Siracusa

Last night was a stormy night with a strong wind blowing that flattened a few bamboo plants not too far from my tent. I could hear the leaves violently shaking and then the trunks being torn and eventually snapping. By morning the wind settled and only the sea was left in a bad mood. I went round the peninsula facing Siracusa. Eventually the city appeared with at the back the faint shape of Mount Etna. It disappeared in the haze a little later. Before entering the town and end all this cycling, I was looking for the last chance to swim. I discovered La spiaggia del Minareto by chance, like most things on this bike trip. It was a small, protected alcove and the only place with a calm sea. It was also maybe the best beach so far, how nice for it to be the last one. In the suburbs, Siracusa started like any other Italian town, with anonymous blocks of flats and heavy traffic. Once crossed a bridge, I moved into the old town that goes by the name of Ortigia and it all changed. For sure one of the most spectacular old cities I have ever had the chance to visit. Siena has always been a favourite of mine; Siracusa might just have overtaken it, if nothing else for being blessed not only by elegant palaces, churches and little alleys but also with a beautiful sea.
Continue Reading

Avola

Without knowing it I seem to have kept the best for last. Hardly an hour out of the campsite was Marzamemi a little port with a very old and quaint centre. Antonio the camping owner I met two days ago had recommended two beaches. The first one Vendicari, I passed before lunchtime. I stopped for a little rest and a swim into some of the most transparent sea I had seen so far. A little away from the coast was Noto which I wasn’t sure if it was worth the detour. Chance wanted that the man selling me a delicious almond granita was from there and he thought no Sicilian tour would be complete without a visit to his hometown. I hadn’t really researched all these villages but Noto turned out to be another beautiful old town. Of course it was on top of a hill as they all are and it was very hot, but the panting was well rewarded. The old part of the town told a story of riches and wealth with lots of highly decorated baroque palaces and San Nicolò cathedral right a the centre. Not a house was out of place and striding, each the colour of a light sienna with matching tones. Like Ragusa it was also buzzing with tourists and it was a joy to cycle around and often stop to get the next view. From the hill it was all downhill and back to the sea not far from the town of Avola, famous for its trademark wine. Nero d’Avola. Strangely, I didn’t notice a single vineyard, everywhere I looked all I could see were olive trees.
Continue Reading

Isola delle Correnti

I arrived in the southern most point of Sicily and Italy. A statue of Christ with open arms marks the specialness of the place. A plaque claims that here Ulysses docked on his return from Troy and Saint Peter on his way back from Malta to Rome. This tip of The island also marks the division between the Mediterranean Sea and the Ionian sea. I arrived after half a day cycling through Pachino a town that has become synonym with sweet and expensive tomatoes. All cyclists I had met so far recommended the campsite that is a short walk to here. As I strolled on the beach I bumped into Lorenzo. He was sitting at a kiosk having a drink. I had met him the first day and thought by now we must have gone our different ways. I was on his first bike tour and I was curious to know whether he hated it or liked it. “It’s wonderful he said. I am having a blast.” It was remarkable, as he later told me about a series of misfortunes. He was chased by three dogs, found himself stranded one night when it got too late and he didn’t see a rock that badly damaged his rear wheel. He walked up to Agrigento to have it replaced. He then broke his saddle, three spokes of the new wheel he had bought in Agrigento and one of his pedals had just cracked and was now barely usable. He said he had spent as much money in repairs as the cost of the bike, which he had bought specially for this trip. Maybe to save a little he said he was just pitching his tent along beaches every night and told me a wonderful story. In Marsala as evening was approaching he stopped and asked an elderly man called Nino for a good place to put the tent. No I told him to look for a place near a tower that would be safe and quite. There he went and one hour later he heard a car hooting. It was Nino. “I thought about you.” he told him. “I am cooking some rabbit and potatoes. They will be ready soon and I’ll bring you some at 8:30.” On the dot Nino arrived with a generous meal for him and a bottle of beer. He could hardly say thank you as Nino left. In the morning more hooting surprised him. “I brought you some fresh pastries and a coffee. I thought with all that cycling you would need breakfast.” We chatted a bit and then Lorenzo left, looking for some nice beach to put his tent. Siracusa the end of my trip is a short day away but I am early and will make it last a few more days and give myself more to swimming.
Continue Reading

Sampieri

Luminoso was the campsite recommended by Marco. Clean and spotless he had said. Compared to the bonfire place it was quite a change. Maybe I am officially old and need to whine about something; there were far to many flies. At breakfast a couple from Verona offered me a cup of freshly brewed coffee. I sat down with them and we had a long chat trying to sip our coffee while flapping our arms around, slapping our heads and legs trying to catch them. A neighbour from Denmark was better equipped. He had a plastic spatula and seemed to enjoy more spending hours in insects genocide than at the beach sunbathing. He sat motionless at his table holding his tool ready; every now and then a swooshing sound and an impact could be heard on his table where the little bastards were not given a chance and rested in peace, flattened. Today I was in inspector Montalbano’s territory. A famous tv series that only I seemed to have never watched. It is shot in some of the most picturesque towns and villages around Ragusa. They were in the tourist trail long before Montalbano and will be so long after the inspector will be a fading memory. Ibla Ragusa, the old part of the town perched on a hill appeared at the end of a narrow street. Quite a view to behold and I loved cycling up and down its narrrow streets. Then a few kilometres back towards the coast were two other old pearls, Modica and Scicli. They are also part of the inspector’s trail’s and restaurants are proud to advertise that our hero dined here twice in series one and once in series three. In Scicli I stumbled upon a wedding too with Sicilians dressed up in their best garments; the bride kept everyone waiting and sweating in the sun.
Continue Reading

Licata

I woke up to another sunny day in what was definitely an iffy campsite. Marco, another cyclist that arrived later last night, called me. “Come! Have a look at the field next to us.” A mountain of rubbish had been piled up by the same people that welcomed us last night, and was now burning in a large fire that included the bit of vegetation left around. Clouds of black smoke engulfed an otherwise pristine beach. Some Germans and Swedish guests who had spent the night in their caravans, passed by wondering what was happening. I thought the German lady would be horrified. “How interesting she said.” with a smile. She probably thought it was just farmers burning grasses or maybe it was going to be barbecue day at the campsite? Maybe I shouldn’t have spoilt that innocence, but I did say that it was sad really. “They are burning mountains of rubbish.” I said. “Are they? Really?” She then walked back and locked herself into the caravan, having a word with her husband. Rubbish is big business for the local mafia, who seems to control it. They pollute the same land and air they are living in as if there was no tomorrow. Waste sorting plants and incinerators are usually the first to be targeted and vandalised. My route veered inland into miles and miles of greenhouses that would seem plenty to feed half of Europe. The only place I can compare it to is Holland but here, they have sun shining most of the year and crops must be thriving. It was hot and for half a day I didn’t cross a single village but luckily one trickling fountain to fill my bottle. All I saw were farm labourers painfully bent down to pick vegetables of some sort. I felt sorry for them and for the lack of recognition they get from what, in this kind of heat, must be excruciating work. The cycle route guided me right through Gela’s oil refineries, one of the largest in Italy. Eventually I was happy to rejoin the coast and reach yet another campsite. Not exactly a day of ideal sceneries but plenty are going to come in the next four days.
Continue Reading

San Leone

Last night right next to San Leone’s campsite where I stayed there was a disco with a live band giving it all. They had a vast repertoire of Italian 60’s and 70’s classics that made me feel nostalgic. They only ran out of songs to play by 2am, letting the campsite guests have a nap. No wonder In the morning there was a general evacuation, everybody dismantling their gear and getting their camper ready to find somewhere a little quieter for the following night. At check out I chatted to the owner’s son who was upset with the state and bureaucracy. He told me he wished his father was a Mafia boss so that he wouldn’t be bothered. The rest of the day was half away from the coast going through lots of farmland covered with large plastic tunnels where all kinds of fruit and vegetables ripens. Where there weren’t tunnels there were solar panels, and wind farms. Once rejoined the coast I had a dip in the sea to refresh at Baia della Mollarella. I then cycled through the centre of Licata, an old city with a maze of narrow alleys and people am staring at me as if I were an alien. I had to try a typical ‘granatina’, shaved ice with strawberries and pistacchio flavour. It was good but from now on I will stick to ice creams and pastries. Unfortunately I just missed figs season. Plenty of fig trees around but so far all I have found were a couple of fruits still hanging. They were wrinkly and dried but full of good sugar that made me pedal faster. Otherwise they have all been picked with incredible care to not leave even one behind. Campsites are either great, very few, or disheveled places that live on the fact that they have easy access to great beaches. Tonight Is very much the untidy type with a great seaside. After a morning swim I won’t regret an early departure.
Continue Reading

Eraclea Minoa

After a rest day spent in utter laziness, interspersed with some swims and a walk to the secluded beach of Capo Bianco, it was time to leave this little paradise. I was planning a quick goodbye to Davide, Oriana and Lorenzo, three of the people who had offered me dinner the night before. Davide put his extra large ‘moka’ on his camping stove, saying I shouldn’t leave without a coffee. I ended up spending one hour chatting, mostly about bike travelling as they had also done some touring in the past. Davide was suggesting We should organise a trip to the Skeleton Highway. It descends the western coast of Africa going through Angola, Namibia and South Africa. Lorenzo was far more interested in ‘herbs and spices’ and when I mentioned my previous trips to the Indian Himalayas and Pakistan, his eyes lit up. Apparently quality there is outstanding; he begged me, should I go again, to let him know as he has plenty of spare time to get high and cycle. The rubbish is still here and there but one gets kind of immune and strangely used to it. I hope it won’t get to the point when I’ll be going native and start throwing my plastic bottles. Upsetting as it is, how can you not close an eye when in a matter of thirty minutes you swim in the best beach you have ever swam in a lifetime, before standing right by some immaculate 2500 years old Greek temples. The beach was ‘La Scala dei Turchi’. One section is the privilege of people getting there on boats but one side was accessible walking down a footpath and I would say it was more than incredible to me. To the back of the breathtaking colours of the sea, a dazzling white rock face rises to the sky, like a giant staircase. I am sure in full season hordes of tourists make it much less pleasant but towards the end of September only a small crowd was there. After a swim and a shower it was a short cycle to the outskirts of Agrigento and a walk around the timeless remains of the ‘Valley of the Temples’. The marketing slogan has been used already by India, but today I will borrow it and say ‘Incredible Sicily’.
Continue Reading

Eraclea Minoa

Not for the first time, navigating small villages proved tricky. Off the main streets is a maze of roads sometime with no exit, that confuse google and its satellites. It is as if houses here come first and then proper roads connecting them are built later. When according to google maps there is a through road, I suddenly find a shut gate and a property that I assume must have been built in the middle of the road without anybody noticing. Wind is temperamental and can blow either ways so I am grateful for strong tail winds again today. My only gripe with the weather so far, is its tendency to be torrid and sunny while I ride the bike and overcast and cloudy once I arrive somewhere, ready for the beach. I cycled through Mazara del Vallo a large town with a stunning seaside. To charge my batteries I displayed for the first time my solar panels and New York licence plate. I love the look of surprise on people’s faces as they are reading the blue and yellow plate. I have to conceal my laughter when I hear them sharing the news that the guy with a rickety bike has come all the way from the States. “Did you see? He had a New York license!” they say. Dressed as I am, it is easy to play the foreigner part, not to spoil the excitement. Kids after they spell each letter look up at me in awe and admiration. I fully understand them. As a kid growing up in a provincial town in Italy, had I seen someone cycling with a New York plate I would have run after him. Big cities were what I always dream about. The further the better. After Salinunte and its turquoise sea and wide sandy beaches i moved into Agrigento province. I climbed to the top of Porto Palo where I snacked in the shade of the old watch tower. Looking down on a quiet, out of season port, all I could see was a single white sailboat floating on emerald waters. A little further south was the campsite with a sandy beach and more sea to swim into.
Continue Reading

Marsala

I was meant to follow the flat coast past Trapani but yesterday I talked to a cyclist and he said I couldn’t possibly miss Erice. One of the most picturesque old towns of the island it’s right on the top of the only mountain. I thought it would be too hard in the heat but the thought was left marinating all day between my brain and my guts. Brain said forget about it and enjoy the flats why my guts said I would be an idiot to not do it. Then I met people that don’t understand cyclists. They suggested to go to Trapani and take the cable car to the top from there. By morning I had made my mind up and knew I had to climb it or I would regret it. I thought at 700m altitude it would be at least fresher. Glad I put up with the slog as the road climbed up the mountain at a steady gradient with incredible views over the bay; car drivers passing me were both happy to not have to do the sweating, and envious each time they saw me stopping to take it all in while they had to keep on driving, missing most of it. I reached Erice, ‘city of peace and science’, in a couple of hours. I then wandered along its old narrow streets paved with tidy stones and cobbles, visiting its beautiful duomo and the well maintained castle. The descent down the other side of the mountain into Trapani offered again great views of the sea and the city. In Trapani the traffic of the city and the heat made me want to escape quickly as I still had some mileage to cover. It is from here that starts Sibit, a bicycle route that made me decide to come down here. It hugs the southern coast all the way to Siracusa. I noticed the first few signs, trying to guide along smaller country roads with less traffic,m. Still not much of it is bike specific and would let any Dutch expecting a cycleway, a little disappointed. In Marsala it passed by an impressive series of ‘Saline’, shallow sea pools where salt is produced by the power of the sun and the water evaporating. There was no time left for swimming but I should make up for it tomorrow, going through a series of promising beaches.
Continue Reading

Lido Valderice

I’m slower than usual, which is really slow. I start and finish each day with a swim and cycle in the middle. The colours of the sea are far too inviting and I like this routine. I have also discovered the works of art that come out of bakeries’ ovens around here. I stopped at a large one in an inland village not far from San Vito. It had a big wooden signboard advertising traditional breads baked in wood burning ovens. What most attracted me was the steady stream of locals coming and going. The rustic interior had large cabinets displaying all kind of breads, biscuits and baked cakes. They had names that didn’t mean much to me so I just asked the lady for a recommendation. All I wanted was that one be salty and the other one sweet. The sweet one still warm, was a half moon fried pastry with a ricotta and chocolate filling. Cassatina I think it was called. It lasted only three bites but they were to die for and I couldn’t remember anything that tasted like it. This perfect symphony of flavours melted in my mouth, keeping me cheerful for the rest of the day. I didn’t break any distance record as I stopped in Lido Valderice. It was too close and too early to call it a day but it had a campsite and the next one was a little too far. It was hot and I was sweaty, the sight of inviting bays and the transparent water were a magnet that pulled me and grind me to a halt. A perfect day to be lazy.
Continue Reading

San Vito lo Capo

Each time Vincenzo speaks, is a reminder that I am a foreigner in my own country. He knows I come from a part of Italy that to him must be more like Germany, but is efforts to clearly enunciate the Italian language, fail on me. Is southern accent is too exotic for me. When he stops speaking I am usually left clueless and all I can say is “what?” To that he patiently repeats it slowly, and on a second try I pick up about half of it and approximate a meaning. Asking him about prickly pears I guess didn’t help things. All I wanted to know was if I could stop buying fruit and live off the bountiful trees by the roadside. He said he had never picked one and followed with a warning. He said they have invisible thorns that cause sizeable wounds. “They dig into your hands as you try to peel them.” he said. “Better leave it to the experts...” “Also if you have too many” he went on, “you’ll be so constipated that you’ll need to be hospitalised.” It sounded as if he was egging it a bit. The risk according to his description, seemed on a par with disposing safely of hazardous explosive devices. Maybe he just didn’t like them. Imas far as cycling, I climbed a few hills and dived downhill towards the peninsula of San Vito lo Capo. My rants about rubbish all forgotten, all I could do was look astonished at the incredibly scenery of stark mountains and a series of beautiful beach alcoves with the most transparent water to dive into.
Continue Reading

Castellana

It is a well known fact amongst Italians that Sicily’s Forestry personnel outnumbers those that protect forests in the entire Alps. They are 20000, half of the total in the entire country. It seems to be the perfect career to get into for Sicilians that happen to ”know someone”. Getting such post, secure and guaranteed for lifetime, will sure take quite a few acquaintances. Their main duty is managing forests preventing the fires that plague the island in the summer; as often there is a conspiracy theory. It goes something like that. There are so many, that to justify the need, it might be them that start most fires in the first place. Beppino, the elderly owner of the campsite at Castellana is convinced of this. “In the past mountain lands were managed by shepherds” he tells me. “They knew what to do and there was hardly any trouble.” “Since this lot has been put in charge” he continued, “the place is ablaze every summer.” He is a minute man, maybe in his seventies. Officially retired, he seats peacefully all day on the same chair, overlooking the reception veranda. He told me that even if it might not look like, he is always very busy, keeping an eye on his son Vincenzo, who now manages the campsite. He directs operations by a secret code of icy stares and the raising or lowering of his eyebrows. When guests arrive with tricky questions or whenever an important decision is needed, Vincenzo simply looks at him and gets the answer. Those few times that Beppe utters a “nu saccie...”, I haven’t got a clue in Sicilian dialect, they both shrug their shoulders and wait patiently for god’s answer.
Continue Reading

Segesta

I woke up at the campsite where I realised I was not far from three other cyclists. Lorenzo a Tuscan living in Rome, was one of them. He had decided in a rush that at forty he should go on a bike tour. This was his first day camping and he was trying to figure out how it could possibly stuff all his gear back where he had found it the day before. It was like solving a complex puzzle. Then there was some wet stuff he didn’t know how to handle. Of course I had been there myself when I started, a necessary rite of passage. Rain was forecasted for the afternoon so I decided for a short ride up the mountains to the temple of Segesta, an immaculate and intact Greek temple. At least the sun was out as I rode up the hills. I could smell the sour scent of prickly pears, hanging ripe from large cacti plants. Almost on top of the hill I had the first views of the temple that has dominated this landscape for 2500 years. A magic place indeed and a far cry from the moods of yesterday. A further walk took me to the top of the mountain where the Greek amphitheater still functions, with opera performances and concerts throughout the summer. Stopping at a food stall a lady cut me a glorious melon. I also saw prickly pears were on sale and mentioning I had never had one was enough to get a complimentary tasting. There were orange ones and white ones, all sweet and tender; given they hang literally from the road sides, next time I need fruit I know what to look for. The road back to the coast was quieter but plastic bottles, cans and bags still sprouted like mushrooms. In such beautiful surroundings they stand out even more and upset me. A couple from Palermo I had a chat with gave me some hope. Without me saying anything, they started telling me how upset they are about it. Sicilians don’t deserve such beautiful land, they told me.
Continue Reading

Castellamare del Golfo

I came to Sicily 30 years ago and spent a few days playing tennis which was hardly doing it any justice. Even before landing at the airport of Punta Raisi, a little patch of flat land cornered between the sea and a rocky mountain, I knew it deserved much more time and a bicycle. Small Islands appeared, their shallow coastlines getting deeper and deeper, merging greens into deep dark blues like vibrant, diluted watercolours. On the horizon was the gulf of Palermo, the city and its dramatic peaks raising up steep as if standing guard. Interesting as it might have been, I was more keen to cycle along the southern perimeter of this island rather than been sealed in the chaos of a city. The weather played tricks with me and turned from a sunny start into a storm with thunders and lightnings. It was September but I was already soaked wet and and a little cold in Sicily. This hiccup at the start made me gloomy and focused more than I should have been, into the piles of rubbish that littered the roads I followed. I had been warned in Sicily this comes with the experience but there were epic amounts of it, as if a fly tipping world championship had just been over. If it wasn’t for the beauty of the surroundings, I might as well have been in a suburb of Delhi. The rain eventually stopped and tired by an early wake up call and a flight, I pushed further than I should have. Past Castellammare del Golfo, I had spotted two campsites I wanted to get to. They were both closed in the end, one of them three years earlier, despite still being shown on my map. I later heard the local river had once flooded. Nobody died but all were scared and running for their life and the owner’s permit revoked. I ended up returning to Castellammare, reached just before it got dark and pitching my tent as if I had been blindfolded.
Continue Reading

Rovereto

It’s been a trip following several European major rivers. Mostly the Rhein but also the Maas in Holland, the Iller and Loisach in Germany and the Inn in Austria. From Resia pass is the source of the second largest Italian river, the Adige. Following it, would take me into my hometown. The long distance asked for a two days journey but to be so close to home is a boost of adrenaline. The road was mostly downhill and then flat, so I decided to push a little further. I wanted to see how far Brutus could take me. I had once ridden 135 km in a day with Bronte in Canada so I set myself to see if I could top that. The profile of mountains took increasingly familiar shapes and a cyclist friend came to join me for the final part, shielding me from the wind. It started drizzling a little bit, but it wasn’t much of a disappointment. For a month the weather had been most kind to me. In the end I covered 158 kilometres which looking at the small bike folded now seems quite an achievement. A month on the bike is what I had planned. One day early, I made it back home.
Continue Reading

Lasa

Exciting day with lots of border crossings. I thought it would be a straightforward Austria to Italy but by the end I had moved to a different country four times. I partially followed the Via Claudia climbing up to Resia pass. I remembered a German cyclist telling me that the main road is not recommended due to long tunnels and traffic. At a certain point there was a warming recommending that bikes take an alternative road to the village of Martina. I did and that is when to my surprise I found myself back in Switzerland. From Martina there was another road that took me back to Austria and eventually merged with the main one just before the pass. What these signs never tell is that these routes are usually much longer and twice as steep. Anyway we are cyclists, we are meant to enjoy a little suffering. After a long morning and a little slog after lunchtime I made it to the top, rewarded by the flag and a sign that confirmed I had made it back to my country. Not that you would notice. It takes a little more if Italy to hear Italian language spoken. What is different though is that with a bit of trying they understand me. As a child I remembered seeing the unusual pictures of a church tower emerging from the turquoise waters of a lake. Finally I knew where It was as I was standing on the shores of lake Resia and right in front of it.
Continue Reading

Landeck

I started easy with a descent from Oberammergau to Garmisch Partenkirchen. All jewel towns in the German Alps that are more famous as sky resorts than for cycling. Before Garmisch the road takes a turn and the impressive rock face of Zugspitz with a top attitude of 2990 metres appears. Most of the day I cycled all around it, later moving into Austria. I was told that the unwieldy 24 letters long word seen in Germany meant waste disposal centre. It appears that Austrian have decided to follow my advice. I have noticed three signs where they adopted the English ‘recycling’ rather than risking a stroke pronouncing their own language. Only two mountain passes needed crossing to get o to Italy. I did Fernpass, the easiest one today which took Brutus above a 1000m for the first time. On top I met a German entrepreneur who has developed a popular delivery app for couriers in Germany. He was fascinated by my bike and looking at all the luggage, asked whether I was also delivering something. The descent from Fernpass was steep and full of traffic which demanded extra attention. I then moved to a safer cycleway in the woods and a few kilometres before Imst I reached the 2000km cycled. A little later Landeck at the feet of Resia pass, ready for crossing the Italian border tomorrow.
Continue Reading

Oberammergau

After a day off, the sun has returned and I am back on the bike. It has become much cooler, too cold for swimming but perfect for cycling. I woke up in Elbsee surrounded by a chilly morning fog. The tent was soaked wet, more than ever, after a day and a night of thunderstorms and all the fog. The forecast was good and I am getting used to a midday break to eat and to let it dry in the sun. What I find really nice about Bavaria is the fact that, they don’t easily put up fences to delimit private property or farming land. In most countries it is hard to find a square metre that is not protected by barbed wire and threatening messages. At midday, I found a wooden bus stop to sit down in the shade and eat a sandwich. Right behind was a large grassy field with a large farmhouse on top of the hill. I spread out my colourful array of red, white and green tarps to dry. They were not quite ready when a XXL tractor approached with a farmer. He looked at his colourful patch of land then looked at me and at my bike and burst into laughter and gave me an ok sign. Most kind to spare me from a telling off in German. It must be infuriating if in the middle of an outburst you ask if by chance they could get upset in English. After a few hours in the Romantische Straße I turned South, facing the Alps. I started the first gentle climbs reaching just short of a thousand metres of altitude at Oberammergau. I had a reminder of why I gave up studying the German language a few decades ago. I passed a road sign with a 24 letters word, ‘Abfallentsorgungszentrum’ it said. No clue about the meaning but whatever it said, it could be split up a little, allowing one to breathe. Tomorrow I will continue further in the Alps, passing Garmisch Partenkirchen , another mouthful...and moving into Austria. The language is incomprehensible yet the landscape is very familiar. I was born near the Alps but just a little further and to the southern side.
Continue Reading

Elbsee

What these cycling trips do is make me realise how much I take things for granted. I appreciate little things ten times more. At home it is hard to appreciate a rainy forecast. Yesterday a weather forecast of heavy thunderstorms at 5 pm and rain the following day was the difference between getting soaked wet and planning a day where I will be somewhere safe and dry. I left early to reach yet another camping by a lake and did some panic food buying. Lately it looks like I am swimming as well as cycling my way down to Germany. Anyway I reached Elbsee early afternoon and went swimming while clouds started gathering. By evening I hid in my tent as the heavens opened and it poured through the night. The morning was also wet but It is improving with sun from tomorrow so I thought it would be the best time to take my second full day break from the bike and rest.
Continue Reading

Elbsee

I couldn’t have been luckier with the campsite last night. It was an idyllic spot with a small lake that I had noticed on the map. Once arrived I was told it was opening the following day and that it was fully booked. I did the trick of the shattered cyclist which usually works all over the world; they took my cash and gestured to keep it quiet as they were not really supposed to let me. I shared the tiny alpine lake with a handful of people which must have been some sort of family, VIP or regulars. Hills in Bavaria keep rolling, sometimes gently, other times less so. It is really a beautiful corner of Europe, on a high plane, I am cycling all day surrounded by forests and lush green meadows. i have never seen cows so spoilt for grazing places and so happy that they almost smile at me when I pass by. As I get closer, layers of blue mountain ridges are rising suddenly from the green planes like silhouettes, the further they are, the paler.
Continue Reading

Leutkirch

I believed my knowledge of geography to be good, until crossing into the wrong country. What I thought would be Germany, was Austria Instead and the city of Bregenz. So in a matter of a few hours in cycling time I went from Switzerland, to Austria my sixth country so far and back to my cheese cakes. It was just a little teasing of Austria because it didn’t take long to be welcomed in Bayern. After more than two weeks I left the course of the Rhein. Cyclists usually end the trip with a couple more days to the source, in the mountain town of Andermatt, but in Bregenz the Rhein takes a sudden turn west, away from my direction to Italy. I also left lake Konstanz. I was tempted watching all the early birds, starting their day with a morning swim in the fresh waters. I moved on, the weather is great so far but some bad weather is on the forecast. I headed towards the rolling hills of Bayern, keeping the alps to my right for a couple of days, before I tackle them. I climbed up to 600 metres, moving from beach resorts to a pristine alpine landscape. Bayern is a wonderful change from sticking to a river. Here there are a host of cycleways and rural roads to get lost into; all I have to do is choosing the ones that I fancy. My arse is now in total symbiosis with the Brooks saddle and it feels more uncomfortable when not cycling.
Continue Reading

Bregenz

Just before crossing a bridge into Konstanz, I loaded up on supplies and gave Switzerland another chance. I am not the only one allergic to the Swiss Franc. The Suisse themselves seem to take advantage of the fact that across the border everything is half price. The choice to cycle on the pricey side was taken when I noticed that here it was much flatter while the German option involved a little more climbing. The bike route was again most pleasant, confined between the lakeside and the railway. In Switzerland you can do cycle training. By having cycleways that run parallel with the train station’s platform, you can cheat and take a train. France has long gone and the chirpy tune of Charles Trenet is not belted out anymore, breaking silence. Over twenty days of solitude mean that more and more often I entertain myself into loud conversations. I was having one in the countryside, thinking to be alone when an elderly lady overtook me on her electric bike. She briefly stared at my embarrassment before pressing a button to speed fast away from me. One is never cautious enough. These enhanced bikes are dead silent. On a separate note, octogenarians riding at 30 kilometres per hour on a bicycle can’t be that safe. I can’t help but feeling afraid for them. They do seem to love it. I guess it brings back the excitement of speeds they haven’t had for over half a century. While I opened my tent to dry it on the lawn of a beach I had a full tub of Crisps under the envious look of all the children. Heading east towards Bregenz the German Alps are rising right in front of me. Late afternoon was the right time to bathe in the lake, relax and wait to find a perfect spot for wild camping.
Continue Reading

Gaienhofen

Today was the best day so far. Great weather and amazing sceneries. I felt like cycling in Germany. The route left the rivers and started climbing gently over hills. I must have been right on Zurich airport’s flightpath. After a long time I spotted quite a few airplanes that gave me hope that one day life will get back to normal. Far south, I saw for the first time the faded snow tops of the Alps beyond which is Italy. I didn’t cross the river but at a certain point Switzerland must have invaded Germany as I unexpectedly crossed a border. I continued the ride on a hilly plateau at 500 metres of altitude and scattered with charming villages, green pastures and yellow fields of sunflowers. A little later Germany fought back, I was once again in Bundes Republik Deutschland and I could afford a coffee and cheese cake. I then reached Schaffausen where the famous Rhein falls are. I didn’t expect them to be that much but they were quite impressive as was the amount of tourists. The cycleway went through stunning forests, hills, bordered the river and took me back and forth between the two countries. In a village I had completely lost track. I stopped and noticed a man diving into a bush while his rear and legs were sticking out on the pavement. I thought it was the perfect shot for my YouTube video so I waited for him to re-emerge from the greenery. He wasn’t up to anything naughty he was just doing some very advanced gardening. As soon as he got out of that mess I asked him in which country I was standing. He was surprised by my presence and gave a complicated answer in German. It sounded like he said it was Switzerland but politically Germany and then started waving his hand meaning it could be either. Maybe he was a Swiss separatist which would complicate matters further. Anyhow I was relieved to know that even locals don’t quite know. I met a group of Italians also wary of the Suisse Franc; we all agreed that sticking to the left bank would surely bring us once and for all to Germany. The Rhein became wider and wider as it merged into the Bodensee, a large lake I will spend a couple of days touring around.
Continue Reading

Lörrach


Just past Basel, the Rhein becomes the border between Germany and Switzerland. I am beginning to enjoy this freedom of choosing in which country to cycle on a whim. I can eat and sleep in Germany and cycle in Switzerland without Suisse prices.

You should go to Switzerland if you love bread, chocolate, cheese and mountains provided you bring enough cash. Also highly recommended if you happen to have some spare and are trying to evade taxes. Banks here are never far and will warmly welcome you.

On the road today someone shouted God Bless America. I had completely forgotten about the New York registration plate. To me is more of a talisman. I carried it in the Himalayas and in Patagonia and only suffered one puncture. I didn’t bring it to Pakistan and I almost killed myself. I am not that superstitious but why not carrying it?

Again on the Swiss side, the Route was mostly thin gravel. At a certain point it followed a path on a thin peninsula stretching in the middle of the river. While my right leg was in Switzerland my left one was happily pedalling in Germany, and it wasn’t painful.
Continue Reading

Colmar

´Douce France, cher pays de mon enfance...’ Still singing that song, way to cheerful for a ride facing strong headwinds, but I can’t get it out of my mind. I also only remember the first verse which means that I go on a loop that drives me crazy. The postman this morning heard it as I passed by a country lane and started laughing; he must have thought I was insane. I left the Wine Route without having had a taste of it. I could smell it all the way though, ripening in the wooden caskets of countless wineries. Actually Dietrich, a seventy years young German I met at the campsite in Turckheim, offered me some. He is doing 3000 km on a bike around Europe and in a matter of twenty minutes ate his baguette with goat cheese and finished a full bottle of Riesling. It made me think that wine can’t be that bad after all, maybe I should start drinking. He was from Munich and as I might head that way I thought to ask him the best way to get there from Bodensee. Whether it was the wine that made him talkative I won’t know but he started pulling out map after map and for one hour, showed me his four favourite ways. He spoke only German and soon enough all towns and rivers he mentioned got a little confusing and jumbled but at least he gave me some ideas. Riding up all these hilly towns is hard work, especially with a strong wind against me. I got into some kind of conspiracy theory. In Holland cycleways are ways of transport and usually skip town centres entirely. Here the signs lead you right on top of each hill in the centre of a village to then misguide you and make sure you go round in circles and get lost. I wondered whether it was some sort of marketing stunt to ensure tourists buy something. After a visit to the pretty town of Colmar I crossed the Rhein, back into Germany. On the German side the cycle route seems to follow the river closer. It was one of the best parts. The road was unsurfaced but as smooth as a pool table. At the end of the day I had spotted a campsite on the French side so I crossed a bridge and in the middle I stood literally on three States at the same time. Nothing particularly skilful on my part, it just so happens that the borders of France, Germany and Switzerland converged here. The French campsite was a bummer as it was shut so I was back on another bridge and cycling towards Germany on the way to Lorrach. The road was blocked at a certain point with police stopping traffic but I whizzed through by the side assuming it must have been the Swiss border. When I reached the campsite I asked the lady which country I was in. Anywhere else such question gets you fast- tracked to a psychiatric unit but around this area, it is perfectly sensible. I was told I was in Germany.
Continue Reading

Turkheim




After wheat fields, apple and pear trees, last night I slept in a corn field. Stealth camping they call it but I don’t like the name, it sounds so criminal. It’s a complimentary campsite under the stars. There are rules to follow. Set camp at dusk or just before night, leave early at dawn, chose a place where people don’t walk by ideally a bit hidden, away from town and villages and of course don’t leave any trace or rubbish. The main idea is that nobody should see you because it increases the risks of getting into trouble. I left Strasbourg and was cycling along the Canal de la Bruche at 8 in the evening. At the start of July it gets dark really late and I was hungry. At a certain point I spotted a side road into the fields and it led on a large patch of grass shielded from views by bushes and trees. I put down my things and started eating and for about an hour until 9pm nobody was to be seen anywhere around. It seemed the perfect place. It was still daylight but I had all the confidence to pitch my tent and settle down. I was ready to relax and get to sleep when families with little children, lovers in search of a hideout, long distance runners and dog walkers started walking by. I had a chat with a few of them. The couple hadn’t noticed me and as they were about to settle down behind the bushes, out of courtesy I said ‘bonsoir’. This was obviously a bit of a spoiler and it backfired. It scared the hell out of the guy and disappointed the lady who had since the thought to have been dating a brave man. They moved to different bushes much further. It escapes me what a family with toddlers was doing walking corn fields at such a late hour.

I pretended not to see them.

The baby girl didn’t. She loved my tent and started running towards me while mom shouted and scolded her, asking her to hold her hand, steering her away from trouble. The runner was surprised to see a tent and started running faster. I have given up on dog walkers, They can just be anywhere at any time, day or night. This was a young chap and I asked whether he thought I would bother anyone spending the night there.

He asked how long I was planning to stay as if I was planning to move in a field permanently.

“Just the one night.” I said.

He was relieved.

“I am not sure about the law but you should be fine.” he said. “Only, it is going to be cold early morning.”

I had seen far too many people but I was too tired to move and luckily the darker it got, the field was only shared with a bright and full moon.

I continued my French ride singing the first verse of Douce France a Charles Trenet classic that I had learnt at school and cannot stop singing while cycling. The Wine Route was hillier than the river but was passing a string of interesting villages. Molsheim I discovered was the town where an Italian migrant called Bugatti started building cars that could reach speeds of 200 kilometres in the 1930s. This is also an ancient Roman Route, Via Francigena. All villages and towns are built on hills and you can tell Romans were not riding bicycle as the route goes through each one of them. At the end, weakened by a day of strong headwinds I was so exhausted that I forgot about history and took the straightest road I could find on my map.
Continue Reading

Dorlisheim



Back on the Rhein Route which is now called Route di Rhin. The river here marks the border between Germany and France. Crossing a bridge is all it takes to go from a place where I can speak and be understood to one where I have the eloquence of a new born baby. After two weeks of never ending horizons it really surprise to see the low profiles of the Vosges mountains. The cycle route was mostly away from the river but still comfortable and flat. If I have to whinge about something is that I never seem to find a bench and a table at right time, when I am hungry but I know I am being fussy. After cutting through a few forests I emerged in Strasbourg a place a was looking forward to see. It is almost thirty years since I spent a wonderful summer working here so it was a cycle down memory lane.

A great reason to cycle France is, well...bakeries. They are everywhere and sell amazing long baguettes and croissants and pain au chocolat so buttery that melts in the cyclist mouth.

Stopping by at the information office by the stunning cathedral I was recommended to follow the renowned Route du Vin, that winds down through wineries and a handful of charming towns.

Continue Reading

Lauterbourg



After months I have eaten one if my breakfast favourites. Fresh bread, milk and a thick layer of Nutella. While at home I never buy it as the simple look of it, is enough to be gaining weight but while touring I need it. When I woke up this morning by the lake it was spreading easily which means an ideal temperature. A great contrast with Patagonia where the cold had turned it into a stiff chocolate block announcing a chilly day ahead. Approaching Worth am Rhein I looked for a while at two cranes flying. They were effortlessly playing with the air currents and thermals; it was the most elegant of flights as if dancing with each other up in the sky. I crossed an invisible border into France and was eager to discover how they are coping with the virus. Here liberté, egalité et fraternité still holds and masks are advised only, which is a good change from strict Germany. The other good change is being able to understand something and brush up my French language.

I am now half way through this month on a bicycle. Time to have a rest day, a good wash and get a little organised for the next one. Lauterbourg is the first village after the border and happened to have another excellent campsite by an artificial lake.

Continue Reading

Mechtensheim



In Oppenheim I reached the thousand kilometres milestone. The sun was out all morning and I took out my solar panel to charge the battery pack. Attached to the panels is a New York State registration plate that further confuses Germans. Public places have complicated procedures to follow. In a café before ordering a coffee and a cheese cake I was asked to register with full address, and telephone number. I wrote down my English pseudonym John Phillips. I needed a New York address and all I remembered was the hostel I once stayed in. 52 Amsterdam Avenue, Manhattan, 10025 New York it was. A bit naughty I know but in my case it is pointless. Even if I sat in a coffee place infested by the virus, the police would have to chase me down the Rhein on a bicycle with sirens. Back to the Rhein Route, an elderly man in his eighties was cycling right in the middle of the lane with his electrically powered bike. I was a little faster but no amount of bell ringing was enough to alert him of my presence behind him. Age must have played tricks with his hearing, probably a crescendo from the Berliner Philarmoniker Orchestra would have gone unnoticed. I contemplated setting off my Chinese alarm system but it would have been unkind and scared him. I relaxed and cycled behind him finding a good shield against the wind. Cranes can be seen in the fields and they are magnificent when they suddenly spring up from the high grasses and take flight. Cycling down the Rhein is not only beautiful. There is the ugly side of a river that functions as a magnet for huge factories built on his banks. For hours today I biked the outskirts of big cities like Mainz and Mannheim, going past steel plants with smokey chimney and walls covered in graffiti. One of the most depressing cities I have ever seen was aptly called Worms. Those ugly parts make you want to move past quickly and get back to the fields and the little villages that are so close yet a world away. In order to find a camping by a lake I cycled more than I should. For the fifth time I covered over hundred kilometres and after two weeks with no break the legs are hurting. I met Frank and his girlfriend at the campsite and we had a good chat and was offered some beer. From now on the plan is to go slower and take it more gently.
Continue Reading

Sankt Goarshausen



The day started cloudy as I passed a string of wonderful villages. Biebernheim, Oberwesel, Bacharach, were all historic jewels enhanced by generous displays of flowers. Each also had its old bakery and was perfect for my current diet, Anti-Atkins. All you have to do to loose weight, is binge on carbohydrates and cycle all day. I am sure the thirsty and the rowdy would not agree but for the teetotaller another great reason to visit Germany is not beer but bread. Proteins are provided by nature thanks to my habit of cycling with my mouth slightly open. Clouds of minuscule insects, so tiny I doubt they were ever given a name, loved crushing into my face. The lucky ones found an opening and ended their meaningless life drowned in my guts.
There’s a trend in younger cyclists to ride with loud speakers, blaring German techno music from the eighties. As if it isn’t bad enough it reaches my ears distorted by their fast movement as they pass me.
Just as I was overtaking a long boat called Josef Langen, it started pouring. I took cover under a tunnel but in the end I gave in; I put brim hat on and my waterproof jacket and faced it. Something stupid and irrational happens to me when cycling in the rain. I feel like a hero and brave as if raindrops could hurt me. It got worse though, so I stopped pretending and hid on e more for twenty minutes in a second tunnel. Miraculously the weather quickly turned and it was summer again and the sun was shining. Somehow in Bingen the Rhein Route turned sloppy and muddy disappearing into the forest. I lost the Rhein for a little but I found a Chinese man instead. He was cycling, carrying what looked like a suitcase as if he had just missed the last plane. He had an ingenious app for translations. He spoke mandarin to his phone and after a brief delay I could hear an English translation being played back. Not all of it made sense.

“Let me have peace in the Alps.” The phone speaker said reproachfully. I thought I might have upset him.

It took ages to figure out where he was going. It turned out to be Lugano. After a cold morning storm I couldn’t believe my luck to be swimming in a warm forest lake in the evening. I will make it an habit to stay in campsites by lakes as there is little more relaxing than a fresh swim after a day sweating on the bike. A cuckoo set me off for a night rest.

Continue Reading