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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 

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Day 31 – Ludwigshafen am Rhein to Nackenheim

Viticulture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

77 kms

See the route map here

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Day 10 Florence-First solo day.

Brunelleschi's dome in Florence by Leanne Talbot Nowell

FIRST SOLO DAY

The sun rose and the time came to set off.

Malò gave me a big breakfast and little bottle of rescue drops. I gulped down the rescue drops then read the instructions. Two drops under your tongue to absorb slowly.

She also gave me a bright chrysanthemum which clipped onto my bicycle handlebar before slowly waving me off. She looked so lovely standing against a background of roses and blossoming olives. It was quite a heartfelt goodbye, the two of us under the cloudy Tuscan sky. Then a last smile before turning to face my fate.

Exhilarated anxiety reduced me to thinking nothing more than the air in my nostrils. The highly concentrated present loomed up around me. Each leaf on each bush type of experience.

The quaint winding roads drew me along, unfolding like a pop-up story book as I rode downhill to Bagno Ripoli. The white-whale bell that Megan gave me rang -ting-ting at a farmer who turned to wave. Stopped for a moment on a small ‘farmers’ bridge that crosses over the great A1 highway which runs down the spine of Italy. Found myself waving at the three-lane traffic below and some bored truck drivers tooted in response before vanishing.

“This isn’t so bad after all is it?”

The sun was shining, and the rescue drops did their work.

“I’m having my very own adventure, what fun!”

Checked the directions – Poggio alla Croce, right at pizzeria, follow straight, keep right at houses, keep right at bivio, sharp corner to left, down to intersection, other paths turn right, keep right, at house go left…. And so on, for pages and pages in my moleskin pocket diary.

I realized this style of navigating was not feasible for the long haul. Not even for half a day.

The Arno river like any big famous river is a geographic pointer to show the way. It rushes fresh and clean into Florence but soon accumulates toxic chemicals from the textile and leather works on it’s way to the Mediterranean Sea.

We rolled into Florence together. Glimpsed Brunelleschi’s remarkable dome but kept riding. Crossed over the Ponte Vecchio – Golden Bridge – between a mass of tourists and immediately turned left along the river.  A busy market in the park was a shamble of food and clothing.

My bike crashed down on a marble step.

I was standing next to it munching an energy bar when it happened. The only damage was my precious bell lever snapped off. The inner catastrophist voice told me I was ridiculously irresponsible and I felt sad that one of the most precious things I had was already broken.

The opentopomap that Simon printed out for me shows a path along the river. I followed it under the Viadotto del Ponte all’Indiano, the solid concrete pylons decorated with graffiti. Felt a bit uncomfortable travelling parallel to what seems to be the wrong side of the train tracks. There were solitary men hanging about.

At S. Donnino Badia I popped out of the underpassage and took the wrong road in front of ristorante Angiolino. Lunch would be most welcome at this point. But a bunch of grizzly pirates sat around the door. They all stared at me, one of them was picking his teeth with a knife. My feet made a quick backward pedal in hesitation, but the wheels moved forward and so I regretfully gave lunch a skip.

The remainder of the long hot afternoon was spent crossing over and getting lost amongst the higgledy-piggledy streets of San Donnino – San Piero di Ponti – Campo Bizenzio – Confini – and so on. I felt like crying.

I eventually collapsed into a bar in Prato, grateful to escape the roar of trucks on the busy roads. A motley group of friendly old men sitting outside offered to watch my bike. They asked questions and discussed my plans for the ride, saying “Accidenti” a lot, which doesn’t translate well but means WOW.

Navigating all day using my old cel phone was proving impossible. It needed recharging much more often than anticipated.

Soon the inner voice was nagging about a place to stay. Booking.com app offered me some choices. So while recharging the phone the next bar, I booked a Bed & Breakfast in Montale, suitably close to the Apennine mountain I would need to ascend tomorrow. There was no way around it, I had to go over it.

Lesson 1. Communicate a lot more.

Montale is a suburb of Pistoia languishing at the bottom of a hump in the Apennine mountain range, the upper vertebrae of the spine of Italy. It took me another hour and some wrong turns to reach the immaculately clean B&B Belvedere.

Lina and Michele kindly showed me where to hide my bike around the corner of the house. When I told the elderly couple of my plan to cross over the mountain tomorrow they reacted in complete horror. Mouths open and hands to their cheeks “O no Signora no! no! no! non puoi andare! Ci sono i lupi” – you cannot go –  it is very, very dangerous Signora, very steep, way too steep for a bicycle, and there are naughty boys who do naughty things up there in the forest. There are wolves, and hunters who shoot moving things and drive fast jeeps!

My knees were jelly from the ride but I managed to wobble myself to a nearby pizza restaurant.

It was open but closed to the public – opening night for invited guests only. Not keen to go in search of another place, I blabbed my sorry little story about “riding for eight hours today”. They rushed to fetch a chair for me to sit on while they made “una pizza molto speciale” a very special pizza, which the invited guests all admired. It was a Margherita with four basil leaves perfectly arranged. The lovely owners invited me to stay for the evening, but my eyes are pink and puffy, and I couldn’t think of anything interesting to say. They carefully put the beautiful pizza in a box and handed it over, refusing payment – “it’s a gift”.

I wobbled back to my huge spotless room and wolfed it down.

Leanne Talbot Nowell departure first day solo
departure from Poggio Pratelli on first solo day
Leanne ready to go
Leanne ready to go.