My tour of Europe

Cycling through tiny hamlets, towns and cities – along open countryside, forests, farms, lakes, coastlines, beaches, cliffs, rivers and over mountains – on tarmac, gravel, dirt and mud – in scorching sunshine, clouds, rain, hailstones, thunderstorms and fog. And that’s only half of it. I met hundreds of lovely people, seen some incredible things and have more stories than kilometres on the speedo. But it had to end sometime. And now I’m disembarking from my saddle, taking my lifetime supply of vitamin D, and swiftly heading back to the island of crap weather. Where we drive on the wrong side, have a nonsensical and internationally useless measurement system and rollerskating to work is considered deeply uncool. So to keep myself amused on this six hour ferry home, I’ve compiled a list of some potentially interesting facts about my trip…

 

Total Distance: 8,115.6km (5,042.8 miles). If I cycled around the world at the same pace, it would have taken me 607 days. The world record stands at just 92.

Average speed: 20km/h (12mph). What I call…chilled.

Punctures: 0 – (crazy uh?) These tyres did over 1600km before this trip and there’s still tread left! For those that care, they are Schwalbe Marathon Plus Tour

Countries visitied: Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Czech, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, Italy, France, Monaco, Luxembourg, Belgium. (just a tiny 7.14% of the countries on this insanley massive rock we are all living on)

Days spent cycling to a different place (actually cycle touring): 85

Days of sitting around/being a tourist/getting drunk: 85 – coincidence

Pictures taken and not deleted: 4,868

Longest distance cycled: 227.9km (136.7 miles)

Hottest weather: Croatia, 40 degrees C

Coldest weather: Luxembourg, 3 degrees C

Cheapest hostel: Poznan, Poland. €8 (£6.50) Included all you can eat buffet breakfast.

Cheapest beer: Slovakia/Poland @ 1€ (80p) or less.

Most expensive beer: France. The cheapest beer in Nice was €6.50

Go travelling. Go and do something different. Don’t live your life sitting around or working all the time: save up some money, get up of your ass, leave your country and go and explore. Don’t make excuses.

Go and take a good look at the world that you live in. You wont regret it. I wish I had done this a long time ago.

And back to the Netherelands

My plan as of two days ago: Cycle back across the coast of the Netherlands, to Rotterdam, take a few nice pictures of windmills or something, and sum up my trip. Reality: Got to Netherlands, didn’t want to pay for boat across river, decided to take long way round via tunnel. Cycled 20km to tunnel, no bikes allowed. Only other way to cross is back in Antwerp in Belgium. Cycled 50km back to Belgium, meets cyclist, gives tour of Antwerp. Meets another cyclist, gives a better tour of Antwerp and buys me coffee. Cycle north, back to Netherlands. Meets cycle tourer coming back from Turkey and cycle together to Rotterdam.

So I think that sums it up pretty nicely. Things have rarely turned out the way I thought they would – everyday has been an adventure.

Glad to be back in the Netherlands though – I love it here. Especially those little towns that have speakers on every lampost, playing you music.

The awesome cycle-path signs are back. All of these are for bikes…

Peanut butter sandwiches, cycle-paths and sheep.

A little tour of the beach…

A foggy morning before sunrise…

And after sunrise…

And now I’m back in Rotterdam, where I started a basically unplanned loop around Europe 170 days ago. All that’s left is a short cycle to Hook of Holland and then that’s it. It’s back home for me.

Belgium, Brussles and Brugge

Baguettes, croissants, wine spilling over from France and fine chocolates, strong beers and… waffles. My journey through Belgium has been a true ramble. With an excellent map of the region, donated by the cyclists I met in Luxembourg (cheers!), it’s no struggle to go everywhere and anywhere, especially with the thousands of cycle paths. It’s at least an extra 10 degrees warmer here too, and it’s nice when you can feel your toes in the morning. I’m a happy camper once again.

Beggining in the south east, departing from the chilly and hilly regions surrounding Luxembourg and following the quiet canals and meandering rivers up the country, I climbed my very, very last hill of Europe, before descending into the plains of the north for good.

Oddly thin doll houses line the banks of the rivers in the south, a mix of style and colour, just waiting for a buddy to be built in the gap. I really know I’m getting close to the Netherlands when things start to get a bit out of the ordinary. Especially when the main road squeezes right through a cliff and special road-side bins are perfectly angled so you can launch your rubbish straight from your car window!

Brussels, the capital of Belgium and ‘Europe’, reminds me a lot of Glasgow, in that, you can see a really nice, interesting building, but then there is a massively ugly apartment block right next to it. It’s a multicultural, metropolitan city and they also, like in Glasgow, do and act as they want, sometimes wearing pyjamas and slippers to the supermarket. They also have a statue of little boy taking a piss.

But this bi-lingual, political nightmare is not the pro-Euro place I thought. In fact, most people here don’t really care about all the blacked out cars and police escorts whizzing high-end officials through their city; they just get on with their lives, knowing that their city was here long before all the European offices arrived.

The main square is a cluster of gold clad, flamboyant, ‘pimp-my-building’ facades, the smell of fresh chocolate filling the narrow streets and graffiti, a bustling flea market and flourishing art scene just a stones throw away. But it’s all nothing compared to Brugge.

Walking around this peaceful city, only 15km from the coast and 15km from Holland, I feel like I’ve literally time travelled back 300 years and have to resist the urge to buy a top hat and cane. Step-gable houses, churches and canals make this old port city all the more picturesque. With its omnipresent tower louring above the main square, guarding against enemies from times gone past, quietly watching you wander the cobblestone streets.

Today is my last day here. It’s back to The Netherlands once again!

Luxembourg City

A surprisingly interesting and very green city, Luxembourg is the heart, and really the only city of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, with around 100,000 people. Despite the political importance to the EU and the 100+ banks that are based here (contributing to a large part of the country’s wealth), it has a relaxed atmosphere – in fact it’s considered to be the safest city in the world. Built over and around a gorge filled with trees, part of the city lies in the narrow, twisting valley and part on the cliffs surrounding it.

Kathy and I wandered around and went to the ‘Casemates’ – an underground network of tunnels – once over 27km of them under the city, but now only 17km, giving it the nickname ‘Gibraltar of the north’. It has changed ownership between 7 different countries and extended each time, making it one of the most envied fortresses in Europe (it’s just for tourists now though). The ‘Bock’ is the main attraction. Built inside a cliff protruding from the upper town, you get a good view of the gorge and river below.

We even met some touring cyclists in the city. And because it was about 6 degrees outside, I think I must have been the only person in the country wearing shorts! (trousers were soaked from the rain)

Paris to Luxembourg

One road. No turns. Great countryside. But lots of rain.
After four excellent nights in Paris, I left on Friday morning, heading east towards Luxembourg. A few hours to break free from the urban metropolis of Paris and the landscape flared out once again into the beautiful French countryside with Autumn coloured sleepy villages – I cycled away without any navigation for over 300km, on the straightest road I’ve ever cycled. I even managed to catch three or four different rainbows, including the smallest rainbow ever known to man…

But the nice weather was short lived. It’s so cold now (between 3-9C degrees), I really don’t have the right clothes or sleeping bag to keep me warm. Someone also stole/binned the rain-cover for my bar bag in Paris, so when it started raining, I had to improvise with a rather dashing Lidl  bag ‘advertisement’ on the front of my bike. If that wasn’t scruffy enough, with my waterlogged feet and wind, it was so cold that in order to stop my feet falling off, I had to heat up some water in a pot and dip them into it, just so I could keep cycling (no photos of this for dignity reasons). On Saturday it didn’t stop raining from dawn to dusk, so it was a chilly dinner prepared under the outer sheet of my tent, with a cold beer and a movie on the laptop to cheer me up.

My bike had a lot of fun in the rain too – mud, leaves and twigs clogged up between my mudguards and wheels, so they wouldn’t even turn anymore! I had to scoop it all out with a tent peg.

Yet another long day of cycling in pouring rain, I crossed the border into the pint sized awesomeness that is Luxembourg – half a million people, probably half a million cows, lots of hills too. It’s one of the most developed and richest countries in the world, even with its own language, Luxembourgish (who knew eh?). I met up with Kathy, a couchsurfer from Germany who is studying here and has let me crash at her place for a couple of days whilst we look around the capital.

A bike tour within a bike tour

Yesterday I accompanied Dave to his work – a bicycle tour guide! Where we both have commutes through heavy traffic, I think my daily cycle to work was somewhat different to Dave’s. Mine – an old tram route across Glasgow, the most interesting sights probably being a small park, the murky waters of the river Clyde and… well, that’s it. Dave’s – a dash through a sea of slow moving cars, around Bastille Monument, along the banks of the Seine, past Notre Dame, The Louvre, Musée d’Orsay, Place de la Concorde, Assembly National, Pont Alexandre III, Les Invalides and finally by the Eiffel Tower! No wonder he never complains about going to work!

We met today’s bunch of tourists at one of the many massive stations in the centre of Paris and escaped from the hustle and bustle of the city into Normandy and to the quiet town of Vernon for the day.

Despite the rain it was an awesome day. Having lunch by the banks of the Seine, and cycling along to Monet’s house and his gardens.

Like walking through a living work of art, Monet designed all the gardens and planted most of it himself too, until he was too old to do the work himself. Pretty cool doing something a bit different – and getting an €85 tour for free! Cheers Dave!

Paris

I think I’ve run out of luck with the sunshine. For the first time since I left Poland – over 3 months ago, it’s rained for 3 days straight. I’ve not had much luck with the roads on the way to Paris either. On Monday I found myself on a busy main road filled with lorries, and following signs for Paris it led me onto a bigger and busier road with no way to go back, and no way off. So I ultimately found myself cycling along the narrow hard-shoulder of a 6-lane motorway in 130km/h traffic in the pissing rain. The only thing I could do to get off, was take the bags off my bike and jump over the wall at the first place possible, climb through some nettles, and up to a bridge going over the motorway. Pretty glad to be back on a quiet road, with no idea where I was, I put my bags back on my bike only for a land-rover to drive through a massive puddle and soak me some more!

I arrived at the outskirts of Paris shortly afterwards, but the city is so big that I still had to cycle another 25km through busy traffic just to reach the centre. I found my way to some old friends who are living and working here, David and Ellen, and I’m staying in their apartment in the city centre for a few days. That night we headed for a ‘Scottish Pub’ (yes they exist!) via the complex metro system and a ride on an automatic subway. They definitely didn’t have Scottish prices but I did manage to get a refreshing can of Irn-Bru!

The following day we all went for a cycle around the city. It’s by far the easiest way to get around, and substantially quicker than driving. Because a lot of the sights are quite far apart too, it makes sense to have a cheap and practical way of travelling around. The buildings here are just beautiful, but you knew that already – I mean c’mon, it’s Paris. Nearly every street in the centre has some sort of iconic structure, be it a statue, pillar, roundabout or church. We visited Notre Dame Cathedral, the Louvre, Arc de Triomphe (apparently you don’t need to wait any longer than an hour to see a car crash here because the roundabout is so mental) and many others, including the Eiffel tower, visible from nearly everywhere in the city.

Lyon

For the last few days, I’ve been in Lyon, the second largest city in France. It’s a really fresh city and rich in culture. And unlike Paris (so I’m told), it’s much easier to walk around. But it’s really no problem here anyway, because like a lot of the other cities in Europe they have a well established bike rental scheme (a big one – with over 11,000 bikes), and it’s free if you don’t use them for more than an hour. So Hoel, my couchsurfing host and I have been cycling around the city, but mainly for inter-pub transportation.

His gran makes the best food imaginable.

Anyhow there’s a nice old town here, with buildings dating back to the 15th century, casually lining the narrow streets. And on top of the hill, with a view over nearly the whole city, an impressively grand basilica.

There is a great music scene in Lyon. You really don’t have to look far to find some quality buskers on the street, with people crowding around, itching to buy their CD’s. There’s a lot of free music shows too, and excellent opportunities to see some free bands in bars and clubs.

Now lined up is a four or five day cycle to Paris, and due to time limits, sadly, it will be on a long and boring road. Here goes!