UPDATE: It’s official, I am now 1 CONTINENT down! Europe, done. Currently drinking tea (sugar, no milk) in Istanbul. Over the past week in Turkey, I have experienced more generosity than anywhere since the beginning of the journey, partly because I have grown more open to accepting it. With more than half of my time on the road now elapsed, but less than half of the distance, it has been clear for some time that I won’t make it to my final destination on this trip. As is written on countless café walls, notebook covers, and lunchboxes however, it is more about the journey than the destination! I continue East, happy that I have crossed Europe and curious of what I will see and experience over the next month or so. Plans for completing the journey in the future are already being formed so watch this space…
A lot of my posts so far have talked around cycling without saying much about the day-to-day stuff: the different countries, the food, daily anecdotes etc. This has been entirely conscious but I realise that kind of thing is interesting too so, now that I’ve reached a bit of a milestone, here’s a bit of a recap (apologies in advance for the stereotypes…):
France – Ah France, our long-term neighbours whom we make pleasant conversation with over the fence but talk about behind each other’s backs when we are indoors.
I often forget how large France is. Only when I began to plan the route I realised I would be spending the first week or so crossing it, and only once I had crossed it did I realise it’s one of those countries that has it all, as far as landscapes go. Countryside not dissimilar to our own, just with fewer hedges, the sunny South, beautiful coastlines, and the Alps to cap it off! I stuck mainly to the countryside and kept the Alps at a comfortable distance on the horizon, but I certainly had the sun. The first week was still tough going and more than once in the evening I strapped my water bag over my legs as a makeshift ice pack to try and aid their recovery. Physical exhaustion often leads to mental fatigue and there was several moments I wondered if I had the strength to continue in both senses.
I was surprised by how few people spoke English and mildly guilty that I didn’t speak better French; a self-inflicted guilt as I didn’t feel I was being judged too harshly by the locals.
One thing I miss: biscuit and caramel Vienetta
What I don’t miss: a distinct lack of publicly funded toilet paper.
Switzerland – I criss-crossed the border for a couple of days, only staying long enough to cycle up one picturesque Swiss hill and eat as much Swiss chocolate as I could find. It would be unfair to judge a country by such a fleeting visit so I will reserve my opinion. Stay neutral, as it were.
Germany – a country with the efficiency that we think is a cliched stereotype but gets reinforced at seemingly every opportunity. The rivalry built up on our side of the channel certainly isn’t reciprocated by the Deutsche and they seem to view Brits, or at least the English, with a quaint fondness. There was certainly a different air of friendliness with everyone I spoke to.
I decided to take the short route in Germany, leaving the river and heading out in to the hills. I thought the newly gained strength in my legs could cope with anything but was quickly taken down a peg or two when on a tough day my legs ‘cracked’ after less than 50 miles (similar to hitting ‘the wall’ in running). I was due a rest day in Munich after one more day’s cycling but still had 70 miles and many more hills. It was the first time I seriously considered jumping on a train and skipping a day of cycling (but not the last). After a night’s sleep however, I hopped on my bike and had one of the best days on the bike in the whole trip! Coincidently, it was the first day I discovered the delight of a huge pasta salad for breakfast..
Stunning weather and decent roads meant the rest of my time in Germany was a breeze.
Austria – The hills may well have been alive with the sound of music but I didn’t hear any of it, sticking to the river and the flat, smooth paths and roads as I did. Austria is another country with some truly stunning scenery and it’s almost as pretty when you’re in the towns and cities. Cycling along the Danube in Austria is so leisurely I found myself pushing to cycle fast just to convince myself I was working hard..
Meeting up with my dad in Vienna, I realised, quite bizarrely, that the previous three weeks was probably the longest I had gone without seeing someone I know in my entire life! A record I have since beaten however. It was the most distinctive break from cycling I had taken to that point and I wondered how I would feel, stopping and seeing family. I went with my dad to the airport as he was about to fly out and it was the first time I considered the fact that, if I wanted to, I could just stop cycling. It was in that same moment however that I realised I didn’t want to stop, so that was a positive!
Slovakia – By Slovakia, I really mean Bratislava, and by Bratislava, I mean the small part of Bratislava that I stayed in. I vaguely followed the river in to the country though I didn’t often see the water, staying in the capital for one night before moving on. All I can say is, I got some good ‘vibes’ and ate some good food. I later found out I stayed in the same hostel as a couple of people I met up with the next day…
That wasn’t meant to sound like a cliff-hanger but this is ‘Part 1’ so I’ll leave you there on the edge of your seats while I pen the next instalment!
Peace and love,