Cycling through Europe 2010-2011
It was a strange year for me. A year of highs and lows, A year of significant change. I took perhaps the largest, scariest leap of my life so far – the leap from certainty to uncertainty. I had a degree in Digital Animation. I could have gotten a job in London or San Francisco as an Animator, rented a house, gotten myself a cat and a regular income. Instead i went down a different path. The year started at an incredible low as i frantically searched for the ever elusive financial sponsor that would make this expedition a reality. As the date loomed closer i came to realise that perhaps i wouldn’t be able to complete the journey. My expedition funds were very low. I had enough cash to perhaps pedal across Europe and that was it. But i had to start. 2 years of preparation and support from people following me online gave me the kick up the backside i needed. So i set the date. March 31st 2010. That would be the date i’d start my journey. Only a month and half before i was set to leave, a sponsor who had promised me an ‘all singing, all dancing’ top of the range bike let me down. Right at the last minute. So i had no bike; well, that’s not quite true – i had the bike i had been training on for the past couple of years but i was unsure that it would survive the journey. Luckily a supporter of the expedition heard about my troubles and offered to buy me the bike needed. My first nights camp
As i pushed off from at the start line i was full of mixed emotions. Elation at finally starting and also, of course, sadness. I quickly got into the swing of things and before i knew it i was in the south of England enjoying the sunshine and cider before i had to catch a yacht across to France. Then, easily the lowest part of my journey (so far) happened. I found myself in rather large patch of stinging nettles at the side of a country road just outside the town of Torquay. Amidst the commotion of people asking me if i was ok and them pulling parts of my bike onto the grass verge out of the way of oncoming traffic, i realised i had been hit by a car. Panniers torn, severely buckled wheels and one hell of a pain in my right thigh meant i was to return home for several weeks while i rested while i listened to friends and acquaintances mock me for not even leaving the UK before something going wrong.
Damage from the Crash
In July i returned to the spot where i was hit and pedaled to a Marina in Plymouth where i hopped on Jeneava, a 42 foot yacht, and sailed through the night to Cherbourg, France. It took only a week and half before i received the first (of plenty) moment of kindness of the expedition. I was given a place to stay in a small village in France. I spent two weeks seeing the local sights, eating great food and experiencing french culture before heading off into the unknown once again.
Streets of a French Village
After a mechanical failure on the French/Italian border, which caused me to half to walk across my first border crossing on the continent of Europe, i was in Italy. Pedaling along the Mediterranean Coast and across the ‘plains’ of Northern Italy i ate very little and drank plenty of water. The temperature soared to 45 degrees and i would pedal from one spot of shade to another. I lost weight, became fitter and leaner (plus i was rather tanned and my hair a few shades lighter!) and i had cycled into Slovenia.
Slovenia was beautiful. By far the most pleasant country to pedal through so far. Mountains, lakes and forests reminded so much of Scotland. But Slovenia also reminded i was moving further away from ‘the rich’ western Europe to Eastern Europe. Old ladies washing sheets by hand in their gardens as chickens pecked and clucked around their feet, glancing up occasionally to meet my eye and give me a huge, near toothless, grin. I spent only two days in Slovenia but they were probably two of the most enjoyable days cycling so far.
A misty morning in Croatia
Then i entered the Balkans via Croatia. I’ll admit i knew very little about Croatia. I knew that the south was fastly becoming a very popular tourist destination for the Brits, and for that reason i went north. Looking back it may have been a mistake. Now, i refuse to accept that my experiences with the Croatian people are the norm. I have heard many people tell me they have had a fantastic time in Croatia and the people are very kind and generous. Perhaps i just caught them during a bad week. The first two days in Croatia were a blur – mainly due to sampling the first of many glasses of Rakija, thanks to some of the only kind people i met in the country. But as i moved east the people seemed to get more hostile towards me. Dogs were let loose to chase me while the owner simply stood smiling as i kicked at the pooch trying to take a chunk of my leg. Kids would throw rocks at me as i pedaled past with parents watching and admiring their child’s accuracy and range. I was glad to see the Serbian border.
The first of many Serbian hosts
My love for Serbia is pretty evident. All you have to do is check out a couple of previous posts from my time in Serbia so i will try to refrain from gushing praise this time. All i will say is that i really knew very little of the country. I vaguely remember seeing in the images of NATO dropping bombs on Belgrade as a 13/14 year old. With a heavy heart i left Serbia behind and entered Bulgaria. I guess i was also clueless about Bulgaria. I had shared a flat with a Bulgarian guy in Florida with 5 months when i worked at one of the theme parks a couple of years ago. Everything i knew about Bulgaria was from him – and that was very little. I had been warned about the traveling through Bulgaria by people in Serbia. I of course had payed no attention to these warnings because i had heard similar from the people of Croatia about Serbia. It took merely 5 days to cross Bulgaria – and that included having to build an entire new wheel after a rather unfortunate incident involving two dogs, a large pothole and my rear wheel. I passed through mountains and woke in sub zero temperatures and i pedaled through large plains where the only shade was provided by large fruit trees with the occasionally fruit seller or prostitute perched underneath.
Sharing the road with a goat in Bulgaria
Before i knew it the Turkish border loomed ever closer. After a side trip to the south coast to pick up winter gear from my parents, a rather horrible bout of food poisoning which left me confined me to a room for a week and a few days pedaling i reached Istanbul – the gateway to Asia.
Finally arriving in Istanbul
I spent almost a month and half (perhaps more) wandering the streets of Istanbul, visiting various markets, taking pictures of stray dogs and sharing my chicken kebabs with every stray cat and kitten that passed my way. I began the task of applying for visas. A process which very quickly ‘went to pot’ thanks to my banks fraud team seeing fit to cancel the transaction without much warning. After sorting out this issue (or so i thought) i decided to back track to Serbia after an invite to stay from a friend so i boarded a coach and headed back.
One of many Turkish strays
I stayed for a 3 months in Serbia throughout the winter during which time i lived in Belgrade with my friends Jelena and Gile. By day i explored the cities streets and by night i ventured into the world of Serbian nightlife; all on a very tight budget. I sampled amazing food, music and company unique to Serbia and Belgrade. I celebrated two Christmas’ (our ‘normal’ and the other Serbian orthodox), received a broke nose and cracked rib celebrating New Years eve and put on some weight eating great food. Before too long it was time to get back to my bike and head off again.
Snowing In Istanbul
I returned to Istanbul and was reunited with my equipment that had been stowed for the winter by a very helpful hostel. After a service, installing new tyre’s and dry cleaning my sleeping bag i was off. I followed the coastline of Northern Turkey closely. Two months of the bike has left me feeling rather unfit but i was enjoying being back on the road. As i pedaled on, my visa for Iran was becoming much more unlikely and the pockets of uprising throughout North Africa and the Middle East had become larger and were spreading throughout the regions. All signs pointed to Iran being the next country to experience these problems. So with no sign of my visa arriving any time soon i made a decision. It was the hardest decision i had ever made. To turn back.
Camping at petrol station on the Black Sea Coast
So i made my way back to Istanbul to reevaluate my options. I could reroute the trip or head home to fund raise and relaunch the expedition at a later date. I chose the latter. I started long the pedal home. I pedaled back through Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary, Austria, Germany, Belgium and France until i hopped on a ferry and heading back to the UK. Book about the journey is coming very soon… A huge thank you to the sponsors and supporters who made this expedition a reality