So I thought I’d take the time to mention a few things about this trip that might be useful to others thinking about attempting something similar.
The first thing I would like to say is that I really did not think I would enjoy this trip as much as I do. I am LOVING cycling through the Balkans. I loved Serbia (which I really did not expect, at least not to this extent), the people and the food and the atmosphere are all incredible, it is much more developed than Romania seemed and Bulgaria is.
I didn’t really enjoy Romania at all to be honest, but to be fair we only dipped in for a short time and judged it quite quickly when we were already a little tired, so my opinion might be biased. What I should tell you though, is that the city we were at, Drobeta-Turnu Severin, did not have a town centre, and according to Mike, neither does Bucharest. Instead, the place seemed to only have second hand shops and ATM’s. Almost exclusively.
Bulgaria is not very inviting upon entering it, but the train ride from Vidin to Sofia revealed its unbelievably beautiful landscape with mountains, rivers, forestry, little towns, etc. We were almost tempted to get off the train and cycle all the way to Sofia. Sofia is an alright city, it hasn’t really thrown me off my socks yet though.
And now i would like to get to the bit that might be interesting for anyone wanting to go cycle-touring anywhere.
Here are my top 10 favorite things about this trip so far:
- I get to be outside. All. The. Time. This is a big deal for me because I live in apartment in the center of Vienna and going outside always involves spending money (going for a coffee, shopping, etc.) Basically, you have to go somewhere to be outside when it’s nice. Not on this trip. I am always outside. That fact will occasionally overwhelm me while cycling and I will start yelling like a crazy person “I am outside!!!” It’s a really liberating feeling.
- I exercise every single day (unless we have a rest day), and I usually can’t even tell because it feels more like I am trying to get somewhere rather than be in a gym or doing Insanity at home. And not only that, it trains the whole body for about 8 hours each day. In fresh air.
- I am spending so much quality time with Mike, just us two, talking about all sorts of stuff, without either one of us being distracted by any electronics such as TV or computers, phones, tablets, etc. Some might say a trip like that can put a real strain on a relationship. I think yes, maybe it can, but it hasn’t with us, at least not yet. I love spending so much time with just him.
- I’m usually not around wifi, at least not while we are cycling, and I usually leave my phone turned off. I love not constantly looking at my phone to see whether somebody wrote to me on facebook or any other social media network, or if anybody wants to talk to me. I get to choose when I want that information, it is not always readily available. It just feels so much more free.
- I am learning a lot about myself. Like my physical limits, my mental limits, I am building my confidence having to talk to people whose language I don’t speak, asking them whether we can camp on their grounds, etc.
- I am either much fitter than I thought or it is just that much easier than I expected, but cycling all day is really nowhere near as hard as I was worried it might be. I thought I might at some point want to quit get the train back to Vienna, but I don’t. And I haven’t even thought of it. We do, however, usually overestimate how far we can go in a day and are then disappointed when we don’t make it.
- You get to see so much more than if you were on a train or in a car. We already saw 2 wild tortoises, a wild pig, a lizard mourning the loss of it’s wife and baby (that was really sad, they’d both been run over and the daddy was sitting by their dead bodies and only hurried away when we got too close. At least that’s what we think happened.), we heard wolves, we see stray dogs every day that are really shy but friendly (I am glad I live in Vienna where there are no stray dogs, otherwise I would probably take them all home with me. I found a particularly fluffy one today. I think it liked me.), and you learn to speak with your hands and feet.
- I love the Balkan culture, at least what I have seen so far. Hospitality is sacred, as is family and they pretty much all drink. I love that I get to really experience and soak up such a different mentality to what I am used to. It makes me think Austrians, or at least Viennese people, are really cold, unwelcoming and rude.
- When people ask about our travels, almost everyone is impressed by our tour. I have to say though that if somebody told me they were cycling out route and I wasn’t doing it, I would be impressed to and maybe think they were a little crazy.
- Joel, Grayson, Miles, Dracula, Leah, Devine, Sam, Josie, Wisconsin, Needledick, Scott, Ali, Kate Beckinsale, and all the other amazing people we met in Budapest Grandio Party Hostel. I loved meeting you all and I can’t wait to bump into you again as soon as possible! Giddy up, sluts and Pukahw!
Here are my 5 least favorite things about this trip:
- When Mike is cycling in front of me and then tries to talk to me. Imagine somebody walking three feet away from you, turning their back to you, putting their hand over their mouth and then talking to you without raising their voice. And expecting you to hear it. It is the most unnerving thing.
- Wind. It is frustrating to pedal and work so hard and get nowhere near as far as you could if it wasn’t for the damned wind! It’s fun as long as it’s a tailwind but as soon as it comes from any other direction, it is just hard work! Rain is much, much less annoying than wind.
- People beeping as they drive past. I understand that it’s exciting to see somebody on a fully loaded bike with a trailer, or that you just want to let me know that you are going to be passing me soon, but it scares me every time.
- Carrying the bikes and pannier bags and the basket and my helmet up the stairs into a hotel room. The pannier bags are really not very easy to carry at all.
- Dorm rooms. Especially when they don’t have a shower. What is so hard about whispering at 6 am?!
Here are the things whose usefulness I under- and overestimated. I call them my Underestimatives and my Overestimatives.
- Clothes. So far I have been cycling for about 2 weeks and all I have used are 3 cycle shirts, 2 pairs of padded cycling shorts, 2 sports bras and one pair of shorts to go over the cycling shorts. I brought more than that and I don’t need it. You can basically count on being able to do laundry whenever you stay at a hostel and if you stay in hotels there are usually laundry places around.
- Music. I brought a little speaker, some music on the tablet pc, even a pair of headphones and I have not even used any of those things once to listen to music while cycling. I am too occupied talking to Mike and focusing on getting up that next hill.
- The stove. It is nice to cook when you are wildcamping but you can easily get by without one and they add about 2.5 kg to your baggage, and trust me, those 2.5 kilos make a difference when you are cycling uphill after an already – 80 km day.
- A plastic basin that I brought to wash our stuff and ourselves, we might still end up using it but since we packed it, it has not seen the light of day.
- Our fake wallets. I brought 4 wallets – 2 each for Mike and me. One of them I am currently using, the other one I have in case the first one gets stolen. My fake wallet has nothing in it that I am worried about losing – only expired credit cards, some cards that look like ID’s but aren’t, etc. I keep the stuff I am worried about losing nicely tucked away in a very inconspicuous little bag.The Balkans (at least so far) are not dangerous. We haven’t been pickpocketed or mugged and we were never in a situation where it was likely to happen. Bringing a fake wallet is a good idea but bringing an extra one was unnecessary.
- Sunglasses. Not only do they protect you from the sun, they act as a very efficient “windshield” against things like insects, larger pieces of dust that might fly off a truck passing you, wind, rain, … Definitely do not go cycling without bringing a pair of sunglasses, you will really appreciate their use after the first bug hits them instead of your eye.
- Tissues: They can be used for pretty much anything, ranging from being used as a wet towel to wash yourself to being a substitute for toilet paper, wiping off blood, wrapping stuff in them that’s leaking (like an aluminium tube that broke but has liquid inside it), etc. I cannot stress enough how much I underestimated the use of tissues.
- Dextrose sugars. They usually do the trick if you’re tired, weak, and need a break or if you just need something sweet. The best ones I’ve had are the ones from dm, but get the ones in the tub, not the roll.
- Carrier bags – I use them to separate my clothes into categories so I find what I need easier, we use them to cover our saddles to protect them from getting rained on, as bin bags, and to store the stove.
- My basket that goes on the front of my bike. It is also used for everything and as the bin. It also makes it easy to snack while cycling – I like to get fruit and cut it up (oranges are ideal, apples and pears will do as well although they go brown) into a carrier bag (another use for that :D), and then stick it in my basket so I can just reach forward and eat it.
- Mosquito spray. Bring 3 bottles or more. Trust me. The little bastards are hungrier than you think and they will bite you and some of them are really really big. I can recommend the brand “Nobite”, it really does its job and you can put it on in the morning and will still not get bitten in the evening. (i should get paid for this advert 😉 )
- A wifi and GPS capable device, such as a tablet PC. They can be used as your book, your TV, your computer (to update the blog, for instance) and it is always good to have a “safety net” just in case you get lost. We use our GPS a lot and it always comes in handy, especially telling you how far you have gone, how much time you spent cycling, what time it is, your average and maximum speed, etc.
Those are basically my thoughts on this trip so far. I will probably do another post like that once we get to Corfu as there are quite a few climbs ahead of us and my perspective might change a bit. The most important message I want to convey is: If you are asking yourself “should I go cycle-touring?” my answer is 100% yes. I was worried initially, and despite all my fears, I am loving this and it is an experience I would not want to miss for anything!