We have arrived in Istanbul and the first thing we find is a spot to lay our roll mats bags (or, in Ben’s case, car seat cover).
Best Island Hostel confusingly isn’t the best hostel around these parts of the mainland but it has a view which is certainly hard to beat!
The trip totalled 4581km over a period of exactly 50 days. I wish we could say our total showers was close to that figure but I doubt between us we’ve had that many!
We will use this week to re-acclimatise to life among normal members of the public. Start using a knife and fork again, washing clothes occasionally, wearing pants. I could go on. However, one more night out in the open seems only fitting.
There will be more to follow; a more detailed account of the past week, thankyous to those we have met and have helped us along the way, and lots of tips for future London – Istanbulers.
In the mean time, ciao!
For the past few days Ben has constantly been pestered for autographs as, due to his considerable beard, the Serbian public recognise him as Tom Hanks from the film Castaway. Time for a shave…
We are five weeks in and it’s finally time for the chop. We had originally planned to get a haircut around the halfway mark but ran out of time in Vienna and found more interesting things to do in Budapest. So Belgrade it is and with Kylie Minogue playing on the radio, Ben stepped up…
Next up was Edmund ‘Tintin’ Luke, who like a true cyclist eschewed the scissor cut option and went for a lightweight short back ‘n’ sides.
It’s a late start for us today and a couple of days taking it easy on the bike. We will be back in Belgrade on Monday to speak at a conference organised by YugoCycling Campaign as part of European mobility week.
So our next stop is Bela Cyrka, in the Serbian lake district and just a stone’s throw from the Romanian border. Wild swimming aplenty in store then before we catch our train back to the capital on Sunday afternoon.
Germany and cycling go together like curry powder and sausage.
Nevertheless, we had to leave and pursue our Turkish goal. Since joining the Danube at Vilshofen (Germany), we crossed into Austria just outside Passau and have been winding our way towards Vienna for a couple of days. Both sides of the river have very good, signed cycle track, we have been following the Austrian R1 and we occasionally see a EuroVelo 6 symbol.
We had been warned before leaving for this trip that parts of the Danube had recently flooded. We saw first hand how high the water reached when we stopped for a drink in a cafe in Passau. There was no inside seating, the place having been six feet underwater in June. The owners had done remarkably well to get things up and running in such a short time, the pictures on the door showing how damaging the flood had been.
Moving towards Vienna there were constant signs of destruction. It is a credit to the Austrian cyclist’s organisations and tourist board that so much of the cycle track is back up and open. We have experienced only one large diversion and one short section which is still covered with silt and tree debris in the 300km or so from Germany.
A highlight of the past couple of days was joining a cricket practice in Linz. We had had a nightmare few hours caused by splitting inner tubes and wonky wheels and were pedalling out of town with glum expressions when, on approaching a motorway underpass, we saw a bowler steaming in. He was pretty rapid, though the batsman seemed unperturbed by his pace and gracefully guided the ball through extra cover. We watched for a few moments before asking if we could find a place to field. We were gladly excepted and were soon streaming in ourselves. Slightly less pacy and indeed accurate we held our own – it’s not easy bowling in cleated cyclung shoes! Ed was offered the bat and was thankful for the “you can’t be out on your first ball rule” when the stumps clattered to the ground.
We said our thank yous and were on our way. A short spin later and we found a perfect camping spot on the banks of the river and cooked dinner in the sunset.
The following day we had an unbelievable morning. We had managed 75km by 11:30, helped by a group of Austrian cyclists who were starting a six day tour and allowed two pannier clad Brits to ride their train and catch their draft. Ben, the courteously young man that he is, did his turn at the front of the peleton much to the amusement of the Austrians.
More flat Danube riding through the spectacular Wachau valley was the flavour of the afternoon and we finished our day just outside Krems, sipping on a bottle of Gruner Veltliner bought from a local vineyard.
A short 70km spin into Vienna in the morning where we have enjoyed some indoor camping. On to Bratislava today along our favourite European river.
Athough this was the winner of today’s on road caption competition, It was bone dry, a scorcher, more parasol than umbrella.
Our day started with a parting of ways. Our domestique left us mumbling something about an unfair split of prize money so we were left to fetch our own water bottles. 600+ miles done, he hopped on the train and later, we’re told, did a ‘victory lap’ of Brussels, and a few hours spinning the other side of dover ‘for the craic’. Expect Hamlet cigars to be on the Wada banned substances list shortly.
A morning of smooth traffic free trails led us towards Schegen, a village that’s in Luxembourg, France and Germany all at once, and is known the world over for its fantastic area. As ever, close to the country border all signage disappears as each country helpfully assumes the other will cover that section. Nevertheless, proud Europeans that we are, there are plenty of non-border photos coming up at our next computer stop.
Then we entred Germany. And it was so terribly German. Call me Clarkson, but we enjoyed perfect signage, cracking traffic-free paths and wonderful hospitality. We followed the Saarland Radweg for most of the afternoon, which included a wee siesta and a spot of cricket using tiny apples and a rolled up mosquito net. No sticks of rhubarb here. We even found a backstreet icecream shop selling hooky cornetos at bargain prices! Oh Germany.
We sped onwards towards Saarlouis, undertaking some of the toughest climbing thus far, arriving in town just late enough for all the shops to be shut. Cheeky meal out, where Ben was delighted to find that Germans make pizzas out of fadge (potato bread) before a nightime spin along the river to own camping spot, which might just have a nice view in the morning. Joyous.
Tomorrow we head into wine country.. the main aim being to teach Ed how to spell Gewurztraminer. More posts coming soon, including our impressions of EuroVelo so far, and our Sweat-o-meter of the facilites offered to touring cyclists in each of the countries we pass through.
So we’ve been in Belgium for the past few days. Ben feels very much at home, not because he has Belgian heritage, but because he has been living in Brussels for the past year or so.
Local knowledge should therefore have ensured getting lost would stop at the French border. Think again.
After a breezy spin through southern Flanders on some of the best cycle track so far, we hit Eddy Merckx country. The route turned “sportif” to say the least. An icecream van at the top of one steep climb our only restbite in what turned out to be a hellish afternoon. Sixteen hours and 205kms later we arrived a Ben’s place.
After our mammoth previous day we thought we deserved a rest. The first bed, shower and proper meal since London helped recharge batteries and enabled us a bit of planning time. The plan was to spend the next two days journeying towards Luxembourg.
In the morning we enjoyed a leisurely tourist route through Brussels before meeting the EuroVelo team at the ECF HQ. We were greeted with tea and medals before finally setting out for the day around noon.
Ben had a quick chat with some friendly tarmac while the rest of us enjoyed a superb forest trail south. The afternoon was unusual in that we didn’t get too lost before stopping for an evening beer in Namur.
As darkness fell we prised ourselves away from the bar to find a suitable spot to bed down. After climbing for a while we stumbled upon a track which provided enough cover for the three of us.
We now sit in a cafe having been on the road for a couple of hours, following the river Meuse south to Dinant. Next stop Rochefort, famous for such originally named beers as rochefort 6, rochefort 8 and rochefort 10. Once some of us stop faffing…
We are up and underway after a slap up breakfast and a warm send-off at ‘look mum no hands’, east london’s chic-est cycle spot.
Lunch was a Weatherspoons special. The handy menu has the number of calories marked next to the dish so the choice is easy – go big! Steak and kidney pie has a delightful 1165.
Onwards along the south bank of the Thames, Gravesend being our first afternoon pause. We met Nikki who chairs the Gravesend RLNI rundraising group and had a go on her Tombola. Our luck was in and we walked away with a pack of Polos. Minty fresh!
We later steered inland to Gillingham, travelling swiftly through the beautifully sunny countryside. A few wrong turns followed before we stopped for a well earned pint in Faversham.
A nightime search for a camping spot was perhaps not the most clever idea, though we were lucky to happen upon an idyllic setting on the edge on an orchard. Food cooked and eaten it was time for bed – our first border crossing tomorrow!
A question asked by everyone we’ve spoken to about the trip. Cyclists are an often misunderstood bunch and excitement at the thought of cycling 4500km in four weeks with infrequent access to showering facilities seems a tricky concept to convey. So, I put the question to myself – what is the motivation behind the trip?
For me it’s simple. I want to cross a continent under only my own propulsion. When put as simply as that, it sounds epic! With so many complications in modern day life, a stripped back adventure of pedalling 4500km unsupported and outside the constraints of tolls, traffic or timetables is, to me, the most appealing holiday I can think of.
In addition, there is an environmentalist aspect. We are both keen to approach our lives with sustainability in mind, from recycling our beer bottles to re-homing some quite horrendous woolly jumpers! Cycle tourism is the ultimate in sustainable holiday making and something we hope to promote during our trip, both in the UK and more broadly in Europe. It is fair to say that the EuroVelo network is still very much in the development stages. The guys at the EFC are doing some monumental work to get a signed infrastructure up and running and it’s up to us the cyclists to get out there, use it, comment on it and help it develop into a fully operational European-wide network.
It is a truly unique concept and makes our American and Australian counter-parts green with envy. A whole continent connected with criss-crossing routes which enable the two wheeled adventurer to visit some of the most spectacular sites in Europe is a tremendously desirable amenity. What’s more, the fact you measure the cost of your journey in miles per flapjack as opposed to miles per gallon of petrol means that it is an affordable means of exploring a country in these days of ever increasing fuel prices. And let’s face it – the price at the pump is only going one way.
We leave in four and a half months and have a great deal to organise. We want to get in touch with cycling contacts in the various countries we plan to cycle through (a draft route can be found here) in order to promote EuroVelo in that particular country so please get in touch if you can be of any assistance. A more detailed route will be coming soon.
In the mean time, happy pedalling!
We are well under way in planning our EuroVelo trip from London to Istanbul. Having completed a draft of our route, we have turned out attention to gear.
We are undertaking the trip on a strict budget and want to get the best value for money kit on the market. Now, you cannot underestimate the benefits of a good night’s sleep so our first question to you regards sleeping bags….