Part 1: Crossing Europe
A 4,000km cycle from London to Istanbul
On a rainy July day I started my journey from Trafalgar Square, London. I wouldn't reach Sydney for a whole year.
I'd bought my first bike the year before and my 'practice expedition', in which i set off to cycle to the North of Scotland, lasted only three days before i got bored and took the train home.
I decided to leave the 9 to 5, quit my office job and head off in search of adventure. I wasn't sure of my exact plan but I wanted to somehow cycle to Australia... I'm sure I'd figure out how to do that along the way.
There are endless ways you could cycle across Europe. I loosely planned out a route based on meeting some friends, attending some events and taking in some sights, but my route evolved as I headed east. Sometimes wanting to speed up and make some progress and at other times wanting to slow down and take it all in.
From London I cycled to the coast at Dover and took a ferry to Dunkirk. A quick ride up the coast found me in Brugge to meet some old friends. From there a leisurely canal route took me to Brussels via Ghent. In Brussels I spent a weekend with a group of Couchsurfers from around the world. Couchsurfing would play an important part on my journey across Europe, and indeed further afield!
After Brussels I headed through the Ardenne to Luxembourg and from there I left any semblance of a sensible or efficient cross-Europe route to head south, and at times back west, to explore the Alps.
In Switzerland I met Sem, a wise and experienced cycle tourer who is possibly the nicest person I have ever met. Arriving, soaked through, on a rainy evening Sem took me in and convinced me to stay an extra night. In this time Sem imparted some invaluable knowledge and experience that would shape my route and approach to the whole journey. Had I not ran in to Sem at this early stage who knows where i would have ended up!
After a broken chain and many thousands of excruciatingly slow metres climbed I made it across the great range (4 times in all!). Next time I cycle in the Alps I'm taking a lightweight carbon road bike as opposed to my 50kg tourer!
After this somewhat slow diversion I searched out flatter ground to make up for lost (but completely worthwhile) time playing in the mountains.
I followed the Danube through Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest, Novi Sad and Belgrade. From there I continued south in Serbia before cutting directly across Bulgaria, taking in the 2 largest cities; Sofia and Plovdiv.
This took me to the border with Turkey, where I cycled the last few days down the Mediterranean coast to Istanbul to end the European leg of my journey.
"You can't buy happiness, but you can buy a bicycle and that's pretty close."
Belgium to Switzerland
The first couple of weeks was fairly planned out with places to be and people to see. Europe is an excellent place to be in summer and every camp site was full of other people doing adventurous and interesting things. I met lots of cyclists, long-distance motorbikers and backpackers , most of whom would invite me nightly to join them for food or wine around the campfire.
Author pictured across smashing some "traditional" double fried belgian fries with meat sauce after arriving in to Brugge at 10:30pm on day 2 of the trip - no time to change out of sweaty cycle clothes!
Next up... the Alps!
My route, arguably unnecessarily, criss crossed the Alps four times. The climbs on a 50kg laden bike were tough but the descents and scenery made every pedal revolution worth it!
BE THE MOUNTAIN
Col de Forclaz, Switzerland
I met these three crazy Dutch guys in France. They had eBayed 3 touring bikes, panniers and a trailer and were cycling from Amsterdam to Rome. They carried a ludicrous amount of stuff - not only did they all have front and rear panniers, but an additional 40kg trailer between them. They had 4 tents between 3 people, one "relaxing tent".
I met them outside a supermarket on the outskirts of Metz. We bought some beers and cycled to the municipal campsite, where we shared beers over the campfire and talked about our upcoming routes and cycle touring - topics that neither party knew much about!
"Switzerland is a small, steep country, much more up and down than sideways, and is all stuck over with large brown hotels built on the cuckoo clock style of architecture"
- Ernest Hemmingway
After a couple of weeks in the Alps I headed for a more sensible gradient. The Eurovelo 6 cycle way, also known as the Donau Radweg, followed the river Danube from Passau in Germany to the Black sea in Bulgaria, and as it follows a river it is all downhill!
Although great to be making faster progress i wasn't prepared for the summer heat wave in Serbia and Hungary, with temperatures topping out at 43 degrees!
In Serbia I met another Couchsurfer called Nebojsa. He joined me for 3 days as we cycled down the Danube river, staying with his grandmother in a rural village on the Romania-Serbia border. When we arrived she cooked us a meal and presented us with some neatly folded pyjamas. Nebojsa is a talented photographer and we took the chance to show his grandmother some pictures from my trip through Europe.
I left the Danube in the south of Serbia, after following the river for two thousand winding kilometres. From there it was a quick blast across Bulgaria to hit the sea in Turkey.
End of Europe
After 2 months and 4,000km i reached Istanbul where i was treated to the great surprise of my Mum flying out to visit (along with food care package and some fresh cycling shorts!).
Istanbul is a bottle neck for overland travellers heading east and i was fortunate to bump into 10 other cycle tourers all travelling in the same direction. We swapped route plans and contact information and as luck would have it I would cross paths with many of them again across all corners of the globe!
From Istanbul I teamed up with an Aussie cyclist called Brad, to take on the largest country yet together, Turkey.