Archive for September, 2007

Momma I’m Coming Home!

Friday, September 28th, 2007

Exciting news – we purchased our airline tickets home! On November 21st, after 368 days on the road, we will fly from Istanbul, Turkey to Wilmington, North Carolina, USA. It’s hard to believe we have less than 60 days of bicycle touring left. Our rough plan is to cycle through Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, and Bulgaria on our way to Turkey. If we arrive in Turkey ahead of schedule, we’ll cycle down the Aegean coast before heading back to Istanbul to fly home.

We also said goodbye to Sean today. After spending two days hanging out in Split, Sean headed north towards Zagreb and we headed east, away from the Adriatic and towards the mountainous interior. It was a little strange to be back on the bikes after close to two weeks of taking it easy. I found myself worrying about all the same things I agonized over at the beginning of the trip: flat tires, mechanical failures, getting hit by a car, and the like.


The beautiful scenery helped to ease my mind though. After about 10 kilometers on the busy coastal road, we turned inland and headed through some gorgeous mountain scenery towards Bosnia and Herzegovina.


We’ll cross the border tomorrow and check out Mostar and Sarajevo. The weather today was great: sunny but with nice crisp fall air to keep us from overheating on the climbs. We are hoping the weather holds out until we get across the mountains.

Island Hopping

Tuesday, September 25th, 2007

We left Dubrovnik via ferry, headed towards the island of Korcula where we planned to begin traveling north through some of Croatia’s most beautiful islands. We were really surprised to find that the cost to bring our two bicycles on the ferry was almost the same as one car – $45!


The ferry ride was beautiful. At one of the ports along the way some of the crew fished off the side of the boat. They used only a piece of fishing line (no pole) which they’d rigged to end in two small hooks, side by side, baited with pieces of bread or old mussels. They’d throw a slice of bread into the water to whip the fish into a feeding frenzy, then toss their line into the fray. They’d almost immediately hook at least one fish, sometimes two!


We’d originally planned to ride from the east end of Korcula to the western-most port, then catch a ferry north to the next island. Upon arrival we found that this wasn’t possible – the ferry that carried cars and bicycles only departed from the eastern city. After a quick brainstorm we decided to spend one day riding west across the island, spend the night on the west end, and then ride back the next morning in time to catch the ferry to the next island.

The ride was breathtakingly beautiful – Croatia is definitely one of the most beautiful spots of our trip so far. The island of Korcula was only 46km long but very hilly – we climbed a total of 800 meters to get across the island!



We took a detour off the main road to avoid traffic but were surprised to find our chosen road was in the process of being rebuilt. It was 11km of loose gravel along the steep coastal cliffs, which made for some hair descents!



Along the way we passed pomegranate trees, sampled fresh figs from trees growing beside the road, and passed many olive groves and vineyards.





We spent the night in the sleepy town of Vela Luka. It was a pretty town with, as our guidebook put it “an embryonic tourist industry.” They weren’t kidding around – we had a tough time finding a place to eat dinner! It was fun to hang out for a day in a pretty little town that wasn’t full of tourists.

The next morning we rode the 46km and climbed the 800 meters back east to catch our next ferry to the island of Hvar. We arrived on the island at 4:30 in the afternoon but quickly realized that we hadn’t been dropped off in the island’s main city of Hvar, but instead a small port city called Stari Grad. Hvar city was 15km away so Jamie and I had to get back on our bikes and started pedaling again. The 15km ride was stunningly beautiful – we rode up and down along a cliff that soared straight out of the ocean.


We reached Hvar city one hour later and after checking our altimeter found that we’d broken our record for vertical meters climbed in one day since we started tracking this stat in Germany – 1,100m!

Hvar is almost as beautiful as Dubrovnik, but less busy and crowded. The harbor is chock full of multi million dollar yachts and the city is brimming with cute cafes, bars, and restaurants. We’ve been hanging out here for the past few days and tomorrow plan to take one last ferry ride to the town of Split where we’ll stay for a day or two and then part ways with our friend Sean.




I can’t forget to mention that in a Dubrovnik bookstore I picked up a copy of the 2008 Guinness Book of World Records and found the entry for my dad and brother’s record setting “largest free floating soap bubble”!


Paradise on Earth

Friday, September 21st, 2007

Dubrovnik, Croatia truly has it all. Sparkling, clear waters. An ancient walled city. Beautiful people. And of course exorbitant prices.


We arrived here on the 17th after three days of transit by train and bus. Never fun, but we made the best of it. We spent four hours on an outdoor train platform near Vienna in the wee hours of the morning, but with our camping gear at hand we passed the time by making coffee and chatting with our new Swiss friend Stephanie.


After the 10 hour train ride we rested for one day in a campsite in Zagreb, Croatia before taking an 11 hour overnight bus to reach Dubrovnik. We pulled into the Dubrovnik station at 6am, loaded our bikes, brushed past the aggressive hotel touts and taxi drivers, and rode off into the sunrise toward the city’s campground. We set up our tent and slept for a few hours before cleaning ourselves up and riding into town to meet our friend Sean. Finding each other in the city at an undetermined time and in an unspecific place seemed daunting, but just as we locked up our bikes and began walking into the old walled town we walked right into Sean! We spent the next couple of days exploring the city, sampling the fresh seafood, and relaxing on the beaches.




The old town of Dubrovnik is eye-poppingly beautiful. Gorgeous ancient buildings and streets that are actually made of marble. It really is one of the most magical places we have seen in Europe.




Tiny cafes are perched on the walls of the city overlooking the Adriatic Sea.


Sean rented a car so one day we made a day trip down the coast to another ancient walled city: Kotor, Montenegro. Kotor sits at the end of a massive fjord.


A crumbling fortress overlooks the city and of course we had to climb to the top.


Before leaving Montenegro we took advantage of the more reasonable prices and went on a shopping spree to stock up on important things like 2-liter bottles of beer and the famous local cherry brandy

The next day we made another day trip, this time to the tip of a peninsula north of Dubrovnik that’s known for its beaches. The roads were narrow and windy and the drive took longer than expected. I felt sick during the whole drive and just 10 km shy of our goal city lost my battle with motion sickness and demanded Sean pull over at the closest possible opportunity. He did, I barfed, and then we carried on to the beautiful city of Orebic where we lounged on the beach reading for a few hours.

On the way home we stopped for dinner at a popular looking restaurant where we all ordered the house specialty: veal fillets. They were delicious! Sean ordered the herbal brandy which tasted like rubbing alcohol and herbal perfume. We each took a sip and then abandoned the rest. For dessert we were intrigued by the local specialty called “Macaroni Cake”. We couldn’t imagine what this was going to be like – a cake actually made from pasta seemed far fetched. Turns out the dessert was very faithful to its name – it was pie crust filled with cooked macaroni noodles that had been tossed in a chocolate sauce, then compressed into a pie shape and chilled. Sean said it reminded him of a million little fish mouths gaping up at him. As soon as he said that I realized he was exactly right and I lost my appetite for the strange dessert. It was definitely a very entertaining meal.

Now for the sticker shock. A campsite in Dubrovnik runs about 140 kuna (~$US28). A 0.25L beer at a seaside cafe is 28 kuna (~$US5.60) and internet access is 25 kuna (~$US5) per hour! A dramatic step up from the rest of Eastern Europe. The crowds here are also amazing. The city feels at least as crowded as Prague. If it really is busier here in July and August, I think it would be unbearable.

Tomorrow we head north along the coastal islands via a combination of ferry and bicycle.

A Bike Ride through Slovakia

Friday, September 14th, 2007

We finally escaped the cold, wet weather of Zakopane! On the morning of the 8th we woke up in our tent and it wasn’t raining. That was quite a shock as we had just endured five straight days of nearly incessant rain. I can’t lie, all that weather caused a lot of “Why am I doing this?” moments. Things weren’t helped by the fact that our campground had been taken over by a large group of partying Polish youths. They had tents, but also had the brilliant idea of turning the communal TV room into the location for a multi-day slumber party. We spent most of our time at the campground resenting them.

Right after we woke up, we quickly ran over to the information center to see if it was supposed to be dry all day. The woman working told us that it was and that we better leave today because it was supposed to rain every other day until the 15th! She also told us that we should head west instead of east to avoid the most climbing and descending. Back at the campsite we quickly packed up everything. Our tent was soaking wet; I think the water must have added at least 5 pounds to the weight of the tent.


We only had to ride about 20 kilometers and we were at the Poland-Slovakia border. The guards at the border checked our passports and seeing we were American brought them back into the office for some additional examination. That’s the first time the European border guards have done more than glance at us and wave us through.

I think Sarah underwent some sort of mental change from all the rain. Even the blue skies couldn’t convince her that she was going to be dry, so she suffered in her hot, sweaty raincoat.


If there is one word to describe Slovakia it is mountainous. And for us it has also been very wet. After the nice weather on the 8th, it started raining and we’ve had at least some rain every day since. We were originally planning to ride directly south to Budapest, but our first campsite in Slovakia had a 3D map of the country and we realized our route would take us directly over some high mountains. So we decided to change plans and head southeast to Bratislava instead.

Over the next couple of days we were pretty successful in avoiding any major climbs, but the riding was hilly and we were constantly surrounded by mountains. Except for the gray weather, the scenery was very nice. I think we are here just a couple of weeks too early. If the leaves were changing color it would be spectacular.




Drying out our gear as much as possible in the early afternoon became a common theme.


I think we saw maybe one or two stumbling-drunk old guys in all of the Czech Republic and Poland, but we saw two really weird ones on the same day in Slovakia. The first guy was at the cafe inside a giant Tesco supermarket. He was sitting at a table with a lot of money strewn all over and he was yelling occasionally. Everyone was ignoring him, so we did too. Then all of the sudden he stood up quickly and then keeled over backwards and was sprawled out on the middle of the cafe floor. The more surprising thing was that everyone just continued to ignore him. People acted like it was business as usual; maybe it was. Eventually a bunch of construction workers came and picked him up and put him in a chair again. Someone else gathered up his wads of cash and put it all back into his wallet for him. Afterwards, he kept getting up and harassing the construction workers. Maybe that is why everyone was ignoring him in the first place. We took off and then only about 10 kilometers down the road we passed a hectic bus stop were people were coming and going. Totally normal except there was a guy who was lying on the pavement next to his bike right in the middle of the bus lane. He looked like he had fallen off his bike and had just never gotten up. Everyone was ignoring him too.

On our third day of riding, Sarah started to feel like she was getting a cold. She got worse throughout the day and by the afternoon she was feeling pretty miserable. We asked at a small grocery store if there was any camping nearby and were told there was a site about 15 kilometers away, so we headed in the direction he pointed us. When we arrived at the village where the campsite was supposed to be, we didn’t see any signs so we asked a teenage boy if there was any camping around. He said yes and pointed down the road. When we asked how far, he said 2 kilometers. Now that we had been told by two people that there was a campsite, we were feeling pretty confident that there was one, but we couldn’t find it. We rode about four kilometers without seeing anything but thick forest and it was getting dark so we decided to look for a pension to spend the night. Sarah was convinced the teenage boy was actually afraid of us and didn’t speak English, but was just trying to tell us what we wanted to hear. I’m not sure what happened. In any case, after a little searching in the village we found a nice pension run by a friendly German-speaking family. We’ve been pleasantly surprised at how useful our German has been all over Eastern Europe. The pension came with a private bathroom, fridge, satellite TV, and full kitchen for 600 Slovak crowns (~US$25).


Sarah was still feeling poorly the next morning so we decided to rest one more day in comfort in the pension. We spent the day watching music videos on the European channels and I attempted to do all our laundry in our dry bag. I don’t think it was worth it because it took forever and didn’t work as well as a washing machine. Afterwards, my thick wool socks still smelled like the inside of a barn.

After Sarah was feeling sufficiently recovered, we pushed on. About 200 kilometers from Bratislava things really flattened out. We had an extremely gradual descent from 500m down to 50m and then it was pancake flat from then on.



The flat farmland was a nice change, but unfortunately some nasty winds came along with it. At times we were struggling to cycle 10km/h. Here is Sarah explaining to me that we’re doomed and should seriously consider hitchhiking. (Once again, despite the blue skies she can’t seem to part from that raincoat!)


The last 100 kilometers or so into Bratislava were uneventful except for two things. One, they bake gargantuan loaves of bread around here.


And two, Sarah hit 8000 kilometers on her odometer right as we road into Bratislava.


Now that we’ve arrived in Bratislava, we are attempting to figure out how we are going to get to Dubrovnik, Croatia to meet our friend Sean. By land it will entail a train ride to Zagreb and a bus down the coast to Dubrovnik. We are also considering leaving our bikes in Bratislava and just flying to Croatia and then returning to Bratislava October 1st and picking up the cycling where we left off.

Trapped in a Winter Wonderland

Wednesday, September 5th, 2007

The alpine weather in Zakopane is not working in our favor. The day after our hiking expedition it started to rain and has now been raining non-stop for 48 hours. The mountain trails we were just hiking on are now buried in snow! I still have a lingering dread of wet slippery roads – especially hilly roads – after the Laos accident, which means we are essentially stuck here until the weather clears up.

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There was a new development at our campsite when we woke up this morning. Sleet! The temperature is hovering right around freezing and a thin layer of ice is forming on everything. Now we really don’t want to ride out of here on icy mountain roads!

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We’ve been killing time at warm cafes, sipping cappuccino while researching modern tent design and pondering when we will be able to leave. We’ve been reading up on tents because we’ve realized ours has a serious condensation problem. We dry it out before we go to sleep and when we wake up the floor of the tent is soaking wet. Not a good combination with our down sleeping bags! Luckily, the women’s bathroom at our campsite has some warm radiators so we’ve been able to dry out our mats and sleeping bags during the day.

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I have also been testing my skills at drawing Jamie’s portrait using the materials of ballpoint pen and notebook paper. So far I have titled my creations “Cro-Magnon Man”, “Skeletor”, and “Droopy Forehead”. There are lots of portrait artists on the street here and I have a growing desire to set up shop among them and draw people’s portraits while muttering to myself “Oops!” and “Oh…sorry!” I imagine this would be hugely entertaining.



Wandering around the city center, we are infinitely jealous of all the tourists who we imagine have warm snug rooms to go back to in the evening. We keep telling ourselves it wouldn’t be so bad if we were dry. I guess we’ll find out soon enough; it looks like winter might be arriving early this year!

Alpine Adventure

Monday, September 3rd, 2007

We woke up yesterday to a damp morning, but the weather forecast predicted no rain so we decided to head for the hills and do some hiking in Tatra National Park.

We started off hiking through the forest and met Princess Toadstool along the way.



After about an hour of walking, we broke through into a meadow with views of the peaks we were heading for.


After that it was a steep uphill climb to the ridge at 1900 meters.



Sarah got mad at me because we were passing too many people. What can I say, I was born to crush souls. Especially when nasty switchbacks are involved. I shouldn’t feel too proud though, half the people we passed were drinking beer and smoking cigarettes at the top.


We dined on some of our mountain cheese at the top and enjoyed the spectacular views.


And then bounded off along the ridge, pretending we were a couple of Chamois. Sarah was disappointed that we didn’t spot any real ones.




It was chilly and wet at the top. Sarah almost succumbed to hypothermia when we were posing for this shot.


Normally, there is a gondola that runs up and down the mountain, but it is currently under renovation. That was bad news for us, because we both hate hiking downhill. It would have been great to hike around on the ridge some more and then take a 20 minute ride down on the gondola, but instead we had a three hour descent to look forward too. At least we got to descend through a gorgeous valley.



Towards the end, the trail deteriorated into some sort of torture device for a tired hiker’s feet. Sarah was dying to meet the person who thought that jagged rocks were a good hiking surface!


Today we are relaxing and tomorrow we head for Slovakia and then Croatia where we will travel for two weeks with our friend Sean.

Climb to the Tatras

Saturday, September 1st, 2007

After three days of riding, 164 kilometers, and 1,950 meters of climbing we have arrived in Zakopane – the gateway to Tatra National Park. That’s 102 miles and 6,398 feet for those of you who are not impressed with the metric system! The ride to get here was one of the most beautiful stretches in Europe so far. We rode over many miles of rolling foothills and then finally broke through to a huge plain which lead up to the base of the mountains. Our pictures don’t do it justice!

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The last day included the most climbing, but thankfully the gradient wasn’t too steep so the ride was enjoyable rather than torturous. As we got closer to the actual mountains the locals we rode past began cheering, whistling, and saying things to us that we couldn’t understand but by the tone interpreted as “You guys must be crazy, the hills up ahead are going to absolutely maul you!” The last time we had people expressing this kind of astonishment was when we were about to climb the highest paved road in New Zealand and I certainly suffered quite a bit during that climb! At one point I slowly cycled up a hill past an older man who was walking down the hill and he gave me a salute and then reached out and patted my leg. I think he wanted to get just a taste of my mighty climbing power!

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In the mountains we rode past a road-side cheese smoking house. We couldn’t pass up this chance to see the traditional Polish Oscypek cheese being made, so we stopped in. There were two guys sitting outside a small wooden hut. Inside the hut was a big cauldron of milk boiling away over a very smoky fire. Set up in a row on a rafter above the fire was a row of cheese being smoked.

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We ended up buying two types of cheese. The darker one is fully smoked and looks almost like a loaf of bread. The lighter one is a squeaky fresh cheese that is only lightly smoked. They each have a design imprinted on the outside. As for taste, they are both really salty and strong tasting…I’m not sure how we’re going to eat it all. I think we walked away with about 4 lbs of cheese!

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Here’s Jamie, testing out the new cheese.

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Jamie has been quite the photo-journalist the past few days. He finally succeeded in getting the elusive “bicycle rider in the mirror” shot that he’s been working on for 8 months!

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He’s also accomplished at creating a rustic senior picture type atmosphere. This is how he amuses himself while I am taking a shower.

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Today we are in Zakopane at about 1000m about sea level. The highest peaks in the Tatras are 2600 meters. The town of Zakopane itself feels like a touristy ski-village. We’re staying in a campsite just outside of town and planned to go hiking today but it is raining and cold. Tomorrow’s forecast looks much better, so we are hanging out in a cafe today working on things like this journal! Tomorrow we test out our hiking legs. We’re a little scared after our experience tramping in New Zealand!