Author: bobpeltzer

Following the Rivers

September 24, 2021

The River Adige

Today was sunny and mild. Perfect for the 90 kilometers of flat riding we had along the banks of the Adige and Po rivers. Leaving Chioggia we immediately headed into the farming countryside where it appeared some crops were ready to be harvested. Following the flat roads and paths along the River Adige we crossed over and into the town of Cavarzere where an open air street market was in progress. Somehow we managed to pass up the tempting bargains being offered and continued along our way crossing into the valley of the mighty Po River.

Bringing in the crops
Cavarzere street market

The Po is the longest river in Italy at 652 kilometers with the Adige a distand second at 410. We would only be able to take advantage of the relatively level terrain along its bank for part of this day as or next destination is further south. The Po is known across Europe for its fishing and judging by the excellent and colourful graffiti that we saw at lunch time, catfish appear to be a popular sport fish. I’m not sure I would eat a catfish from the Po. It looks clean enough but there is quite a bit of farm runoff that must go into it. Besides, I am spoiled with the tasty freshwater fish we have in Ontario.

Me and my catfish

Ferrara is another star shaped, walled city and is famous for its brick castle. It was founded as a university city during the Italian Renaissance and was second to Bologna in its importance as a member of the Papal States. It was heavily bombed by allied warplanes during World War II due to its importance as a manufacturing center for rubber and plastics. Today tourism is one of its main economic drivers offering plentiful hospitality for which we bike riders are grateful.

Ferrara is also a center for the arts and within the walls of the Renaissance castle is a sculpture garden featuring the sculpture group Humanity created by Sara Bonzani and Nicola Zamboni depicting scenes from Palo Uccelo’s triptych, The Battle of San Romano as well as some scenes from modern life. Here knights battle to the death, horses tumble and courtly characters are depicted as marginalized people from modern day life. There is much more to this art installation but I shall leave it to you and Wikipedia for further details.

Mostly a Day at Sea

September 23, 2021

Ferry ride past fort

This will be our shortest riding day of the tour with a mere 20 kilometers of pavement under our tires. Most of our time will be spent on a ferry, a boat or waiting for them. It is the Island hopping portion of our journey and designed to get us from the island of Lido back to the mainland where we are no longer governed by ferry schedules.

Ride along the sea wall

Ferry #1 arrives at port

A boat ride with music

Unloading our bikes.

The rides were a leisurely cruise along the sea walls with a few small villages along the way followed by two leisurely cruises. Once on the ferry we passed some of the long ago obsolete forts that served as the outer defenses of Venice. Here the economy is much more geared to fishing and industry than tourism. No gondolas in sight.

Our destination is the town of Chioggia, sort of Venice lite with a blue collar. It is far more relaxed than Venice and even Lido where our hotels was located while visiting Venice. From here we will leave on roads both paved and gravel, for the rest of our travels. So for the rest of today we are tourists but tomorrow we ride!

Every town must have a fancy bridge. Entering Chioggia.

Venice Day 2

Get out of Doge and the glass all empty

September 22, 2021

Our second but first, full day in Venice started with high hopes for a wonderful time. The vaporetto or water bus was quick and dropped us off right at San Marco, the large square that you always see in any movie with a Venice location. It is magnificent! The frescoes and sculptures that seem to adorn every building are far more striking in real life than on film. Getting to the plaza early avoided many of the crowds; however, the museums only open at either 10 or 11 am so any way you try it, you are going to wait in line. Buying the 4 museum ticket at The Corner Museum seemed a good bargain until we discovered that the 4 museums did not include the San Marco cathedral.

The Corner Museum is quite interesting in itself with artifacts from the city’s history where it dominated northern Italian culture and economic life. Inside its many rooms are the chronicles of the city-state’s rise to domination of the eastern Mediterranean. Maps and globes chart the known world and the heavens above emphasizing the region’s evolution into a dominate naval power. Elaborate frescoes cover the ceilings in a showy display of wealth and influence.

Around the corner from the plaza is the Doge’s palace. The Doge of Venice was a true merchant prince holding his position more through wealth and influence than through family lines. While some did inherit the office most ruled with the support of the most wealthy and elite citizens. The Doge was elected to his office through a tradition that lasted for over 1000 years. The first Doge was elected in 697 AD and the last ended his rule upon dying in 1797. Quite a stretch when you consider the longevity of other elected offices.

The Doge Museum features the vast rooms of what was a combination Doge’s palace, seat of government as well as a sizable prison. Within those vast rooms a nesting layer of governing councils, known as Senates met to debate the issues of the day and guide the ruling hand of the Doge. At times the power shifted from Doge to the senates but most of the time the power was shared hence the longevity of the Doge’s office. The one time a Doge attempted a coup d’etat he was removed, tried in the Senate and executed. His name was forever stricken from the record and his image blacked out in all murals.

Our visit to the Doge’s Palace brings me to my efforts to get out of Doge. As mentioned the prison is a vast labyrinth of passageways leading past cells and other highly secured rooms designed to hold everything from debtors to the the truly dangerous. You come to it near the end of your visit and there is a way to exit without going through it. Unfortunately, we decided to go through and even more unfortunately, a large group of students somehow appeared directly in front of us filling the narrow, frequently turning passageways and making a quick breeze through that section impossible. After 15 or 20 minutes of being the caboose to a long, slow moving train we finally emerged into the ever present bookshop at the end of the museum and the free fresh air of the palace courtyard.

An Artist’s Joke?

At this point my travelling partner for day had seen enough and wanted to go back to the hotel. I decided to continue on to the Glass Museum on the nearby island of Murano. Venietian glass has a long history and is famous the world over. Their craftsman used carefully guarded processes to create some of the finest lenses in the world. The secrets of the glass makers were protected by the government and to even speak of those secrets could get you killed. So secret were some processes that the knowledge was nearly lost until modern day craftspeople reverse engineered it.

My history with the museum is quite short. After an hour long boat ride to the island and a walk through its many maze like streets I discovered that my glass would remain empty. The museum is closed on Wednesdays. Instead I had a shorter boat ride back to Venice a bit of walking and a fine dinner of pasta and fried squid topped off with some gelato. Along the way I entertained by a circle of dancing Jews.

Venice By the Sea

September 21, 2021

Venice By the Sea

Today was a short 56 kilometer group ride to Venice. I generally do not like to ride with a large group preferring to set my own pace and stop where I see something I like to explore. Still, it is nice to do something different once in awhile. It was a fast ride even at what our leader and professional bicyclist, Doug considered a relaxed pace. Fortunately, us mostly old folks were up to the task. We zipped through small villages and into the seaside communities of Lido where we stopped to load our bikes onto a boat and ourselves onto three boats for a long, watery tour of Venice on the way to our hotel in Lido.

Riders Up
Arriving by Water Taxi

Venice is much more than narrow canals, arched bridges and gondoliers. It is also a very large and working city with terminals for deep water ships and industrial activity. Of course this is not what we were here to see but itn was quite noticable in the distance as we cruised the many waterways around the islands that comprise the Venice / Lido metropolis.

Industrial Venice

Today was mainly a day for travel and while we saw a different side of Venice from our water taxis, we are looking forward to taking one of the bus/boats that form the vaporetto mass transit system. I understand that there was once talk of building a subway system but that idea was quickly torpedoed even though it was sunk before it could be considered.

Tomorrow the Venice you know and expect to see.

Didn’t this building get blown up in some movie?
Venice Street Scene
Rich man’s gondola
Poor man’s gondolaSc
The Rialto Bridge
Lorenzo Quinn’s Human Hands

Flatlanding

September 20, 2021

Wine Country

Today’s ride was a complete change from yesterday. The weather was sunny and mild and the terrain a complete ossopite from yesterday’s mountains. Aside from one small hill leading out of Gorizia, there was very little change in elevation.

The ride was mostly through farmland and wine vineyards with some small villages and towns sprinkled along the way. Our distance was longer at around 102 kilometres not counting the unscheduled detour that added an extra two or three. We maintained a fairly fast pace but still slow enough to snap a few photos and soak in a few sights.

Palmanova the Utopian City
The most interesting of those sights was the ancient walled city of Palmanova. The town is actually a Renaissance star fort built by Venetian Republic in 1593. It is a World Heritage Site and is an early example of urban planning based on the Utopian ideals of Thomas Moore. The ideal was for complete equality among the residents with all wealth and responsibility equally shared. Just guessing here but I don’t think what looked good in theory worked all that well in reality. The builders of this Utopia must have anticipated envious troublemakers since they took the trouble to enclose it with a strong, defensive wall as well as an extensive mote and other battlements. All must not have been peaceful in Utopia.

Palmanova of today is still an interesting place with tourism replacing the Utopian ideals. The center square was given over to an open air market with a flea market variety of vendors selling widgets, gadgets, foods and floss. In the center were amusement rides of the type found at most carnivals. The place was packed and we had to walk our bikes carefully through the crowd.

After a riverside lunch we were off on the final 50 or so kilometres of our trip with more great scenery such as the old water mill seen in the photo below as well as an unexpected detour that briefly forced us ointo a busier road than we normally travel. Our journey ended in the town of Corbolone, where there was little except for a nice place to stay, a church with an obviously brand new bell that they were eager to show off…frequently and a restaurant that closed that decided to shut down just as everybody was ready for their second beer. However, TDA staffer Tim, was the hero of the hour bringing back a refreshing supply of sudsy goodness from an more spirited entrepreneur.

The Ups and Downs to Gorizia

September 19, 2021

Church outside of Ljubljana

Safety Chat
The group was up and eager to roll after a filling breakfast at the City Hotel. Gotta give them high marks for everything. Clean and comfortable rooms and a killer breakfast. Everything a hard riding cyclist needs to stay happy. From breakfast it was on to a group photo and onto the bikes for the ride out of Ljubljana on onward to Gorizia, Italy.

Getting out of the city was a breeze with bike lanes and paths through the busiest parts. Of course much of this was not all that necessary on a Sunday morning when most of Ljubljana sleeps in. Once clear of the city the bike lanes mostly disappeared but so too did the little bit of traffic common for a Sunday morning. After a few flat kilometres it was into the hills and the beginning of just under 1000 metres of climbing. It helps to know Newton’s 2nd Law of Bicycling: For each up hill there is an equal and opposite downhill. It was the prospect of that lovely downhill that made some of those 11 to 15 degree grades tolerable.

The route is breathtakingly beautiful with quaint villages, farmland and alpine forests along the way. Every turn seemed to be a photo opportunity. The lunch stop was near the summit of the day’s climbing with the ruins of an ancient Roman fort as out lunch room. A few hundred calories later it was back on the road for a few more metres of climb and then one of the longest and most scenic downhill runs a cyclist could ever hope to experience. Wind rushing into your face and fast spinning wheels with little effort required allows the eye to capture a lot of scenery and the body the experience a heady exhilaration.

Once out of the hills a score only 30 or so kilometres remained of rolling countryside to the city of Gorizia. Along the way there were a few clouds of of tiny flying insects to welcome us. While they had very little flavor, they were plentiful and quite filling. Hitting the Italian border was a non-event. No one was around to ask for paperwork, vaccine proof or to see the 25 Euro Covid test we were said to need to enter the land of pasta supreme. The one cop who I encountered as I tried to check in at the deserted looking immigration building was quick to politely but forcefully tell me to beat it.

Roman Fort
Lunch stop at Roman ruins

The rest of the trip was beautiful but uneventful. Gorizia is another example of European charm and my room comfortable and stocked with cold beer. Life is good!

Ljubljana

September 18, 2021

A good night’s sleep allowed me to wake up feeling better than I had in days. The City Hotel was said to put out a great breakfast buffet and whoever said it was quite right. Pretty much anything a hard cycling guy or gal could want and plenty of it, all included with your reservation. From there it was on to meet my traveling companions and TDA tour staff. While we are mostly all seasoned long distance riders there were still things to go over and the mandatory safety chat.

Now fully indoctrinated, I was free to travel about the city-side. Ljubljana is quite old by North American standards with a town of a different name having been established here in Roman times. The name seems to have shown up in the 12th century but it has also been called Laibach by German speakers into fairly recent times. The official language is Slovenian but most folks seemed to understand my English even with my hybrid accent. It is the capital of Slovenia and was once part of Yugoslavia until becoming an independent state in 1991.

The city symbol is the dragon and a legend is told that Jason, of Golden Fleece fame, fought and killed a dragon here on his way back to Greece. Of course all magicians know that rivers have dragons and with the Ljubljanica River flowing through the center that too may be the source of the dragon that fronts their coat of arms.

The city is dominated by a castle on a hill overlooking the city. It can be reached by road, footpath or tramway. The castle has served in the city defences and also as a prison. Royalty and political prisoners alike have all been involuntary guests within its walls. The is a tale that a nobleman named Erasmo Jamski, was imprisoned there for stabbing an army commander. One version has him using the sewage network for is escape. Regardless of his method he was never heard from again but may it was because you could smell him coming.

The city is quite bicycle friendly with bike paths nearly everywhere. Hardly a roadway does not have a portion set aside for this use even some of the more narrow ones in the city center. Bikes are everywhere and you will see all manner of people coming and going about their business on two wheels.

The Three Bridges area is the heart of the tourist district but it appears that many local residents seem to stroll there as well to enjoy the riverside cafes and shops. It is a pleasant place to nurse a beer or a glass of wine and I plan to do one or the other just as soon as I type my last period.

Up and Away

September 16 -17, 2021

My frequently postponed adventure began with unexpected ease. Getting to the airport in Montreal was easy thanks to a generously provided ride by my daughter. Pierre Elliot Trudeau Airport was nearly empty compared to pre-covid times and I breezed through check-in and security in time for a leisurely lunch and restful wait for my flight to France.

Flying was uneventful except for having to assist the Arabic speaking woman seated next to me in filling out the somewhat detailed arrival paperwork required by the French government even though we were just passing through to other countries. Charles deGaul Airport was quite another matter.

Unlike Montreal, the Paris airport was a busy place or so it seemed to me. Maybe it is even busier when there is no pandemic but I had no way of knowing. Our arrival was in a far distant section of the terminal and required a rail ride and an additional security screening before hitting yet another line to officially enter France. Our flight was late and the time need to catch the next flight was short so there were some anxious moments for me and my seat companion but we both managed to make our connections after some scurry and sweat.

Eighteen hours and a few thousand kilometers finally landed me in Ljubljana, Slovenia, bicycle, baggage and me all a bit weary but sound. The last air leg of the trip allowed me to meet Lee, one of my fellow riders and one recent addition to the TDA staff on the same flight. The rest of my day was spent reassembling my bike and doing a couple of short tours around the town.

Pre-flight

Pre Flight Countdown

Why the title, “Tour de Med Deluxe?” The answer is that for me this is my most deluxe bicycle tour ever. My past excursions have either been solo, self supported jaunts of less than a week or longer tours with most nights spent in tents. In Australia we did have someone along to fix meals but going across the USA we shared cooking duties. It was fun and I certainly enjoyed showing off my culinary skills. However, for this trip I appear to be going first class. All of our stays are in hotels and all of our meals are being prepared by skilled hands other than our own.

You may also wonder about the subtitle, “An Idiot Abroad.” The short answer is that I have always been a fan of Mark Twain and my subtitle is a play on his travel book, The Innocents Abroad.

You might wonder, why the change? I have never been a lavish spender. Maybe it was too much hard work to make a buck to just blow it on some silliness. I was never very likely to just sell everything, buy a motor home and become a Juggalo following the Insane Clown Posse around the country and spraying root beer. (If you don’t get the references just look up Juggalo.) Doing a bicycle tour through Europe during a pandemic presented a few more challenges than I felt comfortable handling by myself. When I learned that TDA Global Cycling’s TransEurope tour was still on and within my budget, I decided it would be worth the extra bucks to obtain the support and comradeship of going with a group. Of course such luxuries as beds and roofs will be hard to get used to but somehow I will suck it up and soldier on.

The Tour de Med Deluxe

(or The Idiot Abroad)

A few years ago I wrote a blog about taking a bicycle tour across the USA. I did this in my 66th year of life and 3 months after being CPRed and defibrillated back to life after a major heart attack. My friends and family were of two minds about this decision; half thought me reckless the other thought me an idiot. For those of you who enjoy the past as prologue, please find and read that blog. It is titled, “The Ride of the Nearly Departed.” If you would rather skip that chore you can easily get the gist of things by just reading on. However, know this: I am still that idiot.

Many, many, and still many years ago when I was a young idealist and still in high school, some friends and I dreamed and schemed about riding our bikes from Baltimore to California. This was in 1969 and years before the TransAmerica Trail and the idea of bicycle routes in general. Our bikes were from toy stores and our knowledge of what such a journey would entail was from pure imagination. Lacking the time, money and planning tools we were likely spared the embarrassment of failure but also denied an adventure we could have dined on for the rest of our lives.

For me the dream never died. Over the years I had never given up bicycling. Mostly it was just taking my two children out for a Sunday ride or students on weekend excursions and later, jaunts around the campground that we owned after moving to Canada. I also ran quite a bit and my physical lifestyle kept my body from growing soft and lazy. After I sold my business and retired my adult son and I rode our bikes across Iowa as part of RAGBRAI, an annual party on wheels for about 20,000 cyclists.

That ride re-lit the long distance cycling flame within me and it rekindled that dusty old idea of riding my bike across America. A bit of Internet research uncovered that such rides, while not commonplace, were not unheard of either. In fact there were even guided and supported tours offered by a number of different organizations. The Adventure Cycling Association offered one of the most highly regarded and affordable and ways to do such a trip and I jumped at the chance.

As mentioned above, that ride is detailed in “The Ride of the Nearly Departed.” Go back and read it sometime. When I finished that ride I thought to myself, “I guess I can check that off my bucket list.” It only took a couple of months before I realized that what I thought was a one and done experience had inspired a desire to do something like it again. Looking at the globe, two continents stood out as possibilities within my comfort zone; Australia and Europe. A ride across the Australian Outback happened for me in 2019 and you can read my blog titled, “Riding Upside Down Under and Out Backwards,” if you want to know how that ride went.

2020 was to be my year for a ride across Europe and this time I was planning to get way outside of my comfort zone by doing the ride solo and unsupported. I looked at a number of routes and decided to ride from either the coast of France to the Black Sea or the same route in reverse. There is a well established system of cycling routes in Europe called the EuroVelo. These routes are mostly mapped, signed and well traveled by cyclists from around the world. The many languages would be a challenge but Google Translate and my smartphone offered an easy and affordable solution. I would be on my own for the logistics of food and shelter but I figured I could carry a tent and some food for those days when there were more miles than daylight between roofed accommodations. My plans were to be on the road sometime in May: then the world changed.

A virus with a spike protein outer membrane spiked my plans for 2020. At first, I thought it would just mean a delay in when I did my ride. Instead of going from France to Romania, I would reschedule for late summer and do the ride in the other direction. Covid19 was just a really bad version of the flu, right? It would burn itself out and the world would go right back to where it was before. Summer came and along with the rest of the world I realized that things would not be normal again until we had a vaccine. By November it seemed encouraging that a vaccine was nearly ready and I thought my trip would be possible by May of 2021.

In Canada we had to rely on other countries for our vaccine supply so while there were some good vaccines available, Canadians were a bit behind other countries in getting them. Covid cases spiked every time we tried to ease travel restrictions and lock-downs still persisted into May and June. Plans for a spring trip vanished. Maybe mid-August was a more reasonable goal.

Mid-August was spoiled by something called the Delta Variant and the logistics of differing pandemic regulations in the 9 countries I would pass through. I was reluctantly ready to give up the thoughts of a trip in 2021. My reluctance stemmed from my experience back in 2017 as I planned for my ride across America. That ride and all future rides were nearly canceled by my body’s nasty way of handling cholesterol. I was now 69 years old and who knows what other surprises my body had in store for me. I worked hard to stay in shape but all the exercise in the world can’t halt the aging process and you never know just what that process may have planned for your future. After that heart attack my motto became, “you better do it when you get to it, because you might not get to it to do it again.” (Say that three times quickly.)

I guess God loves an idiot because just as I was ready to give up, I came across an ad for a much altered and delayed ride across most of Europe organized by TDA Global Cycling. This ride was supposed to happen in the spring through early summer and from St. Petersburg, Russia to Gibraltar. It had been postponed and altered twice already and was now set to go from Ljubljana, Slovenia to Gibraltar, crossing fewer national boundaries. Most other rides by TDA and other organizations had already been canceled but this one stood a good chance of actually happening. Best of all there was still space available and it would solve my challenge of staying up to date on all the frequently changing pandemic regulations. I mulled it over for two days and signed up.

Since that day in late July I have been continuing my training and worrying the possibility of even this opportunity being canceled. Fortunately, the line still holds and my bags are now packed, my bike safe in its cardboard container and my body ready for what should be another great adventure. The best is yet to come.