On the ski hills, on the bike trails, and thru life in general

Posts tagged ‘cycling’

2016 Coffeeneuring

After almost a year of not blogging about any ski or bike trips (or anything else, for that mater), the annual  Coffeeneuring Challenge has shamed me into action. You can read all about it in the link provided but, in a nutshell, the challenge by biking blogger Chasing Mailboxes is to visit 7 different coffee shops between October 7th and November 20th, with a maximum of 2 visits per week. I normally park the bikes once the snow flies and, since I live near Edmonton, Alberta, the snow usually flies early. So my challenge isn’t to find different coffee shops, it is to beat winter! There are a few more rules to follow but all are quite doable, especially for a retired guy. I completed the challenge in 2013 and 2014 but missed last year while in Italy and Slovenia on organized bike trips at the time (planned bike trips are ineligible). So this is my official documentation for 2016.

Coffeeneuring #1:

Hot chocolate on a chilly day. On the viewing deck on Big Lake.

Hot chocolate on a chilly day. On the viewing deck on Big Lake.

When: Friday, October 7, 2016

Where: Lois Hole Provincial Park, St. Albert, Alberta, Canada (Invoking the “Coffee Shop Without Walls” rule).

What: Hot chocolate from a thermos

Distance: 16.0 km

Ride Link: https://ridewithgps.com/trips/11411648

Bike Friendliness: 3/5. A 3- or 4-bike lockup post just off the deck but rarely used unless people wander off out of sight.

Weather: -2C, overcast and windy.

Leaves littering the trail through the wooded area.

Leaves littering the trail through the wooded area.

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Coffeeneuring #2

We got hit with, what I hope, was an early season snowfall on the 8th and 9th. Not a lot of snow, about 10 cms (4 inches) total, but the ground was cold enough to retain it on the greenery (brownery?). The roads and trails, thankfully, managed to retain enough summer heat to melt off after a while so I was able to venture out today without worrying too much about the traction. I did my usual ride out to Big Lake then veered off on a part of the trail that has been closed for over a year due to nearby condo construction. I  circumvented the concrete barriers that still bar the trail (is the city ever going to remove them?) to visit Good Earth Cafe. This is the go-to coffee shop for our club rides in St. Albert in the summer, mainly because of the large common patio just outside it’s doors. And having decent coffee and treats. A little too cool to sit outside today though.

Warm inside but snowy outside.

Warm inside but snowy outside.

When: Monday, October 10, 2016

Where: Good Earth Cafe, St. Albert

What: Black coffee and praline brownie

Distance: 16.5 km

Ride Link: https://ridewithgps.com/trips/11457311

Bike Friendliness: 4/5. Few bike racks but plenty of space to park bikes by shop.

Weather: -1C, overcast. Snow lingers on ground from recent snowfall but trails are clear.

Two days after our first snowfall. Trails are clear though.

Two days after our first snowfall. Gotta watch out for slippery leaves!

The Sturgeon River in downtown St. Albert on a damp, -1C day.

The Sturgeon River in downtown St. Albert on a damp, -1C day.

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Coffeeneuring #3

After last week’s early snowfall, we had yet another 10 cm dump on October 14th. So much for starting week 2 of coffeeneuring on a high note :(. The temperature has hovered between -4C and +2C all week under cloudy skies so not much melting has been going on. Thankfully, the city has plowed the trails and they are mostly ice-free. Today’s excursion was my usual route out to Big Lake again, with a side trip to the Glasshouse Bistro. I imagine that it gets it’s name due to the fact that it is housed in one of the largest, if not the largest, greenhouse/garden centres in the Edmonton area.

Latte and a chocolatey muffin on a cool day.

Latte and a chocolatey muffin on a cool day.

When: Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Where: Glasshouse Bistro and Cafe

What: Latte and double chocolate muffin

Distance: 18.6 km

Ride Link: https://ridewithgps.com/trips/11564541

Bike Friendliness: 3/5. One bike rack (although it holds ~6 bikes) about 100 feet from the entrance. I have locked to it many times but today I just chained my bike to a fence by the door.

Weather: -1C, overcast, with a penetrating dampness.

The trestle rail bridge on a gray day.

The trestle rail bridge on a gray day.

The viewing deck at Big Lake, complete with snowman on the picnic table.

The viewing deck at Big Lake, complete with snowman on the picnic table. Glad that people are having fun with this early snow 🙂

My requisite picture of the trail though the woods. Looks much the same as a week ago.

My requisite picture of the trail though the woods. Looks much the same as a week ago. Fewer leaves on the trail though.

The beavers doing what beavers do, munching down trees near the river.

The beavers doing what beavers do, munching down trees near the river.

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Coffeeneuring #4

The weather has finally changed to more bike-friendly, and biker-friendly, conditions. After almost 2 weeks of snow and temps hovering around 0C, we are now having “normal” fall conditions – normal for here being sunny and 5C to 10C. The city kept most of the trails swept clean during the cold spell but the thaw has meant snow melting during the day, flowing across the trails and freezing at night. A thin layer of melt on top of the ice patches is perfect for unseating an unwary cyclist 😦 The trails were actually in better shape when it was cold!

I went on my usual ride out to Big Lake, in Lois Hole Provincial Park, around lunchtime. Although my wife saw some trumpeter swans out there in the morning, they must have been hiding by the time I got there. Lots of Canada Geese and various ducks though. The temp was +2C when I left home and I’m glad that I dressed in layers as I was forced to shed a number of times during the ride. Nice to feel the heat of the sun again! The snow has pretty well disappeared, except in the shadowy and north-facing areas. Still some ice on the ponds and puddles though.

After my out-and-back to Big Lake, I decided to head to the north end of St. Albert. There is a new commercial development out by the Costco, which includes a Tim Hortons that I have not visited before. Not that I am a big fan of chain coffee shops – I would rather patronize the independents – but there are also some nice trails at that end of town that make for a reasonably scenic trip. But no independent coffee shops 😦

Coffee and very chocolaty muffin at Tims.

Coffee and very chocolaty muffin at Tims.

When: Saturday, October 22, 2016

Where: Tim Hortons, 1075 St. Albert Trail

What: Coffee and chocolate lava muffin

Distance: 26 km

Ride Link: https://ridewithgps.com/trips/11617660

Bike Friendliness: 3/5. Three bike posts outside the coffee shop and another 3 about 50 feet away, so good for 6 bikes. Other than that, would have to lean bikes against walls or windows. Could be much better since there is adequate space for more posts but, being in a “power centre” where bikes are not the normal mode of shopping transportation, I suppose it is adequate. Typical for Tims though.

Weather: Sunny (yay!!) and +2C when I left home. +6 by the time I returned 90 minutes later.

Snow mostly gone from bush (compare this to the previous entry).

Snow mostly gone from bush (compare this to the Coffeeneuring #3 entry above).

Trail through a park by a decorative, but functional, storm water pond.

Trail through a park by a decorative, but functional, storm water pond.

Still snow in the shadowy areas but trails clear.

Still snow in the shadowy areas but trails clear.

Some nice trails in the north end of town - backyards on one side, bush on the other.

Some nice trails in the north end of town – backyards on one side, bush on the other.

I think the remains of a snowman on the trail.

I think the remains of a snowman on the trail.

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Coffeeneuring #5

Taking advantage of the sunny weather while we still have it, I went out to the garage to prepare for another coffee ride. Well damn! A flat front tire! Thankful that it didn’t happen while on the ride, I put a new tube in and set out. My plan was to ride out to Big Lake (again) and check out a coffee shop in St. Albert that is now under new management, complete with a new name, on my way back. As I noted on yesterday’s ride, all the melting during the day has resulted in a lot more icy patches to contend with after the overnight freezes. It was down to -6C last night so I expected the usual wet areas of the trail to be a little treacherous. After the first 7 km, my front tire was feeling squishy so I added more air. It had me concerned though – I had filled it up adequately when I changed it earlier. Did I miss a tiny wire or stone poking through the tire? I had felt all the way around inside the tire and didn’t feel anything. The hole that I found in the previous tube was just a pin prick so it was definitely something small that caused the flat. I had wanted to do a little exploring today but, preferring to have to change the tube in the comfort of my garage rather than in the cold (it was 0C when I left) I headed for the coffee shop.

As I anticipated, the normally wet areas on the trail were now covered in sheets of ice. I managed a little skid on one of them when I was forced to make a slight steering adjustment but stayed upright. One helpful walker even offered a warning of ice ahead around a bend, which I appreciated. I checked my tire again at the coffee shop and, sure enough, it was down again. I pumped it up again, had a quick coffee and muffin, and boogied off back home.  The Sips and Sweets Cafe – formerly La Crema Caffe, formerly St. Thomas Coffee Shop…) seemed to be no different from it’s previous incarnation, just with a new name on the inside. All the La Crema signs were still up outside. Can’t really say that I noticed any difference at all but I only go there once or twice a year. The latte was passable but the barista was evidently not trained in coffee art. Doesn’t affect the taste, of course, but helps with the presentation!

Once home, I pulled the tube and put in my third tube of the day! Still can’t find the hole though. Some days, biking is just like that.

Latte, muffin, and a slowly deflating front tire.

Latte, muffin, and a slowly deflating front tire. And my Year 2 Coffeeneuring patch (2013, I think).

When: Sunday, October 23, 2016

Where: Sips and Sweets Cafe, St. Albert, AB

What: Latte (nothing to rave about) and blueberry muffin.

Distance: 15.8 km, on a flattening tire shortened day.

Ride Link: https://ridewithgps.com/trips/11632695

Bike Friendliness: 4/5. Three bike posts (good for 6 bikes) across the street and a wrought iron patio fence, good for another 6 or so.

Weather: Sunny, 0C when I left home, +2C when I got back. Nice day for trail riding.

Too much of a hurry to get home so no other pictures from the ride.


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Coffeeneuring #6

After a wet, dreary week I was finally able to get back in the saddle and continue my quest for 2016 coffeeneuring success. Although the weather still wasn’t the best – typical of late October in these parts – it had been a week since I was last on the bike, so off I went to search for new and better coffee experiences. One of the aborted aims of last week’s ride was to find the location of a new coffee shop that I had heard about. Not wanting to just meander last week with a slowly deflating tire, I instead went to a centrally located cafe. This week, after my usual trip to Lois Hole Provincial Park, I cruised around to try to find the hole-in-the-wall location of DaVinci’s Cafe. It turned out to be hidden in a back lane in an industrial park near the park. The place is just a gem though – a small family-run independent shop with great coffee selections and a yummy looking lunch menu. They are actually a gelato making operation and the coffee shop is a new, and very welcome, addition. Thus it’s location in a bay of the gelato plant.

Even cool, grey days can generate some internal sunshine! Glad I went out today.

Treats, coffeeneuring patch and part of my rear tire through the window.

Treats, coffeeneuring patch and part of my rear tire through the window.

When: Saturday, October 29, 2016

Where: DaVinci’s Cafe and Gelato, St. Albert, AB

What: Latte and chocolate chip muffin

Distance: 16.9 km

Ride Link: https://ridewithgps.com/trips/11710550

Bike Friendliness: 1/5. No bike racks, nothing to chain up to, and even limited vehicle parking due to it’s back lane location.

Weather: +2C (36F), misty and damp but no precipitation.

The ever changing patterns of the duckweed on the wetland ponds are always intriguing.

The ever changing patterns of the duckweed on the wetland ponds are always intriguing.

Kind of like a monochromatic pointillism that changes with the meager current.

Kind of like a monochromatic pointillism that changes with the meager current. One of these times I expect “The Scream” to appear!

DaVinci's location in a refurbished bay of an industrial building. Pretty well the only place I could park my bike, with a giant ghost guarding the other empty spot.

DaVinci’s location in a refurbished bay of an industrial building. Pretty well the only place I could park my bike, with a giant ghost guarding the other empty spot.

The trees are almost leafless now, waiting for the white stuff.

The trees are almost leafless now, waiting for the white stuff.

The Sturgeon River from the Woodlands/Oakmont foot bridge.

The Sturgeon River from the Woodlands/Oakmont foot bridge.


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Coffeeneuring #7

October was an abysmal month for biking – cold and snowy when it wasn’t cold and rainy – with only rare glimpses of sun. November, however, has broken all sorts of records around here for warmth! Instead of turning the clocks back an hour, like we have to do tonight, it seems that the weather gods have turned their clocks back a month or two. I wasn’t able to make use of the nice weather earlier in the week (highs of 18-20C) but got out today for my last coffeeneuring ride. Not my last ride of the year though, I hope, with the good weather forecast to last at least for another week.

I did my usual route out to Big Lake, stopping at the waterfowl viewing platform and walking the boardwalk through the wetlands. Not a breath of wind was rippling the water – it was the calmest that I have seen the lake for some time. Still some ducks and geese hanging around and I was able to watch a muskrat swimming back and forth gathering food for future use.

It was a pleasant ride and there were lots of people on the trails taking advantage of the nice weather. I like seeing people enjoy the trail but having to avoid all the dog walkers who think the trail was made for only them and their dogs on 8-foot leashes gets frustrating after a while. But that’s what I get for going out on a sunny Saturday.

I had a surprise at the coffee shop. They rotate their urns through the usual Second Cup offerings and I normally get whatever medium roast is displayed. Today it was “Holiday Blend” WTF?? It’s only the beginning of November, not even to Remembrance Day, and they are already flogging their Christmas offering? Sorry – Holiday offering. It’s akin to stores putting up their Xmas decorations as soon as Halloween is over. I told the barista that I thought it was a tad early but she just shrugged it off. Maybe I was just getting owly after avoiding all the dogs :/ At least it was nice enough out to let me sit outside for the first time this coffeeneuring season!

Able to sit outside for the first time this coffeeneuring season!

Able to sit outside for the first time this coffeeneuring season!

When: Saturday, November 5, 2016

Where: Second Cup, corner of Bellerose and Inglewood, St. Albert, AB

What: Coffee (Holiday Blend, whatever that is) and lemon-poppyseed muffin

Distance: 16.4 km

Ride Link: https://ridewithgps.com/trips/11802151

Bike Friendliness: 2/5. No racks but an iron patio fence to chain up to, good for a few bikes.

Weather: Partially sunny but +9C (50F) and dead calm. Ending the challenge on a high note!

Not a ripple in the wetland ponds, mirroring the boardwalk and vegetation.

Not a ripple in the wetland ponds, mirroring the boardwalk and vegetation.

The trail through the woods, now snowless and dry as well as leafless.

The trail through the woods, now snowless and dry as well as leafless.

A beautiful day for November in the north. Great for getting out in the kayaks and enjoying the Sturgeon River.

A beautiful day for November in central Alberta. Great for getting out in the kayaks and enjoying the Sturgeon River.

 

 

 

Cycling Slovenia – Oct 22

Our final day of cycling in Slovenia :(. At only 2.5 km after leaving the hotel, hardly enough time to get our legs warmed up, we had to climb up a 15% hill. Well that warmed us up! We didn’t realize that we would see even steeper hills later in the day. Shortly after we reached the top, Lucille – whose legs hadn’t had enough of a workout, apparently – decided to climb a cell tower beside the road. Only Paul was crazy enough to go with her. She said that the view was fabulous. I was glad to take her word for it.

At the top of the first hill of the day.

At the top of the first hill of the day, a 15% grade.

Lucille and Paul getting a panoramic view of the countryside.

Lucille and Paul getting a panoramic view of the countryside.

After a few kms on the top of the hills, we descended back onto the plains with flat roads and pretty trails. Eventually we reached the Ptuj reservoir, riding beside it for 5 km into the city of Ptuj.

As we have found almost everywhere, the cars are very patient and respectful of cyclists. They rarely zoom past.

As we have found almost everywhere, the cars are very patient and respectful of cyclists. They rarely zoom past.

Riding beside the Ptuj reservoir.

Riding beside the Ptuj reservoir.

We stopped at a café in one of the town squares where we had lunch and then set off to explore the castle on the hill above us.

JoAnn negotiating the narrow street, construction and those pesky pedestrians.

JoAnn negotiating the narrow street, construction and those pesky pedestrians.

Lunch in the town square. The Indian busker (left background, in white) earned a few Euros from us with his entertaining drumming and chanting.

Lunch in the town square. The Indian busker (left background, in white) earned a few Euros from us with his entertaining drumming and chanting.

A sunny lunch in a pleasant town.

A sunny lunch in a pleasant town.

Ptuj castle is yet another Roman relic, though it was expanded and rebuilt many times over the centuries. We climbed the narrow alley and stairways leading up to the courtyard. On a whim, Lucille and I dropped a stone down the well in the courtyard. I couldn’t see the bottom and wondered how deep it was. The count was 4 seconds before we heard a plunk – over 250 feet! I’m glad the well has a substantial metal grate over the top.

Narrow alley leading up to Ptuj castle.

Narrow alley leading up to Ptuj castle.

Another trail up to the castle, displaying the fall colours.

Another trail up to the castle, displaying the fall colours.

Paul had a few more hills in store for us, including 1 at 18% and another short 20% brute. Chris and Paul were the only ones to make it to the tops of those without stopping. Even the ebikers had to get off and push on the 20% one. (Note: the elevations on the ridewithgps map are NOT accurate, since they do not show the true grades of those last hills. I also uploaded the same file to Strava and it does show the steep grades.)

Back in wine country. And more hills.

Back in wine country. And more hills.

Al did not enjoy this 18% grunt. He wasn't the only one who had to push the bike up.

Al did not enjoy this 18% grunt. He wasn’t the only one who had to push the bike up.

We ended our day at the Firbas family farm, another working farm that takes in guests. They are not a winery – they get the wine they sell from their neighbors – but they do grow other produce and meats. They welcomed us, as usual, with wine and homemade apple juice. The owner, Bojan, turned on his CD player to serenade us with Slovenian accordion music. It ran continuously for hours, through supper, until I couldn’t take it anymore. During our nightly game of Wizard, which we played in the dining room, I switched off the CD, retrieved my phone and turned on one of my playlists. Enough with the accordion music!

Domacija Firbas, our home for the night.

Domacija Firbas, our home for the night.

Total distance for the day was 59 kms. And some beauty hills.

Map of our route here.

Cycling Slovenia – Oct 20

It was cool in the morning but no rain so it’s a good day to ride! All the wine last night didn’t seem to affect our riding. Paul’s plan was to do much of our riding in Croatia today and we soon crossed the border. A migrant processing camp had been set up at the crossing and there were a bunch of cops there as well as a few migrants milling about. It looked like they were preparing for further arrivals. The UN or other agencies must donate clothes because there were piles of discarded clothing and other refuse scattered around waiting to be picked up by a garbage truck.

Paul being Paul. Energetic and slightly batty tour guide.

Paul being Paul outside Hlebec’s. Energetic and slightly batty tour guide.

Slovenia/Croatia border migrant processing camp.

Slovenia/Croatia border migrant processing camp.

One of the piles of discarded clothing and other items at the border crossing.

One of the piles of discarded clothing and other items at the border crossing.

Croatia is a poorer country than Slovenia and isn’t quite as well kept, though most of the areas we rode through looked no different from over the border. They are now part of the European Community but not yet on the Euro. We rode past a large reservoir for 8 kms but it was surprisingly low on water, even after all the recent rains and flooding in other parts of the country. There must be other controls further upstream. Paul even had to make a 7 km detour at one point because he feared that the cycle path would be washed out by swollen rivers and streams.

On the open road again, this time in Croatia.

On the open road again, this time in Croatia.

Nice assortment of trails, both paved and dirt.

Nice assortment of trails, both paved and dirt.

Riding along the reservoir east of Varazdin. Pretty low considering how much rain we've had recently.

Riding along the top of the reservoir east of Varazdin. Pretty low considering how much rain we’ve had recently.

We stopped for lunch at the Prepelica restaurant in Prelog where errors in communication scored us some wonderful apple cake along with our coffees. Later on, we passed through the much larger town of Varazdin. After a few wrong turns, Paul found the main square and we stopped for a coffee which he paid for as penance for his misdirection. Even though we had gone 70 kms so far, most of the day was flat and no one was tired, especially since we hadn’t ridden yesterday.

Had lunch at this restaurant in Prelog, Croatia.

Had lunch at this restaurant in Prelog, Croatia.

A large corn crib beside the road. Most of the corn is used for biofuel and the rest as animal feed. I suspect this is the latter.

A large corn crib beside the road. Most of the corn is used for biofuel and the rest as animal feed. I suspect this is used for the latter.

We returned to Hlebec’s late in the afternoon, having to climb hills to get there of course. It was a good day of cycling.

Vineyard views on the way back up to Hlebec"s. Very pretty area.

Vineyard views on the way back up to Hlebec”s. Very pretty area.

Total distance for the day was 101 kms.

Map of our route today.

Cycling Slovenia – Oct 19

Cold and raining heavily in the morning so we decided to forgo riding for today. Gwen and Chris tried to text Paul with our decision but got no response so I emailed him. We wanted to get a hold of him before he left home at 8:30 to make sure that he had the trailer. Thankfully, or we would have had to ride in the deluge, he got the email in time. He picked us, and the bikes, up at the hotel at 10 and drove us to the Hlebec tourist farm, a winery and guest house in the Jeruzalem area, near the village of Kog. Upon arriving, the owner served us all a complimentary glass of his winery cognac. We are the only guests staying here so we were all given our own rooms. Nice place! And we are here for 2 days 🙂

The lobby of the Hlebec farm. It is an artist colony for a period of the year and the walls and yard are full of paintings and sculptures.

The lobby of the Hlebec tourist farm. It is an artist colony for a period of the year and the walls and yard are full of paintings and sculptures.

The dining room at Hlebec. Very cozy.

The dining room at Hlebec. Very cozy.

The common room, where we did a lot of card playing. The internet only worked here and not in our rooms, so someone was always out here getting outside communication.

The common room, where we did a lot of card playing. The internet only worked here and not in our rooms, so someone was always here getting outside communication.

My bedroom, unshared for a change. Nice view of the vineyards when the rain lifts.

My bedroom, unshared for a change. Nice view of the vineyards when the rain lifts.

We were supposed to ride into Hungary today, leaving from Lendava, but where we are now that route is now out of the question tomorrow. So today is an R&R day, catching up on reading and washing a few clothes (that won’t dry in this weather).

Even though it was still raining in the afternoon, Lucille and Chris went out for runs and Al and JoAnn for walks. Lucille had a bit more of an adventure than the rest, after somehow ending up over the Croatian border without her passport and unsure about retracing her steps. She managed to make her way back, with help from a priest who picked her up and directed her which way she should run to get back to Slovenia and avoid a manned border crossing. She ended up running 35 kms and got back just as we were about to send out a search party :/ She is training for the Athens marathon in a few weeks and damn near ran the distance in the rain and cold and lost! Oh yeah – she claims that you are never lost if you know where you want to go. However, that only works if you first know where you are.

Supper was great, with many tasty courses and lots of wine. This winery is where we really discovered how good the Slovenian white wine is. We started with 1 litre of so-so red then tried a litre of Riesling. Then a second litre. Then a litre of chardonnay. Then another litre of chardonnay while we played cards after supper. I’m not usually a white wine drinker but those wines could make me a convert! It was a fun night.

Cycling Slovenia – Oct 18

Paul was a little pissed off this morning. He discovered that the proprietor of the hotel that supposedly had a plumbing problem, requiring Al and I to move to another town, had lied to him. She had actually given away our rooms to someone else and didn’t want to admit it. Even though the rest of the group liked the place, it was a bad business decision on her part. Paul won’t be booking any more groups in there.

We left Bad Radkersburg at 9:45 and noticed a change in the atmosphere right away. The army and police were everywhere. We were stopped short of the border crossing into Slovenia that Paul wanted to go through. A group of Syrian migrants was being led to a tent camp nearby and a bunch more were being processed. It was just too busy at that crossing to get through. They said that “it would be better” if we left town by another route. So we had to divert to another crossing another 6 km away in the wrong direction to where we were going, which of course changed our route for the day.

Army and police at the Austrian/Slovenian border preventing us from crossing there.

Army and police at the Austrian/Slovenian border preventing us from crossing there.

It was supposed to be a longer day with a few “mild” hills but, with the change in route, we soon started up a 10% climb. It wasn’t too long though and the view at the top was great so nobody seemed to mind. We did a few more rolling hills, then a long, fast, exhilarating descent of -15%. What goes up must come down! The morning was cool, with some fog, and it was hard to get the clothing right. While climbing, we would warm up considerably and unzip or remove a layer at the top but then chill on the way back down. Hard to regulate.

Grunt, puff, wheeze... but we made it up another hill.

The hills are work but they are great for warming us up!

Out of hill country riding on the flats again.

Out of hill country riding on the flats again.

Al was still having trouble with his bike, with the brakes sticking, making his ride quite unpleasant. Paul offered to swap bikes with him but Al, for some reason, kept refusing. Eventually, Paul bled the disk brakes off a little which seemed to help.

We stopped by this pretty kapelica to bleed off Al's brakes. Nice place to stop.

We stopped by this pretty kapelica to bleed off Al’s brakes. Nice place to stop.

We passed through Ljutomer, one of the larger towns in the area, but the town square was empty on this Sunday. Stopping for lunch at a pub close to the Croatian border, we ate our sandwiches and had coffees. The staff were friends of Paul so we were treated to some complimentary Slovenian appetizers which were kind of a lard smeared on bread. Tasty but they didn’t appeal to everyone.

Tunka, a pub run by some friends of Paul.

Tunka, a pub run by some friends of Paul. Steve and Julie joined us for lunch.

Ljutomer is also where Paul’s mill is located and he gave us a tour of the semi-completed project. He bought an old water-powered flour mill and is in the process of refurbishing it – redoing the exterior, building apartments, a museum, landscaping, etc. His intent is to base his business there when it is complete.

Paul's mill - a big project. Hope all his plans work out for it.

Paul’s mill – a big project. Hope all his plans work out for it.

After a few more kms, we crossed into Croatia at an unmanned border crossing. The ride was flat and on good roads, so it was very pleasant. We stopped for a beer break at a funky little yurt-type bar beside the Mura River, with Slovenia just on the other side of the river. A lot of the clientele seemed to be bikers of the motorized variety but everyone was friendly.

Entering Croatia (Hrvatska).

Entering Croatia (Hrvatska)…

...and leaving Slovenia.

…and leaving Slovenia.

The funky Croatian yurt bar. Never did get the name of the place.

The funky Croatian yurt bar. Never did get the name of the place.

We crossed back into Slovenia, this time at a manned crossing so we got our passports stamped, and 10 km later were at our destination, the town of Lendava and the very modern Hotel Elizabeta. We had supper at a restaurant across the street from the hotel, the Bella Venizia. The decor of the restaurant is a little strange – a mix of Roman and Greek statuary and Italian motorcycles. The owner, Aldo, is a friend of Paul’s and he treated us to many free drinks over the evening, including a red wine-white wine-red bull concoction.

The bike lane in Lendava. I like the hearts :)

The bike lane in Lendava. I like the hearts 🙂

After supper, we went back to our hotel and asked the manager if we could play cards in the lobby. He suggested that we use the dining room instead since there was more room and food service was now finished. We came down with the cards and some bottles of wine (and the vile pear liquor), half expecting him to tell us that was not permitted, that we had to buy wine from the bar. Instead, he asked us if we wanted glasses! Very accommodating management 🙂

Distance traveled today was 71 km, riding in 3 different countries!

Map of our route today.

Biking Italy – Oct 8

The following morning, Oct. 8th, we set off from Zelo for Mantua, our final destination on this tour.

Offloading the bikes in Ferrara.

The bikes lined up on the dock in Zelo.

After riding for 15 km, Rosita led us to a cheese processing facility where they make Grana Padano, an absolutely delicious, tangy, hard cheese. I had never heard of it before but others in the group were almost salivating at the hope of getting samples. Our guide explained how the cheese was made, a careful and complex process. Then she took us into the warehouse where the 40-kg wheels of cheese were being ripened. Each wheel is turned every 2 weeks and aged from 9 months to 2 years before sale. Following the tour, we all trooped outside where they did indeed treat us to healthy sized chunks of Grana Padano and, of course, wine. What a great way to start a day of cycling!

Racks of 40-kg wheels of Grana Padano cheese.

Racks of 40-kg wheels of Grana Padano cheese.

That would exceed my baggage limit unfortunately.

That would exceed my baggage limit unfortunately.

The stacks were approx. 22 high, 26 rows, 23 deep. At 40 kg each, that's over half a million kgs of cheese!

The stacks were approx. 22 high, 26 rows, 23 deep. At 40 kg each, that’s over half a million kgs of cheese!

Enjoying the finer things in life - wine and good cheese.

Enjoying the finer things in life – wine and good cheese.

A few kms later, we stopped in Bergantino, where the main industry is making amusement park rides. Not a small-time endeavour, the rides manufactured in the town are sold to amusement parks all over the world. We toured the museum, had a presentation on how the industry has evolved, saw many examples of older rides and carnival instruments (player pianos, calliopes) and how they use present day technology in the new rides. This was definitely a change from touring churches and castles!

The amusement park ride museum in Bergantino.

The amusement park ride museum in Bergantino.

After lunch in Bergantino, we hit the road (levees, mostly) again for another 30+ km. We met the barge, moored alongside another boat, just outside of the small town of Governolo. We hauled our bikes onboard and set off to cruise into Mantua. Sam and Sara, our chefs, fed us snacks while we lounged on deck, enjoying seeing the bird life on the river, including white herons, swans and egrets.

Back on the levees

Back on the levees

The parade of senior cyclists.

The parade of senior cyclists owning the road.

The Vita Pugna waiting for us to arrive.

The Vita Pugna waiting for us to arrive, snuggled up against some other boat.

Cruising with wine (again) and munchies.

Cruising with wine (again) and munchies on way to Mantua.

White heron looking for its own snacks.

White heron looking for its own snacks.

Rosita walked us through some areas of Mantua that evening but she was disappointed that her favourite gelateria was closed. So was the ducal palace but, since we are staying here for 2 more nights, we should be able to tour it another time.

The ducal palace at night.

The ducal palace at night.

Our route for today.

Biking Italy – Oct 7

As I mentioned in the previous entry, inconsistent internet combined with living my adventures in the moment (i.e. too busy exploring and socializing to take the time to document everything) means that I am now forced to rely on a few notes, pictures and a senior’s temperamental memory to update this blog. Taking place almost a month ago, the last few days of the Italy portion of the bike/barge trip have become a blur of churches, castles, small towns, and similar looking levees. Why levees? Because the Po River has been known to flood in the past, with devastating results, so high berms have been built in strategic locations to protect the towns and fields on either side of the river. The levees also serve as secondary roads and trails and are a convenient, and flat, route through the area.

On Oct. 7th, the barge departed at 7a.m. on a misty morning and cruised for a few hours. Our group of 19 bikers eventually set out from the middle of nowhere, heading for the town of Ferrara. As usual, much of the ride was on levees.

Rollin' on the river. A calm and misty morning cruising to our departure point.

Rollin’ on the river. A calm and misty morning cruising to our departure point.

Cruised for 2.5 hours.

Cruised for 2.5 hours.

On the road again...

On the road again (actually a levee).

The pace of our group was usually slower than some of us were used to so, when given permission by Rosita on some straight section where we couldn’t get lost, Lucille, Chris and I would wind it up a bit to stretch our legs and lungs.

Lucille and Chris sprinting ahead.

Lucille and Chris sprinting ahead.

We passed through a few small, nondescript towns but, with most of the ride on levees, our typical views were farm fields and canals for most of the ride. Not particularly interesting visually. Levees are nice for a change because of the flatness and lack of traffic but the similar views get a little boring after a while. Riding into Ferrara was a treat though. It is an old town (no surprise there!) and one of the few larger cities in Italy not of Roman origin. It is presumed to date back to a Byzantine military station in the 7th century. A high wall, 9 kilometres in length, surrounds the city centre. The wall served the double purpose of fortress and flood protection when constructed in the 16th century. Nowadays, the top of the wall has been turned into a popular walking/jogging/cycling path and we rode a portion of it into a quiet city park. Most of us settled down for a relaxing lunch at a convenient café while Lucille went off for her usual 12 km run.

Settling down for a nice lunch in the park.

Settling down for a nice lunch in the park. You can find cafes everywhere.

Afterwards, Rosita took us for a tour of some of the sights and side streets of the town.

Wandering through the side streets of Ferrara.

Wandering through the side streets of Ferrara.

The courtyard of the moat-encircled castle, built in 1325.

The courtyard of the moat-encircled castle, built in 1325.

Standing at the castle entrance overlooking the moat.

Standing at the castle entrance overlooking the moat.

Oct 7 route

Ferrara was the end of our riding for the day, as we loaded our bikes into a trailer and took a bus from Ferrara to the small town of Zelo, about an hour away, where the barge was moored for the night.

After supper, Rosita took us out for her usual tour of the town. It’s a small berg, with only about 350 residents and 2 bars. We passed one bar but it was dark – strange for 9:30 at night. Unsurprisingly, we spotted 3 others of our group in bar number 2. We stayed with Rosita, who led us to the cemetery, which was actually a neat place in the pitch dark. Not in a spooky sense but just in the way it was set up. The area of traditional graves was surrounded by crypt walls containing the remains of the cremated. Each “cubbyhole”, illuminated by a small night-lite type light, had the name and dates of the deceased, as well as a picture of him/her. For that matter, the gravestones had pictures on them too. I don’t know if all Italian graveyards are set up in this way but that is the first time I have seen that sort of memorial on every grave.

On the way back, we noticed that the first bar was now open so we dropped in for a drink. Strange hours – closed and dark at 9:30, open by 10 and just hopping by the time some of us left at 11. Four of the group got involved in a game of darts with some locals (it was an English-themed pub) and made their way back to the barge much later and a little worse for wear. At least they were quiet about it.

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