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Category: Europe Cycling 2019

Holiday cycling in Europe – Milan to Amsterdam

Unfortunate events – Friday 3 May to Saturday 4 May

Unfortunate events – Friday 3 May to Saturday 4 May

Our trip started off disastrously when we lost our first week’s spending money, a wad of Euros, before even leaving Wellington.  Jenny just had a bit of contingency Euros.  This happened when Kris took his NZ$ notes out of his bum bag to pay for a family brunch at Chocolate Frog cafe near the airport. The Euros were in a separate zip lock plastic bag and must have fallen to the floor. There were a lot of people around and we suspect someone just helped themselves.

Kris realised the money was gone after we had checked in at the airport. He jogged back to the cafe for a search while Jenny waited at the airport. In the meantime Reinhard had gone back home to fetch Jenny’s notebook which she had left on a chair at home. On his return to the airport, we all went back to the cafe in the car for another look and to give them our address in the slim hope that the money may be handed in.

After this, we were beginning to wonder if we were up to the trip!

We settled down a bit on the flight. International travel in economy class is never fun, but we had some luck here. On the long flight (16 hour Sydney to Doha) we were allocated seats on the top deck of the plane, just behind first class. This area was less crowded and cattle-pen-like than the downstairs deck. The seat next to me was vacated (the tall man previously sitting there complained his chair didn’t recline and was moved) and I was able to share this space (turn about sleeping on it) with the young Jordanian woman sitting on the other side.  Then we had three seats to ourselves alongside the window on the 6 hour Doha to Milan flight. After a meal, movie and glass of red wine we both fell into an exhausted sleep. When we woke up the pilot was announcing that he was making his descent and apologising for the unusual amount of turbulence on the flight. We had felt nothing, It must have been like rocking a baby.

Our planned logistics on arrival also went smoothly – we easily found the 8 Euro airport bus to the central train station and it left after only a few minutes. Then we walked about 3 km with our luggage to the Decathlon store where our bicycles and panniers were waiting. The large store was incredibly crowded and it was hot and muggy. None the less, they fitted all the extra accessories we selected onto our bicycles for us (odometer, water-bottle holders, front pannier bag). We also bought some new helmets, gel saddle covers and a new jacket and running shoes for Kris. Kris’s new shoes were hurting his feet to the extent that we decided to just dump them.

On leaving the store a couple of hours later we found a quiet spot to pack our luggage into the panniers.

After finding the hotel on the bicycles and checking in, we went in search of a cash machine on our bicycles to replenish our cash. It was still hot so we left in just our T shirts. It was harder than we expected to find a machine. Some were behind doors as it was getting late and we couldn’t access them with our card. At one point we found a machine, which took Kris’s PIN but then said our card was invalid and  declined to give us any cash. It seems many of the banks are local or regional and not set up for international transactions. We were beginning to get worried about the card not working in Italy or getting scammed by presenting it to dodgy machines.

It began to get dark and cold and it felt like we were riding around in circles. We figured out how to switch on the bike lights. By this time my head was aching and I had gone beyond feeling hungry and come out the other side. We only had T-shirts on and it was getting cold. A few drops began to fall and some thunder cracked. We got under the awning of a pizza restaurant just as the heavens began to open. We parked the bikes here (nice and dry) and went in to eat some excellent pizza. They also had Heffe Weissen on tap (one of my favourite things)! We threw caution to the wind in terms of preserving my precarious cash and had a couple of pints each after which we felt much better.

The downpour was heavy enough that people wanting to leave the restaurant loitered at the entrance, waiting for it to abate. By the time we were finished, it had reduced maybe a little but was still raining steadily. It was really quite cold out now and we were still just in our T shirts!
We were about 2 km from the hotel. Kris carefully checked the route on his phone and checked the direction with the waitress. Then we did our mad dash out into the cold. I just followed Kris as closely as I could. The previously crowded streets were pretty empty now which made it a bit easier.

Kris was brilliant, madly zig-zagging the dark Milan streets in the rain. We were wet but not soaked through. Arriving felt exhilarating.

When we got there we had to negotiate putting our bikes in the covered garage with the hotel clerk on duty (nothing about this day was easy). They thought we should store the bikes in their uncovered courtyard (in the rain!). Jenny got stubborn and refused to leave the Hotel lobby without covered parking,  The garage was Kris’s idea – it had plenty of room. The duty manager eventually relented – they are obviously not used to catering to cycle tourists.

The final piece of misfortune of the day was that someone nicked Kris’s gel seat cover from the bike while at the restaurant!

Post script – Toilet interlude experience
Travel to unfamiliar places sometimes throws up particularly surreal “fish out of water” experiences. Such was my visit to the bathroom at the restaurant. After the meal and beer I looked around the restaurant for signs of a bathroom. Couldn’t see anything, so I asked the waitress. She gestured me to come to the kitchen and called a cook over to direct me to the toilet. He took me through a kitchen side door into a small interior courtyard, into a door in another building to the top of a spiral staircase. Just go down there he said and turn left and there is the toilet.

I went down and turned left down a grey concrete corridor. Nothing at the end just a bunch of closed featureless doors. My jet-lagged brain felt a moment of dark recognition – this is the part of the novel where a metal door clangs shut behind you, leaving you in a dank dungeon at the mercy of an Italian psychopath. I quickly turned, the corridor was empty and a few meters on was the toilet – to the RIGHT of the stairway. Someone had painted the toilet doors with abstract designs, trying to make it look hip.
Despite being in a cellar and having no toilet seats, the toilets seemed clean enough.

My next dilemma came when I went to flush the toilet. There was just an immovable metal plate behind it and no amount of prodding produced a flush. No sign of a chain up above either. At this point I was feeling quite anxious, not being the type of person to leave a public toilet un-flushed. Eventually I spied a contraption on the floor to the side of the toilet – a sort of metal plate with a bulbous button at the top. I gingerly pressed it with my foot – the toilet flushed!

At the top of the stairs again I was disoriented and unsure of how to get back into the restaurant – luckily the waitress was having a smoke at the back and directed me back in.

Milan – Sunday 5 May

Milan – Sunday 5 May

After the drama of the previous evening, we found a bank machine about 50 m from our hotel this morning. We went on foot after breakfast. Our phone map indicated that there may be a Deutsche Bank nearby. We couldn’t find a Deutsche Bank but did find a cluster of ATM’s on our way back and one of them worked!

To celebrate we went into the small superette nearby to buy some cheap wine – this wine was amazingly good when we drank it later in the day.

Breakfast at the hotel was really good and leisurely. We were surrounded by Russians, a tour group. Kris entertained me with his observations of an elderly fat Russian lady who was trying to empty the buffet by herself. I think most of it must have been going into a large handbag she had beside her.

We got back on our bikes and headed back to Decathlon to buy another gel seat cover. Also a camping knife/ bottle opener as we couldn’t open our wine!

Then it was our time to explore. Milan is a beautiful city. We circled around, seeing the castle, cathedral, arch of Peace, wide shopping boulevards and old city like lanes.

Milan Cathedral
Milan Castle
Fabric horse on pile of mattresses
Street scene
Arc of Peace

The Milanese are very elegant looking, even on a bicycle. We were the only cyclists around with helmets and hi-viz vests!

We found a Carrefour (French supermarket) and bought some beautiful food for our first hotel room picnic.

Franziskaner Hefe-Weisser, Italian olives and tomatoes in oil, Italian cheese, salad, ciabatta and rye bread, Tiramisu, cherry liquer chocolates.

We did around 38 km just riding around the city. Dropped off to sleep early again, and woke up very early – so still fighting the jet lag.

First ride = 92km! – Monday 6 May

First ride = 92km! – Monday 6 May

Today we ended up doing 92 km despite our intentions to start slow. The route was intended to be under 70 km, but meanderings to try to stay off busy roads added to the distance. However the entire ride was flat, the weather was good and we still felt strong at the end. It was good to be bicycle touring again.

We had a good early start and enjoyed the experience of riding right through Milan again in the Monday morning traffic. There were quite a number of bikes and motorbikes commuting to work and even someone on a electric scooter in amongst the traffic. The traffic was so slow it felt fine – in fact the bicycles were generally going faster than the cars.
We rode past the magnificent Cathedral again and the nearby pedestrian boulevards were all but empty compared to the previous (Sunday) afternoon.

The route took us past the Milano Linate airport where we began see our first views of the Alps in the distance. We found a small fortress with a moat (Castello Di Peschiera Borromeo) and then progressed through some scrappy farmland and light industrial zones.

The biggest town we passed through was Treviglio, before heading north to cross the river at Muratella. The roads were quite busy particularly on the latter part of the route.

Our final destination was a small town called Ghisalba just across the river, where we had found a B&B. We bought our usual picnic fare from the supermarket before we arrived just after 3 pm. It was not quite what we were expecting but was fine in the end, clean, good value and met our needs.

Picnic in the garden

The bedroom decor was unique. Kris felt the painting of five disembodied penises hung over the bed and the snakeskin was a bit creepy. One of the bedside table lights glowed red.

A good effort – Tuesday 7 May

A good effort – Tuesday 7 May

Today we did very well, leaving early at around 8 and arriving just after 1 pm, after doing about 80 km. The weather was perfect for cycling, being in the high teens all day. The only blemish on the day is that we are both getting sore throats.

The cycling was mostly alongside busy roads, so not that pleasant. However it did not feel overly dangerous – the Italian drivers tend to give cyclists enough space on the road. We were mostly on SP (provincial) roads. They tend to have large traffic circles at all the intersections. Kris stopped every now and then at one of these to check we were still going in the right direction on his phone (using HereWeGo app).

One moment we would be passing through light industrial areas, the next through green countryside and then through small towns with a church and a town square at their centre and ochre coloured buildings.

The biggest town along the way was Brescia, a little over halfway in our journey. It had some impressive old buildings and gorgeous squares. We had a break for some water and gummi bears for energy.

The last 8 km or so, down to lake del Garda had some nice long downhill runs.

We were delighted when we rode into Desenzano, the town on the lake where we are staying, as it is really beautiful. It is a tourist town, full of hotels and restaurants. Not too busy at the moment as it is off season. This is the best hotel of our trip so far. It is in the old town and a friendly receptionist was there to greet us and help us store our bikes. They are locked away in a wine store!

Desenzano street
Desenzano waterfront scene

We enjoyed walking around in the evening. We had a picnic on a bench at the waterfront and then went and had two Apperol Spritzes at a little bar across from the Cathedral. These seemed to cure the sore throats and I fell asleep quickly and easily for the first time on the trip!

Outlook from our Desenzano picnic
Apperol Spritz and complimentary snack
Lake and River – Wednesday 8 May

Lake and River – Wednesday 8 May

Today we had a planned short ride – just 44 km – as we need some recovery from the previous two days, and also it was forecast to rain in the afternoon. We had a few more (small) hills today.

This was our best ride on the trip so far – we are getting into the tourist areas now. The start took us around the lake, past little holiday towns, with lots of hotels and holiday apartments and even some amusement parks.

As we moved away from the holiday towns at the lakefront, it became more rural. We began to see some grape vines and olive trees. We even rode past two men pruning in their olive orchard.

We passed by this interesting town called Peschiera, which is built in the middle of the river with fortified walls all around. At first we went past and I took this photo of the walls. 

Peschiera from outside

Then we realised we had to enter over the bridge and through a narrow stone gate. This is how it looks on the other side.

Peschiera – other side of the walls
Wikipedia picture shows layout from above – we entered on bridge at left and rode through

At Volargne we found ourselves in a light industrial area and were really interested to see lots of marble works, with large thinly sliced slabs of marble being stored on their sides.

Industrial area – huge slabs of marble

We missed the supermarket so ended up buying our food for the evening at a small village store.

Village shop – beautiful fruit, veg, cheese and bread on offer

We reached the Adige river and began riding along it, between its steep rocky cliffs. We spotted this interesting old lock (called Ceraino’s Lock – I cannot find much more info on it).

Ceraino’s Lock

Soon after, Kris spotted a bike path on the other side of the road, and we were soon enjoying a new wide off road path with wonderful river vistas

We find the bike path
View from bike path

The Fort Ceraino looks very picturesque above the bike path and the vineyards. I learnt later that it was originally built by the Austrians (in 1850-1851) and became Italian when Veneto was annexed to Italy in 1866.

Ceraino castle

We got to our comfortable B&B (in Ceraino) at around 12. It is situated in an old restored monastery and has a lovely garden with a view of the fort Ceraino from our hill. We were immediately directed to the garage to store our bikes. The friendly hostess also brought us some espresso and chocolates as we settled in!

We spent the rest of the day relaxing and catching up on the blog. Our rooms are huge and there are no other guests.

The bathroom is massive (we can shower side by side) and is lined with marble – they must have had a good deal from the nearby quarries.

Our timing was good as it began to rain soon after we arrived and continued for the rest of the afternoon.

Trento – Thurs 9 May

Trento – Thurs 9 May

Today was a very pleasant ride from Dolce to Trento — the route was on dedicated cycle paths with mostly flat gradient, following the Adige river.
The scenery here is magnificent with vineyard strewn valleys surrounded by misty mountains and the occasional fortified castle up above.

We spotted some other cycle tourists for the first time, not surprising given the quality of these bike paths. Up to now, other recreational cyclists have been road cyclists out training on their ultra light steeds in full Lycra get up.

Path alongside river – not far from the start
bike path
path along the vineyards
That’s a castle up on the hill above Kris

The bike paths have lots of debris on them – we were warned by our B&B hostess that this was due to the storm on Saturday. This contributed to our first bike repair – Kris got a puncture – a thorn went right through his tyre. Its the first time we have ever had a puncture from a thorn, these tyres are pretty thin. We may have to replace them sooner than expected.a coupleThe bike paths have lots of debris on them – we were warned by our B&B hostess that this was due to the storm on Saturday. This contributed to our first bike repair – Kris got a puncture – a thorn went right through his tyre. Its the first time we have ever had a puncture from a thorn, these tyres are pretty thin. We may have to replace them sooner than expected.

fixing puncture

When we got to Trento we spent some time riding around the outskirts looking for a super store to buy some replacement inner tubes. We were eventually directed to a small neighbourhood store where we got two more spare inner tubes. Our distance to Trento was 75 km, and we added another 7 on riding on our search for tubes.

Trento inner city was buzzing when we got there. Our B&B is just around the corner from the old town and quite comfortable even though we share a bathroom (there was only one other guest). A bonus of the place is a shared kitchen were you can get tea or coffee at any time.

We did some research on our route and decided to scrap the plan to go to Villach, as we want to make sure we stay on good cycle routes – so we are taking the Via Claudia Augusta route across to Innsbruck.

We had a fun evening walking around the Trento old town, which has lots of pedestrian shopping and eating areas and historical stone buildings. We had our best panini ever (small shop, old lady, thick cut ham, toasted, EUR 4) and we found a hip craft beer place (Uva & Menta) to hang out in. In fact, the craft beer bar was the liveliest place in town, with groups of locals enjoying an early evening out. We even circled back for a second beer as we couldn’t find anywhere else quite as good.

Trento side street
stairs to nowhere
Route change

Route change

We set out to get into the Alps from Milan.

We chose the obvious access point to be the Claudia Augusta cycle route.
We wanted to ride down the long central Alpine valley that runs past Villach in Austria. After starting on this route we started researching the optimum crossover point.
There is additional logistics as we would traverse roads with less accommodation locations, and our high maintenance bicycles may cause a challenge in less equipped locations. And we would not have time for two-day stops if we go the Alpine valley route.
The final clincher was that we picked up the same cold, most probably during the aircraft travel.

We decided to ride the easier Claudia Augusta cycle route across the Alps as we haven’t done the Claudia Augusta cycle route before. The route the Roman army used to cross the Alps.
This causes a whole re-route of our bicycle tour and we will start re-planning our overall route.

Bolzano – Friday 10 May

Bolzano – Friday 10 May

More excellent bike paths today – 70 km from Trento to Bolzano and still following the Adige river. The sheer height of the cliffs on either side of the valley on leaving Trento is really impressive.

On the river just out of Trento
Enjoyed riding past these huge cliffs, alongside the river and vines

These paths are really well used, there were lots of other cyclists, both the local sporting variety hurtling along singly or in groups, as well as the more sedate cycle tourists like ourselves. Our top cruising speed on these paths is around 22 km/h

The most eventful part of the day was actually losing the path (we somehow missed a turn at an intersection) and detouring through some small country roads and vineyards – until Kris navigated us back under the motorway to the river where we found the path again.

Off track – this is a road, not the bike path
Really off-track! This is a path between the vines

Riding for long flat stretches can lead to fatigue and we stopped a couple of times for a break, including a small picnic at this beautiful spot.

Snack break
picnic break

Bolzano was very busy and quite expensive. We paid more for our accommodation here, and although there is nothing wrong with it, it is not the best place so far. We have a huge room and private bathroom – but the bathroom is across the corridor. There is also no one to greet you when you get here – they just message you the door code and entry instructions and you find your room key in the room when you arrive.

We put another 10 km on the odometer just riding around the city. The old town is very busy (Friday evening) and has lots of high end shops along the main boulevards. We couldn’t really find a place we wanted to eat, so we reverted to the Spar supermarket. Went to bed early.

Taking it easy – Saturday 11 May

Taking it easy – Saturday 11 May

Today we did an intentionally short and easy day (52 km), as we are still affected by colds.
In fact, I was feeling a lot better today after a good sleep, but I am worried about Kris as his cough is worse and he is not feeling great either.

We had a relatively late start, leaving just before 9 am. It took a while, around 5 km, to find our way out of Bolzano and onto the cycle path again. The weather was cool and overcast but not unpleasant. We were still quite comfortable in our T-shirts as long as we kept moving.

Castle above the river just outside Bolzano

Most of today’s route was on a dedicated tarred cycle way again. Being a Saturday morning, there were a lot of other cyclists – most of them men in Lycra, but some day trippers and tour-ers like us as well. It was overcast the whole day as we rode through a wide alpine valley with huge mountains on either side and snow capped peaks peaking out from high above the clouds.

The biggest town we passed through was Merano, where the cycle-way abruptly ended and was replaced by a maze of town cycle-ways which were difficult to decipher. We probably added around 5 km to our route here. However Kris eventually got us back on track alongside the river.

The route was mostly absolutely flat except for one steady hill climb on the other side of Merano. The view from the top was pretty spectacular. However we didn’t linger as it was threatening to rain, and it did spit a bit as we were going down the other side, but never developed into rain proper.

At the top of the climb

The town we are staying in, Naturno, is small and cute. We really like the hotel, it is a typical German style country hotel with a large room and a balcony looking out onto the mountain. An old castle is practically next door. This whole area definitely feels more Austrian than Italian to us, in terms of the architecture, dress (Tyrolese vests worn by the workers in the pub) and language spoken (we are hearing a lot of German).

Hotel Weingarten
Walking around Naturno

We had a quick walk around the town and then went and had some Franziskaner Hefeweizen at the local restaurant/pub in town and a bowl of warming pasta each. We then bought some more treats at the supermarket, including a Tiramisu from the cake counter and a small bottle of pear liquor which was delicious.

Spaghetti and beer at the local establishment

As I write this it is raining properly outside and Kris is sleeping soundly beside me (it is not yet 7 pm). Another short day is planned for tomorrow.

Into the wind – Sunday 12 May

Into the wind – Sunday 12 May

As we were taking it easy, we went for a quick walk up behind the hotel (in Naturno) after breakfast to have another look at the castle.

Naturno Castle

Today was planned to be short and easy again – a relatively flat ride to Prad am Stilfser Joch. However it wasn’t as easy as we expected due to a strong cool head wind that blew the whole day. This slowed us down quite a bit – at times the wind us keeping us at 8-12 km per hour on a very gentle climb. Once we hit hills, it was even slower.

The cycling was once again mostly on off road cycling tracks. The first little town after Naturno is Castelbello, and it has a castle!

The next village was Latsch, we just passed through. Kris was warmed up enough to take off his jacket. I like the shape of the church towers in this part of the world, they seem to be extra skinny and elegant.

Town of Latsch – other cycle tourists coming the from other way

The craggy snow capped mountain peaks were all around us as we rode, I was frustrated in my in-ability to photograph them against the clouds with my very basic camera.

Cycle tourists do the Via Claudia Augusta from the other direction and it was frustrating to see other cyclists sailing by from the opposite direction, many times not pedaling due to the tailwind.

pond with mountain backdrop

The road went through a more sheltered wooded area for a while, which provided a bit of refuge from the headwind. This part of the trail was also compressed gravel instead of tar, but it was still good. There were also quite a few little uphill climbs. We cycled over an old covered wooden bridge and past cows with cow bells.

Covered wooden bridge
All the cows in this field have bells

We were almost there when Kris suggested a stop at this cafe. It was great to get in from the cold wind enjoy a treat of coffee and apple strudel.

Cafe stop
Apfelstrudel with cream and coffee

At some point in this ride grape vines gave way to apple orchards. I guess it is too cold for grapes. The cycle path leading up to Prad am Silfser Joch is surrounded by them.

mountains behind apple orchards

In all we only did 38 km, though it felt further with the wind. We arrived at the hotel just after 1 pm.

We walked all around the town later in the afternoon, mainly looking for food. The town was very quiet. We only realised it was Sunday when we saw the supermarkets were closed. We eventually went to the pizza place recommended by the hotel. It turned out to be really good. My pizza had asparagus (spargel) on it.

Wood fired pizza and beer