The final stage

The final stage

I had vivid images of how I’d celebrate when I finally saw the Black Sea and I’d settled on the idea that it would be really satisfying and cool to rip my shirt open in a burst of adrenaline. But when the moment came it was a little less dramatic than that; celebrating by yourself is strange, plus it was cold and I don’t have many shirts or money to buy new shirts. Although I suspect the real reason was my fear that I wouldn’t actually be strong enough to rip my shirt and I’d erase all the self-esteem I’d built up over the previous two months. In the end I was content with a deep breath of sea air, a couple of selfies and a cold beer in an Irish pub creatively named ‘Irish Pub’.

It’s hard to believe, but it’s already been three weeks since I completed the ride. I now find myself back in Broome in my old place and sitting in the same spot I sat in during the planning stages of the trip. It’s very cliche, but it honestly feels like I never left. The last three months, while being some of the most memorable of my life, are now a complete blur. Although I’m still having to fight the urge to pick up my phone and check the distance for tomorrow’s ride or a cheap hotel for the next night, and when people speak to me it takes a few seconds to register that it’s English, I do understand, and I am expected to reply rather than nod, smile and revert to hand-gestures. As comforting as it is to be home and to have the security of a job and incoming funds, the thought of getting back into my old routine fills me with a strange sense of emptiness. I’m already trying to work out how long it will be before I can head off somewhere again.

My final morning of cycling in Bulgaria was brief, as the border was literally through the middle of Silistra, so after about ten minutes I found myself in Romania dodging horse-drawn carts and Gypsies (there were nearly as many horse drawn carts as there were cars in rural Romania). With rolling hills, endless vineyards and patches of forrest with golden leaves, the countryside was visually quite stunning, but while riding through this isolated natural beauty the fact that Romania is home to 50 percent of Europe’s wild Bear population kept popping back into my mind, so I didn’t pause too often to take it in. I’d read that this part of the route was going to be most challenging because of the cobbled road surface, but this never eventuated and the recently paved roads were, surprisingly, some of the best quality since Austria, except that they were lined with litter and dead animals. Some of the villages I passed through were genuine slums where the ground had been trampled into mud and hillside caves were a legitimate accomodation option. Speaking of dead animals: having just committed the fatal faux pas of admitting to not loving all dogs in my last entry, I was forced to rethink my thoughts on the matter within minutes of crossing in to the final country of my trip. The dogs in Romania were seriously malnourished and timid – I went from fearing them to sympathising with them. I passed one particularly miserable looking dog as he walked up a hill along the centre line and as trucks passed by within centimetres of him he didn’t even flinch. I spent a few minutes trying to coax him to the side of the road, but every time I moved on he returned to where he had been. He wouldn’t even look up when I tried to call him and his body language suggested he didn’t want any help. That’s when it dawned on me that all the roadkill was more likely suicide than a series of impossibly frequent accidents.

My first night in Romania I ended up in Adamclici, a run-down village that didn’t have a single place to eat but did have a large, modern and seemingly brand new hotel. The hotel was hidden away down some back streets and when I arrived there were two identical BMW X5’s parked out the front. I don’t know a lot about the Romanian mafia, but this place reeked of dodgy business. I walked in the entrance and found a dark, abandoned reception area and rang the bell a few times before a woman appeared in front of me. Obviously I was an inconvenience to her, and she had no qualms making that clear to me, which, as far as I was concerned, provided further evidence that the place wasn’t built with money made in the hospitality industry. She pointed to a plaque on the wall which displayed the price for a night then shrugged her shoulders and turned back to me with a look that said ‘I know you can’t afford that, you scruffy piece of shit’. This process was repeated several times before I showed her some cold, hard Romanian leu and received a key in exchange. It probably goes without saying that I was the only other person staying there, and the walk through the dark hallways to find my room felt like the opening scene of a horror movie.

The next morning I woke before my alarm for the first time on the trip. I got up excitedly and went through the process of repacking my bags and tucking my pants into my socks one last time. Breakfast wasn’t an option in Adamclisi, but I didn’t care because it was the last day and I only had 65 Kilometres to go. I re-stacked my bike and cycled out past what had now turned into three identical X5’s. The cycling was similar to the previous day aside from the final 20 kilometres in to Constanta which were along a busy stretch of highway that, legally, I was probably supposed to avoid. Aside from the clouds parting and the sun shining on me for the first time in a week, the arrival in Constanta was a bit of an anticlimax. Once in the city I wasn’t even sure which direction the Black Sea was in until I finally saw it between two high rises at the end of a street, and when I got there I wasn’t quite sure what to do. I could see straight away that life in Constanta was a world away from the other parts of the country I’d been through; I’ve never seen so many late model European cars, and the people I came across were mostly young, well dressed and spoke english. I made my way to a hotel with a younger woman sitting on the front steps smoking, and without looking up she told me I could park my bike ‘over there’. I obliged, then turned around and asked how she knew I spoke english. She shrugged an ‘I don’t know’ and walked back inside – I’m always curious about what gives this away.

I made the mistake of thinking that the adventure was over by this point and as a result I was massively unprepared for the day I was about to face when I woke the next morning. I had to get back to Sofia where I’d left a bunch of my stuff in the apartment owned by my sister in law’s family, but public transport between Romania and Bulgaria isn’t too regular on a Sunday (I probably should have guessed this would be the case in a strictly orthodox christian part of the world). While I was at the bus station trying to find a way to Bucharest for an overnight train to Sofia, an opportunistic local approached me and told me he could drive me to the Bulgarian border for 200 leu (about 40 Euro). Every instinct was telling me it was a terrible idea and that I shouldn’t trust the guy, but I thought this way might end up quicker and cheaper, so I went for it. We bungy-tied the boot shut with the bike hanging out and headed south. The guy turned out to be decent and along the way he explained how hard it was to get ahead in Romania; how he’s left the country only once and would have to save for another five years to go on holiday again. His dream was to see Barcelona play at Nou Camp one day, something I made a casual decision to do when I happened to be in Barcelona four years ago. Listening to him (and just being in Romania) was another sobering reminder of how good we have it in certain parts of the world, and how much we take for granted. After he dropped me off he told me there was a bus from the Border straight to Varna and then on to Sofia – all I had to do was walk across the border. When I did get across I used google translate to ask the lady at the customs shop about a bus and she confirmed with her own google translate that it came at 1.30pm, but when 2pm came and went I got google out and asked her again and she straight away admitted that sometimes the bus doesn’t come on Sundays. I stared at her and shook my head, then asked google to translate “maybe that would have been useful information two hours ago”. I would have hitched a ride from there but it’s a little difficult with a bike, so I had to take a taxi 100km to Varna and buy a bus ticket there. The bus the driver said I couldn’t take my bike because there was no room but, miraculously, 15 leu created a little extra space and I was finally on my way to Sofia, bike and all.

After a 7 hour bus ride and another taxi trip, which nearly ended in a fight, I was back at the apartment of my sister in law, whose family were kind (brave) enough to let me have free rein. The taxi ride in question involved the driver getting lost and relying on my directions the whole way, then the fare coming in 20 Lev more expensive than quoted and an extra 10 Lev bike-handling fee, which apparently hadn’t existed at the time of the quote. I initially refused to pay but I changed my mind pretty quickly after he unfolded his 7 foot frame from the drivers’ seat and approached me with clenched fists at his side. As you can probably tell I’ve use the term ‘near fight’ very loosely here.

I spent two days in Sofia looking around, getting all my things together and organising to get my bike boxed up for the flight home. My first impression of Sofia two months earlier had been so good that I prepared myself for disappointment upon my return, but once again I immediately picked up a great vibe from the place. For a city of close to two million,  Sofia has such a calm, relaxed feel and is full of markets, cobbled streets and Viennese inspired architecture. I was so relieved to have finished my ride, but waking up in Sofia I found that all I wanted to do was get on my bike and go exploring. So I spent the days cycling through the stunning parks surrounding the city and sampling the many coffee shops.

After all the cycling I wanted to do some travelling as a normal tourist before heading home, so I flew to Germany for 10 days to visit some friends before flying back to Sofia to pick up my bike and taking off for the Southern Hemisphere.

Here’s a few stats from the trip for ya!

Total days spent cycling: 50

Total Distance: +/- 4,000km ( my trip computer died for a few days in Germany, so I’m not sure of the exact distance)

Average per day: 80km

Biggest day: 136km – Tata to Budapest, Hungary.

Most physically challenging day: Konstanz – Sigmiragen, Germany.

Average speed: 15.7 km/ph

Max Speed: 61.6 km/ph – racing Maurizio down a hill in Serbia somewhere.

Punctures: 1 – heading in to Belgrade in the rain.

Crashes: 1 – near Dole, France. My front rack collapsed and stopped the front wheel dead. Also I did forget to unclip my shoes and tip over a few times.

 

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Just across the border into Romania – the first of many.

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After two months and 4,000km, double figures were comforting!

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Aaaand just a little further up the road…

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Breakfast on the final day of the ride consisted of Red Bull and stale pastries. Good thing I had nice company and a decent view.

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Can’t remember where this was.

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The Black Sea! Finally…

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My ride to from Constanta to the Bulgarian border Seemed legit.

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Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Sofia.

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Apparently this is the typical breakfast in Sofia. The cheese Banitsa is recommended, the drink definitely is not.

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Berlin!

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Quick stop off in Groningen (Holland) to visit my good friend Jonathan, and ride some more bikes…

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Apparently cycling is popular in the Netherlands.

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View from the top of the Bergbahn in Heidelberg!

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After putting up with me in Munich and Konstanz, Daria was forced to do it again in Heidelberg. Final meal before starting the long journey back to Sofia and then eventually to Broome.

 

 

 

Two days to go

Two days to go

I’m in Silistra, the last Bulgarian town before I cross the border into Romania tomorrow morning. The roads to get here have been busy, the terrain hilly and the weather bleak. Particularly yesterday as I cycled from Svishtov to Ruse. Although it was only 100km in total it was easily one of the toughest days so far – full of hills that looked like they would would never end. By this stage of the trip my body has had enough, so to even get up and get started each day is a massive mental challenge, but to approach hill after hill and know you have no option but to cycle up them is pure torture. “Character Building” I keep telling myself, although Im not sure it’s helping. By now I can’t even take comfort in the fact that ‘at least it’s going to make my legs bigger’ because, well, I’ve been doing it for two months now and my legs definitely aren’t any bigger. I’m genuinely worried that when I get back people will see me and immediately write me off as a fraud: “There’s no way you cycled across Europe with those things!”

The other thing I’m having an issue with at the moment is dogs. Now I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with dogs at the best of times, mostly because I hate them. Come to think of it it’s more of just a hate relationship, really, but I’ve never actually feared dogs until now. Every time I stop to have a drink, or check my map, as if on cue a dog will appear at the nearest fence and absolutely lose its mind at my presence by making some kind of repetitive angry sound come out of its mouth. That’s if I’m lucky. Because at least a few times a day now they are not behind fences and they chase me, sometimes in packs, trying their best to bite my legs off, or at least push me into approaching traffic. They are genuinely wild around here. They roam the streets without anyone looking after them, and only the bones of ill-fated cyclists as sustenance. It’s for this reason that I stole a butter knife from an old couple at a home stay in Serbia (I didn’t have the heart to steal a decent knife) – I know that stealing is bad, but I left them my sleeping mat as compensation, so they got a good deal – A butter knife might not sound like much in the way of self-defence, but I keep it strapped to the front of the bike and I’ve done a few practice drills. I’m sure if I strike in the right place it’ll be effective. I’m mostly joking here, but at the same time I’m not sure. At least I hope it doesn’t come to that because I actually like dogs sometimes (when they shut up and act like cats), and the amount of dead dogs on the roads in and around every town here is sad, not to mention off-putting.

I woke up on Thursday to find that my good old mate Maurizio had ditched me in Belgrade. Apparently he’d found out there was a ferry crossing down the line that only went a couple of times a day, so he wanted to leave early to make sure he made it in time. I hadn’t done any planning ahead because I was relying on him, as he’d relied on me up until Belgrade, so you can imagine how excited I was to find this out when it was too late for me to make it in time. Cheers, Maurizio. As a result I had a slow day cycling through mud and across grass to get me within distance of the ferry for the next day. After I did cross the ferry the next morning I was suddenly hit by a strong headwind and spent the day feeling like one of the many plough-towing tractors I kept seeing in the fields alongside. I eventually arrived at a guesthouse nestled within the forrest in a town called Vinici just before dark. It was a beautiful little place and the hosts, who spoke no english, brought me rakija, coffee, a little cake and beer as a welcome. They then brought over a neighbour to act as translator and demand payment straight away, which I thought was a little distrusting. But, then again, I did steal one of their knives so they read me well.

My last day in Serbia took me to Negotin, which is across the bridge from Romania, and about 18km from the Bulgarian border. I had intended to cross the border and get to Vidin that night, but I’d had some bad information about how far this actually was. I was in the hills above Negotin and a German guy pulled his car over to talk to me. I told him I was headed to Vidin and he said it was just 10 or 15km past Negotin, which would have been well within range. Then, when I got into Negotin, I stopped at a sign which told me the Bulgarian border was still 18km away. Knowing that Vidin was well past the border I instantly realised I’d have to change my plans for the day. As if reading my mind (or maybe just my confused facial expression) a local couple approached me and told me they had a friend who owned a guest house for cyclists (that’s literally what it was called) which was ridiculously cheap (800 dinas, or about 6 euros), and they also happened to be the nicest people in Serbia. I went to dinner with them and we had a few beers while they told me all about the complicated political and social situation in Serbia, then they insisted on paying for it all because I was a “guest of Serbia”. I was blown away by the whole experience, and it’s one of the nicest examples of local hospitality I’ve ever experienced. Certainly a positive way to end my travels in the former Yugoslavian territories.

The next day I did cross the border, after being hurried through by an army lady with a gun who didn’t appreciate me taking selfies on the road, and headed to Vidin. It was easily the coldest day of the trip so far, and to top it off Vidin was one of the most intimidating places I’ve been. I know that gloomy weather never makes a great impression of a new town, but the streets were dirty and dark, many of the buildings completely abandoned, and the people seemed to take more of an interest in me than usual -as in they wouldn’t stop staring even after I’d caught them staring, a sure sign of craziness in any culture. It was a strange experience and I was actually a little worried to venture too far around the city that night, which is generally not something I have an issue with. Thankfully, since then the Bulgarian people I’ve met have actually been very nice. They wave to me as I go past in little villages and, although we cant communicate much, they mostly seem willing to try.

I realised that the weather at this end of the trip might become a factor, which it has, but what I failed to take in to account was the shortening of the days as the seasons changed. In the early stages of the ride I could go until 8 or 9pm without having to worry about the dark, but now as soon as 5pm hits I start to freak out a little and make sure I have myself a place to stay, something that is also more urgent because of the fact it’s far too cold to rely on my backup plan of wild camping. These factors combined have added a lot of pressure because I can’t now rely on the fact that I can suffer a few delays and still manage to pump out 120 kilometres in a day. As a result I did a little bit of cheating a few days ago. I was in Vidin, western Bulgaria, and realised that there was nowhere I could stay that was within 120km. The forecast was for rain and a high of 8 degrees, and the day before I’d heard that there was snow spotted on the surrounding hills. I’m pretty carefree most of the time, but I wasn’t risking getting stranded in that, so I caught a train to the next town. I would have stayed and tried the next day, but at this stage I also have a few time constraints – if I want a job to go back to that is. So I apologise for this! But I’m on track to do 4,000km and the website states that the Eurovelo 6 is 3,600km total, so it’s still more than I’d bargained on.

At this stage of the trip I feel like I can look back on things with a little bit of perspective, and I’d like to take this opportunity to apologise to France. I was a harsh critic of France’s roads, signage and even some of the scenery. But, now, having some basis for comparison, I can confidently say that I’d cycle back and forth across France a few times before I’d attempt to cycle anywhere east of Budapest again. The route I’m following (Eurovelo 6) is supposedly the ‘Danube cycle trail’. Well I see the Danube when I leave a particular town each day, then I see it again when I arrive at the next town each night. In between I generally see potholes, empty fields, run-down villages and, well, dogs, but I forget that there’s even a river there. Of course the route now is not along purpose built cycleways either, so I have to deal with heavy, and aggressive, traffic throughout the day. It’s a sad reality, but at this point it really has become just a case of going through the motions to try and get to the end.

Speaking of which: I am now (hopefully) only two days away from Constanta, my final destination! It’s strange to think that after two months this journey is nearly over, and that in a few days I wont need to put padded shorts on when I get up. But it’s also going to be a huge sense of satisfaction and relief when I finally get there. The forecast is looking good for the next few days, so lets see what the Black Sea has to offer!

 

Cover photo: A rare glimpse of the Danube in Kladovo, Serbia.

 

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Serbian breakfast. I’m actually considering going vegetarian after the amount of meat I’ve eaten over here.

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A unique place for a bit of a break in the Bulgarian hills.

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Some of the Bulgarian countryside has been really nice. The problem is that taking these roads means you add hills and kilometres to your day!

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The ferry from Stara Palanka to Ram, Serbia. It was after this that the winds began.

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Im sorry, but Serbian food has been easily the worst. The most noteworthy example being this well cooked piece of chicken. I took it back and showed the lady – she shrugged her shoulders and suggested I feed it to the dog. I figure if your diet consists of 100 percent meat and you cook meat for a living then you’d have some idea how to cook meat. Apparently not.

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Dinner with my new mates Emma and La in Negotin. Legends. 14795665_10154676498994485_471355375_o

My first glimpse of Vidin, Bulgaria.

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A unique Serbian experience: four kiwis, three australians, two germans and a filipino-american in a German bar in Belgrade.

 

Budapest to Belgrade

Budapest to Belgrade

Right now I’m in a coffee shop in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia and former capital of Yugoslavia. Apparently this is the best coffee shop in the country and it took me half an hour to walk here, so it better be. When I’m in the bigger foreign cities I like to find places where I believe I might be able to get a flat white, because that’s why you travel, right, to experience the luxuries you can find any day in your home town? Really, though, a good coffee shop is on of the best ways to immerse yourself in the local culture and judging by the looks I keep getting I can say with confidence that I’m the only foreigner here.

To say there’s been a volatile history around these parts would be an understatement and I’ve been constantly reminded of it for the past few days, particularly as I cycled across the border between Croatia and Serbia. In villages on either side there still stands the bullet-ridden remains of abandoned houses and churches, and to think that only 25 years ago these two countries were at war, and that many of the people I’ve spoken to in little shops or waved to in the street would have been personally involved is hard to comprehend. Belgrade itself was bombed by NATO even more recently (1999), I can even remember seeing footage of it as a child (when I probably thought it was in Africa somewhere), so to walk around and see that it’s a modern city with regular, albeit freakishly tall, people makes that even harder to accept.

I say that Belgrade is a modern city and, despite the horrific communist architecture that typifies this part of the world, it is. There are nice restaurants and cafe’s everywhere, quality sporting and cultural facilities, and very well-dressed people walking the streets. But country Serbia is vastly different to anywhere I’ve been so far. The roads are rough, littered with potholes and patch-up jobs, and most of the buildings lining the road are (or should be) abandoned. It seems the young people have fled for the cities and to spot anyone under the age of 50 is rare. Old men sit on street corners smoking, drinking and watching the world go by, and women ride their bikes to the store. I’ve seen more tractors than cars for the past few days, and the cars I do see are usually on the wrong side of the road heading in to a corner, desperate to get past the tractors. Since crossing the Serbian border it’s like a switched has been flicked and now all of a sudden everybody is in a hurry and lacking any common sense or consideration for others when behind the wheel. This makes it an unlucky coincidence that for the past few days the whole Eurovelo 6 trail has been along the highway. Every driver feels the need to use a horn to warn you of their presence moments before speeding up and passing you as closely as possible, whether thats out of courtesy, annoyance or just a reminder that you’re a loser on a bike I’m not sure, but if I’m already on the gravel edge of the road theres not a lot else I can do – this is the reason I got a screw in my tyre and my first puncture of the trip yesterday.

For the past two days I’ve been cycling with Maurizio, a 67 year old Italian former physics teacher. We met at a restaurant in Vukovar, Croatia and after chatting for a few minutes realised we were both riding our bikes in the same direction, so we agreed to meet up in the morning and go together. Maurizio has a lot of knowledge on this region so each day has been like a history lesson, which has been amazing. But unlike my podcasts there’s no pause button on these lessons so, while informative, they are never ending and I barely have the time to think or look around to take any of the scenery in. He’s the kind of person who gives you a running commentary on every thought that enters his head, and feels the need to check that you’re ok if you haven’t responded for a few seconds. Then, when you arrive at your destination for the day, you have to do everything together. After six weeks of doing everything alone it’s taken a fair bit of getting used to, but watching him talk to all the younger women we come across is hilarious, and he uses the word ‘coolio’s’ for things that he likes and that makes it all worthwhile.

Yesterday’s ride started with a 5 kilometre non-stop uphill ride out of Novi Sad, which I was able to tackle with surprising ease. After that the cycling was relatively flat, in and out of small villages and a lot of maize fields and apple orchards. We stopped at times to taste the apples straight off the trees, and at one point I grabbed on the the back of a tractor that passed us and hitched a ride for a few hundred meters up another hill. Everywhere we went people were collecting or cutting firewood in preparation for the winter (which, to me, feels like it’s already arrived), and in one town a guy was cycling along the main road with a massive pile of firewood as his seat. Life in country Serbia certainly seems very simple and, as Maurizio pointed out, maybe that’s the way they like it.

Before arriving in Serbia I spent two days in Croatia and it started off a little more adventurously than I’d planned. It was a day in which I wasn’t exactly sure of the distance I needed to cover, but I had booked accomodation in advance, so I was locked into arriving at a specific location (all of my most stressful days have had this in common). By the time the sun had set I was only 5km away so I wasn’t too worried, however it turns out the signpost I’d followed (don’t ever put your faith in the Eurovelo signposts) took me in the exact wrong direction. By the time it got fully dark I found myself in the middle of the bush with a broken light and being chased by wolves. That’s a lie, but I was surrounded by wild deer which is basically the same thing. The deer were obviously just spooked by my presence, but when I heard them running around me I had all kinds of images of the wild beasts that must be chasing them. Not to mention the fact that at any moment the deer themselves could have wiped me out and trampled me into the ground. I had sudden pulse of fear and adrenaline, so I turned around and peddled as fast as I possibly could all the way back to the road. I then followed that the long way around to my accomodation, all the while ashamed of myself for being scared of deer.

The morning I left Tata I was hesitant to even start my ride. The forecast was bad and I knew it was going to be a big day, but I was more bothered by the fact that I wasn’t sure how big. Every blog or map I’d read suggested a different distance, and my little detour the day before had thrown a bit of extra uncertainty in the mix. On some good advice I opted to avoid the mountain range and take the long way around to Budapest, and I was rewarded with some smooth and easily navigable roads for most of the day. Unfortunately half way through the day it started raining and I had no option but to keep going. It ended up being my biggest day so far (131km), and to top it off I spent the last hour having to carry my bike up and down stairs in the castle district of Budapest in order to reach Gabor’s house (apparently centuries ago they didn’t build these places with cyclists in mind).

Gabor is an older man I met in Broome about 6 months ago. He hurt his leg on a camel ride on the beach one afternoon and I offered to drive him back to his resort. We had a bit of small talk and he used the line that everyone does when they know nobody is ever going to take them up on it: “If you’re ever in my country you can come stay with me”. He didn’t realise I was planning a trip to Hungary, and he may have regretted those words immediately, but when I turned up dripping at wet at 9pm on a sunday he welcomed me in like an old friend, poured me some wine and served me a traditional soup he’d prepared. Gabor, who it turns out is actually Sir Gabor, a prominent university professor and kind of a big deal in Hungary, hosted me for two nights and was an absolute legend. I used the opportunity to do some sightseeing and visit one of the local health spa baths I’d heard so much about. It was good to have a bit of relaxing down-time!

After leaving Budapest on Tuesday I ended up in Rackeve. That night I had been trying to sleep for a while but in the room across the hall there had been a constant, muffled, but very loud conversation going on for a while. Now I’m not a patient person by any means, but it does take a lot for me to actively show my anger to strangers. So by this stage I’d really had enough. I put my pants on, took a deep breath and stormed out my door into the open doorway across the hall. I ended up face to face with two big men in army uniform in the process of trying to restrain a third, heavily intoxicated, man. The three of them paused and stared directly at me. All I could do was nod an ‘as you were’ before I stepped backwards at an increasing pace into my own room, locking the door behind me.

That was an exciting end to a dull day, possibly the most miserable day of the ride so far; From start to finish it was cold and raining and the scenery, which consisted of industrial wasteland and more Soviet-era housing complexes, was hardly worth looking up for. I spent the first hour of the day trying to navigate my way out of an abandoned railway yard on the fringes of Budapest, without knowing how I even got in there in the first place. so by the time that was done I was already well behind for the day. By the time I arrived in Rackeve, after having only cycled 65 kilometres for the day, I was ready to call it quits. I stopped in a Pizzeria that specialised in Mexican food(?), and asked about a place to stay after ordering some nachos. The young girl pointed me in the direction of a panzio (basically a small motel) before delivering my ‘nachos’ (corn chips on plate with a cheese sauce placed in the centre) a few minutes later. After an awkward confrontation with a homeless-looking lady who’d been filling up a water bottle in the toilet, and who’s only words in English were “I love you baby”, I made my way to the place I’d been recommended and was welcomed by a very enthusiastic Hungarian man.

If you don’t speak the local languages east of Austria the go-to seems to be German over English, so I’m generally greeted with “Sprechen sie Deutsch?” when it becomes obvious that I’m foreign, which is mostly upon first glance. I always reply “ein bisschen”, which is technically true; I do speak a little German. It’s just that my German vocabulary consists of those two words which I already used, and a few lines that I’m not going to use on an old Hungarian man. So we battled our way through the check in process, but when it came time to pay he shook his head at the credit card. I was ready to give up and go somewhere else when he insisted he drive me to the ATM 5km down the road. Initially i was a little worried at how keen he was to have someone staying at his place, like it was some kind of novelty rather than his legitimate business, but I decided I was too cold and wet to worry about it so I shrugged my shoulders and off we went.

Anywhere else I’ve been in Europe I would have expected the cash only system but Hungary seems to have adopted Paypass as the preferred method of payment – the first time I’ve even come across is since leaving Australia – and I’d become complacent again about having cash on me. Another surprising observation I made in Hungary was the abundance of Solarium studios, even in tiny villages where people were still using horse and cart on the road and a hot meal was impossible to find. Who cares about food and modern convenience when you’ve got a sweet tan, right?

At this stage I’ve covered over 3,300km, and have roughly 1,000 to go. I’m spending a day or two in Belgrade because the forecast is awful, plus it’s the last major city I’ll pass through before the Black Sea so I’m trying to soak up as much civilisation as I can. The Danube itself almost seems like an ocean now compared to the small river it was near its source in Germany, and I’m hoping that for the remainder of the trip I’ll see a lot more of it than I have for the past few days. I’m caught in two minds between wanting to get the trip over with before winter fully sets in, and wanting to take my time and experience as much of this part of the world as possible. Ultimately money, or lack of it, is going to be the deciding factor and I’m planning a return to Broome for some time in early November. Hopefully the wet season can hold off for a bit longer!

As of right now I’ve raised over $18,500 for Cystic Fibrosis research on this ride, and I’m less than $1,500 away from my $20,000 target (thanks for the maths help there Paul). If you would like to read more about my personal story, or donate to the cause, you should check out my donation page here.

Massive thanks to anyone who’s donated or even offered support in the way of encouragement so far!

Cover Image: It may have been my longest day of cycling, but arriving in Budapest at night was one of the most spectacular sights of the trip so far.

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Gabor was an absolute legend. He went so far out of his way to accomodate me and I honestly felt honoured to be his guest.

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The cycle trail headlining in to Budapest was amazing. After Budapest was a different story… One day the trail took me over a grass field for 15km.

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Border number 7!

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My Air bnb host put on a feast for me in Batina, Croatia. He didn’t speak any english so we spent about two hours talking via Google translate.

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In Croatia, just before the border to Serbia. The ruined buildings have been left basically untouched for 25 years.

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My new mate, Maurizio. He likes to stop for an espresso every now and then. He’s about as Italian as you can get.

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The bridge that connects Croatia and Serbia. After this I spent about 15 minutes waiting at border control while they took my passport to another building. Presumably to check that New Zealand is actually a country.

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Afternoon tea with the locals in small town Serbia.

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Check out all the bullet holes!

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The confluence of the Danube and Sava rivers in Belgrade. This is the view from the old fortress in the city.

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Repairing my first puncture of the trip… Of course it happened while it was pouring with rain and about to get dark.

Into the East

Into the East

In one of my first blogs I said I cycled 30km around Broome as part of my training for this ride. That was a lie, or at least an exaggeration. It was actually 20 Kilometres and I spent a week recovering. It’s quite sad, but admitting this now makes it all the more satisfying that I was able to ride 75 Kilometres on Thursday in 3.5 hours. It’s no world record, but it’s better than I expected from myself, and, having recently had a couple of slow days with knee pain, it was timely reminder that I have at least made some progress in the fitness department.

Thursday’s ride was between Vienna and Bratislava, the capitals of Austria and Slovakia respectively. I expected the difference between the two countries to be obvious and dramatic, being the border between East and West Europe, but for half the ride I wasn’t even sure which side of the border I was on. When I finally crossed the bridge into Bratislava I still didn’t encounter anything that screamed out “wrong side of the Iron Curtain”. There were Audi’s and BMW’s everywhere, nice looking restaurants, and people in nice suits. Granted I didn’t see much else in Slovakia, and I’ve since found out that residents of Bratislava earn on average three times more than the rest of the country, but I was surprised at how clean and modern Bratislava was. Having said that, what was obvious after crossing the border was the level of service. Or rather the lack of service. I ordered a round of drinks at a local bar and the barmaid literally dropped the change on to the bar, from a height, while watching TV and raising a cigarette to her mouth with the other hand – yeah they smoke inside in Slovakia too – we actually kept going back for more because the service was so shocking it was entertaining. I was at that bar with Ross and Lia, who’d come to meet me one last time on their drive back to Bulgaria. We started the night by trying some Slivovica, the Slovak national brew, then went out for a traditional dinner, which consisted of garlic soup served in a bread roll. Tasty, although unnecessary in a restaurant that I did notice also had bowls. Plus not recommended if you’re planning on talking to any of the local ladies, apparently.

I mentioned earlier that I was having knee pain. I’ve had this a bit before, but never to the extent that it hit me on the day I left Melk. Because of that I had to stop early and I was a day late arriving in Vienna. I stopped in a town called Tulln, about 35 kilometres short of Vienna. It was a pretty little town with people sitting outside all the restaurants in the main square. I joined them, ordered sausages and sauerkraut and sat there people watching – a pastime that is becoming less and less socially acceptable the more my beard grows. An hour or so after my first dinner I was still hungry, which is becoming a common (and expensive) theme, so I followed the directions on a poster to the ‘best kebab in town’. When I arrived I was greeted by three Pakistani guys who looked confused about the idea of having a customer, a scenario they eventually remembered how to deal with. They were abrupt and almost intimidating at first, but when I mentioned where I was from they said, in unison, “oh, Brendon McCullum!”. They then insisted I sit with them while I ate and we discussed cricket for half an hour; not an experience I expected to have in small town Austria!

When I did arrive in Vienna the next day I soon realised that I’d grossly underestimated it’s size. I arrived on the outskirts of the city and looked around for my hostel, almost expecting to see its name on one of the nearby buildings. When I didn’t see anything I asked a guy if he knew where exactly it was: “yeah, if you cross that bridge it’s about an hour by bike in that direction.” “Uh, excuse me? Did you say an hour..?” He wasn’t far off the mark either, apparently Vienna is the second largest German speaking city in the world (after Berlin). Cheers, Wikipedia – I’ve made a mental note now to google the population of every city before I enter it – Thankfully, however, Vienna also happens to be an incredibly beautiful city. The buildings, the waterways, and the streets were all immaculate and the footpaths were teeming with people enjoying the last of the Autumn sun. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a city that had so many people out and about. It had a great vibe, and if I were to live in Europe somewhere I’d now put Vienna near the top of the list. I checked in to a hostel and spent the whole afternoon walking the streets taking photos that I was unhappy with, then cursing myself for taking crap photos. Later on I went to the hostel bar for a beer and joined a couple of Scottish guys for the pub quiz, which we won (naturally).

Yesterday’s ride took me from Bratislava, across the Hungarian border and on to Gyor. This time I did notice a difference straight away. The towns, and roads, were much more run-down, and everything seemed to be going at a slower pace, except for any person behind the wheel of a car that is, an observation which prompted me to finally buy a helmet. But the cycle paths themselves for these few days in Eastern Europe have been the flattest, most accurately signposted and easily navigable of the whole trip so far. At least thats the sentence I’d planned to write before today, when I cycled through villages with roads inspired by the surface of the moon, then missed my turn-off and headed 6 kilometres in the wrong direction. But the end result was an amazing beef stew, and an encounter with couple of guys who were also a bit lost. A few hours later, after being ditched by my new friends (I had to stop for a snack), I ran in to an old Hungarian guy who was cycling across the country to find his high school sweetheart. That’s probably not true, but I couldn’t say for sure; I cycled with him for the last two hours of the day and, while we spent the whole time talking, neither of us could understand a word. However, through the grunts and the pointing he convinced me that he knew where we needed to go, so I settled in and followed him. The fact that I now find myself in Tata, 40 kilometres away from the town I was supposed to be in tonight (Esztergom), and facing the prospect of backtracking and adding 40 kilometres to tomorrow’s journey, or cycling over a mountain range to get to Budapest tomorrow would suggest otherwise.

Cover Image is a little lake i spotted just on the outskirts of Gyor.

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Schonbrunn Palace, Vienna.

 

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Pretty amazing scenery between Melk and Vienna.

 

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St Stephens cathedral in the Vienna old city.

 

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Downing the local brew in Bratislava

 

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Soup in bread. Yeah, why not?

 

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Hostel full of cats in Bratislava. There were 7 kittens running around this place.

 

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My first meal in Hungary, and one of the biggest mistakes of my life.

 

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Hungary. Things are a bit different around here..

 

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Gyor was a beautiful city

 

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Gyor called itself the ‘cycle friendly city’, and it lived up to its name. Take note Western Europe. Beautifully marked path and simple signage.

 

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Ive learned from my first mistake, and I’m loving the local food in Hungary! Beef stew with red wine and mushrooms and home made pasta.

Welcome to Austria

Welcome to Austria

I just got off the train from Munich to Melk, Austria. The train was full except for one seat – the seat next to me. There are many theories about how to keep the seat next you empty on trains and buses: Avoid eye contact, be fat, drool on yourself etc. But growing a dirty beard and having a book about Syria in your hands evidently works pretty well.

I was in Munich for a few days to see some friends and to experience Octoberfest. My brother and his wife picked me up on on Thursday on their way through Austria, then we headed straight for our hostel and got prepared. Wanting to get the authentic experience, I’d bought myself a full outfit from a nice lady in Passau a few days beforehand. I say nice because she’s the first person who’s ever told me I had ‘big arms’ or ‘big feet’, but in hindsight she may have been just trying to get a sale. Then again, she did try to set me up with her daughter when I said ‘now all I need is a Bavarian woman’.

Octoberfest is just immense. Try to imagine 6-8 million people coming together from around the world over the course of two weeks to celebrate beer and you’d probably come up with an accurate mental image. Word of warning to anyone planning on going: pace yourself… not only is the beer only served one litre at a time, it’s also brewed with a higher alcohol content especially for the event, as counterintuitive as that may seem. Of course food is also an important part of the event, and nowhere in the world will you see more meat. The germans, for all their prowess in engineering and beer brewing, could hardly claim to have the most refined culinary taste in the world, but, when it comes to festivals like this, meat and bread prove to be an effective way of feeding the drunken masses. Another example of German efficiency I suppose.

Because of my shopping experience I got away from Passau quite late on Tuesday, but the ride from there across the Austrian border and on to Linz was the easiest yet, and possibly the first day I haven’t been even slightly lost at any point. The route was what I had been expecting the whole Eurovelo 6 to be like: flat, well paved, accurately signposted, and entirely alongside the river. I spent half the day easily cruising at 25kph, which is significantly higher than my overall average. Along the way there were a couple of mandatory ferry crossings which also added to the experience, and gave me the opportunity to relax and take in the surroundings for a few minutes. The second day of riding in Austria took me from Linz, which holds the dubious honour of being Hitler’s proclaimed hometown, to a place called Melk, the town I’m back in now. It’s a beautiful little place with an amazing Monastery that appears to have more windows than this town has residents. It is absolutely massive. The cycling was easy again, but a lot of it was along a busy, narrow road, which is surprising given that this is supposedly the most popular cycle route on the continent.

I didn’t notice anything dramatically different on crossing borders between Germany and Austria, except that you can still smoke inside here(!), and maybe the spelling is a little different. That’s based on no fact at all, but place names seem to me to be missing a few vowels and are a little harder to sound out as an english speaker. I will say, though, that people here did not initially come across quite as friendly. Perhaps they’re a little more reserved. My first interaction with another human in Linz was being very sternly told off by a policewoman for cycling on the footpath (which I’ve done everywhere). I tried to explain to her that there was nobody else on the footpath, and that the roads were made out of jagged, uneven bricks from 700 years ago, but she wasn’t having a bar of it. My second interaction was later on in that night when I tried to make some small talk with the waitress in a pizzeria; she stood there and stared me down like I’d just soiled my pants and was asking her to change me. This is in contrast to a very unusual, even slightly surreal, experience I had last night in Munich. I was attempting to dance in a night club, which is unusual enough in itself, but the German people there were so kind that for the very first time in my life I did so without a single person going out of their way to come over and point out that my horrible dancing was ruining their night.

This morning, after dancing the night away, I woke up on the floor of a strangers’ apartment. It’s not exactly what I had planned, but it’s not as bad as it sounds. Because of the outrageous prices in Munich at the moment (I saw one bed in a 16 bed dorm going for 300 euro per night) I only booked two nights in my hostel, thinking I had a place to stay with a friend for the third night. Only that friend got a little too carried away early on her first Octoberfest day and was obviously incapable of using a phone by the time I was supposed to meet her. I can confirm that being alone, and the only sober person at Octoberfest while you wait two hours for a message isn’t a crazy amount of fun. Thankfully another German girl I know – Julius’ housemate from Konstanz – was there. She and her friends were brilliant fun. They allowed themselves to be seen in public with me, gave me a roof to sleep under, and even helped me add to an ever-growing, but wildly unsuccessful, repertoire of German pick-up lines.

Tonight I’m treating myself to a bed ahead of a big ride to Vienna tomorrow. It’s roughly 120km, but the terrain is going to be flat again and the forecast is good. I’ve heard a lot about Vienna so I’m excited to check it out, but I think I’m more excited about the next day when I’ll cross over into Eastern Europe and arrive at the Slovakian capital, Bratislava. I don’t really know what to expect from Bratislava, or Eastern Europe at all, but I think that’s what I’m looking forward to the most. It’ll be a lot less comfortable, but more of a true adventure. More Importantly, especially after my last few days, it’ll be a whole lot cheaper!

-The cover photo is the sunset as i crossed the bridge just before arriving in Melk the first time. Best sunset of the trip so far.

 

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Leaving Passau, and Germany. Passau is a beautiful city, and one of the major ports in Europe for river cruises.

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The cathedral in Linz. “Hey can you please get a photo of me with the cathedral? just make sure you get the top of it in.” Nice work, lady.

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The streets in Passau had these cool painted bricks which you’d follow to see all the main sights.

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Crossing the Donau on the ferry. The first time I’ve encountered proper cycle traffic! Left these old ladies in my dust afterwards though. Proud of myself for that.

 

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Octoberfest celebrations. Mark-a good friend from Australia, Lia-my brothers wife, Ross-my brother and Ryan-one of my oldest friends from primary school.

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The sun goes down on my time at Octoberfest.

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This burger had absolutely nothing to do with kiwi’s, Kiwifruit or New Zealand. But I couldn’t not order it.

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Proper German right there.

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The monastery in Melk. An imposing sight as you arrive in the town. Also it’s about 20 times longer that it is wide at the front. Massive.

The Bavarian Sun

The Bavarian Sun

I’m sitting in a restaurant in the village of Kirchroth (population 3,600), eastern Bavaria, with a local wheat beer on the table and a schnitzel, which probably came from the farm next door, in my stomach. On the table beside me the kitchen staff are sitting down to their end-of-shift meal and chatting to all the locals as they leave. I don’t understand a lot of German at the best of times, but even I can tell that the Bavarian accent is thick here; It’s a bit more sing-song like than the German I’m used to hearing.

I arrived here about an hour ago. I’m roughly 20km short of today’s intended destination, but today happens to have been the wettest day of the trip so far and after stopping and starting of hours, waiting under trees and bus shelters as thunderstorms swept overhead, I’d had enough. So when I spotted a little hotel above the restaurant I’m now in, I didn’t think twice. I was greeted by a friendly, round woman in traditional dress who gave me a key, no questions asked and no forms filled in, and explained where my room was. She is also the only waitress in the restaurant, and her english is surprisingly good.

It seems the European weather I’d been promised by so many people has finally caught up with me, and, until this last hour, I was regretting my decision to even try to make some ground today – Yesterday I sat out the rain at a friends house in Regensburg, and I had the option to do the same today – But these experiences with genuine people in old fashioned villages are what I enjoy the most about what I’m doing and where I am right now. Having said that, my time in Regensburg was also brilliant. I arrived on Friday afternoon and met Verena, a friend and former workmate from Sydney. She took me to a Bavarian restaurant where I was lucky enough(?) to taste pig lung, then to some local bars and yesterday a local football game. It’s safe to say SSV Jahn Regensburg aren’t going to be challenging Bayern Munich for a title any time soon, in fact I think they’d even struggle to compete with the All Whites, but the currywurst was good, and the crowd was passionate and entertaining – even if at times I did feel like I was at Nazi party rally.

After leaving Ulm a few days ago I cycled a steady 110km to Donauworth, which is one of the most beautiful and lively towns yet – This is actually one of the big differences I’ve noticed between France and Germany: while French towns felt deserted, the German towns are all bustling with life and energy. You never have an issue finding somewhere to eat, the menus are varied, the food good, staff friendly (and English speaking), and prices reasonable. Granted I wasn’t in the most commonly visited parts of France, and I know my love of the Germans makes me see this country through rose-tinted glasses, but why so many people travel to France and never give Germany a second thought is completely beyond me. Anyway, I got to Donauworth late because the sunset was too epic to cycle through and I ended up getting out my camera and drone to capture it. Of course that meant cycling the last 20km into town with the dilemma of either not being able too see, or swallowing mouthfuls of bugs as they head towards the light on my head.

The next morning I got off to a late start which worked in my favour because, as I was going through my daily ritual of trying to find my way back to the Danube path, I ran in to the wind-shadow steeling German girl from a few days ago. But this time she was with Ian, a dude from Malta who happens to be following the same route as me to Romania. We got on well straight away and set off together. It was a challenging day, filled with hills and rough roads, but having someone to chat to and pick up tips from made a huge difference. At one point we stopped for a break under a tree and got chatting to a Croatian man who was cycling home (to Croatia) from Heidelberg. He had a beer in one hand, cigarette in the other, and explained to us that he was going home because he needed to relax to get over his ‘health issues’, being 60 and all. I suggested there were probably more relaxing ways of getting to Croatia, then we said our goodbye’s and carried on, only for him to overtake us up a hill half an hour later.

Ian and I arrived in Ingolstadt (the home of Audi) at around 6pm. I decided I was going to stay for a night, but Ian carried on because he likes to do 200km per day. (It goes without saying that Ian is a lot more experienced than I am. Plus he had less weight on his bike and a girlfriend waiting for him on his yacht in Malta. Pretty good incentive to get the trip over with, or pretty good reason to not go on a trip in the first place I would have thought). It would have been great to carry on with Ian, but 200km per day was just a bit beyond me and I knew I was stopping for a day in Regensburg anyway.

I checked in to another Youth Hostel in Ingolstadt and ,thankfully, this time there weren’t any kids to make me feel like a dirty old man. There was, however, an annoyingly thorough guy working at the reception. It was one of those occasions when I was reminded of a massive pet hate of mine: people who state the obvious, talk really slowly, or talk for the sake of talking. This guy ticked all the boxes. After explaining the check-in process and ‘house rules’ in excruciatingly painful detail, he went on to describe how to unlock a door with a key, and how the colours on the tap in the bathroom determine whether the water comes out hot or cold. I couldn’t help but wonder how this guy thought I’d even survived for 30 years, let alone cycled from France to his hostel, but the confused look on my face clearly caused him to go into even more detail and I was forced to go along with it. Those four hours of my life excluded, Ingolstadt and the hostel were both great.

Weather permitting, I’ll try to get an early start tomorrow and ride the 100km to Passau, my final stop in Germany and the start of the Passau to Vienna route. This is the most popular cycle route in Europe, and widely accepted to be the most beautiful part of the Eurovelo 6. I’m excited about Austria because its supposed to be stunning, but also it’ll be the first time on this trip that I’ll arrive in a country I’ve not been to before, and the Austrian border is roughly what I’ve worked out to be my half-way mark! Exciting stuff. But I’m not kidding myself; the roads after Austria are only going to get rougher, and the weather isn’t going to be getting any warmer. So Im going to make the most of the last of Western Europe.

 

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Found shelter just in time, and spent about 90 minutes in there…

 

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Ian and I got pretty excited when we saw some down hill action. This was the approach to Neuburg. Ian has some crazy gadgets on his bike: a dynamo to charge his phone, solar power at the back and radar to warn of approaching cars!

 

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I cheated and caught a ferry between Weltenburg and Kelheim – It was about 5km and recommended by all the guide books because it’s stunning and the road alternative not suitable for bikes.

 

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The cathedral in Regensburg

 

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Football! I don’t know what that guy was saying, but it’s safe to assume he lived for these moments. He took his shirt off at one point. That was not a highlight.

 

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Ian and the 60 year old Croatian guy having a bit of down time in the shade. Hard to believe it was too hot a few days ago…

Guten tag.

Guten tag.

Dear follower of my blog (Mum), I’m writing to you from Ulm, Germany. Birthplace of Einstein and home to the world’s tallest church. I’m staying in a youth hostel that truly lives up to its name, and I feel more than a little judged by the school children surrounding me in the dining hall. School children who, by the way, are freakishly tall. I wish you had fed me more sauerkraut when I was young.

I know it’s been too long between updates ( I’ve crossed two international borders since my last post!) but it’s been so hard to find the time to sit down and write anything. So here goes:

Yesterday was hard. Real hard. I started off in Konstanz, which is right on the German side of the Swiss/German border. Home to an 18 tonne rotating statue of a naked prostitute holding the Pope in one had and the Emperor in the other (I’ll let you guess the story behind that), the second largest lake in Europe (the source of the Rhine), and home to Julius. I know Julius from his Broome days a few years back, and I went to stay with him for a rest day. As always it was good to have a local show me the sights of a new city, and it was good to share a few (too many) beers with an old mate!

Because Konstanz is a little bit off the path I’m actually following, I added a few more kilometres to my total, which is fine, but I forgot to factor in my horrendous sense of direction and the extra time it would take to find my way back to the Eurovelo 6. Needless to say it was a frustratingly back and forth start to the day, made even more so by the fact that the German SIM card I’d just bought lost all its credit within 10 minutes because it was sneakily connected to the Swiss network from across the river. Brilliant.

By the time I’d finally gained some distance and momentum I started to notice that as the roads were gradually getting narrower they were also steadily getting steeper. Stupidly oversized tractors were passing me at an uncomfortably regular rate and none of it was feeling right, so I stopped to double check that I was going on the correct path. As I did so Alfred, a German lawyer wearing all the road racing gear and casually cycling 100km home from a meeting, stopped to check if I was ok. I explained my concerns and he told me I was going the right way, but that we were just at the beginning of a 900m ascent. I was on the verge of completely losing it and turing round to find a train station, but he said he’d ride it with me, so I couldn’t back out. What followed was easily the hardest section of the tour so far, and probably the toughest hour of exercise I’ve had in my life. Every time I wanted a break Alfred would point to the approaching storm clouds and tell me we had to hurry. By the time we made it to the top I was absolutely wrecked, but I was thankful he turned up because I genuinely wouldn’t have made it otherwise. Plus we were rewarded with an incredible 360 degree view of the Black Forrest, Lake Konstanz and could just make out the outline of the Alps. It was epic. Although all that effort was wasted because It took us about 13 seconds to get down the other side at 60kph, which was kinda scary with a headband for a helmet.

To top the day off I ended up in Sigmaringen where I had my first ever couch surfing experience, although I’m not sure if you can call a private room in a German mansion real couch surfing. My host Juliane was amazing; we sat up drinking beer and chatting for a while, then in the morning I was treated to a proper German breakfast and before I set off she took me down the road to where there was an epic view of the local castle.

Sigmaringen is near the start of the Danube, and it’s this river that I followed to Ulm today, and will continue to follow now to it’s Delta at the Black Sea. Which means down-hill, baby! The day was pretty uneventful aside from one point when I passed a lady going super slow, then turned around 10 minutes later to see her crouched down three feet behind me stealing all my hard work. I was having none of that, so I casually sat up and pretended I was resting, then did the same to her after she passed me. Proper badass.

Tomorrow I’ll cross the border into a strange land where the men wear leather shorts, white sausages (that you have to peel…) are served for breakfast, and beer is not just a beverage but the actual meaning of life. I’m talking about Bavaria. Germany’s largest state and the home of Octoberfest which, coincidently I promise, is about to start. To say I’m excited about the next couple of weeks would be an understatement.

For now I’ve missed out on my summary of the last section in France, and that’s intentional. I’m still trying to collect my thoughts on a country where you can buy 18,000 different varieties of cigarette 24/7 from any corner store, but it takes 40 minutes of cycling around a city of 120,000 people before you find a single place that sells things you can, you know, eat rather than inhale. So i’ll come back to France. Oh, and Switzerland. Anyway, nobody said I had to do this in order!

 

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Sigmaringen this morning.

 

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A well-earned day off in Konstanz with Julius.

 

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Alfred taking in the sights while I catch my breath.

 

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Impressed with the German countryside, not such much the climb and narrow roads that followed…

 

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Alfred took me on a little detour to this amazing old church hidden away in the mountains. Such incredible detail in everything they built back then.

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Tonight’s dinner. My brother in law who, like most people, is a much more experienced cyclist than me, suggested I eat more chicken and rice.