It’s hard to believe we’ve been home for almost 3 months now. It still feels like just a few days ago we were halfway across the world. Hopefully now that things have settled down some we will be able to slowly fill you all in on our trip from Berlin onward. But before we get started on that, a little bit about being home.
The first couple days after arriving back in Atlanta were a whirlwind of seeing friends and family who we hadn’t seen in a long time. We had a little party to get people together and catch up which was really nice. We wanted to serve some of our favorite foods from the trip so we ran all over the city and managed to find an awesome Turkish-Balkan grocery store not too far away! It was really cool to see all the now familiar foods from the trip and we were able to get some fresh breads and homemade Burek! (we were pretty excited). We had a great time getting to see everyone who was able to come to our party, and not nearly enough time to catch up with everyone there.
After the first couple weeks of just getting our lives back together again things went pretty much back to normal for me (Haegan) back working and riding my bike just like I had been before. Autumn got to catch up with some of the kids she used to babysit, but pretty soon she was getting ready for the next adventure, heading off to school. In between all that we got to hang out and ride bikes some and Autumn did her first bike race! (which I failed to get a picture of…) And just like that 3 weeks flew by and she was off to school.
Autumn is up at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minniesnowduh. It’s a long way away, but luckily just two and a half weeks after she left I was able to find a $30 round trip flight and surprised her by visiting for the weekend. She was pretty shocked (and still half asleep with no contacts in) when I showed up thanks to some help keeping it a secret from her roommate. Those first few weeks were really hard for both of us, it’s a strange transition to go from not spending more than 3 hours away from someone for 5 months to not seeing them at all. I was left trying to figure out what to do day to day to keep busy and Autumn was overwhelmed with so many new things. When we originally got home and thought back, we could only think of a handful of times where we were apart for more than a few minutes (which makes me wonder how we didn’t kill each other, but we didn’t) so it has been a process adjusting to the whole long distance thing.
I was prompted to write this having just come back from spending a week visiting for fall break . The 16 hour 1100 mile drive back left me thinking about the trip and how much I miss the slow paced travel on the bikes. We are already looking forward to some future trips once we recuperate some savings from the last trip. It was great to get up to visit for more than just two days and actually get a chance to see some of the surrounding area. We got to go visit Autumn’s home town (and old house) in Northfield and see some of the Twin Cities. I was a bit late to see fall in full effect, but the trees had just turned and it was still quite pretty.
Hopefully one of these days we will catch up on some back-dated posts about all the other amazing things we saw and did (I have a journal detailing every day to help remind us) Thanks so much to everyone who followed along from home and everyone we met along the way, it wouldn’t have been the same without you all!
That’s all for now, we are both alive and well and back to our normal lives as we continue to plan for more extraordinary adventures as soon as possible!
I miss my bicycle. It’s been 20 days since we sent them home, just shy of 3 weeks. If I remember correctly this is the longest I have gone without riding since I really started to ride regularly, almost 6 years ago. I’m really ready to be back on my bike, not carrying all my possessions with me and trying to get back in shape for some racing this fall. I’ve missed this type of riding since we left and am excited to be back at it in a few more weeks (but 6 whole weeks of no riding! AGH! I’m not sure how I will survive) I think it’s also a sign of being almost ready to be home. We’ve been away a long time and, although I am still excited for the remaining weeks of the trip, I think we are both ready to be home soon. It’s a strange feeling to have. Both excitement for what remains and excitement for it to be done. I’m almost ready to go back to routine: to have my own room that is always there, a kitchen, a roof over my head that is constant. Returning home will be so different from the past few months, yet so familiar. I’ve been rather surprised at how long it has taken to get to this point. Before leaving on this trip I had never been away from home for more than three weeks, and now 4 months later I am just starting to be ready to head home. When we left I figured that at some point I would run into homesickness, but honestly at this point I am not sure that I will. I’m ready to be home when the time comes but I don’t think I will get to the point of thinking I want to be home until we are at the end of the trip. We’ve kept busy, seen amazing things and met so many great people that I haven’t had much opportunity to miss home. I can barely believe we have already been gone for 130 days, it feels like only a little while ago that we were in Turkey wondering why on earth we had decided to do this.
Every part of the trip has been incredible. Sure there have been some low points and times that were really tough but I don’t think there is much I would change. After the first few days we found ourselves thinking “why did we start in Istanbul, that was a terrible idea.” but now I think that was one of the best choices we made on the trip. Without starting in Turkey we wouldn’t have seen some of the most amazing things on the trip and would have missed out on meeting so many great people. It was only by starting in Istanbul that we ended up riding through the Balkans, which were some of our favorite places of the whole trip. This trip has sparked so many new ideas for places to go and future trips that we may have never known about without going into this trip with so little preparation and so little idea of what we were doing.
Another unexpected product of the trip has been making us both excited for all that we can do when we get home. Being unable to work on the things we enjoy doing has been hard for sure, but it has renewed my passion for really working hard at them when I get home. I’m so excited to be able to come home and get back into the workshop and practice my welding and build more frames. And I can tell how excited Autumn is to be back in the studio making jewelry. It’s great to realize that i’m going to be so busy when I get home, working, learning, training, and racing and also know that I’m going to enjoy it that much more having taken a break for a while.
Crossing into Germany was so understated that we weren’t even sure if we had crossed a border. We had been riding along the Elbe river all morning and continued tot do so all afternoon. It’s a beautiful river lined by tall dark trees, just as I had pictured Germany in my head. We soon learned that it was a holiday, again. Herrentag, or man’s day, is one of the more rambunctious holidays of the year and generally consists of groups of men getting together and filling a wagon with beer before walking around all day drinking and singing. We saw some pretty decked out wagons, one even had a dartboard and soundsystem. We met another tourist named Klaus and rode with him in the afternoon to a campsite in Dresden. Because of the coming long weekend the campsite was pretty full but luckily mostly of caravans. The caravans everywhere were really common all through Germany. It seems that half the country is caravaning on any given weekend. At the campsite we met Enrico and Samantha who were on a weekend tour through Saxony. We got to chatting with them and they invited us to stay with them in Berlin when we got there!
We spent the morning of the next day wandering around Dresden which is a really cute little city. The Altstadt, or Old Town, lies on the southern side of the river. It’s beautiful city which is, unfortunately, mostly reconstructed due to the bombing of the city in the final months of WWII. The standouts for me were the Frauenkirche, Dresden Castle, and Zwinger. The Frauenkirche was closed for the afternoon because of some sort of rehearsal, but the outside is still very beautiful. The Dresden Castle is now a museum home to many royal artifacts. We especially wanted to go see the Historic Green Vault which is a Baroque treasure room that was open to the public when it was first built, making it one of Europe’s oldest museums. Unfortunately it is very popular and the tickets were sold out for the whole day when we arrived. The building itself is still stunning and we were able to walk around through the courtyards on the inside.
Zwinger was quite cool. The building itself is very ornate and has lots of statues but the garden in the center is the cool part about it. The garden isn’t the biggest we have seen but it was really nice and had some interesting landscaping.
We crossed over to the Neustadt, New Town, for the afternoon. It is home to the university and has a very college town feel to it. We spent some time in a nice little cafe working on the blog. Autumn ordered an iced coffee, but as we have found there is always a bit of guessing when it comes to ordering things in another country. Apparently in some places in Germany an ice coffee is actually an ice-cream coffee. We spent a little while wandering around and checked out Kunstofpassage, an art installation on the way out. We were tipped off by a friend of Autumn’s that it was a must see and it certainly was.
The next day was spent continuing north along the Elbe. The Elbe is a wide, murky river lined by beautiful trees, green as far as one can see. We followed the bike path along the bank, no hills, no cars. It made for a very relaxing day.Eventually we turned away from the river to stay north. We picked up another river and rolled into Bad Liebenwerda just as it started to drizzle. As we searched for a place to camp or even a cheap room for rent with no luck the rain started to pick up a bit. Just when we thought we were going to have to camp in some random field by the train tracks we decided to try one more place and asked some firefighters who were taking down stuff from a festival. We were quickly invited to the station to sleep and to attend their annual barbecue! We had a great time hanging out with the guys from the station and chatting with Martin who has been a volunteer at the station for 15 years, since he was 11. We even got to go up in the ladder truck 30 meters in the air!
The next day was pretty uneventful but more really nice riding. We spent the day in and out of the forests on little bike roads. We rode through at a great time of year, everything was green and just starting to bloom. It’s really nice to just be out in the middle of nowhere between cities and just enjoy the countryside. We enjoyed our last day of really being in the country before heading into Berlin and then on to Western Europe.
The ride into Berlin was easy considering the massive size of the city. We made our way to our new friends apartment and hung out in another cafe to get a blog post up WOOHOO! One of the first things we noticed as we came into Berlin was the amount of greenspace everywhere. So many parks with big common areas and lots of trees. It makes the city feel a lot less overwhelming and more homey.
Our first day in Berlin was a bit overwhelming at the start. The city is so big and is divided up into 12 boroughs each with it’s own feel. We started our day off in the center (Mitte) to see a few of the most famous landmarks. The Brandenburg Tor which is considered the symbol of Berlin is right in the center and we could see the line showing where the wall cut of access to it from the eastern side of the city.We spent a while just wandering around the center admiring the historic buildings.
After spending some time in Mitte we caught a train towards Kruezberg and Friedrichshain to see something a bit less touristy. We really liked this area, much less overwhelming and felt like a place where people really lived. I think that one of the nicest parts about living in Berlin has to be all the public greenspace. There were tons of people hanging out with friends by the river or in Volkspark as well as jogging, rollerblading, riding bikes and playing beach volleyball.
We also went and was the East Side Gallery which is a very cool public art installation on parts of the former wall. A lot of it has been defaced by graffiti which is sad but what remains is really cool. It includes murals by artists from around the world about the period of change and hope following the fall of the wall.
Our next day we revisited Mitte with some specific thing we wanted to see. Even though it can be a crazy tourist trap, we had to go see Checkpoint Charlie. This is one of the crossing pints of the wall that was manned by US military. They actually had a really cool free exhibit with history about the wall and Cold War Berlin. We learned a lot. From there we saw a large remaining section of the wall that has been preserved.
We walked along the line that the wall used to follow to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe which is an eerie installation of 2711 concrete slabs ranging in height from 8 inches to 15 feet. Walking through them is very disconcerting. (which was the idea of the installation, there is no symbolism only the goal to make the viewer feel uncomfortable) We went to the attached information center which gives a detailed and horifying account of the events leading up to the holocaust and the practices of the Nazi regime. I think one of the more powerful exhibits was a collection of victims last letters and postcards sent to loved ones. The one that really stuck with me was that of a 12 year old girl to her father
I amsaying goodbye to you before I die. We would so love to live, but they won’t let us and we will die. I am so scared of this death, because the small children are thrown alive into the pit. Goodbye forever. I kiss you tenderly.
The memorial is haunting and makes you feel the weight of the history by reinforcing the fact that each of these 6 million victims had a story, a history, and a family.
We spent the evening making curried turkey (oops we don’t read German very well…) with our awesome hosts Enrico and Samantha who we had met earlier in the week at a campsite. We had a great time staying with them and hope to see them again someday!
The next day we said goodbye to our hosts and set out to find Knopke’s Currywurst for lunch (we had tried previously and ended up at the wrong place. The currywurst was not as curry flavored as we had expected but was still good.
We spent the afternoon in Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg again just walking around.We were a bit late getting back to the apartment to grab our stuff and trying to catch our bus was really stressful. We made it with 2 minutes to spare and luckily were able to convince the driver that our bikes really would fit. The bus ride was pretty uneventful and we woke up at 6 am on the other side of the country.
We’re very behind on the blogging and we’re very sorry about that… We have very little down time now so it’s been hard to find time to write. I’m going to try to catch everyone up through the Czech Republic, here we go:
So in the last post I mentioned we slept in Slovakia, and then the next morning we crossed back into Hungary to see the Esztergom Basilica. After seeing the Basilica and eating delicious Hungarian food, we crossed back over to Slovakia on April 30th and started our riding for the day. We realized that morning that we’d left our tiny, adorable traveling French press in Hungary and I almost broke up with Haegan. I’m kidding (mostly). It rained a bit that day and we saw lots of other tourists who we enthusiastically greeted. They didn’t seem to want to talk much though and we realized that we’d now crossed into countries where bicycle touring is very common. The awesome bike paths continued and eventually we ended in Velky Meder at a bar where we hoped we could ask around to find a place to stay the night. Turns out the bar had rooms for rent so we were set.
It was raining the next morning and we didn’t have very far to go to Bratislava so we spent the morning drooling over long missed items like tortillas and curry paste at the local supermarket. (Billa is awesome). We left and found ourselves on long straight paths with a wind directly against us. We took frequent breaks but still managed to get to Bratislava in good time. We went to a hostel and found they were booked for the night. So we went to another hostel and found that they, along with every other hostel in the city, was also booked. The cheapest hotel was well out our range so we hung out in Wild Elephant Hostel to use the wifi, desperately trying to find a place to stay. What had totally forgotten was that it was May Day weekend, so everyone was taking a holiday, and had booked their rooms weeks in advance. As we were searching WarmShowers and CouchSurfing, we started talking to Sarah and Sam, who are also from the US, but are working/studying in Austria. They offered to share a bed to free another bed up for us. We checked it with the owner who said it was fine, and we couldn’t tell Sarah and Sam how grateful we were. Not too long after we made the arrangement, there was a cancellation so they got to keep their beds and Haegan and I shared the one free twin bed in all of Slovakia. We went out with Sarah and Sam that night to see the fireworks over the river. It was really nice to talk to them and we were both inspired by how much they’ve done even though they’re not much older than us. The next day we toured around Bratislava: accidently spent about 3 hours at the museum in Bratislava Castle, saw Michael’s Gate, Church of St. Elisabeth, St. Martin’s Cathedral, and walked around the old city.
That night we went to dinner with some friends we made from the hostel. Look at this giant vessel of beer:
The next day we said goodbye to everyone at the hostel (Wild Elephants has been one of our favorites so far) and rode to Devin Castle before heading Vienna. Devin Castle is about 15km outside of Bratislava right on the Danube River, built on a cliff. The castle was first built in the 9th century and was continually fortified by different groups for the next 6 centuries.
It is very strange to be able to ride from a major city in one country, to another major city in a different country in one day. Bizarre. The riding was actually kind of boring, although very very safe as we were on paths far from roads most of the way. When we crossed from Slovakia to Austria (on a pedestrian bridge no less) we found wide open fields with beautiful views.
The bike infrastructure seems to be getting better and better as we go, and Vienna did not disappoint, although a bit confusing direction wise, navigating the city felt safe on a bike. The hostel we found was very nice, very clean and a really nice kitchen which we didn’t use that night because we needed cheap Chinese food.
The next day we were completely overwhelmed by everything that there is to see in Vienna. First we walked to the Schonbrunn Palace and walked around the (free) garden.
We started walking back to the center and realized that if we tried to see the whole city by foot it would take too long and we’d be exhausted. So we got day passes for the public transit and saw St. Stephen’s Cathedral and the Belvedere Palace.
The Belvedere Palace has a large collection of paintings by Gustav Klimt, including The Kiss. The museum was a little more than we usually like to pay for sights but completely worth it to see all the paintings we saw. Here are three of our favorites:
Napoleon at the St. Bernard Pass- Jacques-Louis David
The Kiss- Gustav Klimt
Fritza Riedler- Gustav Klimt
The Kiss was absolutely incredible, I don’t think I’ve ever been so enticed by a painting. I waited about 20 minutes for a guided group to leave so I could look at it full on, and I was very glad I waited. It’s rather hard to explain, it’s not a feeling I have words for.
After learning all of Austrian history through paintings we went to Hundertwasser, a collection of funkily decorated and designed buildings.
We then just hopped on the trams and rode around until we saw something we wanted to see up close. It didn’t take very long and we got off to see Karlskirche.
After a long day of sightseeing we made dinner at the hostel and got ready to make our three day ride to Prague.
The first day was quite beautiful, open sky and giant fields of yellow flowers, and very very flat. Overall, pretty uneventful and that night we stayed with the Leutgeb family in Eggenburg, Austria. We had a really nice time talking with Eva and Lisa, and they recommended stopping in Telč, Czech Republic.
We were up very early the next morning and walked around Eggenburg a bit before heading out. That day was very slow for us, and we weren’t really sure why. Despite our sluggishness we made it to Telč that evening. The next morning we toured around the city, climbed an old bell tower, and walked near the river. Telč is a cute little city, and we enjoyed our morning there.
We rode 100 km that day through the beautiful Czech countryside.
Although long, this was probably one my favorite days of riding. On of the descents we turned a corner to see the sun was setting over the hills and fields, a view that made me feel both comfort and awe at the same time. I stopped to take a few pictures as Haegan continued down… maybe stopped a little too long as he started to get worried. Worth it though:
We rode into a little village and stopped outside the town bar where many people were outside to ask about a place to set up our tent. We were invited to set up our tent in the yard of an apartment building right next to the bar. After getting set up we went to the bar, Czech beer is supposed to be very good, so we had heard. We walked in and just so happened to be standing next to the one person in the bar who spoke English. We sat with Ota and had a great time chatting with him. He plays the piano and sings, so he was the jukebox for the night. We got to hear some Czech songs and few American ones too. We felt so lucky to be there, the sausage was good, the beer was good, and the company made the day one of our favorites. Ota invited us to have breakfast with him and his family the next morning, which we were happy to accept.
We met Ota’s wife, Lucie, and their two kids Jaro and Maruska the next morning while we tried some Czech cakes and homemade jams made by Lucie. We decided to spend the day relaxing and hanging out with them. We found out that they actually live in Prague but Lucie’s family is from the village we were in so they spend the weekends there. They invited to stay with them in Prague, and again, we couldn’t believe how lucky we were to run into such generous people.
The next day we rode to Prague and met up Ota and Lucie later that evening. They helped us plan out what we should see in the city and the next morning we walked with Lucie to the train to get to the center. We got to the center pretty early, before many places were open, and before there were many tourists. Again, I’ll let some of the pictures do the talking here:
We met up with Lucie in the afternoon and went grocery shopping to get some things so we could make dinner for the family. With mixing and mashing assistance from Jaro and Maruska, grill help from Ota, and kitchen guidance from Lucie, we made pork chops, mashed potatoes, and Southern biscuits. It took us a little longer than we had hoped (we get rather excited about cooking in full kitchens), but we enjoyed spending time with the family.
The next day we set out again for the city and saw the main sights of the Jewish part of Prague. We were able to buy a pass for all four synagogues plus the cemetery and took the better part of the day.
I learned a lot from the exhibits in the old synagogues (I think Haegan learned some too), and the memorial in the Pinkas Synagogue had me pretty close to tears. The walls inside the synagogue are covered with the names of the families from The Czech Repulic that were murdered during the Holocaust. The sheer number of names was overwhelming, it made me feel very small and very helpless. To see the names listed on the wall is such a powerful visual of the tragedy of the Holocaust.
The rest of day we just wandered around and walked up to the Metronome to get a great view of city.
The next day we said goodbye to Ota, Lucie, Jaro, and Maruska, and left to make our way to Germany. The rest of the riding through the Czech Republic was really nice, the bike paths were very well maintained and as we got closer to Germany we started passing more and more tourists. More to come soon…
Now that we have embarked on the second half of the trip, we thought we should spend a little time reflecting on the trip so far. Berlin makes for a perfect halfway point for our trip. It is known for being trapped between east and west, straddling two cultures. Within our trip it provides a center over which our trip can reflect. We began at the very edge of Europe, right at the border with Asia. Berlin marks the beginning of Western Europe and we will end our trip once again at the edge of Europe, the begining of Africa.
As I write this we are sitting on a night bus on our way to Cologne and it feels a bit wrong. It’s in every way the opposite of how we have been traveling up until now and neither of us really likes it. Out the window all I see is black and even in the daylight it would be whizzing by at 120 km/hr. Tonight we will cover the same distance we would normally ride in a bit over two weeks. It’s a bit hard to imagine really. We won’t meet anyone, we won’t have any stories and we won’t see much, even if we look. This isn’t to say traveling by bus or train is so terrible, it’s certainly not and is necessary for us to do what we want to do but after the first half it is really different. I can speak for both of us in saying that we have enjoyed traveling by bike even more than we imagined. Sure, it’s hard at times and were often tired at the end of the day but there is nothing else that can really compare. It’s an awesome feeling to look at a map and be able to trace from Istanbul to Berlin through all the countryside and small towns and have a memory for each place. What it looked like, how the weather was that day, people who live there, what it smelled like; every detail is there for as long as you can hold on to it.
The cities we’ve been to have been amazing. The architecture, history and sites to see are really really cool but without the people you meet any city could be just about anywhere. Of course they are differnt and have their history but you don’t get a sense of what a country is without getting to talk to people who live there. We have been lucky enough to meet some really incredible people along the way. People have graciously invited us into their home, talked with us, given us great tips on where to go and what to see and through all of this taught us what it means to be from the place they are from. Our gratitude for all these interactions, small or large, is more than we can write. It’s been the trip of a lifetime already and we are only halfway done.
In the past 6 weeks we have also learned a lot about how to travel and how to do so by bike. We joked the other day that this trip is really just a trip to learn how to travel, but it has a lot of truth to it. (My mother will be beaming as she reads this as I suppose it proves she has been right all along) We have both learned to really put ourselves out there as a result of this trip. Before we left I would never have felt comfortable greeting a random stranger who may or may not speak the same language as me and asking if it would be ok for us to set up our tent and sleep in their yard. These days it’s a pretty regular thing. And even more surprising is how positive the response tends to be. More often than not people go out of their way to help us. It doesn’t matter if they know exactly what we are saying or we know what they are saying. The majority of people are really good people.
I would imagine a lot of people are wondering how Autumn and I are doing after spending 6 weeks being constantly together. I can tell you it’s pretty rough to be stuck with her allllll the time. (We figured a week ago that we probably haven’t spent more than 2 hours apart since the trip started) It seems pretty overwhelming but really it’s not to bad. We have 5 hours a day on the bike usually and don’t have to spend the whole time interacting. We spend enough time in our own heads just thinking or relaxing that we get along just fine most of the time. Sure we get in some fights but honestly a lot fewer than you would imagine after spending so long around someone. It’s actually been really nice to be traveling together. We spend a lot of time solidifying our thoughts by bouncing them back and forth. Autumn says that she sees the things that keep us entertained and I see the things that keep us alive. It’s a good balance really. Often it works out well that we think really differently as our skill sets don’t overlap too much and we can acomplish a lot of things.
We are really going to miss traveling almost exclusively by bike (I promise, Autumn said so too) and the experiences that come with it but we are really looking forward to the rest of the trip. Lots more great places to go and tons of people out there to meet. As always, if you know someone where we are headed who might want to meet up let us know!