This has been a warm up trip for the more challenging roads ahead. The trip was in some distinct parts. The first 4 days in England were great and it was sad to leave Kate and Chris. They were great relaxing company and I feel grateful that I have such a good family.
The trip through Holland and down the Rhine was flat, full of cobbles and had some really memorable scenes such as the windmills, and we visited cities such as Bonn, Koln and down to Strasbourg. However overall we felt that cycling large rivers has its limitations. The scenery is much the same and there are large industrial parts to be negotiated.
The end of the Rhine section came with our time with Philippe and Chantal; whose hospitality cannot be faulted. They are a great couple and seeing Strasbourg through their eyes was a privilege.
It was good to start climbing as we went through the Black Forest, with its sweeping hills, vistas over fields and woods and friendly approach. Seeing the renaissance style church at Sankt Peter in the early morning calm was very special.
Then we had a wet day (we had only a few wet days) around Lake Konstant/Bodensee. This is a wealthy area and there were some really expensive lakeside homes and towns. We cycled through this area feeling like we were looking in to a world of affluence. However even the opera festival in Breganz did not stop the friendliness of the locals.
After Breganz we faced the alps. We had one really tough but brilliant day with 3 passes that ended at St Anton. Climbing was steep and tough in places but the vistas were as memorable as anywhere in the Alps. This was the day we saw the man with the most impressive alpine moustache which went round and met itself coming back!
We had great hospitality from Nadine and her parents in St Anton. It was good to get information and advice from Hans, in part because he was so proud of his country, Austria. There is such a good side to Austria which came out so clearly from Hans, Rita and Nadine.
They persuaded us to take in Innsbruck which was astonishing. An architectural gem full of Hapsburg history.
Then the Brenner Pass, which was a disappointment with a shopping centre at the top, and into the magical world of the Dolomites. These were every bit as dramatic and stunning as the hype. The colours of the rock faces changed in the sun, but showed browns, greens, purples and a host of other colours.
Cycling the dolomite passes was a pleasure even when it was steep, and it somewhere we must return. Then we had the long descent from the high country to the towns of the Northern Italian plain. They are full of old, musty, celebrated and architecturally fascinating buildings from the last millennia.
Padua was perhaps the highlight of this cultural part of the tour, as we strolled amongst the buildings, sipped coffee in the market and watched the everyday business of greeting, shopping, arguing and reaching compromises taking place in ancient surroundings.
Then finally to Venice where we re-joined the crowds of tourists. This brought home to us that we were, after all, just tourists like everyone else. Even here however it was possible to forget the crowds when looking at the sheer majesty of St. Mark’s Cathedral.
We are fitter than 4 weeks ago, thinner and have done a route that we made up for ourselves. We have camped, sought out hotels, blogged and relaxed our way for the 2,200km from home to Venice. We are ready to come home because we have a life at home, relationships with family and friends that mean so much to us and work that is calling. But we are perhaps a little wiser about what the next stage of our overland trip will feel like. We still aim to get as far as Australia but there is no point in looking beyond our next hop to Istanbul. We will be better prepared for the next set of challenges because they will be greater than we have had to date.