a jellybean, a tiny bag of complexity wrapped in a very fine membrane balancing on a precarious instrument called a bicycle.
The river is a heavy raging torrent of deep white water that crashes off the staggering cliffs, thundering at immense boulders and ledges in a wash of foam. The sound magnitude of vibrating rocks and water is beyond hearing, you can feel the rumble in your chest. My claws cling to the handlebars as clouds of turbulent vapour blast me along.
Such real awesomeness that breaks open your brain to stuff it with the universe, and your heart forgets to beat in the face of raw power. The road draws on down the valley and the world begins to calm down.
People who make a living in these brutal mountains must be admired. As for the cows, they all have brass bells around their necks and graze on vertical banks of flowers. No wonder the milk is so sweet and fragrant.
There are quite a few other cyclists on the pass, mostly couples, some on e-bikes. Fleets of racers too, both men and women. I haven’t seen any solo female bikers since leaving Marino.
Next stop, Landeck, where the Inns river merges with other catchment streams then snakes its way to Innsbruck. Simon had suggested I might stop at Landeck for lunch. But I cycle into town at 17:00 – with 85 kms on the screen, flat out exhausted. The wind pushed against me all day. What a beautiful ride, but the seat has left me wounded.
Found a hotel, Bruggner Stub’n, with a nice big room. Dinner and breakfast included. The manager is chatty and knowledgeable. He says I absolutely must take the train through the tunnel tomorrow. He worked on the QE2. I presume as a chef by the way he so lovingly talks about food. He gives me the choices on tonight’s dinner menu, and it takes less than a second to answer yes to most of it. So hungry, I go down to the dining-room as soon as the doors open at 18:00. I am the only guest, and my table is set for one. A blonde waitress brings soup, “Tafelspitz” she explains “beef broth with apple sauce, horseradish and chives”. It is delicious. but I manage just a few spoons and my appetite disappears. So strange.
Logistics status. haha.
Now that my first one thousand kms are done, I feel more qualified to tell you more about the body management.
At 7:00 I toss myself out of bed and put on my sometimes damp outfit which I always wash the night before. If I’m lucky there will be an egg at breakfast. Then quickly pack up all the paraphernalia, battery charges, laptop, diary etc. Everything goes into specific ziplock bags which makes less mess when you need to dig down in the pannier for something. The body is adapting to a clockwork toilet routine, for the first time in my entire life. That business is done at 7:30 just before setting off. For those who wanted to know what one does about a loo when you’re out there all day in the countryside. That worry seems to have taken care of itself. Squatting down in the bush hasn’t been necessary yet.
I have a stash of energy bars in the bag, and my water bottle is filled when I stop for lunch.
Most days at around mid-afternoon I stop to check my phone for a room on booking.com. I try to get the cheapest one with the best reviews and a lockup for my bike. Unfortunately, rates for a single room are almost the same price as a double room, and mostly they are double rooms anyhow. I prefer places recommended for their ‘especially clean rooms’ for obvious reasons. Most places in Europe have a bathroom with a hot shower, sheets, towels and little bottles of intensely fragrant shower gel. Most appreciated after a sweaty day.
I know some people think an e-bike is a scooter. You just sit on it and go places. That is half-true if you ride for a couple of hours with battery set on turbo. One must pedal to actually move forward. However, a fully loaded bike will soon run out of battery power and leave you struggling especially in the Alps. One has to be thrifty and use the lowest assistance possible at all times.
Shoes are important, and my Colombo hiking shoes have been very comfortable. They have cut-outs which allow air and sunlight in. The feet are tanned in giraffe-like spots. The nose is dangerous terracotta colour and the legs are shaping up a bit. I think.
Austrian food has nothing to do with Roman food. Animals and their milk appear in almost every dish here, while in Rome it’s all about tomatoes and olive oil. Sipping on a little glass of wine is a luxury I allow myself after all the bumping and steering and pedalling of the day. Pasta is the easiest thing to digest, can’t seem to manage a whole portion. Today for lunch I had half an energy bar and felt full.
Off to bed now, it’s 21:00. Simon says I must ride over The Arlberg pass tomorrow, “don’t take the train”. The pass is 1800m high. The sound of it gives me the heebie-jeebies. I’ll check the map in the morning and decide.
The air is cool under dark clouds today. There is nobody around. It is my father’s eighty-first birthday. I wish he was here to see this beautiful view. The only sound is the chug of a small boat in the distance, the sound bounces off the rocky cliffs. Layer upon layer of blue mountains slip into the lake. The Alps have hardly begun, but the ride into that realm begins now.
Luciana gave me delicious scrambled eggs and fruit salad for breakfast this morning. The ride started peacefully pedalling along the lake edge. Not much reflection, just deep dark colours. Then a turn up a particularly steep mountainside. I snigger proudly past a young man struggling up on his mountain bike. The e-bike advantage is enormous in this terrain. Karma takes immediate effect by making me miss the sign for the cycle track, so I ignorantly take the high road.
The high road is for quarry lorries. There is no shoulder for a bike. The lorry drivers gesture wildly at me as they bear down. I am caught between the raw stone wall of the mountain on my right shoulder and the wheels of large trucks on my left. As they pass they leave a gap exactly wide enough for my panniers – give a millimeter or two. There is nothing I can do but go on as fast as I can, making a lot of small screams as the giant wheel-hubs spin and thunder at my ear. Those drivers certainly know their dimensions.
After about ten kilometres later, at a small town in the valley between Riva and Trento, the cycle track reappears and whoosh! What an incredible ride! It’s the first ridiculously perfect cycle path so far. A mini highway just for bikes. Lines and signs keep us on track. Suddenly there are other bikers around, and we shout greetings.
At the village of Sarche black clouds came over the mountains and the rain rushes down in torrents. A couple of road maintenance men point me to a hotel. Sitting comfortably in a nook with a cup of coffee… then cappuccino… then tea…eventually I give up waiting for the rain to pass and put on my plastic suit to go. From then on things become very soggy, including my bladder. There is very little chance of a roadside pit stop, being a lady. So I go on. The track leads to roads and a system of bridges and tunnels leave me feeling dumb. Some locals tell me I can go through the tunnel, but it is long and very-very dangerous and illegal for bicycles. My confusion is complete. I phone my family for directions but nobody picks up.
In desperation I take a smaller road, pressing aimlessly on, checking google maps on my phone but not actually finding the way. It would probably help if I knew where I wanted to end up. At a weird intersection leading onto another truck-filled road, I get off the bike and just stand there like a cow chewing cud. Like the weather, a grey mood descends on me and the Catastrophic voice goes mute. To tell you the truth I would rather push the bike through a forest than go on another ‘high’ road after the experience this morning with the quarry trucks. I scan through the grey matter of my brain and find only fog. A small red car comes along so I wave, it slows a bit then roars off.
But not all is lost, suddenly my imaginary team comes to the rescue. My kids voices pipe up in my head and I listen while they discuss the problem amongst themselves before leaning over to me and say “Mom, just go up this road to see what’s at the top of the hill”. So I go. Turns out the cycle track starts right there. I giggle-cry a bit and carry on.
Two men are loading giant copper pots into a van. They give me directions: “Go here, then two curves further on, take the third track left for a few kilometres on farm roads until you see a fruit seller on the corner, then don’t take the marked track, take the one that goes to the left, then turn right almost immediately onto a dirt road, it goes up steeply but it’s fine, then at the fourth or fifth track on the right side of the big road, go down and up again, then cross over the highway at the end of that road…….
Miraculously I find the fruit seller sitting in his van with the window open. He has one precarious looking tooth. When asked “which of the four tracks go to Sopramonte?” He gestures vaguely towards a muddy track in the forest and grins widely. He leans out of his van window and hands me half an apricot to taste. I eat it in two snaps. It is as sweet as honey.
Something tells me to avoid the forest road, so I take one of the other options, they all merge around the corner anyway. The climb is huge, 1000 meters up to Candriai. I manage to find a loo at a cafe there, and the barista tells me I’m nuts to ride further up to Sopramonte.
Dropping 1000 meters down into Trento is exhilarating, switchbacks all the way down the raw orange cliffs. Trento lies flat in the valley, crusty and full of fuming industry. First a glass of Vermentino wine at a bar where the barman recommends the ‘Everest Hotel’. So I go there.
I must admit I’m falling in love with my bicycle. Seriously, after clinging to her all day there is a certain separation pang when I lock her up in the hotel Everest basement for the night. She looks so forlorn stripped naked of her panniers. In the morning I feel a wave of happiness to see her again. Going a little crazy?
I put vinegar on my pasta instead of olive oil at dinner by mistake. It’s apple cider vinegar, no more balsamic in apple country. I eat the sour pasta with long teeth.
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.
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.