07.29.09

11 weeks in

Posted in Gear that We use, Hints at 10:37 am by Administrator

bikes
- the overall bikes are holding up well. I have had to change my front tyre to the back to avoid over wear but the frames are in good order, no broken spokes and the gears are still ok but in need of adjustment.
tent
- the tent broke a pole in slovenia in the middle of one night. Thankfully it comes with two repair peices but we were dissappointed to have to use one so early. Its also a little annoying that it isn’t free standing and is required to be pegged down. Thats not so great in some rocky areas or italian campgrounds that are all concrete. It did handle the wind really well and isn’t too hot at night if we leave it all open.
chairs
- we’re on our second set of cheap stools. Its great having them along and thats why we are persevering. Still what can you expect for $8 at big W.
mats
- the mats went flat after 2 weeks but they have some cushioning in them and are great insulaters from the ground. We haven’t found a patch kit that works on them and the holes are bloody hard to find anyway. I’d go a different brand next time.
brakes on the bike
- the set up of teh brake levers on the bikes is giving Nic some troubles. She’s the only person in history to need breaks going down hill. The reach is too far for her hands and so they are cramping. We’ll try some adjusting but we’ll have to see how that goes.
panniers
- the panniers are starting to deteriorate. Some of the less important seams are separating. We were warned that the clips that attach them to thte bike may be dodgy but they have been ok so far. Mine now have some cool holes where they hit the tarmac in the bulgarian tunnel so that one is now the bag for the wet gear. The size has proved to be good enough and now that Nic got rid of her front bags the weight is good for her. Any more weight and the bike would be too heavy for her.
cooking pots
- the cooking pots are now looking pretty battered. They have lost their nonstickyness but I don’t know if we’ll get anything better. They get some serious use. They are 3 l and 2l and that has proved a good size unless I do the shopping while really hungry.
stove
- This has been a little winner so far. The fact that it runs on unleaded or diesel is great. The only prob is that you need to warm the jet up before cooking and that creates about 2 minutes of large flame and black smoke. That often gives us away and got su kicked out of a campground in France. Doh! I’m getting better at limiting the amounts of smoke and so its not beena problem for a while. I’ve had to clean it twice now and that wasn’t too hard.
water filter
- has prooved quite useful in remote areas. The filter needs a fair amount of cleaning if the water is a little dirty but I’d rather clean the filter than have the runs a lot. It does leak a bit and the seals are hard to maintain so there is a fair bit of pumping inefficiency. That will need to be looked at.
tarp
- cheap tarp but great to have. Whether to cover teh bikes at night to hide them or for somewhere to stretch or have lunch on. A thin tarp is good to have with you.
bungie cords
- These are the way to go for tying things on. Dan used ratchet straps but the bungies came through as the better choice.
racks
- we’ve had no issues with the racks. they are holding up well.
bike seats
My seat that I stole off of my specialized racer is doing ok. I’m only just starting to get the beginings of a bumsore after 11 weeks. We had to get Nic another seat in Slovenia. This time we went for a much more upright position and lifted her handle bars to suit. It has proven as the way to go and it loads better than the more racve positioned mountainbike seat that she had done the previous 7 weeks on.

The (greek) gods must be Crazy

Posted in Greece, The journey journal at 9:23 am by Administrator

Well I’ve had a bit of internet time lately so a few more blogs coming your way. Thats because we are starting each day much earlier and so having loads more time in the afternoons to muck around.
The reasons for the early start is the amazingly infernal heat that batters the land from 12pm onwards. We’ve had several days over 40 in the shade. It gets to the point where I can’t swallow the water faster than it comes out of my pores (I look like a collander, I’m sure). As a result we’re trying to be off the bikes by 1pm at the latest and hiding in a net cafe or bar through the nasty bits of the day. The heat really started around dubrovnik but the altitude helped after there. The sacrifice of this is that we need to be out of bed early and have stopped having cooked breakies to get us on the road as soon as it is light.
Also there has been a constant wind in Greece. Not always in the same dirrection but it is always blowing. The first day over the border we had a 40+degree headwind and so made it 10km before taking refuge in a cool little bar that was in a large stand of trees. They had some traditional music playing later (which is infinitely better than the bulgarian stuff) and so we had a few drinks and camped under the brigde over the nearby river. We slept well until 2am when the wind turned around and blew with impressive strength. By 4 am we gave up trying to pretend that we were going to get anymore sleep and attempted to pack up in the wind. The fact that our tent didn’t blow away is a testament to it (even though it’s caused a few difficulties in the past). We made it about 10km before having to stop at a servo and take refuge again as the wind was literally picking nic up and moving her across the road. It was teh only time that I’ve hidden from a tail wind but at least we survived. Once it abated we got in a good solid 100 km day. Once again the greek hospitality has been awesome and we were treated to watermelon and drinks by Nico who was on holidays to help his parents run their petrol station.
Now we’re back on teh mainland after taking a day off on teh island of Thassos. Really nice and chilled out island. Loved it as a great place to relax and the kind of place to take a family on holiday. We’re a few days form Turkey and onward.
Tc

07.27.09

The Bulgarian Blur

Posted in Bulgaria, The journey journal at 10:38 am by Administrator

When you have a 120 odd km downhill and a tailwind a country tends to go by in a bit of a blur. If it hadn’t have been for my serious lack of intellegence and maintenance of my bike then we would have been through the place in a day. As it happened I ignored a slowly deflating tyre until it caused a serious loss of control while going downhill through a tunnel at 45 km/h. Ouch! I lost a bit of skin from right elbow, knee and love handle. Still not as bad as Nic’s gloriously deep hole in her knee from Marseille but painful none the less. Don’t you hate it when there is no one else to blame for something but yourself? Doh! Anyway once patched up we limped another 15 km and found a really cheap but really nice hotel and stayed for the night. It gave us the oportunity to experience (wretch at) the local music. The hotel had a live duo play in their restaurant and the keyboard player and backup vocalist had an awesome habit of being able to hit two or three extra keys with each rapid stroke than he was supposed to and his voice seemed to have a range that was from just flat of teh appropriate note to lots too flat of it. I’m so glad that they finished at 11 or I would have needed to kill someone. Also I spent about half and hour laughing harder than I have for years at the bulgarian music videos. I had to turn it off in the end or I would have injured myself laughing at their impressions of how bulgarian hiphop videos should look and “blokes” that put george michael to shame. Then there were teh folk videos that were worse than the spoofs that I’ve seen comedy shows in Aus do. Just hilarious.
Thats about all we really picked up from bulgaria except that the housing and roads are generally really crap (except the main highway) but the people seem to live quite well and have nice clothes and good food and appliances.
Tc

Tunnels… to love or to hate

Posted in Hints, Uncategorized at 10:14 am by Administrator

Tunnels pose such a problem for us. If there is a tunnel on the road then it is obviously helping you avoid large steep and nasty hills or long and arduous detours, which is awesome but they are so dodgy. It helps now that we are in greece and they have started using lights in teh tunnels again but we’ve been through tunnels upto 750m long that have ZERO lighting. That’s a little harsh for a bike. We don’t ride at night and so don’t really need the lights and I’m really lucky that I’d changed the batteries in my front light the day before teh long dark tunnel (at that there was no traffic at the time) or we would have been screwed. Also my little accident 2 days ago in Bulgaria happened in a tunnel where i got a front tyre flat and lost control and a bit of skin but more about that in the bulgaria sum up. Then there was the experience in Italy just before Cinque terra where we had 10 km of one way tunnels that we had to do at 40 plus km/h to avoid the on coming traffic entering the tunnels before we left them. Wow that was scary and exhausting but it did save 30 km of riding in some seriously steep terrain. I think that overall we will cope with tunnels but could quite easily live without them.
Tc

FYROM or Macedonia

Posted in Macedonia, The journey journal at 10:07 am by Administrator

This country was an ocean of calm drivers after the fretting that we did on the roads of Kosovo. Its only 18km from the border into the capital Skpoje. The northern suburbs of teh place are generally nasty slums full of beggars and people that won’t take no for an answer. Most of teh poor here are the Roma. The have been an incredibly vilified race over the last thousand years or so but I have not come across a group of people that seems to do less to lift their terrible reputation as beggars and thieves. Its pretty bad and it took most of teh trip into the country to lift the bad taste that it left. The centre of Skopje wasn’t bad and there is definitely a well developed sense of its own fashion. I must say that I didn’t think that itwas all that hot but those wearing it seemed to think that they were the cat’s meow.
After that we headed out over the countriside, which obviously could have been the bread basket of a civilisation and no wonder that Alexander the great like the area. The generosity got more and more as we crossed the country with random strangers buying us dinner in Stip and trying to organise other riders to join us for a bit. We also started in the local news for the city of Delcevo and did an interview in front of the cameras and all. haha. I’m a bit of a whore for the spotlight but Nic really doesn’t like the public eye so much so it was funny watching her when the reporter kept putting the microphone for her comments.
I think that I’ve decided to side with the greeks on the naming of the county. The name of Macedonia belongs to a broader area and the slavs moved in much later and have now kinda stolen the name which belonged to the greek people. Its a shame because the people there have a new country that deserves a cool name and Macedonia is heaps cooler than FYROM (former yugoslav republik of Macedonia) but what can you do. Maybe they should have a cool country name competition or something. Eitherway I know that will propable offend many people from the area and they really don’t deserve that as they were awesome and really looked after us.
Well bye for now.
Tc

07.24.09

Krazy Kosovo

Posted in Kosovo, The journey journal at 6:23 pm by Administrator

DO NOT CYCLE IN KOSOVO!!! Seriously those people can not drive. I don’t care how much war and attrocity you’ve seen that is no excuse for the driving that nearly killed us a hundred times in Kosovo. The roads are pretty crap, the cars are really crap and the driving nonskills are downright appauling. The edges of Kosovo are pretty nice but the middle isn’t much at all. The hills out of Montenegro were stunning and well worth the 5 new tourist resorts that are being built there. The north bit which the serbians refuse to believe is not part of serbia is pretty nice and a billion times calmer than the main part of the country. The traffic even became survivable as we approached the southern border but the cetral section was chaos. We had an awesome meal at a local restaurant and the staff at our “by the hour” motel were really nice but the place is so disorganised that its scary and there have been no improvements since I was there 5 years ago. I was really disappointed to see that they have done relatively nothing since then. The head winds didn’t help much either but there should be a blanket ban on exporting cars to Kosovo and in 3 years there will be none left so they might appreciate the lose then. The only slightly thoughtful driving move that I saw in the entire country came from a german car. You also have to worry when you feel reassured that the car behind you is a tank because at least you know that the driver is not from kosovo. The guys there also made Nic feel really uncomfortable with the way that they looked at her and I must admit that I nearly came to blows with a few of them for that. So far it really seems that Nic’s idea that every second country is cool is holding true. Kosovo didn’t really impress either of us.
Anyway we now have to get back to enjoying a few relaxing bulgarian beers so bye for now.
Tc

07.21.09

Montenegran mountains

Posted in Montenegro, The journey journal at 2:19 pm by Administrator

A quick note here from skopje in macedonia.

The country of montenegro is pretty aptly named. it means black mountain in italian and in its own language it is Crno Gora which means black mountain. Strange that. Well the three of the four full days that we rode across the country involved climbs of over 1000m and our highest point on the trip was at about 1850 above sea level. We first crossed into the touristy area of herceg novi and it was an iteresting place. Nic kept pointing out all these really tall slim pretty girls that I would have not otherwise noticed. Then we headed around the awesome area of Kotor bay. It is a pretty specky area and well worth a look. After kotor we found out why cycle touring is really awesome. The climb out of kotor involves about 39 switchbacks and goes up just over 1000m and horizontally about 8 km. We ran out of water in the 35 degree heat around 800m up and just as we took our last swig we came around a corner and there was a little stand selling drinks and homemade cheese and cured meats. It was like a magical oasis. We asked pleadingly for water with swollen tongues and the guy who ran the stall clicked into action. Out came the chairs and the umbrellas and the precious water. Then more water and then the home made wine and the snacks and the home made spirits and finally out came his little guitary kind of violin thing that he proceeded to play for us all of the local folk music. It took us hours to get away from Luka and wobble our way up the rest of the hill. We could feel the last few hundred metres as we were a little tipsy but it was such an awesome experience to spend those hours out of the sun with such a genuine giving bloke. We would have missed that if not on bikes and it is that kind of hospitality that is appearing more and more in the balkans that is making this trip the dream that I hoped that it would be. The remainder of montenegro was a blur of gorges and mountain passes and stunning scenery. We did a small ‘civilisation stop’ in Podgorica and went to the movies and saw transformers. It was so wierd to fit back into ‘normal life’ for a second again. The countryside that we went through got really rural and remote and it was great to get away from populated areas.
The map that we were using for this part of the journey was bought in Melbourne and aparently printed in 2006. Unfortunately it wasn’t so up to date. It showed a nice main road heading out of montenegro into kosovo. It was Highway 9 so it couldn’t be bad.. right? Well the bitumen ended 10km and 600 m from teh top of the pass and didn’t start again until well into kosovo. As there is a kind of diplomatic cold war between the 2 countries then the blocked and neglected the road. A car couldn’t get through but a bike could get around the landslides and gravel and roadblocks and rocks and areas that have been dug up. There isn’t a real border there, just a kind of 12 km wide no mans land that nobody lives in or goes to. The only sign that we were leaving montenegro was the white landrover parked beside the road with three montenegran police next to it. They invited us for coffee and drinks and kind of as an afterthought checked our passports. Very cool border crossing and a great insight into things in the two countries at the montent.

Anyway bye for now.

Tc

07.20.09

Croatia again then bosnia again and then croatia for the last time

Posted in The journey journal, croatia at 12:25 pm by Administrator

Bosnia and croatia are interlinked in a some fun and confusing ways and I’m just happy that you don’t need a visa to get over each of the border crossings. So we did a quick stint of riding along the croatia adriatic coast before stopping for teh night in the only city in bosnia that is on the coast. We stayed in an old lady’s field that shes kinda tried to convert into a camp ground. pretty funny but after the heat on the coast we really needed a shower.

Then we cruised along the coast to the town of trsteno, 17 klm short of dubrovnik. The campgrouund there was run by a old brother and sister that had roots in the aristocracy of south america. We decided to stay there for a few days to give our bums a very deserving break and to explore dubrovnik. It was great to stay just outside of the range of teh tourists that swamp dubrovnik. It is an awesome city and there are ways to explore it without being elbowed a million times an hour by the cruiseships full of picturebook tourists and we loved it. The bars that sit just outside the city wall are reason enough to go and for some reason they aren’t crowded and so are ace. swimming in the shadow of teh huge fortificationsis spectacular.

The coast of croatia is so different from the interior that we saw. Almost all of the evidence of war has been erased and the area is prosperous. That may be because every second car was a tourist from some other part of europe. It is some seriously stunning coastline though.

After three days off the bikes we were raring to go again and set off on the day’s ride to the montenegran border but thast will be a new story.

Tc

One little tale of fun in dubrovnik was that on the morning that we were going to leave I couldn’t find my wallet to pay. We looked and looked but it was no where to be found in any of our stuff. The last time that we had seen it was the day before getting on teh bus back to camp. It was in the shopping bag. So after a bit of searching and figuring options we thought that we’d check with the driver of one of the buses that pass by. It was only 10 minutes to the nex tbus so we ran up to the stop and nic went to the post office in town to get some money out with her cards to pay for the camping. The post office wouldn’t give out the money and so the bus driver was the last hope. As he pulled up I sheepishly asked if there was a lost property number to call as I’d lost my wallet on the bus the day before. Like magic he produced my wallet from his little draw and handed it over. What are the chances!!!! We were pretty stoked and there were high fives all round with the kiwi couple that were camped next to us. All the money and stuff was still in it and it was a great lifter to send us on our way.

07.16.09

Bosnian surprises

Posted in Bosnia, The journey journal at 11:19 am by Administrator

Well after the war depression that we saw across the centre of croatia we were so amazed to see so much life and reconstruction across bosnia.
We stopped and had ourselves a nice hotel stay in a city not far from the border but I can’t remember the name now. We needed a good clean up and the stop was little celebration treat as I finally sucked it up and poped the question that had been building for a while. I asked if nic would buy the beers this time. Well I’ll hopefully send a proper email about that soon but I’m a tad rushed at the mo.
Anyway we cruised through to Banja Luka and were invited to an awesome 18th birthday party in a tiny camp ground and got a little tipsy and were kept up to all hours as the kids these days really know how to party late. (I suck at being old). Then we travelled done some of the most beautiful gorges and rivers and things and had a great time. We met heaps and heaps of other cyclists on the road which was a great change. We loved mostar and Sarajevo (that was a quick side trip on the train) and we then passed out to the coast and the other bit of croatia.
Jajce was awesome as we were the only travellers in town and the guy even came and unlocked teh fortress for us to go and have a look. Its beautiful and not as touristy as anywhere else. We really think that everyone should come and see bosnia on a bike before all of the tourists come and flood it and steal the culture. Hmm I see a small flaw in that plan. Oh well its our little secret.

Hugs

Tc

07.12.09

The middle of croatia

Posted in The journey journal at 10:46 am by Administrator

After we left slovenia we took a rather unconventional route through croatia. Based on directions given to us by the many slovenians that stopped to talk to us we crossed into croatia at metalika and headed to the city of Karlovac (where one of the most popular croatian beers comes from and they have a beer festival but it was at the wrong time of year for us). The tourist information place in karlovac gave us an awesomely inaccurate map and we planned to cross to sisak and then into bosnia. We got a tad lost and ended up doing an extra 50km or so but it turned out to be a pretty interesting detour. We were seriously off the beaten track and it gave us the chance to see how things are in rural croatia away from anything that even closely resembles a tourist. Even people from the next villages don’t tour here. Then after Glina we got into an area that seemed to have really been hit very hard by the war and it doesn’t look as though it will ever recover. There are villages that where humanity is completely dying out and where nature is taking back the land. The hills were really pretty and it was a strange feeling to see the way that the people are dying out and the bush is closing in. For 70 km we saw so many villages where no people were under the age of 50 and those were the young people there. Most of teh houses were empty and falling down and many had had the bush swallow them up. Such a different experience to that in Slovenia but definitely an experience worth having. We met a nice couple in a bar in Karlovac that told us a fair bit about their country and they were very positive about much of it. I’m intriuged to see the coast now to see how different it is from the areas that man has done his best to irradicate himself and give the land back to nature.

Slovinian Awesomeness

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:04 am by Administrator

So after my slightly scathing attack on italy I figured that I should post some positive stuff and basically its impossible to say negative stuff about slovenia.
From the second that we hit the border it was spectacular. The countriside was gorgeous and it seems that they have been handing out free house paint for years and so all the houses are beautiful. All of the industry is hidden behind nice clumps of trees and even the rubbish dump that we passed looked kinda pretty. The drivers were so far the best that I have encountered in the world and seemed be actually aware that cyclists exist and didn’t want to run us over. In fact they deliberatley tried to get out of our way all the time. Even the slight waynes world feel to the mens fashion in the countriside had a certain charm. The people were the most interested in talking to us than anywhere else so far with random strangers trying to say hello at every turn. We stayed in Ljubljana with a great couchsurfing family and they even put on a slightly less than legal fireworks show for Nic for Canada Day. Even the fact that it rained every day didn’t dampen our enthusiasm for the place and its beauty. Cycling through Slovenia comes highly recommended by us and you can even avoid riding up most of the mountains and still see lots of the country.
So thanks to Slovenia and to the people that we met Tone and his family and Andrje and everyone else.
big hugs
Tc

our routine

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:51 am by Administrator

the day usually starts with us waking between 6 and 7 but usually 6:30.
I unlock the gear and cook breaky while Nic packs the tent and bedding.
We usually hit the road between 8 and 9 and ride in the cooler morning air.
We need to stop so Nic can snack around 25 to 30 km into the day and then continue on to have lunch somewhere around the 50 or 60 km mark.
then its push to where ever we are aiming for the day with usually less sightseeing in the afternoon.
The number of hills detirmines the number of afternoon breaks.
We usually hit 80 to 100 km for the day but start looking for a camp spot around teh 80 km mark.
We try to free camp as much as possible and thats been really easy to do except along the coast.
Then we set the camp up and I cook dinner while nic does the other chores around teh camp and then we eat and chill and sleep.

07.01.09

Impressions of italy

Posted in Italy, The journey journal at 8:15 am by Administrator

Well now that we’ve left italy I should write a bit about our time there and what we saw.

We were joined in Nice by Nic’s brother, Dan and his girlfriend Christal. They weren’t verz experieinced bikers but thought that thez’d give this touring caper a go.

The journez from Nice went along the riviera coast and their first daz on the bike involved riding through a whole country. We had lunch in Monaco and watched the rich and ludicrously rich wonder by.

The french coast is stunning and very up and down. Down to each town and then up around the next point. Then we hit the Italian border and, WHAM, we weren’t in France or anything that even closely resembled it anymore.

I have the impression of Italy that they have overdeveloped and ruined every part of the country that thez could. The only bits that have survived are those that are too steep to ruin, are too old to have been pulled down or are too swampy and yuk already. I mean every square inch of sand along the coast is covered with horrible umbrellas and deck chairs and all the beaches are private and owned by the bars and hotels that put out those chairs. Also all of the rivers that come to the coast are channeled into uglz concrete chutes. The buildings are all terribly rundown and cramped together and the only ones outside of the few historical cites that are slightly nice are those that have had old style looking facades painted on them.

The few bits that have survived the Italian’s need to overdevelop are pretty great. Some of the coastal road is so beautiful and awesome to ride along before genoa. That is until they randomlz block a tunnel on the bike path and you have to back track or there is a rockslide and so you have to ride over the mountains around it but even that was pretty nice. The cinque terra is a gorgeous area, especially looking down at the towns from above. We topped out at a 545 m climb that was at the end of a sustained 8% grade ride at the steepness of tose hills was pretty tough but the views at teh top were worth it. We only rode down to one of the towns and walked into another as the thought of the 300 plus metre climbs out of them wasn’t that thrilling. Dan and Christal took a short break from the ride just before Cinque terra and zipped down to Rome for some sight seeing and rejoined us in Florence.

After Cinque terra we had a few good flat dazs into florence and stopped along the way to do the cheesezy photo thing in Pisa. Pisa is not much of a stop as there isn’t much to see there other than the leaningish tower. I kinda like the tower’s lean cos of the geotechnical coolness of teh problem but I’m sure that most people just like it cos its pretty.

Florence was a good 2 days break and we drank a little too much on the reunion with Dan and Christal and so the sightseeing day was a little less vigorous than it could have been.

I think that Lyon could beome a lot like florence if the French stopped caring about how their buildings looked and how the city was laid out. Its got so much potential to be more beautiful. I still like it but it could be more. One thing is that the florentines and tuscans do know how to cook and to eat and no trip to tuscany should be completed without a nice big local steak (minimum weight 700 grams) and some chianti (mmmmpasta as well).

After Florence it kinda got a bit hillz and we ended up doing 3 1000 m climbs in 2 days, ouch. Dan and Christal did really well to complete the days even though they were pretty stuffed by the end of them. The hilly areas were nice and rural and quite steep. There were plenty of wineries but we keep coming across the problem that we hit the wineries on a sunday when nothing is open or during siesta time and so we’ve missed some awesome looking wines. Doh!

The 40 km downhill into San Marino was a sweet ride een though it was raining a little and then we climbed up to San Marino. It was my 49th country and I’d always wanted to see it but by the time that we reached the bottom of the cable car to the old town the clouds had settled in and so we couldn’t actually see the views and the only things that we could see in the old town were the millions upon millions of shops selling terrible and glitzy touristy crap that even most grandmas wouldn’t want. We were all pretty underwhelmed by San Marino and we glad to be on the way down the hill back into italy and a bunch of flat days into venice.

I’ll leave it there but we’re now in Slovenia and loving it soo much. I’ll go into more superlatives later but its ace and we’ve got one more day here before hitting croatia.

Hugs

Tc

PS sorry for the Zeds everywhere in teh text but the slovenian keyboard has swapped the y and z and I keep missing them.