Another milestone day – it’s exactly 5 months since we flew out of Auckland.
And apologies for the delayed posting here…. we’ve been kinda busy enjoying amazing hospitality and spending time with great people over the last week. But let’s reprise from when we left Monselice in Italy last Thursday.
Leaving the Venetian Hostel
Setting off for Milano, we took a scenic ride around Lake Garda in northern Italy. On the eastern shore, we were flanked by vineyards.
Castle near Verona
Eastern shore of Lake Garda
We noticed that there were quite a few sports bikes on the road and parked up at cafes. When we filled up at a service station and sat around drinking coffee for a while, it seemed unusual to us that none of the other bikers there made any contact with us at all. They all had shiny bikes and spotless leather suits.
At the top of the lake, we stopped at a lookout to take some pictures and have a snack. There was one biker there already, reclining on the park bench in his red, white and black Alpine Star race suit. We tried to make eye contact a few times, but he didn’t seem interested. Fair enough, I guess.
The jaw-dropping view
As we sat and enjoyed the view, lots of other people stopped in to snap a photo. A van-load of Russian tourists spilled out, and they seemed amazed to see the messages on our panniers written in Cyrillic. “Nova Zealandya!”, exclaimed one… and then when I replied in Russian she came over to talk to us about our trip, relaying our route to the others in her group. After shaking our hands and wishing us well, they were off. But the other guy still didn’t care.
We continued on down to Riva de Garda – which appeared like an Italian version of Queenstown – and then down the western shore. The views were breathtaking, as we rode in and out of tunnels, stealing glimpses of the lake through gaps in the walls. Restaurants and hotels dot the shoreline, and there were loads of sailing boats out on the water.
Tunnel with a view
Lake Garda shoreline
We entrusted the GPS to take us to the Nannini’s country house, about 30km out of Milano. It’s a lovely house, tucked away in a small village. The area reminded us a lot of the Waikato. It’s flat and foggy, and largely used to farm dairy cows. Giulia and her father Sergio gave us such a warm welcome, and we thoroughly enjoyed their company over the two days we spent with them. Not to mention the incredible cheese, coffee, gelato and wine.
Friday was my birthday. Giulia and Sergio spent the day showing us around the nearby town of Lodi and then the heart of Milano. Within a small radius, you can experience the Duomo di Milano, see Leonardo da Vinci’s paper sketches for inventions and gaze upon The Last Supper, watch people pose for photos outside the Prada store and stroll past La Scala.
Lodi has a large bicycle culture
Art Nouveau in Lodi
Duomi de Milano – a huge Gothic church in the centre of the city. The crypt contains the body of a saint, complete with a creepy death mask.
It’s good luck to stand on this bull and turn 360 degrees on your right heel.
Leonardo da Vinci and friend
Oh, and how we ate! Sergio took us to his favourite shop in Milano. It’s a gourmet food-store called Peck. I love Moore Wilsons, but this was on another level entirely. We were agape at the delicacies on offer. Sergio ordered a bunch of things for dinner, and we searched the wine cellar for a bottle of NZ pinot noir.
Perusing the selection
Sergio makes his choice.
These wines are in 1.5L bottles and were about E300. Eeek. But tempting… how good could E300 wine taste?
We spent the evening eating more cheese than is probably sensible* and enjoying many glasses of wine. A great way to celebrate turning 36.
Giulia had fond memories of the traditional Sunday pancakes at the de Borst’s place from her time in New Zealand, so we whipped up a batch on Saturday morning. Sorry Rob, I don’t think ours were as good as yours. And then it was time for us to move on again. We were reminded of a Russian saying we’d been told by Anya in Svobodny: “thank you for your home, but now we must go to another home”.
We generally try to avoid highways. They’re great for getting you from point A to point B, but you don’t really see anything along the way, and for us, that’s the point of this trip. It takes longer, but it’s ultimately more enjoyable to wind your way through towns and villages. So we took a series of secondary roads through Italy, heading to the Simplonpass that connects Italy to Switzerland.
A few hours in, we decided to stop for our last Italian pizza in a town called Arona on the shores of Lake Maggiore. We saw a few bikes parked up near a pizzeria, so figured that would suit us just fine. No sooner had we sat down than 20-30 bikes rolled in in twos and threes…. all shiny and clean and ridden by people wearing spotless leather suits. It turns out this is quite the place to go on a ride of a Sat’dy. Very few of the bikers paid any attention to Battle Panda, until an older guy on a 1950s Ducati stopped Igor to congratulate him. He spoke no English, and Igor no Italian, but they managed to show appreciation for each other’s bikes and share tales. Some other riders started to show interest when they heard how far we’d travelled.
We reached Simplonpass late in the afternoon and crossed into Switzerland. It’s a mountain pass at over 2000m, and it was chilly up there! Snow has already started to pile up on the side of the road, and as the sun dipped behind the hills we were glad to have our heated hand grips.
Top of the Simplonpass
Chalet near the pass
We’d intended to avoid the highway in Switzerland and continue on along back roads to Vilars-Burquin, where Igor’s uncle and aunt live. It’s between Lausanne and Neuchatel, near the French border. It’s only around 200km from the border, but we soon found that it was taking longer than we had planned and sunset was looming (we avoid riding in the dark whenever possible) – so we rode the highway. In Switzerland, you need to buy a vignette to use the highways. It’s about E35, and you can only buy it for a 12 month period. As we were only planning to be in the country a few days and our finances are dwindling, we chanced it, hoping that we wouldn’t be stopped and fined 200 Swiss Francs for the infringement. We were very pleased to exit the highway near Eric and Marianne’s place without incident!
Over the rest of the weekend, we spent time catching up with some of the de Borst family – it’s been way too long! We feasted on Swiss food and wine, and did our best to cover what’s happened in the five years since we saw everyone last.
Eric and Marianne prepare dinner
Morgan, Nicole, Igor, Eric, Marianne, Penny, Raphael and Elise
On Monday, we woke to drizzle and threatening clouds that made the idea of riding unappealing, especially compared with the luxurious surroundings we’d been enjoying. It seemed to clear around 10am, so we took the opportunity to get on the road.
Whenever we’ve met Swiss people on the road, we’ve been perplexed as to what the letters CH mean on their number plates. While visiting Igor’s cousin Nicole, we finally worked out that it’s the Confederation of Helvetia… not Schweiss like we’d thought!
Now that we are in Europe, we’ve noticed a more village-to-village layout. In other countries, as in New Zealand, towns are spaced out by a considerable distance, but in these lands that have been populated for so long and so densely we find ourselves leaving one picturesque village and immediately entering the next. It’s a lovely ride to pick your way through… but unfortunately for us, the weather didn’t hold, and before long we were riding in the rain.
Our friend Michael (from the side-car in Bulgaria) is back in Germany for a couple of weeks, and invited us to stay with him near Frankfurt. He’d also suggested a nice ride through the Black Forest and some camping spots along the way to his place, but looking out at the rain, we decided to go directly to his home in Bensheim instead. Of course, as soon as we passed the turn off for the Black Forest route, the weather cleared up and we were dry by the time we arrived after a 420km ride.
Michael’s indulged our gastronomic whims further – taking us out for a traditional German meal of schnitzel and kochkaese (cooked cheese), and then last night Indian. We’ve really missed curries!
We have come to the realisation that we really are in Europe now. It’s seemed a bit like a short dip into civilisation up to now, that each time we were somewhere with a big supermarket or a nice restaurant we had to take advantage of it, not knowing when we’d next get the opportunity, but we are slowly getting used to having everything available to us, being able to communicate easily, a currency that makes sense and the proximity of everything in this region. We are now just 500km from our destination in Nunspeet, the Netherlands.
The other day we were talking about how exciting it was going to be to open our suitcases – but then it occurred to us that we can’t even remember what’s in them. We’ve lived so long now with limited possessions that it’s hard to imagine what we thought was so important that we had to have it sent over. I’ll be super-pleased to be reunited with my skates of course, and we’ll both be glad to have some different (not adventure/outdoor) clothes to wear, but there’s not really that much that we’ve missed. I guess that will change when we return to the normality of urban life. There’s no way you’ll see me in that fleece jacket on the high street, even if I’ve become used to it on the road.
This weekend, there’s an adventure travellers’ meeting about 20km from Michael’s place. It’s organised by Horizons Unlimited, which is a website/forum that we used a lot while planning this trip and also on the road. They have speakers talking about various trips they’ve done, or giving advice for other people planning their adventure. We’ve been asked to speak at the meeting, so our arrival in the Netherlands has been postponed by a few days. We are eager to get to Holland, but it also seems very fitting to round off our big trip by going to this biker meeting. We’ve been putting together a brief session on where we’ve been and people we’ve met, and it’s just dawned on us how far we’ve been and how much we’ve seen. And how lucky we are to have the opportunity to do this, when so many others can only dream of it.
*A special rundown for the Cheesepocalypse crew – we had mascarpone sandwiched between two layers of brie, and peppered with slices of white truffle. OMG.