Monthly Archives: July 2011

oh Vienna!

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Spent the last few days riding in tight formation behind Clem and Jelena (Saj’s bike, and twit-twoo she’s pretty fine, like literally fine as in thin – skinny racing tyres and streamlined alu body; Clem and Arthur’s steel frames and fatty (Schwalbe Marathon +, if ya wanna know) tyres certainly lookin’ a lil clunky in comparison). Whizzed through fruit trees of all varieties; apricot, apple, peach. Yum! As we were nearing Vienna, Fisherman Saj spotted a guy hauling a big ole pike out the water. He was laughing, obviously had had a few steins of beer in the yacht klub, because this lucky catch had been his first cast of the day he said. Ooh! Saj’s eyes light up – maybe we should have a go too! But hush hush, the guy motioned, no fishing allowed here… Joel being keen too, I gave my nod of approval for half an hour’s fishing in the rain. The light was fading, and the rain relentless, but hey-ho. They cast and cast but nothing bit, and in the end conceded; we’d better get a shimmy on it’s getting late, but that’s ok; lights on; we’ll be in Vienna before we know it, it can’t be, what, 10k? Maybe 12? On we rode, slightly disconcerted at the lack of city lights downstream, peddling hard, still in slick formation – although I was tiring and finding it hard to keep the pace. We turned away from the river and rode through forest, getting a little sketchy with only my feeble headtorch to guide me. Joel’s was powerful so he rode first, then Saj, then me. We crossed the river and hoped that the city lights lay beyond the next meander. The rain didn’t let up, and we wound our way through the forest by the water’s edge. That’s 12km done and no sign of a capital city through the darkness – oh dear. We zoom across the bridge of a tributary, the wood’s slippery and dark and you gotta concentrate hard! Next thing I know, Saj’s back wheel goes skidding out behind him and horizontal, he skids across to the left of the bridge, and for a millisecond he and I thought he was going straight under the railing! Shaken, we agreed to slow down a touch. There was talk of stopping and pitching the tents, but I wanted to push on so we could relax the next day. We passed through a small town and thought we’d hit the outskirts, but soon came out the other side. Finally we rounded a corner onto the raised path by the river, and could see the glow of the city in the distance. We picked up the pace again and did our bestest to avoid all the sluggies and froggies out enjoying the wetness, but alas, a few got squished. Sorry guys! Looking left into the wood, there was just enough light to make out a herd of deer in a clearing. We were all really getting hungry now, and I was feeling seriously weak. We knew we still had the hard task of locating the campsite once we arrived, so decided we should find some fast food, fast, first. After this dramatic journey, the lights and graffitied bridges were extremely surreal when we finally arrived; it felt like some strange computer game. We wolfed down a falafel (from a little Israeli shop, where the woman tried  to charge us €8 for a pot of houmous and a bag of crisps! Tsk!) and stood soaking and shivering, staring incredulously at Vienna’s party people, glammed up for a Friday night on the town. A kind young gent, noticed our bemusement, and came to our rescue; finding the campsite on the internet on his phone. Back over graffiti bridge and cross the island, the campsite is nestled into the armpit of a motorway junction. Fairly simple instructions, but could we find it?! Joel by which point was getting pretty annoyed, probably not helped by mine and Saj’s delusional silliness! Eventually someone pointed us, yes, directly under the motorway, and lo-and-behold – the campsite – closed! Not to worry, the security guard didn’t blink as we rolled past him and through the pedestrian gate. Oh well, at least it’s pretty spacious… Oh hold on, this is the camping car section, keep going… Yep here we go, the tents are all rammed into a tiny corner at the end; so close we feel like we’re at a festival. Only difference being the booming music is replaced by booming traffic noise. Not that I noticed, of course, once Aggy was up and I was showered, I was out.like.a.light…
150km in the rain- Phew!
The next day was bright and sunny, and we enjoyed riding around the city unladen, having left our bags in the tents. We had planned to go to see the city and get cracking again in the afternoon, but we had far too much fun and needed the break, so decided to stay another night. We saw some Klimt, and Egon Shild at the Leopold Museum, but unfortunately got in far too late to check out the photography expo downstairs. Argh- you just never have enough time on a cycle tour! Too much bloomin’ cycling to get done! Met a girl with Ozora wristbands on, working in the museum cafe, and got excited about being so close now, and a week off riding! -Wow!
Looking at the map, we realised we still had a good 400km -ish to go, to the festival (in Hungary, a couple of hundred kms south of Budapest), Saj had made plans to meet his friend who’d been away for a year travelling, and so he decided to take the train. Joel and I were a little lost, we’d been having such a good time with Sadrra, it felt a little odd to be splitting ways before the festival; we wanted to arrive together. It’d be a hard slog to ride, so after much umming and ahhing, and will we be cheating?-ing, we agreed to get the train with Sadrra to the town nearby, and ride the last bit.

Chooo Chooo!

What a challenge the train ride was too! Easy enough from Vienna, swanky Austrian trains. Then suddenly it stops and we’re plonked on the platform of another world. Run out of languages to speak, and faced with a currency we can’t quite grasp, we struggle to buy tickets and then befriend a boy, Zoltan, on a bench, who I extract some Hungarian from; to put together a little phrase book, in exchange for popping candy and gingerbread cakes. He’s going to the same place so we mime to him that we’ll follow him. He’s seemingly very happy with the arrangement. After a while learning the basics, Zoltan wanders off to ask someone a question in the ticket booth. He comes zooming back, motioning to us that we should be elsewhere. 5 minutes! Go! We leap into action and the boys (sorry to say I’m useless at this) lug the bikes down the stairs, under the line and up onto the correct platform (Elevator? No chance! Saj says; this is eastern Europe now!). We caught the train, thankfully, and in an hour or so were dumped on another platform, the officials very grumpy and short-tempered with us and our laden bikes. They shoved us onto the next train, where the biciclettas had to stand on their hind wheels to be jammed on, and bungee’ed in place. All a-fluster, we moved into the compartment and took our place. The conductor and some other men at the front were laughing and joking by the bikes. We realised a few days later that this is when our camera disappeared. After the next change, some bungees went missing, must have been dropped. Saj had to use some string to tie his bags on the back of Jelena; making getting going a bit more of a hassle.
The next time we got off the train, it was fully dark, and there was one chap at the station, who we attempted to glean directions from. Was it our weariness, or did everyone seem a bit unhappy, even angry? This guy, however, turned out to be very helpful, unlike his counterparts at previous stations; and wouldn’t let his lack of English get in the way of helping us. He did something that has since happened so many times, I can’t count; he pulled out his phone and called his English-speaking daughter, who spoke to Joel and translated the directions to Ozora, less than 15km away – oh thank you!

Ozora
We locked Clem, Arthur and Jelena in some trees and spent a relaxing week in the company of friends from home, and plenty of new ones too; laughing, talking, eating, drinking and dancing in the sunshine. Ahhh, just what the doctor ordered!
It was with a hint of a tint of sadness that we departed a week later, knowing that this display of western hedonism, or even just leisure-time, would seem other-worldly a few weeks down the line… (she types, from an Iranian hotel room – traffic thundering past, women clutching their black chadors (lit. tents) round them, up the street a 7km² bazaar!)

Hungary
Ooh but it was nice to get the wind in our hair again! We left the festival and headed for the Danube, sad to have missed Budapest and her spas just upstream.
So, hello Eastern Europe! What have you got to offer? -we wondered. Just as we found the river, so too did a storm find us. We cut short our lunch, and popped our heads into the canoe club, a great place for finding similarly minded souls. We motioned to the sky and asked if we could pitch our tent in their field. They said yes, but it was all quite hectic with people coming and going and noone really knew the answer, then the boss returns from his work-out, shirt off and pretty beefily-built; by this time the skies have cleared slightly and we’re considering keeping going. He draws us a map and we’re on our way. We find a run down old campsite; full of tall trees and fire-spots, pretty empty for high-season, so we pitch up and make a fire, on which we cook breaded salmon and potatoes from the local spar. Homely comfort food, for this barren place.

The next morning it took us hours to get on the right track, after following the river downstream led us to a dead end at a power plant. People today are more helpful and smiley, and one man gave us his map of the area, when he saw the scale of the one we were working from. Eventually, after what felt like hours of riding along unsignposted dirt-tracks to nowhere, we found the bridge across to the other side (which we found that yes, luckily we could cross on bikes, contrary to a popular misconception) and at long last: Eurovelo 6! Hallelujah! Relieved to be back on the bike path, we sit back and admire the scenery, little goatys and big mosquitoes (lurking in the forest where I went for a wee) -oh yes, and a particularly spectacular house with a tree growing through it’s roof.
Soon enough we came to the Serbian border, which we crossed excitedly – Joel asking, definitely more than once, “Which country are we in again?”. We took advantage of our strong-ish pound, and soaked up the Serbo-atmosphere over a pizza; so cheap! Later a sign pointed us down a tiny little rocky lane to a camping spot supposedly 500m away, we followed it all the way to the end, bumpity-bump and no formal campground appeared, I asked a group of jolly chaps enjoying a meal of mostly meat and a drink or two in their garden and they pointed us in the direction of the red cross camp. Hmm, we’ve just come back on ourselves — we rode back round on the road to where the lane began and tried again. The sign definitely had a picture of a tent pointing this way! We pitched up by a canal, not far from the road, and Joely set about catching some fish with his new rod. Free camping is actively encouraged by the locals, so we weren’t too worried about being seen. The moon was waxing and beautifully bright.

We arrived in a small town the next morning, where we bought a new camera. Poor Joely got quite upset at being in the town, running the many errands we had to run; so we found a little shady park and ate some food (normally the cure to any of either of our woes) and he had a little sleep while I played with the new camera. All refreshed, as predicted, we set off for Novi Sad, and a beautiful ride it was too. Lots of folk selling juicy piles of fruit by the side of the road, mmmm, those peaches! Sluuuurp!
We rode hard and just when we thought we could no longer take the heat, so materialises an olympic swimming pool and in we jump! Joel’s like a fish; gets all sad when there’s no water about. Used to compete for Thornbury. I’m a bit scared of water and only like to have a quick dip to cool off, much happier on the earth. Anyway, the pool catered to both of our needs, and the happy chappies running the show there refused to let us pay: “This is Serbia” they chimed. And don’t we just know it!
We arrived late to Novi Sad, which turned out to be a big city. We found an hotel, pretty cheap and luxurious. Only a year old! So we enjoyed some home comforts. And then a buffet breakfast, with a watermelon carved like a rose. There was only one other table occupied so I asked the sweet waiter if they did that every day no matter how many guests. Of course, he said. Beautiful, but how wasteful, I thought; all that time and energy. Joel ensured me that they wouldn’t waste the melon and would use it the next day. I trust his chef-y knowledge.
Next stop, a Serbian beauty salon. They’re not hard to come by and the girlies were all very sweet and professional. One asked my Facebook ID so I can help her with her English, she might come to England some day. I told them their waxing was much less painful than the Brits’ – they were, of course, delighted.

The next day we made it to the outskirts of Belgrade, to a campsite. We’d met a Slovakian father and son, riding to Istanbul, clocking 200km a day on rickety racers, and old panniers. They took our photo. We asked the man at the campsite if they’d arrived, which they had, but turned away through lack of funds; it was a particularly pricey one. We washed all of our clothes by hand the next morning, and I had a chat to my grandma on skype. We ordered a coffee and it came Turkish-style with the grinds in the bottom. Oh-so-exciting, feeling the culture changing gradually.

A couple of days later, alongside the Danube, we rode through the spectacular Iron Gates, where the river cuts through the cliffs at it’s narrowest part. We found a lovely campsite a few kms after, with little cabins for rent; for not much more than a tent, and had a lovely evening admiring the view, me doing my yoga practice on the shore, Joel enjoying his book. We met a sweet father and daughter, the latter of whom spoke flawless English, and later bade us goodbye according to local custom; throwing water after us as we departed, for luck.

Later, at Kladovo, after some dramatic riding around and up the cliffs, where the river marks the Romanian border, we stopped in a park and considered pitching Agnes there. I was just about to shoot off to check out the hotel options, when a guy rocked up, fresh out of the water after a swim. His name was Jasmin, he said. He spoke good English, and told us a little about himself. He was a lawyer, and knew of some unsavoury activities that happened occasionally in the park, he said. Why don’t you let me drive you to a motel of my friend and if you don’t like it you come back and stay here. Joel was tired, so I volunteered to go with Jasmin in his car, to assess the situation. I felt safe with him. He told me about his swimming, he loves to swim in the ocean; once he swam 100km off the coast of Crete, where his sister lives. He finds it like meditation, he says. He’s a very calm and softly spoken sort. We arrive at the guest house, and there’s noone about initially. It’s an out-dated eerily empty place, and when the guy comes he’s in his 60’s i’d say. He’s wearing an old vest that shows a big scar over his heart and he carries a child, perhaps a 2 year old. The hotel, although creepy, is fine and I accept. Jasmin drives me back to Joel, telling me how amazing he thinks I am, a woman, for undertaking such an adventure. His incredulousness makes me wonder if my picture of highly manicured, polished Serbian women might be an accurate one. We get back to Joel and agree to meet Jasmin later for dinner. J and I head to the hotel to have a rest; once I finally remembered how to get there!
Jasmin picked us up, dressed in crisp white shirt and trousers, and took us to eat some fish. We shared a bottle of wine and had fascinating chat about communism and Tito. Jasmin was greatly in favour, telling us that Tito was a great, great man. An interesting contrast to another guy, perhaps less well-off, who we’d met a few days prior, who felt very bitterly about the whole affair. We were entertained by an old musician on the next table, that Jasmin knew, who, having left his accordion at home, happily mimed playing it, singing the tune. He drank too much, though and soon became an annoyance to the others; impressed as he was by this English girl. He gave me a book of stories from the mountains of Montenegro, just that day given to him by his friend, the author and signed. This would have been fascinating for me, were it not written in Serbian. He wouldn’t take no for an answer, and I didn’t want to be rude, so I graciously accepted. Later I left it in the hotel, hoping it might find a delighted new owner.
Jasmin was very kind, and showed us true Serbian hospitality, wouldn’t let us pay a dime, two nights running! Very courteous man, we hope to meet him again sometime.
We rode one more day to get into Bulgaria, and then took a couple of trains to get to Istanbul. This move was necessary, if a little sad, because our Iranian visa runs out in a month, and we want to see Turkey beforehand.
Getting the modern-day Orient express was a reet palaver; our previous train delayed, we rushed onto it without enough cash to pay for ticket, bike and sleeping car reservation, as did our French cabin-mates, who were travelling on Interrail and hadn’t expected to pay more for the sleeper (there was nothing else available, the non-sleeper cars stopped at the border), and plenty of other tourists didn’t have enough of the correct currency to get their visas, there was no ATM to get Turkish lira, so you had to have sterling, dollars or euros. We all mucked in and helped each other with whatever currencies we did have, it was great; real camaraderie!
Felt pretty special, though, arriving in Turkey – last week of Ramadan – the moon and star flag and beyond it the waning crescent moon.
From the station in Bulgaria, I’d sent out a last minute email request to a few hosts on warmshowers.org in Istanbul. I gave my phone number, and in the morning, before our arrival; lo and behold, we had a reply; Emre was willing to host us. He’d be home from work at 6 and we could meet him there.

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Ahhh, a rest day. A lake, a pool, sunshine.

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Ahhh, a rest day. A lake, a pool, sunshine. About 50 screaming kids. Heat rash. Mozzies and ants’ nests.  Dutch cycle-tourists come in their masses to this campsite at Vic-sur-Seille, as it’s on The Green Way; a cycle route written by a Dutch guy; from Holland to the Med. Barry, one of many incredibly friendly chaps on this route, approached us with a friendly smile and said “North or South?”; he was a little bemused to find that we were in fact eastbound. We talked for a while about our respective trips and he warned us of tomorrow’s bad-weather forecast.
In fact… a few drops of rain are coming, and the clouds are closing in. A ladybird’s crawling across the screen.
So now a thunder-storm? Oh well, at least it might soothe our itching skin! We can but hope!

Strasbourg

After a rest day at Vic-Sur-Seille, our legs were in fine form and we were ready to attack Les Vosges; the mountain range that stands on the edge of France, before Germany. We were up early (for once) and got a good day in, heading for Saverne (the lowest point to cross the hills, so we’d been told). A stroke of luck, we found a canal, alongside which we rode, through the rain and misty hills all the way to Saverne! Another stroke of luck and we found a lovely organic shop with a nice lady, who I chatted to for a while about where to find aloe vera for our stubborn old heat rash (which persisted even through the rain!), leaving a shivering Joely waiting damp outside. Next stop a bike shop for new handlebars for Arthur. I’ve faffed about for months with his bars and still feel like I haven’t quite got the correct position, giving me sore shoulders and hands. We found a wonderfully knowledgable man in a little shop; who sold me a new pair of butterfly bars; this time fully adjustable by allen key for maximum comfort. (German brand, the French don’t bother trying out anything new- so he says- and just moan and moan about being uncomfortable!) Vorsprung durch Teknik!

A lovely lady in the tourist office had explained to us about when and where to see Bastille day fireworks, the one in Saverne had been cancelled due to the rain, so we decided to get to Strasbourg to catch them there. En route along the canal, I got pretty upset with my new handlebars, and with Arthur generally; the man in the shop had told me that actually my frame was a touch too small, so really, anything I did adjustment-wise would just be making do. I’ve put a lot of love and money into this bike – and to think he was plain and simple too small was a little upsetting (especially when undertaking a mammoth ride such as ours – as don’t want to be doing my body lasting damage!)

Strasbourg was beautiful, and probably appeared more so, given the fact that we stopped for a peachy biscuity snack before navigating our way through the centre to the campsite – we have learned from past low/no-energy city experiences! This meant that we had enough energy to cook, shower, and ride back out into the city to see the sights – what a cathedral!- and await the fireworks. It was a spectacular display, and the crowd were all oohs and aahs. The moon was full and we had little bottles of bière to avoid the hiked-up tourist prices of the city centre. Santé!

The next day we crossed the border, glad to be entering our 3rd country. This was Joel’s first time in Germany, and he was a little unnerved at his lack of understanding. “We should be thankful that at least I can get by,” I said, “’coz soon we’ll be out of languages to speak entirely!” We were given directions by an interested and very enthusiastic man, who told us all about the various sports he could still do at 70-something. We eventually found the path he’d suggested, and Joely spotted some yummy blackberries, so stopped to fill a tupperware. I took the opportunity to phone home and gave my dad the low-down.

The path we’d been shown was a raised one that ran alongside the river, away from the roads. This made it a little tricky to decide if we were on the right track. That, together with my rusty German not quite doing the job, made for a little lost-feeling grumpiness in camp JB. Nay bother, on with the ride, Deutscher-stylee. We made it to Offenburg, where we investigated the possibility of Joel buying himself a Kindle too (maybe it was a good idea after all he conceded: looked like it wasn’t possible even in the huge Media-Mart though, which another kind lady on a bike had lead us to).  found a campsite… with a lake! –“Kőnnen wir schwimmen?” -“Ja, natűrlich!” -Looks like the Germans are a little more free to use their initiative than the French campers. Joel was of course delighted and hopped right in; even climbing a big central rock and diving off the board atop it.
While he was swimming I became aware of some exciting new arrivals in the campsite, a man with a long beard dressed all in home-made brown clothes with furs and pelts draped all over him, with a woman, in similar attire; presumably his wife. They were here in a tiny purple tent, and had arrived on foot. I’d spotted him in the town centre and said to Joel “What an interesting-looking guy; I want to talk to him!”, but hadn’t – seeing as we were on a little mission for various bits and rushing about. Unlike our other fellow campers, all flirting school-kids, this couple had me guessing, and I sat there pondering what their story might be. Unlike the kids, who were running about like they owned the place, this couple were both sitting inside their minute little tent, the woman intently looking at something in her hand and rubbing it (turned out to be a little picture of a wave; I guess she was praying). When Joel got back, we shared an “I want to know more” look, just as the man began to gently play a guitar, still from within the tiny tent. The music was enchanting, and we sat there listening intently. He began to sing, and it was the sweetest love-song, now in harmony. Absolutely blissful. I felt impelled to give them something, though I didn’t know what.
After a few songs, I took the opportunity to go over with some of Joely’s blackberries from earlier, and we got chatting. They were German, but spoke perfect English. Their names are David and Shakinah; they are on a mission from God; spreading the message of peace and love, ascetics, wandering the earth without any money. Money just comes to them, they explained. They’d been in Pakistan recently, amongst other countries, and they learnt just one phrase: We love god, we are travelling without money. We need to get to X. Their stories about the kindness of strangers gave us goosebumps, and we talked for hours about the future of humanity and the prophecies from the bible; then eventually David picked up his guitar and they both began to sing again. What beautiful music, from such incredibly kind, enlightened beings.
In the morning we exchanged email addresses and I was sad to be leaving them so soon! How inspiring, their simple living (they like to live on a par with the poorest people of the country they are in, to really feel one with them) really made me think twice about the ridiculous amount of “luxury” items in my panniers (laptop, speakers, ipod, kindle)! All things I realise are highly   unnecessary for the trip, but I have chosen to bring them anyway as we intend to be away for such a long time. I imagine they may become more of a burden than a luxury as we enter poorer countries as I won’t want to get any of it out in public. Cross that bridge when we come to it though ey.

We crossed the Black Forest in a couple of days; we’d been expecting big hills, but the first day was completely flat – we followed the Kinzig river right into the heart of the forest, where we stayed at a lovely campsite in Schiltach and sampled some tasty German fayre, and were out the other side the following day, with only one real climb!
We arrived in Donaueschingen, the confluence of rivers which is the start of the Danube, late and asked a few people about the little tent symbol marked on our map. We rode round and round looking for this mysterious campsite, but noone knew anything about it. Eventually we gave up and found a little hidden spot near the river bank to wild camp. That was one of our first wild camp experiences; seeing as campsites thusfar had been so prolific! I love the peace of being just the two of us in the nature, that is, if you don’t count the few gazillion slugs who joined us there (although I must say, they were pretty peaceful sluggys and on the whole kept themselves to themselves). Some of the campsites during the school hols can get pretty raucous! And I don’t know of any campsites that provide kostenlőse PYO raspberries for brekkie!

We were pretty excited about tossing the maps aside and following the Danube for a few thousand kilometres, seeing as we’d spent a fair few hours asking people for directions and it can get pretty frustrating when you don’t have a good quality map. If we were to buy large scale maps for all the regions we crossed…

 

(later) Sorry – I cut off in the middle of a sentence and left you hanging; i’m sure you can barely contain yourself imagining what might happen if we were to buy large scale maps for all the regions we crossed… so it’s with pleasure that I can reveal the second clause, enjoy:
…we’d have a pannier full of them by now (and we need the space for inessential fancypants technology, remember). Sorry, it wasn’t very exciting after all.

The first day on the Danube proved to be one of the most beautiful; it had Joel declaring that the landscape was the most spectacular he’d ever ridden through. Sheer cliffs and birds of prey. Shame about the rain. Well actually; I think i’m automatically programmed to complain about the weather; but thinking about it, it really was quite refreshing, like a little shower just as you’re feeling all hot and sticky. It’s like a game – do I put my jacket on now, or wait for it to get so heavy that i’m carrying an extra few kilos in water? (and then put the jacket on, sodden on the inside and out!) I imagine we spent a fair percentage of the day stopping and starting as a result. At least we had some  pretty scenery to gawp at. We passed dozens of picturesque little wild-camping spots, right by the water, with built-in firepits. We were looking forward to our night by the river. Joel fancied getting 90km or so under our belts so we pushed on to the next town, Sigmaringen. Oh, all the cliffs have suddenly flattened out and now there are people everywhere. Oh well, too tired to continue through the town we glumly pitched up amid a school party in the town campsite. At least we can have a hot shower, we reasoned. No? Oh, it’s ok, you can have a shower – you just need a token from reception. You can have 4 minutes free, or pay extra for more time. Gah, it’s fine, i’m so tired 4 minutes will suffice – Wait, the machine’s swallowed my token and the shower’s not coming on! You’re joking! Ok, just get dressed and go to reception for another. I go. No-one there. I return and awkwardly strip wash in front of the gaggle of school-girls to-ing and fro-ing…
Back at the tent Joel tells me of his lovely hot shower, 4 mins was just the perfect amount of time, he says. I go to bed, feeling grubby and sad.
I call Loren in the morning for a catch up. She’s been having a tough time at home, wishing she was with us on the road. We have a good old gossip and both feel refreshed and better for it. £15 phone call, but you can’t put a price on that kind of rejuvenation. I dash off to reception, acquire myself a token, and wash that negativity right outta my hair.

The next few days passed in a similar manner, no hills to moan about, plenty of rain to. (If that’s what you’re after in a holiday, as indeedy most Brits are!) Met a group of six French cyclists, and four Swiss at Riedlingen Tennis Klub/Kamp, bonded over food/wine sheltering from the storm, and discussed various luxuries cyclists take on tours. The French: a big sack of wine. The Swiss: an espresso maker. Oooh er, did that get us excited, that wet evening under the canopy…
The French were travelling quickly, and we didn’t see them again. We bumped into the Swiss group the following night at Ulm, where us girlies bonded in the communal shower at the Kanuklub.(-I think communal bathing is an asset we’ve lost in the developed world, it’s so nice for women; and probably men, but I haven’t experienced that; to get together, clothes off = guard down, and have a good ole chinwag. We behave differently away from them blokes; **Ja!Ja! Sisterhood!**)
So anyway; they planned to follow the Danube, two of them only for a couple more days and the other two, a couple, had more time and planned to go further into Eastern Europe and then loop back to Switzerland. We bumped into this remaining pair, Roman and Martina, pretty much every night for a week or so! Later in Passau, we showed them our shiny new espresso maker -inspired by themselves, and the boys got to work figuring out a way of suspending it over the flame of our trangia. Meanwhile Martina and I discussed various things from our love of wine, to gender-roles, and those played by our respective men. Joel: happy to do “manly” things for me, such as carrying my bike (I promise I doth protest), and fixing bits on Arthur. ( I allow it as it polarizes him, and makes him feel more manly.) Roman: shows her how, but wants Martina to do things herself -otherwise how will she ever learn? Very practical, but I don’t mind playing helpless girl from time to time, for the greater good, like.

Today we met Michel in St Mihiel…..

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Today we met Michel in St Mihiel, a Belgian guy, heading the same way outta town. After spotting him with a good-looking coffee at the campsite, we went along to reception with him where the lady had given him a coffee with his croissant, she kindly offered us one and we all had a good old laugh and chat. We set off with him. It became clear that he was the kind of tourer who had every detail of his trip meticulously planned in advance, and he was able to give us so much information about the surrounding area, it seemed he must have either lived locally at some point, or spent many a holiday there; he hadn’t! He seemed almost unnerved at our figure-it-out-as-we-go mentality. It was nice to get a different perspective on touring, and some good conversation as we climbed up to the lake. Stopping on the hill for some water, we see another loaded cyclist heading our way! It was Bas, a Dutch guy. He was the polar opposite to Michel; and as we rode on together, he explained about his technique; GPS on the handlebars with a pre-loaded map and just follow blindly the directions it gives! I loved the casualness with which he approached his tours. He told me of touring around Madagascar and Iceland. Iceland I’ve fancied for a while, after reading about Bjork’s bike-ride around it; but Madagascar was a new one; apparently with it’s 7 weather systems, you get 50km of one type of scenery and then a complete change. It sounds amazing.

email received 5th July….early days indeed..

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Hello one and all, just a quick heads-up on our progress!!

We’re on day 9, and have made it as far as a little village called Acy-en-Multien, about 80k North East of Paris. It’s absolutely beautiful; we’re in a lovely little campsite by a stream surrounded by trees. Our legs are shaping up, but we’re very much grateful of the days rest today — i slept all morning in the red-hot tent, completely oblivious – then woke up with heat rash (?) all over; very itchy!

We’ve had a great time so far, finding gorgeous little spots in forests to camp (apart from Sat night/ Sunday, when we chose to avoid wooded areas, in favour of an awful butlins-esque-super-pricey campsite, as thats when the French love to hunt! and it is very scary being woken up by shotgun blasts!)

Met a wonderfully eccentric German guy today; Gunther, 75. He’s riding from Hamburg to Paris on a bike bought in Aldi. Classic! Practised my Deutsch this morning for an hour or so, and he entertained me with stories of alcoholic exes in Peking, his love of the Pope, and jokes about ducks running the (overly-priced) campsite…  Wunderbar, had me in stitches.

Anyway chaps, better be off as the laptop battery’s running low, and the one sip of beer I just took has gone straight to my head in this stifling heat!

Love,

B & J x

We’ve had splendid weather, all this riding east is putting our right shoulders and legs in some serious sunlight

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We’ve had splendid weather, all this riding east is putting our right shoulders and legs in some serious sunlight from the south! What an interesting tan we’ll have by the end! Normandy has not proven to be as flat as I assured Joel all of France was… but… the Norman architecture is beautiful!

I’m currently sitting in a forest about 50k North of Paris, typing on my fancy-pants macbook air –only 1kg; I couldn’t resist!–, (it feels very odd, I feel like I should be etching the blog into a piece of bark or something!) whilst Joely cooks our dinner of quinoa pasta, pesto, eggs and veggies, yum! Who says life on the road is tough? We’ve just had a shower from one of our wonderful Ortlieb water bags hooked up in a tree (some might say chilly, we say invigorating), and the birds are singing as the final golden glimmers of sunshine permeate the leafy wall of trees to the West. Big Agnes is up (she’s our tent; for those of you yet to have had the pleasure) and our cosy little beds are made in her zipped up womb within. Joel’s sipping some local Calvados and spraying olive oil on the pasta he’s put aside  in a zip-bag for tomorrow’s lunch. A tiny frog is making a bee-line for my shoes and Joel just shh-ed the sizzling stove; fearing it might give our stealth camping location away.
So… Today was day 7 of riding, and our legs are shaping up nicely. Today, after a supermarket stop, a huge hill, and to our horror; a very recent car crash (2 x ambulance, 1 x police car, a girl lying on the side of the road surrounded by paramedics) we hit what seemed to be a plateau (it wasn’t, just the beginning of many a hill) and a head-wind; which remained all day, but did little to dampen our spirits as the freedom of being on the road (and being a non-smoker in Joel’s case) set in. Ipods went in as we sailed down hillsides through avenues lined with wheat-fields specked with wild poppies, and up the other side. We managed about 70k, which we felt was good progress considering the conditions.
Last night we stayed in Les Andelys, just on the East-side of Normandy, and opted for a 3* campsite, L’Isle des Trois Rois, rather than wild-camp; the thinking being that it might be a little dangereux in the woods, considering ow zee French love to ‘unt of a Dimanche matin. I pleaded with the man in my finest Francais to let us stay for a better price than €21, saying we didn’t fancy taking part in the soirée dansante and nor did we need électricité; to which he concluded, offering to charge us for one person seulement. He gave us instructions to our plot, a well hidden one (in case the boss came a-wandrin’ in the morning). The little map, however didn’t seem to correspond with reality so, exhausted and fed-up, we opted for a spot right in the middle of a gorgeously empty big green space. It wasn’t long after Agnes was up and we were ready for a plunge in the pool (a luxury Joel was most excited about) that monsieur came past on his little cart and shock horreur; we’d pitched her far too conspicuously! We decamped with a dull acceptance, dragging Aggy across the field. I enjoyed a private yoga session in our new found hedge-hidden location, whilst Joely cooked up another well-received treat.