Blurred lines

We’re home. Not entirely unpacked but in our house at least, and no longer riding our bikes. We’re slowly catching up with friends and family, figuring out ‘what’s next’ (apparently we should know this?) and trying to readjust. To be honest, it feels a bit like we’re in limbo, trapped between two lifestyles. The cats aren’t even home yet! But it has only been three weeks. I am not known for my patience ūüėČ

Regular readers will know that we have spent the last 3 months cycling in Europe. We actually cut our time in Australia short to do this (long story, something to do with feeling a bit sad that we weren’t cycling, wishing we were cycling, talking a lot about how great cycling would be in Europe, and finally putting two and two together). We’d been fascinated by crossing borders in Asia. The process itself was an adventure in each case (think swathes of men in military uniforms extorting (small) sums of money from confused tourists) but we were fully prepped for that side of things, having read all about it on the interweb. We were far more surprised at the dramatic and instantaneous differences we’d notice on leaving one country and arriving in another. ‘How different can it be?’ were Ed’s famous last words on leaving Thailand and entering Laos. Answer: very different! Would the same hold true for Europe?

Italy to Slovenia

Our first European border, as with many, involved a gert big hill. As we climbed, we started seeing village names in both languages, which I found surprising, but the language blur ended there. The signs at the border were satisfyingly instagrammable, and a fitting way to mark our arrival in a new country for us both and number 10 on this trip.

We could no longer read any signs or make best guesses with food labels. Road markings and signs were immediately different, but the scenery was similar although even more unspoilt, and the buildings looked almost the same. Yes folks, we still felt like were in a scene from Heidi…until we hit the road along the Soca valley, where we encountered more cars than we‚Äôd seen in ages. On arriving at the (packed) campsite, it was apparent that in just a few tens of kilometres, we‚Äôd left a relatively quiet part of Italy and arrived in tourist-central Slovenia. A bit of a shock to the system as we‚Äôd never previously heard of Kobarid, but apparently the rest of the world has!

 

Slovenia to Austria

A big hill once again, and my oh my, this was a tough one. Fortunately, the views were bordering on ridiculous, and a welcome distraction! Another satisfying sign marked our arrival into Austria, and we headed down a steep descent with dreadful road surface.

The change to German was immediate, and things were already more built up. We headed out of the mountains quickly, and into the Austrian equivalent of the lake district…where we lost the foreign tourists (save a few Dutch, but they get everywhere), and now found ourselves surrounded by hoardes of holidaying Austrians. In addition, very little English was spoken, which gave us chance to dust off our German and brush off the ‚Äėholiday-park‚Äô feeling that had been somewhat prevalent in Slovenia.

 

Austria back to Italy

Technically, we were already in the Dolomites before we crossed the border, and sticking with the (unbelievably busy going in the opposite, downhill, direction) Drau radweg meant things were fairly friendly in terms of gradient. This also meant little change in scenery or buildings (all very alpine) and perhaps more surprisingly, no change in language! This part of Italy is German-speaking, which is all rather confusing for the visitor. It’s not just the immediate border region either. We were still encountering German village names right down the Adige valley and beyond Trento, although things were more biligual by then.

Italy to Switzerland

We spent a total of 7 weeks in Italy on this trip, by which point we‚Äôd actually got pretty good at surviving in Italian (provided we only needed to interact with supermarkets, camp sites and coffee shops of course!). Up up up we cycled away from Italy and towards Switzerland, where we knew they spoke at least three languages, but how did that work in practice?? I‚Äôm still not sure ūüėČ but I can tell you that the whole Ticino region is Italian speaking, and still feels pretty Italian. We lost the pretty buildings (who knew the Swiss loved concrete quite so much) but retained the scenery, and everything became a whole lot more expensive.

 

Switzerland to France

Where we left Switzerland, people were still speaking German (albeit the Swiss variety, which renders a rusty GCSE grasp of the language pretty much useless). Not sure where the French speaking part is given that we crossed into, well, France, but there you go. We did ‘pop’ into Germany for a few hundred metres I suppose. France being France, everyone spoke French of course, which was good for us as mine isn’t bad. But the campsites were full of Germans, meaning more ‘morgen’ than ‘bonjour’ in the mornings, and it transpired that people living in the border region are pretty much bilingual. Makes sense. Add to that some extremely Germanic place names, pretty medieval architecture which reminded us of a previous cycling trip through Germany, and we were somewhat confused! Plenty of baguettes, cheese and wine kept us grounded (even if it was all Riesling and Gewurtztraminer!)

 

France to Germany

24 whole hours in Germany….in which we spoke only to the lady at the campsite (who was dressed in lederhosen – really) and the cashier at Lidl. Not sure riding along that particular section of the Saar is representative either – a derelict industrial wasteland best avoided or at least ridden through at pace!

Germany to Luxembourg

It’s fair to say that we knew absolutely nothing about Luxembourg before we arrived there. Turns out that it’s very pretty (albeit also very hilly), grows a lot of wine, and has a charming capital and lots of other bits which look worth exploring. It still felt a bit French, thanks to prevalence of bread vending machines. But the buildings were a lot more modern and stylish, kind of what we’d expected from Switzerland. We shopped in a Belgian supermarket which sold lots of British products. Signs on the bus seemed to be in Luxembourgish, and we went in a bakery where half of the products were labelled in French and the other half in German. Everyone seems to say ‘merci’ for thank you, even if they were conducting the rest of their conversation in German. How does anyone know what language anyone else speaks, or do they all just speak everything? Is it a faux pas to address a German-speaker in French? I know the Belgians can be sensitive about language. Maybe it’s safer to stick to English, or does that label you an arrogant tourist? Answers on a postcard, in three languages, if you please.

 

Luxembourg to Belgium

We’d long passed the point of countries blurring together when we arrived in Belgium. It really didn’t help that we entered the country in ‘Luxembourg’ province either! However, there was a marked difference in architecture, with older buildings prevailing, albeit with some very stylish updates and extensions. Language-wise, we were back to French….for now.

Belgium to Holland to Belgium to Holland to Belgium

We popped into Holland for a few days, and were delighted with the immediate increase in numbers of bicycles. And the early sighting of a windmill. No more cliches I promise, after all it wasn’t even flat! As we hopped in and out of the two countries (both Dutch speaking in this area), it was hard to spot when things had changed. Both have wonderful networks of cycle paths and marked cycle routes, and EVERYONE travels by bike. Well why wouldn’t you?? We didn’t really spend long enough in Holland to draw many separate conclusions, but we did experience more interest and friendliness from the Belgian people than we had elsewhere. Perhaps helped by them all speaking English as well as we do. Perhaps because we were on bikes, and they all love bikes. Perhaps because it was now late October, and cycle-tourists seemed like a bit of a novelty. We’ll never know, but it certainly added to an already very positive experience!

 

Belgium to France

For one night only, and to catch our ferry….. It goes without saying that the language switched immediately back to French. We lost the epic cycling infrastructure, although I must say that the French offering isn’t bad either.

France to the UK

Well. Where do I start. I’ve always maintained that cycling in the UK ‘isn’t that bad’, and that if you plan carefully and make use of what cycling infrastructure we do have, it can actually be pretty good. And yet, within the first half hour of being back in the country, Ed had been shouted and gesticulated at by a lady driving an SUV, OUTRAGED that he’d indicated to turn, and indeed turned, in front of her. How dare he follow the rules of the road!! How dare he delay her journey by a precious five seconds! Add to that some really rubbish bike lanes and patchy signage, an exponential increase in potholes, and a litter-strewn route which took us through all the fly-tipped wasteland and grottiest deprived areas that Kent has to offer, and we weren’t really feeling the love…..I actually cried at one point, what with Brexit and all. What must our bike-loving European friends think when they arrive in our country??

 

Things did look up, of course. Lovely friends in Croydon and Guildford certainly helped, but so did the helpful London cycle network, and a lovely (if somewhat rustic) Sustrans route through the Surrey Hills. Our spirits rose further as we cycled through exquisite Hampshire and Dorset. And before we knew it, we were back in lovely Devon.

 

And now we are home! I think it’s fair to say that our decision to come back to Europe and explore closer to home was one of the best decisions we made. We’re still fascinated by crossing borders and the differences (or not) between countries, and this will certainly influence our thinking regarding future trips. The bottom line, however, is that Europe is wonderfully rich and varied, and warrants further exploration for sure!

 

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Fietsparadijs

Since we arrived in Italy on 13th July, we’d cycled through Italy (obvs!), Slovenia, Austria, Italy again, Switzerland, France, Germany (for about 24 hours), and Luxembourg. Cycle paths were plentiful, the roads we rode were (almost entirely) quiet with (almost exclusively) patient, courteous drivers. While there were times that weren’t entirely idyllic (looking at you, Lake Lucerne – you might be darn pretty but that road is LOUD!) we felt like we’d been pretty well treated by Europe. Could it get any better? While we were in the area, we felt obliged to head North to the much lauded ‘cycling mecca’ of Holland to find out what all the fuss was about. Actually, we only managed to spend a measly three nights in that particular country due to poor planning on my part, but it turns out that Belgium has very much followed suit with its cycling provision. Who knew! Not we ūüėČ

A happy cycle tourist in Belgium

There are cycle paths pretty much everywhere. Traffic free along canals and railway lines. Along the sides of any road bigger than a residential back street. And they actually guide you around junctions and roundabouts without chucking you back into the traffic and requiring you to ‘nip across’ several lanes just to make your turn (UK cyclists are probably nodding their heads and smiling wryly at this point). It’s pretty flipping great. And, of course, everyone cycles.

There’s still just enough pushing to keep the cycle tourist honest ūüėČ

That’s all great, obviously, but the really cool thing which you may not have heard about is the clever navigation system. Forget, for a minute, that you have a fancypants GPS which does everything for you and imagine the old world of paper maps. Consider for a moment just how many times you would need to look at the map if you’d cycled all the way across Europe. You’d be pretty happy to have a break from that!!

In both Belgium and Holland, some clever person came up with the ‘node’ (knooppunt) system. It’s genius. Imagine a random point in the middle of the countryside. Let’s call it node 33. All cycle paths and cycle-friendly roads which lead to node 33 have signs which say ’33 this way’. Now imagine a second point a little way away from node 33. Let’s say it’s node number 70. If you get to node 33, there will be a sign saying ’70 this way’. And so on.

The sign at node 33. You can follow signs to nodes 4, 70 and 32 from here.

So, you look on the cycling map from the comfort of your home, and string together all the points which link together to take you to your destination. And you write them down, eg 3, 5, 10, 32 etc. And then you get on your bike and follow the numbers! Easy peasy.

A happy cycle tourist on his way from node 4 to node 46

In this digital age, naturally there is a website to help you plan your route in advance. You can still be old school and write the numbers down (as Ed did for a couple of days!) Or you can plan your route using the system, and download it as a GPS file (as I did as backup ;))

Navigating like a Belgian

Sounds a bit too good to be true?? Well there was a time when our route required us to cross a river using a ferry…..which wasn’t running.

The ferry which only runs at weekends in October. Helpful.

Fortunately, there’s always a handy map to help you re-route.

Paradijs indeed

Problem solved! Albeit with a slight detour.

One area of our European adventure which could have been better is most certainly the camping experience. Don’t get me wrong – there are LOTS of campsites. Mostly good, sometimes great, and often cheap (especially municipal campsites in France – check them out if you’re looking for a budget option. Our most recent stay set us back just 9.50 euros for both of us). But for someone who really does struggle with restricted personal space (a trait only discovered on this trip), the noise and the hoards of summer holidaymakers really did detract from the otherwise therapeutic outdoor experience. Many cycle tourists choose to wild camp but, as I’ve mentioned before, I am very square and far too worried about ‘getting into trouble’, given that it’s illegal….well….pretty much everywhere. So with that as an absolute last resort, I suffered greatly until the end of peak season, at which point I breathed an enormous sigh of relief, and Ed found his life was suddenly marginally easier ūüėČ

Camping with ‘friends’ in Austria

I’m rambling. But here’s the thing. A big highlight of our time in both New Zealand and Australia were the plentiful opportunities for quiet, rustic camping. Who needs facilities when you have the place to yourself??

Peace and quiet (for free) in Pironga forest park, North Island NZ
Doesn’t get much more idyllic than Mutton Cove, Abel Tasman, NZ
Free camping on the coast of Western Australia
Rustic camping with a FIRE at Chapman’s Pool, WA

Sigh. I knew Ed would love to wild camp, yet the prospect made me horribly anxious. On the other hand, camping with noisy company was likely to drive me entirely round the bend. I felt backed into a corner (first world probs, hey!) until I discovered the concept of ‘pole camping’.

Pole camping. What on earth???? Well let me enlighten you. In both Belgium and Holland, various organisations who manage areas of woodland have set aside small areas for use as informal campsites. At the most basic level, they consist of a pole which marks the centre of a 10m radius within which you may camp. If you get lucky, there might be ‘perks’ such as a groundwater pump, a tent platform, a fire pit or even a toilet. They are absolutely, 100% free. And rely on campers being responsible, eg taking their rubbish home and not having fires when they shouldn’t…..alas we saw evidence of both offences, and implore people to please follow the rules and keep these places open for everyone to enjoy! Thank you ūüôā

We planned our route through Belgium and Holland based entirely on locations of these ‘bivakzones’ or ‘paalkampeerterreinen’ (apologies to my Dutch friends for guaranteed spelling inaccuracies!). And it was GREAT. Five sites, with three in an uninterrupted run. We felt like real adventurers again ūüôā

An idyllic spot in the woods at Les Tailles
Luxury pole camping at Solt
Settling in at Meetshovenbos
We nipped over the border to see how the Dutch do this at De Zoete Vaart
One last hoorah back in Belgium at Het Leen

It was just great. The icing on the cake and probably the highlight of our ride through ‘the low countries’. All credit to Travelling Two and Mom Goes Camping, whose excellent posts alerted me to this great opportunity!! If you’d like to follow in our footsteps and take advantage of this great ‘wild’ camping opportunity in Belgium and Holland, we found this site to be the most useful. It’s in Dutch but open it in Chrome and it will translate it for you ūüôā

While Belgium and Holland may not have the wow-factor scenery to compete with the likes of Italy and Slovenia, they certainly have a lot to offer the cyclist. The locals are very friendly, to the extent that we could barely stop without someone chatting to us (hi to Dirk, Francois, and the other nice man whose name I didn’t catch!) We’ll choose to overlook the occasion where someone reported us to the police for camping illegally….actually we were just drying the tent out….fortunately the nice police lady didn’t take much convincing, given that it was about 1 in the afternoon!

They also have lovely old towns, beer and stroopwaffels.

Pretty Ghent
Gotta have some little treats when you’re still camping in late October ūüôā

So get on over here!

Spoiler: I’m writing this from CANTERBURY, UK. Yep, we’re back in blighty!! It’s nearly over….not quite sure how we feel about that…..

Changing times

Hello from Luxembourg! ¬†Country number 15 of the trip, and mostly new to both of us (although I did step cross the border on a school trip GOODNESS KNOWS how long ago, and we did spend a day riding along the Luxembourgish(??) side of the river Moselle with Jenny B on another wonderful cycle tour somewhat more recently). ¬†We’ve spent our rest day exploring beautiful Luxembourg City, and feeling very confused about what language anyone speaks, as at least two seem to be in use at any one time (eg in the bakery where half the products were labelled in French and half in German). ¬†I’m opting for French as it’s a whoooole lot better than my German, and it seems more polite that defaulting to English (although they all seem to speak that perfectly as well, bien sur).

The rest of the day has been spent in a mammoth planning session. We’re usually content to have a rough idea where we’re going, and a better idea of the next day or two but, now that home is so very nearly on the horizon, I am just not quite content with the ‘pretty much winging it’ approach any more! ¬†So google has been put to very good use, finding campsites and distances between here and Dunkirk, where we expect to be in (roughly approximately possibly) around TWO WEEKS from now!

More about that later.  We have sooooo much to catch up on!

When I last wrote, we’d just crossed the Alps via the Gotthard Pass and had started our ride through Switzerland. ¬†I hadn’t quite twigged when I wrote the post, but the pass really did present us with a turning point. ¬†Since then, things have been different….and by this, I mean it all feels a lot more like the good old UK!! ¬†Gone is the sweltering heat of Italy, which we’d endured enjoyed since touching down in mid-July. ¬†While the skies have remained sunny (and long may this last) things have been a touch cooler, with the nights getting downright chilly, prompting purchase of – I kid you not – a small duvet. ¬†Problem solved, although every morning we awake to heavy dew and dense condensation on the inside of the tent’s fly sheet, which is all a bit of a pain and certainly not helping our current mould problem. ¬†Aside from the change in geography, we felt a step-change in the seasons too. ¬†Goodbye summer, hello autumn, Ed’s favourite season! ¬†If it wasn’t all darn pretty enough, the autumn colours are an absolute treat.

 

After my last post, we continued heading north through Switzerland which was less dramatic than the Alpine region but actually offered better cycling.  I guess the mountains tend to squash roads, railways and cycle paths into the narrow valleys, which can make things far from tranquil!  Once we emerged into the more gently rolling terrain (which looked a lot like Devon!) we were treated to quiet backroads and very few cars, which was quite the relief.

 

Switzerland is famed for its expense, but somehow we managed not to break the bank, with a combination of off-season campsite fees and budget supermarkets (AKA a lot of pasta!) saving the day. ¬†That said, we entered affordable France with a sigh of relief! ¬†You’re lucky if you manage to spend 15 euros on a campsite, with the cheapest tipping the scales are more like 10, by far the cheapest accommodation we’ve seen for quite a while! ¬†Food prices are so reasonable that we were no longer hanging out for Lidl, and still had change to spare to treat ourselves to the odd bottle of wine. ¬†Oh and plenty of delicious fresh bread. ¬†And butter. ¬†A silver lining of the cooler weather is certainly the ability to store dairy products for more than about half an hour!

We cycled through Alsace – a region that we only knew for its wine. ¬†Obviously we drank plenty of that ūüėČ but also absolutely loved the pretty villages and bucolic scenery. ¬†Highly recommended!

 

We may have cooked Raclette on the camping stove as a fitting farewell on our last night in France…..then it was across the border to Germany….for about 24 hours! ¬†Fortunately we’ve spent plenty of time in this lovely country on other occasions, so didn’t feel too cheated.

 

Confusingly (for us as well as you, dear readers!) we then spent another night in France before crossing into Luxembourg. ¬†We’re feeling very European, if slightly unsure precisely¬†which country we’re in a lot of the time…..

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Soooo……where next?!? ¬†We’ve been following the ‘Eurovelo 5’ route since we entered Switzerland, but that now cuts through Belgium via Brussels…… ¬†We’ve spent plenty of time in Brussels and are very keen to ‘pop’ into the cycling Mecca of Holland…. ¬†So it’s time to go our own way once again! ¬†We’ll head North through Luxembourg for a couple of days, then Belgium, Holland, Belgium, Holland again, Belgium AGAIN, and then FRANCE for one last time….. ¬†Are you keeping up?!

We’re pretty excited because both Belgium and Holland offer LEGAL wild camping opportunities. ¬†I’m too square to feel comfortable breaking the rules (wild camping is usually illegal, although pretty easy to get away with) but do enjoy a more rustic camping experience as much as my husband….well maybe not THAT much but it should be good!! ¬†We’re also still thoroughly enjoying our slow journey across the blurred borders between European countries – BUT HANG ON A MINUTE – I have a whole other blog post planned on that topic so I’m afraid you’ll have to wait ūüôā

Some of my dearest friends and relatives (you know who you are!) have been asking me for an ETA for our arrival in Devon for about the last six months….well, thanks for the aforementioned planning session, I am finally in a position to give one! ¬†Caveat – no allowance has been made for inclement weather / illness / other disasters / changes of plan, all being well we might just roll into Sidmouth around the 31st October….but please don’t hold me to that…..

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With the sun on our backs

Time has been getting away from me recently. ¬†I know I always say that. ¬†But it’s been worse than usual! ¬†So much so that after 12 months on the road, we have turned north and are heading home.

I was going to write a blog to tell you about our time in the Dolomites with the jaw-dropping views. ¬†That we weren’t glamorous enough for Cortina d’Ampezzo. ¬†About the fabulous cycle paths (albeit somewhat gravelly in places) and teeny tiny windy roads up little-known mountain passes. ¬†And that climbing three of these passes in three days was definitely too many. ¬†Let’s just say lunch was required at the Rifugio at the top!

I was going to describe our feelings of relief at heading away from the mountains (although we loved them), and the incredible views on the descent into the verdant Adige valley. ¬†About our wild camping adventure, when the campsite we’d earmarked had decidedly weird vibes, prompting a sharp retreat. ¬†And I’m sure I’d have posted pictures of the pastries we had for breakfast after hastily evacuating the camping spot at dawn.

Then parents Lancaster arrived for a week, and all of this went out of the window. ¬†I was going to tell you about that too. ¬†The whirlwind that was their first visit to Italy. ¬†About meeting up with my old school friend Amy for the first time in 8 years, and how nothing had really changed. ¬† I’d have described our day trips to Florence (oh so busy) and Ravenna (oh those mosaics), and made you jealous with tales of lovely lunches and indulgent gelato. ¬†But it never quite happened.

And then….Carol arrived, for her baptism of fire into the rollercoaster that is cycle-touring. ¬†If I’d ever found the time, I’d have lamented the busy-ness of southern Lake Garda, and how much we loved Como. ¬†And that, if you’re ever in the area, you should also consider the lesser-known spots of Lakes Iseo and Garlate. ¬†And definitely pop into Mantova and Brescia. ¬†I’d have told you about the traffic, and the heat, and the unfathomable absence of public toilets. ¬†About the wonderful views, the divine swimming and the delicious food.

And yet all of that is well in the past. ¬†We’re in Switzerland! ¬†Yesterday, we conquered the 1400m of ascent that is the Gotthard Pass (and no tantrums were had about the final 5km of cobbles). Last night we slept in our woolly hats. ¬†And today we arrived at the almost-too-beautiful Lake Lucerne. ¬†Yes it’s expensive, but we’re managing just fine thanks to the proliferation of Lidl and Aldi. ¬†And actually, the campsites are largely cheaper than Italy! ¬†AND there are public toilets.

We’re following Swiss national cycle route 3, which is part of the international Eurovelo 5 route. ¬†We’ll follow this through France (wine) and Germany (more wine) to Luxembourg city, where we might just deviate and head north to Holland. ¬†But we might be ready for home by then, in which case we’ll continue with the route and head straight to Calais through Belgium.

Bottom line: ¬†this is it. ¬†We’re on our way home. ¬†It’s going to take a while to get there, and I’m afraid we can’t give a better estimate than ‘late October’ at this stage. ¬†But watch this space!

Edelweiss, edelweiss*

*Sharing the joy of my Austria-trip-long ear worm. You’re welcome ūüėÄ

Austria holds a special place in my heart. ¬†It was the first foreign country I visited. ¬†Ahh, happy memories of hiking in the hills, bonding with schoolfriends and dancing with Stefan the waiter to ‘Careless Whisper’. ¬†Sigh. ¬†If I could count the number of times I’ve been to any country (I can’t), Austria may well top that list too. ¬†Which makes it all the more shameful that mein deutsch is so pitiful!

Austria also holds a special place in Ed’s heart, as a result of countless childhood skiing holidays. ¬†Which, apparently, also involved naked saunas. Let’s not go there!

We’ve agreed that the ‘kaisersemmel’ bread roll is one of our most enduring memories. ¬†If you’ve ever been to Austria, I trust that this picture evokes comforting sandwich happiness (or perhaps the mild unhappiness of the vegetarian picking the ham off the cheese):

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Kaisersemmel used as veggie burger buns, for the win.

Baps and barmcakes aside, we really did have a lovely time in Austria. ¬†It is exceptionally bike friendly, with cycle paths all over the place. ¬†The natives are also friendly, albeit their English tends to be about as good as our German so comms were somewhat limited. ¬†Lidl and Hofer (Austrian Aldi) proliferate, with kaisersemmels for about 15c and actual vegetarian options (see above photo for evidence of our burger joy). ¬†There are a million swimming lakes, which are just the ticket when you’ve had a hot, hot day on the bike. ¬†And there are a million and one campsites, some with cake delivery vans (I am NOT KIDDING). ¬†Basically, it’s a cycle-touring dream (if you avoid the hills, which obviously we didn’t. ¬†But we ‘like’ hills…)

You’d think that was enough. ¬†And it was! ¬†But, lucky us, we had a bigger treat in store, and that was meeting up with Bristol friends Jo, James and family in Weissbriach for a good ol’ catch up and a taste of actual Austrian life. ¬†Well, Austrian holiday life. ¬†Which is probably the best bit!

We ate delicious food:

We drank beer, got to know Jo’s family and rubbed shoulders with the locals (with a soundtrack of terrible music) at their equivalent of the village fete:

We went cycling with James (peloton!!):

And we did A LOT of chatting. ¬†It really was very lovely to have some other very lovely people to talk to. ¬†About something other than where we’re cycling, where we’re camping, what we’re eating, whether or not we will have ANY days without rain and a wet tent, and who’s better at yahtzee.

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Lunch with Jo and James (and Zoe, who was asleep). More dumplings and Schnitzel, oh yes.

What a wonderful couple of days, the icing on the cake of our already very fun time in this lovely country.

Incidentally, where are all the Brits? ¬†Aside from our friends, we saw just a handful in the entire two weeks we were in the country. ¬†Folks, get over here! ¬†You’re missing out.

Next time, Italy! ¬†Again….

Wine at lunchtime

After 25 consecutive days‚Äô camping, we are pretty over living in close proximity to scores of other people. ¬†Especially the boisterous, on their holidays variety. How dare they enjoy themselves!! ūüėČ We‚Äôd thought about having an extended stay somewhere in the Dolomites, but decided to bring this mini-holiday forward for the sake of our (my) sanity. ¬†As we‚Äôll be having a break with parents Lancaster back in Bologna anyway, this also spreads these little treats out more sensibly, and gives us more time to enjoy beautiful Austria of course.

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Gruss gott, Osterriech. No too shabby.

A budget was set, and Booking.com consulted. ¬†Pretty much the top hit (when sorted ‚Äėlowest price first‚Äô, naturally) was a farmstay called Marienhof. ¬†The price was right, a nearby swimming lake was advertised, and pet goats were promised. ¬†It sounded perfect.

Fast forward two whole days, and we were there.  And it was actually pretty much perfect.  Nothing fancy, but our room was exceptionally comfortable (a bed, a bed!!). and had hot plates for cooking which was a real bonus for these cheapskates.  There was a well-stocked Spar just a couple of km in one direction, and the aforementioned swimming lake just a couple of km in the other.  Other than that there was almost nothing to do.

Aside from reading our books, playing yahtzee,  and making lovely lunchtime salads which we may have enjoyed with the odd glass of cheap Austrian wine (which, may I add, is a lot better than cheap Slovenian wine), we did manage to

visit the Goggausee every day for a dip:

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make friends with Hansel and Gretel:

ride along the pretty valley blissfully luggage free:

walk up to the little church and along the the waterfall:

and still had plenty of time for petting the friendly demanding farm cats:

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Three luxurious days of not very much.  When we arrived, we did question whether or not we knew what to do with ourselves in such a situation.  Turns out, we managed pretty well. I thought I’d be itching to get back on the bikes this morning but, not so much……it actually felt like the first day back at school after the holidays!

Hey ho, three days to Weissbriach where we‚Äôre meeting up with our friends Jo and James and their recent arrival, Zoe, so that will keep us going! ¬†AND we’ve found the first working wifi in Austria (apart from that in Lidl and Hofer, which isn’t so good for social-media-ing) so I can actually post this blog ūüôā

Hvala, Slovenija

 

Today is our last full day in Slovenia. ¬†We are far from desperate to leave this beautiful little country, so we decided to delay things by taking a side trip to the Logar Valley. ¬†Described by many superlatives by the Lonely Planet, I was expecting to be underwhelmed. ¬†Not so….

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As with the rest of Slovenia, it was pretty much drop dead gorgeous.

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The ride was actually a little on the arduous side, with over 600m of climbing, albeit without our gear weighing us down for once!

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11 days ago, we entered the country via the mountains. ¬†Different mountains…..they have lots here (good job we like them!) The ride over from Italy was somewhat on the epic side, delivering 1500m of climbing over 62km. ¬†Phew. ¬†Our first impressions were that it was very pretty but the roads were busy, and there were tourists EVERYWHERE!!! ¬†‘What have we done??’ I thought to myself, as we grabbed the very last space at the overflowing campsite….

Before I came to Slovenia, I knew precisely three things about it. ¬†I had a bonkers genius of a friend at Uni (2nd time around) who comes from here; the capital is called Ljubljana, and it has a pretty lake called Bled (where they have quite a lot of rowing). ¬†Turns out, the rest of Europe is a little more clued up, and at least half of them are here. ¬†ALL of Holland is here for sure. ¬†And at least 50% of the above were in the tiny town of Kobarid. ¬†‘But I’ve never heard of it!!’ I wailed.

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Fortunately, things calmed down an awful lot once we headed South! ¬†The campsites are still pretty busy though. ¬†Our own fault for coming in August, obvs….

So, where have we been??  Ooh look, we have a map:

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From Kobarid, we headed south to the Vipava valley and wine country.  The mountains became hills (although there were still many in our path!) and forests became vineyards, orchards and cottage gardens.  Slovenia is literally DRIPPING with produce.

We’ve passed through many pretty little villages and even visited a castle (where we were reacquainted with all those tourists….)

We spent a couple of days in the pint sized capital, where we camped next to some friendly Brits who not only chatted to us, but also gave us DIGESTIVE BISCUITS. ¬†Oh, and we really liked the mini-city. ¬†Not only because it has excellent pizza. ¬†We DIDN’T like the pool party at the campsite on our last night (boom boom boom music) but we’ll let that slide, as everything else was ace.

And we have camped an awful lot. ¬†Like, every single night since we arrived in Europe. ¬†I’m kinda over camping (surrounded by noisy people), if I’m honest, but hey ho. ¬†Ed says adventures aren’t supposed to be easy!

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And now, we’re back in the mountains. ¬†It’s hard work but our hearts are happy, although a I’d be lying if I said we weren’t a TEENY bit apprehensive about the ascent into Austria tomorrow!

I’ve actually wanted to come to Slovenia for ages, and it hasn’t disappointed. ¬†I’d highly recommend it for a holiday (there’s tons to do, especially if you like outdoor activities) or a city break (coz Ljubljana is just lovely). ¬†Despite its diminutive size, we’ve still only sampled a small part of it so I really hope we’ll be back!!