Cycling Europe Day 57: My Body Told Me to Properly Visit Riga – My Body Was Right

Listen to your body. I’ve learned that time and again over the years. People about you will always have brilliant advice on what is good or not for you. They will have objections on your lifestyle. They will tell you what to eat and how to exercise. We all have common sense and most of us already know what is healthy and what is not.

I live what I believe is a generally healthy lifestyle. I listened to my body yesterday and it told me I needed a rest. So I gave it a rest.

This morning my husband and I slept in. What that means is that instead of getting up at 6am we got up at 7am. We ate our breakfast slowly, even though neither of us are ever ones to rush through what we feel is the most important meal of the day. We then spent the morning walking around Riga, Latvia’s capital city, and, because I’m listening to my body, I then took a short but much needed nap.

As a rather frequent traveler, I’m surprised and ashamed about how little to nothing I know about the Baltic states. I am incredibly impressed with Riga. It rivals cities like Vienna and Prague in its architectural beauty, in my opinion, yet if you asked me three months ago what the capital of Latvia was, I’d ask you, “Where the heck is Latvia?”

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Cycling Europe Day 56: Good Latvian Vibrations

When I grow up, I want to be a Latvian motorcyclist.

We crossed the border today from Lithuania to Latvia. The 70km ride through northern Lithuania was similar to the past few days: rural. Latvia, on the other hand, almost immediately had a more modern, urban feel to it.

After reviewing our maps, Colin and I found a route that would allow us to get to Riga, Latvia in one 153km-long day instead of my originally planned three shorter days. We decided we would give it a go and if we got too tired midway we’d find a roadside hotel.

It was a whopper. I was fine till kilometer 100. Then a truck passed me way too close. I screamed but kept the bike under control. That episode just took all the energy out of me. We stopped for a big lunch but nothing gave me my energy back. It was a rough 53km until we reached Riga.

Just after we crossed into Latvia and took our commemorative photos at the border sign, we started off on the major road we were on and heard a police siren give an attention signal behind us. I started to pull over, thinking, “This was bound to happen. We’re on a major road. It’s probably illegal for cyclists to use it. To stay out of Latvian jail, Nadia, CRY!” (more…)

Cycling Europe Day 55: I See Dead People

“What were you thinking about today while you were cycling?” my husband asked me while we were waiting for our lunch in a Lithuanian palace, as one does.

“The dead people,” I responded.

“Which dead people?” he asked rather incredulously.

“All the dead people,” I responded rather matter-of-factly.

“So we’re worrying about all the dead people in the world now, are we?” Colin always says that if I have nothing to worry about I find something to worry about.

Today while cycling I was thinking about and praying for family and friends I know who have passed away. Over the past 55 days, I have cycled by many cemeteries and countless roadside memorials for people who must have died in road accidents. Every time I see a roadside memorial, a cemetery, or even a dead animal by the side of the road, I whisper the Muslim prayer, “We belong to God and to Him we return.”

I’ve often thought about all the people who have ever walked this earth who are now long gone and buried within the soil. My grandfather died when I was in university. My father and uncles went and visited him in his grave when they could. My father is now gone as well. My siblings and I will visit him when we can. I will die one day and my children will visit me when they can. But it’s only one or possibly two generations of people who ever really remember a person after they have gone. When those generations pass away as well, the dead in the ground are remembered no more. (more…)

Guest Post From the Hubby: Cycling With Nadia

This is the first time for me to publish a guest post on my blog. I’m very excited! It is written by my husband, Colin McFadden, and I will only read it with all of you once it is posted online. 

This time last Friday, I was still at work – very early on Saturday morning I got a taxi, then a train, then I walked, then a plane, then a bus, then a train – and met Nadia somewhere in the middle of Poland.

Within an hour of meeting up, we had unpacked and re-built my bike and were sitting in a restaurant having dinner, listening to local musicians who were playing in the square outside – and it seemed that we had not been apart for the previous 6 weeks – when I’d been going to work every day and Nadia had been on this incredible journey.

When I was preparing to join Nadia I went to the local bike shop to get some spare bike parts and some (cool) bike gear for myself. The manager knows Nadia and had followed some of her blog posts – we were chatting about it all and he recalled first meeting her when she bought her bike, probably about two years ago – when she was a complete bike novice – and how it is incredible that that beginner has now become such a keen cyclist.

I nodded and agreed with him – but I knew that that was not entirely true. The planning for this trip consumed Nadia for maybe a month beforehand, and she is obviously 100% focused on it now. She may do other bike trips in the future, but I know that she will not want to be known solely as Nadia “the biker”. She will find something new to move onto – perhaps (probably) something that she has no experience or knowledge of at the moment – but that she will fully expect that she can research, plan and prepare for and carry out.

And that is the inspiration that I think everyone can take from this trip – if you can dream it, then you can do it – that’s what Nadia did.

But then I’m biased – and am just trying to keep up with her!

Cycling Europe Day 54: Toiling in Lithuanian Soil

It always takes a couple of days after entering a new country to understand its roads.

The day started off beautifully.

The day started off beautifully.

Today was supposed to be a pretty straight-forward and easy 55km cycle. That’s a nothing day. There is a major road, the E67, that links Marijampole, where we spent last night, with Kaunas, today’s destination. We entered Lithuania on that road yesterday and it felt very unsafe. Yesterday, the E67 was a busy single carriageway with a very narrow shoulder and lots of trucks rushing about as if it were the end of the world. We got off it yesterday as soon as we managed and found a nice country road that took us into town. We planned stick to country roads again today.

I checked my digital map and found that, with a bit of smart navigating, we could stay on country roads without going too far out of our way. It was going to be a short day so we had time on our side to deal with any potential difficulties.

The day started out beautifully. It was bright and warm. We made a couple wrong turns to start but were soon back on track. We cycled on nice, quiet, well-paved country roads, Colin waving at the cows and pointing out all the storks to me. Northern Poland and southern Lithuania are full of them – storks, that is.

We came up to a junction. (more…)

Cycling Europe Day 53: Learning By Biking

The good days come just when you need them. It’s been miserably wet the past few days. There is more rain predicted in the next few days. But today we got some glorious warm, sunny weather. We had all our wet clothes spread out over our panniers to give them a chance to dry.

We cycled 92km from Augustow, Poland to Marijampole, Lithuania. It’s so strange how it’s almost always immediately obvious when you’ve crossed a border. The terrain doesn’t change immediately, but the houses, shops, road signs, and sometimes even the people do.

The parts of Poland we cycled through seemed much better off than I had expected.

All our wet clothes were in need of some sun.

All our wet clothes were in need of some sun.

Poland is a beautiful country and the standard of living there seems to be pretty decent generally. The minute we cycled into Lithuania, however, we saw lots of poorly maintained farm houses and homes. There were older more run-down cars on the roads as well. The roads, though, seem well maintained so far.

We cycled through a lot of agricultural land today. I will not lie. There are some countries I’m cycling through on this trip I know virtually nothing about. That’s part of the excitement of cycling through a country like Lithuania. I have no idea what to expect. For someone like me, the best way to learn is by doing. I am really looking forward to learning Lithuania by bike.

Cycling Europe Day 52: It All Balances Out

We cycled 139km today in pouring rain. It was rough. We got soaked. Big trucks rushedimage by us; many a bit too close. At one point, a truck following too closely to the truck ahead of it saw me at the last possible moment. I ended up steering myself into the gutter. I got a big fright but I was all right. We planned to stop after 70km of cycling today but we couldn’t find a hotel – anywhere! So we just kept cycling.

It was miserable…

But…

We saw a wolf climbing out of a ditch on his way back into the forest.

We saw a stork standing over its nest.

We ended up cycling the distance we had planned to cycle today and tomorrow. So we have an extra day we can do with as we please. We’re saving it in case we need a rest day later on.

We found a nice hotel by a lake in Augustow, Poland. It has a steam room and a jacuzzi. We used both. It felt good after that long, wet day of cycling.

I’m eating ice cream as I’m writing this.

My husband is with me.

So you know what? Life is good.

Cycling Europe Day 51: The Trials and Tribulations of Superman

Some days I have episodic moments / momentous episodes when I feel like superman. I think of superman in the gender neutral the way I sometimes think of myself. So I’m NOT going to say I feel like some fictional character called superwoman who never existed just to be gender-feminine. As I was saying, sometimes I have episodic moments or momentous episodes when I feel like superman. And then there are prolonged, chronic bouts when I feel like the world’s entire supply of kryptonite is being used to sap every last drop of life out of me. Today, about half the world’s supply of kryptonite was being used against me. I was fine, as I normally am, up until the 70th kilometer. And then it hit me. I was feeling drained, sleepy, and hungry. Yesterday we cycled about 70km and then did a lot of walking around Warsaw. I didn’t eat proper meals either. I had a burger and fries for lunch and a cake and tea later. That ruined my appetite for dinner so all I had later was a doner-kabab sandwich at night. I knew that not eating a proper meal to restore the energy spent that day was going to come back at me the following day. It’s not easy cycling when the energy is zapped out of you. But you have to carry on. Actually, you don’t. You could just as well get off your bike and cry by the side of the road. Or you could cycle till the next roadside hotel and call it an early day. But I never allow those to be options. In my head, my only real option is to get to my next destination or further. So I carry on. All those words just to say that I was fine for 70km and then I felt tired afterwards. I’ll be frank. I have absolutely no idea what to write about today. I frequently end up blogging about the thoughts running around in my head while I’m cycling. Ever since my husband joined me three days ago, I really haven’t had many of those. I’ve had Colin to keep me company so my thoughts decided to take a break for awhile. Nothing particularly interesting happened today either. We cycled 127km from Warsaw to a town called Ostroleka. I successfully and easily navigated us out of the big city onto a major road that we stayed on for the whole route. It drizzled sometimes. We stopped at a gas station to pee at 40km and at a roadside restaurant for goulash at 80km. Ostroleka was too small to have any decent hotels so we cycled back onto the major road till we found a roadside hotel that would do the job. We checked in, showered, had dinner, and now I’m sitting in bed writing today’s blog post. But you don’t want to hear boring details like those! So for today I’m superman dealing with a world conspiracy to sap the life force out of me. But I’m superman. Not even the world’s whole supply of kryptonite can stop me.

Cycling Europe Day 50: Warsaw – A City Worthy of Good Marketing

Poland really needs to better market itself as a tourist destination. If it is already

The mermaid is the symbol of Warsaw and is found on its coat of arms.

The mermaid is the symbol of Warsaw and is found on its coat of arms.

doing that, it’s doing a lousy job. Neither I nor Colin have ever heard much about Poland in terms of tourism. And even though the weather has been wet and overcast almost the whole time I’ve been in the country, I’m absolutely loving it.

My husband and I cycled a short distance today – 67 km – through almost constant rain to get to Warsaw. A decent part of that distance was on bumpy backroads and even some dirt roads. The rest was on a very busy, major road into the city. Because of all that, it was slow going.

Colin is having some difficulty with an old iliotibial band problem. It started acting up yesterday and it’s not getting any better. I think it’s a combination of all the weight on his bike, the fact that he has a tendency to want to push himself when this isn’t a push-yourself kind of trip, and evil eye.

Cursed be anyone who gives my family the evil eye.

We arrived in Warsaw and had enough time to walk around the old city. I am really really surprised by it. I have no idea where I got the impression that it would be a dodgy city. From what I’ve seen of it, it isn’t one bit. We cycled through the outskirts into an area near the commercial center of the city to our hotel. We then walked quite a long distance to reach the old town. I’m telling you, I’ve walked in many neighborhoods in Paris that have seemed dodgy to me. The many neighborhoods we cycled and walked through in Warsaw seemed nicely normal.

Warsaw’s old town is absolutely beautiful. It was completely razed to the ground, along with 85 percent of the city, in World War II. It was then rebuilt to resemble the former old town, and was inscribed as a World Heritage Site in 1980.

If I were alone in this city as I had been in so many others before it, I would have thought that I would have loved to be here with my husband. It is so romantic. As it happens, my husband was with me this time. We walked through the cobblestoned alleyways, hand in hand, and truly enjoyed ourselves.

If you have never thought of Poland as a tourist destination, think again. I am falling in love with this country and its people.

Cycling Europe Day 49: The Sharing of It

Experiences are a million times better when shared. Not only do you have someone to share the burden of responsibility, but the joy that comes from having someone else see, hear, feel, and smell the wonders that you see, hear, feel, and smell is almost indescribable.

“Looks like he will follow you anywhere.” That is what one of my cousins said when I announced on Facebook that my husband had arrived in Poland to join me on the last leg of my trip.

Colin got on a flight from the UK to Warsaw, found a bus to Warsaw’s central train station, and then found a train to a small town, the name of which neither of us can pronounce: Piotrow Trybunalski. During that whole ordeal, he was lugging a pannier and a big carton box that had his bike in it. I have no idea how he managed to carry them both.

I had cycled an extra distance to be in Piotrow Trybunalski when he got there. The town I intended to stay in that night did not have a train station. I waited at the station, a train rolled in, and out came the ravishingly handsome Scot that I married. He had travelled to the middle-of-nowhere Poland just to be with me. I am the luckiest woman in the world.

And just in case: cursed be anyone who gives my family the evil eye.

Today was my first day not to cycle solo. It was a whole new experience for me. I felt giddy like a little girl watching Colin get all excited about starting. I loved being able to point at something to make sure Colin also saw it and to talk to him about how pretty it was: See how beautiful this road is? See how the sunlight hits the bark on those trees and makes them light up? See the lake? Look at that lost little doggie! Aren’t Polish villages so nice? And on and on and on. Colin was as excited about it all as I was. Now he could see what I had been describing to him during our evening Skype calls. Now he knew.

It is wonderful to be able to experience things. It is a blessing and a gift to be able to share them with others.

Colin and I cycled beyond our intended destination today. Tomorrow we hope to be in Warsaw and I want to get there a bit early so I have some time to see the city. We decided we would stop at any road-side hotel along the way. But we were on country backroads. Would we find a hotel before we reached the next town, which was still quite far away? We had to try our luck. And as we were cycling along, not exactly sure where we were, we found a sign that said there was food and accommodation 500 meters ahead. We decided we’d check it out. And what do we find? A Polish palace that has rooms at excellent prices! So Colin and I are spending our night in a palace! It’s the perfect ending to our first day of cycling together.