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Budapest to the border

February 17, 2010

Blue skies this morning on Valentines day, a great day to visit the Citadel and admire the cityscape, but I must head south down the Danube to Belgrade.

My first mistake was following the cycle path signs out of Budapest, must have walked for a couple of km on melting snow.

Leaving Budapest in wonderful sunshine on Valentines day

At lunchtime I found highway 51 and finally started going somewhere. Although later in the early evening when I start thinking about good wild camping territory I headed back to the dyke near Szalkszentmarton, as I guessed unrideable but I pushed the bike along a little way and was rewarded with a magnificent barn, slowly crumbling away.

Wild camping in a collapsing barn

There was just enough roof left to provide shelter for little me. Nightmare trying to light the stove. A curse of petrol stoves is they can get blocked. So spent an hour shaking it, unscrewing bits, testing it, cleaning it, just as well I brought the instructions. When I finally got it working daylight had almost disappeared. Cooked up a buttery tuna, red pepper and pasta medley, decent combo. Hands stank of petrol, but not much I could do about that. Cycle towards Baja tomorrow, the Hungarian/Serbian border I think. I’m now using my German guide book, which is incomprehensible to me.

The barn thankfully didn’t collapse last night, although it really should sometime soon. Made the porridge and chocolate muesli combo I said I would never make again, but just realized I need to use up some food. I’m carrying three different choices for breakfast, which is a little unnecessary. I stayed off the cycle path all day on highway 51, with some little detours through the villages. In Solt I managed to send my redundant gas stove and credit less phone back to UK. Very surprised in only cost 300ft, about £1, we shall see if it gets there.

Tried to get rid of some Hungarian currency, I’ve got too much and need to spend it before I cross the border in 1-2 days from now. Got some ham, girl was initially a little confused by the English speaking international cyclist pointing but soon gave me my ham, sliced too, tasted great! I think I’ll try and get some more tomorrow. Took detour back to cycle path in the early evening, in search of some forest. I wasn’t disappointed. Couldn’t get stove working, which was a little annoying, patience ran out after a couple of hours of cleaning and trying to light it. So it was wafers, ham and yoghurt for dinner. Instead of the egg, potato, onion and ham medley I was planning, while my eggs are still in one piece.

Temperature must have dropped last night, snow is hard and white frost on the trees. Didn’t attempt to light stove in the morning after last night. I was just packing up the tent, defrosting my frozen tent pole when I had a visitor. Another Robin came to say hello, or more likely nibble the cereal I dropped at breakfast.

Visitor at breakfast

Remarkably, not scared of me at all. I stood and watched a while, no-one else came. Cycled back along the dyke to the village of Fokto, then back to the highway. Needed to spend some Hungarian change, so stopped for a coffee on the way into the village of Ersekscanad, fresh coffee cost me 2.10 ft, about 70p! Incredible. I took the opportunity while in the warm to put my multitool back together for the nth time. It was getting on for lunchtime and the lorry drivers on the next table looked like they had some good soup so I ordered some Hungarian goulash soup, very good with plenty of bread for only £2.

In the afternoon I cycled onwards to the town of Baja. Here I met my first Hungarians in Hungary, a retired couple out hiking along the river in the snow with their hiking poles. I guessed they asked me where I was from, although they couldn’t recognise where I was going, so I showed them on my world map. I think I understood the international sign of palm tapping the forehead correctly as, you must be crazy. Next they wanted to know where I was sleeping, when I motioned I was camping, they were a little worried the camp sites may be closed in winter and kindly pointed me in the direction of a youth hostel I didn’t know about. They wished me good luck.

It was still early so I followed the cycle path out of Baja, as it heads towards the border and Croatia (with my German guidebook I hadn’t realised I would cycle through Croatia until now!). Cycled through a village called Szeremle where upon my second Hungarian in Hungary stops to enquire where I’m from and where I’m heading. He was an old chap cycling in the opposite direction on an antique looking single speed. Was really surprised when he spoke good English. Again I showed him on my world map where I was heading. It’s always quite funny observing the surprise on people’s faces. He told me about a festival in Mohacs across the river on my route to the border. They have a festival in Mohacs to celebrate the end of winter and the start of spring. It seems a little early, but we’ll see. He was also curious, don’t I get bored cycling! which is a very good question. So far no boredom hasn’t been a problem, there’s always something to look at, something to think about or I’m just listening to the local radio. We shook hands and I bid him farewell.

I realised when showing him the map to Mohacs that there is no bridge, you need to take the little ferry across the river. Most annoying as I spent my last Forints in Baja buying petrol for the stove, bread, ham and milk. It looks like I’ll be going mapless hunting for a bridge to cross the river further downstream or I suppose I could head back upstream looking for a bridge tomorrow.

Found a camp spot in forest before Dunafalva. Mid-afternoon, so put the tent up to air, hung sleeping bag and mat in the tree’s. Tried stove with new petrol, it must be super clean after last nights session. It worked!! So it looks like it must have been a pressure problem with not enough fuel in the bottle. Finally, I’m able to cook up my 5 egg, potato, onion, ham, salami, herb medley.

Long awaited egg medley

Worth the wait. Although one egg didn’t survive the ride in the panniers and coated a lot of things, thankfully the earl grey tea bags avoided the eggy mess.

Decided to head downstream this morning, highway to the border was deserted clearly nobody making the trip from Hungary to Serbia on a Wednesday lunchtime.

Quiet road along the dyke back to highway leading to the Serbian border

Serbian border guards were very friendly, at least one must have been in his 20’s. In fact they all came over to see where this international cyclist was from and where they were going in the middle of February. On the way into the village a couple of folks even said hello.


Time-out in Budapest

February 14, 2010

Spent my 1st day in Budapest, not at the castle, not at the palace, not at the parliament but looking for bike shops.  Found a friendly place, chap spoke great English although I only needed some pedals, nothing too complicated.  Although on attempting to purchase bike pedals, my useless bank had decided to block my card.  Spent £5 phoning them to ask them to kindly unblock my card and please to not block it again.  Then I went for a wonder around town, a poor couple were in the wrong place at the wrong time as a large block of snow and ice came crashing down from a high rooftop, but they survived.  You really had to be careful where you walked, a little sign things are getting warmer.  Came across the central markets, a very ornate building, with all manner of Hungarian delicacies inside.

Central market in Budapest

I splashed out on a pigs head for dinner, cost little more than 1 Euro I think. Passed another bike shop on the way back to the hostel, so splashed out on some new brake blocks too, which seemed awfully cheap, only £2 compared to at least £5-10 in UK. So what do you do with a pigs head, well I smothered mine in salt and herbs, then roasted it for two hours in a medium oven. Tasted pretty good, you don’t get a lot of meat, plenty of fat. If you like crispy fat, probably best to finish cooking for thirty minutes in a hot oven. Sadly I had no-one to share my pigs head with, so I gobbled it alone.

Went to map shop today and bought a map of Serbia, Bosnia, Montenegro and Kosovo. Stocked up on food, I’d wasn’t going to get caught out again, the shops close at 1pm on Saturday in Budapest. Met a Korean guy in my dorm who’d just came from Krakow, Poland on the night train. His Dad was from Daegu, South Korea, the very same city I am heading to. Went around the sites in the afternoon, upto the Citadel where an angel stands looking over Budapest, I think a WII bunker sits underneath. Another hike up the hill to the palace, but rewarded by a wonderful sunset.

The Citadel looking over Budapest

On my way back along the river I stumbled upon none other than Shakespeare, don’t know what he was doing there.

Shakespeare standing on the banks of the Danube in Budapest

It sounded like a Hungarian had come across a statue of Shakespeare he admired when visiting Australia and decided to raise the money to get a cast done for Budapest. He got enough money together from donors in 2003 and Shakespeare has been standing on the banks of the Danube ever since, most peculiar!

Cooked up a beef stew and pizza for dinner and shared my impulse buys with my Korean room-mate. Ordered a big bouquet of roses & chocolates to be delivered to Nana in Korea for Valentines day, I know she will be very very surprised when they arrive!

Bratislava to Budapest – 2824km cycled so far

February 11, 2010

Decided to head for the Hungarian border and cycle along the Hungarian side of the river.  On the way out of Bratislava passed an arm chair strapped on a pair of ski’s which had been abandoned in the snow, looked like it could have been a helluva lot of fun.

I had the grand plan of spending my last euro coins in Cunovo, but couldn’t find a shop anywhere, despite getting directions (in Slovakian) so I gave up and followed the sign to Rajka, crossed the border on a little farm track.  Wasn’t sure if I was suppose to cross the border on the main road.

So started cycling back toward Slovakia.  There appeared to be no passport check, so when I got a chance I turned around and cycled across the border again back into Hungary for the second time.  Well marked cycle paths in Hungary, no need for a map.  There’s an idyllic stretch of cycle path along Szigetkoz through the wetlands that run along the Danube, I’m sure wonderful in summer, but I had a sneaky suspicion it would be an ice rink at this time of year.  Managed to withdraw some Hungarian currency hopefully I didn’t take too much.  Chucked away my frozen water bottle again, although managed to keep the other one from freezing by keeping it inside my jacket all day.  Bought a kilo loaf and some juice.  Found a campspot next to a frozen lake in the trees next to a dyke.  Must be pretty nippy if the lake is frozen.

Rolled out of bed at 8 this morning.  Met a jogger who was more waddling along than running, as the path was covered in hard packed snow.  Cycled into Gyor, there were quite a few locals on bikes, they were mostly on antique looking single speeds.

I was having a mid-morning snack on a quiet cycle path in the countryside after Gyor when a car appeared to be creeping along behind me, I thought highly suspicious.  Then out jumps a girl in pink trousers, asks me something incomprehensible, but it turned out she was looking for her little black dog and had I seen it, sadly no.  Everyone seems to have a dog in the countryside in Hungary and they all bark pointlessly when one cycles past.  I’m glad to say its not just the blur or smell of the international cyclist passing but also the locals that sends them crazy.  There are a few civilised folks with cats but not many.  Should have been in Komarom at lunchtime, but some rubbish signposting led me down some unrideable path alongside a field.  I’d swear someone flipped the sign around.  I thought I’d got to Komaron but discovered I was in Acs and I’d just cycled through it following cycle signs in the wrong direction.  Anyway, stopped to buy some food and juice.  Took the highway to Komaron to avoid any more confusion.  Cycled right through Komaron, no signs for Komarno across the river in Slovakia, but cycled back and found the bridge.

Its quite funny just being able to wonder across a bridge into another country.  I was back in Slovakia much later than planned, wasn’t going to make it to Esztergom, which is within an easy days ride of Budapest.  But that really didn’t matter, I found an idyllic campspot on a pebble beach by the Danube just before the sun disappeared.  Pegged out the tent with some big stones and cooked pasta for dinner.

A minor mishap when gas went off, thought I might end up having cold crunchy pasta, but thankfully after a bit of shaking it fired up again.  Will have to get some petrol soon and try my new stove, now I’ve almost used up all the gas I brought with me from the UK.

Quiet night once the boats had stopped passing in the evening, could just hear water lapping at the beach.  The next morning I pushed the bike back up the dyke track to the highway.  I had the pleasure of an icy headwind all day.  Got to Sturovo at lunchtime where I diligently spent my last euro coins, well almost my ham and cheese only came to 3.58 euros, so I still got 2 euro cents.   Splashed out on a new mobile in Slovakia too, so may be I can connect to a few warmshowers hosts.  Wonderful chap in the phone shop was extremely polite refering to me as sir despite my haggled appearance.  He asked if I was cycling, I replied yes from England and he promptly started muttering swear words in German which was quite funny after he’d been so polite.  With my new phone and euros spent I crossed the river back to Hungary and Esztergom which is home to a huge Basilica, ignored all the cycle path signs and stayed on the highway which curled up the hill passed the Basilica.

The island of Szentendrei Sziget sitting in the middle of the Danube looked ideal wild camping territory.  On the way I passed a poster for a politician with probably the friendliest face so far, but the poor chap rather amusing had an arrow stuck in his head quite literally, someone had use him as target practice.

Didn’t realise I’d dropped a mitten while taking a photo, when a chap cycled past and said something incomprehensible, then he pointed at his glove and the penny dropped, I smiled and thanked him.  This has probably been the most noticeable difference, people actually out and about in every village in Hungary waiting for the bus, doing their shopping, such a contrast to the many ghost towns I pasted through in France and Germany.  Got a little ferry across to the island around 4pm, poor guys had to struggle to get the bike down the steps, although I’m sure there used to overloaded international cyclists.

Once on the island headed down a country lane, and found a quiet forest track calve deep in snow, didn’t managed to find the river, but was well hidden in the tree.  Can have a lie in and a long breakfast tomorrow, must be only 30km to Budapest.

Probably one of the best wild camps so far.  Snowed last night and covered my tracks.  Snow was so deep the bike could stand up on its own.  Nightmare trying to open the fuel bottle, finally got it open and the new Dragonfly stove working, it makes a fantastic noise.  The old gas stove will soon be retired and sent back to UK.  Was boiling water for a cup tea and pasta last night, when I thought it tasted rather strange, couldn’t work out what was wrong, then I realised I’d bought fizzy water by mistake.  Anyway, solved that problem by boiling snow up in the morning for fresh coffee and porridge.  Well it was actually a porridge and chocolate muesli combo, it didn’t taste too bad, probably wouldn’t recommend it.  Finally got going late in the morning, cycled over the bridge off the island of Szentendrei.  Stayed on highway 11 all the way into Budapest, ignoring all no cycle signs.  With 10km to the centre, two lanes became four and things got a little faster.

Chain fell off three times in two minutes, so decided it was high time for some chain maintenance.  Thought Budapest would be one of the scarier cities to cycle in to, but on the contrary I floated into town in a bus lane with no buses. only going across the bridge was a little nerve wrecking.  Its great where you actually no where you are going, didn’t take long to find hostel.  Gave the bike a good clean for the first time since Christmas, will need to get some new pedals, before the other ones give up entirely.  Cooked up some carbonara for dinner and shared it with my roommates from Japan and Taiwan.  Ate a tub of icecream too!  I’ve got 3 nights to enjoy Budapest, think the next big city is Novi Sad in Serbia.

Vienna to Bratislava – 2525km cycled so far

February 7, 2010

Failed to get on the right cycle path out of Vienna, so ended up on the wrong side of the river.  Pushed the bike on icy dykes for a couple of hours and crossed a river bed, finally found a way back to the highway at lunchtime.  Big head and cross winds for first time on trip, slow going, 10km/hr on open plains, no hope of protection except for the odd passing train.

So I didn’t arrive in Bratislava very late in the day, opted to camp early.  Darted across a field again to the edge of the Nature reserve, found a great sheltered camp-spot down a small bank, just outside the Roman settlement of Petronell-Carnatum, only 25km to Bratislava tomorrow.

Great wild camp on edge of Danube nature reserve

Disturbed an eagle or something big when I was stumbling around looking for a sheltered camp spot.  Spotted a woodpecker from the tent, pecking away on a nearby tree.  Heard the sound again that had awoken me a few weeks ago at midnight, thought it was a bird back then, looked down the bank and was amazed to see it was deer hopping around and squawking.

No hurry to get going today with less than a couple of hours to Bratislava. In the morning went through Petronell-Carnatum, in summer an archaeologists paradise, in winter, well….I did stop and have a look at the Roman amphitheatre, almost missed it as it was covered in snow, not surprisingly I was the only visitor, probably could have camped there last night.

Stopped to diligently spend my last Euro coins in Hainburg, didn’t quite get the math right and still had 53 cents left.  Cycled over the border on the national road 9, surprisingly no passport checks, followed my nose into town but went awry afterwards trying to find hostel, went up a couple of hills needlessly, at least I saw a little of run-down Bratislava, apartment blocks that should have been pulled down a few decades ago.

Tried to get Slovak currency from a cash machine, much to my surprise I could only withdraw euros, found out later euros are accepted everywhere in Slovakia, so I needn’t have spent my last euro coins in Austria!  Stayed at downtown backpackers hostel, friendly place, its even got a kitchen!! Tried a Slovak dish at the bar, similar to gnocchi, with an unpronounceable name.  Found some Moroccans in my room having a siesta, felt obliged not to make too much noise.  Spent half an hour trying to put my stupid multi tool pack together which keeps falling apart.  Met a Japanese chap who just graduated during the eurorail thing, he’d just come from Vienna, but someone had stolen his rail card, so he was looking for cheap places to go.  We were just saying its funny I didn’t meet any Koreans while travelling yet, when in walks a Korean guy.  Tried my tremendously limited Korean on him, he was a little surprised.  He disappeared early next morning, so didn’t get a chance to chat more.  It was a bit of a novelty having a kitchen to use, so I went to town buying fresh stuff to cook.  Cooked up enough potato, cabbage and steak for at least four people, and gobbled the lot.  Met some more folks, a couple of Belgiums and a Californian student, interesting chat, again quite something of a novelty after so much time on the bike.  The Belgiums were politics students, who’d done a bit of cycle touring themselves, they’d tried to cycle to London, but ended getting the train most of the way because the bikes kept breaking and they were short of time.  Thankfully two things I don’t need to worry about on my trip!

Free hostel breakfast, met a rather dour Londoner who was looking for english teaching jobs.  He didn’t seem to compus mentus, may be it was too early in the morning.  Went for a wonder around Bratislava in the afternoon.  Wondered into a few churches, there was a beggar in one, the guy who came out after me appeared to give him an ear bashing.  There weren’t really many beggars on the street despite Bratislava being the capital, perhaps because it was -5C.

Back at the hostel I promptly burnt my pizza, a little annoying.  Later made some pasta for me and the Japanese chap in my dorm.  Couldn’t open the tin of tomatoes so enlisted the help of others.  Neither of the Belgiums could open up, the Japanese chap couldn’t open it, so I nipped upstairs and used my primitive pen knife.  Cooked to much and ate too much, but it was good.  Cycle towards Budapest tomorrow, have to decide which side of the river to cycle on Slovakian or Hungarian.

Passau to Vienna – 2436km cycled so far

February 5, 2010

In the morning I had a treacherous walk back down the cobbled hill in the snow. Took the highway along the Danube, sun was shinning for the first time in a long time. Crossed the German/Austrian border on a rather anonymous track by the river.

Started changing back brake blocks, an Austrian couple came over to see if I had a terrible bike problem, they wished me luck I think. Highway climbed above the Danube for a few hundred metres which was a nice change. Got to Linz around 3, cycled around for an hour looking for hostel signs, but no luck. First random angry shout from a motorist, I think she thought I should be in the cycle lane. Started asking directions, eventually found it at the top of a big hill near the Botanical Gardens.

Got a puncture at the bottom of the hill, couldn’t be bothered to fix it so pushed the bike up to the hostel. Missed buying food, because apparently all supermarkets close at 6 on Saturdays and don’t open again until Monday. Got an enormous cup of tea in McDonalds. Stayed second day in Linz, still feeling a bit rubbish. Wondered around city, everything closed, so got some pizza and started to learn how to crack wifi networks.

Snowing as I cycled out of Linz, 1st Feb. I had at least five Austrians making sure I was on the right path, they seem to be a friendly bunch. Cycle path was surprisingly rideable despite the snow.

After 45km, Spotted a tarp shelter collapsed under the snow next to a lake just off the cycle path, my lucky day! Put the tarp back up again, watched the sun-set very slowly from 3 until 6pm. I think some folks were out shooting in the woods, I’ve seen quite a few deer running around today in the trees.

Healthy eating today, baguette, Gouda, crisps, banana, apple and yoghurt for lunch. Not sure exactly where I was camping, may be just before Mitterkirchen. Wasn’t disturbed last night, great shelter. Snowing this morning, in fact snowing on and off all day. Took a few quiet country lanes once I’d pushed the bike out of the woods. Then stayed on highway 3 on north side of the river all day, it was pretty quiet.

Got more biscuits and some multivitamin juice in Saxon. A few stares from snow clearers, I think everyone has to clear the pavement in front of their houses in Austria when it snows. Great tail-wind all day probably could have floated all the way to Vienna, but spotted potential camp spot after 80km. Nipped under a narrow railway bridge, no sign of footprints, so I thought I could be onto a winner. Climbed up a steep bank following some deer tracks and came to a great spot overlooking the river, high above the road and railway.

On the opposite river bank, a ruined castle was perched on top of the cliff, I had thought about cycling up that side of the river and checking it out but I’m glad I didn’t now, couldn’t have found a better camp spot, it was definitely worth making a couple of trips to carry the bike and stuff up the hill.

Snow seems to have cleared for now, blue skies. Cooked up some pasta for dinner, but put a little too much Gouda in it.

Big tailwind again this morning, crossed to south-side of river at Krems. Started passing vast fields filled with small bare trees, couldn’t guess what they were growing in summer. Finally cycled past a sign for a vineyard, so this must be wine growing country. I’m sure the fields would look quite magnificence in summer. Cycle into outskirts of Vienna at 3pm, pursued by black clouds. They caught me before I got to the centre. Was expecting a majestic entrance into Vienna filled with historic buildings, but was met instead with concrete and graffiti everywhere.

Surprised myself finding the zentrum and tourist information relatively quickly and painlessly. Hostel was empty again, maybe should have tried Andy’s hostel zheiners. Went to find Luca’s friend Christian in the evening to get a parcel. He lives at no.500. but I found there was only 4 floors in the apartment. No one else in his building quite knew which flat it was. Anyway, eventually we met up the next morning, it turns out Christian lived in a numberless flat so decided to invent a new one so the postman was not confused. Thankfully parcel turned up on time. Hostels without kitchens really are daft, ended up eating a tin of bean stew and fruit cocktail for dinner.

Lots of people at breakfast despite me not having any room-mates last night. Chatted to a Dutch and Belgium girl at breakfast they were both on holiday. They seemed really impressed by Vienna’s museums, which I probably should have been too. They recommended to go to the palace, so that’s where I headed in the morning.

The palace is Vienna answer to Buckingham palace, complete with grand gardens covered in snow, an Orangeree with no oranges and a Glorietta? similar to a giant summer house perched on a hill above the palace, a great place to survey the Vienna city-scape on a clear day, which is wasn’t! A great place for running, wish I had my running shoes, the runners were out in force in all manner of clothes only runners would wear.

Came across a flag shop in Vienna so bought a British and South Korean flag. Went to bookshop and found some great cycle guides for Danube, unfortunately didn’t realise my 2nd guide was not in English, probably German. So I’ve got an ultra detailed cycle path guide from Belgrade to Bulgaria in German, so annoying! Cycle towards Bratislava tomorrow.

Cycling down the Danube in Germany – Donaueschingen to Passau

January 30, 2010

Found the start of the Donau-Radweg in Donaueschingen which will take me all the way to Bulgaria.  For some reason I thought maybe I would start to speed up! I was very wrong, the cycle path was covered in sheets of ice many places, so I slipped over a few times.  No fellow cycle tourers to be seen anywhere, they’re probably all in the southern hemisphere now, very wise.

Sadly I lost the signposts after Donaueschingen and took a 20km detour up another valley through a forest.  Got directions from a German dog walker as luck would have it the only person I saw most of the day.  Despite the lack of language his directions turned out to be perfect.  When I finally found the Danube again I sent my French maps back to Luca, as I’d left him with a French road atlas with good a few pages missing.  Found a place to camp over looking the Danube just before Tuttlingen after 84km.  Sadly it was not very flat, so I spent most of the night sliding into side of tent, but at least it was well hidden in the trees.

Very icy the next morning, was on the cycle path by 7.30, unfortunately a lot of places were unrideable I could see it was going to be a slow day.  Stopped at Lidl’s got some Bratwurst.  Ate a German sweet bread thing for breakfast on the bike.  Hardly anyone on the cycle path, not even dog walkers, starting to think I must be the only cyclist on the whole of the Donau-Radweg.  Found a coffee shop in Fridingen, mentioned I was cycling to South Korea, owner appeared suitably impressed.  Came across a wooden hut after Fridingen, Danube went through a gorge, shame it wasn’t later it would have been a great place to sleep.  Anyway, cooked up my Bratwurst for lunch, although I’m sure they would have kept for a few days in these sub zero temperatures.

My water bottles were almost frozen.  Very slow progress after lunch, pushed bike for a few km’s.  Came across a monastery which would also have been perfect for sleeping, but it was still early only 3.  Finally stopped at 4, spotted a wooden shack just off the bike path, so don’t need to pitch tent tonight.  No visitors in the night despite the paw prints in the snow.

Not sure where I camped last night because I still don’t have a map.  Arrived in Simaringen after 20km, was tempted to stay at youth hostel and have a look around the famous castle.  Like all good German youth hostels it was at the top of a hill.  Sadly, the hostel was full, so there goes my rest day! Gave up on the frozen bike paths today for a while after I fell over just wheeling the bike.  Got my 1st puncture, found out my pump is rubbish.  Asked for help from a random guy in overalls outside the back of his workshop, don’t know what kinda engineer he was maybe heating, but he had a high pressure pump so I was on the go again in no time.  After big gorges, back to flat plains, found a spot under a railway bridge just outside Riedlingen.  Hopefully make it to Ulm tomorrow morning, stay in a hostel and get some rest.

Sleeping under the railway bridge was a little strange, every so often trains would rumble over the bridge, the noise was slightly unnerving but I don’t think bridge is gonna collapse tonight of all nights.  It wasn’t as dry as I hoped.  Pushed the bike along the path for a few km’s this morning, then decided to hit the highway, 38km to Ulm.  There was a lot of traffic, I probably was a nuisance for many lorry drivers, but didn’t care I was singing along the Beatles most of the way.

Got to Ulm at lunchtime, like all good German youth hostels it was a the top of a long hill, but this time thankfully they had space.  Spent the day in the city looking for an internet cafe in the concrete jungle of Ulm. I surprised myself getting on a bus that went into the city which turned out to be free as there was no way to pay.  Ulm is famous for its church, with apparently the world’s highest steeple.  Got all my washing done, a clean Buffalo once again, it was starting to smell pretty bad.

Was soon walking along the cycle paths the next morning because of ice.  It really is not a clever idea to try to cycle the Donau-Radweg in wintertime.  Tried to find an internet cafe in Gunzburg, failed, couldn’t even find the tourist information.  In the evening I spotted a burnt out house at the bottom of a steep bank.  I was in the middle of surveying it, when some weird photographers turned up, maybe insurance people, I don’t know.  So I abandoned that idea and ended up camped next to a graveyard just outside Dillington.  There were some seriously weird noises which woke me up around midnight.  I had no idea what it was for a while, then I slowly realised it was a bird wailing, as I was camped on the edge of a nature reserve too.

In the morning Dillington was a ghost town as I cycled through, as are many of the places I pass through.  When do the shops ever open? When are people ever on the streets? I guess not in wintertime.  Donauworth was most peculiar, there were actually people on the streets, lots of folks wondering around in traditional costumes, black hats and breeches with knee length socks.

Not sure where they were all going, but it was a Sunday, so possibly to church? I found a cafe that actually appeared to be open, I indulged myself with pizza and cappuccino.  Antonis in Strasbourg had mentioned Germany was cheap for pizza’s and he was right only 6 Euro.  In the afternoon the path took me high up above the Danube so a bit of climbing for a change, met some German hikers who said something to me, I’ve no idea, I just nodded and said ya.  Saw loads of deer bolting across the fields which was pretty cool.  I’ve seen countless falcons, at least I think they were falcons, the forests seem to be a haven for birdwatchers, haven’t actually seen any bird watchers.  But they’ve built little wooden huts on stilts everywhere.  Its a shame they don’t make them a little bigger, they would be great for wild camping in.  Another thing I’ve been really surprised about is the number of shrines, almost every village and I pass has a shrine or large crucifix nearby.  I passed a great little shrine sheltered by trees, which I was very pleased to find and promptly stopped to have lunch watched by a statue of Mary I think.

Snowed last night so took to the highway this morning, the Germans are super efficient with snow ploughing so the road was clear, after a while I decided to take the quieter option and head back into the forest and follow the river to Ingolstadt for lunchtime.  Fresh snow made pushing the bike very slow going.

Didn’t see a soul for a few hours, ideal wild camping territory! Eventually, made it to Ingolstadt and searched high and low for the youth hostel, after seeing no signs anywhere and cycling around in circles, got some directions from an old German couple.  The old guy was laughing as his wife was trying to explain to me the way to the jungerherberge in German, despite me obviously not knowing a word of German.  But her instructions were perfect and I found it in no time.  Unfortunately, discovered it was closed until next week.  It was already 3, so I set off east again along the river, found a great birdwatching shelter at 4.  But it was too good to be true and a Dr Doolittle came along and told me I couldn’t sleep there.  I pushed on for another hour and thankfully found a pine forest, very comfortable, water bottles frozen again but managed to squeeze enough out to make pasta for dinner.  Distances covered during the day seem to be varying wildly with the snow.  Fresh powder snow overnight made the going tough in the morning, was deep in the forest, so had a few hours of pushing the bike on the forest tracks back to the highway.  The back wheel kept seizing up with all the snow getting stuck in the mudguards.  Stopped for breakfast at 9, water bottles frozen, so resorted to making porridge and coffee with water fresh from the Danube.  I’m happy to say I’m still alive after a few hours.  Hit the highway for a few hours then camped very early at 3pm, found a nice pine forest at the top of a hill, only 33km done today! Will cycle onto Kelheim and Regensburg tomorrow.

Amazingly cold last night, found out later it was probably -15C, although I was quite warm in my sleeping bag.  Just my nose was cold.  On road by 8, crisp blue skies and red sun creeping over the horizon.  Bitterly cold, even kept the down jacket on for cycling, tried to pedal fast in a low gear.  Cycle computer couldn’t cope, must have frozen too.  Stopped in Kelheim after 6km and sat in McDonalds for an hour with a coffee to warm up again.  Stayed on N16 almost all the way into Regensburg, then took a quieter road through the suburbs.  Got a hostel bed at lunchtime, must remember to lie about age next time.  Nobody in my room again, so hung everything up to dry.  Fixed my bicycle pump finally, bike mechanic spotted I hadn’t flipped the valve over, just as well I haven’t had more punctures.  Regensburg was apparently the home of Oscar Schindler for many years! Old town was fun to wonder around, lots of little boutique shops and a very old stone bridge.

Met some Americans at breakfast, their on a Reformation trip, sounds a bit more civilised than what I’m doing.  Although their tutor Gerry seemed quite excited to hear about my trip.  It was quite funny to chat to someone in English, first time since Paris.  Ate too much breakfast, felt rotten all day.  Cycled out of Regensburg in a blizzard, in fact it snowed most of the day.  Struggled into Straubling, must have picked up a bug or something.  Discovered hostel wasn’t open in winter, useless! Tourist info recommended Hotel Bischoff, not sure I would recommend it.  The place was a ghost town, I wondered up and down the stairs but no sign of a reception, do they ever have any visitors? Finally a Croat lady turns up, she was a little stern, not particularly welcoming.  I felt ill and just wanted to lie down somewhere.  She tried to overcharge me, I guess all these places do, she was a little more accommodating when I told her a cycled from England.  I spent the evening horizontal.

Felt better this morning, on the road by 8.30, managed muesli for breakfast and painkillers for the headache without puking.  Aim was Passau, no fuss, hit the highway 8 for 3-4 hours.  Put some air in the tyres, 80psi, well over the recommended max, but was soon rolling along a little quicker.  Roads were all clear of snow.  Had a big mac for lunch.  Found youth hostel in Passau at the top of a massive 25% hill.

Quite amazing, its located inside the old town fortress on a cliff overlooking the river and new town.  Arrived around 2, probably met the friendliest hostel lady so far, put the bike away but couldn’t get a key until 4.  So I wondered around the fortress, but everything was closed in winter.  Got a free cycle map in the tourist info, which will guide me all the way to Bratislava.  Quiet evening in hostel, had pasta for dinner and salad for the first time since Strasbourg.  Discovered showers were cold, I guess the plumbing must be old.

Looking for the start of the Danube

January 20, 2010

Late start after crème fraiche and biscuits for breakfast, left Strasbourg around 11.  Crossed the Rhine into Germany, no passport stamp, in fact no sign of a border at all.  Cycle path signs started appearing everywhere, it was most confusing when it really should have made life easier!  I knew I had to head down the Rhine valley then up into the black forest mountains to find Donaueschingen.  The Rhine valley was very flat, very traditional houses everywhere with huge roofs.

Everything appeared perfect, like in the Jim Carey movie.  No sign of dilapidated buildings anywhere, everywhere was pristine like it had just been built, quite a contrast to rural France.  With no map or plan where to stop I asked in the tourist info in Steinbach around 3 and they told me about the youth hostel at Triberg at least 40km down the road, and suggested I could get the train.  Decided to cycle instead, it can’t take that long! Although ominously she did mention the youth hostel was next to the highest waterfall in Germany. As I suspected started climbing into the Black forest mountains, was still on the road after dark and had to cycle through a couple of tunnels which was not pleasant.  When I got to Triberg I asked a guy for directions in Aldi, he pointed up the hill a few km’s and I discovered my 1st gear for the 1st time.  I think I past Germany’s highest waterfall in the dark, I didn’t stop to look.  Arrived at the hostel at 6 after 92km, the place was a ghost town, I think I was the only guest.  There was no kitchen, so I took the camping stove outside and cooked up some pasta.  Legs are aching a lot after climb yesterday, hopefully find the start of the Danube tomorrow.

My first stay in a German youth hostel was quite uneventful, given I was the only person there! They did a cracking breakfast, loads of jam sandwiches, decent coffee, muesli and lots of German ham.  Left the youth hostel about 9, learnt to say goodbye from the youth hostel manager.  He kindly pointed in the right direction a few km’s up the hill and laughed.

It was a beautiful ride, snow everywhere, very alpine! Even passed a ski run.  Top must have been around 900-1000m, good training for later.  Long descent into the next valley and the start of the Danube.

Found the start of the Donau-Radweg in Donaueschingen which will take me all the way to Bulgaria.  For some reason I thought maybe I would start to speed up! I was very wrong, the cycle path was covered in sheets of ice many places, so I slipped over a few times.  No fellow cycle tourers to be seen anywhere, they’re probably all in the southern hemisphere now, very wise.

Paris to Strasbourg 553km

January 18, 2010

Early start on Tuesday, so I had the commuters to negotiate on the roads out of Paris towards Strasbourg.  Waved goodbye to Luca and Pablo at 7.30.  Managed to stay off the main roads, just following the compass south-east.  Was a little nervous of the traffic going through Paris suburbs.  Why do they build chicanes on the main street of every suburb? I don’t know, except to strike fear into the heart of every international cyclists.  A plonker tried to overtake me on a blind bend, much to my amusement I gave him the international V-sign while I was wearing my mittens.  I quite unintentionally followed the Seine out of Paris, passing through Vitry-sur-Seine and lots other -sur-Seine places.  Got attacked by my first dog in Boussy St-Antoine, it took me quite by surprise.  The owner opened their front door and it came running at me through the gate.  I got quite a shock, but it just seemed to be very happy to see me!  Before long I was out in the countryside, cycling through wide-open fields, freezing cold but beautiful nonetheless.  Thankfully the roads were clear of snow, with large piles of it by the side of the road.

With 100km on the clock I started looking for somewhere to camp.  Quite by coincidence I was coming up to a place called ‘Le Petit Paris’, found a small forest off the road and pitched the tent.  Ate chilli con carne and pasta for dinner, a few rabbits running around but nothing else to disturb me.

Snow fell overnight, bike was covered in the morning.  Cooked porridge for breakfast with Pablo’s bananas and made coffee with my newly acquired coffee filter.  Very slow packing up, eventually got going around 9.  Wasn’t actually on the road I thought I was on, but that didn’t matter, headed towards the medieval town of Provins.  Admired the castle and old town on top of the hill but decided not to struggle up it in the snow.  Much to my delight I found an Intermarche on the way out of town, got some brioche and milk.  An old French couple asked where I was going, which was actually the first time anyone has asked in the France.  Just outside town there was a small gypsy camp, the road was covered in snow and a guy came whizzing past me in his car and skidded 180.  Then jumped out and appeared to go for a pee, I can only think the gypsies must nip down the road 200 yards to go to the loo instead of in camp.  Stayed on the minor roads all day, cycling through snow in some places and wiped out a few times.  Bizarrely stumbled upon the Seine again at Mareilly-sur-Seine.  I followed a joining river called l’Aube as it looked like it would have a few potential places to camp.  In the end I darted across a field just outside the village of Viapre-le-Grand, found a pristine camp spot next to a fishing lake.  Ate pasta and risotto for dinner, just short of 100km cycled.

Rare luxury of porridge of milk for breakfast, maybe I should buy milk more often.  A frosty morning, made my dash back across the field around 8, still quite gloomy don’t think I was spotted despite my fluorescent vest.  Stayed on the D56 all day, not many cars, passed a couple of lycra clad local cyclists.  Dilapidated houses and farm buildings in every village.  Very rural, no shops not even a boloungerie all day.  Needed to stock up on food and water, so headed to what looked like a bigger village.

Only found a restaurant, but they kindly filled up my water bottles.  Passed through a village called Outlines, which appeared to be stuck in a time warp, amazing traditional farm houses and gites.  Pushed on and found a camp spot in the forest just outside Giffaumont-Champaubert.

Quiet night in the forest.  Aim was to find a least a boloungerie today, I had a feeling Wassy would come up trumps.  The signs were good when I passed the boloungerie van from Wassy doing the rounds in the smaller villages.  Got 2 chunky baguettes, 2 pain au chocolates and a pain au raison for less than 5 Euro.  An old chap said hello outside the boloungerie, he seemed to be impressed with my Brooks saddle.  Must learn how to pronounce Korea with a French accent, but we managed to establish it was pres de Japonaise.  The Brooks saddle is turning out to be surprisingly comfortable despite appearances.  Found the elusive supermarket I was search for 20km down the road in Joinville.  Got a strange potato omelette mixture type thing with Swiss flag on it, can’t wait to try it + some 3 min pasta, very handy!  The buy of the day was probably crème fraiche.  Hills started for the first time since Rouen, as from Paris to here for 3 days has been pancake flat.  Bike is going very sluggish downhill, may be its the fat tyres.  Got a bit of extra speed crouching over the handlebars but still could only manage 50km/hr max.  Found a pine forest at the top of a hill before the village of Pagny-la-Blance-Cote.  Sleeping on a bed of pines was very luxurious, great aroma too!  Crème fraiche was a great idea, 1500kcal per tub.  Had a huge pate baguette and pasta for dinner.

Was organised this morning, packed up quick and on the road by 7.30.  Breakfast of pain au chocolate, baguette and milk on the bike.  Pain au chocolates are pretty high calorie, 10 for breakfast, that’s 1850 kcal of heaven.  Even better dip them in crème fraiche and you got a 3000kcal ++ breakfast.  Really wanted to get to Strasbourg now, must have started pushing more, did 50km before lunch, in the afternoon kept going passed Buccarat at 100km.  Continued up the valley from Raon-l’-Etape towards the trees.  Found a camp site as it started to get gloomy around 5pm.  Will go over the col tomorrow at 732m, maybe even reach Strasbourg if I get an early start.

Very wet start, it was raining all night.  Struggled to find the way back to the path through the trees.  Chain fell off on the way, so I had black hands to start the day, although the snow did seemed to get some of it off.  On the road just after 7.  I had 10 pain au chocolate stuffed in my jacket.  They were quite fiddly to open, because they were all individually wrapped.  Was glad to be going up the valley in the dark, as you do feel a little self-concious pedalling through villages at 5-6 km/hr.  Stopped at a war memorial near the top, zero view down the valley which was covered in mist.  Ate the pate baguette I made last night.  Slow crawl to the top of the col.  All pain au chocolate gone.  Made it to the top of my first col 732m at 9.

Pretty pathetic really, much bigger cols to come in some countries I’ll be passing through.  Thought about doing a snow angel, but decided against.  Of course what goes up must go down at some point.  It must have been over 10km of descent, in the rain, very cold, but pure heaven nonetheless, max speed 72km/hr.  After that it was as flat as a pancake to Strasbourg.

Treated myself to a hotel in Strasbourg, although having to hoik the bike up the stairs I’m not sure it was really worth it.  Turned the hotel room into a washing and drying room for the afternoon, because I couldn’t find a laundrette anywhere.  Met up with Antonis in the evening, a friend for Birmingham volleyball who I hadn’t seen for 8 years! I leave tomorrow in search of the Danube.  Total distance so far 1354km, I must have passed 1000km milestone somewhere without realizing.  Tomorrow is the first time I will be map less, which I’m not sure is a good or a bad thing.

Lazy days in Paris

January 12, 2010

The first few days of 2010 have been wonderfully lazy. No cycling was done for over a week, which was probably a good thing too, because I was going up and down stairs like an old man. Luca’s parents were visiting Paris and we went out for dinner in St Germain in a fancy brasserie. I looked very out of place stood in the queue surrounded by the Parisian elite, well a few were quite amusing dressed in huge fur coats. The international cyclist doesn’t tend to carry around a fur coat nor a suit or cashmere scarf in their panniers. What I did find quite surprising was the brasserie was serving some simple honest dishes like pigs foot. Whats more it’s not every day you can say you went out for dinner with some nuclear physicists (both Luca’s parents are!).

The next day I decided against going for a long long walk with Luca and Pablo. I met up with Benj, Pierre and Francois, some old friends from Uni Birmingham volleyball who I haven’t seen for many years. Had a cup of Russian Earl Grey tea at Benj’s, although it tasted the same as normal. In the evening we went out for sushi at a Japanese restaurant, I’m pretty good with a pair of chopsticks having spent 6 months in Korea last year. One slight problem I’ve lost almost all the grip in my hands over the past week, so using chopsticks was a lost cause. I seriously need to get some cycling gloves.

In all I spent ten wonderfully lazy days in Paris, without going to a single museum. I did spend one evening sitting patiently on the steps of the Sacre Coeur in the freezing cold waiting for the sunset, but it turned out to be pretty poor. Incredibly the same guy I saw years ago is still there juggling with a a ball balanced on his head.

My daily highlights were excursions to Carreflour to seek out high-calorie bargains. Luca’s got a ukulele so spent a few hours practicing, I can now almost play ‘Ring of fire’ Johnny Cash and ‘Over the rainbow’. I played them for my girlfriend Nana over the phone, but she was less than impressed by my rendition. Also had a go on Luca’s recently acquired trombone, needless to see that was pretty tuneless. I think by the end of the week we had drank all of Luca’s Lady Grey tea supplies. We had also drank my emergency whiskey supply which my sister Helen gave me for Christmas.

One day Luca, Pablo and me went to the catacombs, a slightly eery place, 2km of tunnels filled with human bones beneath the streets of Paris. I was quite amazed by the magnitude of the catacombs, apparently the Parisian elite used to hold parties down there as well, they don’t do today of course. But there is an underground scene in Paris, you can open up a man-hole and disappear for a while, although it would be wise to take someone who knows the tunnels, needless to say we didn’t try.

We had a party at the weekend with lots of Italian goodies Luca’s parents at brought from home. Which included a big cotechino (Italian sausage) which we didn’t know how to cook, so promptly boiled it, then baked it, it tasted really great. In the evening we went out on Grand Boulevard. We tried one bar, but they wouldn’t let us in, much to my surprise because apparently we are men. I’m assured that such sexism is quite normal in Paris. Eventually an Irish bar let us in. We stayed until 6am! Don’t worry I wasn’t dancing all night, I had found a comfortable chair by 3am, so was quite content. For some reason unbeknown to me, the very next afternoon we took the train Chartes and wondered around the cathedral, apparently, the highest in France and it’s got odd steeples too. It had snowed a lot in Chartes so we had a snow ball fight and made snow angels.

On my last day in Paris I attempted to make a Panattoni as I was mightily impressed by the Panattoni we ate from Luca’s parents. It actually looked pretty like the real thing. Discovered how to play ‘ring of fire’ on the harmonica. Attempted to do a duet with Luca on the Ukulele, but failed. Luca slept in his newly acquired hammock and survived.

Finally set off from Paris on 12th January early in the morning, so I had the fun of rush-hour traffic to negotiate. Next destination Strasbourg in I don’t know how many days.

Newcastle to Paris 801km

January 7, 2010

My journey began early on 26th December after a wonderful Christmas with my mum, dad and Helen. Roads were seriously icy, so I had to walk up the little hill where I live from where Dad and Helen waved goodbye. I cycled over the Tyne Bridge surrounded by freezing fog. The famous Newcastle quayside and bridges were invisible, never mind I took a photo anyway. The sun was beginning to creep over the horizon as I reached the Angel of the North. Everything was covered in snow.

It was easy not to get lost, I just had to follow the compass south to Portsmouth. I must have passed through Darlington at lunchtime, no where looked appealing to stop for lunch and it was freezing, so I continued. I had my lunch of Christmas cake somewhere in the Yorkshire countryside, road was surprisingly flat, which was handy because I appeared to have packed way to much stuff. A random cyclist stopped to say hello while I was munching on my dessert of Christmas pudding. I cycled a couple of hours in the dark to reach York and the youth hostel. Nine hours of cycling and only 138km, I definitely have too much stuff. Well anyway I had a very civilised night, gobbling a lot of cous cous and chilli con carne. Thinking of stopping in Nottingham tomorrow.

Was up early, ate two bowls of porridge for breakfast, was on the road by 8am. Morning ride felt slow and tiring, may be because I haven’t been on a bike regularly for many months, or maybe it was uphill! Didn’t stop for lunch. Why did I pack food? there’s a convenience store on every street corner. Got some ginger biscuits and bourbon creams for the afternoon. Ran out of water around 6pm, so stopped off in a village pub, bar girl kindly filled up my bottles, but manager was not too friendly. Roads were quiet in the evening, so just kept cycling into the night. Came across a service station with KFC just outside Leicester where I was promptly bamboozled by the menu choices as I never ever go there. I found a place to camp just off the A6 somewhere in the Leicestershire countryside, near Dunton Basset around 11pm. Quite a remarkable day really, 200km in fifteen hours.

Cous cous and raisins for breakfast, despite getting up at 6.30am I was very slow packing up. Freezing fog during most of the morning. Cycling along rolling hills in countryside, passed through Banbury at lunchtime. Stopped at a pub just outside Oxford, refilled water bottles, friendly manager gave me directions into Oxford. Massive A roads south out of Oxford during rush hour, lost my Oxford map but I got some good directions to Basingstoke from a very surprised dog walker. Was soon cycling through the countryside to Basingstoke in the darkness, got seriously confused by the ring road once on the outskirts of Basingstoke. Decided against taking dual carriageway and wondered through a few random housing estates and over some pedestrian bridges, didn’t see a soul, finally came across a useful signpost and my route south out of Basingstoke. From there some serious hills started, which appeared from nowhere in the darkness. Not to worry the bike can go up anything, just rather slowly. I found Ropley where my uncle and aunt lives in the Hampshire countryside around 10.30pm. Unfortunately Ropley is a maze of confusing country lanes. So I ended up cycling around in circles, not great when everywhere is hills. I think it was around 1am when I finally found uncle’s house. I hadn’t realised I would cycle so far today, but luckily the lights were still on, I tapped on the door quietly, so as not to wake anyone. After a couple of minutes the curtains twitched and my very surprised uncle opened the door to find out who was lurking in the garden at this ungodly hour. As luck would have it the Newcastle highlights were on TV, so he was still awake. I gobbled some Christmas leftovers before going to sleep. Another quite remarkable day, 209km in 17 1/2 hours. Not far to Portsmouth for ferry, only 40km, probably 60km after I get lost.

No cycling today, ate loads of porridge and toast for breakfast. Went to pub at lunchtime and met the locals, a very eccentric bunch. In the evening, met my cousins who I hadn’t seen for a least a year which was cool. We had an amazing dinner cooked by Andrew’s future in-laws to be. Shame I am probably going to miss the wedding, I may well be in Turkey or Iran by April. A late start and a major fry-up the next morning, bacon, eggs, mushrooms, tomatoes, greens and potatoes. Set-off for Portsmouth around 4pm, a few hills on the way to Portsmouth, but felt easy after last few days. Not surprisingly I was the only cyclist on the boat.

Boat docked at 8am in Le Harve on New Years Eve. According to googlemaps only 178km to Paris, for some strange reason I assumed this would be flat. I found the dock road, but it was still full of lorries, I had a kit kat for breakfast which I had procured on the boat with my remaining ££s at an extortionate price. I was very pleased with myself avoiding the main roads out of Le Harve, I came across the Estuary Road which was closed to all traffic, wasn’t entirely sure what sauf cyclists meant, but it was cycling paradise nonetheless.

There were a few odd folks on the Estuary Road and in the fields, all dressed in green or camouflage clothes. Not entirely sure what they were doing, possibly bird watching, but that wouldn’t explain why some were running around with huge rifles!! I noticed I appeared to be heading north west, instead of south-east to Rouen and Paris, so I stopped to ask some directions from a group of green men. I unleashed my schoolboy French on them, they were at first confused, maybe just surprised I was heading to Paris. Nevertheless after some pointing I was back on course heading south-east. I stopped off in Tancarville around 10am and cooked up a late breakfast and a cup of tea. A little French lad on his BMX came to take a closer look at the cyclist sitting in the village park eating porridge with a wooden spoon, I mislaid my other normal sized spoon. Set-off again full of energy, but it took until 4pm to reach Rouen, still a long way from Paris! This is where the real fun began, a slow climb out of Rouen to Bonsecours, looking for the N14 which appeared arrow straight on the map to Paris. I can safely say the route from Le Harve to Paris is anything but flat. I picked up some pain au chocolate, biscuits, coke and more biscuits at a Carreflour. I promptly dropped all my coins at the check-out, for some reason I appear to have lost grip in my hands, probably need to get some proper cycling gloves. I think it was around 8-9pm when a car pulled alongside me in the tiny village of Richeville. Much to my surprise, I heard “hello Rob” and looked back to see none other than my old friend Pierre off to a New Year’s Eve party. He had spotted a cyclist on the road and thought that has got to be Rob, quite a bizarre coincidence. Unfortunately, I was still 80-90km from central Paris, so I wished Pierre Happy New Year and set-off again into the night, then quickly started wishing that I had dumped my panniers on him, nevermind!! The road started to get a bit more scary, but there was plenty of hard shoulder to ride in, thankfully there was no obstacles, because I couldn’t really see where I was going. I must of called Luca around 9pm to say I’m in the middle of nowhere, he had the wise idea of hopping on RER in Pontoise on the outskirts of Paris. So I continue onwards, a bit faster now, after a couple of hours I was seriously glad to get off the N14 into Pontoise, I asked for some directions to le gare and thankfully I had guessed correctly. Got many strange looks from the New Year’s Eve party goers in the station. Lift didn’t appear to be working, so went straight onto the escalators, bike was seriously heavy and threatening to take off downwards but I managed to hold onto it. So finally sitting on the RER at 11pm, after another 200km day on the bike, it was a great feeling and it was free!! Finally I might just make it into Paris for midnight. I met Luca and Pablo at Gare de Lyon, from there we took the metro back to Luca’s place, much to the bemusement of one drunken Frenchman who said “c’est bete!!!” when I tried to board the metro with my bike, I replied “oui, je suis tres bete”. Unfortunately, the metro also has stairs and Luca lives on the 5th floor, not ideal with a fully loaded touring bike. Finally, at midnight we toasted the New Year in together. I know for sure 2010 is going to be unforgettable year.