Posts Tagged With: Europe is old

Day 40: Ljubljana to Ozeljan – 85k

3,222km down: 3,003km to go

I had an interesting start to the day. I had organized a wakeup call, as I always worry about not waking up on time and keeping everyone waiting for the convoy (I could of course just set the alarm on the phone). I was awake at 5am but then I went back to sleep and then I woke up with the sound of banging. I lay in bed for a while and then worked out it was the sound of knocking on a door. I lay there wishing the person in the room would open their blimmin door! Next thing a man unlocks my door and walks in and politely says “Time to wake up” and walks out again. I had not realized it was my door, as my room – as I said yesterday – was huge!

I thought to myself, after he had gone, what a quaint way to do a wakeup call, if I had known he was going to come up to my room maybe he could have bought me a cup of tea! I wondered if they had had problems with wakeup calls with people going back to sleep after they rang them. Haha, all was revealed when I went to unplug the iPad and found that I had unplugged the phone when I had plugged the iPad in to charge – doh! I had to rush around as by this stage as it was 5:55am and bags had to be down at 6am! Luckily I had packed last night.

So the good news today was that we were only riding 85k, the bad news was it was in 33+ degrees heat, and there were two significant hills – one was 5k and one was 10k, with some serious steep bits, one with a 15% gradient. I managed to get up the hills, although at one point I did hit my slowest speed ever without falling off.

The hills were up the Julian Alps which is the mountain range in between Slovenia and Italy. We stopped at 44k for lunch, this was at the steepest bit. It was the site of old Roman ruins. After another 10k we got to the peak but it was more rollers from lunch than steep hills.

Going down was great. It was about 15k, I still did not get over my top speed of 55 kilometres an hour but hit that three or four times. After the 55kmph mark I always start thinking about landing with face on the road, and then I start breaking!

We passed through some lovely little towns, one called Črniče looked really old, I googled it, and it is.

Ciran said to us that as soon as we got over the top of the ranges that we would be able to see how dry it was and he was right. Along with Ljubljana, this area is also suffering from lack of rain. It is so dry that the grass is brown.

I got to an intersection before the camp and there were two directions and no flag. “Damn,” I thought “Don’t tell me I have made a wrong turn again”. I took out my notes and spent a couple of minutes pondering, as it was about the right point to be near the camp. I decided I would ride another kilometre and otherwise I would go back to the last flag. Well would you believe it! I went another 100 metres and there was the camp. The ground here is so dry it’s cracked.

Camp Lijak (today’s camp)

Even with the hills we still got here by 1pm. It was 5 Euro for Wifi and 16 Euro for a wooden box called a room. Prices are starting to climb! The camp owner sells beer but not wine. Rob saw a sign for wine across the road and went over to buy some, he came back with a bottle that was like a fizzy drink 1.5 litre type bottle. We asked him what sort of wine it was, his answer was “red”. We all had a small glass, it was surprisingly good.

Is it a prison? Is it a toilet? No it’s my accommodation for tonight! Bit of a contrast from last night’s kingside bed.

Side view of accommodation. It is eco friendly (even has a straw mattress)

My accommodation for the night

There are a lot of flies here, Yarn spent a bit of time catching flies and setting up a fly farm, his aim was to have two flies under each glass.

Yarn with his fly farm

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Day 37: Gorišnica to Prebold – 106k

3,077km down: 3,148km to go

Well was meant to be 106k but when I wrote down the directions last night I somehow managed to not write down the very first instruction “Go right at 0.4 km”.

I woke up late this morning, I have got out of the habit of setting my alarm as a number of the riders get up well before I need to, so I have got used to being woken up by them. However of course we were in a room so this did not work this time. I woke Walli up at 6:30, so not too much panic as breakfast was at 7 but we had missed getting the bags down to the van by 6:30. So we rushed around getting ready, I took the first bag down to where the bags had been left the day before, but there were no tents, no riders, no van – I had a moment of “Oh my god it must be much much later and I must have read the time wrong!”. My main concern was how the hell we were going to carry a large day bag each!

Anyway I thought “Ok, take a deep breath, walk right around the complex” and phew found everyone on the other side. We had to gulp down breakfast, so only had time for one cup of tea.

So due to being in a hurry and missing a vital part of the instructions I did not see the flag at 0.4k because I was not looking for it. So 18k later I arrived back at the hotel where I reset my speedometer and looked for flags. I saw the one at 0.4k – though it was not obvious, it was on a wall, not in the line of sight – and of course all the rest of the instructions made sense after that.

However to put it in context, I have only got lost for more than a couple of kilometres twice and there have been 30 riding days so far. With the amount of kilometres that we do and the small side roads, dirt roads, and twists and turns, it’s not bad. We stay at campsites where we don’t have access to a printer, and the side roads and dirt roads are not on our paper maps. So we rely on written instructions, flags (which a couple of times have been removed by street cleaners). I don’t carry my iPad on my bike as it needs Wifi to be able to get directions, and I don’t have 3G internet on it.

Anyway it was perfect weather for getting lost today. Once I got about 20k into the correct ride, I rang one of the tour guides to let them know that although I would be late to lunch I was ok. Anyway I got to the right place in the end (and was not the last rider to camp) and we got a room. Tomorrow night and the next night are at the rest spot in Ljubljana (I am still practicing how to pronounce this).

It was beautiful countryside today, lots of flowers, every house is ablaze with a palate of colour. There are flowers at every window, geraniums in mostly red but some had a mixture of a number of colours, all were very pretty. It’s pretty much how I imagine the country side in Italy will look. You can tell we are further south as there are flower beds as well as flower boxes.

We went through a lot of small villages and one really old town called Ptuj, the oldest city in Slovenia. There is evidence that it was settled in the Stone Age. By the 1st century BC the city was controlled by ancient Rome, by 103 AD the city had 40,000 inhabitants. It is a very beautiful old city, it’s hard to believe that I have been in somewhere that is that old!

Ptuj as seen by Kaye’s blurry camera

Ptuj as per the photo from Wikipedia

I rode by myself today for most of the way and thought about a lot of the stuff we had seen. When I originally signed up for the ride I had signed up for the Amber route which finishes on the 18th August in Venice, but then the ride was extended to Lisbon and renamed the Trans-Europe route which I then signed up to. I wondered if I would regret this decision but I have to say that although I miss my family and friends I am not yet ready to come home. I am looking forward to riding through Italy, France, Spain and Portugal. I think the best sites are yet to come: the wine, the food, and if today is anything to go by, the colour! I consider myself to be very privileged to be here, not only to have the time, the money, and the opportunity, but also the physical ability to do this.

A number of houses have pizza ovens outside. The pizza here of course is nothing like you get in New Zealand. When we ordered a pizza in Bratislava we ordered the small one each, and it was bigger than an extra large back home. We were pleased we had not ordered the large, but were interested so we asked how big the big one was – well just at that moment another waitperson walked past with one – it was like 48 inches!

The camp we are staying at tonight is the closest to the perfect campsite we’ve come across so far – though there are always some suggestions for added improvements, today’s is wake up calls even if you didn’t order one, with a tray with two cups of tea. The guest brochure here says “This camp is distinguished by unmutilated nature, unpolluted air, and peace”. Though maybe not once the riders arrived, as the peace was shattered of course. The website is www.Dolina.si

We have a new rider who joined us the day we left Bratislava. Lucy is 23, and from Melbourne. Lucy will be with us until Lisbon. Lucy did the Tour De Africa this year – this tour is four months long and goes from Cairo to Cape Town, a total of 12,000 kilometres. What I am doing is a walk in the park compared to the African tour – they mainly bush camp (no facilities, and certainly no rooms!). Lucy is classed as an EFI from the rider – someone who rides Every Freaking Inch of the ride, something not achieved by the majority of riders.

Dan was telling us (he did the tour last year) that every few days a guy turns up in the middle of the desert with a donkey and two large containers of water, you buy a bucket full and that’s your shower! The tour is very rugged and this year they had four riders injured to the extent that they had to leave the tour and go home. But get this, the injured included one guy who had an accident in the same town he had had an accident in the year before on the trip, and he broke his hip both times! This was the other hip this time. Apparently the insurance company were highly suspicious but of course they had to pay as nobody would deliberately do this twice. I imagine though that if he tries to do the tour again they may try and slip in a clause that he is covered for everything bar broken hips!

Gen and Lucy

One thing that has amused me is the nightclubs here. I have not actually been to one, but they are either on the outskirts of town or a couple of kilometres out of town and there will be a sign saying “Night Club”. They are usually quite a small building and totally shut up during the day but are just small little buildings. I will take a photo of one tomorrow if I see one. It does raise the question of drinking and driving but I guess it is in walking distance. Certainly unlike Poland there are not signs everywhere advertising 24 hour akohole! So perhaps it is not such the drinking culture. Although saying that, the owner of the camp has been passing around elderberry schnapps!

The ride yesterday had a couple of quite challenging hills, one was quite short but very steep, I had one foot unclipped just in case but managed to get up it and as said yesterday, the views were fantastic! Walli is not a strong rider up hills and last night at dinner she was telling us that she was going up the hill, and at first it was hard work but then all of a sudden it was easy and she flew up it. “Hmm,” I thought “She has had a couple of red wines”, then she started laughing and saying she “had the force”. Once she stopped laughing enough to talk, it turns out that Geergo – who was the sweep – came up behind her and pushed her up the hill. So now we have nicknamed Geergo the force.

There is a spread of riding ability, and depending on the distance, the arrival times to camp can vary up to four hours. This means that a group of us riding can see the same sight but at a different time, two examples of these:
1. Coming into Bratisava there was a man pushing a bath attached to a bike. As it was on the main road in busy traffic none of us got a photo, but I saw him as the traffic was careering around him trying to avoid him, he was right out on the road. One of the other riders saw him having a rest, sitting in the bath at the side of the road. It’s more like something I would have expected to see in maybe India or somewhere like that.
2. Sitting at camp a number of us commented on a cat we had seen standing as still as a statue by a ditch. Over the space of about 2 hours we all saw this cat, but Walli who was last rider got to see it with a mouse in his mouth.
All over the countryside there are cats standing like statues patiently waiting to catch their prey.

So we do not know how long the ride is tomorrow, by the motorway it is 62k, but of course we won’t be going on the motorway. Jan has looked on his google maps and says that anywhere we go there will be hills.

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Day 29: Turany to Banska Stiavnica – 110k

2,471km down: 3,754km to go.

Highways 50,65 51/525 plus back roads, 1,500 metres up and down

The past couple of nights I have had a return of my inner ear problem (Labyrinthitis) but by the morning it had been gone. Not this morning. I woke up at 2:30am to go to the bathroom; I lurched there and back like I was drunk. I lay down and hoped it would settle by the morning. The medication is yet another thing I forgot to bring, and it is of course a prescription medicine. It has been a couple of years since the last bout, but no excuse as I have had it on and off for years.

Unfortunately it had not gone by the morning, and the rain had arrived. I thought about riding in the truck for the day but I suffer from car sickness at the best of times, the thought of going in the truck through the back roads, winding up and down, was an even worse option than riding. As long as I did not look down, by the time I set off I was not too bad, but had rotten nausea. I felt I was safe to ride, and if at any time I didn’t I would have stopped and organized to be picked up. Even with the light dizziness I was not the rider that managed to just ride off the road into a ditch – more about this later.

We had been told by the tour guys that this was going to be a tough riding day, and they were not exaggerating. The 70k morning ride to lunch was just about constantly up 12 and 14 percent hills, just climbing. The rain cleared and then it got hot. I was starting to feel better but felt dizzy if I had to look into my panniers (side bags) and for some reason going up steep hills I look down. No idea why but it resulted in me having to get off and walk most of the way up a couple of them.

At 42k I made a wrong turn but thankfully I realized after a couple of kilometres and no flags. So far – touch wood – my wrong turns have resulted in only a few extra kilometres. The record for the tour so far is 50k – pleased it was not me! I started to feel a bit better, and the nausea started to settle a bit as well.

The climb into lunch was 6k and started in a cobble paved street but thankfully soon was just paved road. The road went up and up – a great view but very pleased to see the lunch truck.

After lunch we rode up another couple of kilometres of slight climb, then a 12k downhill. Because I was not sure what was coming around the corner, and some of it was uneven with pot holes, and there were cars, walkers and then in middle of it all a bus, I was constantly braking, so my hands were sore at the end of it.

There are lots of fruit trees all along the sides of the roads, laden with fruit which is dropping all over the ground – apples, plums and a purple berry. The cows here wear bells around their necks. There are still bus routes just about every road we take, but the bus shelters are not as nice, they are often rusty (not as inviting for a quick lie down). There are cobblestone streets galore, and churches of course, but I have not seen before the narrow streets with the houses opening straight onto them with no front yard.

After the downhill there was flat road for about 2k then it was back to climbing and the heat and the wind were back. The wind had lost track of us when we crossed the border, but now it was back. At one point I resorted to sitting in a rusty bus stop and pouring water over my head. I was riding behind Brian when I thought he was pulling off the road, next thing I know he had ridden into a ditch! He said he was just thinking “I wonder what’s in the ditch” and he lost attention for a moment and in he went.

At this stage the climb was getting steeper, it was really hot, and I had run out of water. We went through two small towns that had shops like dairies, but they were shut, must be because it is Sunday? I walked part of the way up one hill, then rode another bit, then I hit the wall, the nausea was back and with less than 4k to go I decided to walk up the final hill. I got to the top of the hill with a numbers of stops (cleats are not great for walking, as well as being stuffed).

The final bit to the rest stop was downhill (12 percent gradient down, thankfully not up!) then cobblestones again but steep! I had a degree of difficulty trying to ride down rough steep cobblestones!

Yay, I arrived at the hotel. I was not able to look down to take off bags or lock my bike but thankfully Ciran was around and he did it for me. I am pleased to be staying in a hotel tonight even though it is not a rest day. I got up to the room and lay down for awhile. Gen who is a Doctor had told me antihistamine pills have a similar effect to Stemetil, so I took one and had a sleep. When I woke up I felt a lot better, just so long as I didn’t do any sudden head movements.

The town we are staying at is a UNESCO site due to the old streets and buildings. I have not had a look it today apart from what I saw on the way in. Tomorrow is a shorter day about 75k, with hills still – especially the first third, but not as bad as today. So depending on how I feel in the morning I might have a look around before I leave.

The hotel is really nice, Hotel Kerling. We had dinner in a restaurant, first a nice meat and noodle broth and then a kind of chicken schnitzel with salad and chips, and an endless jug of cold water. Plus the hotel has Wifi so have been able to send through updates for past two days and today.

Not all the riders are riding all the days, or if they do they get a lift with the lunch truck to lunch stop and ride from there, or ride to the lunch stop and then go in the truck to camp. Although I came in at the back of the field today, there were four riders ahead of me, and of the remaining 12: 1 did not ride today, 2 got a lift to the lunch stop (one then caught the lunch truck again as it went past because it was so hot), 2 that were behind me got a lift the final bit. So overall although it was a slow day, I am still pleased with it.

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Day 26: Rest day two in Krakow

I stayed in bed until 8am and then I had enough of listening to the trams so I got up – although I had been dozing in between. I had breakfast and then walked over to the Old City and took a city tour. Unlike in the other three cities that I have done this, it was not in a bus. Instead they have these carts, that are a bit like golf carts, zipping around. Some have four seats, and some have up to ten seats.

I chose to do the tour of the Old City, the Jewish quarter and the Ghetto. It cost 370 złoty, which is about NZ$125. If there had been two of us it would have been $195, and even cheaper if there were three, but I was looking forward to spending most of the day by myself and figured it was worth it.

The driver was called Jan and spoke very little English but had a translation system that told me about the sights so we got on fine. Jan also helpfully wrote down the spelling of most of the sights for me after having seen some of my interesting interpretations of what was said and my mind’s creative attempt to spell them. He was nice enough not to roar with laughter, but he did have a wee smile as he went back to the beginning and worked his way through correcting them. After that he just automatically picked up my notebook and did it. The tour was meant to be one and half hours but was about two hours.

We started off in the Old City at the market square with:
Saint Mary’s Church – the main feature is that has an alter carved out of wood
Clothes stall hall, also in market square
Church San Wojciech
Church Saint Fransikin – not sure about the spelling of this one but Jan did not correct. (Editors note: It’s Franciscan)
Bishop Palace – the Pope stayed here every time he came to Krakow
St Andrews Church
Peter and Paul’s Saints church
Wavel castle
Kazimierz Skalka Church – also the site of the alter of the three millennia
Plus a fountain that was good for you to drink – the sign said it was full of minerals, it tasted like egg.

St Andrew’s Church (photo from Wikipedia)

We also saw various town squares (Krakow, town very close, Jewish quarter and Old ghetto).

Jewish quarter
I saw the birth place of Helena Rubinstein (famous for cosmetics, emigrated to Australia with two jars of ointment from her grandmother, which was enough to start her own business and she ended up a very wealthy woman). We also saw a number of synagogues.

Ghetto
Once again this was established in the war, it was in two parts: men and woman, children and elderly. There was one chemist (or Apteka as they are called here) who operated in the ghetto after the war, the chemist was given an award for his services (His name was Miasta Krakowa. I think that was his name anyway).

We stopped in the square where the selections were carried out and people sent to the ghettos. After the visit to Auschwitz yesterday, this had more affect on me that when we had stood in the ghetto line in Warsaw.  We also went to the Schindlers Factory – I am sure you have read the book or seen the movie. It’s amazing the difference one man can make. There were photos of a number of his employees that he saved.

Then it was back to the Old City town walls and the Krakow barbican built in 1498, the walls were 30 meters I think. There were 140 shooting holes and seven gates, the gates were closed at night. There was a person playing a bugle to warn the gates were closing and this would play again in the morning.

Krakow Barbican (photo from Wikipedia)

After I was dropped off I went and had a climb around inside it (people certainly were shorter in the 14 century) then headed back to the cafe in the mall for an apple pie for lunch and to update the blog. We are headed to the salt mines this afternoon, and we don’t get back from them until after 8pm, so I have already sorted out my bags.

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Day 21: Rest day in Warsaw continued

The tour was good but really, really hot – 34 degrees, I felt like I was going to melt. I had to keep pushing the thought out of my mind that tomorrow we will be biking 140k in the heat.

Dan, Shirley, Daphne, Brian, John and I had dinner at an Italian restaurant in the old town. I had Pasta with chillies and olive oil and salad. We had ordered what we thought was a platter of antipasto (Daphne is married to an Italian and she ordered it) until two pizzas came out, luckily the mains were all correct . We all headed home for an early night as we leave at 6:30 am tomorrow to get out of city early and we have 140k to do. However it is a short riding week – 3 riding days and then two rest days in a row. I am really looking forward to that.

The clack clack sign on my bike turned out to be a problem with my bottom bracket being filled of sand/ gravel etc and will keep making a noise until it is fixed. We have not had bike shop for past 2 stops (which is wear the tour guys help us with our bikes) but have been assured it just sounds bad but will keep going, so guess this will be tomorrow night’s job.

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Day 15: Rest Day in Vilnius

I slept reasonably well; I woke up at 5am but managed to doze off again and woke about 7am. Walli and I had agreed not to meet for breakfast until 9am so I read and mucked around until then.

After breakfast I gave my bike a really good clean and got all the grease out of the chain, degreased it and put more lubrication on it. I was lucky enough to catch Gergo outside by the bikes putting together David’s bike (Australian joining us here until Barcelona) so he had a look at my bike and gave it a bit of an overhaul – it had gotten a bit clunky and stiff.

I told Walli that I would met her at 12:30 as I decided that I actually needed a rest day, not a rushing round taking in all the sights day. So we met at 12:30 and we did another bus tour for an hour and half around the main sights. It was a good bus as it had open windows which were good for taking pictures from. It made a couple of stops; one was the St Peter and St Paul’s church – another beautiful church.

St Peter and St Paul’s Church (photo from Wikipedia)

We went past the Museum of Genocide Victims which is in the middle of Vilinus, and is the former KGB palace. We did not go in – you can go in and see cells, solitary confinement and the execution chamber, but I chose not to. It was sobering enough looking at the bricks of remembrance outside – a stone for each freedom fighter that was killed. Some of the ones I saw inside were just young men in their early twenties. There were 200,000 thousand Lithuanians sent off to Siberia between 1944 and 1953. Before Hitler, Lithuania was known as the Jerusalem of the East and 28% of the population was Jewish. The Jews were all forced into a ghetto and then finally killed.

We saw the Peace Park Memorial complex and the Presidential Palace. Outside there was a group of people protesting but as I can’t read the local language I do not know what they were protesting about.

Presidential Palace (photo from Wikipedia)

We also saw the Vilnius Town Hall and the Vilnius University – one of the oldest in Europe – and the Gate of Dawn, the only remaining gate in the defence walls built in 1600. There is an image of the blessed Virgin Mary Mother of Mercy on the eight oak pieces that make up the gate and there is a chapel above the gate. This gate is believed to have magical healing powers.

Gate of Dawn (photo from MyWorldTravelGuides)

Plus we also saw many other beautiful buildings such as the International Church of Vilnius, National Museum and the Applied Arts Museum.

National Museum (photo from Wikipedia)

We then had a snack as it was 3pm and we had a beer – a Svyturys, unfiltered with lemon, as we had not had lunch, to hold us until tea time. Then we headed back to the hotel to regroup for tea at 6pm with Shirley, Daphne and Walli. We set off to find a restaurant that some of our group had been to called The Kitchen which they had thought was pretty good. We found it but it is closed on a Sunday. Most of the shops here are also closed on Sundays. So Shirley then said how about the Lithuanian restaurant so we headed off to look for it. We found the street but she could not find the restaurant. I asked at another restaurant and they directed us, it was about 50 meters up the road. We also collected John on the way down the street.

The restaurant was called Dvaras Lietuviski Patiekalai. It was a nice meal, I had potato pancakes and herring and fish pudding which is fish pie, plus I shared a bottle of dry red with John. The waitress was wearing tartan which is part of their national dress, so not just the Scotts! I am now very full and quite sleepy and need go pack for tomorrow.

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Day Six: Rest day in Tallinn

I woke up ready to go and buy an iPad as I had realized the lack of internet access is going to be an ongoing saga. I bought one at an Apple store and was assured by the young salesman that I would not have to do anything but switch it on – which of course was not the case as it turned out.

I then looked around for stuff I needed – still no luck on the snap lock bag front. I bought another umbrella as I appeared to have lost the one that I bought in  St Petersburg. I then did the sightseeing stuff – I did a double decker bus tour around the city and then went and looked at the Old Town, this is the original 1300 walled city which is now mostly a tourist destination. They get tourists from the cruise ships. I had a coffee in a  600 year building and looked at the shops. I wanted to get something with amber in it – this cycling trip was originally going to finish in Venice, which was why it was originally called the Amber Trail. Of course as always I had champagne taste but a beer budget, I saw some I really liked but after having bought an iPad I decided to settle for a pair that were 70 euro.

The Estonians are very friendly and all speak really good English. It was the Estonians who developed Skype and txt mobile phone parking. To be able to graduate from school you have to have computer literacy. I was surprised going through the country side at how run down a lot of the houses were, but still better than Russia. I was surprised to learn on the tour that serfdom was only stopped in Estonia in the early 19th century!

Daphne, Shirley, Walli and I went out to dinner at a restaurant that served modern Estonian food, it was called ÖÖ – it was amazing. I had Bruschetta with whipped goats cheese, pear and beetroot, and a seafood linguine – it was so good. When I got back to my bedroom I found of course that you can not simply buy and then use an iPad – you had to sync it to iTunes first and to do that you need either a PC or a laptop. Most people on the trip have an iPad, luckily one of the guys has a laptop so he can help me with it.

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