Istanbul – the end of Europe and the gateway to Asia. 8 weeks after wobbly setting off in the pouring rain from Axbridge and I’m at the other end of my home continent, more bearded, more tired looking, but more confident in my cycle touring ability and happy to have seen the places and met the people that I have. Indeed, if this was the end of my trip I would be very proud of myself and what I’ve accomplished… but of course, it isn’t.
Here are some end of Europe thoughts.
The most pleasantly surprising part of the trip so far has to be the people I’ve met. My hosts along the way have invariably been unbelievably friendly and generous, providing food, shelter, route tips, company, insights into the countries and a friendly face after a long day in the saddle. Passers by, too, have been generous – handing out food, giving me water and showing me directions. I’ve spent long enough in each country to get a feel for the culture and the subtle differences and changes as I’ve travelled from one to another. Some of the stereotypes ring true – the French are laid back, the Turks drive badly – but some really don’t. Past the cool exterior the Austrians and Germans were some of the friendliest people I met, for example. I’ve also met many great cyclists and travellers along the way – Luc in Hungary of course, Barkin & his brother in Belgrade, Loren in Plovdiv, the Dutch cyclists on the ferry (who I never caught the names of) and many more besides – all enjoying the freedom and excitement of travelling around Europe.
Whilst the route I’ve chosen arguably didn’t show off the very best of every area I went to, I’ve seen some great places and been reminded of just how much there is to see in Europe (I’ve only really scratched the surface). The Balkans were fascinating, I ate fantastically in France, Bulgaria had beautiful (and unexpected!) mountains. In Europe, it could be said that the cities were the main attraction and the landscape secondary to this – whilst there were some amazing scenery (Iron Gates in Romania stands out), I have gone for a direct and quick route through. Each city has had a different character though and cemented my desire to move to mainland Europe somewhere after I return (if I still can).
The UK and Europe
One thing that I am aware of, is how the mentality of Britain towards Europe is so much different than the mainland. For better or worse, the fact that we are on an island does change the mentality of the country (for a start it means I get stupidly excited when I get to a border crossing!). A favoured topic amongst Europeans I spoke to was, inevitably, Brexit and with that an expression of bemusement tinged with sadness. I am biased, having voted Remain, but I do hope that over the coming years we don’t sever our ties with Europe too much as there is still a lot of common ground between us.
The Bests and Worsts
Best parts of the trip:
- Best City – Strasbourg, with Sofia coming a close second. A good size, good music scene, beautiful architecture and very bike friendly – I found Strasbourg to be a delight. My hosts were amazing and I felt fully refreshed leaving the city. I’ll be back again one day.
- Best Food – Hungary. Big hearty dishes, with lots of meat and carbs area a cyclists dream.
- Favourite sight (manmade) – The church at Ulm took my breath away, both inside and outside. The vastness of it and the thick set stone pillars with Archangel Michael staring down all the while all combined to be an awe inspiring place.
- Favourite sight (natural) – The Iron Gates in Romania has to top this. The deep gorge and azure river Danube carving its way through was a sight to behold
- Best Beer – Belgian beer, for sure. The Orval I had at the abbey was particularly good.
- Drivers – Turks are the most life threatening. All of the Balkans see overtaking as a birthright and seeing cars or even lorries on my side of the road coming the other way has gotten worryingly familiar. Germans made me feel the least welcome though, with honking and gestures to get on the Radweg. This ill feeling was amplified by the fact that it was so unexpected.
- Weather – United Kingdom! Cliche but it’s true – sorry, but it rained every day I was there!
- Least bike friendly city – Istanbul was horrible to get in to, with main roads and crazy drivers. Belgrade, with few bike lanes and being on a hill, was not so pleasant.
Total Number of days: 53
Number of rest days: 6
Total Distance: 4451km
Longest Day: 162km
Hottest Weather: 42 degrees
Countries visited: 14
Borders crossed: 20
I’ve spent 5 days resting in Istanbul and for various reasons I am now more than ready to hit the road again. I’ll head north to the Black Sea and follow the coast all the way to Georgia. I have a month to cross Turkey if I need, so I’ll take things a bit slower and try and relax a bit more, eating better and taking more breaks. If the heat persists this will become a necessity rather than a luxury.
I’ve really enjoyed writing this so far – it’s been a real creative outlet for me and I hope you enjoy reading it as well. If you’re interested, I’ve updated the route page to show my actual progress to date, so check it out to see where I’ve been camping. Remember to click the follow button if you want to keep up to date every time I post!
For now though, Bye… Au Revoir… Tot Ziens… Äddi…Tschüss… Viszlat… Zbohom… Збогом… Dovidenja… Довиждане… αντιο σας… Güle güle!