Anybody who travels, especially on a budget, understands that nothing will be as comfortable after you leave home. Once you understand that, then you accept it and start to enjoy the journey for what it is. Anne Mustoe who inspired my trip wrote about this aspect in not so many words in her book. But although I have accepted that nothing is or will be the same as being in your own environment at home, I did have my first real low point of my journey so far, a short while ago. Every long journey has its high and its low points but this particular low point stuck with me for some time and I found it difficult to let go. To anyone of you it may seem sad but a bit trivial but maybe when you are on the road, things become amplified and probably become out of proportion than if you were at home.
I was heading out on deserted main road after a wonderful restful day from cycling in Montreaux. I cycled from the campsite along the lake shore and spent the day exploring Chatau Chillon made famous by Byron's poem - The Prisoner of Chillon -and spent a gorgous evening having a picnic meal by the lakes edge watching the sun set over the lake with the mountains and the Dents du Midi range as a backdrop. Setting out early the next morning - a Sunday - on the deserted road towards the Alps, I noticed an abandoned fox cub huddled in the grass by the roadside. It must have only been about a cuple of months old and as I approached it was obviously abandoned and half starving as it was thinner than it should have been for its age. I wasn't sure what to do as there was nobody to flag down and the ones I did, sped past. As I approached it got to is feet and shivering with fear and weakness it eventually managed to scamper away into the long grass away from the road. I felt awfull and helpless as there was nothing I could do for it. For days after I felt very low and couldn't get this little fox cub out of my mind. It really did effect my mood for 2 or three days afterwards. I wish I could have done more but what I don't know. I often wonder how it fared. Did it make it? Somehow I doubt it. Nature can be so cruel.
That was the low point so far. And unfortunately, I am sure there will be others. But there have also been some major highlights. Almost too many to mention even though I have only been cycling for one month and 4 days. But I will be honest. I took a bus over the Col in the Alps. I don't know whether I was still affected by the fox cub but I just didnt have it in me to do it that day. The bus followed the same route all but the actuall col itself but this is a trip that I will do as I see fit and that wasn't to be my day. Maybe when I get time I will go back - luggage free and attempt it again.
Then of course the hightlights have been so many. That day in Montreux, visiting Italy, and Parma and Piacenza where I had a private viewing of the Botticelli Virgin - wow! what a moment that was! And I have seen the opulence and wealth of Monet's gardens at his house in Giverny France to the picturesque village where Renoir lived and the sites around the village that he painted, to Gustave Courbets riverside and comfortable house and village to the abject poverty and desolation of Vincent Van Gogh's lonely little attic room in Auvers Sur Oise, kept exactly as it was in his day without any renovation - a heart wrenching scene as his room was only 7ft x 11ft with a tiny attic window. Ironically, now the society that look after the room and museum are trying to get the money to buy one of his original paintings to hang in his room. They need at least 35 million pounds to buy one!! Doesn't that say something. He and his brother Theo lie together, their simple paupers gravestones lie side by side in the cemetry at the top of the town.
And then there is Florence! I am spending a couple of days rest and relaxation in Florence as it really is the Mecca for my artistic theme. So many sights. One day I shall return to Florence but with more money! I had to cherry pick the sights I wanted to see to save money but I managed some of the most important including, Michelangelo's Bacchus, and Donnatello's absolutely stunning and vibrant wooden sculpture of Magdalen. Not to mention the Cathedral of course.
People often want to know how my day works out. Well, since solo travelling, I have edged myself into a routine that really works for me. I have camped every night since being on my own which has kept the cost down and been really enjoyable considering I wasnt too keen at first. I now though look for YHA or cheap rooms as I find the campsites are too far out for me to really explore the towns and villages that I pass. So camping or not, my routine is that I rise at 6am ready to pack and cycle by 7am. That means I am cycling in the cool and quiet of the morning and by quite early in the morning I have already done the first 10 or 15 miles. If i am doing about 45 - 50 miles a day, that makes it easier to have rest stops for coffee and allows time to explore a city for a few hours before having plenty of time to cycle on and arrive at my destination in plenty of time to get to the tourist office and seek accommodation or a camp site. Then after sorting that out, I shower and change and have time to go out for a meal and sit in the town square with a good meal and watch the world go by. I prefer this routine now even though it is more expensive as I am getting to see the towns as I go without rushing. It suits me anyway and unless a camp site is needed, I shall stick to this routine.
Then when I get back to my rooms, I have my diary to write, look at the photos for the day, write the postcards, etc.. My days and evenings are very busy.
Then I must of course mention the people I have met so far. In Bologna I met a German couple who were spending a few weeks cycling Italy. Hedi and Franz sat and had a drink with me in Bologna square and because they were cycling a different route, we promised we would all meet up in Florence. We did just that and had a wonderful fun evening meal in Florence the previous night and have become good friends in a very short time. They want me to visit them in Germany - which I will certainly do when I have finished this trip. Hedi was very keen (and I am very flattered)to come to one of my talks in England about this trip when I get back. Meantime we shall definately keep in touch. Then there was Luca and his American friend, Antonia who gave me a great deal of local knowledge about the surrounding countryside.
Then there are the funnies: the time at Champlitte sitting outside a cafe where they were having some decking made. The French builder had only half finished it and his drills, hammers and nails were strewn everywhere. He kept picking up a hammer, only to knock in a nail or two, then rest again and sit down and chat to the other French customers. Great! Then he would pick up his hammer again after another drink and hammer another nail in before sitting down once again to chat. Wonderful! Can't help thinking that in Britain we would all be moaning about how the work never gets done. In France, its the socialising that is the most important bit. The manageress knew it would eventually get done so she didn't care one jot!!
Then finally, the moment when I saw a deer about 20 yds from me, dart out from a bush and jump in the river, swim to the other side and disappear into the woods on the bank on the other side. What a moment! Mind you, if anyone saw me emerge from a tent at 5.30am in the morning, they would want to run a mile as well!
Only my fourth country so far and only a month and 4 days of cycling. And what a month it has been. I am sure it will continue.
Catch up with you next month.
(copyright Deborah Anne Brady.)