27 May 2009


It is said somewhere that all roads lead to Rome. Well - if you happen to travel on the west coast of Italy you will find that in this region all roads lead to all kind of directions but only one single road leads to Rome - and that one is THE NATIONAL HIGHWAY (called "Super Strada" -bicycles and hitch hiking explicitly forbidden!) Thank you.
After a minute of hesitation and another minute of simplified road rage (nobody around from the ministry of traffic to scream at...) I simply keep going. More than a hundred kilometers to go. The combination of aggressive Italian traffic with intensive Italian sun makes easily aggressive. I speed along the highway with increased levels of adrenaline and testosterone and have to stop every once in a while to refuel my energy with sweets and crisps. When the heat becomes unbearable I stop at a highway restaurant called "Autogrill" and have gelato and coffee while I observe the Italian highway life until the sunlight becomes weaker around 5pm.
Then I continue my southbound quest to the capital. During the cause of the day 5 police cars drive by but nobody seems to be bothered by the fact that it is forbidden to ride a bicycle on the highway...
I pass by the big port of Civitavecchia and finally arrive in Ostia, the anciant Roman port. Here I park my bicycle in a bike-shop and visit Rome by train.

Rome is a great city! There is so much to see that a single day is certainly not sufficient to satisfy one's interest. But at the same time one is so overwhelmed with all the old buildings, temples and whatnot that spending several days in a row would probably not help either. I guess one needs to come back to Rome frequently to take it in bit by bit: one day the temples, one day the river, another day the winding little sideroads and finally the colloseum and the circus... which will then still leave several days for all the delicious foodstuff and ice cream!

25 May 2009

Tuscany hills - Firenze - Pisa

From Ravenna I follow the Adriatic coast to the once famous holiday destination of Rimini. The cyclepath here is really enjoyable as it leads through pine forests and nature reserves, along the beaches and fishing ponds and little streams. Rimini does not strike me as a very desirable destination: the once so fancy holiday world has crumbled when people moved to fancier places. Cheap concrete buildings, lonely mini-golf or tennis courts wait in vain for the next season that won`t ever come.

The sadest thing after overcrowded holiday resorts are abandoned holiday resorts. (Discard after use...)

From Rimini I climb into the hills again. My next destination is Firenze (Florence) and to get there I need to get over a couple of ridges of lush green Tuscany hills.

The landscape is wonderful but so is the weather - there isn`t a single cloud in the sky - 30 to 35 degrees centigrade and I am sweating my lungs out. The ascents into the hills are steep and despite lower altitudes it feels to me as if this is a much harder excercise than crossing the alps. The heat is a real killer! What would I not give for some snow left and right...
To make life more bearable I decide to stay in the hills during the night to enjoy the cool air.

The trees and shrubs are in bloom everywhere here! Soon there will be apples, pears, strawberries and blackberries, figues, grapes and what not. Near Firenze there are a lot of old alleys. The giant trees at the roadside provide comfortable shade but at the same time the roads are narrow and the traffic is hard to bear, especially when tree roots push through the asphalt and create lots of bumps that make you fly high in your seat everytime you hit one. Still, very enjoyable cycling here indeed!

Firenze is stunning with its enormous palaces and buildings, bridges and squares. It is difficult to take it all in - so much of it in all directions. You turn a corner and almost hope to encounter some dull dwelling that won`t challenge your brain with more frescoes, pillars, ornamented windows or other playful architectural elements.

What is thorroughly unnerving are the hordes of tourists running about with their guides carrying the oh so typical poles with green, red or yellow flags shouting their multilingual messages through little microphone-loudspeaker combos dangling from their necks. (But then again - even on a bicycle one is a tourist as well and adds to the crowd...)

So I leave Firenze direction Mediterranean coastline with a fried brain, partly from the heat but mostly from information overload.

When I arrive in Pisa after a day of wild weekend traffic I am happy about the relaxed atmosphere (compared to Firenze). The leaning tower is leaning away in a big wide park next to the duomo and people hang out on the greens that surround it. I get myself a "Gelato" and join the crowd on the cold green grass. Bliss.

Then I travel on to spend the night at the coast. After all the hot hills I fancy a swim - partly because I haven`t showered for almost a week :)

Between many fancy restaurants and private beaches (...Access denied - private...) I suddenly spot a sign of the Italian Red Cross and decide to pay them a visit. I imagine a little lonely bay watch tower standing somewhere on the wide beach. But then I realize that the Italian Red Cross has a massive beach base here entirely for the recreation of it`s members! They have their OWN BEACH!!!

After a short talk with the handyman I am allowed to spend the night. I am even treated to a shower and a coffee and after 9pm have the entire area at my disposal. I prepare a delicious dinner (Seafood soup) and enjoy the view. Life is great! (...hey, anyone from MSF headquarters is reading this by coincidence?!)
The next morning I head south down the coast direction Rome. Soon I hit a very pleasant spot and decide to take a break from cycling for a day. The coastline is rocky here and there is a small terrace up in the rocks just big enough for my little tent.

The rocks are wild and have sharp edges running through their surface. Funny little basins have been washed out of the rock that catch the seawater at spring tide and dry up during one tide cycle until they contain only a thin crust of sea salt.

9 May 2009


Cycling via the city of Ravenna meant a big detour for me and my loaded compagnion. We are on our way from the Alps to Napoli, which is located half way down the "boot's leg" on the west cost of Italy. But Ravenna is east, a bit more than a hundred kilometers south of Venice. What made me cycle all this extra detour was that I had read in some book (probably Mark Twain: The Innocents Abroad) that the windows of some of the buildings here are made of alabaster - stone which is manufactured so thinly that the light shines through it!

Ravenna itself is a medium sized city with about 150.000 inhabitants. Its founding dates back to the times B.C. and Ravenna has lots of history with one government overthrowing the other and popes and then kaisers so on. I spare you the details - I admit I don't understand all of them well enough. I did understand though that in earlier times it had been directly on the waterfront of the Adrian sea. But now the land rose (or the water fell) and it is about 9 kilometers to the salty waters of the Adria.

So - back to the windows made of stone. Every second building here is a church and of those every second is UNESCO world heritage. The reason: the people, especially the artists of Ravenna had developed what Adobe Photoshop would do again in modern times - pixelization. Thousands of tiny little dots of various colours assembled to a big picture - mosaics!
From the outside many a building looks tame with its simple red brick wall and low angled roof. But the moment you step inside a new universe unveils! It is marble walls and mosaic pictures all over. Most scenes are biblical - Jesus being baptised, three kings, Jesus and a flock of lambs, Mary between angels... and even without a strong religious background the sight is simply breathtaking! To imagine how meniculous and passionate the workers must have been colouring, assembling and mounting all the tiles. Some pictures have large portions of gold plated tiles that glitter in the sunlight. Really impressive!

And then, in a place called "Mausoleum di Galla Placida" where it is believed that an ancient female kaiser is buried I find what I came for to begin with: windows made of stone. So thin that the light shines through it. Manifacured thousands of years ago, at a time when you were thrown into the same deep dungeons with people who claimed that earth was a sphere if you would have mentionned the names of Black&Decker, Hilti and Makita... Incredible!

Another thing I love about Ravenna is the fact that there are bicycles everywhere!!! As a tourist you even get one for free from the tourist information or youth hostel staff. The bright yellow bikes stand around and wait for you to go ahead and ride them through town from Mausoleum to cafe, from Duomo to Gelateria, from the train station to your hostel and back. Lots of locals seem to have understood that parking a car or a scooter is far too much of a hassle compared to simply pedalling the couple of hundred meters. And some even get married on a bicycle (see below). Ravenna - simply great. Worth every detour!

Piadina and Crescione

I guess by now most readers have figured out that I like to eat. Cycling and eating goes hand in hand. Well, luckily - cycling and burning lots of calories does go hand in hand, too. Now there are countries on our beautiful planet where eating doesn't really present much of a joy - Italy is not one of them. In every city, in every village, yet behind every street corner lurks a new way to make your mouth water. Here in Ravenna it is Piadina and Crescione time!

It might not seem like it but this little hut to the lower right makes some of the most delicious food on earth! It is my humble (subjective) opinion and who doesn't believe it should better join those who do believe it and then make their way to Ravenna and try this stuff!
Honestly, in our moment of joy my taste buds and I forgot to ask what the batter is made of but we all strongly believe it contains wheat flour, yeast, water and salt. Maybe olive oil. It doesn't matter anyway. The two ladies at the bottom know precisely what goes in there and more importantly how to fry and stuff the Piadina! I ask them to prepare for me what most people usually order and the two suggest a filling of prosciutto crudo, cotto cheese and ruccola salad.

Also on offer are Crescione, the little guys behind the glass window on the upper left. They look like a folded over calzone pizza and the one filled with salsiccia (minced meat, morzarella cheese, tomatoes) made my taste buds do a little dance of joy.
If you have never considered going to Ravenna because you think that mosaic sucks, then you might want to consider hanging around for this stuff! YUM YUM YUM.

7 May 2009

Spaghetti - no! Tagliatelle.

Bologna. What woulld you do in Bologna. Especially around lunchtime? Spaghetti come to your mind?
We, the Germans think that every Italian munches away on Spaghetti Bolognese. We have restaurants specializing in Spaghetti Bolognese. All you get is Spaghetti Bolognese.
Yet, if you come to Bologna you will be crucified asking for these (...crucifying being somehow kind of a tradition down here in good old Italia...)
Here in Bologna I learned that the famous "Ragu Bolognese" is mostly eaten with Tagliatelle. NOT SPAGHETTI.

So off I go to Via dell' Independenza and find Diana, in the center of the city, a nice (posh) retaurant that offers nothing I usually ask for. Fancy decorations, luxury chairs, a huge wine cellar and waiters dressed in white. But - it does offer an excellent ragu.
I order just that and do in fact fancy a glass of red wine on the side. Problem is (the waiter with the massive belly all dressed in white explains to me) there are no "glasses" of wine. You take a bottle or you can maybe have a coke. But a "glass" of wine you can enjoy at "Tony's" down the road. Here it's a bottle or nothin'.
Well. I do fancy a glass. So what choice do I have? In any case, I wanted to make it all the way to Ravenna this afternoon. But then again, who's in a hurry? So, what the heck - bring on the bloody bottle!
Woah, I can only say that I enjoyed the ragu. With a mountain of Parmeggiano. And a bottle of vino rosso. Plus a cafe (Segafredo) in the end. Forget Ravenna for the afternoon. I might better just hang out here and have a gelato and another cafe!
prosit :)

4 May 2009

The Swiss Alps

Ah, good old Black Forest!
Just when spring hits the region I am back to continue my trip. Cherry, apple and pear treas are all in bloom, I stroll around with my mother and enjoy the beauty of the nature. All the while my bicycle impatiently wiggles its tail and cannot wait to leave - on a clear day it is possible to see the snow covered peaks of the Swiss Alps from here!
Crossing the Alps in May isn't trivial. There is still lots of snow everywhere. The pass of St. Gotthard that I used to cross the Alps back in 1997 has more than 9 meters of snow!!! Nine meters - that's the height of a three-story-building!

But some passes are open all year. I decide to cycle past the tiny country called Fuerstentum Liechtenstein and take the Julierpass (2248m) to arrive in the jet-set-famous town of St. Moritz. Kempinski Hotel lures the international old money, film star and otherwise yuppy scene with 5 stars and lots of glamour. When I arrive the place is closed for spring break and looks like a dump. Not only the Kempinski looks like shit, also the whole town. Cheap built high-rise-holiday-bunkers distract from the few original local style dwellings from back-in-the-days. (Poor profit hungry idiots - God/Allah/Buddha etc. bless them for they don't seem to have the wits of knowing what they are doing. Hey, why don't you also invest in some real estate on the Belgium coast? No wonder the richies come in their Bentleys, Ferraris and Porsches - the town of St. Moritz itself isn't much to bragg about anymore).

Alright. I stay in a cozy bed and breakfast, wash me and my laundry and hit the road again the next morning. From St.Moritz there is a way downhill via Maloja Pass (1815m) to Lago di Como. But I prefer to stay a little longer in the mountains and take the Bernina Pass (2330m) eastward. The road goes parallel with the Raetische Bahn - a train crossing the pass!
And here I say it again: EVERYBODY CAN CYCLE OVER THE ALPS! Just do it. It is so much easier than you think. No extensive training needed. All you need is time and willpower. When you get tired then rest for a while or push it (...here on the road across Bernina Pass you even have a train for backup!)

On top of Bernina i meet Andrea, a nice Italian fellow who invites me to visit his hometown near Milano once I pass by the region. I hesitate to follow his offer. I didn't originally plan to pass by the region. But then again - why not? Milano is supposed to be a nice town worth a visit, no?
From Bernina I let it roll down into Italy. And once I arrive I do the very best of all things in Italy - I sit in a small cafe next to a giant church and have a coffee with a brioche for breakfast. And then another coffee and another brioche :)

... oh, one thing I almost forgot about Switzerland: chocolate. It tastes so good because of its makers. They are quite a funny bunch!

There were many more different types, some with long hair and some with long horns and some with both. Some without hair and without horns. And some with quite fashionable piercings that could easily compete with what is running around in Berlin these days...