i heart slovenia (and pizza)

relieved to be leaving Austria, the crossing into Slovenia was full of excitement and a lot of dread (mountains). The change of scenery can only be described as dramatic and we felt as though we had cycled into a small english village. The rolling hills and small but quaint houses were very familiar but as we rolled into Maribor the feeling of being in an ancient European village returned. This interesting town greeted us with a huge smile and the cheep beer was well appreciated.

Leaving Maribor put us back on the roads. It was the first time in a very long time that we had cycled on a road without a cycle lane. The first few hours were a little nerve racking but we got used to the steady flow of traffic banking up behind us. I must say that the Slovenian road users are the kindest I have come across and never a harsh beep or a close overtake was seen. It was also the first time that we had encountered hills…proper hills. For those maths/engineering/cartography nerds among us, 18% gradient to be exact. We climbed up and up and up and up and up and thought that there would be no relief of a down. Thankfully, however, we were rewarded with a 15km down hill ride into the town of Celje which allowed us to enjoy the most beautiful country we have every had the privilege of cycling through. An evening at a cycle-centric hostel was a great end to our tough day and we went to bed happy with the anticipation of the nations capital before us.

The following day we took to the roads towards Ljubljana. The first half of what would normally be described as a short cycle was pleasant but tough with constant hills but beautiful country side to keep us motivated. It was the second part of the journey which was a problem. Little did we know that we were about to cross a mountain range. I feel that I may have used the term mountain too loosely in the past. This was a proper mountain range. People ski here…regularly. This nearly killed me. Several break-downs later, we finally arrived in Ljubljana, very tired and very ready to throw the towel in.

Our plan was, after a little r&r in Ljubljana, to cycle down to Croatia and along the Dalmatian coast. When sharing this plan with another cycling enthusiast, he warned us that there is a large mountain range that hugged the Slovenian/Croatian border. This prompted us to, and I regret to tell you, catch the train down onto the Croatian coast in order to get, quick smart, to a sunny island.

I wish to thank Slovenia, and all its people for hosting me in what can only be described and the greatest country on earth. I urge any one who has not been to this great land to visit is…immediatley. The people are amazing and the landscape breath taking. For this experience, I say thank you.

I am writing from the beautiful Croatian island to Hvar in the town of Jelsa. It is majestic. For the past three days, we have cycled along the beautiful coastal roads and swum in the Adriatic sea. What could be better…

It is here that I announce another route change. We have been on what can only be described as a holiday for three days now and we already miss the life that comes with cycle touring. Here is what is about to happen:

We will leave this little island paradise for Split and from there we will catch the ferry to Ancona on the north east coast of Italy. From Ancona we will cycle down the coast to Bari and from there we will make our entry, by ferry, into Greece.

I know this seems a little ’round-about’ but somehow, when looking at ferry schedules, it seems to make sense (and allows us to tour for a little longer).

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An Inspiration

99% of the time, cycle touring is amazing. You see so much, meet so many great people and get to cycle every day! There is however, 1% which is tough…really tough. Sometimes you can get through these tough moments with the thought of an ice cold beer awaiting you at your destination, sometimes this is not enough.

Whilst cycling through the Slovenian mountains, I hit the wall. I stopped my bike and sat on the side of the road with my head in my hands. I had had enough. Dans gentle reminder that we were in the middle of nowhere and we had to reach our destination (another 40km away) got me back on my bike but it was the thoughts of the inspiration for our great tour which got me through.

I know a woman. A woman who has taught me more lessons the either of us will ever know. This woman has a heart the size of the ocean and a sense of adventure that even the greats would admire. She has taught me to be brave and to believe in myself. She has taught me that no challenge is too great and no person to small to help. She has taught me that my journey, whatever it may be, is important and to pour myself into everything I do. I try, every day, to be just a little like her.

Her bravery is my inspiration. She faces a demon every day with her head held high and the willingness to always put others first. It is for her that I, every morning, pack up my panniers, load up my bike and peddle towards my next destination.

No others should have to face what she does but unfortunately, many do. The MS Society are funding vital research into finding a cure for this beast so than no others shall suffer.

Please give.

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Donau cycle route other wise known as eurovelo 6 and otherwise now known as the cycle super highway!

This route would take us all the way from Regensburg to vienna, and what a route it was. Tho before we go into the route itself i must point out that is part of a much larger route.The Eurovelo 6 route starts at the Atlantic Ocean and ends at the Black sea in Romania, we have met and read about several people who do the whole or part route. With this in mind we started the very small section of around 500 km, it was a cyclists dream. The route itself was tarmac 90 percent of the way, incredible rolling mountains and hills in the far distance.Not forgetting the centrepiece the river Danube. At some points we would be overtaking groups of over 30 people some in there 80′s! I would urge anybody to undertake some of this route, Passau to vienna is a 4 day comfortable cycle with self guided tours including bike hire and accommodation starting from 500 euros. DO IT! the route itself changes from start to finish, everyday is a vast difference from the last. Passau was a very old medieval town and from here we headed through lovely towns off the beaten track and enjoying a shnizel or to. Crossing the border into Austria you immediately notice the change, i wont go into it but its not a particularly good one! Linz was the first major milestone on the way to vienna and there is a lovely ride into it. Several ferries across the river give you time to absorb your surroundings. Valleys as far as the eye can see , one of our best rides on the trip so far. They are never ending! Coming out of Linz we were sent on a large diversion through small towns, farm land and small forests the whole time the austrian mountains looming in the distance. It was on this days we encountered our first puncture and many thanks to stu for answering his phone for technical assistance. As we worked are way to Vienna we were sent on yet another fantastic diversion 6 km of ruined castled and through valleys of grape vines! a much needed change from the river i may add. Before the best part of all, cycling into vienna, from the river you would not even no it was there! Then all of a sudden you turn that final meander and there it is, in all its beauty. Ow, i nearly forget the 6km island in between 2 parts of the city a cyclists paradise. Also home to the first tail wind of the trip helping us hit 35km and hour! Vienna was also home to the first cyclist only bridge which really made us feel like royalty! Overall a fantastic part of the trip as far as cycling and cycle paths go!

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D-route 5 and the main-donau kanal

D-route 5 was more of the same of d-route 8, the only change is the scenery. The cycle paths are the same, ranging from tarmac to gravel paths purely following the river. The most trouble we encountered was trying to get out of Frankfurt. Although to be fair this was only because of our stubbornness to stay on a certain side of the river! The whole time we longingly stared at the other side of the river and thought ” why didn’t we!”. The river mains itself is in stark contrast very different from the Rhine. The industry appears to fade away and only in and around the Frankfurt area do you find it. More castles and picturesque towns dominate the route and it is throughly enjoyable. Bamberg was a massive highlight for us and we would love to return there one day.

From Bamberg we decided on a large route change and we were going to head down the mains-donau kanal, avoiding the czech republic and Prague. The decision was based on a crazy old russian cyclist we had met way back on the Rhine. He had told us how incredible the Donau was for cycling. With this is in mind and neither of us been fussed about Prague we decided on the Donau. The only way to do this was to catch the newish mains Donau Kanal, what a decision this was. The Kanal itself is a man-made wonder , linking the Donau (Danube) and the river mains. The canal itself was originally thought up around 1910 but wasnt started until 1931. The complete canal was finally finished in 1992 and has been operational ever since. The cycle route itself as good as hugs the canal the whole way and offers a 50/50 split between tarmac and gravel path. As flat as a pancake we cycled the through woodland, farmland and little bit of industry. Spurring you along the whole way is the amazing site of the giant locks that help transport the thousands of boats and dutch barge,s that use this route every year. There is no better way of spending a hard earnt break watching a double dutch barge go up and down a lock , mesmerizing! This is a route i would recommend to everybody and the ride into nurenberg was spectacular!

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Auf Wiedersehen Austria

So we left Austria a couple of days ago and I thought I should give you my thoughts on this strange little country.

As we cycled over the German border at Passau, we were confronted by beautiful scenery and the Danube winding though the valleys as far as could be seen. Like Germany, the lush green countryside was breath taking and we were once again treated to very well maintained paths on which to ride. Unlike Germany, however, we were not greeted by quaint cobblestoned towns every 30-40km rather industrial and quite unfriendly places full of people who seemed to carry an air of discontent.

I cannot complain about our cycling experience in Austria. Everything was provided for us and as I have said before we wanted for nothing. The rural towns and their inhabitants, however, were not (I am afraid to say) as good as the Germans. I know it is unkind to compare the two but it is difficult when they share so much. It was like visiting Germany’s less successful brother…a bit of a chip on its shoulder as it knows that is not so clever.

Vienna, on the other hand, is one of the most beautiful and welcoming cities I have ever been. It was like we were in another country. The home of Mozart took my breath away on more than one occasion and I am keen to return. But alas, we had to leave and continue our way though to Slovenia.

The rest of Austria was much like our passage into Vienna. Great cycling infrastructure, beautiful mountains but again, the look of contempt as you ordered your two coffees in the best German you could.

As we crossed the Slovenian border and rode into Maribor, the change was instant and we were overcome by the good hearts of the residents. If I am honest, we were glad to be out of Austria. I will remember it for some of the best cycling and a fabulous weekend in Vienna and not allow the negative to spoil my memories.

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trains = logistical issues

As you may have read, after some crazy brain storming in Germany, we decided to change our route in order to follow the River Danube all the way to Belgrade. From Belgrade, the plan was to catch a train onto the Croatian coast and ride down to Dubrovnik in order to catch our ferry into Greece. With a couple of days off in Vienna, we thought it would be prudent to research the train routes, time tables and prices. This information was all easily accessible on the good old interweb along with some other pearls of wisdom – one cannot take a bicycle on the train in Serbia or Croatia…brilliant. If the kind folk at the rail company are not willing to take our bikes, im not convinced the busses would be happy about it either.

‘You could just cycle,’ I hear you say….With little signposting and no established cycle routes, I don’t really fancy trekking across Bosnia in order to reach the desired destination.

The executive decision has been made that the original route from Vienna to the Dalmatian coast will be reinstated. This is a good thing for a few reasons:
1) We will be able to enjoy the delights (and hills) of Slovenia
2) We shall be beside the seaside in a matter of weeks
3) I can continue, if only for a couple more days, to rely on Dans limited German to get us by,

So there will be no Eastern Block for us but there will be beautiful rolling hills, snow-capped mountains and Slovenians to enjoy.

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Passau to Vienna – the pilgrimage

Dan and I set off from the beautiful town of Passau to embark on what can only be described as a cycling pilgrimage, following the River Danube to Vienna. It must be said that it was four of the most magical cycling days we have had (and there were no shortage of people enjoying it with us).

Our first day along this famous cycling route was from Passau to the Austrian town of Linz. Winding along the river on perfectly paved roads was majestic and the small boats that took us from one side of the river to the other were a welcome break and a lovely chance to view the river from a different perspective. We really got the feeling that we were part of something, a little secret that is kept from those who don’t cycle. I have read about this route on many occasions and heard about how busy it can get in the summer months – “cycling traffic” is the term most branded about. Although the route was busy, I think that due to the time of year, we were lucky and did not encounter any “radweg rage. The thing that was most evident about our fellow cyclists was that we were about 40 years younger than the rest of them (I think it is the same feeling you would get if you went on a cruse or a coach tour). Despite their age, some of them could get some speed and were covering the same distances as Dan and I.

The other three days on our way to Vienna were much the same as the first. Amazing road surface, beautiful scenery, blue skies and grey hair. We took the 320km cycle over four days (rather than the suggested three) cycling to Ybbs on day two, Traismuir on day three, leaving a short cycle into Vienna on day four.

I would suggest to anyone who has a couple of days with nothing to do on the continent to hire a bike and cycle this route. You don’t need any level of fitness (it’s very flat) and there is always somewhere to stop for a drink or something to eat. The route flows through beautiful old Austrian villages and it is the perfect way to see a country.

The plan is to head off towards Bratislava tomorrow and are looking forward to seeing the changes in the Danube as we head into Eastern Europe.

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