Home Again

Our last blog post! It’s been almost 3 weeks since we were eating fish and chips in Whitby, and it’s been a bit of a blur. We’ve gradually been winding down, resting and recovering. We barely took any pictures, as it was often raining and we were starting to lose energy for photography. 

Our last few riding days brought us south and east through the UK. We stopped for a day in the City of Lincoln, which has a big castle as well as a cathedral, on top of a very steep hill. We did our usual wandering through the oldest parts of the city, and then spent some downtime in a tea room in the afternoon. The following day, in Boston, it was raining again, so we found an affordable B&B for the night. We had a delicious supper in a pub: madras curry for me, and a steak and guinness pie for Tim. 

On August 2 we arrived at my Aunt and Uncle’s farm near the little town of Diss (in the pouring rain). We spent 5 lovely days sleeping in, drinking tea, playing with the dogs (Ruby and Boris) and reading books. I found Sense and Sensibility on the bookshelf and finished the entire thing in 2 days. It was a much needed break. I don’t think I realized how tired I was until we stopped. 

One day we walked into Diss and I got a haircut… starting to feel a bit more civilized again! Tim had a coffee while he waited for me. Afterwards he said it was the longest we had spent apart since that time I went into Prague without him! One evening my aunt and uncle drove us out to Southwold, where we had some fish and chips (even better than in Whitby) and took a walk along the pier. 

From Diss we moved on to Norwich. It would’ve only been half a day’s ride, but we couldn’t bring oursleves to get back on our bikes, so my aunt drove us in to the city 🙂

In Norwich we stayed with some family friends for a couple of nights. We explored the city, wandering through the cathedral, a little art gallery, and lots of shops. Didn’t take too many pictures, but I liked this modern looking stained glass in the very old cathedral. 

On August 9 we took the train from Norwich to London. While riding from the countryside into London would not have been very nice, we found that cycling in the city itself was easy. There were really nice bike lanes along the Thames, and very little traffic in the city centre, due to the pricey tolls that apply if you drive into the core. Even though it had been a week since we’d been on our bikes, and it was once again pouring with rain, we quite enjoyed our ride from Liverpool Station, past Big Ben and Buckingham Palace, through Hyde Park, to Tim’s cousin Emily’s flat, in South Kensington. 

We really enjoyed our days in London. Since we weren’t able to buy anything for most of the trip (not wanting to add any weight to our already heavily laden bicycles) we had been planning to do some shopping in London. We both bought some new clothes and a pair of boots each. We also visited several museums. All the museums in London are free, which is amazing because it means you can go for half an hour if you want, and not feel like you need to do the entire thing to get your money’s worth. We ate supper at an amazing Thai restaurant, and also met up with several of Tim’s friends for drinks or coffees. We also just hung out in Emily’s flat, watching trashy TV and drinking gin & tonics. After 4 months on the move, the “hanging out” experiences are just as good as the huge museums or amazing views. 

And so we’ve reached the end! Here’s some final numbers:

  • 126 days
  • 12 countries
  • 6300 kilometers
  • 1550 metres: highest elevation
  • 123 km: longest riding day
  • 27 spaghetti suppers
  • 5 ferries
  • 2 tents
  • 0 flat tires

It’s been an adventure. We’re happy to be home and looking forward to getting back into a routine (especially one that doesn’t involve taking down and setting up a tent every day). Thanks for reading!!

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The Wet and Wonderful UK

Since arriving in Edinburgh on July 20, we’ve been making our way south along the eastern coast of the UK. For the first few days our route took us through some grassy sheep pastures, which was slow riding, but we were rewarded with some beautiful views of the ocean from the lush green cliffs. On Day 2 we came to a gate at the end of a sheep pasture and noticed a small plaque which let us know that we were crossing from Scotland into England. 

When we left Zagreb it was 36 degrees, so we were looking forward to some cooler weather. We got it! It’s rather chilly here, and the damp weather has taken some getting used to. On Day 3 it poured with rain all morning, and we only rode 30 km before deciding to call it a day. We found a campground in a small town, which had laundry facilities next door. We put all our clothes in a dryer and spent the afternoon in a little tea shop. 

On Day 4 the weather stayed relatively dry for most of the day. It was only when we arrived in the town of Blyth that it started to rain again. We already knew that there were no campgrounds in this area, so we wandered around town for a bit looking for a cheap place to stay. I peeked into a pub, which looked like it might have rooms upstairs, and a local man pointed us in the direction of The Seahorse, another pub which did a bed & breakfast for a reasonable price. We ordered pizza, dried out our tent, and watched movies on TV. 

 

Day 5 we had no rain! We spent most of the day on dirt and gravel paths, which made things slow, but it was very nice to be dry. On Day 6 we got back on paved roads, but found ourselves in a very hilly landscape. The hills were short but steep, passing through small villages and lots of sheep farms. We ate a whole apple pie for lunch and pushed through to Whitby.

In Whitby we took a day off. We climbed the 199 steps up to an old church, surrounded by a graveyard with lots of very old headstones. We sat in a tea room and caught up on e-mails, and then found a book store (we love wandering through bookstores, but up until now, we haven’t been in English-speaking countries, so this was a real treat!). For lunch we decided to try out one of the many fish-and-chip shops lining the harbor. 


 

Wrapping up our time on the continent

Lots of people seem really surprised when we tell them that we brought our bikes over from Canada. I guess most people have never considered bringing their bike on a plane. I think the bigger issue is what to do with all the bags, as you don’t really want to check lots of small things. Here’s how we made the trip from Zagreb to Edinburgh. 

The first step was to find these bags, sometimes called a “Chinese shopping bag” or “zippered laundry bag”. We had no idea where to find one, and we were wandering through a market when I spotted a vendor packing up his wares into one. I asked him where he got it, and he scrawled some directions onto the back of a receipt for another market. We managed to find these bags the next day, for 3 Euros each. A duffel bag would also work. 

We then did a trial run to make sure everything fit, and to figure out what would need to go into the carry-on bags, and what to check. 

On flight day we loaded up the bikes as usual, bringing along the shopping bags as well. 

Also we made a bunch of peanut butter and honey sandwiches for the trip. 

Riding to the airport.


Tim took off the pedals, the front wheel and the handle bars, so that the bikes were a bit more compact. These guys helped us to wrap up the bikes with the giant saran wrap machine.

 

Ready to go!

We then flew to Munich, forgot to buy supper before all the restaurants closed, ate all the peanut butter sandwiches and also some granola bars, and tried to get a few hours of sleep. We woke up at 5am to make sure we could get some breakfast before our 6:30 flight. Our flight was then delayed 3 hours, so we ate breakfast again before we actually left. 

Once we arrived in Edinburgh we found a quiet corner to assemble the bikes, found a camping store and bought some fuel (which we couldn’t bring on the plane), found a cell phone store and bought a USB-to-UK-plug-adapter-thingy, found a grocery store and bought some food, and rode a few more kilometers before finding our campground. Here’s me at 7 pm. 

I had some we-made-it-to-Scotland Scotch and slept for 12 hours. Woke up ready to tackle the UK! 

Taking a Break in Zagreb

As Canadians we are allowed to be in the Schengen Region for 90 days in a 6 month period. Any more than that, and we need to start looking into longer term resident status, so we’ve been counting our days pretty carefully. On Day 88, we crossed the border into Croatia, which is part of the EU, but not part of the Schengen region. We made it! 

We descended through a beautiful mountain pass with lots of tunnels and trees, and very little traffic. The next day we arrived in Zagreb, where we had booked 5 whole nights in an AirBnB. It’s been so nice to have a little space to ourselves to just relax. After a couple of days we extended that by 3 nights, and then ended up adding two more. We were really ready for a break! Zagreb is lovely and reminds us a bit of Winnipeg. It’s not huge or flashy, and there are barely any tourists here, but there’s lots going on under the surface. 

We’ve spent a LOT of time reading books, doing crossword puzzles, and cooking food. In between all that we’ve:  

  • Visited an anarchist/feminist bookstore/cafe which is run by a literary collective. Basically a great spot to sit and write. We had some lemonade and dreamed about taking a writing holiday in Zabgeb one day, where Tim would write a book and I would visit museums and drink coffee. 

  • Watched a group of Croatian dancers perform in front of the cathedral. From there we walked up the hill to see the honorary Kravat Regiment do their thing in front of the lovely St. Mark’s Church. 

  • Had a Croatian craft beer at a little pub. Tim has been missing the hoppy beers that he likes back home, which are not as popular in Europe, so he was happy to find one here. 

  • Spent an afternoon at Lake Jarun, just a short distance from our AirBnB.  
  • Browsed through a couple of markets. 

  • Wandered around three museums. The Museum of Naive Art features work by artists who were not formally trained. Many of the paintings featured scenes of peasants and farm life. They were colorful and playful, and some of the artists painted on glass, which makes the colors pop even more. 

  • We also visited the Museum of Broken Relationships, which is a collection of items and stories about break-ups, donated by people around the world. While we thought the concept was interesting, we didn’t love this museum. The third museum we visited was an exhibit on Forests, which included paintings of trees, sculptures made of wood, and wooden furniture. Meh. We didn’t take any pictures in there… but here’s a whale. 

  • Our last night in Zagreb we checked out a local event called Courtyards, which started up last year. For a week each summer, several inner courtyards, which are normally closed to the public, are opened up in the evenings. Each courtyard has live muscial performances and a small bar. These buildings are in the oldest part of the city, so they each have their story. One used to be a convent where nuns lived in strict isolation. Others were owned by prominent people including a countess, a baroness, and a composer.  

After extending our AirBnB we realized that we weren’t really excited about continuing further into Croatia. It’s been so hot here that the riding has not been very fun. And so we booked a flight to Edinburgh! Up next: adventures in getting 2 bikes, 9 panniers, 1 tent and 2 sleeping bags onto a plane. 

The Hills are Alive… and Currywurst 

Much like Canada, Austria seems to be a mish-mash of many cultures. It’s been affected by the many different groups that border Austria, so it’s hard to nail down a specific Austrian thing. The only thing that comes to mind is the Alps (like in “The Sound of Music”), but we’ve been avoiding the Alps ever since Montpellier, so we didn’t even see them. Lots of hills though.  

Me, wishing I was on that motorcycle.

Vienna was lovely, but very touristy. Mozart’s face is on everything. When we get to major cities, we’ve generally looked for ONE thing that we want to do. Usually it’s not the biggest or most obvious tourist attraction. For the past 2.5 months we’ve moved to a new place every day, and we’re finding that we’re inundated with new things to see and experience all the time. When we get to a big city, we don’t feel that we have the energy to take it all in. 

A bike bridge! Which hangs underneath the car bridge.

Vienna was the same. Rather than visiting one of the many large galleries or musems, we settled on a museum that highlighted the work of Hundertvasser. His work is not necessarily my favorite, but he had lots of interesting ideas about creativity and environmentalism. He didn’t like grids, and so his architecture has lots of uneven floors, bright colors, and trees on the roof.  The museum also had a special exhibit of Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky. 

Hundertvasser Village

The other highlight from Vienna was currywurst. Basically a sausage, with curry powder and mustard, with a piece of bread. So good. 

Currywurst!

Since leaving Vienna we’ve been travelling roughly south, and we’ve dipped in and out of Hungary a couple of times as we follow the border. Somewhere along the way we hit 5000 km on the odometer. The campgrounds are surprisingly very expensive in this area. They all seem to be on a lake, with a resort atmosphere, so they are charging for the right to use the beach facilities as well, which we don’t usually get to take advantage of. Oh well. 

Somewhere in Slovenia

Tonight we’re camped in Ptuj, Slovenia, and next we’re headed for Zagreb, Croatia, where we’ve booked an AirBnB for 5 whole nights. We’re really looking forward to staying put and getting to know the place a bit. I didn’t know a single thing about Zabreb, outside of the fact that it’s on the Ticket to Ride map, but apparently it was rated Best in Europe 2017, by Lonely Planet, so we’re looking forward to discovering the city.

My hair is getting a little out of hand these days.

A Red Castle, a Whiskey Bar, and a Can of Liver Stew

We’ve spent the past 4 days riding southeast from Prague, and today we crossed the border in Austria. Back in the land of German-speakers, the Euro, and expensive groceries. I don’t yet know anything about Austria, but it feels a bit like Germany, so it’s kind of familiar. I shall do some research tonight to find out the basics of Austria, but for now, here’s some thoughts on Czech. 

What we loved:

Campgrounds – In Germany and France we encountered a lot of other bike tourists, but they were 95% retired people, out for a week-long holiday. In the campgrounds we were usually the youngest people around by about 30 years. In Czech, the campgrounds were more low key, and had more young people and families. A couple of campgrounds were next to a river, and were full of rafting/kayaking groups. We also saw firepits in campgrounds, for the first time since arriving in Europe. 

The View – The Czech countryside is breaktaking. Wide open fields with gentle rolling hills, and tons of forests. It feels so big. The roads were generally really quiet and we rode through lots of picturesque little towns. One day we had our lunch at this little red castle. 

Tabor – On Day 2 out of Prague, it rained the ENTIRE day. We’ve ridden in the rain before, but only for an hour or two before either we or the rain decide to call it quits. But on this day, it was fairly warm, so we just kept riding, staying soggy all day. We arrived in the charming city of Tabor and found ourselves a cheap guesthouse. Turns out it had a bit of an American theme (think cowboys and indians… it was a bit weird) and also a whiskey bar downstairs. We ate our supper in a nice restaurant, and then sampled some whiskey before bed. And it was totally affordable because Czech is nice and cheap!

What we did not love:

The Food – Unlike the other countries we’ve visited so far Czech does not seem to have figured out how to do bread or pastries. The grocery stores don’t have the same selection that we’re used to. One night, we ended up in a town with only a very small store. We bought a couple cans of what we thought was beef stew…. but the meat turned out to be liver. Worst meal yet! We did not eat very much. And on top of all this, we’re thinking we must have had food poisoning last week in Prague. 

Evil Liver Stew.

Coffee Lemonade! I liked it. Tim did not.

Overall… we like Czech! We would go back for sure, and maybe just budget for more restaurants. Now I should probably go learn something about Austria. Happy Canada Day to everyone at home!

From Germany to Czech, and Being Sick in Prague

We left Frankfurt over a week ago now, and we headed East across Germany. We followed the Main River, and the route was flat, but winding. We rode for 4 days, had a break day in a small town that had a nice beach, and then rode another 4 days before arriving in Prague, in the Czech Republic. 

Some highlights from the past week:

  • In Bayreuth, there was no campground, so we decided to treat ourselves. We stayed in a guesthouse, and had sushi in the mall for supper. 
  • The next night we stayed in a town right before the Czech border, which didn’t have a grocery store. We went to a pub and a local guy invited us to sit with him. We were eventually joined by a whole table full of locals, none of whom spoke any English. So we didn’t say too much, but we enjoyed our schnitzel anyway. 
  • Tim has been pointing out lots of cherry trees lately. We finally stopped to climb a tree and pick some – they were delicious. 


A few weeks ago, I definitely noticed the switch from French to German, which made things a bit more complicated. But at least some German words still make sense to an English speaker. Moving from German to Czech has been another layer of difficult. Nothing looks like an English word. Fortunately we’ve encoutered English speakers at the campgrounds, and surprisingly alot of the food packaging in the grocery stores is in English. We’re also dealing with a new currency here, so we’re doing lots of math. 

We planned to take 2 days off in Prague (a treat, since we normally only take one break day). I wish I could describe all the wonderful things that we did and saw, but honestly we mostly slept. The morning after we arrived, Tim started to be sick. The campground we were in was not very nice (a large group of teenagers arrived first thing in the morning and put their tents about 2 feet from ours) and we knew there was another campground up the road so we decided to pack up and move. After getting set up again, and spending a few lazy hours in the new campground, Tim was not much better, but was mostly sleeping, so I decided to go downtown by myself for a short bike ride. I zipped through the touristy areas (although zipped is maybe not the right word because the streets were absolutely packed with tourists!) and took a few pictures before deciding to head back to the campground to make some supper. 


On the ride home I started to feel nauseous…

We both spent the rest of the night being sick. I won’t go into details, but it was a really terrible night. Fortunately the campground guy was super nice, and he let us stay in one of the hostel rooms which had a private bathroom, so that we didn’t need to sleep in our tent. We spent yesterday recovering, sleeping, and finally eating. Today we are starting to regain our strength and appetite, and we rode our bikes to the nearest grocery store to get some breakfast. Tonight we’ll move back to our tent, and tomorrow we will be on our way, probably a short day, mostly just getting through the city. 

So Prague has not been the most wonderful experience, but I’m glad I got to see a tiny bit of it. We’re both ready to move on – perhaps we’ll have better luck in Vienna. 

Basel to Frankfurt 

On June 10, we left the lovely Basel and continued to make our way North along the Rhine river, hopping between the French and German sides for a few days before finally committing to Germany. The riding days were fairly uneventful. We rode through Strasbourg  where we planned to have lunch at the Runtz cafe, but it was a Sunday, so unfortunately it was closed. 


The bike paths are fantastic in Germany. There’s not just one route, but a network of bike paths between every town. 

One day, at 90 km, we decided to take a shortcut, which involved a different bridge. We ended up pushing the bikes up a lot of stairs  (and by “we” I mean mostly Tim.) 

We made it to Frankfurt on June 14, and had a rest day in the city the following day. We did a self-guided walking tour, and we were able to experience a lot of different parts of the city. First we headed to the touristy area, with the oldest buildings. It was a holiday that day, Corpus Christi, so all the churches rang bells for several minutes at noon, competing with each other, and with the services that were taking place inside the churches (you would think they would time these to not overlap!). 

Next we walked around the newer skyscrapers and high-end shops, and it was evident that Frankfurt is a financial capital. Unlike other European cities we’ve visited, Frankfurt seems to have a Starbucks on every corner.

We then crossed the river and found the apple district – narrow streets with lots of pubs serving apple wine. We paired this with a cheese appetizer and a schnitzel served with green sauce (a Frankfurt specialty made from 7 different herbs). 


Our last task of the day was to find some groceries for supper, but most of the shops were closed for the holiday. We were trying to decide what to do when a young woman rode up on a bicycle and asked if we had any sunscreen she could borrow (yes! We learned our lesson in Porto). She let us know about a store that was open near the train station, so we made our way through another part of the city, full of international restaurants and little Asian markets. We successfully found some supper and made our way back to the campground. On our way out of town the next day we finally packed up our old leaky tent, and managed to get it, and a box, to the post office.

We’re now off in the direction of Prague, following the Main river. 

Our last few days in France

For the past week we’ve made our way from Lyon to just outside of Basel, Switzerland, following well marked bike paths the whole way. The week has flown by – it’s already difficult to remember where we were a few days ago, and what happened. We’ve had some really long days, and a few short days, and we were definitely ready for a break in Basel today. Here’s some highlights:

  • Lyon is really big and there was lots to do! We decided to pick just one thing, and we ended up at the Musée de l’Imprimerie (Museum of Printing), which explored the history of print, from before the printing press, through the industrial era, up to present day printing. It was really interesting! We bought a little poster, and then bought two cans of pringles so that we could create a tube to protect the poster on the road 🙂
  • That evening it started to rain… and our tent started to leak a lot. The rain stopped before bed, so we stayed relatively dry overnight, but we didn’t want to go any further without being confident that we would stay dry the next time it rained. We headed into Lyon again to find a camping store. After doing some research we discovered that MSR redesigned our tent the year after we bought it, and the newer version is a much better design. So we bought the new version of the same tent. So far so good! We’re still working on figuring out how to return the old one. 
  • We also spent a few days riding in the rain. The first 5 minutes are always the worst. After that you’re already wet, so it’s easier to just keep pedalling. One day, after a long wet morning of riding, we caved and went to a McDonalds for lunch, for the first time on our trip. It was a little bit of comfort food, and it was nice to take advantage of the free wifi and to get out of the rain for a while. 
  • We’ve met a few other bike tourists. One evening when it was raining we cooked our supper under a small shelter in the campground, alongside a German family who were bike touring with two small children. Another night we arrived at our campground after 100km of riding, to find that it was closed. Two other travellers rode up on bikes as we were trying to figure out what to do next. Fortunately they spoke French, and got on the phone and found a cheap hotel nearby, so we followed them and treated ourselves to a night indoors. 
  • We’re right where the borders of France, Germany and Switzerland meet. Today we set up our tent in France, then rode a few hundred meters over a bridge to buy our groceries in Germany, and then rode over another bridge to spend the day in Switzerland (downtown Basel). Seems like a great city. We did a self-guided walking tour, and then visited a museum which had an exhibit on Christoph Neimann (graphic designer, we saw a netflix documentary about him a few months ago, so it was cool to see his work here!). 

Riding in Lyon

At the Musee de l’Imprimerie

A printing press

For the past 10 days we’ve had easy riding. Flat routes, next to a river or canal, surrounded by beautiful hills. 

Leaky tent.

Market square in Basel

Another street in Basel

What to eat on a bike ride

Deciding between peanut butter and honey.


This is not a food blog, but we’ve been eating a LOT of food. Since it’s a big part of the trip, we thought we’d share a taste of what we’re eating. We’ve had the chance to try out some delicious local restaurants, but overall we’re cooking most of our own meals on our little WhisperLite stove, rather than eating out. This does give us a lot of meal options, but there are some limitations that we need to work around:

  1. We don’t have a fridge, so we can’t carry fresh meat or dairy for too long 
  2. We have to carry everything, so we don’t want to buy items that won’t get used up. This makes condiments pretty difficult.
  3. We don’t have a good way to store leftovers, so we need to cook the right amount of food. This often means buying smaller quantities, and also buying things with more packaging, rather than the bulk option.
  4. At home we have an oven and a slowcooker. Even on the stove, we tend to cook things slowly, letting spaghetti sauce or curry simmer for longer to bring out more flavor. We don’t often think about how much fuel we’re using for each meal. Cooking out here is like having a stove with only one element, and we can clearly see how much fuel is used up with each meal. So we’re looking for things that cook quickly.
  5. At home we don’t eat a lot of meat. However it’s difficult to find vegetarian options out here, and to be honest, we’re really hungry! We’re eating meat almost every day. Looking forward to getting back to beans and lentils when we get home. 

Tim does most of the cooking. He’s happiest when he can cook with a cold beer within arms reach.


    Here’s some of the suppers we’ve been eating lately:

    Spaghetti
    This is our number one meal. We eat spaghetti (or a variation of it) at least once or twice a week. We change up the type of pasta, the meat (usually cured sausage, but sometimes ground beef, pork chop, or fresh sausage), and the vegetables, to make things interesting. So far we haven’t gotten tired of it. 

    Pancakes, Sausage and Fried Tomatoes
    We found pancake mix! Syrup was too expensive, and is difficult to use for another meal, so we topped our pancakes with jam. Used the leftover milk for breakfast the next day. 

    Burgers and Salad
    This was a great meal. France has lots of fancy bread, but not alot of buns. We could only find these “american style hamburger buns” which were okay, but in hindsight we should’ve just bought a baguette! We splurged on lettuce, mozzarella and lemon juice to make this yummy salad.
    Panang Curry

    At home we often order take-out Thai food when we don’t feel like cooking, but out here there’s not a lot of Asian foods in the grocery stores. So we were really excited to find this curry paste and coconut milk. We made a curry with chicken and veggies, served over boil-in-a-bag rice. So good.

    Stir-Fry with Peanut Sauce
    This was a bit of a weird meal. We made a peanut sauce out of peanut butter, soya sauce, ketchup and garlic. We added some shrimp and also a cooked egg. It tasted good, but was a bit squishy. I don’t think we’ll stir-fry again until we can find a bottle of teriaki sauce.

    Chicken Fajitas
    We brought a few spices from home, including a bag of homemade taco seasoning. Added this to sauteed onions, peppers and chicken for a super easy meal. At home we would have added salsa, guacamole, cilantro, lime, cheese… but we think this simplified version tastes pretty great too.
    Hope this has inspired you to go eat something outside! It tastes better.