I thank everybody present at the goodbye-party, it was a beautiful moment!
Here are some pictures of this evening (photographs: Marta and Cheyenne):
On your mark. Get set. Go!
By a very sunny Saturday morning around 8h30 I made my way to East. Cecilie, David and Nadège were present for the Goodbyes. To start the trip not too anonymously was nice!
I first made a short stop at the Veloplus shop in Basel to buy a very last little screw, and then I went away! The biggest problem: In the moment it’s very hot! At the end of the day I had drunk seven liters of liquid. That mean I allowed myself many breaks. I first wanted to drive through Zürich, but changed my mind: The route along the Rhine river is way more beautiful and smoother, so I drove in direction of Schaffhausen. The more to the East, the nicer the Rhine. In particular from Laufenburg and Rheinau it becomes greenish-blueish – in combination to the green landscape it looks incredibly calming! A small tip to go swim: Go after Rheinau, I found there nice beaches underneath the cliffs, and it seems to be a popular place. In the end of the first day I arrived shortly before Schaffhausen, so I drove 123 km – a nice start!
But just before I entered Schaffhausen, I had to deal with a problem: I couldn’t use the small gears anymore, so that I couldn’t drive on steep roads anymore. Full of despair I decided to camp in a field. I arrived to a big farm after Rheinau. The owner was not even here, but two Austrian women, who were staying here for holidays, allowed me to stay for the night. So I built my tent next to the house.
The feeling of adventure overcame my despair and I still enjoyed the evening. I tried an instant meal of Coop (three cheese risotto, with too much salt and pepper but eatable) and had pleasure to drink an Ovomaltine chocolate with milk powder (very disgusting and watery, but it heals the hearth). The next morning I packed and managed to drive until Schaffhausen. I had to wait for a bicycle shop to open, so I spent time visiting the city and meeting a friend, Enrico (Evening beer, lunch and cinema). Schaffhausen is actually a nice little town. It’s famous for its pretty old town, bay windows and of course for the Rhine falls.
Mechanical problems always show up in an inconvenient moment (so called Murphy-law). Because the bicycle broke on Saturday evening I had to rest two days in Schaffhausen, because all bicycle shops were closed. On Monday I realized that the only shop that knew something about Rohloff was actually in summer holidays So… I decided to move to Winterthur, where I could find a Veloplus shop. There the seller was somehow skeptical and advised me to go back to the shop where I bought the bicycle. Sooooo… back to the starting point! I could clarify in Lörrach that the trouble was the gear box. It would give the transition between the cables and the actual Rohloff gear system but had a production problem – it was not even my fault. The easiest was to go directly to the fabric, which was near Freiburg-in-Breisgau, so I could spare the time of sending the pieces. The box should be replaced under guarantee.
Let’s move on! From Schaffhausen to Thal (near Rorschach) through Basel and Freiburg im Breisgau
After bringing my bicycle to the original fabric in Gundelfingen, near Freiburg, I could get repairs under guarantee. If only I knew in advance that it was the first time of a total of five (!!!) that the system broke down, I’d have had another attitude towards the service. Nevertheless, I had interesting conversations with the mechanics, who regularly travels through Germany and sleeps in a hammock, and I knew a little more about the bike system itself. After the service, I took the train to go directly back to Schaffhausen, where I had to stop.
Looking backwards, I see that the first two weeks were the toughest. Not only because of the breakdown, but also because of the emotions of leaving everything behind me. Just before going on the trip, I fell in love with a girl – it’s not a good feeling when you have 18 hours a day doing nothing but think. Also, I overestimated me, like I always do, and pushed too hard through the Austrian mountains. I was fit, but at some point the body just doesn’t follow and it lacks energy. Add to it the stress of sleeping outside every night and the fear of being discovered by angry or aggressive people… I was really stressed out, came until the point to wish myself an accident, so that I’d have an excuse of going back. Luckily I recognized the danger and forced myself to slow down. After those two weeks, I could find a routine and calm myself down. Even the packing of my 30 kg luggage wasn’t a problem anymore and with an optimized system I could find any object in the dark.
Despite all these troubles, I crossed really nice landscapes and have incredible human experiences.
All the way down near the Rhine is really worth it! The landscapes in Thurgau are incredible (green plain with a lot of water) and there are really beautiful cities on the way. Here we see the small city of Stein am Rhein, a true treasure of architecture and of paintings!
I made it on the « second » day until Rorschach, at the side of the Lake of Constance. I slept in the garden of a very gentle old woman, who lived with her man in a gigantic farmer house (first phase in the 16th century!) in Thal (SG) with view on the lake. I was at first a little shy to ask, and she was surely prudent and a little afraid, but the next morning she invited me to drink coffee with her – a really very nice human experience!
The next morning, I left my beloved Switzerland to reach the little city of Feldkirch. The dropping of the prices did good to my wallet (22 Euro for chicken-curry rice with soup, 1 beer, 1 cola, 1 big ice tea, 1 coffee) and I could enjoy the best thing about restaurants: The Wifi! Most of them have it, so I can upload photos and answer messages while eating.
Austria: part 1
After spending the night in Klösterle, I woke up at 5 AM because of the sun and was displeased to see that you can’t cross the Arlbergpass by bicycle because of works in the tunnel. The traffic on the pass made it too dangerous and they forced you to take the shuttle bus. I waited until 9 AM, chilling at a bakery-café (Austrian pastries are famous and now I know why) and talked to people – most of them were impressed by my plans.
In the shuttle, I met a running-biker. He was quite funny (long beard, big ear piercing, kind of alternative-hipster kind of guy) and was skeptical about my capacities for such a trip. I explained I was trained for the bike and running…
Then I met an Australian man, who comes from Malaysia and makes the trip from Augsburg to Bolzen. I didn’t know yet, but I’d meet him again in Melbourne…
I made the trip to Landseck with him – it was fun! After that I continued alone, because I had to hurry if I wanted to reach Innsbruck before night. On the way, we met a polish girl who makes a trip through the alps (cf. www.womencyclists.com).
The valley of the Inn is really a very nice place, you should go once if you have the occasion! I particularly loved the impressive churches stuck up big rocks.
At the end of the day, there was a big storm. I really got afraid, because I had to drive about 10 km under the thunder (which is not a very intelligent thing to do, but yeah, I am not a clever man + I really wanted to reach Innsbruck, it was only 18 o’clock). The wind was so incredibly strong that it almost made me fall from the bike and the air was filled with dust and limited strongly the sight. It ended happily – I reached the city and could find the youth hostel, a very nice place at the border of the Inn-river.
Austria: part 2, Hungary, Serbia, Bulgaria
The trip through Austria was quite exhausting. I was really tired of traveling through mountains, I had to go through some passes (Now in Belgrade I already have about 6000 m high difference!). The way to Zell looks very like as in Switzerland, very green with mountains, the people were incredibly nice and helpful. I could tell you many places to visit, like Schwaz (my crush on the road: small city with lots of cafés, beautiful buildings with paintings and big church), Ellmau if you like Downhill and mountain bike (there were hundreds of people riding), St. Johann (seems very traditional, anyway there were only old people 🙂 ) or Zell (seems like a kind of golden coast on a lake… everything was written in Arabic, because it seems to have a lot of tourist of Saudi Arabia; it was a funny thing to see a woman in Niqab taking pictures of the lake with people lying in bikini around…).
I managed to go to Zell, but after that I decided to take the train and spare me the mountains. I took a little rest in Graz, which is a lovely city. Especially the city hill is beautiful, since you have a great view and a lot of things to see (city clock, fortifications…). But Graz was also the place of other troubles: I had the bad surprise to see that I reached my bank limit (because I took my safety money in Switzerland from this account), so I had to put a higher limit. I spent one night at a small local to eat a goulash in an Austrian ambiance: There was yodel music, everybody smoked in the bar, and everybody was drunk. A guy fell two times of the bar, so that they called an ambulance – the waitress felt very sorry 🙂
After two days I continued in direction of Hungary. I was expecting a lot of Szombathely, since it was a roman colony, but I was slightly disappointed: The museum was closed because of restoration and nobody could tell me if I could find some roman ruins. I just chilled out a little by drinking a coffee an making my first experiences by eating Hungarian pastry – incredibly great and cheap (10 Euro cents for a small bread, pastry for less than 1 Euro).
After that I went further to the east and was released, that it became much smoother than before. I went to the Balaton lake (a little Geneva lake feeling, it felt great) and small villages, until I came to Serbia.
Hungary was also a great human experience. Although a lot of people seemed quite cold to me and nobody really speaks English, I also met some really nice people, for example at a bar in Kaloz, where a guy paid me a beer and an energy drink for the route, or in a small village, where two old ladies made me sandwiches (again, so cheap: like 50 Euro cents for one meet sandwich). In conclusion, I would just tell you: Go to Hungary for tourism (as long as you re a little adventurous(, there are lots of nice places, people are great and the food is good!
Meeting some cyclists on the way boosted my moral, and seeing that I was faster than most of them pushed my ego. I spent a very nice moment with a German couple: we stayed together at a camping ground in Baja, not far from the Serbian border. Life seemed easy.
Finally, the crossing of the Serbian border was pretty epic. Not because of the border control – they didn’t even check my equipment, even though I was leaving Europe – but because I went first to a border that was closed since years. Instead of crossing « illegally », I decided to go to an official border through a small dirt path. That’s the moment heavy rain decided to fall down and I kind of felt like a German soldier going against Russia during WW2: so much dirt on your wheels that you cannot move anymore with your too heavily packed vehicle… But the reward was worth the price: In the first village I found public water to clean the bicycle, and an absolutely gigantic statue of Holy Mary…I stopped for the night in a hotel in Sombor, where I could properly wash my cloths and the bike.
Serbia was a big surprise: While I didn’t really expect anything, or maximum a poor country with scars of the past wars, I discovered very hospitable people with an amazing history to present, and the food was not bad either! The streets are perfect, the cities are really well restored (Sombor is really nice, Belgrade too, but the best is Novi Sad!). Anyway, a lot of people seem to struggle to survive, like this waitress in a café, with who I had conversation, who earns only 200 Euro a month…
In Serbia I crossed several nice cities, like Sombor and Novi Sad. There are literally thousands of Pakara (bakeries) as well in Serbia as in Hungary, one at every street. For me, who wanted to be a baker as a child, it s quite a dream… The seller of a shop in Rumantska, right before Nova Sad, offered me the breakfast (boerek, croissant, bread and coffee), it was so nice! She comes from Russia and told me that a couple also stopped in this bakery some months ago, who travels the world by bike (I couldn’t find their address, but it should be on Facebook with something like /madworld/).
I really enjoyed to stay in the city of Belgrade. For me, the best comparison would be to call it a small Berlin. It seems like it’s still not very touristic. Prices are very cheap and most foreigners I met were backpackers or young people traveling with Interrail. One great meeting was with a swiss guy from the Jura. He first recognized that I was from Switzerland because of my very strong accent on the phone with my mom 🙂 we spent some time together eating fish on the side of the Danube, visited the cathedral and then spent the evening at some bars.
I was in the military museum of Belgrade. Very interesting place, where we learn something about the history of Serbia and Yugoslavia from roman to modern times. A small issue: It quite stops at the second war, interestingly no word about Tito or Milosevic. There was just one room talking about the aggression and crimes of the UNO, with uniforms from American prisoners or with rests of shot American planes. It seems that the UNO used forbidden weapons (nuclear, graphite…) and tortured people. Anyway, it seems to be very fresh and sensible, so I decided not to talk to people about it…
The way went then through some impressive archaeological sites. I stopped at Vinca, a site with an important phase of the neolithic period (cf. photo with ‘cat-faced vase’), at Viminacium, a roman colony (also with rests of mammoths found due to the coal extractions), at many roman sites like a bridge built by emperor Trajan or camps for soldiers, and at Lepenski Vir, a site of the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods (one of the most important sites of this periods! It’s constituted of high huts with burials inside the houses. Also, a lot of anthropomorphic stone figures were found).
The way through Bulgaria had some passes, but was disturbingly easy. I think I started to really get used to this trip and my fitness improved. I made stops in Sofia, a city that counts numerous beautiful spots but is somehow disfigured by the ugly soviet architecture, and Plovdiv, a crush of the trip, a very nice and quiet little city. Both cities have amazing museums containing numerous treasures, in particular the remains of Thracian culture. The best experience though was in Gamzigrad – Felix Romuliana. I really recommend visit this place: It was the palace of emperor Galerius and is inscribed at the UNESCO patrimony. It was also a place where I could taste the amazing Serbian hospitality: Thanks to my Bulgarian friend and coworker Daniel, who I met first on an archaeological field in Xanten, Germany, I had contact to the director of the site of the antic palace of Galerius. He received me in his office, presented me the museum, let me inside the site for free, and even invited me to stay at his house! On the site, I met an American team from Boston, which planned surveys and referencing of the sites. Together we had a big meal on the first day and donuts on the second.
I then made my way to Bulgaria, with stops in Sofia and Plovdiv. The last one was a big discovery: I never heard of it before, but it displays amazing roman ruins and museums contain treasures of the Thrakian civilization. After Plovdiv, I decided to skip the bicycle part to take the bus to Istanbul, since I was told the region on the way is very harsh and the entrance to Istanbul by bicycle highly dangerous.