2RadChaoten.com Stories Mountainbike Berichte 2002 Rob's Tour Across Europe (Aus)

ROB's TOUR ACROSS EUROPE 2002

Event: MTB Tour across Europe
Start: Somewhere in January 2002 (detailed info will follow)
Participants: Rob Lowe (Australian 2RC Member)
Highlights: First Update 11th March 2002
Kilometers cycled so far: 1260
Well, this is my first installment about my cycling holiday so far. A lot has happened, so I´ll try not to babble...
Ireland, Wales, England:Well, I set off from Dublin in typical Irish weather: a mix of sun, wind and rain (sometimes all 3 at the same time). Simon (who I´d previously worked with) and I cycled to Arklow, so it was good to have someone to talk to over my last pint(s) of Guinness.

Southern Wales had some very nice scenery, but quite a few misty days. I didn´t have any problems with the flooding, but had to ride through a couple of pretty big puddles. I was blessed with a couple of nice days to go through the scenic Breacon Beacon´s National Park.

Then it was on to St Briavel´s where I stayed in a pretty unique YHA hostel: a 13th century castle. So when I checked in, instead of "Your staying in dorm number 4" I got "You´ll be staying in the Prison tonight". The staff there were nice and the food was good, so I´d recommend it to anyone who finds themselves near the English/Welsh border.

Anyway then it was on to Salisbury via Bristol and Bath. Had a rest day here where I did the tourist thing: Stonehenge and Salisbury Cathedral. Stonehenge was impressive, but there is only so long you can look at a pile of rocks. Finally, it was on to Portsmouth where I was shown some remarkable (given they´d never me before) hospitality by Mick and Julia Kirby who put me up for the night. So thanks to them and to MLH for arranging it. Then caught the ferry (36 hours!) to Bilbao.

Spain:
My first day in Spain wasn´t so successful (long story), so I decided I have a rest day in order to find my feet. So I got my dose of culture with a visit to the Guggenheim Museum, which is a really wild building and was pretty interesting.

Then it was on to the beautiful old town of Santillana del Mar, where I had my first couple of days camping. It was here that I also discovered Sidra, a Spanish cider which is the business (forget Bulmers or Stongbow!). I then went through the Picos de Europa, a collection of mountains that forms part of the Cantabrian Mountain range. This was the most physically testing part of my trip so far but worth it. I cycled through a mountain pass (a climb of about 1500m to a height of 1670m) and was surrounded on all sides by 2000m+ snow capped mountains, it was awesome. Again, I had some beautifully clear and warm (20 degree) days which made it all the more enjoyable.

Second Update 2nd April 2002
Kilometers cycled so far: 2814
Galicia (northern Spain, above Portugal): After my last installment I kept heading north-west, mostly sticking to the coast. First up was the Rias Altas, which was really hilly (rather than mountainous). So, I had a harder time than the shading on my map lead me to expect. The upside was some fantastic views of cliffs and valleys overlooking the sea. Visibility was not so good some days, but you get that...

Then I hit La Coruna and decided to get my back wheel rebuilt because I was busting spokes (too many cervezas and "Menu del dia"'s!). This took 5 days so I hung out in La Coruna, which is a good party town and not very touristy. This was helped by Deportiva, the local soccer team winning the Spanish Liga while I was there. I didn't do a lot of touristy things in La Coruna, but I did suss out a top class Tapas bar (to which I paid numerous visits)!

Then on to Santiago de Compostela: the end of the pilgrimage (for some). This was crawling with tourists, so I only checked out the impressive catherdal from the outside and keep going the next day.
Pontevedra was the next stop where I had another couple of days off the bike (it seemed that the rain in Spain was falling mainly on me).
This region has a rep for lots of rain and because of this I gave the Rias Bajas a miss.

Portugal: The weather has been fantastic since just before I crossed the border (well over 20 degrees every day for the last 2 weeks). The first stop was the Parque Nacional de Peneda-Geres, a very picturesque national park. Very few tourists at this time of year, so the camp ground was nice and quiet. I zig-zaged my way down the coast... Porto was not really that special, but it was nice to cycle a little way along the Douro River.

I'm not usually an impulse buyer but I couldn't go past the bottle of 10 year old port at the supermarket (and somehow managed to fit it into my pannier). Coimbra, with it's beautiful university, was a highlight. It was here I had a big night out with some Germans from the hostel and we met some cool Portugese students - the next day's cycle was a bit of a struggle.

For something different, I visited Portugal's largest cave (a depth of 110 m) system in the Parque Natural das Serras de Aire e Candeeiros. A couple of nights ago I stopped in Sintra - a beautiful (and hilly) little town in a lush forest a just west of Lisbon. I arrived in Lisbon yesterday and met up with one of the German guys from Coimbra to "make party". We (as well as a kiwi and an american) managed to get talking to a local and she took us to a little bar where the locals got up and sang fado - it was a great night. Today I spent a quiet day walking around Lisbon: checked out the castle (I'm big into castles and have been averaging about 1 a day in Portugal) and will probably spend tomorrow here as well.

From here I plan to head east across Spain towards Barcelona, via Madrid.

Third Update 2nd May 2002
Kilometers cycled so far: 4431
 Well, it's that time again. I hope this Lowe-down finds you all well and a big thanks to those who have sent me an email. You swamped me, but I love getting them, so keep 'em coming!

Alto Alentejo (Central Portugal): After some cracking days going down the coast, it ended with some bad weather the day I left Lisbon. Lisbon is not very bike friendly, so I left via a ferry across the Tejo, which would have been really nice on a fine day, but you get that. Apart from a few castles on the way (surprise, surprise), the medieval walled town of Evora was the highlight, which was beautiful, even in the rain. Closer to the Spanish border, I met a Queensland couple also doing the cycle thing, so it great to catch up for lunch and swap a few stories with them. 

Extremandura (Western Spain): I left the rain in Portugal and then hit the towns of Caceres and Trujillo. The Spanish really have the knack for nicely preserving their old towns - you feel like you're in a time warp when you walk around them. I knew I was back in Spain, with some nice hill climbs on my way to Guadalupe, where I pretty much had the campground to myself. The tourist drawcard of Guadalupe is it's monastery. Even though I've seen loads of old stuff (castles, cathedrals, churches and towns) I was still blown away by the intricateness of the stone work on that baby. 

Madrid: I realized that I didn't get my dose of culture for LD No. 2. So I made up for it here with an art overload - visiting 3 of the big name museums in Madrid: the Prado, Reina Sofia and the Thyssen Bornemisza. So, I've now seen enough pictures of The Crucifixion to last me a life time. But don't get me wrong, I was glad I took the chance to see them while I was there. 

Aragon and Catalunya (Eastern Spain): Just out of Madrid, I had one really memorable day was when I was having some mechanical problems as I hit the village of Vellisca (Vellisca doesn't have much to offer in the way of tourist attractions and is very out of the way). But there was an english speaker in the local bar and asked if there was a local workshop that might be able to help me - there wasn't. However, there was a local cycle enthusiast and I was lead to his house. Miguel was having a family BBQ, but didn't mind replacing the crank and chainrings, while I was sat down and fed salad and sausages! 
By the time I left, there were about 20 people looking on. One of them assured me that Vellisca is the best village in Spain and from this experience I'd have to agree. Then it was on to Cuenca, a town perched on the side of a mountain range. Pretty spectacular stuff, so hopefully the photos turn out OK. From there, I stuck to the minor roads through a series of small towns as I continued west. Aragon is one of most untouristified areas I've been to so far in Spain. Quiet roads and clear spring days made cycling though the varied landscape of the plains a fantastic experience. 
I hit the coast just south of Tarragona and followed it around to Barcelona. It was near Tarragona that I was confronted with a Gold Coast style array of, high rise hotels/apartments, English style pubs and "Traditional" Fish and Chip shops (reminded me of Ibiza). It was quite a shift from the isolation I'd felt the days before. I've spent today wandering around Barcelona and will be staying here for another week for a rest (?!?). I've lined up a German mate for a weekend of partying and Barcelona is defiantly the place for it. There'll probably be another dose of culture at some stage too (does watching a Barcelona FC game count?). 

Well, that's about it for this month...From here I'm northward bound for Andorra, the south of France and then on to Corsica and Sardinia.

Fourth Update 31st May 2002
Kilometers cycled so far: 5848 You may notice that I'm sending this edition from my new email address (don't ask!), so please update your address books. 

Barcelona: Hours after sending the last email I had my biggest scare of my trip so far... A crew of us from the hostel were walking to the next pub and I had my pocket picked. Luckily, one of the guys from the hostel was more alert than me and grabbed the guy and got my wallet back. So that was my close shave for this month and hoping they won't get much closer... The next day I went for a day trip to Figueres, about 1.5 hours by train, to visit the Dali museum. This has to be one the most unique museums I've ever visited (or will visit). Dali was certainly a strange fella, but it very enjoyable, despite being packed. Then it was the weekend and Joerg (a German mate) who came down to join me for an alcohol fueled weekend. One memorable highlight was finding a place that served the Cava (the local equivalent of champagne) and bratwurst sangas for breakfast, great hangover food. Also, we went and saw Barcelona FC v Espanyol. This was the first soccer game I've been to and I did it in style in the biggest stadium in Europe, the Nou Camp! From here I headed in pretty much a straight line north. 

Andorra: Where Europe comes to shop (tax free)! It's difficult to get a photo in Andorra le Vella without it containing a crane or construction work. But seriously, it's a pretty cool feeling to be at 1000 meters above sea level and still be surrounded by mountains. I met a couple of English cycle tourers in the campsite, the boys also had their rock climbing gear with them (talk about keen). It rained for a couple of days, so I had no problem hanging around for some more english conversation and beer drinking. 

Southern France: The road from Andorra to France has one of the highest mountain passes in the Pyrenees (Port d'Envalira at 2408m). I decided to also have a hangover to make it interesting. And if that wasn't enough a bolt holding my seat snapped about half a k before the top! There was loads of snow at the top and the view made it all worth while. From here I took a bit of a detour west along the Pyrenees to take on some of the famous Tour de France hill climbs: Col de Port (1250m), Col du Portet d'Aspet (1069m) and Col d'Aspin (1304m). I fortunately had fantastic spring days for all these which made them all enjoyable (Thanks Phil for the route plan). From here it headed to north-east to Montauban where I stayed with a friend I met over the internet. Fanny was an awesome hostess and I tagged along for a family get together at an amusement park which was wicked (despite the language barrier). Then it was on to Figeac where great hospitality continued and I stayed with the Nott family. The Nott's made me feel extremely welcome and it was great to again have some english conversation. Thanks Tim, Peggy, Henry, Ella and Rosey for putting up with me (and again to the Hetherington and Kirby connection for hooking it up). Staying all these kind people has given me a renewed enthusiasm, so I can't say thanks enough. Then I headed south east via the magnificent forests along the Lot and Tarn rivers to Nîmes. Nîmes was my chance to do the tourist thing this month with a visit to a well preserved Roman temple and arena which are the center pieces of the city. Then it was on to Marseille, but it would have been easy to spend a couple more days in the area to check out Montpellier and Avignon (but you can't do everything....). 

Well, that's about it for this month. Tomorrow I'm catching a ferry to Corsica and then it's on to Sardinia, Sicily and Italy.

Fifth Update 1st July 2002
Kilometers cycled so far: 7886 Hello from Rome! Here's this month's highs and lows...

Corsica: The day I was due to leave Marseille I met a kiwi named Craig who was also on a cycling tour and heading for Corsica. So we decided to hook up for a few days and cycle together. We caught the ferry to Ajuccio (birth place of Napolean) and did a short tour south. The island is amazing with a very diverse landscape of beautiful clear beaches, high mountains and lush forests all within a small area. It was great weather and we camped pretty much everywhere. We broke up the cycling with a rest day to do a spot of hiking, before heading to Bonifacio to catch the ferry. 

Sardinia: Our run of fine weather ended the day we got here and we got soaked in the first couple of hours on the road and there was a killer head wind for the rest of the day. We managed to make it to Alghero where we met up with Sarah (an Irish friend) who was on a painting/drinking holiday with some mates. Thanks for putting up with us, Sarah! Craig and I parted ways the next day as he headed towards northern Italy and I bummed around Alghero for a couple of days while we had a little more bad weather. The weather cleared I headed south to Cagliari but was a couple of days early for the ferry. So I waited out the two days a little out of town, camping by the beach - yep, it's tough life.... 

Sicily: I arrived in Palermo and was met by an ex-collegue Susie, who was there for a weekend break. So it was nice to have someone to be a tourist with. We just walked around this very pleasent city, went to the beach, drank coffee, ate some fantastic food and watched Ireland get knocked out of the world cup. We couldn't find an Irish pub to watch the game, Palermo must be the only european city which doesn't have one. I left Palermo heading east and it was around this time that the hot weather started to really kick in - most days were in the high thirties. Sicily was hilly and I was feeling it during some of the longer hill climbs in the heat of the day. But I managed to stay hydrated (upping my water consumption to over 8 litres a day) and went just to the north of Mt Etna. Mt Etna was big, but not that spectacular, but the surrounding country was beautiful. It was nice to get back to the coast and the cooling sea breaze. 

Southern Italy: After catching the short ferry trip across to the Italian mainland I cranked it up and headed north-west along the coast. Again, there was some really beautiful areas (coast roads clinging to the side of a mountain) a lot of which had relatively low tourist development. I had a nice cycle, swim and camp routine going as I made my way to Naples. On my way to Napes I called in at Paestrum, the ruins of 3 Greek temples dating from 6th century BC. Fairly touristy, but an awesome site, well preserved and resonably priced - gets my thumbs up. I pushed on to Napes passing through Pompei (but not stopping to see the old city - one set of ruins was enough for the day) and to the south of Mt Vesuvious. Naples was mad and it took a lot of concentration to not get hit by a swerving Vespa or Fiat Panda. Naples was a bit of a let down - apart from the tiring pace, it was really dirty and felt very dodgy. But, like everywhere else I've been to so far in Italy, the food was fantastic. Also while I was here I checked out the the Archeological museum which had loads of sculptures and some beautiful mosaics which were pulled out of Pompei. From here I cranked it up and cycled to Rome in two days. But it wasn't all smooth riding because at the end of the first day I came a cropper in a dark tunnel (I think I hit the curb - not sure). The damage to me was pretty minor but I managed to buckle the front wheel in a big way (almost folded that sucker in half). But with some percussive maintenance I managed to got the bike ridable and wobbled to the next big town to get a new wheel. The approach to Rome was a breeze compared to Naples, I was in the city before I knew it, so my first impression was good. For me, Rome lives up to every bit of the hype. I spent yesterday walking around the city, visiting the Colosseum, the Roman Forum and Palatin hill and a multitude of picturesque piazzas. Then watched the world cup final over lunch and topped off the afternoon with a walk to Piazza Garabaldi which offers one of the best views of Rome. And finally topped of the day with another fantastic meal.

Sixth Update 31st July 2002
Kilometers cycled so far: 10004 I've managed to really pack in a lot this month, so this one is going to be a long one, but I hope not too boring....

Rome: After my last update, I had another day to continue exploring Rome and by coincidence and old work mate was on holiday there with his girlfriend. So we hooked up to check out St Peters church and to go out to dinner (thanks for shouting, Henry!). 

Northern Italy: Then I was off again northward to Siena and then on to Florence. I now see why people rave about Florence and they have good reason. Even full of tourists, it was a beautiful city. So it was here that I spent my birthday: a visit to the Uffizi gallery and later that night, I managed to hook up a top crew of people (3 aussies, 3 americans and a couple of germans) at the camp ground bar and partied on into the small hours. Then again, it was the usual story of cooking in my tent in the morning sun and followed by a fuzzy cycle to Bologna. I choose this route especially to sample some authentic Spaghetti Bolognese and wasn't disappointed by the food or the city. From here it was an easy run to Milan where I was to meet Simon for the much anticipated Milan to Zurich leg. When I met Simon at the train station, he'd bought the Dublin weather with him - it was bucketing for the first time in about 2 weeks. But we were lucky and got to Lake Como fairly dry. Surrounded by mountains, the lake was still beautiful, despite the clouds. I left most of the route planning to Simon, which meant some very sore legs, because the third day started in Tirano (450m above sea level) and cranked up the Passo del Stelvio (2757m !). It's harder to find bigger pass in the alps and it getting up there was definatly one of the best moments in my last 6 months. And that was a perfect way to say goodbye to Italy and hello to Switzerland. 

Switzerland: Simon's sadism didn't stop there; the following day he had us up and down two passes! Thankfully they were not on the scale of Stelvio. But we were not very good conversation as we scoffed pasta in the Kloster's youth hostel. After that, the days were a little more sedate as we crusied through small "model train" villages and lakes. This included a visit to Maienfeld ("Heidi-land") and lunch in Liechtenstein one day. We hit Zurich just in time for the weekend, and Simon and some of his mates did a great job of showing me around his old home town and it's variety of bars, including a bit of Thai Karaoke (to everyone's relief, I gave the singing a miss). But this topped off a great week - it was brilliant to travel with someone with the local knowledge and who always on for a beer and a joke and it was all too quickly that Simon had to catch his plan and I was on my way to Bern. And from here, zig-zagged my way northwards. South Western Germany/North Eastern France: The first stop was the black forest. The weather was sunny and the beer at the campgrounds was good, cold and cheap - perfect. From here I stopped in at the cities of Freiburg, Stratsbourg and Saarbrucken. My time in each was very brief, but each were beautiful cities with a mixed French/German feel. As I cut across that top bit of France, I was lucky to stumble on the Youth Hostel in Saverne: probably my one and only chance to stay in a château. I was amazed that there were beds available on a Friday night and even more amazed that they were only 8 euros per night. Then, back in German I thought it was time for something completely different... And this was a visit to the Volklinger Iron works, a unique reminder of the German industrial heyday and a UNESCO world heritage site. 

Luxembourg: I kicked off my tour of Luxembourg with a nice run along the Moselle river. Of course, you can't travel along the Route du Vin with out a stop off in one of the vineyards for some wine tasting. But I showed some restriant and was still able to ride in a mostly straight line. I arrived in Luxembourg city yesterday and am so far very impressed. It's a beautiful, compact city with a very cosmopolitan feel and prices more reasonable than I had feared. Well, that's about it for this month. From here the plan is to check out a bit of Belgium, Holland, Northern German and Demark - beer country! Even still, it will be tough to beat the month just gone...

Seventh Update 2nd October 2002
Kilometers cycled so far: 13386  I lost track of the days a bit lately, so this month's Lowedown is a little late... 

Denmark:  After the last update I spent a few days in Copenhagen, fully appreciating this fantastic city. I checked out Christiavia, a squatters camp set up over thirty years ago. It's still going strong in its alternative and laid-back way. Then it was off to the State Art Museum for a bit of culture.  For culture of a different kind, I couldn't miss the Carlseberg Brewery. I went with a couple of girls I'd met at the hostel and met another Aussie cyclist there. What was supposed to be a half day visit turned into a full of beer tasting as the generous guys behind the bar didn't mind handing out free beer coupons. Then a visit to Tivoli, a permanent amusement park in the centre of town. Tivoli was not typically my thing, but it topped off a very good day out.  I left Copenhagen and cycled north to have a bit of a look at the spectactular Frederiksborg and Kronborg (Hamlet's) castles. Then it was onto the ferry for the short trip to Helsingborg, Sweeden. 

Sweeden:  I knew bugger all about Sweeden before I arrived, excpept that it was expensive. But I was pleasently surprised with how rural it was. It was easy to fine quiet (often dirt) roads winding through lush pine forest and lakes. And the beautiful sunny days made it extra nice.  It's legal to camp pretty much anywhere on public land to light camp fires in Sweeden, so I took full advantage of this. So I stunk of smoke and looked like a bit of wild man when I went into town after three days of doing this - makes for a few stares in the supermarket.  So I headed north-east and hit the eastern shore of the big and beautiful Lake Vattern. Another interesting stop was a visit to the largest runestone in Sweeden at Rok, which I found pretty much by accident.  Stockholm was another great city and I could have spent much longer here. But in my short stay I managed to fit in a ride around Gala Stan and out to the grand Drottningholm palace and a visit to the Vasa Museum. The Museum was especially interesting and houses a magnificently preserved, 360 year old Sweedish battleship, complete with about 700 carvings, which sank just 20 minutes into it's maiden voyage. 

Estonia:  After a 13 hour overnight ferry trip from Stockholm, I hit Tallinn in the morning and immediatly liked this city. Its a fairly small city and has an interesting medieval old town. As I checked into the hostel I met another Aussie bloke, so we hooked up for a couple of days to see what Tallinn had to offer. In Sweeden I had given up the beer for the two weeks while I was there (if you can believe that). Estonia has no shortage of good, cheap beer, so it was time to refuel. After a couple of days in Tallinn I headed south to Tartu and Otepaa, before crossing over to Latvia. 

Latvia:  Still heading south I had the plan of taking in the Gauja valley, but the weather turned a little grey. So I had a nice stop at Cesis to see the impressive ruins of the castle before gunning it to Riga.  I'm waiting for my Polish visa, so have been hanging out Riga for quite almost a week. It's a little larger than Tallinn and has a very nice, cosmopolitan vibe. I went out on Saturday night and hooked up with a bit of crazy Latvian bloke. We in turn met up with a larger group and I vaguely remember linking arms and singing (yelling) Latvia songs as we walked to the next club - a very good night. On a more sobering note, yesterday I went to the Latvian Occupation Museum which details the Soviet and Nazi occupations of Latvia, it was very interesting and well done. It also showed me how little I know about European history.

Eight Update 1st November 2002
Kilometers cycled so far: 14871 For those that are wondering Haviøov is in the north east of the Czech Republic, close to the Polish border and today is my first day in Czech...

Lithuania: After leaving Riga, it was a pretty uneventful cycle to the Lithuanian border, except for learning the hard way about the differences between local and internation border crossing points. As soon as I hit Lithuania, I noticed the highlight of this month: the friendly people. On the second day here, I called into a bar to warm myself up in the small town of Raguva and got talking (with lots of sign language - my Lithuanian is pretty bad) to a fellow. He took me back to his house, where his son and daughter could speak some english and translate for us. We talked for most of the afternoon, and it started raining, so that night I was the guest of Vaièiulyte family, who were very nice to me, despite having only know me for a few hours. From there it was on to Vilnius. It would have to be my favourite of the Baltic capitals in terms of its buildings and general vibe. It also helped staying at a handy hostel with plenty of party people. I did not really do any touristy things except for walking around the old town and a visit to Trakai castle on my way towards Poland.

Poland: There is nothing like snow on the ground to convince you not to cycle today and thats what I saw on my third day in Poland. But it only lasted a day and I was able to continue on to Warsaw and some not so freezing weather. In Warsaw, I stayed with friends of friend, Mateusz and Karolina. They confirmed the reputation Poles have for their fine hospitality and Mateusz for their reputation of being keen vodka drinkers. I had a look around Warsaw (the parks were beautiful) but I used the opportunity of staying in a house to relax (some long vodka assisted sleep ins) and catch up on few things. One of Mateauszs friends knew someone in Pulawy where I could also stay. So after leaving Warsaw, that's where I went and stayed with (a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend) Artur who was again a very good host. But during my stay here, he organised for the local TV station to interview me about my trip, so it's here that I got my 15 minutes of fame. And I think I'm happy to leave it at that. From Pulawy, I kept following the Vistula river and on to Kazimiez and Sandomiez. These were both small, beautiful historic old towns, something I didn't see much north of Warsaw. After battling some insane headwinds, I made it to Krakow. I only had one day in Krakow (and it was raining), but could have easily spent a week here. So I visited the salt mines in Wieliczka and their amazing rock salt carvings. Then, I headed on, but was moved with a visit to the Aushwitz Museum at the preserved sight of the Nazi concentration camp. It's a pretty earie feeling to stand in a gas chamber where thousands of people died....

Today I really hit the Tatra mountians before crossing into Czech. I have missed the deep leg fatigue that only a few hills can bring. Well my trip is fast coming to a close. From here I will make my way to Prague to catch a plane back to London and then will be back in the great southern land in about 3 weeks from now.

   

Picos de Europa


Fuorn


Pain


Rob & Simon


Stelvio

SIMONS PHOTO ALBUM
 

letzte Änderung: 03.10.2004 23:19:17





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