Denmark is Awesome

 

It began raining just before the border and continued steadily for the next two hours or so that it took us to reach Carsten’s (a friend from London) family home in the village of Bolderslev. Wet and dirty we were welcomed with open arms by Carsten’s mum Christa and his sister Lea. It was a familiar feeling of deep gratitude from almost complete strangers and we appreciated the hospitality so much. Not only could we shower, escape the rain, wash our clothes, but Christa had even cooked us a vegan meal. Amazing. I will never stop being so utterly thankful and humbled by the kindness we receive.

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Hmmmm this was just over the border!

We woke to sun and after a lazy breakfast (sampling many Danish treats) Christa and Lea left for work with goodbyes and instructions of how to lock up. Astrid had to run to the post office where her new bankcard had miraculously arrived in 4 days from London and both our chains needed a cleaning. After some bike maintenance and random chores we had neglected so far, it was time to head off.

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So kind to be hosted by Carsten’s family

To cycle from the south of Denmark to the ferry port of Hirtshals we had decided (on the advice of Carsten) to take the Haervejen which was an ancient trading route which in the past was actually a series of small roads linking the south to the north. Now it is a biking and hiking path traversing through the picturesque Danish countryside. I like taking trails like this as they are often off road and it’s lovely to just follow signs rather than having to use maps on our phones and remember routes (something I am not super good at!). We set off and were soon winding our way through rural Denmark on small roads and tracks through the forest, passed farms and into villages and towns. While the pressure was still on to make it to Hirtshals we felt more relaxed. Germany was behind us and all that remained were a few 100km.

The first day in a new country is always a little bit the same and a little bit exciting. Being Europe, the differences aren’t huge but important none the less. Firstly, how much is our money worth? We used to work from Australian dollars but now use pounds (which makes us feel falsely richer). Next, is there a Lidl and what do they sell, especially do they sell hummus and what vegan products do they have? Is the bread good? And beer? How friendly are car drivers and what is the bicycle infrastructure like? And lastly, how easy is it to wild camp?

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We really love these buildings, found all over the countryside

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Denmark is more expensive than Germany (not hard), there is indeed Lidl (less vegan products but it does have hummus), there are loads of bike paths, drivers are mostly good,  but best of all, wild camping is amazing in Denmark. This is due to something called shelters. Basically a system of shelters built all over Denmark where you are allowed to free camp. These shelters can include literally a wooden shelter in which to put your sleeping bag, a fire pit, wood, access to water, toilets and sometimes even a shower (we’ve heard). They are amazing and an app lets you view them on a map and see what is available at each shelter (it’s in Danish but pretty easy to figure out). We are used to hiding ourselves away in forests or parks so this was utter luxury.

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First lunch time

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The amazing shelter

Our first night camping in Denmark found us stumbling across a shelter (we had been planning to go to another one) in a clearing in some woods, with a fire already going and some friendly Dutch cycle tourists who also happened to be ICU nurses. They offered us dinner and some kind of spirits. A night of merriment ensued.

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Relaxing with fellow cyclists 

Travelling by bike in many ways is a microcosm of life; one minute everything is going along smoothly, the next you are wondering what the hell went wrong. You feel the highs and lows acutely because there is no hiding, just you and your bike out in the world. While cycling in Europe these highs and lows are certainly less extreme,  but they do still exist. From our perfect camp in the woods by a fire, we went to sheltering outside a supermarket in torrential rain, dirty, cold and wet. To top it off I got a flat tyre.

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The not so glamorous side to bike travel..

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Sheltering in a supermarket

But from a relative low we pushed back out into the summer storm, pedalling through beautiful woods and sheltering under trees when the rain got particularly heavy. It’s often about shifting or adjusting your thinking, too. While being wet can be uncomfortable, it wasn’t really cold and the strength of the thunderstorm was an acute reminder of the power of nature and always makes me feel awed and inspired.

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The beautiful rainy forest 

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Sheltering from the worst of it

By evening the rain had ceased and we reached another shelter in the forest and met Alex. Alex is a Ukrainian asylum seeker and a reminder of the (potential) grace and strength of humanity and the cruelty of systems. After fleeing war and seeking asylum, Alex who is an engineer by trade has been forced to live on the road (he rides a big Danish bicycle, staying at shelters and occasionally with families). The road to us embodies freedom, because we choose it, and can equally leave at any time. Alex does not have that privilege and is instead relying on the cruelly slow bureaucratic nightmare that is seeking asylum in todays Europe (not that Denmark is even close to being the worst).   Until his asylum claims are dealt with (several years so far), he cannot leave the EU, nor really work, or see his children. His life is effectively on hold. It was a sobering reminder of our own privilege. We spent a wonderful evening sharing a fire, food and conversation with this most excellent human.

Our ferry departure was getting closer so on our last two days we decided to ditch the Haervejen and take a more direct route north. We were still on small roads and often bike paths. Denmark is certainly up there with cycling infrastructure. I would put it third behind Netherlands and Germany for it’s overall network of paths and roads (obviously Copenhagen is special and right up there with bike awesomeness).

It was about this time that Astrid became a ‘eco warrior cyclo bum’ (her phrase). What this meant was that she would collect cans and bottles on the side of the road, carry them in a plastic bag on her bike and then recycle them at supermarkets. Most cans and bottles have ‘pant’ which means that you get money (in the form of a refund docket) back and can then spend it at the supermarket. Not only does this clean up the environment, it also gives us some krona. She became quite obsessed and I would have to be careful when cycling behind her as she was likely to slam on the brakes and go diving into the woods to retrieve a potential ‘pant’. Sadly, some of the cans don’t carry pant but we pick them up anyway as it seems the right thing to do.

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Trying to convince the slug to leave the can..

On our final evening before leaving for Iceland we met up with fellow bicycle travellers, Lucy, Colin and their dog Tilly. We had met Lucy and Colin at the cycle touring festival in the UK and stayed loosely in contact via social media. They are on an extended honeymoon/bicycle adventure through Europe and were headed towards Norway, which perfectly coincided with our route towards Iceland. So we decided a catch up was in order on our collective last night in Denmark. We met at a shelter which was in the middle of a village park and even had a fire pit (but randomly no toilet). There was lots to talk about and we all banded together to cook up a vegan feast complete with hot chocolate and a delicious dessert. It’s always such a pleasure to spend time with like minded people and we talked late into the night.

Lucy, Colin and Tilly left early the next day to catch their ferry to Norway. We pottered about before rolling the 4kms down the hill to Hirtshals where we stocked up on last minute things in the supermarket (Iceland is rumoured to be insanely expensive) before heading to the port and joining the queue for the 2 day Smyrill Line ferry to Iceland. Exciting!

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In the line for Iceland!

 

 

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!

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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From Albania with love.

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

Welcome to Albania!!

Welcome to Albania!!

Our route.

Our route.

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

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A is for Albania.

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The valley that leads into Albania from Kakavia.

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Mosques and churches dot the countryside.

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

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Looking down the valley.

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Climbing to the pass.

Cows and dark clouds at the pass.

Cows and dark clouds at the pass.

Stone houses and spring blooms.

Stone houses and spring blooms.

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

Our first view of the blue lake.

Our first view of the blue lake.

Such beauty.

Such beauty.

Blue Eye

Blue Eye

Posing at the viewing platform.

Posing at the viewing platform.

Being a water nymph.

Being a water nymph.

Hug a tree day.

Hug a tree day.

Waiting out the rain on a pontoon.

Waiting out the rain on a pontoon.

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

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Cycling beside the canal.

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The black clouds that were chasing us.

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

The coastal town of Sarande.

The coastal town of Sarande.

Beers to celebrate country sweet sixteen.

Beers to celebrate country sweet sixteen.

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

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Rest day fun.

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Hug a tree day – again.

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Some sightseeing.

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Drinking cold wine on a hot day – refreshing.

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Jude practising her ninja skills.

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

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

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

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Jude enjoying the cool waters.

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

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

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

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Spotting the ruins on the island.

Entry to the castle.

Entry to the castle.

Exploring inside.

Exploring inside.

Views from the roof.

Views from the roof.

Posers.

Posers.

More inside exploration.

More inside exploration.

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

Camping under the olive trees in Himare.

Camping under the olive trees in Himare.

Jude with a concrete bunker.

Jude with a concrete bunker.

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

Good morning sheep with a she mullet.

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

Climbing out of town.

Looking down from another pass.

One of the many villages we cycled through.

One of the many villages we cycled through.

Our first view of the switchbacks on the far mountain.

Our first view of the switchbacks on the far mountain.

The ladies with the road ahead up the mountainside.

The ladies with the road ahead up the mountainside.

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

Rest break one.

Rest break one.

The road behind and ahead.

The road behind and ahead.

Looking down on where we had climbed.

Looking down on where we had climbed.

Another rest break.

Another rest break.

View from the top.

View from the top.

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

View down the other side.

View down the other side.

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

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

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

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

Looking at directions along the back roads.

Looking at directions along the back roads.

Loving the lack of traffic on the back roads.

Loving the lack of traffic on the back roads.

Cruising with Karavasta lagoon in the background.

Cruising with Karavasta lagoon in the background.

Hello from the scarecrow.

Hello from the scarecrow.

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

The citrus garden in full bloom.

The citrus garden in full bloom.

Cooking dinner.

Cooking dinner.

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Cycling through the Divjaka-Karavasta national park.

Cycling through the Divjaka-Karavasta national park.

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

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

Some bird action.

Some bird action.

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

Arriving in Tirana.

Arriving in Tirana.

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

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

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

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

Evan and I hiding in a bunker.

Evan and I hiding in a bunker.

Part of the Berlin Wall in a Tirana Park.

Part of the Berlin Wall in a Tirana Park.

Anyone for some AFC?

Anyone for some AFC?

Enjoying a beer in the revolving restaurant.

Enjoying a beer in the revolving restaurant.

Views over Tirana from the revolving restaurant.

Views over Tirana from the revolving restaurant.

The mural on the History museum.

The mural on the History museum.

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

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

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

Sharing a meal at the Green Garden hostel.

Sharing a meal at the Green Garden hostel.

Shkoder Mall.

Shkoder Mall.

Albania's religious tolerance and integration is incredible.

Albania’s religious tolerance and integration is incredible.

The ethnography museum.

The ethnography museum.

The biking capital of Albania.

The biking capital of Albania.

The stunning swimming hole.

The stunning swimming hole.

In for a dip.

In for a dip.

A pretty old bridge.

A pretty old bridge.

Sara getting some puppy love.

Sara getting some puppy love.

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

All my love as always,

Astrid.

Our first sign to Montenegro.

Our first sign to Montenegro and beyond.

Crossing the Dardanelles.

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

At a crossroads.

At a crossroads.

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

Overlooking the Aegean Sea.

Overlooking the Aegean Sea.

The stray cats have funny hiding places.

The stray cats have funny hiding places.

Sharing tea after our swim.

Sharing tea and food after our swim.

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

Pelicans fly overhead at lunchtime.

Pelicans fly overhead at lunchtime.

Spring is starting to show herself in floral blooms.

Spring is starting to show herself in floral blooms.

Enjoying a cuppa and a spot of lunch.

Enjoying a cuppa and a spot of lunch.

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

Happy to have arrived in Izmir.

Happy to have arrived in Izmir.

Enjoying a beer after the crazy ride into Izmir.

Enjoying a beer after the crazy ride into Izmir.

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

Breakfast is the best meal of the day in Turkey.

Breakfast is the best meal of the day in Turkey.

Sharing coffee with friends - old and new.

Sharing coffee with friends, old and new.

A coffee and a sahlep.

A coffee and a sahlep.

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

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

Eating and choosing mezze at the local shop.

Eating and choosing mezze at the local shop.

Relaxing at home with Samed and Shahika.

Relaxing at home with Samed and Shahika.

Ready to drink? Sherefe!!

Ready to drink? Sherefe!!

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

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A dinner invitation is always accepted and enjoyed.

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Brooke enjoys a spot of fishing.

And some more.

And some more.

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

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Morning light.

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

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

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Yep, life is pretty perfect.

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Anyone for toast?

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

A replica of the Trojan horse.

A replica of the Trojan horse.

Entering the ancient city of Troy

Entering the ancient city of Troy

Our first squirrel sighting.

Our first squirrel sighting.

Exploring the ruins.

Exploring the ruins.

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

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

Part of the old city housing.

Part of the old city housing.

Yes, more ruins.

Yes, more ruins.

Me and my domain.

Me and my domain.

Sunset over the valley.

Sunset over the valley.

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

Our first view of the Dardanelles.

Our first view of the Dardanelles.

Enjoying our second breakfast.

Enjoying our second breakfast.

Got to love where you can park with a bike.

Got to love where you can park with a bike.

The Gallipoli Peninsula from the ferry.

The Gallipoli Peninsula from the ferry.

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

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

We have arrived!!!

We have arrived!!!

Part of the War Memorial in Eceabat.

Part of the War Memorial in Eceabat.

Ataturk's letter that brought tears to my eyes.

Ataturk’s letter that brought tears to my eyes.

Part of the War Memorial Eceabat.

Part of the War Memorial Eceabat.

Celebrating with more beers at the Boomerang Bar.

Celebrating with more beers at the Boomerang Bar.

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

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Cooking dinner at sunset.

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Our stunning camp spot.

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We had a friend for our time on the peninsula.

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Lone Pine memorial.

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Memorial wreaths at Lone Pine.

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Reading the names of those remembered.

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A view down the Gallipoli Peninsula.

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The Australian dug trenches still survive 100 years on.

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ANZAC Cove.

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A view of ANZAC Cove.

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

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

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

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

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

Dinner party in the rain.

Dinner party in the rain.

Boomerang Bitter at the Boomerang Bar.

Boomerang Bitter at the Boomerang Bar.

Home overlooking the Dardanelles.

Home overlooking the Dardanelles.

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

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

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

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Istanbul from the Bospherus.

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Istanbul from the Bospherus.

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Coffee time.

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So many fisherman.

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Inside the Hagia Sophia.

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Inside the Hagia Sophia.

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Inside the Hagia Sophia.

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The incredible mosaics.

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Being monkeys

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The Hagia Sophia.

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The Blue Mosque.

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Inside the Blue Mosque.

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The basilica cistern.

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The basilica cistern.

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Medusas head in the basilica cistern.

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Inside the Grand Bazaar.

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Inside the Grand Bazaar.

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Inside the Grand Bazaar.

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So many mosques.

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And more.

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Wandering the streets.

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

Turkey  - teşekkür ederim & elveda.

All my love, Astrid.

Our last hill in Turkey at a whopping 350 metres.

Our last hill in Turkey at a whopping 350 metres.

Our home at sunset.

Our home at sunset.

Last night happiness.

Last night happiness.

Last campfire in Turkey.

Last campfire in Turkey.

Coast, mountains and ancient sites

Antalya to Ephesus via Pamukkale 

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On the road once more

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

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Lunch on the beach first day out of Antalya

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The gorgeous coast somewhere near Finike

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

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Another gorgeous bay

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I love being in the sea

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An early morning swim

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

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

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

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Lunch time with a view

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

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The campsite we were given for free

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

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Xanthos

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Goats enjoy it too!!

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Just some casual morning UNESCO sites..

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

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We had lunch in here

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The bikes wait outside..

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

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Night one heading back in land was beautiful..

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We cycled through beautiful mountainous landscape

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

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

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This is what we woke to

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We cycled through this

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And this

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It was strange and beautiful

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

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Happiness is the sun!

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

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Resting on the way up to the campground

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The view from the campsite

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

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

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The impressive colosseum at Hieropolis

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Hieropolis

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

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Cooking dinner

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Our Olive camp

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

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Rating the public toilet 9/10!

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What remains of the Library

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

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Walking along the old road

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

Love

Jude

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From the snow to the sea.

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

Love-in Turkey.

Love-in Turkey.

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

Brooke has arrived and so has the snow.

Brooke has arrived and so has the snow.

Walking through the snowy streets.

Walking the snowy streets.

Ataturk's Mausoleum.

Ataturk’s Mausoleum.

Inside the Anatolian Civilisations museum.

Inside the Anatolian Civilisations museum.

Looking at the ancient carvings.

Looking at the ancient carvings.

On top of the Anakara castle.

On top of the Anakara castle.

Ankara spreads on and on.

Ankara covered in snow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exploring Cappadocia by bike.

Exploring Cappadocia by bike.

The bikes taking a rest in the snow.

The bikes taking a rest in the snow.

Ta daa...

Ta daa…

Bok bok meets camel rock.

Bok bok meets camel rock.

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One of the roads through the valleys.

We hiked…

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

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We saw it from a hot air balloon…

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We enjoyed the spectacular views..

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

Pulling my best moves.

Pulling my best moves.

Cooking in the kitchen

Cooking in the kitchen

And enjoying a shared meal.

And enjoying a shared meal.

Enjoying morning cup of tea on Aiden's terrace.

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

We even spent a night in a cave hotel…

The entrance to our cave hotel.

The entrance to our cave hotel.

Excited about spending the night in our cave hotel.

Excited about spending the night in our cave hotel.

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

Beers at the airport.

Beers at the airport.

Practising CPR on pillows.

Practising CPR on pillows.

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

Our cycling route from Ortahisar to Antalya

Our cycling route from Ortahisar to Antalya

View of Hasan Dagi from the road.

View of Hasan Dagi from the road.

Resting on the side of the road.

Resting on the side of the road.

The caravanserai at Sultanhani.

The caravanserai at Sultanhani.

A fire is good for keeping warm and cooking dinner.

A fire is good for keeping warm and cooking dinner.

Camping with agricultural equipment under a petrol station.

Camping with agricultural equipment under a petrol station.

The view of the road to Konya

The view of the road to Konya

Taking a break on the side of the road.

Taking a break on the side of the road.

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

Being a whirling dervish.

Being a whirling dervish.

Exploring the public gardens of Konya.

Exploring the public gardens of Konya.

Excited in front of the Mevlana museum.

Excited in front of the Mevlana museum.

Mevlana's mausoleum.

Mevlana’s mausoleum.

Inside the Mevlana museum grounds.

Inside the Mevlana museum grounds.

The complex from the outside.

The complex from the outside.

Part of the whirling dervish ceremony.

Part of the whirling dervish ceremony.

In a trance of love.

In a trance of love.

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

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Enjoying the steady climb.

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Entering the alpine area.

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The snow sparkles and the pine trees glow.

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Jude loves cycling with this scenery.

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Nearing the end of the long climb.

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Yo! Do you like to climb?

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Collecting firewood for the evening.

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Chilling out with dinner and a whisky by the fire.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Making dinner at this perfect campsite by the river.

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

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

Excited by our first view of the Mediterranean waters.

Excited by our first view of the Mediterranean waters.

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

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

Our first sunset at the Me coast.

Our first sunset at the Med coast.

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

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

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

The old town wall.

The old town wall.

Celebrating with an Efes.

Celebrating with an Efes.

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The dramatic coast of Antalya.

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The port of the old town

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Basking in the sun like a local.

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View of the old town.

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Thanks for joining us again,

Love Astrid.

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