Tag Archives: bicycletouring

Let’s see, where were we?

I think we were somewhere in Germany in our last post from the trip. Getting off a bus at 6 am in Cologne if I’m not mistaken. I know it’s been a long since we have updated with anything from the trip itself, but the second half was so good and so different that we want to make sure we share it with you. We continued our trend of seeing amazing things and meeting awesome people right up until the very end.

It turns out that in a college town like Cologne, there’s not much happening at 6 am, so we sat around the main square for a while waiting for things to open up. We found that at the train station there was a bike check where you pay 25 cents to have your bike stored for the day which was pretty awesome! The most famous site in Cologne that we had to go see was the  cathedral, or the Dom. It towers over the city in incredible gothic style and was one of the more impressive churches we visited.

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The Cologne Cathedral (with a little Podzim for scale)

We spent a while at an ancient roman site that has been turned into a museum, walked across the bridge which was covered in love locks and then rode a little ways up the river to camp.

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Stained glass in the cathedral
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So.Many.Lovelocks.
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We excitedly bought some chips and salsa, as it had been months since we had any. It was a bit underwhelming. (think marinara sauce)

Halfway through our ride the next day we met a group of older germans on a bike trip and in talking to one of them were told that w had to go see Xantan, an old roman camp and city. It wasn’t too far and sounded really cool (we’re both pretty into the Roman Empire) so we headed that way. On the way we ended up making some new friends in Krefeld after getting invited to a birthday party while trying to find a place to sleep. We had a lot of fun (maybe a little too much…) and it was really nice to be around people our own age but not at a hostel for once! The next morning when we were in no state to ride the remaining 60 km to Xantan, Tobi offered to drive us up there! We loaded the bikes and all our stuff into the little car and made our way up to Xantan. Thanks Marta, Laura, Tobi and everyone else for the hospitality!

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Bikes loaded up

We thought we would be able to spend a couple hours checking out the Roman Museum and then head to Utrecht, but we severely underestimated. The museum was really really good and HUGE. We must have spent at least 5 hours between the museum, incredibly preserved baths and reconstructed buildings.

 

Over the remains of the baths

 

Corinthian pillars

 

 

The arena

By this time we realized that we weren’t gonna make it all the way to Utrecht, but we did realize we had crossed into the Netherlands when the road changed to this:

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Is it a road? Or a bike path with a car lane?

The next day we made it into Utrecht and headed to Snel Tweewilers to meet up with Hera who we had previously met in Macedonia and had just completed her trip back to The Netherlands from Southeast Asia. she had arranged for us to stay with a friend who is the 3rd generation owner of a bike shop in Utrecht. It was great to meet Peter and Marion and spend the evening eating great home-cooked food and talking about bikes and travel. The next day Hera toured us around the city, showing us all the sites and the conservatory she had attended.

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#sodutch
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Apparently these things drive on the bike paths
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Peter and I with one of their own brand of bikes
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A garden next to the Dom

We stayed at a campsite on the edge of the city that used to be an old fort and had a really cool restaurant in the old fort building. We also had some awesome dutch apple pie for breakfast.

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yum

 

We rode into Amsterdam and to the Prinsengracht, one of the famous canals which rings the city center and met up with Johannes, a friend of a track racing buddy of mine who had moved to Amsterdam a few years before but was unfortunately out of town. We left our stuff at the house and wandered around for a while before heading over to the Van Gogh Museum. We had read that it’s best to go really early or late to avoid the long lines and sure enough we spent almost no time waiting to get in. The museum was really well done and had some very cool pieces. I especially enjoyed the first floor which was a collection of his self portraits which were usually practice pieces and often painted on both sides of canvasses to save money. Here are a few standouts from the museum courtesy of the internet:

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Almond Blossoms
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Landscape at Twilight
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Bridge in the Rain

After the museum we wandered around some more in the city center and surrounding area. The canals make for a really beautiful city that is unlike any other we had visited.

By chance one of our Decatur classmates happened to be in Amsterdam for the weekend while she was on exchange so we met up with her in the morning to go to the Anne Frank house. The line is always long so we got there 30 minutes before it opened but still had to wait over an hour and a half to get in. Even with tons of people packed around us walking through the empty rooms in which the Frank family hid was really powerful. I can’t even imagine all of them being crammed in those tiny rooms with dark blinds drawn all day. Afterwards we wandered around a bit more and saw the cathedral and the new church (which isn’t particularly new…) before getting some good indian food. We were advised by all the dutch people we talked to to avoid dutch food and instead try some of their really good ethnic food which did not disappoint. As the farthest north point of our trip it was light until almost 9:45 so we walked around some more after dinner.

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Deliveries by boat
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beautiful canals

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Traditional houses along the canals
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the famous i amsterdam sign

The next day I joined Johannes for a ride with RIH Sport, a local bicycle frame builder in celebration of the Giro de Italia. It was an awesome day on the bike of beautiful scenery, good company and some classic dutch mountains (AKA strong, strong, wind)

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Johannes new RIH touring bike
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Lester’s workshop (the builder behind RIH)
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Typical scenery in Waterland

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After I rode and Autumn finished some stuff for school we went to the Red Light District and took a tour at the Prostitute Information Center which was really interesting. The center was founded by a former prostitute and the tours are usually given by former prostitutes. (Our tour guide however was just someone who had studied the history of prostitution) It focuses a lot on the issues that prostitutes face business wise in Amsterdam. I would highly recommend the tour, very interesting. We got Surinamese food for dinner and enjoyed the city at night again. The next day Johannes rode with us in the rain to Haarlem where we said goodbye and picked up a path south along the coast to Den Hague. It we made it to the Atlantic ocean and then slowly trudged south in the cold windy rain. By the time we arrived at Robert and Ellen’s house we were thrilled to be out of the rain. We weren’t really sure what to think about them before we arrived because we were put in touch with them by a friend who had been an au pair in the Netherlands and from all we had heard the family she was with had been horrible and mean to her and she ended up leaving early. By this point in the trip though if someone offered us a place to stay we would pretty much take it, no questions asked. When we got there Robert was surprisingly nice and seemed very American and there didn’t seem to be any kids. We were quite confused by just talked timidly and tried to rationalize the situation to ourselves. It wasn’t until the next morning talking with both of them that we realized our mistake. This was not the family that our friend had au paired with, rather they were the ones who saved her from the people she had been with and let her stay with them for the last few months. Once we realized that we stopped tiptoeing around and had great time chatting with them! Before catching a train to Brugge we got to stop by the MC Escher museum which was pretty incredible.

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This and super windy for miles and miles
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We made it to the Atlantic!
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This is the cup of coffee you need after all day in the rain
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A few favorites from the museum

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We barely made our train on the way to Brugge but we got there and headed out. More from Belgium and beyond to come!

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Germany through Berlin

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!

Is this a border?

Everything is so green!
 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.

The Castle

Potato and wurst soup

Zwinger

The garden
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!

Our friends at the firestation in Bad Liebenwerda
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.

Through the woods

Ahh we are almost there!
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.

Brandenburg Tor
   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.

Autumn enjoys some pizza

Scary swans by the river
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.

A section of the wall

Checkpoint Charlie
 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

Dear 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.

Yours J.

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.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
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!

Saying goodbye to our hosts, Enrico and Samantha
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.

Currywurst
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.

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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.

Fireworks on the Danube
St. Michael’s gate

    

The Church of St. Elizsabeth
Communist art

 

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.

Ruins of a Roman church
The Maiden’s Tower

 

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.

International pedestrian bridge

Cyclist counter

 

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.

The palace
Giant fountain
View from the top of the hill

 

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.

A different church
The cathedral
And the exterior
In the palace
The palace garden

 

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.

World War II paintings by Jewish artists- both on the church

    

We rode 100 km that day through the beautiful Czech countryside.

Another border
Wide open space

 

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.

Ota on the keyboard

 

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.

Veronica is a pro dandelion chain maker
Šarka invited us for breakfast the day we left for Prague

 

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:

The Jerusalem Synagogue
Powder tower
Church of Our Lady Before Tyn
The river
St. Stephans

Charles Bridge
St. Nicholas

  

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.

Ark in the Klausen Synagogue
The Old-New Synagogue
Memorial at the Pinkas Synagogue
The jewish cemetary
The Spanish Synagogue

 

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…


Turning Point

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!

    Hungary

    Sorry it’s been a while since our last blog post! We’ve been very busy and this post has been sitting unfinished on the laptop for a while… So here we go: Hungary

    We crossed from Croatia to Hungary on April 23rd, after spending about two weeks in Croatia. It was kind of strange to cross into another country as we hadn’t in a relatively long time. We were greeted by these very overwhelming signs:

    There are so many!
    There are so many!
    Like many border crossing before, we noticed changes immediately. We could see the German influence the style of the houses, and even Hungarian seemed a bit more Germanic than the previous languages. We could very quickly see we were no longer in the Balkans, and now in Eastern Europe. The riding was very nice, the landscape very flat and open, a bit like the Midwest actually. I’m not sure what exactly I was expecting, but I wasn’t expecting to ride the Hungary and feeling like I was in the Midwest. It was a bit strange, but a little nice at the same time. In the evening we found ourselves in a very touristy area, we guessed made touristy because of a large local hotspring. We found a campsite and settled in. As were setting up the tent, an Austrian woman came over and asked if we needed anything. We were able to borrow a hammer from her and she gave us some bread. When we returned the hammer, she and her husband gave us a beer, cheese, and chocolates. They were very sweet and we were so glad she came over to talk to us.

    Gifts from Austrian caravaners
    Gifts from Austrian caravaners
    The next morning we got rode to Lake Balaton, the largest lake in Hungary. The lake is about 77 km long and only about 4 km wide in most places. We rode along the path near lake through not quite open summer towns. The towns were a little eerie because they were perfectly functional, just closed. We enjoyed riding on a bike path and the views of the lake were very nice. We camped a few times along the lake and even managed to make ourselves a proper meal.

    Nice scenery along the lake
    Nice scenery along the lake
    Not a bad sunset
    Not a bad sunset
    Real food off of plates!
    Real food off of plates!
    IMG_4041

    After leaving the lake we had a bit more trouble finding camping but were lucky enough to run into Iyasor, who helped us find a place near a field, despite not speaking the same language. It was one of the stranger places we’ve camped, but not bad. We left early the next morning and stopped in Székesfehérvár (we never figured out to pronounce this…) to get coffee. It was a very picturesque city and made for a very nice stop. We continued and found a road… for bikes. It was awesome. Because it was a Sunday there were lots of families on bike rides and we didn’t at all mind the traffic. We came to a small lake and tried langos, which is fried pizza dough with sour cream, onions, sausage, cheese, and peppers. Haegan loved it.

    Flowers everywhere

    Bike road!
    Langos
    After lunch we decided to ride a little farther than planned so we could stay at a campsite where there might be showers. The riding continued to be flat and easy, and along the way we stopped at an old castle.

    A castle
    The campsite was pretty empty and we made ourselves dinner in the common kitchen. The next morning we left for Budapest and after a bit of standard riding into a new city chaos, we made it to The Goat Herder Espresso Bar. The cafe is owned by Dave and Corinne who kindly offered to host us while we were in Budapest. At the cafe we met Rohan and Mark who are students at the vet and med school across the street from the cafe. After chatting for a bit they showed us the first (and probably most well known) ruin pub in Budapest, Szimpla . The 7th District, which used to be the Jewish ghetto, has many run down buildings which have now been turned into pubs. The bar has a very artsy and welcoming feel, very different from any of the other bars we’ve been to on the trip. After a beer, they showed us the Dohány Street Synagogue, which is the largest synagogue in Europe and the second largest in the world. The Synagogue has a collection of 26 torahs and beautiful memorials for the victims and heroes of WWI and II.

    The Synagogue
    Interior
    The tree of life memorial
    60 year holocaust memorial
    We hung out with Dave and Corinne that night and talked about their cafe and previous travels. They had lots of stories and were able to give us some tips on our next destinations. The next day we started by seeing Heroes’ Square, which has statues of many of Hungary’s great leaders. Right behind the square is a large park and Varosliget, which has an old castle. I was completely spellbound by the castle, I loved the architecture of the various buildings and the detail on all the columns and statues. We walked down Andrassy Ave and saw the Opera House and then went to the Parliament Building. I loved walking through Budapest, at every street there was some beautiful building to see, something to admire. I don’t know that I can do the city any justice in words, so here are some pictures that might do a better job.

    Wide open boulevards
    Heros’ square
    Part of the castle
    Theater
    Parliment
    Fisherman’s bastion
     That night we went back to Szimpla Bar and met Sabrina and her friend, both from France. We had a very nice time talking with them and will hopefully meet up with Sabrina in Paris! The next day we took it easy, but not without a lot of backtracking and a little confusion. We had to get Haegan a swimsuit so we braved the mall, made it in and out in 20 minutes. Then I realized I had forgotten mine at the apartment so after spending some time on Margaret Island, we rode city bikes back to the apartment. As we get better at riding long days, we get worse at walking long days. I used to easily walk about an hour every day to and from school, and now I find myself getting pretty tired after about two hours of sightseeing. The days on bikes seem more like rest days than the days in the cities. So, we got some city bikes (the rent rate is extremely reasonable), and went back to the apartment. Then finally we got to Gellert Baths, one of the many bath complexes in Budapest. The complex has various pools and saunas at different temperatures. It is a bit maze like so we got separated for about 40 minutes but really enjoyed relaxing and trying out the different pools.

    City bikes!
    Relaxing at the baths
    Classic Gellert baths picture
    We took our nifty city bikes back to the apartment and made dinner for Corinne and Dave, risotto and salad. We had a really nice staying with them and hope we can see them in the States.

    We were slow to get moving the next day, we stopped by The Goat Herder to say goodbye to Corinne and Dave, and then stopped by Bajnok bike shop. We talked with the owner, Copter, for a bit and he made us some coffee with honey (delicious), and gave us some souvenirs from the shop. Haegan got a t-shirt commemorating one of the last Hungarian master frame builders and I got a jersey with the Hungarian flag colors. Haegan and Copter talked bikes while I tried to follow along (I’m not totally lost anymore), and we bought some bells for our bikes. Bajnok was a really cool shop and we were glad we found them.

    The Goat Herder
    Bajnok
    That day we rode along the Danube and ended in Esztergom, where there is a large Basilica we wanted to see the next morning. All the campsites and hostels were closed so we casually crossed over to Slovakia over the Danube to find a place to sleep. We crossed over the bridge, back into Hungary, the next morning to see Esztergom. Schengen Zone = freakishly easy border crossing and no stamps. The Esztergom Basilica was incredible, we saw a beautiful collection of items from the Basilica’s history, the crypt, and we got to walk along the top of the dome.

    Massive basilica
    View from the top
    In the Crypt
    Got some goulash on the way out

    With just a quick bridge crossing we were in Slovakia. It was a bit odd to not even see a border control station, but from now until Morocco that should be the norm. No more stamps for us. We had an amazing time in Hungary and really fell in love with Budapest while we were there. And now the journey continues…

    Croatia

    When we left Split our plan was to ride to Zadar, another coastal city and on the way stop at Krka National Park,  which known for its waterfalls. We set out on the 14th intending to ride to Krka, about 80km away, but it was not in the cards (in a very good way). As soon as we left Split I realized that we were only a few kilometers from Salona, which my uncle had recommended seeing. We didn’t know much of anything about it, just that there were some cool ruins. We got there and quickly realized it wasn’t just a few ruins, it was about 1000 years worth of ruins from a pre-Christianity Roman city that over time became one of the first Christian cities in the area. We spent at least an hour and a half walking around the site (which is free and had no one there). We are still getting used to how accessible the ruins we have visited have been. We could walk around inside of all the ruins that were there with no fences or glass keeping you from getting close. It’s pretty awesome.

    The baths

    Part of the Church

    Looking out over the Church with Split in the background

    One of the gates to the city

    The original Church before a newer one was built

    The Roman amphitheater

    From inside the ampitheater

    An old bridge and newer workshops
    It was really cool to be able to see the layers of history at Salona. The ruins range from around 100 AD all the way until the Slavs invaded in about 700 AD. Over time traditional Roman elements like the forum and its temple gave way to Christianity and the Church became the new center. We were really surprised to only see a handful of other people there as the ruins are really well preserved and very cool. We had lunch in the sun overlooking the ruins and then headed out towards Trogir, our plans of making it to Krka less sure. We were both sleepy and enjoying the sun and the going was slow. We stopped in Trogir and lay in the sun in the park for a while deciding what to do. We spent a little while walking around the city. It’s another in the Venetian style and had a cool little watchtower type fort right by the water.

    The view of the city from the watchtower
     After spending a little while wandering through the city (it’s quite small) we headed onward to find somewhere to sleep. We ended up at the first open campsite of our trip which was right on the water. Nothing special, but a good place to sleep. We have started to get pretty good at setting up and breaking down camp and the tent is actually quite comfortable. That night was the first night of camping that was actually comfortable. Previously we would wake up throughout the night cold in our light sleeping bags and even resorted to wearing jackets to sleep. It was finally warm enough for that to not be a problem. The whole camping part was getting a lot more appealing. The next day we started climbing within the first 500 meters and continued to climb away from the shore for a lot of the day. The landscape was very barren feeling all day, lots of rocks and very dry. It would have felt somewhat desert like were it not for a all the flowers just starting to pop up along the road. We did get some nice views of the water on the way up!

    Goodbye coast!

    Lots of flowers starting to bloom
    We stopped in Šibenik for lunch at what we thought was a buffet (because it said buffet) but was really just a restaurant. Autumn tried a Zagreb style veal steak which is a pretty awesome concept. Take a veal steak and pound it flat, then fold it around cheese and bacon before breading and frying it. She had no idea what it was when she ordered it but it was really good. (no picture, sorry) We rode over one more big climb to find our campground right by the entrance to Krka. The scenery at the campground itself was pretty standard but the showers were fantastic. Best shower I have had since leaving home by a fair bit. Most of the showers have been in hostels or cheap hotels which mean small, not much hot water and pretty cramped. Europe takes its camping seriously so the amenities have been pretty good. The next day was long and busy. I planned for us to ride the length of Krka which is a park that runs along a river for about 70 km. We had a few spots to stop along the way to see sights. The first stop were the waterfalls at the southern end of the park. There are these neat wooden walkways through he marshland with water rushing through the grasses in all sorts of directions.

    This is not much water for the falls, they control it with a series of dams

    The big falls

    There are many of these “necklace” waterfalls along the river

    The woman who took this had a really hard time with my phone. Also note Autumn’s tan lines coming in nicely
     Also at the first stop were some historical buildings from the late 1800’s including a mill and place for processing wool. One really cool thing was this washing basin which spins the water from the river in a hollowed out rock. It was used to clean cloth, just like a washing machine today.   From there it was more climbing and as we worked our way up the river. We stopped in Skradin for lunch by the river (where we almost got attacked by these guys).  Afterwards up up up before a nice fast descent to another set of waterfalls. When we got there we found out that there was a cool cave to see, we just needed to climb 517 steps up the cliff to get to it. With already tired legs we decide to run the stairs to save time and make sure we got to Burnum, an old Roman camp, by nightfall. We sprinted the stairs, breaks only every 50 steps and made it up to the cave. By the time we got to the top our calves were really feeling it. Too much vertical movement for one day. We walked through the cave and read a bit about the prehistory of the area. But what really made the climb worth it was the view of the falls below.

    Worth the climb

    Only a few more!
    We continued our riding up the river and Autumn’s knee which had been bothering her a little bit off and on really started to hurt consistently. Any time we were going up hill (which was a lot of the time) it hurt a lot. With a few stops and a bit of walking up a long hill she toughed it out and we made it to Burnum, which we were really excited about, a bit before sunset. We were a bit underwhelmed. After spending the last hour and a half of our day racing to get there with Autumn in a fair bit of pain at times it turned out that there was very little to see. The arches that are still standing were very cool but the amphitheater which we were excited to check out was mostly reconstructed with no original stonework remaining.

    2 remaining arches

    All reconstructed

    Side of the road stealth camp
    The next morning we rode into Knin, a nearby town to stop for a day or two and hopefully give Autumn’s knee some time to recover. We found a place to rent a room, but they were full so we ended up staying in the owner’s brother’s spare bedroom downstairs. Right after we got there he made us a plate of bread, cheese, and bacon all made by him, as well as some apple strudel. The family has a piece of land across the street from the hotel where they grow garlic, onions, and potatoes, and keep goats and chickens. They invited us over to check it out and we enjoyed seeing their space.


     Since we didn’t have anything to do for the day, the castle is the main thing to see in Knin and we had decided to wait until the next day, we thought we would try yo make some Mexican food for dinner. Every now and again something familiar is nice. We knew that it might be tough to find some ingredients but we figured we coud substitute other stuff. We figured there wouldn’t be any tortillas but I was pretty surprised to not find any black beans (we got pinto) or any limes (I made salsa with lemons…) It actually ended up being pretty good.

    Semi-Mexican food
    In the morning Branko (the brother) made us awesome crepes filled with his own apple-lemon-orange marmalade, Turkish coffee and a drink they call white coffee which is actually made from barley and chicory. The crepes were awesome like everything else he made. After breakfast, Branko went out to get things to make pizza that night and we headed out to see the castle.

    Yummm
    When we left it was a little overcast and luckily we thought to grab our rain jackets. As soon as we got up to the top of the hill and into the castle it started to drizzle. It was actually pretty cool. It was pretty intense to be up on top of the hill in an ancient castle on a blustery rainy day. The castle is really big, essentially a walled protected city. Looking out over the ramparts into the valley below you can imagine what it must have been like hundreds of years ago.

    The castle sits on top of a hill overlooking the town

    Grey but dry on arrival

    The castle incorporates a lot of natural rock into the walls

    The view up to the top

    More natural rock in the walls

    More stairs as always

    The valley below

    Can’t you almost picture it in the 1400’s?

    Sheltering from the now very hard and cold rain
    After a while the rain got a lot harder and with the cold it was a bit much to be out in. We made a run for it and spent the rest of the day warm and dry working on the blog. That evening we had delicious home made pizza with Branko and his nephew and watched a movie. Hopefully in the morning Autumn’s knee would feel ok and we could head on to Zagreb. When we woke up the knee was not feeling much better and we realized that there was not a whole lot of places we would be able to stop along our route if it got worse. We made the call to catch a train to Zagreb to take a few more days of rest. We thanked Branko and rushed to the train station (the last minute call meant that we got our tickets as the train pulled up) and made it on. We had a really nice time staying with Branko, he was so generous and fun to talk with, we felt very much at home and were sad to say goodbye.

    Us with Branko
    When we got to Zagreb we found a nice little hostel and went to go see the Museum Of Broken Relationships which I had read about months ago. The idea of the museum is that people submit objects along with a story about the relationship that was broken and what the object means. These un-edited stories are displayed along with the objects as a symbol of people’s lost relationships. The museum was fascinating, you would go from a heartbreaking story to something really funny and back in a few exhibits.

    The next day we headed out in the morning to replace a few of the things that had been stolen (finally in a city with good bike shops). We went to 3 shops to find shoes for Autumn and ended up getting a great deal on a nice pair of Sidi’s. Afterwards we spent the rest of the day sightseeing. Zagreb was a really nice city. The downtown was a really manageable size and there were some really cool buildings and things to see. I’ll let the pictures do some work here.

    The square in Zagreb

    The cathedral

    An example of the restoration, before and after

    The stained glass was awesome

    There were many styles present from many years

    Still working on the restoration

    Another neat church
    We left Zagreb in the morning head for Hungary. We had a nice day riding, going slow as to not make Autumn’s knee worse (it was finally starting to feel better) and ended up camping at a fire station in Novi Marof, a small town. In the morning we met the President of all the volunteer fire stations in the county who happened to be by for a little bit. He offered us showers and gave us some cool trinkets.  For the fire brigade’s 90th anniversary in Novi Marof they had pins and a DVD made which he gave us, as well as a cool patch.  

    In the afternoon we stopped in Varaždin, a small baroqe city. We went and saw the castle there as well as stopping into an exhibit of Ivan Generalić sketches. Ivan Generalić one of the most famous of the Croatian naïve art movement, which we knew nothing about until we saw the exhibit. The artists who were part of the movement had no formal art education, so the art lacks perspective at times and can look a little childish. The artists are very talented though and childishness adds a certain authenticity to the pieces, especially since most of the art is of their local village and people. The final pieces are done with oil paints on glass, giving them a very unique look. Generalić’s work is really interesting and seeing the progression of each sketch was very cool.  After visiting the local cemetary (very old and very ornate) we rode to the next town and found a place to camp. After a bit of confusion, we were generously offered a spot in a family’s yard to spend the night.

    A baroque castle

    The cemetary was very cool

    Last sunset in Croatia
    The next morning we rode our last 15km in Croatia and  on our way out of the country we spent the last of our coins at the final gas station and stopped to look up a few Hungarian words.

    Spring at last!

    April 8th we headed out of Dubrovnik along the coast. Split had been our next destination but after talking to the owners of the hostel in Dubrovnik we decided we needed to ride on an island. Croatia has over 1200 islands along its coast so our trip wouldn’t be complete without riding on at least one. We rode along the coast towards Pelješac, a penninsula north of Dubrovnik. We’ve really enjoyed riding along the coast because regardless of how hard it gets there’s never a shortage of nice stuff to look at. It really helps to make the climbing at 6 km/hr bearable. We stopped for lunch and just so happened to see Jacques, who we met previously in Dubrovnik. He is from France and is nearing the end of his 5 year circumnavigation of the globe by bike and boat. We had some pizza with him and realized we were headed in the same direction. We rode together towards Orebić where we could catch a ferry to Korčula Island. The riding was beautiful and it was really cool to talk to Jacques about his trip because he has seen and done so much! He told us about riding through Central Asia and the Middle East and about how different the culture is from what we see every day in the media. As a traveler on a long trip it seems that wherever you go people are curious about what you are doing and willing to go out of their way to help you. Talking with Jacques has us both really excited about one day going to South America and Southeast Asia. I’d highly recommend checking out his blog here. After a few hours of riding, we crossed a final ridge and descended to a campsite right on the beach that wasn’t open yet (AKA free)

    Beautiful views from the coast
    Beautiful views from the coast
    6 wineries in 1.5 km
    6 wineries in 1.5 km

    IMG_3535

    Castle on the hillside
    Castle on the hillside
    Water everywhere you turn
    Water everywhere you turn
    Making some dinner
    Making some dinner

    The next morning we set out early with a plan to get to Korčula island by the evening. More beautiful riding all day. Rolling hills, great views of the sea and tons more vineyards. The vineyards aren’t growing anything yet so the fields look eerie with all the vines cut short, twisted and gnarled near the ground. We stopped for a snack at a little seaside town which was really cute but didn’t have a store to get food for lunch. As spring is just beginning there is so much in bloom all along the sides of the road. There are tons of flowers and everything is so green. Everywhere we have been in Croatia the water has been remarkably clear, it looks almost like lightly green glass.

    Snack break
    Snack break
    A very torn up road
    A very torn up road
    Vineyards everywhere
    Vineyards everywhere
    Lots of climbing to get this view
    Lots of climbing to get this view

    We had to climb a lot in the second half of the day, it seemed like we were going uphill for hours. After lunch we saw a group of tourists from London on the road and they told Jacques that there was only one ferry at 5 pm. We didn’t want to risk missing it so we picked the pace up a little bit. Eventually we got to the top of the last hill and had an amazing descent down to the water. Part of the way down we met a couple of tourists who had just come from the island who told us no need to worry, the ferry goes every hour. We chatted with them a while about their trip and the island and continued down to the coast. We got into town and even had time to grab a coffee before catching the 15 minute ferry to Korčula town.

    Finally descending into Orebić
    Finally descending into Orebić
    On the ferry!
    On the ferry!

    We slept at another not-yet-open campground which was right by the water. The ride down the whole island was only going to be 45 km the next day so we decided that we would go explore the city in the morning. We spent the night cooking, eating, and talking.

    Camping
    Camping
    Entrance to Korčula town
    Entrance to Korčula town
    One of the Churches in the walled town
    One of the Churches in the walled town

    IMG_3575-0 IMG_3578-0

    Soon after starting our ride we took a break for lunch and relaxing in the sun near an old church. It was the first day that it was truly hot out. We all felt pretty lazy and wanted to do nothing aside from lay in the sun, eat, and nap. It’s really nice to not have any sort of specific schedule. If we want to take a 2 hour break that’s totally fine, if we don’t make it where we planned to go no big deal. We always have tomorrow. The rest of the day ended up being pretty hilly but we had a really nice time. Great weather, great scenery, pretty much a perfect day of riding. We got to Vela Luca where we had to catch the 6:15 ferry the next morning. We stopped and asked for water at someones house before finding a camping spot and were given not only water but also a 2 liter coke bottle of homemade wine. It was actually pretty decent (Jacques has been teaching us a bit about different wines and what to look for). We had a fun time cooking. In the process of cooking dinner we managed to spill half the rice and run out of fuel in both our stoves, but we had a good laugh and dinner was still great. Autumn and I have adopted Jacques salad recipe which is basically buy whatever vegetables you see and an apple, chop it all up and douse in lemon, oil, and salt. It’s the first salad I’ve really really liked. We camped without the tents to cut down on time to break camp in the morning.

    Hanging out in the sun
    Hanging out in the sun
    Spring is here, we had to tie our Martinitzas on a tree
    Spring is here, we had to tie our Martinitzas on a tree
    Late afternoon
    Late afternoon
    Sunset from camp
    Sunset from camp

    We caught our early ferry and a few hours later we were in Split. It took a bit to find the hostel ,but after finding it and carrying our bags up the 9 flights of stairs we got to relax for a few minutes. After we had recharged a bit we went to the market and I got some pants to cut into shorts (no one had shorts for sale yet…) and then spent the afternoon lazing around on the beach. The market in Split was our favorite so far. It was very lively and really big for a vegetable market. There are also a lot of nice butcher shops, cheese shops, and pekaras (bakeries) We are really starting to get used to the “euro” way of shopping where you might go to 5 different shops to get what you need. We already find ourselves a bit overwhelmed when we go into a big (by European standards) supermarket. In the evening we got dinner with Jacques as he was headed off the next day. We had a really great time riding with him and hopefully will see him when we get to France!

    Lazy afternoon in the sun
    Lazy afternoon in the sun
    Dinner with Jacques
    Dinner with Jacques

    The next day was spent wandering around Split and seeing what we could of the city. We hiked up to a park overlooking the city and hung out for a while. We wandered around the city and saw the cathedral and walked through the narrow streets of the walled city. Split is another city that was at one point controlled by the Venetians and the style is very similar to the others we have seen. The walled cities we have been to feel really cozy and homey with lots of little alleys and crooked streets. It also seems that everywhere you go in Croatia are stairs and more stairs. With all the cycling plus a few hundred stairs a day our calves are going to be ripped by the time we get home. We got stuff to make sandwiches from 3 different stores in the green market and caught up a bit on our postcard writing.

    IMG_3622 IMG_3623

    The cathedral
    The cathedral

    On our last day in Split we made a picnic and rode our bikes with no bags on them to the end of the park and ate and relaxed on the beach. It was so nice to ride a bike without all the extra weight. They feel so light and fast. It’s so easy. We both are excited to be able to ride without all our gear when we get back home. The park in Split, called Majan, is wonderful. It is almost as big as the city itself and has hiking trails, roads for riding bikes, picnic areas and playgrounds. On the weekend there were tons of families from the city walking around and hanging out in the park which was really nice to see.

    IMG_3641

    Nice
    Nice

    IMG_3651

    The next  morning we headed out of Split towards Zadar by way of Krka National park, but as you know our plans are always changing…