Day 9: Leaving Como and starting the ascent

We awoke in Como to a very different picture: it was pouring rain! I’m not talking about a drizzle or even a normal rainfall; the heavens had opened up and were pounding down upon our tent, with strong winds to match.

Rain over Lake Como

Eventually, I needed to empty my bladder and brave the storm. I ran to the bathroom and quickly surveyed the situation along the way. Biking wasn’t happening any time soon. We were short on supplies and decided to go into town, in search of a bakery or cafe. Since it was Sunday, most places were closed. Wet and cold, we continued through the small town of Menaggio, until we finally found an open cafe with sandwiches and, more importantly, shelter.

Rain in Menaggio

The sandwiches didn’t turn out to be too great and everything was overpriced but we weren’t complaining. We dried ourselves as much as possible using the hand dryer in the bathroom, before paying and moving on. While we had been sheltering, we noticed the rain had finally stopped! Until then, we were working out how to pack up all our gear without getting it wet, preparing our minds for the wet ride ahead. Now, the possibility existed that we’d at least be able to pack under dry conditions. Great!

Although the rain had stopped, the wind was pretty strong. At the camp, which was quite close to the lake itself, the wind was pretty nuts. But wind is only wind. Cycling would be harder but it’s better than being wet.

Bert discovered the wind was actually a great way to dry the tent.

Bert drying the tent

We also met a Belgian couple in the morning and talked to them for a bit, while we dried and packed our things. They had a weather app with local projections, which actually showed the rain was over – and that it wouldn’t rain tomorrow either! They asked where we were going and when they found out we were going up and over the Alps, they thought we were a little crazy. They asked why we didn’t just go through the tunnels – turns out they were the crazy ones! The Alps had to be crossed! They were the raison d’être.

Belgian couple in Menaggio

We also talked some more with Manfried, the German from the night before. He seemd pretty bummed about the weather while it was raining but even though it was only wind now, he didn’t seem to be in any hurry to get moving. I think he was trying to dry off in the sunlight. His plan was to go to the next lake over and see some things there. Maybe he wasn’t in any kind of hurry and just wanted to relax. We didn’t understand him either. The road was calling.

Manfried in Menaggio

Bikes packed in Menaggio

We got on the bikes and departed with our course laid in – straight to the Splügen Pass. We’d need to follow along the lake, cross over, and then continue up into the mountains. Progress was slow at first, as we fought the wind, but as the day went on, the weather turned beautiful and our pace quickened.

Menaggio to Campodolcino

Matt cycling on Lake Como

Along the way, nature called (as it always does before long) and we pulled over at a cafe. Bert took the opportunity to have a morning coffee and I grabbed an inappropriate-for-this-weather gelato.

Ice cream break

Not too long after, we crossed the bridge to the other side and began the journey deeper into the mountains. Lake Como was behind us and we were now fully enveloped by the Alps.

On the road to the Alps

Alps all around

Bertster and Mattster

The scenery was just incredible and, after filling our eyes with its beauty, we decided to look for a place with a view and somewhere to sit, so we could fill our stomachs before starting the day’s portion of the ascent.

Bert and bread

Bert and the Alps

By now, the weather was great and we were ready to take on the world. Despite the wind, it had been a relatively easy day of cycling so far and we had no doubt we could make some good progress on the mountain. Finally, we made it to the start of the climb to the Splügen Pass. Everything had led up to this moment: from our start in Marseille to the breakdown outside of Monaco to our amazing tour through Italy, we had finally arrived at our biggest challenge.

Splügen entrance

Splügen sign

The climbs were not bad at all. Sure, they got steep at the curves and the uphill never relented, but I really feel all our preparation had paid off big. This pass couldn’t defeat us and we passed each vertical metre with confidence and determination. Our early days of doubts were as far behind us as the Mediterranean.

Matt and the view of the Alps

Bert stopping for water

Bert on the road

We made it to the half-way point, where the camp in Campodolcino was located and proceeded through the small village to the other side, where the camp was located. At the entrance to the camp, a note was posted that said to go to the restaurant if reception was closed. We proceeded to the restaraunt, only to find another note: call this number if nobody is at the restaurant. An Italian couple (the only sign of life we had seen thus far) appeared and confirmed that nobody was in the camp to receive us. Luckily, a combination of English and broken Italian was enough to arrange our stay via the phone number. The camp owner told us to pitch our tent near the restaurant and that he’d come by tomorrow to collect the money.

The next priority was food. We asked the Italian couple for advice and they told us that we could find some restaurants if we travelled back into town – but they weren’t sure if the restaurants were open this late on a Sunday evening. Uh oh!

After a few minutes, they returned with an unexpected offer – they invited us to their trailer, to eat a warm meal with them!! Wow. I can’t think of finer reward for traveling all this way and climbing half a mountain than to experience a homecooked meal from some real Italians. We were blown away. They told us to shower first (we wondered if we smelled but probably they were just nice) and set up the tent and, after failing to agree amongst themselves upon how long it would take them to prepare the meal, they simply said they’d call us when the food was ready.

They invited us in to their small holiday home, which looked to us, after so many days of camping, like a palace. The main event was a simple pasta dish of spaghetti with tomatoes, topped with oil and cheese (of course). It was excellent. But they knew we weren’t full, so they offered up some bread with olive oil from Tuscany (their son-in-law worked in that field somehow). They also offered some tinned fish, which Bert ate up. Then he made us a salad with vegetables from his own garden at home! Everything was great, as you might expect from a nation of food masters.

The conversation was also great. Through a mix of broken English and broken Italian, we stumbled our way through a range of topics, mostly centred on travel. The man was retired and his wife, who worked at the Italian post office, was retiring in three years. They were somewhere around 60. He offered us some wine (one of those jugs in a basket), which Bert also happily accepted. I told him – to his horror – that I don’t drink alcohol. Bert calmed him down by promising to drink enough for the two of us. The Italian man then informed us that there are three important things in Italy: spaghetti, wine, and women. I tried to tell him that I make my own homemade pasta and that I am married but he seemed fixated on the lack of drinking.

Later, the conversation turned to sports. Bert started going on about football (soccer) and asked him some things too boring to remember. Eventually, the man asked me what I thought about football. Disappointing him again, I informed him I don’t know anything. “What? No alcohol? No sports? No women?” I don’t know where the no women thing came from but everyone had a good laugh at my expense.

Finally, the food was all finished and the evening was coming to a close. Some would say it might be time for sleep but, for Italians, it’s time for coffee (this is where my mom shows her Italian side). Bert was afraid to accept at first, until he realised they also planned to have coffee. As for me, it was time to disappoint our host once again. “What? No alcohol, no sports, no women, and no coffee???” I really feel like my homemade pasta skills and Sicilian ancestry should have scored me more points but it seems my reputation on this mountain is ruined forever.

We thanked our hosts profusely and wished them good night. Before we left, they recommended that we buy a local alpine meat from the village for breakfast. Outside, it was dark and much colder than we had gotten used to from within the palatial residence of our most recent Italian guardian angels. We quickly did our chores, brushed our teeth, and curled up in all our layers, to get some sleep for the final climb.

Did you miss a previous day’s tales or are you looking for an easy overview? Then check out the European Biking Tour 2019 page to get a list of all the days and reports from me and Bert!

Day 8: Lake Como

We started the day with a massive breakfast! After we awoke in our comfortable hotel beds, I declared my intention to investigate the hotel breakfast, given that any bakeries were too far away. Bert had some leftover bread from previous days but I wanted something good before we set out. To our surprise, there was a weekend special for breakfast – something like 10€ for 2 people. We’d have been stupid not to sign up… and sign up we did.

Hotel breakfast in Milan

That yogurt turned out to be a bust (it was sweetened) but everything else was great. I took the opportunity to load up on tea and juice, ate a fruit, and, of course, loaded up on carbs and protein. We were the last ones to leave, eating until well after breakfast had ended. They took away the remaining food but not before we had devoured more than our fair share.

Milan hotel

Stomachs and bags filled, it was time to leave Milan and set out for Lake Como, at the foot of the Alps. We dropped by that football stadium again, so Bert could see it in the light. I’d say it was definitely much uglier by day but too each his own. We loaded up the GPS and headed north.

Somehow the way to Como reminded me of driving to Wasaga Beach. You’re kind of just driving through nowhere for a long time, with some shops and places to eat along the way. It’s not so bad because you know you’re going somewhere good, so you just kind of put your brain on autopilot and keep on going. The major difference from Wasaga is that as we got nearer, we began to see the mountains! We stopped at Aldi to load up on food (I also took the downtime to call Jelena!) and eat a little. It was exciting to see what an Italian Aldi had on offer – it didn’t disappoint. I wish we had an Italian Aldi in Frankfurt.

Aldi with mountains

The road began to slope gentily upwards as Como came nearer. I knew by the route that there was a bunch of elevation gain, followed by a big drop. Let me tell you, it was worth it! We turned a corner down a steep slope and everything opened up before us. There we could see the lake and the mountains – everything. It was beautiful and amazing. These kinds of descents are what a cyclist lives for. As we made our way further along the lake, we remained in awe of its beauty and that of its surroundings. I instantly realised why this is a major vacation destination, especially for the very wealthy.

Our stomachs decided it was time to look for a place to eat and we agreed that as soon as we found a bench with a view, we would stop and have lunch. It wasn’t long before we found that spot.

Lunch at Como

As we ate, we noticed a strange, older man hovering around. He offered to take a photo for another tourist and then asked us if we also wanted photos. I tried talking with him a little, using my broken Italian, while he documented our lunch at Lake Como. Was he another guardian angel sent to oversee our journey? We thought maybe Gigi sent him from the Trebbia Valley to ensure we made it to the Alps. Lunch was great – more bread, butter, salami, cheese, and fruit.

While our mouths depleted the food supply as per our stomachs’ instruction, our eyes focused on the swimming area below. We asked our new friend if it was free to swim (sometimes you have to pay to get to the water in Italy, which I find totally insane). He said he couldn’t see any reason why we would have to pay and was certain it must be free. Based on his certainty, we confidentally packed our bags, locked our bikes, and gleefully traversed the stairs towards a refreshing break from cycling.

Stop! Stop! A teenaged boy had appeared from the restaurant below to inform us that this was a private beach. We asked him how much and he pointed to the sign: 10 euros per person! We wanted to swim but not that badly. I asked if we could just jump in, jump out, and be on our way. He said he’d get in trouble – we couldn’t blame him. But then he spoke more quietly and asked us if we really only wanted to jump in the water and be on our way. He explained that just 200 metres down the road, there was another entrance to the water, next to a yellow house.

We hurriedly dashed back up the stairs and back to our bikes. Hilariously, the old man was now facing his motorcycle, busying himself with his bag of things, obviously too embarrassed to talk to us further, after having led us to our doom. Turns out he was a false prophet. We rode in the direction the boy told us about and found a small entrance for boats, where we could get into the water. This was going to be the last swim of the trip and the first freshwater one – we weren’t going to miss the chance!

Swimming in Como

Swimming in Como

The water was cold at first (a big shock from the Mediterranean) and the lack of salt meant we had to work a bit harder to swim but it was both refreshing and an amazing setting in which to bathe!

We decided that since the day was going so well, we would eat into some of tomorrow’s kilometres, to make the day before the mountain climb easier – and to open up the possibility of doing half the climb a day earlier. Although we fell behind at the start of the trip, we were always working hard to get back on track and catch up little-by-little.

Bertster and Mattster go to Como

We pressed on and made it a couple camps past the originally planned one. Before that, we dropped by a supermarket just before closing, so we could fuel up for dinner. I had to pee (as usual) and asked after a bathroom. I felt really bad because the shopkeeper brought me into the back room, which was actually their private apartment, and let me use his private bathroom!

We arrived at the camp, which was right on the lake (not with a view but can’t complain). Our tent was between some Ukranians and a German guy. Bert introduced himself to the Ukranians, who seemed unhappy to be living in Italy but didn’t want to return to Ukraine. They said nothing ever changes in Ukraine and that the politics will always be bad. Bert tried to ask the Ukrainian guy about the new president but he wasn’t interested. I didn’t get the impression that when Ukraine sent these guys that they were sending their best.

The German guy, on the other hand, was very cool! Manfried came from Cologne to bike in the Alps and in Italy. He actually came down the Splügen Pass, the very pass we planned to go up! Although I had read the roads were in need of repair, he let us know that they had actually very recently been repaired and that all the pavement was fresh. He also recommended we just go halfway up and continue the next day – which is good because we had put ourselves in a position to do just that. We talked a lot with Manfried, another great personality from our trip.

I set about making dinner. Firstly, I had bought fresh filled pasta from the supermarket. Half was filled with ricotta and the other half was filled with spinach. I jumped at the chance to buy fresh filled pasta because making your own filled pasta is a lot of work. It was good but I couldn’t really prepare it properly with what we had.

Filled pasta

While we were eating that small portion, I had rice cooking, which we mixed with fried sausage and a side of cucumber. It was good.

Rice, sausage, and cucumber

After our normal chores (washing clothes, washing dishes, preparing the tent, etc.), we were ready to go to bed. A big day was coming up but first we’d have to face the rain.

Did you miss a previous day’s tales or are you looking for an easy overview? Then check out the European Biking Tour 2019 page to get a list of all the days and reports from me and Bert!

Day 7: Descending the Trebbia Valley and on to Genoa

We awoke in our tent at Le Fontanelle to find wet conditions, with the weather promising more rain in the developing morning. Our laundry hadn’t dried – in fact, some of it was wet and the winds had blown a few things onto the grass, including my bike helmet.

We packed up as quickly as possible (never quick enough) and grabbed some bread and pastries from the pizzeria / tavern. Bert had leftover pizza from the day before.

We deployed all our rain gear and some warm clothing. We were still at a higher altitude in the Trebbia Valley and the rain had additionally broken the heats of the past days, so it was a bit chilly. We weren’t cycling long before it started to pour.

Nevertheless, the views were incredible and the descent was great. Luckily, the rain cleared up after not too long and we could begin to slowly remove extra layers. Every turn revealed another amazing view of the valley and we were in constant awe of nature’s beauty.

We stopped shortly at a small town to stock up on supplies and to get blister bandaids from the pharmacy. My toe had been bothering me for days off and on and I wanted to prevent it from getting any worse. When you go on a long trip like this, various parts of your body are going to have trouble. Bert popped into the church to light some candles.

Then it was time to get back on the bikes and continue our downward journey out of the valley and towards Milan. The beautiful sights continued to reveal themselves; truly, the SS45 is a wonderful road to take in Italy. I would recommend it to any cyclist.

Eventually, we had to leave the valley and head more directly to Milan. This began the slog part of the trip, where we cycled and cycled through mostly nothing for the rest of the day. Sorry, but the beautiful photos are over – until we get to Milan.

During a break, I had focaccia for lunch from that small town we stopped at, to which I added butter, ham, and pecorino cheese. The focaccia was amazing (amazingly oily!). I’m still dreaming about it. I need to go back to this region just to eat it again. I also had bought canestrelli at the same shop and had leftover grapes from France.

We later stopped for a coffee and juice, on one of many bathroom breaks. Since we had endured that cold and rainy night, I was looking for any source of vitamins and, in general, my selection process for juices was pretty forgiving on this trip. The most important factors are vitamins and anything that will fuel me. As long as it isn’t banana, I’ll drink it!

We got back on the road and continued cycling through rather boring places for a long time. Later on when we looked back, there was a huge rain storm in the direction we came from but, luckily, it never caught up to us.

It was a lot of biking through some rather uneventful roads but the payoff was big when we got to Milan. It was slow-going with the traffic once we entered the big city but we eventually made it to the centre, where the Duomo awaited us. Bert remarked at how we had thus far gone from Paris to Milan. I thought about how we had indeed made it to two very major fashion cities and how probably neither of us could appreciate that.

Standing in front of the Milan Duomo

The main square in Milan is absolutely incredible. It’s not just the beautiful Duomo but the square is amazing in all directions. It’s too bad we didn’t have more time to take a look around (although, I’ve been a long time ago with Andreas) but we were there long enough to soak in its wonder. Bert took his time to go up and get close to the church, while I watched the bikes. There are a lot of shady scammers in the area, so I was a bit stressed, but Bert thankfully didn’t take too long.

Since it was so late and Bert still wanted to check out some stadium where some Milan teams play football/soccer, we decided to stay at a cheap hotel across from said stadium. I suggested that the first one to find their soap and towel would be the first to shower, only to realise moments later that we were no longer living like bums in a camp but that we had soap and towels provided for us. Amazing! It was time to live large, for 67€ a night. Later, we would also marvel at the comfortable pillows – but now it was time to eat.

Tagliatelle in Milan

Calzone and focaccia with lard

I ordered tagliatelle to start, followed up by focaccia with some kind of lard from Lombardy and a calzone. Like the previous night, it was a lot of food, but since we had just cycled a record-smashing 157.29km, I’m sure my body was in dire need of calories. The food went down without any trouble and, as you might imagine, it was delicious. Bert ordered a cold glass of milk, which the waiter found confusing and humorous. The restaurant was called La Barchetta – good prices and good food!

SS45 to Milan

It was a long day of cycling, with a boring middle section, but it was bookended by amazing sights and experiences. The rain never returned and we ended the day in comparative luxury. The Alps were getting closer – and we were ready.

Did you miss a previous day’s tales or are you looking for an easy overview? Then check out the European Biking Tour 2019 page to get a list of all the days and reports from me and Bert!

Day 4 – Derailleur Disaster

The fourth day started out fantastically. We awoke in the camp to good weather, said our goodbyes to Michael, and found our way to a bakery with some great croissants and baguettes. We cycled onward to Nice, following a great cycle path along the boardwalk, enjoying the sea air and beach vibe. We even passed the Nice airport and saw a private jet from Serbia, leaving me to wonder if I had just seen Novak Djokovic’s ride.

Matt in Nice

Almost out of Nice, we stopped at a supermarket on the hill and loaded up on water, fruit, and snacks. The amazing sights continued, as we rounded each corner, climbed each hill, and descended each downward slope. We were on fire. Things were going great and Monaco was fast approaching. Although I’m not really a fan of Monaco, due to its unwalkability, I imagined a glorious entrance, now that I had a vehicle, albeit foot-powered. I had planned a route that followed some parts of the Monaco Grand Prix, with a drive-by of a famous scene from Goldeneye. We were Double O agents of cycling with a licence to pedal. Nothing could stop us until SNAP – disaster struck.

Broken chain and derailleur

My chain had snapped, continued moving, and had got stuck beneath my tire. Still running through the derailleur, the chain pulled one of the most vital components of my bike along with it, destroying it and any hopes of continued motion along with it. As the extent of the damage became clear, devastation set it. This was a big deal. We quickly determined roadside repair was impossible.

Broken derailleur

The next thing we tried was to get on the bus to Monaco: surely we would find a repair shop there. Unfortunately, the bus driver refused to allow us to board with our bikes, leaving us to walk into town from Cap-d’Ail, a place sorely lacking in sidewalks. After a three kilometre walk and some helpful advice from a hotel along the way, we made our third and most useless visit to Decathlon. Shockingly, they didn’t carry any kind of derailleurs. Instead, their “bike expert” suggested we try “The Bike Store”, which was a “big” and dedicated bike store in another part of the city.

Several elevators and escalators and a long time of confused wandering later (I hate Monaco), we found the store. Unfortunately for us, this was an upscale store for wealthy Monaco cyclists, where the proprietor was clearly uninterested in speaking to lower class, tax-paying scum like us. We waited a long time before a helpful French-speaking British cyclist interrupted his conversation with the store owner and another customer to ask if maybe the owner could send the mechanic our way. Although the mechanic was very friendly and helpful, he informed me that nobody uses 9-speed derailleurs anymore, looking at my bike as if I had rolled in there with Archie’s jallopy. Luckily, the British guy came to the rescue again and gave us his phone to call around to some bike stores in Nice, where we easily located this ancient and supposedly no-longer-used component, the shopkeeper assuring us that he had various ones in stock.

We again fought the geography and unwalkability of Monaco to get to the train station and make our way to Nice. Cramming our way onto the overcrowded train and enduring the glares of many disgruntled tourists and locals alike, we managed to get to Nice and make it to the bike store a couple hours before it closed. But our troubles weren’t over yet!

Although securing the new part was not a problem, having it installed was impossible. This weekend was the Ironman Triathlon in Nice and the bike shop was fully booked. We explained our situation, laid out our lofty goals and aggressive timeline, and – most importantly – begged. It was only enough to receive an offer of come back tomorrow at 2pm. Faced with losing another day, we tried to do it all ourselves. Now, if I was at home and with my bike stand, I could easily install the derailleur and the new chain. Indexing the gears is always a huge pain but I could do it with the help of YouTube, as I’ve already done several times before.

Bert fixing the bike

Unfortunately, to make matters worse, my mobile phone provider screwed up somehow and I was without Internet for most of the day. YouTube was out of the question. Proper bike tools were out of the question. But we were determined and we tried hard for the better part of an hour. Finally, exasperated but semi-successful, I went back into the shop with the product of our labour and asked again for just a little help to get us past the finish line. Seeing that we really needed help and obviously having some extra time on his hands before closing, the mechanic finally agreed to service the bike!

That guy literally saved the day and I’ve since thought that maybe I should order some pizzas to that particular bike store. The gears weren’t set up perfectly but they were good enough to last the rest of the trip. The mechanic informed me that I should schedule an overhaul of the bike when I finish the tour but that it would last until then. We rushed back to the train to get back to Monaco and pick up where we left off. Amazingly, we still managed to make some good progress and actually finished the night in Italy. Mentally, I needed to move on from France, away from the disaster, and get ourselves in as good of a position as possible for the days ahead.

In spite of all the trouble, we still managed 50km that day and were very happy about that – overjoyed in fact. What was more, we had made it to the third country of the trip and had moved on from croissants to pizzerias. Magnifico!

Once again, Bert set about constructing the tent, while I saw to dinner. I set out for the nearest pizzeria and chose a couple tasty-sounding pizzas. Maybe I was distracted by the day’s events but I totally forgot that they don’t cut pizza into slices in Italy. Back in the camp, I at first went to ask if they had a knife but then remembered I was in Italy and asked the camp attendant for a pizza cutter – of course, she had one.

Pizza for dinner

The day began so well but, although we hit a major low in the middle, we went to sleep in a really good place. Determination is key.

And I still hate Monaco but twice as much as before.

Did you miss a previous day’s tales or are you looking for an easy overview? Then check out the European Biking Tour 2019 page to get a list of all the days and reports from me and Bert!

Day 3: Before Saint Tropez to just past Cannes

Day 3 of our cycling tour was a great day. It began when we first opened our eyes and realised that it didn’t actually rain the night before. Our preparations turned out to be totally unnecessary but would be good practice for later in the trip.

I set about working on breakfast, while Bert worked on packing up the tent. We bought some oats the day before and had some spring onions left over. I added almonds to bulk it up and took some bread from the previous day.

We set out along the coast, cycling for about 108km of mostly flat and straightforward biking. With stunning views and easy riding, it was a really good and needed third day, which allowed us to refuel our tanks and rediscover our confidence in the road that lied ahead.

Cycling route from Saint Tropez to Cannes

Although the morning started great, it didn’t involve fresh French bread and I knew I needed a croissant, so once we had made enough progress, I kept an eye out for a bakery and made an abrupt right turn into a roadside purveyor of delicious pastries. Bert had an éclair.

Croissant and éclair

Later, we stopped at a beach for lunch, after having some trouble locating an open supermarket. We decided not to swim because we wanted to make a lot more progress in terms of distance and, instead, contented ourselves with a great view. Funnily enough, most of the people on this beach spoke German. I guess we found a major tourist destination for Germans! It probably would have been a great beach to swim at because it was quite shelted, meaning there would not be a lot of waves and the water would have the chance to warm up. I’d like to come back to this beach some day with Jelena.

Beach in Le Dramont

Before we got to Cannes, we were treated again to some amazing sights, in the form of coasts and great rock formations.

Bert on the coastMatt and the red rocks

Another thing we did before getting into Cannes-proper was to stop by Decathlon, a discount French bike shop. I’ve heard a lot about it on the reddit and people seem to really like it. Actually, we had already stopped by a Decathlon earlier in the day and didn’t find what we were looking for (cable ties). Why cable ties? Well, the rack on my bike, which holds the back bags, is busted and we were afraid it might eventually break apart totally. Bert suggested cable ties to repair it. Unfortunately, Decathlon doesn’t have cable ties, nor does it have good replacement racks. In fact, after 3 visits to Decathlon on our trip (including one on day 4), I discovered Decathlon actually sucks. They don’t ever have what you need – we even couldn’t find AAA batteries! I guess they’re popular because they’re cheap.

We went on to Cannes afterwards, which was a bit of a snooze. We drove through it and enjoyed the nice-looking buildings but there’s nothing too special there – I don’t even have any pictures! We were also a bit dismayed that no Cannes film buffs recognised the director and co-star of the Killer Refrigerator series. We expected red carpet treatment but got snubbed, just like the Academy has done to Bert and Andrew for years.

With a good number of kilometres under our belt, a happy sense of accomplishment, and the camp in sight on Google Maps, we decided we had earned a beach break and pulled over just after Cannes.

Bikes on the beach

It’s always a little nerve-racking when you’ve got all your stuff on the bike and want to go swimming. Last time, we took turns in the water. This time, the beach was fairly empty and our bikes were pretty close to the water. We decided to both jump in simultaneously and just keep the bikes under our watchful eyes. There were no problems, even though we did eye suspiciously anybody who dared come within 10 metres of our bikes.

Evening at the beach

The water was really refreshing – and still warm, even without the glaring sun. This was a break well-earned and we took the time to relax and enjoy our time on the coast. Sadly, we still needed to eat and check into the camp, so we had to get out of the water before too long.

Dinner shopping

Although I generally hate shopping at home, I love shopping abroad. It’s always interesting to see what different things they’ve got in the grocery store, especially when you’re in France or Italy. These are two food-loving countries and there are always good things. I picked up a roast chicken for an easy and warm dinner, as well as some sausages in different forms. There are some little bite-sized ones that make perfect sources of quick protein while riding. I also grabbed a garlic, which I would use for the rest of the trip. What is the point of cooking without garlic?

Dinner

While Bert busied himself with setting up the tent, I cooked us up some dinner. You can spice up plain old rice by first frying some garlic in the pan – then you add the rice and water. After the rice was done, I fried up some peppers and onions and then mixed it all together. With the roast chicken, we had a feast fit for hungry cyclists.

We met a cool German guy from Hamburg (Michael) at this camp and he talked to me while I cooked. The only bad part was I got distracted and burnt my fingers a little. Still, burnt fingers are worth meeting a new friend at the campsite. He told us about his trip to France through the Alps and we gained some insights about what lay ahead. What we found especially interesting (and crazy) was that he did the whole trip on a folding bike. How he did that I don’t know, but Michael’s tales and friendliness secured him as one of the legendary people we met on our trip.

Overall, this day was exactly what we needed, after surviving two challenging days previously. It set us back on course for the amazing journey we had ahead of us. What we didn’t know was that a great catastrophe awaited us on day 4. More on that later.

Did you miss a previous day’s tales or are you looking for an easy overview? Then check out the European Biking Tour 2019 page to get a list of all the days and reports from me and Bert!

Day #15: Departure Gate

My heartfelt thanks to Matthew for his incredible hard work and efforts in planning and being the cycling leader of a brilliant and life expanding journey.

Of all the many things experienced – witnessed, lived and felt – what I will remember most is the comraderie. It was a privilege to share this experience with him and to bicycle in the draft of his planned adventure.

He filled so many roles in planning and executing our bicycle experience. I don’t know how he did it – or how he did it so well – one could not ask for a better bicycling comrade on this unique adventure. He was a great match for my own cycling abilities and I struggled to keep up with him on many hills.

Amazing job. Très bien. Molto bene. Gut gemacht.

Matthew is: the boss; the instigator; the architect; the coordinator; the cartographer; the navigator; the translator; the financier; the accountant; the chef; the gourmet; the bicycle sherpa; the athlete; the tourist; the comedian; the confidant; the friend.

We did 1280+ kilometers of cycling across thirteen days and six countries; passing through the French coast, Italy, the Ligurian Apennines (Northwest Italy), Splugen Pass, Switzerland, Lichtenstein,
Austria and Germany. It’s been so incredibly enriching and fulfilling.

There’s still so much to share, but not enough time…for now. Sign up to follow Matthew’s blog and you’ll get notifications regarding new posts about our adventures.

There’s still so many stories to tell of landscapes; mountains, forests, lakes, rivers, serpentine roads, ascents, descents, peaks and valleys and emotional peaks and valleys.

So many stories to tell of train rides, dismantling bikes, guarding bikes, carrying bikes, cable ties, grocery store trips, swimming on beaches, fighting for road space, bad drivers, avoiding pedestrians, camping, cold camping, wet camping, late night arrivals, late check outs, cows, goats, rabbits, hard work, team work and of starting to sing while we tackled the thing that couldn’t be done and we did it!

So many stories to tell about our encounters with guardian angels, camp custodians, campers, hotel concierges, bakers, waiters, bicyclists, the mafia, the cheese master of Spluga and the urn bearer.

So many stories to tell about our peregrination, perspicacity, perseverance, pedalling and persperation.

So, so much sweat…and so many carbs – the breads, the pastries, the pizzas, the oats; the cold milk, cappucinos and Apfelschorles; the pasta, spaghetti and candy spaghetti!

Hoping you all keep your mind open and that this inspires you to search for your own next adventure, big or small.

Signing off from Europe.
– Bertrand

Day 11: Two Bikes, Four Countries

Another guest post by Bert!

We woke up in our hotel room in Switzerland, well rested after the previous day’s exertions. Swiss mountains surrounded us in a panorama, forming beautiful white and grey silhouettes against the light blue sky.

Switzerland is well known for its exorbitant prices and high cost of living; before the trip, Matt warned that our goal would be to make it through Switzerland with our wallets intact. Hungry, we went to a grocery store to purchase food for breakfast; we would not achieve our goal.

With our hunger satiated, we cycled through Switzerland, observing new landscapes in the distance. One runs out of words to describe the wonder and majesty of the Swiss Alps.

The road to one mountain was uniquely lit up with grape trees on both sides of the road, dangling blue-purple pearls from their branches that appeared ready to burst and ready for use in the next vintage. Not far away, a different grape tree had several branches overhanging a fence onto public property; I accepted their invitation, helping them achieve their destined purpose.

Later, we cycled upwards a long and steady incline; it was one last expenditure Switzerland demanded before allowing us to leave. Thankfully, what comes up tends to come down, and we enjoyed a long, steep and picturesque descent as we crossed into Lichtenstein; it was one of the best descents on our journey. Our shirts, drenched in sweat, dried on the way down courtesy of the manufactured draft.

Lichtenstein is a small country; similar to Switzerland, it is surrounded by beautiful Alpine mountains. The bike paths were incredibly long and a pleasure to ride on, especially the long section running parallel to the Rhine. There, I stopped to pick wild blackberries, their purple and red luminance ready for their September spotlight.

We crossed a short wood covered bridge leading to the other side of the Rhine; the Hartland Bridge in New Brunswick need not feel threatened. At the halfway inflection point, we crossed back into Switzerland! Matthew joked that we should have an international lunch, with each of us sitting in separate countries, but we cycled on.

Later, we sat at a park bench for a lunch respite and ate sandwiches while our eyes devoured their own succulent feast: mountains in the distance and the blue water of the Rhine in the foreground.

Kilometers passed as the pedal strokes continued and signage informed us that we had passed into Austria. Like all the country borders visited, border guards were nowhere to be seen, making me wonder if I should have left my passport in Germany. I sampled an Austrian apple from a tree on the bike path.

We stopped in a cafe for a breather; I enjoyed the best cappucino of my trip, as well as a slice of strawberry cake; Matthew had a tea and chocolate cake slice. The cashier recognized our weary faces and kindly refilled our water bottles.

The scenery only got better as we passed into the Bregenzerwald forest, which had mountains, forests, lakes, streams and sparsely populated communities built on slopes, peaks and valleys. It made me think: these communities live through life’s highs and lows in a very literal sense.

Moving further, cows mooed in delight and swung their necks left to right, cowbells playing us a harsh harmonic melody. I convinced myself this was their way of congratulating us for our efforts and to tell us to keep moo-ving. We made it into Germany at the end of the day, as dusk caught up to the sun.

Four countries in one day using only man powered bicycle assisted movement. After 114 kilometers, one final fist bump between two ‘cycling envoys’ marked the end of the day’s efforts.

As our heavy eyes drifted towards sleep, nature called our names. On the way back from the bathroom, Matthew noticed the stars shining though a partially clear sky, like friends calling each other with bad reception. Fighting clouds and light pollution, we were able to map out Cassiopeia, Cygnus, Lyra, the little dipper, and finally, once back in the tent, the sandman.

On the way home by train

Well, we rode our last kilometres to the Munich train station and are on our long three-train-and-six-hour journey back to Frankfurt.

I’m looking forward to seeing Jelena and sleeping in my own bed. Tonight I plan to only wake up my usual few times, instead of the million or so I do in the tent. I can’t wait to use my electric toothbrush.

It’s been such an amazing trip. I plan to chronicle all the days I missed here, even for my own sake. I hope you’ll be interested in the stories and pictures.

I need to digest everything I’ve seen over the last two weeks. Marseille feels like another lifetime.