Travelblogs

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.

Cycling Europe Day 48: On Being a Woman – A Drop In the Ocean

I woke up this morning to the horrific news that two girls in India were gang-raped and then hanged. All they had done was go out to the toilet at night. Earlier, I had heard of the Pakistani woman who was killed by her own family for marrying a man against their will. In Sudan, a woman is being charged with apostasy and could face death. She was raised Christian by her mother after her Muslim father left them. She married a Christian man. She was forced to give birth to her child in prison with her legs shackled. In Nigeria, a militant Islamist group kidnapped almost 200 school girls.

There are horror stories every single day involving attacks of men on women in every single country of the world. Attacks range from rape and murder, to sexual, physical, and mental abuse, to sexual harassment at work and on the street.

This morning’s awful news from India made me think about all the measures I’ve taken on this trip to keep safe. I wrote about many of them yesterday. The attacks mentioned above all happened in less developed countries. They just happen to be where the media attention is directed nowadays. I am an independent, strong-minded, strong-willed, well-educated woman cycling alone through “civilized” Europe. Yet I am constantly aware that there is nothing civilized about the attacks that happen on women in Europe everyday. And I am insanely relieved that my husband is joining me now for the rest of the journey, not only because I really miss him, but also because of the safety I feel in his male companionship.

Why are things this way? What has gone so wrong in the minds of enough men to make the world a generally unsafe place for women? Why do some men need to exert dominance over women, whether sexually, physically, or emotionally? What scares them so much about a woman that makes them feel that they must dominate and control them?

I take all the measures I wrote about, yet I know I am relatively safe in Europe. (more…)

Cycling Europe Day 47: On Traveling Alone

I am so excited I can barely contain myself!

Just for a second, when I saw this, I thought I was cycling near Benha, Egypt, in the Nile Delta region. It's an area on our route when we go to visit my father's village.

Just for a second, when I saw this, I thought I was cycling near Benha, Egypt, in the Nile Delta region. It’s an area on our route when we go to visit my father’s village.

I am so excited that I cycled more than 50km farther than I intended today so I could be that much closer to tomorrow’s revised destination.

I wasn’t going to say anything until it actually happened. I wanted to keep away the evil eye. But I’m too excited to hold it in any longer!

So…Cursed be any who gives my family the evil eye.

There! Now I can tell you!

Guess what?

My husband Colin is coming tomorrow!

And he’s not coming for a short fling of a weekend like he did while I was in France. He’s coming to cycle with me till I reach my final destination or until I get too tired to cycle any longer!

Someone gather up all the excitement that’s spilling all over the place and making an absolute mess!

This was my ultimate strategy while planning the trip.

Colin could not take endless time off of work to join me for the whole thing. But he wanted to join me for part of it. He wanted to come with me at the start. He had two reasons. He wanted to get me off on my way and make sure I would be all right on my own. He also felt that he’d enjoy cycling in that part of Europe more.

I insisted that if he could only join me for part of the trip that he leave it till the end. (more…)

Cycling Europe Day 46: I’m That Guy We All Despise

I don’t understand people who have personalities like mine.

Why ON EARTH would anyone choose to cycle 115km in pouring rain for some eight hours?

Today the rain almost didn’t stop at all. It was cold rain. There was a headwind that made it colder. It also made the cycling harder. I’ll admit the more difficult cycling meant more body warmth for me in that cold weather. Cars and trucks splashed dirty, wet road spray on me all day. Visibility was poor because of the clouds and rain, made poorer by the multitude of water droplets on my glasses all day long.

When I reached 30km, I said out loud to myself, “How am I ever going to get to Wroclaw today?”

Yet, I kept cycling. At one point I roared (I’m not kidding) to push myself onwards.

At another point, I had this conversation in my head:

“Why did I have to turn out to be this sort of woman? Why couldn’t I be one of those women who turns her nose up at people who camp and do activities that involve energy and getting dirty? Why couldn’t I turn out to be the kind of woman who just wants to spend most of her day in the kitchen cooking good food for her family? Why couldn’t I be one of those women who walks around in fur coats?” That one stopped me in my tracks. “Wait a minute! I DO want to be the woman who has a fur coat! Why is it I don’t have one already??” And then I got all upset about a conversation I had about fur coats with my husband. He’s against them. All of them. Unless they are fake. We’ll have to have that discussion again.

Don’t get me wrong. I love cooking for my family. I also love luxury holidays when I’m fortunate enough to have one. I can be the laziest person on earth for weeks if I don’t feel like being a productive human being. I aspire to have a comfortable lifestyle. I don’t walk or cycle to the gym unless I absolutely must because I don’t have the car.

But then I go off and do crazy stuff like this. Why??

(more…)

Cycling Europe Day 45: Poland, Pouring Rain, and Thoughts of Egypt

Today I crossed three mountains to get from the Czech Republic to Poland. That part

Poland! Albeit in pouring rain.

Poland! Albeit in pouring rain.

was fine. I’m up for almost anything but those killer hills they have in southern Czech Republic.

I knew to expect rain today. It was rough. I got through the first 30km in dry weather. Then the heavens opened her doors as wide as she could. I cycled the remaining 45 km in pouring rain. The first 15 km of those were fine because I was cycling uphill and generating heat. As soon as I started going downhill, the only things moving were my hands controlling the brakes, and it wasn’t long before I started shivering uncontrollably.

I was wearing a long-sleeved cycling shirt and a rain jacket. My shirt was a bit damp from sweating in it for four hours. I stopped at a roadside cafe, stood by one of their outdoors tables that was under a big umbrella (no one was eating outside in that rain) and changed my shirt, added a fleece, and put my rain jacket back on. I was drier but it took getting to a place where there was a bit of an incline and I started generating heat again for me to stop feeling that I was going to fall off my bike from all the shaking.

It was total relief to find a hotel, take off my soaked cycling shorts, and get into a hot shower.

Despite the rain and poor visibility, I could see that this part of Poland is really beautiful. I can’t wait to see more. Today I’m in Jelenia Gora and apparently it is worth seeing. But it’s still pouring outside and will continue to all night. I can’t bring myself to go back out in that. I’m going to chill this evening in my hotel. They have a pool, so I’ll probably go for a swim. They have a sauna I’ll have to pay extra for, but given all the cycling I’ve been doing and the shivering from today, I figure it’s worth it.

I try as much as I can to avoid thinking about Egypt. It depresses me when I do. But I couldn’t help it today. (more…)

Cycling Europe Day 44: When Hope Returns

I didn’t get killer hills today!!

Turnov, Czech Republic

Turnov, Czech Republic

I got thunder, lightening, intense rain showers, and absolutely soaking wet.

BUT I DIDN’T GET KILLER HILLS TODAY!

You have no idea how happy I am. I cycled 95km today. In the best of conditions that is a lot for me. The terrain was not flat by any means. It was mildly undulating. For most of the ride it was raining really hard. I had to be extra careful so I wouldn’t slip. I got splashed on countless times by trucks and cars. I had to change my upper body clothes twice because I got so wet I was shivering. I had to pee more times than normal probably because I was feeling cold. But did any of that matter to me? Not one bit as long as I did not get the killer hills!

Everything is so relative. If I had a ride like today just some time last week, I’d have been miserable. But now that I’ve seen TRULY miserable, almost anything is better in comparison.

I’ve been thinking about my visit to Prague and other large cities and why they don’t impress me much anymore. The advantage to doing the kind of trip I’m doing is that you get to see so much more of a country than you would by taking planes or driving a car on motorways. You see the backroads and the small towns and villages. You stop and eat in the tiniest of roadside restaurants. You see how people live across the country and the differences in standards of living. You stop in towns where tourists rarely, if ever, go.

I wouldn’t say that you get to see the REAL country and people. The capital city, with its inhabitants, usually smarter lifestyle, tourists, and tourist attractions are all part of what makes a certain country what it is. But it’s only a part.

That made me reflect on Egypt. Cairenes tend to think of Cairo as being Egypt. Not only that, Egyptians who live outside of Cairo, when traveling to Cairo, will say they are going to Masr, the Arabic word for Egypt. When I think about all the horrible things I dislike about living in Egypt, most of them are related only to living in Cairo: such as the awful traffic. I’ve always said that the second one sets foot outside of Cairo, one sees how beautiful Egypt actually is. (more…)