This last part of the trip has been full of mixed emotions. Partly really sad to be heading towards the end, partly looking forward to getting home, still wanting to be in the moment and loving the freedom of the journey. We have no idea how will would get our bikes home or if we can actually get off this Croatian island and back to Italy without riding back the way we came.
After a few days rest on Croatian island of Cres and swimming in the ocean with all our plans of island hopping with ferries not going to work, we rode through the medieval coastal town and waited for the bus. Somehow we just managed to squeeze both bikes underneath the coach and were on our way off the island. This was a bit of a relief as the peak season was ending and lots of the ferries were about to stop running. We arrived in Rijeka, a city on the mainland of Croatia very glad that we had taken the bus and ferry. Croatian roads and drivers were some of the worst we had experienced on the trip, and this road was no exception. The next challenge was trying to find the next bus to get us back to Italy.
Eventually we saw the sign on the front of the bus change and went over to try and get on. It was busy, and more and more people kept arriving at our bus. We were starting to think there would be no room and eventually got to the driver who was loading bags and used sign language and pointed to our bikes. He was not really that impressed and was very busy. After another 5 min of nervous waiting he took us to the other side of the bus and we wasted no time in squeezing our bikes on and getting on the bus. Back through Slovenia and down the mountains into Trieste. We were very relieved to be back in Italy and have our freedom of being able to ride to our final destination of Milan.
We rode back along the coast of Italy and the Adriatic Sea really enjoying the nice weather staying in caravan parks on the low season as they were cheaper and quiet. After a 100km day we arrived back on the coast closer to Venice and were shocked to see how busy it still was. It’s great to be fit enough to ride 100kms and still have the energy to set up the tent have a beer and go out for dinner. The beach was covered in 1000’s of sun lounges with umbrellas, the caravan parks seriously had 4000 sites for people to stay and they were like mini towns in themselves. We stayed in our first 5 star caravan park which had its own roller coaster and amusement park. We decided it was time to go back to the mountains and hang out on some lakes for the final part of the trip. This meant a quick trip through Venice involving a ferry to somewhere and a train ride the next day. All of which was a good plan in our minds, but we knew that it wasn’t always that easy.
We arrived at the ferry port to find out that bikes weren’t allowed at all in Venice. We would get fined, and the passenger ferry would not take bikes. Bugger! There was another option though. If the captain allowed it, we could take our bikes on a passenger ferry to another peninsula. Then ride to the car ferry which would take us to the other side of Venice somewhere near the train station. Amy always goes first in these situations and I tell her to flutter her eyelashes to the crew to see if they will let us on. We waited nervously on the jetty as the passenger ferry was filling up fast. Amy walked to one of the crew with helmet in hand to help with the sign language of is it possible to get our bikes on this ferry. There were some loud conversations between the crew and captain at the top of the ferry and next thing we knew Amy had come up with the goods. Passengers were stopped and we were waved onto the ferry. Phew.
We were relieved to be on the way again and got off one ferry and quickly rode to the make the next one 2 km along the peninsula. It arrived just as we did, racing along the waters edge we got to the line of cars and had no idea if our tickets would work and had no time to go and buy more. No one even checked our tickets. We were off on an amazing ferry ride right through Venice checking out the sights from the water. Blown away by the architecture, Gondolas (of the boat variety this time) and the fact that this city was on water we cruised past knowing that we would be back here in a few weeks to hang out with Amys parents.
There has been such a contrast of bike friendly and unfriendly places along our journey. It was weird to see a city that did not even allow bikes. Our 5 star caravan park didn’t even allow bike riding. There have been countless flights of stairs that we somehow heaved our bikes up and down at train stations, and this time it was a huge flight of stairs on a bridge over a canal and we eventually found the train station. Pushing our bikes along so as not to get finned for having bikes in Venice we heaved our bikes up the 1m high steps and squeezed through the gap in the doors onto the train to Lake Garda. We were amazed to find that there was a direct train to where we wanted to go and thought that this might be a stress free train ride to the mountains.
As we were getting close to our destination a really helpful friendly Italian army guy started talking to us about where we were going. None of which we could understand. We showed him our tickets and he said that this is your station you should get off now! Another guy quickly got out his phone and said no it is the next stop. We were starting to get worried because he was trying to tell us something about the next stop. The other guy was trying to translate for us but we still didn’t really know what was going on. We used google translator on his phone and realised that the train might be too long for the next train platform. We were going to somehow have to get our fully loaded bikes though the middle of the narrow carriages towards the front of the train to be able to get off.
We were starting to panic now the army guy had rushed to the front of the long train to try and find out some more information. We quickly half unloaded our bikes and awkwardly shoved our way towards the front of the train. We almost made it through one carriage by the time we were arriving at our destination, the army guy arrived back to help Amy drag her bags through the last of the carriage and we got the impression that it was all going to be alright. We got off the train thanked him for his help and very misguided information that made for the most stressful end to a train journey yet. Amy has got much better at not stressing out on trains but we were both pretty highly strung on this one.
We arrived at Lake Garda after riding for 40kms 2 ferry’s and a train ride ready for a rest day. We found a little cabin in a caravan park overlooking the lake. We really enjoyed being back in the mountains with an amazing lake to ride around and go swimming for the next leg of the journey.
After eventually finding a map of the largest lake in Italy we realised that the leisurely cruise around the lake had some challenges. Tunnels! About 50 of them in total going through vertical cliffs. We set off around the lake and I and discovered that we were riding into a windsurfing mecca. With windsurfing hire shops everywhere I was getting very excited to get back on a board as it had been about 12 years since I had my last go when I was instructing at Inverloch.
We tried to ride on the lake edge for the first part of lake Garda and ended up pushing our bikes across a sandy beach. Cringing at all of the sand getting into our bikes. The paths were pretty gravely with very loose stones. Amy has done an amazing job of riding through some very difficult terrain throughout the journey. We have done about a quarter of the trip off the bitumen and even when on the road the quality of the roads here is pretty bad. We had just decided to go back on the road when Amy turned around to say “stopping” and the front wheel started to slip. There was nothing I could do to help. She nearly held onto it but went sliding out and crashed into the ground. With grazed knees and hand I helped her up, and tough as always she jumped straight back on and kept riding. We patched up the wounds down the road. This was the only stack for the whole trip Amy has got so good at riding along the way sometimes beating me at trackstands (not putting your feet down) at the traffic lights.
Since then Amy has had to change the way she holds the handle bars from the cut hand just like I did when I had a sore back. This has led to some nerve damage in her hand and the return of the bloody “handle bar palsy”. Hopefully she’ll get full movement and strength back in her hand soon.
We made it to the top of the lake after navigating some pretty hairy tunnels. Head torches on bike lights flashing front and rear, we realised that we should have ridden the other way around the lake so that we were on the lake side of the tunnel, and not next to the cliff with no shoulder. We also knew that we had done the easy section and there were way more tunnels to come on the other side of the lake.
The top of the lake was the place to be for windsurfing, all of the wind funnelled up the lake and was constricted by the mountains. There was still no wind but there were racks and racks of sails and boards all along the beach at this end of the lake ready to go. With no wind we rode through the town and stopped for gelato to prepare ourselves for the tunnels ahead. Mid gelato the wind sprung up. The sails that were just bobbing around on the lake started whizzing by and I knew I had a chance. We back tracked 10 km around the lake to a hire place, hired a windsurfer and I was off. Having chosen a tiny board that would only just float me I headed off to the other side of the lake a few km away to try and find some stronger winds. It was the most spectacular place to windsurf that I could have ever imagined. After a little while there were about 350 windsurfers on the lake. I cruised around loving being on the water again, I sailed back to shore to tackle some more tunnels on the bikes.
We saw a bunch of bikes riding up a dirt track that traversed the cliff and thought it was worth a go if we could avoid some tunnels. Turns out after a few kilometres of climbing on full on mountain bike tracks that we were on a track going away from the lake and up into the mountains. It was a spectacular descent back to the start of the tunnels looking over hundreds of windsurfers being passed by dozens of mountain bikes.
It was now getting pretty late in the day with heaps of tunnels to tackle and no idea where we could stay as there were so many cliffs on this side of the lake and not many towns. The tunnels were so freaky, some of them pitch black others 3 km long with branching tunnels inside. Every tunnel had potholes patches of gravel, broken glass and smashed up parts of cars littering the sides that gave us very little confidence on the drivers. We were passed by a convoy of about 200 motorbikes in one of the longer tunnels and the noise was incredible. Eventually we stumbled onto a caravan park right on the lake, nerves frazzled from all the tunnels we hadn’t made it far but were very glad to stop and swim at of our lakefront tent site.
The next day we decided to get up early and tackle the last of the tunnels early in the morning hoping there would be less cars. We were right, it was much quieter and less stressful. We stopped for a coffee at one of the local windsurfing spots along the lake and the wind was howling. Hundreds of windsurfers were flying along doing the most amazing tricks and flips I’ve ever seen. A lot had changed since windsurfing at Inverloch. I could of stayed there for hours watching and trying to work out how on earth they actually managed to do those tricks. We had more tunnels though. We set of and eventually finished riding all the tunnels that day very relieved that we had made it through them all safely. It was a spectacular section of riding that we both really enjoyed. Ahead still lay a few hundred kilometres to get to the airport and somehow work out a way of packing up the bikes to be able to get them on the plane home.
It was really starting to feel like the end of the trip now and we had to make some distance to get to the airport. We discovered that there were actually some bike paths going in the direction that we needed and set off for the next lake. I have been downloading maps to my phone to use on the gps app when we have wifi. There have been many sections where I haven’t had wifi and therefore no maps and also no sim card in my phone. While riding along I have to get out the phone with one hand, turn off aeroplane mode turn on the app and wait for a signal. Then trying to ride with one hand, zoom to the place we are riding and try and see if we are going the right way.
Along the way we stopped and chatted to another Italian cyclist who told us to follow him there is a better way than the cycle route through the next town. After months of navigation using dodgy maps from the info centres it was great to have a local to follow and not have to think about every single turn. A few k’s down the road he got a flat tyre. We looked at each other wondering if we should keep going and leave him to fix the flat. We were off the cycle route with no map and had to ride about 100kms that day after a late start. After looking at his pump we decided to stop and help him fix it. Very slowly he changed the tube and I pumped up his tyre. We now had a cycle guide. He escorted us for the next 40km going past his destination and through a whole city. He stopped having long conversations with locals about the best route for us for the remainder of the day. We have been amazed at the generosity of people along the way and how friendly and helpful people are on our journey.
We arrived late that day to Lake Iseo and stumbled onto another beautiful lakefront campsite at after sunset. Within a week almost all Italian campsites will be closed for the low season. Our timing couldn’t have been better. We still had no idea how to get bike boxes and our bikes to the airport to be able to go home. After reading as many blogs and googling the airport we knew it was going to be difficult to find a bike box. We had emailed 3 bike shops about boxes in Milan and received no reply. The campsite was really friendly and I asked the reception to ring a bike shop near the airport and ask if they had a bike box. Eventually I think they were able to work out what I was saying with charades of giant boxes, planes and bicycles. The first 2 shops said they had no boxes and on the third try, one said that they did. In very broken English I asked if they would keep them for us for 4 days until we could ride there.
We still had hundreds of kilometres to go to get to the airport and decided to get the train to the next lake and take a chance that the bike shops there might have a spare cardboard bike box or two out the back for us. We trained into Milan and then out again and rode 40km to a town where we knew from our maps had 2 bike shops. Neither shop had a box, and there was no where to sleep in the town. Bummer. It was a long shot, but at least we were now within riding distance of the airport. We backtracked and found a hotel in the previous town.
After a cold night we set off for the airport following a river. We turned around to see someone taking a photo and couldn’t believe our eyes. We had gone from the hottest European summer ever to looking at snow covered mountains in the distance. Our last day of cycle touring down this river was perfect. Great tracks, river views and snow capped mountains in the distance. This changed considerably when we chose to take a chance and check if the airport had any bike boxes laying around. Airports aren’t really designed with cycle tourers in mind and after a long detour we found our selves in 5 lanes of traffic one way approaching the huge elevated road to Milan airport. Sure enough there were no bike boxes to be found. There were even some local Italian people departing with their bikes in bubble wrap asking me how I was going to get our bikes on the plane.
We had found out it was possible to store our bike at the airport for the next 2 weeks while we finished the trip and caught up with Amys parents in Milan, Lake Como and Venice though. We set off for the bike shop hoping they still had some boxes stored for us. Somehow we made it out of the airport without ending up on a freeway and arrived at the bike shop. Turns out they were bicycle manufacturers and had heaps of brand new boxes available. In broken English we organised to come back the next day and pack up our bikes.
After an 80km day we rode to our accommodation that we booked the night before. This had been the only time on the whole trip that we had pre booked our accommodation. Turns out it was 3 km out of town in a really crappy area and decided that there was no way we were going to stay there and kept riding. It seems like all of the cities we go to towards the end of the trip have an event on and although it is low season it was hard to find somewhere to stay. We found a B&B that was fully booked but had a room with no bathroom if we couldn’t find anywhere else to stay. This would do fine. We washed our bikes struggled to find a restaurant and got ready to pack up our bikes the next day.
It took us 4 hours in the blaring sun the next morning to dismantle our bikes, resize the boxes to fit on the plane and get ready to somehow carry them to the train station and get to the airport. The bike shop was so helpful in lending us packing tape, tools packing parts. Amy asked if it was possible to get a taxi to the airport after a little while the boss came back out and said that they would drive us. Wow. Again we were so grateful at the generosity of people along the way. We got dropped off at the airport not having to drag our awkward boxes 500 metres to the train station and on and off trains like in the beginning of the trip. We stored our bikes and trained back to our B&B town to celebrate what an amazing adventure it has been.
Since the end of the bike tour we have hopped on another train taking us up to the mountains and into another medieval town. We were all organised, even knew what time the train left and had time for a coffee on the way to the station. I went to the ticket office asked for 2 tickets and realised that there are 2 stations called Busto Arsizio and we are at the wrong one. I loaded up the maps on my phone, looked at the time and we had 15 minutes. ‘We can make it’ I said. My first idea was to use those hire city bikes outside the train station. I wasted 30 seconds trying to work them out and then said ‘lets make a run for it’. The running part lasted about 50m as we realised how easily our bikes had carried all our gear compared to having it slung over our shoulders. We speed walked for the next 1.5 km and somehow made the train with a less than a minute to spare. Amy has found a book in our apartment and we have just been resting, writing this blog, making a movie and nothing much else.
Its still hard to believe how far we have gone and how many places we have seen. At the start of the trip with practically no training we set off very wobbly from the top of the Swiss Alps hoping that we would like cycle touring. It has been the best journey and means of travel I have ever experienced. Amy has been so amazing, always taking on the many challenges along the way and supporting me through the tough bits when we were both very tired. I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity for such an amazing adventure with Amy and also very fortunate to be able to go back to an amazing place called home.
Really look forward to catching up with family and friends when we get home.
One Amazing Adventure : Approximately 2,870 kms
Switzerland, Austria, Lichtenstein, Austria, Germany, France,
Austria, Italy, Slovenia, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Italy
1 flat tyre
196 GPS map downloads
Countless info centre paper maps
1 Bike mechanic
Countless wrong turns
6 Alpine passes
3 Bottles chain oil
Thanks to the countless helpful people
Zoppe to Cres – Italy – Slovenia – Croatia
We had an awesome decent from Zoppe down the mountain. It was all over too quickly though. We turned right at the bottom of the mountain and started up the next mountain Pass, after a km or so we both stopped and questioned our next move and thought:
“What are we doing going up another massive massive mountain. Lets go to Slovenia!”
So we did. After a few days riding we were at the train station and on our way. We crossed the border and got on a dingy hot hot train and we were on our way to Bled (northern Slovenia). We were happy with our decision. We could have spent weeks in the Dolomites but felt it was time to move on. I was my typical self with the trains, freaking off my head about trying to throw our bikes on the train in time, get our 8 bags in and ourselves all before the train leaves. Once aboard, then I start stressing about the other end and getting us and everything off in time before the train leaves. It really is pretty stressful, but I certainly take it to the next step. My technique is to try and carry all 8 bags at once while Andy does the first bike, then I try and help with the second bike. I get in trouble for this cos “I’ll hurt my back”.
Bled was a cool place. An awesome lake, nice camping place and good weather. We stayed 2 nights in the camping ground and spent the day swimming and exploring the place. As we hadn’t planned anything from there onwards, we went to a few info centres and said we wanted to ride south through the country and to Croatia maybe. They said it wasn’t possible. We couldn’t ride south and through the capital Ljubljana as it was too busy on all the roads. Andy only told me this once we had arrived in the capital as I was outside minding the bikes for that conversation. Anyway, turns out it was possible and we got there.
We left Bled and followed a map through the national park to another awesome lake. We decided to go through the NP instead of around it. We knew it would be more challenging but apparently there was a bike path the whole way. Turns out there was no bike path (in the whole country) someone has drawn lines on a map and most of them take you up as many mountains as possible and none of them link up. It was amazing though and well worth the 900 vertical metre climb. But we decided we wouldn’t always listen to the info centre bike maps, but instead make our own route to where we wanted to go.
In Bled one night we were woken in the night by the most terrifying noise ever. There were two of these creatures calling back and forth to one another. One of them was close. Sounded as though it was 100 metres away from our tent. Andy opened the tent door to have a look with his super bright torch which we thought would scare it away. It continued throughout the night on and off. It was terrifying. The next day I googled wildlife in Slovenia and found this list of things that would kill us. AHHHH! No more wild sneaky camping in Slovenia for us. Slovenia has Wolves, wild boars, foxes with rabies, wild dogs and Bears! WHHHAAAAATTT??????? Andy and I with our extensive Slovenian wildlife knowledge, have decided we were listening to wolves. I was a complete wuss that night lying awake listening to these beasts. We are lucky we have nothing to kill us in the night in Australia. Although, people we talk to here think Australia is full of deadly creatures. I guess it’s what you get used to and grow up with, you become comfortable.
We stopped for a rest at the top of the 900m climb and we accidently let some cattle in to a picnic ground and helped a local, herd them out again. I got charged by a young bull. They were all so used to being hand fed and were so tame that they weren’t scared enough of people to be herded. I do feel a bit sorry for cattle in Europe. They spend their whole lives in stables that stink. You always know when you’re at a cow stable from the cow shit smells. I guess there isn’t enough grazing land though. A few times we have seen people in villages come out of there cow shit stables and wheel 100 litres or so of milk vat to the big milk truck waiting on the corner. Very small scale stuff but is obviously worth their while. Cattle in Australia have it pretty good I think with most of them being able to live in herds, in paddocks and grazing for most of their life.
The roads in parts of Italy and definitely Slovenia were a bit average for our poor old bikes. Andy nearly came a cropper big time. They had invisible speed bumps on the dirt path that were for drainage purposes I think. Anyway, I went over it first and yelled out behind me that there was a bump but it was too late, Andy went over, both front bags came off, 1 went in the front wheel and broke and all the spacers that hold it to the rack, and he got a buckled wheel. I heard a crash and skid. I nearly lost it trying to stop and turn around to see the damage. Luckily Andy is pretty good on a bike and he managed to stay on, and stop in time. There was a bit of swearing at the stupid speed bump but amazingly we found the spacers, Andy fixed the bag with tent tape and sewing kit and fixed the buckled wheel and were on our way again. Phew!
I have been riding and drinking from my water bottle for a few months now and I have always worried that I will miss the holder and not get the water bottle in properly and I will run over it and fall off. Well, it happened the other day. I was riding along, had a drink, put my water bottle back but obviously not properly. It fell out, I ran over it and it went into the middle of the busy road. I nearly did a ‘little kid running after his ball across a busy road’ thing. I waved my hands around like crazy and luckily all the cars dodged it and drove around it. Phew! We have already lost a water bottle somehow a few weeks ago so I didn’t want to loose another. I don’t drink and ride anymore on busy roads.
It’s all about the vibe! Some days we go places and really don’t feel the vibe of the place so we move on again. Other days we meet really interesting people and have great conversations with them. Most of them are really interested about our bikes, journey or just why we are doing this. A lot of people will give friendly toots, waves, cars stopping, giving encouragement. The other day we were slogging up a hill and a man on a motor bike gave us a toot toot and the thumbs up. When we have been riding for 80kms, with a head wind uphill, the little things like that really help.
Matt sent us a really cool movie the other day which sums our trip up so well. Puts it into words better than I could. Thanks Matt, we loved watching this movie on a day that was challenging! https://vimeo.com/120206922 here is the link. Worth a look. But we have been loving the continual unknown of where we will end up having our bodies and bikes to rely on. But we do feel a real sense of freedom on the bikes like we haven’t felt before when travelling.
Apart from being woken in the night by crazy beasts that want to eat you, we are surprised at how well we sleep in our little tent compared to guest houses. It feels very much like home in our tent and we both sleep well. Although, I am constantly trying to steal Andy’s bed as he has an extra long, extra wide, extra comfortable exped compared to mine. I haven’t succeeded yet!
Another thing we have done that has made our lives so much easier is labelling our bags with a bit of electrical tape so we can distinguish what is in each bag and what lives where. This is something we should have done 2 months ago. It felt like every time I opened a bag to get something in the past, I would always open the wrong one first, have to close it again, move my bike, get to the other bag etc etc. No more!
Andy is getting really good at making our beer can stoves. Every country we go to, there is a new fuel to find and get used to. They all burn slightly differently. In Italy they have this crappy crappy pink stuff that makes you want to throw up when you open the bottle that doesn’t burn well at all. So we needed a new stove that had more air holes in it so it would burn hotter. Now we are using 96% ethanol which burns really well. So a new stove was needed with less air holes so we didn’t burn the forest and ourselves.
I think so far, we are the only cycle tourists without a GPS attached to our handlebars. The other day when trying to get to Slovenia we stopped and asked some other cycle tourists and they whipped out their GPS and had the answer in 20 seconds. Something that would have taken us way longer going by our crappy info centre maps and asking the locals. So far we have probably used about 90 info centre maps that we get when we go through a town. The problem is, there are no contour lines or a scale or anywhere near detailed enough and we never know when the hills are coming up. It makes for some tricky navigation. The other problem is that 1 map will run out before there is another map that they have made. We have become very good at following our noses.
It seems strange, but everyone in Europe seems to be afraid of the rain telling us it is bad weather for riding etc. We ran into some bike tourers in Bled and they told us that the weather for the next 5 days was meant to be very wet and cold. We looked it up and they were right. They were going to get the train from Bled to Ljubljana and wait it out. We thought. Wow shit, is it going to be that bad? Maybe we should do the same. We decided against it, rode off and it poured like never before. The roads were under water and we had to pull over cos the cars wouldn’t be able to see us. Luckily there was a hay shack in a paddock next to the road. We made lunch, the rain stopped and we continued on. When it was pissing down and we were in some farmers hay shed, we did see the train go by and knew the other bike tourers were on it, dry and did question our decision. After that down pour it was fine. It did pour with rain in the evenings, but we avoided riding in the rain which was a surprise. When we arrived in Ljubljana and stayed in a hostel, we saw the same bike tourers bikes and assumed it was the same people, waiting for the rain to stop that never really came. Glad we made the right choice. This trip is full of constant decision making, we are getting better at making decisions on the fly.
We had a 98km day the other day uphill mostly, but some amazing country side. We ran into some Aussie bike tourists who also warned us of the rain. It was nice and weird speaking to Aussies in the same lingo. They were the second lot of aussies we have run into this trip and that’s it. At the end of the day, after nearly 100kms of mostly uphill, we took a wrong turn and we had no idea what we were going to do. We were planning on camping but now that was out of the question we had to find somewhere with a roof. We were a few kms out of a town called Lipica. We decided to try it and see if there was a Hotel. Yes there was, when we turned off the main road up to Lipica, there were all these horses. Turns out we stumbled upon the place where Lipizzaner’s first originated. Awesome! Had a tour of the 15th century stables in the morning, patted some Lipizaner foals. I was happy. Love a wrong turn that works out so well. Then had an awesome ‘follow our nose’ trip down the hill to the coast the following day. Yay! With every uphill there is always a downhill.
The following day we made it to the coast and we had just clocked 2000kms. Woo HOO! WE checked into a camp ground, looking forward to a beer or 2 and relaxing. It was the worst, dindgiest camp ground ever. We didn’t even want to drink the water there. We were really let down for the 2000km celebrations. Bugger. Oh well, we moved on early the next day.
Andy has become more and more wilder with his beard and is somewhat attached to this awful facial growth. He reckons its part of the journey. Weird! He is also getting OCD and organised with the handlebar bag with all our valuable important stuff in it. If I put something back in the wrong spot, I get a lecture. If Andy had a handbag at home, it would be the most organised, neatest handbag you ever saw. So, as a result, he is in charge of the handbag, which suits me just fine. Who knows we might see Andy rocking a Man bag when we are back home???
The other day we were almost homeless for a night when riding across Istra peninsula in Croatia. We thought we could do it in a day but it took us 3. One of the days we arrived at a campsite, it was about 5:30pm and we were ready to knock off for the day, have a beer and cook some food. Turns out it was someone’s back yard that had put down some gravel and put in a toilet block. It was creepy and we had a chat for a while and decided to keep riding. By about 7:30pm we came across a cool old ruined castle and stopped for a drink. We spoke to the lady and told her we had nowhere to stay for the night and no map. After some English, German and Maybe Croatian mumbles she came up with the goods. Gave us a map and somewhere to stay. She even called the place for us and said we were coming and got a price for us. Thank you. It wasn’t until about 8 or 8:30 that we arrived there after a wrong turn or 2. This is the closest we have come to being homeless for a night. I was starting to get panicky and worried that we would have to pitch our tent on the side of the road. PHEW! It was super dindgy but it was a bed and roof and cheap! That day we did 90kms. TIRED!
We were well in need of a rest day but wanted to wait until we were somewhere good to rest. We made it to the ferry that afternoon after about 70kms of riding uphill and into head winds and I looked on the map and realised once we got to the island of Cres there was a 500m vertical climb plus 35 kms to get to a town or camp ground. SHIT! We bought the tickets anyway as we had just descended 600 vertical metres to the ferry with no where to stay. I have been wanting to hitch hike for weeks and often talk to Andy about it and scope people out. The other day, on a day of climbing climbing, climbing, we stopped at a little café with a car and trailer in the car park. I said to Andy “I reckon that guy in the overalls owns that trailer, should we ask for a ride?” We didn’t and it turned out he didn’t own the trailer, but instead got into a small hatchback. Bummer.
When we were waiting for the ferry I was looking at all the cars and seeing if there was an option for hitch hiking. Andy even did a walk by all the vehicles scoping out which might be able to fit us in. There was a camper van with 1 man and an empty bike rack!!! What???? When we got on the ferry we wandered over. I said “what do you think? Should we ask”? Andy said “nah probably not”. I asked anyway.
“Excuse me, do you think you could take us and our bikes with you?”
“No, I’m sorry. I have no room, only a small bedroom and no room for your bikes”
I thought awesome, he speaks some English, but bummer he said no. I kind of pretended not to hear the ‘no’ bit and asked
“Oh where do you go on Cres Island”
“Let me show you on a map”
“Oh great could we come with you there using your bike rack on the back”
“No I have never used it before, sorry no”.
Then Andy pipped in and said “Oh ok, no worries”
I then followed him and said “Could we try the bike rack maybe”?
“Yes sure, you can try”
They worked a treat, no worries. A few bits of rope, all our bungy straps and they were on. We were more than half way to the island by the time we were loaded up the most dodgy campervan on the ferry.
We went up top and had a chat to the man. He was from Germany. Lived by himself in a caravan park and was travelling around Croatia. We told him our story and things became more relaxed. On the other side we got into the campervan. I was in the front and Andy was sitting on his bed in the back. The road was SHIT! Thank god we didn’t ride it. It was 400 vertical metres up, narrow, potholes every where and it took us about 40 mins in the camper to do 35 kms. When we got to Cres village, he let us out, we unloaded but we realised the 2 wooden chocks that stopped the bike rack from ratteling where missing. He was devastated and swore a lot in german (I think, I understood shizen and that was about it). We felt really bad so Andy started looking in our stuff to try and fix it. We ended up giving him one of our bungy straps which seemed to do the job. We shock hands, thanked him again and again and waved him off into the distance. We got to Cres village and bought a beer. A few minutes later than German man came around the corner, so we at least were able to buy him a beer. Who would have thought that hitch hiking with 2 bikes, 2 people and 8 bags was possible. I loved it. It saved us!!!!
Slovenia and Croatia feels a bit like ‘Off the Rails’ (a book by Tim Cope except way less hard-core and we’re not in Russia). It has been some very difficult navigation, lots of weird looks from people, lots of smiles and help, and a real sense of adventure.
We have stayed here in the caravan park in what we call a ‘mini house’ (it’s like a cabin) for 2 nights and have 1 night left before leaving. What we didn’t realise until last night, how hard it would be to get off the island. We assumed with our limited research, and no plan technique, that it would be easy on Croatian islands with a bike. Turns out it isn’t really that simple.
We went to an info centre this morning and said we want to get back to Italy somehow with our bikes and what was the best way. They all laughed at us. The first info centre sent us to another one 20 metres down the road and they sent us on to another one a few doors down. After the obligatory laugh at our plan, they told us the ferry was not an option as they don’t take bikes (only passengers). They then said we could get a bus. (Great we thought as we were getting worried and desperate) but we had to go back to the info centre we were just at to do that. Ok back we went. They told us no we had to go to another new info centre around the corner. WTF!!!! Who would have thought a town so small could have 4 info centres all within 60 metres of each other. There are probably 8 of them but we didn’t get the pleasure of visiting them all. Anyway we are getting a bus from Cres to Rijeka then Rijeka to Triste, then we think we will ride to Millan past Lago Di Garda. But who knows what we will actually do.
Pfunds to Zoppe – 1,638km total
As time goes on it gets harder and harder to remember all the things that happen which is why writing these blogs every now and again is a great way for us to reflect and look back on what has happened. It’s hard to believe we are half way through our trip. Time has flown by. It is probably worth mentioning that this time none of us are injured. Apart from some aching muscles, we are fit as fiddles. Hurray!
Zoppe is by far the best place we have been. We are still pinching ourselves at our luck. Our new favourite saying fits this situation perfectly (from Andy in the last video). “You don’t know what you’ll find when you don’t know what you’re looking for”. We are the only tourists in this town and the vibe is great! It really is all about the vibe! The journey to get here though was by far the most challenging and greatest yet.
Pfunds seemed like a really long time ago and I think it was. We really have lost all sense of time which is nice. We were still in Austria and amongst the Austrian Alps enjoying nice weather on the whole and great riding. We climbed up from Innsbruck to Reschen Pass then down into Italy to Bolzano – Brunico – Toblach – Cortina and now to Zoppe. As much as I would like to recount things in order, it is almost impossible as each day blends into the next so this is going to be a mish mash jumping back and forth. One thing that is for sure though, since arriving in Italy, it feels like it has been Sunday every day. Things close or don’t open at all on a Saturday. Sunday, nothing is open except a few restaurants, Monday is closing day for places that are open on a Sunday maybe and everyday heaps of shops and places close from 12pm to 3:30pm. WHAAAAAT? We have been caught out so many times. I keep singing “Sunday, bloody Sunday” and that’s it cos that’s all the words I know.
We left Pfunds on a Saturday morning and everything was closed so we assumed it was Sunday. So, we had no food at all except for some highly processed salami meat and some dehydrated gherkin pickling mix, (we bought by accident thinking it was dehydrated veggies) I had just given myself 2 painful blood blisters from getting my finger jammed in the chain rings somehow when cleaning my chain and we had a huge (or thought we did) climb ahead of us to Reschen Pass. We were supposed to go back into Switzerland to avoid the Tunnels through Reschen Pass after some local man outside the supermarket told us that would be much better. But, we got lost and took a wrong turn and ended up being stopped by the tunnels anyway despite our best efforts to go back into Switzerland.
We did however stumble upon an awesome little river castle that had some local shindig with food (Bratwurst and potatoes) and full on Austrian yokel folk music. It was a great vibe so we happily ate their sausages for lunch (thinking we would go hungry cos nothing would be open) and listened to music with locals singing and clapping along to the squeeze box organ, giant double bass, harp and something else I didn’t recognise. We did feel a little out of place walking into a yokels Sunday festival but were made to feel welcome. After that with full bellies, we began our climb up to Reschen Pass. It was steep, we had to push all the way to the main road where we were confronted with a sign saying we couldn’t go any further due to the tunnels or else we might “die” or get “injured”. SHIT! What should we do?
There was a sign saying that there was a bus at some town we didn’t know the name of or in which direction from where we were. So we took a gamble, turned left after running full pelt across the busy road with our bikes and road down the hill to a town where we saw 2 bike riders standing on the side of the road. This looked promising and sure enough they took a wrong turn also and were waiting for the bus. We asked them if the bus would run on a Sunday and they said ‘Yes because it is Saturday”. Idiots! Haha. Thank goodness it wasn’t a Sunday or we would have to go back to almost the start of the day where we took the wrong turn or put on our bike lights and risk “dying or injury”. No thanks! We loaded out bikes onto the bus trailer and we took up the very last spot on the trailer and arrived in the town almost at the top of the pass and got the ride for free! Awesome. The driver told us to pay at the top but it was lunch time and he ended up driving off and never asked for the money. I love free stuff!
From there we had an awesome decent through the forest, small Italian villages and down down down. It felt weird covering so much distance so quickly after climbing up for so long. We did love it though. Our brakes, not so much, our discs were slightly gold and warped when we arrived at our campsite. Just as we had finished cooking an ordinary dinner due to lack of ingredients it started raining and has done ever since, every day without fail since arriving in Italy. It has also dropped at least 10 degrees during the day. I have now got proper use out of my pillow (down jacket) that I have been carrying around all this time. I do wish I kept those thermal pants which we threw away 4 weeks ago. There have been some occasions when we get a bit over being so homeless and brummy.
One morning in particular, I was struggling a bit after having a crappy croppy caravan park experience in a town called Lana, it was pouring with rain non-stop for about 24 hours (cooking dinner in the rain, everything getting wet during the night, camped on a plot that was about 3 metres by 3 metres with neighbours very close by and noisy, packing up in the rain, going to the supermarket in the rain and getting held up by a car where I kind of chucked a “nanna in Lana” at the car in front of us. The thing I am blown away with over here, is that if a car has to stop for more than 3 seconds, they turn their car off. I think it is a good idea sometimes for sure and maybe we should do the same in Australia but on this occasion it was stupid and they turned their car off for about a 1.63 second wait as a car reversed out. This meant I had to slow down and then had to stop completely (I tried to do a track stand but couldn’t for the whole 1.63 seconds and had to put my foot on the ground). This is really not a big deal at all, but I chucked a nanna in Lana and swore at the driver. Oops. There has been very few nanna’s all together so I guess it can be forgiven.
After we got some food for the day we spent about an hour trying to find somewhere dry to make breakfast. We ended up in a bus stop with people staring at us thinking we were weird homeless bums which we kind of are. On days like that, we get really tired of standing out in the crowd, being started at, having nowhere dry to cook/eat/sleep/be. The day definitely improved after that. There is always something awesome about being on the road again that lifts your spirits no matter how down you are or how bad the weather is. That is another song we sing almost every morning. “On the Road again” and that’s about it cos that all the words we know! That day we ended up half way up a mountain just outside of Bolenzo looking over the city in a guest house and dry. We nearly stayed there for 2 days. It was expensive to stay anywhere in that town but we couldn’t ride any further and there was no camping ground that we knew of. But, we ended up finding the cheapest place in town. (Turns out it was out of town, half way up a mountain, if only the gondola stopped half way, but had awesome views and we loved it!)
Andy and I have found the perfect way to speak English and not be understood (we think and hope) by anyone else who speaks English around us. The trick is to speak in full on Aussie Occa slang. We have it down to a fine art now and can say surprisingly few words and know what the other in talking about. Our own secret code language. Ha.
The other thing is in Germany, Austria we made everything German by putting Berg, lingen etc on the end of each English word. Now that we are in Italy we have had to change this to outing an ‘o’ on the end of each word ‘anda speaking lika dis” (if you can hear my accent in words) of course only in private. Every day I hear Dad in the language with the emphasis on rolling of the r’s and arms. I am really looking forward to learning more Italian (not just English words with ‘o’ on the end) and hearing Dad speak Italian when we catch up with them.
We have had a great time enjoying the free produce along the way also. We started riding through orchards of apples and admiring how tasty and juicy they looked until one hangry moment we sneakily pinched a couple as we were riding along. From then on, we have been apple thieves. You can snatch them off the trees while riding past. The slugs are full on at times. When the place is a bit damp, the slugs are out in force. Often we run over them by accident and I cringe as they explode. I have been having fun with confusing people along the road. Sometimes I will predictably say ‘Buongiorno’ to people as we ride by and other times I will say ‘G’day mate, How ya garn?’ and pedal off leaving them to contemplate what I have said.
Life on a bike is all about the little things. Like the ‘vibe’ that I have already mentioned but also about the little things you come to appreciate so much when your home is on a bike. The other day, after staying in an awesome camp ground with our own private terraced spot with an awesome view of a castle and cheap beer it poured with rain, all of a sudden with no warning at all. We raced for the tent, picking up all our nearly dry washing and other items and throwing them and ourselves all drenched inside the tent. It was the day after that we spent 2 hours in a town going from 1 sport shop to the next trying to find a tarp. They all cost well over 100 euros which was too much for us but at the last shop we found a cheap 2 by 3 metre tarp for 10 euros. Small win but has made our lives so much better.
We now also have a ground sheet which is nice. Our Expeds and sleeping bags still get damp each night but it is a huge improvement. Now when we get to camp, our tarp is the first thing we set up (enjoying the challenges of getting it just right and scavenging materials to make it work) and so far we have needed it each evening usually as we are half way through cooking dinner. Thanks to Andy’s resourcefulness, McIverness and Swiss Army knife we now have a new way to carry my handlebar bag. In the beginning it was on my handlebars but it interfered with the brake cables and gears, now it is mounted behind Andy’s seat with an additional piece of wood that Andy carved and some imagination. No longer do we need 3 carabineers and an occy strap to mount it securely (which means it took forever to put it on and off). Winner!
We have had some amazing sneaky camp sites along the way. Our favourite was the day we bought the tarp, it was pouring with rain all day, we got a flat tyre, went the wrong way up a hill and had to back track. We were meant to go another 30kms uphill but it was too late and we were buggered. It was a really nice spot next to a little mountain stream and there was no danger of being seen. Had a great tarp set up, the sun was shining in the morning so we could dry everything. We didn’t leave camp until midday after too many coffees enjoying the forest.
As we have been climbing up higher into the Dolomites we have been amazed by the scenery and awesome tall mountains surrounding us on all sides (some of them reaching up to 3200 metres) although it is a bit busy in the cities and some of the towns, they are all still amazing and as soon as you are just outside the main square, it is much quieter. We are definitely travelling much slower again. Partially due to the terrain but also because we are loving the place.
In Brunico we enjoyed going to the Mountain Museum, which was set up by a local mountaineer and has 5 or 6 different museums scattered around the Dolomite region. It focused on all the different mountains in the world and the mountain culture. It also discussed about tourism taking over the mountains and destroying the mountain culture and how it is all so assessable now with the Gondolas, chair lifts, road access etc. It made me feel a bit guilty being a tourist really. Although, we have avoided the touristy stuff. The only really touristy thing we have done so far is the Mountain Museum and the 2 Gondolas up the mountain. The rest is all about traveling by bike like a gypsy.
A few words of wisdom from the mountain museum:
“It’s better to stumble upon new paths than to walk on the spot. And when your feet will no longer carry you, you climb with your head. Isn’t that so? That is not perhaps the natural order of things; but is it not better to walk with your head than think with your feet, as is so often the case?” (Rene Daumal).
“When one is very young and knows little the mountains are mountains, water is water and trees are trees. When one has studied and become sophisticated mountain are no longer mountains, water is no long water and trees are no longer trees. When one thoroughly understands, mountains are again mountains, water is water and trees are trees. The wisdom of this lesson seems to have been learnt above all by those mountain people who have never left their homes.”
We stayed in Cortina in the camp ground for 2 nights and had the best set up yet. We even had a seat to sit on that we made (it’s the small things). It was busy in the town and didn’t have an awesome vibe but we were a bit buggered from all the climbing and it poured with rain all day (a good day to not ride we thought). We did have the craziest narliest decent into Cortina though. We decided to ride on the road to get to the top and down the other side after using the terrible bike track that was really a washed out mountain bike track with really loose gravel rock so we couldn’t get any grip and our tyres would sink down in it. We were traveling at about 6.5kms an hour. Once we got on the road we were climbing the mountain at 15kms an hour and way less hard. On the other side going down the mountain there were massive tyre sized cracks all over the road that would swallow your tyre if you weren’t careful, with cars and trucks whizzing by. We made it though. Phew. The bike tracks and roads so far aren’t as good as in German, Switzerland and Austria. Could be though because we are in the mountains?!
Before we left, Mum mentioned something about the Gypsies in Italy. Now that we are in Italy we have maybe seen a few. One we gave a bread roll to when she said she was hungry, the other gave me her Cranberry juice from her drink bottle when I asked if she knew where any drinking water was. But they probably weren’t even Gypsies just some slightly rough looking people (we are probably the most gypsy/rough looking people around though really ha). Ever since we have been in Italy we have been blaming the Gypsies when things go wrong or if we do something dumb. (A bit of a joke between us). Andy’s latest was blaming the Gypsies for loosing stuff. So far he has lost/left behind 1 pair of sunnies, 1 plug adaptor and body wash. Each of these has been blamed on the gypsies. Poor gypsies.
Andy just came back from the supermarket and said “I’m multi lingual I tells ya”. He explained his conversation with a local about why the supermarket was closed and if it would open today using a combination of Italian (that he has just learnt from an app while I’m typing this), German and English. Impressive I say! But the bad news is that the supermarket just over the road, placed so conveniently, is closed on a Wednesday. Whaaaat? Sunday on a Wednesday! “Sunday, bloody Sunday”!
We have just got back from the locals bar down the road, it was cranking. It sells booze and ice-cream, what more could you want? It is so nice that all these villages have a community hub where they can all get together young and old. It would be nice if Greta South had something like that, but I guess you need a village first and the property size back home is too big. Here, everyone seems to live in the village and own little farms on the outskirts that they drive their tractor to each day.
Last night we thought we would have the worst dinner. All we had was a can of tuna, pesto sauce and dehydrated mushrooms, rocket and penne pasta. Turns out it was our best pasta meal yet. YUM! We also turned on the TV for the first time ever and was surprised to see Mr Bean. Awesome.
We decide a few days ago that we would take a short cut/back road to a place called Zoppe which seemed like it would be a bit off the beaten track from the map. It was. We climbed about 900 vertical metres over about 8-10kms with no map just a photo from a map board. It took us 5 hours. I have never seen a steeper road in my life!!! It was bloody hard. I have never counted to 40 over and over again so many times in my life. I would do 40 steps then have to stop for a bit while my calves stopped burning and my lungs recovered. Our bikes weigh between about 65 – 85kgs each. My arms a certainly stronger after that climb. It was spectacular and worth it though.
When we were almost at the top 5 hours later, a man driving down stopped and told us we only had 1 more km to the top. He probably thought we were nuts having come up that road. That was the encouragement we needed though to get to the top. It was probably more like 2 kms though but at the time it was great encouragement. We finally got to the top and began the ride to Zoppe. At the top we asked for directions and a lady pointed us in the right direction and told us it was about 8kms away. We had a brief conversation with me speaking English and her speaking Italian lots of miming and hand gestures. We told her where we had come from and she said “Bravo Bravo” and I said I was buggered and we were crazy tourists. Ha. When we arrived in Zoppe at about 6pm it started raining. We asked some locals if there was any camping, hotel or restaurant. They said no we would have to go 10kms down the road. SHIT!!!! We both couldn’t have ridden down the mountain. If the road on the other side looked anything like on the way up, it would have been a death wish with the way we were feeling. We came across a place that kind of looked like a restaurant or hotel. I went over and asked and they said no hotel but it was a restaurant but didn’t open until 7pm. Shit!
Just as we were about to get on our bikes and ride down the mountain as it was our only option, a woman came over and asked us if we needed a place to stay. We said yes but we don’t have much money to spend for anywhere fancy. We thought she was going to give us directions to a place to stay at the bottom of the mountain, until we started talking about how many nights and money and had all of a sudden agreed on a price even though we didn’t know what it was like or where. Turns out she was offering us her apartment overlooking the dolomites with the best view in town a stone’s throw for where we were standing. With not just 1 room with a bathroom off the side but a kitchen, dining room, lounge room, kitchen, hallway, bedroom and bathroom. WOW! We couldn’t believe our luck. To be in the right place at the exact right time for the woman to be there and hear that we were looking for a place to stay. News travels fast in a small town. When we were settled in, the woman who had said ‘Bravo” and given us directions at the top of the mountain is living in the apartment above us. She seemed surprised to see us at her front door and we explained that we were staying in the apartment below with sign language. We slept really well that night. I have never been so buggered physically before.
We have enjoyed having a bath, using a real kitchen, having room to move, watching Mr Bean, eating ice cream at the bar and being in such a nice village with no other tourists, everyone on the street is super friendly and we were originally going to stay for 1 night but we are now staying for 3. It will be sad to leave this place. It is worth 4 times the amount that we are paying. The woman just came over and we said we would like to stay for 1 more night and gave her the money and she gave us a 20 Euro discount.
The mountain Passes we have coming up over the next few days are more gradual over a longer distance and on a paved road so we are ready! It took a whole day yesterday to wash and dry everything and get sorted, today is for eating, drinking and relaxing with a view. Our clothes are washed, muscles and minds are rested and tomorrow we will be “on the road again”.
It’s hard to believe that it was 9 days ago that we had our last rest day. Its also hard to believe that we have ridden nearly 1300kms. We loved the upper section of the Danube River. There was plenty of forested sections that were surrounded by rocky outcrops in steep gorges. We had lots of great swim stops, met some interesting locals who continue to give some much appreciated local knowledge and did a lot of riding. However, we did nickname the Danube the Dangube as lower down it did get very Dangy. After about 350kms of riding the Danube doing 80kms a day in 40 degree heat and not wanting to swim anymore (although there were lots of crystal clear blue lake gravel pits to swim in) it was time to go to the mountains again.
So after celebrating 1000kms in an ‘almost’ beer castle that we stumbled upon, we decided to ride to Donauworth and get the train to Munich, and then from Munich to the Austrian alps. When we arrived at the train station in Donauworth, (on a Sunday) Andy negotiated the ticket machine but didn’t get a ticket for our bikes. The train we needed to be on was already on the platform waiting and we didn’t have time. So we decided to risk it and get on anyway. After getting told off for riding my bike on the platform, we showed out ticket to the man and he told us ‘No good. You need a bike ticket. You can’t get on”.
We did our best at looking confused and sorry ‘Ich sprekin kein deutch’ and pulled out our wallet to try and buy the bike ticket from him. Luckily, another ticket person came along and seemed to be pleading our case for us. We did look awful. Dripping with sweat, and being all awkward with my bike trying to wheel it. (Because I don’t have front panniers and all the weight including tent is on the back, my bike loves to rear and when it is just past the tipping point it also loves to try and fall over with the front wheel falling out when wheeling it). Anyway, we got on! We bought our bike tickets on the train from the man, no worries and then awkwardly took off all our panniers and tried to place them wherever there was room. Phew!
We arrived in Munich and it was super-hot. It was a train station kind of similar to Spencer Street but this one had skylights all though it so it was like a glass house with no breeze. Andy organised our tickets and after waiting at Munich station for a few hours we were on our way again only this time we didn’t need to unload our panniers on the following trains and the whole thing was super stress free, even the change overs. We left Donauworth at 11am and got into Innsbruck at 6:30pm. We were a bit wowed by the amount of tourists from all over the world in Innsbruck. Super busy. We eventually found the centre of town by following a tourist horse and cart, went to the info centre and got a map, had a beer. Then at about 7:30 when the clouds were looking very furious with thunder and lightning all around, we went to find somewhere to stay. Sure enough our tactic (actually not a tactic at all) of looking bewildered and lost in cities, help was found. A woman on a bike at some traffic lights asked if we needed help. We told her we were looking for somewhere to stay.
She said“No, not possible, all booked, too busy.
“Oh”! We said starting to think maybe we were a bit hasty to come to a big city in the alps, late in the evening and expect to find somewhere to stay. Just like we had all over the place.
“Can you do camping”? the woman asked.
“Yes, yes”! This was our preference anyway but the tourist map hadn’t shown any camp grounds so we assumed we had to stay in a guest house.
“Follow me” she said
Yes! Another escort, we won’t get lost.
We did still get a bit lost when she stopped at an intersection to leave us to go the rest of the way and said
“It’s easy go straight ahead for 15 mins, go past the airport. When the airport finishes turn right”.
We thanked her and off we went. By this stage it was pissing down with rain. Sure enough we got a bit lost and turned right way to early which led us through rural tracks. Eventually we found it. We were drenched, tired and relieved to have a cheap and easy place to stay out of the city a bit. When we went in though the woman said they were all booked and there was no more room.
Our expressions on our faces said it all. I started thinking of what else we could do. We could ask a farmer if we could camp on their land maybe. There was no accessible forest around to sneaky camp in. Eventually she said that maybe we could go around and ask people if we could camp on their plot. I didn’t like our chances but someone saw us looking around and said its not a proper site but if you have a small tent you can go here and showed us where we could camp. PHEW! We set up out tent in record time with the rain. Got our kitchen and food bags and cooked on the first proper stove stove yet, it was however right outside the female toilets. We both go through a love/hate relationship with camping grounds. Now, with their complementary undercover hot plate, we loved them again. The only downer was we were camped underneath a street light. Andy slept with his sun hat over his face and I wore an eye mask (I knew I didn’t throw it out for a reason!)
It was so nice to be in the mountains again just looking at them makes us happy. Surrounded by huge mountain peaks, glaciers in the distance and small country towns. We rode out of Innsbruck and had decided the day before from a bit of googling that we would ride up the Inns River instead of down like we thought we would always do. When we were on the Rhine River and we saw people riding up the river that we were riding down, we thought they were nuts. Now here we are a few weeks later doing exactly the same. The reason is that rivers get better the higher up you go and we want to get up and over into Italy then the dolomites then to Slovenia somehow from there. Also we want to spend the most amount of time in the alps as we can and this looked like the best option where it wasn’t going to be ridiculously steep.
Straight away we noticed the lack of cycle tourists which was nice. In a day we might only see half a dozen. We have been following the river up for about 4 days now and loving it. We aren’t doing as many km’s in a day that we were in the flatlands on the Danube but the place and people are awesome. We are again, stopping all the time to take photos. My new bike computer shows that in a day, we spend as much time actually pedalling as we do off the bikes or stopped. We can leave in the morning at 9am and get into camp at 6pm and have a ride time of 4 hours. Its hard to believe that we faff around so much.
We went past a place the other day called Phaffenhof (can’t spell it) and we thought we had found home. Therere constant jokes about the amount of faffing around we do. The track here has been pretty good and has mainly avoided main busy roads which is good. I did nearly get hit by a truck though yesterday or thought I did anyway. They had a very narrow bike path on the side of a narrow busy road. I swerved a bit accidently as it was steep and I was going slow, just as a truck came past and it felt like was inches away from me. I screamed and swore loudly. I’m sure it was probably a good few meters away from me though as everyone gives bikes heaps of room. It was loud and scary. Luckily that section was over pretty quickly and we turned off back into the forest.
Things have definitely changed since the beginning. Andy used to ride in a shirt with the top button done up and shorts over his padded undies. He was the only sunsmart person in all of Europe then I think. Now, he prefers sun hat and padded undies only like the locals do. That’s it! No shame anymore!
We have not had very many maps since leaving the Danube. We have had to go into tourist info centres and get crappy maps that tell you nothing and rely off those for a few days. Yesterday we were in a big town called Inst and went to a book shop and the best map we could get was one that included Switzerland, Slovenia, Nth Italy and Germany. The book shop woman was trying to tell us that we were going the wrong way to Slovenia and its no good for bikes as it is too steep. OOPS! So far so good though I guess we will find out soon if she is right or not.
The other day we met a nice German family who gave us their free pass to a Gondala. We went there the following day (hoping we could take our bikes up, then ride down). It was a no go. We left our bikes at the bottom and went up. The view was amazing. I however, spent more time looking at these amazingly cute little pally ponies and foals instead of the view. As soon as we got off the gondala I saw these cute ponies in the distance just off one of the hiking tracks. We went over, I thought they would be almost wild as we were in the middle of nowhere. Turns out they were super tame and they enjoyed a good scratch. I enjoyed it more than the ponies I think. I have been missing Marley and Dutchy. The views though were incredible and it was good to do something a bit touristy for a change.
Now it is my turn to have injuries. I now have a saw back from too much camping (sitting on the ground hunched over cooking etc) and a saw knee too. It had to be my turn soon. I had a 4 week good run with no injuries. Andy however, has a new one. His is kind funny and actually has a name. We googled it and of course self-diagnosed from trusty Doctor Google. Andy has a condition known a Handlebar Palsy caused by nerve damage from ongoing pressure on the palm of his hand from so much time riding the bike. It was all demented looking and he couldn’t straighten it or move it properly. We are constantly paying each other out for our dodgy backs and knees etc. Jokes aside though, his palsy is better and my back is on the mend slowly. We will find out if my knee is better tomorrow when we climb 700 vertical meters. Ahhhh!
We are definitely getting fitter though, we have been overtaking electric bike on the Danube. A few weeks ago they were overtaking us and we hated them, calling them cheaters and wuss bags behind their backs as they would cruise up a hill without breaking into a sweat. Now we overtake them on the flat and feel pretty good about it. We are now enjoying the uphills more as we feel we really earn the downhills that follow. Being on a bike for hours is the most peaceful way to travel. You see so much. Things we would miss for sure if we were amongst the thousands of over campervans on highways. There is a lot of time to think, listen to music and it’s just you and your bike. When your bike hurts, you hurt with it. Cringing all the time at the weird noises and clunks that happen along the way. Our bikes are starting to show signs of wear and we may need to replace some things soon.
We are staying in an awesome quiet old part of a town called Pfunds. Awesome views and awesome place to have a beer which is where we are off to now. I need to wake Andy up, he is currently snoring while I’m writing this. It has been great having a rest day.
Andy’s bike maintenance along the way
- Even though we bought brand new bikes before we left we have still had some issues. Only a few days before we left home Amy’s rear wheel hub was sticking on and not freewheeling, causing the derailleur to get wrenched forward, nearly braking it off every time it happens with an awful noise. This happened again when we left Innsbruck, thinking we would need a new wheel. Which would be hard find in Austria due to our larger unusual wheel size. We rolled into town at a bike shop. He said he had no wheel and re-greasing it wouldn’t work. But he did and its will hopefully go another 1000+kms.
- Cleaning chains nearly every second day means I have sacrificed 1 singlet, one pair boxer shorts, 1 pair of shorts and 1 pair of socks. I am now running low on clothes Amy thinks.
- Amy’s pannier bag mount fell apart on a rainy day and we had to steal a screw from elsewhere on the bag after having to tie it all together with rope and bungie straps to get to the next town.
- My front pannier bag always comes off its bottom mount. One time it came off almost completely and went into the front wheel and nearly caused a huge stack. Later on I realised that a spacer had come off and I went back to where it had happened, a car had run it over but somehow I managed to bend it back into shape and its still going. I was a bit bummed about it when it happened though, thinking it would be hard to find replacement parts. Not needed though!
- I think I’ve found a solution to this front rack problem after spending weeks looking for a hardware store, I now have some hose clamps and electrical tape that should do the job (tomorrow)
- We had tried 4 different ways to mount the rear panniers and now they stay on, even during the off road mountain biking sections.
- The new cogs we bought in Freiburg work for getting up hills but the gear changing is very rough, often nearly jamming the chain between cogs and often resulting in manually pulling the chain out by hand. But the smaller cogs are awesome whenever we need to climb so we don’t mind the roughness. We have worked out how to make it as smooth as possible, putting just the right amount of pressure needed on the pedals and levers when changing down.
- Always adjusting bike seat angles and positions trying to make them more comfortable.
- I have rewrapped my handle bar tape 4 times and think I have finally worked it out. Amy’s bike is due for the bike tape to be wrapped again.
- Constantly on the lookout for loose nuts and bolts anywhere on the bikes
- I have put a new bike computer on Amy’s bike that actually works. My crap Aldi one still works most of the time and its got a thermometer that accurately works and reads over 40 for many days riding in the sun.
- Always on the lookout for a new way to dry your clothes on the bike, grundies out in the middle of town is a good look!
- I have modified my handle bars to include: a home made gopro mount, A (pant) coat hanger with pegs to hold the map and sunnies, small pouch which is the tool box including all the bike tools rags and chain oil. Lucky we bought so many cable ties!
- The brakes need constant adjusting as we are wearing through them pretty quick and don’t want them to drag. The disks seem to warp in and out of shape due to the extreme heat of the mountain descents. The steel is showing some good signs of heat developed.
- Amys wounds from the spikes on the mountain bike pedals are starting to heal. She cursed them for the first couple of weeks. I took some spikes out and she was slipping off the pedals and now wants them all back. This is another job on the list to do tomorrow, one which we keep forgetting to do.
- We spent about 3 days roaming around towns looking for bike shops that would have a suitable stand for our bikes. At first I didn’t think it was possible for our frames until I saw some amazing engineering designs from the Swiss and Germans that I thought could work. I have been continually admiring some of the amazing craftsmanship as we ride along from: farming equipment which is very different to Aus, woodworking which is all precision made from the straightest logs you can imagine, to blacksmithing that gives me lots of ideas. After a few very hot days with Amy hopeful for a stand which most other bike tourers have, we finally found a really good bike shop that said we have really nice frames and it was not a good idea to try and put a stand on them. From Amy…. I continually struggle to park my bike but at least now I know its not possible to have them on our bikes. I will continue to be envious of other people with bike stands but at least I have Andy to park my bike when I can’t work out how to get the pedal in the exact right position to balance on the curb.
No photos this time. They are in the movie below. Cheers!
Andy was very lucky to get into a physio by the sounds, we tried both in town and they were booked out for 6 weeks. Luckily one of them said he would see Andy at 7:30am (before he officially opened). His orders were to take it easy and not ride too far. That day we rode 75kms to get to the other side of a city having accidentally ridden the alternate route through the wilderness. His knee is now fully healed but unfortunately his back is now playing up. We have joked many times about me ‘doing a top gear’ on Andy. For those who haven’t seen top gear, every time one of them brakes down the rules are they get left behind to sort the problem themselves. Also to be kind to Andy and his injured knee I told him I would ‘break his wind’ for him for the next few days (meaning I would ride in front to create a slipstream). I definitely ‘did a Mum’ on this one cracking myself up and impressing myself with my comedy. Andy didn’t think it was as funny as I did though for some reason. Haha.
We are in a town called Sigmaringen and have just come back from visiting a castle that was built in the 1500’s and has the largest collection of old weapons and armour in Europe. It was pretty amazing (even if it wasn’t a beer castle).
The beer here is awesome. Every town has its own locally brewed beer. This town they even supply beer doilies to stop the condensation dripping down on to your coaster and your coaster sticking to the bottom of your glass. Ha! The only problem with all this luxurious beer drinking, is the European wasps that like to take a dip in your beer. From our observations so far, it seems the European wasps here are relatively friendly and dopey compared to at home. Locals swat them away like flies and the wasps don’t care. It seems that the Australian versions have mutated/adapted into much larger and more aggressive than their ancestors here.
From Waldshut where we wrote the last blog we have ridden through Basel and continuing along the Rhine River for a few more days until we got to Nuemburg. Here, we turned east off the Rhine as we wanted to head back up into the mountains again. The Rhine had become much wider and a bit dirty for swimming.
We rode to a place called Frieberg which is the second nicest city in Germany apparently. We went there with a plan of having a brief look around the city, then getting on a train to the top of the Black Forest Alps to a place called Titisee, where the Danube River started. When we got there, we got fairly lost trying to find the centre of town, found out from a nice local that they stopped running trains to Titisee the day before we arrived due to doing maintenance of the tracks. The next option was the bus. We went to the bus station (eventually after getting lost numerous times but being helped out by so many friendly locals, pointing us in the right direction). We probably rode at least 10km extra than we needed to around that city trying to find the train station, bus station centre of town and somewhere to stay.
There were heaps of busses with bike racks on the back but none that were clearly labelled with where they were going. There were also many different companies which made it difficult to know which one to go to. We ended up trying to ask the bus drivers where they were going and them not understanding us, then locals would get involved and try to translate for us. It was all complete mayhem. We then eventually found an office of a bus company that apparently would take us and our bikes and tell us what time and what number bus to get on. Or so we thought. Andy was in line at this bus office for well over an hour. When it was his turn, and Andy asked for a bus to Titisee, the man simply said ‘No’ and that was all. Our only option then was to ride up to the highest point in Germany through the black forest. My resilience levels were fairly low at this stage and I wasn’t overly helpful trying to read the map or find any solutions. Ha.
After arriving in Frieberg at about midday and it now being 6:00pm, we didn’t really feel that Frieberg was the second best city in Germany at all. Across the road from the bus office there was a bike shop Andy still had some enthusiasm left to go in and ask if they had any smaller cogs for our bikes that would make the hill climbing possible the following day. We had no luck in Australia at all with finding the parts. 2 bike shops searched everywhere for us with no luck so I wasn’t hopeful at all. But surprise surprise they had what we wanted. The bike dude said it would cost us 20 euro for the part and 20 euro for the labour per bike. Then if it didn’t work it would cost us another 20 euro to put it back to how it was. He tried to talk us into getting a cog with 26 teeth but we insisted on the 24 teeth (makes it easier to get up hills). The bike dude tried to insist that it wouldn’t work and the gear changing would be too rough etc etc blah blah.
Andy then asked if he could fit the cogs himself with the use of their tools. Surprisingly he agreed. So, here we were after a kind of crappy day, at 6pm at night in an alleyway, not knowing where we would stay the night, pulling our bikes to pieces. Again, I was super helpful and my prime role was bike holding! A very important job. Andy changed his bike first and it was perfect almost straight away. No worries, Then it was time to do my bike which turned out to be a little more difficult due to using a second hand part that required the right sized spacers. After changing my new cog on and off 3 or 4 times to get it right it was now about 7:30pm. Thankfully, Andy has the skills to be able to do all of this stuff, it cost us 37 euros all together instead of about 120 euros.
Our next task was finding a place to stay before riding up multiple huge mountains the following day. After being yelled at by locals for riding our bikes in a walking street (oops we can’t read German) we tried to navigate our way to a camping ground. We got lost yet again and the bridge and bike track we needed were closed. As we stood there looking defeated, a guy came up to us and offered us help. Turns out he was also a keen cycle tourer and so was keen to help us. He personally escorted us to the camp ground 6km’s out of town. On the way, a German man riding near us struck up a conversation with Andy, asking about our trip and where we were going etc. We explained our predicament and he told us that there was a gondola that would take bikes up to the (almost) top. When we looked on the map we discovered that the gondola climbed over 1000 vertical meters but it would take us about 100km short of Titisee. We didn’t mind at all, as at least it would take us up that high. Thank goodness we ran into this guy by chance or else we would still be trying to get up the mountain. Lucky!
To get to the Gondola was an adventure involving heaps of mountain biking through the Black Forest foothills and a lot of climbing. But we found it, and it was awesome. Turns out a way better choice than the train and I’m so glad we went this way. The riding to get to Titisee and Donuashegen was amazing. We had a few great sneaky camp sites, heaps of unexpected mountain biking, lots of climbing, amazing views, German alpine ski villages and awesome “Alpen berries” (similar to dangle berries but way better Haha).
Turns out our bikes are actually really good. We are constantly getting stopped and people are asking about our bikes having never really seen bike like it before. It does make me feel a bit more worried about them in cities though. If we were to buy bikes over here, we would have ended up with an overpriced mountain bike with smaller wheels. Our bikes were actually cheaper, faster (larger wheels) and better than most of the bikes we have seen for sale in bike shops. So, it was worth the effort of getting them here.
We had a very ordinary map for about a week. We started the trip with a very detailed map that came as a book. When we got onto the other maps, navigation became much harder and we could no longer talk in the lingo we had developed while using the book maps. For example, when one of us wanted to know how far we had to go we would respond with how many pages and we would know and understand exactly how far it was. “How far do we have to go?” “2.5 pages”
Or… “There is a hut and pine tree coming up soon. Do we want to stay there?” …. Meaning there was a pension/guest house.
Our German has improved significantly. We know speak like locals. All you need to do is add ‘berg’ or ‘shern’ or ‘targ’ or ‘lingen’ on the end of everything.
Dad, I think you would be very proud of me! Every day, I am rocking the socks and sandals without fail. Who knew that you were on to such a good thing for all these years. I never knew. If I had known that it was so good, I would have never have given you such a hard time and teased you. I can’t believe I used to think it was a dorky thing to do. Turns out it is actually very popular over here too. More importantly though, it is practical. It protects your feet from sunburn, makes it feel like you’re wearing proper shoes, stops your feet/sandals from getting stinky and is comfortable. Andy is not as keen on the socks and sandals thing as me but he has certainly done it from time to time. His feet were so badly sunburnt it blistered so he had no choice.
As I have mentioned earlier, we are constantly taking wrong turns and getting distracted by the scenery and end up having to back track or find an alternative way back to the correct path. On one particular occasion in the black forest in a small village, we had an English vs German conversation with an old Nanna. Neither of us could understand what the other was saying but we both understood perfectly. It went a bit like this:
Nanna: “Hello, can I help you, you looked like you need help”
Us: “Yes please. Is this Trink Wassa? Can we drink this water?”
Nanna: Yes it’s good. You can drink it.”
Us: “Great thanks. Do we go this way to Titisee?”
Nanna: “Yes, go down the hill then turn right”
Us: “Great thanks. Bye”
After we filled our water bottles, we rolled off down the hill we got distracted by the coolness of the town and started talking and zigzagging all over the quiet roads enjoying it. Then we heard in a huge booming voice from the old Nanna (150 metres away) who was till obviously watching us to make sure we didn’t miss the turn off.
“Oi, you missed the turn off” (‘you vague, airy-fairy tourists’ she was probably thinking)
We turned around and went back to the correct path after yelling out our thanks again.
We have been constantly blown away by how helpful people are, especially in a place where there are not as many cycle tourists. Another example was the other day, sitting in an old town in the morning after getting up at the crack of dawn to pack up our sneaky camp. We were making a coffee by a water fountain, on our beer can stove. A woman came out of her house and came up to us, obviously taking pity on us and our dirty homeless look that we are rocking now. She said “you like coffee? I make you one” so off she went back into her house and came out with 2 coffees. She asked where we were from and where we had been bike riding. We told her we had started at Oberalpass. When she understood what we were saying she said ‘Oh wow, so far”. For the first time then I actually started to think that it was a long way that we had come even with injuries etc. We haven’t done a proper tally yet of the km’s that we have done (due to our Aldi speedo being dodgy – who would have thought. Mine broke on the first day and Andy’s you need to add on about 3 or 4 kms for every 10km we do) but it is at about 800kms give or take. When we started at Oberallpass we had no idea what we were doing, we still don’t really, but we are definitely not such beginners as we were then.
Bike travel is really great. We have worked out there are 2 types of cycle tourists. The first type are kind of like road riders who smash out as many km’s in a day and it is about the destination and the physical. The other type are much slower, social and cruisy and take their time and are using the bikes as a means of travel through a place where it is more about the journey and what you see along the way. No points for guessing which we are. Sure, there is still an element of wanting to ride a long way in a day and physically push yourself. We are enjoying feeling fitter and stronger but we are still taking our time, drinking way too much beer, riding with a hangover occasionally and once (yesterday) only riding 10kms in a day if we find somewhere we like and want to explore.
Andy has progressively thrown out more and more of his clothes as he goes along. He has realised that he rides and wears the same thing every day so there is no need for much else. Just a t shirt, jocks and long pants. So, this means he has been wearing his bike riding shorts which are more like undies and is so used to being in public in his undies all the time. So much so, that the other day when he was actually only wearing his undies in a caravan park, he got out of the tent in his jocks and was walking around everywhere, went off to get a beer then came back and told me that “Oops, I have been wearing my jocks around outside” So, on with some shorts then he was off to get some beers more appropriately dressed this time.
We have a bit of a routine now. In the beginning we would be up at the crack of dawn (6am) and riding by 7am. Now, when we are wild camping we are up at the crack of dawn so we don’t get caught. When we are staying in a caravan park we are usually a little hungover and take it a bit slower and get going by about 8:30. When we stay in a guest house we leave late, making the most of the comfort, internet, shower and included breakfast and get going on the road by about 10:00am. When we sneaky camp we have to ride for longer as we can’t set up too early or we will be seen. We have had some awesome spots where we have ‘wild camped’ and it is nice to be out in the bush. The only downer is the constant “What was that?” “Is someone coming?” “Have we been seen?” “Do you think they will go and tell the landowner?” We have had some close calls about being spotted.
The last sneaky camp, we went up into the bush and camped next to a hunting hide/shack. I originally thought they were for bird watching but I don’t think they are. We saw someone in one of these on the side of the road calling out like a dying rabbit with cammo stuff everywhere. Our theory was that we were better off to camp there so if any hunters came, they would see us and not accidently shoot over our heads towards a deer or something. The truth was, we couldn’t be bothered looking for anywhere else as we had stumbled upon a local beer festival that afternoon and it was too late to go anywhere else. It was a bit stressful though.
The hardest thing can been finding somewhere to stay at night. Most tourists and cyclists seems to have their accommodation (guest house and camping ground) pre-booked so places can either be booked out or just not open. When we wild camp we buy a takeaway beer and then ride out of the town towards the bush and try and find somewhere before our beer gets warm. It can be a stressful thing! Haha. Another thing we do before setting up our tent is to look around for the nearest church and do everything we can to get as far away from it as possible. The church bells that go off every 15 mins drive us mad. In a tent there isn’t much of a sound barrier. Peter calls it Time Spam. Apparently the locals hate it too but they have to put up with it because that’s how it is, and that has what has always happened.
Tomorrow we leave this town and head further down the Danube River. We have also posted another video. Enjoy! xx
“Andy and Amy By Bike Part 1 movie”