Music, Cycling, Beer…The END..kind of


Getting on the ferry at the Hook of Holland


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.


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.


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.


Five pound camping at the back of this pub!


Warm flat beer anyone?


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!


Beautiful England


Morning market



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.


The roads in England are small!


Could this be somewhere to spend the night?


Happiness is finding somewhere to call home for the night


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.


Dushanbe reunion!


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.


Checking out the festival guide and making tea


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.






Vegie sausages and beer



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!


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.


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 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.


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.


We took over the kitchen


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.




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



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.


Heading out of Cambridge


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.


Cream tea!


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.


In the Lee Valley


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.


Final day!


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.


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.


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.


South along the canals


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.



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.



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.


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.


Cycling towards the Belgium/Holland border


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.


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


Our first view of the sea for many months.


Waiting for the ferry in Breskens.


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


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.


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


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…


The North Sea cycle route took us through sand dunes…


Through forests…


Along man made sea walls…


Passed lighthouses….


Along more sea walls…


Passed modern wind mills…


Over sea dams….


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.


Setting up our home at a micro-campground.


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.


Through fields of wildflowers.


Eating cake for morning tea.


And then stopping for a coffee.


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.


The route then hit the industrial shipping area.


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.


We then cycled our way through Den Haag.


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.


They took us sailing.


Like father, like daughter.


Jude looking ubercool.


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 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.


Dinner time with great beer and great friends.


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


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


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.


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.


Hot drink break on our walk through the forest.



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.


Our farewell escort to the station.


Through the streets of Breda.



On the train from Breda to the ferry port.


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


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!


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.


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.


Beer o clock in the camp ground


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.


Following the river had its great moments


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.


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.



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.



Germany via river bike paths, radlers and ice cream


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.


Beer break in Passau


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.


Our camp spot right on the Danube


Sunset. An otter swam right by us here


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!!


Bikes and beer!


Taking a break


Heading towards Donaustauf


The Danube


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.


Exploring Regensburg


Knodel and sauerkraut plus beer. Yum


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.


Scrabble in Prague


Prague never fails to impress me




And some more


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.


Brandenburger Tor. I simply love Berlin.


The wall


Ampel man says stop!


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.


More scrabble and wine


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.


Bike tube vending machine.


Vari and I heading along the Danube path


Just another amazing castle


Upside down swam. They completely crack Astrid and I up


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


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.


Seemingly endless quaint towns


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


Forest camp. Free camping is so easy in Germany.


Another perfect summers day


A stone bridge, many hundreds of years old.


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


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!!


Medieval Rotenburg Ob der Tauber


More Rotenburg


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


Rotenburg is so well preserved


Fields of wheat in the heat


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.


Cute village overload!


Looking good!


Beware frogs!


Schloss Aschaffenburg


More schloss action


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.


It’s hot!!


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.


Mainz, where the Main and the Rhine meet


Crossing the Rhine



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.


Views from the Rhine


Swimming in the Rhine


Vineyards and castles!


Beer o clock


Camping along the Rhine


And there is rain. Heading towards Belgium


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


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.


Deserted border post


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.


Bike paths! Loving Austria


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.


Being given food




The garden in which we were allowed to pitch our tent


The buffet breakfast we were given the next day


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.


These guys invited us in for drinks


Lunch time!


BlondVieh! (blond cattle)




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.


Climbing up


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


Villages nestled in the valley


The top of the last climb


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!


The Enns


The surrounding mountains


More Enns


Radler break!


Forest camp


Bikes get a trailer ride to the top


20km of down hill!


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.


Pedalling through town


Don’t head butt cars


Gorgeous clock towers


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.




Made it to the Danube!!




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.


Rest day breakfast!


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!


Along the Danube into Germany


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


Approaching the German border


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


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.


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


One also needs to look out for falling motorcyclists.


First tea/coffee break of the day.


Hoorah for bike lanes!


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.


Spela and Jude on an evening walk.


Wild strawberry anyone?


Looking for tasty forest food.


Wild strawberries and elderflowers.


Sharing knowledge about the healing properties of everything around us.


Relaxing at the water’s edge.


So much natural beauty here.


Yep, it’s a close up of a waterfall.


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.


If only every day could be this perfect.


The Soca River.


The gorgeous Soca.


Swing bridge fun.


Surrounded by green.


A nice stroll through the forest.


We even found the bunkers from the first world war.


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.


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.


The bridge over the river at Skofja Loka.


Happy to be back cycling.


That’s one long, hard climb to come.


But the scenery is enough of a distraction.


Seeing the road we climbed far below.


Jude is a glam-ping queen.


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.


Our first view of Lake Bohinj.


Exploring by bike.


On our way to the waterfall.


Basking like a lizard.


Swapped the bikes for some kayak fun.


Loving summer.


Swimming and beers to follow.


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.


Morning mist and meditation before setting off.


On the road to Lake Bled.


Taking a break on the banks of the lake.


Enjoying a spontaneous barbie and Radler party.




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.


Getting changed as the temperature kept rising.


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


Enjoying a roadside view and snack break.


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.


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!


Island hopping in Croatia


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.


700m of hogs


On our way to Marko’s


The view from his place




Marko, the German’s and us


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.


Path down to the beach


Morning relaxing post swim


The view towards Dubrovnik


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.




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.


Beautiful Mijet


Exploring Mijet


Loving the view


Cooking on the beach


More sweeping views


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.


The National Park


More beauty


Enjoying the sun


A quick stop


An island in the lake


On the island. We had lunch here


Exploring the island monastery


Being a tree


Camping on Mijet


Cycling around one of the lakes on Mijet


More lake loving


Heading to the ferry


Quick stop at the blow hole


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.


Wine tour begins!


First wine tasting of the day


Fresh oysters on the way!






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.


Korcula old town



Beautiful narrow alley ways



Our beach


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.


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.


Goodbye Brooke!


View looking back towards Split


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.


Ice cream stop


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


Our camp


Pasta and pesto. Yum.


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.


Lunch in a bus stop sheltering from the rain


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


A short rain break


The weather is coming


Hoping the weather will improve


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!


At first it’s not so bad


This ones for you Karl! (-:


Pushing my bike because the wind is too strong!


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.


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


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.


We wake to a much calmer day


Some blue sky!


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


Hot chocolate break


Heading to SLO


We found this slug on our spoon


She is large!


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.


A is for Albania.


The valley that leads into Albania from Kakavia.


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?


Looking down the valley.


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.


Cycling beside the canal.


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.


Rest day fun.


Hug a tree day – again.


Some sightseeing.


Drinking cold wine on a hot day – refreshing.


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.


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


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


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.


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.



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,


Our first sign to Montenegro.

Our first sign to Montenegro and beyond.

A glimpse at Montenegro


Just over the border


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.


on our way


Beautiful coastline and mountains 


Some ruins to explore


Exploring some ruins


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.


Old town, Kotor


Stunning views



And some more


Ruins at the top, above Kotor Bay





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.


Enjoying the beach




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.


View from our hostel, Budva


Old town exploring


Heading to the beach


View from the beach, Budva


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.