Island hopping in Croatia

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We’re back in the EU!

We were stamped into Croatia late in the afternoon and continued on a rather undulating road towards Marko’s place. Marko is a warmshowers legend. He lives in a simple abode on a small coast road that has stunning views out to sea. Cyclists, hitchers and almost anyone really can put up their tent in the space behind his house. He is a fascinating guy with miles of life experience and a myriad of interesting opinions. It was a tough last couple of hours to reach his place but well worth the effort. I was enchanted by his stories and could have listened for hours. It was only when my eyelids began to close of their own accord that I took myself off to bed.

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700m of hogs

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On our way to Marko’s

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The view from his place

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Marko’s

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Marko, the German’s and us

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Towards Dubrovnik

Following breakfast with Marko and the other cyclists (a German couple on the long road east) it was time to head towards Dubrovnik. The ride was a mix of quiet roads through beautiful scenery and crazy busy coastal highway with the mad Croatian drivers. I was certainly glad when we reached the campsite just outside the old town of Dubrovnik. What I was not glad about was the 45 euro they charged us for a piece of dirt on which to pitch our tent. Lame.

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Path down to the beach

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Morning relaxing post swim

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The view towards Dubrovnik

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The next day we were up super early and caught the bus into the old city. Anyone planning to visit Dubrovnik – go early!! It’s a tourist nightmare after 10am. We got to the city when it was still quiet and I could get some sense of the magic of the place. By now we had seen a fair few old towns, but Dubrovnik still gave me the wow factor. Before it got too busy and hot we walked around the old city walls, marvelling at the architecture and views out to sea.

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Dubrovnik

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Morning quiet

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Walking on the wall

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Quick cider on the wall

By the early afternoon we had returned to camp and packed up. It was time to go to the long anticipated Croatian Islands! Aside from wanting a bribe for our bikes (is this Europe or Asia!?) everything ran smoothly and we were soon deposited on Mijet, a small island off the coast of Dubrovnik.

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Beautiful Mijet

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Exploring Mijet

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Loving the view

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Cooking on the beach

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More sweeping views

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Our home. Not bad.

Here we enjoyed quiet roads and natural scenery of forest and the occasional village and field. We camped on the beach the first night and spent the following day exploring the 2 lakes in the national park. We wild camped right near one of the lakes, enjoying the relaxed atmosphere of island living. Reading, sipping beer and watching the dusk fall.

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The National Park

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More beauty

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Enjoying the sun

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A quick stop

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An island in the lake

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On the island. We had lunch here

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Exploring the island monastery

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Being a tree

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Camping on Mijet

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Cycling around one of the lakes on Mijet

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More lake loving

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Heading to the ferry

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Quick stop at the blow hole

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On a calm day you can swim here

Retracing our cycling but this time taking the off road route we caught the evening ferry back to the mainland, although further up, on a peninsula. Owing to the impending darkness we took the easy option of a campground. The next day we cycled along the ++++ peninsula. Our progress was slowed by the fact that this peninsula has many wineries! We had our first wine tasting at 9.30am and did not reach the port till late afternoon.

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Wine tour begins!

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First wine tasting of the day

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Fresh oysters on the way!

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Wine!

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Vineyards

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Ferry to Korcula

From here it was a quick ferry ride to Korcula. Again, due to the impending darkness we found a campground to stay at. Our lazy island living continued the next day. We explored the old town of Korcula, wound along small coastal roads, stopped for beers in picturesque bars and camped on the beach. We built fires and shared wine, read books and wrote in our journals.

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Korcula old town

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Beautiful narrow alley ways

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Our beach


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This all sounds very idealistic, and it was, but I can’t say that I totally adored the islands as much as I thought I would. It’s all quite touristic and it seems a lot of the Croatians are jaded from tourism and just out to make a lot of money. Also, got to see that the clean face of these islands isn’t so clean at all. Because we were free camping we stumbled upon a river choked with trash. Obviously a lot comes from the sea but it was interesting to see this hidden place where probably no tourists ever come was not deemed worthy enough to keep clean.

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Farewell lunch for Brooke

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From Korcula we took another ferry to Split on the mainland. Sadly time was running out. Brooke had decided to take the train to Amsterdam for a final relaxing time before flying home and we wanted to get to Slovenia to meet our friend Spela before she went to Portugal on holidays.

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Goodbye Brooke!

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View looking back towards Split

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So our final night together was had in Split and then it was just the two of us once more. Astrid and I had set ourselves a challenge. Four Hundred and eighty kilometres in 4 and a half days on not flat terrain. We felt pretty confident that we could make this with a bit of effort and set off in high spirits around noon.

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Ice cream stop

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Beer at the end of the day. Feeling positive about making it to Ljubljana

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Our camp

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Pasta and pesto. Yum.

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Before the rain

That first day we made good kilometres, it was a lovely sunny day and we actually felt happy to be in the countryside and away from the coast. The next day was a different story. Torrential rain slowed us right now because we couldn’t see where we were going. By evening we reached the coast again and it was super windy. We pitched our tent in a small forest and hoped the weather would improve.

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Lunch in a bus stop sheltering from the rain

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Are we lost? Trying to get my phone to charge and sheltering from the torrential rain

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A short rain break

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The weather is coming

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Hoping the weather will improve

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It didn’t. We woke to rain and wind so loud we thought a tree might crush us. Our start was delayed for several hours. Finally we pushed out onto the highway and found we were alternatively pushed up hill by the wind and almost blown off the road and having to push our bikes. Progress was painfully slow, exhausting and a little scary. Ljubjana was feeling like very far away. At lunch time we almost succumbed but somehow decided to push on. Because we were so high and exposed, we got the full force of the wind and `I was often getting blown across the road. Lucky there was very little traffic!

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At first it’s not so bad

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This ones for you Karl! (-:

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Pushing my bike because the wind is too strong!

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Sheltering in a bus stop

By 5pm it was getting so scary and difficult we decided to call it quits. We found a semi sheltered area and pitched our tent with difficulty in amongst some scrub. Once inside we felt it necessary to finish off our bottle of whiskey. Later I somehow managed to cook us some dinner without getting blown away. It had taken us all day to do a measly fifty kilometres.

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We give up. It’s time for whiskey in the tent

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Where we hid from the wind

We woke to a much calmer morning. Maybe we could still make it. We pedalled all day along the undulating coastline, taking short breaks and pushing hard. By evening we had reached Rijeka. This seemed like an interesting city, maybe the most interesting one we have come across in Croatia. It feels edgy, a little industrial and there seem to be many students. Sadly we didn’t have time to get to know it. After spending the last of our Kuna in Lidl we turned northwards towards the mountains. The landscape and feel of the place changed quickly. The houses were different and there was forest all around now. It felt more like Slovenia already. We cycled on till after 8pm, finding a beautiful forest in which to pitch our tent. With 140km under our belts Ljubjana was within striking distance. We shared our last Croatian beer as the forest grew dark around us. Tomorrow Slovenia awaits.

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We wake to a much calmer day

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Some blue sky!

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Amazing views and we aren’t being blown off the road

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Hot chocolate break

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Heading to SLO

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We found this slug on our spoon

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She is large!

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Towards the border we go!

From Albania with love.

Kakavia -> Sarande -> Himare -> Vlore -> Divjake -> Tirana -> Shkoder -> Montenegro border.

Welcome to Albania!!

Welcome to Albania!!

Our route.

Our route.

All that I knew about Albania was that it has the largest number of (?stolen) Mercedes Benz per capita and that Jude had allocated us 5-6 days to cycle through it along the coastal route.  That alone had startled me being Australian – can you really cycle through a whole country in 5-6 days?  So to remedy my ignorance, the night before we entered Albania I lay in the tent and did a quick internet search and it was fascinating.  Independence from the Ottoman Empire since 1912; under an enforced and brutal Communist regime and isolation from the rest of the world from the end of World War II until 1992; home to 700,000 concrete bunkers countrywide due to Hoxha’s paranoia; the world’s first atheist state – it now has the highest degree of religious tolerance and intermarriage in the world; currently struggling against high unemployment, corruption and personal debt; through stage one of the application to become a member of the EU; and now quickly becoming the darling of independent travel.  And cycle touring.

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A is for Albania.

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The valley that leads into Albania from Kakavia.

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Mosques and churches dot the countryside.

Entry was easy and the ladies at immigration were more interested in gossiping with each other than stamping our passports.  The money changers shouted greetings as we cycled passed and I knew we were going to have fun here.  The sun broke through the clouds as we cycled up the valley from Kakavia and the humidity reached a high as we began our 2km climb up the surrounding mountain range.  It was a lovely climb and even the bad drivers could not dampen my spirits as I gazed down the valley and then up at the pass.  While waiting for the other two to arrive I watched the first cows I had seen in months.  As the dark clouds gathered overhead, we had a picnic in the rain before the fun of freewheeling started.  We shot passed stone villages that looked like they hadn’t changed in centuries and spring flowers bloomed on the surrounding fruit trees.  Through the shrubbery we spotted some iridescent blue below.  What could it be?

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Looking down the valley.

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Climbing to the pass.

Cows and dark clouds at the pass.

Cows and dark clouds at the pass.

Stone houses and spring blooms.

Stone houses and spring blooms.

Speeding down we almost missed the turn off for the ‘Blue Eye’.  Bumping our way along a severely potholed track we initially discovered a bright blue lake and further on its source.  A torrent of crystal clear water spewing from a deep cave with the bluest colour I have ever seen.  It’s actually a natural spring that comes from an underwater source of unknown depth, pumping out around 18,000 litres per second at a temperature of 10 degrees Celcius.  Being the water nymphs that we are, we found a place among the huge lilly pads and jumped in for a quick, icy cold dip.  Yes there was squealing. Then the heavens opened and we ran for cover on a pontoon with a leaky thatched roof.  Cups of tea were required as we waited for the skies to clear.

Our first view of the blue lake.

Our first view of the blue lake.

Such beauty.

Such beauty.

Blue Eye

Blue Eye

Posing at the viewing platform.

Posing at the viewing platform.

Being a water nymph.

Being a water nymph.

Hug a tree day.

Hug a tree day.

Waiting out the rain on a pontoon.

Waiting out the rain on a pontoon.

A break in the rain provided the perfect opportunity for escape and we shot along the river valley and then the canal, outrunning the black clouds that chased us.

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Cycling beside the canal.

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The black clouds that were chasing us.

After climbing one last hill, we dropped down into the coastal town of Sarande.  An apartment with a sea view was acquired and we were soon enjoying cold beers to celebrate country sweet sixteen.  Unpacking for our first shower in a week, we discovered that our panniers were full of rainwater, so everything was hung out in the late afternoon sun to dry.

The coastal town of Sarande.

The coastal town of Sarande.

Beers to celebrate country sweet sixteen.

Beers to celebrate country sweet sixteen.

Slow walks along the promenade, shopping at the second hand stores, a little sightseeing, tasty ice creams and drinking wine while looking over the sea were the perfect activities for a rest day.

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Rest day fun.

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Hug a tree day – again.

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Some sightseeing.

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Drinking cold wine on a hot day – refreshing.

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Jude practising her ninja skills.

Then it was time to hit the coast road.  I had mistakenly assumed that the ‘coast road’ would be relatively flat, with consistent views of the water and lots of places to swim.  Well you know what they say about assumptions.  We climbed and dropped, and climbed and dropped.  The road never reached the shoreline and to go for a swim we needed to detour off the road for a couple of kilometres.  The sweat poured out of us.  We drank water like it was going out of fashion, snacked on bakery treats, and then repeated the whole process again.

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There was a lot of climbing with fantastic views of the sea, but little opportunity to actually get to the waters edge.

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We made a 4km round detour to have lunch and a swim at this beach.

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Jude enjoying the cool waters.

In the background you can see the road rising and falling along the coastal cliffs.

In the background you can see the road rising and falling along the coastal cliffs.

In the late afternoon the climbing settled and whizzing along we spotted some ruins on an island off just off the coast.  Turns out Ali Pasha had built a castle here too and with torches we explored the beautiful ancient ruins.  Walking out we noticed a cycle tourist cycling up to the ruins – it was Nate.

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Spotting the ruins on the island.

Entry to the castle.

Entry to the castle.

Exploring inside.

Exploring inside.

Views from the roof.

Views from the roof.

Posers.

Posers.

More inside exploration.

More inside exploration.

That night we camped together on a field covered in concrete bunkers and olive trees.  Goats bleated nearby and a hundred fireflies danced all around us.

Camping under the olive trees in Himare.

Camping under the olive trees in Himare.

Jude with a concrete bunker.

Jude with a concrete bunker.

We must have collected some bad water the previous night as Jude was struck down with a stomach bug the following morning.  Not good timing as the climbing was to skyrocket.  We undulated for a few hours before the switchbacks up the mountain came into sight.  Seven major switchbacks climbing to the peak above.  It was going to be a long day.

Good morning sheep with a she mullet.

This sheep with the 80s hairstyle had me in fits of laughter on the roadside.

Climbing out of town.

Looking down from another pass.

One of the many villages we cycled through.

One of the many villages we cycled through.

Our first view of the switchbacks on the far mountain.

Our first view of the switchbacks on the far mountain.

The ladies with the road ahead up the mountainside.

The ladies with the road ahead up the mountainside.

It took us around 3 hours to reach the top.  With a few rest breaks on the way :).

Rest break one.

Rest break one.

The road behind and ahead.

The road behind and ahead.

Looking down on where we had climbed.

Looking down on where we had climbed.

Another rest break.

Another rest break.

View from the top.

View from the top.

Going down was the next challenge.  A steep, potholed, winding road dropped us back to sea level on the other side.

View down the other side.

View down the other side.

We arrived in Vlore near nightfall and decided that we needed an ice cream.  And a place to camp.  After declining the waiters offer for drugs, we did take note of the forest that he mentioned would be a great place to camp.  We stocked up on few 2 litre bottles of beer (it was Saturday) and headed into the pine forest just out of town.  As darkness set in the fireflies started their nightly ritual.  I have seen some stunning sights, but this vision of hundreds of thousands of fireflies flashing in formation – like currents of electricity running through a brain – was one of the most amazing things I have ever seen.

Our campsite in the pine forest where the fireflies put on their magical show.

Our campsite in the pine forest where the fireflies put on their magical show.

We decided to brave the motorway to cover some distance the next morning and we sped along in our peloton covering almost 30 kilometres in an hour.  There was no traffic, a big shoulder and no one cared that we were illegally there – winning.  Where the motorway ended, we stopped for a fruit break and it was the first and only time in Albania that we were ripped off for being foreign.  I can’t wait for such behaviour to cease when we enter Europe proper.  After a fast food sandwich of chips and sauce in a roll and some internet access, we hit the road again.  Wanting to avoid the insane driving, from Fior we kept to the back roads and it was incredible.  It was while we were cycling that I realised what I really loved about Albania – it was a mix of every region of the world I had visited.  A small microcosmos of the world wrapped into one lovely country.

Looking at directions along the back roads.

Looking at directions along the back roads.

Loving the lack of traffic on the back roads.

Loving the lack of traffic on the back roads.

Cruising with Karavasta lagoon in the background.

Cruising with Karavasta lagoon in the background.

Hello from the scarecrow.

Hello from the scarecrow.

In Divjake, we had organised to stay with Paulina (a lovely host on couch-surfing) and were we spoilt.  As the smell of citrus blossoms wafted their way up to our rooms, we cooked delicious food and listened to music.  We went for a giro (local evening activity of walking together) and followed it up with a hot chocolate you could stand a spoon up in.  The following morning we cycled out to the lagoon and enjoyed a pot of bird and fish watching before hitting the road again.

The citrus garden in full bloom.

The citrus garden in full bloom.

Cooking dinner.

Cooking dinner.

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Cycling through the Divjaka-Karavasta national park.

Cycling through the Divjaka-Karavasta national park.

The ladies taking a rest by the side of the lagoon.

The ladies taking a rest by the side of the lagoon.

Some bird action.

Some bird action.

The idea of visiting Tirana had been floating in our minds for a few days and when Evan, a cycle tourist who has been following our blog, contacted us to see if we wanted to meet up – it turned out the capital would be the ideal place.  We pushed hard that day to make it to the Trip’N’Hostel by early evening.  Arriving in town the streets and cafes were crowded with people, the repainted buildings glowed in the golden sunlight and the smell of delicious food filled our nostrils.  Meeting Evan was a joy and we spent a couple of days talking bikes and tours, checking out the sites, drinking icy cold beers and doing some much needed bike maintenance.  It was during one of these sessions that we discovered my Rohloff had a flange failure.  I guess German engineering isn’t as indestructible as it thinks.  Not like the concrete bunker engineer who put himself in one and had a tank fire live ammunition at him.  Now that is trust in your own product.

Arriving in Tirana.

Arriving in Tirana.

The Piramida aka the former Hoxha museum aka the Internation Cultural Centre in Tirana.

The Piramida aka the former Hoxha museum aka the Internation Cultural Centre in Tirana.

Enjoying the view from the top of the Piramida - boy was the climb up and down its walls a little tricky.

Enjoying the view from the top of the Piramida – boy was the climb up and down its walls a little tricky.

Evan and I hiding in a bunker.

Evan and I hiding in a bunker.

Part of the Berlin Wall in a Tirana Park.

Part of the Berlin Wall in a Tirana Park.

Anyone for some AFC?

Anyone for some AFC?

Enjoying a beer in the revolving restaurant.

Enjoying a beer in the revolving restaurant.

Views over Tirana from the revolving restaurant.

Views over Tirana from the revolving restaurant.

The mural on the History museum.

The mural on the History museum.

Bike tools for everyone to use on the side of the road.

Bike tools for everyone to use on the side of the road.

Instead of a mad dash to the border, the small town of Shkoder had caught our attention.  Despite the suggestion of following the back road route, we spent the day cycling along the main road, music in our ears to drown out the roar of the traffic.  The first thing we noticed about the town was the number of people on bicycles.  Everyone was riding.  Groups of men coming home from work, mothers with their kids cycling to after school activities, older couples out doing the shopping, kids out having fun and the three of us on our way into town.  No wonder Shkoder is known as the cycling capital of Albania.  Staying at the Green Garden hostel we met another amazing cyclo-woman, Sara, on her way home from Palestine.  Our lovely host Mikel took us out to explore his must see sights – the museum of memory, the ethnography museum, the Marubi photo exhibition and a trip to a stunning swimming hole up in the hills.  Even a local political rally was thrown in for good measure.  And some communist cake.

Sharing a meal at the Green Garden hostel.

Sharing a meal at the Green Garden hostel.

Shkoder Mall.

Shkoder Mall.

Albania's religious tolerance and integration is incredible.

Albania’s religious tolerance and integration is incredible.

The ethnography museum.

The ethnography museum.

The biking capital of Albania.

The biking capital of Albania.

The stunning swimming hole.

The stunning swimming hole.

In for a dip.

In for a dip.

A pretty old bridge.

A pretty old bridge.

Sara getting some puppy love.

Sara getting some puppy love.

So as you’ve probably realised our 5-6 day dash didn’t work out quite as planned.  Albania had caught our hearts and minds.  But change is a constant thing and it was time to follow the road to Montenegro.  A short morning’s ride in our cycling gang placed us on her doorstep and we were ready for the next adventure.

All my love as always,

Astrid.

Our first sign to Montenegro.

Our first sign to Montenegro and beyond.

A glimpse at Montenegro

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Just over the border

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Loving Montenegro

Montenegro is a relatively new (2007) independent nation nestled between Albania, Croatia and Serbia. It is a country rich in natural beauty and seems steps ahead of it neighbours in terms of infrastructure, cleanliness and environmental attitude. We could have cycled through in a day and a half, but it begs for more time.

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on our way

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Beautiful coastline and mountains 

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Some ruins to explore

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Exploring some ruins

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Like it’s European neighbours, Montenegrin immigration is a piece of cake. In fact the Albanian and Montenegrin border post is combined, one of the first of it’s kind in the Balkans. We were quickly stamped in and let loose to enjoy the stunning beauty that is Montenegro.

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Old town, Kotor

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Stunning views

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And some more

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Ruins at the top, above Kotor Bay

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Exploring

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Part way down the road we bade Sara farewell. She was off to look for a burial site of a Rabbi further down the coast. We continued on through farmland, olive groves and small roads that gave us glimpses of the coastline below. It was a perfect sunny day and it felt amazing to be alive and cycling through this delightful landscape.

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Enjoying the beach

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Indeed

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The island is privately owned. Something like 3000 AUD a night!

In the afternoon we descended to the coast. Here we lunched and dipped in the ocean, discovered a ruined castle and accidentally stumbled upon a beat. We were wondering what all the half naked men were doing, sunning themselves and moseying about, and refreshingly paying us no attention. You never know what a day of cycling will bring!

Night time bought us to Budva, where we found a very cute hostel nestled right in the heart of the old town. The hostel was much better value than the campground we had looked at further up the road and soon we were sharing beers and conversation with the owner and other travellers. A note for anyone travelling through the Balkans, the hostels here are super nice (the ones associated with the Balkan Backpacker thingy) and affordable compared to other parts of Europe. Usually we wouldn’t stay at hostels, but ever since the great experience we had in Tirana, they tempted us. They are not part of a big chain and appear to be owned and operated by locals.

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View from our hostel, Budva

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Old town exploring

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Heading to the beach

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View from the beach, Budva

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Walls of Kotor old town

One day in Budva is not enough if the weather is good. After a look around the quaint old town in the morning we headed to the beach to swim and relax. The evening was spent chatting to other travellers once more.

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Kotor

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Old town, Kotor

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Astrid and I explored and got lost in many of the small alley ways in Kotor Old Town

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A visit to Montenegro is not complete without visiting the stunning Kotor Bay. It was a short pedal up the coast to Kotor the next day and we spent the afternoon exploring the old town and climbing up to the ruins high above the city. From here to you have stunning view of the surrounds.

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Kotor from above

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Kotor Bay

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Wall around Kotor old town

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Churches, Kotor

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View to the old town

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Enjoying the view on the way up

 

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At the top

Our last day in Montenegro saw us deciding to add 20km to our day by cycling around Kotor Bay. Well worth it! We also decided to treat ourselves by going to Catovica Mlina, a restaurant half way between Kotor and Herceg Novi. It is rated as one of the best restaurants in Montenegro and just happened to fall right on our path! They even had bicycle parking. We quickly changed into some half decent clothes in the car park and went and enjoyed a really delicious meal. It felt rather indulgent, considering what we usually eat but I certainly don’t regret it. The food was delicious and the atmosphere really lovely.

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Kotor Bay

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The fairy and I enjoying the view

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Can’t belie I am eating this

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Tasted amazing

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On the road to Croatia

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Croatian border

From here it was a picturesque afternoon cycle to the Croatian border.

Much love

Jude

Glorious Greece

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We reached Europe!!

Ipsala to Kakavia via Thessaloniki, Vergina and Meteora

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How else would we celebrate but with wine in a cup?!

Entering Greece was always going to be epic. Although we had been on continental Europe for about a week, we were still in Turkey. Now, as we pushed our bikes up to the final passport check and were stamped in, we had officially cycled from Australia to Europe. It felt surreal.

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Loving the Spring!

I must admit I knew little about Greece, and even less about northern Greece. The news was all about the economic crisis, much of what we had missed because of our limited access to media. We more or less went in blind, without a Guidebook or any idea of what to expect. More and more I am finding this the best way to travel. Even though it is nice to read about a country’s history too. Especially when you visit ancient sites. I guess ultimately it’s good to have an open mind and a balanced approach.

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Camping on the beach, loving life

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The view

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No one seemed to mind our campfire – not that there were many people around!

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Enjoying the view along the small roads we took

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Backroads are the best

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We find ruined churches

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And ancient trees

Greece was also where we finally said goodbye to the Muslim world, which we had more or less been in since Western China. I was going to miss the call to prayer, which at its best can send shivers down your spine. Now it was time for church bells and religious shrines on the side of the road. Greek society immediately felt different, somehow more open. More people on the street, more women out and about, more life spilling out from cafes and bars and suddenly alcohol freely available everywhere. Although Western Turkey is not that conservative, it was still a marked difference.

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Beer is cheap. And has a funny name.

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Who wouldn’t love a country where the bread is bigger than your head?

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Back roads sometimes have challenges..

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But there is always an alternative.. Well, in Greece anyway.

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Perfect places to camp

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Amazing sunsets

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Flamingoes

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They are so beautiful

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Lakes

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Funny trees

Then there was the beauty of Greece, which utterly astounded us. Barely a day went by when we did not exclaim, “what is wrong with this country?! It’s so bloody beautiful!” This was intensified by the fact that we really had left winter behind, everything was green and the sun shone almost everyday. I felt alive and so happy. Anyone who has spent a large part of the winter living in a tent, cycling through the elements with day after day of rain, will know what I mean. Spring I think brings joy to all of us but for me this year it was even more potent.

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Lovely lunches by a river

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DSC_0083 Our camp kind of on a cliff edge

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But we had a stunning view

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Morning swims!

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Abandoned towers

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Amazing views

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This was our lunch beach

Our first few days were spent cycling along the coast. With Brooke’s excellent navigation and use of google maps we found the tiniest dirt roads, with sweeping views out to sea. We camped on beaches and built fires and no one seemed to care. Our route took us through deserted holiday villages (the off season or the crisis?) and along high cliff roads. One day we found hot springs, now deserted due to the economic situation. We luxuriated in the hot water and Brooke even managed to catch a fish. It felt like we were on this endless blissful holiday. There were always plenty of places to swim, the drivers had markedly improved, the roads were good and the tiny villages really rather picturesque. And to us Greece seemed so clean! It is a sad fact that most countries since we left Australia have a trash problem. Here we really noticed the shift in attitude and it was a relief to not see rubbish everywhere. Europeans we met said that they thought Greece had quite a lot of rubbish around compared to their countries, but to us it was a huge improvement.

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More of the beach we had lunch at

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Pushing the Fairy up from the beach

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Free hot springs!

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Another great camp

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Astrid doing yoga

Greece was also were Lidl begins. Lidl for anyone who is not familiar with the brand is a German supermarket chain, similar to Aldi. It is CHEAP and GOOD. You will often find cycle tourists outside of Lidl stores. This is true! The first time Astrid and I went inside a Lidl we freaked out about the range and price (especially beer!). Normally I actually don’t like supermarkets. At home were there is a dangerous duopoly, where farmers and small business suffer, I make it a point almost never to enter a supermarket. I am lucky because in inner Melbourne I have that choice. Here, on the road in Greece with limited funds, cheap supermarkets are too great a temptation. Maybe some people think I am crazy, but to me (and Astrid) being ethical about food is important. It often takes us 10 mins to choose a peanut butter (does it use palm oil? has it travelled far? Is the company ethical? Price?). Maybe it would be easier not to think about all these things, but I guess it would also be easier to take a plane to Europe rather than cycle too.

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Lion of Amphipolis. A good morning tea spot

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The lake we camped near

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Lake sunset

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More beautiful sunset

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Astrid cooking

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Our great camp spot

Our first real city stop was Thessaloniki, the second largest city in Greece. We explored some of the ruins, including ones from Roman times and stayed with wonderful WarmShowers hosts in their cute apartment right in the city. Thanos and Areti were the first Greek people we really talked to and like usual we were full of questions. They said that the crisis was bad but that in a way life just went on, which is what we observed when we visited a crowded Taverna and tasted the most delightful Greek food. They also said people in cities suffer more than those in the country, who often grow their own food and live in family homes. Makes you think about how important growing your own food is. How if one could be sustainable by growing food and bartering with neighbours, you can just step out of this broken system we have. Perhaps growing our own food is one of the most radical things we can do.

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The White Tower, Thessaloniki

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Bike gang at the Rotunda built in Roman times

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Thanos and Areti our wonderful hosts took us out for amazing Greek food

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Exploring Thessaloniki

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Amazingly preserved

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Back streets, Thessaloniki

That night, although tired, we went out to experience the Thessaloniki nightlife. Astrid and I were really treated to a unique experience, as there was a party on at one of the Taverna’s. Returned immigrants dancing the night away to Greek music. We were served ice cold beers (and tapas, which comes free with beer!) and then invited to join the dancing. Astrid picked it up quickly and I kind of stumbled around the circle, trying to get my feet to work. It was fun.

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Old city walls

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Exploring the city walls

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Camp, first night out of Thesseloniki

From Thessaloniki we headed inland, towards Vergina (yes, lots of jokes were made about this name) an archeological site of significance and World Heritage listing. It was a site of an ancient Macedonian capital and where Alexander the Great’s father’s (Phillip the II) tomb was found in 1977. I found it quite an amazing museum as it has kind of been built into the hill and around the tombs. The objects and artifacts found are in really good condition and the whole experience well worth it. I mean by now we have seen a serious amount of ancient stuff, but I was impressed.

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Yes, we are immature!

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A good beer!

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Inside the museum where the tomb is.

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Looking for a camp spot

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Jackpot

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Some awesome views

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Loving the down hill

Our route than took us through more Greek countryside, along small roads and into tiny villages. Some looked like they had suffered the blows of the economic times, with boarded up shops and barely a soul in sight. Others appeared empty, only to discover the entire population (it seemed) in a small tavern eating and drinking Raki (a holiday?). We climbed through farmland and dropped into river valleys, always finding lovely places to pitch our tent and enjoy a quiet beer at the end of the day.

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Camp among the pines

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Bike and tents. Our whole life.

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Cooking on a fire is best

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Sunset

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View from our pine camp

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Such lovely weather

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Spring!

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The village where everyone was in the bar

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You must go down!

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Gorgeous views

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Deers are coming

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Theses are everywhere in Northern Greece

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Another lovely camp. We even swam here

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We reached the famous monastic site of Meteora from a back valley and were rewarded with sweeping views of these incredible monasteries, perched high on the sandstone rock pillars. Exploring them was amazing, winding our way up the narrow stairs and through the many rooms, often exquisitely decorated. I especially liked that ancient kitchen and the cellar where they kept the beer they brewed.

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Meteora

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The surrounding countryside

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Still some snow!

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How amazing are these

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Paintings inside

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More of the valley

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Happy to be here

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Beer barrels!

By this time we were well overdue for a rest day and gratefully collapsed into the rather nice campground (swimming pool, bar, restaurant, wifi, cooking area). Here we not only met Chris and Pete two English cyclists travelling from Greece back to the UK, but also Miriam and Francesca, two Swiss girls on a cycling adventure, and two Spaniards also exploring Greece on bikes. It was quite a merry group that first night, as the wine and stories flowed freely.

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Breakfast pancake cook

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Dinner mashed sweet potato and hallumi on a bed of rocket.

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Breakfast again with Nate

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Four ninjas and a tree

We bade Chris and Pete farewell the next day with a prolonged breakfast party involving pancakes and copious amounts of coffee and other food. The rest of the day was spent relaxing and catching up on emails, and shopping as the next day was Sunday (shops are not open on Sundays here). While checking my emails I came across one from Nate. Turns out he was just down the road and we would be seeing him in half an hour! It was lovely to see Nate again and we exchanged stories, drank wine and Astrid cooked a rather gourmet meal for everyone. Another fabulous night with friends new and old(er).

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On the road

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The fairy and I

DSC_0401 Waking to Church bells as the sun rises with a promise of another lovely spring day was quite charming. Now we were a group of 5 as the Swiss girls were going the same way. We cycled up an easy gradient, chatting and laughing and meeting the occasional cycle tourist going the other way. In the afternoon we took a road which was blocked to cars as there was still snow on the pass. Not only were we surrounded by mountains, forests and cyclists, but there were no cars! My idea of heaven.

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Sign says NO. We say YES!

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STOP

We found the most wonderful place to camp, with sweeping views of the valley and mountains. After setting up camp, we noticed to figures, moving slowly on the road below us. Using the zoom lens of Astrid’s camera revealed the Spanish! Now we were 7 cyclists, camping on the side of a mountain, the sun setting and our little campfire burning. Life was good.

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Communal camp

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Relaxing

The following morning, leaving the Spanish sleeping we headed the rest of the way up the pass and pushed our bikes through the 200m of snow at the top. Then it was down hill to ‘cheese town’. It was a village famous for it’s motsovone cheese. Here copious amounts of cheese were purchased, along with wine and bread. Then we met Nate who had arrived earlier in the morning. He joined us for a picnic cheese marathon in the park.

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Break time

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A road with no cars is the best kind of road

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Ninjas!

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The pass that stops the cars but not us!

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The last snow we will see for some time..

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Going down

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“Cheese Town” (Metsovo)

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Picnic time!

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Cheese should be taken seriously

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So yummy

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Campingin a field

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Resting at the end of the day

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The sheep are coming

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Watching the sheep

The 6 of us continued on towards the border with Albania. We had one more communal night of camping in a field where we were visited by a herd of sheep before we parted at Lidl (where else) to go our separate ways.

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Rage against something – the wind? I can’t remember!

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It’s almost over. Shopping at Lidl

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Ninja goodbye!

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On the road towards Albania

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On the way to the border

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Goodbybe Greece

Thank you Greece, you were amazing.

Crossing the Dardanelles.

Ephesus (Selcuk) -> Izmir -> Cankkale -> Gallipoli peninsula -> Istanbul -> Gallipoli peninsula -> Greece.

At a crossroads.

At a crossroads.

One of my favourite rituals of travel is the first swim in a new sea, no matter what the weather. The marshlands of the silted bay, that once connected Ephesus to the sea, gave way to the Aegean. We could have chosen to join the cows for a swim at the beach, but we pushed on for another 20 minutes, climbing the road that hugged the cliff top that dropped far below. The wind churned up the waves and the water was a murky brown when we entered. The locals thought us crazy for swimming on such a day, but I always find splashing in the water rejuvenating. On the beach, as we picked seaweed flakes from our skin the nearby café owner offered us hot tea to warm ourselves. We gladly accepted and shared our remaining food with the stray cats that circled our table.

Overlooking the Aegean Sea.

Overlooking the Aegean Sea.

The stray cats have funny hiding places.

The stray cats have funny hiding places.

Sharing tea after our swim.

Sharing tea and food after our swim.

The ride to Izmir was lovely along the secondary road Izmir Cadesi. Forest interchanged with small-scale agriculture. Pelicans circled us as we ate our lunch on the shores of a bird sanctuary reservoir. With a tail wind we cruised along happily outrunning the storm that was chasing us from behind. Such peace was not to last. As we reached the outskirts of this megapolis the insanity began. Let me rephrase that, the driving insanity began. The roads are not designed for cycling and the drivers have no respect for anyone. It was a hodge podge of mains roads, underpasses, narrow service roads, crazy major intersections, cars double parked and peak hour traffic.

Pelicans fly overhead at lunchtime.

Pelicans fly overhead at lunchtime.

Spring is starting to show herself in floral blooms.

Spring is starting to show herself in floral blooms.

Enjoying a cuppa and a spot of lunch.

Enjoying a cuppa and a spot of lunch.

Enter stage left the driver of doom. The whole episode lasted less than two minutes but it all went in slow motion for me. Some dickhead in a sports car (sound familiar?) roared passed me at a speed I don’t even want to know, in a narrow service lane missing me by mere centimetres.  Despite being hit by cars twice this journey and almost being killed by maniac truck and bus drivers, this was by far my scariest experience yet.  After almost two years of dealing with badly behaved drivers I snapped.  I chased him down – he was stopped at the traffic lights down the road – and my metal water bottle may have accidently inserted itself into the corner rear panel of his shiney car.  He immediately pulled out and tried to run me over, so Jude lost it at him and we cycled off shaken but triumphant.  The drivers and the road continued to be horrendous and by the time we found a seaside bar we were exhausted.  Beers and shisha were ordered to calm the nerves and two hours later we cycled in fine spirits (and in the rain storm that had caught up to us) to Samed and Shahika’s lovely apartment.  Their kindness, hospitality and good humour (as well as their cat Smirnoff) dispelled any remaining negative feelings.

Happy to have arrived in Izmir.

Happy to have arrived in Izmir.

Enjoying a beer after the crazy ride into Izmir.

Enjoying a beer after the crazy ride into Izmir.

Turkish people love their food and breakfast is the highlight of any day.  The table is spread with 15 different dishes and 4 types of bread and of course the mandatory cups of tea.  Then you eat until you can eat no more, and then there is still food left on the table – even with cycle tourists around.  Coincidently our friends Ismail and Irena from Gaziantep also happened to be in Izmir at thix time and we spent a lovely weekend, with friends old and new, tasting all the culinary delights that Turkey had to offer.  It was a gourmands paradise and a hungry cycle tourists wet dream.  Our last evening was celebrated in style with Smirnoff’s namesake and a variety of mezze bought fresh from the family run deli.  Sherefe!!

Breakfast is the best meal of the day in Turkey.

Breakfast is the best meal of the day in Turkey.

Sharing coffee with friends - old and new.

Sharing coffee with friends, old and new.

A coffee and a sahlep.

A coffee and a sahlep.

A Turkish speciality - mussels stuffed with spiced rice served hot with a squeeze of lemon. We may have gorged ourselves...

A Turkish speciality – mussels stuffed with spiced rice served hot with a squeeze of lemon. We may have gorged ourselves…

Eating and choosing mezze at the local shop.

Eating and choosing mezze at the local shop.

Relaxing at home with Samed and Shahika.

Relaxing at home with Samed and Shahika.

Ready to drink? Sherefe!!

Ready to drink? Sherefe!!

Considering our Izmir cycling history and that another storm was brewing, we chose to catch the ferry from the south of Izmir bay to the north.  A minute after we wished our friends a fond farewell it started to bucket down.  The promenade cycle path to the dock became covered in water, super slippery and both Jude and I lost control.  I just missed knocking three people over like bowling pins and Jude slammed hard to the ground.  Wet and sore we arrived at the ferry and dripped all over the floor on the half hour ride.  After passing through the industrial part of town the only road out of town was a major thoroughfare with traffic galore and as usual lots of bad driving – I wonder when this will end?  Well it did finally did for a while and our three day cycle towards the ancient city of Troy ended up being quite enjoyable.  We cycled along from bay to bay, camped by the sea, cooked on fires, Brooke enjoyed a spot of fishing, we did yoga and meditated, books were read and beers were drank while watching the sunset.  We even experienced some of the hospitality we had become used to back east with a dinner invitation, loads of tea and some good Turkish humour.

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A dinner invitation is always accepted and enjoyed.

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Brooke enjoys a spot of fishing.

And some more.

And some more.

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We enjoyed lovely nights of camping by the sea, with a fire to keep us warm and cook dinner.

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Morning light.

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Storms came and went for the whole ride up the coast.

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Exploring the rock holes and enjoying the last of the daylight.

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Yep, life is pretty perfect.

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Anyone for toast?

After a breakfast of toast and eggs we were ready to tackle the climb over the mountain range that would drop us into the valley where the archaeological remains of Troy are to be found.  You may all be familiar with the Homeric tale of the Trojan War brought on by some wife stealing (with the assistance of Aphrodite) and the fall of the city with the use of a giant wooden horse.  What I didn’t know was that the city had been built and rebuilt at least 13 times since 3,000 BC, until it was abandoned in 500 AD, only to be rediscovered in the mid 1860’s.  Quite a bit of imagination is required to visualise the fantastic city of old, but the ruins still remain impressive both for their size and quality.  Being a UNESCO site, the nearby village takes advantage of its ability to exploit tourists by charging ridiculous amounts of money for food and accommodation, so we did what we always do, we cycled a few kilometres down the road and set up camp for the night.  Our site was so spectacular that I commented that I felt like a queen overlooking her lands.

A replica of the Trojan horse.

A replica of the Trojan horse.

Entering the ancient city of Troy

Entering the ancient city of Troy

Our first squirrel sighting.

Our first squirrel sighting.

Exploring the ruins.

Exploring the ruins.

9 different city stages are marked here - covering a period of 3,500 years.

9 different city stages are marked here – covering a period of 3,500 years.

Part of the old city housing.

Part of the old city housing.

Yes, more ruins.

Yes, more ruins.

Me and my domain.

Me and my domain.

Sunset over the valley.

Sunset over the valley.

Jude and I woke in high spirits.  Today we would be crossing from the Asian continent to the European one.  As we climbed out of the valley we were greeted with a spectacular view of the Dardanelles.  As the water sparkled below we watched as ships passed in perfect formation on their way to the Marmara Sea.  We spoiled ourselves with a second breakfast overlooking the action below and then free-wheeled our way down to Canakkale from where we caught the ferry across to the Gallipoli peninsula and the European continent.  We may have drunk half a bottle of whisky on the way over and we may have been quite merry when we arrived.  After a quick look around the War Memorial in Eceabat and a few tears at the beautiful letter written by Ataturk to the mothers of foreign men killed here, we located the Boomerang Bar and settled in for a few more celebratory bevvies.

Our first view of the Dardanelles.

Our first view of the Dardanelles.

Enjoying our second breakfast.

Enjoying our second breakfast.

Got to love where you can park with a bike.

Got to love where you can park with a bike.

The Gallipoli Peninsula from the ferry.

The Gallipoli Peninsula from the ferry.

Having a whisky (or two) on our way to continental Europe.

Having a whisky (or two) on our way to continental Europe.

We have arrived!!!

We have arrived!!!

Part of the War Memorial in Eceabat.

Part of the War Memorial in Eceabat.

Ataturk's letter that brought tears to my eyes.

Ataturk’s letter that brought tears to my eyes.

Part of the War Memorial Eceabat.

Part of the War Memorial Eceabat.

Celebrating with more beers at the Boomerang Bar.

Celebrating with more beers at the Boomerang Bar.

Well watered, we set off for the opposite side of the peninsula and I must admit it felt like I was flying.  The sunshine, the greenery and the newly paved roads (the 100th ANZAC day anniversary was in a fortnight) combined for a glorious ride.  We found ourselves a beautiful beach next to a pine forest and set up home for the night.  Despite being Australian I hadn’t considered visiting Gallipoli on this trip, but it was the one place Brooke wanted to visit, and I’m glad we came.  Not for the ANZAC stuff, but for the natural beauty.  It is the cleanest, greenest and quietest place I have seen in the whole country.  The next day we did visit numerous ANZAC sites including Lone Pine and ANZAC Cove, and I learnt a different version of what happened here during the war.  The thing that saddened me the most was that the Australians, New Zealanders and English know the names of all the men that lost their lives here, the Turkish do not.  Their forces were disorganised and thousands of men lie in this ground without their families knowing where they are.

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Cooking dinner at sunset.

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Our stunning camp spot.

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We had a friend for our time on the peninsula.

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Lone Pine memorial.

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Memorial wreaths at Lone Pine.

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Reading the names of those remembered.

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A view down the Gallipoli Peninsula.

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The Australian dug trenches still survive 100 years on.

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ANZAC Cove.

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A view of ANZAC Cove.

As I mentioned this year is the 100th anniversary of ANZAC Day and there was a ballot for the 10,000 odd tickets available to be here on this day.  The tickets were free, but the catch was that you had to book in on a tour to attend and the price of these was about $800 for 4 days minimum, and from chatting to many of the local businesses not many of these tours actually stop to support them during this time.  I’m glad we visited during this quiet time as this seems more fitting to the memory of what occurred here.  After a few days of exploring we returned to Eceabat and left our gears and some of our bikes in the wonderful care of Mesut at Boomerang Bar before taking off on a five day adventure to Istanbul.

Looking stunning when she is about to swim with hundreds of jellyfish.

Looking stunning when she is about to swim with hundreds of jellyfish.

The weather picked up so we hid behind an old bunker for the night.

The weather picked up so we hid behind an old bunker for the night.

Dinner party in the rain.

Dinner party in the rain.

Boomerang Bitter at the Boomerang Bar.

Boomerang Bitter at the Boomerang Bar.

Home overlooking the Dardanelles.

Home overlooking the Dardanelles.

Where our girls spent their time while we were in Istanbul.

Where our girls spent their time while we were in Istanbul.

As you probably all know we are behind on the blog and hopefully you read Jude’s (on time) wonderful blog entry about our 2 years on the road that we celebrated in Istanbul.  Our friend Janne joined us there for the celebration and it was lovely.  As well as celebrating we had our bikes somewhat serviced and unfortunately that experience was indeed poor.  Luckily the sightseeing was spectacular.  We wandered from the Galata tower, to the Hagia Sophia, to the Blue Mosque, to the basilica cistern, through the bazaars and along the Bospherus.  What a city, what history – I’ll leave the pictures to tell the story of our time there.

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Istanbul from the Bospherus.

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Istanbul from the Bospherus.

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Coffee time.

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So many fisherman.

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Inside the Hagia Sophia.

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Inside the Hagia Sophia.

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Inside the Hagia Sophia.

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The incredible mosaics.

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Being monkeys

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The Hagia Sophia.

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The Blue Mosque.

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Inside the Blue Mosque.

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The basilica cistern.

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The basilica cistern.

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Medusas head in the basilica cistern.

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Inside the Grand Bazaar.

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Inside the Grand Bazaar.

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Inside the Grand Bazaar.

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So many mosques.

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And more.

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Wandering the streets.

Soon enough the road began calling again and it was time to cycle towards Greece.  It was a smooth 2 day cycle with a lovely pitch by the beach for our last night in Turkey.  In Ipsala we spent the last of our lira on food for the next weeks camping and loads of our favourite Turkish vegan snack – Cikofte.  Turkey had been a wild card on this trip and we were super happy to have explored so much of this amazing and varied land.

Turkey  - teşekkür ederim & elveda.

All my love, Astrid.

Our last hill in Turkey at a whopping 350 metres.

Our last hill in Turkey at a whopping 350 metres.

Our home at sunset.

Our home at sunset.

Last night happiness.

Last night happiness.

Last campfire in Turkey.

Last campfire in Turkey.

Coast, mountains and ancient sites

Antalya to Ephesus via Pamukkale 

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On the road once more

The rain finally cleared and we were able to leave Antalya. I would be lying if I said I hadn’t enjoyed the total time out. Sometimes you just need it. We pushed out of the old town and followed the coastal highway, battling it out with some truly demented drivers. The cycling was beautiful though, the sparkling Mediterranean on our left and the mountains on our right. Sometimes we climbed into forests, other times we were right on the coast and able to swim. The weather stayed in our favour, at least for a few days.

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Lunch on the beach first day out of Antalya

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The gorgeous coast somewhere near Finike

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The Green Fairy and I enjoying the view. Could the winter be over? Oh and note use of stick. This is why we have them!!

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Another gorgeous bay

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I love being in the sea

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An early morning swim

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It’s not all gorgeous coastline. We saw many hot houses like these

On one day we ran  into 4 other cycle tourists. One Turkish guy, two French and a Swiss girl. After not seeing anyone throughout the winter it signalled to us that ‘the season’ had started. Cyclists were leaving Europe and beginning the long trek East. It happened that we all met in the evening and thus camped together in a place that wasn’t quite open for yet and therefore let us stay for free. Like always it was exciting sharing stories about where we had been and where we were going. It struck me again how close Europe is. Just that day we had marvelled at views of some Greek Islands.

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It was a tough 14 km up here but check out the view. Some of the islands are Greek.

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Lunch time with a view

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It’s not winter anymore! seven cycle tourists in one village!

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The campsite we were given for free

The history of Ancient Greece is also starting to creep in here. For the very next day we visited the UNESCO site of Xanthos. This city was around before the Greeks as an ancient Lycian centre of culture, followed by Persians before it was eventually Hellenized. The Romans came next and then later it was abandoned. Now some beautiful ruins with some very cute goats and tortoises remain. It is quite amazing to find these kinds of places on your cycle route!

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Xanthos

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Goats enjoy it too!!

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Just some casual morning UNESCO sites..

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This tortoise also calls Xanthos home. Poor thing was tipped on her back Brooke saved her.

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We had lunch in here

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The bikes wait outside..

Soon the rain found us again and then as we headed back into the mountains, the snow. We took this route in order to visit Pamukkale, a series of hot springs and travertines that are an amazing white colour and considered a highlight of Turkey by many. This detour from the coast gave us some tough times.  Firstly due to the agriculture and villages it was difficult to find somewhere to camp. We finally asked at a petrol station one night and were confronted with how different this part of Turkey is to the East. The first guy we asked was confused and sent us further afield. The second guy gave us some concrete to camp on, even though by this time it was snowing and he had a large warm room all to himself. It actually didn’t bother us to camp at all, we were warm enough. It was just the realisation that attitudes are changing as we get further west. We were still spoiled from Iran! Unfortunately the guy at the petrol station ended up being a total creep and came knocking and whispering at our tent at 2am and 4am. We told him to piss off and he eventually left. Thankfully this was our only creeper in Turkey.

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Night one heading back in land was beautiful..

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We cycled through beautiful mountainous landscape

Snow and a roaring headwind greeted us the next morning. Making sure to be extra loud we woke the creeper (I may have yelled at him) and then limped about 200m to the nearest open cafe and ate two breakfasts back to back. Eventually we had to leave however and it was one of those days that I almost questioned why the hell I was doing this. Almost. We pushed into a raging, icy headwind all day. Our only relief were the ever present petrol stations with their free tea. Intermittently we would collapse into these, consume food and tea and try and put off leaving. Towards evening the wind improved somewhat and the dull, over farmed landscape gave us some trees in which to camp amongst. I had been dreading another petrol station encounter. I really love the end of a cycling day. Collecting fire wood, building a fire, starting dinner, scribbling in my journal as the light gradually fades. It is at this time that I feel most at peace with the world.

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The next day was not so swell at the petrol station creeper camp

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This is what we woke to

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We cycled through this

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And this

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It was strange and beautiful

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But this is what we found at the end of the day

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Happiness is the sun!

Reprieve came in the form of sunshine and a light breeze the next morning. I was overjoyed and cycled the remaining kilometres to Pamukkale in high spirits. Poor Astrid had however woken up with ‘elephantitis of the face’. That’s what we called it anyway. One side of her face was puffy and swollen, we guessed from cycling into the wind all day. Sadly no photographic evidence exists. Once we reached the town we made the rather dubious choice of deciding to cycle 6 km up a steep hill to the campground. It took an hour and a half of arse breaking climbing to make it up there. The view was pretty great and the beer was pretty cold, so all was not lost.

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Resting on the way up to the campground

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The view from the campsite

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Clothes drying up at the campground – it poured and Brooke kindly shouted us a room for the night

The following day we hitched hiked down the hill and explored Pamukkale. This might sound a bit harsh, but I don’t think it was worth it. They have re routed a lot of the water and it really doesn’t look that spectacular anymore. Maybe it was also the weather as it was grey and soon began to rain quite heavily. Just above Pamukkale sits Hieropolis a Greco-Roman Byzantine city founded early in the second century. It was a spa town and many people came there to bathe in the healing waters of Pamukkale. I wish I could have seen it then. There was something quite atmospheric about exploring these ruins in the rain.

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The impressive colosseum at Hieropolis

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Hieropolis

What goes up, must come down and so it was for us. What had taken us so long to climb we now managed in under 15 mins on the way down. We wound our way through the countryside back to the highway and then something that rarely occurs happened. A ripping tailwind, smooth surface and good weather. Plus nice scenery. The cycling was so easy, at one point I wrote an email on my phone as I was pushed along by the wind! We made 120km easily that day and settled into an olive plantation feeling pretty happy with ourselves.

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Cooking dinner

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Our Olive camp

It was a short push to Selcuk the next day. This modern Turkish city is visited primarily to see the Greek-Roman ruins of Ephesus. This ancient city is huge and amazingly well preserved, I felt like I could get a real feel of what it must have been like to live in one of these grand cities as I walked around gazing at high columns and marble. Ephesus is also known as having the first ‘public toilet’. I am not sure if this is actually true, but the story is good and it’s fun to see.

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Rating the public toilet 9/10!

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What remains of the Library

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You can feel the scale of what it must have looked like

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Walking along the old road

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So I will leave you now and let Astrid continue with our journey Westwards, towards European Turkey and Greece.

Love

Jude

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From the snow to the sea.

Ankara, Nevsehir -> Ortahisar -> Cappadocia area -> (London) -> Antalya -> Konya -> Mediterranean Coast -> Antalya.

Love-in Turkey.

Love-in Turkey.

When Brooke suggested joining our journey, we jumped at the opportunity. We love to share our adventures with others, especially those who will jump on their bikes and come along for the ride. Therefore it was exciting to see Brooke and the bike box coming out of the arrivals gate in Ankara. Soon we were back at our cosy apartment, sharing duty free rum and planning the route ahead. It would be a three month journey together, through a handful of countries. But first Brooke needed to recover from some jet lag. Between sleep-ins and early nights we wandered the streets in the snow, visited the imposing Ataturk Mausoleum, explored the incredible Anatolian Civilisations museum and introduced Brooke to Turkish cuisine and chai.

Brooke has arrived and so has the snow.

Brooke has arrived and so has the snow.

Walking through the snowy streets.

Walking the snowy streets.

Ataturk's Mausoleum.

Ataturk’s Mausoleum.

Inside the Anatolian Civilisations museum.

Inside the Anatolian Civilisations museum.

Looking at the ancient carvings.

Looking at the ancient carvings.

On top of the Anakara castle.

On top of the Anakara castle.

Ankara spreads on and on.

Ankara covered in snow.

It seems as if no trip to Turkey is complete without a visit to the magical rock formations of Cappadocia. Such sentiments found us shivering at the bus station in Nevsehir surrounded by a thick blanket of snow. We had organised to stay with a host in the town of Ortahisar, a ride of just under 20km away. Usually not a problem, but as we cycled along the roads my gears began to slide and stick, with them eventually freezing in third gear. Not good, especially as I have a Rohloff hub that is meant to be failure free (being engineered in Germany and all). It would have been quicker to walk and by the time I arrived in Ortahisar I was blue from the cold – literally. The pot-belly stove in Aydin’s living room was the only thing between me and severe hypothermia. That night the thermometer hit minus 17 degrees Celsius – not something this antipodean is used to.

Yes that is really a max of -4 and a minimum of -17.

Yes that is really a max of -4 and a minimum of -17.

Jude and our dinner heating by the pot belly stove at Aiden's house.

Jude and our dinner heating by the pot belly stove at Aydin’s house.

Meal times at Aiden's was always a delicious feast.

Meal times at Aydin’s was always a delicious feast.

Cappadocia was a wonder to explore.  The valleys, the ridges, the pinnacles and the caves that were once people’s homes became our playground.  We cycled…

Exploring Cappadocia by bike.

Exploring Cappadocia by bike.

The bikes taking a rest in the snow.

The bikes taking a rest in the snow.

Ta daa...

Ta daa…

Bok bok meets camel rock.

Bok bok meets camel rock.

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One of the roads through the valleys.

We hiked…

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We explored a myriad of caves and churches carved into the pinnacles…

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We saw it from a hot air balloon…

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We enjoyed the spectacular views..

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Our evenings were spent with Aydin and Fatih, and all the cycle tourists and backpackers they were hosting.  We would cook amazing meals together, drink local wine and raki, and play card games that involved punishments such as putting snow down our tops, eating copious amounts of chillies and doing the break dancing move – the worm.

Pulling my best moves.

Pulling my best moves.

Cooking in the kitchen

Cooking in the kitchen

And enjoying a shared meal.

And enjoying a shared meal.

Enjoying  morning cup of tea on Aiden's terrace.

Enjoying a morning cup of tea on Aydin’s terrace.

We even spent a night in a cave hotel…

The entrance to our cave hotel.

The entrance to our cave hotel.

Excited about spending the night in our cave hotel.

Excited about spending the night in our cave hotel.

From here we did a flying visit to London so that Jude and I could sit an examination and interview to work as paramedics for the London Ambulance Service when we finish this leg of our journey.  In between studying, nervousness and buying appropriate second hand clothes to interview in (woollen thermals and polar fleece don’t seem to cut it) – we squeezed in some cheeky pints and visiting with friends.  I won’t keep you in suspense as we were for three days – yes our new home will be London and jobs have been secured!  So when we are settled our door will be open to all cyclists and friends passing by.

Beers at the airport.

Beers at the airport.

Practising CPR on pillows.

Practising CPR on pillows.

After a fortnight off the bikes it was time to hit the road.  For Brooke the first day ended up being a baptism by fire.  What I thought would be a relatively flat road with a gradual downhill gradient to Aksaray, ended up being a consistently undulating 90km slog into a frigid headwind.  Copious amounts of food, beers and games of table tennis were required to refuel us for the next day.  Fortunately the road onwards to Konya was flat to the point of boredom, and the sun shone warmly on our backs.

Our cycling route from Ortahisar to Antalya

Our cycling route from Ortahisar to Antalya

View of Hasan Dagi from the road.

View of Hasan Dagi from the road.

Resting on the side of the road.

Resting on the side of the road.

The caravanserai at Sultanhani.

The caravanserai at Sultanhani.

A fire is good for keeping warm and cooking dinner.

A fire is good for keeping warm and cooking dinner.

Camping with agricultural equipment under a petrol station.

Camping with agricultural equipment under a petrol station.

The view of the road to Konya

The view of the road to Konya

Taking a break on the side of the road.

Taking a break on the side of the road.

Years ago I was exploring different spiritual beliefs that resonated with me.  During this time I came upon the ‘whirling dervishes’, a branch of Sufism based upon love.  The idea of entering a trance like state of love while spinning on the spot appealed, but as usual I soon found out that this love was discriminatory and women were not allowed.  Despite this draw back I remained interested, and was super excited when I found out that Konya had been their home.  It was fascinating to explore the Mevlana museum where the whirling dervishes lived, prayed and practised their whirling.  They did this by nailing a shoe to a board and spinning on the spot to overcome the wooziness such spinning causes.  For fun I tried it again with hilarious consequences.  The highlight though was our opportunity to see a whirling dervish ceremony at the cultural centre that night.  Mesmerising.

Being a whirling dervish.

Being a whirling dervish.

Exploring the public gardens of Konya.

Exploring the public gardens of Konya.

Excited in front of the Mevlana museum.

Excited in front of the Mevlana museum.

Mevlana's mausoleum.

Mevlana’s mausoleum.

Inside the Mevlana museum grounds.

Inside the Mevlana museum grounds.

The complex from the outside.

The complex from the outside.

Part of the whirling dervish ceremony.

Part of the whirling dervish ceremony.

In a trance of love.

In a trance of love.

A beautiful mountain range provided a lengthy climb for the following two and a half days.  As we cycled the D696, we gained altitude and soon enough the stunning alpine scenery filled our vision and our thoughts.  Ice, wind and storm signs lined the road, but unseasonably clear and sunny weather surrounded us.  The snowy peaks sparkled, the tops of the pine trees swung in the wind and our lungs and legs enjoyed the constant workout they were receiving.  At nights we pitched our tents, built fires and snuggled in our warm sleeping bags while the temperature dropped below zero.

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Enjoying the steady climb.

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Entering the alpine area.

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The snow sparkles and the pine trees glow.

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Jude loves cycling with this scenery.

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Nearing the end of the long climb.

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Yo! Do you like to climb?

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Collecting firewood for the evening.

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Chilling out with dinner and a whisky by the fire.

It was exciting to reach the Alacabel summit at 1825m.  Now it was time for the long downhill to the Med coast.

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As we cruised down from the snowy terrain to pine forests the thrill of freewheeling made me giddy.  There is nothing like being fully in the moment, the wind in your hair and laughter coming from deep inside as you lean into another corner.  Unfortunately it was not to be all sunshine and lollipops.  Further down, mines and logging in this area also provided a dearth of truckies with questionable driving abilities.  On a particularly long, steep section of switchbacks, I just avoided being killed twice by two different truck drivers.  My front pannier was not so lucky.  It bounced off on a particularly potholed section of the road and was run over by the truck that was tailgating me.  It exploded and a shower of red lentils went everywhere.  I was so angry that I didn’t even collect my litter and threw some trash on the ground.  Doing this I didn’t feel bad at the time as many Turkish people seem not to care for their environment either – there is litter everywhere here.

This is where my pannier was revived using rope and a bit of love.

This is where my pannier was killed and then revived using rope and a bit of love.

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The alpine terrain became lush agricultural land the lower we cycled.

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After three days of climbing and no shower, this section of the river was too enticing – so we went for a swim.

Making dinner at this perfect campsite by the river.

Making dinner at this (almost) perfect campsite by the river, the rubbish around did detract from the natural beauty.

Our first view of the Mediterranean coast brought whoops of delight.  Stalls selling bananas and oranges lined the streets and the salty air hit our faces and we knew we had reached warmer climes.  After making our way through the conglomeration of ugly beachside resorts we found a place that lead to the Mediterranean Sea.  It was time for a swim.  But first I had to deal with the pompous resort worker who tried to tell us that we couldn’t swim there.  Poor chap.  Don’t get between me and swimming, it’s like getting between a hippo and water.

Excited by our first view of the Mediterranean waters.

Excited by our first view of the Mediterranean waters.

I may not look like a hippo, but get between me and this water at your own risk.

I may not look like a hippo, but get between me and this water at your own risk.

Our first sunset at the Me coast.

Our first sunset at the Med coast.

Cycling friends had pre-warned us that our hopes for the stereotypical stunning Mediterranean coastline were not to be realised on this section of the journey.  Seaside beauty was distorted by the thousands of mega resorts that hid the coastline.  Riding was along a very busy main road, luckily with a wide shoulder.  Despite popular Turkish opinion, we found that the driving became worse the further west we went.  Arrogance and speed don’t make for safe and courteous drivers.  We were impatient to reach Antalya, and with no reason to stop and tunes filling our ears the kilometres flew by.  Winding our way through the vibrant new city we located the walls of the old town and stepped into a vortex of tourism.  As the high season had not yet arrived the streets were largely devoid of people and we enjoyed the peace of the place.  An Efes (or two) were drank in celebration of our arrival and we relaxed into the rhythm of rest day life.  Slow meanders along the city streets led us to the top of cliffs that dropped dramatically into the sea.  We joined the locals basking in the sun on the pier and tried the local dish of Balik Ekmek.  One rest day turned into two as a tropical storm front, with full thunder and lightening show, hit the whole night and morning that we were to leave.  We spent this day watching movies in our underwear, drinking beer and listening to the tempest outside.  Tomorrow would be perfect again, that we knew.

The bustling new town makes a stark contrast with the peace of the old town.

The bustling new town makes a stark contrast with the peace of the old town.

The old town wall.

The old town wall.

Celebrating with an Efes.

Celebrating with an Efes.

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The dramatic coast of Antalya.

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The port of the old town

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Basking in the sun like a local.

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View of the old town.

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Thanks for joining us again,

Love Astrid.

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