4000 Miles Around Europe

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European Cycle – 3 ½ months

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  This trip stemmed from my desire to go to the World Cup in Germany but due to not earning much money working in a Peruvian restaurant I figured the cheapest way to do it would be on a bike. Also, when I finished my cycle across the UK I felt fed up of cycle touring but I soon forgot about the hardship and when I reminisced about the experience I yearned for more. I decided to make the trip length longer than 4 weeks and to add a bit of spice by going to Germany via Rome, although during the first few weeks of the trip I seriously doubted my decision to do another tour.

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   I had just lived in Brooklyn for 6 months then on the 20th March 2006 I set sail from Portsmouth on a ferry towards France; just me, my bike, loads of camping equipment and about $1600 in the bank. I intended to travel south through France to the Mediterranean coast and follow it round until Rome. From there I would cross the Alps while cycling back through Slovenia, Austria and the Czech Republic in time to reach Germany for the beginning of the tournament.

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3. Europe

My Cycle Route around Europe

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France – 23 Days

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The first 5 days of the trip were pretty tough, I had to battle against icy cold winds, tonnes of rain and even some snow but I was rewarded with sleeping a night in a former Nazi defense post and visiting some of the D-Day beaches and grave yards full of Allied troops.

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Me sleeping in a bin liner and struggling with my leaking tent

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Some of the Nazi defense posts

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WW2 graves


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Me and Lionel the fireman, my knight in shining armour

On day 6 I had an amazing day of two halves as I remember being as miserable as I have ever been when I was going a hypo, I got a puncture, it really started to rain hard, the wind was against me, the road surface was really difficult, my back hurt and I was 28km from Brou with a big hill in front of me. Then as if sent from heaven a stoner dude picked me up, took me to the next town, handed me a big block of hash hidden inside his steering wheel and asked me to roll a joint, he bought me a couple of drinks, invited 2 girls along before dropping me at a hotel with a nice bit of hash he’d just sold me cheap.

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I spent the second week cycling through endless farmland and a couple of National Parks. I took a couple of days to cycle through the Loire valley via the chateaus du Chobord, du Blois, Amboise and the charming Chatallion sur Indre before cycling into the Brenne National Park.

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The Loire Valley

I only spent 2 nights in a hotel room on the entire trip (not including time in the Czech Republic and Germany when I was visited by loved ones). The 2nd night was only 5 days after the fireman incident when I wasn’t feeling so good and really needed some warmth. I struggled to cycle all day battling against hills and annoying weather as well as feeling progressively worse, then when I stopped to take a leak I was electrocuted by a Fence, so when I cycled into a small town and found a room for €30 I couldn’t resist.

   Sleeping a night in the warmth did me good, I cycled on feeling much better but things didn’t get easier as I continued to battle the cold, wet weather, crossing really hilly land and problems with my diabetes. I got stuck up a mountain after Aurillac having to sleep in a little wooded area in Carlat to hide from the rain, which didn’t help as next morning I woke up shivering in a puddle. Some of the highlights of the last decade are moments that I look back on and think bloody hell that was hard, how did I manage that? Many of these moments are related to cycle trips and some of the conditions I have made myself camp in, for this reason Camping in Aurillac is one of my highlights and the day after was a turning point as the weeks of rain and mountains relented.

The ‘Grotte de Lascaux’ caves were impressive with its cave paintings that are tens of thousands of years old, then after that I cycled through the Cevennes National Park to reach Nimes. I quickly admired Nimes and Arles with the impressive aqueduct and other Romans ruins  then went straight through the dilapidated Aix en Provence, finishing my third week by arriving at the Mediterranean coast in Toulon. From Toulon I continued cycling along the hilly Mediterranean coast taking 3 days to reach Italy. I passed through Cannes and Nice quite quickly as they were a little too touristy and then I ended up sleeping a night in a strange park in Monaco which was full of sculptures.

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The Mediterranean Coast

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Monaco

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Italy – 22 Days

My first impressions of Italy during the few days cycling from the border to Genoa:

  • Loads of scooter/vespas
  • A good-looking bunch, although the lads all look like girls
  • Seems poorer i.e. more run down than France
  • Much more considerate drivers
  • Romans invented the road and I reckon the Italians invented tunnels – much better than climbing big hills – nicer cycling
  • Some really nice towns along the picturesque and scenic coast (Cervo and Celle stood out) I noticed an abundance of balconies, and love the style of these Italian houses and their architecture.

 

 

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There were Mopeds everywhere

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Cervo

After Genoa it was quite a bit hillier so I didn’t make as much progress as intended but I was at least 2 days ahead of my plan so didn’t need to panic. Food in Italy was more expensive (more than double France) so I ate Mackerel and banana sarnies, yoghurt and cheap biscuits, compared to France’s delicious muesli, baguettes and cheap tuna. I went through some cool tunnels until a cop told me I couldn’t and made me climb from sea level up and over a 900m pass.

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There were many people doing this

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I had 5 very eventful days cycling which included highlights such as the Cinque del Terre Nat. Park (with its rocky coastline and nice forest) the towns of Pisa, Florence and Siena.

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From Florence to Rome was about 200 miles and took 3 days; It was hilly but the whole area is covered in castles and fortresses that now function as towns.

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Cycling through Tuscany

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  • Greve – old with a nice piazza
  • Castellina – a castley old town
  • Monteriggioni – an old castle/fortress/town but best of all was
  • Siena – a lush city with a really nice shell-shaped piazza and a labyrinth of really cool gothic buildings, a very cool and unique place.

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in the centre of Siena

I spent a couple of days and a night exploring Rome – I had lunch outside the humble Sistine chapel, and learnt the Vatican City is officially a country with its own postal service and radio station. There was so much to see; in particular liked the Trevi fountain, Piazza Navona, the colosseum, the Pantheon, the huge monumento Viltorio Emanuele II. One thing I noticed was there were churches everywhere, apparently there are 900 in Rome all together. After a day exploring I searched for somewhere in the centre to camp but couldn’t find any parks or areas with enough trees to hide me in. In the end I had to set up the tent on top of a wall leading down an alleyway.

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Rome – the colosseum

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Rome – the Sistine Chapel

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Rome – my campsite

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The Statue of liberty in San Marino

Not much happened between Rome and San Marino although Urbino was a very nice medieval, gothic-style town with sloping streets much like Siena. It rained for fecking days causing me to sleep in an abandoned house one night because I was so soaked my feet were wrinkled.

I made a big 44km detour to jut inland and visit San Marino, another country to add to the list. Sadly my memory of this republic will not be good, it was at the top of a huge mountain that I had to struggle through rain to get to and when I got to the capital it was in the clouds so I saw next to nothing. It looked like another nice castle town, with no tax and cheap goods like ciggies, alcohol, perfume and samurai swords for some reason. There was a ‘statue of liberty’ but the whole country thing is nonsense, it’s basically a province of Italy but I love the place for the hilarious goal they scored against Graham Taylor’s England within the first few seconds of a game.

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I ate my Italian Corn Flakes commenting that ‘they were not bad, but the milk was funny tasting’ but considering I only paid 70 cents for a 375g bag what did I expect. I passed Ravenna, famous for its mosaics, then I had a couple of days cycling through swamp country on the way to Venice and I got absolutely annihilated by the mossies.

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My Italian Corn flakes

Venice is annoying to get to on a bike, I had to piss around to get from the SS309 to the 4km long bridge and when you’ve crossed the long one to arrive you are faced with 400 bridges that cross all the canals. For this reason I locked the bike up and took everything that was worth anything and spent 3 or 4 hours walking around a lovely and unique city. It’s great having no cars and the mix of roads and canals lined with bridges makes it very pretty, the gondolas were cool but there were loads of tourists.

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Venice Waterways

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Gondolas

I then spent a couple of days cycling inland to the Dolomites, a really pretty mountainous region before continuing towards Slovenia, although it took me a few days as I ate some dodgy mackerel sandwiches and spent a day lying in a field groaning, sleeping and excreting.

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My hospital bed

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My view as I suffered

On day 47 I managed to cross the border into Slovenia but the cycling was very difficult, I had to stop on a regular basis to lye down and soak up some pain.

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Slovenia – 3 Days

My 3 days in Slovenia were difficult just because my physical condition was poor. I visited the Postojna Caves, well a small section of them as it was 17 Euros to enter the main caves, and then the capital, Ljublana with its nice buildings and the best thing, the dragon bridge.

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One of the many dragons

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My Slovenian flakes

One thing I noticed while cycling through Slovenia was the towns don’t exist or a very scattered, I mean you cycle passed the ‘Welcome to Vrincekov ‘ sign but there’s nothing along the road until you pass the ‘Thank you for coming to Vrincekov’ sign. There’s just lots of pretty woodland and farms, (with much of the farming done manually) and Slovenia was generally a very beautiful country, I just wasn’t in the condition and therefore mood to enjoy it. On day 50 I cycled up to the Loiblpass at 1369 metres and entered Austria.

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The beautiful Slovenian countryside

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Austria – 12 Days

    I crossed the mountains into Austria but it was quite a struggle cycling while still recovering from being ill. My stomach was dodgy and digesting annoyingly slowly, making enough gas to power a hot air balloon and it also ached like mad, especially when I was climbing. My heart just wasn’t in it, but Crossing the Alps was a highlight because I started to feel better and the scenery was fantastic; alpine woods, log cabins, hills, rivers, all very pretty. Other highlights were the town of Halstatt and Seeing an American Family Take Photos of Themselves Outside mc’donalds, I like the moments when I come across people living a completely different existence to me.

    The Alps are tiered, so I had to cross two different passes, one at Flattnich and one at Obertauern. On Night 51, I made a bed of straw, 1cm thick, on the floor of a wooden hut/barn, set in a really nice valley at the foot of a huge climb.

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The Scenery crossing the alps

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Starting to descend in Obertauern

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Mount Dachstein

Day 53 was a great day or as I wrote in my diary:

“fluffing amazing. Tonight I will give myself a whole-hearted pat on the back. This was the first time since my food poisoning that I beat 50 miles and I did it in style – I had to do 2 ½ killer climbs and my stomach was aching like hell.

I woke early and jumped on the saddle for 9am and started the climb up to Obertauern. It was a gorgeous ascent, really steep in parts but fantastic mountain scenery. Obertauern was a huge, closed ski resort so I sat for a while at the top looking at a really nice shaped mountain.The descent down was quick and painless and I arrived in Radstadt, a nice valley town in time for pate sarnies. I then cycled up and down, round another stunning snow covered mountain before another big climb over a couple of toes, of the huge Mount Dachstein, to enter into the lake district.

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The road down from Gosau to Halstatt was quality – going down through some mountains following a river through the woodland – my favourite road so far and I reached 43 miles/hr.
I’m about to camp next to the lake 3km from Halstatt, it’s very pretty and surprisingly chilly for 400m above sea level, much more than last night when I was at 1100m.
A brilliant day, crammed with mountain after mountain, little alp town after little alp town, waterfalls and rivers – simply fantastic – MAGIC.

Before cycling onto Salzburg I Wandered around the gorgeous Unesco world heritage village of Halstatt, nestled on a lake in the Austrian lake district.

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Halstatt

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Halstatt

The old centre of Salzburg was nice, also a world heritage site with lots of nice building, including the bright yellow house where Mozart was born. Salzburg is famous for Mozart and ‘The sound of Music’ but I haven’t seen the film and couldn’t pick out a Mozart number for love nor money so I soon continued on cycling. I spent a couple of days following the river Danube until I arrived in Vienna where I stayed 4 nights with a travel buddy from South America then on day 62 I cycled 63 miles north into the Czech Republic.

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A huge palace in Vienna

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Czech Republic – 19 Days

The towns and cities were dirty and looked very communist and the roads had huge cracks and holes in them. This didn’t help my progress but luckily I had plenty of time until I was to met my girlfriend in Prague for a 9 day break from cycling.

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On my cycle to Prague I saw and liked:

  • Telc – another nice Unesco town
  • Z’dar nad Sazavou (or the full title – Pilgrimage Church of St John of Nepomuk at Zelena Hora) – up on a hill was a very nice and unique church and graveyard within a star-shaped building/wall
  • The Kostnice bone church (just outside Kutna Hora) was brilliant especially as I didn’t have to pay the 40 Cr entrance fee. It is decorated entirely with human bones, an estimated 40,000 people’s remains it was fascinating and quite eerie and spooky.
  • The Unesco town of Kutna Hora had some really cool buldings

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The Bone church

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The Bone Church

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The Bone church

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photo taken before i saw the cameras

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 I had a strange experience when I cycled into one town and there were Nazi flags everywhere, it was surreal and I felt a bid walking around until I suddenly saw some cameras and filming equipment.

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My campsite on my first night in the Czech Rep

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A gothic looking cathedral in Telc

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The view from the birdwatchers hut I slept in

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In Prague we drank tons of champagne and ate really nice steaks, although we couldn’t read the menu which resulted in me having to eat a steak with yoghurt, jam, cream and apple, which was actually very nice indeed. We visited some cool museums; the Communist museum, the Mucha museum and the Torture museum. Mucha was a genius, creator of art Novo, did adverts in Paris, made jewellery, designed houses and I really liked his sketches. The torture museum was fascinating, to see how evil men can be to other men and some of the instruments they devised to hurt someone intentionally, disgusting yet fascinating too.

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The Gothic cathedral in Prague

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The torture museum

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I left Prague at midday on Day 80 by following the river along a bad cycle path which went over tree stumps and through little gaps in the bushes. I was cycling along when a guy came running up to me asking for help, it was quite funny because there was a German guy who had been cycling along, had hit a stump and fallen into the river. He was ok, just shocked and of course I helped pull him and his bike out of the river.

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Following the river along a cycle path

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Me and my bike in the back of Pauls car

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Germany – 25 Days

The next day I cycled through more beautiful scenery and crossed into Germany at about 5pm to continue along the cycle paths following the Elbe. I spent the next week cycling deeper into Germany to meet my Dad and Uncle Paul who had driven over from England for the football. I met them on Day 87 and drove around Germany with them for a week while the World Cup was on. During this time I remember many highlights, Wrestling with a Badger just before I met them, the Longest Distance I have Cycled in a Day, Visiting Colditz POW Camp and the cities of Nurnberg, Bamberg and Berlin, plus Experiencing the World Cup was a big highlight.

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Bamberg Cathedral

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Sächsische Schweiz National park

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One of the many fan-fests I attended

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On our way to an England game

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The German fans going mental

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Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church with its huge hole in the roof

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The colourful Berlin Wall

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An empty library at the site where the Nazis burned all the books

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On Day 96 Dad and Paul dropped me in Hannover where we said Bon Voyage and I went to a festival in Schleeßel with a friend who I met in Honduras. First I cycled to the wrong town (Scheeßel not Schleeßel) but I eventually arrived and parked my tent among the 1000s already there and over the next few days I saw the Artic monkeys, Seeed, The Hives and Manu Chau as part of the 3 day line-up. On the last night there was a huge storm and everything got soaked and most of my electrical equipment was ruined.

 

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The stage at the festival

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My fellow campers

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A night out in Koln

From the festival I cycled and trained to Koln to meet up with friends from back home for a few days watching football and drinking. Like my dad and uncle my mates were kind enough to sneak me into their hotel so I had a roof over my head and a flat floor to sleep on. The lads ended up paying €550 for some tickets in the Portugal end so instead I went to the fan fest, where there were tens of thousands of England fans. England typically went out of the tournament on penalties.

From Koln I cycled towards Aachen in order to cross into Belgium, I camped a night in Naturpark Hohes Venn-Eifel just before the border and crossed early the next day. I was descending down to Liege on a road full of holes when a bump threw one of my panniers off its rack and into the wheel. It snapped two spokes, meaning a total of three, and the trip was finished.

   I cycled to Liege and found the train station just in time to catch the train to Costende, in fact I was really lucky as I arrived at 12:01 and it was an 11:58 train that was running 8 minutes late. On Wednesday 5th July after 3 train rides, a ferry crossing and a night’s sleep on a train station platform I was back at mum’s house, penniless but ready to enjoy nice food and showers before finding a temporary job to pay for a flight back to New York and Queens.

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For More Details

My Travel Blog Link

For A country by country look at this trip with bigger photos

France   Italy   Slovenia   Austria   Czech Republic  Germany  Belgium

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My Book Link

diary extracts from this trip and all the other trips I went on in my 1st 10 years

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