What was all that about then?
I’m not too sure…
I could say it was just a continuation of the journey across Europe by bike that I started last August, one which I will finish next year on the Black Sea – it was that. But that was 1 country, 1 river and 10 days – far easier by comparison. This journey was a continuation, but it was so very different in so many ways. Twice as many days, more than twice as many miles, 6 times as many countries, and for a large part, other people were with me.
If I strip it down, it was a 3 week cycling holiday. However I don’t feel at all like I’ve just come back from a holiday. More like a European adventure by bike, and a massive personal journey – both of which came at the right time.
2015 has been a tough year for me, and for my family. We lost our Dad and Husband to Multiple Sclerosis after a courageous 30 year battle. However, knowing someone who could be so happy in the face of a horrible illness, someone who could be so strong and courageous throughout that battle and someone who could display so much love for his wife and kids, can, and will be an inspiration to me for as long as I live. This journey happened so soon after Dad’s death that it is impossible for me to not link the two. And in many ways, a lot of this journey was spent trying to understand Dad’s.
As I said in a blog post weeks ago, I was unsure whether this was a trip across Europe or a cycling challenge. In the end it was a bit of both. Perhaps with the challenge thing edging it… So what were the highlights and low points? I’ll try and break this into 2 areas – cycling/experience related and tourist related.
So on the tourist trip… Here are my Top places/things…
1. Le Doubs valley & Franche Comte. Dole and Besancon are both stunning cities and I will definitely be going back to be a proper tourist. The river valley that connects them is a joy to be in.
2. The Black Forest. Haven’t explored much of Germany, but the young Danube creates a landscape here which is simply breathtaking. That, and the fact in Germany you are not ripped off… A pint of great beer is 3 Euro, food is reasonably priced and decent (if you like meat) – and contrary to expectation, the people are lovely and all speak English (not that they should).
3. Passau. Such a stunning setting for a very beautiful city. Go, if you can… I will definitely go back.
4. Viena. There’s a lot going on here, and the vibe was pretty cool. I think we only scratched the surface – but I suspect this city has a lot of gems to uncover. Sitting drinking wine by the canal – as many were, revealed an alternative to the mobbed shopping district and pricey bars. I suspect there is a real sub culture here which could easily be tapped into.
5. Bratislava. Didn’t get enough time here. People were lovely again, at least the ones we met. Bars were nice and food and drink very cheap. There are clearly 2 sides to this city and I definitely preferred the old town to the new developments which were definitely more Western leaning. I hope they realise what they already have.
I would also add Hungary and Budapest to this list – and would encourage anyone to go there. Didn’t put it in my top 5 as I have been there so many times – which is testament in itself as to how much I love it.
1. Eurovelo 6 route. Do it, or do some of it. Especially in France (Loire) it is easy cycling. But overall it is an amazing thing – following signs from the Atlantic all the way across Europe on a bike is a very edifying treasure hunt…
2. Vosges Mountains. As far a pure cycling experience goes – this has been right up there. It might not be the highest of mountains – but at 1400 metres of climbing, through beautiful forests, up several switchbacks has to rate as one of my best. The fact I shared it with my mate and “cycling guru” – just enhanced it.
Though perhaps the lack of hot food at the campsite after all that climbing put a more comedic twist on it. Cold ravioli is not what an athlete needs!
3. Crispin, AKA Gypsy Lady, AKA ‘the tank’. What a great bike. A Ridgeback Panorama on road tyres did 1,300 miles without a squeak or a puncture – amazing, and perfect for the job.
4. The Danube. An Awesome river. From this.
And next year I will see it empty into the Black Sea – I am already planning.
1 (again) (experience/journey). Friends/getting to know folk. This isn’t number five really. Is probably number 1, but didn’t know where else to put it. Cycling with friends is amazing and on this trip I cycled with 3 people. Luke needs no mention – he’s a best mate and our 2 days cycling were awesome. But for 2 weeks I cycled with friends, who I only know through cycling. In many ways that was one of the toughest things, and there were inevitably tough (ish) moments. Learning about people and how they react to situations is exceptionally hard and there were definitely issues (problems) (for you Matt, who constantly corrected me on my use of English) from time to time. But after all of that I would say, unexpectedly, that the best part of my journey was getting to know Lucy and Matt more. Learning tolerance of each others ways (and they mine I’m most sure of) was awesome. In the end we were an amazing team – who almost always wanted to take different routes, but ended in the right place, and on time. Amazing, and now,great great, friends. Thank you both.
Over the 3 weeks there were some negatives. The lack of signage on occasion. The lack of decent cycling infrastructure in Hungary. The crazy opening times of cafes/restaurants in France/Germany. The instance of actual live snakes in all of the countries. The amount of time it takes Matt to get his camera out of his pannier every time, which contrasts with his impatience of me vaping over and over again. The toughness of some of the days cycling.
But in the main, this journey was amazing and I will be remembering it for ever… this is merely a scratch on the surface.
Oh! Finally, we flew back. And the bikes came back in CTC plastic bags. We were drinking on the plane as they suffocated! But we all got back, all safe, all knackered (except the bikes) and, speaking only for myself… ready to do it all again. Part 3, Budapest to Constanta, is already in planning. Thanks and cheers or prost as they say.