It’s been an absolutely wild ride since I left my heart in České Budějovice, Czech Republic, with only a couple of little blips. I followed the Eurovelo 7 gpx track on my phone as it led me over some hefty climbs, and at one point, to a dead end. I ground up a nasty hill for about 5kms, coasted down the other side to the river, at which point there should have been a ferry to the opposite bank. Annoyingly, said ferry hadn’t been in operation for a few years, so it was back up the same nasty hill with my curses echoing through the valley and all the way to a 20 km backtrack to find a bridge – all as darkness was falling.
The day ended on a high note though as I stumbled on a campsite and had a merry evening on the Budvar with a terrific bunch of English-speaking locals. The following morning’s fuzzy head was not as much fun, but I soldiered on.
The finale for the Czech Republic was pretty wonderful – plenty of beautiful little towns and a varied route towards the border with the north of Austria. Český Krumlov, often called Prague in miniature, was on the way. It was a stunning place with beautifully-preserved medieval buildings, but was completely given-over to mass tourism. Poor Murph, who was trapped in her basket on the bike, was mobbed by adoring tourists so I took a couple of snaps and quickly pressed through the throngs to get us out.
After Krumlov, my route took us up and down verdant hills with the larger Austrian versions looming in the background. I was eventually directed to a dirt forestry road and we made our way up and up to a nondescript border-crossing leading us into north Austria. Once out of the forest, the vista revealed the classic Austrian countryside in all its splendour. In veritable, clichéd Sound of Music fashion, I was overwhelmed by the desire to make a fool of myself on video:
After all that terrible, lovely climbing, the reward came in the form of a long freewheel all the way into the posh city of Linz, and onto the Danube.
From Linz, we would follow the famous EV6 bike path along the Danube and up to Passau. This was very familiar territory as we had cycled this bit in 2016. From Passau, back to uncharted ground as we started along the stunning Salzach River towards Salzburg.
The Salzach provided the luxury of hopping over to the Bavarian side when I felt like having a good German weissbier and warm giant pretzel, or to stay on the Austrian side for lovely cakes and pastries. I fell MADLY in love with the Bavarian town of Burghausen and the whole area thereabouts. I plan to return for a more forensic study at a future date.
After Salzburg, the Salzach departed the German border and led us towards the Drau. We were not so far then from Italy and the Dolomites. First though, I had a grinding, thigh-ripping climb up to the perched resort town of Bad Gastein.
Shortly after reaching Bad Gastein, the road comes to an end and a car-train took over to get us through the remaining mountains by tunnel.
It was getting dark after we got off the train and we were in a bit of a wilderness. A wild camp behind a derelict church was in order.
In the morning, after a thrilling descent, we were on the Drau. Two more days in Austria, then we would climb into the Italian Dolomites.
In wasn’t as much of a slog to get to the Italian border as I feared, and once near Bressanone, we were on another river and would eventually join the Adige River bicycle path. It would be excellent separate bike paths from here on with a few short exceptions. The only minus was that we shared the steep valley with busy motorways and main train lines, so quite noisy. The staggering scenery and quintessential Italian villages more than made up for this! I was dying to use my few pigeon-Italian phrases but in this part of Italy, everyone speaks German. I’d have to wait until Trento to embarrass myself.
Whoops –Back up to Austria Jac!
I forgot to add this endearing encounter:
Just before the Italian border as I was huffing up an incline, I heard a squeal of delight behind me as more Murph fans caught us up; meet Alice from Hong Kong, and Guillaume from Switzerland! Alice is cycling the world, and she did a good deal of that with her little dog, Canton (she’s holding up a photo of her!). Very tragically, little Canton was killed by an out of control speeding car in a hit-and-run in Montenegro. Alice was still in bits over it. My heart broke for her. There are definitely risks to both dog and human travelling this way, but there are also many risks at home. Canton was an abandoned street dog, and Alice gave her the most incredible life – how very sad it had to end like that.
Anyway, she met Guillaume in India and they decided to cycle together from there. Just wow! We had an excited chat and exchanged touring info before reluctantly parting ways. You can read more about Alice’s travels with Canton here: https://www.facebook.com/alicebikeswithcanton/
Trento, Italian-speaking Italians, and the nicest Trentino family!
I would have completely passed beautiful, historic Trento by if it wasn’t for Alberto, Sabrina and adorable Gianluca. I stopped at the Bicigrill Trento for a quick bite, planning to speed to a campsite much further down the road afterwards. Alberto and family were at the next table over and we struck up a conversation. Next thing I knew, they were taking us back to their beautiful home, appalled at the idea that I wouldn’t be properly visiting their beloved city. What followed was a guided tour, the best gelato in Trento, Pasta Pomodoro lovingly prepared by Alberto, and a relaxing evening watching videos of 12yo Gianluca perform with his ballroom dancing club. He is FABULOUS, and totes adorbs!! I camped in their back garden and was sent on my way in the morning after a delicious cappuccino and breakfast. Murph also made a friend for life with Player the poodle!
Alas, I only made it about 40 kms down the road. I had been feeling a little off over the last couple of days, and now, I started feeling positively dreadful. Strep was my googled self-diagnosis. The golf ball in my throat was agony and I was woozy and feverish. I quickly found a room and decided to sequester myself until better. A helpful pharmacist drugged me up, and my vineyard-agriturismo hosts have provided me with a peaceful paradise in which to recover. I only hoped I hadn’t infected Alberto et al. Dear Alberto has been checking on me via messenger every day since I left them – what a luv!
Five days later, I’m quite a lot better and will try to make some gentle headway tomorrow. During my illness, I did consider throwing in the towel and heading for the UK, but I think that was just the fever talking. The days are getting shorter though, and I’m still a long way from Sicily, but I’ll chug along for a while yet. Murph, by the way, has been raring to go. My little old lady is quite an inspiration. Mustn’t let the side down!
It’s ciao for now from Murph and me. Verona, Mantua and Bologna are calling, and the great Tuscany is not too far after that.
other mechanical issues – NONE since I’ve had a few parts put on properly after Edmonton bike ‘mechanics’ put them on backwards. Surly Shirley is built like a brick sh*thouse!! Now I’ve gone and jinxed it, haven’t I?
Why has it taken you so long to write a post, madam?
The lack of production has been weighing my mind down. Since leaving Scandinavia, the dearth of stable internet connections has plagued me. I lost an entire post in Germany that took me a day to put together, along with an edited video which involved hours and hours of fiddly nonsense. It just went POOF into the ether, never to be recovered. I was whooped! In case you haven’t intuited, living life outside 24/7, with a dog to care for, in foreign countries and on a strict budget can be all-consuming. To preserve my sanity and the ability to focus on the larger task at hand (survival), I put aside the digital world for a while. Anyway, I reasoned, I would have quiet time in France while on hiatus with family in a short while. Well, haha!! The French visit turned into non-stop hive of action with me mucking in to prepare a giant fancy-dress surprise party for my beloved cousin’s 30th. Great fun, but not conducive with quiet, writerly isolation!
Never mind! Here I am now in this cool little Czech city and I am certainly spoiling us with civilised inside-living for 5 days, still-iffy internet, cheap beer and the mental space to plan the next move – but holy cow, there is a lot to catch up on!
I only had to pedal a few hundred metres to get from my Gothenburg accommodation to jump aboard the very grand high-speed ferry to Fredrikshavn in North Denmark. What a pleasant experience for both Murph and me! Finally we were welcomed into a warm, comfy lounge with floor to ceiling views out into the gorgeous, shimmering sea. Norway – you are almost perfect, but take note of the ferry thing, please!
I felt confident in the big change of itinerary I had planned while staying in Gothenburg. The original route – Hamburg, Cologne, Belgium, France, Spain and Portugal – just felt too easy and familiar now that my confidence was up. The new trajectory would roughly have us going through Central/Eastern Europe and ending in Crete – or maybe Sardinia. I was in good physical shape and feeling mentally strong enough to take us through the unknown, so off we went aiming for Berlin, then the Czech Republic. First though, we had Denmark to navigate.
There were a few choices of routes through Denmark and I really didn’t think much about it. I simply put us in a line following the east coast in search of some beach time for Murph and me.
I had also discovered an app that revealed the locations of the wonderful, small free camping and shelter places all over Denmark. This was very cheering. I had become so used to the freedom of wild camping, the thought of loud, crammed and expensive commercial campgrounds churned my stomach. Here’s a few examples of these very Danish provisions designed for hikers and cyclists:
A bittersweet farewell to Scandinavia. Hello Germany!
At last I arrived at Gedser and hopped aboard another comfy fast-ferry that would speed us to the teeming port of Rostock. We arrived several hours later to a full-on tall ship extravaganza – the Hanse Sail Festival (more here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanse_Sail), with all sorts following us into harbour. Colourful, noisy, exciting – and just what the doctor ordered to re-invigorate my flagging enthusiasm!!
After a giddy afternoon in Rostock, and a little tipsy on Kirchbier, I continued following the Eurovelo 7 route which joined up with the very popular Berlin to Copenhagen radweg. This meant there were a lot of other cyclists of varying abilities enjoying this easy and safe itinerary.
Once I got my new-country bearings and started moving south through the interior, I really started to notice that we were in the former East Germany. There was, at times, a forlorn ’70s air to it, and I got the impression that life was still hard-going for a lot of people. Towns were a bit unkempt, there were a lot of abandoned and collapsing houses and industrial buildings. The campsites were dumpy and depressing, and the service was a bit on the surly side.
Despite this, there were clearly a lot of other folks doing their best to turn the collective frown upside down. Still, I was looking forward to getting to Berlin to surf on some urban dynamism. It took me 4 days to pedal there, and I should be shot because I didn’t take one single photo during that time! I know now that I was suffering a little long-term traveller’s malaise. I recognised the feeling from my last big cycle and knew it was just a matter of stopping for a few days somewhere and doing something completely different.
Berlin! Alexanderplatz – another planet.
This was my first visit to Berlin, and despite an unshiftable weight of adventure fatigue, I was pretty excited. I had always imagined that Berlin would be the kind of behemoth city-of-the-world that I could melt into. My instinct was right – it was mind-blowing, but in a much different way than my dear old city of London. Berlin felt like a Jackson Pollock painting – seemingly random, abstract splatterings of colour and expression all over the place, but if you took the time to untangle and interpret it, there was cohesion and meaning. There was enough suffering and rebirth here to fascinate for ten lifetimes. If it wasn’t for my complete lack of talent for the German language, I think it could be Murphy’s next home.
I wanted to linger there, but I needed to make my way to France for cousin Annabelle’s big 30th surprise party. I also desperately needed to get my mind off of cycling for a while and breathe a different oxygen. Trains and planes were impossibly complicated with bike and dog, so I hired a car and drove us the 1300kms to Burgundy. I would return a week later and carry on with the cycle.
Upon arrival in Montot, France after barely surviving the German autobahn. My fun Uncle Francois and good friend, Le Jim. Below that, a fancy-dress surprise party awaiting cousin Annabelle.
After a busy and slightly fraught visit, it was back into the rental car for the 1300 km return to Berlin. I needed a vacation from the break from my vacation (channeled a little Gertrude Stein there). First, I had a date to keep with former Walks on the Wildside customer, now friend, Nadine Harbarth. Nadine and her partner Jairo moved to Berlin from London after the birth of their first child. They love it and haven’t looked back. Wonderful to see them all, and of course my little ex-charge, Cobo the terrier.
While I was visiting Berlin, I stayed on a lakeside campground in Potsdam. OMG – it was crammed to the rafters, extremely expensive and so noisy that it impossible to sleep. I resolved to do some sneaky stealth camping in the endless empty forests as I made my way to the next big milestone, Dresden.
From Potsdam, I joined the very popular Elbe River bicycle route and things really started to look up. Great weather, lots of characterful places to stop and explore, and reasonably comfortable riding. I also returned to the occasional forest stealth camp which gave me back restful sleeps and great sense of peace. The only slight negative – since arriving in Germany, there were plenty of cobblestones to negotiate which made things a bit uncomfortable, especially for poor old Murph, but I just took my time and picked my way through them.
My interior life also took on a renewed lightness. The break in France, though not at all physically restful, served to completely detach my mind from the intense daily routine of long-distance cycle touring. All was clear and buoyant again.
It really was lovely here along the Elbe. The locals seemed cheerful and relaxed, the cyclists I met were having a splendid time and the infrastructure was better than north of Berlin. I even had a new Jonathan and Sarah Jane in the form of two Hamburgers, Connie and Jurgen! I kept bumping into them in random places along the route and we had many laughs despite a bit of a language barrier. Jurgen and I managed to down quite a few pints together!
Dresden!!! Amazing place. Absolutely flattened by Allied bombs late in the war with tens of thousands of civilians killed. Restored with great devotion and attention to detail – work still being carried out today. Czech border only about 25 Kms away now. Goodbye Germany!
Entering the Czech Republic
The main reason for making the big diversion to eastern Europe rather than the more familiar west, was to explore the Czech Republic. Prague would have been the obvious focus, but I wanted to get a feel for life everywhere there. I stopped and explored most of the towns along the Labe (the Czech Elbe). I found the ride towards Prague pretty challenging! The path threw me a bit of everything; cobbles, mud, large gravel, STAIRS!, diversions onto fast motorways – all a bit tough and grubby after Germany. Towns really tried hard to tart up their historic buildings and there was a bustle about them, but it was obvious that there was more left to achieve. All in good time!
Arriving on the outskirts of Prague, I spotted a paddle-sports complex that offered cheap tent camping. There, we had a pleasant stay and top-drawer access to the World Cup Canoe Slalom Competition. Very exciting and fun to watch!
I didn’t hang about Prague for long. The following day, I packed up and took a little spin through the touristy bits. The place was crawling with tour busses and river boat cruise passengers. I took a couple of snaps and quickly made my escape.
Once again, south of the main city, things improved vastly. I went from feeling a bit disappointed in my Czech experience, to absolute delight! Holy cow, did the riding get tough though!! EV7 now veered off the river and into the big hills. It was the first real climbing I did in weeks and weeks, and it was endless and steep. Strangely, I was kind of getting off on it despite the 33c temps. My progress did slow right down, but it was not a problem. I met a wonderful group of locals at a campsite and thanks to them, I finally felt more connected with the real Czech Republic. We did have a bit of a session on the old Budvar though!
The next day, and with a very furry head, I started away for a bigger university town that my new friends told me about. I wanted to find a pension there and have a few quiet days to plan the next part of the journey – and to finally get this post out.
I love this town. I completely lucked out with my perfect hotel, the atmosphere is alive, young and positive, and it’s simply gorgeous. My three-night stay has turned into five and I’m feeling completely refreshed and well-prepared for the next challenges.
Now, here in southern Czech Republic, I have to decide the rest. Will it be the eastern Adriatic, including Croatia, Montenegro, Albania and Greece, or the more predictable Italy, north to south? I’ve ruled out Spain and Portugal because it’s so damn far away now. For Pete’s sake, winter is coming!
I still won’t commit firmly to anything, but after a hefty amount of research, I’ve now ruled out travelling through Croatia and Albania towards Greece, mostly because the reportedly-terrible roads will be too hard on Murph. There were also widespread reports on the internet of the intentional cyanide poisoning of thousands upon thousands of stray dogs in Albania. For me, this is an unforgivable medieval cruelty which causes an unspeakable death for these poor creatures. A very good reason to boycott Albania, and of course, a very real concern that Murph could be exposed to bait. Overall, a shame, because my daft heart really did desire the road less traveled. My dear girl comes first though!
So, at the moment of writing this, it looks like we will continue on Eurovelo route 7 to Austria (which is only about 70kms down the road), joining our old friend, the Danube, then jumping south through Bolzano, Italy and hopefully, all the way to Sicily – or Sardinia – from there. I think it’ll be a magnificent last leg despite my familiarity with Italy. We will have some gruelling climbing through both Italy and Austria – I think I’ve lost my mind, but I’m actually looking forward to that! I’ve even been researching a detour to the infamous Stelvio Pass, but it may be a case of overconfidence. My knees would surely detach from my body and go on a Gilet Jaune-style protest.
For now, Murph and I bid you farewell from Czechia. All the good folks from Wabamun are on my mind, particularly my sweet Dad and Mum!! Hugs to you all.