Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Italy 150 years

In 1861 all the kingdoms and regions of this peninsula were united and the state of Italy was founded. The most famous name of this period is Garibaldi and there is no town in the country that has not a Corso or Via Garibaldi. Also Cavour is such a name and if you have ever visited this country you have been in a Cavour street or avenue somewhere.
In Torino a great exhibiton is going on dedicated to the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the state. There is a wing showing the history in a most modern and appealing way. There is another wing dealing with how Italy will look like after the next 150 years. Here innovations and future trends are exhibited. One of the stands is occupied by a small firm called Arduino. They make a small (computer) board the size of a cigarette packet that is sold for little money and which can serve many purposes. Gino's son Davide works there and they play with and invent all kinds of applications for their device. You see them work with a 3D-printer, with robots, with led-lit texts in a bicycle wheel and more. Here they try to connect the past with the future and thus find a way to shape the new Italy and its new citizens.

Torino revisited

Leaving Aosta is easy. It's a 70 kms long descent out of the valley. The wind from behind, so hardly any pushing of the pedals. (video)
Here you'll find a campsite where the home made wine is only € 1,-- for half a liter.
Continue like we did and you'll stop in front of the small appartment in Turin where we stayed. This appartment belongs to Anna, who happens to be our friend Gino's wife. A small but comfortable studio, more or less in the centre of this pretty city, very worth while a visit.
Meeting our friends was as always, with much attention to food, a visit to the mountain house on the high slopes of the Susa valley, to the museum of modern art, a bicerin, evenings with friends on a terrace in the centre.
We were adviced about our following itinerary to the Adriatic coast by Gianni Gandini. He is a colleague of Gino and a former one of myself, since long ago we participated in the same international educational project. Gianni is a cyclist himself and knows where to ride or not.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Track and profile of the Grand Saint Bernard

A self-inflicted birthday present

She did it herself and she wanted to do it herself. What better birthday present can you give yourself than the conquest of one of the historic Alps-passes, the Grand Saint Bernard. Eveline celebrated her 62nd birhtday with me on the the misty and very cold pass at an altitude of 2473 meters. It's not our record, in China we ticked 3300 and in Colombia even 3700 (by bike it is, on foot we were much higher). But nevertheless this is not a small one. It didn't come all that easy, circumstances here are really alpine and the ascent is tough enough.
We left Bourg Saint Pierre (alt. 1600) a bit past nine in misty conditions. We had to fold the tent completely wet and were said goodbye by our Swedish-Thai neighbours. After some time we reached the entrance of the tunnel that we ignored and from then on it was a quieter and steeper, up to 16%. There were times that just a touch of a little finger would have thrown me off the bike. These are the moments that you ask yourself why you are doing this. Several answers come up, but none of them covers all the aspects of the question. In the end you conclude that you just want to do this and that it is thoroughly satisfactory to do. Euforia at the top.
We celebrated the conquest of this bubble in our mother earth's surface and Eveline's birthday with some coffees, a sandwich and a piece of cake (way too expensive).
The descent was initially very cold, I had to stop several times to blow my (covered) hands, since I couldn't control them enough to ride safely. Gradually temperatures and sight improved and after some 2 hours of impressive rolling down we reached Aosta, where people were walking around in t-shirts and shorts.
We stopped at the city campsite (dilapedated) and had a pleasant walk in the old city-centre, concluded with a nice Italian dinner.

Friday, July 22, 2011

So far so good.

Under perfect weather conditions we climbed 1200 meters up to the camp site of Bourg Saint Pierre. Tomorrow another 800 and we will be able to toast on Eveline's birthday on the Col du Grand Saint Bernard. Great feeling.
After that the descent to Aosta will take less than 2 hours and Torino is then just a couple of days away.
The Monet exposition in Martigny was great. A visit to the Gianadda museum is worth while year round, there is a small own collection, a museum of old automobiles and the garden is full of sculptures of well known modern artists. A joy to walk around in.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


We left the slopes over Lausanne after midday, since it rained all the time and I still had to attend my second lesson in computer and gps technics. Fortunately we were lucky and under more and more clear skies we reached Martigny. The heavy clouds over the Geneva lake were impressive though,
In Martigny we once visited an exposition on Rodin in the museum called Fondation Pierre Gianadda. This was a long time ago, when Teunis still was a little boy. It happens that today there is an exposition of 70 works of Monet. Of course this will be our first activity tomorrow morning. Coincidence, for us Martigny is a place of modern art.

From our doorstep the road starts climbing towards the pass; Le Col du Grand Saint Bernard, border with Italy. Altitude 2496. You know, there are monks up there and big dogs walk around in the snow with tiny little barrels of liquor tied to their collars to bring fainted cyclists back to the world.
I was their on my own on my bike 5 years ago. I reached the pass by bus. The weather at the time was too bad. It is not certain, but the weather forecast for tomorrow seems not too bad. There is supposed to be snow at 2400 alt. If we decide to cycle we will do it in two days. 1000 meters ascent per day (Martigny is 475). It would be nice, since if we succeed we can celebrate Eveline's 62nd birthday right on the Col. Let their be dogs with full barrels!  


Our stay with Alain and Ursula didn't supply us with a warm shower, a bed and good food only. We have a lot in common. More or less the same age and same cycling history. So a lot to exchange. Alain appeared to be very sophisticated in making his website, check Ursalain. Very extensive and helpful when you are preparing a bike tour yourself. Besides that he is a master in all kind of digital skills as to the use of the gps. I sat with him at his computer and we had 2 “lessons”, one in the evening, the other one in the morning. So I left a more skillful cycle tourer than I was before. I will start practising asap, maybe tonight, and never again make mistakes as when we came riding up to their house. Thanks Alain, we'll be in touch.  

Nothing as warm as a Warmshowers' host.

Our stay in Avoudrey was wonderful, though Eveline had been in bed for 32 hours at a stretch. The next day Eveline said she was fit to travel. With pain in the heart we said goodbye to Marie Claire, who had to go to work. We found it wise not to have Eveline make all the climbs between Avoudrey and Neuchâtel by bike. Christian managed to get us, the bikes and the luggage into his car and he drove us some 40 kms to the campsite of la Chaux de Fonds (Sw).
The camp site is run by Christian's brother Bernard and his wife Claire. We were warmly welcomed and immediately put at the table for lunch. After this we said goodbye to Christian as well and we descended in the rain to Neuchâtel. (Descend we were told, but there was a very nasty climb in between).
In Neuchâtel we stayed in the Warmshowers home in Rue Louis Favre of Johanna and her family of three plus cat, who were all away this time. Their house is an appartment in the loft of an old building and you live there among the old beams supporting the roof and there is a beautiful view on the lake. A very nice and kind stay again.
From Neuchâtel we rode to another Warmshowers house, this time of Alain and Ursula Besson. They have cycled in many parts of the world as well. Our Garmin navigator stupidly sent us to their house through the centre of Lausanne and as a consequence we had to climb 450 meters in just a few kilometers up to their home, as this is nicely sitting on a high slope (830 alt.) in the little village of Vers Chez les Blanc. When we stopped by their door steam came out of our ears. This could be done better, Alain said, he had the solution and he would teach me. From now on we would be more clever. But first a cold beer and a warm shower of course.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The crossing of Le Morvan

The track  and profile of 2 days in Google Earth. The approach along the Canal du Nivernais, then up into the mountains to Savault and then eastwards out of them to Pouilly-en-Auxois.

Exactly at 100 kms is the house of Charles & Margriet.


A couple of days ago Eveline had a sore throat. It didn't go away and yesterday she went to bed early, since she didn't feel well. This morning we found that she had a fever. The doctor cocncluded that it was an inflammation of the trachea. He subscribed 4 sorts of medicin, of which Eveline certainly will finish the antibiotics. Fortunately we are staying in Christian and Marie Claire's house. A nice and comfortable house it is and so is the bed. As I write this Eveline is sleeping like a log.
The doctor said it wouldn't take long, so we hope to continue our trip as soon as possible. For the moment not much is wrong and we are in good hands.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Nice and warm showers

We left my sister's house on a rainy morning. The morning became afternoon and it kept raining all the time. We are clad well and the rain was not too hard and too cold, so we pedalled on over the Morvan's slopes. Up and down again and again, reached altitudes over 700 meters. After 66 such kilomters and app. 700 altimeters we stopped at Pouilly-en-Auxois, where the country is flat again. Here we booked a room in an Etap-hotel, a formula-hotel at the exit of the motorway. No atmosphere, not expensive, simple but convenient when you're wet.
The day after was Quatorze Juillet, le jour de fête national, the celebration of the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille in 1889 and the beginning of the French Revolution. The revolution that would change Europe and the world and give it the tools to build the democracies on that we are living in now. That is, many of us. The French keep remembering themselves on their city halls with the slogan “Liberté, égalité, fraternité”.
The next day the weather was nice and again we rode for nearly 60 kms along a waterway, this time the Canal de Bourgogne. We stopped at Dijon for a drink and a look at the nice city centre and continued east to the small town of Pontailler sur Saone, wher we pitched our tent at a beautiful campsite on the banks of the river. It was a 100 km ride, but not difficult at all this time.
In the mean time we had received the confirmation on our warmshowers request in Besançon, mr Antoine Pétiard was willing to receive us for an overnight stay in his house. So the next day, after a good 60 kms ride we reported at his door in Rue Battant, right in the centre of this old city. Antoine is a 30-year old young man who lives in a nice and light small appartment two backyards behind the street. He had another friend as a holiday guest as well. We got his own bed, he presented us with a guided city tour and a visit to the citadel, built in the 18th century bij the well-known Vauban. Then he prepared us a good meal and we had a nice evening together. The next day the two guys had to leave early to help move a friend. No problem, we got his key and we left the house when we were ready. This is how cyclists, and why not everyone, can trust one another and make each others lives agreeable. Thanks again for your hospitality Antoine and François.
Then we cycled another 51 kms to the little village of Avoudrey (alt. 750). Here we are hosted by Christian and Marie Claire in their cosy and comfortable house. We met them in December 2008 cycling in Cambodia and spent some days together then. Now it is as if we met only a couple of days ago. We're again enjoying free hospitality and interesting discussions. Meeting people belongs to the essence of travelling.
Tomorrow we'll enter Switzerland on our way to the next stop: Torino.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


July 12th 2011
The first stage of our journey has ended in the lovely house of my sister and her husband in a hamlet in the Morvan. It took us 10 days and app. 670 kms to get there. The house is an old farmhouse restyled into a nice and comfortabel holiday house, a real second home. In the large garden fox passes by every night, as well as a family of badgers that even has their latrine there. (Quiet clean, no odours). We watched this wildlife on the films that our brother in law made with an automatic camera during the night. During the day all kinds of butterflies fly from flower to flower and birds are singing all the time.
The name of the hamlet is Savault, some 20 houses and part of the community of Ouroux-en-Morvan. The Morvan is a really mountainous region, the house sits on 480 altitude. In order to reach it we followed the river Yonne and the Canal du Nivernais, that is built beside and many times in the same river, from Auxerre southwards. This was a welcomed route as we had a good 100 kms of flat cycle lanes. What a relief! The only climbs we had to make were the 2.5 meters at every lock in the canal (I guess we passed some 50). This canal is part of the former transport route for timber and other agricultural produce to Paris. It comprises a number of rivers that are interconnected by this type of canals. They all end up in the Seine river.
When we left the banks of the Yonne and turned east into the Morvan we had a hard time. In 30 kms we had to do 700 altimetes. Tough, especially as the climbs only started after this first 66 flat kms. You can imagine how nice it was to be warmly welcomed by our relatives after such a day.
We will stay here for a day to take a rest, to do some laundring, change the oil in one of the Rohloff Speedhubs and to talk.
Tomorrow we will continue eastwards and we hope to reach the village of Avoudrey in 3 or 4 days. Here we will visit Christian and Marie-Claire. We met them a good 2 years ago in Cambodia, where we cycled up with them for a couple of days. Reliving old stories again.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

J'aime des gens fous.

July 6th 2011
Another 3 days of cycling have passed. And still it doesn't come easily. The landscape is marvellous, nothing wrong with that. So is the weather. And so are the slopes, ascents over 10%, even 15% are no exception. On day 3 we had ourselves seduced to stop at only 50 kms. There was a road sign pointing to a small campsite, the scenery was nice and the acids in the legs were convincing. In times long passed the site had been a “pêcherie”, a fish farm. There are 3 ponds at different levels where once the famous Ardennes-trout was raised, I presume. Now they serve as swim- and fish pond for the guests. The ponds are fed from their own sources, which are the sources of the small river of Lescheret in mean time. Thus the name of the campsite: à la source de l'Escheret.
It is a small campsite and the guests were few in number. A quiet place and the big event in the evening was the arrival of a company of donkeys, accompanied by a a holidaymaking family, whose luggage they were carrying. Very rural.
The site is owned and exploited by a family of Dutch origin, Jeannette Begeman and Arthur van Duin. They have run it now for 7 years. Before they had their international careers. Now they and their children have a round the clock job running this Ardennes-gem.

Day 4 and 5 were not much different. We have now left the Ardennes behind us and, though we stayed on an altitude of app. 500 mtrs for the whole of day 4, the slopes are less demanding. Now we are a couple of 100 mtrs lower and the landscape is much more gentle, though nowhere flat. Today it wasn't the slopes, but a tough head wind we had to cope with and which again made us stop earlier than planned. In the end we found ourselves back on a small municipal campsite in Varennes en Argonne with a Belgian guest acting as the (voluntary) guardian.
Like most other hamlets, villages and small towns that we have passed through in the Ardennes and this part of France, this little town is dead quiet and seems more or less deserted. Nothing is going on, hardly any people in the streets. The barman that served us our drinks in the early evening had nothing better to do than clean his nose, stand in the doorway and look into the empty street, turn over a newspaper for some time, clean his sixties-model glasses and then start the same cycle again. I suppose this is his standard procedure during his whole working life. The land is farmed and mostly wheat is grown, and there is a lot of cattle (meat). With their enormous machines even the farmers are few in number. The largest amount of individuals that we encountered was an extended family of wild boar that noisily disagreed with us passing through their territory. We can fully imagine that many of the original inhabitants of these regions have left to other places.
Those who have left are kind enough. There was this fruit vendor at the stall where we stopped to buy just 2 apples to take with us. He was highly interested in the little rear view mirror I'm carrying on my bike helmet. Together we came to the conclusion that this was a thing “très intelligent”. He asked many questions and we had a lot of fun. When he heard of our round the world plan he was totally exited. In the end he grabbed 2 handfulls of cherries from his stall and dropped them in my handlebar bag, broadly smiling: “J'aime des gens fous”. (I love crazy people). We felt honoured.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

River Ourthe

We have been cycling for 2 days now. Just 2 days and the legs are hurting. So soon, what's going on?
We left Breda on Saturday morning, confidently leaving our dear house in the care of our dear neighbors. The train that was too take us to our starting point Maastricht was not running because of railroad works. Nice, but this is what travelers have to get used to. They learn to  improvise. Not so difficult this time, we took a detour over Venlo. You know, the place where our famous blond Mozart originates from who is now thriving so much in the media and parliament with his anti-islam (and what more to come?) agenda.
From Maastricht we rode south. In no time we were in Belgium and had to climb the hills (or mountains) of the Ardennes. In these 2 days we traveled over 140 kms and climbed 1600 altitude meters (Eveline's figures). My GPS says it's only 1140 altimeters. (How I like all this modern devices. They give you so much information, but it's not clear which is correct.) Enough altimeters to feel the legs though. It's the beginners problem, we'll get over it.
In the mean time we have learned about modern campsites with kind staff and with wifi on the grass in front of your little tent. We have spent a night in our new Hilleberg and cut a whole forest in the mean time. The weather was nice but fresh, even very sunny the second half of this day. Currently we camp on a very quiet grassy spot on the border of the river Ourthe, just 3 meters wide here. We have the evening sun right on us and we pitched our little tent in such a way that the first rays of tomorrow's sun will hit us fully in the face as well.
So we are settling again in the life of the cyclist, which is a good thing to experience.