Thursday, July 30, 2015

About time

Something that keeps popping up in my thoughts as we cycle most days is how arbitrary time is.

Most of our lives are spent on a 9 til 5 program, or by bells and breaktimes.

All summer we've had very little concept of what time it might be, or even what day of the week. There was very little need to care.

We woke when the sun rose, rested when it was too hot, and enjoyed what we pressumed were evenings. Sometimes we'd guess badly what time it was, or the day, and that just helped us to enjoy our new, although temporary life style even more.

In fact the only way I could tell how many days or weeks we'd been cycling for, was the number of times I needed to shave and the amount if toothpaste we got through.

I think it's time I did some laundry.

MYP reflection- Things that were good about our project.

Most useful things we toured with:
1. Smartphone-
It pains me to admit it but this has been vital. In particular, the routing app 'Scout'. Although we moaned about the occasional quirks of 'Sally' sending us literally up the garden path, it has given me a whole new taste to touring. I love paper maps, but carrying them and going 20km in the wrong direction before realizing, has led me to see that technology is probably the way forward for planning and navigating.
This device was of course great for staying in contact with my family, much to their delight.  Also good for general mindless browsing, hotel booking at very short notice, and games. I would however advise to use caution when checking news headlines,  as it may have the affect of making you not want to leave your room due to the horrendous things that are going on in our world. Thankfully though, I think touring is one of the best things in life, so enjoying ourselves and not worrying should be our priority.

2. Cargo net
Exciting this one. It may look like an inanimate bunch of string, but spreading this over the rear panniers, camping gear and rack, provided convenient access to and attachment of all bits and pieces gathered, or drying during the day.

3. Chamois cream
I won't go into detail,  but suffice to say; its made a whole world of difference.  A bit similar to that Head and Shoulders shampoo advertisement... "but I don't have dandruff"...replace dandruff with...nevermind. If you really want to find out then Google it.

4. Kindle and ipod
Another tech recommdation, who'd have thought it. These two mini things probably saved kilos when compared to their old skool equivalents.  Having cycled most of Australia's east coast with a CD case the size of a family photo album in my Bob trailer,  plus a few books stuffed in for good measure.... well don't even think about being nostalgic.

5. My Brooks saddle and Niamh's gel saddle.
See number 3 on this list. But specific respect must also be given to these.

Also noteworthy- Flashing red rear light for tunnels. Sweets- lots and various. Industrial strength sun cream,  especially for the Irish.

NB: If I had labelled this post as the 'most important' things for touring with, then I would say that Niamh is quite clearly number one (though she does indeed have her uses). Companionship, shared challenges, laughs, reality when things or people around us were insane,  her spirited motivation and determination which drove me on too. She really made this tour my favorite ever. If you are planning a tour yourself,  then get yourself a Niamh- not mine though.

Next post- least useful...things I need to improve....what I have learned.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

No Greek crisis

Niamh and I have made it to Thessaloniki. 2000km's from northwest Italy, through 9 countries.

An amazing journey of azure waters, steep climbs, tranquil forests and scorching plateaus.

We are now enjoying a bit of luxury and fine wine, craft beers and global whisky, before Niamh flies home. 

I start the final section to Asia tomorrow morning- 800km in 7 days to Istanbul. Looking forward to meeting up with my Mum and Phil and the Turkish border.

We have both really enjoyed this tour, so I am sure that there will be more to come together. Baku to Istanbul, or the other way next summer, anyone want to get involved?

That would leave only 2 (massive) stages left to feel that I have really cycled around this little planet of ours.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Cycling through Albania, Kosovo and you do!?!

Turning inland from Montenegro's busy beach resorts which were full of Serbian holiday makers, probably still a bit peeved with the loss of their coastline, we knew that there would be a lot of hilly land ahead.

Arriving in Albania's 5th biggest city, Shkroder before 3pm, we couldn't believe what a pleasant ride it had been, along a country lane, across the border checkpoint and then down into the lakeside city. We immediately liked Albania but could not ignore the piles of rubbish everywhere. It must be a cultural thing catalysed by rapid economic growth and disposable living.  We both swore never to litter again.

I was anxious about how we would make it from here to Kosovo and decent paved roads.  I quickly learned during this trip that my road bike is just not tough enough for touring, so I feared what we would find. I was therefore keen to pick up the Koman ferry which would take us north (no closer to Thessaloniki where Niamh will finish her ride, nor Istanbul where I will).

The journey on the ferry was stunning, along fjord like water and steep sided 1000m valleys. Apparently the 3rd most beautiful boat ride in the world.  I'm not sure of the others though. Arriving in Fierze we had a stroke of luck finding a van driver who would take us north across the Kosovan border.  He was a nice guy, who charged a reasonable price and took us to a nice enough hotel ('Europe' see third country flag in photo) in the lovely city of Djakove.

Kosovo was a surprise to me.  I had not really looked into this part of the trip much, so I didn't know what to expect.  We discovered that Kosovo was buzzing with new found prosperity and hope. The people seemed happy and excited and so they should be. They have had their share of troubles and hardship.Prizren showed us that they intend to celebrate it, packing the pretty old cobbled streets full for Eid.

We also noticed the heat. Now we know that Togo is hot and sticky and Tashkent scorching and dry, but this was blistering from above and from the road surface. So the brief respite in the mountains to the East was welcomed. We conquered some tough climbs and sang our way down to a one horse village which miraculously still had an operating motel.

The next day we soared along fairly flat roads with the help of the first tailwind for 3 countries and crossed the border into Macedonia at midday. It got hotter still as we entered the capital city Skopje.  I had a funny turn due to the heat and a long search for the apartment we had rented for the night. After a craft beer or three and a Chinese meal I was right as rain again.  With clean clothes and after a quick visit to a clinic for Niamh's sun related ailment, we set off south again. It hit 40c before midday and continued to get hotter and hotter as we reached Veles and checked into an overpriced highway motel. We shouldn't have cycled to it being on the motorway, but needs must. 42c- nuts. We then woke early for a fairly short ride to Negotino, a small town in the Tikves wine region 44c- crazy. All we could manage to do in this heat was to eat bad pizza, drink local wine and sleep in our air conditioned room.

Today we woke even earlier, hitting the road before 7am and before the ball of fire in our faces started to hurt. Attempting to shorten the ride a little and to make a good start to the morning's km's,  we were stopped by the police for being on the highway.  Promising to get off immediately,  we continued on the highway making good progress.  Our sat nav system,  which we have called Sally due to her bossy and righteous posh tone, told us to turn right,  so we did. 20km's down a shocking dirt road we rejoyced tarmac again and made our way to a hillside hotel near Valandovo, where we are now chilling next to a pool with dodgy power ballads as a soundtrack.

Only a few more cycling days to the coast where we will rest for a few days before Niamh flies back to Ireland for her good friends wedding.

It now feels like it has been a long ride. In terms of continuous days it has indeed been my longest. Traveling together though has made it fun and even relaxing.  I know that we have experienced so much and will no doubt have little visions flashing back images of random towns and things we have witnessed.  It has been a pretty amazing journey. 

Monday, July 13, 2015

A visual summary of the last week

Not much to say about the most recent stage of our ride that the following photos cannot convey....

It has been wonderful. Some stunning rides. Croatia treated us well and we must come back one day. The bikes behaved themselves and it was sunny every day. We are now in Montenegro and excited about the unknown ahead of us in Albania and Kosovo. 

On schedule,  feeling fit and enjoying our holiday.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Niamh's Homework

Phew! It's been a busy few days which is why we haven't updated for a while. Let's see if we can remember what we've done....

We left Monfalcone in Italy and had our first border crossing of the trip into Slovenia. Joy soon turned to tears (not really) when Matt realised he had some BIG problems with his rear wheel. He had a 1cm hole in the rim and some broken spokes. No bike shops open so we soldiered on carefully. Then the first big hills of the trip made for a puffing, panting and swearing Niamh....seriously, I was not impressed. All was forgotten when we arrived at the lovely Dujceva campsite in Skoflje with host Emilijana. Next morning, we strolled to the impressive Skocjan caves before cycling a half day to Ilirska Bistrica where we over-ate and relaxed for the evening.

The following day brought a super easy 30km downhill ride to Volosko where the bike saviour fixed Matt's wheel and gave both bikes a full service. This took an extra day so we had no choice but to have a rest day in Volosko, swimming in crystal clear waters and sampling Istrian touring is bloody tough sometimes.

With the bikes fighting fit it was onward and UPWARD to Senj, via an unexpectedly hilly Rijeka. Amazing views of the islands at sunset made up for the hard day. The next morning began with a 15km climb from sea level to 800 metres and then on to Babin Potok near Plitvice National Park. Our kind host directed us towards a back door entrance to the park which we used the next day. Waterfalls and turquoise waters, more stunning than anticipated and all for free...bit naughty really. The picture below doesn't do it justice as it's a photo of a photo...thanks to Matt's prehistoric sd card.

Anyway, then came the time for a 3 day slog back over the mountains to the coast. We have just arrived in Gracac and the 80km today was actually more pleasant than expected.  Now reposing in an apartment all to ourselves where the owners just drove us to an atm, did our laundry and gave us strudel -another result!

My turn to write the blog was well overdue. I've been promised crisps if I finish my homework. Enjoy the photos while I go reap my crunchy reward.