One Year On

 

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One Year on. We survived!

It’s one year since we pedalled into London and brought this part of the cycle journey more or less to a close. I thought it would be as good a time as any to take a moment to reflect and update. To say it’s been a full on year would be an understatement. I always knew it would be hard to adjust back to more or less conventional life, but it nearly undid me.

It was fucking brutal.

I will try and explain. Bare with me, this is still not completely figured out in my head but here are some of the insights I have.

Cycle travelling cuts out the bullshit. You are suddenly and very quickly faced with the things that are universally important. Where do we get food? Where do we get water? Where will we sleep tonight? Those are the things we all really need. And human connection. On the road you have fleeting but wonderful connections with people who invite you to stay for the night, people who stop to give you water, or simply want to ask if you are okay. The overwhelming feeling is of universal kindness. Sure there is the odd twat, but most people you encounter are pretty awesome. There is also a pretty fabulous community of long term cycle travellers and hosts out there who really get what you do. So it’s almost like life it stripped down to the minimum and most important things that we as humans need. Not to say that there aren’t other ways to achieve this. But it happens organically with cycle travelling. It’s almost impossible for it not to happen. In my experience anyway.

This can leave you somewhat disconnected from mainstream society. Because just like most people can’t relate to the time you got deported from Turkmenistan, you often can’t relate to their lives. It’s a little alienating and takes time to remember that not everyone is excited about wild camping in Iran and how long you can go without showering. It wasn’t exactly that I felt lonely, more that I was disillusioned with people and conventional life in general. I just wanted to get back on my bike and leave. But ultimately I have learned it’s not about having to fit back in. With time you find your kind of people and learn to take joy from different things. I don’t want this journey to be the one amazing thing I’ve done. I don’t even want it to define me. It’s just part of what has makes mine and Astrid’s life so rich.

I also found myself feeling much more sensitive to the planet. I think we both did. After spending most of our time living outdoors, it’s hard not to feel a deep connection to the natural world.  Cars, waste, lack of recycling, environmental destruction and cruelty to animals affected me in a more intense and emotional way than it had before.  As a result Astrid and I have become more or less freegan, something we had been discussing for quite a while on the trip. This means we eat mainly vegan unless say, someone has made us a meal, or we are dumpster diving. It is as much about waste reduction as it is about being plant based. This might be confusing for some but I would rather eat a non vegan dip out of a dumpster that was perfectly fine and would go to waste, than some vegan chocolate that has been flown in from Brazil. Ultimately it’s about reducing our impact on the planet.

Another strong impact that this journey left on both of us was the lack of fear. Sure, we still get scared about things from time to time and I would never call myself fearless, but hell, a lot of people are scared. After being around people who generally carry less fear as they are also traveling and exploring, it was confronting to see  how much fear is out there. People are afraid to cycle, afraid to travel, afraid to do anything out of the norm. Afraid of the stories we are told by our politicians. Afraid of refugees. Afraid of fucking everything. I totally get where it comes from, mainly the media, and I don’t really blame people for it, but it does make me sad. Because like any cycle traveler or even half adventurous backpacker will tell you, the world is full of kind people. People who will invite you in off the street to sleep in their houses, people who will stop on the highway and give you food,  people who will help you with the endless small tasks everyday on the road. This is the reality of people. Not the bullshit the media and our governments want us to believe. So coming up against the way most people see the world was exhausting and alarming.

For us moving to a big city in the darkest, bleakest month of autumn to start work didn’t really help either. I really questioned for a while the wiseness of going straight back into the same career I was doing back at home. There hadn’t been any time to reflect or really ask ourselves wether we wanted to go back to working as paramedics. It had always seemed like a good idea, but I felt like another me had made that decision. Now I wasn’t so sure. I didn’t feel like the person I was before I left, and there are things I want to change about where my life is going. Things that might be harder from the sphere of a conventional job. And London itself really dragged us down for the first few months. It felt big, unfriendly and dark. We spent a lot of time asking ourselves; what are we doing here?

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dressed for winter cycling

But finally, out of this rather dark phase I feel like I have gained some clarity. Ultimately Europe is not our home. Neither Astrid or I want to live here long term (as much as we love our friends that do). It makes sense to slip into a job that is both familiar and relatively well paying. We both want to travel more (probably cycle home) and therefore saving money here makes sense. Not only that, but living in England has its advantages; Europe is on our doorstep and we taken advantage of the travel opportunities. But above and beyond that we have been experimenting and learning. The things we missed while traveling we have started to establish here.

 

To begin with, a kettle. We probably spent the first 6 months drinking tea and not leaving the house. That combined with an oven; bliss. Along with this I am slowly learning how to bake kick ass bread. We are growing veggies. Astrid is learning about bees and we are both experimenting and learning about permaculture. We are figuring out how we want to live when we return to Australia and learning new skills to take with is. Plus we have our super friends and family visiting us, as well as our wonderful London friends. Things are pretty awesome.

It’s certainly a different lifestyle to climbing 4000m passes but one that is fulfilling in  different ways.

For us the cycling is not over either. I think some people end a big bike trip ready to move on and try new things. Perhaps it’s because we haven’t actually cycled home, but both of us are super keen to get back on the bikes and get pedalling again. This is just an interlude before our next journey begins. It is shaping out to be a pretty good one.

 

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summer finally arrives

 

 

 

 

Music, Cycling, Beer…The END..kind of

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Getting on the ferry at the Hook of Holland

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Beer and concentration. I think I was writing the blog!

The ferry from the Hook of Holland to Harwich was lovely. We met several cyclists, all from the UK returning from shorter journeys on the continent. Beer was shared and stories told. It was good to see the cycle touring spirit alive and strong in the UK.

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Securing the bikes

By the time we docked it was early evening, I took in a breath of the fresh sea air and tried to take it all in. Reaching Europe way back at the Greek border had felt momentous, this felt even more poignant. Not only had we reached our final country, but we had also reached our new home. I look forward to getting to know you Britain.

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First few miles in England

The English landscape was immediately refreshing with its rolling hills and woodlands. I love Holland but it is rather flat, the undulations came as a relief. A few miles from the ferry port a pub offered camping for five pounds. After setting up it was time for a warm flat beer to celebrate arriving at country number twenty four.

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Five pound camping at the back of this pub!

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Warm flat beer anyone?

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First breakfast in the UK

It took us a day of steady cycling to get within striking distance of Cambridge. Gone were the well marked bike paths of The Netherlands. We were back in car country. Sadly England is not the most cycle friendly land we have come across, odd given its very strong history of cycling. Still, it’s not the worst place to pedal – although don’t try looking at the sustrans website as it will result in an instant headache and much confusion. No wonder there is a twitter feed ‘lost in sustrans’ (sustrans is supposed to be a cycling website). Our first day cycling through the English countryside had us on quiet hedged roads, through charming countryside and picturesque villages. Locals were friendly and it was a novelty to be able to speak English and cycle on the left side of the road!

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Beautiful England

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Morning market

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Lunch time

In the evening, struggling to find somewhere to pitch our tents for the night some lovely ladies on horses offered up the Parish Common (although if anyone objected we were not to tell it was them who had suggested it). But as night fell and we cooked our pasta, a few dog walkers curiously gazed at us but didn’t seem to mind our presence. It was a beautiful little spot, a pocket of wilderness in the otherwise quite gentrified countryside.

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The roads in England are small!

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Could this be somewhere to spend the night?

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Happiness is finding somewhere to call home for the night

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Parish Common camping. A table is such luxury!

A busy morning cycle saw us reach Cambridge to be reunited with Courtney who we had not seen since long ago Dushanbe. We had been looking forward to this reunion for months. Not only would it encompass the end of our journey, but also the Cambridge Folk Festival.

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Dushanbe reunion!

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Folk festival fox

Soon our tents were pitched under a tree and while people bustled around us still setting up, tea was brewed and we eagerly caught up on the last few months. There were many stories to share, especially about surviving the northern hemisphere winter mostly in the outdoors. It was interesting, although Courtney also loved cycling Europe, she too felt like something was missing. An edginess, a rawness, something. We all kind of missed the adventure of the world’s more far flung places and the challenges that come with that.

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Checking out the festival guide and making tea

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The first of many festivals we hope!

The four of us quickly settled into festival life. After a prolonged breakfast, usually involving eggs, copious cups of tea and reading we would eventually meander over to see the music. There was much dancing, cider drinking, exhausted moments of napping at the back of the crowd, dirty barefeet, beautiful music and generalised festival happiness. I suspect Cambridge will not be our last festival in the UK.

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Hooray!

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Vegie sausages and beer

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Once the long days of festival fun drew to a close the four of us packed up and cycled into the suburbs of Cambridge to meet Steve and Roxy. I went to school with Steve and had randomly remembered that he now lived in the UK. I had thought, why not catch up for a beer with an old class mate? What we got was much more than a beer! Steve and his wife Roxy generously invited us all to stay with them. What was even cooler was that Roxy is an avid cyclist and works for the Cambridge Cycling Campaign. Once again the universe provides!

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BBQ with Steve and Roxy

We were welcomed with open arms and promptly set about gently messing up their home as only post festival cycle travellers can. Later we caught up on life since school over a BBQ and a few beers (how very Australian). It was also really interesting for Astrid and I to hear about Steve and Roxy’s experience of living in the UK as we were soon to follow in their footsteps.

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A bike park house in Cambridge

The following day I did something I should have done ages ago – organised some of our photos. For anyone interested there now a slide show on our Flikr Page https://www.flickr.com/photos/foonsonbikes/albums/72157656344837999. Its rough and still needs a bit of work but it does show a bit of an overview. The main reason for this sudden and uncharacteristic spurt of organisation was because Roxy had asked us to give a talk about our trip to her colleagues at the Cambridge Cycling Campaign.

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Speaking at the Cambridge cycling campaign meeting

So in the evening the 6 of us pedalled into Cambridge, and Astrid and I, as well as Courtney, gave a small presentation about what it’s like being a cycling traveller. Thankfully when you are in a room full of bicycle enthusiasts it isn’t exactly hard to convince people about the merits of bicycle travel. No one looked at us like we had two heads or needed to be locked up. Everyone was full of excitement and sharing our stories felt completely natural.

Afterwards we went to the pub and continued on in a less formal setting aided by ales. We weren’t the only ones sharing information though. It was a great opportunity to ask everyone about how we should cycle into London from Cambridge. We got a lot of good information.

Steve and Roxy kindly let us stay the following day. We had planned to leave but somehow (the ales?) just couldn’t face the road. Instead Courtney and I baked a cake and we all drank copious cups of tea. It was such bliss to do almost nothing at all. The seemingly most mundane tasks are wonderful to the long term traveller. Give me a kettle, a toaster and wifi and I am endlessly happy these days.

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We took over the kitchen

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And made a bicycle birthday cake!

London however was calling. We left the next day but not before partaking in the age old tradition of punting. For anyone who doesn’t know what this is (I didn’t before) this involves sitting on a wooden boat (preferably with wine and cheese) while one person stands on the back and uses a long stick to propel the boat forwards. This takes some getting used to and a specific set of skills not readily found in the cycle traveller. Courtney and I prevailed and eventually got the hang of it. We punted up and down the Cam river, admiring the likes of Kings College. It was almost as idyllic as it sounds. The un-idyllic part was the occasional crash caused by either us or one of the other groups of beginner punters.

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Punting

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Punting is best when you have wine and someone else does the work!

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By the time punting was over it was time to leave town. For some reason my enthusiasm was low. We cycled about 10 miles before turning off a country road and following a small track to the edge of some dense woods. It was a lovely spot and the four of us shared the last of our wine and prepared our evening meal. Our peace was however soon disturbed. For the second time ever (the last time was in NSW) we were found by an initially hostile individual. At first he could barely comprehend what he had found and firmly but politely ordered us off the land which he said belonged to a farmer (his boss). He was quite civilised about it and we were allowed to finish our meal first. This bought us some time and the four of us used our considerable charms to draw our new friend into conversation. After 15 mins he kindly said we could stay and we were left in peace. Thank you.

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Heading out of Cambridge

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The camp where we got briefly disturbed

Our second last day started early as we wanted to be off the land before the workers arrived. Our route took us over rolling green hills, along cute back roads and into a cute village for cream tea. In the afternoon we reached the Lee Valley – parklands and canals not far from the M25 (the motorway that borders greater London). Due to our proximity to London I was a little apprehensive about finding somewhere to camp.

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Cream tea!

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On the road south

The universe more than provided. We asked some people who lived on the canal (we thought they looked suitably dodgey) if there was anywhere we could put our tent – ‘anywhere you like’ was the response we got. Soon enough, just over a small bridge we found a hidden clearing right next to the canal. Time to break out the Pims. Our ‘last’ night of freedom. There was even a place to build a fire. Incredible, here we were wild camping less than 40km from central London.

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In the Lee Valley

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A perfect last nights camp – with pims

It was a special night for us all because really it was the finale for everyone. Courtney who had basically cycled from Mongolia was soon to be swapping her bike for hiking boots, Vari who had come all the way from Reggensburg was shortly off to Latvia, and Astrid and I would soon be living a very different life. I tried to take the moments in fully, but these moments are often hard to capture as you are living them.

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Final day!

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Heading towards Waltham Abbey

Our final day dawned promising a lovely summer’s day. We had a quick bit to eat and cycled the 10km or so to Waltham Abbey. Here we were reunited with part of ‘the pod’ from long ago Malaysia. Charlotte, Ben and Kit had caught the train out early to meet us. What legends. It was a wonderful reunion followed by a champagne breakfast in some lovely gardens.

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Champagne breakfast. Ben your awesome shirt was so appreciated!

As we were preparing to leave Waltham Abbey I came across something I had been looking for for 2 days – onesies! It had been my dream to cycle into London wearing something outrageous. A onesie was my first choice. Sadly yesterday had proved fruitless in my search. But here, right in front of me were a a bunch of colourful onesies hanging on a rack. It was just too perfect. It hardly took any convincing. Soon Astrid, Courtney, Ben and I were clothed in our rather ridiculous new outfits, ready to cycle into the capital.

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Ready to go in our new ridiculous outfits

The cycle into central London was surreal. We followed the narrow canal path for miles, finally getting a glimpse of the iconic high rises. I was filled with a jolt of excitement. This was actually happening. More than 2 years of cycling and we were nearly there.

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South along the canals

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Not long and we were out of the parklands, stopping for a pint in a brewery (Crate) in Hackney Wick (soon to become one of our locals). Then with Ben’s expert navigation we pedalled through East london, took the walk way under the Thames and popped out in Greenwich. A small climb and we were suddenly 100m from the Greenwich Observatory. We both choked up a little as we slowly pedalled towards the lookout and then bought the Dirty Salmon and the Green Fairy to a stop. London spread out before us. This was it. This was the end. Although by now the concept of this being just a linear journey with a beginning, middle and end did not ring true. Sure, this was a kind of end, but also a new beginning. It was a moment in time. A moment in our lives.

Two years, four months, two days and three continents.

Time for a beer.

 

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We took a moment or four and then headed with our little team to Black Heath where more friends joined us. The afternoon was spent on the Heath sipping beers and enjoying the warm summer evening. It felt crazy and amazing to be alive, surrounded by friends, the sky streaked with pink, a new adventure waiting.

Love

Jude

P.S We plan to continue our blog. After this we head to walk across Spain, then onto the UK for a more settled adventure. We shall let you know how we go! Thanks for reading this part of our adventure. Love Jude and Astrid.

 

Cycling Paradise – Welcome to The Netherlands.

Belgium border via the North Sea cycle route to Den Haag (The Hague) -> Breda -> Amsterdam -> Breda -> Hoek van Holland.

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Cycling Paradise.

When most people think of the Netherlands, visions of tulips, wooden clogs and windmills spring to mind.  For me, first and foremost it’s bicycles.  After decades of cycle friendly laws and infrastructure spending, Holland can claim its well earned title as the cycling capital of the world.  There are more bikes per capita than cars, more people cycle than drive and the easily navigable maze of bike paths that criss cross the country make this cycling paradise.

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Cycling towards the Belgium/Holland border

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Welcome to the cycling capital of the world – The Netherlands.

Crossing early in the morning from Belgium into Holland, we were excited about hitting the cycle routes, reaching the coast and going for a swim in the North Sea.  Our friends in Belgium had suggested the best and most scenic route to Den Haag would be along the North Sea cycle route – the LF1.  This route would also take us passed Hoek van Holland,the port where we will be catching the ferry to England from, after spending a couple of weeks exploring the Netherlands and visiting friends.

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Cool art on a disused lighthouse, due to engineering the sea is now miles away.

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Our first view of the sea for many months.

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Waiting for the ferry in Breskens.

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There is ample bicycle parking on all ferries in the Netherlands.

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Sea views.

We followed clearly marked signs and cycle paths through small villages until we reached the coast and our first ferry crossing from Breskens to Vlissingen.  After being land locked for so long we relished the sensations of the salty air filling our nostrils and the blue of the water enticing our vision.  Most of Holland is below sea level and the Dutch have built hundreds of sea walls and constructed dozens of sea dams to steal land that the sea had once claimed as her own.  Kilometre long bridges and tunnels join the many land legs that jut out into the water, saving kilometres of backtracking to reach the same destination.

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Cycling the North Sea coast route, wind at our backs.

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Taking a little water break and admiring the view.

Windmills and wind go hand in hand, and the Netherlands has more than its fair share of both.  Luckily for us it was blowing from the south west, the perfect direction for a tail wind.  All we had to do was sit back, let the wind do its job, enjoy the sunshine and the wonderful scenery that the North Sea route provided.  Oh yeah and go for that swim…

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The North Sea cycle route took us through sand dunes…

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Through forests…

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Along man made sea walls…

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Passed lighthouses….

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Along more sea walls…

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Passed modern wind mills…

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Over sea dams….

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Passed pacific gulls….

We had flown that day and as the sun began to lower herself towards the horizon and rain clouds gathered in the sky, it was time to find shelter for the night.  We had passed many signs for micro campgrounds, so we pulled into one and found the owner who showed us to a lovely patch of grass (and a warm shower) that we could call home for the night.

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Setting up our home at a micro-campground.

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Jude thought it was time for a sign on her bike.

We woke early the next morning to find the wind still in our favour.  After a quick cuppa and a bite to eat we hit up the local church fair where we stocked up on home made jam and cakes.  Hoping to make it to Den Haag that afternoon we needed all the fuel we could get.  The riding continued to be stunning, the villages inviting and the kilometres fast.

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Through fields of wildflowers.

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Eating cake for morning tea.

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And then stopping for a coffee.

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In this cute village.

Jude’s sign turned out to be a hit with everyone.  It was an ice breaker that started conversation and we spent our time cycling with groups of other cycle tourists sharing stories from the road.  This was also helpful as when we turned west along the south bank of the Hoek van Holland Port, the wind ended up in our faces and the lovely people on electric bikes provided the perfect windbreak.

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The route then hit the industrial shipping area.

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Where we caught another ferry with bicycle parking.

The cycling day was slowly drawing to an end.  A quick ice-cream stop perked up the energy levels enough to see us pedalling along a path through some sand dunes which popped us out into Den Haag.  It was here that we would again meet some cycle touring friends from the road – Pimm and ChuHui – whom we had met in the Cameron Highlands and again in Penang back in Malaysia.

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We then cycled our way through Den Haag.

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To visit with the wonderful Pimm and ChuHui

Three wonderful days were spent sharing stories and food, wandering the streets, admiring the works of the Dutch masters at Mauritshuis, eating the best ice-cream in the world and sailing on one of the many lakes nearby.  It was here that I had my first lesson in sailing.  Being a very windy day it was proving to be a struggle, my knuckles were white from nervousness but I was holding it together until our last tack where I managed to almost capsize us.  As water entered the yacht my heart sank as I acknowledged that both cameras were now submerged, never to be used again.  The engine then failed during our return to the dock and as we struggled to get the yacht in (with a mixture of ropes and pulling and pushing), other sailors sat back and watched the spectacle, glass of wine in their hands, not one offering to help.  Back at home in dry clothes with a cuppa in hand, we had a good laugh and agreed that next time things would be better.

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They took us sailing.

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Like father, like daughter.

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Jude looking ubercool.

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The last photo on our SLR before it went swimming never to be used again.

From here we split paths for a few days, dad went to visit an old friend and we cycled on to Breda to meet Franz and Eveline, other cycle touring friends who we first met when we hosted them in Melbourne.  It was a full days ride from Den Haag to Breda, following a myriad of cycle paths.  Somehow this time the cycle route number system left us in a pickle, so good old maps.me was consulted and we continued on our merry way.  This was our last day of long distance cycling in Holland and we relished in the joy of our movement and the freedom cycle touring instills in your heart.

Franz and Eveline had just returned from a cycle tour of their own, starting at the place in Greece where Eveline had been struck by a car a few years ago (an accident that turned into a life saving coincidence), continuing on to Turkey and beyond.  Indefatigable as they are they welcomed us with open arms and open cellar – Franz has been tempting us to their beautiful home with promises of great beer.  Evenings were spent sipping many of Franz’s favourite beers, outdoors overlooking the garden, sharing lively conversation about touring and the state of the world. Days were a relaxing mix of perusing one of the many books in their library (mandatory cuppa in hand) and wandering around the lovely town of Breda soaking up the Dutch architecture and culture.  And a few more beers.  We celebrated Eveline’s birthday with her, an occasion that filled me with hope, happiness and inspiration that I will continue to cycle tour and live an adventurous life like she does.

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Dinner time with great beer and great friends.

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Back at it – relaxing at one of the many outdoor bars in Breda.

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Maybe a few too many brews? – teaching Gieske how to do a bum dance in the street.

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A little more classy – Eveline’s birthday lunch (when the food did arrive it was incredible…)

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Jude loving the dessert.

All too quickly it was time for us to head on to Amsterdam to meet other friends.  Bill had flow over from Australia to spend some days exploring the delights of the capital with us, and a Dushanbe reunion was brewing for the last day.  Arriving at Amsterdam Centraal we followed the bike lanes east to the campground we had booked for the week to come.  Seems like we weren’t the only ones in town on a budget, the place was pumping.

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Saving time and catching the train to Amsterdam.

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It still amazes me how easily you can take bikes on public transport here.

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I love the dedicated bike lanes – heading east from the main train station.

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Camping with a view.

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Not the only ones on a budget…

Our days were spent exploring Amsterdam by bike, boat and foot.

We sampled most of the local specialities… and partook in some cultural activities… missing the one in a thousand year storm that hit Amsterdam (uprooting trees and decimating the campground) while we looked at the Dutch Masters in the Rijksmuseum.

Leaving Amsterdam on the train back to Breda, the glow that comes from spending time with friends and loved ones still enveloped me.  Life on the road does distance you from your community back home, as well as providing you with a new group of like minded friends.  Connecting physically with both here in Holland showed me that I am perhaps ready to settle for a while, create a home and open my doors to all those that I love and those I have not yet met.

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Hot drink break on our walk through the forest.

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Jude as a frog…

After a day of packing, walking and sharing more time (and beer) with Franz and Eveline, it was time to say goodbye to them and the Netherlands.  Ready for the next leg, it was lovely to cycle the streets of Breda together, a farewell escort to the train that would take us to Hoek van Holland and our ferry to England.  Gale force winds hit us as we stepped off the train and continued to bombard us as we waited in line to board the ferry.  Weather matching emotions is common on the road and the gusty, forceful wind was fitting.  It was time to leave the continent, to head to our last country on this journey, the place we would call home for the next few years.  Memories of the past mixed with hopes for the future.  Ready to take that step we watched as the land disappeared into the horizon.  And then we befriended the other cycle tourists on board, shared duty free beers and kept on living the life we know and love.

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Our farewell escort to the station.

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Through the streets of Breda.

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On the train from Breda to the ferry port.

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Waiting in the wind to board at the Hoek of Holland.

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England, here we come!

From Belgium with Beers

Astrid and I love beers (in case this was somehow missed) and now we were finally entering the country reputed to have some of the best beers in the world. We were quite excited to say the least. To reach Belgium we had to climb out of the picturesque valley we had been cycling through the previous day. It was a beautiful summer’s morning, climbing felt great and at the top we were greeted with a sign to say we were in Belgium, followed by 16km of downhill. Nice way to enter a country!

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Welcome to Belgium!

The first part of Belgium is still German speaking so it felt very familiar at our first bakery stop. This gives way to the French language, and also sadly deteriorating cycle ways and driving. As we struggled to follow the bicycle directions and bumped along rough, narrow roads with drivers passing too close we knew we were definitely no longer in Germany.

That day we pedalled for many long hours. Sometimes on roads, sometimes trying to follow badly signed bike routes. Eventually we ended up on a river, but even here we had to sometimes back track as the path would suddenly stop and we would have to go around and pick it up again somewhere else. I guess we had been spoiled.

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First ice cream stop

Still, the countryside was pretty and we found a lovely camping ground right on the river. The people were super friendly and laid back. We enjoyed a curry and watched the night fall gently, all three of us feeling pretty exhausted. It had been a long few days. Our whole reason for coming to Belgium was to visit Stephanie who we had met in Dushanbe while she was doing an internship at the EU delegation there. One more big push and we would reach Stephanie’s home town of Enghien.

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Beer o clock in the camp ground

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We woke up feeling lethargic. Vari opted to take the train – wise move. Somehow foolishly Astrid and I decided to take the canal cycle route which was 130km instead of the 100km road route. I guess canals sound more romantic than roads but our day was far from romantic. I like to refer to it as The Canal Day of Doom.

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Following the river had its great moments

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Firstly I had no energy and could only hobble along until I had consumed most of the contents of the supermarket we stopped at. Then Astrid had a flat. This was followed by a wrong turn and needing to back track, all in combination with a roaring headwind and a terrible highly resistant cycling surface. The going was slow and painful and I longed to hitch hike on one of the canal boats. We were both tired and I was quite grumpy as well, cursing the canals under my breath.

Finally towards the evening we decided to call it quits on the canal path. It was just so rough and slow. Once away from the canal the road was much smoother and even the hills were a relief. By the time we reached Enghien at 10pm, it was 13 hours after we had set off. We were greeted with open arms by Francoise and Philip and had a wonderful reunion with Stephanie. After food and showers we both collapsed into bed. I know I was utterly spent.

Our time in Enghien with Stephanie’s family was lovely. On the first morning we went for BBQ and drinks at a friend’s place and then to La Semo, a music festival that was on in Enghien that weekend. It was super lovely and relaxed. We wondered around, ate, drank Belgium beers and listened to music. Later on Stephanie, Astrid and I danced the night away.

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We squeezed in a trip to Brussels to visit an old friend of Astrid’s and his wife. Arnie and Aiva showed us good places to eat and drink in Brussels and we thoroughly enjoyed our brief encounter with the city.

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Well rested and completely spoiled by Francoise and Philip we left Enghien and Wallonia (the French speaking part of Belgium) and headed into Flanders. This is the Flemish speaking part and the difference in attitude becomes apparent. We were told the French part likes to have fun, party, eat good food. The Flemish part works hard to have a nice house. I don’t know if this is strictly true – but the Flemish do appear to have very neat and pretty houses!

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Hills soon gave way to much flatter country as we cycled towards the border with The Netherlands. For our last night in the country with a reputation for the best beers in the world we bought a few to sample and found some forest in which to pitch our tent.

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As I drank my beer and looked over at the green fairy, panniers open with clothes and pots spilling out, the darkening sky, Astrid beside me, Vari still putting up his tent, I felt a little sad. This perfect simple life, where everywhere can be your home and your needs are so basic is coming to an end soon. I am certainly going to miss it.

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Germany via river bike paths, radlers and ice cream

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Small roads and bike paths through Baveria

The border between Austria and Germany was just a sign saying we had entered the state of Bavaria. Nothing else really changed, except maybe the number plates of the cars now had more D’s than A’s. Due to our rest day in Linz, we had two big days in front of us in order to reach Donaustauf. This was okay with us. Often we feel that a full rest day is worth the long riding days. Plus we have the sun on our side now. It stays light until 10pm. Amazing.

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Beer break in Passau

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Bike traffic lights!

We pushed on along the Danube bike path for the next two days with seemingly the entire population of over 60’s from Austria and Germany. The path took us through a picturesque narrow valley, passed fields of wheat and through beautiful old towns. Our first night camping in the most populous country in Europe we scored one of the best free camps of the trip. Right on the banks of the Danube, hidden by bushes from the bike path and with views of church spires and the pink hues of the setting sun. We even had an otter swim right by us.

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Our camp spot right on the Danube

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Sunset. An otter swam right by us here

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The days were hot and long and by the time we reached Donaustauf we were both quite exhausted. We were welcomed with open arms by Barbara’s (a friend from Melbourne) parents Ingrid and Hans. We were wined and dined and then taken up to the ‘Walhalla’ to enjoy the views and the balmy summer evening. Life really felt perfect. Summer is here!!

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Bikes and beer!

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Taking a break

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Heading towards Donaustauf

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The Danube

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Hans and Ingrid our wonderful hosts.

The next day we made a tour of Regensburg with Hans and Ingrid (with me badly translating from German into English for Astrid). We also took our bikes to Feine Fahrrader, a bike shop thankfully familiar with our kind of bikes. They replaced my front light (not working since western China) and checked my dynamo. Astrid’s rohloff was sent away to be replaced (free) and the bike shop rebuilt her wheel for a fee. For anyone on touring bikes, I would recommend this shop.

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Exploring Regensburg

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Knodel and sauerkraut plus beer. Yum

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Hans in a wealth of knowledge

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After our brief stay in Donaustauf it was time to head to Prague to meet my sister. Although we had initially planned to cycle there, this didn’t work out. Mainly because the flange failure meant that it was more sensible to go to Germany first and get it fixed. It’s always a bit difficult to make medium distance plans when travelling by bike.

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Scrabble in Prague

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Prague never fails to impress me

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Stunning

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And some more

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Beer in a medieval tavern

We spent a wonderful 10 days with my sister in Prague and Berlin. The cities were familiar to all three of us and we revisited favourites sites, discovered a few new ones and played a lot of scrabble. It was a delightful, relaxing period, more about spending time together than rushing around to look at the sites.

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Brandenburger Tor. I simply love Berlin.

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The wall

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Ampel man says stop!

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Scrabble in Berlin

Then, before too long it was time to say goodbye to Mish. It was hard, but I know it won’t be so long before she is on this side of the world again. Astrid and I also packed out bags and headed back on the bus to Donaustauf. Our short life as backpackers was over.

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More scrabble and wine

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Scrabble takes concentration! And beer in the park.

Arriving back at Donaustauf felt like home (it’s funny how quickly this happens on the road!) and it was wonderful to return to Hans and Ingrid. A day and a half later Vari arrived pumped for another adventure with us. We went out and helped him choose a bike from a bicycle mega store that even had a practice track. Then we with our repaired and replaced parts and Vari with his brand new bike, were ready to face the bike paths of Germany.

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Bike tube vending machine.

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Vari and I heading along the Danube path

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Just another amazing castle

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Upside down swam. They completely crack Astrid and I up

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Very civilised. A campground for Vari’s first night.

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Preparing pesto pasta

We hugged and kissed Ingrid and Han’s farewell (as well as the extended family). What utterly wonderful hosts they have been. The time we shared was so warm and heartfelt, it was difficult to leave. It’s funny how in this cycling life people we have never met reach out to us and treat us with such kindness and acceptance. It’s something I will never forget.

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Seemingly endless quaint towns

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My old i phone needs to be charged all the time. How cool is this free charger?! Also for electric bikes!!

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Forest camp. Free camping is so easy in Germany.

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Another perfect summers day

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A stone bridge, many hundreds of years old.

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Cycling in the evening when it gets cooler is often the best time

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Another lovely forest camp

The next few days we followed the German Rivers of the Danube, Altmuhl and Tauber. It was lovely riding, along bike paths that took us through fields, forest, small villages and medieval towns. We slept sometimes in campgrounds, but often in the forest and found it surprisingly easy and picturesque to free camp. Sometimes we saw deer, we picked wild strawberries and swam in lakes. In the mornings we stopped for coffees, in the afternoon for radlers (beer with lemonade, don’t laugh!). It’s refreshing and delicious. Night fell late, around 10pm and the best cycling was before 8am and after 7pm because of the heat. It grew hotter and hotter until we were having consecutive days of over 35 degrees Celsius. It felt like Melbourne!!

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Medieval Rotenburg Ob der Tauber

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More Rotenburg

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This creeper had tar poured through his mouth onto attacking enemies, Rotenburg Ob der Tauber.

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Rotenburg is so well preserved

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Fields of wheat in the heat

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Vari is tough! Coping amazingly well in the summer heat.

At one point I made the decision to split from our little group of three in order to make it to my very good friends birthday party (Janne who visited us in Istanbul) as well as visit my uncle and aunty. In a way I was excited about travelling alone, but also sad. Astrid and I have hardly spent anytime alone since beginning this trip. This is actually why a solo leg was probably a good idea. It’s important to do things alone every now and then.

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Cute village overload!

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Looking good!

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Beware frogs!

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Schloss Aschaffenburg

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More schloss action

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Super impressive

I set off from our river campground at 5.30am and meandered along the undulating Tauber River cycle path. It was gorgeous with steep wooded hills rising up from the valley floor, which at this point was quite narrow. The air was fresh and cool, with a little mist still rising from the water. Astrid and Vari would follow me a few hours later and continue on this path until it reached the Main River. I on the other hand turned off after only around 15km on a short cut that took me through hilly countryside that meandered through fields and woods, alongside freeways and finally into the Main River valley. By the time I reached the Main it was mid afternoon and over 37 degrees. I didn’t realise the toughest was yet to come. From the Main I climbed for over 10km in the blazing sun. At one point I crawled into a pub, dripping and bright red. I gulped down a radler and continued, knowing I still had a way to go. Finally I reached the Spessart, a Bavarian forest I had once visited as I child. It was a little cooler and sweet down hill followed. Unfortunately this was followed by unrelenting undulations that almost reduced me to tears.

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It’s hot!!

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The long flat road

Finally exhausted and starving I rolled into Aschaffenburg 12 hours after setting off. It was pretty close to being one of my toughest days. I was welcomed with open arms by my uncle and aunty who I had not spent time with since I was 17. We spent a wonderful evening and morning together and I felt like the big push had been well worth it.

Another scorching day dawned and I limped by way along the Main River towards Frankfurt. From there I caught a train to Bad Nauheim and rode the remaining kilometres to Janne’s mum’s house. I was greeted with open arms, handed a glass of champagne and told to put my feet in a bucket of cold water. I had once spent a wonderful lazy summer almost exclusively in Bad Nauheim eight years ago. It was magnificent to be back and felt like almost no time had passed.

The following day an exhausted and overheated Astrid and Vari rolled into Bad Nauheim. Jutta (Janne’s mum) and Janne coaxed them back to life with food and cold drinks. In the evening, when the worst of the heat had dissipated we sat on the balcony and enjoyed cool crisp white wine and conversation. It was really special for me to be back here and to share it with Astrid.

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Mainz, where the Main and the Rhine meet

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Crossing the Rhine

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Flowers!

It was not long before we needed to leave again, although I don’t think it will be eight years between visits this time! The three of us retraced our steps back to the Main river on the train and then continued where we had left off. The Main eventually flows into the Rhine which is flanked by bike paths and train lines on both sides. We followed this route, enjoying views of castles, icecream stops, picnics on the river bank and very civilized camping. It really was rather idyllic but also a little dull. I came to the realisation that river bike paths are not for me. Well, not for weeks anyway. After coming through the countries we have with the challenges of high passes, bad roads, weird food, and unfamiliar culture, somehow bike paths along rivers seem a little tame. And a little too easy. Once the novelty of being away from cars and being able to stop in cute towns and drink a radler every 10km had worn off I longed for something more. So, Europe I think when I next tour though you I will search out the mountains and your more wild places.

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Views from the Rhine

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Swimming in the Rhine

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Vineyards and castles!

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Beer o clock

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Camping along the Rhine

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And there is rain. Heading towards Belgium

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In the National park

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A few days of Rhine cycle path and then much to our relief and perhaps Vari’s horror we turned off it and climbed out of the valley. I cannot tell you how good it felt to climb! Astrid and I were both extremely happy with the change of scenery. We crossed through farmland and forest and finally into the Eifel National Park which borders Belgium. It was gorgeous cycling along forest paths and then along this picturesque narrow valley towards the Belgium border.

Germany really has been a pleasure to cycle in. Their infrastructure for cyclists and the attitude of the car drivers is the best we have experienced so far. It is a country I am fond of and hope to get to know better in the coming years when I no longer live so far away from it.

Awesome Austria

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The Tunnel to Austria

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We reached Austria through a tunnel built in the 1940’s by Nazi prisoners of war. It was rather sobering. The ruins of the buildings that housed the prisoners were still just visible not far away and we walked through the area grateful that Europe is now a very different place. The deserted border post between Slovenia and Austria was another sign about how the times have changed. I hope there is never a time when that border post needs to be used again.

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Deserted border post

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What remains of the prisoners camp

From the forest we dropped into a river valley and then followed a bike path. At a lake we stopped for a swim and it seemed that everyone was out and about. At first we thought – wow Austrians must have a great work/life balance but later we found out it was a religious holiday. I didn’t know what to expect from Austrians but their super friendliness surprised me. Wherever we went people wanted to know our story, sometimes take our photo and invite us for ice cream or drinks. This interaction was enhanced by the fact that I could speak German and Austrians at least in theory also speak German. They often speak in a dialect, especially the area we were initially cycling through and this can be challenging for me to understand.

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Bike paths! Loving Austria

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Swim time!

Our first day in Austria was full of good surprises. In the afternoon we accidentally crashed a church event, looking for food and somewhere to charge our phone. The ladies immediately rustled up some delicious left overs and a young guy bought us beers and then helped us navigated out of town. Oh and his mum made us sandwiches to take with us. In the evening after a beer at a very cute pub I asked if there was anywhere in the area we could put up our tent for the night. The owner offered up his pristine lawn and insisted we come for buffet breakfast in the morning. Austria you are rather amazing.

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Being given food

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Beer!

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The garden in which we were allowed to pitch our tent

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The buffet breakfast we were given the next day

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Outside the place where we were treated so kindly

The next day we stumbled on the Heindrich Harrer museum – the guy who the film Seven Years in Tibet was based on. Turns out it was the village where he had lived (Huttenberg) and that the Dalai Lhama had visited many times. While eating lunch in the square the supermarket attendant was so excited by our story that he bought us an ice cream and then before too long the whole village knew our story and we were invited in for beer by a friendly guy and his wife. I think we spent about 4 hours in that one village.

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These guys invited us in for drinks

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Lunch time!

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BlondVieh! (blond cattle)

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Castles

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Loving the valley and bike path

Our route took us through valleys where we often stumbled on bike paths, up into the mountains where in the distance we could still see snow on the peaks and through beautiful villages. We drank refreshing radlers and I had many conversations with locals. At one point we realised that the climb ahead would be our last decent ascent of the trip. It was all river valleys from then on. We took a moment at the top to reflect on all the amazing passes we had climbed over the last 2 years. I am going to miss the big climbs.

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Climbing up

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Austrian’s are very kind. Here we were invited in for tea

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Villages nestled in the valley

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The top of the last climb

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Loving the mountains

After our last mountain we descended into another river valley and began to follow the Enns bike path. It’s an on and off road cycle way that follows the Enns river. It’s very beautiful and we thoroughly enjoyed it, especially when some Germans on bicycles invited us to join them for a side trip. This involved putting our bikes in a trailer and driving to the top of a hill and then following a disused rail way path down, through forest and tunnels. So much fun!

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The Enns

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The surrounding mountains

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More Enns

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Radler break!

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Forest camp

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Bikes get a trailer ride to the top

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20km of down hill!

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The tunnels were impressive

The weather had been quite humid and hot with the occasional thunderstorm that rumbled and crashed through the landscape. Usually we had the tent up before it rained but one night we got caught out in a town, chatting to some guys who had bought us beers once they learnt about our story. Usually, being in a town as night is falling is not where you want to be. It’s better to stop before or go through a town if you are looking to free camp. On this night we got caught in a town and a thunderstorm. Of course my phones battery went flat and we were struggling to navigate through the heavy rain and suburban landscape. It’s one of those moments you wonder if you are going to have to succumb to paying for somewhere to stay. Luckily we found a town park and in the almost darkness were able to pitch our tent easily, stuff down some pasta and climb into our shelter.

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Pedalling through town

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Don’t head butt cars

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Gorgeous clock towers

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Towards the Danube!

Our last days in Austria had us reach the Danube. This was the river we had originally been planning to take almost from the Black Sea across Europe. However, over time our plans had changed (I am so glad they did) and at one point we didn’t think we would make it to the Danube at all. Now they had changed again to incorporate a small section and we were quite excited to have reached it. We took a moment to take it in. Then, along with every European over 60 we cycled towards Linz. Seriously, the Danube river path is full of older groups on bikes. It’s great to see.

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Danube!

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Made it to the Danube!!

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Linz

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So many bikes in the square in Linz. Lots of people cycling the Danube trail

At Linz we had organised to stay with a host. We arrived early and hung around the city, before heading to Daniel and Vesela’s place. The apartment was lovely and huge and we met two Korean’s on a cycle tour of Europe and a Brit cyclist who were also staying there. We made food and enjoyed the long summer evening in the garden together.

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Rest day breakfast!

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Don’t drive into the river!

The next day Astrid and I only left the house once to go shopping. We briefly thought about leaving to make the next day’s cycle easier but just couldn’t face it. Sometimes you just need total time out to reset.

We felt much better the next day – ready for Germany!

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Along the Danube into Germany

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River bike paths are hard work. Must stop for a beer.

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Approaching the German border

Slovenija

Rupa (Croatian border) -> Ljubljana -> Bovec -> Ljubljana -> Lake Bohinj -> Ljubelj (Austrian border)

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The border for Slovenija snuck up on us as we were too busy enjoying the riding to notice how quickly the kilometres were passing.  A small back road led to the large border patrol area that divides the Schengen zone of Europe from the rest of Europe.  Turns out there are a myriad of zones in Europe, each with different functions and reasons, and we were just getting our heads around it.  There is the European continent with all her countries, there is the European Union which includes a majority of European nations but not all, there is the Euro zone which is based totally on currency, there is the Schengen zone based upon border protection, and the borders for all of these zones are different.  We had recently learned that we could only stay for a total of 3 months in the Schengen countries during a 6 month period.  That’s 3 months to travel through 20 countries and then you must be out.  The border official eyed our Australian passports with scrutiny and after checking with his boss that we were on the list of ‘okay’ nations we were waved through.  Our three month countdown started now.

Welcome to Slovenija!

Welcome to Slovenija!

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Our route.

We had chosen to try and push the whole way to Ljubljana that day, as we were excited about catching up with our lovely friend Spela.  The distance was similar to what we had covered the previous days, but the wiggly lines on the map left us unsure of how quickly we would actually get there.  It was time to find out.  The road narrowed down and quickly dove into a lush green forest.  We soon realised that Slovenian drivers are far superior to their Croatian neighbours.  Within an hour I felt relaxed and began to ride less defensively.  Each little village we cycled through was more adorable than the previous.  The forests that divided them were full of spring blooms and birdsong.  Such enjoyable riding built up my hunger and for some reason I started to dream about omelettes.  We pulled over in the next town and hit up the Lidl for supplies and cooked up an egg-straviganza.

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More deer signs, unfortunately despite being a country with bears we saw no bear signs.

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One also needs to look out for falling motorcyclists.

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First tea/coffee break of the day.

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Hoorah for bike lanes!

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The much needed omelette break.

We still had a way to go and the lady at the tourist info centre let us know that a train that takes bikes regularly goes to Ljubljana.  Did you read that – a train that takes bikes…  It was tempting but we chose to continue on.  After a little more undulating the first squiggle on the map began and it was straight down into the valley below.  We covered the kilometres in no time, free wheeling and laughing the whole way.  In the valley we meandered along the backroads, the fields full of irridescent pink, yellow and purple flowers, the green of the grass glowing in the sunlight.  For every hill we climbed we were rewarded with large sweeping downhill sections and by late afternoon Ljubljana was within our sights.  We shoved a few more pastry treats into our mouths and pushed on.  To our delight a dedicated bicycle path had been (mostly) built for the last 20 kilometres into town.  I was quickly falling in love with this country.

Greenery all around.

Greenery all around.

Stunning views - no not me.

Stunning views – no not me.

Cute villages.

Cute villages.

Fields abloom with spring flowers.

Fields abloom with spring flowers.

Such stunning riding.

Such stunning riding.

Apiaries - Slovenian style.

Apiaries – Slovenian style.

Needing a rest from too much downhill.

Needing a rest from too much downhill.

The magical bike path into Ljubljana.

The magical bike path into Ljubljana.

Arriving at Spela and Anita’s apartment that evening was magical.  The hard riding of the last few days was forgotten as we shared a celebratory beer and then washed away the thick layer of sweat and dirt in a hot shower.  Later we shared food, wine and stories of what has happened in our lives since we last saw each other over a year ago.  As you can imagine there was a lot to talk about.  The next day we were given a royal tour of Ljubljana – we wandered her streets, gardens, canals and markets, we drank her delicious beers, tasted her delectable food and ended the night with a wander up to the castle battlements to see how the lights of the city twinkled below.

Excited to have made it.

Excited to have made it.

Looking and feeling tired, but not enough to skip drinking a celebratory beer.

Looking and feeling tired, but not enough to skip a celebratory beer.

The following day we caught a bus to Spela’s hometown of Bovec. What no one tells you about cycle touring is that one of the side effects can be the development of motion sickness as your body has learnt to travel across this world so much slower. Needless to say we both suffered as the bus sped through to the town of Idrija where Mercury was first discovered and mined, before it wound its way through the Soca River valley. The scenery was jaw dropping and I think we both secretly wished that we were riding along that road instead of being stuck sick in a bus. The silver lining at the end of the cloud was Bovec and the haven that was Spela’s parent’s home. We were treated like family from the word go and were spoilt with kindness and Spela’s mum’s incredible cooking.

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Spela and Jude on an evening walk.

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Wild strawberry anyone?

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Looking for tasty forest food.

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Wild strawberries and elderflowers.

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Sharing knowledge about the healing properties of everything around us.

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Relaxing at the water’s edge.

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So much natural beauty here.

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Yep, it’s a close up of a waterfall.

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Excited to be at Spela’s parent’s home.

There are a myriad of beautiful walks that start at their doorstep and we took full advantage of such glorious sunny days as we had. As we walked we picked wild strawberries, savouring the burst of intense flavor that came with every mouthful. Spela pointed out and picked whatever plant she recognized for either its edible or medicinal qualities. Waterfalls captivated us as their waters crashed into the azure blue pools below. We meandered along the edge of the Soca River following her well-worn path through the mountains. Back at home we dipped the elderflowers that we had picked into a batter and fried them sweet tempura style.  My love for Slovenija was growing deeper by the day.

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If only every day could be this perfect.

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The Soca River.

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The gorgeous Soca.

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Swing bridge fun.

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Surrounded by green.

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A nice stroll through the forest.

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We even found the bunkers from the first world war.

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Excited about Slovenija, or doing some yoga.

We caught a ride back to Ljubljana with a guy who worked for the bomb squad and was a DJ to boot.  If that wasn’t cool enough, the quickest way back was to actually drive for 30 minutes through Italy on the way home.  The scenery was draw dropping and I was planning our cycle tour through the area within minutes.  Back at home while Spela and Anita were packing for their hiking trip to Portugal, Jude and I were deliberating our future plans.  Big changes and a difficult decision was afoot.  Our destination of Glasgow, for this leg of the trip, no longer seemed relevant now that we were going to be working in London as paramedics.  Could we change it now?  What would changing it mean?  Did it really matter if we changed it?  In our goal driven society such a change would be almost seen as a failure, but our journey has taught us that better options can present themselves, change is a constant in life, and to let go of things that are no longer useful or relevant is healthy.  It took a few days of soul searching but with peace in our hearts, we finally decided that our new home was going to be London, so it made sense to ride there.  Sorry Glasgow but you will have to wait for another day.

As I mentioned, Spela and Anita were heading to Portugal for some hiking.  They offered for us to stay in their flat for as long as we wanted, and the idea of having a home for a few days appealed.  We pottered about doing things everyone at home takes for granted.  We also lay under trees in the parks reading books and meditating, we tasted some of the best Slovenian cuisine and beer at the Open Market run on Fridays in the centre of town, we bought new panniers of clothes at a charity shop that was selling everything for 2 Euros, we cycled through the streets smelling the spring flowers and looking at the graffiti, and doing this we found the first place outside of Melbourne that we could see ourselves living in.

 

Being a domestic goddess.

Being a domestic goddess.

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Fresh milk daily.

Reading, one of may favourite day off activity.

Reading, one of may favourite day off activities.

Open Market day.

Open Market day.

Loving a Slovenian micro-brewed beer.  Pity it has to be brewed in Austria due to government protection of the two big multinational breweries.

Loving a Slovenian micro-brewed beer. Pity it has to be brewed in Austria due to government protection of the two big multinational breweries.

Padlocks on the bridge of lovers.

Padlocks on the bridge of lovers.

Dragons guard the bridge.

Dragons guard the bridge.

It was hard to drag ourselves away from our home for the week.  Having a base for a while was lovely, but the road was calling and we longed to be in the wilderness again.  Cycling along the back roads out of Ljubljana we headed first for Skofja Loka before continuing on towards Lake Bohinj.  We had hoped to make it to the lake side for nightfall but the mountainous roads had a different idea for us.  Luckily the 3km of 16% gradient wasn’t as crazy as it could have been and the golden sunlight made the mountains and valleys glow.  As evening approached we picked wild thyme as a break from the continuous switchbacks, collected water from the ski resort at the top and settled into a grassy gap in the surrounding pine forest.  Visions of the 600 wild bears that roam the country entered my mind, but the only wildlife we saw were deer, and Jude in her fantastic glam-ping wear.

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The bridge over the river at Skofja Loka.

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Happy to be back cycling.

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That’s one long, hard climb to come.

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But the scenery is enough of a distraction.

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Seeing the road we climbed far below.

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Jude is a glam-ping queen.

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Back to our tent home heaven.

Summer lovin’ kicked off the moment we laid eyes on Lake Bohinj.  Set at the end of a valley with spectacular views all around, it was the perfect place for a multi day cycling-hiking-paddling-swimming fest of fun.

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Our first view of Lake Bohinj.

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Exploring by bike.

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On our way to the waterfall.

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Basking like a lizard.

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Swapped the bikes for some kayak fun.

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Loving summer.

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Swimming and beers to follow.

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Our home for the nights.

A morning’s cycle delivered us to the tourist infested Lake Bled, where we enjoyed a spontaneous barbie on the shore.  That’s one of the many beauties of carrying your whole life with you…  We also indulged in a little secret shame we developed during our time in Slovenija – Radlers (otherwise known as a shandy).  Cycling in the heat produces a great thirst that water sometimes can’t quench.  Riding drunk can be fun, but not daily.  So the answer we discovered was the Radler, and in Slovenija the extensive choice of citrus flavours were happily sampled.

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Morning mist and meditation before setting off.

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On the road to Lake Bled.

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Taking a break on the banks of the lake.

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Enjoying a spontaneous barbie and Radler party.

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Radler-liscious.

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The beautiful Lake Bled.

As you’ve probably guessed we’re not that much into large groups of people and tourist towns, so after cycling a quick lap of the lake we headed off along the 658 hoping to hit the road to Austria at some point.  It was another stunning afternoon as we wound our way along the foothills and through the picturesque villages.  We picked more wild strawberries, drank from mountain streams and enjoyed the feeling of our bodies moving.  From Trzic the old road climbs to the Slovenian/Austrian border pass (cyclists are forbidden from riding on the new road) and as the sun sank behind the mountains turning the peaks a pale purple we found the perfect pitch for our last night of camping in Slovenija.

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Getting changed as the temperature kept rising.

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Hay drying along the side of the road in the small villages.

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Enjoying a roadside view and snack break.

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The perfect pitch – our last camp in Slovenija.

Rising with the sun we continued our ascent.  After a while the old road petered out and we were forced on to the new road with all its traffic.  Bend after bend followed and as we have done very little hill riding over the last few months, this climb would be a good introduction for the Austrian Alps ahead of us.  Leaving a roadside rest stop, we noticed a sign leading to a clearing a few feet further.  Mauthausen. Jude realised the dates corresponded to those of the second world war and this piqued our interest.  Nothing was noted on any of our maps, so what was this place?Well, unknowingly we had stumbled upon a concentration camp.  We wandered about the ruins and remembered history as we read the memorials.

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One final push and we were at the mouth of the tunnel that divides Slovenija from Austria.  The border is about 700m along signed with some lights and some signs.  It was time to say goodbye to wonderful Slovenija.  It’s a country that you could ride across in 2-3 days, but that would be doing Slovenija and yourself a great disservice.  The spectacular scenery, the friendly people, the relaxed atmosphere, the vibrant capital and the good cycling all make this a great country.  But there is something a little deeper and special than all of that and having spent time here we discovered it.  Thank you Slovenija, thank you!

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