Azerbaijan

The immediate thing that strikes us upon entering the country is the return to the Turkish-like enthusiasm of greetings and cheers from the locals. The two countries in fact share history and culture; both were part of the bygone Ottoman Empire and are even further glued by sister “Turkic” languages, which I gather are pretty much mutually intelligible. The numbers 1-20 at least are identical.

Azerbaijan had previously decided to follow in the footsteps of Turkey’s post-Ottoman westernisation by ditching the Arabic script for Latin. Russian, they also decided, was no longer really needed once it started converting to independence during the Soviet breakup. The Azeris were quick bring English into school curriculum. Consequently, most young Azeris here under the age of around 35 don’t seem to know any Russian. Nor any English for that matter. Most above that age speak Russian so we were able to practice on them.

The population is 99% Muslim,(presumably a resuscitation of Islam happened in the 1990s), though it is much less obvious than in Turkey because there are virtually no headscarves to be seen and alcohol is not concealed at all.

Anyway, history lesson over. The only reason I put that in is because I’ve just read a couple of chapters from Carmen’s heavy going “Inside Central Asia” where Azerbaijan is mentioned in the Turkey chapter. The book is so dense in technese that it’s unreadable; my brain is full up and wants to have a poo. The other reason to include it is because well really, I find the history more interesting than the country itself.

Train

We were barely one day into the country and I fall sick again. We consider our options and decide that the healthiest and happiest course of action is for me to recover alone from sickness and then catch a train to the capital Baku. Carmen would cycle off on her own and take advantage of Turkic family hospitality along the way. The police had already been warm and helpful, giving us a lift in their cop car to government offices to help us with the registration process and then take us back home again. So we felt in safe hands in this country. We were about to spend the longest time apart since May 7th.

It goes more or less to plan. I book onto the night train that would take me the 450km to Baku. My seat choices on the website are “kp”, “sv” and “pk”, I’m desperate to get the thing booked so elected a random one. “Pk” for 7 manat (£5), bargain!

The derelict train station was in the middle of nowhere, I got there early and checked with the ticket man to ensure that my bike wouldn’t be a problem. Boarding time came, each carriage had an attendant so I approached one of them to ask where to put my bike. She indicated that bikes are a problem and that I wouldn’t be getting on the train with my bike. Then she spoke with another attendant from the next carriage and said that actually I could get on if I paid a bit more. Then she saw the bike with the luggage and said that actually no, the bike is a problem really. The individual people working under the collective title of “train staff” seemed to me to be working more like separate companies with different policies.

One good thing about language barrier is that it’s so much easier to just play dumb than if you were in your own culture: I stayed put, conjured up some facial expressions and waited until I heard the next iteration of a correct answer. Maybe I thought, they’d just give up thinking inside the box and actually think up a solution. You are basically making your problem their problem.

The attendant then went off, presumably to find out how on earth she could possibly fit my small bike onto an empty 10-carriage train that was to leave in three hours. After five minutes of entertaining a growing arch of spectators around me, including a policeman, I looked around for clues but saw that the attendant was now sitting down on a bench doing nothing and making sure that my problem didn’t become her problem.
Fat useless shit.
At this point, an American expat who was also at the platform informed me that Azerbaijanis are generally unable to problem-solve. So after more waiting around patiently, certain that someone would eventually help me, the policeman took control. He found a carriage himself and put my bike on, with assistance from another carriage attendant. Bingo. Good old helpful police.

The train was a classic Soviet sleeper. The “PK” class was communal second class, 6 bunk beds arranged and stowed in doorless births. I realised that I had been on one before in 2008, travelling overnight between the capitals of North Korea and China, in “KP” or koupe class, a cabin of four beds. It was a great experience then and it was exciting being on one again. I found out that the other class “SL” means private room.

The family that joined my birth a few hours later were rubbish. Feeding their two hyperactive kids sweets until bedtime, they spent much of the journey staring at me as if I were invading their personal space. Any attempt on my behalf to communicate with them drew more expressionless blanks. Once they decided that they were ready to sleep and that their kids should now stop climbing over me and throwing balloons at me, they asked a member of staff to tell me to move from my allocated bed to the top bunk, for their comfort.

The next morning, the carriage attendant switched on the lights requesting for everyone to wake up, addressing me in person in Russian as she went past me,

“Englishman! Wake up please!”

I rolled up my bedding and sat below, once more awkwardly avoiding the awkward gaze of the Adams Family in silence for the remaining two hours.

Approaching Baku, I looked out the window in horror. Muddy, flat, brown and grey wastelands, sometimes with the odd house sitting up like an unfortunate island in a sea of hell. It was windy and rainy, I had barely slept for three days now and I missed Carmen. It was pretty depressing.

We pulled up at Baku station and I had to wait very patiently for one of the train attendants to open the carriage door for me to wheel out my bike. She curiously kept telling me to wait while she was chatting away to other staff. After ten minutes I started to realise that new passengers were boarding and the engineers were reversing the drive mechanisms. I pleaded some more to the woman before some girls boarded and asked what my problem was. I pointed to my velociped and bagazhe and indicated that I simply needed to get off. The three girls immediately helped me get all my stuff off by squeezing through the intercarriage doors and out onto the platform via the next carriage. All the while with the carriage attendant laughing and watching us. This was the same woman that the night before had decided to charge me extra for the bike; charging me for a service that doesn’t exist. And this woman had now decided to plead ignorance to my needs.

Fat useless shit.
The train left the platform the way it came less than a minute after I had got off it.

Things are different when I don’t have an attractive girl by my side, people aren’t quite as helpful. Unless of course it’s help from four attractive Russian girls!

Sleeper train carriage

Sleeper train carriage

The weather had been hard going for Carmen but luckily she was able to dry off most of the time in the evenings in the comfort of her hosts. She eventually became tempted by my warm apartment that I had booked for recovery purposes and she fast-tracked a day of cycling in a minibus and arrived three hours later.

I just asked her for descriptives of her part of the journey for the purposes of this part of the blog post.

“It was alright” is her answer.

Infer as you will. Apparently my train ride was more exciting.

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Baku

We parked ourselves in Baku for six days in the hands of a Couch Surfer named Jonathan, a scouser. Now finding myself surrounded by two of them, I kept my belongings even closer to me as we waited out to receive our Uzbekistan visas.

Seven weeks ago back in the Istanbul consulate, the clerk accidentally sent our visas to the wrong city. He offered to rectify his mistake by sending them to Baku for us to collect. The embassy in Baku was able to confirm by way of a telephone call to the Istanbul visa man in person that indeed the man had done nothing to arrange to forward on our visas to Baku for collection.
Fat useless shit.
We restarted the application process and waited all over again. 7-10 days we were told this time. We held no hope. Far better to stop expecting things to go to plan.

We filled our time in expensive Baku firstly by spending a couple of days with some of the British (and scouse) expats teaching English for oil companies.

After the USSR, Azerbaijan no longer needed to cyphen off its oil to its Soviet master so it has been able to boom and profit since then. The manat is on par with euro and costs here are very European. Baku consequently is home to a large expat community, feeding off, directly or indirectly, the country’s oil.

In our time off we enjoyed reading and watching the country’s plethora of propaganda crap. We noted with hilarity how the country mostly aspires to European standards but whilst feeling like it has to explain itself and apologise to Russia about it, almost as a sign of fearsome allegiance.

In an interview with an Azeri oil company executive that we read in a magazine:
“We plan to export to the EU more and more. Not because we favour the EU over Russia, simply because it’s good business.”

Baku is a strange place. It has a bubble of development a few square kilometres in size. This bubble stops very abruptly: perhaps 500m from the old city (which is beautiful) and main shopping area, the city rolls off into ugly derelict semi-residential wastelands comprising potholes, bulldozers and concrete blocks. Our expat friends told us that even inside the bubble, many of the buildings are merely concrete shells with nice facades.

The bubble itself is nice enough though, it’s comfortable and familiar and it could have used Paris or London as its’ style guide. It has the familiarity of having the UK commercial high-street landscape: WH Smith, Zara, Debenhams etc. to please its Anglo-Saxon diaspora. So when I say it’s nice, I don’t mean original or unique. Or even interesting really. But it’s probably what we needed, we were still low on energy, exhausting ourselves simply with an afternoon of walking around.

Baku

Baku

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Do you like cats?

Do you like cats?

We couldn’t believe it when we got a call to inform us that the visas were ready for collection. It had been six days since we reapplied. We had kind of lost hope in most things we were waiting for. To our surprise we had also received a package of replacement parts for the tent and stove that we had sent to a Warm Showers host’s address. We previously had no faith in the Azeri postal system which had many bad reviews. There doesn’t seem to be a robust address system either, finding stuff,including the embassy relies on meticulous directions on english speaking forums.

So our luck in Baku changed and bit by bit our missing pieces fitted back together again. The weather turned good and we even got on the infamous ferry to Aktau only two days after getting the visas. Carmen had to call the also infamous Russian boat lady to ask her, in Russian, when the next boat leaves and if we would be allowed on. The lady told her that it wouldn’t be today but to call back again the next morning for an update, which was what we expected. Cut to five minutes later, she calls us back and asks us to come to the port immediately to get on the ship leaving today.

Ship

We didn’t believe we’d actually get on the ship, simply owning a ticket wasn’t enough to fill us with confidence. We had to physically walk our bikes onto the ship before we were reassured that we really would be sailing away towards Kazakhstan today. We were very excited by now. It didn’t matter that we had to rush to get a taxi 70k away to the other port, contradicting all info we’d read on the forums.

Finally boarding

Finally boarding

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The two travelling motorcyclists we met in the port’s ticketing office had no such luck boarding with us. They were told they could also board but that they had to wait. After waiting, they were told to then wait more. We left them assuming we would see them on board but they never showed up. We felt rather lucky that it was all going to plan for us.

It turned out that we were put on the rail-cargo ship,which is rare for tourists to be put on, people usually have to wait longer for the standard cargo ship to leave from the city.

On board, we were able to move between three rooms: our bedroom, the living room and the dining room. Or if you prefer seaspeak, the cabin, the day room and the mess room. And of course the deck. There were 23 crew and only one other civilian passenger besides the two of us.

After sailing for four hours and into the night, we anchored up which we presumed, out of primitive logic, was because the captain can’t see where he’s going at night. The next morning, on our 14th hour, recognising the skyline, we realised that we were anchored in Baku. The actual sailing time is usually 23 hours.

The third captain, the only English speaker on board, explained that the wind was far too dangerous, at 40 metres a second, for fragile rail cargo to sail into. We would have to wait from control for permission to continue sailing.

Keen to make friends with him, I patiently asked when he thought that may be.

“3-4 days” he answered. Half way through this answer, I had anticipated the unit of time being hours. Carmen and I exchanged a brief smile that concealed our real emotions. We diagnosed the situation ourselves and decided that it was actually definitely very safe to get going. All he needed to do was switch on the headlights and accelerate away.

He invited us into the cockpit (or wheelhouse) whenever he was on watch. So like an excitable techno child, the next evening I took him up on the offer and began an acute line of questioning:
“So is it all computers these days then?”
“Is that a fax machine?”
“Is there a signalling flag that exists to mean that there’s been a hijack?”
“Can you tell from the RADAR screen what kind of vessel each one is?”
“Is that a chicken?”
“What qualifications do you have?”
“Do you not have satellite internet?”

The answers to the questions were:
“Yes, it’s all on auto pilot and we constantly check everything”
“Sort of, it’s a telex”
“No”
“Yes, I can click on each one and see data such as call sign and vessel type”
“Yes, we have 8 chickens in there, we use them for cooking…No, they don’t lay eggs”
“Marine nautical something degree for four years”
“No we don’t. Some other ships have internet and can receive their data that way. Captains sometimes use it to check Facebook”

He revealed a lot to us actually and was very honest about his job, which he didn’t really enjoy and was only doing it for the money. We were also very surprised to see that John Cleese was the first captain of the ship! He was there calmly sipping tea, expressionless yet concentrated.

The cockpit

The cockpit with John Cleese

I asked to read the manual but it was in Russian

I asked to read the manual but it was in Russian

The living room had a TV which was frequented throughout the day by the crew at various intervals. We were subjected to mostly awful pop music, surreal archives of traditional dance and AZTV, the ghastly government propaganda channel.

We observed that the country has many ingredients of a successful dictatorship:
-The ex-president’s face is framed in virtually every building and public space, including the vessel’s living room.
-If not the ex-president then his son, the current president.
-The current president has a silly moustache.
-The president’s daily movements are reported constantly by news. In much of the footage, he appears alongside huge framed versions of himself, or of his father.
-The president likes to go to places and look at things.

I would observe many of the crew members staring at this channel with no sense of expression, curiosity or disdain. As if they were accepting and absorbing what they were fed. Subjects of His quasi-dictatorship.

The good thing about such regimes though is election time. A local we had met who served in the army (compulsory) told us that they are given their ballot papers with the vote pre-ticked for the current leadership. Saving the populace entirely from troubling themselves with the hassle and energy of having to work out who to possibly vote for. (Our friend asked for a blank ballot for his vote.). Far less hassle the autocratic way!

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Even though we stayed anchored out to sea close to Baku for 68 hours, we very much enjoyed our time on board, from the beginning. Nothing to do other than recover, read, write this blog and eat our rations at the set 3 times a day. The crew bemused themselves at how much I ate (or wanted to eat). Every meal consisted of chicken and some form of carb accompanied with some great soups, including our favourite shchee. Breakfast did little to break our fast though: stale bread and sometimes semolina. The livingroom had a table tennis so that kept us active.

Lunch

Lunch

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At first the crew all seemed indifferent to us. They spoke neither Russian nor English so I guess it was mutual that we felt cut off from one another. We were surprised on the third night, during the storm when one of the dinner ladies came into our cabin and told us to dress up warm. She watched me put my trousers on and waited for us to accompany her outside. We had no idea what was going on. Actually that’s not true, we had a very good idea what this could have been about as we slowly walked to deck which I now recall in slow motion.

Much to our great relief, the lifeboats weren’t being lowered, the 23 crew weren’t wearing life jackets and neither was there a sombre looking captain shutting himself in the cockpit. Or a string quartet! Everyone was stood on deck around a table next to a fire with meat cooking on it! We were quickly offered red wine and some chicken. Red wine! Being British, we had been craving to fill this void of activity with drinking but didn’t expect wine to ever be on the cards. Guess the crew must have made up the 1% of the country’s non-Muslims!

Huge delight overcame us as we realised that being on the deck of a cargo ship in a small windy rain storm feasting on wine and food next to a fire on the Caspian Sea with a bunch of Azerbaijani sailors on route to Khazakstan is probably once in a lifetime experience. Try saying that aloud without pausing to breathe.

And all of a sudden, we all became friends, language was no longer a barrier, the crew opened up and each top up of wine was accompanied with a clinking of glasses. By the end of the evening, we had to leave as many of the young sailors’ tails were wagging in overdrive at Carmen’s presence and they couldn’t stop themselves taking photo after photo of themselves next to her.

Until this point we believed that John Cleese was the captain of the ship, he looked wise and he was the oldest. I was delighted to be rubbing shoulders with him. Carmen and I competed to see who could cheers him the most. Joe 5-2 Carmen. Then we learnt he was just the telex operator. The first captain was the geezer in the cap. He wasn’t keen on having his photo taken. It later occurred to me that maybe it was because it’s massively illegal to have any kind of fire on a cargo ship containing an oil train-tanker just below our feet.

BBQ

BBQ

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John Cleese with the first captain standing behind

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We retreated to the cockpit to get away from the manfest. Our English speaking captain was on watch and his calm sweet, composed and polite manner was a welcome end to the fantastic night. The cockpit was a calm and dark place lit up only by the flashing LEDs, with crew almost whispering whilst sipping tea, eating biscuits and checking up on beeping noises produced by the various technomachines. The captain’s English lexicon was at times wonderfully genius. Nighttime became night o’clock and crossing or journey was a voyage. These words tickled me whenever they came up in conversation.

“If we arrive at night o’clock we will complete the voyage maybe in the morning and go to the jetty.”

The second dinner lady warmed to us after a couple of days and on morning three we were rewarded for good behaviour with a shower and some laundry.

John Cleese

Our final night of the voyage was celebrated with another BBQ which went on well into night o’clock. The first captain’s powers stretched into socialising. He commanded verbally over salad preparation and fire maintenance. Then, after several sweet wines, silliness ensued. On the captain’s orders, salt was mixed with a sailor’s wine behind his back, producing a hurl of laughter at cheersing point. Then I cheersed John Cleese, using his name.

“What is ‘Jon Kleez’?” asks the captain in broken English.

I explained.

“Then you must show me on the internet. NOW!”

We marched to his palacial suite. He seemed to be the only crew member with a computer connected to the internet. No sooner had I typed “John Cleese” into Google images, the captain was roaring with hysterical laughter. He grabbed the tannoy and summoned John Cleese into his room, his voice echoing throughout the ship’s PA. By the time Cleese had arrived, we were watching the ministry of silly walks and the hitler march from Fawlty Towers, with the captain in exaggerated hurls of laughter, almost falling back behind his chair. I had never actually seen anyone LOL. LOL!

To our astonishment Cleese immediately replicated what we were watching, almost like an obliging monkey pleasing His hysterical powerful master and his guests. He seemed to be able to be John Cleese down to the T. We went on deck and took a load of photos.

John Cleese having watched videos of himself performing

John Cleese having watched videos of himself performing

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Brilliant.

We arrived in Aktau, Khazakstan five days after leaving the Azeri port. 70 hours of this was spent anchored in Baku waters and the remaining 25 hours anchored in Aktau.

We are now about to experience our first ever desert before the home straight to Kyrgystan where we will settle and build a life long enough for the icy winter to pass for some four months or so.

So there you go. A blog entry without a single story of cycling.

 

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Leaving Baku

Leaving Baku

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The english speaking third captain

The lovely english speaking third captain

 

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Georgia

Let’s get to the point. Everything’s been going wrong. Problems are relative of course so when I say this, I don’t mean we’ve been in danger or anything. So in that sense, there is no problem.

Since Istanbul we’ve had a steady flow of unfortunate events. Here they are in chronological order:
-uzbekistan visa failure
– a toe injury prevented me from being able to walk properly for three weeks
-MSR XGK-EX stove’s pump ceased to work
-I develop a rash all over my body. Crazy itchy for 3 nights
-Terra Nova Voyager XL 2 tent pole snapped
-I get sick
-Carmen’s headset needs changing. Not to be confused with head
-UPS Turkey courier fails to deliver replacement terra nova tent pole despite keeping in their depot for 9 days 60k away
-Carmen gets sick
-neither of us have the energy to fulfil our required km-quota to meet visa deadlines. To our dismay, we cheat about 6 days of cycling with taxis. Georgia was a country we were looking forward to the most.
-just as Carmen recovers and we make a pact to avoid anymore hotels until Bishkek, I get sick. (and have to stay in expensive Azeri hotels)

And I’ve also had 4x punctures. Oh plus the valve unscrews itself with the pump after having spent ten minutes inflating it, resulting in having to repeat the pumping process using another pump.

We aren’t naive enough to think that the trip would be problemless, of course we expected minor injuries and technical failures. Not after sympathy here, my point is that it all happened at once and nothing has really been lining up.

Each one of the incidences eats into the schedule, possibly more than one might imagine. Arranging replacement parts is a headache as it requires to and froing to the companies involved, to and froing to find an address to deliver to. Each to and each fro is a quest for internet. All easy if you have internet access on demand of course.

We had to resort to a team of matrix operators to take control for us while we were offline. The team included a Russian translator (спасиба Катерина) a Turkish translator (teşekkür ederim Byulent) and parents (diolch i chi Mam a Graham) to enquire, reply, write, impersonate and telephone for us. It would easily have accumulated to about 5 days of lost cycling had we done it ourselves. God knows about the costs.

The other thing you may have noted about the list is the specific brand and product names I give. In the interest of balance amidst all the praise given about these products, it’s important these comments get picked up by other cyclists/campers/explorers researching their products from real life users, as I was doing a year ago. In fact while I’m at it;

Terra Nova disconnected themselves from caring too much despite us investing (£400 for tent) (+£30 replacement pole +£30 courier) and us believing in their product. Although it was great that the CEO did actually reply, lack of time to understand or care too much resulted in him softly blaming us for not being present to collect the eventually delivered package 100k away from our specified destination.

Whilst it’s important to be fair to Terra Nova by disclaiming that the pole breakage was possibly our own fault, next time I would find a smaller company that might care more about after-service, particularly from users like us who are out in the field, and not just camping a few days. The Thorn cycles of tents perhaps.

It’s been hard for me to enjoy the last ten days of actual cycling as I drifted in and out of sickness whilst inhaling Georgia’s co2 emissions. Georgia was the last country we wanted to whizz through and we ended up having to do just that. We didn’t take in near as much of its stunning scenery and people and wine as we wanted to. It broke my heart to get a taxi 178k through what turned out to be a beautiful mountain pass. Plenty of perfect camping spots that were located on top of the world. In retrospect we’d easily have traded east Turkey’s coastal eyesores with more time in Georgia.

Until Turkey everything had been going relatively well but we really are waiting for the tide from the black sea of luck to swap direction.

It’s not all bad of course. Not at all. What we did see of Georgia of course was stunning. The actual cycling itself was difficult under our circumstances and became problematic but every single day still offered great moments. More of the usual stories of family hospitality, friendliness and warmth. To the reader these may be indistinguishable from all other such experiences we have written of, but they are always unique to us.

I will leave you with a generous load of photos to tell that story, which hopefully will do more than offset this post’s negative air and allow you to see how we can still remain happy, despite the circumstances.

 

Carmen, pre-sickness as we finally leave Turkey and enter glorious Georgia

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Joe mid-sickness (exaggerated expression) as we finally leave Turkey and enter glorious Georgia

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Georgian traffic

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Over the bridge to our first Georgian wild camping spot

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Stopping at a local mechanic for some grease to fix Carmen’s dodgy steering

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The owner of this spot we found up a mountain pass insisted we sleep at his away from the cold. As we packed up he began walking to his house with his cows and we never saw him again…

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…but luckily we got invited into nearby aunty Davina McCall’s family house! (Her face was a spitting image in real life).

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This was a rare experience as the family’s men were all shy, in complete contrast to any other hosts where men always dominated and ruled the conversations.

 

Descending from 2200m

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road
rəʊd/ noun
1.
a wide way leading from one place to another, especially one with a specially prepared surface which vehicles can use.
“a country road”
synonyms: highway, thoroughfare, roadway

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Not sure where this guy’s pannier bags are

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Vardzia cave monastry. Carmen’s sick day. The frightful nauseating 2hr minibus ride was worth it

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This would be perfect were the girl standing on the edge Carmen

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Khertvisi fortress

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Our second wild camping spot. Spoiled for choice in Georgia

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Hitching 15k. As we began telling him where we would like to go, it turned out that he had pulled over to fix his overheating radiator, not to pick us up. He gave us a lift anyway. With pumping loud pop music that he would change every 5s. We got an instrumental version of gangnam style twice

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Unlike the good price we had secured to take us 178k, the bikes seemed far from secure

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He counterbalanced them against one another and simply tied thin nylon chord around the bikes to the rack. Then he rally-drove at 120kmh up sharp windy pot holed switchbacks to the 2400m ascent and then down again. The g-force was sensational and my worries of our beloved bikes’ security disappeared quickly as I shifted my focus onto our own lives. The whole time loud pop music being played so we would never have heard if the bikes were coming loose. Fortunately I was able to monitor the bikes intermittently whenever the sun cast a shadow of them on the road by my window. Also, his car also broke down.

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Stopping off at one of the numerous bakery hatches for an impromptu lesson. This bread is so satisfying. We had just been dropped off by a sweet old taxi driver whose car, strangely didn’t break down but he did get pulled over and fined by the police

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Nato who stopped us on route and suggested we visit her guesthouse in Sighnaghi, the quaint hauntingly misty town on top of a mount. I want to live in that town because I fell in love with it. Too dark and misty to take any photos

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Descending from Sighnaghi

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Always good to run into others. These awesome Belgians have two months to make it back home. We met them just before the Azeri border, they’ve been flying to various continents to cycle for a year and rely exclusively on costless sleeping – that is hospitality and wild spots. Hmmmm

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Erm… What does Georgia know about Azerbaijan that we don’t ?

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End of the Balkans

Before I set off I imagined that we would be living a free timespace experience that would allow us to lounge around reading books, writing blogs and thinking about stuff. No such thing. If we’re not busy cycling, we’re finding somewhere to sleep, to eat, messaging people or finding out a piece of information, visa this visa that, and sometimes even socialising. Not forgetting to actually take time to do absolutely nothing before we go off to sleep at 9 pm. When we have a few days off here and there, we usually have to spend that time planning and thinking hard about certain things. Sometimes we may even get time to socialise.

 

Ah yes the double edged sword of socialising and hospitality. We are often in need of a day off, or a buffer zone in between being whizzed around the sights of a town where we stop for a few days and cycling the next day. Indeed, being full time qualified adventurers is knackering, but rarely is this due to the actual cycling itself.

 

The last time we had some honest relaxing time off was about five weeks ago in a lovely sleepy village called Trpejca by lake Ohrid in Macedonia. This delightful village offered us three days of peace amidst the tiring Balkan culture of ubiquitous noise. Noise by day, noise by night. But not in Trpejca. We sampled a lakeside picture-perfect fish restaurant and were overwhelmed with emotion at the quality of food; it helped that it cost something like £10 for both of us to wine and dine there. The next day we decided to stay an extra night and did exactly the same the next evening.

 

We then continued and wild camped at this stunning spot in the mountains:
Wild camping, Galičica National Park, Macedonia

Wild camping, Galičica National Park, Macedonia

Finally, we had been treated to 3 nights noise-free of sleep!
Trpejca, Macedonia. Feasting on fish and perving at this view two nights in a row

Trpejca, Macedonia. Feasting on fish and perving at this view two nights in a row

Trpejca, Macedonia

Trpejca, Macedonia

Macedonian hospitality was fabulous; it’s like an extreme sport for them (not in my words). After staying and eating with our warm showers host in Prilep, we continued away from the main roads and into the mountains.  Wonderful switchbacks brought us to a riverside wild spot one evening and the next morning we shared coffee with an old local toothless peasant accompanied by passing border police, one of which delighted in showing us photos of each animal they’d hunted, killed and ate. When his smartphone swipe moved onto a photo of his pet dog; he wasn’t amused with my question “did you eat him too?”

 

One afternoon, an energetic young couple driving past us, intreagued by our adventure invited us to stay with them in both their hometown nearby and at her family’s in Bulgaria.  Even though we would have to turn around and go back in the exact same direction for 50km through steep mountains to meet them, we decided that their promise of a bed, food and being driven around for a day out or two should not be turned down.  Ensuingly we returned the next morning and stayed at theirs for three days, visiting local areas by car and feasting on their amazing homemade produce. I even asked grandma to give me an early morning cooking lesson, which was a shock to the family who had never seen a male set of hands covered in flour before. As we left, the young couple Filip and Cveti told us that they had set a date for a long cycle trip of their own. It’s felt inspiring to be inspirational.
Cveti and Carmen, Macedonia

Cveti and Carmen, Macedonia

G-mama Filip teaching me to make bread, Macedonia

G-mama Filip teaching me to make bread, Macedonia

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Krushevo, Macedonia

It had been our plan to spend at least one night in a Macedonian monastery; it was often suggested and assumed by locals that we should sleep in them. The problem is that it’s never really a good idea at the end of a days’ cycling to climb steep mountains in the hope that a monastry might accommodate us (they are almost exclusively located off remote tracks in mountains). However, on one occasion we got stuck in a storm and had no choice but to chance it. We turned up at the doorstep drenched, which we found out is in fact international sign language for “feed me, warm me and give me a bed”. The place was beautiful and peaceful, we were well fed and accommodated in the hostel-like dorms and the whole thing cost us about £1.
Macedonian Monastery.

Macedonian Monastery.

We also met Byulent and his wife on a roadside who were on holiday from Turkey, again insisting that we should be accommodated by them when we reached their town. Indeed when we did reach the border town of Edirne weeks later, we would be shown around this delightful city.
Edirne

Edirne Mosque

When we did finally arrive into Bulgaria, (we had spent a whooping three weeks in microscopic Macedonia!) it was stunning. Mountain forests with plenty of roadside cabin huts equipped with basic cooking facilities and fresh source water made cycling this country a delight. Luckily we were treated to six days off in this wonderful retreat with Mr and Mrs Carmen.
Pamporovo, Bulgaria

Pamporovo, Bulgaria

Carmen´s parents. What was astonishing was the mode of transport Carmen's parents had elected in order to travel to us from England. Imagine our surprise when we saw them arrive in this: a ski lift of all things!

Carmen´s parents. What was astonishing was the mode of transport Carmen’s parents had elected in order to travel to us from England. Imagine our surprise when we saw them arrive in this: a ski lift of all things!

Igor and is dog Black, Bulgaria. He spotted us next to his tobacco field and saved us from a storm.  Took us into his (in a small peasant hamlet) for the night, fed us fish he´d caught and gave us beer.

Igor and his dog Black, Bulgaria. He spotted us next to his tobacco field and saved us from a storm. He took us into his house which is located in a small peasant hamlet and fed us fish he´d caught, gave us beer and let us stay the night.

So far, we can soundly report that the world that we’ve seen is much more caring and hospitable than one might possibly think. What I mean by that of course is that I didn’t expect it to be this way. It’s easy to stay at home and fear through the lenses of media, news, popular beliefs, hearsay or hype. I personally feel that Western Europe has a lot to learn- particularly in terms of hospitality – from many of the countries we’ve traversed.  It’s one thing to read that line over and over again in peoples accounts of travels, but to experience it is actually quite magical and always injects pure joy into us.

 

The week off in Bulgaria coupled with the diminished costs of living means that we have become somewhat more reliant on staying in hotels these days. the heat is too much so we lose sleep. Hotels usually cost us about £18 a night. Reacquiainting with wild camping after a long absence can be tricky. As we set up camp on our only evening in Greece for example we got heavily swamped by mosquotos – this induced panic and a level of hysteria; actually it was one of the most distressing moments of the trip.

 

Choosing a spot to camp requires skill and should only be performed by qualified adventurers. We thought that the offer to put up our tent on the grounds of a mosque would be a safe option. However, being woken by the very loud call to prayer (broadcast through 4 megaphones atop the minaret) at 4am is an alarming experience. Although, on the plus side, this did put me into an alert state of wakefulness where I found my brain parked on a deeply theological level for the proceeding two hours.  I found myself contemplating and tackling such intricate questions as
‘what happens if the singer gets a sore throat?’ and
‘I wonder if they’ll ever switch over to high fidelity calls using a microphone and tannoy with a greater frequency bandwidth (and thus more pleasing to the ear) than the piercing telephone-like megaphone’

 

I would never have otherwise considered such questions.  Actually, the call to prayer, heard at the correct distance is mesmerising and beautiful. The role of a muezzin is considered an art form. The effect is spoiled on me though when you are in a big city (İstanbul) with a dozen mosques chanting in unison but at contradicting harmonies. Sometimes the dogs join in.  It sounds like a surreal brainwash call designed to infiltrate one’s dreams.  Mission: reprogramme.

 

Another danger of wild camping is your own paranoia. Also documented by other bloggers, your mind becomes an award-winning crime novelist. Innocuous scratchy noises beneath the groundsheet next to your head allude to the imagery of sinister human activity as you lay stone awake in your bag. After several hours forensically analysing the noises, you eventually become reassured by the fact that the only plausible author of such noises must be a person putting things into shopping bags. Safe in the knowledge that no one could possibly be packing shopping bags for so many hours, your racing mind does eventually drift off.
Us with Geart and Sysy and Guillaume in Macedonia

Us with Geart and Sytske and Guillaume in Macedonia

Sytske, Guillaume, Carmen, Geart. We all met in Macedonia and then again here in Istanbul

Sytske, Guillaume, Carmen, Geart. We all met in Macedonia and then again here in Istanbul. We bumped into Guillaume by pure chance in a small backstreet!

We are now leaving Istanbul where we have spent 12 days waiting for a visa (which obviously never came **see footnote**)
Istanbul is great; a backstreet paradise containing a plethora of inviting cafés. We have been staying in a poor run-down district with plenty of thefts going on, 3 roads away from the main shopping strip. But this place has character and it feels real.

 

The hostel staff are 4 young Syrian male refugees with hearts of gold; gentle and caring. Last night they had invited their Syrian female friends over to the hostel BBQ that they organised and cooked for the guests, on the rooftop. Back in Syria, one of the guys was a basketball coach and he used to teach one of the girls. Another girl was his study mate. Another girl is half Iraqi and is just about to start afresh in USA. I guess this bunch of friends decided to escape Hell and stay safe together in numbers in a foreign country. The main reason for their escape was ultimately to escape conscription, and, in probable due course, death. Their families are mostly still in Syria waiting for their sons here to earn enough to bring them over. Some of their family members are already dead. I don’t think I’ve ever met anybody who openly talks about the process of acquiring a fake passport.

 

It didn’t occur to me to finish this on such a low note but I guess we have parked ourselves in this place we have called “home” and have felt very comfortable in, in the presence of good people and other lovely guests. Leaving will be sad.

 

Right, back to cycling. Oh, did I mention we’re learning russian?
Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

View from our hostel

View from our hostel

Istanbul

Istanbul

Hostel in Istanbul

Hostel in Istanbul

Learning Russian

Learning Russian. Keep reading for more updates!

**Footnote**
The conversation with the visa consulate man went something like this:
Us: ” we need to collect our visa”
Him: “visa?”
Us: yes. To collect. To collect visa. We came last week and you said come today to collect visa. You said visa will be ready today
Him: collect visa ?
Us: yes
Him: passport?
Returns 2 mins later
Him: Do you have your visa application form?
Us: we gave that to you last week. Do you remember ? We came Monday and you said come back today to collect visa
Returns 1 min later
Him: your visa is in Ankara. You need to go to Ankara
Me: why? You said visa will be here today. We came to you last Monday and you said visa will be ready today. Why is our visa in Ankara?
Him: because you said you wanted to collect it in Ankara
Me: no we didn’t.
Him: yes you did. Because I wrote ‘Ankara’ on your application
Me: no we didn’t. Why would we say that? We aren’t going to Ankara. We need to leave tomorrow and we have no visa. We came last week and you said come today and visa will be ready. Do you remember us from last Monday?
Him: yes I remember you, you said Ankara because you need it quickly
Me: no we didn’t. We never said Ankara. We need the visa here and now……

Quick update from Bulgaria

We are relaxing in a beautiful mountain holiday cottage in Bulgaria for a week, with Carmen’s parents (and a cute stray kitten).  We’ve just lit a fire, not because we need to, but because we can.

For anyone interested, I’ve just updated the “Route” page which shows exactly the route we have done so far. There are also some photos uploaded to the Flikr site which is accessible from the right hand side pane of this blog (mobile devices click here)

We have had an awesome time in Macedonia; we loved it so much that we managed to spend a record three weeks in this tiny country. More about that in our next blog update; we’ve got too much relaxing and cat stroking to do to be bothered to write.

Baby Bulgarian Cat

Baby Bulgarian Cat

Croatia

I’ve just washed my shorts for the first time since Salzberg, or possibly even since the start of the trip, I’m not quite sure. They’re the only pair I have so it’s not practical to wash them because it would mean wearing jeans when exploring the towns in the boiling heat.( Or walking around in a t shirt, boxer shorts and a camera round my neck.).

We are in a rare position of having time, good weather and the coast to play with. This magic triangle means we can dry all our washed clothes out whilst sitting on the beach all day with nothing but our swim clothes on. We are just outside Dubrovnik after spending two nights in a cheap apartment and exploring this beautiful old venician walled city. We weren’t able to take any photos for various reasons but it’s a spectacular little place.

Compared to cycling, it can sometimes be more exhausting when being tourists so after our two days off we decided to have two more days off from both cycling AND tourism. We left the apartment this morning, cycled 3k along the coast and found a lovely cheap campsite in which to spend our last two days in Croatia. It’s the earliest we’ve ever set up camp:10:30am.

Our arrival into Croatia via the steep slovenian mountains greeted us with a great thunderstorm so we found a dirt cheap apartment in which to dry off, cook (in a kitchen!!!!) and flake out for a day and a half before heading to the ever awaiting coast. Our exhausting 80k journey to the coast was executed in an afternoon of full-on sun and mountains. We were greeted with the misery of a busy coastal road at the horrible industrial eyesore of Rijeka.

Next to our campsite

Next to our campsite in Rijeka

Our Croatian Coast Dream was further shattered by the onset of another vicious storm. We also found roads that didn’t exist in real life that were present on our map and consequently ending up on a slip road of a motorway (not present on our map). We duly turned back. It was this day that I equated such series of forces and accumulated circumstance to the Gamemaker of Hunger Games, or the director on Trueman Show (or any authority figure in any dystopian society….Big Brother… God). The Gamemaker was testing our agility and determination to meet our dream by throwing a series of extreme forces at us. In those four hours I could hear the Gamemaker shouting his orders to the operators “SUN!” “MOUNTAIN!” “They made it to the coast?” “MOTORWAY!” “STORM!” “CRAPPY CAMPLESS PORT!” “They found a campsite?” “REMOVE THE RESTAURANTS!”. When we eventually found a restaurant, we had grilled fish and beer. It was amazing. That day was emotional.
It wasn’t until two days later that our dream was met and we found peace on the quiet island of Cres. The sun even came out the next day so we were able to finally swim after four days of being on the coast. Our dreams of hopping Croatia’s numerous islands were shortlived when we arrived onto Lošinj and told that the next ferry would be leaving in five days time. We weren’t too impressed with the Gamemaker at this point because he had also switched the sun off completely after only two days and replaced it with rain. Stranded on a rainy island! Luckily though, the next day he switched it back on for the remainder of the week where we were able to wild camp in the exquisite coastal path near Vel Lošinj, swim, relax and enjoy. Here’s a few photos of that, doesn’t it look exquisite?

Swimming near Vel Lošinj

Swimming near Vel Lošinj

Swimming near Vel Lošinj

Leaving our spot near Vel Lošinj

Leaving our spot near Vel Lošinj

We left via ferry to Zadar where we performed our first night-ride because the boat got in at 2300. The next day we were treated to lunch by Bryan whom we had met on the ferry the previous day. In almost Christ-like behaviour, he fed us fish from an excellent restaurant in the back streets of Zadar’s old town. Perhaps one of the best fish meals I have ever had. Did we mention that we love north Americans’ instrinsic hospitality? Fuelled by my jealousy of Carmen’s read of Andrew Marr’s History of the World, we stopped off at the book shop for some light reading of my own, “The Fall of Yugoslavia”. We started a late afternoon ride down the mainland coastline towards Split. This part of the coast was fantastic, modest and seemingly barely affected by tourism. We found our first back-to-basics campsite here. No frills, cheap and friendly. Much better than the Campervan Sleeping Institutions with which we had been used to thus far. (I feel bad for previously accusing Germany of inventing them; turns out they’re the status-quo of camping everywhere so far.)

Lunching on pier at Mali Lošinj before getting the ferry

Lunching on pier at Mali Lošinj before getting the ferry

Korčula island

Korčula island

The small quaint medieval-looking hamlets around Kastela were an absolute delight as we approached Split. But Split was crap, at least arriving by bicycle, it’s crap. Another emotional turmoil saw us fight back The Gamemaker by taking the first ferry to Korcula island in order to cheat the coastline, with Dubrovnik in mind as a destination. From Korcula we would get the ferry to Peljesac island (actually a peninsular) and back to mainland. These two islands were great and full of quiet coastal delights. More lovely quiet, cheap and friendly campsites greeted us, one of which was run by an old Croatian married to an Aussie Sheila called Shelly, who told me that during the 91-95 war (she has been living there for 27 years) the island was cut off completely from travel and supplies. She wanted to return to Australia but physically could not.

We have also discovered the forces which test each of us. Mine is full-on-sun on a steep climb. Carmen’s is gravel tracks on hills. They will break us physically and emotionally, though not without putting us back together again in one piece after a couple of hours. Peljesac was where we were met with a 4k stretch of hardcore costal hilly gravel track. I ploughed through it fairly uneventfully and I dare say, with a bit of enjoyment. The opposite was definitely true for Carmen. For me it was the Wurzenpass that destroyed me.

At this point I would normally sign off the blog by saying something like

“recharged and ready, we now have a nice 6 weeks of easy-paced cycling to reach Bulgaria where Carmen’s parents will await us, (hopefully with the similar Christ-like behaviour demonstrated by our American friends?) Although sad to be leaving the coast, we are very excited to meander through Bosnia, Montenegro, Albania and Macedonia. We really can’t wait!”

But it would be a shame to not mention Miguel. Miguel gets his own section. In fact I am even going to start the next paragraph with an indent, the equivalent of a sub-narrative if you will, or in video editing terms, anamorphic letterboxing. Sorry Bryan for giving you neither a paragraph nor an indent, but this guy was way out there.

We often attract the attention of various people who will strike up conversation with us. Some of these people are incredible bundles of energy, whose combined oscillation would shatter the world apart. An 80 year old german guy stopped on his tracks once while we were lunching on a beach in Croatia. “Woouw wouw wouw wouw” he exclaimed as he backtracked after having cycled past and noticing last minute our loaded bikes. He began a machine gun line of friendly questions which we duly answered in our bad german. “80k pro tag aber wir sind sehr erm…heavy” etc. Ten minutes later our goodbyes were accompanied by an invite to send him an email with simply a photo of us once arrived in Malaysia. These little exchanges are great and can tickle us. But our exchange with Miguel though was unprecedented on this trip.

As we sat on the coastal path behind Dubrovnik city’s wall enjoying the sun and swim, my eye met with that of a young chap in his early 20s wearing a hat, Hawaian shirt and a backpack. He seemed to have been walking towards us anyway but a brief smile to him may have sealed the deal that he would definitely sit next to us. He slung down his backpack on the stone next to us, pointed to our barbag map holder and said

“ahh cyclists! Where are you going? If you want I can show you some of the places I’ve been to, you might find it useful”.

To be honest it’s annoying when people start looking at the map and try to give us advice but actually he turned out to be very knowledgable of the roads we were about to conquer. He hitchiked and walked from his home in Estonia and had just arrived into Dubrovnik and headed straight to where we happened to be sitting.

He claimed to sleep under the stars every night, sometimes in churches. Mosquitos are of no consequence to him, for he is in direct touch with nature, thus immune to its perils. He met a lovely couple in Albania who offered him a threesome which was a step too far for him because, although he would have given her one, he didn’t have such extra-curricular materialistic needs beyond that of the love of two people. “Thinking about ditching the shoes soon too actually” he fitted in very quickly before spontaneously, for reasons perhaps beknown to himself, launching into a songlet; singing happy words sporadically about a slow beat produced by his mouth and ending on a big grin as if to say “do you know what I mean?”

The kid didn’t stop talking, his energy wore us out after these first 4 minutes. Luckily we were able to recharge because all the while he had been talking/singing thus far, he was stripping off into his boxers in order to go for a swim. He revealed a very healthy tanned and toned body, with a cross about his neck and the face-and-glasses-combo of Harry Potter. We observed him sort-of chat up a girl very briefly before diving in elegantly and perform a perfect butterfly full of energy which lasted for a few laps. Outside the realms of the swimming pools where people swim to get fit and become swimmers, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such a stong swimmer.

After this second 3 minute performance he exited via the shower, returned to us and declared that in fact, the chlorine in the taps makes him feel less clean. He dived back into the sea and performed a very fast and beautiful crawl for a few more laps. Came back out “ahh that’s better” and launched into a third performance which went something like this:

Carmen, noticing a stick sticking out of his backpack: ” is that a flute?”
Miguel: “yeah, it’s a Hungarian flute thing, I’ve been playing it for two weeks now, I’m not that great but I’ll show you” and then played this lovely song on the flute, with little hints of subtle beat boxing as he did so. He was quite good. As he dried off with his blanket, which presumably he also used to keep himself warm whilst sleeping under the stars and in the churches, he revealed that he gives music therapy. He also admitted that English not being his first language, his lyrics consisted mostly of primitive and earthly words. “Sun” ” love” “god” featured heavily in his repertoire of spontaneous songs. I wondered what kind of lyrics Estonians would be treated to. I wasn’t really following his chat by then but somewhere after some songlets and his own brand of conversation, as he was threatening to depart, he said that he’d be happy to arrange to meet somewhere or simply allow our paths to naturally cross.
“Or I could do a quick therapy session now?”, which obviously brought my conscious back into the conversation thingy we were having.
“Go for it”, I encouraged him without hesitation, intrigued as to what this final act of his theatre would be.

He had us sit upright with our eyes closed and placed an object on each of mine and Carmen’s lap that we held. He launched into another song accompanied by the unidentified musical objects on our laps that he played. The sound emitted from them was stunning and completely arrested our minds. We were very self-aware and conscious of the 100 people in our immediate vicinity. My cynicism stole much of the positive energy throughout what was actually a beautiful ten minute performance, and I squinted my eyes open slightly trying to catch a peripheral glance at our bar bags and their valuable contents located behind us. I also used the opportunity to ponder whether he had simply brought up his Albanian cultural experience as a prelude for further things with us; with this last performance being the hypnotic seal.

With our barbags and groins intact, we were afterwards treated to look and play with his instruments: they were gas tank drums. Invented in 2006, people have started making their own DIY versions using domestic gas tanks sawn in half with carefully perforated slots to produce half a dozen notes tuned in harmony. Miguel played each drum with each of his hands rhythmically and melodically (accompanied by his earthly lyrics). You can see two being played excellently here. And here.

Miguel’s performance was almost as good as this.

Despite how I may have made it sound, there was not an ounce of arrogance nor pretence about Miguel, he was a very, very loveable character. As he departed our company we introduced each other by name and he left, fully clothed with his backpack of drums, hat and charisma. Here is a bad photo of that moment.

Miguel from Estonia: reinventing living

Miguel from Estonia: reinventing living

We exchanged no method of contact. I instantly wished I could be in touch with him as I quite like the idea of one day spending 3 minutes with him. I’m off to be as cool as him and attempt a truce with Mosquitos.


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Sitting out the storm on our first day in Croatia. First of many storms to come.

Sitting out the storm on our first day in Croatia. First of many storms to come.

 

Remote village on Korcula island

Remote village on Korcula island

 

An evening by a campsite on Korcula island

An evening by a campsite on Korcula island

 

Arty shot of Dubrovnik, ennit?

Arty shot of Dubrovnik, ennit?

New pics

We’ve just arrived at a campsite about 30k into Slovenia after three days of mountains. We are shattered and looking forward to spending a day resting by lake Bled. In thr meantime, check out latest photos on Flikr, accessible from the sidebar anywhere on our site.

Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany

We are four weeks into our journey so far. It feels like months. Not because we’ve been having a bad time of course but because time seems to take on another form when you are sleeping somewhere different each night, with a changing backdrop as well as constantly meeting new people.

We have just crossed into our sixth country, Austria, where we are taking a day off from cycling by chilling out in Salzburg with Mozart’s face all over the place. Our second day off since we began our trip in fact. It feels good to do nothing.

Wild camping in Belgian forests was fantastic, a lovely scenic backdrop followed us all the way and it felt easy. We don’t remember too much about this lovely country because it was over fairly quickly. Oh yeah, this friendly beardy Belgian guy made us an amazing sandwich.

Stealth camping in Belgium

Stealth camping in Belgium

After two weeks of straight cycling, We took a much needed holiday in the linguistic utopia of The Grand Dutchy of Luxembourg. The capital city has the distinctive quirk of having upper and lower parts, accessible via a lift or the steep hills to get in and out of the valley. Everything here is deluxe indeed.

Luxembourg

Luxembourg

 

Luxembourg. Had a few beers sitting here

Luxembourg. Had a few beers sitting here

 

Luxembourg border with Saarland, Germany in background

Luxembourg border with Saarland, Germany in background

We then spent two weeks in Germany, entering from a stunning hilltop at the Luxembourg border into the delightful Saarland, which appears to be one of Germany’s smallest of provinces. We instantly found Germany to be well equipped for cyclists; a network of Tarmac paths, cycle shops everywhere, Fahrrad this, Fahrrad that. On the first day we were presented with a riverside main road which had been closed off for cyclists for the day, stretching for some 30km.

Its cycling networks were as friendly as the cyclists themselves; it was not possible to map-check for a few seconds without being seen by another 2wheeled citizen and being asked if we needed any assistance. This behaviour followed us through Germany and helped us out on many occasions including the time when a dozen senior citizens became our convoy to the nearest campsite one evening by the Rhine valley. My rusty german listening skills told me that they once did a 1500k trip! Either that or they were 1500 years old?

I had to avoid German supermarkets in fear of exiting with a pile of food too heavy to fit about our 10 panniers. They are great, especially the one called Rewe because it looks like my surname. I made Carmen do the food shopping most of the time in order regulate our expenses.

Apart from the copious daily amounts of chocolate and cheese and bread and crisps and bratwurst and we’ve actually been eating very well. Our favourite meals include:
Courgette and garlic pasta
Dhal with self made chapatti breads
Fried gnocchi (thanks to our warm showers host Sebastian by Bodensee!)
Steak, salad, fried onions, red wine and cheese

After stocking up in Salzburg

After stocking up in Salzburg

We also make fresh coffee every morning, without using a filter! Our little unleaded petrol stove is brilliant. I’ve refilled it thrice since we left, which equates to a monthly gas bill of €3.

Unlike our rent, which was around €300 for Germany alone. Germans look away now.

Yes, Germans seem to have reinvented camping. Just a patch of grass and a bit of water is not possible to find. Unfortunately for us, these two luxuries are invariably accompanied with:
Automatic sliding doors
Fancy Dyson futuristic hand dryers
Onsite bars, restaurants and bakeries
Electronic fob entry passes
Grotesquely huge camper vans (which were often permanent installations)

Taking into account theses luxuries, €20+ seems quite reasonable I suppose but i did wonder if Germany has the equivalent of a no-thrills campsite. Actually, I remember Spain and Holland being the same. Campervans have hijacked camping and the tents have all gone.

Lindau island

Lindau island

Wild camping was pretty tricky here too, we spent a lot of our time around hills so finding a plateau wasn’t easy. There isnt much disused land here; probably why wild camping is illegal. After stopping for a coffee in Wank one day and watching the Wankers going about their daily business, we pushed pushed our bikes up a very steep hill (out of sheer desperation of rent costs) and almost immediately the sky opened to a torrent of rain. Bless our little waterproof hybrid merino wool, polyester and cotton socks. After about an hour, exhausted wet and emotional, we set up camp on an incline, slept like crap and decided that €20+, Automatic sliding doors, fancy Dyson futuristic hand dryers, onsite bars, restaurants and bakeries, electronic fob entry passes and grotesquely huge camper vans were a great idea and that we’d simply bite the bullet for the rest of €-land. Even though wifi is never included. Death to the Euro. Europe is bloody expensive.

We exited the great republic via six days of hilly, picturesque and wet Bavaria, complete with little villages and villagers sporting traditional dress.

Markt Neubeurn

Markt Neubeurn

Somewhere in Bavaria north east of Bodensee

Somewhere in Bavaria north east of Bodensee

Neuschwanstein castle,Fussen. Stunning. Google images does it better justice. Plenty of great castles in Germany.

Neuschwanstein castle,Fussen. Stunning. Google images does it better justice. Plenty of great castles in Germany.

It felt good to be moving east-bound, away from the linguistic comfort of France which had followed us as we tickled the border descending into Germany. At one point we took a wrong turn, accidentally descended the steep hill we had just climbed, ended up by a stream, pretty much in a german family’s garden as they were lunching. Unsure whether or not we were trespassing we crossed their little footbridge and found ourselves in a French field,pushing our bikes out of marshland for the next 30minutes still in view of the german family across the border 30metres away. We spent the rest of that day in and out of the two countries and as we camped up in France I found myself wondering about the history of the area as we entered Ligne Maginot military areas.

All warmshowers hosts have been wonderful too,including Joe (great name) and his flatmate as well as Sebastian and all his friends. It’s great to break up our time with these fantastic social interludes. We even got stopped by a Floridian cyclist who took us in on a cold and wet day, gave us a bed and took us out for a meal. Amazing!

We spent this morning planning the route through the alps down to the T. The most difficult part of the path will probably be the 20k incline of 1000metres at Solkpass reaching 1790 metres. Not quite sure what all the fuss is about cycling through the Alps nor why there is a disturbingly low number of cycle routes present at http://www.cyclingthealps.com on our chosen pass.

We’re geared and ready.

 

 

Somewhere.

Somewhere.

Salzburg.Always good to bump into family. Max Rogers wearing Tommy Hilfiger suit. Joe Crewe in Jack Wolfskin and Berghaus.

Salzburg.Always good to bump into family. Max Rogers wearing Tommy Hilfiger suit. Joe Crewe in Jack Wolfskin and Berghaus.