Cycling Europe Day 61: Lisbon to Tallinn – Mission Accomplished!

This journey I have been on for the past 61 days was not to end without throwing an important reality in my face: Do not feel too proud, Nadia. Do not think of yourself too highly. You may have determination. You may be able to suck it up at times. But, in the end, you are just a spoiled little brat.

On April 14, 2014 I set out alone on my bike from the European continent’s southwestern corner in Lisbon, Portugal. Sixty-one days later I reached Tallinn, Estonia in Europe’s northeastern corner. It took 56 actual cycling days, 43 of which I was totally on my own. My husband joined me for the remaining 13 cycling days. My original target was to have 59 actual cycling days with 9 rest days instead of the five I actually took.

I cycled a total of 5630 km to get from Lisbon to Tallinn.

While cycling the final 113 km today from Haapsalu to Tallinn, much of which was in the rain, I realized I had learned an important lesson (one of many) on this trip: When you do something difficult for the first time – like cycling in pouring rain – it may seem extremely daunting. When you do it the second time you recall your success the first time and you realize that if you could do it once then you could certainly do it again. When you do it for the 3rd, 4th, and 5th times, what was once daunting becomes somewhat challenging but doable. And every time after it is simply commonplace.

Over a period of 61 days I cycled through pouring rain; gusty winds; scorching, heat-exhaustion-inducing sun; over cold mountains; through flat plains; up and down and up and down roller-coaster hills; and on paved roads, dirt roads, muddy roads, crazily busy roads, and scarily empty roads. I’ve done balancing acts on the edge of steep hills, steered into ditches, coasted down steeply declining winding mountainous roads, through tunnels, along beaches, and besides forests.

Aside from some minor bruises caused by sometimes pulling the bike up against my legs too hard when I had laid it down, some minor butt irritation from being in the saddle for so long, some athlete’s foot, and sore hands at one stage from holding onto the handlebars too hard, I managed to get through the trip without a single scratch or fall, all thanks be to God for His protection.

Aside from some minor problems, mainly due to my own inexperience, with my bike chain and a slipped derailleur cable, I experienced no problems with my bike; not even a punctured inner tube.

I have been so fortunate. So fortunate.

I had an image in my head how this last day of cycling would end. There would be glory. There would be elation. We would take celebration pictures. And then my husband and I would find a really nice hotel to spend the next three nights in before our flight back home on Monday.

The reality was that by the time we got into Tallinn we were both a bit tired. We did take some pictures but our hearts weren’t fully in it. We both really just wanted to find a place to stay and to put our bikes away for the next three days. So we set about doing what we always did: we looked for hotels to start negotiating for a good price. After walking around the old town with our bikes and then cycling throughout the wider city for about two hours, we had been in many hotels. We never got to the stage of negotiating a price. Every single hotel in town was fully booked. It turns out that the whole of Estonia was in Tallinn tonight to see a David Guetta concert. Every hotel we asked told us we were not likely to find anything at all tonight.

Eventually I told Colin that there was a campsite some 3km away. We started cycling towards it. It was raining. I was wet, cold, hungry, and a bit depressed. I really did not want to spend this night of all nights in a cold, wet camp. I had images in my head of a muddy camp teeming with beer-drinking, urine-pissing, loud-music-playing, rowdy 20-year-old David Guetta fans. I could almost cry at the thought of it. I asked Colin if we could stop somewhere to eat. I needed to give myself some time to mentally toughen up for what was to come.

Which I tried to do while eating a gourmet meal in a fancy restaurant. Is there any better way?

At the restaurant, Colin and I were both frantically searching through online booking sites for hotel availabilities. I was doing this because I really couldn’t bear the thought of camping. My much tougher Scottish husband was doing it because he couldn’t bear the thought of having to spend a night with a miserable Nadia (it can be very bad). Every time we thought we found something, we would click on the “book here” link and discover there were no availabilities.

“Colin, to tell you the truth, I would much rather spend the night in my sleeping bag in a corner of the train station than go to a cold, wet, camp full of teenagers,” I told my husband. “But call the camp first anyway and just make sure they even have availabilities.” The number posted on the camp’s website gave a “this number does not exist” message when he rang.

Colin felt that we should just go and try our luck at the camp. The police might come and move us out of the train station, he said, and it might not be safe. We would leave that as a last resort.

While I was eating my chocolate fondant with caramel ice cream and a raspberry sauce, toughening myself up with everything I could muster, Colin tried the booking sites one last time. There was one availability at an eco-house in Tallinn’s old town! What an eco-house was, I didn’t care. The fact that it was ridiculously expensive mattered to me not. “Book it quickly!” I told Colin excitedly. “There must have been a cancellation!”

Colin frantically entered all the required information and booked the room. I went from miserably depressed spoiled brat to excitedly hopeful spoiled brat. I gave Colin a hug and a kiss and said, “Thank you, thank you, thank you!”

We immediately set off on our wet bikes in the rain and eventually reached the address.

An exhausted but very relieved Nadia clicking "save route" on her GPS for the very last time.

An exhausted but very relieved Nadia clicking “save route” on her GPS for the very last time.

There was no sign as one would expect. The outside of the small three-storey building was run down. There was a bell. We rang. No answer. “They’ve run away with the money,” Colin said. There was a phone number on the door. I dialed. Someone would be with us in five minutes.

We’re staying in a small ground-level room with a mattress on the floor. Across the hall is a room with five guys staying in it. We all share a single bathroom that reminds me of a bathroom one of my less fortunate relatives had in Cairo in the 70s. The hall has a small kitchenette. That’s it. That’s the whole eco-hotel. There was indeed a last-minute cancellation that made our mattress – I mean room -available. And the ridiculously expensive price? And when I say ridiculous I MEAN ridiculous. It turns out tonight is the busiest and most expensive of the whole year because of David Guetta. Do I mind any of this? No! I feel like I’m staying in a five star hotel. I’m warm. My husband is with me. And he did something completely illogical just to make me happy.

I am the luckiest spoiled brat in the whole wide world.




  1. If you’re a spoiled brat, then I’d hate to think what that makes me! Well done. Inspirational stuff.

  2. You are a “spoiled brat” for the ages.

    I am conflicted. On the one hand, I am excited for you. You set out to travel across Europe on a bike. And, you not only did it, you did it alone (mostly). I congratulate you for setting a such an ambitious goal, particularly at your stage of life, and reaching it. You are an inspiration to us all, whatever age or sex. On the other hand, I am going to miss your posts. I enjoyed your candour, adventurous spirit and insight. Each morning I would anxiously await your post. I will miss that. I hope you turn this adventure into a book one day.

    No matter. Congratulations Nadia! And, as I said earlier, once you have had time to reflect, I would like to hear what this trip has meant for you and what you have learned from it.

    You deserve a rest.

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