Upstream – Wertheim to Würzburg

We slip the moorings from Wertheim early in the morning, on the 20th of July, with a brand new crew made by Paolo, Massimo, Holger and me. It rains and a rather annoying wind sweeps the water: We have a hard time to get out from the Tauber river, where Clodia is docked. Entering the Main, however, the wind is on our tail and we run fast with two reefs tucked in.

Still, this river amazes me: Steep sided valleys and castles, coniferous forest, I feel like being in the Alps. Our day is alternating between headwind or tailwind depending on the direction of the meanders we’re in. Then, when the evening comes, we stop for the night in a little village called Urphar, mooring to a pontoon on the side of a camping.

We drop the anchor toward the center of the river to keep the distance from the pontoon itself, to avoid getting bumped into it by the waves coming from the big ships passing overnight.

Holger ed I go toward a Garni that looks good, even if somebody tells us that’s closed. Well, let’s give it a try! We find an open door. Silence.

We get in: Inside the lights are dimmed and we see a man sitting on a bench, many set tables around him. Holger asks if it would be possible to get a couple of beers: “Nein… Geschlossen… Montag…” (Not, closed, it’s Monday).

I thank him anyway and so does Holger, telling him about what we’re doing. His expression changes: He hushes up for a moment, then invites us to take a sit.

He shortly comes back with two large Weissbiers in his hands, telling that we’ll be his guests. A world strikes me: He pats my shoulder saying “respekt”, while his eyes shine!

Thanks Volkmar, that’s his name: Your “respekt” and your look have repaid me, all at once, of everyone who laughed at me, who had already decided for a “no”. They’d never know it, but it’s them who gave me the right boost to take this journey.

I have to be grateful to the “no”, the defeatists, the racists, those worried, the destructives, the selfish, because it’s thanks to them that all of this takes place, to transform their point of view from the inside, carefully and not judging. Volkmar gives us two more beers showing me the biggest snail that I’ve ever seen. It’s African and on his hand, with sheer elegance, seems to express love. That he returns.

We have a quiet night and an enchanted wake up: The mist’s rising from the water and a few curious ducks come to see me.

Volkmar and his wife offer a good breakfast to all the four of us, giving food and beers. Bettina gives us beers and another man beers still. We’re in Bavaria, the stow is full: Of beers, of course! Beer is food, as Holger says, so I shouldn’t be starving to death (or at least I’ll die in a very good mood…)

The intake of beer in Bavaria is twice as much that of Germany, that’s in turn three times that of Italy. In Bavaria they drink about 240 litres of beer per year, per person. These figures come from a leaflet that’ve been given in a brasserie in France, in Saint Nicolas de Port. By then, I discarded them as unbelievable. Now I know that’s possible!

We set off after a nice evening that seemed like a lifetime. Lock after lock (so huge) we’ve already got halfway through this magical river. In Marktheidenfeld we’re waited by a journalist. He takes many pictures but doesn’t ask anything. He’ll write a wonderful article, thanks to Holger I believe, who gives him a copy written after four days aboard.

Living the river is quite different than looking at it from the side. All the books about rivers that I’ve read, including the beautiful “Danubio” by Magris (who has navigated on the Danube, though, but by motorboat) did not grasp the real essence, the power, the sheer pureness of this complex being.

What doesn’t get through, in my opinion, is the most important thing: Life. Everything comes from those rivers, the ocean is feed by rivers, we’re born along the rivers. And we get back there, sooner or later. Writers from all the world, get aboard! But by rowing, riding, sailing! Please, without a motor, that steals that marvellous thing that’s physical effort.

Else, you won’t understand. You’re water at 70 percent and you have to vibrate along with the same wave lenght of it. If not, you’ll write a river of words but you’ll never really tell about the river. All in all, I can’t talk about it too, I’m a humble water follower yet!

After a tasty plate of Spätzle (potato dumplings with many other things) we set seils to Lohr Am Main. The current get stronger, so I row faster but unavoidably slow down: A very very hard leg.

I get pulled by Serena for 7 km because I can’t go ahead and the sky is really menacing: I’ve still to be careful about my health. I drop the lace a few Kilometres before Lohr, an old port where the fishermen still work. They spread their big nets just beyond the locks, straight from the fishing boat.

I see old pictures of the shipyards, of the wooden raft sailing downstream, and of people leaving along the river, thanks to the river. And the marks of the floods, written on the walls. Arrived to Lohr, we look for a place to eat but a lone light shines in a desert town: We’re too late as usual!

The light smells by pizza and comes from an Italian restaurant, the only place open. Despite our proposition to favour local food, we hungrily get in. Salvatore (another one) welcomes us and serves me an extraordinary plate of “gnocchi alla bava”. Thanks Salva!

In Lohr we’re reached by Enrico, who’s riding by bike from Glasgow to Ukraine, and has booked a few days with us, aboard Clodia, through this website.

He tells us about his reckless life, a childhood in Sicily, Catania, then Rome and Glasgow.

The next morning I meet a man over a wheelchair, and a strong woman on his side. He wears a captain’s hat, his name’s Manne and lives aboard. He gives me a Bavarian flag and a few beers from  Aschaffenburg, from where he comes. His story is strong: Struck by a stroke some years ago, he doesn’t give up the boat and builds a system to get hoisted and move aboard. In his eyes, I can see the passion and the admiration, the sadness and the strenght whom has won it. When you have little, you make do with what you’ve got. But Manne has got a lot! Thanks to the river.

I also see Frank and Jessie who give me Paula, a grunting rubber pig that’s now at bow on Clodia, and always makes me smile. Thanks.

The current is now too strong and the effort is terrible, I miss Bruno even here. In the end, we get to Wernfeld, after just 12 very hard Kilometres.

The Main has overflown, the banks are under water. I meet Harim, who already followed me with his kayak in Lohr, and our evening gets by with a mixture of pennette (a type of pasta, gift of Volkmar) with tomato sauce cooked by Paolo and wurstel grilled by Harim and Moni.

We’re moored in a wonderful marina, surrounded by nature: The only noise comes from the trains passing very often, in the night too. But this is good, it means less trucks on the roads. We also meet Günther, who gives me lots of food and Hermine and her husband who want to donate me 20 euros. Thanks for those gifts. Fantastic Germany.

Early in the morning, we struggle to win our lazyness (and a bit of healty, logical, worries) to face an ever increasing current.

The game is immediately very tough. When I get out from the protection given by the marina, rowing at my best, I just can’t move! I try to change direction and get back, when on the other side of the river the current gets weaker and, as a miracle, the wind comes to my aid. My enemy-friend.

Now is on my side and I’m happy, a force of nature helps me in fighting another strong force of nature. Wind against current, and Clodia built to sail: And sail it does, very well. People stare at me, it’s crazy to go upstream against this current, reaching as much as 6km per hour, faster than my rowing speed.

On the sides I always find a passage, touch the trees, sometimes I turn, stop and restart. It’s a fight made of directions, resistance, attention, cunning. The art of river navigation.

Konrad would be happy. With a motorboat it’s so easy and ordinary: I’m enjoying it, even if I’m dead beat. Hours by sails and oars, oars and sails, not a moment to rest.

And I’m not a good sailor. As I said, I miss Bruno who’s a magician in these situations. Water observation is critical to foresee the next move, the submerged obstacles, the trunks and the big rocks.

However, this leg is glorious. I get to Würzburg pushed by so much wind: Here the Main, surrounded by vineyards, isn’t any wider than 30 metres. The impressive current makes waves so high that looks like rapids. I’m grateful to this wind: By rowing it would’ve been impossible to make it!

The last bridge crossing is a struggle, 10 minutes for 30 metres. But now I see Würzburg, with its onion-shaped domes and its castle nestled between the vineyards. Würzburg is in the vineyards! After a lock, I turn back and see a marvellous bridge, with many statues placed at its guard, and a deep green in the background.

In the Hafen Bar marina we’re welcomed by Coony, Tom and Alwin. They have read the half page of the Main Post newspaper with the article about us. Wonderful welcome, fantastic location, in a protected bend of the Main, overlooking an island reserved to non-human animals. Tonight we can listen to plenty of music around! There’s a graduation party and in Würzburg live something like 30.000 students. A very nice, royal, city. Today we visit the “Residenz” housing the frescoes by Giovan Battista Tiepolo.

Alex and Manuela from their boat greet me, they’ve helped us in Lohr. Nearly old chaps! In the evening we see a few little fires lit on a nearby boat, that’s equipped with tables and benches: The marina’s owner, very kind, invites us for dinner, on top of granting free mooring and services. A true gentleman.

In Würzburg I meet the Orient. I get this feeling, even if I’m still so far away. However, the shape of  the church over us speaks clear and loud. But, where does the orient begin?

Let’s take a look! A big hug.




Ulysses am Main – Aschaffenburg to Wertheim

The story restarts from Aschaffenburg, where we find a new friend: Many of them, in fact!

Uli Becker welcomes us and registers Clodia in the local Yacht Club. Docking in the city is often impossible, at least outside of the marinas, for many reasons. For instance, you may run the risk to see your boat set free from mooring lines by a few nice teenager. Not a pleasant perspective, even though, to say it with Moitessier, the boats docked in the port are fine, however they’ve been built to sail.

So, if you want to have an easy sleep, the city is not your ideal choice…

I much prefer the nature and its little beaches for mooring, but it’s difficult because, in the shadow of the night, the waves coming from the big ships are very dangerous, especially on the side of the river: They get higher and can cause big damages to a small boat like ours. So we have to retreat in a marina.

The ports have doors, and often they’re closed. Uli opens them, such as he does with his heart. The marina’s administrators want us to pay: He does not agree, so pays for our staying as a club member, so everyone’s happy.

In the evening, waiting for Fine to reach us (she was stuck in Frankfurt to fix her laptop and is coming here by train), Bruno and I enjoy a wonderful local beer, talking about nice things and future projects. When you’re with Bruno, even when it rains the sky looks clear: His sun enlights everything and everyone!

The next morning, it rains and we have to stop, so we try to use our time in the best possible way, as always in a very tight schedule like ours. Looking for an Internet connection around town, in an italian restaurant I have the chance to meet Salvatore, who tells me about his trip northwards looking for work.

He was frustrated by a dark side of the wonderful and sunny Apulia (an italian region), where is really hard to find a decent job. So, he decided to travel up north like many others before: In the bag, he packed a creativity that is bringing him success. Thanks Salva for your help and for your delicious plates.

In the afternoon we meet Uli, making a fantastic interview: He freely speaks about his work with the boats on the river. We discover a man rich in ideas and moved an extraordinary passion and love. He gives me a wonderful oil lamp, that will warm and enlight my mind (next Diogenes!) in the darkness of the night.

Then, Uli’s dad takes us to the other side of the river, where Clodia’s moored.

Late in the afternoon, we meet Holger, a local journalist from Hanau who read about our project in the newspaper and has contacted us through this website and Facebook. A nice interview and a few photos are enough to begin a friendship that will take him to join us aboard for a while, in a few days from now.

We’re now in the “Dionisos” restaurant, where we’re introduced to Naki, a greek man strong and happy, who carefully listens to what we do. He’s so kind to offer a turn of drinks at first and, of course, ouzo to end up. His nice drawings of Odysseus’ ship, hanging on the walls, reminds me that I’m a little Ulysses too, however missing a Penelope.

An Odysseus with no place where to have to get back, willing or not. In the evening I receive a message: We’re all invited to Uli’s place for dinner, the hero and his travel companions!

We have a wonderful time, enjoying the food made by a palestinian friend. Uli’s house is beautiful indeed, huge and full of bizarre items (ship and car models, old posters, uncanny machines), made even more gorgeous by a big dog and overall by his partner, a tall and strong humorous lady who immediately wins us.

Veronique is a trainer in many energy-demanding fitness disciplines, such as thr Zumba, an aerobic dance that’s a fusion of many different styles and makes you burn something like 1.200 calories per hour (nearly as hard as rowing upstream!). Uli gives us a nice italian wine and tasty sweets, a delicious burst of comfort. Thanks Uli and Veronique (who, on top of that, the next day will also host Fine in their home). See you soon, dear friends!

In the morning, a gift from the Gods comes upon us, this time straight from the Olympus. We had invited by Naki for a coffee: We manage to make it just in time and he’s already waiting for us, although a bit sleepy. We get to know his life, his passion for water and his Croatian wife with whom he also runs a pension near Dubrovnik.

After a nice coffe and a milkshake, his brother Achilleas comes to visit: He’s a Jiu-Jitsu fighter, training in a gymn nearby. Bruno is brown belt in brazilian Jiu-Jitsu too: How not to arrange a fight!

The gymn is wonderful: Achilleas and Bruno are locked in combat. Bruno is out of training by 8 years, but by higher grade. Achillas, well trained and fit, learns. Watching them fighting is fantastic, they’re aggressive in a friendly way. It’s a tridimensional metaphor of war, a peaceful one though. Strange but true!

In the end, we’re homaged with two nice jackets and a jumper.

Later, Naki gives us some delicoius Greek food. Olives, feta, hand made oregano’s bread. Greek water! A gift by Zeus and Naki. ????????? ????.

There’s still time to meet Michael, a canoe-builder, then we set off. We’re in for a very tough row, against a strong headwind and an even stronger current due to the heavy rainfalls. The Main valley gets stunnier mile by mile, hilly and rich in nature. Fir trees, larches and vineyards, many of them.

We letf later than scheduled, so we have to get rowing for a long while. When we arrive to Erlenbach am Main is nearly dark: We quickly spot an oxbow to moor. From a close boat, a woman comes handling a couple of beers and invites us aboard. Bianka and her husband Peter are travelling to Bamberg.

She shows us a nice t-shirt depicting the Che, and cooks ravioli. We’re not missing beer, of course, lots of it since we’re in Bavaria. In the meantime, Peter plays the accordion: we have a good time tonight, as very often along the rivers. In the morning I ask him to play aboard Clodia, and his music gets through the water and to the fish. Marvel! Such as Mario Brunello before our (first) departure.

Then we go. Still headwind, stronger current, hard life for rowers. We take turns with each other.

The Main-Show is on. Valleys with vineyards nestled on dramatic cliffs, castles, pointed belltowers, fortified towns, forests and wheat, a showdown of colours that at sunset are hard to grasp, as it happens when you face true beauty.

The river is clean, lively despite the cruise liners moving an impressive mass of water that eradicates everything on its way, including Clodia if we don’t take care.

Poor Venice comes to my mind, thinking to the madness of cruise ships in the San Marco basin and in the Giudecca’s canal. It’s underwater, where you can’t see it, that the greatest damage takes place.

We greet Peter and Bianka, setting sails to Miltenberg, the pearl of the Main, where we’re awaited by Anja, a journalist. We still see many castles, ancient walls, a shipyard with a slipway on its side, suspended vineyards and so much green, in all its tones. Entering Miltenberg is a bit like getting to Disneyland, except that this city is real.

Anja greets us from the bank. And she helps us, after a quick sail, picking up Fine and her friend Tilmann (who’s come here to celebrate her birthday, happy birthday Fine!!!) in the train station. Tilmann will be our guest for a couple of days. In the evening Anja interviews us and takes some wonderful pictures.

Miltenberg is quite amazing, with its decorated bavarian houses in the typical wood and brick structure, often by using the nice local pink stone.

We have a peaceful night, dry at least, starting the next day with a rich breakfast with Anja and her friend Annette.

Annette studies food sciences (she’s a crudist believer) and she gives us plenty of marvels to eat!

They take us for a tour of the city and the castle, telling us that the latter was in ruins up to 2006.

An important newspaper article written by Anja helped in finding the money necessary ro restore it: Now it’s an attraction bringing economy and culture to the city In Miltenberg you can also see the world’s smallest theatre, a jewel. Less is more as usual.

Walking in the city, I meet a group of youth rowers, asking me so many things about our project and about the reasons taking us to Istanbul.

Fine and I leave Miltemberg reluctantly, while Bruno already set off to Wertheim, where we get in the evening. To be honest, we stop for the night about three Km before town, in a little port where we’re kindly hosted. We spend the rest of the day in a close Bier Garten (the famous beer gardens!) celebrating Holger’s arrival. Bruno is daring tonight and orders a mammooth-sized beer keg.

When we get to Wertheim, early in the morning, it’s rainy and windy. We moor and see Günter, a kind big man that we had already met a few days ago in a lock: he offers me a coffee and a wark breakfast.

Werner the port’s captain, as often happens in our journey, grants us free mooring and helps me in connecting to the Internet from his house, that’s just in front of the dock.

The rain makes the river stronger: I know what I’m in for. The rivers are made by water, so lots of water has to go downstream while we’re travelling upstream!

However, who strongly wanted this boat and this adventure?? “Silly old Giacomo,” – I say to myself – so keep rowing and be quiet!”

A sad day comes for Fine and me, and for the all “Man on the River” crew. A great Man leaves us (temporarily, at least). Bruno has to get back to Brazil to take care about his boats, too long left alone to look after me and the project.

He has given me a massive quantity of help, passion, suggestions and drunk a massive quantity of beer (only joking!!). I greet him just before weeping like a child while I leave him in the train station. It wasn’t for Bruno, and Fine, this year I would not have started the journey.

The doctor gave me a sharp response, but Bruno loves taking risks, wisely and happily though.

And always with a smile in his face, even in the toughest moments, self confident and calm. Saint Bruno: That’s how I call him since our first project in 2006.

Muito obrigado Bruno, great friend of mine.

Paolo Muran, documentar’s director, comes along with his son Massimo, just in time to say goodbye to Bruno while the sky starts crying in solidarity. The journey must go ahead and the train too: The next day we set sails without Bruno and Fine, who has to undertake a couple of health check-ups (and Tilmann leaves with her).

New crew, same mood. Less nautical experience but more spaghetti and coffee, not to mention that very soon a new friend will join us: He’s Enrico, a Scottish-Italian who’s riding with his bike all the way from Glasgow to Ukraine. “Se no i xe mati no li volemo” (If they aren’t crazy, we don’t want’em) as they say in Venice.

And the journey goes on.

A felicidade è como a gota
De orvalho numa petala de flor
Brilha tranquila
Depois de leve oscila
E cai como uma lagrima de amor

Happiness is like a drop
Of dew on a flower’s petal
It shines peacefully
then swings lightly
And falls like a tear of love

Vinicius de Moraes


Main on my Mind – Frankfurt to Aschaffenburg

“Genau”! Correct, of course. This is the world that I hear more often here in Germany.

“Genau”: The Main is quite nice indeed. Clear water, some red and pink sandy beaches and a still gentle opposite current. However the stone banks running all along the sides, placed to prevent erosion, have killed the real river.

Despite this, we can see lots of wildlife, such as very big duck and swans, whose regal beauty would glorify even a less stunning scenery than the one on show here, resembling Altdorfer art.

Our departure from Frankfurt was like living a life in a day!

In the morning, in a coffee shop, I met a very interesting man, Kay. When my phone falls from my pocket to the floor, he says: “It never takes a holiday…”. “What?” I ask. “The force of gravity” he states, and that’s the beginning of one of the most interesting conversation of my all life.

We talk about the big and the small picture, and about eating. Kay is a tough man, very fit: He could be 50 as well as 1.000 years old. His expression is hard, he must have suffered, but as soon as his smile pops out he becomes a joyful child. He tells me how, from being a carpenter and wood restorer, in the last 15 years he turned into a macrobiotic cook: A new diet and Chinese medicine (that’s food and care about your own lifestyle) changed his approach to life. And he’s willing to teach me something, as a gift.

I follow him in a small garden where, seated on a bench, he writes me many things that I’m going to put into practice. I’ll tell you more soon: In the meantime I have to finish off that little food left into Clodia’s storeroom.

Eventually, we set off three hours behind schedule: Fine is quite upset, as she had organized two meetings with jornalists about 18km far from Frankfurt for the next day, so I can’t blame her.

Frankfurt, from the river, is beautiful. There’re lots of people around, it’s Sunday morning. The first surprise, after a short while, strikes me! When I turn back to check the height of a bridge (mindful of the recent damages) I see…

I can’t believe my very own eyes, rubbing them and saying: “Noooo!!! It was just a dream: I’ve never left Venice…” What is coming toward me is a Sandolo (a tipical Venetian boat that’s rowed standing up and facing forward)! I pinch myself and realize I’m awake: This is a real Sandolo in Frankfurt.

I approach it, taking pictures and having a chat with the two rowers, a man and a woman, members to the “Voga alla Veneta” (Venetian Rowing) association in Frankfurt. Unfortunately I’ve lost their address, but I’ll try to get in contact to them anyway.

One hundred metres away, on the right bank of the Main and in the midst of a crowd of people, I spot a bizarre boat bearing a familiar name: “Istanbul”.

It’s a bar, and there’s even a desk for those coming by the river, so I dock happily and ask to the very busy bartender-captain: “Guess where we’re going?”. “I wonder…” he answers, offering us three lemonades made by grandma’s recipe. In exchange I give him one of our t-shirts.

He tells me that this is the only boat in Germany offering bar service aboard, that’s very common in the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn. Te?ekkür Ederim, thanks a lot.

When we set off, I find it really hard to get on, not only for a rather strong back current but especially for all the people willing to talk to me and paying compliments. Ich liebe Deutschland.

Further on, the industrial landscape slowly turns into a more natural scenery and a weak wind comes to help for a short while. The next morning we’ll have a meeting in Hanau (21 km away) with a journalist of the monthly magazine Segel and with a troupe of RTL, a popular German International TV station. We’re very doubtful about our chances to get there in time, having set sails so late.

Just after the first lock, the rain comes: I see a sailboat in the distance and its captain, Johannes, comes close offering to pull me.

I’m so soaking wet that he had pity on me!

I’m happy to accept even if we’ve just 500 metres to go, so I grab a lace and tie it to Clodia, quickly arriving in the Segel Club Undine under the heaviest of rains. Johannes very kindly offers us a beer so we can rest for a while to dry up. Thanks god.

But it’s a short illusion: We need to get moving and the rain is still waiting for us. Bruno and Fine row as hard as they can and at 10 o’clock at night we get to Hanau, topped by a menacing sky. The rain stops just for a couple of hours, the time to have dinner in a Vietnamese restaurant serving Chinese food (we’re prepared to everything to get dry!). I pass a wet night under my “2 seconds tent”, lent to me by Jacopo (I miss you!!!), but I’m so damn tired that I sleep very deeply nonetheless.

In the morning, miraculously, we wake up under a bright and warm sun, that dries our bones and everything that have got drenched the night before.

At 10 o’clock, perfectly on time, comes Britta, the journalist from Segel: She’s beautiful.

Bruno picks up her and Fine’s on the other bank of the Main, and we have a good time. Britta is a good sailor, used to navigate in the Baltic Sea: She must be a Viking too… Soon after goodbying Britta, we welcome the RTL team, super punctual and super professional.

They jump aboard for a nice sail with very little wind, and Clodia has to hang in for a while, embarking up to five people… Daniel, the director interviewer, the cameraman, the sound technician and the two of us: In about an hour we sort it all out. The result is a fantastic report that you may enjoy here.

We leave once again, heading to Aschaffenburg: We face an annoying headwind and a strong current (the heavy rain has swollen the Main, that we’re navigating upstream): It’s so tiring. Realizing that we cannot make it in just one day, we decide to stop for the night in Kahl am Main, mooring in the Lässig Marina.

Not even the time to dock (after taking a wrong turn and getting stuck) and we’re welcomed by a clone of Eddie Vedder, the legendary singer of Pearl Jam, in a pick-up truck. An open smile and very good, self-confident manners: He’s Jörn Lassig.

“Is it real?? London to Istanbul” he asks. “Yes, of course!” we answer, beginning a mutual understanding that will give us one of the best experiences of our journey. Jörn, son of the camping and marina’s owner, has recently started a business specialized in repairing engines and boats, besides providing River Rescue along the Main.

He takes us to his amazing workshop giving us a few spare parts for the temporary small engine used by Serena (the support boat steered by Fine).

We’re still waiting for the electric motor promised by a famous company.

For free!! He doesn’t want any money at all! Fantastic Jörn! We invite him aboard for a beer and late in the evening, despite his busy agenda, he pays us a visit along with his lovely wife Silvia. We all have a good time, sharing many interests.

We’re asked to join them for breakfast the next morning, so we take the chance for a short interview.

Thanks dear friends, you gave us a brief yet intense friendship that warmed our hearts. See you soon!

Setting off to Aschaffenburg, we lose a Musketeer: Fine gets back to Frankfurt by train, to fix her laptop, while Bruno and I are waited by a strong current and a nasty wind.

Hilly landscape, Main wines, wonderful light and lots of struggle.

We reach Aschaffenburg quite late. Dominated by its four-towered castle, it’s a medieval town of rare beauty. Here we can see many rowers, boys unleashed on their canoes who overtake me in a flash: A great river life, rocks and magnificent villas.

It had to be a very wealthy place.

In a parallel, protected canal, take place the Marinas: After more than 20 tough kilometres we can eventually take a rest. While I’m charmed by all the people who stare at me, smiling and greeting, I notice two little girls waving their arms.

I get close and they ask me if they could come aboard: Under the worried look of their friend Steve, I take them around for a few minutes on Clodia. They’re shy and one of them is Turkish, from Istanbul. I hope to have given them a moment of joy and a seed of something different. Their smile and emotion is a much greater gift to me.

In the Aschaffenburg marina we get greeted by a man with a nice smile: I immediately know that we stumbled into one of our usual guardian angels. His name’s Uli Becker.

About him and much more, on sun and rain, pink cliffs, missing ports and newfound friends, accordion on Clodia and unexpected beers, saved castles and magical waters, I’ll tell you in the upcoming post.

It’s a fantastic trip! Gute Reisen!


The Rhine Gold – Strasbourg to Frankfurt

Dear friends, this is our tenth day in Germany, the time flew by. We had to stop for a while due to many different matters: I undertook my usual health check up, while Fine and Bruno paid a quick visit to Fine’s mum, near Hannover.

First of all, I wish to thank Norbert and Lukas from the Cercle Nautique de l’Alsace du Nord, who, on top of granting Clodia free mooring, came to pick us up at the train station. Thank you very much indeed!

A warm thank goes also to Pierre, a driver from Seltz who gave me a free lift to Beinheim, saving poor Giacomo from a two-hour walk, fully-loaded.

The Rhine, after the second lock in Sandbach, gets mightier. The stream is now much stronger, reaching six, seven, sometimes eight km/h. The buoy wakes are really self explaining.

Our navigation gets on quietly, mostly by rowing with the occasional upwind sail, for about 61 km up to Speyer, where we meet once again Sandro and his sister, Sara, on their way back from Amsterdam. We stop in a very modern and efficient Marina, although surrounded by a rather disturbing urbanization.

The Rhine is magnificent, however it still gives the clear impression of a river that’s been killed to make it navigable. The nice meanders that can be easily seen on Google Earth or any other map, are still visible, but are separated from the main water course. A few Canoeing, Rowing and Sailing Clubs have settled there, keeping alive these wonderful natural oasis. But the water from the Rhine can’t flow freely anymore.

Please take a look to the website of ECRR to understand the differences between a real river and a channeled one.

The big boats run fast and the waves sometimes are annoying, but so far we’ve never felt to be in any real danger. Sometimes I’m so daring to get across the ships trail: They either change direction (if they have enough room), slow down (quite rarely), or honk a powerful horn that wakes you up immediately. Ubi maior minor cessat.

In Speyer we have a great evening with Sandro and Sara, indulging in a culinary escapade in a restaurant called “Porto Vecchio Veneziano” (The Old Venetian Harbour). We’re very tired and hungry after so many kilometers rowed under a blazing sun, so we surrender once more to the consumer society.

And we consume, frugally, but we consume, and paying for it of course. Early in the morning I go for a quick tour of the city of Speyer, that’s quite nice: Its big cathedral (“Kaiserdom”) is listed as World Heritage Site by the Unesco. It houses the tombs of eight kings of Germany, four of which being emperors of the Holy Roman Empire too.

Then I visit a monastery dating 1228, where I find a plaque remembering Edith Stein, religious and philosopher dead in Auschwitz in 1942. Suddenly, a pleasant surprise: The monument to Jakob, a pilgrim of the 14th century who has reached Santiago of Compostela by foot: You can see how light he was travelling! An applause to him: Less is more.

Back on Clodia, we set sails, heading to Mainz.

The weather is quite variable: A dizzy rain followed by a blazing sunshine. The wind starts to blow at 10 knots and even stronger, headwind at first, then tailwind, then headwind again.

The landscape looks always very similar, with big forests, rare villages, and sometimes large industrial harbours or quays.

Still in Speyer, we visit the office in charge of releasing boating licenses. Everything gets sorted out efficiently in minutes, we’ll just have to stop in Mannheim to collect the license for Serena, the boat used to support the filmmakers of our documentary, and steered by Captain Fine.

By the river, Mannheim looks huge. Here, in 1868, was stipulated the Convention on the Navigation of the Rhine that still applies.

The next set off is glorious: Bruno raises the sails just under the BASF smoking chimneys, overtaking every ship and boat on his way. We’re in for a tailwind run that’ll take us to Gernsheim, where we moor in a small Marina, under the silent cranes of an industrial wharf.

Our evening gets by in front of a good beer and under a line of plane trees reminding me of France.

In the background we listen to the commentary of the match Sweden vs US (Germany hosts the Women World Cup Finals of football this year), but the main show is a striking red sunset over the Rhine, while a ferry boat goes forth and back between the river banks.

I very much prefer ferries over bridges (such as the mast-chomping ones, specialized on damaging boats led by stupid sailors…).

Nature doesn’t make bridges, with very little exceptions: They stop too many things, join a little and divide a lot. But we humans regard them as so important.

The next day, 4th of navigation along the Rhine, will take us to Mainz, after a 36 km run.

This is a wonderful city, seat of a bishop and very important in history, placed 202 km away from Strasbourg. Sun, a weak wind, then a strong headwind welcome us here.

Thanksfully, on the map I had spotted something resembling a Marina, in a secondary channel running parallel to the Rhine. We suddenly turn from an awkward navigation, harshened by shortwaves slowing us down, to a gentle channel full of life, with big ducks, gooses, swans, houseboats and many tiny boats.

We moor in a forest of masts, a very unusual thing, to discover a wonderful surprise: This Marina is the headquarter of MSC (Mainz Segel Club). After a brief quest across the boats, we meet a kind gentleman who offers us three beers and a good catalogue of nautical items.

Soon after, commodore Harald comes to visit: He was already aware of our journey and we’re quickly invited to the monthly Club meeting, to tell the full story.

In the wait, I try to sleep under a drizzle: The meeting is set to start at 8 p.m. The Club’s base is an old fortress dating 1843, made out of a nice pink stone from the Vosges.

It’s surrounded by a magnificent forest, even if not very far away from a few industrial plants. A wood full of boats, what a charming place!

All members welcome me warmly: One of them speaks a fluent Italian because he has spent many years working in Marghera (Venice), Naples and Milan. We can sense love for boating and lots of respect: Everything works well and the people are kind. You can eat for cheap and have a good time in the peace of the forest. A beautiful tale.

The meeting takes place according to schedule: Funny enough, instead of applauding, people knock their knuckles on the tables. Josephine presents us with her wonderful German from Hannover, telling our story. I try to add a few details while Bruno, modestly as usual, seats back to take a few photographs.

Our audience seems to be sincerely moved and some of them come to greet us, a glimpse shining in their eyes. I’m so happy to share these emotions, sowing simple, natural, seeds in people. This journey is just about it. We goodbye all the Club members, going for a much deserved rest.

The night is rainy but I sleep like a log under my tent. In the morning the rain has gone, although a nasty wind sweeps up. A friend met last night, Winfried, comes to tell us that the museum where a few roman ships (found in the Rhine) are kept, is closed until September. We’re not the first ones rowing up here.

I’m thrilled, the Main is near. Still 2 km on the Rhine then I turn right, raise the two sails and begin an exhilarating, wind-powered flight of 35 km (aside a couple of km through a meander). Just three locks, very easy to pass, slow us down. One of them even has a reduced lock for small boats. What a beauty!

The arrival in Frankfurt is way beyond my best expectations. We enter by sailing and there are lots of sailboats here! It’s a real surprise for all of us. We see many Clubs and plenty of laces between big ships and passenger boats.

I travel fast, still pushed by the wind, turning only to ask for information in a nice Sailing Club. Then we decide to go upstream toward the city center and the Westhafen, passing it and getting back by rowing at first and then upwind.

We’re in a very modern suburb of Frankfurt, housing a Marina nestled within an urban plan designed to recover the old docks.

Technology and respect living together, a strong yet human-oriented architecture: An interesting match.

The Sailing Club hosting us is wonderful and today we’ll make a video of the many people navigating along the river.

I’m just thinking that, on the italian river Po, if you go sailing you’re taken for crazy except for a few rare pioneer, such as my friends Andrea and Giorgio! Here in Frankfurt, there are as many as ten Sailing Clubs, and the Main is much smaller than the Po.

Maybe we’re the crazy one, not them.

A big hug and fair winds.


Europe! – Vendenheim to Strasbourg

We left our story in Vendenheim, with Henri Bronner, the Mayor. His generosity is fantastic: The next day he takes us out for lunch. Here, anyone is very kind and cares about us, as happened everywhere so far in our journey.

Sincerely! Maybe also because they know that we’re just in transit, and being light is really helpful in life. The weight of a long-term commitment on protecting standing properties and little conforts, can make us a bit more selfish and less open-minded.

On the opposite, the uncertainty of travelling forces us to look at the world with new eyes, so other people reflect themselves in what you do and what you feel.

It’s a matter of water… resonances, as stated by Masaru Emoto, a controversial Japanese scholar considered a guru by many and a charlatan by the most part of scientists. I must admit that I appreciate many of the things that he says, by direct experience. In life, metaphysics is much closer to real physic of what we think.

We enjoy a good sleep moored side by side to Rataka, the housboat of Remy and Nadash. At 6 o’clock I neak out to find bread and croissants for Fine, Bruno and me, finding a nice boulangerie in the heart of Vendenheim. At noon, the mayor picks us up for lunch, along with his wife and daughter in law (his son works in Boulogne sur Mer, surveilling the English Channel).

Alsatian cuisine is rich and interesting, too tasty to waste any time in describing it: I have to concentrate on eating like a pig! My dish resembles a bit a Piedmontese recipe, brasato al Barolo, made of savoury meats and French sauces. Fine and Bruno have sauerkrauts and potatoes, with sausages, würstels and well-cooked pork, quite tasty indeed.

I strive to be as vegetarian as I can, but it’s a very difficult task here.

In the evening we get invited for a party organised by the council workers of vendenheim, where we’re waited by another huge feast, lots of meat and worderful home-made cakes. We’re overwhelmed by people warmth. Henri, being the gentleman he is, publicly introduces us to the audience and we get plenty of applauses for our endeavour.

In the meantime we’ve been reached by a much appreciated guest, Karl (Kalle) Fine’s dad, just arrived from Hannover to stay a few days with us.

Kalle, nice and strong, has a wonderful job: He works on landscape art, building fabulous and poetical fences and many other objects by using willow timber and other materials that nature has to offer. In the evening we take a walk to Vendenheim, passing maize fields and big cherry trees.

The next morning we stand for a few photos taken by local journalists, with Henri aboard Clodia. Then, aftere a brief goodbye to Nadash, we leave to Strasbourg. We row once again!

A mediterranean heat surrounds us. It might be that, or the conversation about the “big picture” with Kalle who is aboard with me, or even still the greetings from a couple of fishermen, but below the last bridge before Strasbourg, after having passed about 700 others, I hear Clodia slowing down, then a nasty craaaaackkkkk…

I turn back and I see Kalle bent, eyes wide open, keeping in his hand the main mast, that’s falling over me. Damn… I swear, cursing myself: I can’t believe it. It was just me, praying for attention everytime, that got distracted! I’m thinking already to the damages to be fixed…

Thanksfully the main traveller of Clodia and the mast lock was wisely built by Roland in such a way to break immediately, avoiding further damages to the structure to the hull in cause of collision with a bridge.

Everything worked but unfortunately the base of the mast broke the watertight bulkhead at stem, that’ll be harder to repair. The mast, however, is untouched. “Manco mal”… As they say in Venice (meaning “not as bad as it could have been”, “luckily”).

Archived this accident, we set off again in a very low-spirit. Nature comes to our help, through a centuries-old cherry tree that Bruno climbs like a monkey. I follow him in a much clumsier fashion and take comfort by the sweetest black cherries tasted so far.

We’re on the edge of Strasbourg and the last lock, number 51, marks our farewell to the French Canals. We’ve passed 252 locks (not to mention 20 on the Thames): One by one they’re quite a lot. We’re waited by about one hundred more on the way to Istanbul, maybe a little less.

We enter Strasbourg at 2 a’clock of a sticky hot sunday, over 33°C of temperature. We row in front of the European Parliament and its technological show-off: I have to think about all the money that many members of the parliament earn (an Italian member could receive as much as 35.000 EURO per month) while so many people, often more capable, struggle with very low wages. Efficient politicians do exist, but they’re rare birds. I wonder why.

We stop for a quick lunch in a small kiosk, run by a very kind armanian-russian man. Just the time to learn that I’m Italian, and he loads a compilation of hits of the 70′s, 80′s and 90′s,  as loud as ever, with Adriano Celentano (a very very popular singer and showman) as undisputed emperor.

It wasn’t for a few details, I could as well be rowing along the Ticino river in Italy. The nice, transparent water, reminds me of that found there on my previous journey, after 400 km of thick yellow waters along the Po river. The wind has risen: It’s time to leave and Kalle is still on my side. Eventually, we find high bridges and the huge ferries makes us understand that we’re very close to the Rhine.

Strasbourg harbour is large, but we’ll cross even larger ones along the way. Bruno and Fine mood Serena on the shadow of big plane trees along the canal, while I get going, looking for a quieter place to dock. In the distance, I spot a woman waving her hands, aboard a Peniche.

When I get close, she shows me a copy of the DNA (Derniere Nouvelles Alsaciennes), a newspaper with an article written about us and a nice picture of Clodia. Her boat is called Labor and is very big, 55 by 6 mt.: Anne, smiling, kindly invites me to jump aboard for a coffee. How nice, I’m happy to accept. To get on board I have to climb about 3 metres: Much different scales compared with those Peniche on the canals.

There, I discover a wonderful house and meet Toni, Anne’s partner, who welcomes me. I enjoy a nice coffee and an even nicer conversation with my hosts. Anne and Toni’s business is about culture and their peniche is a huge atelier.

They’ve plenty of ideas and sponsor lots of initiatives, such as a Boat Festival in 2010 and a Christmas Market on water, attracting visitors from all around the world.

The “liveaboard” community is quite large and quickly welcomes me. The little harbour is pleasant and protected, close to the citadel. As always, we’ll get generously offered free mooring for the two days of stay with Clodia.

Another nice lady, Helene, invites me for dinner after a long chat aboard Serena: In the meanwhile Josephine, Kalle and Bruno get to sleep rather early.

Helene, a theatrical costumes designer, is a charming woman living aboard by six years: unfortunately her beautiful steel boat, dating 1908, has sunk for unknown reasons.

Helene’s life was tough and now the dispute with the insurance make her suffer even more. It’s not all a bed of roses for liveaboards. I take a good shower (much appreciated…) then I get to sleep under the stars, since it doesn’t look like raining.

In the morning, I wake up  with two black eyes closely staring at me. A very long neck: A curious swan enjoys the show, then it moves on, looking for something tastier for breakfast.

Our day will be as full as usual: We’re waited by many interviews and fixings on Clodia. Yesterday Bruno took care of the most of it however the bulkead has still to be repaired.

We need resin and other stuff, not to mention food. I travel in an unusual, disturbing heat, and the traffic noise in not here to help. Eventually we sort it all out, then, gasping, we meet in the harbour.

I try to sleep a little in the shadow of a boat, but a woman comes to tell me her interesting story aboard the Glass Boat belonging to Alexandre, master glassmaker. How nice these tales of people that, regardless of age, build a new life. Alexander for instance was a truck driver, but when he turned 50 he decided to change.

Thinking of it, it’s my story too. How hard, and what a beautiful life I found. Someone said that the way to poverty is quite easy, and I’m not talking just about money. To have something more you have to do something more. A lot more. I don’t sleep but I learn, it’s better. I can sleep later on.

At 5.30 p.m. we have an interview with Madame Buchmann (remember?) who is in charge of ecology and we get invited to the Strasbourg city council. We enter with Bruno after a nice walk along the river, being welcomed by an elegant Gentleman who says: “Are you the rowers?”. “Yes, Sir!” and he takes us to Ms Buchmann office. We learn that she mentioned our journey in the last council meeting.  What an honour!

Even inside, the heat is terrible and our “political” day gets quite tiring, however still full of energy and passion. The interview is interesting and intense: We discover the environmental strategies of Strasbourg and I get the impression that Ms Buchmann is a truly passionate and dedicated administrator. Please come to Strasbourg to take a look.

Then, back to Anne and Toni‘s boat for a new interview and finally a bit of tourism, visiting the city. Canals, wood and bricks buildings, nature and art live together in the small as in the large scale. The steeple of the chatedral is really awsome, breathtaking flamboiant gothic.

It’s time to jump on the boat for a good sleep. The next morning we’re waited by the Rhine and a new chapter is ready to be written. A real big river, after the Thames and the Moselle.

We’re excited and happy, tomorrow we’ll celebrate our first 1000 km: 1000 km of joy and struggle, meetings and gifts, but overall of waters across Europe. The veins and the arteries of this big continent. We’re within and over them, trying to do as little damage as possible and to learn.

See you soon, my friends.


Meine Liebe France – Saverne to Salbach

”Ich liebe Deutschland! At last!”

That’s what I say, while mooring in a lovely Marina after a nearly 50 km run along the Rhine.

“Ici c’est la France Monsieur! Ma c’est pas grave, nous somme Alsaciens!” (Here it’s France, Sir! But never mind, we’re Alsatians!”) is the answer that I get from the kind harbour attendants.

Our Alsatian adventure begun in the Vosges: Language, architecture, flavours had changed. However, at this stage I was really convinced to have landed to Germany, but I’m still in France. So what can we say?
We had also raised the German courtesy flag. How embarassing!

That’s Europe and I’m becoming ever more convinced that the borders were drawn by people either crazy or drunk.

Anyway, we’re now on the Rhine, on a little town bearing a German name but, for the maps and for politics, is still in France.

I don’t know if the people living here are aware of this: We can see a territory, feel a culture, hear a dialect, but the borders… Who played with them?

Our own personal Rhine adventure got started at its best. Before taking the big river, everybody scared the hell out of us: Giant waves, monster streams, huge cargo ships paying no attention, six-storey man-eating locks, police ready to arrest us and throw the keys away. Pretty close to my idea of fluvial hell!

But now, we’ve navigated the Rhine a fair while and I can tell you more.

So far the waves are keeping low, we face an opposite yet weak wind and the big barges are fast enough (about 20 Km/h) but very open-eyed on us as we’re on them.

Also, the slipstreams don’t seem to bother us at this stage.

In comparison, navigating in the Venice canals is much tougher, thanks to the motor boats running forth and back regardless of any rule. Here, navigators know their job.

We only get hassled by the occasional grown-up kid aboard his speedboat launched at full speed, who comes too near causing Clodia to wobble a bit.

Couldn’t his parents just watch tv, that night? That’s life, anyway, let’s hope for the better…

The locks are perfect: We share the first one (270 metres long and 20 metres high) with just a little motorboat, but in the second lock (same size as before) we’re side by side with 4 huge ships, the smaller of them being a 60 metre barge.

We look like a mice in an elephant dance party, but these elephants know how to spin.

Everything takes place quietly and precisely. In a world of professional sailors, life’s easier. Only at the end their oversize propellers make some annoying waves, but we get through safely thanks to Bruno who masters the situation perfectly.

About fluvial police… We see them coming toward us quite fast, so we get ready to pick our stuff and prepare for landing. But they aren’t ill intentioned: Slowing down to avoid making waves, they smile and greet us, also taking some picture. Very good news!

Then it’s sailing, light oars, sun, swimming in a transparent water, a good fair tide to help us, many birds and fishes. In the background there’s the Black Forest with its hills. A dream!

However there’s a sad “But”. To get this good for sailing, the river was completely altered. Its natural bed was digged, its course was channeled, its meanders (cradle of life) cut straight. A real river has a different look.

Wouldn’t be nice to work side by side with nature and not against it? Our journey is just about it: Look back to a more natural and “human” way of travelling. Speed is a fool’s bargain: I can see how it’s heavily overrated and often harmful.

But let’s rewind a few days back.

We stopped for two days in Saverne, lovely city, where we’ve been invited for a pizza on the holyday-boat of a nice German couple, Volker and Ilka. Their pizza was beautiful such as their hospitality aboard Grønland, a Dutch Tijalk (a flat bottomed boat) that they’ve completely restored.

Thanks my friends, I wish you fair winds in your life!

The morning after, Bruno takes Volker aboard Clodia for a sail in the basin facing the wonderful 17th century palace, the Chateau of Saverne, whose majesty has earned it the name “Versailles Alsace“.

Everyone is speechless while watching this unlikely crew made of our two skippers and two happy dogs. It’s now time to leave Saverne.

Our journey proceeds under rain, sun and fast clouds.

Bruno and Fine also enjoy some great sailings (I wonder why the wind always fades when I get aboard…) and, after 18 km, we get to Hochfelden.

To reach the city we have to cross as much as 4 waterways in 1 km, a sort of word record!

They’re: the Marne-Rhein canal, the Lohengraben, the Altbachgraben and the Zorn. In Hochfelden we discover a fifth river, this time made of beer: This city is home of the Meteor Brewery since 1641.

We look for a brasserie, but we have to surrender in front of a pizzeria, how puny!

Everything tells us that we’re in Germany, but we can’t find anybody around to confirm it.

On the walls we see strange paintings of people looking out of the window, and ground signs telling manholes may be used as dog toilets. These clues lead to a conclusion: French mind-set has never worked very well here. After all the majority of surnames is German and everyone is bilingual, since Alsace was Germany for a long time.

This week, we have the chance to meet some very special people, and it’s not a novelty.

The fist is called Henri Bronner, mayor of Vendenheim and friend of Guy Rougieux. He’s so kind to come to pick us up at 9 o’clock in the morning in Hochfelden, displaying Alsatian punctuality (5 to 7 minutes away from that of Germany, which in turn follows by 5 minutes the Swiss one, unchallenged even by Japanese).

Henri can’t hide even for a moment his intelligent and generous nature. Despite a very tight schedule he takes us to Strasbourg, about 15 km away, to visit the waste water depuration plant (5th by size in France) treating sewage for around 1 million people (or “equivalent inhabitants” as they say) just on the French banks of the Rhine.

Dr Samir Idir shows to Fine and me this technological marvel that gives back water to the big river, who’s seriously ill and therefore under strict observation by the European Community.

The water flowing from the plant to the Rhine is nearly drinkable.

The left-overs of depuration are used to produce natural gas, in such an extent that from next year the plant will be self-sufficient for heat energy and really soon for electricity too (they’re even planning to sell the energy surplus).

Here we meet Aude Gambet, a journalist from DNA of Strasbourg who writes a meaninful article about our project and its goals, that you can read  here.

Later on, we are introduced to Andrée Buchmann, regional councilwoman of Alsace and vice-president of the Municipality of Strasbourg (and also commissioner for the environment).

She tells us about the green strategies of the city, crossway of Europe and outpost for new ideas to manage urban life. We’re also invited for lunch in the House of the Regional Council of Alsace.

We then go to Vendenheim, where we visit the city hall, an enviable Senior Citizens’ Centre and a sport centre built by using the latest and best energy saving technologies. A dream made real.

The mayor, once a trade unionist, works with great passion and commitment: You can tell that he’s loved, sincerely. He spares no effort and participates to every event where his presence is required.

To get back to Hochfelden, where Clodia is moored, we get a lift from Damien, a policeman from Vendenheim.

I’m getting worried: For the second time in a few weeks we’re guests of the French police, and we’re not criminals (yet)!

Bruno (who stayed to look after the boat) is impatiently waiting for us, because the wind is strong enough to set sails. We get going very quickly, with Bruno at the tiller and Fine rowing, covering 18 km in 5 hours: Just in time to arrive to Vendenheim where we stop for two days, shaded by a wonderful Dutch boat.

It’s the house of Remy, lock-keeper of the first “ecluse” on the Rhine after Strasbourg. Remy and his wife Nadash, a bycicle postwoman, offer us a hot shower and a tasty dinner, where we’re entertained by stories about the lock and the big river. Their daughter Marine even draws a lovely picture of us that you can see below!

Thanks to Remy and Nadash! To be continued soon…




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