Day 6: Onward through Genoa and up the mountains!

Today was another great day! We got a late start but we needed a lot of recovery after yesterday.

The day started with a feast – of course. I whipped up some oats and then mixed them with fried French salami and garlic. We also had leftover ciabatta with butter, Tiroler ham, and some young pecorino cheese. Oh yeah and some hard pears and a few grapes.

After stuffing ourselves and stuffing our bike bags, we rolled down the hill and got back on the coast. That took us to Genoa, a big port city and former trade power in Italy. We got pretty badly bogged down in endless city traffic but we did manage to get our hands on some focaccia.

Wait, is this a bike tour or a food tour? Continuing the bike tour with an increasing desire to escape the city, we headed upwards along a valley and out of Genoa. It was a long climb, to almost 900m with repeated downs and ups – it was great!!

Along the way, we stopped at a fruit stand, run by a really nice lady. She gave us a plate and knife to eat our watermelon – and somewhere to sit.

Once again, the views were amazing but finally we got a nice change of scenery, after so much coast. Going into the mountains was really nice. I can’t believe people are building villages and towns in these hard-to-reach places! It was also nice to cool down, after so many 30+ days of death.

Our trip took us sometimes off the main road and onto these small and ever-climbing country roads. We went through some really cool small villages, mostly with old people but also some with children.

Our original plan was an impossible 160km because of 70-80km of downhill but we called it a day at 90, due to the time of day and state of our legs. Luckily, the camp site was beside a pizzeria!!!

Amazing stuffed pasta and spicy salami pizza. I was in heaven! Bert had some other stuff, as you can see, and he also enjoyed it.

Anyhow, we are in for the night and I might just fall asleep at a reasonable time. The only thing keeping me up is my loyal readers. Good night from Italy. Buona notte!

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Day 5: From Ventimiglia to outside of Genoa

Yesterday we completed our best day of cycling yet. Amazing views, personal records broken, and great food. I know it’s a little out of order but I’ll come back to the other days later.

We started the day around Ventimiglia, a town more or less on the Italian border. I transfered trains there during my European backpacking trip!

We got up at a decent time (7 something) and worked to get out ASAP. It’s hard to pack everything, eat, and hit the road by a good time, especially when you always get in so late. We’re trying to reverse this trend without much success so far.

Our breakfast was bread, salami, and apples – and this Sicilian treat, called cannoli! They were pretty decent. Italian supermarkets are filled with amazing food, including a long aisle devoted to pasta and even a whole meat-counter-style area with fresh pasta of all kinds.

Well-fuelled, we got underway and made our journey along the coast. The biking was straightforward and the views were jaw-dropping. I asked Bert, how many mind-blowing views can one man take?

Unfortunately for you, the reader, those will have to stay mental memories for me, but I did get this one of Bert along the coast! We were almost always going along the coast. At one point, it was just us and the sound of the waves.

We were making such great progress that we decided to eat out and hit the beach, after around 67km. It was a cafeteria-style place at the beach and I got pasta (farfalle and bolognese) and a mixed dish of veggies and cold meat. There was actually multiple bottles of olive oil around, as if it was ketchup!

The water was a bit cool but it hit the spot. The waves were really fun.

Filled up and cooled down, we set out to continue our epic journey along a beautiful stretch of Italian coast.

Just kidding – we went for ice cream! Actually, I think that was quite a while later but it gives me the chance to introduce my dinner shopping! I found trophi noodles and fresh genovese pesto – it’s from this region. A great reward was set out.

Well that’s a weird photo. Also, I really think my new glasses look dumb. But they keep the wind and sun out of my eyes, so that’s all I care. I can’t see myself!

We rolled into the camp at about 20:30, which was actually one of the earlier times. Like always, reception was already closed. But this time, we couldn’t get ahold of anybody!! After a massive hill of doom, we were preparing for the worst – then the woman suddenly showed up and let us in. Time to eat!!

Those are rice arrancini on the right. They were cold but who cares when you need calories.

We did a personal record-breaking 135.1km yesterday. What a great day. We are back on track, minus only 1 full day. We are feeling really positive now and are ready to seize this day, even if it is predicted to rain. Good thing we came prepared! Now to eat some breakfast.

Derailed!

Sorry for the lack of updates lately. Between time (gotta get to sleep, gotta get on the road), Internet troubles, and bike troubles, I haven’t had any time to write any updates.

After an amazing day of biking the day before yesterday, yesterday was a total disaster, with my rear deraileuer getting destroyed after the chain snapped and went under the wheel. No one was hurt.

Still, we managed around 50km and are now in Italy!

More detail in-depth coming some day soon. Gotta get moving!

Day 2: Toulon to (almost) Saint Tropez

Well, there is a reoccurring theme here of missing my arbitrary (and aggressive) targets. I guess the second theme is death climbs. We were supposed to pass Saint Maxime but we stopped before Saint Tropez.

The amount of elevation was not foreseen – bad planning and lack of experience on my part. But given that we did 92km yesterday, I can’t say we didn’t accomplish anything. Besides, the cycling is great.

But I’d say the highlight of the day was not the cycling – it was the beach break! We knew it’d throw us off track with time but we also knew we needed a lunch break and a dip to cool off.

The water was absolutely great! It was exactly what we needed and I don’t think I’ve ever earned something so well in my life.

The climbs might be punishing but I’m really enjoying it. Can we keep it up? That’s the question. Because there are (much) harder days ahead. We’ve been evaluating a series of backup plans (trains) and we do have 2 extra days to spread out the kilometres. We will almost certainly do that today.

The key is to get to the camp earlier and rest more. Last night, we arrived quite late again. The food options were also limited.

Yes, it’s salmon. ­čśŽ

Anyhow, we grabbed a good spot for the tent, so I could have another bad sleep with many pees.

This morning was oats with roasted almonds and spring onions, and day-old baguettes.

OK, we’ve got to finish getting ready, so we can get back on the road!!

Day 1: Marseille to (almost) Toulon

After our little visit to Paris, we hopped on the train to Marseille. It took only three and a half hours to cross the whole of France – French trains are amazing. Once we arrived, we put the bikes back together one last time (hopefully) and made our way outside.

It’s amazing how Marseille feels like a totally different country, when compared with Paris just 3 hours later. Bert was blown away and even though I’ve been here before, I couldn’t help but be too.

After some issues finding our way through the chaotic streets, we got under way on our bike trip proper. At 30+ degrees and with a huge amount of climbing in the first half, this turned out to be a more grueling first day than anticipated. But it was worth it.

As we ascended the hills beyond Marseille, we were treated not with just leg-punishing climbs but also eye-watering views! I can only recommend this road to anybody – but probably with a car if you’re not into punishment.

I’m worried we started too strong – we definitely got thrown into the deep end, probably owing a lot to the high heat – we bought at least 12 litres of water yesterday… but it was a great day and according to one of Bert’s very many positive mantras, if it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.

Well, I had too many pictures and not enough more to say about them, so enjoy.

We got into the camp very late. Actually, we ended up chopping off around 15km because of how behind we were. We’re hoping to make it up today. Let’s hope the second day is easier and that the tiredness in my legs is only temporary!

Bert’s still asleep. I envy people’s ability to sleep!

Now I’ve got to get back to something much more important – French bread!

Whirlwind Paris tour

Despite getting in late last night, we woke up early this morning to hit the streets of Paris for a lightning tour. Of course, we started with amazing croissants!

It was a lot of pressure to both plan a good route for someone who has never been to Paris and to keep us on track, so we didn’t miss our 10:37 train to Marseille. Although it took us a few minutes out of the way, I planned in a quick stop by the mini Statue of Liberty, bringing us full circle back to our New York trip.

Oh yeah and we cycled through the traffic circle around the Arc de Triomphe and lived to tell the tale. Probably getting there early was important to our survival chances.

Cycling in Paris is intense – you’ve got to pay attention at all times – but it’s overall quite good, since there are many bike lanes, including fully separated bike lanes, something Germany doesn’t have much of. This is a biking country. How does this Metropolis do it but Toronto can’t?

Anyhow, we stopped by the supermarket to grab some great butter, cheese, and salami – also raspberries for the vitamins and fibre – and managed to make it with just enough time to the train.

It was an effort getting everything in the train – not as smooth as in Frankfurt – but we did it. The train conductor insisted we put the bikes in bags, though. Good thing we came prepared with garbage bags!

Lunch was insanely delicious and not even expensive. It’s great to be in a country that values good food, rather than Preis-leistungs-verh├Ąltnis.

Of course, I recorded the Paris journey and will be live tracking future ones. Looking forward to getting on the bike in Marseille. We’ve got about 85km ahead of us. Let’s get the party started.

En route to Paris

The first stressful part is over. We dismantled our bikes and got on the train with all our stuff well secured.

Bert actually landed about 25 minutes early, so we had lots of time at the train station. Now we are sitting in the train, which is, of course, 45 minutes delayed! Sank you for travelling with Deutsche Bahn.

Jelena scouted out some good-looking boulangeries for us tomorrow morning. We hope to get an early start, chow down some amazing bread, and cycle around Paris before the train to Marseille, for which we’ve got to again dismantle the bikes…

Either way, we are in France now and that’s awesome.

All packed…

Well, I packed everything on the bike this morning and left it in the office. Now I only need to pick up Bert’s rental bike tomorrow.

We’re taking the evening train to Paris. I’m pretty nervous about Deutsche Bahn screwing something up but it should work out – I’ve done a lot of research and planning!

On Saturday morning, we’ll do a whirlwind tour of Paris (20km on the bike) and then it’s on to Marseille to begin in the afternoon for real.

I’m excited!!

Preparing to meet the Alps via the Spl├╝gen pass

The hardest part of the trip by far (and the crowning achievement) will be our journey over the Alps. Besides worries about sustaining long rides over two weeks, my main worry is about making it to the top of the Spl├╝gen Pass.

Cycle route through Liechtenstein
The route through Liechtenstein, along the right side of the Rhein.

I chose Spl├╝gen because we had to cross somewhere and I thought this would be a good opportunity to visit Liechtenstein. I’ve never been and I don’t really see when I’ll ever make it to this obscure Alpine country.

Preparing for the climb is the biggest uncertainty for me. I’ve never done such a climb before. It’s only around 30km, which sounds very short, but the peak is at 2000m, meaning there is a lot of up. The biggest climb I’ve got around here is Gro├čer Feldberg, the highest part of the Taunus “mountain range”. At around 850m, it doesn’t seem at first glance like too great of practice.
I searched Strava and found a segment for the Spl├╝gen route. It’s not a well-travelled route on Strava and at least some of the people who have cycled it seem rather like elite cyclists. I compared it versus my effort on Gro├čer Feldberg┬áand, to me, it looks like the first 10km are comparable to the entire effort, which actually is kind of reassuring because that effort did not kill me at all. The next 20km are another 1000m in elevation gain but over double the distance (probably because of the two flat bits).
I think this it is going to be rough and it’s definitely going to call for some breaks but it feels not insurmountable.
Cycling the Spl├╝gen Pass
The route up and over the Spl├╝gen Pass
By the way, it’s classified on Strava as an “HC climb“, which is a French term used in stage bicycle races for climbs that are “beyond categorisation”. There are normal categories from 1-4, based on steepness and length, with 1 being the most difficult (Gro├čer Feldberg is classified as a category 1). So, there’s that.
There’s more info about the Spl├╝gen Pass, with road signs, and opening and closure times. I practiced on Gro├čer Feldberg again last week and I’ll climb it once more in 2 days. I think I’ve covered all my bases. The only thing left is to make the climb a few weeks from now!

Marseille to Munich by bike

It’s time to dust off this blog and start writing about my upcoming cycling journey!

I guess it makes sense to start with an overview of the trip. On Friday night, we’ll take a train to Paris and sleep near the train station. Early the next morning, I’ll give Bert a whirlwind tour of Paris by bike, ending at the Gare de Lyon, where we’ll take the train to Marseille!

Marseille to Munich by bike
The route

The trip will then be officially underway. We’ll continue for about 80km that day, always along the coast. Over the next few days, we’ll make our way along the Mediterranean to Genoa. Then it’s over the Apennines and onward toward Milan. We’re taking the Spl├╝gen Pass, going through Liechtenstein, coming down around Lake Constance, and heading over to Schlo├č Neuschwanstein – then it’s up to Munich!

In all, we will pass through seven countries: France, Monaco, Italy, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, and Germany and do over 1200km, including a 2000m Alps climb. It will be demanding and exciting. I can’t wait.

Stay tuned for more planning and a record of my journey!