Tag Archives: Expedition

09, 10 & 11 October – 3 days and 539km through France

Wowsers, that was a long 3 days, but very satisfying to see just how far I can pedal if I challenge myself; 337 miles or 539km is quite a long way, and I’d definitely not have been able to cover that in as short time at the beginning of my tour. As well as wanting a challenge, the distances covered were partly motivated by deteriorating weather and campsites closing for the season, as well as a desire for a pint of ale in an English pub!

Here are my routes and stats for the race across France:

From a personal point of view it’s fantastic to have proven to myself what I’m capable of if I put my mind to it, and a great confidence boost for future activities, both at work and life in general. When I get back home I’ll need to carry on regularly pedalling and exercising to maintain at least some of this level of fitness and motivation, to keep in trim for future adventures, and to keep the weight off; it’ll be tricky reducing down my daily calorie intake whilst I’m not using as much energy.

–> 09 October – to Verdun (193km)
I broke two personal tour records today, one for longest distance pedalled in a day, and the other for biggest distance climbed; 193km and 1,784m respectively. Thankfully the climbing was spread out over the course of the day and not all at once, and I was also grateful for the lack of headwind, which would have made it extremely hard going. It’s still a bit surprising to realise that’s well over the height of Ben Nevis climbed in one day’s cycling.

It was 06.15 when my alarm went off and I rolled out of my tent. The sun wouldn’t rise for another hour and a half, so I breakfasted and packed up in the dark, before pedalling off as it started to get light.

I don’t think I really got off my bike all the way to Verdun, as I had a long way to go, and needed to keep focussed on the turning the pedals.  The weather was perfect for cycling, with the sun coming out but it not getting hot, or windy.

It was very hilly up until Metz, which was a long ride in itself, however still feeling fit I decided to push straight on to Verdun. I crossed the River Moselle, then after a big climb it was fairly flat up until the outskirts of Verdun, across a lot of farmland, passing many a tractor.

To get into Verdun involved one last big climb, as the sun started to get lower, then a round-about route to get to the city centre and avoid the dual carriageway. One downhill section had a few hidden speed bumps, a particularly vicious one of which threw a pannier off Smaug, resulting in much cursing and probably the biggest pause of the day as I reattached it. I hate speed bumps, and would far rather see speed cameras in use. If you must have speed bumps at least make sure they’re painted white to stand out so road users can see them and not damage themselves or their vehicles!

After passing through the outskirts and resisting the temptation to grab a McDonald’s, I crossed La Meuse to the city centre, pausing to watch a few rowers out on the river for an evening training session. I pedalled through the city to the campsite on the Western side, passing through the huge fortress walls and by lots of statues and monuments.

Verdun was the sight of one of the bloodiest battles of the First World War, with 400,000 German casualties, and a similar number of French, as the Germans sought to break the French lines. The city has been the centre of many conflicts between France and Prussia/Germany over the centuries, and you can almost sense the ghosts of these battles as you wander its streets, especially when the weather is a little dreary.

Les Breuils campsite is one of few that remains open into October, on my route back through France, and I was very happy to arrive and pitch my tent after the longest ride of my tour to date. At 193km I hadn’t quite broken the elusive 200km mark I’d like to get to one day; that’ll have to wait for another day. Feeling famished I headed back into Verdun to grab some dinner, before enjoying a medicinal beer and whisky as the campsite bar.

Tomorrow’s target is Soissons, which is another 100 miles away, however the route should be a bit flatter. According to my calculations, which have in the past been a little suspect, I reckon there’s about 230km to go to get to Dieppe; hoping nothing breaks on Smaug between now and the UK!

–> 10 October – to Soissons via Reims (184km)
I was once again getting up in the dark for a pre-sunrise start, pedalling out of Verdun by 08:00 on my way South West towards Reims.

The D roads I’m using are quiet anyway, however at that time of the morning I didn’t see any other traffic for a while, as I rode up and over hills, and through more farmland, with only cows, buzzards and crows for company. Lobster had decided to go back to sleep for at least another 2 hours, claiming these early starts are most uncivilised affairs.

The road did eventually flatten out, leading to about 40 miles of easy riding, aside from an off-road section down a few farm tracks to cut a corner off. There were a lot of farmers out with shotguns and dogs, looking for grouse or other game birds hiding in their fields; they waved rather than shot at me thankfully. The off-road section was muddy, flinging up lumps of sticky clay to cling to my bike and panniers, and causing me to skid about a bit; fun but it was nice to get back on the road again and not have to double back.

I followed the Voie de Liberte (Liberty Road) for much of the day, which is a commemorative way marking the route the allies took for the D-Day landing in June 1944. It passes by a lot of military cemeteries, giving a poignant reminder of all the lives lost, on both sides, during the Second World War.

I passed straight through Reims, which looked nice in the sunshine when I stopped for a banana and haribo break, however events conspired against me shortly after leaving the city. I encountered my first ‘route barrée’ sign on the outskirts, which lead to a diversion of just a few kilometres, however a more significant ”route barrée’ a bit later on added about 20km to the day’s ride, and a whole load of hills I wasn’t expecting. I was rather unimpressed at the additional mileage, which might be easy to cover in a car, but definitely aren’t on a bike, however at least the countryside and small French villages were pleasant to cycle through. My amateur ‘twitching’ skills also came into play with lots of bird life to look at, including herons, buzzards and other birds of prey, and at one point lots of Lapwings dancing around in a flock.

My estimated 100 mile day rapidly became a 115 miles day as I pedalled onwards. Up one particularly steep hill 3 dogs decided to wake up and bark at the passing cyclist, which somewhat startled me, however at least they couldn’t chase me due to being behind a fence; in Turkey, Greece or Bulgaria it’d be a different story.

Halloween seems to be popular in France, with decorations already going up despite it being nearly 3 weeks away. I’d never seen a ‘Halloween Man’ before, a bit of different take on a Snow Man; the one above was colourful, surrounded by pumpkins, but looked a bit sinister! Nice idea though.

I made it to Soissons for 18.00, feeling very tired but accomplished after 184km of pedalling; it’s amazing what your body will put up with after five and half months on the road. I found the Municipal du Mail campsite on the South side of the city and checked in just before reception closed, before heading to a local shop to find some dinner. After food and checking tomorrow’s route it wasn’t long before I fell asleep; seem to be following the ‘Eat, Sleep, Cycle…repeat’ routine at the moment.

–> 11 October – to Neufchatel-en-Bray (161km)
I expected today to be my last long ride in France, for this tour anyway, as long as there weren’t any further diversions due to ‘route barrée’ encounters. I awoke to another cold and damp morning, pedalling off from Soissons at 08:00 and heading for Neufchatel-en-Bray.

Again I stuck to D roads, enjoying the quiet, rather than use the Route National to Compiegne which may have been slightly shorter, but would have been a lot busier. Before reaching Compiegne things started to look very familiar, and I realised I was crossing the route I’d taken on my way down from Nordkapp to Tarifa, back in June. It felt a bit weird cycling some of the same route again, especially now the weather is so different. I passed the campsite I’d stayed at in Vic-sur-Aisne, which had been a great night’s stop, then continued South West, this time ignoring the turning that would take me towards Paris.

After negotiating Compiegne, and a steep hill out of the town, more D roads followed through cold and misty countryside, passing wind farms, buzzards, tractors and fields of potatoes. The road climbed steadily but generally not steeply most of the way to Neufchatel-en-Bray, resulting in tired legs by the end of the day again, however I ended up only 34km from Dieppe and ‘La Manche’.

Saint Claire Camping in Neufchatel-en-Bray is another that is due to close in a few days time, so I’ve timed my return to the UK quite well. Given the number of caravan and camper vans present it’s obviously used by a lot of people touring Europe, and on their way back to the UK or up the coast to Belgium and the Netherlands. After pitching my tent I chatted to a few other travellers; bit strange hearing lots of people speaking English again, with a variety of accents.

I headed into town to get a pizza for dinner, plus a few supplies, trying to decide how and when to tackle the last stretch to Dieppe. There are two ferries a day at this time of year, one at 05:30 and the other at 18:30. Both these times aren’t very convenient for a cyclist, as I’d end up cycling in the dark either in France or the UK, or having to overnight in the waiting room at the ferry port in Dieppe. In the end I decided to make an adventure of it, aiming to get up at 01:00 for a very early morning ride to catch the 05:30 boat to Newhaven. I was hoping this would be a relatively straightforward ride, as there’s an Avenue Verte (cycle path) all the way to Dieppe, which meant no cars to deal with, although it would be very dark! Pondering the wisdom of my plan I set my alarm and tried to get a few hours sleep before having to get up for hopefully the last time before reaching the UK.

There endeth 337 miles in 3 days; think it’ll be a while before I cover the same sort of distance again so quickly.

07 & 08 October 2015 – to Freudenstadt and Saverne

I’m back in the UK now, so time to catch up on my blog for the last week of riding through Germany and France.

By this time I was mostly focussed on getting back to the UK, with it getting colder, wetter, and campsites starting to close, so some long days and not a lot of sight-seeing, however still some good pedalling.

Routes and stats for the 7th and 8th below:

–> 07 October – to Freudenstadt, via a lot of hills (153km)
Today was pretty hard work, with a lot of climbs to contend with, so I was thankful I’d had a good night in Ulm, and some excellent Bavarian food to keep the pedals turning.

I hadn’t had a cup of Red Bush Tea in ages, so that and some breakfast set me up for the day ahead. The Brickstone Hostel had proven to be an excellent stop; very homely and comfortable. I was a little unsure of the route, however I basically just needed to keep heading West/North West towards France, so set off into a grey and drizzly morning.

The first part of the ride was on cycle routes, often with little or no traffic, up to Blaustein and Blaubeuren, then over the hills to Bad Urach. A bit of a head wind made the going tiring, however I made decent progress, and was encouraged by a couple of cycle tourers going the other way; few and far between now. I somehow ended up on a dual carriage-way near Reutlingen, which I discovered isn’t legal in Germany; the police were very nice about it though, and directed me to a much quieter cycle route into the city and beyond!

Then hills seemed to go on forever today, and my chain was starting to slip more and more; I need to replace that, plus the rear cassette, plus brakes, rear tyre, cables and maybe even the front rings. I’m hoping everything will last until I get back to the UK, however I might try to find a bike shop in Strasbourg for a service.

I finally made it to Freudenstadt, after a slow ride that seemed to take ages, especially with all the climbs and headwind. I cycled through the town and ignored the suggested cobbled route towards the campsite, which would have just hurt on a bike (me and Smaug), instead taking the main road around to the campsite in Langenwald.

It was a relief to make it to the campsite as the sun started to set, disappearing behind he thickly forested mountains. At about 750m elevation the campsite is pretty high, and also quite cold at this time of year, however the surroundings are wonderful and it would be great to explore over the summer. I pitched my tent, then enjoyed a very hot shower before dashing to the campsite restaurant before it closed for the evening; services are somewhat limited at many campsites at this time of year.

After a long day, schnitzel and a beer, I felt tired, so it wasn’t long before I crept into my tent and settled down to rest, listening to the rain patter against the canvas. Thankfully it wasn’t hard, and always makes me feel cosy, so I fell asleep quickly.

Tomorrow I’ll make it to France, and probably only have about 400 miles to go before I reach the English Channel; the end of the tour is sneaking up pretty fast now.

–> 08 October – to Saverne via Strasbourg (108km)
Despite being in the middle of the Black Forest I wasn’t, as far as I can tell, visited by werewolves or other denizens of its interior during the night. I woke up to another cold, grey, but dry morning, and was on the road by 08.30. It doesn’t really get light until about 07.30 now so it’s not worth leaving much before then. I’ve made a note to remember this campsite, as it’s located in a lovely spot and worth coming back to: http://www.camping-langenwald.de/index.php/en/ The owners are really nice too, which always makes a difference.

I had one more climb to do to reach the top of the mountain, before the road down towards France, so made short work of the 300m ascent to the top. There followed a lovely long descent through cloud shrouded forest, as well as small towns and villages, with relatively little traffic to contend with; a few dogs barked at me but nothing unusual there.

I found a cycle route signposted to Kehl, then Strasbourg, which made things easier and avoided the main roads, then crossed the River Rhine over to France; I was back in country number 9 of the tour again, and the last one before getting back to England.

I spent a bit of time looking around Strasbourg, which is a lovely old city, with wonderful crooked buildings, canals, and a spectacular cathedral. I’d also returned to the land of boulangeries, which makes lunch a lot easier and tastier; I very much enjoyed a large chicken salad baguette and pain-au-chocolat.

After wandering about for a bit, and stopping for a webcam shot, I visited a bike shop to see if they could replace my chain and rear cassette, however they didn’t have any free time until tomorrow evening, so I decided to press on and not worry about it until I get back to the UK. It’s mostly flat from here to the Channel anyway, relatively speaking, so fingers Smaug will make it.

Whilst I say it’s relatively flat through France to Dieppe, it was still a bit of a slog over the hills from Strasbourg to Saverne, on quiet D roads, through farmland and villages. I arrived in Saverne about 16.30 after 108km, and checked into the campsite not far from the town centre; still open for a while yet, whilst lots of others are closing for the season. After a quick visit to the supermarket to get supplies, I relaxed for the evening, enjoying a few glasses of Alsace wine whilst planning my route to Verdun tomorrow. The ride to Verdun might turn into the longest day of the tour, however unless I want to wild camp, or use a hotel, I’m somewhat constrained by open campsites, and I really appreciate a hot shower at the end of the day now it’s colder. If it turns out to be too far I can always stop in Metz, or try one of the various Auberges dotted along the route.

Escargot-au-chocolat, Lobster impressed

Escargot-au-chocolat, Lobster impressed

Good to be back in France!

05 & 06 October 2015 – last days on the Danube; Donauworth and Ulm

These were my last two days pedalling alongside the Danube river, which has been a great experience, and a bit of a bonus after completing my two main tour objectives of Nordkapp to Tarifa, then on to Istanbul. I’d thoroughly recommend the Danube cycle route; the scenery, people, food and culture are all brill. Here are my routes and stats for the last two days; you’ll notice I went a bit wrong on 05 October:

–> 05 October – to Donauworth (170km)
So, yep, 170km pedalled today. I’d love to tell you they were all intentional, however that would be a bit of a fabrication on my part. My main learning was that if you reach a fork in a river, make sure you take the correct fork. To be fair I hardly noticed the river branching, and found the cycle route signs very confusing, and it was foggy, however really it was my own fault for not concentrating more. I added on about 30km to an already long day, and ended up having to go over several large hills, meaning over 1,000m in climbing, resulting in jelly like legs by the time I reached my hostel for the evening.

Thankfully I left Regensburg early, so had enough time to get back on track after my unintentional detour. It was a damp and chilly morning, with thick fog for the first few hours as I made my way up the Danube cycle path. The river meandered somewhat as I made my way to Kelheim, which is where I think I went wrong, heading North West instead of South West up a river that flows into the Danube; the Main Donau Kanal.

I pedalled for miles up my ‘alternative’ route, blissfully unaware of my error as the sun came out, revealing beautiful countryside and lovely small villages and towns. This part of Bavaria, and perhaps Bavaria in general, is simply delightful. I pedalled along saying hello to several other cyclists, passing lots of churches with their bells ringing. I think I was following the Baroque Cycle Tour route, however there are others signposted.

I reached the town of Beilngries and finally got a bit suspicious that perhaps I wasn’t going the right way, and decided to check the map on my phone in a bit more detail. There followed a ‘small’ amount of cursing as I realised I was miles off course, followed by a big and somewhat ride South, fuelled by haribo, on busy roads and over some big hills, to get back to the Danube.

The corrective ride itself was quite pleasant, despite the climbs, as it passed through lots of cool forest; I spotted lots of interesting bird life, and got laughed at by Green Woodpeckers several times, which seemed fitting. It also proved what I’d thought was the case; the terrain is a lot more hilly away from the river! I made it to Eichstätt, then cycled down to Neuburg on der Donau and rejoined the right cycle route. By this point I was feeling quite tired, and still had 40km left to pedal, with several more hills that frankly just hurt.

Needless to say I was pleased to finally make it to Donauworth, after 170km, and glad to have a bed for the night in the Youth Hostel, rather than having to pitch my tent; hostel staff also really friendly, helpful, and sympathetic! I walked down to the nearby supermarket to get some food, and ended up buying far too much as I was famished, however I’m sure it’ll all get eaten eventually.

After eating and a bit of planning I couldn’t keep my eyes open, so retired for the night; my blog might get a bit behind over the next week or so, but I’ll catch up eventually. Planning a short ride tomorrow, to Ulm, with hopefully no further route confusion. I’m also hoping Smaug doesn’t break; my chain is just starting to slip occasionally, the back tyre tread is getting a little sparse, and my brakes need adjusting – fingers crossed he’ll make it back to the UK without having to do much maintenance.

–> 06 October – to Ulm (89km)
As planned (phew) it was a relatively short day’s riding today, and my last alongside the Danube, at least for this tour; I’d quite happily come back. I’ve decided not to follow the river all the way to its source in Donaueschingen, which would mean another day or two of riding, but instead to turn North West tomorrow and head for Strasbourg and France, on my way back home; feels weird thinking that home is only about 700 hundred miles away now.

The hostel breakfast was an excellent affair, with warm bread, cheese, cold meats, butter and jam, fruit and hot chocolate; all hearty fayre for a cycle tourer with lots of miles to cover. After eating my fill I set out, a bit later than usual, and a bit slower, intending on a recovery ride after yesterday’s epic if somewhat unanticipated lengthy ride.

The route didn’t always follow the Danube; for the first section I was next to the main road, on a cycle path, before joining quiet country roads.

I passed through several picturesque towns, then stopped for a picnic with about 20km to go to Ulm.

I made it to Ulm in good time, mostly thanks to no erroneous detours, and found the Brickstone Hostel I’d booked for the night after a quick look around the town; it started to rain so I didn’t linger long.

Instead of heading straight out for a further explore I had a snooze, as the cold I’m suffering from is making me feel a tired, even if it’s not directly impacting my cycling. I’d arrived just in time, and a snooze turned out not to be a bad idea, as the light rain turned into storms for the next couple of hours.

Post snooze I chatted to the hostel hostess Anja for a bit, who offered me a few route tips, and some pears from a neighbour’s garden which were very nice, then I headed into Ulm to find some dinner, and to have another look around now the rain had stopped. It was getting on for dusk as I walked around the old town streets, which has some lovely old buildings sitting next to river channels.

For dinner I headed to Barfuber, a traditional Bavarian Pub type place, and had one of the best meals I’ve had in a while; Roast Pork shank with potato salad and dumpling. I think I could get used to Bavarian food, it’s delicious, especially when accompanied by a cold beer. Germany also appears cheap to me, compared with France away; meal was very good value.

I know some people don’t like eating out alone, but I’m used to it now, especially as I do so quite a bit when I’m away for work. I just enjoyed watching what was going on around me, and read my book for a bit. The waiter also supplied me with extra beer gravy, which went very well with the dumpling, and earned him his tip.

Feeling replete I headed back to the Brickstone Hostel and relaxed for a bit before bed. Despite all this fine dining, I noticed my belt needs another hole in it to prevent my trousers falling down; still losing weight, which I guess isn’t too much of a calamity on the health front, but will mean some clothes shopping is needed when I get home.

On towards the Black Forest tomorrow, the land of cuckoo clocks, fairy tales, werewolves and gateau; not sure about the latter. The weather is starting to look a bit dodgy but should be in France in a couple of days.

02, 03, 04 October 2015 – the Danube; Austria and into Germany

I’m a little behind on my blog due to some long cycling days, and lack of decent wifi; it’s a bit odd how the wifi in Western Europe seems to be worse than further East and down South. I’ve made good progress along the Danube, and am currently contemplating how I get through the rest of Germany and into France. It looks like a bit of a convoluted route, with a few mountains in the way, however I’m sure it’ll work out.

Here are my routes and stats for the last few days:

–> 02 October – to Au an der Donau (150km)
It was a cold start to the day in Vienna, or just West of Vienna anyway, and my tent was soaked in condensation; I hate packing up a wet tent but no choice.

I had various thoughts on my route today, including heading North over the hills to join the Danube cycle path, however in the end I stayed on the roads and pedalled West, joining the official route later on.

After riding down some fairly quiet roads, through some nice farmland, and the occasional town, all with a central church, I made it to Melk and the Danube after 70km. Oh, and I also passed Weiner Wald, which amused me greatly.

I crossed over to the North side, then continued on the cycle path that runs right next to the river, enjoying the flat pedalling and nice scenery.

The rest of the ride to Au an der Donau was easy-going, with a tailwind to help speed me along, and a few random phone calls to people at home to help pass the time; my mobile data was on anyway and calls are free once I’ve paid the Vodafone Euro-traveller rate for the day. I passed several cycle tourers going the other way, all struggling a bit with the headwind, but didn’t catch up with any going my way. The cycle path was busy for some stretches, with a lot of casual cyclists out and about, and really quiet for other bits.

I realised I’ve been slowly but steadily climbing since I joined the Danube cycle route, from just over 100m in Bulgaria, to over 200m in elevation now. It will be interesting to see how high I get before I leave the Danube, wherever that may be. Needless to say I’ve climbed up and down a lot more than that; the path isn’t always flat!

After a quiet last stretch, aside from a few ducks and herons, I made it to my campsite in Au an der Donau, where I met up with several other cycle tourers staying the night. Patricia and David were from Canada, on their way to Budapest, along with Malachi from Ireland, and George also from Canada who was heading up to Poland then Berlin. It was great to meet up and chat with other cycle tourers again; we headed to a restaurant (Gasthof) in the village for a couple of beers and some food. A very pleasant evening of swapping stories, route tips and eating was had; I ate a lot, consuming two dinners to try to replace the calories I’d used pedalling 150km.

Patricia and David mentioned the concentration camp (Mauthausen) they’d visited just the up the road, which I could go and see tomorrow, however I think I’m more likely to press on towards Germany and Passau. It’s probably important that I visit such a place at some point, however after the House of Terror in Budapest I think I’ll keep things light for a bit!

–> 03 October – to Passau, Germany (140km)
I was up early, ready to ride back to country number 6 of my tour, Germany again. I said goodbye to my fellow tourers, who were heading North or South East respectively, then set off into a cold but dry morning; much less condensation on my tent so easier to pack up!

The ride was fairly standard until Linz, at about the 30km mark, then things started to get interesting with the cycle route entering a valley, or I guess you’d call it a gorge, through which the Danube flows.

The scenery was beautiful, much more exciting than yesterday’s, with lots of other cyclists using the well signposted routes, on both sides of the river, and several tourers to say hello to.

I remained on the North side of the river for a long time, spurning several opportunities to cross to the other side by ferry or bridge. There were several large barges cruising up or down the Danube, transporting various goods (not sure what, maybe coal again); looks like the river is still used as a major haulage route as well as for tourism. The cycling was pretty effortless and very enjoyable, however I knew it was too good to last. Close to St. Martin, where there’s a castle on a hill, the path ran out at a bend in the river, at some cliffs where people were climbing; looked awesome fun. A footpath carried on however it wasn’t passable by bike, even if I was to carry it and my gear (I checked). I had to backtrack a hundred metres or so to find a track heading up the hill, which looked like it might take me where I wanted to go.

The narrow trail was very steep, and initially covered in brambles and stinging nettles which didn’t do my legs any good. One of my pedals also slammed into my right calf, whilst I was pushing, causing a fair amount of bleeding even if it was only a shallow scrape. Eventually the path widened, passing through pleasant woodland that was very peaceful, even if I was sweating profusely, stinging, and still bleeding slightly. I made it to the top, where thankfully the path joined a road at the castle, and then sped down the other side to rejoin the cycle route. I reckon it was a good mini adventure, or side-quest, and I don’t doubt many other cyclists have experienced the same thing; if they spotted the side path that is, it’s a bit obscure but prevented me having to backtrack several kilometres to find a crossing.

I’m not sure what was causing it however I heard a loud siren, like an air raid warning, a few times near my mini-adventure site. I wondered if it was perhaps a flood warning being testing, or a faulty siren being triggered by the large barges and tourist boats on the river. I was just hoping there wasn’t really a flood in progress, which could have provided a more dramatic type of adventure.

I took the ferry to the other side of the river near Kirchberg ob der Donau, not wanting to repeat my side-quest, and followed the signs on to Passau. Again the riding was really good fun, and I’d recommend the route to anyone. It’s obviously very popular with cyclists as I passed a lot of people out for a day’s ride; lots of e-bikes too, which confused me a little when quite elderly people started to overtake me.

I crossed back over to the North side of the river, by a bridge this time, near Niederranna, still in Austria I think, although it as hard to tell with no border crossings visible. Somewhere along the line I crossed into Germany, as I noticed I received a text from Vodafone welcoming me, and suddenly there were a lot more cars with German number plates. It was a long ride up to Passau, through lots of small towns, and passing yet more cyclists. I paused in Passau, which is definitely in Germany, and is also known as the city of three rivers (Dreiflüssestadt); the Danube is joined by the Inn from the South and the Liz from the North. It’s another ancient city, with a large University, and an interesting history (look it up).

I couldn’t find any open shops, which was slightly annoying as I needed supplies, but eventually found a garage where I could buy some chocolate and fizzy pop. Then it was on the Dreiflusse camping, just West of Passau, where I was given a friendly welcome and a place to pitch my tent for just €12. I was feeling pretty tired, so was glad they have their own restaurant; the Gypsy schnitzel was very good, as was the beer, and the Hungarian goulash soup.

Unfortunately the wifi wasn’t working, so I couldn’t update my blog (one of the reasons I’m a bit behind), however as I was tired, and full of good food, it was nice just to relax in my tent and get an early night. Aiming for Regensburg tomorrow; Germany is going to take a while to cross, but that’s okay, it’s a great country.

–> 04 October – to Regensburg (140km)
140km kilometre days seem to be becoming the norm, and my legs aren’t complaining in the morning so all good. I wouldn’t have been able to keep this up a few months ago, so I must be a lot fitter than when I started. It probably also helps that I’ve lost at least 10kg!

My tent was a bit damp again in the morning, only on the outside, but it takes ages to dry now it’s colder so I had to pack it up wet. As well as it being colder I’ve developed a cold, which is more irritating than anything else, although it does seem to be getting a bit worse so I’ll have to feed it lots, and perhaps try to cure it with wine, or schnapps.

I was on the road again by 08:00, pedalling off into a quiet Sunday morning, with only river and birds for company for the first hour. It was lovely cycling in the peace and quiet, as a pair of herons flew over, and with ducks dabbling on the over. I spotted loads of birds today, including the aforementioned, but also buzzards, various tits, a Green Woodpecker, Grebes and I think Cormorants; lots of crows still too, which again seem to follow me sometimes.

The scenery wasn’t as exciting as yesterday, however it was still pleasant riding, despite a bit of a headwind getting up in the afternoon. I rode up to Deggandorf, then lost the cycle route signs somehow, and ended up crossing over to the South side and following roads to Straubing. The roads actually made a nice change, with some different things to look at; various small towns, farmland and German Sunday life going on.

I stopped in Straubing for a lunch break, and had a wander around the Sunday market that was in full swing. After a cheeky Mcdonalds, just because it was convenient and I hadn’t had one in a while, I bumped into Charles from France, on his way down the Danube on his touring bike complete with large trailer. We both stopped for a bit to exchange advice on the route; was good to speak some French again.

After Straubing I crossed the river again, then passed through more countryside on my way to Regensburg. Unfortunately the day got duller as it progressed, with cloud cover moving in, and rain starting as I entered the city. I had intended on having a look around Regensburg, as there are loads of Roman remains to visit, however I was feeling pretty tired, and wet, so headed pretty much straight for the campsite.

I later learnt there’s a famous sausage restaurant in Regensburg; missed out there but enjoyed some traditional Bavarian fayre at the campsite restaurant. My tent was under siege from rabbits when I got back to it, however they didn’t prevent me from falling asleep very quickly. On to Donauworth tomorrow.

30 September & 01 October 2015 – to Gyor, Bratislava and Vienna

The last day of September and the first of October, that snuck up quick. Definitely getting colder  however I’m hoping the weather will stay sunny; it’s lovely cycling when it’s cold, but clear and bright. Here are my routes and a stats for the last two days:

–> 30 September – to Gyor ( 143km)
After too short a time in Budapest it was time to leave. I could have easily spent another day or two looking around, however my homing instinct has kicked in and I’m keen to make more progress West. Budapest ranks up with Hamburg on the great city front though, and I’ll definitely be back at some point.

Post breakfast, and trying not to wake fellow dorm mates whilst packing up, I set off on a bright but relatively chilly morning. After negotiating some relatively heavy traffic, including a lot of cyclists on their way to work or college, I rode over the Danube to the Buda side of the river, then through and out of the city via route 1. I wasn’t following Eurovelo 6 initially as it goes on a big meander following the Danube, however I’d join up with it later, touch wood.

The road today was mostly flat, with a few gentle hills keeping things interesting. There was the usual farmland and fields of sweetcorn, but also some woodland which made a pleasant change, and the occasional small town. Like yesterday more no cycling signs appeared on the main road, alongside no horse and cart or tractor notices, however there were parallel roads I could use, or I just ignored the signs and as the road was quiet, and anyway, I passed a few locals on bikes using it. I’m not sure why they don’t want cyclists using route 1 as it’s perfect for bikes, and there isn’t much traffic. Handily there were also quite a few cycle paths to take advantage of, especially in towns.

The morning progressed slowly. It’s weird, kilometres in the morning always seem to take longer to cover, in my head that is, whilst after lunch they start to fly by, perhaps because I’m zoning out more, daydreaming away to myself.

I passed a handful of walkers today, loaded with rucksacks and other bags, and wondered if they were refugees/migrants, or just locals. One young chap looked like he’d been on the road a long time; he had that weathered look, a bit like me I suppose. I waved and shouted good luck as he trudged along; he smiled and waved back.

Lidl provided lunch; I love Lidl, it’s cheap, and common in much of Europe. They sell a variety of pastry base products which make good fuel for pedalling, such as pizza type things and sausage rolls. Whilst having lunch I was struck by how I haven’t heard any crickets or Cicadas in a while. I can’t remember the last time I heard them but it was fairly recently. Perhaps the colder weather has sent them all to sleep; at least it’s still dry, and no headwind today which was very welcome.

I pedalled on, passing a few vineyards on my way to Tata. Apparently there is a lot of wine production in this area. I arrived in Gyor in relatively good time, and found Topart Camping on the outskirts without too much trouble. It was good to be camping again. The site was quiet, a small family run affair, and I was the only camper. There were a few people in the chalets, and one enthusiastic German visitor in a camper van who I chatted with for a bit, but it was otherwise peaceful and I was left to my own devices.

Dinner was from a local supermarket, Aldi this time, and I partook of some Hungarian white wine which proved very tasty; thought it was appropriate after seeing lots of vineyards today. After a bit of writing and planning I crawled into my tent for an early night. It gets dark about 18.30 now, so I wanted to get an early start to give me enough time to get through Slovakia and on into Austria tomorrow; there’s a campsite just to the West of Vienna I’m aiming for.

Everything beginning to look a bit autumnal

Everything beginning to look a bit autumnal

It’s the 01 October tomorrow, which marks 5 months since I left Norwich. I think I’ve got about 900 miles left until I reach Dieppe, and then a few hundred once I’m back in the UK, however that depends on how many detours I take. Still on track to get back in time for the Norwich beer festival, and I’m hoping to make it to another small festival before that; the ‘Yestival‘ being run by Dave Cornthwaite for the first time this year.

One last update; no evil dogs chasing me today, perhaps I’ve seen the last of them now…however I’m sure their sheep overlords have more nefarious schemes in store for me.

–> 01 October – to Vienna, via Slovakia (163km)
Despite the cold I had a very good night’s sleep, cosy in my tent and sleeping bag. It’s a bit odd it being cold, after so long being hot, however I’m sure I’ll get used to it quickly. It’s also not really that cold yet, compared with the early days of the tour in Norway; I just need to acclimatize.

I had some vivid dreams last night, involving sword fights. I’m really not sure what that means, however I was on my bike and pedalling by 07:45, alert for any Viking ambushes; there were definitely Vikings in my dream, and Orcs for some reason. Thankfully, but in some ways disappointingly, there were no incidents of a swashbuckling nature as I rode up Eurovelo 6 to the border with Slovakia. In fact the whole day was pretty relaxing, with most of the riding taking place on cycle paths next to the road.

It was about 60km to the border, through farmland in the sunshine. I stopped at a garage just before Slovakia to try to use up all my Hungarian change; I had a lot of Forint coinage to use, and left with a lot of chocolate bars in my panniers, so all good.

There’s no official border crossing if you follow the Eurovelo 6 route, I was just suddenly in Slovakia. I don’t know if there’s something more substantial if you follow the main road. I realised I’d changed country as I got a text from Vodafone welcoming me to Slovakia, however there were other changes visible almost immediately; lots of cyclists appeared in lycra, which had been rare in Hungary. The cycle route to Bratislava, on top of a levee, is very popular with cyclists and people roller-blading, and it was nice to have folks to wave or say hello to again. I’m not sure what people think of me; my shorts have got some big holes in and I generally look a bit unkempt, however I’m determined to make it back to the UK without having to buy any new kit, if at all possible.

I arrived in Bratislava but cycled pretty much straight past it, staying on the signposted Eurovelo 6 route around the outskirts and on the South side of the Danube. Then it was on through more countryside, and over a few small hills, before I was suddenly in Austria, again without really realising it. There may have been a sign, I don’t know, I spent quite a while on the phone as I was pedalling today, chatting to family, so could have missed it.

There followed a long ride to Vienna, which I thoroughly enjoyed, being in high spirits; crossing borders into new countries always gives me a boost. I was following the Eurovelo 6 signs still, however it all got a bit confusing due to the volume of cycle path signs, and somewhere along the line I must have missed one. I carried on along the main road, which was probably more direct anyway, passing the airport, then through the suburbs and into the city centre. Vienna proved very busy, still being packed with tourists despite it being later in the season.

I walked/cycled around Vienna for about an hour and a half, taking in a few sights, sounds and smells. I’m afraid I don’t know what all the buildings are, however the architecture was in general very impressive and elaborate, and I can see why lots of people visit. For me it was just a bit too busy and not as friendly as Budapest. I think it would be better to visit without my bike; I still want to see a concert in the city so will have to come back. I guess Vienna reminds me a bit of Paris, with all the grand buildings, and masses of people, and a bit impersonal.

Having said I didn’t know what any of the buildings were, my iPhone has handily attempted to identify them via the location; very helpful, and hopefully mostly right. There were also a lot of horse and carriage taxis, which looks like a nice way to see the city; forgot to take a photo of them however the drivers were dressed up very smartly.

I paused at the Rathaus (town hall) for a webcam opportunity, and was spotted by the folks at home, however the camera was quite a way away so the image isn’t too clear; good to wave though. Then I made my way West out of the city, doing my best to avoid trams, and more importantly tram lines which can be deadly if you get a wheel trapped in them. I hadn’t anticipated the long climb over the hill to my campsite for the evening, which was a little tough at the end of the day. I had to ascend about 300m, and then negotiate a steep downhill section which I couldn’t really enjoy due to parts of it being a 25% slope, with big bends; my brake pads are wearing out. My Garmin device also decided some narrow paths with loads of steps were fine to cycle on, so I had to route around these adding on a kilometre or two.

Vienna West campsite was a welcome sight, and I quickly pitched my tent, showered, and went in search of food. The campsite has its own restaurant however it wasn’t very friendly, so I walked down the road and found a pizzeria which did the job nicely, and allowed for a cold beer whilst waiting for my pizza; a Daviola, very tasty.

Post pizza I did a bit of planning, working out my route along the Danube. It looks quite wriggly so might take longer than anticipated, but should be very entertaining. The night got progressively colder, and very damp due to a heavy dew, so it wasn’t long before I retreated to my tent and got cosy. It’s going to be odd getting home and not sleeping in a tent for a while; I think I’ll miss it.

In other news I have a cold, which is more annoying than anything else; not really impacting cycling, just have a runny nose and slightly sore throat. Will try to cure it with Schnapps.

28 & 29 September – to Budapest and a rest day

At the last-minute I decided to have a day off in Budapest. It seemed a shame to pass straight through the city without stopping to do some sightseeing, and besides, I needed to do some washing.

It was supposed to be relatively short and easy ride from Solt to Budapest, however it turned into a bit of an adventure due to a few wrong turnings! Here is my route and stats:

–>28 September – to Budapest (93km)
Sometimes you have days which turn into more of an adventure than anticipated. Thankfully I’d had a very good night’s sleep and breakfast at the Eurovelo6 Stop, in Solt, thus I was able to cope with all the route threw at me, as I pedalled off following the Eurovelo 6 signs.

My hosts had informed me the road got a little bumpy for about 15km, but was generally alright; at least that’s what I think they said, my Hungarian isn’t great, and their English was limited. What they actually meant was the route went off-road, along a grassy track through fields, on top of a dyke type thing. This turned out to be hard work, especially into a headwind, resulting in a fair amount of cursing with only the occasional sheep to hear my plaintive cries. This was day 3 of the headwind incidentally, so it was getting a little tedious.

I didn’t see many other people on the track, just the occasional shepherd or farmer, and then a small group of women resting in sleeping bags down on one side of the levee, with their bikes nearby; I’m not quite sure what was going on, but they looked comfy and waved. Eventually I found a road again, or rather a muddy track, that runs alongside the Danube for quite a way, past a lot of riverside houses and fishing spots. It was pleasant riding, even if I had to dodge a lot of potholes and got a bit grimy.

I must have missed a Eurovelo 6 sign at some point, or they ran out, because I ended up on route 51. The main road was pretty busy, however I can deal with most busy roads after tackling Istanbul. What I couldn’t really deal with were the ‘no cycling’ signs that appeared after a while, and persisted, forcing me to turn off route 51 to try to find an alternative road to Budapest. In my efforts to try to relocate Eurovelo 6 I traversed several muddy farmer’s tracks, that my Garmin device informed me were roads. These tracks deteriorated into trails, until I ended up pushing my bike for about 500m through verdant vegetation before reaching a semi-paved track again. It was fairly tough going, but a good adventure, and satisfying to not have to turn around. I was once again glad of Smaug; tough Expedition bike from Oxford Bike Works that can cope with most things.

After passing a lot of barking dogs, but none that chased me, I rejoined main roads to Budapest.  It was a fairly easy ride into the city, and I located my hostel on the ‘Pest’ side of the river without any trouble; had photos of the hostel location on my phone. Hostel Unity is conveniently situated in the centre of the pub/bar/restaurant area of Budapest, however I hadn’t realised it’s on the third floor of a large building. I had to take my panniers off and transport them, then my bike, up in the lift, however it was all worth it as the hostel turned out to be very welcoming, friendly and helpful. It was also quite quiet, the busy season having just about come to an end.

After checking in I went for a wander around the local area, passing a whole host of drinking and eating venues, all of which looked good. I eventually chose one at random (Reds), and had some Hungarian food, including a great beef stew. The beer was also very welcome after today’s adventures.

Feeling very full I waddled back to the hostel and spent the rest of the evening relaxing and chatting with a few other guests, including Danny from Bristol, who is randomly travelling around Europe for a few months; random travelling is the best way I reckon. As usual there were also a few folks from the US and Australia, on tours of European cities, all good people to chat to.

On the spur of the moment I decided to have a day off in Budapest, as it seemed a shame just to pass straight through the city without having a look around, and I needed to do some washing anyway. Budapest is another one of those cities I got a good feeling about, after only a short while; it’s a bit weird how quickly you can tell whether you’re going to like somewhere or not, must be something to do with the atmosphere, people, and city dynamics. Budapest turned out to be great.

Oh, and good news, my nephew liked the lego I sent him for his birthday, marvellous!

–> 29 September – a rest day in Budapest
After a bit of a lie in, which I’m not very good at any more, I got up and had the all included hostel breakfast, then chilled out for a couple of hours, reading, writing and catching up on the news. I also got some much-needed washing done; maybe the last washing needed before getting back to the UK!

Unity hostel isn’t far from a music college, and you can hear the students practising; some were better than others. The day was bright and sunny, so after studying the map I set out to explore Budapest, or rather ‘Pest’, as the ‘Buda’ bit of the city is over the other side of the river and I didn’t really have time to go there too. To start off with I headed up to Hero’s Square, grabbing a Gyros kebab for lunch on the way; very tasty, and cheap.

If you get bored with photos I apologise, I took rather a lot today. Hero’s Square is good to visit, with statues of past leaders, including Arpad, who I mentioned in a past blog post; he was the leader of the tribes that founded Hungary. There are lots of other statues of people in various heroic poses.

After Hero’s Square I walked up to the Turkish Spa, and took a look inside the foyer. It’s supposed to be very good, however looked a little pricey, and in any case Lobster was getting nervous about all the hot water so we had to make a swift exit.

After a break in the park, where I read my friend Simon’s latest chapters from the SciFi novel he’s writing (check is out for free here), I walked down Andrassy Street to the House of Terror. I didn’t going into the museum, as the tour takes at least a couple of hours, however it was very interesting to read the stories on boards outside. It was also quite chilling, sending a shiver down my spine, as I read about the thousands of people the Soviets carted off to work in Gulags indefinitely, after the Second World War. So many of them died, never to see their homeland again, and so many were imprisoned for spurious or no real reason. The prisoners were treated horrifically, often being beaten to death if they couldn’t work or walk; animals were treated more humanely! I may have the stats wrong but of the 700,000 people transported to forced labour camps, around 300,000 died, and most weren’t repatriated for years. You can almost sense the ghosts of these people as you stand outside the building. The last person was repatriated in 2000, after being discovered in a mental hospital in Russia; he wasn’t mentally ill, he just couldn’t speak any Russian.

It’s hard to take in just how badly the Soviet regime treated much of the population in Eastern Europe, after the Second World War, and something that probably isn’t taught or talked about as much as Nazi atrocities; think it deserves to be, and these victims remembered. I hope the human race can learn from these past events, especially in light of what is going on at the moment in the Middle East and elsewhere.

After a somewhat sobering experience I was in need of something a little lighter, so after a hot chocolate I randomly stopped at the Opera House and decided to take the tour, which included a mini concert. It turned out to be a great experience, and something really different for me. I’m convinced to go and see more theatre, and take in an opera, when I get back to the UK.

The Hungarian State Opera House building is extremely ornate, and was built in 19th century, partly financed by the Emperor Franz Joseph, and partly by the city itself. The Emperor decreed that the Opera House shouldn’t be any bigger than the one in Vienna, and was somewhat alarmed when he saw it of the first time and realised it was probably more splendid.

The interior of the building is magnificent, with sweeping staircases, elaborately carved paneling, busts of composers or other famous people around every corner, as well as lots of great paintings and frescos. The main auditorium is decked out in gold leaf, with a central chandelier illuminating the space; it takes several hours to lower the chandelier, by hand (30 strong blokes) and change all the light bulbs. There are grates under the seats that let cool air up into the auditorium; they used to put ice blocks down there to provide air-conditioning, however things have moved on now. Unlike many of the buildings in Budapest the Opera House wasn’t damaged during the war. A bomb did fall through on to the stage, but it didn’t explode.

The mini concert on the staircase at the end was very entertaining, with a female opera singer doing a couple of numbers. It was a new experience to hear such powerful singing live, and I very much enjoyed it; as mentioned I will be endeavouring to see more musicals and hopefully an opera when I get back to the UK – would love to see Aida.

With the daylight hours getting shorter it wasn’t long before the sun was due to set after I left the opera house, and I was pretty hungry after all the walking about, so I grabbed a hot dog then headed back to he hostel to relax.

Mexican hotdog, just because

Mexican hotdog, just because

There’s still a lot more Budapest has to offer, so I think I’m going to have to put it on the list of places to come back to. This list is getting a bit long now, and I’m not sure how I’m going to balance it versus wanting to see completely new places, however Budapest will definitely rank near the top.

After a great day off I spent the evening doing some planning, and chatting with more guests, including an Australian Expedition leader who takes kids on one or two-week long expeditions all around the world, and traveller from Brazil just finishing his European Tour. Bruno from Brazil has confirmed that South America is a must visit place, although I think it’ll take about 6 months to see it properly…arrggghh…I need more lifetime.

Reckon I’ve got about 1,000 miles to go to the English channel,  so perhaps 2 more weeks riding until I’m back on British soil. This is exciting, but also a little saddening that things are coming to an end. I am however really looking forward to seeing friends and family again soon 🙂

25 to 27 September 2015 – Belgrade, Somber into Hungary

Routes and stats for the last few days below:

A few more big cycling days, and now I’m in Hungary; country number 22 of the tour!

–> 25 September – to Belgrade (144km)
My tent got battered by squalls overnight. The wind really shook my tent, and the rain was quite heavy at points, however no leaks to report. I’m not sure how the stray dog faired however he was still there in the morning, and wagging his tail enthusiastically. The campsite cat wasn’t so enthusiastic about his presence, however they seemed to reach a détente of sorts; the dog soon learnt that sticking his nose at the cat wasn’t a good plan!

After a breakfast of bread, honey and cheese, I pedalled off towards Belgrade after tucking some money under the campsite office door, to keep my karma all balanced. The stray dog attempted to follow me for a couple of kilometres, obviously having decided to join my ‘pack’, however he had to give up after a bit – very good effort though. I think he was quite a young dog, and pretty lonely. I do feel sorry for all the strays around, and something needs to be done about it in several of the countries I’ve passed through; it’s nice when they’re friendly, however more often than not they’re aggressive and alarming.

I rode out of the last bit of the Iron Gates gorge, and then through the fortress guarding the entrance to the gorge near Golubac. The fortress is pretty imposing, and the road runs straight through its lower level. I think it’s been the site of the many battles over the course several centuries, for example between the Ottoman and Hungarian Empires.

Over the course of the day I passed a lot of activity in the countryside, with people out collecting  walnuts or harvesting fruit, or using scythes to cut back vegetation and grass; had to be careful not to lose something vital on the back-swings. I followed the Eurovelo 6 route for a bit, to Veliko Gradiste, then somehow missed a signpost, which worked out alright as I continued on the more direct main road; this probably saved me about 20km on my way to Belgrade.

Today’s ride wasn’t as exciting as yesterday’s, but at least it was fairly flat until the last 30km. The latter 30km proved to be fairly hilly and tiring, however i made it to Belgrade and to Hostel Hedonist without any trouble. The hostel gave me a warm welcome (thanks Philip), and was quite busy despite it being late in the year; I don’t think big city hostels are ever that quiet. With some campsites starting to close for the year I might need to start using hostels or hotels more, especially as there aren’t that many campsites in this part of the world. I could wild camp more, but that depends on suitable sites that aren’t going to be too obvious.

The hostel directed me to a local burger joint for dinner, which proved just what I was after; cheap, tasty, and with lots of calories. The Serbians seem to like their burgers, and produce some excellent quality meat patties. After dinner and a bit of a wander (forgot to take photos), I picked up a few supplies, then chilled out at the hostel with other guests, over a few beers and some honey rakia courtesy of the hosts. Despite there being a few drinking games going on I managed to get some writing done, and plan the next few days, before retreating to bed before things got too messy; good to meet and chat with more travellers again though, and amazing just how many Australian and New Zealanders I’m encountering.

As I retired for the night it started to rain very hard; hope it clears up for the morning!

–> 26 September – to Sombor (170km)
Staying in a hostel in a big city can be fun, but it can also be noisy, and thus I didn’t get the best night’s sleep. Several people were up drinking and chatting until very late, or very early depending on your perspective; 4 were still going when I got up at 06.30. Still, I’d had a fun night, and had avoided a hangover, so I set off towards Novi Sad and Sombor. I wasn’t sure exactly how far I’d get, and what the weather was going to be like, however it turned out to be a long ride and pretty wet for some of it.

It was chilly and damp as I pedalled to Novi Sad, and the road was slippery in places, encouraging stunt possibilities. My back wheel slid sideways when I had to brake hard on the outskirts of Belgrade, to avoid a car performing unexpected manoeuvres, however I managed to not fall off. There was only one big hill to deal with, just before Novi Sad, and the rest of the route was fairly flat. The road before Novi Sad was also very bumpy, reminding me a bit of parts of Belgium, with regular wrist jarring cracks, and some pretty serious pot holes to avoid.

Before reaching Novi Sad I rounded a corner and spotted not a bird, or a plane, but Super Cycling Man. I’d been wondering if I’d bump into Will Hodson, aka Super Cycling Man.  Will is on his way around the world by bike, aiming to pedal 100,000km across all 7 continents, over the course of 5 years, dressed as a superhero. You can check out his story on his website, as well as keep up-to-date on his progress: http://supercyclingman.com

It was great to chat for a bit, and compare mascots, although Travelling Lobster was slightly intimidated by Will’s mascot, Dave the Worm. Will’s an amazing bloke, and best of luck to him on his 5 year adventure; I find it hard to contemplate being on the road 5 years, however as I’ve said before you have to chunk it up into smaller sections, and not think about the whole thing; just live in the moment and enjoy all the varied experiences and people you meet.

Novi Sad was bigger than I expected, and very busy; I discovered latterly that it’s the 2nd largest city in Serbia. I crossed over the Danube as a big coal barge passed under the bridge.

Crossing the Danube in Novi Sad - huge coal barge

Crossing the Danube in Novi Sad – huge coal barge

Novi Sad was heavily bombed in 1999 by Nato, during the Kosovo war, and all the bridges over the river destroyed; not that long ago really. Today it’s hard to imagine all the fighting that went on over Kosovo, especially as all the people are so friendly.

There followed a very long ride through flat farmland, into a slight headwind, to Sombor near the Hungarian border. The ride reminded me of cycling from Cambridge to Norwich, through fenland and fields of crops. I was fairly bored by the end of the day, and quite frustrated due to the headwind making it feel like I was constantly pedalling uphill, despite it being flat.

If I get annoyed by a headwind at the moment, I remind myself that at least I’m not being blown backwards, unlike Sarah Outen who is rowing across the Atlantic at the moment, on the last leg of her expedition around the world. Sarah is having quite a hard time of it, with the wind being against her; must be incredibly difficult to keep motivated. You can check out her progress here:  http://www.sarahouten.com/the-mission/journey-tracker/

One thing that Sarah doesn’t have to put up with though is dogs, although I imagine there are quite a few other animal hazards to contend with. I was chased 4 times by dogs today; once by 3 Jack Russell sized canines that I could have easily kicked into touch. I didn’t incidentally, however it was tempting.

Although I didn’t pass any other cycle tourers after Novi Sad, I did get plenty of waves and shouts of hello from locals as I rode along, and friendly beeps from passing cars, all of which helped me reach Sombor after 170km. I found the Long Tour Bike Camp, not far from the town centre, and checked in for the night. The Long Tour Bike Camp is a relatively new set up, catering specifically for cycle tourers. I received a very warm welcome from the hosts, and elected to stay in their guest apartment rather than pitch my tent for the night. Whilst still a work in progress it’s a brilliant set up, with a workshop where you can conduct any repairs you might need to perform, and the hosts able to offer route advice, including future accommodation options. As with all these places it’s the hosts that make it, and in this case they are both exceptionally welcoming, friendly and helpful.

After a long ride I was ready for some food, so I headed into town to forage for a few supplies and pizza; the latter was delicious. I guess now it’s getting colder, and I’m pedalling longer distances each day on my way back to the UK, I’m going to have to try and eat even more; could be tricky – I’ll buy more Haribo and chocolate!


A bit later on in the evening I met Jovan Erakovic, the architect of the Eurovelo 6 route in Serbia, and an accomplished cycle tourer himself; he’s friends with the hosts. It was good to swap tales and ideas for future tours. It was also very good to retire to a comfy bed, and needless to say it didn’t take me long to fall asleep.

–> 27 September – to Solt, Hungary (136km)
I felt refreshed and ready for another day’s riding in the morning, and would thoroughly recommend Long Tour Bike Camp if your passing that way by bike. They supplied me with an excellent breakfast; the first time I’ve had bacon in a long time, which made me very happy.

After signing their memory wall, alongside Super Cycling Man’s note who also stayed here, I set off for the border and Hungary, only 27km away. It didn’t take long to get there, and there were no issues crossing, and no sign of any migrants/refugees. There is a big razor wire fence that I believe has only been put up recently.

The border guards were checking cars pretty thoroughly, and asked me if I had any drugs or weapons; I wondered if I needed to declare Lobster, as he’s probably a health risk due badly needing a wash!

Once over the border it was a long flat cycle North to Solt, through Baja and a few other towns, as well as a lot more farmland. The ride was very similar to yesterday’s; flat, damp, crops and an irritating headwind which knocked a few kilometres per hour off my speed. At least the road wasn’t very busy, and there were a few cycle path sections, including a long one a the end of the day on top of a dyke. In one town I passed nets full of what I assume is Paprika, hung up to dry; loads of it.

Only got chased by dogs once today, so Hungary looking up on that front!

Once in Solt I found an ATM to withdraw some cash, getting a bit confused about the exchange rate, then found my planned accommodation for the night; Eurovelo 6 Stop. Eurovelo 6 Stop is another place catering for cycle tourers, and again I received a warm welcome. They have a nice little annex down at the bottom of their garden, with a few beds, kitchen and bathroom; suited me fine. They were in the process of celebrating their mother’s 85th birthday, with family visiting from Budapest; the grandchildren were busy helping harvest pears, as well as walnuts I think, from trees in the garden.

The shops are all closed in Hungary on Sundays, at least they are away from the big cities, so I elected for takeaway from a local restaurant which the hostess helped me order; pizza and a large Greek salad.

I finished the evening with glass of some kind of plum schnapps from the hosts, which did a great job of relaxing my muscles, and made me very sleepy. Everyone seems to brew their own spirits in this part of the world, and here was no exception; excellent stuff but pretty powerful.

Tomorrow it’s on to Budapest where I may have a rest day, before continuing on towards Vienna. I think I’m about 2 weeks away from the UK now, which feels a bit surreal, however I’ve still got some exciting bits of Europe to pedal through. Got a few plans for when I get back to the UK, but still fleshing them out; want to have some fun on home soil before going back to work. Back to work, now there’s a sobering thought!

23 & 24 September 2015 – to Serbia (Negotin) and the Iron Gates Gorge

Serbia is country number 21 on the tour, if I’ve counted correctly. It’s entirely possible I haven’t counted correctly, as I’m slightly tired after several long days cycling, however I’m still feeling fit and am enjoying the riding. I’m kind of pushing it at the moment to see how quickly I can make it back across Europe to the UK, with a view to possibly trying the Transcontinental Race next year, however I think I’m still a bit off the pace for that. Saying that the bike wouldn’t be as heavy, and the route more direct, for such an endeavour, so who knows.

Here are my routes and stats for the 23rd and 24th:

–> 23 September – to Negotin, Serbia (100km)
After a very pleasant night at the hotel Transimpex in Lom, I set my sights on Serbia, country number 21 of the tour! Slight calamity first thing; my honey bottle had leaked, causing a bit of a mess in my panniers, however once I’d cleared that up and finished my yoghurt and honey breakfast I set off, saying goodbye to the cycle tourer I met briefly last night, who is going the other way.

The road alongside the Danube towards Vidin is a tad on the bumpy side, causing a few occurrences of swearing when I hit bumps or potholes I hadn’t noticed, and you don’t really see the river for a lot of it. I did pass 4 cycle tourers going the other way, two from France and two on a tandem, all heading towards Turkey.

There were also a lot of heavy trucks on the road, however once past Vidin I made it to the border without incident. The crossing was very quiet, and I was soon through the Bulgarian checkpoint, saying hello to the bored looking guards and pedalling towards the Serbian side. On the way through ‘no mans land’ I stopped to help push a broken down taxi; it failed to bump-start, however we got it to the other side okay, then I had to walk back to get my bike.

The Eurovelo 6 route in Serbia is pretty well sign-posted, and I intend to follow most of it, just cutting out the odd meander where there’s a more direct route and I don’t miss anything interesting. It was only a short ride to get to Negotin, where I stopped or the night at Hostel Olimpik; another very friendly and comfortable hostel, that also provided dinner and breakfast, all for the inclusive price of about £12, bargain! I’d arrived in good time, especially since I’d gained an hour, so after a rest I went for a wander around town in search of ice cream and a few supplies.

I need to remember that it’ll get dark earlier now, especially since I’ve gained an hour, so I’ll need to start earlier to avoid having to cycle in the dark.

Another cycle tourer turned up a bit later, which provided some good company for the evening. Edi is Bulgarian, but has lived in Paris for the last 10 years, and is currently on his way to Sofia to meet his girlfriend before continuing to cycle around the world. You can follow his progress via his blog here: http://les-rayons-au-vent.blogspot.fr

Cycling around the world is quite an attractive prospect, and one that I’ve considered a number of times, however I think I’m going to stick with ‘shorter’ trips for the time being. Edi is going via Iran and then the Stans, which means having to get hold of several Visas, and remembering you can’t withdraw cash using VISA or MasterCard in Iran. He should be able to get an Iranian visa fairly easily, however it’s apparently difficult at the moment if you’re British or American.

It was good to relax and chat, and I’m excited about tomorrow when I head to the National Park alongside the Danube and the Iron Gates gorge.

–> 24 September – the Iron Gates Gorge (156km)
The mosquitos decided to attack overnight, which proved very irritating; both Edi and I broke out the repellent however I still got bitten several times. I still slept well, and breakfast set me up  well for a long ride; omelette, bread and jam.

I bid Edi goodbye and good luck on his ride South, and thanked Olivera the hostel hostess, before I pedalled off towards Kladova and the National Park. I set off at 08.30, however it felt later due to the clocks changing. After few hills I made it to Kladova, where the road swung North again, with Drobeta Turna Severin just across the river on the Romanian side. After a few more kilometres I made it the Iron Gates gorge and National Park. The gorge is the longest in Europe, at well over 100km, and has some Roman history with the Emperor Trajan having constructed a famous bridge over the Danube. The ride through the National Park and gorge was through some of the nicest scenery I’ve experienced in while, and made me realise how monotonous some of the roads have become recently lately.

Pedalling through inspiring countryside again did a lot motivate me, and provided a welcome distraction from thinking about the route ahead. The road was also fairly quiet, with little in the way of heavy traffic; just goats, cows, sheep, and frequent circling buzzards.

My ride was accompanied by the sound of cawing crows for a while; I was a little suspicious they were following me. I am always impressed by the intelligence of the Corvidae family, and it was interesting to see them dropping nuts on the road to crack their shells. I think they were attempting to get into Walnuts, there being a lot of Walnut trees in this part of the world.

It was relaxed riding today, with a lot of singing going on, leaving me in good spirits as I covered nearly 160km, with only about 3 significant climbs. I passed 11 other cycle tourers going the other way, with the usual waves and hellos, but none going my way; I think most people pedal South then either fly or catch a train back. I lost count of the number of tunnels I passed through, maybe 17, however they were all short and as such not suitable lairs for goblins or trolls, so Lobster stood down on guard duty. The tunnels were good fun from an echo point of view, enhancing my fine vocal talents no end.

I arrived at the campsite at about 17.00, which was deserted however the shower/toilet block was open, and the power on, so I thought maybe someone would be along later. As it turned out no humans appeared, however I was joined by a cat, and a bit later on by a dog; I think the latter was a stray however he was friendly enough, and slept next to my tent. I seem to be developing a tendency to attract stray dogs.

After a shower and some food, the sun quickly set, and I retreated to my tent to read and get an early night. Aside from the meowing cat, and latterly the snuffling dog, the campsite was very tranquil, however I did get woken up at about 23.00 as a few heavy squalls came through. The wind really shook my tent, and the rain was quite hard for a bit; thankfully no leaks!

Tomorrow I’ll push join to Belgrade for the night, before heading towards Hungary. I need to check the route and decide how close to the Croatia/Serbia border I go; might take a straighter route to Budapest, if it makes sense and doesn’t miss anything worth seeing.

21 & 22 September 2015 – to Sofia and Lom (Danube)

Still making good progress, and great to have arrived at the Danube River, which I can effectively cycle alongside all the way to Germany. I’ll follow Eurovelo 6, but with a few detours thrown in for good measure. To be honest I’m not entirely decided on my exact route, but it’ll be fun pedalling North West and seeing what presents itself.

Routes and for the last 2 days below:

–> 21 September 2015 – to Sofia
Despite a few beverages with fellow hostel guests the previous evening, I felt fine in the morning; must be all the cycling. I was up and had breakfast whilst most people were still sleeping, consuming yet more yoghurt, which has become a bit of a staple. I need to replace burnt calories effectively and healthily, and yoghurt is a good way to do it, or milk, as it also contains protein which helps repair my tired muscles.

After packing up and saying goodbye to Fabien, and the Japanese cycle tourer whose name I didn’t catch, I pedalled off towards Sofia, deciding against a rest day in favour of making more progress towards the Danube and home, especially whilst the weather is good. I’m really going to try to think only a few days ahead, even though I’m excited at the prospect of heading back to the UK; thinking about the whole route gets a little overwhelming, despite having covered over 8,000 miles already, and the distance back to Norwich only being about 1,900 miles.

On the outskirts of Pazardjik, the first big town after Plovdiv, I bumped into a Bulgarian cyclist on the way back from his allotment. We got chatting as we cycled along, with Boris explaining he had worked in the UK, but was back in Bulgaria for the time being. I also learnt that it’s law to wear a high vis vest whilst cycling outside cities in Bulgaria, but not in cities themselves, which is a bit odd and akin to the helmet law in Spain; I reckon I’m safe as my yellow cycling top is pretty bright anyway.

Boris - great to meet another friendly face on the road

Boris – great to meet another friendly face on the road

Boris guided me in to Pazardjik, showing me the best way through the city and back on to route 8. He also bought me lunch in the form of some fine meat products from a local cafe (Tiger Cafe); kebab like products which were very tasty when I stopped to eat them a bit later on. Boris insisted I take a couple of huge apples from his allotment to ensure a balanced diet, which proved very tasty, and all organic. Great to meet you Boris and thanks for the route tips and food, very kind of you.

The rest the ride to Sofia was quite lengthy, and involved a large climb, which thankfully was pretty gradual; bigger climb coming tomorrow so didn’t want to exhaust legs today. I was helped by the weather, with the sun staying behind clouds for a lot of the time, and even a bit of light rain keeping things fresh.

The route passes through some nice forest and small towns, alongside the motorway at times. Route 8 got very bumpy and potholed for one section, as it’s not used by cars much anymore, because they all use the motorway; passed quite a few horse and carts though. Boris had told me earlier that these are mostly the ‘gypsy’ folk, who are nice people but a distinct community; they all tended to give me a wave and say hello, especially the kids. I don’t know if it’s politically correct to label them as gypsies or not.

I had a few encounters with dogs today, but nothing too alarming. At one point 3 shepherd dogs spotted me from across a field, and sprinted about 300 metres to the road, barking maniacally. I was a little concerned when they showed no sign of slowing down, and at the speed they covered the distance towards me, however the lead dog proceeded to wipe out on the road verge, tumbling into the long grass, which caused them all to stop. This allowed me to escape un-molested, whilst they attempted to wander off and salvage some dignity; it was all a bit embarrassing for them.

After following route 8 for miles it ran out, and I had no option but to join the motorway for the few kilometres to reach the city. This wasn’t really an issue as the hard shoulder is wide, and the few police cars that passed me didn’t object. I pedalled into the busy city, past a lot of monuments and statues, then found Hostel Mostel near Makedonia Square. Several people at Hiker’s Hostel had recently stayed at Hostel Mostel, and recommended it. It’s a lot bigger and busier than some hostels I’ve stayed at, but did a great basic dinner, as well as breakfast, and all for about £8 (including a bed in the dorm) so you can’t really go wrong. It’s a great place to meet people too, or just to chill out after a long day in the saddle as was the case with me.

Having arrived a bit later than I usually like to stop, I relaxed for the evening, doing some planning and blog updates; good to catch up! I also did a bit of bike maintenance to fix squeaky pedals, which had begun to annoy me. Smaug seems to be bearing up well, however I’ll need to keep an eye on the tyres still.

Tomorrow I head for Lom and the Danube river, assuming I make it that far; there are some big mountains in the way.

–> 22 September – to Lom and the Danube
Going to experiment with a slightly different style on this blog post, and see if it works; writing in a different tense, which might suit converting into a book more – let me know if it works, or not as the case may be.

I had a good night’s sleep in the Hostel Mostel dormitory, in Sofia, with about 20 other people in the same room; after a long ride little keeps me awake. The hostel breakfast is excellent, including scrambled and hard-boiled eggs, fruit, bread and jam, all of which makes great cycling fuel. I have a feeling I’m going to need a lot of fuel today, with a long ride to the Danube ahead of me.

Avoiding the playful kittens I push my bike out on to the streets of Sofia, under overcast skies. It’s nice not to have to bother with suncream for a change, and to be riding in cooler temperatures. It doesn’t take long to pedal out of the city, and find route 81 heading North. The first part of the ride is fairly boring, through farmland and the occasional village, then the road starts to rise up into the mountains. I climb for several hours, with a few down sections providing a rest for my legs, however I know that means I’ll just need to go back up again, until I reach the top of the pass. My motto for the tour is turning into ‘there’s always another hill’.

I pass through a few small towns and villages, where people are selling honey or vegetables by the roadside, leading to a lot of friendly waves or hellos.  There are a few bothersome dogs, however in general the canines in Bulgaria don’t seem as aggressive compared with Turkey or Greece; often it seems like they just can’t be bothered. The road continues to meander through fields, before rising up into pine forest, then beech and silver birch. The beech forest is particularly beautiful, especially near the top where wisps of low cloud permeate the canopy. I start to hear music from somewhere as I near the top; it must be from the nearby village, however it was slightly confusing as the sound bounces off hills; quite bizarre in the otherwise peaceful setting.

The clouds draw in at the top of the climb, and it gets quite cold, a novel sensation after being so hot for a long time. I stop to catch my breath, next to a cloud smothered reservoir, before starting my descent. There’s a small cafe at the top with a few people sitting outside having drinks; I content myself with a banana and some Haribo.

After reaching 1,350m in height, the descent down the other side is going to be exciting. I pass through more beech forest, which proves more beautiful than the Southern side, especially once I emerge from the low cloud. I get the shivers for a few minutes, in the cold and damp conditions, the chill air seeming even colder when you’re travelling at speed. I whizz past a road cyclist going the other way, exchanging waves, then pause for moment to take in the beauty and tranquility of the area.

Thankfully the traffic has quieted down, so there is little to interrupt my fast descent, and reduced danger from cars or lorries in the low visibility. I spot a few people filling up water bottles from roadside springs; this seems very common in Bulgaria, with a lot villages having their own springs, which are apparently good to drink from.

After really enjoying the mountainous section, even if it was tiring, there follows a long and slightly monotonous ride to Lom and the Danube, across gently rolling farmland, and past the city of Montana. Montana was a possible overnight stop, however I decide to carry on, and am glad I did as it feels very good to reach the Danube, getting rd of some of the anxious and slightly sad feelings I’d been experiencing. As I enter Lom I spot a sign for the Eurovelo 6 route, which brings a smile to my face; this route should take me all the way to Germany!

I find the Hotel Transimpex right on the banks of the Danube, and it’s only 30 Leve for the night; about £11.20. This is still a bit more expensive than the last few previous stays, however I have Leve I need to use up, and figure it’s worth it to celebrate reaching the Danube. There’s a nice restaurant attached to the hotel where I have dinner, after a walk around town and a stop at a market to get supplies; important not to run out of Haribo.

I briefly meet another cycle tourer who turns up later in the evening, on her way down towards Romania, working on organic farms (WWOOF – look it up, sounds interesting). I expect to meet a few more cycle tourers now I’m on Eurovelo 6, so we’ll see what tomorrow brings as I head to Serbia, country number 21 of the tour.

18, 19 & 20 September 2015 – to Bulgaria, and heading for home

I forgot to mention the ‘lovely-jubbly’ man in my last blog post! He was stationed near the Basilica Restaurant chatting to tourists and inviting them to his shop. He must have watched a lot of Only Fools and Horses because he repeated the classic Del Bog phrase constantly; hearing ‘lovely-jubbly’ shouted down the busy Istanbul streets was a somewhat surreal experience.

It’s been 3 focused cycling days since Istanbul, as my mind turns towards getting home, however I need to remember to slow down a bit and enjoy the ride. I’m a bit nervous about the route, what with border closures and migrant/refugee issues being in the news a lot, however as yet I’ve not run into any difficulties, and think I’ll stick with my planned route up to the Danube, then following it to Germany.

Here are my routes and stats for the last few days:

–> 18 September – to Luleburgaz
I felt quite emotional leaving Istanbul and finally pointing my bike in the direction of home, after four and a half months on the road. I’ve still got a long way to go though, and need to concentrate on the next few days rather than what I’m doing when I get to the English Channel, otherwise it all gets a bit overwhelming.

Bike ready for the final leg home; leaving Istanbul and #bunk hostel

Bike ready for the final leg home; leaving Istanbul and #bunk hostel

After charging my energy reserves over a hostel breakfast, I packed up and bid goodbye to the #bunk hostel. I decided to pedal back along the coast to Silivri, then take the D100 North, rather than go via Saray; the latter a longer route, and more rural so increased chances of being molested by dogs.

The road out of Istanbul was just as busy as when I pedalled into the city a couple of days ago, although I did take a slightly more road-about route. I remained on high alert until I was well past the 3 lane chaos, with slip roads, buses, taxis and random driving all adding to the ‘fun’. The road has a lot of debris on it, which I think caused the puncture I noticed later on in the day; quite a slow one where a shard of glass had pierced my rear tyre. If I was using Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres I doubt they’d have punctured, and I’ll keep an eye out for a shop selling them in a suitable size. Changing tyres will probably have to wait until Vienna; my current tyres should last until then anyway – they’d probably get me all the way home..maybe…best play it safe.

After about 80km I started to head away from the coast, and reached the town of Corlu, a possible destination for the night, however it was still early and I wasn’t feeling very tired to I decided to press on to Luleburgaz. The road continued to rise and fall over ongoing hills, meaning I ended up climbing a total of 1,466m today, over the case of 161km; I was helped by a bit of a tailwind, and a few ice-cream breaks. Whilst I felt strong physically, my mind was a little fragile due to thinking about getting back to the UK too much, as well as being anxious about the route and possible border closures. When I pedalled around the UK coast in 2013 I rarely had any sad days, however they’re a bit more common on this tour, as it’s been mentally harder, a well as longer; need to live in the moment more rather than looking ahead too much.

Despite a punctured rear tyre, which I had to stop and pump up a couple of times, I eventually made it to Luleburgaz and found a cheap hotel of the evening. Hotel Arda is a bargain at approximately £6 a night, although they could really do with cleaning the rooms occasionally; didn’t really bother me as only need somewhere to sleep, and the shower worked alright. The owner proudly informed me I was the 10th cycle tourer to stay at the hotel this year, and as such  qualified for free tea and coffee; shame I don’t drink caffeine. The hotel has hosted French, Canadian, German, British and American tourers, which isn’t that surprising seeing as it’s on the route to Istanbul and there isn’t a lot of choice if you need to stop in this area. Despite only speaking rudimentary English we managed quite a long conversation, and I was again struck by how friendly most people are in Turkey.

After mending my puncture, and phoning home which helped boost morale, I headed into town to find some food; very nice kebab, as well as a quick visit to a supermarket for a few supplies. I’m eating a lot of yoghurt at the moment, as it’ supplies a lot of energy and is reasonably healthy; also got some nice honey to add to it.

This should be my last night in Turkey, as I head over the border into Bulgaria tomorrow, as long as it’s not closed or blocked with refugees/migrants.

–>19 September – to Lyubimets, Bulgaria
Another day of not many photos as I remain focused on cycling; the scenery wasn’t particularly noteworthy in any case. I did pass a few cycle tourers going the other way, who all waved or shouted hello, but didn’t pass or get passed by any going my way; think a lot of people fly back once they’re reached Istanbul, if they’re not carrying on round the world.

I woke up at about 06.00 to the sound of early morning prayers at the local mosque, which were  pretty loud, and left me slightly confused as to where I was for a few moments. I’d slept very well until then, despite the slightly grotty room and several mosquitoes buzzing about and biting me.

The good news was my rear tyre was still inflated after I’d mended the puncture last night, which was a relief. If the fix hadn’t worked it would have most likely been flat by the morning, so one less thing to worry about. I set off on the road to the border with Bulgaria, the D100 again, passing through Edirne after about 50km, where there’d apparently been some migrant trouble. I didn’t see any trouble, or anyone that looked like migrants/refugees for that matter, however I think they’d all been moved to the border with Greece, or were on the motorway rather than the D100.