Tag Archives: camping

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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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!
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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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Nice
Nice

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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…

Oh look, a castle!

On April 2, we left Tirana mid day and in good spirits. It was finally sunny and we figured we could probably camp that night. We were on a busy road for a while and then found some smaller roads running through the small towns. The riding was nice and kind of slow because we were both so happy to be out in the sun. Almost every person we passed waved and said hello, and the kids we passed asked us our names. Everyone was so outgoing and friendly. When we stopped for lunch, we asked a few people where a good place to eat was. A guy on a scooter showed us a restaurant and we sat down for nice, and very cheap, meal. We realized that many people knew Italian as a second language so we were able to communicate fairly well with Spanish and Italian. After lunch we rode a bit more and passed a large abandoned factory. We rode through a few more small villages and over a dry river until we stopped in Lezhë for coffee. As we were sitting Haegan noticed a castle on the hill behind us. We found it so strange that we had just stumbled upon a castle, and if we hadn’t of stopped we might not have noticed it. We stopped and locked our bikes so we could climb up to the castle. The park where we locked our bikes had ruins from the Ottoman Empire and large mosaic of the Albanian flag. We thought maybe we could camp there since the grass was nice in the walls of the ruins. We asked a man who offered to watch our bikes if camping was allowed in the park with the ruins. He seemed to think our question was silly, of course we could camp in the city’s ruins. We climbed up the hill the castle and hoped we might be able to watch the sunset from the top. The castle was first built in Illyrian times and then fortified much later by the Venetians in 1440 and then the Ottomans 100 years later. The earliest record of Illyrian civilization is from around 400 BC and lasted until about 200 AD. We’re not sure when the castle was first built, but it was probably about 2000 years ago. It’s crazy to think about people building massive structures on top of tall hills using only man power and basic tools, the thought gave me goosebumps as we walked around the ruins. There are still walls from Illyrian times, ruins of a mosque from the Ottomans, and Roman arches. While we were in the ruins the church bells from the town below started ringing. All the sounds blended together to make a sort of chaotic but beautiful sound. The castle closed before we could see the sunset but we still had some spectacular views.  

  

 We returned to our bikes and found a cafe with internet so we could check a few things. Our phones don’t work in Albania and a few other countries in the Balkans. We then decided to find some dinner and found a pizza place a little ways into Lezhë. It was getting dark and we had such a good day. The riding had been beautiful, we had stumbled upon a castle, and the people had been so friendly. Unfortunately, the good day became tainted when we returned from dinner. We found our bikes with open bags, our handlebar bags ripped open. We first noticed that my cycling shoes missing and then that our Garmins were gone. Thankfully we had both taken our wallets and phones, although we stupidly had left our passports. We were very lucky those were not taken. A policeman passed us and we tried to talk to him but he didn’t speak and English and didn’t understand our nervous gestures. Another man passed us and he called his friend who spoke Spanish and I talked to her for a bit. I had a hard time understanding her, partially because I think Spanish was also her second language, the phone service wasn’t very clear, and I was nervous. Eventually we gathered everything we could find, some our stuff was on the ground, and walked to a hotel nearby. We talked to the manager there who offered us a cheap room and told us that he could take us to the police if we wanted, but that it would take a very long time and probably wouldn’t solve anything. In retrospect, we probably should have still gone just to have the incident reported, but it was late and we were pretty shaken. In the room we tried to figure out what all had been stolen, making sure that everything important was still with us. The stuff that was stolen can be replaced, it’s just expensive. We were both frustrated that we had gotten too comfortable, that we had relied on the locks on handlebar bags to work against theft, and that the incident could have been so easily prevented. What was also a bit frustrating was that everything that was taken had almost no value to anyone but us or someone in a very similar situation. Whoever stole our things won’t be able to get hardly any money for what they took, and they weren’t very useful everything day things either. Things like my cycling shoes and Haegan’s retainer are pretty useless for anyone but us, but are rather difficult for us to replace. It was hard not to go through the what-ifs but we eventually just had to realize that we just needed to move forward. The next morning we decided we couldn’t let the mishap ruin our short time in Albania, and we also realized that we needed help. We really didn’t want to have to ask for help, especially financial help. After we arrived in Montenegro (more about this later), and I had access to e-mail again, we were completely astounded by the amount of support we received, both in donations and nice messages. We are both so incredibly grateful to you all, it’s hard for me to express how much the community’s support has uplifted and motivated us. We have found that the blog helps stay connected to everyone back home, we love hearing back from everyone, and it’s very comforting to know people are reading and following along with us. And then when we needed a little extra help we got an outpouring of support and positivity. We are very, very lucky and we can’t thank you enough. We are now hesitant to tell people where our things were stolen because there are still hard feelings between the Balkan countries. Albania is one of the poorest countries in Europe and the Balkans, and when we told people where our things were stolen, we get a sort of, “well of course Albania”, response. It’s sad because we still really liked Albania and would like to go back to see more of the mountains and coast. The day we left Lezhë we rode through more small towns and were given an apple and chips at a small convenience store. It was sunny again and we crossed the border into Montenegro a little after lunch.  

 It’s incredible how quickly you can start to see difference after crossing a border. Within a few miles the landscape and the feel of the place will change. We noticed very quickly that Montenegro is a wealthier country. The roads were a bit nicer, the houses a little more kept. The people were also very different. They are less outgoing, a little more reserved than Albanians and Macedonians, but still very nice. After stopping in Ulcinj at a cafe we looked for a place to camp. The road followed a cliff with small villages in the valley. We rode down into one of the villages and asked around for a place to camp. We hoped that when we asked people might offer us a spot in their yard or field, but instead they would direct us to a campsite. We then realized we had to be more direct and simply ask if we could camp in a specific spot. We were able to camp in a small field surrounded by a small stone wall.  

Nice spot to camp

 The next day of riding was fairly uneventful. The coast of Montenegro is very rocky with large cliffs. Our riding involved many climbs and descents, bridges and tunnels. The climbing wasn’t too bad although I really started to miss my cycling shoes. We rode pretty close to the coast all day, enjoying the view of the Adriatic and the cliffs on the coast.  

  

Burek: meat pie (delicious)

  

Lunch beach

  

 That night we stayed in a small apartment because it was supposed to rain that night. We rode into Kotor in the morning and just from riding through we decided we had to come back to spend at least a week. I noticed a wall on the mountain right next to the coast and after following the wall I saw there was a near the base and a castle at the very top. I stopped to show Haegan and we were both awestruck by the structure. It was even more striking I think because we weren’t looking for it.  

Monastary

  

 The town has great views of the surrounding mountains and seems like a very relaxed place to be. The riding along the coast in Montenegro was hilly like the day before and eventually we climbed up to the border and crossed into Croatia.  

  

  

  

#fourcountriesoneweek

 Not long after we crossed the border we had another climb, this one not quite as long, but very steep. We had already ridden about 50 km (30 miles) of climbs and descents so I was getting a little tired, especially of long climbs. We rode a little ways and came to another long and fairly steep climb. I was trying to concentrate on the beautiful scenery, the small stone fences and nicely laid out grape vines, so that I wouldn’t think so much about how much I didn’t want to riding up another hill. I wasn’t very successful at distracting myself so I then decided that I just had to make it up to the top of the hill, and then I could complain and be miserable all I wanted. When I finally made it to the top I couldn’t help but cry a little, I couldn’t tell whether it was because the climb was so painful or if it was because I was so happy I had made it the whole way up without giving up. After that we had yet another climb up to our place for the night, this one still slow but easier after having toughed out the last one. It was probably my most accomplished day of riding, and getting through those rough patches has only gotten easier and easier.  

Autumn crests a difficult hill

  

 We stayed at a place we found on Warm Shower’s, Mikulici Nature Park. The park is small piece of land overlooking the Adriatic Sea, just outside Mikulici village. It was quite a climb to get there and as we rounded to the park we were greeted by six dogs at the driveway. Marko opened the nature park 8 years ago after retiring from his work in Canada and has lots of stories about his past travels and the people who have stayed at his park. We enjoyed the lively conversation and were very grateful when Marko let us sleep in the office so we didn’t have to get rained on.  

View from Marko’s porch

  

Little puppy

  

Marko’s place

 In the morning we had fresh bread and then started our way to Dubrovnik. A few kilometers in we met Adrian who lives in the area. He started a local cycling group and rode with us for a little bit. It was funny meeting up with him because right before he rode up we had been wondering if it was possible to get tired of being the area. After talking with Adrian (he’s lived in the area his whole life), we figured it’s probably pretty hard to get tired of.  

Adrian’s picture of us (we forgot to get one off him…)

 We only had about 30 km (19 miles) to go from Marko’s and we figured since Dubrovnik is on the coast that the riding would be fairly flat. Wrong. It seemed as though we climbed 90% of our way to a coastal town. The Croatian coast is very rocky and hilly, with many cliffs that go right up to the sea. It’s beautiful and the views are fantastic. It’s also very tiring.  

A rare downhill

  

   

The view from the top if the last climb

   

Another fantastic #selfie

   We found Dubrovnik Backpacker’s Club and were greeted with an Easter lunch made by the family who runs the hostel. They were very welcoming and let us stay at the hostel even though they weren’t officially opening for another two days. After a bit of lunch and showers we walked to the Old City to explore a bit. We were a bit shocked because there were so many tourists. The places we’ve been haven’t been very touristy so it was strange to be surrounded by other people speaking English. We walked around a little bit, admiring the old city walls and eventually found a little bar right on the wall next to the coast and watched the sunset.  

  

  

 The next day we had breakfast with the host family and decided to ride on some of the islands on our way to Split after the oldest son told us more about the area. He drove us to the old town and we started the walk up to the old fortress. The fortress was built by Neapolitan but was used as recently as 1995 during the Croatian Homeland War. After walking to the top we had a great view of the city and then entered the fortress and walked through the museum about the Homeland War.  

View from the top

  

  

  The Homeland War was from 1991 to 1995 after Croatia declared its independence from Yugoslavia. Serbia tried to capture Croatian land and attacked Dubrovnik as a kind of black mail. Many Croatians fled to Dubrovnik because they thought the city would be spared due to its historical significance. The city was attacked many times during the four years and over half the buildings were damaged. We were shocked to learn about such a recent war and how little the international community did to protect the old city. It’s very interesting to travel through countries like Albania and Croatia who so recently became countries and had conflicts no more than 20 years ago. We walked around the top of the fortress and then took the cable car back down to the Old City. We then visited the Dubrovnik Synagogue, which is the oldest Sefardic Synagogue in world. The Synagogue was built on the second story of an apartment building in the Old City where Jews found refuge after they fled from Spain in the 16th century. Although Dubrovnik provided a safe place for the Jews, they were confined to only a small part of the city and only experienced short periods of equality. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take pictures inside.

While we were walking around the harbor of the Old City we saw a guy on a touring bike. We went over to talk to him and found out he’d been touring for 5 years and was now heading back to France to finish his trip. We exchanged information and figured we’d meet up later as we were heading in the same direction. We’ll tell you more about our adventures with him, Jacques, in the next post. After a little more wandering we bought tickets to walk around the top of the city walls. It was very nice walk with lots and lots and lots of stairs. Note about Croatia: so many stairs and hills. Taking stairs up to a city wall makes sense, but it seems that to get anywhere in Dubrovnik you must climb a few hills. If an old man here told me that he used walk to school, uphill both ways, I’d 100% believe him. It’s kind of ridiculous how hilly it is. The city wall was very impressive though and we had fun walking around and peeking out holes in the wall.  

   

    

#caughtgramin
     

We got back to the hostel and I made tabouli with the leftover bulgur we bought in Turkey. Even though the bulgur wasn’t normal for tabouli, it was nice to make and eat something so familiar. We met Claire from the UK and hung out a bit in the common area of the hostel. Although Dubrovnik was expensive and kind of touristy, we really enjoyed exploring the old city and the surrounding area. We left the next morning with hopes of flatter riding and a free place to sleep. More about that later. 

NotIstanbul, Turkey

Haegan: The first few days after we left Istanbul were a really mixed bag. We saw some cool stuff but a lot of it was very stressful and difficult. We hadn’t planned as well as we should have and didn’t know exactly what riding in Turkey was going to be like. One of our biggest issues was with getting started late and ending up riding or trying to find somewhere to stay after dark. But at this point we have learned a lot about what we need to do in the future to prevent more of the really hard days we had to deal with. Turkey is not the easiest country to do your first real days of touring in, but we survived and things can only go up from here. We hope.

Autumn:

Saturday, March 7, 2015

We left Istanbul after spending just one full day in the city. Although we didn’t stay long, we both felt it was enough. The history of the city is amazing but being there is very overwhelming. It makes New York City seem calm and organized. In the morning we took a ferry over to the Asian side of Istanbul and toured around for a few hours to see a bit more before we left. It was a slightly calmer than the Old City and fewer people spoke English. It was fun to wander around the streets and look in all the shops. We got lunch at little cafeteria style restaurant where we accidently tried liver. When we were selecting our food Haegan asked about a dish that looked like little pieces of beef and potato. The man pointed just below his rib cage to indicate the type of meat and before I could warn Haegan, he popped the piece of liver in his mouth. Oops. I knew I didn’t like liver but felt obligated to try because it was being offered. We ended up ordering a dish that had kofte (spiced Turkish meatball) with mashed potatoes and melted cheese. It was sitting in a pool of grease and sounded amazing.

Kofte with mashed potatos

t was, but only for a few bites. We were both overwhelmed by the density of the dish and only ate half. After lunch we headed back to our hostel to pack up our bags. After packing up and saying goodbye to the folks at the hostel, we made our way to the bridge to cross over to the new city.

I did not realize until we were leaving the hostel that Haegan was planning to ride through the city. I refused to ride from the hostel to the bridge as the streets were cobblestones, steep, and not at all straight. We walked our bikes through the crowded streets and I started to panic as I realized that eventually I would have to get on my bike and ride through the busy streets. Before getting on the bridge we got on our bikes and I nearly broke down. The car came so close and there seemed to be no rhyme or reason to the traffic. We missed our turn for the bridge and had to backtrack to walk across the bridge. There were many people fishing from the bridge and most had pretty full buckets of fish. Once we crossed the bridge I felt okay getting on the road, but still nervous. Once we started riding I realized that I really had nothing to worry about. It was so crowded that the cars were barely moving, and because driving in Istanbul is nuts, the drivers are much more aware of what’s happening around them. So it wasn’t bad. We made it out the city and rode along the coast. It was pretty windy but the ocean was nice and I was feeling a lot better about riding. Sometime when we were riding along the coast Haegan realized we left our towels at the hostel. It was silly oversight and annoying because they were nice quick drying towels. Lost item number one of our trip. It started getting dark and we decided to buy some groceries for our dinner that night. We stopped at a little market and Haegan went to the ATM to get cash. He realized that his debit card was gone. We tried to figure out where it had gone and could only conclude that it had fallen out of his pocket at some point. (Fastforward a bit: we never found the card but it has been cancelled, no funds were lost.) So, lost item number two. Thankfully I still had my card so we were still able to get cash and buy groceries. It was very dark by this point so we decided to start looking for a place to camp. We passed a bunch of places that looked like country clubs, and we decided that if we couldn’t find a place to camp we would come back and ask the staff at the club. We came to an aquaduct and noticed a fire station across the road. We had read in blogs that other people touring would ask at police stations and other public service building so we decided to give it a try. One of the firemen spoke English but he had just moved to the area so he didn’t know where we could camp. He told us to go to the market up the street and ask there, they might be able to help us. We didn’t find the market but we did find a high end bike shop where the owner directed us to a public forest. The forest was just down the road from the shop. The guards at the forest did not speak English but we managed to communicate with translation apps on our phones. The told us that camping was normally prohibited but they would let us camp in one of the picnic areas. We were very grateful and began to set up camp. I would like to note here that once we left Istanbul we noticed it was pretty windy. We figured it was from the ocean, the water looked pretty choppy. The wind continued even as we left the coast but it wasn’t terribly strong. When we were setting up the tent we started to really noticed the wind as it was difficult the set up the tent and our helmets kept getting blown off the table. Haegan got started on dinner and he realized that a few of the things he bought weren’t what he thought. The rice was actually long grain bulgur (apparently Turks love bulgur based on the number of varieties in the store – we checked later) and the “zucchini” was actually a cucumber. So we had an interesting meal of unidentified grain (we weren’t sure what it was at the time), red peppers, onion, and salt and pepper courtesy of Lufthansa Airlines. Camping food at its finest. While we were making dinner and eating, a group of cats started gathering around our table. It was dark so I’m not sure of the total, but I think there were at least six cats hanging around our table. I guess stray cats aren’t just in Istanbul. We cleaned up and headed to bed. The tent was noisy from the wind but we were both exhausted and slept soundly.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

I set our the alarm for 7:30, and that ended up being a smart move. Around 7:45 we heard a voice and footsteps around our tent. The night before when Haegan was talking to the guards I wondered if there would any miscommunication about our camping in the picnic area. Turns out there was. We couldn’t understand the man walking around our tent but we could imagine he was telling us we weren’t supposed to be camping. We got up as quickly as we could as started packing up. One of the guards from the night before came to the site and watched as we packed everything up. Neither of the guards were mean or impatient, they were actually very nice about the whole thing and we were just happy to have had a place to sleep. In our packing we discovered our tent bag was missing, it must have blown away in the wind. Lost item number three. Getting kicked out of the site got us an earlier start than we had planned but in retrospect, that was probably for the best. As we rode out we got to see the forest, it was beautiful and had tons of picnic tables. We found out later that Turkish people absolutely love picnics, but apparently aren’t so enthusiastic about camping. We went into town and found a cafe with pastries and coffee. The owner didn’t speak a lot of English but we had no problem communicating with him. Haegan got another simit (thin sesame bagel), and I got a croissant type pasty with sesames on top. It was amazing. We also had coffee, which we’ve found in Turkey that normal coffee is usually Nescafe… and it’s awesome. Haegan, who isn’t much a coffee drinker, likes it especially. We sat and Haegan figured out the route while I watched Turkish music videos. It was a tough job. We left around 9:30 and got started on our route which we hoped would take us to Çatalca, Turkey. We passed at least 5 or 6 areas that were just for picnics, table after table, some even had little huts. We figured that if all 15 million people in Istanbul decided to go on a picnic on the same weekend, there’d be space. After the picnic areas we came to a modern suburban area, which was nice because it had a bike lane. We came to another aquaduct and passed underneath.

We rode parallel to a highway and at one point were very close to what looked like a giant pit for trash. We figured it was probably one of Istanbul’s dumps. It smelled horrible. As we continued to ride through the area towards Çatalca, we realized that Istanbul has sucked all the resources from the surrounding area. We named this area Not Istanbul. It’s not a very scenic area, there is a lot of trash, a lot of fields, and a lot of trucks. Not long after we passed the dump, we were passed by a few trucks. I started counting after a while and in a span of about 10 minutes we were passed by at least 15 trucks. They were big dump trucks and we figured they were all heading to the same place. We rode among the trucks and noticed that they were turning around to get in line to enter the dumping/loading area. It was complete chaos. The trucks were two wide on each side and turned around pretty much wherever and whenever they could with little warning. Thankfully everyone was going slowly so Haegan and I quickly weaved our way out the mess. Normally, something like that would have made me very nervous, but because we just ended up in the middle without knowing what was happening, I didn’t have time to be nervous. I just had to focus on getting out without getting squashed. I know it sounds very scary (sorry Mum and Dad) but it truly wasn’t all that bad, just bizarre.

After the trucks we rode through a small city and after we found ourselves surrounded by farm fields. In the distance we could see many wind turbines and could still feel a pretty strong wind. It was nothing we couldn’t manage, just a little frustrating at times and made hills even more difficult. We were heading to Nakkas, a small town we saw on the map that we thought about spending the night or maybe just to get some food. The views were nice, although grey, and the wind remained constant. When I stopped to eat an orange (which was absolutely amazing), a woman stopped and talked to us. She only spoke Turkish so the only thing we were really able to tell her was that we were Americans and we were headed to Nakkas. She seemed very nice and I wished we could have been able to talk more with her. It’s been kind of strange to say I’m from America. Once we got to Turkey though we realized that people did not understand if we said we were from the United States, but quickly understood if we said we’re from America. Anyway, we kept riding ended up on the a dirt road and then found ourselves in Nakkas. Going from Istanbul to Nakkas was bizarre. It felt as though we were in a totally undeveloped country. It was a tiny farming village with shepherds and carts full of animal innards. So we left pretty quickly after indicating we were going to Çatalca, some boys pointed the direction we should go. After leaving Nakkas is when the wind started to get really bad. As we rode up a long hill there were gusts of wind that move me across the road into the other lane. The wind was strong enough to move me, my bike, and all my stuff, about 170 pounds in all, over about 6 feet. I was using all my strength to not end up in the oncoming lane. Haegan figures the gusts were about 35 miles an hour. So I got off my bike and walked. Even though walking on the side of the road was not super safe, it was better than losing control of my bike. Eventually we turned and had a nice tail wind for a while. About a mile out of Çatalca, I started to bonk. I had no energy left and we had climb a pretty steep hill before entering Çatalca. Fortunately, at the top of the hill there was a pizza place, which was exactly what we needed. I felt much better after the pizza (we didn’t know what we ordered but it was delicious). There were no hotels in Çatalca so while we were at the pizza place we booked a hotel in Kamburgaz, Turkey about 10 miles away, on the coast. This was a little daunting for me. Ten miles isn’t far, especially on a bike, but we had already ridden nearly 40 long, hilly and windy miles. My legs were tired and I was ready to be off my bike. We started off and found ourselves on a pretty worn road with nice farmhouses. The wind wasn’t as bad anymore. We both started getting a little worried that the hotel we had booked was scam because we couldn’t see any sign of a coast. The roads on the map were barely existent dirt roads and the street signs were either missing or didn’t match our map. The coast finally came into view and we made one of our last turns. We turned onto a dirt road and had the wind blowing to our left. The dirt road was deeply rutted and the wind made it very difficult for me to keep my balance. After a gust of wind that caused me to lose my balance, I had to stop. I had kept pretty good spirits until this point when I finally broke down. We had been on the road for nearly 6 hours, the wind was absolutely ridiculous, and the road was near impossible to ride on. I don’t know how many times said “absurd”, but it was a lot, and at this point the absurdity of the day beat me. Haegan calmed me down enough start riding again and not long after we made it to Kumburgaz. I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited to see the ocean.

We made to the hotel, which was very nice for the amount we paid for it. After a shower and clean clothes I felt much better, though very tired. Despite being so tired we got to talk with both our families and made plans for the next day. We reorganized our stuff and inhaled a giant plate of spaghetti, chicken kebab, and a basket of bread. We decided to ride to Çorlu the next day after finding someone to stay with on CouchSurfing.
Monday, March 9, 2015
We woke still tired and went down to get breakfast in the hotel restaurant (no extra charge). We went back to our room and slept a little longer, which was a bad idea looking back. Something we definitely need to work on is getting started on our bikes earlier. I’ll tell you more in a bit. I went to the market down the street to get snacks for the day. I picked out a few candy bars I’d never seen before and some oranges. When I was in the market I noticed the huge selection rice and bulgur and many types of cheeses. Oreos and Snickers are very popular in Turkey which I found interesting. Haegan and I got started on our bikes and were going at decent pace in the very beginning. We rode parallel to the D.100 which is a trunk road (a small highway). A few times we got lost in residential areas but we weren’t too worried because we didn’t have far to go to get to Çorlu. We got Silivri in good time and found ourselves in a medium sized pop up market. We parked our bikes and immediately an old man came up and tried to talk to us. A little while after a boy about six or seven years old came up and looked at our bikes. I told him we were American and responded with, “Ah! American!” and laughed. His response tickled me and I once again wished I knew Turkish. We walked our bikes through the market and then rode through Silivri. It was riding through Silivri that I realized that the chaos of the cities that had scared me before was now slightly comforting. After riding in the middle of nowhere for most the day before I welcomed the random and chaotic city streets. After Silivri is when things started going downhill (not literally). Haegan was doing his best with navigation but the map rarely matched the actual streets. We came to a residential area where the map showed a road that would take us to the coast. The road seemed to just be a path made by trucks for construction. We found a dirt road that looked like it might take us near the coast. It was deeply rutted and I had to walk most of it.  nce we got to the end, we met a guard who told us we had to go back. Apparently the road was private property and so was the neighborhood at the end of it. I was getting a little frustrated but I knew Haegan was doing his best. Getting off track a few times set us back significantly with time and the navigation never really got much easier. We crossed over the highway to start moving north of the coast. We ended up on another dirt road, this one uphill with more wind. Not as bad as the day before, but still an added challenge. Still tired from the day before, and discouraged, I broke down much sooner. I was frustrated that navigation was so difficult, that we kept running into rutted dirt roads, we were not going to make it to Çorlu before dark, and we were truly in the middle of nowhere.  n one of the dirt roads Haegan hit a loose section of gravel and fell. When that happened I really started to get nervous. He’s supposed to be the steady one, he’s stronger and much better at riding. I started to realize that if something happened while we were riding out there, we’d be in big trouble. I kept running the emergency number through my head, it became a little chant as we rode. We realized that best chance for getting to Çorlu was to ride on the D.100. It’s not a terribly busy highway, there are stoplights every once and a while, but it’s still a highway with buses and trucks and many of them don’t give a lot of space. When got on the D.100 my nerves caused me to pick up the pace and I was going at a good speed until I started to bonk. We barely ate that day, second bad decision after waking up late. We stopped at gas station and I ate the rest of our crackers. My biking gloves had caused me to lose feeling in my right thumb and I was started to get cold. We got back on the highway and suddenly all my energy was gone. I couldn’t stop crying and Haegan had to keep insisting I pick up the pace so we could get off the highway. It was bad, probably the most miserable I’ve ever been riding. My entire body hurt and it upset me that Haegan kept telling me to go faster when I felt I was going as fast as I could. I was also scared. Every truck or bus that passed too close caused me to panic. Even at the time though I could tell he was very stressed and just wanted us to be able to get off the D.100 as soon as we could. About two miles before Çorlu I noticed Haegan’s bags were falling off his bike. We pulled off and he realized his bag had broke. It was now impossible for him to go over any bump without his bags falling off the rear rack. We finally got off the D.100 and found ourselves at a four way stop, with no stop signs or lights. This is probably the best example of Turkish roads to explain the complete chaos of riding in the city. It was bizarre to watch as no one was hit, there were no accidents. It also made it completely impossible to go where we needed to go. After a bit of maneuvering, we made it through. We got to the Çorlu city center and found Mustafa, who had kindly offered to host us on CouchSurfing. We seriously lucked out. After the death march to Çorlu, Mustafa took us for dinner, gave us a place to sleep, and taught us some Turkish. We’ll tell you more about Mustafa and our stay with him in the next post.

The Adventure Begins

Autumn: We did it! We made it to Istanbul! Our adventure has finally begun after months of anticipation. Both our flights went smoothly, we had no problems with our hour long layover in Frankfurt. We even had time to scope out the airport Haribo selection. We had no luck sleeping on our first flight but managed in a short nap on the flight to Istanbul. Once we got to the airport the chaos began with trying to find the right passport control station. It was pretty simple getting to the baggage claim, but we had a quite a time getting all four of our boxes. Haegan’s box broke and he thought he’d lost one of his shoes. Thankfully all pieces were present and intact when we opened the boxes. We had tough time with the carts, first finding carts and then getting new carts when our first was taken when we weren’t paying attention. Once we got outside the first thing that hit me was the number of people smoking. It seemed as though every person waiting for a taxi was smoking, something I am not used to in the States. Haegan assembled the bikes in good time the taxi waiting area. We loaded up the bikes and set out in search of the tram. We managed to get on the right tram but got off a stop too late. We redirected ourselves, but when it came to train line change, we decided to walk instead of ride. Rush hour had begun and we realized there was no way we would be able to fit with our bikes on the tram. The decision to walk was a good idea, the actual walking was a little difficult. We walked nearly two miles uphill through pedestrian (and vehicle) packed sidewalks with our 50-60 pound loaded bikes. Once we got to the hostel we were warmly greeted by the staff and other travelers. We got settled and then ventured out to find food. Once we walked out of the hostel we realized just how close to Hagia Sofia the hostel is. We ate at what seemed like the Turkish equivalent of a diner, it was fairly similar to Mediterranean food. After dinner we were completely exhausted, but managed to stay up a few more hours to get adjusted to the time change. I was thinking today about doing things like navigating the trains is much more of a process here because we don’t know the language. It is not impossible, or really even that difficult, it just takes more time and concentration, and it’s lot easier to mess up. Overall, yesterday went pretty smoothly and I’m so glad to be here. Starting in Istanbul was definitely jumping in the deep end, but we’ve had a great time.

Haegan: Day one of crazy sightseeing. So much to see, so little time (and money). I’ll try to do a quick recap of the whole day. We got breakfast at the hostel (bread, dried apricot, and apricot for me) and set off to see as much as we possibly could. We started off with (what else but) the Hagia Sofia (30 turkish lira) or Ayasophia as it is also known. It’s everything you would expect and then some.

The Hagia Sophia
The Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia from the balcony level
Hagia Sophia from the balcony level

1700 years of history makes for a pretty amazing place. We saw ruins of the second church (of three) from the mid 400’s as well as the current Hagia Sophia and the tombs in the same complex. I don’t really know how to put it into words. The artistry and the engineering are both incredible. The main dome is over 56 meters across and standing in the main prayer area the building is overwhelming. There is so much space and so much happening visually that it takes a long time to take it all in. The mosaics in every building we went to see are amazing: thousands of tiles making up murals that once stood over 10 feet high. Although a lot hasn’t survived the 100’s of years, an amazing amount has and the preservation efforts have kept the mosques bright and colorful. In the same complex there were four or five tombs of sultans and other royalty, each with their own feel and tons of great artwork. All of the buildings constructed by sultans have a similar domed roof style and lots of arches/intricate masonry work. After that we decided to grab some food. We had bagels from a street vendor for one turkish lira I got a thin crispy seasame bagel and Autumn got a bagel with nutella for two turkish lira (40 cents and 80 cents) and then went to a little restaurant to grab some kotfe which are like meatballs, they were served with rice, vegetables, and some garnish. They were quite tasty. At the restaurant we met a guy from Texas with his girlfriend from Prague and chatted a bit about our trips. He gave a great overview along with a map of what they were doing while they are here which prompted us to add a few things to the day’s plans. Fortified we set off again. First the Blue Mosque: It was a little different because the Hagia Sofia is a museum, but the Blue Mosque is an active mosque. That means people are in and out five times a day with the call to prayer. During prayer it is closed to the public and because it is an active mosque there are fewer visitors, and a few more rules. All it meant for us was that Autumn had to cover her head and we had to remove our shoes before entering.

stained glass in the blue mosque
Stained glass in the Blue Mosque

The Blue Mosque was about the close for prayer when we got in so we didn’t stay very long but similar impressions to the Hagia Sofia but without in-progress restoration as everything was already in great shape because the Blue Mosque is in much newer (early 1600s…hardly new). From the Blue Mosque we headed straight to the Basilica Cistern. There’s a fairly small and unassuming building where you buy tickets, 20 turkish lira each, and go through a metal detector before heading down the stairs. As we found out, a cistern is a holding place for water brought in via aquaduct. This cistern was built for the Great Palace of Constantinople in the 6th century. It’s dark with ilumination coming only from lights the bottoms of the columns. Along with the two foot deep water on the bottom it has a very cool eerie feel to it. The cistern was built from recycled columns from other buildings so they are kind of random and different from one another. At one end there are two Medusa heads supporting two columns, one sideways and other upside down.

Medusa Head
Medusa Head

There is also a column called Hen’s Eye with eyes and tears carved into it, supposedly to recognize the slaves who died in the building of the cistern. From there we caught a tram (a light rail system runs through the streets of Istanbul) to the Suleymaine Mosque. All the public transit we’ve been on the has been awesome, every 5-7 minutes and only costs 4 turkish lira (about $1.60) but the downside is they are always packed! No space to even breathe. The Suleymaine Mosque is visited by fewer tourists than the Blue Mosque but equally if not more intricate and beautiful. I really liked the fact that is was less busy and with no line to get in. They layout was remarkably similar.

Another intricate dome
Another intricate dome
Autumn checking out the mosque
Autumn checking out the mosque
The Suleymaine Mosque
The Suleymaine Mosque

We decided to squeeze one more site into our already full day and set off in search of the Grand Bazaar. After wandering through small, steep, winding roads that we are now becoming used to, we got to the area outside the Bazaar which is packed with shops, some only about 5 square feet of space for the shopkeeper to occupy, goods spilling out everywhere. We saw hundreds of fabric shops with anything you can think of and then ended up on a whole street of lingerie before finding our way into the Baazar. Imagine a mall in a building over 500 years old. The inside is just as hilly as the streets outside and even more packed. People are smoking everywhere and some parts are pretty dimly lit. It was overwhelming to say the least.

the grand bazaar
The Grand Bazaar

We finished the day up with some awesome Turkish pizza from around the corner from our hostel. While I’ve been writing this post we met some cool people staying at the hostel, au pairs from Austria and Peace Corps members from Moldova here in their time off. In the first two, days here a few things have stood out to me. One was seeing police standing around with fully automatic weapons, Autumn pointed out how many cats are always wandering in the streets here, and realizing how different it is to be somewhere with a very different language. Getting used to not understanding much of anything said around you and not being able to read most signs is pretty strange. One thing that has made the whole experience so much easier is how kind everyone has been. Even though sometimes people have no idea what we are saying and we are just as confused, people have been very helpful. After someone took our luggage cart when we looked away, an airport attendant got us two new ones for free. When we got lost on the trains a nice man explained in the English he knew how to get where we needed to go and the security at the train stations let us take our bikes on board even though they weren’t really supposed to. So far it’s been amazing and I can speak for us both in saying it has been a great way to start the trip.