Cycling Greece: conquering mountains, winds, storms, sun and the ‘feta and olives’ combo

cycling greece

6 weeks and we finally crossed into Greece

I was excited to eat my weight in feta, olives and stuffed vine leaves, though it turned out that cycling Greece was more expensive than anticipated. So unfortunately we didn’t eat out as much as we planned, though with the “Lidl-supermarket-take-over” – a new Lidl store on the outskirts of pretty much every town or city we cycled through. We were able to still eat most of Greece’s delights, at a more affordable price. We could tell we were going to enjoy cycling Greece!

Greece turned out not to be the easiest country for wild-camping. The first night we spent outside a BP station, the second in a bush behind a “kantina.” Most of the time we had to resort to finding an official campsite or hotel as there was too much exposed farm land, shepherds and stray dogs. We also spotted “bear warning” signs, though with all the farmland I’m not sure where the bears would actually hide.

cycling greece
Camping out our first gas station

Meteora

At the beginning of the trip, I had planned to fly to the UK from Thessaloniki on 13th June, to surprise my Nan for her 80th. Michael was going to stay in Greece to “fine tune” the bikes. We were ahead of schedule, and actually needed to slow down a bit. If we kept going the rate we were going, we would have to spend a week hanging around Thessaloniki or the “three fingers”. So, we decided to take a 300km detour to Meteroa, as a few people told us it was worth seeing. To our discoverer the road to Meteora was extremely hilly and challenging. When we finally arrived, it was well worth the detour and heartache. Meteora is made up of strange rock formation, jutting out of the ground. Some of these rock formations had ancient monasteries located on top.

cycling greece
Meteora

Summer is here!

From Meteora we headed further east towards the coast – and what turns out to be a tourist hotspot for Serbians, Romanians and Hungarians. There were still the odd thunderstorm, but it was mostly was sunny. We finally got some hot, sunny days to go for a swim at the beach. We hit the coast near Platamous, then made our way, slowly up the coast, passing Mount Olympus and the ancient ruins of Dion. Finally we arrived in the Greek port town, Thessaloniki – where we had a much needed break from cycling.

Cycle touring definitely takes it’s toll

While cycling Greece, we were headed up a hill on a busy highway, battling the winds, rain or occasionally hot sun, I often question why I’m doing this. Why am I putting myself through all of the pain and suffering? I’m definitely aware that I bitch and moan more than Michael, he seems to love it all. I do however like the odd luxury. I often have days where I completely hate cycling, while other days I find it quite enjoyable. I’m sure if I could record the thoughts I have while cycling, then play them for you now, you will think I’m nuts. A mixture of exhaustion, dehydration, boredom, and excitement can do funny things to your mind.

One thing I have come to realise is that the side of the road is usually the crappest part of the road – broken glass, blown tyres, road kill (so many hedgehogs), stones. People also honk for every reason you can think of, and somehow we are just supposed to know what the honk means.

A week off the bike… I was excited!

This was my holiday! No more cycling Greece for me. I was in the UK for a week, and the time flew by. It seems like a dream now. My Nan had no idea I was coming, and was quite surprised to see me walk through the door. I was greeted with shock, confusion and many questions. “Aren’t you supposed to be cycling in the Amazon, or one of those ‘funny countries’?” “Where is your bike?” “Where is your boyfriend?” “So, who knew about this? I don’t know who to trust anymore, no one tells me anything.”

My mum was also over from Australia, so I got to catch up with her as well as the rest of the family. I’m glad I took the opportunity, even though it took a week out of a cycle tour, which means we are now cycling like crazy to make up the time. It was worth it – plus it got me out of fixing and cleaning the bikes. Thanks Michael.

cycling greece
Thessaloniki road sign

Another change in plans

After a week off the bike, spent in a comfortable bed, eating and drinking my weight in food and drink, picking up and few things from Go Outdoors. I headed back to Thessaloniki. Our original plan was to cycle North along the coast and cross into Turkey, and then on to Istanbul. Here we planned to sort out our visas for Iran. After reading a bunch of cycle touring blogs and threads that told of the horrors of cycling into Istanbul we decided against. We’ve both been to the city before – it’s beautiful, but it’s huge, in size and population and it’s just plain crazy, especially in the summer season.

Greek Island Hopping

We decided to take a ferry from Thessaloniki to the Greek Island, Chios. Here we spent Michael’s birthday. Unfortunately, there is only one ferry per week, with Nel Lines, which meant we had a couple more days in Thessaloniki. It wasn’t too bad. I got to explore the city, we changed/added/cleaned a few things on the bikes, and even went to a Bob Dylan concert – such a hard life. We only spent one night on Chios, as we discovered, the Iranian visa agency (Touran Zamin), messed up our application, and we only had 21 days to cycle 1600km across Central Turkey. Fun times ahead! So, from Chios we caught the ferry to Cesme in Turkey. Turkey you better be ready for us!

cycling greece
The ferry to Turkey

Europe leg – completed!!!

Cycling Greece was awesome, but we were ready for the next leg, Asia! Hotter, longer, harder. I think it’s safe to say, our training is now over, and the real cycle tour is about to begin. Who knows whether we’ll make it, but there is only one way to find out. Bring on Asia!!!

Cycling Greece Stats

Accommodation: 3 nights wild camping, 6 nights in a cheap hotel, 5 nights in an official campsite, 1 night with a couchsurfer, 6 nights at Nan’s house (in England – while Michael stayed with a CSer), 1 night on a ferry

Total days spent in Greece: 18 days in Greece and 7 days in England

Spendings: Too much – lost count – no more than 20 euro per day

Bicycle maintenance: New cassette, new front brake pads and new chain for me; new cassette, new chain, new clogs, new tyre, new front brake pads, new inner tubes (probably more stuff I don’t know about), for Michael. We also had both the wheels on both bikes, trued as they were a bit out-of-line

Punctures: Me: 0 – Michael: 7

Our little treats: Michael – ouzo and coke and helva; Me – chocolate milk and stuffed vine leaves

Cycling Macedonia

Cycling Macedonia

What can I say about cycling Macedonia? Well, Macedonia is probably is my favourite country that we’ve cycled through, so far. The roads are good, the drivers are courteous, the scenery is amazing and it’s super cheap.

We arrived in Macedonia on the beautiful Lake Ohrid.

Exhausted, wet and dehydrated. It was quite late in the evening and it was still raining. So we decided to treat ourselves to a hostel, instead of camping. We stayed not too far from Ohrid Town, which is a bit of a tourist trap, but still beautiful. It is also cheap and yummy ice cream can be bought everywhere. Since starting this cycle tour my life has started to revolve even more around food, so the ice cream point is very important. As is discovering yummy cheap bureks for 50c each and the cheapest supermarket I’ve entered since Latin America. Michael is struggling to keep on weight (I’m unfortunately not having the same problem). So I’ve been trying to fatten Michael up again – on a small budget. So Macedonia is perfect!

In total we spent 4 nights on Lake Ohrid. It wasn’t quite hot enough to get in the water. We’ve been followed by shitty, wet, stormy weather since we left the Alps, and this continued into Macedonia. Fortunately, there were a couple of clear, blue-sky days, and got to witness an amazing sunset from Ohrid’s Old Town.

Michael treated me to a spa package at a hotel on the lake, for my birthday. So, after relaxing for the day/night, we woke up early, made the most of the breakfast buffet, and hit the road again.

Cycling Macedonia
Lake Ohrid from the pass

Taking the road less traveled

Most people would try and take the most direct route to the next destination – not us. We decided, very last minute (even though it was forecasted to rain, again), to take the longer and more mountainous route, through Galichica National Park. The route included a 2000m pass from Lake Ohrid to Lake Prespa. It was going to be a tough day.

The roads were quiet and the views were amazing. For once, we were also blessed with perfect weather, and managed to make it to our “official” wild camping spot before the rain started. The detour added about 30km and 2000m onto the trip, but it was well worth. We arrived into Bitola the following day, knackered but feeling accomplished.

Cycling Macedonia
Loving the hills on the way up the pass

Onwards to Greece

Bitola was our last stop in Macedonia before crossing the border into Greece. We checked into a hostel, as it’s usually difficult to find wild camping spots in cities. Then chilled out for the rest of the day. Just as the rain caught up with us.

The following day we attempted to get an early start. We had decided to take an 300km detour to visit Meteora, because we were told by a few people that it was cool. Our early start, turned into a late start. Sometimes things just don’t go the way you plan! We did however, eventually make it out of Macedonia and into our 7th country, Greece.

Cycling Macedonia
Switch back (just part of the climb)

A few stats from cycling Macedonia:

Accommodation: 4 nights in a hostel, 1 night in a hotel (for my birthday), 1 night wild camping in the National Park

Kilometers cycled in Macedonia: 140km

Total kilometers: 1800km

Days in Macedonia: 7 days (6 nights)

Total days cycling: 42 days

Average spendings per day: 10 Euros

Beautiful Sunsets: 3

Puncture tally: 4 (Michael) – 0 (Kelly)

Cycling Albania: Great people, shit roads and killer mountains

Cycling Albania

We were excited to be cycling Albania – we entered the country from Montenegro, near Lake Shkoder in the North of the country. Enjoying the sunshine, we were taking the day at a relatively slow pace. Just taking in the scenery, stopping for coffee and snack breaks, and enjoying the day and the good weather. Then we decided it was a good night for an all-nighter. This is something we have both wanted to attempt at some point (though I probably shouldn’t let my Dad know this, as he will likely freak out).

Albania sign, cycling Albania
Albania sign

Attempting to do our first all-nighter

All nighter, all the way to Tirana (a total of 160km). Luckily the reality of this crazy idea hit home at about 100km, when we realized it was a stupid idea and we were too young to die. The road into Tirana was horrible and the drivers were crazy. Dusk was already upon us, and we began to feel a bit desperate. I read that wild camping at a gas station with the permission of the owner was the “done thing” in almost every country. So we asked at a station, they said “no” and pointed us in the direction of a campsite.

The campsite was only 5km away so we decided to head for it. 10km later, after pushing our bikes along a dirty beach, we arrived at the campsite. Just as the sun disappeared over the horizon. It turned out the campsite was still closed for the season. After about 10 minutes of hanging around, trying to decide what to do (I didn’t want to sleep at the campsite as there were a bunch of drunk guys hanging around). A guy appeared who was looking after the campsite while it was closed. He took us to a restaurant, introduced us to the owner, and before we knew it we had our own (rather smelly and old) hut. This is where we ended up spending the night – for free! This was just our introduction to the great Albanian hospitality.

The following day we said our goodbyes and hit the road again.

It was a long day cycling Albania, in hot sunny weather (a rarity of the trip so far). We decided to head off the main highway, which turned out to make the trip into Tirana significantly longer. The locals were so inquisitive. We got plenty of waves, a few high-fives, we even got given free bottles of water at a gas station we stopped at to shelter from the sun. I think most other  (sensible) cycle tourists took the more direct route to Tirana and stuck to the main road. This meant many of the locals we met hadn’t seen cycle tourists before.

I was also told by an Irish expat that local Albanians believe that only poor people cycle, so seeing foreigners traveling on bicycles is a very strange thing for them. The only negative run in we had, was with a teenage boy who tried to stop me cycling by throwing a bamboo stick in my path. I moved it out the way. He then hit Michael on the head with the stick. The boy then started throwing rocks at us. I guess there are douchbags in every country; luckily he is the minority.

Cycling Albania
Cycling with locals

It was at this point the road turned to shit

Some sections of the road we had to get off the bike and push them through knee high muddy puddles. We were happy when we finally made our way back to the main highway. Once on the highway we followed it the rest of the way to Tirana.

We were warned about the road into Tirana, and the warnings were true. The cycle was not fun. We had to battle with pot holes, gravel, mud, rocks, dirt, road kill, cargo trucks, loads of traffic, no hard shoulder and plenty of pollution. It was hard to believe this was the main road into the capital. The condition of some of the roads in the villages we cycled through were in much better condition. Eventually we did make it to Tirana, where we decided to set up camp in the garden of a hostel for a few nights.

Tirana has a bike bazaar (basically just a street with cheap bike shops on), which we wanted to check out. So we decided to hang around the city for a few days to fix up and clean the bikes.

Cycling Albania
One of the crap roads we cycled on

3 nights rest and feeling fully recovered.

We were ready to take on the next challenge on cycling Albania, the Albanian Alps. Stupidly we headed off at the hottest part of the day (yes, the sun was out again), and we started climbing straight away. Our aim was to hit Elbasan, which we surprisingly did, and even cycled through. About 10km outside Elbasan we asked a gas station whether we could camp out the back, and surprise, surprise, he said yes. Happy Days!!! Great view, free campsite and he sold beer on tap – score!

The next day we continued the climb up the Alps. Blue-sky day, no cloud cover, no breeze, just sun. We spent most of the day climbing over the Albanian Alps, it was a tiring day, but we eventually made it to Lake Ohrid (on the Albanian side), just as the weather changed. We then cycled down hill towards in the Macedonian border in the wind, rain and a thunderstorm.

Conquering the Albanian Alps, we made it to Macedonia. Soaked, tired and sun burnt! What is with this crazy weather?!? So, instead of camping, we decided to find a cheap hostel on the Macedonian side of the lake, have a shower and warm up.

A few cycling Albania stats

Accommodation: 1 night staying in a hut out the back of a restaurant, 3 nights camping at a hostel, 1 night wild camping out the back of a garage

Kilometers cycled in Albania: 314km

Total kilometers: 1750km (or there-a-bouts)

Days in Albania: 7 days (5 nights)

Total days cycling: 35 days

Average spendings per day: 12 Euros

Crash tally: 1* (Michael) – 1** (Kelly)

  • I left Michael for 30 minutes, and he crashed into a car – ok, the car pulled out on him, but luckily he was ok… Tirana drivers – CRAZY!!!

** My tyre got stuck in a tramline and I went flying off my bike (this was in Italy)

Puncture tally: 4 (Michael) – 0 (Kelly)

Zdravo! Cycling Montenegro

Kotor Bay, cycling Montenegro

We left Dubrovnik with the aim to reach Herceg Novi in Montenegro. We were excited to be cycling Montenegro, assuming we would be leaving the tourists and their buses behind. It turns out that Montenegro is just as touristy as Croatia. So we still had to share the roads with a hundred tour buses.

Once arriving in Herceg Novi, we decided it was time to find a wild camping spot. Unfortunately the bay area was a lot more developed than we anticipated and the further we got towards Kotor Bay, the less likely it seemed we were going to find a suitable wild camping spot. We asked to camp at one gas station, they neither agreed or disagreed. We decided they didn’t seem to happy about our presence, and ventured on. Eventurally we came across a camping site, and decided, with the dark stormy clouds closing in,  instead of pushing on, it was best to stop for the night.

cycling Montenegro kotor bay

Kotor Bay and the Old City

The following day was supposed to be an easy day of cycling around the breathtaking, Kotor Bay to the Old City of Kotor. It was something we had both being looking forward to. We wanted to take it slow and enjoy the scenry. After about 5km we got the first puncture of the trip… or rather the first 3 punctures of the trip.

1 hour 20 minutes later we had fixed the puncture, the sun had gone, the rain had started, and we were soaked, but we were back on the road… for about 30 minutes, then the tyre started to deflate again! Wet and frustrated, we stopped at a very souviet looking café bar for a coffee, to rethink a new plan. There was a particularly cheap guesthouse only 10km away, we decided to reinflate the tyre and head there for the night…. making the day the shortest cycle day of the trip so far, covering a total of about 25km.

The guesthouse didn’t have the most central location, with no nearby supermarkets or restaurants, but it did have an amazing view of the Bay.

The following day was sunny

We continued around the bay, and finally made it to the old town in Kotor (along with the hundred tourist buses with hundreds of tourists). Kotor is probably one of my favorite ancient towns of the trip so far, unfortunately we had our bikes and all our gear with us, so we couldn’t walk the old town walls, but we did push our bikes around the town, and enjoyed some cheap coffee.

We had a few hours in the town before it was time to set off for Budva, where we were staying with the first couchsurfer of the trip, Justine. We spent a few days chilling out in beautiful Budva, with beautiful weather, yummy pizza and great company, before continuing on cycling Montenegro.

From Budva we headed further south along the coast to Bar.

It was unexpectedly hilly, and very hot compared to our other cycle days (late 20’s – I’m sure my Aussie friends will laugh at that). We heard about a “short-cut” inland to the Albania border crossing from Bar, and though the road was a bit narrower, and started off with a steep incline, the cycle along the road was amazing. Minimal traffic, good views, relatively good road. After a couple of days cycling Montenegro on good roads, we eventually made it to the Albanian border. From then onwards, “hello roads with  pot holes and mud“.

budva, cycling montenegro
Budva

Cycling Montenegro stats:

Accommodation: 1 night in an “official” campsite, 1 night in a guesthouse, 2 nights couchsurfing, 1 night wild-camping

Kilometers cycled in Montenegro: 130km (“mas o menos”)

Total kilometers: will have to double check… around 1500km (maybe)

Total days in Montenegro: 7 days (5 nights)

Total days cycling: 30 days

Average spendings per day: 14 euros (“mas or menos”)

Puncture tally: 3 (Michael) – 0 (Kelly)

 

Croatia on a bike with a Mike

Croatia on a bike

Beautiful Croatia

Croatia on a bike was supposed to be our ‘rest’ time. It didn’t quite turn out that way. We arrived into Split very early on a Friday morning, and there were people everywhere. It was supposed to still be the low season. If we were in Split in the low season, I never want to see it in the high season. A beautiful port city, but full of cruise ships and day-trippers, and it seemed that they arrived by the hundred. It was not the easiest place to cycle, and we ended up just pushing the bikes through the crowds. We only spent the day in Split, and then caught the afternoon ferry to Stari Grad on Hvar Island.

Unfortunately, wild camping in Croatia is strictly illegal, and it’s not uncommon for police to issue on the spot fines of 150-900 euro for wild camping. For that reason we decided it safer to stay at official camping sites. Only a small set back to exploring Croatia on a bike.

Croatia on a bike
Dubrovnik

Island hopping

We had planned to stay at a campground in Stari Grad, however when we arrived, we discovered the entire campground had been abandoned. This was the only campground in Stari Grad. We decided to cycle 10km to Jelsa, in the hope that the campground there would be open. We arrived at Kamp Mina, an absolutely amazing campsite. For about 6 Euro each we got to pitch our tent right on the coast, with amazing views, plus hot showers.

It was great to not have to worry about water, toilets, or being asked to move on. We decided to stay here for 3 nights so we could explore some of the island on our bikes without having the panniers attached. Good thing we did. The following day we decided to cycle to Hvar Town. 25km each way consisting of several steep 10% inclines. This is when we discovered how much easier it was cycling without the panniers and extra weight.

Cycling across Hvar Island

From Jelsa we cycled across the island to the small town Sucuraj. The cycle across the island was probably one of my favorite cycle days. The weather wasn’t particular sunny or warm, but there was no wind, and the views were stunning. We cycled along the main road of the island, which seemed more like a cycle path than a main road. Cyclists out numbering cars by the dozen. It was great, even with the odd 10% incline. This was the same day we realized just how many German-speaking tourists there were in Croatia. We discovered how popular it was to explore Croatia on a bike.

Usually when travelling people assume I’m English, Australian or French (apparently I sometimes speak Spanish with a French accent). Never in my life has anyone asked whether I’m German (I assume this is because I’m relatively short, with dark hair). Stick me on a bicycle, put me in Croatia (with a tall, skinny, bald guy) and everyone assumes I’m German – strange!

Once we arrived in Sucuraj we caught the ferry back to the mainland at Drvenik, and stayed at a nearby campsite in Zaostrog (also full of very friendly Germans). The following day we had planned to cycle all the way to Dubrovnik, a whole 120km, however the weather changed for the worse. Not only did we face many challenging, steep inclines, we were also battling gall force winds, and were consistently racing an on-coming storm.

Bosnia for lunch

We made it in and out of Bosnia, just before the storm had caught up with us. After 88km we decided to call it a day and camped in Slano, about 30km outside Dubrovnik. That night was probably one of the worse nights of the trip so far. Strong winds reaching over 100kph, heavy rains and consistent thunderstorms. It was hard to believe just a few days earlier we were cycling in beautiful sunny, clear blue skies.

Bosnia
Bosnia crossing (10km)

Here comes the rains

Around 5am we woke to discover that water was seeping in through the bottom of the tent. Under our camping mats a pool of water had gathered. It turned out we had pitched the tent where the water couldn’t drain. We gave up on sleep after that and took shelter in the small outside communal area, and attempted to dry out our stuff. The rain continued until midday. When it did finally start to ease off we decided to make an escape. After a horrible night we decided to book ourselves into a guesthouse in Dubrovnik for 2 nights.

Yes, I’m a Game of Thrones fan!

I’m afraid I’m one of the many people that are hooked on the HBO series, “Game of Thrones“. I’m currently making my way through the books, and downloading the latest episodes whenever the chance arises. For those of you that don’t know, the Old Town of Dubrovnik is King’s Landing in Game of Thrones. Exciting stuff (for me anyway)! Regardless of this, Dubrovnik is a beautiful (though not very cycle-friendly) city, with amazing views of the harbor, the Adriatic Sea and the nearby islands – it definitely beat my expectations.

After we left Dubrovnik we continued south down the coast towards our next country, Montenegro. Unfortunately the weather still hadn’t improved, with more storms being forecasted for the week ahead. Let’s hope the weatherman is wrong! And that wraps up our experience of Croatia on a bike!

Croatia on a bike
Sunset at one of the campgrounds on Hvar

Croatia on a bike stats

Accommodation: 5 nights in official campsites, 2 nights in a guesthouse

Kilometers cycled in Croatia: 300km (“mas o menos”)

Kilometers: 1300km

Days in Croatia: 8 days (7 nights)

Total days cycling: 24 days

Average spendings per day: 16 euro ($23AUD)

Bureks consumed: 4

Punctures: Still 0 (though I’ve probably just jinxed it – and jinxed it I did)

Italia on a bicycle during our France to China tour

Pizza, pasta, pesto, gelato, breakfast buffets, nutella, focaccia

That pretty much sums up the 12 days we spent in Italia on a bicycle. Good thing I’m on a cycle tour, otherwise I doubt I would still fit into my pants.

After we made the steep descent through the Italian Alps, we found a nice camping spot. Hidden just off the main road, which also turned out to be next to a train line. We were extremely happy to finally be in Italia on a bicycle and were looking forward to treating ourselves to a well-deserved pizza and beer combo. The following day looked grim. It wasn’t long before it started to rain. We also forgot it was a Sunday, and many places were closed. We did however manage to find an open pizzeria, where we took shelter for an hour, before heading off in the rain again.

italia by bicycle

Wet days on the bike

After spending the entire day cycling in the wind and rain, I discovered that my pannier rain covers, weren’t really that waterproof. Undies, socks and various other things were soaked. It was at that point I felt a bit defeated. We were just outside Turin, it was still pelting down with rain, and there was no sign of a suitable camping spot. I was wet, cold and exhausted, and there was no end in sight. To cheer ourselves up, we decided to find a cheap hotel in town, to rest, dry off, and start again in the morning. For 20 euro each, we found a 4 star hotel with complimentary buffet breakfast (which was also cheaper than the cheapest hostel dorm room in town). The weather was still rubbish, but things were definitely looking brighter.

First crash of the trip

On the way to the hotel, I managed to get my front tyre stuck in a tramline, and sent myself flying across the road. The wind was knocked out of me, and I unfortunately hit my bad knee, as well as injuring my wrist, arm and shoulder. Yep, 1 week into the cycle tour, and I’ve already managed to stack it on the bike. Luckily a car pulled over and an Italian couple jumped out. They offered to drive me to the hospital or the hotel. I opted for the hotel. Once I arrived at the hotel, the reception organized a free doctor to come to the hotel and look over my injuries. If you ever have an accident in the province of Turin in Italy, the local government actually provides a free doctor service – handy if you’re clumsy like me.

Hotel Diplomatic was absolutely amazing! If you happen to be in Turin, I recommend them. They also said that if I was to return, or if anyone else that I know stays there, the hotel would be able to offer the cheapest rate, plus a 10% discount on top of that (whether this is true, I don’t know, but might be worth testing out if you’re in the area).

We decided to stay a day longer in Turin, mainly to regain use of my arm. When we did set off, the sun was out, and it looked like it was here to stay. It did, for most of the day. Then the rain returned. Followed by some storms. One thing about cycle touring, weather is completely unpredictable! We had a couple of days of sun (and wind), followed by a couple of days of rain (and more wind). One thing is for certain – there is always wind!

cycling italy

After Turin we made our way further east towards Piacenza.

Then South East through Parma, Reggio Emilia (loved this town), Modena, Bologna (also a lovely city), Imola, Folic, and a few other smaller towns and villages. Finally we arrived at the Adriatic coast, where we spent a couple of nights in the coastal resort town, Rimini.

Cycling through the small Italian towns and cities was probably my favorite part of exploring Italia on a bicycle. Each place so cycle-friendly. Lots of beautiful old Italian buildings. Some towns even had a Tuscan vibe (though we didn’t actually cycle through Tuscany), and a well developed café scene. Who can complain about $2 cappuccinos? The countryside was also beautiful, and at times reminded me of the peak district in the UK. The towns and cities had character, and I could have spent hours just sipping on a coffee, people watching in a plaza.

Admittedly, the cycling has been hard at times. Especially when you have a day or 2 of cycling on main roads, in winds and rains, and in peak hour traffic. You just learn to push on through, and try and gain motivation from simple things. Much like running a marathon, you just take each step at a time. I remember having a rather bad day of cycling, I was waiting to cross a road, when I noticed a young boy was waving at me out of the car window, I waved back, and he gave me the thumbs up. That small act brightened my day and somehow got me through the following 3 hours of cycling. Chocolate got me through the rest.

When we hit the Adriatic coast we were on such a high.

Our longest day of cycling, plus hitting the 900km mark and successfully crossing our first country on a bicycle. We celebrated by checking into a ridiculously cheap hotel (got to love the low season), which included a complimentary buffet breakfast. Have you ever seen cyclists at a buffet? It is actually worrying how much you can eat when you’re cycling. It’s like your stomach turns into an endless pit.

From Rimini we headed south down the coast to the port town, Ancona. From here we caught the overnight Blue Line ferry to Split, Croatia. Overall, Italia on a bicycle was an awesome experience!

cycling italy 1000km photo

Italia on a bicycle stats:

Longest day: 103km

Accommodation: 6 nights wild camping, 4 nights in a budget hotel, 1 night in a B&B, 1 night on a ferry

Average spendings per day: 14 euro ($20AUD)

Total kilometers cycled in Italy: 725km

Total kilometers: 1025km

Days in Italy: 12 days

Total days: 18 days

Pizzas consumed: 4

Buffet breakfasts plundered: 4

Cycling the French Alps “Oo La La”

Cycling France

The beginning!

The first week of cycling the French Alps complete… yay! Having never done anything like this before, I had no idea what to expect. So far it’s been challenging, but it’s been good, and we both have been enjoying it (99% of the time).

The first couple of days were relatively easy – mostly downhill. The weather varied between raining, windy and sunny, but it was still a good introduction to the trip, and we managed to cover a fair distance – despite spending several hours lost, trying to find our way into and then out of Grenoble. We set up camp next to old castles, in farmer’s fields and in random grassy clearings… somehow always managing to be in an undesirable distance to a railway line (I blame Michael for that).

first day of cycle trip cycling france

The first mountain pass!

On day 3 of cycling the French Alps we started our ascent up the first mountain pass, Col du Lautaret (2058m). A common route for the Tour de France and to my surprise a black cycle route (one of the hardest cycle gradings). There were many cyclists out training (I assume for the Tour de France) in their flash gear, flying up and down the hills, on their super-light, expensive road bikes, while we plodded along, carrying at least 15-20kg of baggage each, on our heavy hybrid bikes. We cycled the pass over 2 days, not wanting to over-do-it, especially as my knee is still recovering from the ski accident I had a couple of months ago.

The final 8km up to the pass was grueling. The wind was at it’s strongest, and the rain was no better. Michael and I made a deal that we were treat ourselves to a large pizza and beer when we finally make it to Italy… the chant in the last few kilometers, “Pizza. Beer. Pizza. Beer.”, made the cycle a little easier. There was still a fair bit of snow at the pass, it was freezing cold and nothing was open, but the views were amazing. It was definitely the hardest cycle day so far, but definitely my favourite day of the trip so far.

Next was the descent!

Flying down the mountains with all our baggage definitely scared the crap out of me… at stages we were exceeding 50kph, which is way too fast for me on 2 wheels (maybe I’m becoming more of a wimp as I get older, or maybe I’ve just accepted that I’m a bit clumsy and accident-prone). The views were amazing, but unfortunately I was too scared to take my eyes off the road, so didn’t get to fully appreciate them. Within an hour we arrived in Briancon, a very cute, historic town, with lots of cool old buildings and chateaus. We decided to recover in a budget hotel (which conveniently had a sauna and steam room)… and I enjoyed one of the best showers of my life ☺

col du lautaret cycling France

Col du Montegenvre

The following day we had to conquer the final pass into Italy, which was the Col du Montgenvre (1860m), also a route common on the Tour de France, and a red route (second highest cycle grade). After the grueling Col du Lautaret, this col was a piece of cake, and we flew up it in about an hour. The town, Montegenvre is a ski resort town, and unfortunately didn’t have the best views from the top, and also no touristy sign post with the col and altitude displaced (I do like those cheesy tourist photos). We did take a few minutes at the top to enjoy a well earned Snickers, and top up the water. We then continued down the pass and into Italy. Overall, I really enjoyed cycling the French Alps and definitely recommend it!

The road down the Col into Italy was bloody steep, with amazing views I’m sure (if I could take my eyes off the road for 2 seconds)… and the number of motorbikes and long, freezing, tunnels just added to the terrifying experience. After flying down the Col for about an hour (the quickest 20km of the trip), we decided to set up camp.

The following day’s agenda: find a pizzeria and enjoy our grande pizza and beer reward! Yum!

Cycling the French Alps: Stats

Total distance: 300km

Number of days: 6 days

Passes: 2 mountain passes (1860m and 2058m)

Accommodation: 4 nights wild camping, 1 night budget hotel

Repairs: No punctures or anything major, but my chain did fall off once

Spendings: accommodation – 30Euro, food – 10Euro, other – 5 Euro (Total: 45Euro ($AUD67/ 37 pounds))

Not only did we ride from France to China by bicycle, we also went from France to China by toilet! This was to raise awareness about the global sanitation issue.

France to China by Bike Countdown: 25 days to go!

Discovering Persian hospitality

France to china by Bike Countdown

What better way to see the world than on a bike? Not only will our be carbon footprint be minimal, we will (hopefully) be fit and healthy, cycle machines. And what better way to get ourselves motivated than to make it a charity cycle trip? So here is our official France to China by bike countdown! Exciting times!

Maybe the altitude and snow capped mountains has sent us a bit crazy, but once Michael and I finish working as chalet hosts in the Alps, we’ve decided to embark on a cycle tour. Something different, something challenging, and something a little crazy. Even Hemingway approved of cycling, so it must be a good way to travel!

“It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle” – Ernest Hemingway

So, even though I haven’t owned a bike for more than 10 years. We have decided to cycle from Sainte Foy ski station in France (where we have been working for the past few months), all the way to China. The exact destination and route to China has not been decided yet.

We are going to break the trip up into 2 stages.

We decided to do this as not only have we never attempted any cycle tour before, but I also tore two knee ligament a few weeks ago, while skiing. Though cycling is good rehabilitation for the knee, I don’t want to overdo it. That being said, I am also supposed to be running an ultra marathon (100km) in the UK in July, and I’m hoping I can make a quick trip back to the UK to complete it. This will largely depend on my knee rehabilitation and the cycle trip. With the France to China by Bike Countdown ticking down, lets hope my knee heals quickly.

Stage 1: The French Alps to Istanbul, Turkey (France, Italy, Croatia, Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia, Greece and Turkey) (Approx. 2500km+)

france to china by bike countdown

Stage 2: The Silk Route (Turkey, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and China) (Approx. 6500km+ from Istanbul, Turkey, to Karakol, Kyrgyzstan)

france to china by bike countdown

From Kyrgyzstan we plan to cycle across the border into China, then most likely we will train it to Beijing, where we will fly back home to Perth, Australia. We plan to depart Sainte Foy ski station on 22nd April 2014, and if all goes to plan (which is fairly unlikely), the 10,000km cycle trip should take us around 7-8 months and we should be back in Perth late Nov/ early Dec 2014 (in time for Michael’s brother’s wedding) – another France to China by Bike Countdown!

The Charities

WaterAid

I mentioned earlier in this post that we are going to be doing this to raise money and awareness for charities and causes that we feel strongly about.

I have picked WaterAid as my charity to sponsor. Due to the lack of access women and children in some developing countries have to sanitation, clean water, toilets and basic education about menstruating. Women and children are regularly putting themselves at high risk of disease, illness, assault and rape. On top of this, many girls end up leaving education at an earlier age due to feeling embarrassed over menstruating and having limited access to healthcare and sanitary products.

The Global Sanitation Crisis

Sanitation and healthcare is something that all people should have access to. Sadly, this is not the case. Many women are using dirty rags, leaves and even sawdust in replacement of sanitary pads. This obviously leads to short and long term infections and disease. Many women also have no safe or comfortable place to go to the toilet or properly clean themselves. This results in hiding or waiting until after dark to go to the toilet or clean, or going in public. This puts them at risk of assault and rape. Imagine putting yourself through this type of risk every time you go to the bathroom.

The issue stems not only from inaccessibility to proper sanitation, but also to the lack of education, and the need for women’s empowerment. Even in western countries, menstruating and ‘going to the toilet’ is not something often spoken about. We do, however have access to the health care, sanitation products and education necessary to avoid such risks.

Now imagine yourself without access to any of these things. As well as not being able to speak about it. Living in a male dominant society. Not understanding what is happening to your body. Feeling ashamed, scared and alone in your battle. That topped off with excruciating period pains and risking your health and wellbeing every time you go to the toilet . My heart goes out to these unfortunate girls and women.

WaterAid helps provide sustainable support to communities, by providing the knowledge, funding and guidance to support projects which will empower women, restore dignity and educate them on hygiene and healthcare.

St Rocco’s Cancer Hospice

We are also fundraising for St Rocco’s hospice in Manchester, England. This hospice took really good care of a family member of Michael’s, who had cancer and sadly passed away there last October. So we have decide to give ‘thanks’ and support the great work they’re doing. Providing support to St Rocco’s will ensure they are able to continue providing excellent care and support to others.

If you would like to show some love and support, then please donate to WaterAid, or to St Rocco’s hospice.

Spread the word and share this post with friends and family, and ask them to please do the same. Thank you for your support!

So let the France to China by Bike Countdown begin!

**UPDATE: The donation pages are now closed. Donations can still be made directly to the charities through the charity home pages.

Not only did we ride from France to China by bicycle, we also went from France to China by toilet! This was to raise awareness about the global sanitation issue.