Thursday, 6 September 2012

Day 90-93 Amsterdam to Whitley Bay. 45kms (3950kms total!!!)

16 months after our journey began last May, our travels are over and we're finally back on English soil.  Our 3950km (2454 mile) bicycle trip has come to an end, arriving into North Shields last Tuesday to a hero's welcome.  It was tempting to add the ferry's distance onto our total, or cycle round the block a few times till we'd reached 4000km's, but we refrained and are still pretty chuffed with our total.

Tulips anyone?  At Amsterdam Flower Market
We had a fabulous weekend in Amsterdam, catching up with old friends, reuniting with new friends from our travels and celebrating Johns birthday.  It was also amazing arriving in a city that's so dominated by bicycles, and such beautiful ones at that.  I was ever so tempted to buy a huge shopping bike with basket or trailer, but it just wouldn't have fit in my hand luggage, and now that we own 6 bikes between us I think we need to get rid of a few before buying anymore.

John and Ad putting the hangover to one side for a birthday breakfast

Birthday celebrations with friends

A visit to The Movies to watch the latest Woody Allen film (pity half of it was in Italian with Dutch subtitles, oops!)

After a short 30km's to the ferry port we embarked on our 'poor man's cruise' across the seas, with John's family and a huge banner dominating the fish quay as we pulled into the Newcastle port.  It was amazing to see them from the ship - we felt so special & I'm sure were the envy of other passengers.  John said it was the wind making his eyes water but I'm not so sure!  Our final 10kms took us up the coast to John's home town of Whitley Bay where we celebrated our homecoming in style & took time to reflect on our achievements.  

Waiting to board - our final moments on the continent
Nearly home - approaching the beautiful Tyne coastline
John's family welcoming us back from the Fish Quay

So 'real life' resumes!  It's actually been a really busy week, catching up with family, getting the van ready for her all important MOT, applying for jobs (now that we're skint) and house hunting (now that we're homeless).  It's been great though & we're embracing all of the comforts we've missed out on over the last few months.  My favourite has to be sleeping with a pillow every night - what luxury!  And Johns mum's amazing home cooking. 

With just £100 (5000 Thai Baht) of our fundraising total left to reach, we'd be so grateful for any last minute donations to New Life.  The photos prove we definitely did make it all the way.  Click here to donate 

And what now you ask??  Well we're happy to get comfortable back here, at least for a little while.  But I think the travel bug will always be with us so watch this space.  Thanks to everyone for reading our blog, sending messages of encouragement & supporting us along the way.  It's been a blast.  

Laura & John, 
Over and Out. xxx

MADE IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Friday, 24 August 2012

Day 74 - 89 Berlin to Amsterdam. 870kms (Total 3905kms)

Hello from Amsterdam!!!  How long I've been waiting to say that :-)  3900km's done and the last major stop before reaching home.  So close to 4000km...I've even wondered whether we should do a small detour to reach the milestone...but I don't think our weary bones would be too happy & I guess we've already done 900kms more than we first predicted.  I can't actually believe we're here!  I think we need to look at a map of Europe to really take in what we've done.

After birthday celebrations & goodbyes in Berlin, we picked up the Europa Radweg 1 further south & once again joined more bicycle tourists plodding along between campsites.  We passed through many a beautiful town and lots of lovely forest, sipping large beers along the way.  For those of you expecting us to be fit, skinny minnies on arrival home will be disappointed - Germany made sure our fat supplies (well mine anyway!) stayed plentiful with amazing beers, breads & ice cream cafes throughout.

Crossing into Holland a few days ago meant we had to forget all our basic German & unfortunately reverted back to English...we're both so exhausted with (badly) attempting other languages that Dutch seemed just too ambitious, luckily everyone we've spoken to has near perfect English and with our broad smiles haven't been too annoyed.

We've once again met some wonderful people & been treated so well along the way.  Particular shout outs go to Mariam, Norma, Bob & Jim who were staying in a caravan next to us in Munster - they took pity on our cheese sandwiches & kindly cooked for us, as well as watering us with plenty of wine & brandy.  The cycling wasn't so easy the next day.  Also to Rolf, who offered us his garden to camp in & got a bbq & beers in especially.  The main thing I'll take away from this trip is the kindness of strangers, so please folks, if you see any tired, scruffy cyclists passing your way, do remember us & invite them in for a cup of tea - it might just make their day.

On a slightly more negative note, what's with all the bleedin' head wind?!  It wasn't until a couple of days ago when we raced along at 25kmph on the flat feeling super motivated that I realised what a difference it makes & how much its shaped our trip ...I think we'd have done the route a month quicker had we gone the other direction. All about the character building (or whatever they say) though...

Right, here's a few pics and then we're done....until next week, when we'll write our final update from Newcastle!  Thanks for all the support guys, still not sure how many or who is reading our blog but we appreciate it all the same.

Cycling along the Berlin Wall with Stephy Spaghetti
Fun times at late-night outdoor parties
A bike shop made for John
Birthday dinner in Berlin
A posh roadside lunch
The twin town of Skegness!
One of our fave camping spots
John was swept off his feet by our amazing host Rolf
These 45 cyclists were all cancer survivors doing a tour of German children's hospitals...very inspiring
Country number 10!  Holland!
SO excited to reach Amsterdam


     


Thursday, 9 August 2012

One Week in Berlin

Hello again- john here. this time on a German kezboard. So when zou see a Z.. i mean a Y. And the other waz round too.  Its a different lazout...  Alles Klar?

We cant reallz saz weve done anz more czcling, other than wheeling around between bars, restaurants and all night techno raves (we are in Germanz after all), but we have seen quite a few old friends and generallz had a grand old time of it.  Laura had been here before, but i dont think i had, and it was nice to explore.  We saw some sights and sounds and beers and foods.  Riding the bikes without the bags on was verz nice. 

LauraƤs freind Monika put us up in here flat in Neu Kolln, and was a luxurz to have access to a fridge and kettle with lots of tea bags.  Our good friend Steph from Manchester came to visit us here too, and managed to meet up with Myrtle and H, Ron and Sabina, and again it was amaying to see friendlz faces all around! Strange to be in Berlin, but still have dinner with 8 nice friends.

The main event was of course LauraƤs birthdaz, hitting the ripe age of 29.  I sorted a mzsterz daz of treasure hunting around the citz and splurged on a posh hotel (13th floor, good though!) And then we met our friends for an Indian meal, and went home with swollen bellies. Good daz!

Todaz i write this from Potsdam, on our waz out of Berlin as we ease back into the saddle.  Its onlz a 35km daz or something, but it gets us out of the citz and back into our tent where we can route plan the next stages and hopefullz side step anz hills. 

Ive got some work lined up for the 7th of September which is fantastic news for me.  We just have about 800km left, mz birthday, a ferrz from amsterdam, see the familz, fix the van, get back down to Manchester, and find somewhere to live. Easz.

Massive thanks to all the new people who have Sponsored us-  amaying stuff!!!!! It feels great have this support and keep the pedals turning.

Ok, we have just managed to find some gas for the stove which ran out 2 weeks ago, which means a good meal tonight at the campsite.

Auf Wiedersehen!!



Friday, 3 August 2012

Day 51 - 66 Vranovska Plaz to Berlin. 685km (Total 3035km)

Greetings from Berlin, woop!!!  Feels like a super duper milestone to have reached, having made it into country number 8 with less than a month & only Holland to go.  We've also managed to clock up 3000km, which was my original estimate for the whole trip - does that mean we can stop now?!  


German tourers travelling with 2 dogs

Its great to be on the flat again - Czech was tough & by the time we got to Prague was taking its toll.  One particularly large hill looked like a roller coaster from the distance, I wasn't impressed when we got closer & realised it was our road ahead.  We made the decision to do the last few km's into Prague by train - a bit of a cop-out but with our large scale road map & the usual big city traffic it would have taken hours to navigate the city centre.  I have no regrets.  

Cheeky ride on the train! Only a few km's I promise

I've been to Prague twice before & had great memories of a beautiful old town and VERY cheap beer.  Although having had beer for 12p a glass in Vietnam everything's extortionate to us now. Anyhoo's we managed to bagsy ourselves a city centre campsite & explore the fine city with beer breaks along the way. Even an amazing vegetarian restaurant – what a treat!

Tasty and cheap.  Mmmmmmmm........
In Prague we were told about the Elbe River bicycle route, which would take us to Dresden & beyond - once again allowing us to travel on the flat with bike signs helping us along the way. It lived up to our expectations & – the scenery was stunning & it was great to once again be surrounded by other cyclists on the popular route. Only on occasion were we left completely bemused by where the bike path took us:

To cycle or not to cycle...?

A bike route?  Seriously?!

The crossing into Germany was understated to say the least & we wouldn't have noticed had it not been for a large group of retired tourers hastily studying their maps. In Dresden we were joined by our friends Andy & Maja, who live near Frankfurt & kindly made the trip across Germany to hang out for the weekend (would have been a slightly difficult detour for us). It was great to kick back, hang out amongst friends and relax in a great city. Always good to have an excuse for a rest day too!

The closest we got to the German flag near the border

Crazy pics on Andy's snazy camera
Fun times in Dresden

Onwards to Berlin, we continued along the Elbe for a couple more days before diverting north, once again relying on our navigational skills & keeping our fingers crossed for little traffic & no hills.  Thankfully we weren't dissapointed & have made it into Berlin in one piece.  Fun times ahead!x


SO many bikes!!!
3000km, oh yeah!

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Budapest to Prague in Pics

The beautiful buildings of Budapest
Kicking back with Mamma Pike
Relaxing at the amazing thermal baths
Happy that an old friend had come to visit
There's no turning back now
Crossing the Danube
The former border crossing - definitely past its best
Country number 6 - Slovakia
The view from our temporary home in central Bratislava
Arriving in Austria on a very rainy day with fellow tourer Martin
Once a scout, always a scout
We almost didn't notice we'd arrived in the Czech Republic
John?  Eating pizza?  Surely not!  
Prague by night
Dresden here we come!!!

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Day 40 - 50 Budapest to Vranovska Plaz (Czech). 559km (Total 2350km)

Very fast tap tap tap. on a public computer, 15 minutes only.  Access to the internet has been difficult, harder in Austria then in a tiny one street town in Serbia.  Who would have thought?

So..

Had a nice time in Budapest with Mother Pike too,  in a geat pokey apartment that we had for a luxurious 5 days rest.  The boiler looked like a part of a V2 flying bomb but we didnt explode so good times.  It was great to have a cooker and a fridge. Something our tent does not have (not in this climate anyway).

An easy route out of budapest along the EV6 route path, well signed and smooth going to our next country and capital city-  Bratislava in Slovakia.  We even got in a few little ferries across the rver to mix it up.    Bratisalava was only 2 nights for us, but we lucked in with a groupe of a 100 kayakers who had set up camp right smack bang in the centre on the nice river bank, in a private kayaking club ground.  I charmed them with my tedious Slovakian and German, then switched to English since that was easier (and less annoying for them), and we snuck in with them and enjoyed some high society (location anyway) city camping.  Thanks Siggy!! We had some late night drunken swimming in the then chilly Danube.  Nice!!  A great camp.

Our route, and the location of Bratislava, meant that we were in and out of Slovakia within 48 hours.  A nice illusion of speed!  A simple but boring route west into Austria and Vienna.  We got soaked in our wettest day yet.  Luckily our clothes were in plastic bags, so safe and snug.  But my bag was open, so a lot was wet.  Also a good samaritan deed added 25km to my day in the rain, but its all good karma.

so so so..

Vienna, um, wet, expensive (for us)!  great architecture and a nice subway system though.  Poor camp site.  Collect the rubbish!!

I have ran out of time.  Suffice to say, right now we have made it into Czech Republic, after a great route through Austria.  We slept in an empty scout hut one night, just me and Laura.  what would Lord Powell say!!  It was great.  I used to be a scout and have very fond memories of it all.

More pictures and less haste next post.

Godspeed!!  John

Friday, 6 July 2012

Day 28 - 39 Bela Crkva to Budapest (Hungary)

Hello!!  It's been a few days since the last post & the best part of 2 countries, Serbia and Hungary.  With the deadline of meeting Mamma Pike in Budapest on July 3rd we had a goal in mind & so apart from an extra day in Belgrade were on a bit of a mission to make up the KM's in time. 

The ride has continued to be mainly flat (which has suited us greatly) and mostly followed the Danube all of the way.  We've tried to follow the Eurovelo 6 route as much as possible, although I doubt how often the organisers have cycled with heavy panniers considering it's taken us over two 10km stretches cycling on grass.  That said, it's helped us avoid the busier highways which is a blessing. 

John unimpressed by the route ahead


Once again the locals have been amazingly hospitable & we've been overwhelmed by the kindness of strangers.  Our first camping experience was with Dragan, right on the banks of the Danube in Serbia who let us camp for free in his garden (even though he advertised as a campsite) and kept us fed & watered with Schnapps for the evening. 

Tan marks starting to show!


As John mentioned, food has been a bit of an issue and it came to a head when hanging out with Dragan and his friends.....basically I'd been ravenous for weeks, feeling very unsatisfied and sick of living off bread, cheese and salad.  Dragan and his 6 friends were having a BBQ, and on hearing I was vegetarian kindly produced a plate containing a block of cheese, couple of tomatoes and a cucumber.  I nearly cried.  For the previous hour they'd been BBQing a whole bunch of fish they'd caught on the river and were whole heartedly tucking into the feast.  Peer pressure & pure hunger were just too much and eventually I caved....after nearly 13 years of being vegetarian (which I still like to think I am) I caved and ate some fish...and it was delicious.

Another clone of our lovely Roo


Another stroke of luck came our way a few hundred kilometres down the line when we were trying to find a place to camp for the night.  We'd set our sights on the small village of Bac Monostor and amazingly it turned out there was a free reggae festival with camping on while we were there.  We met a great bunch of Serbian young people and had heaps of fun dancing into the small hours (well, 11.30pm actually when we both hit the deck with music still blasting in the background) and got back on the bikes with fuzzy heads the next morning.

Hungary has been equally as hospitable and after a hardcore couple of days we finally made it to the capital city.  What a luxury it has been to have 4 days off the bike, see family, have an apartment to stay in and somewhere to cook hearty meals of our choosing.  John's first port of call was the local supermarket to buy cereal & soya milk - something he's been craving for months. 

Hurray for bike signs!


SO!  We're basically half way through the trip.  It's great to have reached a real milestone and we're very excited about the next few weeks, meeting up with friends and family along the way.  Unfortunately our computer that tells us how far we've gone seems to have broken but we've done about 1700km so far and are feeling slightly proud of ourselves.  Now all we need is to reach our sponsorship target (we're not quite half way yet) so it would be amazing if you could spare even just a couple of pounds to help us support New Life Foundation.  Our fundraising page is here:  www.simplygiving.com/istanbultoamsterdam

Next stop Slovakia!  The 2nd half of our trip should be great fun and takes in some amazing cities; Bratislava, Vienna, Prague, Dresden, Berlin and Amsterdam.  Bring it on!!!x

One of the many sunflower fields we passed along the way

A well needed afternoon nap

Waiting for the fun to begin at the Bac Monostor Reggae Festival

Crossing the border into Sebia

A couple of days in the not-quite-so-beautiful Belgrade

Kicking back with Dragan and friends near the Danube.  Not sure where the women are?!
Happy to finally meet up with mum in Budapest