My cousin Tommy commented that there weren’t many photos of me. This is largely because Emese’s phone was incredibly temperamental (it gave up entirely in Europe so she didn’t even get to take Photo Of The Day anymore), so I was taking most of the photos. However, Emese did take a fair few and since we’ve got back I’ve been able to get copies of them. So here are a load of photos of me. To prove that I actually was on this trip.
And finally, one of the most awesome photos you’ll ever see. My mum loved it so much she asked for a copy of it for Christmas. It was actually made by Luca, Emese’s sister-in-law, and tells the true story of how we got home from New Zealand:
I think that’s a pretty good place to end this blog. Thanks for reading.
And so starts the actual last blog entry. I’m about to continue on without Cycle-Wife, who is staying in Berlin. I’m getting the train to Hanover to stay with Ronald, the brother-in-law of my mum’s cousin Tommy (it really does help when you have family spread all over the world) before cycling three days on my own to stay with Tommy and family in Dusseldorf.
Berlin – Hanover, Tuesday 3rd November
My train to Hanover is booked for the early afternoon, because we don’t function well early in the morning. I pack up my bicycle, but Emese comes with me to the station. Berlin train station is huge and has about three different levels. It’s not a train station you can arrive late to and still hope to find your train easily. Luckily Emese knows it well, when she lived here she often got the train to Budapest from here. Emese and I are not sure where on the train the bike carriage is, so we wait in the middle of the platform. The train pulls in and we don’t see the bike carriage, so we assume it’s at the back and have to jog down there. We unpack my bike and I carry everything on to the train, my bike last of all. But when I turn back to say goodbye to Emese and give her a hug the train guard has already shut the door! I tell him I wanted to say goodbye to my friend, and he tells me that me putting my bicycle on the train made the train 2 minutes late. So I have to settle with smooshing my face up against the window and waving to Emese. Other than being denied a goodbye hug with Cycle-Wife, the journey is pretty uneventful. It’s still light when I arrive in Hanover, but I have to cycle 15km, east, so I will end up having to cycle back this way tomorrow. By the time I arrive with Ronald, Kerstin, Benita and Aaron it’s dark again, but I now have a proper collection of lights, Emese having given me her back one (we were working as a tandem bicycle, I had a front light and Emese had the back one and we made sure to cycle close together). Ronald and family are very welcoming, although it’s very strange arriving somewhere without Emese.
Hanover – Bielefeld, Wednesday 4th November
In the morning I get up at 6am, something I haven’t done in a long time, because I have a really long day today. Kerstin is out early for work, but I eat breakfast with Ronald, Benita and Aaron, before Benita leaves for her school and Ronald takes Aaron to his school, then comes back to see me off. Luckily it’s almost entirely flat today, although the cycle path signs are just as bad as usual. At one point I’m following signs to Bad Oeynhausen and they actually lead me in a 200m circle, back to where I started, and I’m fuming. So I end up choosing a cycle path that has no signposts but heads in the right direction and risk it, luckily I’ve always had a pretty good sense of direction and it works out. Every so often a fleeting moment of panic engulfs me as I realise Emese is not behind me and I haven’t stopped to wait for her for a while, before I remember that she’s in Berlin and the feeling passes. I stop to take a photo of a tiny horse, because Emese always liked tiny horses, and as I read this back it kind of sounds like she died, but she didn’t and is safe in Berlin, although I am a little in mourning at no longer cycling with her. We spent the entirety of 11 months in each other’s company and it is very weird not being with her anymore. Although we cycled one behind the other so it was difficult to talk, it was always nice knowing there was someone there. And now, when I cycle past farms and smell cow manure, she’s not there to hilariously blame the smell on.
I looked for hosts in Bielefeld with no luck, so booked myself into a youth hostel (although I technically left the ‘youth’ category a long time ago) and it’s probably just as well that I don’t have a host because I would’ve been the worst guest ever. I know I have a long way to go and I don’t have Emese to talk to so I don’t really bother stopping. I have a sandwich and some snacks from Ronald and family, but I eat them stood up on my bike and keep going. So by the time I arrive in Bielefeld it is still light for a change (just) but I am exhausted.
When I get to the hostel I am alone in a four-bed dorm, I have a lovely shower and think about going out to get some food, but realise I’m way too tired. I have a dinner of snacks and flask tea that I made this morning before leaving Ronald and Kerstin’s, and I’m asleep by 7pm.
Distance: 123km Elevation gain: 708m
Bielefeld – Hamm, Thursday 5th November
Because I went to bed so early yesterday I’m awake again at 6am and strangely ready to go. Another girl did check into my room after I’d gone to sleep, but I’m gone before she gets up, so we didn’t have a single conversation. I knew yesterday would be a bit of a ridiculous day (I just wanted to see if I could do it) so today is much more reasonable, to the town of Hamm. In fact, it’s so reasonable, and I leave so early, that I’m there 2 hours before I told my hosts I would be. So I have to find a cafe in Hamm to wait in, which is kind of difficult because a lot of the ones that show up on google maps appear to have closed down. Eventually I find an ice cream place that also does toasties (it’s way too cold for ice cream) and have a late-ish lunch, because again I didn’t bother stopping as I was on my own. I head to my hosts, Beatrix and her family, a little early, but by that point I’ve been sat in the cafe for a while and I’m bored. Luckily they are already home. I am their first ever warm showers guest! And I had to apply under Emese’s name, because Emese was the one with the warm showers account, and explain why I was applying under her name and that I hadn’t murdered her, she had just remained in Berlin. There is lots of tea, and lots of good food, great company, an amazing shower and a dog that likes to sit on your feet. They are all kind enough to speak in English because of course my German skills are lacking.
Distance: 76km Elevation gain: 258m
Hamm – Dusseldorf, Friday 6th November
I wake up very excited, because today, after nearly a year, I am going to be seeing my first family member! Tommy is my mum’s cousin, he actually grew up in Chile (where my Granny was born and still has two sisters, including Tommy’s mum Pipsie, living there) but moved to Germany a number of years ago and is now married to the lovely Heike (whose brother Ronald I stayed with in Hanover). And that’s the brief family history over. I’m up early because I know I have another roughly 100km day today, I get a huge breakfast from Beatrix and am then packed off with lunch, apples from the garden and tea in my flask, so I’m well equipped. It’s uneventful and flat until I get to the city of Wuppertal, which I have to cycle through. It’s basically on an uphill slope too, so once I get through it’s downhill all the way to Dusseldorf. I have no problem cycling into the city, but getting out of it is a bit of a nightmare. There are so many roadworks and roads closed and no entry for cyclists roads that it takes me three time longer to figure my way out of the city that it should do. Later on in a small village there are signs for roadworks and a detour, I’m getting tired so I ignore the signs and of course the road is getting dug up, luckily the workmen are very nice, take pity on me and let me push my bike across the mud. Once again I’m later than planned, so it’s dark when I arrive, and at least an hour later than I told Tommy. He’s obviously wondering where I am as when I cycle up the road to the house I can see him stood on the lawn. He is home with Shirley, their 2 year old daughter, while Heike is out swimming with Jimmy, their 7 year old son, and gets back later. I’m pretty happy, because I’m with family, and because this arrival marks the last day of cycling for me for a little while (although I still have to get back to England).
Distance: 107km Elevation gain: 603m
Dusseldorf (Germany), Mierlo (Holland) and Kent (England) Non-cycling days, Saturday 7th – Saturday 21st November
At Tommy and Heike’s house I’m sharing a room with Jimmy and Shirley, in the morning it’s so cute to watch them try to be quiet so as not to wake me (of course they fail entirely because they’re kids, but I was awake anyway). Jimmy plays football on Saturdays, today they have a game against their local rivals, and I’m very happy to say that Jimmy’s team won, so a celebratory McDonald’s was had afterwards. Jimmy does speak some English, but Shirley, being only two, is just getting to grips with German, however she and I have some lovely English/German conversations anyway. She’s hilarious, her most popular phrase (translated for my benefit) is “I do it”. She doesn’t like being helped. On Saturday night Heike has to work at the hospital and then sleeps the next day, so Tommy and I take the kids to church, I believe partially so Heike can get some peace and quiet. Church-going is not something I do often admittedly, but it’s an Anglican church so everything is in English, however I spent most of it supervising/playing with Shirley and making sure she didn’t wedge too much playdough into the carpet. Today is also Tommy’s birthday. It is also the day that Jos comes to pick me up and take me back to the Netherlands. Those of you reading this blog from the start may remember that Emese and I met Jos and Henk, travelling by car, way back in New Zealand. Jos gave us his number (smooth), ostensibly in case we needed help. Of course Emese had already lost her phone by then, so we didn’t have a sim card, but I did have whatsapp, and so did he, so that’s how we stayed in contact. We joked at the time that he would give me a lift through the Netherlands, but now, instead of that, at my cousin’s 45th birthday, taking place at a kid’s playground with ball pools and bouncy castles, we will have our first date (very romantic). But actually, as first dates go, it was a lot of fun. It does help that there are few things I love more in this world than a good bouncy castle. A lot of Tommy’s friends have kids (hence the party was at the playground) so we also end up playing football and then getting into a fairly serious ballpool ball battle where you end up forgetting the kids you’re fighting against are under 10 years of age and you get really competitive and hurl the balls with all the strength you can muster and it’s all fun and games until someone gets nailed in the face (perhaps it was best that in this case that that person was me, luckily ballpool balls are only light plastic). And after the party we say goodbye to Tommy, Heike, Jimmy and Shirley and head off over the border to the Netherlands, which is less than an hour away from Dusseldorf.
After 2 weeks in the Netherlands, I am keen to get home. England is just across the water. My Mummy is there. So close! Jos had taken a week off work anyway, so he offered (it was all his idea!!) to cycle the last bit of England with me (winning massive brownie points with my mother in the process, because it turns out she wasn’t that keen on me cycling alone, although she never told me that). So on Friday 20th November, Jos’ dad Jan very kindly picks us up, straps both our bicycles to the bike rack on his car and drives us to Dunkirk (thanks Jan!). He is so organised that we get there in time to take an earlier ferry, so we figure we might as well, even though we are being met at 6pm in Dover by my mum’s cousin-in-law Ed (more extended family for Jos to meet!).
I think there was a suggestion of flying or going on the Eurostar, but there’s something about arriving at the white cliffs of Dover. I always knew I would get the ferry back to England.
We have some time to wait in Dover before Ed picks us up so I drag Jos to the pub for some cider. He’s never tried it before, and is not all that impressed. He’s also never been to England before, and Dover is his first impression, so he’s not very impressed with that either, but I tell him that Dover is a dump and you can’t judge the whole of England on it.
Ed and Jos have some fun attaching our bikes to the bike rack on Ed’s car, but they get there eventually. Once at Ed and Jojo’s (my mum’s cousin) Jos also has to meet my great aunt, Aunty Susan, and my mum’s sister Hegs, but that’s nothing compared to the Saturday night, when there’s a family party. Three of my mum’s cousins, their partners and kids, my aunt and my great aunt. Fourteen members of my extended family all in one go. He did pretty well I think. And he definitely took enough clothes so he didn’t look scruffy. On Saturday there’s some quite heavy snow, so we’re a bit worried as we’re supposed to be cycling the next day, but luckily it clears up by the afternoon.
Goudhurst – Worthing, Sunday 22nd November
And so our first day of cycling together starts. Jos is pretty fit, he’s run two half marathons in the last three months and cycles a lot too, so I figure we’ll just start him off with a casual 90km-ish ride to Worthing, where he has to meet yet more of my family (my Dad’s brother Tony, his wife Sue and my cousin Jon). Jojo cycles a lot around Kent and she says it’s pretty hilly, something Jos will not be used to coming from the flattest country in the world. It’s chilly, but not freezing. Jos has some of the funniest cycling shorts I’ve ever seen, but that’s mean of me, because it’s not like I look awesome in mine.
And Jojo isn’t wrong about the hills. But it’s very pretty. I have missed England, even when it’s chilly and wintery. I’m checking the map on my phone, while cycling, when I do what Emese has been telling me since the beginning that I’m going to do eventually. I go over a speed bump, unexpectedly because I’m not paying attention, accidentally slam on the brakes, stop dead and fall over. Luckily I’m on the side of the road so I land on the grass verge, but I do hit my arms and my legs on the bike on the way down. So I have some nice bruises for my arrival home. Cycle paths in England are not as prevalent as in Germany, and nowhere near what they’ve got in the Netherlands, so often we have to cycle along regular roads,or the cycle paths just disappear, or we have to double back and go a different way. We do eventually get to Brighton as the sun is starting to set, and start cycling along the seafront towards Worthing. We’re going pretty fast when someone shouts my name, I stop suddenly and Jos nearly ploughs into the back of me (I kept telling him off for stopping dead in front of me without warning, oops). Turns out it’s Tony and Jon, who have come for a drive to meet us.
They drive on ahead, and then stop three more times to shout encouragement at us as we keep cycling. Clearly these two don’t have anything better to do!! At one point they’re stood outside a pub to cheer us on, the two blokes stood next to them having a cigarette look at them as if they’re mad.
For dinner Sue has cooked us all a roast dinner and it’s amazing. And I get to talk to my Mummy on the phone!!
Distance: 91km Elevation gain: 843m
Worthing – Winchester, Monday 23rd November
Jon had to head back to London last night for work, so in the morning we have breakfast with Sue and Tony. We pack up to leave just before Tony has to go to work.
It’s entirely flat in the morning because we’re cycling along the coast. We’re cycling through Emsworth, where my Granny used to live, so I make Jos sit in the cold by the millpond, opposite the street where she used to live.
As we were cycling though Emsworth, I actually got in contact with the two friends that lived two doors down from Granny, in the hope that one of them might still be in the area and be able to put us up. Tom is in Guildford, a little out of our way, but Rich lives in Winchester with his girlfriend Amy and is happy for us to stay. I take Jos on a slight detour, so we end up cycling up Portsdown Hill, which gives you a very nice view of Portsmouth but wasn’t really necessary for us to cycle up (don’t tell Jos). Richard has left a key for us under a plant pot, so we are able to let ourselves in and put our bikes in the conservatory, which is already a store for the three bicycles that he has. He gets back half an hour later, with an email from Amy with the instructions for dinner written out in bullet points, so he can’t screw it up (and he doesn’t it’s very good). After dinner Jos is introduced to Peep Show, which I think he liked more than cider and Dover at least.
Distance: 95km Elevation gain: 417m
Winchester – Castle Cary, Tuesday 24th November
Jos has a racing seat on his bike. The last two days have been 90+ km and we have another one today. It’s safe to say he’s in a bit of pain. Perhaps I should’ve broken him in more gently (in New Zealand we were doing 30km days to start) but my wish to get home and see my mummy overrides my concern about how much pain Jos is in. Sorry Jos. Castle Cary is picked at random because it means we have a longer day today and then a much shorter day tomorrow, for our final day. And we found a nice hotel that used to be a coach house, so Jos gets to see some English history too. It’s one of those lovely old buildings with sloping floors and low ceilings, which of course Jos cracks his head on. Rich sees us off in the morning before he goes to work, and we follow a national cycle path that runs along country roads. It’s just a route along a regular road, but at least it’s well signposted. That’s one thing we’ve done better than the Germans. There’s a detour which we ignore, turns out they’re repaving the road with fresh tarmac, thankfully the road guys are kind and allow us to walk through the grass verge at the edge, we just have to be careful not to get our tyres on the boiling tarmac because they’ll melt. It’s dark by the time we reach Bruton, to get from there to Castle Cary I take Jos on a proper Adventure Road, it’s pitch black, muddy, slippery and with high hedges either side, but we make it. Jos will regret telling me that “everything the English side of the channel is up to you”. I go to check us in and one of the locals at the bar laughs at me, it seems my front tyre has sprayed mud all over my face. The room is really cute, although, like I said, Jos has to watch out for the low beams. Not a problem for me, seeing as I am a short arse.
Distance: 107km Elevation gain: 836m
Castle Cary – TAUNTON, Wednesday 25th November
FINAL DAY OF CYCLING. I SEE MY MUMMY TODAY. Also my brother (The Stinky One), lest people think I don’t care about seeing him. Which I do. We have breakfast at the hotel, it’s included, and Jos is very excited about his full English breakfast. It comes with black pudding, which he’s never tried, when he tries it he doesn’t like it which is a score for me because I love it. Then we pack up for the last time!
Up until now the traditional English rain has held off, but it does rain today, so we stop for some lunch in Wrantage, just outside Taunton. Jos has a jacket potato, because he’s never had one of those either. Dutch people are strange. They only live across the water and they don’t eat jacket potatoes?! They do eat a lot of cheese though, which is at least a food we can agree on.
When we get to Taunton, I drag Jos around until we find one of those ‘welcome to Taunton’ signs, so I can have a photo with it. We probably cycled at least 5km more than we needed to.
And then there is yet another place that we have to go to before going home. The crematorium, where my dad’s ashes are buried. The person in whose memory I’ve been raising money. I thought about putting a picture of the headstone here, but I decided that that was a bit morbid. It should be a positive moment. So I went with this one:
And then the last 3km to home from the crematorium are all downhill. Mum later tells me she was sat on the stairs looking out the window all morning, waiting for me to arrive, and when we actually arrived she’d been persuaded to sit in the sitting for a cup of tea by my aunt. She sees us pull up through the sitting room window though, and comes to the door to give me hug. She cries. I nearly cry. That’s about the best you’ll get from me. Even Jos gets a big hug, and this is when I find out that she didn’t want me to cycle alone, because she thanks him for accompanying me home. Right now I think he might be regretting that decision, as he’s actually in quite a lot of pain.
So, I made it back to England! I was away two days short of a year. I’m already planning my next long distance cycle ride, as I think most of the people we met who have finished their rides are. And I wish safe travels and good tailwinds to all those still cycling.
My justgiving page is open until January 1st 2016, if anyone would still like to sponsor me. https://www.justgiving.com/Hannah-Bellasis/ And thanks to everyone who sponsored me, and who read this blog. When I said this was the last entry I was actually lying. There is one more blog entry I’m going to make.
And so starts the second-to-last entry in my blog. Cycle-wife and I will travel as far as Berlin together, and then I will carry on alone as far as the Netherlands. Tibi (the other Hungarian) is back in Budapest and has offered Emese and I a lift as far as Nuremberg. Something we of course say yes to. So on Saturday 24th November we pack up and set off for the last leg of our journey together.
Erdokertes – Budapest (Hungary) -Passau (Germany), Saturday 24th November
As we’re loading up our bikes in the morning, already dressed up in our cycling gear, Emese’s mum makes a comment in Hungarian that I don’t understand, but she, Geri and Luca (Emese’s brother and sister-in-law) all start laughing, so Emese tranlates it for me. Turns out her mum was pointing out how big our arses look in our padded cycling shorts. Which is pretty mean. But anyway, we say our goodbyes and set off for the 30km to Budapest, Emese leading because she knows the way. It’s slightly downhill the whole way, so we’re there long before the arrival time specified by Tibi of 1pm. He isn’t even back yet so we are let into his flat by Laura, his girlfriend (and now, I hope he won’t mind me saying, his fiance). Tibi has just finished a cycle tour with a group of Americans and has to return a van of bicycles to the Butterfield and Robinson regional office in France, hence he is able to offer us a lift. First we raid the van for everything left over from the trip that isn’t nailed down. The company supplies everything for the cyclists, but because it was October and cold none of the beers were drunk, so Tibi takes those. Emese and I get a flask each, which will be EXCELLENT for carrying hot tea. I also take a mason jar full of M&Ms, which is of course very heavy and entirely inappropriate for cycling touring, but I want it so I take it anyway. We have less weight now, because both the cooker and Tenty have been retired to Emese’s mum’s garage and will not be continuing on with us, so that’s my excuse. We put the bicycles and all our bags in the bus, say goodbye to Laura and head off, out of Hungary, through Austria and into Germany. Quite glad we didn’t have to cycle through Austria as it looked quite hilly. Emese and I also terrible passengers, we did regale Tibi with stories about our trip for a while but then we both got sleepy and took a nap. While we were initially expecting to get to Nuremberg today, Tibi ended up having to spend more time with the tour group so we left later than expected. He’s booked us into a hotel in Passau, just over the German border, that a colleague of his recommended. It’s right in the country, down some tiny country lanes shrouded in fog, so we’re all expecting to get murdered and/or totally lost, but the satnav leads us safely there, without being murdered. It also has a restaurant which appears to be a very popular spot, lots of German people eating huge plates of food and drinking large glasses of dark beer. We join in and have a huge plate of food and a large glass of beer, which makes us all very giggly, especially when Tibi asks us entirely inappropriate questions about our washing habits (or lack thereof) during our time in Central Asia.
Passau – Aufsess, Sunday 25th November
In the morning we’re up pretty early, as Tibi still has a lot of driving to do to get to France, and Emese and I also have a long day of cycling. We get breakfast at the hotel, before piling back into the van. Tibi drives us another 2 hours to a town called Lauf an der Pegnitz, which is north of Nuremberg. We get a cup of tea in a cafe there, and then we head our separate ways. Emese has arranged for us to have a couchsurfing host in a tiny village called Eichenhull, about 70km from where Tibi drops us off. There are problems though, it’s already early afternoon by the time we start, and this is now Europe in winter. The clocks have gone back. It gets dark early. And this part of Germany is quite hilly. We keep plugging away, stopping during the day to eat bread and leftover chicken that Emese’s mum has packed for us, but getting moving pretty quickly as we get cold rapidly once we’ve stopped.
However, we’re not moving fast enough to beat the encroaching darkness. We’re still 15km away from our destination when it’s pitch black. We do at least have proper lights now, as well as our high vis, but Emese still struggles to see all that well and I’m freezing, so we give up. In Aufsess Emese asks some locals for a guesthouse, it turns out we’re stood right next to one. Our first mission once unpacked and inside in the warm is to use the wifi to message our host and apologise for not making it. We have dinner in the guesthouse restaurant and then go to bed early.
Distance: 56km Elevation gain: 751m
Aufsess – Liebshutz, Monday 26th October
We’re up early because we have another long day (120km) and another couchsurfing host that we have to make it to. We get breakfast in the restaurant downstairs, pack up and head off. It’s another very hilly day, the weather starts of nicer but then goes massively downhill.
Once again we just keep plugging away, dealing with some pretty steep hills. We stop at a cafe in one of the villages along the way, for a cup of tea and some cake, and to try to warm up. That’s almost worse because then it makes it much harder to go back outside again. As the day wears on it becomes clear once again that we’re not going to make our hosts before it gets dark. We get to the town of Wurzbach, still 25km away from our hosts, but decide this time to check if they can pick us up. We have a phone number for these hosts, but no phone. Emese asks a little old lady if there is a public phone in town, and she leads us to where she thinks there might be one. On the walk she tells us that this weather is warm (Emese and I are both shivering) and that 2 weeks ago they had snow. We are appalled. Had we known that we almost certainly would not have come this way. Turns out there is no longer a phone where the lady thought there was one, so she takes us to the doctor’s surgery with her, which was where she was going when we met her. The receptionist is more than happy to let us use the phone, and even makes the call for us. Our hosts don’t have a car, but they say to wait 10 minutes, and in 10 minutes they call back to say a neighbour will come to pick us up. Within another 10 minutes the neighbour has shown up with a van, so we say goodbye to the lovely little old lady and the receptionist, and get driven the remaining 25km to our hosts. Once there it’s very apparent why our hosts don’t have a car. They live in a mostly women-only commune (the son of one of the ladies lives there, but that’s it) and they want to live entirely off the land, which means no cars. They grow all their own vegetables, makes jams and bread and so on, and have plans to get cows and sheep (when I ask who they will get to slaughter the animals one of the ladies says she will do it herself). They do come across as fairly hippy-ish, peace and love kind of thing (they ask Emese and I to join in Circle Time to share our feelings) but while I’m tempted to laugh at the beginning, once I’ve actually spent some time with them I can kind of see where they’re coming from. Not that I plan to join them or anything, but they believe in the strength of women and that the way to make the world a better place is through the care and leadership of women. And lets be honest, in most of the world men are in charge and it’s not like they’ve done an epic job. After Circle Time it’s Bed Time. For the first time in months and months, Emese and I are not sharing a room. We have our own rooms. We’re both a bit worried that we won’t sleep well without the other one, but it turns out that of course we do.
Distance: 90km Elevation gain: 1,259m
Liebshutz – Gera, Tuesday 27th October
The ladies are early risers, so even though Emese and I are up at 7am they’re already awake long before us. Breakfast is provided, and once we’ve helped with the clearing up (there are eight people living there, plus us) we pack up and head off. Instead of the steep road route I had planned for us, the ladies recommend a footpath, which is an Adventure Road, but much less steep, and runs along the river.
The weather has perked up again, and, although hilly, this part of Germany is very pretty. My one complaint (which I make a lot, and poor Emese has to put up with it) is the general shoddiness of the cycle paths in Germany. No, sorry, not the cycle paths themselves, but the signs. When you don’t need them, there are loads, but when you do, there are none to be found and you end up cycling round in a circle, trying to find the correct route. We get there, but I complain about it a lot. We have more hosts in Gera, couchsurfing hosts, which Emese has to mentally prepare herself for, because this couple, while super lovely, don’t speak English, so all the talking is down to Emese. Once again it’s a long, hilly day, and it’s dark by the time we reach Gera. Google maps is not working, all we know is that our hosts live near the final stop of one of the metro lines. We find the end of the metro line as soon as we cycle into the city, but of course the end we want is the OTHER end. We follow it through the city, uphill all the way, and arrive later than expected (always) but welcomed warmly. They really don’t speak any English so all the talking does fall to Emese, which is pretty tiring for her. Apparently I live up to stereotypical expectations though, as the only thing our hosts remember being taught at school about English people is that they love to drink lots of tea, and they drink it with milk. Happy to oblige.
Distance: 78km Elevation gain: 957m
Gera – Leipzig, Wednesday 28th October
After all the hills we’ve cycled since we left Nuremberg, we’ve finally hit the flatter part of Germany. We have another long day to get to Leipzig, and the three girls we met at Hotel Harry in Athens, Sophie, Rebecca and Marie. Sophie has kindly offered to put us up, so we have to get there today. It’s mostly flat, so not so bad, but the signs for the cycle paths are even worse than usual, so we do end up going round in circles a couple of times. Just outside Leipzig we cycle through a forest and there are thousands of different cycle paths, all with no signposts, so we have to stop regularly so Emese can ask for directions. As usual, we arrive late in Leipzig. Thankfully Sophie is still home, although she does live on the fourth floor of her apartment building and there’s no lift, so all of our belongings have to get carried up the stairs. We go out for Turkish food, and then Rebecca and Marie come over and we sit in Sophie’s apartment, chatting and drinking lots of tea.
Distance: 92km Elevation gain: 278m
Leipzig – Lutherstadt Wittenberg, Thursday 29th October
Leipzig is very easy to cycle out of because there are lots of cycle paths, and these ones are actually well signposted. Once outside of Leipzig it’s back to guessing the right route, sometimes having to double back on ourselves. The weather is pretty grim, and it’s very foggy.
It’s very cold, so we stop for lunch somewhere warm. It’s a small cafe in the town of Bad Duben, it does seasonal food, so this being the end of October it’s all pumpkin-based. Emese and I have a pumpkin burger each, which is really nice, but we could both have eaten at least three more of them. Once again it’s already dark by the time we cycle into Wittenberg, but at least our warm showers host Johannes is not expecting us until later (for a change). We are about 2 kms from his apartment when a man cycles up to us and asks if we are staying with a Johannes, so we say yes, and he says he is Johannes. He’s just on his way home from work, we just happened to meet him. When we get back (he also lives on the fourth floor with no lift) the first thing he does is offer us a drink, we both ask for tea. He doesn’t have any mugs, so he makes us both a bowl of tea which is just perfect.
We’re both really tired so we are the worst guests ever and ask to go to bed at 8pm. Johannes has a sofa bed in his combined bedroom/sitting room, so by us requesting to go to bed early it means he has to as well. At least, he lies on his bed and reads a book.
Distance: 85km Elevation gain: 254m
Lutherstadt Wittenburg – Berlin, Friday 30th October
And so starts the last day of cycling together with Emese. Johannes has to leave at 6am for work, so he’s up at 5am. We get up at the same time, he heads off and we shut the doors behind us when we leave at 6:30am. It’s still dark when we leave, which is just depressing, but at least we have lights now. We edge closer and closer to Berlin, we barely stop for any breaks, we can just feel it getting nearer and nearer. We’re headed for Emese’s friend Rachel’s apartment, and, once we get into the city, the cycle paths are amazing. Of course it’s still dark by the time we get there, even though we left so early and it wasn’t very hilly. As we pull into Rachel’s street Strava tells me we’ve done 99km. I tell Emese we should cycle round in a circle until we hit 100km so that on our last day of cycling together we can say we did 100km. Emese is not having any of it, and after doing one loop up and down the street I give up too. Rachel and her 7 month old daughter also live on the fourth floor with no lift, so I should really be conserving my energy for dragging all my stuff up the stairs. Emese’s other friends, Lotse (I have possibly spelt that wrong) and Denis, come over for dinner, and happily lots of food is presented to us. Also wine, which we manage about a glass of before getting giggly.
Distance: 99km Elevation gain: 417m
Berlin REST DAYS, Saturday 31st October – Monday 2nd November
Our days are spent hanging out with Rachel and her daughter, as well as Lotse and Denis. I make plans to get the train to Hanover, from where I will cycle to Dusseldorf. Three days of cycling on my own. Not sure what I’m going to do without cycle wife. I try to get my bike fixed (it’s just generally falling apart) but I leave it until the day before I leave so of course the bike shop is too busy. A lot of tea is drunk and a lot of food consumed, and not a lot is done. An excellent few days.
We are SO CLOSE to Hungary, Emese’s home, and so much food. All the Hungarian food that Emese has been going on about for the past year. She’s looking forward to seeing her family, and I’m looking forward to being fed by her family. Not many of the family speak English, and my Hungarian is pretty minimal (although I’ve learnt the words for hello, mum, dad, dog, cat, kitty, cheers, yes, no, fart, several words for poo, and a word that isn’t very rude in Hungarian but doesn’t translate well that involves doing something bad to a horse) so this could be interesting. Just have to get through the rest of Serbia first. It is entirely flat, as is most of Hungary (Carpathian basin), but the weather is also crappy.
Belgrade – Elemir, Saturday 10th October
As expected, and longed for, the road entirely flattens out after Belgrade. There are almost no hills at all, even tiny ones. It’s a bit of a mission to get out of Belgrade, because there’s only really one bridge going north over the Danube, and it’s basically a motorway, so us being there is not ideal. Doesn’t help either when we miss our junction, so we have to back up against the traffic, and then wait for a gap so we can cross to other side of the slip road. The road is quite busy to start with but soon quietens down. As the day progresses the weather gets worse, and by the time we arrive in Elemir it’s really cold and drizzling quite heavily. We’ve amazingly managed to find a warm showers host in this tiny little village. He sent us his address and we located it on google maps, which is handy because there don’t appear to be any street signs. Useful. We head straight to what we think is the right street, go through the gate and knock on the door. It looks very much like a farm, which we’re not expecting, so we’re a bit dubious. We have to knock a couple of times before a man answers the door. We ask for Nikola, our host, but this guy just replies in a stream of Serbian. It’s evident we’re in the wrong place and he doesn’t know any Nikola, so I show him the address, written on my phone, and he points us four streets further down. Luckily Serbian is a slavic language and close enough to Russian for us to grasp what he’s telling us. We cycle off, turn down the 4th street (still no street signs) and knock on number 94. We’re finally in the right place. Nikola speaks some English, but later on his friend Gyula comes over whose parents were Hungarian. He and Nikola speak Serbian, Gyula translates into Hungarian for Emese, who then translates into English for me. We get quite a good conversation going this way. This part of Serbia used to be part of Hungary (they lost it after the Second World War, because they supported Hitler. Emese says Hungary has a bad habit of picking the wrong side in wars) so there are lots of Hungarian-speaking people around here. Although Emese says Gyula tends to speak Serbian with everyone, so his version of Hungarian is pretty archaic and quite funny to listen to. Nikola goes out to get us pizza for dinner. The shower is hot and amazing, although the house is freezing anywhere there isn’t a shower.
Distance: 88km Elevation gain: 46m
Elemir – Senta, Sunday 11th October
The bed we’re staying in has heavy duty blankets and they’re so warm and comfortable it’s almost impossible to get out of bed. It looks dreary outside, and by the time we’ve had breakfast (sausage, eggs, tomatoes, peppers, bread) provided by Nikola’s wife (who refuses to eat anything herself) it has cleared up a little bit. Nikola confirms our route, and then we set off. Just like yesterday, we don’t see any people walking around. It’s a weirdly empty village. It’s just flat fields the whole day. The weather gets more miserable again.
I accidentally cycle over a worm and immediately get spray in my face from my front tyre, so I’m pretty sure I just got a mouthful of squished worm. By the time we reach Senta it’s nearly dark again, and google maps has stopped working properly. No roads are showing up, I only have the blue dot (representing us) and the red pin (representing where we need to go) to work with, so we do end up going around in a small circle before we find our host Djordje’s house. Djordje is a great host, we are immediately offered tea and a shower, so Emese has tea while I shower and then we swap. He also has a great dog who is initially terrified of us. Apparently he finds bicycles quite scary, as he seems to think of Emese and I as some horrifying bicycle/person hybrid when we first walk in, but of course he turns out to be a total softy later on.
Djordje takes us out for dinner (Emese and I both have cheese fondue and it’s awesome) and then to show us the pottery studio his family owns, and where he works. He shows us some of his work, and tells us we can help ourselves to the newly-made cups, bowls and plates that are lining the shelves. Emese and I look enviously at them, they’re beautiful, but are just too heavy to be carrying on the bicycle.
Djordje’s house is so lovely and warm, and Emese and I have a lovely sofa bed in the living room.
Distance: 84km Elevation gain: 22m
Senta (Serbia) – Szeged (HUNGARY!!), Monday 12th October
Djordje has to go to work in the morning, but he leaves us to sleep in, he tells us just to message him when we want to leave, as his pottery studio is only just around the corner. We leave about 10am and head north, only 40km to the border between Serbia and Hungary. Djordje is another Serbian and Hungarian speaker, he even has both passports, another sign that we are ever-so-close to home for Emese. Even the crappy weather can’t dampen our spirits as we edge closer to the border. I keep a look out for this big fence that Hungary is supposed to be building, to keep the refugees out, but there’s no sign of it this far east (we’re crossing at Tiszasziget, a small border crossing to the east of Roszke, one of the major ones). There’s no one at the border crossing, except for a very few bored guards. When we get to the sign for Hungary we have to wait five minutes for a car to come the other way so someone can take a picture of us.
It’s only 10km to Szeged and our host, Marci, who is a friend of Emese’s brother and sister-in-law. He’s still at work so we hang out in a cafe, basically sitting on the radiators, until we know he will be home. He cooks us an amazing dinner, and then Emese and I have an actual bed to share. As usual, she gets her sleeping bag out so even if I steal all the duvet she won’t get cold.
Distance: 52km Elevation gain: 43m
Szeged – Martfu, Tuesday 13th October
We have a pretty long day today, and we know we do, but for some reason we still don’t move very fast in the morning. By the time we’ve eaten breakfast, packed up and cycled to Marci’s work to give him back the key it’s already 11am. The first thing we do once we’ve said goodbye is stop at a convenience store. I promised Emese the first thing I would do when we entered Hungary was buy her a Turorudi, which is an amazing Hungarian chocolate with cottage cheese inside. It sounds gross, but it’s amazing. And when we got to Hungary yesterday we totally forgot, so this morning I am rectifying that and I bought both Cycle-wife and I a Turorudi.
After that it’s flat road and avoiding highways, which we know we’re DEFINITELY not allowed to cycle on now. Even though it’s flat it’s slow going, I think we’re cold and a bit tired, so it gets dark long before we arrive at Emese’s aunt and uncle’s house. We still don’t have any lights, and my iPhone dies so I don’t even have that to illuminate us. The only thing preventing us from getting hit is the high vis jackets given to us by the Turkish boys, Soner, Yusuf and Sadi, that we met in Georgia. It’s basically a lifesaver, as it’s the only thing lighting us up as we cycle in the pitch black. Definitely not ideal, and something we don’t want to repeat. Once we get to Martfu Emese remembers the way to her aunt’s house, even though it’s years since she’s been there and she’s only been by train before. Once we get there it’s a massive relief. Her family were getting a little worried about us, as they had expected us to arrive a lot earlier. The first thing that happens, as soon as we’ve unloaded the bikes, is that Emese’s aunt insists we have a shot of palinka. For those of you that don’t know palinka, it’s a very strong Hungarian alcohol, made with fruit, the one I’ve had most often is made from plums. It’s lethal. It does warm us up a bit though. We’re then fed a tonne of food, before Emese’s uncle asks if we will come to his primary school and do a presentation tomorrow, before cycling to Emese’s granny. This responsibility will all fall on Emese, as none of the kids speak much English. I’ll just be there, looking a bit of a lemon. Emese is pretty tired so she just agrees without giving it much thought.
Distance: 100km Elevation gain: 55m
Martfu – Szolnak, Wednesday 14th October
The next morning it appears that we (Emese) haven’t just been signed up for giving a talk to a class or two, it’s actually going to be to the entire primary school. Over 100 kids I think. Of course poor Emese still has to do all of this, I don’t think my words of Hungarian are going to be much use. Although afterwards the kids are encouraged to practice their English and ask me a few questions in English. They’re pretty generic ones, and one of them is “What’s you favourite animal?” so of course I say “Cica”, which is KITTY in Hungarian, and that gets quite a big laugh. That was my contribution. That and picking out photos of the various toilets to show the kids on the big screen and giggling to myself. The presentation lasts about an hour and the kids are fascinated. Afterwards Emese tells me that the kids were told that two people were coming to talk to them about a big cycle trip they’d done halfway across the world. The kids assumed we’d be boys. NOPE. I just have the hair. Afterwards we’re free to cycle to Emese’s granny, who thankfully only lives 15km away. When we get there she’s already got food on the go (she gives us a half a duck each and a mountain of rice) and is in the process of making two different kinds of Hungarian cake for us.
We spend the rest of the day eating and enjoying the warmth. We are very privileged because Granny has actually put the heating on. Emese says she is normally the kind of Granny who won’t ever put the heating on. Even if there was a blizzard and 10 feet of snow she’d normally just tell you to put another jumper on. One of Emese’s cousins also shows up. He looks mournfully at us as we dig into our food. He is on a diet and so won’t eat anything, although Granny spends the whole two hours he’s there trying to press food on him, while also commenting on how big he’s getting, so he just can’t win. I also get to meet an uncle, who apparently tells very funny stories, but as they’re all in Hungarian I unfortunately can’t understand. Granny sees me drinking tea with milk and tries it (most people drink black tea here). I gather from her reaction that she deems it passable.
Szolnak – Godollo, Thursday 15th October
We have another long day, but it’s so hard to leave Emese’s granny that of course we’re later leaving than we want to be. She packs us off with food for lunch, which is essentially just cake.
It’s more flat road and grey skies. Of course it’s once again dark by the time we arrive in Godollo, to stay with Geri and Luca, Emese’s brother and sister-in-law. They’re waiting in a pub for us, but we’re about two hours later than we planned. Emese knows Godollo pretty well, so we’re nearly there when I round a corner and come face to face with a couple looking at me a bit oddly, like they’re trying to recognise me. I think this might be Geri and Luca, and of course when Emese follows me around the corner she confirms that it is. At their flat we have tea, and then dinner (desert is first), before going to sleep on a lovely comfy sofa bed.
Godollo – Erdokertes, Friday 16th October
Geri goes to work early the next day, but Luca has the day off, so she, Emese and I squish on the sofa bed and watch movies all day, including The Little Mermaid. In Hungarian. But that’s ok, because I’ve seen it so many times I know the words off by heart anyway. Late in the afternoon we pack up for the final 11km to Emese’s hometown and her mum.
Her mum is at work, in the village kindergarten, so we cycle there to meet her. As we cycle into Erdokertes, someone driving the other way honks at us, and Emese recognises her dad, who is back from working in Kazakhstan. Once we’re back at their house it’s obviously palinka time, followed by food time, followed by laundry and then nap time.
Erdokertes REST DAYS, Saturday 17th – Friday 23rd October
The week passes by in a blur of food and palinka. Emese’s friends throw a party, a welcome home for her and a welcome to Hungary for me. Of course I spend the whole of the next day with a terrible hangover.
Some of Emese’s friends and family speak English, and obviously Emese often translates for me, but it doesn’t really matter that much as I am happy to listen or zone out while people are speaking Hungarian around me. Everyone is very welcoming and super lovely though, so I’m quite content. It’s my fault that I don’t speak Hungarian, not the other way around. On Tuesday Emese’s friend Zoli has arranged for us (Emese) to give a presentation about our trip in the village hall. Emese talks for 4 hours, and she still probably could have talked for longer. We spend a night with her sister Fruszi and her boyfriend in Budapest, and then the next night with her friend Sara. In the day we wander around the city, which is very pretty.
Fruszi’s yoga instructor also works in the art museum in the palace so we’re able to sneak in the staff door and have a wander around.
Tibi (the other Hungarian from the beginning of the trip!) is back working for a company called Butterfield and Robinson, who do cycle tours. He has to return a van full of bicycles to France from Budapest, so he offers to drive us through Austria to Nuremberg in Germany. Of course we say yes to this offer. Then Emese and I will cycle together as far as Berlin, where we will say goodbye, and I will continue on to England alone!!
So, we’re still in Greece and it’s still only the end of September. However, pretty much the second we leave Thessaloniki, winter is no longer just coming, it’s almost arrived. I also have to apologise, the crap weather didn’t really make me want to take photos, so there aren’t a lot…..
Thessaloniki – Kilkis, Monday 28th September
We make the effort to set an alarm and get up early, something we haven’t done in a long time, so we can take our (now very smelly) clothes to the laundrette before we leave, because we were too lazy to handwash them. We get there at 9:30am, the lady says she can have them clean and ready at 11:30am. So we go for a bakery product breakfast, then head back to Giorgios place to collect our bikes and the rest of our stuff, say goodbye to him (as well as the crazy lady who also just seems to live there and is very angry all the time, we mostly just avoided her) and head back to the laundrette. Our laundry is still not quite finished, it will be another hour, so we go to a coffee shop around the corner. We’ve been there about half an hour when the heavens open again and it gets cold (winter has arrived). We wait another hour for the rain to ease off before collecting our laundry (my waterproof jacket is being washed because it got caught up in the minor jam explosion from Athens and I hadn’t previously noticed, didn’t want to get soaked). On the plus side our cycling gear is now nice and warm because it has just come out of the dryer. We change and start to cycle out of town, it’s already 2pm by this point. We had hoped to get 70km done today, but we’ll just have to see how it goes. Of course, there’s only one way when leaving the sea, and that’s uphill. We end up cycling up a massive hill, which we would not have had to do if we could’ve just cycled along the motorway. We can see the motorway far below us, from the crest of the hill as we cycle over it. It also continually rains on and off, meaning we have to play musical raincoats, as well as contending with a 26kmh headwind. We wanted to get to Macedonia today but by 5pm we’re knackered so we admit defeat and decide to go to Kilkis and find a hotel. It still takes us another hour to get to because it’s up another hill. We find one hotel but we don’t even bother to check the price, it’s clearly way too expensive for us. We’re stood looking about when a lady in a car pulls over and asks us if we need help. Her name is Zoe, she tells us to go to a certain hotel and quote her name and they will give us a discount (she works with Syrian refugees, which I don’t think we could pass as, but possibly they will assume we’re volunteers). At the hotel they have no idea who this Zoe is, but the room price is still reasonable so we take it anyway. We have souvlaki for dinner before making a very satisfactory trip to the candy shop we saw on the way into town (for emergency purposes only, of course).
Distance: 51km, Elevation gain: 687m
Kilkis (Greece) – Strumica (Macedonia), Tuesday 29th September
Last night was cold and horrible, when we wake up in the morning it is much the same. We have breakfast at the hotel, because we’re feeling lazy, and we stuff ourselves with all the cereal, toast, cheese and processed meats we are physically able to, to make sure we get our money’s worth. Then we also take lots of pots of butter, jam, cream cheese and triangles of cheese and sneak them out in our pockets, for a later date. We pack up and head off, into another 26kmh headwind and a very ominously cloudy day, but thankfully the rain holds off, it’s just cold and windy. It’s uphill to the border, next to a lake, but no refugees as it’s one of the quieter crossings. A few lorries but that’s about it.
We’re checked out of Greece without a word being exchanged. At the Macedonian border the guy sees Emese’s passport and just says “Orban. Bad guy.” This is of course right about the time that Viktor Orban, the prime minister of Hungary, is setting up the fence around Hungary so the refugees can’t get in. He’s clearly not making any friends in much of Eastern Europe either. In the village of Star Borjan we stop at the ‘best’ (only) restaurant in town, because our food bag currently only contains stolen pots and a big bag of candy. The sweet little old man who owns the restaurant makes us delicious kebabs, and when we ask for chai after, because we’re cold, he doesn’t have any so he goes out specially to the shop to buy mint tea. We feel bad as when we try to pay we only have big notes (we just went to the cash machine) so he basically has to empty his change box for us. Long downhill, big steep uphill and then a long downhill into Sturmica. Stop in a coffee shop to use the wifi and find our host (Emese found one even though all our planning got messed up). We go to meet him at 6:30pm and it’s already dark. Bojan shows us around where we’re staying, basically the back of a shop, and then leaves us to it. Not sure where he goes, possibly the first floor, but we’re quite content, even though there is no shower.
Distance: 76km, Elevation gain: 1,102m
Strumica – Sveti Nikole, Wednesday 30th September
Set the alarm for 8am but it takes a good few hits of the snooze button before either Emese or I find the strength to move, we’re both still pretty tired from the two days of strong headwind and the devastating realisation that winter in Europe is actually upon us. The weather seemed to turn as soon as we left Thessaloniki, it was fast and we are totally unprepared for it, physically and mentally. Just a few days ago we were getting sunburnt on Greek islands! Stupid winter. We have to try to do 80km today though, to make up for some of the distance we lost. The fact we are pushing ourselves so much is entirely my fault, because I want to be somewhere where I can watch the rugby on Saturday. We have no idea where Bojan is, so we buy breakfast from the shop across the road. He has just told us to message him an hour before we leave so he can get the key back. We’re eating our breakfast in the little kitchen when Bojan’s mum shows up, and brings us another breakfast. Second breakfast! We plan to save that for lunch. So after first breakfast we leave Strumica, a long steady uphill is followed by a really nice, long downhill. We eat second breakfast/first lunch in a field near the top of the next big hill. We make it to Sveti Nikole in the early evening, we didn’t find a hotel online but assume there must be one (we’re now too wussy to camp, what with winter being here). We ask some policeman doing spot roadchecks and they pack us off, following a local in his car to the one motel in town. It looks a bit grim from the outside but is perfectly fine inside. The waiter at the downstairs restaurant speaks English, he shows us the room and says we should carry our bikes up the stairs to the landing, where they’ll be safer. When we groan loudly at this suggestion he laughs and tells us he will help us, which he duly does. We go out for dinner (another healthy fast food restaurant, there seem to be lots in Macedonia. Also, the outfit of choice for 90% of the people here is a full tracksuit. It’s like the Eastern European version of Liverpool around here) and buy bakery products and bread for breakfast.
Distance: 89km, Elevation gain: 556m
Sveti Nikole (Macedonia) – Samoljica (Serbia), Thursday 1st October
When we get up I head downstairs to ask for tea, there seem to be only two waiters here, the one who speaks English isn’t around but the other one understands what I want and indicates he will bring it up to us. I go back upstairs and he follow shortly, with two mint teas (black tea seems almost impossible to get in Macedonia) and a plate of grapes. It’s finally a sunny day, although it’s definitely winter sun so not very warm.
Once packed up we head out of town and climb steadily for 16km, but this is followed by 12km of lovely downhill. At Kumanovo we decide to hit the motorway, as we’ve been cycling alongside it for a while and keeping an eye on it, and it’s mostly empty. There are backroads in deepest darkest Somerset that see more traffic than this ‘motorway’. It’s also the only direct route to the border and we can’t be bothered faffing about with country lanes. About 7km from the border we stop for lunch at a truck stop, it’s just us and a whole load of male truckers who all seem to know each other. It’s probably worth pointing out that, although this was at the height of the refugee crisis, Emese and I really didn’t see any. We did stick to the smaller checkpoints, which may have had something to do with it. We saw one group of five guys carrying sleeping bags who looked of definite middle Eastern extraction walking along the road in Serbia, but that was it. One of the truckers at the truck stop recommends us a dish for lunch so we go for it, it turns out to be a stick of meat, stuffed with meat and then wrapped up in more meat. It’s amazing, but as always we eat way too fast and feel sick, because as usual we’ve waited until we’re starving to stop for lunch. We manage to use up all our Macedonian dinar before heading over the border, so that worked out well. We cycle to the border, still no sign of any refugees. This checkpoint is bigger than the one we used between Greece/Macedonia, but is still not the biggest one, which is about 40km west of here, north of Skopje. Our route planning of “cycling along the motorway until someone tells us we can’t be here or it gets too busy” works out well and gets us into Serbia. The guys at the border look at us a bit oddly but no one says anything. We actually get a stamp in our passports coming into Serbia. We cycle for another hour before thinking about finding some food and a campsite. We leave the motorway and join the old, smaller road that runs alongside it. We spot a village in the distance and think about checking for a shop for breakfast, but before we get there we reach a motel in the middle of nowhere. We decide to give up on camping (wussy) and get a room, hoping that it doesn’t turn into the hotel from The Shining (it doesn’t, but it’s a huge place and we are definitely the only guests).
Distance: 72km, Elevation gain: 659m
Samoljica – Leskovac, Friday 2nd October
When we get up it’s Emese’s turn to go get tea, it’s not delivered to our room this time so she reappears with two mint teas, as there’s apparently also no black tea in Serbia. We haven’t got any food for breakfast, so we head off about 9:30am, we’ve only gone about 5km when we meet a group of men working by the side of the road. One starts speaking to me in German, I can just about explain that I don’t speak German but Emese does, so we wait for her to catch up. When she arrives they have the usual chat about the bike trip and then he tells her that there’s a small shop in a town about 3km further on, but we’ll have to hunt for it a bit. So we thank him and cycle on, in the village we see people walking back from somewhere carrying bags of bread, so there must be somewhere to buy it. We do have to hunt around a little bit before spotting a small shop. It looks closed so we’re stood on the road peering in when the door opens and a guy sticks his head out and asks “Looking for something?” so we say “Bread”, and he says “Come” in a very grandiose voice and waves us into the shop. We buy bread and pain au chocolat, which we eat with some of the stolen pots on a bench outside. Then we hit the road again, cycling along a small lane running right next to the main highway, although the ‘highway’ is just two lanes, one in either direction, and we even see two cyclists on it. One is definitely a tourer, he has 4 pannier bags, but the other guy doesn’t have any. Instead of panniers, he has a superman cape. I would rather be wearing a superman cape than carrying 4 panniers and a waterproof bag, but I’d probably be a bit miserable when it came to camping. We also see loads and loads of tanks drive past us, later on we see them pulled over and we never figure out where they’re going, they look like they’re prepping for an invasion. The road is pretty flat all day, even a part that we thought might be hilly (squiggly road on the map) runs through a valley, so it’s a very easy day. We stop for lunch in a restaurant in a place called Vladicin Han. Emese has goulash and then spends a lot of time complaining that it wasn’t like Hungarian goulash, even though she knew before she ordered it that it wouldn’t be the same, and I had told her she couldn’t order it if she was then going to complain that it wasn’t Hungarian goulash. We end up cycling on the ‘highway’ because the road next to it just stops suddenly, as they often seem to do. But it’s only one lane and we pass a usual police checkpoint where nobody says anything. We cycle past the town of Lescovac and we see a sign for a shop, so we plan to stop there for dinner and breakfast food before finding a place to camp. We’re under the impression that the shop is on the highway, but we cycle for the 2km the sign mentions and don’t see a shop, in fact there are nothing but fields. We assume the sign meant that the shop is actually in town, whereas we just skirted it. It’s getting dark so we give up on our plan for camping and go to a hostel that’s advertised on another sign by the side of the road. We stop of at a supermarket to buy dinner food and then go to the hostel. We don’t have to go to bed too early because we only have 40km to do tomorrow.
Distance: 105km, Elevation gain: 750m
Lescovac – Nis, Saturday 3rd October
When we get up Emese is not feeling great again, but she’s hungry so she risks breakfast and then we just stop at a pharmacy on the way out of town. The road to Nis is pretty much flat, except right at the end there is a stupidly big hill we have to get over. No one wants to host us so Emese looked for a cheap hostel, however when we get there it turns out to be a regular apartment block. So then we have to head back up the hill to get to a hostel recommended by a local, and the hill is steep, this town is like the Serbian version of Trabzon. We’re lead most of the way by a taxi driver who stops to offer help. It’s a proper hostel, so we’re in a dorm room, but we have the entire place to ourselves once again. And it has possibly the best shower I’ve ever had in my life. We have supplies of food in the food bag, so instead of going out we just eat that. We spend the afternoon writing, and I hunt for ways to watch the rugby without having to go outside, because it’s really cold and miserable out there, and dark by 6pm. Both Emese and I bring our duvets down and hide under them. Somehow I manage to find a way to steam the game through ITV player on my phone, so I’m feeling pretty pleased with myself. At least, I am until we lose, and of course that dumps us out of the world cup. So my mood is pretty much ruined, there’s nothing else to do except take my duvet back upstairs and hide under it until tomorrow.
Distance: 46km, Elevation gain: 210m
Nis REST DAYS, Sunday 4th – Monday 5th October
When we arrived at the hostel yesterday and checked our messages we discovered we had a message from a couchsurfing host, he hadn’t received our message until late but told us we were more than welcome to stay if we still wanted to. We had already checked in by that point, but he says we’re more than welcome to stay for the remaining two nights. Milan sends us his address, so after we check out we cycle down the hill to the centre of Nis and find his house pretty easily, but when we knock on the door there’s no response. A man from the floor below sticks his head out of the window, but when we ask for Milan he just shakes his head and disappears again. After waiting half an hour we decide to go get a coffee and find wifi so we can find out what happened to him. Turns out he was just running late and the man who stuck his head out of the ground floor window was his dad, and he was shaking his head to say that Milan wasn’t there, not that he didn’t know a Milan. So Milan comes to the coffee shop to meet us and the escorts us back to the house, pointing out places along the way where shrapnel from the war has left marks and telling us how the house we’re staying in was nerdy flattened by a bomb. Where we’re staying is actually Milan’s grandmother’s house, there is an apartment on the first floor which is basically just for couch surfers. Milan lives across town with his parents, his dad just happened to be there looking after the grandmother. So we get the apartment to ourselves, although Milan has another surfer arriving later that afternoon. Milan buys beer (early afternoon drinking will finish us off) and we walk up the road to the bus station to meet Karlina, the other surfer, and eat a huge amount of meat (chicken wrapped in bacon in a pita). Milan then has some errands to run so we three guests head back to the apartment and hang out there. On Monday Milan is at work so the three of us go for a wander to find postcards, then we stop off in a bakery and buy huge amounts of baked goods (introducing Karlina to the disgustingness of our diet) and take them to the fortress to eat. We use the toilets there, and the male attendant even goes so far as to direct us to a specific stall, which is not something we’ve experienced before. We go home via the supermarket so we can buy food for Emese to make dinner. Milan comes over after work and we have dinner, then we make a move to go to some hot springs. First we go downstairs to say hi to Milan’s dad and grandmother, and return the cooking oil that Emese borrowed. Milan’s dad has obviously been informed about us all, he points to each one in turn and says where we’re from (instead of America, Karlina is from Australia). I’m last, and after saying England he adds “But you’re also a boy I think?” then laughs heartily and tussles my hair like I’m actually a 5 year old boy. Sigh. I like it how it is at the moment, but it is pretty short (since returning home, two very good friends have told me I’m not allowed to come to their wedding in 2017 unless I ‘look like a girl’, which basically means growing my hair back). The hot springs are more of a hot stream, but they’re great until it starts to rain a bit and we have to hide in the tunnel that the water runs from, all huddled up. We stop for cake and beer on the way home, turns out it’s not a bad combo. Milan drops us off and says goodbye, he will go to his other home and we won’t see him again because we leave tomorrow.
Nis – 5km N of Cupric, Tuesday 6th October
We get up in the morning and have breakfast with Karlina, then she goes out to do tourist stuff before her bus to Sofia in Bulgaria this afternoon. We pack up and head out of town. The road is flat so we make good time and weather is nice so it’s a really pleasant day, although not much happens. We buy sandwiches in a petrol station and go to sit in the sun to eat them. We sit on what turns out to be the lid of a tank, one of the guys runs out waving his arms wildly, wanting us to move. As it’s getting colder we decide we’ll have one more night in Tenty before retiring him. We have places to stay every night in Hungary, and Tenty won’t be coming with us to Germany (too cold), he’ll be having a quiet retirement in Emese’s mum’s garage, so our last night of camping has to be in Serbia. It’s due to rain tomorrow, so today it is. We planned to do 80km today, so as soon as we’ve done that we start looking for a place to camp, preferably near the river we’ve been cycling beside. We see a gravel track that runs off the road along the river, so we take it. There are a few cars parked up, seems to be a popular place for fishing. We find a flat spot a little way away from the river, we’re within hearing distance of a man in his fishing hut playing Serbian music, but he only waves at us and later he leaves in his car. It’s dark at 6:15pm, so that’s our bedtime.
Distance: 94km, Elevation gain: 505m
5km N of Cuprija – Smederevo, Wednesday 7th October
When we wake up at 8am winter has definitely arrived.It’s grey, cold and very miserable. We eat breakfast and pack up. The second we pick up our bicycles to start cycling it starts to rain. Not hard, just the kind of drizzly rain mostly associated with English summers. Turns out they have it in Europe in winter too. It continues all day. We stop for lunch in a cafe in the middle of nowhere, there’s a power cut but the owner assures us the grill still works. We have chababi (small grilled sausages) with chai. There’s way too much meat, even for us, which is pretty much a first, so we have to take it with us. When we leave the owner gives us a bottle of water each, he’s a very nice man. When we unwrap our chababi for dinner later we find he has put the sausages in a bread roll and made us each a sandwich. The rest of the day continues much the same, flat roads and crappy weather. After 70km we start to look for a hotel, but we pass through a number of biggish towns without seeing anything. When we stop to ask someone they tell us Smederevo, another 15km further on. It’s nearly dark, but we also don’t really want to camp (pansies), so we plough on. We don’t have lights so I use the light on my iPhone to at least illuminate us so we don’t get hit by passing cars, although the street lights here are pretty good. Once in town, we ask a guy for help, he gives us directions in Italian, which neither of us speak, however we think we can figure out what he’s saying. Turns out we can’t and we get lost. As we’re stood looking around a guy on a bicycle pulls up, he doesn’t speak English but he leads us to a hostel. The man who runs it is quite unfriendly (his grasp of English doesn’t help, he only knows the infinitives of verbs so everything comes across as an order) and he doesn’t help us carry our bags inside or our bikes down the stairs, just stands and watches. Leftover chababi and an early bed.
Distance: 98km, Elevation gain: 440m
Smederevo – Belgrade, Thursday 8th October
This hotel has a stupidly early checkout time of 10am, so we set the alarm for 9am, knowing we’ll only just about be ready to go within this hour, but we still won’t have had breakfast as we don’t have any food. We also have to carry our bikes back up the stairs to street level and then pack up, we leave just after 10am. It’s cold and miserable and already spitting with rain by the time we leave. But we cycle down the hill and immediately come across a bakery with seats inside, so we hibernate inside for half an hour in the warmth and have breakfast. Soon we have no excuse not to move, so we head back outside to the cold. The rain continues all the way to Belgrade. The past two days have been pretty flat, but today we have 3 big-ish hills we have to get over. They’re all about 7km uphill and back down again the other side. In the grand scheme of this trip they’re not huge hills, but they just seem to take forever, probably because it’s cold, raining, and headwindy, so we’re already miserable. Once we enter Belgrade it’s all downhill to the cheap hostel we picked out. Emese messaged almost the entire couchsurfing list for Belgrade, but no one wanted to host us. Gits. After a shower and chai in the hostel we feel nearly human again. A trip to McDonalds and we’re totally human again.
Distance: 47km Elevation gain: 599m
Belgrade REST DAY, Friday 9th October
We want to sleep forever in the morning, but the problem with staying in a dorm is that people tend to get moving early. We still sleep pretty late and then have breakfast. We finish off this thing called teperte that we bought, Emese found it in a shop, they have something similar in Hungary (of course). It’s basically like pork scratchings, except less crunchy and with more fat. It’s basically pure fat. Heart attack food and it’s amazing. We spend most of the day hibernating, although we do force ourselves to go outside for a walk around the castle for an hour (which is very pretty) and buy food for dinner.
I have reached my fundraising goal, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still sponsor me if you would like to! And massive, massive thanks to everyone who has already sponsored me! https://www.justgiving.com/Hannah-Bellasis/
We are finally back in Europe! And everything is as expensive as you would expect. Even more so to us in comparison to where we’ve come from. But it’s ok because the weather is still nice and Greece is very pretty.
Athens – Neochoraki, Saturday 19th September
We set the alarm for 8am but get up at 10am. We cook lots of eggs for breakfast and drink as much tea as is humanly possible before we have to leave. As we pack up Harry and the girls are very impressed by how well everything fits into our pannier bags. I had a minor jam explosion in one of mine, so I had to empty it in order to clean it, and stuff was spread out all over the room. Makes it look like there’s much more stuff than can fit in the bag. But after all this time Emese and I are expert packers now. We finish packing and say goodbye to everyone before cycling out of Athens. It’s on the coast, so there’s pretty much only one way we can go: uphill. We start climbing almost straight away and carries on for about 30km. It’s not a bad gradient but Emese and I are both having trouble with our knees, so it’s slow going. At the top we stop for a break and eat some figs that Emese picked off a tree, they’re nice and ripe.
Shorter downhill the other side onto a long plateau, we stop in a tiny village for some food. In the only cafe in the village we have the only thing we can understand the lady telling us, which is ‘tost’. So we have a ham and cheese toastie each, and then have to go back and ask the lady for two more, because one is nowhere big enough. It’s only two pieces of bread!! We leave and keep cycling, taking some vaguely adventure roads which are just gravel, because we’re not sure what roads we can cycle on in Greece. In Turkey and before we cycled on anything from motorways down, and no one cared, but we have a feeling it might not be the same in Europe.
Our route is a very scenic one though, despite all the solar panels and wind farms. At least the Greeks are making an effort with renewable energy.
We make friends with 3 of the cutest dogs ever. Tempted again to steal them, but it appears they have an owner.
Just as it’s getting dark we pull out of the adventure road onto a bigger road, buy snacks in a small village shop and then cycle just outside it to find a campsite. Our first choice is way too lumpy, even for us, so we have to push our bikes back out of the clearing and further up the track to camp on the outskirts of a field.
Distance: 64km, Elevation gain: 1,270m
Neochoraki – Kato Tithorea, Sunday 20th September
We are woken up in the night, suddenly, by a dog barking right next to Tenty. We shout at the dog, a little sleepily, to go away. Amazingly, it does. We hear its barking receding into the distance. In the morning as we’re having breakfast a guy in a truck pulls up on the track next to our campsite, waves to us and then walks off with his dog and a very big gun. Later we hear shots, then he returns, waves again and drives off before we’ve even properly packed up. There’s lots of adventure road for 10km until we hit Thiva.
We decide to try our luck on a slightly bigger road, highway 3, and it seems ok for us to cycle on this road, because we meet cyclists coming the other way. After Thiva the road runs pretty flat. In the afternoon some dark clouds start to gather but no rain comes of it.
As it gets dark we pull into an olive grove to camp. We um and ah about setting up the tent properly, but in the end we decide it isn’t going to rain so we don’t put the outer layer of Tenty up.
Distance: 82km, Elevation gain: 485m
Kato Tithorea – Lamia, Monday 21st September
As we’re going to sleep we hear thunder and see lightning, but for some reason we still decide it’s not going to rain, so we still don’t bother to set up the outer layer of Tenty. At 1am Emese goes outside for a toilet break, when she comes back in she says it still doesn’t look like it’s going to rain. But within 5 minutes the storm properly hits and it starts to absolutely piss it down with rain. We immediately panic. We try to get the outer layer on Tenty but it’s already too late. There are maybe 10 heavy spots of rain and then it turns into a deluge. Also, we haven’t left enough space between Tenty and the tree in front of him, so there’s nowhere to set up the porch part, so we just have to rest it on the inner layer of Tenty and hope it doesn’t leak. We are outside the tent for a maximum of 5 minutes but it’s enough to get us soaked. Our pyjamas are soaked and all our clean and dry clothes are outside, in the waterproof pannier bags, still attached to the bicycles, and there’s no way we’re going back out there. So a naked Tenty party it is (we have sleeping bags). The rain continues all night and on into the next day. At 12:30pm we’re getting cabin (Tenty) fever, so we decide to get going anyway. Pretty much everything we own gets wet packing up. Even the stuff that’s dry in our pannier bags gets dripped on when we have to open the bags to pack other stuff away. And of course, about 5 minutes after we start cycling, the rain stops.
The road climbs steadily uphill until we’re within about 20km of Lamia. Then we have a choice. Follow highway E65 until it meets the motorway and then take the small road that (I hope) runs next to it into Lamia, or, take the very squiggly road that may go up or down but is much shorter than the other route (without GPS we can’t tell if the squiggly roads are uphill or downhill, we just know it means a hill). Emese tells me she can’t decide, it’s too difficult, which means all the pressure is on me and I have to do it. I choose the adventurey squiggly road, feeling pretty sure that it’s downhill, but also knowing that I will incur Emese’s wrath if it is uphill. Thankfully my gut instinct is right, and it’s a lovely long downhill that runs in and out of the mountains and is empty except for us.
It’s a nice road all the way into Lamia. Once there we are directed to a nice hotel, but it’s way too expensive for us so we have to sheepishly ask the lady at the desk where the cheaper hotels are. The second one is still a little outside our budget, but by this point we’re wet, cold and tired, so we decide we just won’t eat for a couple of days. We put a still-damp Tenty out to dry on the balcony and use all the available surfaces in our room to dry our stuff. Everything is soaked.
Distance: 58km, Elevation gain: 1,016m
Lamia – Neo Monastri, Tuesday 22nd September
Breakfast is no longer included in the room price now we’re in Europe (sad times) and it’s a whole 10 euros extra in this hotel, so we definitely can’t afford it. Instead we just sleep in until 10am. Have our own breakfast of bread, cheese, tzatziki, apples and chocolate (absolute breakfast of champions). We pack up all our stuff, which takes a bit longer than usual because it’s all spread over the room, drying. Sleeping bags draped over the wardrobe doors, money drying on the desk and pants hanging over the lampshades. Luckily it is all dry, including Tenty, who had a lovely sunbathe on the balcony. We leave at the last minute, 11:55am, after packing everything into the tiny, rickety lift, which gives claustrophobic Emese nightmares. We collect the bikes from the underground garage and head off to the supermarket. A very sweet old man comes to talk to us, he tells us that we must be very strong but we should still be careful. Out of Lamia it’s uphill, an uphill that lasts for 18km through constant drizzly rain. About 2km from the top a Dutch motorcyclist rides past us, turns around, comes back and offers to drag us up the hill. Not sure how he plans to achieve this but we’re not that keen to find out. Some crazy plan involving a very scrawny piece of string I think. Luckily the top is not much further up. And the downhill the other side is pretty great, and when the road levels out we stop for a late lunch in a service station that’s slap bang in the middle of nowhere and seems to only be frequented by coachloads of loud American tourists. It’s nice and warm inside though, as they have the heating on, so we take off our shoes and socks and dry them a bit, probably ruining the ambience in the process. On the map there’s one more very squiggly bit of road, but luckily it turns out to be a short uphill followed by a much longer downhill. A little more flat and then it starts to get dark so we set up camp on a hill overlooking some cotton fields.
Distance: 53km, Elevation gain: 1,024m
Neo Monastri – 25km N of Larisa, Wednesday 23rd September
Wake up at 9am. It rained in the night, but luckily we had the sense to put the outer layer on. Sadly, it looks like winter is coming. Breakfast of champions again. Pack up, avoiding all the gross disgusting things (slugs, earwigs, millipedes, etc) that have come out after the rain. One long-ish uphill to start with followed by a downhill the other side and flat for the rest of the day. At one point we meet Greek cyclists coming the other way, they shout excitedly at us in Greek and give us big thumbs up. We have no idea what they’re saying, so we assume they are telling us that we’re awesome, because of course we are. Cycle into Larisa about 2pm, just in time for lunch. Chain the bicycles up in a bicycle park and go for a wander in the pedestrianised centre, where we find a cheap cafe for gyros. The man serving asks us if we want small or large gyros. Stupid question. Afterwards we decide to follow a route suggested by Clive, who hasn’t cycled here, but has google mapped it and recommended a route north to Kallithea and then around the north of Mount Olympus. So we head out of Larisa, but before we’re anywhere near Mount Olympus we hit a really big hill. It’s long and pretty steep. Emese falls pretty far behind, so I stop to take a photo. As I walk towards the edge of the cliff to take a picture of the view I can hear something wheezing really heavily, and at first I think it’s a dog snoring, but I can’t see what is making the noise. It’s only as I’m walking back that I see it’s two tortoises having sex that’s making all the noise, the male is breathing really heavily and sounds like he’s dying. I’m not sure if they haven’t seen me or they just don’t care, but I don’t want to disturb them so I take a quick photo and back away so I don’t interrupt them.
I go back to the road and sit by my bike to wait for Emese, although I can still hear the tortoises going at it. By the time Emese arrives they’ve finished and one has wandered off, but the other one is still there. I ask Emese if she wants to see a tortoise, she replies that she wants to see a campsite. She has clearly had enough for the day (Clive is not very popular), so we just set up camp right there, on a cliff beside the highway, overlooking the valley we’ve just cycled from. It is a very pretty spot though.
Distance: 86km, Elevation gain: 928m
25km N of Larisa – 15km S of Katerini, Thursday 24th September
Wake up around 9am. Emese goes out for what I think is a toilet break but doesn’t reappear for more than 15 minutes so I start to worry a little bit. I go looking for her, imagining that the cliff has slipped somewhere, as it’s all quite loose gravel around here. Turns out she walked up to the top of the road to find the top of the hill, which is only about 2km further on. When she gets back we have our first and only argument of the whole trip, I claim she should have told me she was going for a walk and she claims she thought I was asleep, and I take her for an idiot for thinking she would fall off the cliff, but I argue that cliffs collapse and boulders fall all the time (we’re always seeing road signs warning us it can happen) and she doesn’t necessarily have to be near the edge for it to collapse and take her down with it. It is unresolved, but it still only lasts 2 minutes, so we eat breakfast and pack up in silence, but once we start cycling it is already forgotten. We get to the top quickly, and then it’s a long-ish downhill the other side.
We cycle along a flat bit, where Emese collects walnuts, and we have Mount Olympus on our right and kind of cycle around it. After Kallithea there’s a 10km steep uphill, to the peak of a pass right by Mount Olympus, which is very cloudy. We stop at the top to admire the downhill, and share a packet of biscuits. A small red car pulls up right in front of us, ruining the view, and then a bloke gets out. He takes a look at us, proceeds to walk right in front of our eye line, and take a pee. He obviously expects us to turn away, but we were here first, so Emese and I keep staring at him, keeping up a long running commentary about what he’s doing in the vague hope he understands and it puts him off what he’s doing. He does give us a very odd look just before he jumps into his car. The uphill is followed by 40km of almost constant downhill, both foretold by Clive, all the way to Katerini and the coast. We find a cafe to check if we have a host tonight, and to our surprise, we do. We just need to message this guy when we arrive in town, so we do, and wait for a reply, but we never get one. By this point we have allowed ourselves to believe that we we’ll be getting a shower, so now we really want one. When it becomes apparent that we’re not going to hear back from this couchsurfing guy we decide to hunt for a campsite, but a proper one, with showers. The nearest one is 15km south of town, so by the time we get there it’s dark. We can’t find the campsite, so we ask at the supermarket, and it turns out that they run a campsite, although we’re pretty sure it’s not the one we were looking for. Still, it’s only 8 euros for the night, we’re the only people there and the showers are hot, so it’s perfect. Manage to find bread, yoghurts and actual salt and vinegar crisps in the supermarket for dinner.
Distance: 96km, Elevation gain: 1,325m
15km S of Katerini – Thessaloniki, Friday 25th September
We wake up at 9am, which is pretty early for a Tenty day, but then we fanny about for ages, even though we’ve got a long day ahead of us and probably should have left earlier. Once we’ve packed up and are ready to go it’s midday. It’s cloudy but not raining so it’s actually perfect cycling weather. We added on an extra 15km to our day by cycling to this campsite, so now we have to cycle all the way back past Katerini and on to Thessaloniki. The highway is direct but we really can’t cycle on that, because it’s a motorway, so we have to take a much smaller road which runs in a much more squiggly line. We have to keep cycling constantly all day, because we left so late, stopping only to eat some biscuits without even getting off our bicycles. Even with almost constant cycling it ends up being a 115km day, so by the time we arrive in Thessaloniki it’s already dark. Luckily lots of locals seem to be out cycling on bikes without any lights, so we’re not the only muppets doing that. It’s 8:30pm by the time we arrive at our host’s apartment/office, luckily Giorgios gave us clear instructions so it was very easy to find, even in the dark. Giorgios organises cycling events and basically lives in his office, in a space which is shared with a couple of other NGOs, and we’re just sleeping in the shared common area. There’s a kitchen for tea, and a bathroom, but no shower or hot water in the sinks, so you have to boil the kettle, fill up empty water bottles, take them into the bathroom, mix it with cold water and then bottle shower. Giorgios feeds us soup, after which we promptly shower and go to bed.
Distance: 115km, Elevation gain: 443m
Thessaloniki REST DAYS< Saturday 26th – Sunday 27th September
Saturday is spent mostly hiding from the rain, which is constant and miserable (it is the end of September unfortunately, although this is still Greece. It shouldn’t be happening). We try to take our washing to the laundrette in the evening (Giorgios doesn’t have a washing machine and we can’t face handwashing everything again) but we get there after 5pm and it’s shut, doesn’t open Sunday so we will have to take it Monday morning before we leave. Luckily the rain stops in the evening long enough for me to go out to watch the rugby, while Emese stays home and blogs. Of course, England lose (the polite term) to Wales (what the hell was that? Just awful) but I do at least make friends with possibly the only 2 professional Greek rugby players in the world. One of them is a prop and he is giant. The tops of his arms are somehow even bigger than my cyclist thighs. I’m so impressed by his hoodie that I insist he lets me try it on, I could honestly get away with it as a knee-length dress. Sunday is spent feeling sorry for myself over the loss of the rugby, intermingled with feeling sorry for myself at not being able to bitch about how crap they were with my dad, while Emese walks down to the port to say goodbye to the sea (we head inland tomorrow).
I have reached my fundraising goal, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still sponsor me if you would like to! And massive, massive thanks to everyone who has already sponsored me! https://www.justgiving.com/Hannah-Bellasis/
So as I write this I’m actually sat on the sofa at home in Taunton, in front of the fire, with a cat on either side of me. Safe to say, the blog is a little behind. But that’s ok, I have lots of time to finish it off now!
Izmir – Cesme, Sunday 13th September
Once again Samed and Sahika provide an epic breakfast, and then we play with Smirnoff the cat for a while, so of course it’s pretty late by the time we’re actually ready to leave, nearly 1pm. The first 40km are pretty flat though, so we get them done pretty quickly. After that there are a couple of what Samed calls ‘small hills’, although one of them goes on for 10km, so they’re hardly small. Before we start up the first one we stop for a very expensive chai and ice cream right by the beach and nearly get blown away, it’s very windy.
We couldn’t find a host in Cesme so we googled the cheapest hotel in town. It’s the cheapest place we’ve stayed in for a while, but perfectly nice, although the plumbing could do with some work, it growls ominously every time you run water or flush the toilet. We go out to find dinner and the ferry ticket office, we’re not expecting the office to be open at that time of night, we just want to know where it is so we can go there first thing on the way to the ferry, which leaves early. As expected, it’s shut, but we now know where the ticket office is so we won’t have to waste time in the morning looking for it. For our last dinner in Turkey we go for a very cultural experience. We go to Burger King, and it is excellent. On the way home we walk past another ferry ticket office, which is still open and also cheaper than the prices we found online, so we buy our tickets to the island of Chios there and then. After that I take us a different route back to our hotel and accidentally make Emese walk up the steepest hill in town, instead of around it, which would have been only marginally further. She is not impressed.
Distance: 81km, Elevation gain: 772m
Cesme (Turkey) – Chios (Greece), Monday 14th September
We have to set the alarm for the first time in ages, to go off at 7:30am, and our bodies really don’t like it. We’ve gotten used to getting up whenever we felt like it. We pack up and cycle to the port, making sure to go around the big hill rather than over it, buying breakfast on the way. We buy drinks at the port, which is a bit of a mistake as they are incredibly expensive. A definite sign that we are on the borders of Europe. Either we will have to learn to dumpster dive or maybe sell a kidney. $10 a day each is not going to go far once inside Europe. For the first time since Uzbekistan our bags are checked going across a border, but they’re only half-heartedly put through a scanner, and the guy in charge isn’t even looking at the screen.
The ferry takes an hour, and on the Greek side the guy takes one look at all our bags and just waves us through without bothering to check them. We go straight to the ticket office to buy our tickets to Piraeus in Athens, but the ferry today is already full, so we have to go tomorrow. Which means we’re stuck on this beautiful Greek island for the night. What a tragedy. We go to the bank to change our remaining lira, it takes nearly an hour as the people in front take forever. Not sure what they exchanged but they have a huge stack of euros when they leave, like us with with the Uzbek som but actually worth something. Then we get in touch with Lefteris, Samed’s friend, who tells us we can leave the bicycles at his restaurant, go for a wander and do cultural things. So we leave the bicycles, go for a wander to the beach and take a nap.
We don’t have a host for the night and hotels are expensive, so we buy supplies and head to a quiet beach to camp.
Chios – Komi – Chios – Ferry, Tuesday 15th September
We wake up whenever Tenty gets too hot to sleep in, no actual idea what time it is. Have breakfast, pack up and decide to head straight to the beach that Samed recommended. We had thought about leaving our bags at Lefteris’ restaurant, but we’re already about 5km outside the town so we decide to just take them with us. Probably a mistake as the island is really hilly. It takes us 2 hours to cycle to the beach at the south of the island, we’re very sweaty by the time we get there, and also sunburnt. We decided to just wear regular clothes, not cycling clothes, and they’re shorter, so skin that’s normally covered up is exposed. The sunbeds at the beach are free so we immediately pass out on the and nap for two hours (under the umbrellas of course). Go for a swim, get a late lunch at the cheapest restaurant on the beach (this island is seriously expensive) before starting on the 25km cycle back. A truck pulls over in front of us, we get a little excited, thinking that they’re going to offer us a lift, but in fact they just want to tell us that it’s still 20km to go to Chios and to pick some fruit. Gits. We pull back into Chios town just as the sun is going down. So much for a ‘rest day’, we cycled 50km, more than we sometimes do on a proper cycling day.
Go back to Lefteris’ restaurant for a beer and to wait for the ferry, which pulls into the dock right next to it. It turns up at 10:45pm, about 11pm we grab our bikes and go to get on board. There isn’t a separate entrance for the bicycles so we have to wheel them up the ramp the vehicles drive up. The guy directing traffic just waits for a bit of a gap between a car and a lorry and waves us up the ramp, yelling “Run, RUN, RUUUUN” when we move too slowly, so we have to jog up the ramp as fast as we can before we get squished by the oncoming truck. Once onboard no one seems that bothered about showing us where to put our bikes, so we keep wandering further along the boat until we’re stopped by a man in high-vis with a very confused “Where are you going?” Well, Piraeus, obviously. But he actually means with the bicycles. He points us with amusement towards a spot near the front of the ferry between some crates where we chain the bikes to a pipe. All the foot passengers are queued up by the main door to get upstairs, so we head back through the boat and take the staff stairs up to the main decks. We bought the cheapest tickets, so we don’t have reserved seats or cabins. We find our beds for the night, which are a quiet spot on the floor in a corner.
Ferry – Piraeus – Athens, Wednesday 16th September
Despite the ferry journey supposedly lasting 7 hours, when we wake up at 9am it’s clear we haven’t docked yet. In fact we have another hour before we dock, meaning the ferry actually took 11 hours. Definitely on relaxed Greek time now. We leave the port and head to a cafe so we can contact Harry, our CS host for the next few days. He’s a dentist and has appointments, but has sent us his apartment address so we can head there and meet him between work meetings. It’s 14km away, the other side of Athens. The roads are very busy but Greek drivers are very patient, not sat on their horns like drivers in almost every other country we’ve been to. Scenic too, as we pass by the Temple of Zeus, numerous museums, and just lots of nice Greek architecture. When we get there Harry is still out, but one of the other building tenants leaves, meaning the outer door is open so we can at least move all of our stuff into the hallway and set up camp in front of Harry’s door, which is, for once, on the ground floor. This is where he finds us when he returns an hour later.
Harry is Greek-American, he grew up in Greece but spent most of his adult life in America. His apartment once belonged to his grandmother, it’s still decorated how she had it, they haven’t changed a thing and it’s very pretty. Emese and I are on the sofa bed in the front room, 3 German girls (Marie, Sophie and Rebecca) who arrive later are sleeping in what appears to be Harry’s room, but just consists of 3 mattresses on the floor, and Harry is on a sofa in the dining room next to where Emese and I are sleeping. His friend Tony stays over one night and he sleeps on some sheets on the floor in the dining room with Harry. It’s a very relaxed place to hang out. Emese and I are pretty tired after our ‘rest day’ of 50km cycling and sleeping on the floor of the ferry, so we only go out once more to go to the supermarket. We stock upon pizza and chai, very authentic Greece, and spend the rest of the afternoon and evening in Harry’s apartment, drinking a lot of tea.
Athens REST DAYS, Thursday 17th – Friday 18th September
Hotel Harry (he named it himself) is great. He gives the 3 German girls and us a set of keys to share, so we can come and go as we please, if both groups go out we leave the keys with a friend of Harry’s who runs a florist around the corner. Emese and I have our priorities (laundry) but Harry doesn’t have a washing machine, so we have to handwash everything in the bath (life is hard). We have dinner with Marie, Sophie, Rebecca, Harry and Tony one night, and Tony has us in stitches. He wants Emese’s help to import a special kind of Hungarian pig that’s supposed to be very tasty, so he can breed them in Greece, but the guy he wants to buy them from only speaks Hungarian. He also has this theory about bread being an indicator of the level of civilisation, which in a weird way almost makes sense. He just seems stoned all the time, but isn’t. He’s a funny man, but often not intentionally, and just seems kind of stoned all the time, even though he’s not. And he reminds me slightly of Keanu Reeves. We also walk to see the Acropolis, but it’s on top of a massive hill, so we just admire it from the bottom. Even from the bottom of the hill it’s very pretty. And the hill is very steep.
Emese has said we can stay an extra day (normally we would probably have left on Friday) so I can watch the opening game of the rugby world cup (and what a GIANT FAT LETDOWN that was). My friend Clive (my kiwi friend from Saigon who I regularly watched rugby with) has googled a few places for me to watch it and Harry recommends one of them, the James Joyce Irish pub, so that’s where I’m going. Emese decides she wants to come with me, so about an hour and a half before the game starts we walk down to the centre where the pub is. I’m really excited, Emese actually has to ask me to walk slower at one point, as she can’t keep up. Then her flipflop breaks, she trips over a curb and lands heavily on her knees, which are already bad. Now her left knee is just as painful as her right knee, the one that was damaged in the accident with the car. Once in the bar we get what looks like the last two seats, so it’s just as well we left so early. Emese completely ignores the game and writes her blog, which kind of depresses me a little. I love watching rugby. It was what Dad and I always used to do together, watching England play. No matter where I am in the world, I make an effort to watch every game. And I miss him even more than usual, when the rugby is on, but it also makes me feel closer to him. I wake up Clive (it’s 6:30am in New Zealand, on a Saturday morning, poor bloke) and he keeps me company via whatsapp, which is really not the same as watching it with him, or with Dad, or with anyone really (Emese doesn’t count, because she couldn’t care less if she tried). And even though we win, it’s not a great performance, so the whole evening leaves me feeling slightly down. On the walk home the riot police are out in force, because it’s coming up to the elections (they’re on Sunday) and lots of people are out doing rallies/protesting. Harry lives in the slightly swanky part of Athens though, so we don’t actually see any trouble.
I have reached my fundraising goal, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still sponsor me if you would like to! And massive, massive thanks to everyone who has already sponsored me! https://www.justgiving.com/Hannah-Bellasis/