Wild camping by the Danube in Romania

Cycling Through Serbia and Romania

After the rugged roads of Hungary, we enjoyed two fantastic days cycling through the north of Croatia where we were treated to beautiful smooth tarmac roads, vineyard, pretty towns and a few hills.  It was a welcome break and we wished we could have stayed longer.  We then arrived in Serbia with quite a welcome.

We crossed the border into a town called Backa Palanka where we were due to make our first stay a host from Warm Showers, an online community of cycle tourers who are willing to offer a bed, sofa or space to pitch a tent in a garden to passing cyclists.  We were a little apprehensive as this was our first experience staying with ‘strangers’ so we thought it might be an idea to get a little Dutch courage in a local bar serving a bottle of beer for 73p (well, it would be rude not to).  What a error in judgement that turned out to be.

Staying with Zoran and his guests in Backa Palanka, Serbia

Staying with Zoran and his guests in Backa Palanka, Serbia

On arrival at our host Zoran’s house, we were welcomed into what he called his “little piece of paradise” with not one but two shots of Rakia as this is, apparently, the typical way to welcome a guest to your home in Serbia.  Thank goodness we had that beer…We then discovered that we were not Zoran’s only guests that night as two Spanish girls and a German guy who were touring Serbia on bikes were also guests, they’d just popped out to buy some beer.  Excellent.  So, feeling that we needed to get into the swing of things, we duly popped out to get a few beers and on our return we found that Zoran’s mum was also staying and had cooked us all dinner; a traditional Serbian pastry based meal with tomatoes from the garden.  A couple of beers, some food and good conversation with our new friends learning more about our fellow guests. Zoran told us how he had spent much of his childhood refugee camps during the Kosovo crisis, however we did subsequently learn that he now had a successful career in the construction business and had traveled around Europe working on some great projects.  That was until he quit a few days before as he’d fallen out with his boss.

Around 9.30pm I was thinking, what a great evening, I’m looking forward to a shower and a good night’s sleep, when Zoran stood up and said, “Emily, James…quick shower and we get ready to go to out” [sic]. Panic set in.  We had 150km the next day planned into Belgrade, and had already had a few beers, and that Rakia.  But, what can you do?  Your host wants to party, and is allowing you to stay in his home for free, along with some peer pressure from the Spanish girls, (OK we didn’t need that much convincing) we duly showered and headed out to the local night spot, a small bar in town. What a fun time. Turns out that all the people in the bar where a similar age to us, and all grew up watching Only Fools and Horses and ‘Allo ‘Allo (a little awkward when explaining to the German member of our group) so many jokes were shared and appreciated.

Around 12.30, a few more compulsory Rakias later (it is rude to say no to a host after all…..) we headed home. We could not wait to get to sleep but it turns out that Zoran on the other hand had other ideas. On arrival back home he turned up the drum and base, stripped down to his shorts and started prancing around the house. Evidently he had been on the Rakia all day. Excellent. After a while, we were starting to contemplate finding somewhere to camp when he realised that we might actually need to sleep so showed us to a room on the other side of his house that we could sleep in and within minutes we were asleep.

The 7am alarm the next day was not remotely fun, nor was the cycle along the flooded cycle paths into Novi Sad, around 40km away. Here we had some food, drank a lot of coke and water and continued towards Belgrade.

With about 50km to go, and heads still pounding, we stopped for another Coke at a small shop and got chatting to an old guy with broken English.  When he discovered where we were from and how far we were cycling, he put his arm around James and started a rendition of ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary”.  James joined in the best he could whilst two other men, sipping their beers on a nearby bench, looked on with a look on bemusement.

We continued our ride into Belgrade where, thankfully, we had booked into a cheap guesthouse on the outskirts of the city.

Belgrade is not a beautiful place.  The city felt the full impact of the 78 day sustained bombings in 1999 during the Kosovo War as part of the NATO attempt to stop human rights abuses. The country as a whole has struggled to re-build the infrastructure and as a result the city is still under repair. One building has been left in its bombed state as a memorial and a reminder of the past.

Serbia2-6
Ministry of defense building in Belgrade damaged during the 1999 NATO bombing.

One day in Belgrade gave us a good flavour of the city and the underlying history however it was tricky be feel anything other that underwhelmed after all of the beautiful cities that we have been lucky enough to travel through. Apparently the night life in Belgrade is some of the best in Europe and therefore it is possibly worth a visit for the party animals out there.

President of the Republic of Serbia Building

President of the Republic of Serbia Building

The next day saw our departure from Belgrade and a shorter ride to a small Serbian town called Kovin. Although short, it was certainly not without its excitement. Belgrade is the steepest city I have ever visited, it baffles me why such a big city has developed on quite such steep slopes – all very well for the views and defensive position, but not so good for cyclist. A long ride uphill out of the city on a pretty main road which kept us on our our toes.

Once we were out of the city, we were greeted by our first set of unfriendly dogs. In this part of the world the dogs are real pests and we are expecting them to get worse. Dogs don’t like bicycles very much and so often they will chase you as you pass. When you struggle to reach 20km/hr on the flat, that can pose a problem, especially on hills as the dogs  are faster than you. We’ve been told that if you stop and get off the bikes, then they realise that you are humans and tend to back off. So far, this has worked out fine. With no owners, and no birth control, these dogs have freedom of the streets and breed like crazy, feeding off whatever they can get hold of.  On this occasion, we were greeted with around 7 dogs who all appeared out of the bushes barking furiously at us and chasing us up the road. With a deep breath, we stopped and got off the bikes and thankfully they ran off. But my goodness, I was happy to have passed them. Luck however was not on our side as we descended a relatively steep hill to be greeted by a security guard. Oh no…..what had we done? Apparently we were about to cycle through a huge nuclear facility. Not so good. So we turned around and of course, the only road out was up the steep hill past the dogs…..well, we are still here to tell the tale.
Cycling past Serbia's aggressive dogs

Cycling past Serbia’s aggressive dogs

Just outside Kovin while we were looking for a spot to camp, we chanced upon a small guesthouse on the banks of the Danube run by a charming couple called Draga and Ale who allowed us to camp in their garden. I was particularly amused by the photo of us they put onto their blog – which I believe to be a conversation as to whether we should have our helmets on or off for the photo but looks like we’re having an argument!

The next day we entered Romania, our 8th country and a country I had been really excited to visit.

Romania border crossing

Romania border crossing

Soon after crossing the border we were greeted by a 6km climb over a large hill which was by far the longest climb for a while and with a 12% gradient it definitely got the heart pumping again. Actually it felt good to be back on the hills as we have a lot coming up so it was good to start to get some climbing again. A descent into a town called Moldova Veche and we promptly looked for somewhere to stay. The town is right alongside the Danube and a lady in the town told us that around 6km further along is a great place to camp. We were not disappointed and so we dipped down off the road to set up camp on the side of the river just in time for a beautiful sunset.

Wild camping by the Danube in Romania

Wild camping by the Danube in Romania

The next day we were up early and continued our journey along the river.  The next 100kms were the most beautiful yet and a day’s cycling that I will never forget. A national park runs either side of the river – Romania on one side, Serbia on the other as the river travels through a giant gorge. It meant is was pretty hilly but with long winding switch backs and the views that we experienced as we meandered up tree lined roads overlooking the river, we were happy to climb all day long. It was breath taking. It is clear that Romania is investing in the area as we saw a number of new hotels, even water villas, being built along the river. I hope it does not become too developed as it is such a beautiful, peaceful place to come to escape the outside world. At the end of the day came a big climb to cross over where the river narrows from nearly 1000 to 150m at at area known as the Gates of Trojan. We had been recommended to pause at the summit and walk up to the very top of the cliffs so we stopped at a local shop for a cold drink, left our bikes with them and made our way up the very steep slope on foot to the view point. I’m not too keen on heights so the experience at the top was a little hair raising for me, especially as I watched James clamber on the rocks to get “the shot”!
Beautiful Danube gorge in Romania

Beautiful Danube gorge in Romania

A lovely descent ended the day where we stayed alongside the river.

From our best day on the road, to the worst. James wrote a blog about this already.

I’ve loved Romania – the people have been incredibly friendly wherever we have been. The older population tend to stare quite but they will wave and the children shout out Hello! Hello! Welcome! in every village, it’s been really good fun. It would not be Romania landscape without the traditional horse and carts flying past delivering farm goods and people around. It seems however that when driving a cart, it is compulsory to do so while drinking a 2 litre bottle of beer. Perhaps that is why everyone here is so friendly.

Our last day in Romania brought with it our first real mechanical issue with the bikes as I broke two spokes on my rear wheel. Having never fixed a spoke ourselves, we were bracing ourselves to work out the hard way, when a man approached us to see if we needed some help. Before we knew it, we had been whisked off to a back street bike shop where my wheel was taken away for repair. While we waited, the man who brought us there, Cezar, decided to stay with us and even bought us a drink and some local food. He was a sports massage student with a brother who was a doctor in London so he was happy to practice his English while telling us that the Romanians like to travel to England and the women are so nice. Hmmmm….

Sunset Turnu Măgurele Romania

Beautiful sunset as we cross the Danube for the last time from Turnu Măgurele Romania to Nikopol, Bulgaria

We managed to catch the last ferry across to Bulgaria where we managed to pitch the tent on the banks of the river Danube for one last time before we said goodbye to the river the next morning. It was a poignant moment for us both as we have been following the river for over 5 weeks now.

If you’ve enjoyed reading this blog post, please donate to World Bicycle Relief. Every penny goes to the great work the charity does in Africa – not to fund our expedition in any way.

Serbia border crossing

Serbia border crossing

Serbia border crossing

Crossing the border from Croatia into our 8th country, Serbia.


If you’ve enjoyed reading this blog post, please donate to World Bicycle Relief. Every penny goes to the great work the charity does in Africa – not to fund our expedition in any way.


Notice: Undefined index: index in /home/emilycon/london2capetown.org/wp-content/themes/enfold/config-templatebuilder/avia-shortcodes/masonry_gallery/masonry_gallery.php on line 468

Notice: Undefined index: index in /home/emilycon/london2capetown.org/wp-content/themes/enfold/config-templatebuilder/avia-shortcodes/masonry_gallery/masonry_gallery.php on line 471

Notice: Undefined index: index in /home/emilycon/london2capetown.org/wp-content/themes/enfold/config-templatebuilder/avia-shortcodes/masonry_gallery/masonry_gallery.php on line 472

Austria


Notice: Undefined index: index in /home/emilycon/london2capetown.org/wp-content/themes/enfold/config-templatebuilder/avia-shortcodes/masonry_gallery/masonry_gallery.php on line 468

Notice: Undefined index: index in /home/emilycon/london2capetown.org/wp-content/themes/enfold/config-templatebuilder/avia-shortcodes/masonry_gallery/masonry_gallery.php on line 471

Notice: Undefined index: index in /home/emilycon/london2capetown.org/wp-content/themes/enfold/config-templatebuilder/avia-shortcodes/masonry_gallery/masonry_gallery.php on line 472

A taste of Hungary


If you’ve enjoyed reading this blog post, please donate to World Bicycle Relief. Every penny goes to the great work the charity does in Africa – not to fund our expedition in any way.

Passau cobbled street

Too old to party in Passau

I was looking forward to Passau. A beautiful Bavarian town steeped in history and, importantly for us after staying in some horrible caravan parks, the chance to stay in a beautiful riverside campsite where only tents were allowed.

We arrived mid afternoon and chose a fantastic position just by the waters edge and read our books in the last of the day’s sun as the river gently bubbled below the bank.

In high spirits we headed into town in search for a place that would serve a traditional stein and for a cheap meal. Hunger overtook before we could find anywhere that sold one litre lagers. Nevertheless, we’d given ourselves a rest day in Passau, so there’d always be the next night to find one.

Beautiful Passau

Beautiful Passau

 

 

We returned to the campsite after our meal to find that it had been overrun by ‘youths’. Tents were crammed everywhere and they continued to arrive.

We learned from a Dutch couple we’ve been meeting along the Danube that they’d been warned when checking in that tonight was likely to be noisy as there was a festival going on nearby.

In fact, there were about 4 lacrosse teams there. And, all of the blokes had a resemblance to the character Stiffler from American Pie. They were all pissed and, as we tried to sleep, more and more people arrived and the noisier it got.

Now, in years gone by, I may well have been tempted to join in and swig vodka from a 2-litre bottle and snort tequila through my eyeballs (or whatever they were doing) but, now that I’m an endurance athlete(!), a good night’s sleep was the order of the day and that’s not what I got.

The low point was probably around 3am when a further group arrived and decided it was a great idea to put up their tent less than a metre from ours, tripping over our guy ropes and singing as they put thier tent up.

The morning after the night before (our tent is in the background)

The morning after the night before (our tent is in the background)

The next morning, having barely slept a wink, Emily and I decided that, as last night’s antics were just the warm up to the next night’s proper party, we should reluctantly ask for a refund of our second night’s camping fees and find somewhere else to stay.

The trouble was, the campsite office only opened at 6pm so there was no clear way of getting a refund. That was until I spied a member of staff and asked her how I could get a refund. “Not possible” and “Come back when the office is open” were the replies to my request. Then I suggested either she or the café gave me a refund and when the man from the office returned that night she could get the money from him. A simple bookkeeping process one would think. However, my suggestion was met with (literal) shouts and screams of “This is not normal” before she finally stomped off, slamming the door in my face.

I returned to help Emily pack up the tent, asking her if she might be able to go and reason with the woman however before she had the chance (I think to Emily’s relief) the lady came bounding out of the office and, with tears in her eyes, threw (yes threw!) the 18 Euros at my feet shouting “this is my money! I work hard for my money!” before storming off.

Maybe we caught her on a bad day. Or, quite possibly, she hadn’t had any sleep either. Either way, we finished packing our tent and headed into town with an audience of bewildered campers wondering what on earth I could have done to provoke such a reaction.

The cathedral in Passau is claimed to house the ‘world’s biggest organ’. Now, there’s a confident boast for you. Realising the only real way to measure organs is with a tape measure, we sat on a bench outside eating our packed lunch and could only imagine the size of said organ as we heard a man playing furiously with it behind the cathedral’s closed doors.

We decided the best way to get a good night’s sleep was to cycle 20km downstream to a campsite that was marked on the map at Pyrawang, just over the border in Austria. As we passed the Austria sign, I released I’d not managed to have a Bavarian Stein, so it’ll have to wait until a visit to Katzenjammers upon my return to London next year.

Germany Austria border

Crossing into our fourth country: Austria.

london to cape town by bike-10

We arrived at the Pyrawang campsite at a time when they were setting up for an Ibiza-style ‘Danube beach party’ so we continued another 10km to find a nice little campsite alongside a marina at Hütt-Siedlung.

Here we met a lovely Austrian couple, Ilse and Manfred, who’d canoed all the way from Innsbruck and plan to navigate the majority of the Danube then pick up bikes and continue their journey into Georgia and on to Iran. They’re both teachers and we learnt that teachers in Austria can opt to receive only 80% of their pay for 4 years then take a year’s sabbatical in the 5th year receiving 80% pay. There’s no limit to the number of sabbaticals they can take. So, in effect, every 5 years you get a year off. This is a concept I may suggest to my boss when I’m back.

Just as we’d erected our tent the ‘youths’ in the caravan immediately adjacent to our pitch turned on their own Ibiza-style music to number 11 and started to get stuck into their Vodka Red Bulls and Jeagermeisters. Again, a (very) small part of me wanted to dust off my copy of Ministry of Sound’s Clubbers’ Annual 1996, get a 6-pack and pull some big-box-little-box shapes with them. But, as we’d left Passau a day early and continued an extra 10km to avoid noise, that thought was short-lived and I was, in fact, a miserable old git so went to get ‘someone in charge’ to tell them to shut up. Fortunately, the lady at this campsite was helpful and she told them to keep it down. The kids dutifully turned the music down but, as is the tactic for any party host when they’ve been told to keep the noise down, they gradually turned the volume up by one notch at a time until it was soon back up to 11 again.

We went to sleep with earplugs in. It then pissed it down so, for once, we were glad for the rain as they retreated inside.

Today (Sunday 2nd August) was soggy. We packed up our soaking tent in the rain. We cycled in the rain. And we passed through one of the highlights of the Danube (the river does a series of hairpins in a beautiful gorge) in the rain and sadly with clouds at tree height restricting our views.

Nevertheless, it was a mostly tranquil day by the grey Danube aside from an insect that collided with my face at speed and managed to sting me on impact.

After a day worrying that we’d be sleeping in a soggy tent, we arrived in Linz and I was astonished that Emily opted to camp rather than stay in a cheapish city-centre hotel room I’d found online. Exactly three weeks in and I think we’re getting the hang of this!


If you’ve enjoyed reading this blog post, please donate to World Bicycle Relief. Every penny goes to the great work the charity does in Africa – not to fund our expedition in any way.

 

 

Life on the Danube

Germany is a country I knew very little about before leaving home, and it’s not heavily marketed to us Brits so we don’t tend to visit much. I had visited Munich and a small place called Friedrichshafen on the Swiss border a few times for work but other than that, if I am honest, it has never been a country on my “must-see” list. For this reason, I was both intrigued and excited about the prospect of spending 10 days cycling through the Black Forest and along the Danube River – to see some of the Germany had I been missing.

We instantly knew we had arrived in Germany when within minutes of crossing the border we bumped into a couple with bikes laden with VAUDE panniers heading to the bike paths – we were going to fit in here just fine. In fact we have been the envy of many of our fellow cycle tourers when they see all of our great VAUDE kit – we’ve been stopped a few times now!

Our first few days in Germany were beautiful but hilly. I’m not sure Germany got the memo on mountain road switchbacks that we all dream about cycling (or driving) up and gradients frequented 20-25% making for tough going when you are carrying your worldly possessions with you – at times my heart was beating so fast I wondered if it might leap right out of my chest onto the road in front of me!

For those who may be interested, the Danube is the second longest river in Europe and flows around 2,800km. The river originates in Donaueschingen in the Black Forest of Germany and travels to the Black Sea in Hungary. Once a main frontier of the Roman Empire, the river is the lifeline to 10 countries from central to Eastern Europe. We have been tracking it for 10 days now and it has not failed to impress.

The source of the Danube (Donauquelle) is an underground spring that is incased in a well outside a German stately home in Donaueschingen. We went to take a look but, but it sadly was undergoing repair work. However, we took a moment to reflect beside the water that would be our route marker for around 2,500km. We were unsure what to expect ahead but we were excited to get going.

James and Emily at the Donauquelle: the source of the Danube

James and Emily at the Donauquelle: the source of the Danube

From here we left the concrete jungle and the path took us off road, on mainly well-managed gravel paths through a simply breathtaking gorge, steeped in Geological history. Once upon a time I would have been able to tell you more about the surroundings but long-term memory fails me, my Geography teachers will be most unimpressed. We could not stop smiling as we made our way along the river along with the other cycle tourers on their summer holidays.

Biking the Danube

Cycling down the beautiful Danube Gorge

Quick pit stop in a town called Sigmaringen was our first taste of the beautiful towns that lay ahead, we celebrated with pizza and a beer before heading back to our campsite.

From here we headed to a town called Ulm where we were due to spend a day. Much to my excitement, it was also one of the only towns along the Danube in Germany that does not have a campsite and so, by the time we realised we’d overshot the Youth Hostel by 5km, we were forced to stay in a hotel for a night. A mattress meant my first proper night’s sleep since Alsace and it was pure bliss.

Actually enjoying a German meal

Actually enjoying a German meal

Ulm is a stunning 12th century town on the riverbank full of hidden gems around every corner and, apparently, it has the tallest church spire in Europe. It was certainly impressive; walking around the town felt more like I was in an Italian town than a German one – why had I never heard of this place? More was to follow with the next few towns we passed – all should go onto a holiday visit list – Donauworth, Inglostadt and the most impressive of them all, Regensburg.

We’ve slowed down a bit since France to allow us to enjoy the surroundings – we don’t want to miss anything – cycling for 4-6 hours a day instead of 8-10 hours has made a real difference. It does not, however, take away some excellent moments that only tiredness can produce such as James getting on his bike backwards and me loosing my sunglasses for a good 10 minutes before finding them on my head.

Regensburg is the oldest town in Germany and the old capital of Bavaria. We checked into a campsite for a couple of nights so that we could spend a day looking around the town. Being in the centre of Bavaria means that a can of beer costs around 40p…around half the price of a can of coke so as my Grandpa would have said, “It would be dangerous not to” so we enjoyed a few beers and cooked a feast at the campsite enjoying a lie in the following morning before heading into town.

Regensburg

Regensburg

Naturally, being a rest day, it rained nearly all day, but that did not take anything away from how incredibly beautiful Regensburg is. If you are into shopping, this is the place to go (Dad I suggest you get Mummy to skip this paragraph) as it is fully of boutique clothes, furniture and household shops as far as the eye can see and squares around every corner with cafés and restaurants. The cathedral was a highlight, dating back to pre 1100; it is home to world famous medieval stained glass windows dating back to 1230.

We are currently around 60kms (and one puncture) further along the river in another charming town called Strau

Ahead of the storm

bing; again home to a beautiful church and an idyllic walled town centre with cobbled streets lined with cafés.

Before you ask – no, sadly we are not wining and dining in all these towns, budgets do not allow but it has been a complete privilege to travel through them and experience their beauty with a packed lunch!

We have been camping on and off for nearly 3 weeks now and are now into a routine. James has nearly managed to work out how to pack his panniers in under two hours every morning while I have time to dismantle the tent, have a shower and do my nails 😉 and it was with much excitement that 5 nights ago we finally worked out how to put our tent up properly. We have been enjoying some good sleep and making the most of German campsites with hot showers and fresh water while it lasts, we are fully aware that before long these luxuries will disappear.

So, naturally, being the man James in in charge of fire and map reading (for those who know me well, you will all agree that both these things are good responsibilities for me not to have, otherwise we would have burnt down the tent and be cycling towards Norway). I am mainly responsible for the kitchen duties, chopping vegetables and washing up, relatively safe, and no, I have not cut my fingers off with a knife yet!

It’s safe to say, we are having the time of our lives and loving every minute of this adventure so far, we’ve met some great people along the way already. I don’t think we will ever get tired of seeing people’s expression when they ask how far along the Danube we are going and we tell them we’re cycling it all and then continuing to Cape Town. One of the great things has been meeting so many families out here, all cycling together – with kids as young as 2 years old.

 

Smiles by the Danube

Smiles by the Danube

Germany is as slick and efficient as you might imagine. For the cyclists out there reading this, it comes highly recommended as a place to visit – whether on touring bikes or your road bikes. The national bike paths are incredibly well signposted and take you to some unbelievably beautiful places and nearly every major road has a cycle path alongside it. If you fancy cycling for a week or two without any cars, this is the place to come!

Ahead of the storm

Tomorrow we head about 110km further along to our last stop in Germany, Passau which is meant to be Germany’s answer to Venice to we shall mark our last day in Bavaria with a Stein, a few sausages and some Sauerkraut. After that it’s on to Austria and hope to be in Vienna by next weekend.

Thank you Germany, we can’t wait to come back again some day.


If you’ve enjoyed reading this blog post, please donate to World Bicycle Relief. Every penny goes to the great work the charity does in Africa – not to fund our expedition in any way.

Feeling the heat in the first week

For the last few months before we set off to cycle from London to Cape Town, I had imagined the first week on the road in great detail. We would both gently amble through the French countryside, the sun gently warming our backs, we’d get the day’s miles done by noon allowing for ample time to kick back and relax after the last few hectic weeks before we departed. I imagined I’d have Tweeted every hour, written a blog post every day, stopped to take enough photos worthy of winning the Travel Photographer of the Year and I’d be well in to the second book on my to-read list by now.

In reality, our daily mileage has been high, our days long, we’ve battled heat fiercer than anything we were expecting in Africa, photos have been snatched from the side of the road and we’ve arrived at our days’ destination late (both having a remarkably similar odour and saltiness to the camembert we bought one lunchtime that slowly baked and disintegrated in our panniers all afternoon) and with only enough energy to find a bed for the night or pitch the tent and with mouths as dry as our dust-filled cycling sandals.

10 days in and I still haven’t made it past the first chapter of my book; I’ve had to re-read the same page three times as my eyes have involuntary closed at each attempt and our sleep has been interrupted by round-the-clock harvest vehicles and church bells and even wild boar surrounding our wild camping spot in the middle of the night.

Our first week has been hot. Very hot. Temperatures have been at or over 40 degrees all week. This has made cycling over undulating French countryside with fully-laden panniers incredibly tough…and slow!

After crossing the channel courtesy of DFDS Seaways, we landed on French soil very early on Bastille Day and followed the Avenue Vert and country lanes all the way to Beauvais. As everything was closed, we picnicked in our cheap hotel room.

We rose early the next day, and followed quiet country lanes through wheat fields towards our destination, Villers-Cotterêts, where, as we stopped for a chilled Coke in the town square dedicated to Three Muskateers authors Alexandre Dumas who was born there, the temperature on our Garmin topped 43 degrees. That night, we headed deep into the Retz forest and found a quiet spot to pitch our tent. The forest was described as “home to a wonderful variety of fauna including deer, rabbits, hares, foxes, pheasants and even wild boar.”

Wild camping in the Retz Forest

As we cleared our cooking equipment away, a large deer wandered by in the distance, making its distinctive call into the empty darkness.

“What’s the hell is that!” I woke abruptly as Emily grabbed my arm. “They’re coming!” with panic in Emily’s voice. Listening, I could hear the rustling of the leaves coming nearer and nearer. I urged Emily to keep quiet. We both lay rigid as, closer and closer, movement in what would otherwise be an empty, dark and lonely forest came nearer. There was a grunt. “Wild boar!” Emily whispered.

These potentially dangerous beasts were now surrounding the tent, millimetres of fabric between us, our food and their dangerous tusks. They grunted, they sniffed and they rummaged in the foliage around our tent whilst we lay, hearts pounding and daring not to make a sound.

We’d tied our rubbish up in a tree, so, after finding our presence didn’t bring any food source outside our tent, they finally continued their way through the forest. It was almost impossible to sleep after that; every movement of a leaf would make us jump bolt upright.

Our third day cycling in France was also a scorcher but it was fantastic to cycle through the vineyards of the Champagne region. Epernay was our destination but, by the time we got there champagne was the last thing on our mind; we would have happily paid champagne prices for magnums of tap water.

The cool of the champagne cellar was a welcome respite from the heat of the day

After Epernay, we had a long 85-mile day, which mostly followed a canal-side bike path. After a very long and tiring day We were struggling to find a camping spot so asked some villagers if they knew anywhere to camp. We were astonished and incredibly grateful to be invited to camp in a lovely lady, Marylène’s garden. She offered us showers, drinking water and even vegetables from her garden!

Camping in Marylène's garden

The next day was 93 miles. This time it wasn’t on a flat bike path. It was hilly. We reached our wild-camping spot by a lake exhausted and were munched by mosquitos and red ants as we cooked in the dark.

Wild camping in France

Emily’s brother, Jeremy, joined us for the next day’s cycling. Although our handicap of panniers ensured the pace was slow as we climbed over the North Vosges Mountains to Alsace. It was fantastic to meet Jeremy, Marie-Agnes, Laurie-Anne, Lawrence and Richard and they looked after us incredibly well over two evenings and a rest day.

It was a special moment when 6-year-old Laurie-Anne joined us for the first few KMs of the day from the family home in Bergbieten. Again, it was incredibly hot as we spent a very long day in the saddle as we gradually climbed up to Triberg in the heart of the Black Forest where our efforts were ‘rewarded’ with the display of the ‘world’s largest cuckoo clock’.

Climbing up to Dabo

After so many punishing days in the saddle, we decided we needed a shorter day. Apart from two horrifically steep climbs to the ski slopes above Triberg in the morning, it’s been a descent all the way to tonight’s campsite at Donaueschingen; a town that sits at the source of the Danube; the river we’ll be following for the next 2,500km or so!

Donaueschingen: The source of the Danube

 

Take a look our the London2CapeTown Facebook page for more photos!


If you’ve enjoyed reading this blog post, please donate to World Bicycle Relief. Every penny goes to the great work the charity does in Africa – not to fund our expedition in any way.